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Darren Hayman  – Thankful Villages Volume 2

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Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages Volume 2

Posted on 12 June 2017 by Joe

Darren Hayman ’s love letter to English rural life continues with a second volume of his Thankful Villages series.

As a reminder, a thankful village is one where all residents those who went off to fight in the First World War incredibly came back alive. There are around 50 UK wide and former Hefner man Darren Hayman has set himself the task of visiting and dedicating a track to them all.

Darren Hayman - Thankful Villages Vol 2

Some are spoken word, with the villagers themselves telling tales of war and village life. Some are instrumentals, some with a full band feel. There’s electronica, folk, pop and sometimes just the sound of creaking trees, gates bashing in the wind and birds singing.

While the first volume stuck more rigidly to the original theme of war through a focus on village churches, this second outing takes on themes of rivers, ageing and death, meaning events other than the Great War take precedence. This includes the tragedy of a 1974 factory explosion, that killed all the workers inside but miraculously no one in the local village of Flixborough. The first hand account of survivors Derek and his son is extremely powerful.

There’s also an interview with a grave recorder in Maplebeck, who has a lovely exchange with Darren Hayman where they both struggle to decipher one particularly eroded gravestone to ensure whoever lies beneath is not forgotten.

There’s a bloke doing something eccentric with vegetables on Colwinston and the shifting importance of the river to those living in Cromwell seems like a vital oral history tale demanding to be preserved.

Combined the tracks have a radio documentary feel to it rather than an album, but there’s still some decent pop here too, most notably the Ray Davies inspired ode to village life, Woodend. In addition Fairport Convention’s Judy Dyble drops by to sing on Upper Slaughter.

As a village dweller and in particular one in Somerset, which appears to be the most thankful county judging by its presence across the two volumes, this latest volume offers, in the main a faithful depiction of our life.

The keen sense of environment, of community, of religion and the changing economy over time, is all there, nestled among the churchyards and fields.

However, it can feel a little too picture postcard-like in places and comes across exclusively as a history project rather than its intended focus of using rural settings to inspire Hayman in music and other art forms.

This is particularly the case on this volume, which with a focus on ageing is understandably dominated by the voices of the elderly and discussion of the past.

Prior to an update and intervention from Darren Hayman, this review had lamented the lack of young voices so far in this Arts Council funded series.

Turns out this is all in hand with volume three set for release in 2018 and with a focus on village schools and the young.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information about Darren Hayman  – Thankful Villages Volume 2 click here.

UPDATE: This review has been updated to ensure we clarify that this volume is themed around death, ageing and rivers and that the young get their turn on volume three. Happy to clarify that.

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Preview: Indietracks 2017

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Preview: Indietracks 2017

Posted on 05 June 2017 by Dorian

Indietracks is one of the highlights of our musical calendar, and 2017 doesn’t look like it is going to buck the trend of friendly vibes, steam trains, owls and great music that we have come to expect over the years.

We have written about the festival many times in the past, so go here if you want a flavour of what to expect.

Indietracks 2017

The bands on the bill this year are the typical mix of new and old with some familiar faces alongside festival debutantes offering up a really strong line-up across the three days. The Tuts, The Wave Pictures and Endersbys Room have all been Neon Filler favourites at previous festivals, and there are dozens of acts we are less familiar with playing over the weekend.

Darren Hayman played a great set here last year and he is back again with Emma Kupa playing as the Hayman Kupa Band. Kupa is very busy over the weekend also appearing in Mammoth Penguins and Friends as well as being one of the festival organisers.

There are plenty of new bands to discover over the weekend with Luby Sparks, ME REX and Milk Crimes all having formed in the last couple of years. There are veterans playing too, with The Orchids and Milky Wimpshake adding a few years to the bill and Monkey Swallows The Universe reuniting 10 years since they last released an album.

Indietracks 2017 line up

(Clockwise) Cate Le Bon, The Tuts, The Wave Pictures, Monkey Swallows The Universe

The headliners are strong this with Martha bringing some lively North East power-pop to the stage on the Friday night, and Cate Le Bon closing the festival on the Sunday night with her distinctive “Television meets John Cale”  approach to songwriting.

