Tag Archive | "Billy Bragg"

Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

Tags: , , ,

Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

Posted on 29 June 2016 by Joe

At the 2013 Indietracks Festival Martha were the must see band, winning both the most band t-shirts worn contest as well as best stage invasion prize. The four-piece from the wonderfully titled village of Pity Me, near Durham, are not exactly rewriting rock, on either their first album Courting Strong or this their latest release. There have been many, many bands that have already trod this well worn path of presenting shouty, romantic and embattled vocals wrapped up in a three minute, fast paced pop song, complete with guitar solos and rousing sing-a-long choruses.

martha

But, and this is important, it doesn’t matter that they lack innovation.  Martha have a spirit, which many of their contemporaries lack. When they sing about the “toxic culture” of a Catholic education on the track St Paul’s (Westerberg Comprehensive) and its effect on anyone who dares to be different, or heaven forbid gay, they really mean it.

When they sing about romance discovered in the washing powder aisle of a supermarket, as on one of the album’s best tracks Precarious (The Supermarket Song), you can really feel the heartstrings pull.

Its no wonder they appeared at Glastonbury’s Leftfield stage last year at the personal request of Billy Bragg. At Bragg’s Glastonbury set this year, before launching into Greeting From the New Brunette he told budding protest song writers in the audience to make sure they also write about romance. Martha have clearly listened and Bragg even gets a reference on the Coronation Street themed Curly and Raquel, about the TV soap’s odd and ultimately doomed couple.

This album is also a lot of fun, especially on Goldman’s Detective Agency, where Victorian anarchist Emma Goldman is re-imagined as a corruption-tackling private eye, backed by some fine Thin Lizzy style guitar playing.

It’s hard to fault this album across its 11 excellent, upbeat tracks, which made me think, smile, dance as well as want to immediately go and see them live and join them for a stage invading sing-a-long. Who needs originality when you have this much heart?

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart  is released by Fortuna Pop on July 8.

Share

Comments (0)

Glastonbury Festival 2016 – Small Stages Highlights

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Glastonbury Festival 2016 – Small Stages Highlights

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Joe

Even festival organiser Michael Eavis, a man well used to the unpredictable Somerset summer weather, says this year was the muddiest Glastonbury ever. He wasn’t wrong. Getting about in ankle deep sludge for most of the weekend was indeed tough going as the weather and Friday’s shock Brexit vote conspired to give this year’s event a distinct vibe.

mud

For the acts the political developments fueled a sense of rage that gave their sets some extra steel. Meanwhile, the mud made audiences seem even more grateful than usual. They’d fought through mud to reach a band and by gum they were going to enjoy themselves once they got there.

Meanwhile, the Leftfield tent became a Mecca for the confused, as young and old alike looked for answers across its line up of politicians, activists and bands.

Here’s our look across some of the highlights on the smaller stages. Were you at any of these gigs? If so let us know what you thought.

Dan Stuart

Dan Stuart

Opening the John Peel stage on Friday a few hundred hardy souls gathered where the mud was less porridge-like to see a rare UK performance from Green on Red’s Dan Stuart. He didn’t disappoint, having flown in from his home in Mexico together with his be-suited and excellent band Twin Tones.

Brexit naturally was mentioned, so too were tracks from Stuart’s  latest album as well as Green on Red standards, all delivered with a wry grin and plenty of passion. Solo track Last Blue Day was dedicated to us poor post-Brexit vote Brits, while Death and Angels more than satisfied those that remember Green on Red’s heyday.

Michelle Stodart

Michelle Stodart

Over at the Acoustic stage the weather was the main protagonist to help along Michelle Stodart’s fine country folk set, accompanied by a backing group that included her brother and fellow Magic Number, Romeo. For artists playing in a tent on a Friday afternoon bad weather is a godsend. Her set was perfectly timed with a month’s worth of rain descending and the crowd soon swelled looking for warmth and comfort. Ain’t No Woman from her forthcoming album as well as Invitation to the Blues were two of many highlights for this packed Acoustic tent.

William’s Green is often our favourite venue at the festival, always showcasing new and innovative bands who know how to please a crowd. Friday afternoon provided two excellent examples of their stellar booking policy with Yak, and then Vant.

Yak

Yak

London based trio Yak are slowly building up a strong reputation for their incendiary live shows, with frontman Oliver Burslem the catalyst, full of Jim Morrison freak outs on their single Use Somebody in particular. If you ever despair of the future of British rock music go and see this band.

Vant

Vant

Vant are more polished, a little Nirvana like in places, but cut from the same indie rock cloth as Yak. Live they are intense. Brexit again gets mentioned, with frontman Mattie Vant ordering any leave voters in ‘his tent’ to do just that. He was genuinely pissed at the vote, summing up what so many young people feel. It was another example of politics fueling a performance with this proving to be one of the best sets I’ve seen at William’s Green. Bigger tents and stages beckon for them.

With the soup of mud threatening to become knee height I waded through to the nearby Leftfield stage to station myself for the night. I wasn’t the only one. Plenty more were there to escape the mud and find some answers to the political malaise, from tonight’s headliner Billy Bragg.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

I often go to Bragg’s regular Friday night set here but this was by far the best with the aftermath of the electorate’s decision firmly on his mind. The crowd’s roar after hits like Milkman of Human Kindness and Sexuality was “just what I needed”, he said. Even Bragg admitted towards the end that this had been one of his best ever gigs and certainly it was the busiest I’ve ever seen the Leftfield in five years as a regular. There Is A Power In A Union sing-a-long was intense with its added topicality and New England was rousing. Bragg kept urging the crowd to pick up their guitars and get out there and be the protest singers of the future. Over at William’s Green Mattie Vant was doing just that a few hours before.

Man and the Echo

Man and the Echo

Supporting Bragg were Warrington’s Man and the Echo, a curious highly polished indie pop act that somehow emerged straight out of the early 1990s, via the 1960s for a stop over, for our 2016 delectation and delight. Smart, fun and in their own words the favourite band of ten people, ten very wise people that is. Here’s a clip of Vile As You Want, by the band.

Rhoda Dakar

Rhoda Dakar

Also on the Friday night bill was ska legend Rhoda Daka, whose engaging banter with the crowd and with her band, who incidentally were as good as a ska band gets, providing the most fun gig of the weekend. Easy Life and Let’s Do Rock Steady from her Body Snatchers days got the biggest cheer and rightly so.

Sam Lee

Sam Lee

Among Saturday’s small stage highlights was a mesmerising performance from former Mercury Music Prize nominee Sam Lee and his band at the acoustic tent. In recent years Lee has made it his mission to collect and record ancient songs from across Britain, particularly among the traveller communities. This gives Lee’s  gigs an extra dimension as he details the various travellers he has met and sung with, including Freda Black an octogenarian Romany singer from Kent who provided him with the Napoleonic epic Bonny Bunch of Roses. He’s developed a great relationship with those communities he meets and as a modern day Cecil Sharp now provides one of modern music’s most interesting and ancient sets.

William’s Green’s excellent Saturday line up included Boxed In, a band we’d touted before. They didn’t disappoint with their take on keyboard driven pop and the track Mystery proving a particular highlight.

Meilyr Jones

Meilyr Jones

New favourite artist alarms rang immediately during another intense set, this time from former Race Horses singer now solo artist Meilyr Jones. Stage diving can get a little tiresome but I’ll let Jones off as he took the strategy to new lengths with the aid of an extra long mic lead. Somehow during the meander he ended up atop a nearby bar with his mud covered bare feet gleaming by the pumps. Billed as chamber pop, his band rocked far too much to warrant that fey tag. Incredible performance.

John Grant

John Grant

Our final look around the smaller stages was to see John Grant. Poor John had flu but this somehow made his performance at the John Peel stage better, with the crowd urged to sing-along and wave their arms around to keep him going. He has come along way as a performer since I last saw him at Glastonbury two years ago and he is now a proper diva, albeit one in a country and western shirt and a massive beard. Queen of Denmark, Greatest Mother Fucker were highlights but Glacier blew the whole gig apart with its emotional brilliance.

glastclouds

The mud may have meant many gigs were missed, and many were stumbled upon by accident but the weather along with the shock Brexit vote ensured this year’s Glastonbury had an edge that the acts on the smaller stages in particular met head on to put in some career high performances.

