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Front Person – Front Runner

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Front Person – Front Runner

Posted on 27 September 2018 by Joe

Separately Canadian singer songwriters Kathryn Calder and Mark Hamilton have impressed us for years, the former as a solo artist and member of the New Pornographers and the latter who records and performs as Woodpigeon.

But after a chance meeting it seems a perfect partnership, under the name Front Person, has been created.

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The pair met in a studio hallway, clicked, and decided to start a band there and then, or so the press release legend claims. It’s a nice story though so we’ll go with it.

The result encapsulates all that is great about their solo work, their passionate lyrics and beautiful vocal delivery. Like Squeeze’s Difford and Tilbrook their contrasting voices work perfectly in harmony. This is particularly the case on second track Long Night, one of many high points.

This Front Person debut is an ambitious release too. Rather than just recording in any old studio and any old instruments they’ve managed to gain access to raft of historically significant musical artefacts housed at the National Music Centre in Calgary.

Here they used its vast collection of electronica, from classic Mellotrons, Orchestrons, Optigans and the world’s first commercially produced synths.

But this vintage tech never overtakes this project, which still feels like a folk rock album at heart. Take Shorter Days for example, its an epic song that never becomes too showy thanks to Calder’s lead vocals, Hamilton’s backing contribution, as well as some well timed piano interludes.

This City is Mine, with Hamilton taking lead vocal duties, is another worth mentioning. It’s as near as this album gets to Trouble, his 2016 passionate album about love and loss.

As solo artists they are great, but together as Front Person they’ve created something wonderful. Let’s hope this partnership continues for years to come.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Guided By Voices Cancel European Shows ‘For Personal Reasons’

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Guided By Voices Cancel European Shows ‘For Personal Reasons’

Posted on 07 December 2011 by Joe

Guided By Voices have cancelled their European 2012 Festival shows ‘due to personal reasons’.

In a statement from their label Fire Records the band have announced that they will no longer be appearing at the Primavera and ATP/I’ll Be Your  Mirror festivals. ATP have confirmed that Afghan Whigs will replace Guided By Voices for the I’ll Be Your Mirror date.

Guided By Voices

The statement says: “Unfortunately Guided By Voices are canceling their appearances at Primavera and ATP/I’ll Be Your Mirror, due to personal reasons. The band apologizes for any inconvenience and disappointment, and thanks Primavera, ATP and the fans for their longterm support.”

It adds that contrary to reports earlier today the band have not split up and plan to release, not one, but two albums next year. Frontman Robert Pollard will also prove he is the busiest man in indie rock by releasing a solo album early next year as well.

The statement adds: “Guided by Voices have not split up and continue to work on new material together. In addition to the album release of Let’s Go Eat the Factory for January, the band are at work on another album, Class Clown Spots A UFO, which will be released in in May. Robert Pollard will also be releasing a solo album, Mouseman Cloud in March.”

A statement from ATP says: “The band apologizes for any inconvenience and disappointment, and thanks the fans for their longterm support. Those of you who bought Sunday Day tickets for this event are invited to claim a refund if you no longer want to attend. Please contact your ticket agency before the end of January to do so. Once again we’re very sorry to be the bearers of this bad news and sorry to those of you who it has inconvenienced.”

This is just the latest setback for ATP, which without explanation postponed its Jeff Mangum Festival at Minehead, rearranging the date from this month to March 2012. ATP is still yet to give an explanation for the postponement, which left many festival goers  that had booked flights out of pocket.

by Joe Lepper

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Best Albums of 2018

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Best Albums of 2018

Posted on 17 December 2018 by Joe

It’s been a good year for debut albums in our latest Best Albums list.

Politics has also loomed large, with a number of releases, including our top placed  album, trying to make sense of the chaos of Brexit.

We have also included a special focus on acts from one of our bases – the South West of England, which continues to produce some of the UK’s most best music.

16. Nicholson Heal –Big Jupe

Bristol based Nicholson Heal impresses with his debut album, with a keen focus on melody and  featuring a wonderful brass section. Deservedly one of our  Glastonbury Festival emerging talent competition longlist entries back in 2017. Full review.

NicholsonHeal

15. Tigercats- Pig City

Tigercats are back, bigger, brassier and they’ve brought the party with them, careering round the capital on this gem of a third album, which makes great use of their new horn section and African influences. A deserved spot in our best albums of 2018 list. Full review.

Tigercats

14. The Billy Shinbone Show – The Billy Shinbone Show

Jesse Budd from Glastonbury based psychedelic popsters Flipron becomes Billy Shinbone for this eclectic solo album that blends 1960s psychedelia with country and Cajun music. Fans of Robyn Hitchcock’s recent albums will find a lot to like here. Full review.

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13. Superorganism – Superorganism

This global octet, with members from the UK, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, have impressed us greatly with their stunning debut, which is packed with a range of styles, big choruses and delicious hooks.

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12. Okkervil River – In the Rainbow Rain

In the Rainbow Rain is Okkervil River at their best, featuring great tunes in the likes of Love Somebody and Pulled Up The Ribbon as well as some of the strongest personal writing yet from their leader Will Sheff. Full review.

OkkervilRainbow

11. Guided by Voices – Space Gun

Space Gun may well be the best album that Robert Pollard has recorded under the Guided By Voices moniker since he resurrected the band back in 2012. Full review.

