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Music Reviews

Welcome to a new feature of the magazine, where I report on the good, the bad and the downright ugly of recent live music in Exeter, with an eye on lesser known artists, rather than household names. Thankfully, there was little of the “ugly” in the performances reviewed below, and – with upcoming gigs by The Acorn and Art Brut to name but a few – I’m optimistic for the months ahead.

Kid Canaveral & Ono Palindromes

Exeter Cavern Club, 8th March 2009

Kid Canaveral

Having opened for cult-folk hero King Creosote and current indie darlings Glasvegas since forming in 2004, Scottish pop quartet Kid Canaveral clearly know the merits of keeping good company. Seemingly oblivious to the small Sunday evening crowd, the two boy/two girl combination cheerfully delivered a faultless one hour set of joyful, catchy, guitar-driven indie-pop to suggest – luck permitting – that it won’t be long before they reach a wider audience.

Much of the night’s focus was on Canaveral’s permanent smile-wearing front man, David MacGregor. Singing in a rich Scottish accent, MacGregor’s vocals infused Canaveral’s songs with honest warmth and led the many pitch perfect male/female vocal harmonies that dominated the evening. Comparisons with The Magic Numbers are obvious yet unavoidable, but the clever lyrics of Smash Hits and pounding drums on Couldn’t Dance suggest that Kid Canaveral have more strings to their bow than their bearded counterparts, while the influences of fellow Scots Belle and Sebastian and The Delgados are thankfully noticeable.

This is a band which deserves to be heard. With the release of their debut LP this summer, they might not have much longer to wait.

A word on Totnes art rockers Ono Palindromes (formerly Young Sensations) who offered support. Attired in red and blue trousers and sounding like a moody Art Brut covering The Arcade Fire, they are certainly an acquired taste but not devoid of a good tune, with Beautiful Noise a fine example of playful, leftfield pop. With greater quality control and a less knowingly-kooky band name, they could do very well indeed.

Joscho Stephan Trio

Exeter Phoenix, 12th March 2009

Joscho Stephan

Pick up a venue’s listings guide and you will invariably find a batch of over-hyped musicians assigned the labels “genius” or “maestro” (the woeful Nick Harper, for example) in the hope of luring us – Joe Public – into flittering away our hard-earned cash. With German Gipsy Jazz guitarist Joscho Stephan, however, such superlatives are not only fully merited, they probably don’t go far enough, and the privileged few who turned out to see Stephan, his father (Gunter – rhythm guitar) and Max Schaaf (bass) were treated to a genuine musical master class.

As the title of his third album (Django Forever) confirms, Stephan’s music is steeped in the style pioneered by legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt; a style that combines faultless chord rhythms with complex and innovative single note fret work, all delivered at breakneck speed with assured brilliance. Having opened with the magnificent Django’s Tiger, other highlights of the hour and half long set included a playful yet complex interpretation of Mozart’s Ronda (alla Turca) during which his left hand danced manically like a drug-addled spider along the fret board.

While Stephan’s playing was the fulcrum of the performance, mention must also go to Max Schaaf who oozed class on the bass.

In view of my comment about labels above, I’m loathed to call Stephan the world’s greatest acoustic guitar player. However, what can be said is that he is part of an elite group – Clive Carroll among them – who are capable of taking your breath away.

For the diary

A brief list of highlights for the coming months:

Jonah Matranga, Exeter Cavern Club, 1 April 2009 – Talented American singer-songwriter. Check out the fabulous Not About A Girl Or A Place on his myspace page, which borrows the hook from Ryan Adams’ Someday, Somehow. If you like what you hear, try the album musicforthemorningafter by Pete Yorn.

Art Brut, Exeter Phoenix, 5 April 2009 – Hilarious art rockers specialising in sharp lyrics and minimalist but infectious riffs who, against all odds, have gained critical acclaim (5 star reviews in the Guardian, no less). A captivating live band, front man Eddie Argos is a natural comedian and worth the admission price alone.