By Joe Lepper

Share

Comments (0)

Together the People (Preston Park, Brighton, 5th and 6th September 2015)

Tags: , , , ,

Together the People (Preston Park, Brighton, 5th and 6th September 2015)

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Nic Newman

The long awaited return of Brighton to the urban music festival scene finally came to an end with the inaugural offering from Together The People, a two-day event hosted in Brighton’s Preston and Park. Our intrepid reporters selflessly left their home and crossed one busy road to bring you all the highlights they could squeeze into an acceptable length article.

Preston Park is no stranger to public and private events, having already presented Brighton Pride and a Thai Food Festival in the weeks previous to Together The People, but we were initially taken aback by the modest size of the festival vs the ticket price. Still, mighty oaks and all that.

Access and entry was well organised and by the time we were through the slightly superfluous crowd chicane, the sunny space was laid out before us down the gently sloping grass and we were quickly able to get to grips with the music stages and tents TTP had to offer.

First up, and with a £5 pint of beer in hand, we headed to the small acoustic tent (more of a gazebo) to catch the acoustic guitar wizardry of Jye Whitman. Armed with a ton of skill and a beanie, Jye Whitman served up refreshing a portion of up-tempo acoustic tunes and songs that made a nice change from the usual earnest (and slightly dreary) output from the usual acoustic stage.

Jye Whitman

Jye Whitman

Cheered along by this, and with a cup of tea and slice of cake, we headed to watch the end of Lucy-Spraggen-off-the-X-Factors set, chock-a-block with attempted audience participation numbers and wait for Ghostpoet to take the main stage.

Lucy Spraggen

Lucy Spraggen

With three albums under his belt, Ghostpoet has come a long way from his self-produced days and has collected a tight and professional band along the way to back him up and provide a foundation to build his melancholy stories of modern living. Opening with tracks from his new album Shedding Skin, the skies briefly darkened to accompany the musical the atmosphere while Ghostpoet closed his set with the very excellent single, Liiines.

Ghostpoet

Ghostpoet

As the afternoon moved along and grass was flattened by picnic blankets and arses we looked forward to the arrival of everyone’s favourite Bolshevik balladeer, Mr. Billy Bragg, and what urban music festival would be complete without him? But it’s not the reliable renditions of old favourites like New England and Sexuality that really impresses us about Billy Bragg, but his unrelenting political optimism and faith in his fellow man.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

Maybe it’s this dedication to an uncynical attitude that makes the arrival of old Brighton favourites, The Levellers, on the stage less cheesy than it might have been to the jaded music fan. The sun was shining, the jigs were up-tempo and the delivery was as enthusiastic as it ever was. To not bop a bit was not an option.

The Levellers

The Levellers

Before the main event of the day came around we were able to catch the lion’s share of local super group, Brakes, thanks to a day of well-planned and well-maintained schedules. Formed by members of other local talents like British Sea Power and the Electric Soft Parade, Brakes fired out a volley of frenetic and deranged power-pop tunes like Porcupine or Pineapple? and All Night Disco Party to their core of loyal fans, and still managed to line up room for their more accessible country-leaning songs. These reviewers were particularly thrilled to hear Brakes cover of Camper Van Beethoven’s 1986 cult classic, Shut Us Down.

Brakes

Brakes

To bring day one to a close, festival favourites and Cardiff’s finest Super Furry Animals take the stage with an unassuming modesty during the intro to Slow Life that quickly leaves the audience with the peculiar certainty that this stage was built for this very moment. Resembling a Power Ranger taking a break from his decorating, Gruff Rhys and the gang segue through a list of greatest hits that include (Drawing) Rings Around the World, Do or Die and Hello Sunshine. Despite a slightly stodgy middle, Super Furry Animals baked a crowd pleasing song pie of well crafted furry hits and a crust of Juxtaposed With U and Golden Retriever that they eventually served to the audience on an extended platter of The Man Don’t Give a Fuck to make their playout ending and encore that would have to scores of mop-haired children who’d been running around the bottom half of the audience something to sing to their parents on the way home.

Super Furry Animals

Super Furry Animals

Day two arrived hot on the heels of day one and provided a clearer and sunnier early September day than before, the perfect festival weather that seemed to have failed to coax in the disappointing number of Sunday attendees.

Regardless of the low turnout, we headed off to the smaller BIMM stage to catch space over-filling enthusiasm Astrid’s Tea Party who belted out their three piece songs despite (or possibly because of) the audience-lite reception.

Big Dada signed Roots Manuva laid out his blend of hip hop dub across the main stage audience like warm blanket of summertime goodness and everything was right and good in the world – a sentiment echoed from the acoustic stage across the other side of the park by Tiago’s nostalgia-tinged songs and stories of growing up in Portugal.

Roots Manuva

Roots Manuva

The first surprise of day two came from another local Brighton talent who have been making a reputation on Soundcloud, Kudu Blue on the second stage. This was our first experience of the band, and their slick and soulful post-triphop proved to be a real delight to behold. Kudu Blue combine beautiful ambient layers of guitar textures and synth loops across a foundation of deep bass and crisp syncopated rhythms, polished off with a smooth, natural vocal that glues them all together. Take a moment to check out the video for their song Bones  and hear for yourself.

Kuda Blue

Kuda Blue

Things only get better when Public Service Broadcasting and a homemade sputnik take control of the main stage and spread instrumental joy and delight throughout the crowd. I’m not sure why anyone would want to, but it’s hard not to like them and their happiness and pleasure in what they do is infectious. Tracks like Theme From PSB, Spitfire, Go! and trumpet-tastic Gregarin provide the party vibe that any audience hungrily eats up like a festival burrito. We hope that TTP carries on in the future and are able to do something about the noise bleed between stages; some of PSB’s atmospheric moments were drowned out by nearby stages. However PSB provided one of the best performances of the weekend and could (even should) have headlined day two.

Public Service Broadcasting

Public Service Broadcasting

It seems fitting that such a new event might want an established act to lend it some history, and there aren’t many acts about today with the history of Martha Reeves & The Vandellas who graced the stage with the kind of authority you get after six decades of performing.

Martha Reeves

Martha Reeves

We couldn’t shake the feeling however that after Public Service Broadcasting, the party was already winding down, a sentiment shared by Luke Sital-Singh as he closed the second day on the second stage with stark and intimate versions of songs like Still from his new EP The Brakeneck Speed of Tomorrow and Nothing Stays the Same from The Fire Inside that sound like music for a Monday morning. “Depressedon Park…” he quips. Highly recommend catching Sital-Singh live, his connection to his audience through raw vocal performance and warm banter, definitely won over the last of the weekends revellers.

Luke Sital-Singh

Luke Sital-Singh

Finally the two day festival is brought to a close by Swedish singer songwriter superstar Jose Gonzalez as the September air chills the now straggling audience. Included in his set were some of his well-loved cover versions including Kylie Minogue’s Hand on Your Heart alongside material from his new album Vestiges and Claws as well as the odd Junip track thrown in for good measure, but it somehow didn’t quite cut the proverbial mustard. We are fans of all things Jose Gonzalez and Junip, but we can’t help feeling that this was the wrong choice to end the day. The beauty and intimacy of Gonzalez’s songs were simply lost in this setting and we headed home feeling chilly and serious.

Jose Gonzalez

Jose Gonzalez

Hats off to the organisers for producing such a well-managed event with a rich and varied line-up and opportunities to showcase so much up and coming talents. Together The People champions local arts, small business and community issues. We hope this festival has the opportunity to grow in size and offerings, whilst keeping costs accessible to a wider audience. If it does, we’ll definitely be back for more burritos and beats.