Space Gun

10. Papernut Cambridge – Outstairs Instairs

Former Death in Vegas man Ian Button and his crew continue to reinvent 1970s pop, this time covering themes of grief and loss as he reflects on the passing of his father, whose words of wisdom on No Pressure are among many, many highlights. Full review.

Papernut Cambridge

9. Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness

For his third album Liverpudlian Alex Highton has turned up the synths and 1980/90s influences to great effect. This is particular notable on opener Benny Is a Heartbreaker, an Ultravox-esque thriller of a song. Full review.

Alex Highton

8. Front Person – Front Runner

Canadian singer songwriters Kathryn Calder (The New Pornographers) and Mark Hamilton (Woodpigeon) come together  produce one of the best albums of 2018. Their trademark passionate lyrics and beautiful vocal delivery combine perfectly on this debut, which features some smart use of vintage electronica. Full review.

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7. Neko Case- Hell On

The world’s best female vocalist? We certainly think so, especially after hearing this latest highly charged release. She certainly has a lot to be emotional about this time around with this album arriving after her house burnt down and amid a battle with stalkers. Yet another career highpoint and a worthy entry in our best albums of 2018 list.

Neko Case - Hell-On

6. Jack Hayter – Abbey Wood

A derelict children’s home provides the inspiration for former Hefner man Jack Hayter’s latest, where everything falls into place. It has a strong back story, some moments of genuine drama, great music and above all sincerity. Full review.

abbey wood

5. Robert Rotifer – They Don’t Love You Back

The Austrian musician, broadcaster and Kent resident has created an epic stream of folk, psychedelic consciousness that perfectly encapsulates the senseless chaos of  Brexit. Recorded as a 77 minute track as part of a Wiaiwya Records project to raise money for Médecins Sans Frontières. Full review.

Rotifer - they don't love you back

4. The Go! Team- Semicircle

Eu-bleedin’-phoric! There’s no other word combo to sum up the sheer exhilarating joy of this Go! Team latest. Full review.

The Go Team SEMICIRCLE album artwork SMALL

3. Parquet Courts Wide Awake

Parquet Courts had already done their bit for guitar rock on their first three albums. Now they expertly take their music into new directions, thanks to Danger Mouse on production duties.

parquet courts

2. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs

Melbourne band’s three guitars pack a punch, especially on this album’s fantastic opening featuring  An Air Conditioned Man, Talking Straight and Mainland. Full review.

Hope Downs

1. Field Music – Open Here

From its chamber pop gems to pop-tastic foot stompers, this latest from Britain’s most interesting act continues to delight.  There are serious messages too, as the band eloquently express their fears around parenthood in post-Brexit Britain. A deserved top spot in our Best albums of 2018 list. Full review.

field-music-lp

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Green Man Festival 2019 Review

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Green Man Festival 2019 Review

Posted on 24 August 2019 by Joe

Here we go again, fasten your seatbelts, hang on to your consonants, its time to go to Wales for the annual freakout in the hills.
Greenman has now established itself as a major attraction in the over abundant field of UK festivals, and if you’ve ever been you’ll know why, as it is always chock full of quality acts and non stop diversions.
From folk to freakzone and most points in between you’re bound to find something to blow you away into the surrounding mountains.
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Wobby weather on Friday

To be fair the weather behaved itself, it only threw a wobbly on the Friday, but soon dried out on Saturday and Sunday with the arrival of some lovely sun, indeed the words quite and pleasant could have been employed.
Squirrel Flower despite sounding like a twee indie band from Dorset is in fact the stage name used by twenty one year-old Ella Williams from Boston USA. She captivated the crowd early on Friday with a set of self assured and seriously personal songs. maintaining an eerie composure and delivery throughout, she proved to be an early hit.
A totally unexpected treat was an energetic performance from a cracking soul singer going by the name of Durand Jones and the Indications, think Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and you’re somewhere there, the icing on the cake was an absolute fantastic cover of The Beatles Don’t let me down.
From one extreme to another, a climb up to the Far Out tent to check out Pigs Pigs Pigs etc. If you like a bunch of guys who can’t quite play the debut album from Black Sabbath and fill in the bits they can’t master by getting the vocalist to take his top off and scream alot, then this is the band for you.
Much better were TVAM, and the sublime Villagers who always deliver. The Walled Garden played host to a rare appearance by folk royalty Bridget St John, she was followed by a much changed Stealing Sheep, who have morphed into quirky weirdos in lycra complete with cheesy dance routines, they succeeded in confusing me, [not difficult]. After them came Bill Ryder Jones, who was electrifying, chaotic and joyous, often within the same song.
To close the main stage Friday night, the legendary Yo La Tengo totally ripped apart the fabric of space time. Indeed the opener Cherry Chapstick was reminiscent of a supernova of guitar abuse, the ground shook with terror as guitars made noises they were not constructed for. They then take everything down for quiet interludes and harmonies from heaven before erupting into cacophony again, beautiful.
Special shout out to Caitlin Moran in the literature tent who reduced my friend to tears [but in a good way].