The Quails, Exeter Phoenix, 25 April 2009 – Teignmouth based band specialising in generic indie fare. After a few drinks, you’ll forget the terrible name and the fact that they sound like the Kooks, and find yourself bouncing along with a smile on your face.

The Acorn, Exeter Phoenix, 10 May 2009 – Evidently, the credit crunch is having an adverse impact on band names, but don’t let this put you off. Currently touring with Elbow and the Fleet Foxes, this Canadian outfit play wistful alt-folk with the emphasis very much on the alt: think the rebel child of the Fleet Foxes, Wilco and My Morning Jacket; a little too self-indulgent in places, but otherwise brilliant.

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Music Reviews

Two thoroughly enjoyable gigs reviewed below, and some great music coming up, including Idlewild, Pulled Apart by Horses and a range of artists at the Phoenix’s Acoustica Festival.

The Acorn

Exeter Phoenix, 10th May 2009

The Acorn

Imagine, as I often do, a world where Jake the Peg had no extra leg, or Scaramanga was just another Bond villain with two nipples – it would be rubbish. If you don’t believe me, go to YouTube and watch Rolf’s third leg in action without grinning. It can’t be done.

Musicians know the merits of an extra appendage, too with the Grateful Dead, early Genesis and ace Detroit rockers The Dirtbombs all dabbling with a second drummer in their live line-ups. To that list can be added inventive Canadian outfit The Acorn; a move which is logical considering the band’s reliance on infectious tribal rhythms on their breakthrough album, Glory Hope Mountain.

The results are stunning, with both percussionists competing against the other amidst a fusion of beautiful guitar hooks and handclaps on standout tracks Hold Your Breath and Flood Pt.1, and delivering a level of intensity only hinted at on the album versions. Keeping everything together is charismatic frontman Rolf Klausener (responsible for vocals and much of the guitar work), who is clearly as revered by his band as he is the audience (“he’s the guy that writes the songs”, says the bassist at one point, all puppy-eyed with admiration).

Klausener is undeniably a talent and his sincere vocals are a revelation, delivered with tender warmth and emotion no more so than on the affecting Oh Napolean, a song recounting his Honduran mother’s experiences with domestic violence, and which echoes Sufjan Stevens at his best.

If you don’t yet own Glory Hope Mountain, it’s time to make amends.

The Handsome Family

Exeter Phoenix, 31st May 2009

Handsome Family

Not many bands write music about a milkman who falls in love with the moon, or the loneliness of magnets, but for husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks – aka The Handsome Family – such playfully dark songs are ten-a-penny.

Their music appeals on many levels: Rennie’s lyrics – Lynchian life observations on anything from love and suicide to cement mixers – are mysterious, sincere and funny; the music, written by Brett, ranges from up-tempo country (think Johnny Cash at San Quentin) to rootsy folk while Brett’s booming baritone infuse the words with life.

The intimate feel of the Phoenix perfectly suits the laid-back Handsomes. Unlike the forced banter of tonight’s support act, The Smoke Fairies, the exchanges between Brett and Rennie are heartfelt and welcome, with Brett beating down many of Rennie’s quips about his domestic productivity, with a dismissive “Sha, right!” before taking a slug on an ever-present bottle of Budweiser.

While Brett dominates (literally) the centre of the stage with his bear-like frame and imposing vocals, Rennie (a diminutive Morticia Addams, dressed all in black) happily stands to the side, protectively cradling her omnichord and crooning wistfully in the background.

Most of the highlights come from the band’s latest album, Honey Moon, a collection of love songs marking their 20th wedding anniversary. When You Whispered is straight up country, all banjos, harmonies and tales of shared moments, while Darling My Darling perfectly captures the band’s appeal: a love story about two bugs wanting to eat one another, which is both funny and tender.

Long live gothic country music.

For the diary

A short list of highlights for the coming months:

Pulled Apart by Horses, Exeter Cavern, 9 August 2009 – Much tipped punk rock outfit from Leeds with a distinct sound: yelping vocals, macho riffs and occasional disco drums. Cool name, too.