TTP end

By Lisa McDonnell & Nic Newman

See more of Nic’s pictures from the festival on our Flickr page.

Share

Comments (0)

Glastonbury Festival 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Glastonbury Festival 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

Posted on 29 June 2015 by Joe

“Why aren’t you playing the Pyramid Stage,” shouted a heckler at Billy Bragg’s headline set at The Leftfield tent on Friday. Bragg’s response, to remind him of the event’s varied 100 plus stages, was obvious but too often forgotten by those at home watching on TV.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

In the spirit of Bragg’s comments this article will take you away from the 50,000 strong crowds of the Pyramid and Other stages to focus on those smaller venues, which this year offered a world of prog rock, punk legends, French eccentricity, young stars of the future and even Ron Mael from Sparks having a laugh and a dance.

Friday

As with last year the tented William’s Green stage continues to impress with the most eclectic and interesting line up. Opening on Friday was Declan McKenna, the winner of this year’s Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition. As a judge in the competition I was keen to see how this teenager, who has already garnered Radio 1 airplay, would tackle the festival crowd.

Declan McKenna

Declan McKenna

Turns out McKenna performed like an old pro, with his guitar and vocal looping allowing the tracks to build up before turning into perfect pop, in particular his best song Brazil. He even threw a beach ball into the crowd to gee up the weary Friday morning crowd as he proved he was certainly not intimidated.

Canada’s The Burning Hell sound like a cross between Camper Van Beethoven and King Missile, were full of laughs, have been going for a decade and have seven albums already. I’d never heard of them until Friday afternoon at William’s Green, where they completely won me over with tracks such as Nostalgia. How have they passed me by?

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Over at The Park stage and once again away from any TV cameras King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, the seven strong psychedelic Australian act, were putting on one of the best sets of the day. They are surely destined for larger stages on this evidence for future festivals, especially thanks to singer Stu Mackenzie tongue wagging and guitar noodling.

Heavenly Records are 25 years old this year and William’s Green snapped up their latest crop of acts for the rest of the afternoon. Hooton Tennis Club are for those that adore the likes of Teenage Fanclub, but it was Stealing Sheep who stole the show. Although their second album, which dominated their set, doesn’t have the same quality of songs as their debut this Liverpool trio’s great stage presence and sense of fun makes the tracks far better live. Roping in Dutch Uncles singer Duncan Wallis to sing with them for a track was also great to see.

Stealing Sheep

Stealing Sheep

Rain can really scupper plans at Glastonbury. It can also reveal some surprises. As I ducked for cover at the Acoustic Tent during a late afternoon shower I made a new discovery – rock ‘n’ roller JD McPherson, who was one of Rolling Stone’s artist to watch in 2012 for good reason. His was a blistering proper rock ‘n’ roll set. Speaking of which the TV cameras missed a trick in not popping by the Acoustic Stage after JD McPherson to catch the legend that is Wilko Johnson.

Wilko Johnson

Wilko Johnson

Like a crazed bird Johnson made a mockery of the cancer that last year threatened to take his life, as he weaved around stage, machine gun chording the audience with his trademark Fender telecaster. He and his band’s bassist Norman Watt-Roy are a sheer joy to watch.

Back at the Leftfield for the end of my night Billy Bragg was doing more than putting hecklers in their place. On the day the US Supreme Coast legalised gay marriage his version of Sexuality took on an extra special meaning. He never fails to deliver as a live performer and the hits came tumbling out on his now regular Friday night Leftfield set.

Saturday

At the foot of The Park area lies the tiny Bimble Inn, which proved a great venue for emerging singer songwriters and folk artists over the weekend. Kezia, from Falmouth was among the best I saw here. It took me a while to pinpoint who she reminded me of, as I searched for female singer songwriters to compare her to. Turns out it wasn’t a woman at all, but Sufjan Stevens. She must surely be a fan, with her whispering vocals and introspective lyrics showing another hidden talent at the festival this weekend.

Kezia

Kezia

A few years back I saw Giant Sand in the giant foyer venue at one of ATP’s festivals at Mineheads Butlins. It was a poor choice of venue for Howe Gelb and co’s sultry brand of American indie rock. The blazing, and I mean proper blazing sunshine, of the dusty Park was far better. Here joined by JB Meijers and Ilse DeLange from The Common Linnets Gelb took in a perfect festival set, mixing old and new as well as slow and fast paced reminders of their trailblazing 1980s indie rock roots, including a great version of their 1985 track Tumble ‘n’ Tear to end. The TV cameras turned up for this one and rightly so.

Giant Sand

Giant Sand

On my way back over to William’s Green I passed a couple of more smaller venues with interesting acts. Just a Couple of Mums, the Sussex based, energetic feather-duster waving DJ pair were putting in a stonking set at Spike’s Bar, while at the Fluffy Rock Café youngster (and I mean youngster as in primary school age) Tom Smith, was dazzling the crowd. Often little kids can’t sing, but we smile and nod in appreciation anyway. That’s not the case with Tom, he can actually sing and play really well. One of the festival’s youngest stars.

Tom Smith

Tom Smith

Performance of the day, perhaps the weekend, was La Femme, from Paris. I already knew their eccentric surf dance pop tracks from their excellent debut album Psycho Tropical Brazil and live they are nothing short of incredible. At their William’s Green set there was crowd surfing, crazy dancing and wonderful banter. This is a fun party band and I urge you to see them if they play near year.

La Femme

La Femme

To round off my day Father John Misty was putting in a rock star performance, running into the crowd and rolling all over the stage. Passionate performance barely touches on describing how good he was.

Sunday

Ron Sexsmith is celebrating two decades of music this year. How he has evaded me all this time remains a mystery. Those that saw his Acoustic Tent afternoon were treated to a career spanning set from early tracks like Strawberry Blonde and There’s a Rhythm to the more recent Getaway Car. Crowd pleasers for fans and newbies like me alike.

Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith

Success has consistently evaded The Bevis Frond, as its mainstay and frontman Nick Saloman tells his audience. He’s at the stage now in his career where he’s just happy that people want to hear him, however small the crowd. Saloman though has every right to expect more, not only are his songs great but his guitar playing is superb. Billed as prog rock, he’s more than that after pretty much laying down the blue print for Dinosaur Jr and grunge in the 1980s. Highpoints included Saloman bringing out his electric-sitar guitar for some complex noodling mid way through.

The Bevis Frond

The Bevis Frond

Saloman and co loved every second of playing, even in front of a half full William’s Green due in part to the blazing sunshine outside. Meanwhile, The Phantom Band, who followed, looked like they’d rather be anywhere else. During a subdued performance dominated by their excellent latest album Strange Friend they looked like band going through the motions, yearning to be out in the sun with everyone else.

The Fall are both brilliant and terrible all at once. Mark E Smith shouting and mumbling over a pounding rhythm section thanks to the addition of an extra drummer in recent years. Its hypnotic and wonderful, but as ever Smith seeks to create tension, twiddling the knobs and instruments of his drone musicians, as he wanders around stage picking up random mics to shout into.

The Fall

The Fall

Nowadays Smith’s drones, including wife Eleni on keyboards, are used to this part of the act and smile through it. They say play the hits, nothing but the hits at festivals. The Fall ignore this though with their recent album dominating the set and nothing older than 2003’s Sparta FC for those craving something recognisable.

Another Manchester punk legendary act Buzzcocks are surprisingly playing at Glastonbury for the first time in their 39-year history. They have plenty of hits, and in stark contrast to The Fall play pretty much all of them as they rattle through Noise Annoys, Promises, Ever Fallen In Love and many more. Singer Pete Shelley still sounds great and although larger of build and greyer of hair still has that boyish glint in his eye.

Buzzcocks

Buzzcocks

Buzzcocks’ Guitarist Steve Diggle was in full rock star mode, and even walked on clutching a bottle of Moet. He clearly loves every minute of playing live and spent the set going through the full list of rock guitarist clichés with his foot on monitor and arm aloft after each chord. It was great though, the guy’s happy and his constant winks and smiles at the audience made you realise that underneath that rock pomposity is a lovely bloke.

