Review by Woody, photos by Rob Stanley
I’ve been looking forward to this third Live & Unsigned show at the Robin and was interested to see the variety of talent on offer.
Tonight’s first act is Robin Taylor who I had actually seen as part of the first Live & Unsigned show last year where he was a little misplaced amongst a hard edged rock line-up. Tonight he is amongst much more favourable company. I can’t knock Robin as a musician; good voice, good guitar skills and it’s not easy making an impression when you’re just one man and a guitar, so it takes balls to get up there and hold your own alone. Taylor’s music doesn’t really resonate with me personally though. It’s very laid back, chilled out and as I said in my previous review he’d go down well with those who like Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran and the like. His stage persona is very understated and he is nonchalant which is not a trait I associate with musicians within my favoured genres so it’s hard to deal with – like the time I went to see Marillion and I thought everyone was playing musical statues – that proper freaked me out that did. My first taste of the prog fan base was a very strange experience.
I think Taylor’s set probably featured the worst moment and quite possibly the most awesome moment of the night oddly. When Taylor’s guitar string broke, he seemed to abandon said guitar and stage. He was obviously off to fetch a replacement string but the stage remained empty for a prolonged time and this didn’t do how he came across any favours at all – had this been a Guns ‘N’ Roses concert we would have had a riot – the guy is still very young but when you’re the only man on stage it’s best to have a back up guitar on hand just in case. The awesome moment came when Taylor asked if anyone had a harmonica so they could join him on the track ‘Do It Your Own Way’ and out the blue up pops a volunteer in the shape of The Shanklins Ben Phillips who gets up and improvises a harmonica part. Which I thought was a real nice and unique moment and it didn’t sound too bad either! Always cool to see musicians backing each other up!
Up next were tonight’s fish out of water band; the ever so bubbly Occoeur who were without a doubt my favourite band of the night and would have sat quite nicely on the bills of the previous Live & Unsigned shows. They have an alt rock vibe which veers closely to pop rock with the heavy use of melodies smoothing over the bombastic barrage of guitar riffs and rhythms. They delivered an energetic, all cylinders pumping, visual performance of immediately enjoyable songs packed full of bounce and likeable melodies. There was plenty of hair flipping going on and bouncing around the stage – they have a great quirky and infectious likeable stage presence – in one word FUN!
The exceedingly cute front woman Alexandra Slawinski is an infectious ball of energy who put on an amazingly entertaining performance and most importantly this girl can belt out a serious tune. She’s an extremely powerful singer and delivers some wonderfully emotive and evocative vocal melodies amongst her expressive visual performance. These guys will win fans over with every show they do they are just everything you want from a live show plus they have some pretty decent songs in their arsenal. One highlight was ‘Nevermore’ with its catchy as hell chorus and Alex even gets some crowd participation going on with this one which is great for getting the atmosphere lifted! They also do a great rendition of The Cranberries ‘Zombie’ which Alex nails perfectly – I have a bit of a soft spot for Dolores O’Riordan and The Cranberries so it was nice to see the song done justice. If it’s not clear to you yet what I think of these guys, let me sum it up for you – I love them! I mean that in a purely platonic way of course you know, not a weird stalker type living in your wheelie bin way…. I’ve learnt to become more discrete than that and it’s amazing how people don’t spot you when you’re dressed as a garden gnome!
Redditch based folk rockers Brothers of Caedmon are next and it becomes quite clear early on that they are very hard to pigeonhole musically and it’s hard to know how to describe them as there are many influences all compressed into the song writing here. To be honest though, a static stage presence and the majority of the set seemingly blending into one another of plodding mid-tempo chilled folk meet indie rock left me totally uninspired and unimpressed. This was in stark comparison to my Midlands Rocks colleague Rob Stanley who thought they were absolute genius and a truly original band. He couldn’t get over how well the banjo was incorporated into the song writing and was mightily impressed with the clean and crisp guitar playing.
The Brothers did turn me around a little with their final three tracks of the set starting with ‘Runaway Train’ which featured a real gritty vocal edge from lead singer Conor Rabone which instantly made the song stand out against everything that had come before it. I think they finished with two new tracks and they were bar far the best songs of the set, far more individual sounding and some of the melodic guitar licks were really beautifully played and did grip your attention.
The Shanklins are a straight forward no nonsense indie rock band and I’ve a few mates who would love these guys to pieces. I did get the impression the band felt a little out of place on the Robin stage. They are far more used to playing pubs and compact venues, which lead singer Ben highlights early on stating they’d played on a stage only big enough for the two stage monitors in front of himself on the previous Friday night. From the stage banter these guys had between themselves you can tell they are up for a laugh and seriously enjoy performing.
They play pleasant enough indie rock inspired by the likes of The Charlatans, The Stone Roses and their kin. Lead singer Ben Phillip’s accent is really strong Black Country many may find him hard to understand on stage, even I struggled at times and I pride myself on the mastery of my country’s language! They are enjoyable to watch and I found myself nodding my head to some of the tracks. They chose some intriguing covers to round their set off; ‘Jolene’ which they played ‘cause it’s funny ay it’. Then they played a song by every indie rocker’s favourite band bar none The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. Then they throw in a really odd cover; ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by the greatest Black Country band of all freakin’ time, Led Zeppelin, which I enjoyed in their indie style. I think that with a little more exposure these guys could build a good following amongst the local indie rock community.