Ben Taylor, Exeter Phoenix, 4 October 2009 – The spawn of Carly Simon and James Taylor is best described as a poor man’s Jack Johnson. While a competent musician, his is the kind of music that your mum would tap her feet to and ask, all surprised, “who’s this, dear?” which is surely not a good thing.

John Smith, Exeter Phoenix, 19 September 2009 – Highly accomplished and innovative folk guitar player hailing from Devon, who is yet to get the recognition his talent deserves. Check out his great cover of Queens of the Stone Age’s “No One Knows” on myspace.

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gandhi

'Just-out-of-the-bath' chic

Ever seen James Bond eat a curry, or drive a Jaguar shaped like a Naan bread? No, nor me and – quite frankly – I feel cheated. Imagine a Naan bread supercar run on mint sauce, fully equipped with ten fuck-off Gatling guns loaded with vindaloo and a lime pickle bazooka. If the sight of the thing didn’t make Scaramanga’s third nipple shit itself, a quick blast from the Gatling guns soon would. Even if it was hard enough to survive the vindaloo, a minute pummelling from the lime pickle bazooka would finish things. Seriously, how can anyone eat that stuff? Words fail. However, the idea of Bond as a curry lover has several main problems. Imagine the scene: Sean Connery ordering a King Fisher whilst raising his eyebrow playfully towards Pussy Galore, rivulets of sweat tearing down her cleavage as she struggles on a surprisingly hot Rogan josh. No. It could never work.

Why am I bleating on about Bond and curries anyway? Well, Exeter recently played host to the inaugural James Bond Curry Club outing: Dr Naan. Perhaps I should explain.

Several weeks earlier, myself and a couple of friends found ourselves enjoying a low key Friday night curry at one of our regular haunts. The place resembled a morgue. However, no matter how quiet an Indian restaurant is, I promise you it will always be filled with at least 4 waiters. There’s no rationale for it. Don’t even try to think why. Just go with the rules. As we discussed the waiter surplus and reviewed our surroundings, we noticed a new addition to the staff: a pony-tailed Indian chap with a weathered face and Roman nose. Having placed our orders, talk soon moved away from our genial hosts to football, woman and work: the male conversation staples. Several minutes passed before our poppadoms arrived. When they did, the long haired Indian approached me from behind and rested his palm on my shoulder authoritively. He allowed a moment of awkwardness before saying the words, “poppadoms, shiir” in the style of a young Sean Connery politely addressing a school master.

At first, we weren’t sure if we had heard correctly, but upon delivery of the mains, Sean didn’t disappoint, offering a second utterance of “shiir” and our favourite Indian waiter was anointed. During the meal, we could talk of little else, and the idea of an extensive Exeter curry tour was conceived. I say Exeter, but to appease my fellow judges, Paul and Robbo, we added a couple of establishments from their home towns, Newton Abbot and Teignmouth, to the list. One thing we were unequivocal about, however, was the need to focus on the real issues facing your average consumer; the main criteria that would define the success, or otherwise, of a restaurant, and so we came up with the following. In homage to the Sean Connery waiter, we christened the tour ‘James Bond’s Curry Club’:

  1. Location;
  2. Date Potential;
  3. James Bond relevance;
  4. Friendliness of staff;
  5. Price of a pint of Kingfisher (anything above £2.50 is marked down);
  6. Number of poppadom condiments;
  7. Number of complimentary sweets;
  8. Sex Face (frequency of a pleasure grimace, ordinarily prompted by a particularly fierce curry);
  9. Quality of food;
  10. Example of the Indian Chef (a category in homage to one of our favourite Indian restaurants which boats, on several occasions in its menu, of dishes displaying ‘the perfect example of the Indian Chef’); and
  11. Any other business.

To ensure that all restaurants were on a level playing field, we designed a set menu:

Mains

Rogan Josh

Balti

Biryani

[One of the meats must be chicken, the other lamb with the third at the group’s discretion.]