Saturday’s highlights

Saturday was a blur of top notch entertainment, Jarvis Cocker put on his DJ hat and made women of a certain age dance like Pans People, Richard Thompson delivered a a scintillating acoustic set. The resurrected A Certain Ratio prove they still corner the market in skinny white boy funk, they even threw in a Talking Heads cover for good measure.
You could happily spend the entire weekend in the Chai Wallahs tent, you never hear anything that is shit, it’s a remarkable place and this year was no exception. Jazz rock proponents Lydian Collective were amazing,with lots of virtuoso playing, boundless energy, a drum solo and a guitarist who wears an unforgivable headband, we went bonkers.
Headliners Stereolab, despite a hesitant start soon locked in to some mighty grooves and proved why they were such groundbreakers back in the day, it was heartening to see such a big crowd as well. Four Tet was a little anti climatic but did have some nice blue lights.

Idles among Sunday’s acts

On the Sunday Yak and Idles won the noisy buggers of the weekend award, but for myself and many others the day belonged to The Liminanas. Hailing from France this proper freaked up fuzzy band of beauties ploughed their way through a delirious set, even throwing in no less than three cover versions, Mother Sky by Can, Gloria by Them and Teenage kicks by The Undertones. On a personal note this gig has elevated them to number four in my all time best gigs EVER !.
A teatime treat came in the form of Eels, a rarish UK appearance that went down fantastically well. Their sound was beefed up by a great band and frontman  E was irrepressably buoyant. By turns funny,  self depricating and hugely entertaining. Dog Faced Boy was dedicated to John Parish who co wrote it, Prince was name checked with a killer version of Raspberry Beret and Novocaine for the Soul was just superb. So great to see them still rocking, check out their remaining tour dates, you won’t be disappointed.
Before we left we caught an amazingly energetic and exciting young lady going by the name of Emily Cappell, small in stature but containing more energy than a spinning neutron star, she had a tune about the poor buggers who have had Morrissey tattoos and their ensuing embaressment as he reveals himself to be a cock. She was fun incarnate and her new album is called brilliantly Combat Frock, what’s not to like ?
So, another year for the Greenman Festival,  another load of crazy memories, more mayhem than you can shake a Jazzmaster guitar at, hell i’ve got withdrawal symptoms already .
By John Haylock
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Steven Adams and the French Drops – Virtue Signals

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Steven Adams and the French Drops – Virtue Signals

Posted on 04 May 2018 by Joe

One of my favourite aspects of former Broken Family Band frontman Steven Adams’ new band is that their keyboardist Michael Wood ignored the turn-ups memo for their photo shoot.

Steven Adams and the French Drops

Steven Adams and the French Drops

Wood’s stand against this middle-aged fashion faux-pas is arguably the only radical departure made by Adams’ new venture, Steven Adams and the French Drops. But that’s no bad thing. If it aint’ broke… and all that.

Here Adams once again produces a collection of pleasant, well crafted songs supplemented with razor sharp witty lyrics, that rally against the injustices of the world, both big and small.

Post-Brexit vote malaise is a key concern here, with opener Bad Apples aimed squarely at the sort of patriotism that drove that surprise vote to leave Europe. Lyrics such as “lashing out” and “poisoning the well” on Wolves add further rage.

Musically, there’s less of the Broken Family Band’s country twang and as with his Singing Adams output this sounds decidedly urban, especially the smart keyboards from turn-ups maverick Wood on Free Will.

But there’s still time for melancholy and romance. Second track Paul is lovely and  as near as this the album gets to that aforementioned Broken Family Band twang. The use of this first name in the title also makes it sound much more personal and will please fans of Adams’ 2005 solo track, St Thomas, which was one of our highlights when we saw Singing Adams in Bristol back in 2012.

Imprinted is another strong love song with lyrics like “I could spend my whole life with you next to me” delivered with welcome sincerity.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

Steven Adams and The French Drops are touring during May. More details here.

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Dinosaur Jr – Roundhouse, London (March 23, 2018)

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Dinosaur Jr – Roundhouse, London (March 23, 2018)

Posted on 28 March 2018 by Joe

Thirty years have passed since Dinosaur Jr got together. Since then they have split up, reformed and are still selling out venues, with this London gig no exception.

Having seen them at the Reading Festival back in the early nineties, it was an interesting contrast, and a reminder of why I had mixed feelings about them last time.

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Dinosaur Jr’s lead singer and chief guitar noodler J Mascis is, if possible, even more static that he was back then. He seems an isolated figure onstage, and not helped by the contrast between him and the more exuberant performance of bass player Lou Barlow.

This juxtaposition makes this seem like a solo act with the drums and bass as back up musicians. This is not to underplay the contributions of drummer Murph and Lou to the band’s sound, but the rather odd impression created by the onstage dynamics.

I’m guessing this is unintended rather than planned. J is clearly friends with both support acts and presumably the other guys in the band. His is undeniably, however, a somewhat awkward stage presence.

Ironically, he seemed much more relaxed when strolling on to play guitar on the last song of opening band Easy Action’s set.

Their frontman, hard-faced, angular veteran punk rocker John Brannon, cups the microphone in his hand whilst spitting lyrics at the crowd, mixing hardcore, punk and metal with an industrial edge; they are enthusiastically received by those who arrive in time to catch them.

I catch five of their songs, their final song on which J plays guitar, is the shortest of an excellent, rather intense set and like all of tonight’s bands they are great.

