Archive | August, 2015

Green Man Festival – Glanusk Park, Brecon Beacons (August 20 -23, 2015)

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Green Man Festival – Glanusk Park, Brecon Beacons (August 20 -23, 2015)

Posted on 25 August 2015 by Joe

Heeding the advice of  The Pet Shop Boys we Go West toward beautiful Wales, the land of the chronic vowel syndrome, crap sheep jokes and where drizzle is the default weather setting. To be precise we are off to the Brecon Beacons, where the charming Green Man Festival shelters beneath the green skirted panoramic grandeur of The Black Mountain.

Now celebrating an incredible 13th year, the word is out and this annual freakfest is now one of the must go to festivals on the circuit. As ever, we worry about the weather and the possible consequences of trenchfoot, the withdrawal charges from the onsite cash machines and the possible names for our pub quiz team on the Saturday.

Mud
On previous memorable occasions at this festival I’ve seen grown men weep (well me anyway) at startling performances from the likes of Roy Harper, The Archie Bronson Outfit, Flaming Lips, Teeth of theSsea, Josh T Pearson and numerous others. This year’s line up once again boasts some of the most mouth watering and highly anticipated acts of any current festival doing the rounds in 2015.

Friday

We could go see some groovy French underground movie, or go for a ride on the big wheel, or go see a trio of Manchester students wearing Fugazi t-shirts playing Bonnie Tyler covers on instruments they’ve made themselves out of some lamb shit, three Pringle tubes and a stolen hairdryer in the Far Out tent, but instead we somewhat predictably go to the beer tasting where Pete Brown is giving an illustrated talk on  the flavours of various beers and which particular band suits that drink, it’s just an intellectual excuse for a piss up  in a big tent basically.

Bill Ryder Jones

Bill Ryder Jones

Eventually the sun tentatively pokes it’s head out from behind the clouds to see what all the fuss is about and accompanied by some fine rum we soundtrack our day with ex Coral chap Bill Ryder Jones, who takes us into some dark corners with a set of beguilingly heartfelt songs.

We hardly have time to catch our breath before Villagers mesmerise the crowd with their subtle, captivating musicianship, it’s a lesson in restraint and beauty. The tracks from the new album Darling Arithmetic proving to be every bit as good live as any of their previous offerings.

Over in the Walled Garden a small frail guy turns out to be Tom Robinson, the former post-punk rebel with a brain and possessor of a small back catalogue of singles and albums mainly from the early eighties. More recently he’s the tastefinder general on Radio 6. He and his band played a short greatest hits set, including Martin, Glad to be Gay, the lovely lost classic War Baby and obviously 2 4 6 8 motorway.

Desperately in need of a fix of scrunchy, drugged-up, fucked up British trippyness we  make  an ascent on the slight incline that leads up to the ‘it does what its says on the tin’ Far Out tent.

Villagers

Villagers

Up first a wonky performance from Leeds finest sons Hookworms, but bettered by far by a slightly underwhelming  (to start with anyway) show from Temples, hesitancy soon gave way to collective euphoria as those tracks on their debut album Sun Structures twitched into life and the monster awoke, leaving this journo duly impressed.

Afterwards a leisurely stroll, presumably on a Welsh ley line brought us to the epicentre of some serious rock action. Strand of Oaks, a four piece, two of whom looked like ex-members of Eels and the other two looked like rejects from both Metallica and Creed, but it just proved that you must never judge a band on appearance alone.

To look at them you might think it was going Iron Maiden bound, fortunately not, instead they played a blinder of a set, full of tough, bluesy riffs, and lovely lead guitar but with really honest lyrics about life, the universe and everything. Vocals courtesy of American Timothy Showalter who looks like  the soundman for  Slayer but was tremendously self effacing , polite and almost tearful at the warmth of the crowd’s response. Its difficult to catagorise them, but if you like rock songs that come from the heart and have potency, deal with  realities and with no reference to dragons or crazy chicks, you’ll love them.

