Bigtopp

Southsea, our love, adieu for this year… American Pie goodbye.

Last Sunday we played our last show in Portsmouth for this year. It was a pleasure to be playing down at The Drift Bar, the 200 cap. indie venue with a character that screams, “get noisy.” It was an unexpected surprise to be supporting the American Pie acting star Thomas Ian Nicholas for the last of the Portsmouth Fresher’s events. I envisaged his serene acoustic vibes gliding around a square foot space whilst the audience recounted the scenes from his cult film days. But no, “Kevin Myers”, his teenage-angst character in American Pie was gone, and a melodious gruff voice was left in its place.

We enjoyed skanking with everyone who came down for the night and give much respect to Sam for putting on the night. We’ve got a lot going on at the moment including rehearsal for our live-set with the new album. We’re all very keen to unify this CD with a bigger and fuller live-show and that’s going to take practice.

There’s plenty of Bigtopp gigs on this Autumn including a short spree in Europe, a couple of big London shows, an intimate and emotional shindig in Liphook, the bright lights of Brighton and Cardiff are drawing closer too!

We’re also getting our act together for next year’s festivals. If anyone has any places they’d like to see us at, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: all thoughts of all shapes from all minds are welcome here…

For now, adieu x
JFP

We’ve only gone and recorded a second album!

To all our fans, friends and family the big news is we’re on our way to pushing out our as yet untitled second album . Perhaps it would have been smarter to have tracked the process as we went along, but if you pledge to the campaign you’ll be seeing the photos and video clips in the fullness of time.

For a brief and flavoursome account of what happened please read on.

We travelled down to Middle Farm Studios in the beginning week of September, laid down some stonking guide tracks with the inestimable James Bragg. The takes were so big that Stefan’s bang-drums and Doug’s bass-thumps are to be used as the actual takes. The sound is full of energy, essentially it is live and when you hear it I hope you’ll be able to agree. We’ll be launching a Pledgemusic campaign very soon whereby you will be able to directly help us launch the album.

There wasn’t a huge amount of time to contemplate on how good we were as the Bigtopp meta-body powered it through the night from Devon to Bestival to rendez-vous with our horn section. Big up to Brother Harvs from The Ohmz who helped us onto the bandstand and all the Bestival adventurers who watched our set. It was an awesome gig, although the vibes of the new album were coursing through our minds we smashed out a strong Mischief heavy set. Thanks to Kate and all the team at the bandstand who helped us out, and Guy who always has our backs.

However, there wasn’t a vast amount of time to feel good about ourselves as we had to power back to Devon, my Mum as Jeeves, racing through the night to reach Devon to move onto some percussion and rhythm. Percussion!? Yes percussion, the melodious cousin to the beef-bap drum kit. On this album we’ve added a lot more percussion than on our previous disc. It’s helped add the cream to what is a wonderful Victoria spunge delight: bongos, congas, egg-shakers, tambourines! You’ll have to wait and hear it for yourself to fully appreciate the musical sugar that I’m trying to portray.

The guitars went down strong, Sam stepped up his game as did Martin who powered through a day of keyboard medleys and Hammond organ chops at the weekend! As he slipped away in the poor-man’s version of the car from Knight Rider the rest of us settled in the idyllic backdrop of Middle Farm outside Newton Abbott, Devon.

There’s a tree, a prophetic tree abreast a small ruin I clambered to each day near the studio. It was here that I finished fine-tuning some of the lyrics for this album. It was a central concern to all of us that the lyrics stood out in this album and we feel they do. Throughout the week I screamed, whispered and caressed the lyrics into place like a yoyo as the horns arrived to complete the sound.

The sound booth awaited the instructions of James Bragg as Jacob deftly put the alto saxophone in place, skilfully followed in turn by Amy and Luke who have collectively created a horn sound unique on the Ska scene (wait until you get a load of the bass trombone!) Amy has taken on the task of beefing up our horn section and depping with us for the foreseeable future.