Rice

Special Rice

Pilau Rice

Naan

Garlic Naan

Plain Naan

Drink

As much Kingfisher as we can get through.

Additional – for each event, James Bond is allowed to invite a special guest, although the guest cannot contribute towards the judging.

The Verdict – The Gandhi, Exeter

Looking back at my notes, it is clear that the first impression was poor: ‘rug draped on the step’, ‘decor very footballer’s wives’, ‘staff seem uninterested’, ‘kid with a gold chain’. I’ll add an afterthought: ‘sex parlour’. Most worrying of all was the lighting. Having been shown to our seats, myself and Paul immediately had difficulty identifying Robbo who was stationed against a wall opposite us, barely an arm’s length away. Robbo has a moderate tan but one would hardly describe him as having a Mediterranean complexion. In the brothel-like atmosphere of the Gandhi, however, he was as black as the ace of spades. Half an hour in, and the light had diminished further and the only sign that we were in fact sitting opposite a person was the sight of a paw reaching into the middle of the table now and then to tear off a piece of Naan bread. Anyway, I digress. Let’s get down to business:

Location

A mixed bag, really. In its favour: very central – five minute walk to the main high street and ten minute brisk walk to Exeter St Davids train station. Quite likely to be a favourite with students owing to its proximity to the university campus. The case against: despite it being a stone’s throw from the city centre, parking is a major issue with no obvious car park nearby. The restaurant is located on a busy roundabout, but, once inside, noise didn’t seem to be an issue. Overall mark: 7/10.

Date potential

The Gandhi boasts a good pedigree in this category. The majority of dinners were couples, all of whom seemed young, trendy and fertile. If you bowled up here for a first date, you wouldn’t be alone. Another positive is the visual solace offered by the dim lighting, should your blind date turn out to be a bush pig. Overall mark: 9/10.

James Bond relevance

I’m not going to lie. Piss poor performance in this category. Paul mentioned tenuously that the waiter looked like Nick Nack. Not convinced, and possibly racist. Overall mark: 2/10.

Friendliness of staff

Perfectly pleasant, if not a little slow. No banter, but I can’t remember ever having a gritty or humorous conversation with a restaurant waiter. When asked for our order, Robbo produced our notebook with the set menu and read from it shamelessly. Alas, our efforts to look like reviewers for some reputable publication didn’t work, as no preferential treatment was given. Maybe next time. Overall mark: 6/10.

Pint of Kingfisher

A wallet busting £3.40. No overall mark is awarded in this category, but consideration can be given to it in the event of a tie between restaurants.

Number of poppadom condiments

All over this category like a sex crime. The panel set the benchmark at four (mint sauce, onion salad, mango chutney and the filthy pickle), and we weren’t disappointed with the full quota deposited on our table. Ever an optimist, I think a 10/10 score can only be obtained for a selection of more than 4 condiments, therefore overall mark here: 9/10.

Number of complimentary sweets

Three very basic plain chocolates which left a faintly unpleasant taste in the mouth. Nothing fancy, and smacks of an establishment resting on its laurels. Needs to up its game. Overall mark: 4/10.

Sex face

Love the title, and I allow myself a chuckle as I type. This category proved something of a revelation in its first outing. I had heard rumours of Robbo’s capacity to sweat in the days leading up to Dr Naan, but I had refused to believe allegations of needing to swipe napkins from neighbouring tables to mop his brow. How could such a hulk of a man wilt in the face of a medium heat curry? I didn’t need to wait long for an answer. No sooner had the first forkful of Balti passed Robbo’s lips, did a flood of liquid begin to pour down his forehead. Even in the dark chambers of the Gandhi, I could see a man in peril. As I leant forward into the table, I studied his face: the eyes were empty, the cheeks flushed and the lips pursed. Alas myself and Paul showed a studied tolerance for our dishes, and I was impressed I showed no signs of discomfort with my hearty Rogan josh. For Robbo’s sexual gurning alone, however, the score has to be decent but I’m sure we’ll encounter greater heat as the tour progresses. Overall mark: 7/10.