Hot chips for supper, then bed. Only to be kept awake until 4 am by the drum and bass (but mostly bass) shenanigans in the next field.

Saturday

Still no rain! But my goodness what a great day for discovering new music. Hooton Tennis Club is by anybody’s standards a crap name, a proper name for a band is Amon Duul 2 or Acid Mothers Temple or One Direction. What were they thinking ? But they more than compensate for their shit name with some seriously wobbly tunes that pitch somewhere Pavement and Teenage Fanclub.

Does anybody here remember Teenage Fanclub’s Everything Flows? Hooton Tennis Club kinda like that vibe but ready to head into the ditchat any moment. Their two great closing numbers Jasper and Always Coming Back To You were top notch.

The Fall's Mark E Smith

The Fall’s Mark E Smith

A minor detour over to the talking shop marquee where The Fall’s Mark E Smith was being interviewed by a Mojo magazine writer. It proved to be both hilarious and sad, at various points he went off on one about God, Johnny Vegas and even a conspiracy about crisps. After 30 minutes of inane questions sent in by Mojo readers he was clearly getting restless and he said let’s have some questions from the audience, but before that happened he just casually got up and walked off. More of him later.

As the day drew to a close there was a flurry of limping and note taking, wherever you went great stuff was happening. On the Mountain Stage Charles Bradley turned in an extraordinary set of soul and funk based fun, coming on like some latter day James  Brown, preaching fire and brimstone and extolling the virtues of ‘Lurve’. It’s not an act I ever expected to see at Greenman, a totally off the wall booking and it was killer.

He had the tightest band since Prince was last in town and did a number called Confusion that sounded like a cross between Purple Haze and Ball of Confusion by The Temptations, it was electrifying. Praise the lord and pass the rum.

Songhoy Blues

Songhoy Blues

The far out tent then scored a hat trick of quality acts. Songhoy Blues play North African blues with an electro undercurrent and made the audience levitate with happiness. 4,000 people bouncing around a red and yellow tent off their tits on pure unadulterated joy is something once seen, never forgotten.

Then came The Fall, with Mark E Smith shambling on like a geriatric Casper from the greatest film ever made ‘Kes’, a disheveled little bloke screaming his head off into two microphones for an hour. In that time not one word is discernible but the tunes were recognisable courtesy of  the ultra tight band he’s got at the moment. Playing mainly stuff from the new album Sub Lingual Tablet, tracks such as Facebook Troll and Off to Venice With The Girls shifted along nicely, we even got White Lightning and best of all Mr Pharmacist.

It is heartening to see nineties shoegazers Slowdive finally get the recognition they deserve. Reforming in 2014 they have since garnered praise and won new fans of their dreamy, swirling miasma of sound and with Rachel Goswell’s pretty vocals to the fore and Neil Halstead’s treated guitars swooshing around your head at 1am, it’s the best thing ever. Catch the Breeze was a standout as was the final number Golden Hair, with its strobe strafing lightshow, which was not unlike a trip into the stargate in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
At 3am we were found in a bar miming along to Ce La Vie by Bewitched. But that’s our secret ok. So shut it.

Sunday

Rain made its long overdue appearance on Sunday morning. It was heavy and prolonged, a bit like my trip to the toilet. But it eventually subsided to merely ‘torrential’ (the rain that is) and by early afternoon the sun was coming out again.

Once again Mr Greenman provided much in the way of musical nourishment, ex Boo Radleys’ Martin Carr was cool but the day belonged to Meic Stevens, this unassuming elderly little guy is something of a Welsh legend. At one point he was rubbishly referred to as the ‘Welsh Bob Dylan’, as he was a highly politicised 1960s folk singer, turned on by the likes of Big Bill Broonzy and all those other blues dudes.

Meic Stevens

Meic Stevens

On he came to the stage, now aged 73, looking slightly bemused that anyone in their right mind would ask him to play at Greeman. By the third number I was welling up, under the circumstances his playing  was brilliant and his voice tremendously moving, this despite having treatment for throat cancer recently where the doctors told him that he may never talk again, never mind sing. How wrong they were. He spoke of his times hanging out with John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Donovan and even Paul Simon. His set was living history with acoustic knobs on.

