Tag Archives: The Cellar

Big Speakers, Flooded Hallways and Capsky

The Cellar, Oxford
3rd June 2005

Opening this hip hop-flavoured Oxfordbands.com relaunch gig is Capsky, whose staccato lyrical patterning is layered over the guitar of Greasy Red and their interesting glitchy electronic Aim-like backing. The contrast works quite well, but the vocals may be suited to something less mellow, and the backing could sound good on its own in an Ulrich Schnauss way. It’s all a little unpolished and the delivery could be more confident, but promising.

Flooded Hallways are similar in composition but differ in style; their looped samples become quite wearing after a while and they sometimes stray into The Streets territory, but tracks like After All and Formulae show off clever rhymes and nice rhythms. The two rappers’ voices work play off each other dynamically, but the whole thing would work better with fewer monotonous loops.

Even though they’re an MC down tonight, Big Speakers still barely squeeze their 7-strong personnel and equipment into the Cellar. The instrumentation blends a wide range of styles – hip hop, soul, jazz, funk and even ska – by way of synth, guitar, bass, scratching and sample sounds, while MCs Tomohawk and Soulface’s aggressive Gravediggaz/Wu Tang Clan-like vocals both meld nicely and contrast sharply with the more laid-back Fragger and soulful yet underused AJ. Always tight despite their size, tracks like Lately, Apologies, Overpaid Slave and Apocolypse Rising are catchy and memorable, though still have heartfelt and provocative lyrics.

In some ways it would be a shame to deny a larger audience the intimacy and immediacy of Big Speakers experiences like tonight’s; however, their conviction, and how much they care about both the music and their message, will be palpable however large the audience is. It’s such a delight and so refreshing to come across an act not frightened to mix genres, be outspoken and experiment.


From Nightshift, July 2005

The Last Trailerpark – The September Gurls, The Schla La Las, Goldrush and The Black Madonnas

The Cellar, Oxford
20th July 2004


After 3 years and 10 months, Truck Records’ Trailerpark nights at The Cellar have reached a natural conclusion.

Born in the aftermath of the demise of live music at the Jericho, highlights of the fortnightly Trailerpark have included shows by NPB and The Young Knives; a choir doing a Fonda 500 cover at the Christmas party; introducing the likes of The Broken Family Band, Major Matt and the anti-folkers, KTB, Trademark and Nervous Testpilot to Oxford; discovering MC Lars; and putting on Mark Gardener’s first Oxford show in years.

Truck Records’ P-C Rae says, ‘Initially it was more of a club than it was in the end; regulars came and went and by the end it was erring more on the side of “went”. All things have a natural lifespan and Trailerpark was on borrowed time. It was a great way to go; in fact, one of the best nights we ever had.’

First in a Truck Festival warm-up line-up is The September Gurls, AKA Danny Power; joined by Goldrush on Living in Slow Motion, he’s a pleasant mix of wit and Springsteen Americana.

Piney Gir-fronted all-girl The Schla La Las are surf-rock kitsch, like a Shonen Knife of Barbies. Fun and memorable, especially on the catchy Shallow Girl, they do a song about themselves, which every self-respecting pop punk band should do.

Goldrush’s performance is more spirited than in recent years; playing mostly from their new EP, Ozona, it seems that their travels have given their sound an extra edge and sheen. The highlight is Pocket Socket Rocket – played by Whispering Bob at their first ever gig – which is accompanied by singalong songsheets and even rapping from a crowdmember.

The Black Madonnas, who bring Trailerpark to an end, are garagey, bluesy, heavy, bass-driven and very very loud. Although most of the trio’s repertoire is too distorted for comfortable listening, they impress with their attitude, passion and brazen cover of Ain’t Nothing Goin’ On But The Rent.

Trailerpark may be gone, but its legacy remains.