It is The Wedding Present on the Saturday night that are the pick of the bunch for me, even though they are a band I get the opportunity to see in my home town several times a year. I remember picking up their debut album, George Best, 30 years ago aged just 15 and it remains one of my favourite records to this day. This is a band that, with their appearance on the legendary C86 cassette, helped to define what indie-guitar-pop was. David Gedge may be the only consistent member of the band, but his weary tales sound pretty good to this day, and their most recent release Going Going was one of their best.

Me and Gedge

Me and David Gedge in 2012

We spoke to some of the Indietracks team (Nat Hudson, Beck Conway, Jasmine Allen, Andy Hudson and Emma Kupa) to find out a bit more detail on what makes the festival tick.

Lots of festivals have come and gone over the years, with small festivals often disappearing. Indietracks is in its 11th year. What do you think is the secret to the festival’s success?

Beck: Without a doubt, I think it’s the atmosphere and community spirit. The festival has such a lovely, relaxed and friendly vibe and I’ve made so many friends there over the years. I can’t wait until July to catch up with everybody again!

Nat: I think it’s the friendly, relaxed atmosphere and the sense of community. A lot of Indietracks goers come back every year, and it’s always wonderful to see so many friendly, familiar faces as well as new ones. I also think our mix of established and up and coming bands also attracts people – Indietracks is always a good opportunity to discover your next favourite band!

The Wedding Present were my introduction to indie pop 30 years ago. What was the point that you realised your love of the music?

Beck: I was a big fan of indiepop bands before I really knew what indiepop was! I found a couple of Field Mice records in a charity shop when I was about 15 and started to realise the wonders of Fortuna Pop after getting into Bearsuit and The Aisler’s Set. I used to run a clubnight in Manchester years ago where we’d play those bands alongside stuff like Dressy Bessy, Helen Love and Hefner. I don’t think I ever really understood that all these seemingly disparate bands fitted together under the umbrella of ‘indiepop’ before I started coming to Indietracks!

Nat: Like Beck, I was a fan of indiepop before I really knew what it was! As a student I was a huge fan of Hefner, Stars of Aviation, Marine Research, Belle and Sebastian and similar bands. I moved to London in 2004, met friends who were into similar music and ended up going to the How Does It Feel To Be Loved? club night. Through that I ended up discovering lots of new and old indiepop bands and eventually became involved with Indietracks.

Jas: Although music was always a big part of my life, I first discovered ‘indiepop’ by attending DIY clubnights and gigs at University. A bunch of my friends were involved with a society called Burn the Jukebox – which encompassed a variety of genres. I was always drawn to the more indie, electro, pop end of this. After University I ended up dating someone in a band, and that has been a great way of discovering bands by attending gigs, and of course that’s how I also discovered Indietracks.

You have some new faces on the Indietracks team this year. What are they bringing to the festival?

Nat: Myself, Andy and Emma Cooper are still part of the organising team, but this year we’ve also welcomed new members Beck Conway, Jasmine Allen and Emma Kupa. They’ve been in bands and have also been involved with organising the Sweet Revenge club night in Manchester and the Cambridge indiepop all-dayer, so have loads of experience of putting on indiepop events! They’re also all regular Indietracks goers, so know the festival and are really keen to help make it the best it can possibly be. We’re so lucky they volunteered to get involved – they’ve done so much of the work this year, and have brought lots of energy and enthusiasm to the team too!

Beck: Along with Jas and Emma, I’ve been a massive fan of Indietracks for years and I think that’s a really useful perspective that we bring to the organising team. We have a good sense of what people really love most about the festival and what new ideas might work well.

If you were put on the spot and had to pick your one must watch act this year who would that be?

Emma: Frankie Cosmos

Nat: Lucky Soul

Andy: Cate Le Bon

Beck: I think I’ll have to pick one of our international bands because you never know when they’ll be back in the UK – I’m really looking forward to Luby Sparks who are travelling all the way from Japan to play for us!

Jas: It’s difficult to pick one, and I often enjoy the smaller bands the most. However, The Wave Pictures have a lot to offer – they are an incredibly versatile band with lots of talent and a large back catalogue.

Words and interview by Dorian Rogers

Indietracks is on from the 28th to the 30th July at the Midlands railway Centre in Derbyshire. Go to www.indietracks.co.uk for more details and to buy tickets.