For my final act of Glastonbury I ventured over to the half full John Peel Stage to see FFS, aka Franz Ferdinand with Sparks. They were competing with the Chemical Brothers and The Who after all, but this didn’t stop them putting on a great set as they ripped through each other’s hits and showcased their remarkable and fun debut album from this year.

FFS

FFS

Highlights included Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael’s endearing acting during the splendidly ironic Collaborations Don’t Work. Top moment though was the surprise sight of Ron Mael emerging from behind his keyboard to laugh and dance for a quick 30 second mesmerising burst of pop history. Not bad dancing skills for a man for whom John Lennon once said “bloody hell, its Hitler on TV.”

Words and pictures by Joe Lepper

Share

Comments (1)

Glastonbury Festival 2014

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Glastonbury Festival 2014

Posted on 30 June 2014 by Joe

Everyone has their own Glastonbury experience. It’s so vast, with 200,000 people and thousands of acts scattered across two large Somerset farms that this giant muddy city is able to offer something for everyone. There are those that like the big name acts of the Pyramid and Other stages, some who can dance all night at Shangri-La and Arcadia and then there’s some like me who enjoy finding new bands and watching music in the many smaller, more intimate venues.

Storm clouds over the Pyramid Stage

Storm clouds over the Pyramid Stage

I was attending this year as a judge for this year’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition so was especially keen to catch up with some of the finalists. During this review I’ll cover each of my day’s trek around the storm hit, mud strewn site’s smaller venues to bring some new acts to your attention.

Friday

After discovering it was Kaiser Chiefs not my dream of Prince playing the surprise slot opening at The Other Stage I headed to this year’s best venue, William’s Green, where new bands rub shoulders with more established acts looking to play a second, more intimate gig. Ralfe Band were first on and provided the perfect start with Oly Ralfe’s accomplished Baroque pop on keyboards and acoustic guitar putting in great versions of tracks such as Crow and Ox.

Ralfe Band

Ralfe Band

As I made my way over to the BBC Introducing stage I stopped off to watch a little of Blondie. I knew it would be a soul destroying experience for this fan and was proved right. Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and one of the world’s best drummers Clem Burke remain from the original line up but they were supplemented with some rent a rock session musicians and were now very clearly a spent force. Harry shouted rather than sang her way through the classics like Hanging on the Telephone and their bland ‘new ones’ were met with groans and sighs from the crowd. Is it time to call it a day? In Blondie’s case, definitely.

Wood Burning Savages

Wood Burning Savages

Over at the BBC Introducing stage Dan Hyde proved a welcome antidote, backed by cello and giving a new take on the skinny jeaned young singer songwriter genre. Derry’s Wood Burning Savages were next and immediately looked like a band destined for bigger things. Every track in their short 20 minute set of fast paced indie rock sounded like a single, especially Lather, Rinse, Repeat. In singer Paul Connolly they also have a great frontman; part Bono, part Danny Kendall from 1980s Grange Hill.

Carnabells from Leeds were next at BBC Introducing and were brought on stage by fan Steve Lamacq. All giant hair, paisley shirts and velvet jackets they play rock and roll with a huge dollop of indie rock and did Steve proud.

The beauty of the BBC Introducing stage is it is next to the Gully Outer National stage for world music as well as John Peel for the more established BBC 6 Music style acts. Birmingham’s Eternal Taal – Bhangra Entertainment Team were hard to ignore with their energetic crowd participation act at Gully as were Temples over at John Peel with their carefully crafted late 1960s psychedelic rock. It’s a little Tame Impala light but they still do this genre justice.

Carnabelles

Carnabells

Following a brief burst of sunshine some menacing clouds began to appear. I sought shelter back at William’s Green to see We Were Evergreen. Anyone who has heard Canada’s Rural Alberta Advantage will be impressed by this smart, Parisian electro pop act.

The next event was the weather, with a truly frightening electrical storm bringing the festival’s music to a brief close due to health and safety fears. Everyone at the festival will have their tale to tell of where they were when this intense rain came down. For me it was in The Leftfield where Neonfiller.com favourites The Tuts were just getting going in their punk pop set when the generators were shut down. Billy Bragg, who is curating proceedings at The Leftfield apologised but audience didn’t care though as they launched into a Cliff Richard at Wimbledon style sing-along to Bohemian Rhapsody. The guitar solo bit was particularly funny.

Young Knives

Young Knives

Back at William’s Green and the electricity back on, Young Knives played a storming set, filled with tracks from Neonfiller.com top 20 album of 2013 Sick Octave and an incredible performance from lead singer Henry Dartnell as he snarled, barked and jerked around the stage.

Billy Bragg’s Friday night Leftfield show is a tradition of the festival. Tonight it was just him and telecaster and acoustic guitar, belting out his hits and reminding us of the late Tony Benn, who was a regular at the festival. It’s a political venue so the politics is ramped up through tracks such as Between the Wars and There is Power in a Union. But he’s also a preacher with heart and Handyman Blues about his father was among many tearjerkers. Bragg always puts on a good show, but there’s something special about his Friday night Leftfield slot.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

My evening ended with two Somerset based bands, Flipron and Nick Parker and the False Alarms who share members and played a great joint set at Avalon Café. Both Parker and Flipron frontman Jesse Budd were playing a number of times at the festival but you’d never know they were probably wrecked from exhaustion as they belted through their most festival friendly tracks. There was even dancing amid the tea drinking.

Nick Parker

Nick Parker

Saturday

John Peel openers Black Tambourines were one of the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition finalists this year and left me impressed during their short set at the Pilton finals in April. It was great to see a full set from this Falmouth act, which owes a lot to the 1960s garage punk and mod sounds of the Unrelated Segments and other obscurities from that era.

The Black Tambourines

The Black Tambourines

At BBC Introducing by coincidence another Falmouth act, Polly Money, is proving that the Cornish music scene is in fine voice. Her intricate acoustic guitar work and looping vocals show she is another accomplished, emerging talent. After a surprise gig at BBC introducing from Little Dragon I headed back over to William’s Green for the billed psychedelic rock segment of the weekend, which started with the Nirvana-esque grunge-sters The Wytches, Brisbane’s Blank Realm, Smoke Fairies and Dinosaur Jr’s favourites Bevis Frond.

The Wytches

The Wytches

All these William’s Green acts were great in their own separate ways from Smoke Fairies’ style of dressing in designer white outfits, Bevis Frond’s love of life, Blank Realm’s insane vocals and The Wytches massive hair.

The Smoke Fairies

The Smoke Fairies

The evening was spent in the company of two great songwriters. Watching Nick Lowe sing What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding with his perfect pitch and intonation is one of those ‘things to see in music before you die’ moments. He was especially suited to the beautiful Acoustic tent with its hanging red drapes and giant disco ball.

John Grant

John Grant

John Grant at the Park was as amiable and fun as he appears to be on disc, with his clever lyrics and liberal swearing. As joints were being passed around at the front Grant dazzled us with tracks such as Mars and GMF, perhaps his greatest song. On the way back home that night (I live near the site and was popping in each day) I managed to catch the Arcadia landing show, an outstanding spectacle of fire breathing giant space spider pyrotechnics.

 

Arcadia

Arcadia

 

Sunday

The Black Tambourines and Wood Burning Savages prove the festival has emerging talent that has seemingly arrived fully formed. But some of today’s BBC Introducing stage acts showed that some have a little way to go in terms of stage presence. Glastonbury Emerging Talent finalists FURS have the right look and sound but fell into the trap of not looking like they wanted to be there. Kagoule have their chops around a distortion pedal but while excellent musically they looked nervous and were smile-shy.