From Nightshift

Photos: © Richard Whitelock

Fiel Garvie, Roquphane and The Epstein-Barr Virus Band

The Cellar, Oxford
17th June 2003

Norwich female-heavy psychedelics Fiel Garvie made Melody Maker’s Single of the Week with For What I Love in 1997, and, 2 years after their first album, release their second – Leave Me Out of This – in the Autumn. Initially sounding like The Sundays, their slightly unhinged, spookily atmospheric pop gives singer Anne Reekie a perfect platform for her breathy and ever so slightly sinister vocals. At worst sounding like a sparser and edgier Garbage, at best a Tricky-Bjork-Sigur Ros hybrid, they craft electronic intimacy though sparse arrangements, their major keys belieing their doomladen lyrics. Definitely worth checking out.

Roquphane couldn’t have been more different. Reminiscent of late-70s Old Grey Whistle Test funk rock, their upbeat jazz indie funk rock fusion quickly established them in a groove they maintained throughout the set. Their animated singer dominated proceedings with her impressively versatile and accomplished voice, while the guitar and bass, at times meandering into solos and funk riffs, were the glue that made their overall sound much greater than the sum of their parts. Refreshingly different and ones to watch.

The Epstein-Barr Virus Band changed the tone once again. Big Al & Ollie Wills, with a full backing band including members of Spartacus, brought country back to rock and roll. Less twisted than The Broken Family Band, and armed with a set of warm melody-driven full-sounding songs, they are really quite likeable; at times more bluesy and rock tinged, but always in a country vein. Their closing song, New York City Blues, was a bit of a stormer. Always accessible, and not so much quirky as individual, any band fronted by an incredibly tall man in a ten gallon hat playing harmonica solos can’t be all bad. Charming in a different way from the Trailerpark night’s other acts, but charming all the same.


From Nightshift, July 2003


The Cellar, Oxford
16th December 2003

I am very pleasantly surprised by Cayto. For all their proselytising and “Cayto Ministry of Exploitation” manifesto propaganda (“All sounds will be heard”, “Hate your instrument” etc), I am expecting four loud jumpy shouty Glaswegians with a gripe against the world. But what I get is a hybrid of more styles than I thought possible, all strung together in a very thoughtful way.

Singer Paul Henry’s piano plays a prominent part in the proceedings – at times making them a modest Muse without the histrionic vocals, at other times making them Faith No More playing a prog rock sea shanty with Randy Newman on frantic piano pounding (like on C’Mere). They are not only stylistically versatile but also musically accomplished, forceful yet restrained – they made it sound too easy, even maybe over-rehearsed at times. Paul apologises for being scrappy, but they might just be a little too tight. Their fondness for theatrically varying time signatures, key signatures and tempo keeps them interesting, but pulls them too close at times to self-indulgent jazz; they’re never too dischordant or dissonant, but do sometimes ramble – progressing from XTC melodies via U2-like reverb to Metallica riffs and choruses. Guitarist Nobby looks to be riffing off into his own world, especially on Spiders – a song Paul says is even weirder than all their other songs, though this is maybe playing down how weird the others are.

It’s hard to tell their influences, and whether they’re trying to be one thing through the medium of another, or just doing whatever they want. It’s a shame they play so few songs because I would be very interested in hearing the rest of their repertoire; it seems like we have only had a tiny peek into Caytoworld tonight, and there is a whole world of melded styles and strange chord sequences out there.


From Nightshift, January 2004

Panel Of Judges, Byrne, The Broken Family Band, The Maplettes and Spartacus

The Cellar, Oxford
27th February 2003

Here’s a challenge – to describe 5 bands and the atmosphere of another excellent Trailerpark at the Cellar in 300 words. Here goes…

First up were Melbourne-based instrument-swapping new wave-y trio Panel Of Judges, on their first British tour. Unfortunately hampered by bad sound levels and being slightly out of tune, their West Coast-ish jangles were very pleasant and showed promise: if (when) they come up with a killer tune, it could be very special.