Quality of food

I’ll keep this brief after the long winded sex face discussions. The panel was unanimous in its praise for the food, especially the balti. The naan breads too were generous and Paul’s biryani was solid. As for my Rogan josh, I was more than happy. Overall mark: 8/10.

Examples of the Indian Chef

The menu was basic, with no mention of the mysterious Indian Chef or of any other culinary boasts. Weak. Overall mark: 1/10.

Any other business

Date of next meeting to be confirmed. However, venue confirmed as ‘the one opposite Fast Eddie’s takeaway’, which we think is the Light of Tandori. Probably name for said review: From Rogan With Love.

The business card has a picture of Gandhi on it. Amazing, and worth going for that alone.

Overall score: 5.89/10.

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The Verdict – Light of India Tandoori, Exeter

ravi_shankar1

Ravi Shankar - lovely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the unequivocal success of The Ghandi in Dr Naan, the follow up was always going to be tough. Initially, we were unanimous in our opinion that a middle of the road establishment was required for our second review; somewhere which wouldn’t result in disappointment, but which would preserve Exeter’s finest curry houses for later rounds such as A View Tika Kill and Octobhuna. However, things quickly change after a few pints of real ale, and as our eyes scrutinised the list of eager suitors, we developed a thirst for something horrific and it became clear that “the one opposite Fast Eddie’s Takeaway” would be our next venue. With expectations lower than Dawn French’s knockers, we piled into Robbo’s car and headed into the unknown.

Location

Approximately 5 minutes drive from the centre of town in the Heavitree district and positioned just back from the main road. In its favour: shed loads of nearby homes, presumably containing people who eat, so no excuses for a lack of turn out. The case against: even if the Light of India was a full scale replica of the Taj Mahal, it would still have to contend with being opposite Fast Eddie’s, a shit hole of unspeakable proportions, boasting culinary delights such as “hot chicken”. I can only hope and assume that the “fast” is a reference to Eddie’s capacity for the service of food, rather than anything else but were this not to be the case, I wouldn’t be surprised. An honourable mention should also go to “The Royal Bengal” adjoining Fast Eddie’s, being yet another tawdry take away joint whose front window contains images of flames and large cats. Ace. Overall mark: 3/10.

Date Potential

It might be a good time to consult our notes from the time: “no music, no people, zero atmosphere, three waiters (oldest one looks like an Indian Jimmy Krankie), two chandeliers, fake wood air conditioning unit, unable to locate the end of the carpet and the start of the wallpaper -woeful.” If I had to summarise the feel of the place in one word, it would be death. I’m no dating expert, but I don’t think that’s going to get you laid. Overall mark: 2/10.

James Bond Relevance

Without doubt, the highlight of the evening. Admittedly, performance in this category was looking dire for the second week in the row. As expected, Paul suggested that all of the waiters looked like Nick Nack, and – again – this was dismissed as tenuous and possibly racist. Even less credible, was Paul’s remark that there may be a resemblance between one of the younger waiters and the golfer Vijay Singh, who he claimed appeared in Octopussy. Following a steward’s enquiry (i.e. Wikipedia), it was revealed that an obscure tennis player called Vijay appeared in Octopussy, playing to type as a tennis coach (see Bond’s line, “well, my backhand’s improved”), but not the celebrated golfer. Just as we were losing all hope, Robbo spied a small piece of card advertising an Indian beer called “Lal Toofan”, lurking at the far end of the table beneath a vase containing a fake flower. The flyer comprised a humorous cartoon image of a heavily sweating Indian couple clasping a pint in a desert; the humour being derived from the man’s pencil thin moustache, wavy hair and a startled facial expression akin to the type imaginable on a young adolescent reading / reviewing his first jazz mag. After a minute’s reflection, it twigged that the Indian gent was the spitting image of Timothy Dalton in Hot Fuzz, save for the follicle differences and obscene sweating. What’s more, I’ve found a link to the flyer so you can all enjoy this landmark in the world of surreal advertisement http://www.lwc-drinks.co.uk/brands.html (skip down to Lal Toofan poster). Overall mark: 8/10.

