Monthly Archives: April 2013

MUSIC (Folky Folk Folk) – March 29th – The Lumineers @ The Corner Hotel

Its Good Friday and it says a lot about the rise and rise of Denver’s folk upstarts that tickets to the Corner Hotel are rarer than Welsh World Cup winning medals or Australian creative humour. In fact the whole tour has sold out. Normally for gigs in Melbourne there are punters trying to shift spare tickets where their friends essentially haven’t been arsed to head out. This is not the case tonight. There were streams of people turned away too.

No matter what radio station you happen to listen to, you would have heard “Ho Hey”. In my recent experiences, this being the case in the US and the UK too, not just in Australia!!! The band were discovered not that long ago on youtube, performing the track at home and as the folk revival surges so does the emergence of the mandolin slingers. A quick look at youtube quickly shows that the video for Ho Hey has had over 65 million views. If only they had a dollar for every view…..Sssshhhh now, dont want to give youtube any ideas do we….

Marketed as a 3 piece, including cello & “roving” percussion, tonight their live show features the full complement of the 5 Lumineers members. I have to say that the sound they put out together is possibly the best I have heard at the Corner Hotel. Crisp, clear and no distortion whatsoever. I hope that it was down to a decent sound guy and sound check and not by luck. The room is literally chock-a-block and even by trying to get to the bar or go to the toilet you risk losing your friends for the foreseeable future.

They pull a bit of surprise when they do Ho Hey only 15 minutes into the set, but that gets the crowd even more engaged. As they only have released one 11 track album, I’m guessing that their song library is pretty light at this stage of their journey. I was impressed when the lead bangs out a solo version of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues in his Dylanesque drawl. It fitted the set perfectly, which to be fair is a ripping jaunt. Head bopping, clapping and whooping through their folk melodies there was never a dull moment. But, just when you thought they couldn’t get any closer to their hipster audience, they decided to play IN the audience.

A first for me, I have to say. They simply picked up their instruments, parted the crowd Moses style as best they could, and waded their way into the centre of the dancefloor. They set up – xylophone, accordian et al – and requested all mobile phones to be put away before they would play. One idiot immediately decided that it didn’t apply to him and was in the firing line, as the band false started. They stopped and told him to put his phone away and then he reluctantly did so. So no microphones, no amplifiers, just a deathly silence and a lesson in performance. A truly wonderful way to make your mark on your crowd.

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The songs are short. They are uplifting. The roots revival continues its growth as it appease the 30+ers that are engulfed with the current generation’s hip-hop, dance and glorified karaoke singers. Quality live shows like this one will continue to draw large crowds, as it makes you feel good about yourself. The heart on your sleeve performance and the whole gig experience is one that stays with you for a long long time. I cannot recommend a night out with The Lumineers enough.

(Special thanks to Mr Colin Daniels of Inertia music for making this possible)

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ICE HOCKEY – Feb 4th – AHL Houston Aeros vs San Antonio Rampage

The AHL is the second tier of Ice Hockey in North America. Due to the problems with the top tier NHL being on strike, I had to get my ice hockey fix by heading out to see two teams I hadn’t even realised existed, let alone be familiar with. I was excited by the fact that the Houston Aeros played their home games at the spiffing Toyota Center, the home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. The stadium itself has a capacity of just over 18,000, but they must have counted the stadium staff, the smokers, and those that had left things in the car and come back in multiple times, if the 4255 attendance figure was to be believed. If it wasn’t for over a 1000 or so school kids that had free tickets, there would have been less than 1000 people in.

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Now, I’m lead to believe that the AHL struggles with attendances and for much media exposure, and like its bigger, much more professional older brother, the NHL, it actively encourages fighting – I shouldn’t say that for fear of being libelous – I should say that it doesn’t actively discourage it. In fact there have been many research papers written about fan trends regarding the AHL’s attendances including population, socio-economic variables, promotions, scoring, winning percentage and of course fighting. The findings reveal that in the majority of regions, fighting is a major positive factor in attendance figures. One of the strangest findings was, that for minor league ice hockey in North America, the record of the home team has little effect on attendance numbers, as oppose to the NHL. Here’s the taster from this game – it was the only one on the night.