Easy Action are there to remind us of the hardcore punk influence inherent in Dinosaur Jr. Meanwhile, next on the bill,  Stephen McBean from Black Mountain, gives us a taste of J Mascis and co’s  West Coast Country psychedelic roots.

When McBean first came onstage his rather shambolic appearance and lack of introduction made me think he was the roadie tuning up for him. He proved be a far more engaging performer than J and played a solo set using a mixture of backing tapes and looping delay effects to build psychedelic country soundscapes that belie his mild-mannered appearance.

His voice, crystal clear, is youthful, like a garage band from the 1960’s, and some of his songs are stunning. I particularly liked his second number with its Byrds-esque guitars crashing in like broken glass onto the sun-kissed vocal melody.

Dinosaur Jr arrive onstage with the classic Thumb, reassuring their fans that there will be plenty more good songs to come. It’s mid pace melancholy wrought through the band’s virtuoso musicianship, and only held back in my opinion by the venue’s rather indifferent sound (this was something of a bugbear for me).

The vocals weren’t clear enough for any of tonight’s acts, and I would be reluctant to come here to see a band again. Next time I’ll see Dinosaur Jr in a venue with a low ceiling and a solid sound system. That being said, they are still fantastic.

There’s an amusing interview with J on YouTube where a seven-year-old child asks him if he is a “guitar god”. J says, “No”, but based on tonight’s performance it would be pretty difficult to disagree.

J plays guitar like few others, intricate and effortless, it really is something to see. I can’t think of a better guitarist I’ve seen.

Lou Barlow is all hair and beard, the two merging into one shaggy head. Lou wins the Dorian Gray award for looking at least ten years younger than J or Murph. Maybe that’s why they kicked him out back in the 90’s?

Murph, the ever present with J throughout Dinosaur Jr’s history must be the hardest working drummer in show business, rock solid all night without missing a beat. His lack of hair perhaps a sign that there is some stress in slackerdom.

Dinosaur Jr play three of four songs from the new album (all very good), before misfiring the start to “Feel the Pain”, and then going into “Out There”. The crowd go nuts.

And, there is an odd contrast between the Droopy inspired stage persona of J and the hundreds of middle aged men going ape-shit for his music.

As one of those middle-aged men, hearing “Out There” played live makes me feel thirty years younger and want to cry simultaneously. It is a masterpiece and the only song to beat it is the next song, the previously teased, “Feel the Pain”.

It’s wonderfully crafted, with its jarring opening allied to its heartfelt lyrics and swinging bassline and the sheer abandon of the chorus make this song a masterpiece. I glance bemused at the crowd surfing and moshing to my left.

From there the band revisit their back catalogue, with songs from Green Mind, Bug and You’re Living All Over Me, with the latter dominating the selection, particularly the encores.

This, the band’s first album is a little unfamiliar to me, and perhaps a number of their fans, certainly the tracks from Green Mind and Bug, get a better reception from the audience.

Perhaps the band like playing these tracks as they remind them of more innocent times, or perhaps they still have a few copies of it they’d like to shift taking up scant storage space in their houses, and they figure playing tracks off it at their shows may stir their fans to seek out these unsold copies.

If the Greeks have taught us one thing, it is that Guitar Gods are likely to be capricious tricksters toying with mere mortals, so either could be true.

The crowd at the show are an interesting one, there seemingly aren’t that many lively bands going about any more, and whilst I am not tempted to join in, it’s great to see the crowd respond to the band with the heady release of a stag weekend.

Just before the encore, I saw a guy staggering about looking for his mates with four pints of beer in his hands. Thus, tracks like Freak Scene and The Wagon get rapturous receptions.

Before the final encore, Lou Barlow, tongue in cheek presumably asks for requests.

If you shouted out for “Raisans” then you got your wish. I heard a lot of people shouting for “Get Me”, and on that note there weren’t many slow songs, I was rooting for “Not You Again”, but at times you just have to take what the Gods give you.

By Gavin McGarvey

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Sparks – Nottingham Rock City (September 23, 2017)

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Sparks – Nottingham Rock City (September 23, 2017)

Posted on 26 September 2017 by Joe

Good heavens! It says on Wiki that an early version of Sparks existed in 1968 under the name Halfnelson (mind you it also says Donald Trump is human, so I’m taking this with a pinch of salt).

After a quick name change to Sparks their 1972 breakthrough single, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us, exploded on the scene.

It fitted seamlessly with the ongoing glam rock movement of Marc Bolan in feather boa and half a ton of face glitter, an emaciated Bowie in his ambi-sexual Ziggy persona and reformed bovver boys Slade trampling all before them in a tide of bad spelling and big choruses.

sparks cropped

Among them were Sparks, wonderful Sparks, with an Adolf Hitler lookalike on piano and a singer who sounded like a strangled cat. Ron and Russell had arrived.

This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us was so left of centre it caught everybody off guard. That means our dynamic duo have been rocking ironically in a semi-operatic style for nearly fifty years. That is surely an excellent definition of longevity!

It is a wonder of the age that these two guys still remain relevant at the transient coalface of fickle rock n roll. Their new album Hippopotamus is as good as anything they’ve ever created: funny, catchy and just jolly good fun.