Although there’s a lot of work to be done, and truly we need as much help as we can get to finance the launch, we are happy and confident that the sound we will convey to you will be the biggest yet!

Thank you for reading my first blog following Ben’s departure. As we move into the future with this second album, please keep with us, your support enables us to carry on.
More news soon!

x

JFP

BJ passes the Baton

By now, I’m sure many of you will have heard the bad news – I’m making my perhaps worst decision to date and leaving the band to concentrate on my (flagging) academic career. No one is more upset about it than me but when things aren’t going so well with what I actually do for a living then it’s very hard for me to justify swanning off to fun places and having a figurative whale of a time with the band. There isn’t really much that’s further away from doing maths.

As you’d expect of such a straight-up fantastic group of people, the band have been very supportive of my bad choice and left a door open to me should things pick up again and swanning off becomes more forgivable. I hope fiercely that in the next 18 months or so that I can come back as if I’d never been away, but for now it’s just not fair on them to try and keep it up when I can barely commit any time at this crucial juncture when so many exciting things are happening. Far better to part ways fondly and let in someone who can commit, and trust to to mercurial fate that things will work out.

To tie it all:
Our first dates in Europe were fantastically European and the band are heading back out there in October.
No Doubts music video uploaded.
Two week tour with The Ohmz was beef-bap tastic.
The band hit the studio to make their second album.
Bigtopp played Bestival 2014.

Pm will be taking over the position of chief (b)logger and will be cutting some fine prose for you all.
For now, will all my love, take care.

Ben

No Doubts video!

Our second full-length video from our debut album Mischief – Seek truth from within and let those sneaking questions of self-doubt subside! Enjoy!

First Movement: Allegro

It’s been over a month since my last blog, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me once you hear a little about what a month it’s been. So much has happened that one blog post alone would be wildly insufficient to contain it and so a rambling, self-indulgent opus in several movements is what you’re going to have to put up with.

Cast your mind way back to the beginning of July, full of the lissom promise of long, honeyed evenings and the kind of cocktails that give you diabetes upon a single glance. A mini spree of three gigs in two days kicked off in Camden Town on the Friday night. We had to play out of our skins to avoid being completely blown out of the water by our complacency-annihilating support band Felix Hagan and the Family, who didn’t need attractive female singers engaging members of the crowd in ballroom dance to supplement their energetic theatrical rock but had them anyway, much to the delight of Bigtopp’s resident dark horse Jacob. Spurred into action, we blasted through a very enjoyable set and before we even had time to gather ourselves, tumbled off home to get some sleep in time for an early afternoon slot at the wonderful Blissfields Festival.

We were very pleased to be back there having played an extremely memorable set at the 2012 festival following our triumph at the Road to Blissfields competition (ahem). This year, the weather was threatening to act up but fortunately we were playing in a tent, and in some ways this was advantage – people who might otherwise happily lollop on by in the sunshine find themselves cajoled under cover by the unfriendly clouds, and then we’ve got ‘em. It is preferable if they enjoy the experience, but not absolutely necessary.

Just kidding of course, we were extremely grateful for the warm response we got from a lively crowd – hopefully we will be back again as the festival continues to grow. More and more people are going to want in as word spreads about what a good thing they’ve got going. Double hopefully, in fact, as this time we didn’t have long to hang around and soak up the vibe. Bristol called for a second time this Summer and Bigtopp of course could not resist answering. The M4 behind us and we were soon once more in one of our favourite haunts in that part of the world, Mr Wolf’s noodle bar. I’m sure no other venue on Earth makes such a compelling case for the heady fusion of flavoursome oriental food and interesting live music, and even better that night the interesting live music came courtesy of us, appearing as the filling in a sandwich that began with Welsh Chris and the Douchebags, whose lustily-pedalled music they describe as ‘FROG’ (Folk Prog Rock), and was given a happy ending by Crinkle Cuts. I’m in no doubt that anyone with even a passing interest in funk, reggae, ska, or assorted other genres would have been left heartily satisfied in both the soul and the belly.