Second came mellow indie crooners Byrne, fresh from supporting MBICR at the Union Chapel the night before. Frontman Scot Patrick Byrne is a powerful presence (especially on recent single Tidal Wave), and his angst contributed to the overall mix of strong vocal harmonies set against a backdrop of guitars and occasional organ and other reverbed electronic stuff. They reminded me of the Waterboys in places, and were by far the most emotional – and serious – band on the bill.

Third up were Cambridge-based acerbic alt.country antagonists The Broken Family Band, whose sweet melodies, juxtaposed with sarcastic and hateful lyrics, created a bundle of vicious energy, musically and lyrically redolent of The Eels but with added British cynicism. Singer Steven Adams seemed permanently pissed off throughout the set (though he did say he was ill), but this added to their charm somehow.

Fourth on were “The Maplettes”, AKA Goldrush, now Jef-less and trying out new stuff. Their songwriting is moving on, exploring different areas of melody and rhythm, and these rockier and janglier new songs will surely be developed further live and in the studio.

The exhausting night was rounded off by Spartacus, looking like a local instrumental supergroup of sorts (boasting 2 drummers and 2 bassists) and sounding like TROT’s scrappier but rockier and more daring – if slightly warped – younger brother.


From Nightshift, April 2003

Zoe Bicat, Spygirl and Joe Hughes

The Cellar, Oxford
4th November 2002

Having been put off folk music at an early age by my mother’s Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span records, I arrive at Trailerpark with some trepidation tonight as I’ve heard it’s going to be “folky”. Luckily, whatever genre tonight’s acts can be assigned to, I found something to enjoy in all of them.

Zoe Bicat had a large band, whose instruments balanced cleverly with each other – especially the cello and strong bass guitar. Zoe herself on acoustic guitar both sang and played delicately; her beautiful earnest and sombre voice commanded the crowd’s attention, and her dynamism in tempo and volume, and the band’s cooperation, managed to pack a wide range of moods and emotions into every song. In a good way, she reminded me of the Cranberries, but with more substance, feeling and variety.

Next up were Spygirl, from Vancouver, whose website describes their musical style as “urban folk trip funk country hop jazz pop” – an eclectic mix. Indeed, it is hard to name any similar artists, and only Morcheeba come close. Confident slinky vocals (courtesy of Koralee Tonack), sweeping ringing guitar and a strong funky bassline seem to be their hallmarks. The promise and originality displayed by the earlier songs in their set became less evident later on, but you still had the impression you were watching very accomplished musicians with a style of their own.

Joe Hughes, a former member of local Irish folk band Fionn, ended with a Strokes cover, which strangely fitted in well with the rest of his Anglified blues/folk/country angst-rock. His strong distinctive and powerful voice gave his self-contained songs energy and depth, and his band’s two guitars, bass and drums constructed much harmonic and melodic substance. Even the many – perhaps too many – guitar solos complemented Joe’s voice and his songs’ structure.

So: an enjoyable “folk” night, and not an All Around My Hat in sight.


From Nightshift, December 2002

Cumulonimbus, Nervous Testpilot and Blunt Instruments

The Cellar, Oxford
12th August 2002

Electronic diversity at this month’s Trailerpark: a first act starting acoustically only to end with DJs and breakbeats, a second act assaulting the audience with electronic madness, and a third act mixing laptop-generated sounds with live bass, all jaggedly enveloped with DJing from Oli and Sleeve.

Blunt Instruments started simply as a voice-guitar duo, Lewis Cutler’s soulful vocal acrobatics neatly complementing Simon Reynolds’ blues-funk chord style. After 2 songs, random hiphop breakbeats from the DJs sped up the fusion, and Lewis’ versatile voice coped well, nearly rapping in some places. They lacked their sax player and rapper but the latter was present on record, if slightly out of synch. However, their slick merging of genres made their short set work well live. Ill beats and blunt vocals? Not quite.

