Precious little in the way of tours at this time of year, and the big-dollar stuff in your Arenas and Academies lacks anything remotely as enticing as last December’s LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire seasonal rave-ups. MALCOLM MIDDLETON bucks the trend, effectively touring twice; he’ll play sets under his own name and pseudonym Human Don’t Be Angry at Clwb (3rd) and the Louisiana (4th). WIRE, fierce and mercurial at the Fleece earlier this year, have their Cardiff gig moved to Clwb (1st) which, based on their ATP appearance a couple of years ago, should be very good indeed. Speaking of ATP, there’s a couple of Bristol shows linked to the December festivals, all highly recommended. THE MAGIC BAND play the good Captain’s hits with gusto and love (Thekla, 4th), and don’t be thinking it’s some grave-robbing exercise – have a listen to ‘Back To The Front’, it’s a blinder. Meanwhile, following the recent examples of countless 90s alt-rock acts (stand up Jesus Lizard, Pavement, Scratch Acid, Archers Of Loaf…) there’s a first UK appearance in a cool 22 years for seminal post-hardcore trio BITCH MAGNET (Fleece, 8th, with MODEL BOAT). Anyone with a passing interest in the work of Battles, Don Caballero, Slint etc should make the trip. More rarefied fare over at Bristol’s Watershed Theatre (3rd), where A HAWK AND A HACKSAW perform their new score for ‘Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors’, a suitably grand fable of love, loss, religion and sorcery in Carpathian Russia. Hey, rockin’!
Some choice one-offs in the capital too, chiefly of an unpleasantly noisy fashion; yer punk and hardcore kids are the ones to turn to for pre-Christmas party fun, no mistake. SATURDAY’S KIDS stop touring for no man, of course, and their co-headline tour with ace W. Yorks / S.Wales punkers FACEL VEGA calls at Undertone (15th), with HARBOUR and HUNGER ARTIST in support. The latter band also prop up GOODTIME BOYS’ co-headline with Berlin’s AT DAGGERS DRAWN (Undertone, 1st) on a fine bill with THE DEATH OF HER MONEY and CROSSBREAKER. Woof. Be sure to catch TWO WOUNDED BIRDS’ glowering blend of Wall Of Sound pop, Ramones’ gawky attitude and Gene Vincent tremolo-heavy guitar twang, a highlight of Swn for me and supported by Swansea surf dudes HANGMEN (10 Feet Tall, 8th). Stirring Hereford post-rockers TALONS’ classical violin-driven sound does familiar things very well indeed; they play Undertone’s Christmas party on the 21st. In fact, it’s SOUTH WEST REPRESENT! month, notably the traditional musical backwater of Cornwall. Derivative but fun, not least in appropriating their name, Falmouth lo-fi noiseniks BLACK TAMBOURINES team up with JOANNA GRUESOME (Buffalo, 12th) for some shabby pop fun, while rowdy hardcore types KASA (Undertone, 20th) hail all the way from rock city Penzance. Finally, if you really can’t stand your co-workers and in-laws, spend the Friday before Christmas in the company of SPIDER KITTEN, THORUN and others (Bogiez, 23rd). Across the bridge the excellent people at Burial Chamber present a mammoth line-up including ALTAR OF PLAGUES, Thorun and the very fine BEAR-MAN (Croft, 3rd) and your pals and mine ISLET may or may not be playing the Croft (9th – the venue says yes, deafening silence elsewhere. Check press, etc).
There’s a handful of fine evenings of more relaxed seasonal cheer scattered about. ALASDAIR ROBERTS hosts “an evening of folk culture, ritual and song” entitled Here’s A Health To The Barley Mow (Cube, 11th), where he’ll perform alongside FINGLEBONE and show a series of BFI films on the arcane and ritual. The man is a total chap. Espers frontwoman MEG BAIRD appears at the same venue (Cube, 8th) on a fantastic-looking psych-folk triple bill with FURSAXA and SHARRON KRAUS, as does recent Swn guest and experimental folkie DAUGHTER (Cube, 6th). Wonky, prolific and weirdly brilliant troubadour MEN DIAMLER, once magnificently described by our own Vivers as “Brian Blessed singing murder ballads”, signs off before calling time on his musical efforts (Cube, 1st), and no less eccentric ex-Hold Steady man FRANZ NICOLAY serenades the Croft (15th). Back in Cardiff ANTHONY REYNOLDS, still best remembered by me and some other old losers as songwriter with splendidly seedy 90s band Jack but now a regular collaborator on his home town’s art scene, performs new material at Chapter (10th); promising new Fence Records signing SEAMUS FOGARTY debuts at the Full Moon (formerly Y Fuwch Goch, 11th) and 10 Feet Tall pay tribute to the late Bert Jansch with songs from THE GENTLE GOOD, RHODRI VINEY and IVAN MOULT alongside DJs and films (11th).
Going to sign off with a few more recommended titbits. Electronic picks of the month are three; LONE, whose ‘Emerald Fantasy Tracks’ melded woozy Boards Of Canada synths and beatific R&S techno to splendid effect (Thekla, 9th), fierce futurist 303 belters from his labelmate BLAWAN (Buffalo, 1st) and a typically fascinating-looking line-up of out-there experimental pop, drone and electronica at the Arnolfini (8th) under the title Active Crossover. EKOPLEKZ, SJ ESAU and SKJOLBROT foremost on that bill. DEATH IN VEGAS’ halcyon days may be behind them but they still crank out some decent krautrock-heavy jams; move fast for their Thekla gig (13th) as it’s possibly already sold out. ACTION BEAT, who are bloody fantastic live and welcome back here anytime, join SJ ESAU (again), ANTA and BIG JOAN in support of MADNOMAD for a tenth anniversary celebration of Bristol’s Club Choke (Croft, 22nd). Finally, indestructible Mackem punk legends LEATHERFACE show the young’uns a trick at the Croft (7th). Somewhere, Steve Lamacq is sipping weak cider and sighing wistfully. Merry Christmas, Steve. Merry Christmas everyone.