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This review first appeared in The Fly on 29/11

It’s maybe too early to predict just how far Alt-J are going to be catapulted into the stratosphere following their Mercury win but tonight, performing to a packed-out Ballroom, they feel like a sensible victor.

When frontman Joe Newman murmurs through geometric love-song ‘Tesselate’, the utterance ‘three points, where two lines meet’ feels like a fitting metaphor for a band who don’t so much embrace different sounds as Pritt-stick them together into a beautifully sculptured lump. The foreboding piano and a cryptic loop reminiscent of The XX‘s beautifully isolated ‘Islands’ is gripping, as lyrics both sensual and sadistic mesh together: ‘Yes they’ll nosh the love away, but it’s fair to say/You will still haunt me.’

During their quiet, introspective moments Alt-J share cosy a capella harmonies not unlike Fleet Foxes or Local Natives – a well-worn path to pleasing critics, perhaps. But, on tracks like ‘Fitzpleasure’, they take the formula and send an electric current right through it, with Newman’s lyrics bursting out his throat with the ferocity of a man at an exorcism.

It’s their reluctance to be pigeonholed which remains Alt-J‘s greatest weapon. While ‘Interlude I’ and ‘Bloodflood’ lack the resonance of the band’s bigger songs, they are blissful and intimate in a small venue like this, though that could get lost in bigger, loftier spaces. Elsewhere, ‘Breezeblocks’ is a bawdy sing-a-long cloaking sinister undertones.

Strangely, when the band choose to cover Kylie Minogue‘s ‘Slow’, there’s a moment of clarity unlike any other tonight. Maybe it’s because the lyrics aren’t dissimilar to those in ‘Tesselate’ – it doesn’t feel like foreign territory. Or maybe there’s something in how comfortable Alt-J are with sounding like a pop act, something much of this year’s shortlist tried so hard to avoid.

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This review first appeared in The Fly on 29/11

It’s 7pm, and we’re in Heaven. It’s very quiet, which makes sense, because main act Clock Opera isn’t on for a couple of hours. But it’s also worrying, because the very excellent support act Bright Light Bright Light is on in about 15 minutes and the place is, to be blunt, pretty dead.

Heaven’s big stage, arching brickwork and cavernous feel aren’t the most inviting venue if nobody’s there to fill it yet. That, and BLBL (aka Rod Thomas) isn’t known for being low-key – especially as he’s just finished a 2 week tour with the Scissor Sisters. Demure, Lana Del Gloom-Pop this ain’t.

In fact, BLBL specialises in endorphin-pumped pop – comparisons with Erasure and The Pet Shop Boys seem fair. It’s big, loud but introspective, which has drawn obvious comparisons with Robyn, too. By the time he takes to the stage in an excellent Hawaiian shirt (basically telling November to do one), Thomas unleashes an intense, 30-minute set peppered with big, clever songs from his debut album ‘Make Me Believe In Hope’. And with that, the crowd is suddenly ten times the size.

‘Disco Moment’ and its cathartic chide of ‘you make it so hard to be around’ has a brutal honesty among its pulsating, dizzying disco backdrop. ‘Make Me…’s lyrics are straight to the point, rarely cryptic, and show Rod at his most exposed when he’s swaddled in synth music. It’s a brilliant set, quick, intense and sudden, but BLBL’s impression lasts far longer. This is disco, soul, pop and dance music etched into the DNA of one of the most exciting and overlooked records of the year. And it’s in this cavernous room that it really shines, filling every shadowed corner and, as his name suggests, illuminating all the dark spaces.

Chris Mandle

This interview first appeared in The Fly like, last week.

Hi Chris de Burgh. How are you?
I’m grand thank you. I’ve been having a look at some of these chats and I’m excited. It’s funny and irreverent, which I like. I was amused and delighted, I don’t want anyone to think I am stuffed up.
Are you having a busy day?
I have just got off the phone with a newspaper actually. We talked about an item from the film Alien that I bought at an auction. It’s the chestburster that jumps out of John Hurt’s chest, covered in blood and gore.

So you like your films blood-splattered and violent?
I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of horror, actually. So much is created by special effects these days, it’s just unconvincing. With Amageddon, it ain’t even a real spaceship, do you know what I mean?