Kagoule

Kagoule

We are told by the BBC DJ who introduced singer songwriter Lapsley that she will be one of those acts that will be making a swift move from the BBC Introducing to a main stage swiftly. It does happen, with Ed Sheeran playing the stage in 2011 and bagging a Pyramid slot this year. Lapsley could do well with her  haunting electronica. She has some nice touches to her act as well, especially through voice manipulation gadgets. But she’ll have to do a lot of work on her stage presence to follow Sheeren’s lead. She looked  like she was on work experience at an office, desperately trying to pluck up the courage to ask a manager where the coffee machine is, rather than at a music festival.

Gallery Circus

Gallery Circus

Gallery Circus though showed these acts how it should be done. This Newcastle duo of twins Graeme and Daniel Ross play sibling blues rock in the White Stripes vein and are  sensational live; Graeme’s frantic drumming especially. After seeing the energy they put into playing live I want them to get wider attention and a main stage slot that so many on the BBC Introducing are touted for but today only Gallery Circus deserve.

After the storms of Friday and Saturday the mud was thick and getting about the site was tough work. I decided to stick to one area for the duration, even if that meant missing the Festival’s buzz act Dolly Parton. The Park was my venue and provided the best segment of the festival as well as the best live act I’ve seen since Nick Cave’s astonishing Pyramid Stage set in 2013.

M+A

M+A

Phosphorescent brought the songwriting talents of Matthew Houck and key tracks, such as Song For Zula and Ride On/Right On from his Neonfiller.com Top 20 album of 2012 Muchacho, to the Park. He had a little wobble early on, having a hissy fit with a mic, slamming down the stand in disgust. Perhaps realising that this made him look like an utter knob he backtracked, thanked the sound engineers for their hard work and the gig resumed.

Ahead of next act Yoko Ono with Yo La Tengo I popped up to the Rabbit Hole, the crazy bar near the Park’s ribbon tower to catch a second gig from Glastonbury Emerging Talent winners M+A. Their blend of European pop and electronic trickery was superb in this tiny venue and they proved worthy winners of this competition.

Yoko One and Yo La Tengo

Yoko Ono and Yo La Tengo

I was not expecting Yoko Ono to be good. I was mostly there for the novelty of seeing such an well known figure of modern culture and had always been of the opinion that her and Lennon’s preaching was more pretentious than heartfelt. There was pretension, but she is such an engaging personality I can see why so many listened to her and husband back in the day. Before she came to the stage people with flowers in the hair went around the crowd handing out labels to write down wishes and hand back in a bucket. Then Ono arrived, tiny, focused and full of smiles backed this time by Yo La Tengo as the Plastic Ono Band.

Packed full of tales from her own life, including the tragic loss of her daughter due to a marriage break up and artists visiting her and Lennon, the audience immediately warmed to her. Musically it was pretty fine too. Backed by Yo La Tengo’s indie rock, Ono throat warbled her way through tracks such as We’re All Water and Mind Train as the audience beamed back at her.

St Vincent

St Vincent

St Vincent provided one of the most astounding show of the weekend. Looking sensational in gold trimmed black dress and stiletto boots she moved around the stage like a android doll that is smirking as it discovers rebellion and music for the first time. Coordinated dances with the band, a move onto a giant white pedestal, a coordinated roll back down it and two of the most insane crowd surfing moments I’ve witnessed then followed.

St Vincent being helped into the crowd

St Vincent being helped into the crowd

The crowd surfing was particularly impressive, still playing guitar she struggled through the mud in her heels, had to be helped up by security staff, fell over a number of times, jumped on people, managed to borrow a flat cap and then popped back on stage still in android doll character as if nothing had happened. How she managed to still look cool after that I’ll never know. Your Lips Are Red and a tender version of Prince Johnny were among many highlights of an incredible masterclass in performance and music for some of the emerging acts here to take note of.

dragon

Words and Pictures by Joe Lepper. All pictures are copyrighted to News and Features Ltd, if you would like to use any please email joelepper@newsandfeatures.co.uk

To see more photos from the weekend head over to our Facebook page.

Share

Comments (2)

Glastonbury Festival 2013 Preview – The Best Acts To Watch Out For

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Glastonbury Festival 2013 Preview – The Best Acts To Watch Out For

Posted on 04 June 2013 by Joe

The choice of music at the Glastonbury Festival can be bewildering: from the well known Pyramid Stage, which forms the bulk of the BBC TV coverage, to the smaller stages and bar venues.  To help out we’ve compiled our list of the key bands to watch out for, many of which have already impressed us live. It’s worth noting that the BBC Introducing tent line up had not yet been announced at the time of publishing and we urge you to check out that stage as well to find your new favourite band. It was one of our favourite locations when the festival was last held in 2011.

Dinosaur Jr

The Park Stage is shaping up to be one of our favourite line ups this year especially with indie rock veterans Dinosaur Jr making the Friday line up. Don’t expect witty stage banter from the maudlin J Mascis and the band but do expect some of the best guitar soloing and all round fret noodling you will ever hear.

Django Django

Django Django will have fond memories of Glastonbury having played the BBC Introducing Stage long before the release of their critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album in 2012. Back with a Friday evening Park Stage slot they are now highly experienced at delivering a stunning festival set with their idiosyncratic take on the notion of indie pop.

Tame Impala

They played twice at Glastonbury 2011 but mud and life conspired to ensure we missed them both times. Not this time as we will ensure we see this Australian act’s very modern take on psychedelic rock. Their Friday, Other Stage slot shows the wide appeal for their two stunning albums Innerspeaker and Lonerism.

Portishead

We champion local acts in our key areas of Brighton and the south west of England and they don’t come bigger for us than Bristol’s Portishead. Back from a hiatus in 2008 with the stunning album Third they are one of the most innovative acts in the UK and not to be missed live when they grace The Other Stage on Friday night.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg at Glastonbury Festival 2011

Billy Bragg at Glastonbury Festival 2011

At the last Glastonbury festival in 2011 Bragg was headlining and organising the Leftfield stage. He proved once again what a consummate festival act he is. Armed with just his guitar, voice and wise words he provided this reviewer with shelter from the rain and one of the highlights from the festival. He’s back again at the same venue on the Friday night, this time with a full band. As an indication of how high his star is once again rising he has also bagged a Saturday afternoon Pyramid Stage slot, where he will bring his songs about love and a politics  to a wider TV audience.

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour at the Glastonbury ETC finals

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour at the Glastonbury ETC finals

This year we were among the judges of the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition (ETC) which was won by this north east of England  folk act. They quite simply stole the show at the finals of the competition with their haunting, stunning interpretation of English folk. Their prize is to open proceedings on Saturday at the Acoustic Stage, one of the most warm spirited venues at the festival.

Calexico


Another of our favourite acts is Arizona band Calexico, who put in a superb festival set at Pavement’s All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2010. Expect to be dazzled by their excellent blending of indie rock and mariachi music as they play tracks from the past and last year’s excellent album Algiers  at the Park Stage on the Saturday night.

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit at Bristol O2 Academy, 2012.

First Aid Kit at Bristol O2 Academy, 2012.

If you want stunning vocals from tiny Swedish women then look no further than sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, aka First Aid Kit. We caught their set at Bristol’s 02  Academy last year and were struck with the power of their vocal talents. Their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s America is not to be missed should it make their set. It is an indication of how far they’ve come since we first saw them in a pub in Brighton many years ago that they now have a Sunday afternoon Pyramid Stage slot.

Stealing Sheep

Stealing Sheep at The Fleece, Bristol, 2012

Stealing Sheep at The Fleece, Bristol, 2012

The best support band we have ever seen. A packed Fleece in Bristol was left in awe last year when they supported Field Music. Now they headline in their own right and are firm favourites on the UK festival scene with their wholly original merging of indie folk bizarrely reimagined as a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. Their Sunday afternoon slot at the Park Stage is well deserved after a busy year for this Liverpool band.

Matthew E White

Matthew E White at Thekla, Bristol, 2013

Matthew E White at Thekla, Bristol, 2013

Matthew E White skips across genres effortlessly, from gospel to funk to soul to country to rock. The eclectic West Holts is therefore the perfect venue for him to showcase tracks from his debut album Big Inner. We caught his set at Bristol’s Thekla this year and were left impressed not only with the quality of the music but his witty and engaging stage banter. Not to be missed when he takes to the stage on Sunday afternoon.