The game itself was fairly low key. I’ve been to NHL games before, and there just wasn’t the intensity, pure speed or the sheer impact of the hits. There seemed to be a lack of “checking” which kind of reminded me of the British League in a lot of respects – that’s probably a bit derogatory to this game, but hey, I managed to get out and see it, not many locals did!

San Antonio were ranked 28th out of the 30 AHL teams, although Houston had only won 3 more games than them at this point in the season. Houston had won 4 out of their previous 5 games though, so on paper it should have been an easy home win.

San Antonio executed a power play goal early on which was the only goal of the first period, despite “The Rampage” dominating on the whole. A power play is when one team has more players on the ice than the other, due to a player being in the sin-bin for an offence like having a lop-sided beard or having all of your own teeth. The player gets to sit in a box all by himself and contemplate his misdemeanours whilst his team mates try to cover his sorry arse for 2 minutes!  The Rampage then doubled their lead very early on in the second period only for the home side to pull a goal back just minutes later. The second period was a bit dour with what seemed to be regular “schoolboy” errors from both teams. It was a bit dull, and our spirits were a bit dampened, and then this happened:

Complete with Benny Hill music too!!! This must have had a positive effect on the proceedings as the game kicked into life in the final period. San Antonio bagged a couple of simple goals early on but from there Houston laid siege on the Rampage goal. Houston scored one but couldn’t score another, and when attacking again on a power play, San Antonio broke clear a smashed home a short handed goal against the run of play. The game petered out with Houston having their own players in the sin bin, making it virtually impossible for them to claw back the deficit.

All in all an enjoyable night, but the lack of atmosphere didn’t help. The beer selection was however excellent and the freedom to sit wherever you liked was a plus. It just  wasn’t a true substitute for the elite of the NHL that us sports lovers crave to see.

AHL

HOUSTON AEROS 2 – 5 SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE

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MUSIC (Rock Royalty) – March 30th – Bruce Springsteen @ Hanging Rock

I’m not a massive fan of “The Boss” but I do appreciate that one of the reasons he has been around for over 40 years is that he can put on a decent show. Some say he is the greatest live performer of all time. The timeless, anthemic rock ditties are backed up this time around by the most well-known backing band in the business, the E-street Band. No-one really knows what to expect with a Springsteen show, except for the fact that he will give you a balls out, heart on the sleeve sweat fest, that will endear him forever more in the Australian rock public’s hearts.

The setting is the spectacular Hanging Rock National Park, and 20,000 locals have trekked the 100 kilometre journey from Melbourne to see the 64 year old, possibly for the last time in Australia. However, I’m sure they said that the last time he came to Australia too, 10 years ago! When there is 20,000 people in a field though, it is quite hard to get anywhere close to the stage, especially when the areas reserved for “VIPs” are ever increasing at these outdoor shows. I was a good 100 yards away from the stage – and that was prime position for us lesser souls, but in all honesty there were huge screens and the sound boomed out perfectly – even for Jimmy Barnes’ screeching set!IMAG0832

Jimmy Barnes was the perfect foil for Springsteen. Everyone in the crowd knows the majority of his songs and like any decent support act, he was never going to steal the show. However, “the Working Class Man” – “Australia’s greatest rock singer” is more poor man’s Status Quo, let alone in Springsteen’s league. But half way through Barnesy managed to get himself a duet with the great man during Tougher than the Rest, which to me looked and felt more like a forced token gesture, rather than something The Boss genuinely wanted (or even required).

Springsteen was truly amazing. A 3 hour set filled with his trademark crowd request section where he takes signs from the more dedicated fans, dancing with a female plucked from the crowd (a la Courtney Cox, 1984 vintage) and simply witnessing his talent in engaging the crowd with that winning all-American smile, made everyone feel a part of something special. I couldn’t believe my eyes when he started crowd surfing – in itself quite amazing – but singing at the same time; for a near pensioner makes it even more impressive. It was lucky it was a huge stage, as the E-street Band had more members than an all boys boarding school, but their sound was crisp and tight. The guitar solo in The Ghost of Tom Joad stole the show.