After a short interlude of Kraftwerk and Squarepusher came the night’s star – Nervous Testpilot, AKA the Paul Taylor Node. His eclectic mix of frenetic beats and diverse samples mostly baffled the audience, but couldn’t fail to charm. With tracks starting with cut up voice samples and ending like Tubular Bells in a car crash, the insanity was coherent: melodic percussion and rhythmic melodies weaved in and out to create a diverse, intriguing and original soundscape. The live performance of his Super Mario Bros theme remix was an ambush of drumnbass programming and every effect, transformation, and sample you could think of.

Unfortunately, Cumulonimbus weren’t so captivating. Their basic set-up – live bass guitar, laptop with sequencer and keyboard sampler – combined beautifully to laid-back drumnbass effect for the first track; unfortunately, the point was laboured somewhat as they overindulgently repeated the same formula for over an hour, with little variation, especially with the monotonous overuse of the Roland 909 snare. A promising start yielded disappointing results, and ate into Oli and Sleeve’s DJing time. However, with a little more imagination and creativity, as displayed by the night’s other acts, they could excel.


From Nightshift, September 2002


The Cellar, Oxford
31st January 2002

It wasn’t until my friend Dan mentioned on the way out that he thought they sounded like The Presidents of the USA that I found the comparison I had been searching for. AM60, the New York band who played at the Shifty Disco 5th anniversary “Songs of Praise” night, do indeed sound like the mid-90s punk/pop band but have a more varied sound than their fellow Americans. More sardonic and laid back, they came across like a cynical older brother to the Presidents’ excitable teenager. I couldn’t work out whether they take themselves more or less seriously, though; one of their songs, plaintive and slower than most of the rest of their set, seemed to be a paean to a “Fat Girl”.

If Britpop had a contemporary American equivalent, then AM60 are nu-US Britpop – less rocky than Wheatus and Blink 182, yet still more modern than the Presidents. They have been compared to De La Soul and Beck, and their style betrays a wide range of influences. Their East Village New York roots seem to be in hip-hop – their former drummer, Mackie, left them to join the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and their former bass player and sometime artwork contributor, Chuck Treece, is a former member of Urge Overkill.

They played, along with Dustball, on the Shifty Disco live session on John Peel’s Radio 1 programme the night before, and their single from last August, Just A Dream, which had a lot of Evening Session airplay, was instantly recognisable. Their other songs ranged from one with a bossa-nova vibe that bizarrely reminded me of The Girl from Ipanema, to some that made them sound like a garage-rock version of No Doubt around their About a Girl period, combining ska and punk. Their delivery was understated and quite laconic; their 35 minute set wasn’t long enough to be either an especially captivating or dynamic appearance, although I suspect that as headliners in a bigger venue they might rock out a little bit more. However, I will remember the way mainman Chris Root held his guitar quite high, like a teenage George Formby, and his and bassist Leon De Bretagne’s hoodies.

AM60 – with a few more catchy songs like Just a Dream, they could go far.


From The Oxford Student, at some point


Eskimo Disco, Trademark and Script – The Exeter Hall, Oxford – 2nd December 2005

Knifehandchop, Nervous Testpilot and The Nailbomb Cults – The Wheatsheaf, Oxford – 13th November 2005

King Biscuit Time – The Zodiac, Oxford – 25th September 2005

The Mission – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th September 2005

Josh Rouse – The Zodiac, Oxford – 17th July 2005

Big Speakers, Flooded Hallways and Capsky – The Cellar, Oxford – 3rd June 2005

Melanie C – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd May 2005

I Am Kloot – The Zodiac, Oxford – 16th April 2005

Thirteen Senses – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th March 2005


Cayto – The Cellar, Oxford – 16th December 2003

The Futureheads – The Zodiac, Oxford – 13th October 2003

Longview – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd July 2003

Fiel Garvie, Roquphane and The Epstein-Barr Virus Band – The Cellar, Oxford – 17th June 2003

Panel Of Judges, Byrne, The Broken Family Band, The Maplettes and Spartacus – The Cellar, Oxford – 27th February 2003

Scratch Perverts – Po Na Na, Oxford – 6th February 2003