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Indietracks Festival 2016

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Indietracks Festival 2016

Posted on 20 August 2016 by Dorian

Friday

As with our last trip to Indietracks we underappreciated the length of the journey from the south coast up to Derbyshire. Traffic jams for most of the route meant that by the time we’d pitched tent and set up for the evening that we’d already missed one of the three acts playing on the first evening.

Indietracks

Simon Love was in full flow at Indietracks Festival 2016 when we arrived on site, in the midst of a set heavy on tracks from his most recent album. Love does seem a little distracted, but puts on a  good show replete in white suit shirt and tie. It’s an irreverent, fun, and slightly shambolic set to start the weekend.

Simon Love

Simon Love

The Spook School have established themselves as Indietracks’ stalwarts since I first saw them play way back in 2012. They are as engaging as ever, although the many distractions of the site see me moving from shed to train to bar and back during their set. They’re an intriguing band with a lot to say, quietly spoken between songs and outspoken within them. Although they’re sound is primarily spiky pop punk there is a real variety to the mood. Some songs are really pretty downbeat, but that doesn’t stop them playing ‘The Vengabus is Coming’ as an encore.

Spook School

Spook School

Saturday

The first full day starts wearily; we camped far too close to the disco tent. Sleeping through a rowdy singalong of ‘The Hymn for the Cigarettes’ isn’t possible. A midday walk around the site followed by an invigorating ride on the miniature railway sweeps some of the cobwebs away.

Beard

Dirtygirl start things off in an “interesting” way, they are pretty ramshackle and don’t seem quite ready. There is a rawness to the band that I appreciate and an honesty to their songs, it isn’t for me. Vaccaciones from Spain are more like it, but also pretty ramshackle I have no idea what they are singing about but I like the sound of it and their senthusiasm seems to drag some sun from between the clouds.

In the Church Wintergreen get an immediate few marks on the obscure instrument bingo-sheet by having an Autoharp and harmonium on show. The bands start is delayed by a lot of tweaking to their set-up, and more endearingly by their violin player still being on the train. Indeed with harmonium and melodic also on the stage they are close to a full house. The band sound pretty good and remind me of a more classically English Efterklang. The only problem is that even with the extended set-up they don’t seem t be able to get the sound set-up quite right. The set breaks down half way through and the band do start to lose the audience a little. One to revisit on record I think.

Wintergreen

Emma Pollock on the other hand gets the sound rust right for her early evening set. The songs from her excellent new album, In Search of Harperfield, sound appropriately punchier live and it proves to be one of the sets of the weekend. Great songs and years of live experience prove to be the magic combination here.

Emma Pollock

Emma Pollock

Although Saint Etienne are the official headliners it is obvious that The Lovely Eggs are the band that the Indietracks crowd want to see most. The crowd is huge and rightly enthusiastic about the duo’s set, They play a nicely dirty take on indie pop punk and the audience goes wild.

Lovely Eggs

The Lovely Eggs

Even though the outdoor crowd is always a bit less rowdy than they are in the train shed, they seem pretty excited about Saint Etienne. They play a pretty great set high on hits, a well chosen selection of album tracks and not too many new songs. There is a lot of comfortable cosiness about them these days, but they are still a pretty great pop band and a fitting end to the day.

Saint Etienne

Saint Etienne

Sunday

Due to the unusually dry weather Indietracks 2016 for me is all be about the open air. So after a brief watch of City Yelps we head out again to get a seat on the grass for Witching Waves. The band play a fairly typical indie punk set, but there is thing wrong with that. They have some really good tunes and their on-stage nervousness is endearing. Wanderlust hits again halfway through the set though as we head for our (only) train based gig. Sadly we don’t get to see the band as some people (cheats!) were already on board and it fills up sooner than promised. Our photographer did get a place so he enjoyed Gavin Osborn and the rest of us had a pleasant train ride. The report came back that he was pretty brilliant, so one to catch in the future.

Gavin Osborn

Gavin Osborn

The Charlie Tipper Conspiracy have nice instrumentation and arrangements but a tendency to be rather dreary, a lot of which is down to the slightly flat vocal style. We go to watch Girl Ray as part of a rare venture indoors and well worth it. Tuneful vocals and catchy tunes are what I’m looking for and they deliver that perfectly.