The band, all five of them come on dressed in white shirts with horizontal black stripes. Ron and Russ then enter stage right to tumultuous cheers. They look like confused convicts, Russ might be wearing a shiny black syrup of fig, it’s hard to tell but what other frontman do you know who skips when singing? A marvelous sight indeed.

Then there’s Ron who sits almost motionless at his keyboard looking like a not very scary replicant from the new Bladerunner film, and trying not to grin.

Tonight they gave us a set comprising nineteen songs – a good humoured, sentimental knees up for the art rock crowd then progressed apace.

Kicking off with the grin inducing hugely fantastic What the Hell Is It This Time? from the new album and finishing with another 1972 hit Amateur Hour ninety minutes later.

Sandwiched in between were killer recreations of the buoyant and irresistible Good Morning, Scandinavian Design, the lyrically genius I Wish You Were Fun, a blinding Missionary Position and especially Edith Piaf Said It Better, which was phenomenal.

Oldies included, When Do I Get to Sing My Way and 1974’s Propaganda. They even dropped in Johnny Delusional, from their successful 2015 collaboration with Franz Ferdinand – FFS. But it was This Town and 1979’s Number One Song In Heaven that blew the roof off.

The stoney faced Ron’s live party trick – to leave the piano half way through the set, come centre stage, take his tie off, loosen his jacket and do a groovy dance  – was priceless. He even smiled!

An emotional farewell and speeches from both of them followed. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Brothers in arms.

Beautiful.

Words by John Haylock, picture by Rod Dykeman

For more information about Sparks, visit their website here.

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Glastonbury Festival 2017

Glastonbury Festival 2017

Posted on 27 June 2017 by Joe

Last year’s Glastonbury Festival was typified by Brexit fears and mud, lots and lots of mud. It was draining at times, both physically and mentally.

Thankfully, this time around it was a different story, with a post general election sense of hope replacing despair and lovely dry grass replacing ankle deep sludge.

Glastonbury 2017 feel good factor

Glastonbury Festival 2017 feel good factor

Already some, including  Glastonbury Festival organiser Emily Eavis, are referring to it as the best  yet. We are inclined to agree, especially as there seemed to be more going on this year too, to add to the good mood and weather.

New areas had popped up, including Cineramageddon, a Johnny Depp approved post apocalyptic drive-in cinema. Another was the punk and hardcore metal focused Truth Stage, defiantly nestled in the dance area, Shangri-La.

Surprise and high quality guest slots also sprang up, with Elbow taking The Park stage by storm on Friday evening and The Killers doing likewise on Sunday afternoon at the John Peel Stage.

Jeremy Corbyn Sand Sculpture

It was also the year of Jeremy Corbyn, with the Labour leader attracting one of the Pyramid Stage’s biggest ever crowds, while reciting Percy Shelley (yes, this all actually happened). His face was on masks and t-shirts and even a sand sculpture with the veteran campaigner astride a giant fox, ready to give chase to Theresa May through a field of wheat.

Here we take a look back at some of the best acts we saw at some of the site’s many venues.

As with all our Glastonbury reviews, we focus more heavily on the smaller stages away from the main television coverage.

William’s Green

Our favourite venue on was on top form, once again showcasing quality emerging talent, including those destined for larger stages in future years.

Las Kellies

Las Kellies

Among the William’s Green highlights were a Friday afternoon set from Argentinian trio Las Kellies, who sound like a garage punk version of seminal Athens band Pylon, backing their distorted riffs with smart, danceable bass lines and rhythms, on tracks such as Mind Your Own Business.

On just after were The Pictish Trail, aka Johnny Lynch from the Isle of Eigg in the Scottish Hebrides. Here with full band, this plump, bearded glitter faced singer excelled as a frontman, with his psychedelic, euphoric pop pulling in the crowds.

The Pictish Trail

The Pictish Trail

Dutch Uncles were another highpoint of the William’s Green line up and proving to be the best party band in the Metropolitan Borough of Stockport. Here to showcase their latest album Big Balloon, lead singer Duncan Wallis is a joy to watch, with his frantic dancing and soulful vocals.

Dutch Uncles

Dutch Uncles

The Big Moon, a critically acclaimed quartet on Saturday’s bill already sound and look too big for Williams Green. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on The Park, John Peel or even the Other Stage next time. Here they rattled through a strong set of tracks from their debut album Love in the 4th Dimension, which was released in April.

The Big Moon

The Big Moon

The last time we saw Thurston Moore perform, he  was one grumpy git. It was at an ATP Festival in Minehead after the release of his solo album Demolished Thoughts and he spent the whole set complaining about the sound and looking miserable.

Whether it was the sunshine, lack of mud, or Corbyn himself, but at this year’s Glastonbury Festival the former Sonic Youth man was in fine fettle. Making up for lost time he has plenty of stage bantz these days and smiled throughout, through his trademark long hair. Another factor in his good mood may be the fast paced incendiary content of his new album Rock n Roll Consciousness, which sounded great live.

Marika Hackman

Marika Hackman

We managed to grab a couple more William’s Green acts on the Sunday, both equally impressive. Sub Pop artist Marika Hackman from Hampshire has an excellent album out this year, called I’m Not Your Man, which veers between grunge, folk and pop.

Live though she was far more on the grunge side, but with the voice of an angel. It was an enticing combination that provided yet another high point on this stage. A definite star of the future.

