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Pram, the Modified Toy Orchestra and Shady Bard

Last night I made my first visit to Birmingham Town Hall, since I used to sing there as a member of the CBSO Chorus back in the days before the magnificent Symphony Hall was built.

I enjoyed the whole evening, but for me the opening act, Shady Bard, stole the show. A local act about to release their debut album on Static Caravan, the band are described by terms such as Indie, Folk and Experimental, but really, they’re just bloody good. What impressed me most was the way they used various instruments, in uncluttered, even sparse, or minimal arrangements, with each instrument really adding something to the form. However they write, they seem to manage to integate the individual “voice” of each instrument very well into the whole.

Neither of the following bands for me could match the structure and purpose or emotional engagement of Shady Bard, but I enjoyed them none the less.

The Modified Toy Orchestra cut an impressive presence, five of them in dark suits looking not unlike Kraftwerk run amok in a toy factory. Their rhythm was somewhat Kraftwerk-esque as well, fairly basic stuff serving as a reasonably driving backdrop for a remarkable range of electronic noises. I slightly got the impression that the huge range of different sounds the three bands employed thoughout the night was something of a challenge to the sound engineers.

Finally Pram took the stage, now using all five of the visuals screens – more of which had gradually come into use as the night wore on. Here again i felt the music lacked as much purpose and build as I personally like, but – particularly with the help of some great visuals, the band did generate some fine moods, and even for a couple of tracks an atmosphere of real menace. Very cinematic stuff and much of it fairly gentle, not unappropriate for the end of a fine Monday evening. Kudos to Capsule for arranging the whole night.

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