You can’t go to Greenman without a visit to Einstein’s Garden, a scientific playground for the inquisitive child, curated by a motley crew of university boffins, students and doctors, who each specialise in turning science into ‘interesting’ .

Matthew E White

Matthew E White

So we popped into The Science in Star Wars  show and how it could provide answers to the Fermi paradox, which is basically the question – where are the aliens?

Thinking Matthew E White would be yet another intense, beardy man straight off the conveyor belt of tortured American artists I was preparing to go see Touch of Evil in the Cinedrome, when he did the best version of Velvet  Underground’s White Light White Heat ever.  Then he got the Deep Throat Choir on stage, all 5,879 of them to do rousing backing.

Last year Public Service Broadcasting played to 300 people in the Walled Garden this year ten times as many came to the Far Out tent to see them as they continue to ride a wave of well deserved popularity. Wigglesworth and co have fleshed out their duo status to ‘band’, and it  works really nicely. They effortlessly weave the old with new, a nice touch was the shitty, home-made Sputnik orbiting satellite that rose unconvincingly during the opening space based toons from their latest offering.

Public Service Broadcasting

Public Service Broadcasting

At this point my notes run out, as does my short term memory. A combination of lamb kebab overload, the lack of Savlon and too many beers with funny names took their toll and I collapsed in a babbling heap in the back of an ethnic carbon-free sandal store. When I woke up  I was back home in bed with my little Noddy and dreaming of Charlotte Church dressed as Big Bill Broozy with a tube of Savlon  and what looks like my brain in a petri dish.We must do this again sometime.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes

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Simon Love – It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

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Simon Love – It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

Posted on 18 August 2015 by Dorian

In the film ‘Art Will Save The World’, the kind-of biopic of former Auteur Luke Haines, Jarvis Cocker talks about his favourite song of the “Brit-Pop” era. The song in question is ‘The Upper Classes’ by The Auteurs. Jarvis is bemused by the way that Haines guaranteed the song would never be a hit, never receive airplay, by including an unnecessary but very obvious “cunt” in the song’s lyrics.

The debut solo album by Fortuna Pop act Simon Love (formerly of The Loves – a band I am not familiar with) brings this to mind. In this case he chooses to render about 75% of the album unsuitable for airplay.

Simon Love

Musically it is a very commercial record in parts, with The Divine Comedy, Elliot Smith and melodic 60s pop all being clear reference points across an eclectic set of songs. It is by no means a totally chart friendly release, but musically you’d have no issues playing the album when your friends and family were visiting.

Lyrically we are in less safe territory and Love proves himself to be as potty mouthed as your average Death Row Records album.

The opening track ‘**** (is a Dirty Word)’ is a nice piece of mid-90s indie rock which features one of the sweariest single lines on record just before the coda. Immediately afterwards ‘The New Adam and Eve’ repeats the line “everyone else can just fuck off and die” many times against a musical backdrop that evokes My Life Story or The Pipettes. ‘My Dick’ is Love thinking about cutting it off (his dick if that isn’t clear from the title). ‘Motherfuckers’ is pretty clear from the title, it is about motherfuckers in case you weren’t sure.

I have a pretty high swearing threshold so I’m quite happy with album in that regard. The songs with the greatest degree of 60s influence in the sound, the aforementioned ‘Motherfuckers’ being one of them, sound the best to my ears.

Probably the least successful song on the album is ‘The Meaning of Love’, which features Stewart Lee reading the definition of the word love from Wikipedia over an easy-listening musical back-drop. Talking based songs are an issue for me generally; they always have a limited shelf life. Drafting in Stewart Lee for the song seems like a contrivance to get some attention, if he was reading his own words in front of Love’s music that would have made more sense.

I mentioned earlier that this is an eclectic album, and Love clearly doesn’t want to present one single style across his songs. I’m a big fan of the all-over-the-map album, and love hearing a variety of musical styles on an album. However, in this case the diversity isn’t wide enough to be a hook in itself, but the lack of consistency does seem to expose the lack of a musical identity.