I’m no Springsteen aficionado but the set he played was up beat, consistent and essentially seamless. Even the slower numbers weren’t out of place. The River is one of my favourite Springsteen tracks and this did not disappoint, even down to howling wolf finale. Born in the USA, Human Touch and I’m on Fire didn’t make the cut for this show which was disappointing, but when you’ve banged out 20+ albums it’s not surprising, especially when you are promoting a new album too. You can’t fit everything in.

I have a bucket list of songs that I want to hear played live before I go deaf or I expire. I’ve knocked off a few more this year, but here’a another one to tick off:

The Boss’ encore was filled with classics like Born to Run, Glory Days and Dancing in the Dark, but also included a cover of Because the Night, which was done brilliantly and seemed to last for ages.There wasn’t much more he could have done to make the experience any better.

The only downside to a great day in the country, shared with a rock superstar and 20,000 others is trying to get home. Bruce left the stage at 1020 and with only 1 way out of the car park and the Australian’s inability to merge efficiently into traffic meant that I finally got home at 200am! But not even that nightmare dampened my enthusiasm for a fantastic day out.

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WATER SKI JUMPING – March 11th – Moomba Masters, Melbourne

When your name is Freddy Krueger and you’re the son of Fred Krueger, your nickname is always going to be “The Nightmare on Water Skis”! However, it’s not a gimmick or a clever marketing push to get sponsors, Mr. Krueger (jnr) is the world record holder in water ski jumping, and today he showed his class outjumping the rest of the competitors by nearly 3 metres, which in a sport of inches, is considered miles.

If you haven’t seen water ski jumping, it’s over pretty quickly, and there are very few variables. The rope length and the boat speed is the same for all jumpers, so it’s simply down to timing and technique. The skiers are towed along and drift out to the opposite side of the river from the ramp, leaving their cuts back to the ramp as late as possible in order to get maximum speed, at the correct angle, to get maximum lift off the ramp. The speed that the skiers race across the boat’s wake and on to the ramp is scary, and they hit the ramp so hard its unbelievable.

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Then they fly through the air, all the time holding on to the tow rope and have to land back onto the river. The slap of the skis as they hit the water is immense, and I’m surprised more don’t fall, or crash as the case would be, as they land, but we didn’t see one slip up at all.

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There was a massive crowd on the banks of The Yarra. The skiers wander along the footpath carrying their own gear. There’s totally no heirs or graces and certainly no special treatment. I have no idea whether they make decent money or not, but judging by the countries represented in both the men’s and women’s competitions there is certainly worldwide appeal. Even when they have completed their jumps, they quietly pack up their equipment, skis, helmets, jackets and tow rope and trudge off through the crowd back to their portakabin change room, struggling to carry everything by themselves. I can’t imagine the primadonnas of the football world carrying their own boots let alone a pair of 9ft waterskis!

The women’s event was just as exciting, and there was cheer for the Australian crowd as right up until the last jumper the local girl, Jacinta “Rabbit” Carrol was leading the competition, until the Finnish skier pulled one out from nowhere to take out the title.

There are other disciplines with water skiing such as slalom and tricks, but the jumps are the most jaw dropping. You find yourself holding your breath when the skiers start their cut-backs to the ramp, right the way through to when they land. Deep down, you truly want to see a massive wipe-out because you know it will a spectacular fusion of skis, legs, water, splashing and most of all, pain!

Here’s “The Nightmare’s” winning jump.

2013 MOOMBA MASTERS RESULTS

Men:

Freddy Krueger USA 67.6m

Ryan Dodd CAN 64.9m

Scot Ellis USA 64.2m

Women:

Jutta Lammi FIN 52.3m

Jacinta Carroll AUS 51.3m

Marion Mathieu FRA 50.8m

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MUSIC (80s Synth Pop Legend) – April 19th – Midge Ure @ Billboard

One of the first songs I can actually remember absolutely loving growing up was Vienna. I have had a soft spot for the music of Ultravox and Midge Ure ever since. Midge Ure,yes, he of Band Aid and Live Aid fame. From what I believe, the Ultravox reunion tours in the UK over the past couple of years have been total sell-out occasions. Tonight is just a little shy of that! Just over 200, mainly 40+ers are sprinkled throughout the dimly lit club. Midge arrives on stage and promptly thanks everyone for coming along – he could have done it on an individual basis if he wanted to kill a minute or two!!! Midge, however, takes the poor turn-out in his stride and after thanking the crowd, he asks “next time though, can you all bring a few of your friends along too!” For a Friday night in Melbourne, I was truly shocked by the general apathy the visit of Midge Ure has created. Lesson to be learnt here is not to go up against the final weekend of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival!