Back in our place on the grass Haiku Salut seem perfect in the late afternoon and have a very strong sound. The second time Efterklang have come to mind this weekend, plus a bit of the Yann Tierson thrown in. No festival singalongs here but some very beautiful atmospheric music (Possibly the prize for most instrument changes also).

Darren Hayman arrives on stage in power trio format and takes no time to pillory Bill Botting for forgetting a bass strap. It is a well structured festival set and Hefner make an appearance as early as song 2. It is beautiful stuff with a number of recent songs from the  Thankful Villages and Chants for Socialists albums. A sore throat seems to cause Hayman a few problems but performing ‘The Hymn For The Cigarettes’ as the last song shows he knows how to play a festival.

Darren Hayman

Darren Hayman

I remember Comet Gain but don’t really remember their music, and noting in their set sounds familiar to me. I really like the overall sound, but I struggle to really get into the set without any familiar reference points.

Comet Gain

Comet Gain

Watching the last steamroller can crush of the weekend and stroking the tiny owl do mean arriving late for The Aislers Set. They’re another band I know little of, but I can tell they are a band I would have loved if I had discovered them first time around. It would have been nice to have had a band I was a fan of finishing the weekend, and you can’t fake that feeling.  But on the night they sound pretty great and seem like a pretty decent Indietracks finale.

The Aislers Set

The Aislers Set

So ten down and hopefully many more to come. There is nothing quite like Indietracks and it still holds the prize for being the friendliest and most relaxed musical event of the year.

Words: Dorian Rogers | Pictures: Nic Newman

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Top Ten Albums of 2016 So far…

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Top Ten Albums of 2016 So far…

Posted on 20 June 2016 by Joe

With 2016 at the half way mark we thought we’d present our list of the ten albums that have impressed us the most so far. All within our broad focus on indie and alternative music, we’ve some old stagers, new bands and plenty of rage. We’ve also got an act at number one who probably never would have thought they’d be acclaimed as the best indie act of the year in 2016 back. In addition to the ten below we also wanted to mention new albums by Shearwater, Pete Astor, The Wave Pictures, Steven James Adams, Picture Box and Rapid Results College, which are all in contention for a place in our end of year extended best albums list.

10. Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are

Robert-Pollard-Of-Course-You-Are

Incredibly, this is now the 22nd solo album from the hardest working man in music and proves another high point in an illustrious career. Read the full review here.

9. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

mould-500x500

Third album from the former Sugar and Husker Du man’s most settled line up for years. The key to its success is its ability to tackle the tough issues of life in the most fun way possible, as Mould’s rage and melody once again combine perfectly.  Read the full review here.

8. Dressy Bessy – King Sized

Dressy Bessy Kingsized

Fabulous return from a six-year break for the US act. This works particularly well by merging their beefier pre- hiatus sound with the pop nous that made their early work so infectious. Read the full review here.

7. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity

51655-nonagon-infinity

Like an extended rock jam, taking in science fiction, monsters and, naturally, some awesome guitar riffs this is another stellar release from the Australian psych rockers, with a little help from some robots and a gigantic wasp. Read the full review here.

6. Woodpigeon – TROUBLE

woodpigeon

Heartbreak, loss and a globe trotting meander prove the powerful inspiration for Mark Andrew Hamilton’s latest album. Beautiful and inspiring. Read the full review here.

5. Evans the Death – Vanilla

evans

On album number three London act Evans the Death have upped, shredded, beaten up and garrotted the ante. It’s full of rage, the guitars are heavier than before, the vocals fiercer and the ambition turned to stadium sized proportions, with a brass section and even a funky bass added to the mix. Incendiary album from what very well be Britain’s best rock band. Read the full review here.

4. Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves

papernut

Former Death in Vegas man Ian Button and crew have created their very own 1970s pop band. Full of fuzzed up guitar riffs and stomping rhythms there would have been plenty to satisfy the charts back in the day, especially the album’s title song, and its best pop tune, Radio. Read the full review here.

3. Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages – Vol 1

ThankfulWeb

One of Hayman’s best pieces of work and possibly his most important, preserving the oral history of the relatives of those who survived the horrors of the Great War as well as paying tribute to the village life these soldiers left and thankfully returned to. Read the full review here.

2. Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield

pollock

Childhood memories and the toils of adulthood mix wonderfully on the former Delgados singer’s latest album. With the track Parks and Recreation she has also created one of the best songs of recent years. Read the full review here.

1. The Monkees – Good Times

The Monkees - Good Times

The comeback to beat all comebacks. Originally planned as merely something to sell on their 50th anniversary tour this album has ended up grabbing the headlines in its own right. With Fountains of Wayne man Adam Schlesinger at the helm, a stack of lost demos to dust off and new tracks from talented Monkees fans such as Andy Partridge and Ben Gibbard, Good Times both pays tribute to their place in 1960s pop history and creates a great, modern day indie and alternative pop album in its own right. A well deserved number one slot. Read our full review here.

Top Ten Albums of 2016 So far was compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves

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Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves

Posted on 27 May 2016 by Joe

Being just a school boy during the early 1970s Ian Button missed out on fronting his own psychedelic glam pop band on Top of the Pops.

A few decades on, undaunted by being born in the wrong decade, he’s been making up for lost time by enlisting his friends to help create his own 1970s poptastic act called Papernut Cambridge.

papernut

While their debut album was an ode to surburban life and straddled influences across a number of decades, last year’s Nutlets covers album firmly rooted the band in the 1970s through loving tributes to the tracks of Alvin Stardust and Hot Chocolate among others.

Now the former Death in Vegas man and crew, including Ralegh Long, Darren Hayman and Robert Rotifer, have gone further by creating their very own 1970s chart hits that never were. It’s hard to listen without imagining Button, black-dyed hair and dressed in leather jumpsuit, coo-coo-chooing his way through the tracks. Full of fuzzed up guitar riffs and stomping rhythms there would have been plenty to satisfy the charts back in the day, especially the album’s title song and its best pop tune Radio.

There’s a nice nod to Eno-era Roxy Music too on Mirology, and the last paisley swirls of the 1960s psychedelic pop scene are also evident, most notably on the tongue-twistingly ever-so-English St Nicholas Vicarage. Who knew there were so many words in the English language that rhyme with vicarage? This wouldn’t look out of place on an album by another of our favourite exponents of psychedelic pop – XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear.

While the attention to detail in recreating the sounds of this golden era for British pop is a huge plus, what really marks out the work of Button’s crew is their heart. On their previous album the track Nutflake Social had a wonderful community spirit to it. Here the sense of sociability and community is still there, especially as the band are introduced on final track We Are the Nut. These timeless messages of love and friendship are hard to fault. Now all Button needs is a time machine to secure that coveted Top of the Pops appearance.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Papernut Cambridge – Love the Things Your Lover Loves is released by Gare Du Nord Records.

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Indietracks 2016 Q&A

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Indietracks 2016 Q&A

Posted on 25 May 2016 by Dorian

Indietracks is one of our favourite festivals and after a year off (and we missed it!) Neon Filler will be back this year to enjoy their 10th birthday.

We caught up with husband and wife Nat and Andy Hudson, two of the festival organisers, to ask them ten questions about ten Indietracks.

train

1. Let’s start with the obvious question. Why have an indie pop festival at a heritage railway?

Nat: Indietracks was actually first started in 2007 by a guy called Stuart Mackay, who used to restore trains at the Midland railway, and we’ve all gradually become involved since then. He originally started it as a fun way of bringing his own favourite bands to the railway after seeing other music events being held there, starting with a one-night event and then eventually turning it into a weekend festival. To be honest, I think the respective worlds of indiepop and steam trains intertwine perfectly, and I can’t imagine it being held anywhere else now!

2. The festival is celebrating it’s 10th birthday this year. Is anything special planned?

Andy: Yes, we’ve a few things planned – I’ll let you know about a couple, and we’ll keep some a secret. Firstly, we’re screening a documentary about Indietracks made by the acclaimed film-maker Jeanie Finlay. Jeanie’s previously made some great films including The Great Hip Hop Hoax and Sound It Out, and her Indietracks film is beautiful, funny and heart-breaking. We’re also going to have a 10th birthday disco on the Sunday night, playing some of our favourite songs from the last 10 years of the festival and hopefully sharing some cake around. One of the other ideas will be spectacular if it works, but we’re keeping it a surprise!