Friendliness of Staff

A tip for all who are on the doll: sign up as a waiter at an Indian restaurant. Forget the fact that you’re not Indian and won’t get the job, just go with me on this. No matter how bad the economy, how empty the restaurant, you will always see at least three waiters in each restaurant: 100% job security. The Light of India adhered to this rule, except that because we were the only people in the place, the staff clearly wanted to give everyone a bit of action so we had the pleasure of being served by each waiter. The one resembling Jimmy Krankie wore a pained expression, as if held in the grips of a severe depression and failed to put forward any conversation. The second waiter was similar to Jimmy in the mute stakes, although mention must be made of his unorthodox method of serving rice, quickly elevating the plate of rice into a vertical position before banging it down on the serving dish with murderous intent. If it hasn’t happened already, it won’t be long before he gives an OAP a heart attack. The third and final waiter was a treat. He was a dashing young man with a constant smile and infectious enthusiasm who charmed us all in seconds, not to the extent that we would sleep with him without alcohol being involved, but close. He even made a quip to do with Robbo’s watch, but in the glaring light of his pristine teeth, we can’t remember what was said. With his short unarranged mop, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Danny Cipriani, and was soon anointed Danny Biryani. Overall mark: 7/10.

Pint of Kingfisher

£3.25. Not cheap compared to a pint down your local, but less pricey than the Ghandi and well shy of the £5.90 charged for a large Perroni at Pizza Express.

Number of poppadom condiments

Weird. The traditional were present: mint sauce, mango chutney, onion salad and – thankfully – no filthy pickle. The curveball came in the form of a pouring jug (ordinarily reserved for dairy products – milk, pouring cream e.t.c.) containing the mint sauce. Cue a surreal image of 3 men in suits on a Friday night drinking pints while passing around a porcelain jug – rock and roll. 5/10.

Number of complimentary sweets

Possibly the Light’s best round. Three tasty chocolates wrapped in Ivory coloured wrapping paper with the restaurant’s name printed in gold type. No complaints, but when the bite size complimentary chocolates surpass the quality of the meal, one has to ask questions. Overall mark: 8.5/10.

Sex Face

While Paul and I lamented the lack of heat in our disappointing Rogan Josh and Balti, Robbo struggled with a biryani that emitted less heat than a choc ice. Several forkfuls in, sweat was clearly visible under his eyes and, as the meal continued, there was a brief outbreak of liquid on his forehead. A true professional, Robbo took a few slugs on his Kingfisher, mopped his brow and saw the Biryani off. Overall mark: 4/10

Quality of Food

A bit like a long haul flight: tolerable, but unpleasant. The Rogan Josh contained more than a hint of Lloyd Grossman sauce; the Balti was insipid and the biryani, despite Robbo’s issues with heat, packed bugger all in the flavour stakes. Further, the portions were child size and I devoured several packets of dry roasted peanuts at the pub during the post-mortem. James Bond rules state that I cannot unilaterally change a score once it has been decided by the panel, which is disappointing as on reflection, I would have given it 1/10. Overall mark: 5/10.

Example of the Indian Chef

Perhaps aware that any boastings of fine Indian cuisine could initiate a case of libel, the Light of India’s menu contained no surprises and was frankly unhelpful in its description of the dishes on offer. A shambles. Overall mark: 1/10.

Any other business

Date of next meeting to be confirmed. However, venue agreed as the Real India on South Street, Exeter next to the bridal shop. Probable name for said review: Thunderbalti. This does fly in the face of the chronological order of Bond films, but Goldfinger is not conducive to curry orientated word play.

Finally, we were given wiping towels at the end of the meal which we all agreed was a nice touch. Perhaps not a good idea for Robbo, though, who began sweating again following use.

Overall score: 4.83/10

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