Again, though, I couldn’t hang around (anyone noticing a theme developing?), this time as I had to catch a flight the next day to Madrid on completely unrelated business. This did, however, leave me conveniently situated in Europe, and so a week and a bit later I met up with the band again for our first foray onto continental soil. That, though, is a story for another blog…

Not enough bee metaphors.

If you’ve ever watched Gladiator you will know that Emperor Commodus was not particularly well disposed to busy little bees. We at Bigtopp, however, think that any way of acting that upsets tyrannical dictators of any time period, real or fictional, must have some kind of merit and so we’ve been buzzing around vigorously these past couple of weeks.

Last Friday we swarmed up the M4 to balmy Bristol in pursuit of a rollicking good time at Roomtown Fair, the notably insane festival-in-a-house hosted by the notorious Ivo. The trouser-flapping manor was bursting at the seams with the best kind of people and they were treated to a scintillating array of some of the premier underground ska and punk bands in the Country. Two bedrooms were decked out with equipment and the bands alternated between them; we found ourselves happily in the jungle themed one.

20140606_223823

I was, believe it or not, stood flush against the back of the wall when I took that and so you might be wondering how we managed to fit twenty odd noisy ska junkies fueled with home brewed cider and animistic lust for life in there on top of us. I don’t have a clear answer for you, it had to be experienced to be believed. A big hoorah to Ivo and pals for one of the best parties I’ve been to in a while.

The next day, fueled by pancakes and coffee, we rocked up to the picturesque Alresford Festival buried deep in verdant Hampshire. It was the second time we’ve been there and it’s a very nice smaller festival with a friendly family vibe going on. Our slot was perfect, just as the haze of early evening was setting in and people started to flip from sun-basking mode into full party capacity. A highly enjoyable set to some warm appreciation and I hope they’ll have us back next year, if only for another go on the adventure playground.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of us on the adventure playground.

The week dragged by like an unhelpful elephant seal who simply won’t cooperate with your attempts to heave him across the rocks by his tail (I’m sure we’ve all been there), such was our anticipation to be playing at Isle of Wight Festival on the Saturday night. We finally made the crossing in gorgeous weather although by the time we actually made it in, the music had stopped. We had to wait for the next day, although we were sure treated to a mighty fine selection of splendours then. Aside from the customary festival silliness,

Stef considers wheeling out a joke about suntan lotion and peeling

Stef considers wheeling out a joke about suntan lotion and peeling

musical highlights for me included the effortlessly cool Backbeat Soundsystem, the amped up Chainska Brassika and of course the Ohmz, who we again had the dubious privilege of following.

What can I say though? It was a hell of a gig. I can’t think of any better ones I’ve played in over seven years with the band. You know at most gigs when the frontman asks if people are having a good time, and is met with a half hearted murmur of grudging assent? In this instance we were almost deafened by the response, leaving me in no doubt everyone was having a very good time indeed. It’s always quite special when so many people are watching you they can’t all fit in the tent. Torrents of gratitude to everyone who came and watched us and made the whole thing such a roisterous blowout, it was seriously amazing.

We’re still only really getting warmed up so keep an eye peeled for more Bigtopp news. I leave you this time with a wildly optimistic article about entrepreneur and philanthropist Elon Musk and his plan to save to save the world with solar power, written by someone who is apparently almost as much of a gushing fan of him as I am. Till next time!

Extracting oxygen from the Sea, exuberance from music, and power from Boron

I’ve heard a theory recently that the inconvenient blight upon humanity that is the hiccoughs arises from your diaphragm, that sheet of muscle and sinew underneath your lungs, getting confused. Confused about what? Well, eons ago when the land was parched and the air noxious, our ancestors found a far more agreeable home in the sea, joyfully gleaning precious oxygen from it via gills. It seems that nature was so pleased with her ingenuity in constructing such elegant devices for gas exchange that she was reluctant to fully part with them, and so now despite many ages of the Earth perambulating the solid ground and respiring with if anything even more impressive lungs, some vestige of them still lurks deep within our chest cavity. Being not so bright, these gill remnants occasionally notice that they haven’t done anything for millions of years and rather than come to the logical conclusion that they’re probably fine just chilling out like they have been, they enter into a wild panic and start gilling their little socks off. Not being exposed to any water, however, they simply struggle madly and these pointless paroxysms will result in mild annoyance to their owner until someone shouts ‘boo’ loudly enough.

