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Glastonbury Festival 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

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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

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Glastonbury 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

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Glastonbury 2015 – Best of the Small Stages

Posted on 02 June 2015 by Joe

Shock revelation of the day – Glastonbury is so much more than the BBC coverage and the main Pyramid stage line up. So for all you Kanye West haters with tickets in your hand why not pop over to some of the event’s many and varied small stages.

We’ve had a scan through the full line up, which was released this week, and  have come up with our pick of the small stage acts. As with last year William’s Green continues to impress, especially as it hosts this year’s 25th anniversary of Heavenly Records. We also have some old punks, the best of Somerset’s local bands and one of the best indie bands around at the Leftfield.

Stealing Sheep

William’s Green, 4:30pm Friday

We first saw this Liverpool trio supporting Field Music in Bristol three years ago. They play as part of the Heavenly Records contingent, at what has become one of our favourite small venues at the Festival, and are one of the best live acts we have seen. Blending folk, indie and 1960s surf music they are not to be missed.

Declan McKenna

William’s Green, 10:45am Friday

The deserved winner of this year’s Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition opens proceedings at the William’s Green stage. Be sure to get up early to see why this teenager won the world’s toughest Battle of the Bands competition.

La Femme

William’s Green, 5:30pm Saturday

From France, via California, this stunning live act blend electro-pop and are another in our list to borrow from 1960s surf culture. Their 2013 album Psycho Tropical Berlin was one of our albums of the year for good reason.

The Phantom Band

William’s Green, 6pm Sunday

Their 2014 album Strange Friend was their best to date and proved why they are one of Scotland’s best bands as they merge rock and electronica effortlessly. Get there early at 5pm to see legendary prog rockers The Bevis Frond beforehand. Both great bookings for William’s Green.

Martha

Leftfeld, 6pm Friday

At Indietracks a couple of years ago Martha was the most talked about band there and for good reason. They are injecting some much needed energy into an increasingly introspective UK indie scene. Billy Bragg and co, who curate this stage, certainly know their indie music. An impressive booking.

Buzzcocks

Leftfield, 9pm Sunday

Leftfield again impresses and has bagged the legendary punk act Buzzcocks. With guitarist Steve Diggle still playing like a 17-year-old on stage and Pete Shelley’s timeless lyrics of love this looks like one not to be missed.

Nick Parker & the False Alarms and Flipron

Nick Parker and the False Alarms Avalon Café, 7:30pm Friday

Flipron, Avalon Cafe 1:30am Saturday and Bandstand 7:30pm Sunday

Nick Parker and the False Alarms

Nick Parker and the False Alarms

Two of Somerset’s best live acts are back again at Glastonbury, which once again is showing a strong commitment to promoting local talent. While Parker and crew focus on bittersweet folk rock  tales of love and life, Flipron will be showcasing their trademark brand of whirly-gig hipster new wave (note: actual genre may not exist).

Compiled by Joe Lepper

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Top Ten Indie/Alt Music Producers

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Top Ten Indie/Alt Music Producers

Posted on 27 July 2011 by Joe

While bands hog the limelight we thought it about time to pay tribute to those hardy souls sitting behind the mixing desks, dealing with all the tantrums and egos and helping to create some of our favourite indie and alternative albums of all time. This bunch of super indie producers have even managed to turn the most rough and ready artists into successful chart acts while ensuring they retain credibility.

Ladies and gentlemen, pull up a Phil Spector biography, sit back on the mixing desk chair, twiddle some knobs and enjoy Neonfiller’s Top Ten Indie/Alternative Music Producers.

10. Clive Langer/Alan Winstanley

Clive Langer (right) and Alan Winstanley (left)

These guys have been around for ever, well since the mid 1970’s anyway, and have worked with more artists than it’s possible to list here. They are best known for a 30 year association with Madness for whom they have produced 8 albums. Other career highlights include two early 1980’s masterpieces, The Tear Drop Explodes’ seminal 1980 classic Kilimanjaro and Dexy’s Midnight Runners 1982 celtic blockbuster Too-Rye-Ay. Kevin Rowland and Julian Cope are two of the real ‘nutty boys’ of English pop quite capable of giving Brian Wilson a run for his money in the eccentric genius stakes, working with them may not have been easy but must have been rewarding.

Add to the mix production credits on albums by Elvis Costello, Morrissey and Aztec Camera and Langer and Winstanley are worthy entries on our list of Top Ten producers.

9. Sean Slade and Paul Q Kolderie

If you listened to American indie-rock bands from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s then it is pretty likely you owned something produced by Sean Slade and Paul Q Kolderie.  Working out of the legendary Fort Apache studios they produced a number of genre defining albums including the Lemonheads’  Lovey, Hole’s  Live Through This, Buffalo Tom’s Let Me Come Over and Morphine’s Cure For pain. As well as this Belly, Big Dipper, Firehose and the Gigolo Aunts all had albums produced by the prolific pair.

If you add their engineering duties to the list you can include the Pixies, Throwing Muses, Dinosaur Jr, Come and The Blake Babies to the list. Added together a pretty comprehensive list of American alternative rock from the era. They didn’t only record out of Fort Apache and decamped to Chipping Norton to work with Radiohead in their nascent form. The pair produced the debut album Pablo Honey featuring ‘Creep’, the song that would break them in America.

8. Martin Rushent

Martin Rushent tragically died earlier this year (2011). He left behind a legacy as being the go-to man for punk and new wave bands wanting chart success.  Among those he helped into the charts were the Buzzcocks, Human League, Altered Images and The Stranglers. His work helping the Buzzcocks to create their stellar first two albums Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites (both 1978) is among our key landmark in his career.

