Live Review: Ben Sherman Big British Sound 2010 @ Corner Hotel, Richmond 6 May 2010

  Review: Lachlan Sadler

Fashion label Ben Sherman have always had a special relationship with up and coming bands. They have been known to invest heavily in new musicians, and have developed strong relationships with the likes of New Order and The Clash.

The idea of ‘Big British Sound’ was launched in Britain a while back, but this is only the second year that it has taken place in Australia. Essentially, Ben Sherman organises a lineup of impressive Australian acts, they all play a gig together, and each act covers a British song that has influenced them.

Realistically however, it’s just a chance to see some great Aussie acts perform together at the one show.

Melbourne was the first stop for Big British Sound 2010, and The Corner Hotel was the chosen venue. Instead of alternating bands between the venue’s two stages, the organisers opted to have the smaller stage allocated for a DJ that would play between acts on the main stage. Ultimately this decision worked well, providing a bit more of a party atmosphere or- dare I say it- an underground British club feel.

First up was local Melbourne duo Big Scary, consisting of Jo Syme on drums and backing vocals and Tom Lansek on pretty much everything else. These guys have been making a name for themselves recently with a series of support act jobs, festival slots, and an excellent debut EP entitled ‘At The Mercy Of The Elements’.

Big Scary proceeded to play an extremely enjoyable and surprisingly rock n’ roll set. Jo was an absolute beast on the drums, constantly bouncy up and down and really capturing the atmosphere of the night. Meanwhile Tom was as charming a front man as you could ask for, and tracks such as The Apple Song really got the Corner moving.

Their cover of the cult classic “The Might Boosh” was met with applause from fans in the crowd, and they pulled it off without any problems, which would be a rarity throughout the rest of the night. Their set was spearheaded by the sublime Falling Away, which saw Tom move to the keyboard to play an absolutely gorgeous ballad that had everyone in the venue enthralled.

Big Scary had left the Corner feeling decidedly satisfied, and DJ Jess McGuire kept the atmosphere going nicely after their set, playing a series of songs that included Yeasayer and Miike Snow’s ever-infectious Animal. She definitely knew the audience she was playing for and her music fitted in perfectly and even got a (very) mini-dance floor going.

Next up was Pikelet, aka Melbourne’s Evelyn Morris and co. Evelyn started her music life as a thrash drummer, however she is now about as far removed from that as imaginable, taking to the stage with her band armed only with an acoustic guitar, two mics, and one hell of a loops machine.

Pikelet’s set was an amazingly intricate one. Some songs required delicate set-up processes to get all the loops going, in a way reminiscent of Liam Finn or Andrew Bird. Pikelet’s music flirts with ‘experimental’, and at times blatantly takes it home and sleeps with it, but the constant throughout is her ethereal voice that had the Corner in absolute raptures.

This set was flawless except for the covers- first up was Soft Machine member Kevin Ayers’ Girl On A Swing, which may not have been perfect but was still very enjoyable, but the second cover of British band Broadcast was a bit of a disaster. It’s not every song that you hear the lead singer say afterwards “I’m so sorry”.

As Evelyn explained however, Pikelet don’t usually do covers, and to their credit they gave it a shot. As a whole Pikelet’s set was brilliant, in part because you simply had to marvel at the sheer musical talent and effort that was going into creating every single song.

DJ Simon Winkler took over the mid-set duties admirably, playing mostly British tunes that were enjoyed by the crowd that was now filling the entire Corner Hotel- if the event wasn’t sold out, it was very close.

After a brief wait it was time for Whitley, aka singer/songwriter Lawrence Greenwood, to take the stage. Lawrence cut a bit of a lonely figure on the stage after the crowded Pikelet arrangement, sitting on a stool armed only with his acoustic guitar and with no accompanying band, but he soon absolutely filled the Corner Hotel with his folk tunes and charming personality.

Opener Poison In Our Pocket was magical and the perfect start to the set: “We have poison in our pocket, we have hatred in our heart. And as the bombs fly overhead, we dance ’til we see red. We’re becoming shadows, and we’re becoming silhouettes.”

It was immediately obvious that Whitley’s banter was going to be extremely enjoyable. He at once managed to insult and charm the crowd, saying “You’re acting very awkwardly, I’d like you all to stop please”. A shout-out to a local website was also very funny, as Lawrence told the site “Fuck you” in response to a claim that he didn’t like his hometown of Melbourne.

He chose to play his cover early, suitably opting for New Order’s Blue Monday, which was interesting played on an acoustic guitar even if it wasn’t brilliant. Whitley proceeded to reel off a stream of songs from his two albums, including the highlights of Killer, I Remember, and the wonderful More Than Life.

Whitley shortened his songs a bit live, which worked fine. His music definitely has a bit of a sameness when played without a band, but his wonderful banter and touching lyrics more than made up for it. Whitely played ‘guess the song’ with the crowd repeatedly, insulted us (in a charming way) for being awkward again, and even told the story of a man who had been attacked by a gang of monkeys. He was one of the most instantly charming solo performers I have ever seen.

Lost In Time was of course wonderful, even if it seemed to only last for a minute and suffered a bit from the lack of a backing keyboard. Whitley finished with Head, First, Down which was one of the best moments of the night, as the whole crowd sung the chorus admirably loudly (almost as if to prove we weren’t that awkward), much to the appreciation of Lawrence.

Lawrence left the stage not only having played a series of great acoustic songs, but also having completely charmed the entire venue.

DJ Simon Winkler did his thing again, and the venue was clearly very ready for the headline act, Bertie Blackman. The use of social media at the gig by Bertie Blackman was very impressive- two screens either side of the main stage displayed a live feed of Tweets mentioning ‘BigBritishSound’, most of which came from Twitter-users dispersed amongst the crowd itself. There was even a live feed of photos being uploaded to the internet, meaning that between sets you could look at shots taken of the previous acts by members of the crowd. Very hip, and executed very professionally.

The final act was Bertie Blackman. By this time the Corner was completely full, and the crowd was packed together more tightly than we had been the entire night. Bertie and her band took to the stage and began to absolutely belt out a series of songs from her acclaimed debut album ‘Secrets And Lies’.

Lawrence Greenwood was spot on when he described Bertie’s music as “rough”- this is gritty rock music. The massive hit Heart was played surprisingly early in her set, and got the crowd moving more than we had been the entire night. That chorus is just so unbelievably infectious when played live, and the moments of distortion before it breaks out with crystal clarity make it only more enjoyable.

Playing such a massive song so early in a set is always a risk, but Bertie made it work, and songs of hers that I usually skip over in studio form simply came to life when played live. Baby Teeth for example was so very enjoyable with a dominating synth beat and growled vocals.

Bertie’s set was a masterful one, and a blueprint of how to pull off a headline slot.

Overall, Big British Sound was a resounding success. It was the perfect example of how to pull of a mini-festival gig- the organisation was absolutely stellar, from the DJ and band combination, to the integration of social media which was a nice touch indeed. Even if the British cover idea was just a way of tying the event together it was still a fun gimmick.

Ultimately, the musical talent of everyone involved shone through, and the crowd at the Corner got to witness some truly impressive Australian acts that have a very bright future ahead of them. And we totally weren’t that awkward.