Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Review by Dara Yazdani

Sometimes I worry that I may be cursed by the Gods of Soul. I have a terrible track record of watching artists perform only for them to kick the bucket shortly after. James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Terry Callier: all dead within a year of my watching their shows. I am the human equivalent of that video in The Ring.

With this in mind I was slightly concerned when 65yr old Charles Bradley halted his performance after a handful of songs, mumbled complaints of tiredness into the microphone and sloped off stage. Could the curse have struck again?

Luckily, the interruption was only brought on by some sound gremlins that were bothering the sensitive Bradley and the need to change from one outlandish costume to another. 


You see, Bradley is an anachronism, a relic, a throwback.  Most importantly he is one hell of a character. In an era of detached cool his showmanship recalls a halcyon musical period where band members were fined for missing a beat and medallion-men with hairy chests bestrode the musical landscape unafraid to wear their hearts on their diamond encrusted sleeves.
Bradley’s quirks may be a result of his troubled past which is lengthy and well documented. Not knowing his father, abandoned by his mother at 8, homeless at 14, a life working in itinerant jobs, almost dying through illness and witnessing the aftermath of his brother's brutal murder.  With history this chequered he has surely earnt his PhD in heartache and pain.  

His turbulent past is evident in his impassioned delivery.  Together with his previous sideline as low budget James Brown impersonator "Black Velvet", at times you can close your eyes and hear the Godfather of Soul, right down to the same vocal tics and nuances. If you are going to steal, you may as well steal from the best.

It's not just in vocal delivery that Bradley echoes his musical hero. After a thumping horn-laden medley of Ike Turner’s Funky Mule and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City by his superb seven piece backing band The Extraordinaires,  Charles is grandiosely welcomed on stage by their keyboardist, and Zack Galifinakis lookalike, William Schalda Jr, in an echo the legendary introductions given by James Brown's personal MC, Danny Ray.

"Please welcome to the stage: The Screaming Eagle of Soul!  Chaaaaaarles Bradley!"

Dressed in an all white jumpsuit with gold embroidery you would be forgiven for thinking, as a tribute to Brighton, he was performing as the "Squawking Seagull of Soul" albeit for one night only.

Opener Love Bug Blues first introduces Bradley's trademark scream which is capable of pealing the enamel off your teeth. Rhodes keyboard and call and response backing vocals provide a soothing counterpoint to Bradley’s yelps.

Crying In The Chapel is an old smoocher in an Al Green/Van Morrison vein with its delightful horn swells reminding you of the golden era of Stax. It shows Bradley is not a one trick funk pony and can do the slow stuff when needed.

We up the tempo with the chugging funk of The World (Is Going Up in Flames) complete with its rhythmic guitar fills and staccato horns borrowed from James Brown’s The Payback.  This is a style that really suits Bradley’s gritty sand-paper screech.

It’s about this time that the big man has a costume change emerging from backstage dressed as a pimped out bullfighter in a spangled black bolero jacket. Bradley does have the air of a latter day James Brown about him, circa Living in America, with his strut, paunch and big hair. 

Only during the upbeat swing of You Put the Flame On It does Bradley’s lover man caricature venture into the ridiculous when he starts licking his finger and rubbing his nipples whilst gyrating against the mike stand.  It’s the sort of behaviour you expect from an over-excited account manager after he has had one too many beers at the office Christmas party.  Despite, or perhaps because of, this you cannot help but enjoy the spectacle of a pensioner behaving so disgracefully.

For me the highlight of the night is Confusion’s hard funk workout, its fuzz guitar a tribute to Curtis Mayfield’s Don’t Worry (If There's a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go). It’s not every day you see a Theremin used in the flesh and Bradley plays it like he is landing aircraft. He even has time for a Peter Crouch endorsed robot dance moves during the musical freak out. 

For the obligatory encore we are encouraged "to get intimate" with the gorgeous doo wop harmonies and paired down sound of Victim of Love.  Bradley says the lyrics to this on are particularly personal to him.  The sparse arrangement and spoken work interludes recall Isaac Hayes on his confessional …To Be Continued album. Bradley’s proclamations to the audience to love their fellow man would sound cheesy coming from anyone else but from him you sense a sincerity.

Finally, Bradley goes to church on signature tune Why Is It So Hard? (To Make It In America). Thematically in the same ballpark as the socially conscious records What’s Going On? and Innervisions it brings shame on us all that the economic disparities and political corruption spotlighted in this song ring as true today as they did in the early 70’s. 