But arguably he is more famous for turning the rather dour electronica of Human League into one of the most successful bands of the early 1980s through his production of their breakthrough 1981 album Dare. He died while working on a 30th anniversary edition of this seminal album. Other notable landmarks in his career are The Stranglers’ 1977 album No More Heroes. His workload slackened off towards the end of his life, but he still found time to work with Carl Barat and The Pipettes among others.

7. Jim O’Rourke

Jim O’Rourke is another producer who has a relatively small body of work behind him, but his work as a musician means that producing albums is purely a part time vocation. He has released a number of solo albums as well as records as part of Loose Fur, Gastr Del Sol and famously as the fifth member of Sonic Youth for six years up until 2005. His leftfield musical style is informed by jazz and electronic noise as much as indie rock music and that has informed his collaborations and production style.

In his career he has produced albums by Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Superchunk, Quruli, John Fahey, Smog, Faust, Tony Conrad, The Red Krayola, Bobby Conn, Beth Orton and Joanna Newsom. As a producer he is probably best known for his work with a fellow Chicago act Wilco, and was a big part of their move from being a popular Americana act to achieving widespread critical acclaim. It was his mixing work that gave Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the left-field sound that alienated the band from their record label. O’Rourke returned to produce A Ghost is Born, the album that won Wilco a Grammy Award for the best alternative music album in 2005.

6. Don Fleming


Don Fleming is one of the peripheral figures of alternative rock music. His work with Velvet Monkeys, B.A.L.L and Gumball is not widely known and his collaborations with bigger artists have garnered him with little attention. As a producer he hasn’t got a huge body of work to his name, but in his case it is quality not quantity that is the significant feature.

First off he produced ‘The Wagon’ the greatest single that Dinosaur Jr have released, and one of the best singles in the history of indie rock. He has also produced music by a number of other alt-rock acts such as Sonic Youth, Hole, Screaming Trees, Peter Yorn and (ahem) Midway Still. However, his greatest contribution to music is producing the two best power pop albums of the 1990s, Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub and Frosting on the Beater by The Posies. In those two near perfect sets of indie rock perfection he has a place in musical history.

5. Gil Norton

Gil Norton has had an incredibly prolific career. He’s from Liverpool and worked with fellow Liverpudlians China Crisis on their 1982 debut album Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, their synth pop sound beautifully illustrated by their second single Christian. Among his best work has been with Boston indie rock acts the Throwing Muses,  whose eponymous debut album he produced, and the Pixies, for whom he produced their classic 1989 album Doolittle that includes the tracks Debaser and Monkey Gone To Heaven .

But we, and he, don’t just dwell in the 80’s. Bringing you right up to date in 2011 Gil has worked with the Futures on their forthcoming debut album and Scottish alternative rock act Twin Atlantic.

4. Phil Ek


If we may have strayed slightly towards pop territory with some of the other producers in our Top 10 we’re firmly back in the land of indie with American producer Phil Ek. He is the man behind both Fleet Foxes critically acclaimed albums  as well as work by Modest Mouse, The Shins, Les Savy Fav and Built To Spill. As a young man he moved to Seattle just when Nirvana were helping to establish the city’s musical reputation, as The Beatles had done with Liverpool several decades before. It was here that he began to learn his trade and build connections with the Sub Pop Records and Up Records labels whose artists helped define his career.

3. Dave Fridmann

Fridmann is another musician who decided to spend more time behind the mixing desk. As bassist and founding member of Mercury Rev his place in indie and alternative music history is already assured. But it was his decision in 1993 to focus on producing that gives him a special place in our hearts. Described by Mojo as “the Phil Spector of the alt-rock era” his focus is often on big epic sounds, with The Flaming Lips, MGMT and Sleater-Kinney among those that have worked with him.

Fridmann is not without critics. His Grammy award winning work on The Flaming Lips At War With the Mystics (2007) sparked a fierce debate about loudness in mastering. But his work on The Flaming Lips’classic Soft Bulletin (1999), Ok Go’s best album Of The Blue Color Of The Sky (2010) and Tama Impala’s wondrous Innerspeaker (2010)  more than make up for this blot on his otherwise superb CV.

2. John Leckie


By far the most mentioned producer in our Top 100 albums of all time list is the eclectic and prolific John Leckie. His work with XTC’s psychedelic alter egoes Dukes of Stratosphear, The Fall during their mid 1980s heyday, helming Radiohead’s breakthrough album The Bends and his  innovative work behind the decks on the Stone Roses’ debut album means he has a deserved place in our list.

His ability to find the best in each band he works with, whether its honing the indie rock of Radiohead or allowing  The Stone Roses’s creativity to shine, is perhaps his greatest talent. To this day he is still working with a diverse range of artists across the alternative and indie music world. Among our highlights from the last few years has been My Morning Jacket’s Z.

1.Steve Albini

From the Pixies to Nirvana, from Wedding Present to PJ Harvey, Steve Albini is perhaps the most prolific producer in alternative and indie music. Part of his popularity is his lack of ego as a producer. He prefers either no credit or to be credited as recording engineer and his hallmark is to ensure the album is a reflection of the band’s true sound without interference. He encourages bands to play live as much as possible and achieves a warmth to the recording though a careful attention to mic positioning.

As a former member of Big Black and more recently Shellac Albini is very much a musician and a  producer, which adds to his popularity among the bands he works with. Those such as David Gedge and Jon Spencer often returning time and again to Albini, who each year produces between 10 to 20 different albums.  The sheer range of artists and ground breaking albums he has worked on, including Pixies Surfer Rosa, Mclusky’s Mclusky Do Dallas and PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, make him for us the greatest indie and alternative producer of all time.

Compiled by Martin Burns, Dorian Rogers and Joe Lepper

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