Monday, 9 August 2010

Goodnight Lenin and DC Fontana, live and Local: two great bands

Goodnight Lenin and DC Fontana play blinders in two very different venues

It’s been a busy few weeks. In the past fortnight, for reasons that will become very clear in a couple of months, I’ve seen more than my usual quota of local bands, and I tend to watch quite a lot. I’m a BIG fan of local music. You often get to see new bands with extraordinary promise, and once in a while you see that promise on its way to being fulfilled. And above all, you have the pleasure of watching musicians play for the sake of making music – as opposed to for the express purpose of relieving you of as much money as possible in some soulless concrete box miles from anywhere.
So over the weekend I took in, among other things, the single launch gig of Goodnight Lenin, and a very low key warm-up gig for DC Fontana. Goodnight Lenin are a year old, but already have a mighty following, who packed out the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath. I’ve never seen the place so full, or, to be frank, felt so, um, sweaty there. This may be down to the good offices of Moseley Folk, promoters of the excellent Moseley Folk Festival and the Lunar Society series of gigs, who manage them, and who have from a standing start, become extremely influential promoters in Birmingham in recent years.

Anyway, Goodnight Lenin are an interesting bunch. They showed a nice bit of confident swagger as they took to the stage, which I generally take as a good sign. Lots of energy, strangely high harmonies from three of the four vocalists, clever arrangements, lots of folky swapping and doubling of instruments (fiddle, mandolin, squeezebox, acoustic and electric guitars, and keyboards). They showed a pleasantly relaxed, slightly laddish presence onstage which went down well with their core audience – although I could have done with snappier onstage delivery, which would have made more of their material and style. But, hey, there’s a scorching single and video, and they’ve already come a long way in a year. I’ll be following them with pleasure and interest.

Sunday night was surreal. And seriously good fun. The Witton Arms is a straight down the line Irish boozer in the shadow of Villa Park, in what is now a very multicultural chunk of inner city Birmingham. A small place, full of large cheery red faced men in Gaelic footy replica shirts, with wives, mothers, aunties and girlfriends. A proper community place. Evening sunshine streaming in through the open doors, and a cheerful lurcher was being fussed over by the smokers in the courtyard. Inside there was no stage for the band, who had to squeeze themselves in – no room for the piano... just the Hammond.

DC Fontana are a band who simply adore classic soul, and make lots of room for it in their set. Now, this is a very risky thing to do, as it invites comparisons with the originals. But they carry it off very, very well, with a three piece horn section, a classic Hammond/Leslie cab combination, and a tight rhythm section, fronted by a big voiced girl singer. You used to see bands like this all the time back in the day, and sadly, most of them were rubbish; I can only think of one totally fabulous late seventies outfit, from the black country – Little Acre – who managed to get it right. DC Fontana totally nailed the classics in their set – including Green Onions and Chain Of Fools, and even did credit to Compared To What. Their own material was not too shabby either. There’s an album to explore, and the current video shows their 60s roots. They shot it in Porthmeirion, the original location for the Prisoner TV series.

As for the audience? Well, even though it was an Irish boozer on a Sunday night, most of the regulars really rather liked the turn, and gave them a pleasant reception. Me, I loved them. I didn’t think they made bands like this anymore, and I’ve very glad these guys are around. But next time I’ll check them out at a venue that has room for their piano.

Note to anyone interested at radio: both bands sound great, and have killer singles out. They would appreciate your support;  I for one would love to hear either of them on a mainstream radio outlet. Note to anyone in the music industry: this stuff is self-produced, largely self-managed, sophisticated, and is completely bypassing your mainstream outlets. That's the way it is these days. Time to catch up.

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