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No matter though, the man is a pure pro. He blasts his was through a good hour and half set, although there was less Ultravox numbers than I expected and a lot more of his solo work, but at the end of the day it is a Midge Ure gig and not an Ultravox one.

To my disappointment, he didn’t do The Voice (the look and the sound of …) , nor did he do All Stood Still (we all stood still…) , nor did he do The Thin Wall (their backs against the….). Although, my favourite song of the mid 80s did make an appearance, when Love’s Great Adventure was boomed out. I thought the band had shunned this track due to its “non-Ultravox” sound and Indiana Jones spoof-style video, but it was great to hear it live.

Ure has a quirkiness about him, but his voice is strong, and the stage presence is there, even if his hair isn’t and the music is better than I ever remember it. There’s also no messing around. There are no guitar changes, no artistic pauses or long, drawn out crowd chats, just the hits like Fade to Grey, One Small Day and Hymn roll out after one another. He does precede Breathe with a spiel about how he thought it was “the best song he ever wrote” only to find out the rest of the world seemed to disagree with him!! He finished off with Cold Cold Heart and the encore consisted solely of Dancing with Tears In My Eyes.

I have a bucket list of songs that I want to hear played live before I go deaf or I expire. I’ve knocked off a few more this year, but I can now tick another one off my list:

Midge left the crowd with the premise that he was here to test the waters to get the rest of the band (old farts – his words) to tour later in the year. My question would be though is how many more people would go and see Ultravox instead of just Midge Ure (the face of Ultravox throughout the height of their popularity)? Answer…… sadly not many more, if at all any – sorry!

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FOOTBALL – April 21st – A League Grand Final – Western Sydney Wanders vs Central Coast Mariners

It goes a long way when I can truthfully say I was caught up in the hype of this game – the showpiece of the Australian Football season – which was an oxymoron in itself, not so long ago. Throughout this season I have watched on as the Western Sydney club grew from literally nothing, as it didn’t even exist in April 2012 to taking out the League crown, and smashing an Australian record by winning 10 games straight during the season. This success on the field brought unprecedented success off the field too. Their legions of fans – the Red and Black Bloc (RBB) – have gradually grown and grown and turned football into a cult following for the youth of the region. They are now “Australia’s most fanatical sporting fans”. I have never seen such a high proportion of fans wear their teams colours too – it is near enough 100%.

Western Sydney v Central Coast - 2013 A-League Grand Final

I really didn’t even consider going to the game at all. I met friends of mine in central Sydney and as soon as I got off the bus (the trains were not running due to line maintenance – clearly the only time to do it, as it wasn’t as if there was anything of any significance happening in Sydney that was going to bring in anyone from out of town obviously!), the atmosphere, still 4 hours out from the game, around the streets was electric. I have been to 3 A-League Grand Finals before – however I stress, none as a neutral – but have never previously felt the sense of occasion like I was feeling then. It made me want to be a part of it.

I headed down to the ground and could not believe what I was seeing. Streets were packed solid and you literally could not move – guess which moron was going against the traffic!!!!! This is a scene I thought I would never see for Australian football, especially club football. I waded through the crowds and found a Western Sydney fan trying to offload a spare ticket which I duly purchased for less than face value – already a win on my behalf. A bit later on I came across the troops of English Ticket Touts that I see at all the big events – a sure sign that football has arrived in Australia. I say English, I can narrow that down to scousers and cockneys, but what else would you expect when there’s a bit of “dodgy dealing” going down????