The Veils

The Veils

The Veils have been going for around 16 years. Why have we never seen them live before?  Their programme billing of ‘a savage collision of Bowie, Nick Cave and Nine Inch Nails’, is spot on, with frontman Finn Andrews definitely of the Cave school of impassioned down and dirty tales of horror. It is no surprise that Andrews features in the new series of Twin Peaks. A Lynchian act that seems criminally underrated.

The Park

The Park seemed to have significantly upped its game this year. Situated up the hill near the iconic Glastonbury Festival sign it can struggle to pull the crowds.

Not so this year.

As well as Elbow’s good natured and heart warming surprise set the venue also hosted what may have been the festival’s best stage headliner – The Flaming Lips.

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips

With a Glastonbury Festival friendly set of hits, most notably those from their peak pop album Yoshimi and the Pink Robots (2002), frontman Wayne Coyne was on exceptional form. Like a psychedelic faerie prince he relied on his full repertoir of showmanship – blasting the crowd with explosions of glitter and balloons, rolling around in a giant ball across the crowd and even riding a giant unicorn at one point.

Those that shunned Radiohead on the Pyramid Stage at the same time to catch this set were richly rewarded.

Hamilton Leithauser

Hamilton Leithauser

Hamilton Leithauser’s massive voice, and I mean properly massive voice, was another high point in the Park’s line up. Showcasing tracks from his impressive latest album I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, which was recorded with former Vampire Weekender Rostram, he dazzled in the Friday afternoon sun, delivering a fine set of shouty lullabies to perfection.

1,000 Times and The Bride’s Dad, about a determined father inviting himself to his estranged daughter’s wedding, were among the highlights.

John Peel Stage

The John Peel Stage had sort of lost its way over the last couple of years for us. The acts seemed to increasingly veer away from the Peel ethos of being interesting, to more a venue for acts that  produce a sort of bland power-ballad indie rock.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

This year’s Glastonbury Festival though it seemed that a bit more effort had been made to mix that up a bit with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard providing one of its high points.

Peel – the early 1970s Peel at any rate – would surely approve as with a psychedelic backdrop the hardworking Australian act rattled through their extensive back catalogue, that includes an incredible 11 albums since forming six years ago.

Highpoints were the Nanogon Infinity segment, with Gamma Knife and People Vultures sounding excellent. Complete with lead singer Stu McaKenzie gurning and guitar noodling a plenty they also impressed with a fantastic finish featuring The River, a highpoint from their jazz influenced 2015 album Quarters.

Appearing on the same Sunday afternoon were Sundara Karma, a posh bunch of ex-public school boys from Berkshire who use smart riffs and hooks to ensure they avoid accusations of being bland.

While they safely avoid blandness musically they did provide the lamest call to arms in the history of rock, when lead singer Oscar Pollack said – “If you don’t like something, say something about it, but in a nice way.”  I’m guessing he wasn’t part of the debating society back at the posh knob Oratory School where they met.

Real Estate

Real Estate

Real Estate also took to the stage on The Sunday and impressed us with their neat guitar interplay and REM like songs. They are a band that are far better live than on record, where they can sound a little lifeless, so it was great to catch their set.

The Acoustic Stage

Another favourite venue of ours at the Glastonbury Festival is the Acoustic Stage, a huge tent covered in giant red drapes and with one of the best sound teams on site. The crowd is a little older than the rest of the site, many of the acts are too, but it’s a great place to see some legends as well as new up and coming folk and roots acts.

Among the stalwarts were Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, who rattled through a Squeeze greatest hits set with aplomb. Their vocal harmonies, (Chris the low one, Glenn on high notes), is one of the best in popular music. Glenn’s guitar skills, here on acoustic and clean Fender Telecaster are also astonishing- intricate but never showy. Hearing Up the Junction in this format was a particular treat.

Difford and Tilbrook

Difford and Tilbrook

The Magic Numbers were another that graced the Acoustic Stage well, showcasing tracks from their forthcoming album on the Sunda as well as playing the crowd pleasers through their career and finishing on a sublime cover of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.

The Truth Stage

The Dead Kennedys may be without their original singer, Jello Biafra. But it doesn’t matter these days as, on the evidence of their Saturday night headline slot at The Trust Stage, in frontman Ron Skip Greer they have a superb replacement. He’s theatrical like Biafra, full of political swagger, but doesn’t impersonate him. Grear is his own man and the Dead Kennedys legacy is in good hands.

The Dead Kennedys

The Dead Kennedys

The rest though is the same, with drummer DH Peligro, who has been with the band since 1981, original bassist Klaus Floride and original guitarist East Bay Ray, all performing like it was back when they started.

To hear Ray’s abrasive surf riffs in person was a joy for us old punk fans. But it wasn’t just fogies like us there – what was great was how many young people were watching them. It was a joy to see how their music – which is as apt now in an age of Trump and May as it was in the Reagan/Thatcher era – chimes with a new generation.

The Other and Pyramid Stages

A sign of a good Glastonbury Festival for us is that we enjoy the smaller stages and larger ones alike. Among the Other Stage highpoints were The Pretenders cobweb busting opening set on late Friday morning. Unlike the dire rock dirge and shouty hoarse vocal performance of their contemporaries Blondie in this slot a few years back The Pretenders were superb.

