Why I was wrong to think Idles obvious and depressing

I never had Idles down as a great Bristol band, I confess. In fact, I never had them down as very much of anything at all. Through occasional and accidental contact, I associated the quintet with a cadre of unlovely groups – Sleaford Mods, Shame, Soft Play (formerly Slaves), Viagra Boys – that emerged in the 2010s and made shouty, angry music which wanted to Say Something Important about our times, most of it pretty obvious and deeply depressing. Idles had a song called ‘I’m Scum’. It was a hard pass from me – more or less sight unseen. Turns out I got it wrong; or perhaps Idles got it

Monumentally good: John Francis Flynn, at the Dome, reviewed

John Francis Flynn is monumentally good. He’s kick-yourself-for-missing-him good. He’s so good that when he spoke between songs in the upstairs ballroom of an old Irish pub in Tufnell Park, it was almost a disappointment: how could the man making this extraordinary music be so normal? Flynn is part of a cohort of Irish musicians revisiting traditional music. There’s the Mary Wallopers, in broad terms the most Pogues-ish. There’s Lankum, shortlisted for the Mercury Prize for their eyebrow-raising, droning experimentalism. There’s Lisa O’Neill, subdued and stern. And there’s Flynn, whose music dances from the unadornedly old-fashioned and Irish – the ‘Tralee Gaol’ played solo, on tin whistle – into something

Uneasy listening: Kathryn Joseph, at Summerhall, reviewed

I have always been fascinated by artists who bounce between tonal extremes when performing, particularly the ones who serve their songs sad and their stagecraft salty. Adele, for example, fills the space between each plushily upholstered soul-baring ballad by transforming into a saucy end-of-pier variety act, coo-cooing at the crowd and cursing like a squaddie. John Lennon gurned and clowned his way through the Beatles’ concerts, subverting the naked suicidal plea of ‘Help!’ in the process. John Martyn would belch and joust in mock-Cockney at the conclusion of a particularly sensitive piece. Jackie Leven punctuated songs of immense pain and sadness with eye-watering stories of defecating in alleyways and getting

The new Pogues: The Mary Wallopers, at O2 Forum Kentish Town, reviewed

I was listening the other week to a solo album by an ageing rock guitarist, once terrifically famous. It was really very good, but I couldn’t bring myself to care about it because it clearly didn’t matter: this man’s career is static and it is likely to remain so. The album will make no impact on the wider world and, despite liking it, I felt no need to listen again. Had it been the debut by a band of 21-year-olds, on the other hand, I would have been all over it. Rock and pop musicians are most interesting in the transitions; that is, on the way up or on the

Tenderness and menace: Bob Dylan, at the London Palladium, reviewed

Bob Dylan has always toyed with audiences. He plays what he wants, how he wants, letting his mood dictate tempo and often key (sometimes switching songs to the minor). On Dylan’s return to London for the first time in five years, he summed it up early. ‘I ain’t no false prophet/ I just know what I know,’ he gruffly sang. Dylan spent the night at the Palladium doing what he knows best, singing songs of love, loss and immortality. Covid temporarily ended his ‘Never-Ending Tour’, which had seen Dylan play more than 3,000 shows since 1988. Now it’s billed as ‘The Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour’, with the strapline: ‘Things

A magnificent farewell: Stornoway, at Womad Festival, reviewed

The greatest pleasure of writing about pop music – even more than the free tickets and records, nice as they are – is seeing some tiny, as yet unnoticed act and being dazzled by them, then taking every chance you can to wang on about them until other people start to feel the same. Music writers tend not to have many opportunities to do something good – alas, Nick Kent did not expose the thalidomide scandal; it wasn’t Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs who got to the bottom of Watergate – but it’s truly gratifying when a band you have championed rises from the toilet circuit, even if they never

Fabulously boring: Weather Station’s How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars reviewed