I got into the stadium after working my way through the masses of red and black (and the odd yellow and blue) and was amazed at what I was witnessing. The red haze of the RBB in the ground reminded me of the British Lions supporters invasion of Australia in 2001 which sent ructions throughout the ARU back then and forced the “Be Bold, Wear Gold” campaign just to right the ship.

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The game itself essentially failed to live up to the hype. The Wanderers team struggled to assert any authority on the game at all. The Mariners scored from a free header from a corner just before half time (a criminal marking error at a crucial time in the game) and when a Wanderers player elbowed a bouncing ball in his own penalty area, journeyman English striker, 36 year old Danny McBreen, formally of footballing giants Scunthorpe & York City, slotted home the resultant penalty kick to effectively seal the title. McBreen has somehow managed to net 19 times in 27 games this season, and was also awarded the man of the match award, yet the Mariners still haven’t offered him a contract for next season!!!!

Even though the game was lost the RBB still chanted and sang and then did their trademark Poznan salute as the 80th minute ticked over. It was amazing to see three sides of the ground dance arm in arm in unison, with their backs to the game – I told you it was a cult!!!

This was the 8th edition of the A-League Grand Final and the Central Coast Mariners have already appeared in half of them. However, this was the first time they had managed to get their hands on the silver toilet seat. Out of the 42,000+ fans at the game less than a third were there for the yellow and blue. They deserved their win as they were the much better team on the day, but how’s this – their players’ joy was ultimately short lived. Due to the nature of the Australian season, literally just over 12 hours after the final whistle the team was on a plane heading for South Korea to play in an Asian Champions League game on Tuesday!!!

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All in all, it was a great day and I was glad I decided I needed to be a part of it. Atmosphere’s make great occasions and the Wanderer’s supporters (with help from the Mariners’ supporters too) can be proud of themselves for making this such a marquee moment in Australian Football history. Its never going to be a Manchester or Milan derby, but it’s the best we’re going to get!

Hyundai A-League Grand Final

CENTRAL COAST MARINERS  2 – 0  WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS

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FOOTBALL – April 5th – Melbourne Victory v Perth Glory

A botched national anthem, a tale of two penalties, a goal celebration where the scorer hit the provider in the head with a corner flag and 4 players from one team all down on the turf with cramp at the same time, were just some of the highlights from one of the more crazier games in A-League history!

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How does a team who’s only shot on goal in normal time, is from a penalty decision that was so soft, fabric conditioner companies were jealous, actually win a game? Especially when you are 1-0 down AND have conceded a penalty in the 88th minute. Perth had taken an early lead in the 15th minute when a speculative cross was chested into an empty net after Nathan Coe’s “will he-won’t he” indecision, left him statue-esque to say the least!

When the guys that were sat next to me stormed out of the ground as the referee pointed to the spot for the Perth penalty, two of them threw their toys out of the cot by throwing their scarves onto the field, so disgusted they were with the insipid performance of the home side. At that point in time, I happened to be feeling exactly the same way! 180 seconds later, they were back, and nearly 23,000 Victory fans were feeling like it was 5.01pm on Easter Thursday!!!!

Smeltz, sporting a rather passé headband to cover over a sickening head wound he suffered against the football superpower of New Caledonia a few weeks back, proceeded to blast his spot kick against the bar. From the subsequent counter attack, the Victory profited from an overly generous official – not once but twice, as not only did he award the penalty, but he sent off the Perth offender too!!! As a fellow referee, it shames me to say that both decisions were wrong, and again (jn fact, time and time again) with this particular official, his blunders have affected the result of the games – especially on the biggest stage in Australian football. Perth were on the end of his ineptitude in the most cruelest of fashions on that occasion too!

As Milligan stepped up, there were fans holding their hands together praying, and one man and his partner in front of me couldn’t even watch – which kind of tells you how far football has come in 8 short years in Australia. Milligan coolly slotted home from the spot to force extra time amongst quite a deafening roar from the Victory faithful.  Before that, there were very few highlights in a game marred by a typical over-coaching and a lack of risk taking and creativity by both sides. However, it was end to end stuff in the latter moments of the game, and against 10 men the Victory took their opening chance in extra time to go 2-1 up and essentially seal the game.