Phoenix

One of the best pop acts around. Following the success of 2009’s superb album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix they are back in 2013 with the release of Bankrupt! With a Sunday headline slot on the John Peel stage this French band will be primed to show Glastonbury how guitar pop should be played.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The Pyramid Stage line up is arguably the most impressive it has been in years, offering a great mix of old and new artists. Last time we attended in 2011 we managed to avoid the stage entirely. This time we’ll be regulars at the venue with Sunday’s set by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds among those not to be missed. They and Cave in particular have still got it as a recording and live act all these years on. A true legend. Just watch the clip above and brace yourselves for amazement.

Words and pictures by Joe Lepper

 

Share

Comments (1)

The Great Escape 2013 – Day 2

Tags: , , , , ,

The Great Escape 2013 – Day 2

Posted on 18 May 2013 by Dorian

Day two at the Great Escape is really all about one man, Billy Bragg and I could spend the who review talking about him and his excellent show. However, there was plenty of other great stuff to see through the day, so I’ll cover off some of that first and come back to the bard of Barking later.

Eamon McGrath

Eamon McGrath

My first act, albeit a brief stop, is singer songwriter Eamon McGrath whose gravel voiced songs play to a Hub crowd that is noticeably smaller than day one. The downturn in the weather meaning that outdoor and seaside based venues are not quite as busy as the day before.

Cousins

Cousins

My first planned stop of the day is at the Blind Tiger for another act in the Canadian showcase, this time Cousins from Nova Scotia. As always the venue is a hot ticket and I only just beat the queue to get inside the pub-venue sweatbox. Canadian acts in this venue have always been pretty reliable and Cousins don’t disappointing  They are another guitar and drums duo, this time with the classic girl drummer, boy guitarist line-up, but definitely not aping the White Stripes sound. The guitar sound is rough and the drums always one step away from falling apart, with some really nice extended repetition in the songs. Definitely an act I’ll check out on record when the festival is over.

Fletcher

Fletcher

Moving to the slightly odd Brighthelm Centre, a kind of mix between a church and a community centre, we decide to give Fletcher a go. The programme description of bands playing is often a little misleading, but in this case it seems that the organisers may have booked the wring act. Where we are promised a three piece new-age British rock band we actually get a rather earnest singer songwriter accompanied by a harp player. The tunes are very pretty and well played, but it is a much more low key experience than we were expecting.

Wandering into the Komedia we are greeted by the extreme contrast of Lady Chann startling a small crowd with some pretty full on dancehall stylings. Sadly she finishes minutes after we arrive and her compatriots, The Heatwave, start to treat the crowd to a reggae karaoke sing-a-long that is a lot less fun or interesting.

Popstrangers

Popstrangers

Coalition seems to be the venue where slightly sullen acts are booked to play, yesterday Girls Names were the petulant schoolchildren and today Popstangers are the ones staring at their shoes. To be fair they don’t complain, and it is easy to mistake nervousness for lack of audience communication, but more effort is needed to win over a crowd. Better songs than played here would also be a bonus, nothing really catches fire during a middling set and it is a hook free half hour. There are some nice instrumental moments amongst their 90s slacker indie set, and enough interesting sounds to show some promise, but the band isn’t quite the real deal yet.

In Digital

In Digital

On route to get some food we pop into Digital and catch a few tracks by the rap act performing to the smallest crowd we’ve seen at the festival so far. They are pretty good and put everything into their show, something that Popstrangers could learn a little bit from. In a festival dominated by white guitar players an act like this is going to struggle to get an early evening audience. I couldn’t tell you who they were as they don’t seem to match anything in the programme for the time slot.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

Fed and watered we head for the main event, a true veteran of British music who is loved and loathed in equal measure for his straight talking and good old fashioned political songwriting. Although truth be told it is the many love songs that Billy Bragg pens that show his skills and, although there is plenty of politics between songs, make up the bulk of his set.

A mixture of old favourites, pop classics, new songs and Woody Guthrie numbers are all played beautifully by Billy and his band. The experienced performer that he is, he knows exactly how to command a crowd and there is hardly a moment that isn’t top quality in the time that he is on stage.

His band are excellence, and the pedal steel country style suits his back catalogue pretty well (his first dabbling with country music dating back 20 years). In the middle of the set he takes the stage alone and plays some old favourites to a partisan crowd. When he plays ‘The Milkmen of Human Kindness’ there is no need to ask the crowd to sing the chorus for him, they do it unprompted  and it is quite a touching moment.

It is the first time I’ve seen him play since one of my first festival attendances nearly a quarter if a century ago. Hearing him tonight I wonder why I’ve let myself miss out on some great performances in the intervening years.

Siblings

Siblings

After a failed attempt to get in to The Warren to see Iggy Azalea (clearly one of the hottest tickets in town) we heard up to the Green Door Store where Siblings (an unscheduled act) are taking the stage. The appearance of a banjo makes me worry that we have another Mumford and sons on our hands, but an energetic performance gradually wins me over. The songs are pretty good and, if anything, Vampire Weekend are a more accurate reference point. All told it is a pleasant enough end to another enjoyable day.

Words and pictures by Dorian Rogers and Alex Reeve

Share

Comments (0)

The Great Escape 2013 – 10 To Watch Out For

Tags: , , ,

The Great Escape 2013 – 10 To Watch Out For

Posted on 04 May 2013 by Dorian

The Great Escape is a multi-venue music festival that takes part ion Brighton each year in May. Firmly established as one of the best events in the musical calendar it offers up the chance to see some of the 350 bands playing across the 30 venues involved.

Getting to see even a fraction of the artists you want to see is a challenge, as clashes and geography get in your way. Equally, with so many new and emerging artists on show it can be a challenge to work out who your should be trying to see. Below we feature ten of the many acts that we will be trying to catch across the festival weekend.

1. Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg played at the first music festival I ever attended, Reading in 1990, and is a stalwart of the festival circuit. Strangely, despite always being a fan of his music, I’ve not seen him live once in the intervening 23 years. He is always great value, a first rate live act, and has a great catalogue of songs at his disposal.

His set is one of the Dome shows (requiring a top-up on the standard ticket price) and I recommend taking in one of the three nights there if you can. BRIGHTON DOME FRI 17TH MAY 21.30.

2. Phosphorescent

This band, essentially the work of Matthew Houck, came to our attention through shows at the End of the Road festival and their album Here;s To Taking It Easy in 2010. The brilliant Muchacho earlier this year was equally impressive, and added some new sounds to the expansive country he had become famous for. This is very likely to be one of the most popular sets of the weekend, and my advice is to get there early on the night.

DOME STUDIO THU 16TH MAY 23.30

3. On and On

This trio, from Chicago and Minneapolis, are brand new to me, and although  Nate Eiesland, Alissa Ricci, and Ryne Estwing have played in various bands for more than a decade I first heard them via the Great Escape Spotify playlist. They have a dreamy washed out sound that could be pretty perfect for a midnight gig.

COALITION FRI 17TH MAY 0.00

4. Sweet Baboo

Sweety Baboo are (is?) a Marc Riley favourite which (Mumford and Sons excepted) is normally a good sign. Stephen Black plays songs that are funny and tender, and manages to be quirky in a good way (something hard to achieve). Flitting between folky and poppy he delivers a pretty varied song palette and promises a very enjoyable set.

GREEN DOOR STORE SAT 18TH MAY 22.00

5. Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Another act getting Radio 6 evening airplay is the eccentrically named Unknown Mortal Orchestra. UMO is the work of multi-instrumentalist Ruban Nielson and play a music that has been described as junk-shop break-beat and having an ” intoxicating, opiate groove”, neither of which seems to sum up how they sound at all well.