I have no idea whether this is true but it makes some sense and so I feel fully justified in saying that we at Bigtopp are, quite literally, stuffed to the gills with gigs at the moment. Peeking over the time horizon reveals Alresford Festival next weekend and THE ISLE OF BLOODY WIGHT the weekend after and that’s only really getting started.

This weekend marked the beginning of this bulging schedule: with uncustomary industriousness we played two gigs in a day. Jesters in Southampton kindly invited us to return to their annual beer and cider festival and this year we had the privilege of kicking things off. Sam is off gallivanting round Europe at the moment but fortunately the inestimable Oly Rivers of the Ohmz stepped into the breach on guitar and back up vocals and gave a valiant accounting of himself as the crowd set about the serious business of drinking as much as possible, as quickly as possible. No one took that to heart as much as Benji Carter, one of the acts on after us. Despite a traumatic filter swallowing incident, he still bravely embarked on an act that consisted of ‘interesting’ spins on pop songs alternating with torrents of highly amusing invective directed at the onlookers. I haven’t made it sound that great, but honestly I’ve rarely been more entertained.

The Winchester Gate in Salisbury that evening was a more traditional kind of gig and once again Robb Blake put on a scorchingly good evening. Everyone tightly packed in the venue was treated to a highly polished outing from the Intercepteurs before we mustered up our energy to unleash hot, heavy reggae into the throng. The throng seemed pleased with this, and so we were pleased.

Before I sign off, I’m going to draw your attention to an organization I’m in no way affiliated to but am distinctly enamored with – last time I was ranting about the terrible things that are being done to the planet in the name of energy, this time, I want to share one possible avenue that we might be able to take to put a stop to it. Focus Fusion are doing some fundraising to propel their very promising research into a power source which, if it works, would be cheap, decentralized, clean and revloutionary. They can explain better than me, so watch the video in the link, and if you’re interested and have a bit more time, there’s an hour talk at Google Tech here. Our money can directly influence the future of the species and the planet. If you don’t think these guys are on the right track, there are plenty of other companies exploring other options you can find at the click of a mouse. We live in a remarkable time.

Now Doubling as a Soapbox

Well, news this week is that we’ve passed the point of no return when it comes to the retreat of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet. Even if we stop burning all fossil fuels overnight (not that this would be a remotely good idea), then forces have been set into motion that will see the Ice continue to retreat unstoppably, with a consequent drastic rise in sea levels. Good bye Bangladesh, fun while it lasted.

We have a hundred odd years before we really feel the worst of it, and it’s not inconceivable we can come up with some plan to mitigate the worst of it in that time. Also, a shit ton of water might just offset all that Ocean acidification that’s been going on, maybe even long enough that my grandchildren live on a planet with whales on it. Man, I’m going to miss the whales. It’s imperative we acknowledge exactly what a corner we’re in though; cycling to work once in a while isn’t going to cut it. Technological innovation is crucial, but even more so is political will. If you don’t exert pressure on our governing bodies to prioritize ecological conservation, then you will live to see global catastrophe. Well, you may anyway as tipping points are being crossed willy-nilly, but how we prepare now decides how many billions have to suffer, and how badly. I don’t mean to scaremonger: you know what, if you live in England, things aren’t going to be too bad, really. I mean, don’t go buying a coastal property, but I doubt our day to day life will be much affected. But you have to feel a bit bad for all those Bangladeshis and Indonesians and Malaysians and…

You can bring up the lack of scientific consensus (false) or the relative stability of global air temperatures in the last ten years (it’s happening in the sea, idiots!) all you like, but this IS happening and it’s as bad as you’ve heard. You cannot say that there was no way we could have known.