I don’t want that to sound like a harsh criticism, it isn’t, and Love is clearly a very capable and interesting songwriter and performer. I hope that his next album will bring his style and identity into clearer focus, I for one will be looking out for its release.

7/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Small Feet – From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like The Ocean

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Small Feet – From Far Enough Away Everything Sounds Like The Ocean

Posted on 14 August 2015 by Joe

The pool of talent in the Swedish folk scene just got deeper. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Tallest Man on Earth and First Aid Kit is Stockholm based trio Small Feet.

SmallFeet_FromFarEnoughAway

With the epic folk of the Fleet Foxes, a band who inspired First Aid Kit, coupled with the intimacy of Ireland’s Villagers, Small Feet certainly have the sound to match their countrymen and women.

Another strength is singer Simon Stalhamre’s emotional tenor, that warbles in just the right places and is more than a little reminiscent of Neil Young. Fans of Young’s  earlier solo work will find a lot to like here in particular.

Listening to this album it’s quite a surprise to discover it’s a debut. They seem like the finished article already, with their own distinct sound, albeit drawing on influences across folk both old and new.

There’s a lovely chorus on opener Gold, such passion on Rivers and then on All And Everyone there’s a great single albeit odd at times.  I think I caught Stalhamre mention unicorns at one point.

That’s just three tracks in and it continues, The Backwards Falconer bringing more pastoral feel and is amongst the best of the rest. In fact, I haven’t found a duff track yet.

Looking through the press release I can see why this album has such a feel of completeness, of a band fully formed and ready to take to festival stages and large venues. It details how Stalhamre inherited the lease to a 18th century cabin on Sodermalm, an island in central Stokholm that is popular with artists. Here he converted the cabin into a studio and a perfect isolated, creative setting  was created to produce this remarkable debut album.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Preview – Together The People

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Preview – Together The People

Posted on 06 August 2015 by Dorian

One thing that Brighton has been missing for some time is a decent outdoor pop music festival. The Shakedown festival has always had a bit of an identity crisis about whether it was a dance festival or not, and featured some really loathsome headline acts (Razorlight anyone?). The Great Escape is a brilliant thing, but multi-venue festivals with largely little-known acts aren’t for everyone.

You have to go back to 2008 for the folly that was the Beachdown Festival and even further back to 2000 for the Essential festival , which also had a bit of a checkered history.

So it was great news when Together The People was announced earlier this year, and even better news when the festival line-up was announced.

Together The People

Set in Preston Park the festival is a modest two-day affair that seems to be putting quality over quantity whilst offering up a really diverse set of acts.

Headliners Super Furry Animals and Jose Gonzalez are ably supported by this year’s must-have festival act Public Service Broadcasting with festival stalwart Billy Bragg and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas offering up some more mature sounds.

Local music also gets stage time with Brighton’s best known band, The Levellers, and Brighton’s best band, Brakes, both featuring on the bill.

The festival also offers up folk, spoken-word, art installations, street food and local beer across the site, all of which adds up to decent value for the £70 weekend ticket.

The festival is on September 5th and 6th, more information (including ticket outlets) can be found at http://www.togetherthepeople.co.uk

By Dorian Rogers

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John Howard and the Night Mail

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John Howard and the Night Mail

Posted on 04 August 2015 by Joe

A new angle has emerged in the John Howard story. The 70s singer songwriter, who was lost by the music industry and found by an Internet generation, has now got himself into a pop group. After a decade or so into a fiercely independent comeback career, where he writes, plays all instruments and handles promotion and distribution, the creation of The Night Mail is actually a big deal for Howard.

JH

Control Freak, one of the best songs on this collection of clever, timeless pop, best exemplifies the fear and excitement of having to relinquish some of his guarded independence to others.

But don’t feel too sorry for him as he steps out of his comfort zone. He’s in good hands as the Night Mail of Robert Rotifer on guitar, Ian Button on drums and Andy Lewis on bass and mellotron, are no strangers.