The Pretenders

The Pretenders

Not only are their new tracks pretty good, especially the title track of 2016’s Alone, but Hynde’s voice is pitch perfect. In addition the band were true to their roots, with Martin Chambers ,who joined in 1978, on drums and their guitarist and bassist sounding as near as they could to the late James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon. Mystery Achievement, a lesser known track from their first album, was among many highlights.

British Sea Power were another good booking for the Other Stage, complete with dancing bears.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

Meanwhile, on the Pyramid Stage Barry Gibb‘s Bee Gees catalogue provided the perfect soundtrack to a sunny Sunday afternoon, complete with flashmob disco dancing security staff. The veteran seemed genuinely amazed and touched to receive such acclaim. If anyone was at this gig and hated it then they must be dead inside. Heartwarming.

The National almost, just almost provided gig of the weekend, with lead singer Matt Berninger doing his best to mirror Nick Cave’s incredible Glastonbury Festival Pyramid performance of a few years back.

While The National’s was a powerful and passionate set of a headliner of the future, the passion and angst  seemed a little forced in places, especially the oh-so deliberately visible wine swigging and snipes at the band members from Berninger, in particular aimed at Bryce Dessner, who he accused of having too much camera attention.

Is their friction real or put on? Either way it didn’t help their performance. Having said that Fake Empire, from their album Boxer, and the tracks from High Violet sounded superb.

Words and pictures by Joe Lepper

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Download Festival – Donington Park (June 2017)

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Download Festival – Donington Park (June 2017)

Posted on 13 June 2017 by Joe

The gods of Valhalla spoke to us in a fevered dream. Come to the 15th annual Download Festival they said (formally Monsters of rock) the spiritual home of denim, leather and very loud guitars.

Bring beer, Ginsters pasties and Ibuprofen, they added, and follow signs for the Highway to Hell (it’s just off the A453).

Dr Who has been a bit crap lately so how could we refuse?

Download

Breakfasting to the good news that May and her Tory shower had gotten a good mauling the previous evening we made ready for our first foray into the arena of METAL.

First to impress at Download Festival were Sabaton who delivered a great set in what was turning out to be a hot sunny afternoon. Yes, I said sunny, surely this can’t be right? There should be rain or at least some annoying drizzle, but no, the sun had indeed got his hat on (and his ear protectors in).

Mastodon increased the noize and ground out a bone crunching mix of progtastic metal at industrial levels of volume, mainly showcasing their new opus Emperor of Sand.

As an aside, the introduction a few years ago of gentlemen’s wee wee blocks is a great help when you’re consuming your bodyweight in ale. But the sight of some enterprising ladies trying to use them because they couldn’t wait to queue for the ladies was quite surreal, some actually managing this feat with varying degrees of damp success.

Meanwhile back on the Download Festival stages, in the Dogtooth tent were God Damn, who invited us to smash into each other with gay abandon. Do try to do this at least once in your life readers as it’s big, clever and character building. Trying to stay vertical as men built slightly larger than Hodor take great delight in trying to kill you was different to say the least, and something I think Suzanne Vega should perhaps encourage on her next tour.

Airbourne

After more beer it was back to the Download Festival main stage for Five Finger Death Punch, a tremendous set that drew a great reception from the horde.

Elsewhere, there was a fellah who does the best pie and chips on Earth situated OVER THERE.

Back to the music and Good Charlotte have a huge following of kids who sing every song, word for word. Still crap though.

More relevant and arse kicking were Prophets of Rage, who at one point paid tribute to their recently fallen comrade Chris Cornell.

To take the weight off our battered feet we watched some wrestling, choreographed fakery that never the less inspires cries of “kill him kill him” from the family oriented audience. We duly picked up some tips there that were to come in handy sooner than we imagined.

Headliners System Of A Down were incredible, despite the sound being a little harsh at first before settling into the comforting recoil of an artillery barrage. The band had the horde going batshit and by now it was hard to resist and we gradually got sucked into the maelstrom.

Accepting an invite from some drunken squaddies ,whilst ignoring the advice given by Bill Bryson about drunk soldiers reviewer Timo found himself at ground-zero mentalist mosh pit central. We never expected to see him alive ever again as he launched into the foray, pausing only to adjust his glasses in his sporran just as Chop Suey started.

We all roared along with its passionate chorus, Timo meanwhile disappeared from sight as his kilt and bollocks went skyward.

If you’ve never been in a mosh pit cauldron its probably safe to say it’s no country for old men, it’s as near as you’ll get to medieval combat as possible without donning chain mail and sporting a warhammer.

It was like a battle in Game of Thrones but with cups of piss instead of flaming arrows. Next year I vow we’re going to Cropedy, it’s safer and dryer. Timo was eventually found by the way in one piece.

Download Festival on the Saturday was by general consensus the weakest day, although Rob Zombie proved to be immense fun. Biffy Clyro though are not headline material, I have to admit we were in a minority on this.

A day of chips, beer, looking at cheap metal related tat on stalls, run by middle aged wife swappers and wannabe Alan Sugars smoking tiny spliffs followed. We also made friends with European heavy metal fans with very little command of the English language (a lot like us really).

Anathema

Anathema

Still no biblical deluge as Sunday rises from the strewn bedclothes of hangover hell, so we meander over to watch the tremendously intense Anathema, who just get better and better.