What are you doing today?
Well I have got another chat later, and then I’m spending the afternoon working. I’m going to be going to Sardinia soon, with my daughter. She was a former Miss World, and the first Irish girl to be on the cover of Playboy. We’re launching the new Volkswagen Golf 7 over there. It’s a very nice car – 100kg lighter than anything they’ve done before, I’m told, the metal is heated to 700 degrees and the alloy is pasted on, so its much lighter and more fuel efficient.

Do you get a lot of perks being Chris de Burgh?
I think back when Lady In Red was a major record – well, it still is – I was offered all sorts of red cars, you know, but they were pretty crap. If I don’t like the car I won’t drive it, so it’s a bit pointless giving me it! In the US they used Lady In Red on the WeightWatchers advert, they paid a lot of money for that.
We would like to note that you are renowned for taking journalists to court over defamation and winning. Have you got a bad relationship with the press?
You cant expect everyone to like what you to do. I remember reading two reviews from a gig I did in Montreal. I am much admired and loved in Quebec, I have done 2 or 3 shows in a 15,000 seat arena. One review said I was fantastic and one said I was dreadful. And I thought ‘this is just an opinion’. The fans have to buy the tickets and these critics are told to go by their editor, so they’re not genuine fans, they’re not expected to write a rave review. With Facebook, you get instant feedback from your fans. That’s more important to me.

Have you got any advice for readers who want to sue someone for defamation?
Once you have a very good defamation lawyer, why not? Go for it! These people [journalists] need manners banged onto them. You see what the Leveson lot get up to and my jaw feels slack thinking about the hypocrisy in the industry.
Are you quite passionate about the phone-hacking scandal?
I’d say the real villains are the dyed-in-the-wool lads. It goes back to the adage ‘theres only one rogue reporter’ – everyone knows there was more than one. Once you tell a little bit of a lie, you can get away with it. I admire you for being young and wanting to be a journalist. I think there are very few things that make me want to puke as much as a tabloid journalist defending phone hacking.

You also sued Ryanair once. Was it something to do with their terrible food?
Ryanair is dreadful but because its cheap, people put up with it. They suggested my daughter was a racist for an off the cuff, innocuous comment. The sad thing about it is I was prepared to lose the case, but it meant a lot for the little man, if i may use that pejorative. Theres no right for them to protect their good name.

So who is the most famous Chris de Burgh fan?
I suppose Princess Diana. It’s hard to put my finger on who would be second. I did find out that Gorbachov was a fan of my music, and I met him. He was charming, he made history, that thing of bringing down the berlin wall. And I’ve performed for Liverpool F.C before, I keep in touch with some of them. Roy Hodge is a lovely man.

Where was your least favourite place in the world?
I’ve been around the world several times, and I cant think of anywhere I really disliked. When I was 12 I moved to an 800-year-old castle in Ireland which my grandfather, General Sir Eric de Burgh owned. We had no light, no heat, no water, no furniture, but it was good at that age, running around outside. We eventually turned the castle into a hotel. I also spent a term at a boarding school in Carlisle, which was interesting, because it was bloody cold in the winter and the spring.

What was ‘Chris de Burgh’ like at school?
It was an all boys school, although they introduced girls later. Your future Queen of England attended. For me, it was 800 boys, and testosterone was quite high. You could bottle it. The bad thing about having guys incarcerated together means there is a lot of attention on girls when you see them on the high street on a Saturday afternoon. They become exotic. I am sorry, in a way, that education of females was lost on me. Being friends with girls is a great way to learn the complexities of the female mind, you don’t have to regard them as sex objects.

Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your life living one day of the week, which day of the week would it be?
I’d pick friday. its right on the edge of the weekend and people are more relaxed. They see the weekend and think ‘I am going to cool down’.

Thanks for chatting to us, Chris.
You take care!

Soundtracking a Hollyoaks advert ranks pretty low on the credible musician’s bucket list. But you can plant a big tick there for Stealing Sheep, whose hypnotic harmonies reached even more ears after ‘Shut Eye’ accompanied Channel 4’s perma-tanned teens as they frolicked in a field. ‘Into The Diamond Sun’ is folky and whimsical enough to cast them as an all-girl Magnetic Zeros, but they flicker along a much wider spectrum, one with synthy wails and surreal psychedelic plonks. The one consistency is the formidable trio’s elegant vocal harmonies, often chanted like playground poetry, that bind these songs into an album of wonderful surrealism.

4/5