After this autobiographical tale about Bradley’s hardships he jumps into the audience while the band continues to play, on a one man hug mission. When you have had it as bad as Bradley only the stoniest of hearts would deny him this small indulgence.

There can be no doubting he’s paid the cost to be the boss.

Review by Dara Yazdani

Photos by Mike Burnell (all use to be agreed in writing)

THE 1975 

Review by Dara Yazdani

The music industry is a cruel mistress. One minute you are the hottest thing since Hot Chip and the next you are fighting it out with The Pigeon Detectives to get a gig at the Butlins Indie Weekender.

The chart's transitory nature guarantees a never-ending quest for the next big thing. Right now the current NME darlings are The 1975, a Manchester 4-piece with a strong aroma of the 80s that permeates their music like a musky Drakkar Noir.

They have been championed by Zane Lowe, recently sold out The Bowery in New York and in a recent poll of Radio 1 listeners their single "Chocolate" was voted as the best single in the last 5 years. It would be churlish to compare regular Radio 1 listeners to goldfish so lets just say the buzz this band are generating is huge.

This furore is not lost on the fans who have come tonight judging by the chatter outside the venue. There is a reasonable cross section: some of them old enough to remember the 80's the first time around but mostly those who have been dropped off by their parents. All are aware that we they might not be seeing The 1975 in such close proximity if their star continues its ascent.

Front man Matt Healy comes out to a sea of camera phones and the pounding drums of opener The City.  Silhouetted by the back and white neon image of their album cover his grown out Mohawk, stoner chic and skinny frame make him look like a young Jim Bob from Carter USM.

The 1975 have a knack of drilling home a phrase or a melody so it becomes ingrained in your psyche. The City overlays an incessant synth throb with Adam Hann's metronomic guitar loops to a repeated chorus of "If you wanna find love you know where the city is". Its life-affirming stuff.

M.O.N.E.Y's irregular rhythms, percussion and programmed beats make it sound like an unreleased Talking Heads track. Sonically it's interesting but the lack of a chorus lets it down.

Talk! ups the anty with its funky riffs and anthemic refrain of "Why do you talk so loud?". The irony is lost on the couple in front of me who decide to shout to each above the music for the duration of song.

Head.Cars.Bending is not from the debut album but from the Music for Cars EP and plays out like a rockier version of Little Red Corvette using a similar chord progression as its template. The 1975 do use synths and electronica to great effect do give their songs added dimension, although live the sound is slightly paired back.

In many ways Heart Out distils the essence of The 1975 in one track. Lyrics such as "Obsessions with rocks and brown and f*cking the whole town" marry the bands twin preoccupations of sex and drugs perfectly. Throw in a bass line that borrows the staccato intro from Robert Tepper's No Easy Way Out, a dash of Buggles and a synth sax solo and they couldn't make it more 80's if they made it wear shoulder pads and carry a Filofax.

It's about this time of the evening where Healy complains about the heat and gets his shirt off and a waft of oestrogen temporally suffocates the room.  Such is his effect on the ladies its only right that the bubblegum pop of Girls gets an airing. My favourite song on the album it sunny riff recalls the Pointer Sisters. If they were to remake Beverly Hills Cop you would find this on the soundtrack.

Matt then unleashes the one song bulldozer of Chocolate. Its as sweet a pop overload as the name suggests (although its another song about drugs)and is the main reason why the band are making waves.  Tonight it has grown men screaming out its nursery rhyme chorus.

"Thank you for making this number one Brighton"

If the men get vocal the song literally has girls climbing the walls as one brave trio attempt and impromptu pole dance on the foot wide shelf at the side of the stage. Security quickly ushers them down but not before Healy as had chance to serenade them before leaving the stage.

The devotees know the band have one bullet left in the chamber and shout them back out for an encore.

"We Want Sex!" is chanted in unison before the group return for their encore in an explosion of strobe and the thrashing guitars of Sex

"Seen you soon...and if I don't see you have a good life"

The 1975's tick all the right boxes.  They show invention, variety and can deliver live.  Yet despite all these positives why do I feel that something is missing?

They only thing I can think of are that band lack a degree of soul. Both in delivery and in content, their music can sound detached and artificial like some musically proficient 6th formers singing about their nights out on the town. If they want to be a truly great band they need to connect with their audience on a deeper level. This I hope will come with time.

People will always listen harder if they think you have something worthwhile to say.

Review by Dara Yazdani