3. What are the 10 best performances you’ve seen at Indietracks?

Nat: Argh, it’s too difficult to say! I’d struggle to put performances in any kind of order, but sets I’ve enjoyed in the past include La Casa Azul, The Go! Team, Euros Childs, Darren Hayman, The Wave Pictures, Camera Obscura, Allo Darlin’, Stars of Aviation, The Hidden Cameras and Haiku Salut.

4. What 10 acts would be your dream guests at future Indietracks?

Andy: Kenickie – every year for the next 10 years! To be honest, we’ve always managed to book tons of our dream guests – Saint Etienne, The Aislers Set and The Spook School headlining is a dream line-up for us this year. And we’re still pinching ourselves that we’ve booked people like Helen Love, Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels and The Go! Team in previous years! Just as importantly though, our dream line up in future years will be finding the next new fantastic indiepop bands – we want to find the next Allo Darlin’ or the next Standard Fare. So, alongside Kenickie, my 10 dream guests would include 9 amazing artists that I’ve not heard of yet!

Allo Darlin

5. Outdoors, shed, church or train?

Nat: If you’re asking me which I prefer, then it’s just too tricky to choose! I’ve seen sets I’ve loved on all of those stages at some point! If I really have to choose though, I really love the church – it’s such an intimate atmosphere in there. Haiku Salut’s lamp show in there in 2013 was amazing.

6. If someone was thinking of attending Indietracks what would you say to persuade them?

Andy: It’s a relaxed and fun festival where you can dance to fantastic bands, ride steam trains and meet some real-life owls! It’s a very friendly festival where we hope everyone feels safe and welcome. And you’ll be raising money for a fantastic steam railway charity!

7. Richard Osman promised to attend. Did he make it? Or do you think he’ll be there this year?

Nat: Haha! He was very kind to me when I appeared on Pointless with my sister-in-law and allowed me to talk on national television about Indietracks which was great, but sadly I’ve not seen him since. He did mention he might come along the year that Allo Darlin’ played but it didn’t happen, and to be honest I can’t imagine it ever happening – he’d probably get mobbed!

8. It is a pretty unique location, what things do you recommend people do when they aren’t watching bands?

Andy: I’d definitely start with a train ride, either on the steam trains or on the narrow-gauge railway that runs through the countryside. We’ve a series of art and craft workshops for both children and adults, as well as discos in the evening. Then there’s the other railway attractions, including a couple of museums, the signal box, restored station and vintage railway memorabilia shops. Finally there’s a nearby country park, a miniature railway and we have an owl sanctuary on site.

9. Campsite or hotel?

Nat: The Golden Valley campsite is fantastic – it has brilliant discos, beautiful surroundings and lovely food. However, although I have to admit that although I camped in 2007 I’ve stayed in the Travelodge ever since then . I’m not a particularly good camper, and after spending the weekend running around I definitely need a comfortable bed to sleep on!

10. Will the owls be there this year?

Andy: Yes!

Owl

Nat and Andy were interviewed by Dorian Rogers

Indietracks takes place at the Midland Railway Centre in the heart of the Derbyshire countryside, and the festival is held on the weekend of 29-31 July 2016. more details, and information on booking, can be found at  www.indietracks.co.uk.

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Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages Vol 1

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Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages Vol 1

Posted on 23 May 2016 by Joe

Darren Hayman is at his best when placing a microscope over the details of people’s lives, their hopes, fears and how their environment shapes them.

The big issues of life, of war and inequality, are also important to him, but rather than tub thumping about them he is more interested in how they impact on every day lives.

Take the third part of his Essex trilogy of albums about the brutal treatment of elderly woman during the 17th century witch trials. It held up a mirror to the modern, shameful treatment of immigrants and others perceived as a burden on society. But of course this was all implicit. What mattered more were the people and the real horrors that befell them. The sound of the hangman’s rope stretching as their feet danced in search of life proved far more powerful than a soapbox rant.

ThankfulWeb

This latest project emerged from a conversation with his friend and frequent collaborator, Ian Button, whose father had told him of the rare collection of English ‘Thankful’ villages, who were lucky enough to see all those who went to fight in the First World War return. Given the scale of that conflict this is something to be thankful for indeed.

