Back in the ’90s, I created a show for MTV, with the gorgeous Davina McCall, entitled Access All Areas, where we gave bands their own video camera to capture life on the road touring. One of the best films ever delivered to us was by psychedelic rockers Kula Shaker, and we were blown away by their talent, creativity, personalities and bloody great music.
After a hiatus, here we all are, 25 years later, at my favourite local venue in Shey Bu to witness more from the dudes who created global anthems Hey Dude, Tattva, Govinda and my favourite driving tune, The 303, from their epic album K.
Kula Shaker – 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire London – 8 December 2022
Words: Sara Harding
Photography: Steve Ritchie
Kula Shaker are firmly back in business and here to stay with their recently released sixth studio album, 1st Congregational Church Of Eternal Love And Free Hugs, earlier this year to huge acclaim.
As a Metal hippy chick with a love for world music, Crispian Mills and co still remain a firm favourite at Metaltalk HQ. Crispian has talent in his DNA, with his grandfather being the late, great Sir John Mills and his mother, legendary British actor Hayley Mills.
Crispian Mills can not only sing, but his guitar prowess is unrivalled in this genre of music. With Paul Winterheart on drums, Alonzo Bevan on bass and recently reunited with Jay Darlington on keys, the atmosphere at a completely sold-out Shepherd’s Bush Empire is electric.
The opening act are a band I have enjoyed many times in Hounslow. The truly dynamic Johnny Kalsi’s Dhol Foundation delivered a slick set of Bhangra bangers with some Bollywood beats. Every single person was out of their seats, air drumming and dancing along. Kalsi looks at us all, and you can tell he is blown away by the audience and tells us, “we are social media sluts, follow “. That minute I took out my phone and am now a huge fan girl.
What a way to get us into the rocking world music vibe that KS bring. As the backdrop unveils, the cheers are off the scale. We were sat next to a very eccentric 20-year-old, who had clearly enjoyed some ‘magic mantra cake’ shouting out to all that she was all ‘chakra’d up’. We all loved her passion for the band.
Kula Shaker step onto the stage and kicked off with Hey Dude, a total anthem of a song. The band are better than ever. So good live, it was like listening to the album. We take a ‘trip’ back to 1999 with the Sound Of
Drums and a great moment for one of the best live drummers out there, Paul Winterheart, to deliver a true goosebump drumming masterclass.
The band effortlessly skip forward to the new album, which delivers free hugs to all, with the debut of Whatever It Is (Im Against it). Slickly started with a searing guitar intro from Mills, “this new album is all about what we are facing – war, poverty, bad times, but we want to give you a free hug.” Frankly, I would love a cheeky cuddle with all of the band, as they are still very easy on both the ears and the eyes.
Infinite Sun is next from the 2016 album K2.0 and is a lesson in how world music and rock blend. With Gaslighting, another cracking new track, the band prove that they are still very much relevant songwriters. Often new songs don’t shine on stage, but this delivers both lyrically and audibly.
As the absolute stonker of another Mills’ guitar intro kicks in, we know it’s time for another anthem in honour of the wondrous Jerry Garcia, Grateful When You’re Dead. This is one of my go-to songs when I need a dose of serious psychedelia. As Grateful merges into the mega studio jam, Jerry Was There, this is literally the best music rush you can get. It’s got everything – melody, magic and a crescendo like no other.
A new backdrop appears filled with the face of John Lennon as the dudes of KS celebrate Lennon’s life and death with a sublime cover of Gimme Some Truth. Then go straight on to play the perfect ‘next song’ which is the very Beatlesy Into The Deep.
Farewell Beautiful Dreamer is a stripped-down song and a stunning showcase of Mills’ vocals. As is Taxes, which is again about the state of politics but wrapped in a lovely Kula Shaker hug.
Gingerbread Man, also from the new studio album, is a dreamlike song, a real nod to the ethereal sounds of the ’70s and the brilliant music this era spawned. Killer keyboards from Jay and a sublime solid base from Bevan give us the wow karma factor on every song. Waves and Narayana give us a chance to sit down and have a breather and a small sherry.
And up next, the ultimate driving anthem. For anyone who makes the road trip to Stonehenge, this song is dedicated to that magical mystery route, the A303. A nod to nostalgia in a totally trippy way.
As we heard the opener of Tattva, it’s back to the band’s Indian/Psychadelic hybrid – a truly tantric song that has us all singing along – we were louder than Mills. Bloody hell, it’s so good to hear these songs live again.
The wah-wah pedal is out again as Mills rips into Hush, voted one of the best cover versions ever and certainly is up there with Deep Purple. The crowd are literally going into a trance at this moment, a whirling dervish of a song that has the whole Empire pulsing.
Encore time comes too quickly, and the band step onto the stage with the dynamic drummers from the Dhol Foundation, giving this gig yet another level of sonic sound layers and beats as they go into Gokula. Again another nod to The Beatles with the iconic riffs from George Harrison.
Govinda follows, a song sung totally in Sanskrit, yet we all know every word. This epic journey from India to South Bucks via Glastonbury is a truly one-off song. Brilliant in every way and a perfect merge of rock and the magical music of India.
This night of sheer brilliance ends with another Beatles legacy piece, Twist and Shout. By now, the mega fan next to us has lost her shit with excitement. More bizarrely, to my right in the audience is the very purrrrrrrrey Rula Lenska and Mill’s mum and one of my favourite actresses, Hayley Mills.
In Shepherd’s Bush, I really did feel that I had been on the psychedelic trip of my life. This gig had it all – polished performances, a feeling that you had literally been on a massive musical, magical carpet and the euphoria that accompanies a sonic journey like this.
Huge thanks to Jo Hart