I’ve made my point. I’m in no doubt humanity will survive and prosper, eventually, but we’re certainly going to see some Interesting Times. Fortunately, if you’re feeling down about all this, you don’t have to look much farther than music to remind yourself that it is not all in vain. Any species that throws out a Beethoven or a Bob Marley now and again can be forgiven for a certain amount of crushing idiocy. I would not put Bigtopp in that illustrious bracket, but we do specialize worry-suppressing and were certainly made to feel very good about ourselves by a fantastic crowd as Gascoyne Place for the Bath Festival on Friday.

I’ve been wanting to gig here for ages seeing as I’ve made this beautiful city my home

DSC_0146

and it was certainly worth the wait. The festival suffused the already good-natured town with a jubilant countenance, and the streets were filled with the peals of steel drums and latin beats. At one point I was accosted by a ‘Swat’ team, all decked out in black and goggles. And fly swats, of course, as they pursued the ghastly offspring of woman, insect, and powerizing leg springs (that is the technical term, I checked) through an incredibly dedicated pun.

Raising the roof of the venue was not that difficult as I could in fact do it just by standing up, but I was amazed and touched at how many people – some familiar, many not – crammed into the tiny basement to cavort, gingerly, to our set. Unfortunately, the Ohmz were not able to join us, but fear not, we reunite with them in June for the Isle of Wight Festival! Our next engagement comes in sunny Salisbury at the Winchester Gate in a couple of weeks. So thanks to bewitching Bath and its shapely citizens, and hope to see you all soon.

Part II: practically an historical account.

Well, I’ve managed to leave this so long that many new things have happened since the fondly reminisced mini tour. When I’m done reminiscing fondly about that, I’ll probably share some of our latest undertakings too.

Picking up from the doubtless breathtaking cliffhanger we left on last time, the band’s Saturday morning was burnished by the Sun glinting on the sharp edges of the motel. The dotted patches of grass, where you could squint your eyes and almost pretend you weren’t somewhere off the M27, made pleasant grazing for us and we were well satisfied in indolence. Sometime around mid-afternoon, we wafted lazily to Petersfield. The town chattered with the copper rays of early Spring. Despite our attempts at setting up being hindered when a mermaid hijacked the drum kit,

Mermaid drummer

the homely George was decked out with bulky, electrical noise devices just as the evening began to buzz with people. The ensuing gig was everything a band can ever want, each one in it enhancing the performance of the others, in front of a large, amiable crowd spilling out into the street. It does sometimes feel like being a constituent organ of some sixteen legged beast, when everything clicks and the communal groove establishes itself. When accompanied by many of the colourful folk of Petersfield cutting loose, there are few better ways to spend an hour (well, a bit more if you include the part where we listened to the Ohmz).

The ferry crossing was spent out on deck, clearing our lungs with the chilly, invigorating wind

IMG_3656

as we hopped over to the Island the next day. The venue we played at doubled as a pool hall, and so the afternoon was happily frittered away to the sound of the ‘pock’ as the balls cannoned into each other and the cries of ‘ooooohhhh’ after the inevitable failure to pot anything. A brief interlude to carry a lorry’s worth of heavy, antique sound equipment upstairs was fortunately rewarded with getting to actually use the heavy, antique sounds equipment, although not without unflappable last minute work of our trombonist and resident person who actually knows how this shit works, Luke, to manhandle it into actually giving out any sound. We played solidly and are grateful of the support of the islanders during our set, but we were really only a warm up that night for the majestic Ohmz sweeping all before them on home soil. A reluctant parting of ways as the night eventually, stubbornly died down and before we knew it, the mainland was beneath our feet once more and real life beckoned early in the morning.