Grade: C– Anyone remember that TV advert for Canada from the 1980s – a succession of colourful images, including a delicious pink donut, downtown T.O. and soaring mountain peaks, displaying the beauty, vitality and vibrancy of the country? It made me want to visit. Wild horses wouldn’t drag me there now – that glorious, vast expanse now the sine qua non of smugness and condescension. It has become a terminally precious country and we should withdraw our ambassador, or invade (that being the fashion). Weather Station, led by the fabulously irritating Tamara Lindeman, were once okayish indie folkies who have now become pretentious, half-assed purveyors of somnambulant fake jazz, like

A story of reflection and self-discovery: Anaïs Mitchell’s new album reviewed

Any artist who has habitually written or performed in character — from David Bowie to Lady Gaga — eventually arrives at their Mike Yarwood moment: ‘And this is me!’ With the release of her sixth solo record, Anaïs Mitchell has reached the point of personal revelation. ‘I’ve spent a lot of time trying to write in the voice of other characters,’ she says. ‘It felt like after so many years of working on telling other stories — now here are some of mine.’ In 2020 Mitchell was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. Nevertheless, she requires an introduction. I’m sure I was one of the first British

Cast a spell, clear and sharp as frost: The Unthanks reviewed

As August unwound, the EIF settled into the cavernous gazebo that is Edinburgh Park, and things began to loosen up. First there was an outbreak of vigorous clog dancing — more on which later. This escalated within 48 hours to a polite mini stampede from our designated seats towards the front of the stage at the start of Damon Albarn’s show, instigated at the artist’s request. ‘I’ve checked and we’re allowed,’ said Albarn sensibly. In 2021 we must take rebellion as we find it. When he lit a cigarette near the end it felt like civilisation was teetering on the very brink. As it transpired, this wasn’t really music designed

What a genuine delight to be among people: Gorillaz, at the O2, reviewed

The new music economy relies on cross-promotion and artists reaching out to different scenes. And the rise of streaming means everyone can hop between audiences with ease, hence those singles apparently by one person but with a cricket team’s worth of other names credited. As the Beach Boys once sang, ‘you need a mess of help to stand alone’. Alongside the featured artist sausage factory there are musical patrons. Take Damon Albarn, who has spent much of the past 20 years elevating the work of other artists, using the strength of his own name — made, of course, as the frontman of Blur — to promote music that might otherwise

Wispy, gauzy beauty: This Is The Kit, Barbican, reviewed

On the way home from This Is The Kit’s show at a socially distanced Barbican, I listened to Avalon by Roxy Music, which had been brought to mind by the previous 90 minutes or so of music. It’s perhaps worth saying that This Is The Kit — the nom de chanson of Kate Stables, backed by a three-piece band and three horn players — have absolutely nothing in common with Avalon by Roxy Music, visually or musically. Stables, hair piled on top of her head, and dressed for comfort, not speed, did not look as though she intended to boost the Colombian export trade after the show; perhaps, instead, she

One of the few genuine British visionaries at work today: Richard Dawson at the Barbican reviewed

How hard must it be to make music that sounds like no one else? And how unrewarding, often, as well? Music consumption has been refined by streaming services to encourage listeners towards songs that sound like ones you already like; pop songwriters, driven by those same algorithms, strive to write songs whose entire purpose is to deliver something familiar within the first 30 seconds. Richard Dawson, a partially sighted and portly Geordie with lank, greying hair, who walked on to the Barbican’s stage wearing a vintage Newcastle United tracksuit top and blinking as if he’d expected the room to be empty, makes music that sounds like no one else, even

Livestream-hopping is just as irritating as being at a real festival

The ghost of Samuel Beckett oversaw the Hip Hop Loves NY livestream last Thursday night. Time and time again its host, the veteran hip-hop TV presenter Ralph McDaniels — known to all his guests, unnervingly, as ‘Uncle Ralph’ — tried to connect to some Golden Age legend. Time and time again, his attempts at a straightforward interview went wrong. We saw Uncle Ralph, on one half of the screen, ask a question about Covid-19, nod along to the answer, then say, ‘Thank you, doctor.’ But we didn’t have a doctor on screen, or on our audio. We had Ice T. ‘I ain’t no doctor,’ Ice-T said. Cut to Nas. But