Like a modern day version of Cecil Sharp, the Victorian and Edwardian collector of English folk music, Hayman went out on the road, finding out more about these villages and their current residents as well as painting and recording them on his travels.

Although The Great War is one focus, it is mainly used by Hayman merely as a hook to document rural village life past and present.

There are 54 known thankful villages he is visiting and each will get their own tribute across three volumes.

Here on the first volume, 18 villages are covered starting in Knowlton in Dorset and ending in Bradbourne in Derbyshire. Miles apart, but its residents share the same gratitude that the lives of their grandfathers and fathers weren’t snuffed out on the battlefields of Europe. They also share the same aspects of rural life, where churches were and remain the focal point and local history continues to shape modern life.

When war does take centre stage, it is heartbreaking, as those that returned were never the same. On St Michael, South Elmham, Dolly’s account of her “hard” father’s show of emotion on Armistice day each year as he remembers the horrors he saw, is among the most tender moments.

Musically, Hayman uses acoustic and electronic instruments across instrumentals and songs that take in folk, soundscapes and soundtrack qualities. The sounds of the villages are also important, with the album recorded on location with post production added on later. On Butterton the village’s background noises even become part of the track’s rhythm. Local church congregations also take part and on Bradbourne the vocal harmonies create an upbeat end to this first collection.

What emerges is one of Hayman’s best pieces of work and possibly his most important, preserving the oral history of the relatives of those who survived the horrors of the Great War as well as paying tribute to the village life they left and thankfully returned to.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages Vol 1 is released on Rivertones. For more information visit here.

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Steven James Adams – Old Magick

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Steven James Adams – Old Magick

Posted on 01 March 2016 by Joe

Late last year Darren Hayman posted on Facebook that Fortuna POP!’s white middle aged men roster, which he is proudly part of, was in fine form, with imminent releases from Pete Astor, formerly of 1980s band The Weather Prophets, and Steven Adams, ex-The Broken Family Band.

SJA-OLD-MAGICK

On reading this it was the first time I’d even considered that Adams actually middle aged given the youthful twinkle in his eyes. Even his cynicism, displayed lyrically and with his sardonic wit on stage, is often that of a cheeky teen rather than a depressed old man.

Here, on what is perhaps his first ‘middle-aged’ release, he casts his eye over his and his fans’ advancing years but still with a youthful twinkle. For example on Togetherness, about the appalling way too many British people treat those from other countries, the delivery is far from preachy or serious, instead its cheekily accompanied with one of the album’s most upbeat melodies.

And on Ideas, another standout track, the self-deprecating tone of a middle aged man desperately trying to save a relationship with ideas that have not yet formed could easily apply to a teen. Perhaps it could also be about the performer Adams, urging his audience to stay with him as well.

This tongue in cheek look at aging is perhaps best shown on The Back of the Bus as the young care free teens shouting from the back of a bus are transported into middle-age where “now, it’s just massage music”.

Musically, this is a more low key sound than his full band Singing Adams indie pop project of recent years but more slickly produced than his last solo outing, 2013’s House Music, which was recorded in his living room. With studio production from Dan Michaelson this feels very much like a solo album that allows the lyrics to shine and is perhaps his best release since his Broken Family Band days.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

To buy Steven James Adams – Old Magick click here.

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The Wave Pictures – A Season In Hull

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The Wave Pictures – A Season In Hull

Posted on 26 February 2016 by Joe

Slowly but surely The Wave Pictures are winning around Britain albeit via the increasing influence of American music on their albums. Over their last couple of releases they’ve picked up heightened attention thanks to the US influenced blues of City Forgiveness (2013) and last year’s Billy Childish collaboration Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon,  featured a pair of Credence Clearwater Revival covers.

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Here they have delved even further into the US’s musical history, channeling the spirit of America’s early folk music recording pioneers, with guitarist David Tattersall, drummer Jonny Helm and bassist Rozycki here on acoustic instruments, gathered with friends around a single microphone

The idea to huddle around one mic came from their long time friend and collaborator Darren Hayman.

Tattersall says: “The idea appealed to me enormously. It’s a really beautiful sound, the one microphone sound. The results tend to be mysterious and lively, and it’s a very romantic way to record, too. It’s how Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys did it, after all.”