A long through ball down the right wing, and first time cross saw world-record holder Archie Thompson (look it up) face plant the ball at the back post into the ground, so that it popped up over the Perth goalkeeper into the net. Somehow the Victory had managed to get a result when they plainly deserved not to – and as they progress through the playoffs, you get the feeling that despite finishing third in the league, their name just might be on the silver toilet seat yet.

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Hyundai A-League semi final

MELBOURNE VICTORY 2 – 1 PERTH GLORY

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MUSIC (Punk Rock) – April 2nd – Dropkick Murphys, Frank Turner, Swinging Utters @ Festival Hall

Every Dropkick Murphy’s gig I’ve ever been to, and this may have been my 9th installment, ends in mayhem – quite well behaved mayhem, and generally all in good fun. The Irish descendant “celtic punks” from Boston manage to marry the traditional, with the menace, mirth and meaning of true celts. For 2 hours, the crowd is whipped up into a frenzy of moshing, pogoing and skanking, not to mention crowd surfing and bodycrashes! The music is genuinely infectious and the Murphy’s, although lacking in radio play and no omnipresence whatsover, have a huge cult following – solely down to their live shows. The punters know that they can go relatively mental for a few hours without fear or retribution from anyone else in the vicinity.

Every Murphy’s gig ends in a stage invasion. This time it was the turn of the females in the crowd to get on stage and have a sing-song with the band. As the number of people on stage grows, the visibility of the band members gets less and less, but they keep playing and banging out the tunes. It truly is an amazing sight. In today’s world of the “fun police” it is great to see a band laugh in the face of OH&S and put the enjoyment of a live show firmly in its place.

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It is very rare you will hear a Dropkick Murphy’s track on the radio. Their punk versions of The Irish Rover and the Fields of Athenry are standouts, but they regularly champion the working man, especially those that are fighters, or drinkers, or more commonly both. In keeping with their Irish heritage, drinking is a common theme – something that the crowd relates to very well. What is now standard for bands coming to Australia, they finish their set with AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds, which goes down a storm with the hundreds of people now on stage!! Their live show is intense, brutal but all the same infectious and fun. That’s why we all keep going back…

The support act, I thought was a strange choice, but the self-styled folk punk from Hampshire, armed only with the acoustic guitar, fitted in perfectly. Another performer that, if he wasn’t up on stage, he would be in the crowd with you enjoying his own show. There is a rowdiness about the performance from all the band members with exaggerated emphasis on energy, theatrics and showmanship. Turner is nobody in Australia and if trends in the UK, and with performances like this one, this will no doubt change. Turner’s songs are honest, intimate and downright English – there is a fair amount of humour built in too, and funnily enough there are a number of references to drinking, and big nights out!

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Turner recently was part of the Olympics Opening Ceremony and then sold out Wembley Arena. No mean feat for a punk folk performer hailing from Winchester, which isn’t exactly the hotbed of the British music scene. With songs declaring there is no God, and improvised dance contests, with classic lines like “Because there’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music. And some of them are just like us and some of them are dicks.” “I wont sit down, and I wont shut up and most of all, I wont grow up” from Photosynthesis kind of sums up the show. It all ended all too soon to be honest, but like any great performer, they leave you wanting more, and Frank Turner is truly a great performer.

What can I say about Swinging Utters. A hard core punk band that have been around for close on 25 years or more. What can I say? Johnny Bonnel dances like Peter Garrett having an epileptic fit traversing the stage from side to side, uses the microphone cord like some sort of horse whip, and every now and again spits out torrents of saliva between songs….. His voice is grainy but still booms, in a true shouty old-school punk style. The songs are short and sharp, and the band’s intensity is huge considering they were the opening act, kicking off at 7pm on a Tuesday! However, they are held in great regard on the punk scene, so much so, that the Dropkick Murphys even did 2 covers of Swinging Utters’ tracks during their set!

All in all a great night of contrasting styles of punk music. Everyone went home happy. One thing puzzled me though – how come bootleg T-shirts cost $ 20 on the pavement outside the venue, but if you walk across the road (all of 15 yards), you can buy the same shirt for $ 10 ???

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