COALITION FRI 17TH MAY 22.15

6. Parquet Courts

New York punks Parquet Courts are one of the more hyped bands coming in to the Great Escape this year. Their second album, Light Up Gold, has received glowing press in their native land and has recently received a full UK release. Their shows at SXSW festival were some of the most talked about in the programme this year.  Their clash with Sweet Baboo gives us a scheduling problem before the festival even begins.

THE HAUNT SAT 18TH MAY 22.00

7. Three Trapped Tigers

Instrumental rock music can be a difficult thing to wholly buy into. The lack of lyrics can lead to a lack of emotional investment in the band. Three Trapped Tigers play an intense music that draws equally on electronic sounds as it does noise rock structures. Their Saturday evening slot making our list of early clashes even longer.

CONCORDE 2 SAT 18TH MAY 22.00

8. Drenge

Drenge (a name I’m not certain how to pronounce) are a young guitar and drums duo from the Peak District that play a stompy blues music that belies their age. Place them min your heads somewhere in between The White Stripes and The Bad Seeds and you’ll not go too far wrong. The band (like many acts) offer you two chances to see them over the weekend.

CORN EXCHANGE THU 16TH MAY 21.15
THE HOPE FRI 17TH MAY 22.15 

9. Girls Names

A four piece from Belfast, Girls Names have a sound that is more than a little bit influenced by the post-punk sounds of the early 80s. They have been favourably compared to The Cure and, with two albums under their belts (signed to the excellent Slumberland records in the US), they have started to develop their own sound.

COALITION THU 16TH MAY 19.30

10. Melody’s Echo Chamber

Melody’s Echo Chamber produce sweetly sung pop music that, in a very very rare moment of perceptive YouTube commenting, has been described as like a female version of Tame Impala. Whether this accurately sums things up is arguable, whatever the comparisons this is blissful softly psychedelic pop music.

CORN EXCHANGE THU 16TH MAY 23.15

 Preview by Dorian Rogers

Share

Comments (0)

Top Ten Great Songwriters – Part Two

Tags: , , , , , ,

Top Ten Great Songwriters – Part Two

Posted on 19 June 2012 by Joe

What makes a good song writer? Is it the ability to turn a phrase on its head , capture an emotion perfectly or to simply be a great story teller? Here’s the second part of our top ten greatest songsmiths. View the first part here.

5. Chris Difford

Back in his days with Squeeze Chris Difford he would scribble down his lyrics, rush over to fellow band member Glen Tilbrook’s house, who would bring music to his wonderful words. While, arguably his best song writing days are behind him, he still releases and writes, with his last album coming in 2010, which just about qualifies him for our list as an active and releasing songwriter.

Chris Difford

Among the main reasons for his inclusion are his expert story telling and biting observational lyrics. For us his finest song was Squeeze’s Up The Junction, the tale of a doomed romance as  the protagonist drinks and gambles his way out of a family and home. It has no chorus and ends with him failing to get the girl, but was still a hit. Here’s one of our best parts where his life begins to crumble.

This morning at 4:50, I took her rather nifty
Down to an incubator, Where thirty minutes later
She gave birth to a daughter, Within a year a walker
She looked just like her mother, If there could be another

And now she’s two years older, Her mother’s with a soldier
She left me when my drinking, Became a proper stinging
The devil came and took me, From bar to street to bookie
No more nights by the telly, No more nights nappies smelling

Humour is another facet of his lyrics and Cool for Cats typifies this well as the male bravado is given the Difford treatment with lines such as

I fancy this, I fancy that, I wanna be so flash
I give a little muscle, and I spend a little cash
But all I get is bitter and a nasty little rash
And by the time I’m sober, I’ve forgotten what I’ve had
And ev’rybody tells me that it’s cool to be a cat

His enthusiasm for encouraging songwriting is another factor  in his inclusion as he spends some of his time these days giving talks and using gigs to explain his craft.

4.PJ Harvey

If an artists songwriting abilities were based on award nominations then Polly Jean Harvey has enough to justify a dozen careers in music. Four Mercury Prize nominations alone over an 18 year period, the last two as winner in 2001 and 2011, make her the most successful artist in that particular competition.

PJ Harvey

Even if you have little patience for back slapping industry events it is hard to argue with the quality of her back catalogue with 20 years worth of albums and barely a wrong step amongst them. Like Kristin Hersh she has an amazing ability to move between musical styles without ever losing her own identity. Vocally she is a real chameleon, listen to the timbre of ‘Rid Of Me‘ compared to the fragile folk stylings of ‘Let England Shake‘ for evidence of that.

Lyrically her work has always had a very personal feel, with raw sexuality and emotional openess a repeated theme. More recently her work has taken on a more thematic approach, never more so than on her critically acclaimed 2011 album Let England Shake. War, identity and the concept of England and Englishness being the central themes on the album. This doesn’t always make for easy listening, more poetry than lyrics, but it is bold songwriting and stands Harvey out from most of her peers.

Death was in the ancient fortress,
shelled by a million bullets
from gunners, waiting in the copses
with hearts that threatened to pop their boxes,
as we advanced into the sun
death was all and everyone.

3. Nick Cave

Nick Cave doesn’t just tell stories in song. He likes to get right inside the head of his protagonists, with criminals a particular fascination. With the Bad Seeds and as a solo artist Cave’s  gothic horror style makes him more akin to the likes of Edgar Allen Poe or Harry Crews than the Australian punk  scene he emerged from.

Take Mercy Seat, his track about a killer facing the electric chair that was so brilliantly covered by Johnny Cash. All the way through the protagonist bravely protests his innocence and says he has no fear for his impending death. But as the electricity sears through his body he finally admits to telling a lie. Whether the lie is about his innocence or his bravery in the face of death is nicely left for the listener to decide.

And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I’m yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth.
An eye for an eye
And a truth for a truth
And anyway I told the truth
But I’m afraid I told a lie.

The Murder Ballads album is another of our favourites, with Where the Wild Roses Grow among the album’s most well known and lyrically best tracks. Loosely based on the traditional tale Down in the Willow Garden it tells of a man killing his lover and laying her to rest among the flowers. Cave tells the story through the killer’s and victims eyes, with Kylie Minogue taking the role of the unfortunate lover. In this track and each of the others on the album he describes the moment of death so perfectly, it’s as if the listener was there. Here’s the final two verses of Where the Wild Roses grow where the terrible deed takes place.

On the third day he took me to the river
He showed me the roses and we kissed
And the last thing I heard was a muttered word
As he stood smiling above me with a rock in his fist

On the last day I took her where the wild roses grow
And she lay on the bank, the wind light as a thief
As I kissed her goodbye, I said, ‘All beauty must die’
And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth

Cave is still writing, using his skill as a story teller across music, film and literature, including writing the screenplay for Australian western The Proposition (2004) and as one quarter of Grinderman, which disbanded in 2011. At the time of writing he is helping develop a film adaptation of the Threepenny Opera with the actor Andy Serkis.

2. Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg is arguably the UK’s greatest living folk songwriter, with his lyrics managing to mix serious political and social commentary with sparkling observations. He is also one of the few songwriters to write about the issues of the day, with corruption at New International and the rise and ultimate fall of the BNP among his more recent subjects.

Billy Bragg at Glastonbury 2011 (pic by Joe Lepper)

Never Buy the Sun, about News International, phone hacking and the shockingly irresponsibly coverage of the Hillsborough stadium disaster in its Sun newspaper was written in 2011 and shows as far as Bragg is concerned the protest song is alive and well.

Among our favourites is Levi Stubbs tears. This heartbreakingly sad tale of a girl and her miserable life seeking salvation in the voice of Four Tops singer Levi Stubbs, whose tears mirror her’s. Here’s one of our favourite versus.