More recently, we’ve had a couple of very fun gigs over the Easter weekend, so our warm thanks to the Road to Blissfields people for whom we played as special guests at the Joiners, and also to Guy and everyone who came to see us at the Rifle Club on Monday. More out of the ordinary, though, is that we recorded some music and footage at a TV studio in Southampton for an internet show called, I think, The Encore. I won’t bore you all with the things I learned about the intricate process that goes into producing something like this (mostly it seems to consist of sitting around for a long time until someone gets word on an earpiece that we can go), but I will ask you to check it out when it’s broadcast on Friday. Each of the three bands gets one song played and then you can vote on which one you’d like to see more of, so with any hope you’ll do the sensible thing and vote for us. If you keep an eye on the website and the facebook we’ll provide a link to view it on nearer the time.

What goes on tour stays on tour, until I get around to blogging about it (Part I).

I know it’s been two weeks since Bigtopp (and the Ohmz) wrapped up our magical mini tour around the South in spectacular fashion at the Isle of Wight, but it’s taken me roughly that long to recover. So now, having mulled it over a bit, and properly assimilated the mostly absurd course of events, I feel I can now do at least some justice to telling you all about it.

As seems to be becoming an unwelcome tradition, the weather in Southampton was appalling when I arrived (late) at Lennon’s nightclub for our first show. Still, it was heartening that so many of you braved the elements to come watch us again, and after we played you all were spectacularly rewarded by the Ohmz’ set, who churned out seriously solid music without any apparent effort night after night on this tour. Not only lovely people, but with a serious talent for hewing melodies out of the monolithic ur-noise that will simply not get out of your head under any circumstance.

Gig wrapped up and we headed to the (wonderfully tolerant) Days Inn that became our home for the next three nights. It definitely made a change from our normal tour sleeping regime, which used to consist of driving away from lights and then finding a patch of grass that would fit in our questionably waterproof tents, a practice that has found us waking up in all kinds of places including once next to a village green hosting an under eleven football match. I assume they must have thought we were extremely dedicated fans. Comfortable beds and functional showers were extremely welcome even if it did seem a bit decadent.

The one downside is that the service station it was situated in seemed to have a spell on it that made it impossible to find. I don’t think there was a single night where all of us made it straight from the gig back there without spending a decent chunk of time navigating every single nearby road that nevertheless, didn’t lead there. You could almost hear the Benny Hill music playing as the van and car would go separate ways only to cross paths again ten minutes later as both of the routes we took turned out to be pursuits of untamed anseriformes.

On the Friday, some band members made the admirable choice of getting up early and doing productive things. Those with nice speaking voices appeared on local radio Voice Fm’s morning zoo, whose podcasts are still available to stream. You can hear Bigtopp and The Ohmz, both sets of whom I thought came across remarkably well considering the early hour. I’d just have growled, had I not made the sensible decision to stay in bed. Our other two horn players then spent the day laying down some lines for the jocular Simon Says’ new EP, which I am actually quite sorry I missed. But, you know, bed.

I had just about woken up when it was time to go to ever-picturesque Winchester. After a brief but intense intra-band clash to establish dominance, all we really learned is that we are lovers, not fighters. Although Bob’s style of loving appears to manifest as some kind of whirling dervish.

I do love playing the railway,
Photo 28-03-2014 16 16 28
it’s a nice size and we always get a fantastic sound courtesy of the incontrovertible Joe Marsh. While we debuted a couple of new songs the night before, on Friday I feel like we played them with a bit of conviction – you can play them as many times as you like in practice but not until they are forged in the flames of a gig do they become the sharp edged tools we are accustomed to wield to slice away the drudgery of non-musical life.

This is getting very long already so I’ll finish this off with a part two tomorrow (probably) to tell you all about the hilarious scrapes we got into over the next two gigs. As a parting thought for now, mountains of thanks to everyone who came out to support us over all four dates, without you we wouldn’t be able to do things like this and it means, to resort to cheesy cliche, an awful lot. Also, thanks to the Ohmz for being such dudes and making the whole business so easy and enjoyable. We’ll definitely be collaborating more in the future, and here is a taste of some of what you can expect from so heady a union:

Jamming at the Days Inn.