The bluegrass comparisons stop there though and although the trio are accomplished on acoustic instruments as they are in their usual amped up guise their ever so English lyrics and vocals of Tattersall still shine through. The result is yet again another great album from the trio, which is familiar but still refreshingly different.

The songs are also great, Slick Black River From the Rain and the wonderfully titled Thin Lizzy Live and Dangerous are particularly standouts.

So too is Tattersall’s transition from electric to acoustic guitar, where his solos continue to impress.

After more than a decade of recording and more than a dozen studio albums A Season in Hull shows that The Wave Pictures seem to love being in a band as much as they did when they first started.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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John Howard – Not Forgotten, The Best of John Howard Vol 2.

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John Howard – Not Forgotten, The Best of John Howard Vol 2.

Posted on 18 January 2016 by Joe

John Howard’s renaissance continued in fine form last year with the release of John Howard and the Night Mail, a collection of timeless pop written and performed with Andy Lewis (Paul Weller Band), Robert Rotifer (Rotifer) and Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge).

It ended the year gracing many a best of list, including our own, and even charted, albeit in the Austrian independent releases run-down.

As a result Howard’s music has come to the attention of a wider audience and may well be the reason you are reading this now.

John Howard and the Night Mail

John Howard and the Night Mail

Never one to miss an opportunity Howard has decided to release a second volume of his best of series to show his new admirers what else he’s been up to in recent years.

So for those who are new to Howard’s music let’s take a few lines to recap his tale.

It’s a familiar story, glam pop boy and his piano meets record company, in his case CBS in the 1970s. Boy then gets dumped by record company, ends up quitting recording and working for the music industry in A&R for a couple of decades. Much older boy then meets internet generation, decides to record again and the pair live happily ever after.

Since the release of his comeback album, the appropriately titled As I Was Saying in 2005, he has released around a dozen more, as well as a handful of EPs covering lesser known artists he admires such as Alex Highton.

On his first best of compilation These Fifty Years, released in 2009, the focus was on his 70s heyday and comeback releases up to that point. Here the focus is exclusively on his comeback, with the internet generation helping with the track list as Howard keeps a close eye on downloads, streams and Youtube interest to guide him.

John Howard - As I Was Saying

John Howard – As I Was Saying

Among our picks on this compilation are the As I Was Saying tracks the Dilemma of the Homosapien, with its killer chorus, and Taking it All to Heart, that perfectly sums up the emotions of a rejected artist. There’s also a heavy focus on glam pop, with upbeat songs such as Making Love To My Girl, from Same Bed, Different Dreams (2006) and Believe Me, Richard, From Storeys (2013) among highlights.

Maybe I Know Why and Born Too Early are among the best of the ‘slowies’ here. Both are from Hello, My Name Is, a largely autobiographical collection looking back to his time in London in the 1970s and society’s changing attitudes to sexuality

But as with any compilation this is as much about what isn’t on it as what is.

What awaits those who want to delve further into his releases are further gems on As I was Saying such as the Magic of Mystery. Bob/Bobbi, from Hello My Name Is, which gives genuine heart and substance to a drag queen he once met while on holiday, is another to seek out.

Also missing here are tracks from 2012’s You Shall Go the Ball!, featuring reworkings of his 70s demos that failed to see the light of day. It is here that an extra layer to the Howard story unfolds with his carefully crafted soundscapes interspersed with tracks such as the magnificent The Deal, where his adoration of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s solo work is clear.

And there’s some great covers too to discover, particularly his version of Alex Highton’s Songs for Someone and Darren Hayman’s Elizabeth Duke, on his Songs for Someone EP.

John Howard interpreta “The Bewlay Brothers”, de David Bowie from Oscar Garcia Suarez on Vimeo.

Looking back on his comeback output Howard’s initial failure to be a star in the 1970s may just have been the best thing to happen to him. The break from performing for a couple of decades has beautifully preserved his voice. Just watch him performing his cover of Bowie’s Bewlay Brothers in Barcelona in January this year (see above) to see what we mean.

It has also meant he is fiercely independent, embracing home recording technology and the promotional possibilities of social media to great effect to take direct control of how his music sounds and is released.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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