They are such an underrated band who in the space of ten years have gone from dirty sludge rock to an aero dynamically atmospheric and genuinely moving rock band. How can you not love a band whose first utterance on stage is ‘fuck the Tories’?

It was an afternoon of in your face intensity what with Ministry, Sweden’s Opeth, Clutch and finally the legendary Slayer – who are a force of nature, a tsunami of brutality, a volcano of hate, the Marmite of metal.

What can you say about Steel Panther?

Adult content, spinal tap poodle rock pastiche merchants should cover it. They were so funny, but so not PC, they have one track minds and are all the better for it. Not for the easily offended so we won’t go into graphic detail as some of the ladies might get giddy or faint.

Aerosmith obviously drew the biggest crowd, and considering they are all about three hundred years old still give good rock action. Frontman Steven Tyler now looks like a melted spitting image puppet but the ladeez in the crowd seemed to be quite enamoured with him (or his bank balance) nevertheless.

This was billed as their last ever UK appearance and they went down an absolute storm as they tore through a glittering back catalogue of geriatric Stones copyist rock-lite in a blur of scarves, bangles, painted nails and skin tightening techniques.

Love in an Elevator, Janie’s Got a Gun, a nice nod to their blues influences with a cover of Peter Green’s classic Oh Well, all with Joe Perry firing off some tasty riffage throughout.

Two hours of hits and near misses, Walk this Way, Let the Music do the Talking, Dream On and of course Dude Looks like a Lady. Phew.

This year featured a hugely improved site layout, security personnel with a sense of humour and more inflatable cocks than I care to remember.

Rock on Download Festival , rock on.

Words by John Haylock and Timo Griffin, pictures by Arthur Hughes.

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Glastonbury Calling (February 25, 2017)

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Glastonbury Calling (February 25, 2017)

Posted on 27 February 2017 by Joe

Some of the south west of England’s best acts were out in force at Glastonbury Calling, the annual eclectic, one-day festival now in its second year.

With Glastonbury pubs The Hawthorns, The Riflemans, Market House and King Arthur involved, as well as the larger Assembly Rooms and Bocabar, it was as much a showcase of the town’s wealth of venues as its array of talented musicians.

It was the pub venues where we focused our attention, starting at The Hawthorns. Complete with newly knocked through wall this town centre venue now offers a two tier view of the stage.

DSC_0280

Flipron

As host to the town’s regular open mic event as well as local artists’ gigs, Hawthorns is  a home away from home for many of the acts. This includes Glastonbury based Flipron, who on the day eschewed their usual four piece psychedelic pop band persona to present a lounge set, involving singer and songwriter Jesse Budd and Joe Atkinson on keyboards.

It was a stripped back feel that worked particularly well, bringing their late 1960s psychedelic side to the fore and saving the more 1990s indie rock aspect for another day.

Among highlights was Orpheus Inconsolable, a whimsical ditty from their Gravity Calling album that features some splendid Roger Whitaker style whistling and could have come straight out of 1967. Mingers in Paradise, from 2006’s Biscuits for Cerebus album and about aging disgracefully, also worked well in this laid back set.

Gilda Parade

Gilda Parade

A quick five minute walk took us to a polar opposite gig, the windowless back room of The King Arthur where Bristol heavy rock trio Gilda Parade were churning out tracks, such as their 2015 single Devil in Me, at a rate of knots.

Yes, they are full of the rock clichés, such as wearing shades indoors. But with self deprecating banter it was clearly partly tongue in cheek. They offer far, far more than mere clichés too across their tightly played set full of jerky rhythms and dramatic stops and starts.

Next up, back at The Hawthorns was Glastonbury based Duncan Batey, winner of the 2012 Somerset Songwriter competition and playing tracks from his impressive 2013 EP Blindsided.

The arrangements, featuring Dan Shaw on double bass and slide guitar, and Gerry Barnett on cello, brought out the melancholy, thoughtful side to his songs. This also gave his impressive vocals the chance to shine across a passionate set.

Duncan Batey

Duncan Batey

The Rifleman’s was the venue for our final Glastonbury Calling act of the afternoon. This is one of Glastonbury’s oldest pubs, with a 16th century bar at the front and a warren of rooms stretching out back.

Taking the pub’s schedule from afternoon to the evening was Owl in the Sun, a Somerset based quintet that features two married couples among its members. But the similarities with Fleetwood Mac stop there as they put in an entertaining set blending Americana with gypsy folk and jazz.

Owl in the Sun are one of those bands that I challenge anyone to dislike. Their set was fun, engaging and full of beautiful vocal harmonies. It also finished off with one of the best flute solos I’ve seen live.

Owl in the Sun

Owl in the Sun

There was plenty more to go into the evening. Bristol reggae act Laid Blak headlined the Bocabar’s list, DJ sets were carrying on at The Market House and the Assembly rooms featured The Truthseekers, Safehaus and Lazy Daze among others. In total more than 40 acts took part.

One of the main points I take away from my day was how great it was to see every venue busy and full of smiles, with the crowds out in full force, eager to hear new music and see familiar acts alike.

I’m looking forward to next year’s Glastonbury Calling already, as this one day event continues to impress and make its mark on the west country’s already famous festival scene.

Words and pictures by Joe Lepper

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