All are seasoned musicians and songwriters who have been in contact with Howard through mutual musical appreciation and common friends, including former Hefner man Darren Hayman, for the last few years. All three also formed his backing band for his two most recent gigs in London. Howard knows what he’s getting into and judging by the results is loving every minute of being in a band.

All three musicians also bring their own personality to each song, with each taking joint songwriting credits as manuscripts, demos and lyric sheets shuffled to and fro between England and Spain ahead of its recording last year at Big Jelly Studios in Kent.

There are merits to all three collaborations. But with five shared songwriting credits it is Howard’s partnership with former Thrashing Doves and Death in Vegas man Button that dominates.

Given Button’s love of the 1970s pop scene, most notably on his recent set of covers under his Papernut Cambridge moniker, it is unsurprising that in Howard he has found a songwriting soulmate. Whether it’s Howard supplying the words and Button tackling the music on Control Freak and In the Light of Fires Burning, or vice versa on Deborah Fletcher, This Song and Thunder in Vienna, their love of the era that Howard started out recording in oozes through each catchy chorus and verse.

Rotifer and Howard share four songwriting credits and is another stellar partnership on display here. Howard’s music compliments Rotifer’s lyrics of modern life on London’s After Work Drinking Culture perfectly, and Rotifer’s music on opener Before provides another high point.

Lewis, who is also bassist in Paul Weller’s band, shares just one songwriting credit but what a credit it is. The Lewis and Howard track Intact and Smiling was the one I singled out as the best on my first listen and that hasn’t changed over the weeks. Seems I’m not alone as its been released as a single and has already garnered BBC 6Music airplay. This track is great pop. How Howard must have craved such a quality tune from Lewis back at the start of his career.

There’s a cover here too, Small World by Roddy Frame, and it’s a testament to the creative partnerships with Howard here that this high quality piece of songwriting does not overshadow the original songs.

Arguably this is amongst the three most important albums of Howard’s career. One day it may even be seen as more important than his other two classics – his rediscovered 1970s debut Kid in a Big World and his excellent 2005 comeback album As I Was Saying.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Wilco – Star Wars

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Wilco – Star Wars

Posted on 03 August 2015 by Dorian

When Wilco announced an unexpected new album it was a pleasant surprise, the four years since their last being the longest break yet in their career. The fact that it was available to anyone who wanted to listen as a free download was a nice bonus. This is hardly a new marketing technique, lots of acts have released music this way since Radiohead first elected to remove the RRP from In Rainbows back in 2007.

Wilco Star Wars

However, given that physical sales are still dropping, and people that want a physical copy will buy one anyway, and the rise of streaming services then giving the download away for free seems like sound marketing. As does calling your album Star Wars in the year that the film franchise is set to return to our cinema screens.

So, when you get beyond any discussions of consumption and marketing you are left with one question, is the album any good or not? And the good news is that the answer is a pretty emphatic yes. Wilco don’t do bad albums and they haven’t decided to break their 20 year run of form, even for a freebie.

The most evident “style” to Star Wars is that of relaxed experimentation. The album kicks off with a short noisy erratic instrumental and then settles in to a sequence of well formed songs that cover the full gamut of everything that makes Wilco great. The songs are brilliantly played, the lyrics are interesting and demand subsequent listens and the arrangements are varied and inventive.

There is a slight demo feel to the album, some of the polish of their last few releases is missing, but it sounds like the best executed demo you’ve ever heard. And the sense of informality that pervades the album makes it feel wonderfully fresh.

I’m not going to waste any of your time by describing any of the tracks here, skip to the end of this review and follow the link to listen to them for yourself. If you don’t like Wilco then this album is unlikely to change your mind, but you are wrong so maybe give it a go anyway? If you do like Wilco then what are you waiting for?

8/10

By Dorian Rogers

Go to http://wilcoworld.net/splash-star-wars-links/ to get a free copy of the album (before they take it away).

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