She ran away from home with her mother’s best coat
She was married before she was even entitled to vote
And her husband was one of those blokes
The sort that only laughs at his own jokes
The sort that war takes away And when there wasn’t a war he left her anyway

It’s no wonder Woody Guthrie, the great American protest singer is such an influence. Like Bragg Guthrie also transcended the simple protest song and often wrote about love and family life. We caught Bragg’s show at Glastonbury in 2011 and urge anyone who hasn’t seen him to do so. Anyone who wants some political discourse wll be disappointed, I’m just going to belt em out” he told the crowd.Its something he’s been doing for decades.

Joint 1.David Lowery

David Lowery first came to our attention when he was the singer with Santa Cruz country-ska-waltz-punk-pop band Camper Van Beethoven just before they split up (first time around) in 1990. The band were known as a bit of a one-hit novelty act thanks to ‘Take The Skinheads Bowling’  but this song (as good as it is) distracts from what a sophisticated songwriter and lyricist Lowery was and is.

David Lowery

The early songs were brilliant in their own right, humorous and anarchic with a real emotive sense of the world that Camper Van Beethoven existed in their formative years, but it is on the last albums they recorded where Lowery’s lyrical genius became apparent. On the peerless ‘Sweethearts’ he sings;

Angels wings are icing over
McDonnell-Douglas olive drab
They bear the names of our sweethearts
And the captain smiles, as we crash

Heard in the context of the music their is something just a little bit heartbreaking about those words.

Over the past two decades Lowery has done many things including recording with Sparklehorse, writing for Sussanah Hoffs and reuniting with Camper Van Beethoven in 2004 to record the brilliant concept album New Roman Times in 2004. Throughout that period his main day job has been fronting Cracker with guitarist Johnny Hickman and writing dozens of brilliant songs over their eight studio albums. His lyrics clover a whole trange of subjects but always manage to painty a beautiful picture, take these verses from ‘Big Dipper’;

Hey Jim, Kerouac
(The brother of the famous Jack),
Or so he likes to say.
Lucky bastard

He’s sitting on the Cafe Xeno’s steps
With a girl I’m not over yet
Watching all the world go by

He continues to write and record music, and each new album serves up a selection of thoughtful, witty songs that sound like no one else. His last was released in 2009 and finished with these wise words;

So if you want to see what’s in the shadows
the burning meadows
of our apocalypse
I dream of fallow fields
I dream of winter
cause dying is easy,
It’s living that’s hard.

You can read lots more about David Lowery’s songwriting process (and get a bit of a history lesson to boot) at his 300 s0ngs blog.

Joint 1. John Darnielle

The Mountain Goats’  John Darnielle is America’s greatest story teller in song. Sometimes as on Sunset Tree his songs are about his own life and recovery from an abusive, early homelife.

The Mountain Goats (John Darnielle, centre)

Other times his songs are about fictional characters or the lives of real, sometimes famous people, such as Judy Garland and Charles Bronson, who feature on All Eternals Deck (2011). Autopsy Garland from that album, in which he imagines Judy Garland’s last moments, remembering the abuse from studio executives as she takes her final, global road trip away from the horrors of Emerald City, is a particular highlight in his career.

Fat rich men love their 12-year-olds
Deco cufflinks and cognac by the glass
Look West from London toward the emerald city
Remember Minnesota

Across his career Darnielle’s  lyrics are always compelling and his stories are always told with conviction. In an interview with InDigest Darnielle explains more about his motivation tell stories in song

 It’s kind of impossible for me to think of a song that doesn’t also tell a story. That whole period in the early nineties when indie-ish bands were into “abstract” lyrics that didn’t tell stories or have beginnings middles & ends, God I hated that

Among our highlights in a career, which started through releasing tapes  of just vocals and acoustic guitar made on a boombox and currently resides with Merge Records, is No Children from Tallahassee about a hateful, but wonderfully well-suited couple, and All Hail West Texas’s The Best Ever Death Metal about teenage friends Cyrus and Jeff. In one cruel moment Cyrus is sent to a mental institution, known as ‘the school’ because of his love of death metal, which paradoxically appears to be the only thing keeping him sane.

This was how Cyrus got sent to the school
Where they told him he’d never be famous.
And this was why Jeff,  in the letters he’d write to his friend,
Helped develop a plan to get even.
When you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you.
The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you.
Hail satan! Hail satan tonight!

Darnielle used to work in such a place as a mental health nurse, proving Partridge’s point that the most successful songs are about what you know. It is perhaps the songs about his own life where his song writing is most poignant and powerful.

Here’s some lyrics from Pale Green Things, about a rare good memory about the step father who beat him. This  track, set at a racetrack with the young Darnielle gazing at the green moss and grass growing in the dirt underfoot as he stands beside his abuser, was another in our list to make our top ten tearjerkers list . The doubling up of the phrase ‘at last’ is simple but tearfully effective.

My sister called at 3 AM, Just last December
She told you how you’d died at last, at last
That morning at the racetrack, was one thing that I remembered
I turned it over in my mind,like a living Chinese finger trap
Seaweed in Indiana sawgrass, pale green things, pale green things

Despite a formidable track record of song writing behind him arguably Darnielle’s best work may still be ahead of him. As Autopsy Garland and For Charles Bronson on On All Eternal’s Deck (2011) showed the quality of  his song writing is showing no sign of letting up. Here in an exert from For Charles Bronson Darnielle charts the Death Wish star’s final years in film, battling alcoholism and his falling star.

Hit the gym each night, stay cool and seldom speak
Keep the heart of a champion, never let them see you’re weak

And whatever they say on your page three mention
Focus on the parts that make you feel good, be grateful for the attention

For more about John Darnielle see: Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives Part 4 – The Mountain Goats

Compiled by Joe Lepper, Dorian Rogers and David Newbury

Share

Comments (0)

Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue The Complete Sessions

Tags: , ,

Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue The Complete Sessions

Posted on 29 April 2012 by Dorian

Mermaid Avenue was the road where Woody Guthrie lived in New York, and was the name given to the first volume of songs that Billy Bragg and Wilco collaborated on in 1997. The songs were taken from lyrics that Guthrie had written but never recorded, for which there was no known melody, with around 3000 of these songs in the archive of his daughter Nora. Initially Billy Bragg was invited to record the songs and then he invited Wilco to join the project.

Mermaid Avenue Complete

Volume one of the sessions was a brilliant album, the differences between the writing style of Bragg and Wilco (principally Jeff Tweedy and the late Jay Bennett) added variety but also sat well together. Bragg’s work is more traditional, and closer to the style of Guthrie, with Wilco sounding typical of the Summerteeth era, and both acts produce some of their best work on the album. A second volume followed which featured another fifteen brilliant tracks, it was a little less cohesive as a collection but demonstrated just how much great music had been written and recorded.

Volume three is a real surprise showcasing another seventeen tracks, most of which are of as high a quality as anything from the first two collections. There are obvious reasons why some of the songs were left off first time around, ‘When Th Roses Bloom Again’ was found out to not be a Guthrie tune, ‘Gotta Work’ was written and sung by Corey Harris and wouldn’t have fit the brief of the original album and ‘The Jolly Banker’ was recorded in 2009 by the modern incarnation of Wilco. Why some of the other tracks weren’t consider is more of a mystery, the quality is so consistently high.

Also featured in the set, released to celebrate Woody Guthrie’s centennial year, is a DVD of ‘Man In The Sand’ a documentary about the original project and the recording of the album. It is fascinating viewing and gives a nice summary of Guthrie’s life as well as the processes that went into putting the original album together. It also shows some tensions between Bragg and Wilco during and after recording, largely about which songs to include and who should get to mix the songs for the album. This is perhaps understandable given that the artists didn’t know each other well before the recording and had to learn how to work together and what the boundaries of the project were.

What is a lot more surprising about the project is just how many great songs it produced and what a satisfying listen it is over the three discs in the complete set. As a package it is pretty hard to beat and recommended to fans of Guthrie, Bragg or Wilco as well as anyone who is interested in country, folk or protest songs.

If you already have the first two albums then the third set of songs is available as a digital download separately, and is well worth adding to your set.

10/10

By Dorian Rogers

Share

Comments Off on Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue The Complete Sessions

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here