Southern Tenant Folk Union have gone back to basics for their latest album, eschewing the genre busting invention of their last two releases and instead opting for a straight down the line folk album.
Gone is the Tangerine Dream style banjo playing that typified both Hello Cold, Goodbye Sun (2013) and Chuck Norris Project (2015). A farewell has also been bid to the Scottish based band’s high concepts, such as Hello Cold’s environmental armeggeddon and Chuck Norris’ use of the actor’s own film titles to protest against his right wing politics.
There’s still plenty of politics here. It would be hard not to in a year where Scotland voted overwhelming to reject the Brexit that the whole UK has become embroiled in.
But the overall sound is very different, more traditional, taking in bluegrass and traditional celtic influences. It also sounds more like they do live, gathered around a single mic on stage.
If there is a theme it could be that the band are a bunch of political minstrels playing outside the Houses of Parliament and London’s media centres to express the frustration many feel with modern politics and journalistic bias.
Were You Faking When You Kissed Her? about the insincerity of campaign trail politicians would be particularly satisfying to see sung to the political elite as they trickle into Parliament, as would What Would You Give For a Leader With Soul?
Then there’s What Kind of Worker Do You Want To Be, which mocks the BBC for its failure to scrutinise the government. This would be great to see played outside the broadcaster’s London news base. There are similar themes on The Media Attack, about how low the fourth estate has sunk in its political reporting.
STFU’s Rory Butler and Pat McGarvey (l-r)
But while these tracks, written by chief songwriter and banjo player Pat McGarvey, often go straight for the jugular there is also subtlety here, courtesy of singer and guitarist Rory Butler.
Carefully Does It, one of his two penned tracks, emerges as one of the highlights, just as his painfully sad song about US school massacres, Slaughter in San Francisco, did on Chuck Norris Project.
This blending of McGarvey’s head and Butler’s heart is one of a number of traits that elevates Southern Tenant Folk Union above many others in the folk scene. That’s even without the contemporary invention of recent releases that has already cemented their place as one of the UK’s most unique acts.
For more information on Southern Tenant Folk Union and to buy Join Forces click here.
From the tragic consequences of US gun laws to the UK’s ongoing debate around inequality and low wages as well as worldwide debate around the plight of refugees fleeing war torn Syria, it’s been another year where political songwriters have had lots of inspiration.
Here we take a look at our five favourite political songs. All can be loosely called protest songs, but also offer more than that, often looking at the real lives of those affected by the political decisions taking place.
Darren Hayman – Down Among the Dead Men
Chants for Socialists is a rare political album from Darren Hayman. As you would expect from the former Hefner frontman it carries none of the bombast of Chumbawumba. Instead he has taken the lyrics from Victorian socialist William Morris, set it to music and given it a modern take with a choir of friends and those living nearby Morris’s former London home.
On this, one of the album’s standout tracks, Hayman successfully conveys a comforting sense of comraderie among the hopelessness of a world of social injustice, all sounding like a mix of The Kinks and a Victorian pub singalong thanks to co-writing duties from frequent Hayman collaborator Robert Rotifer.
Villagers- Little Bigot
A few years it would have been inconceivable that Ireland, with all the atrocities its Catholic society forced on women and gay people would allow same sex marriages. In the year Ireland really came of age Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien penned the album Darling Arithmetic, which is as much about Ireland’s attitude to gay men like himself as it is a wonderful collection of songs about love.
He is keen that this shold be seen as a love album first and a protest album second, but on Little Bigot he rejoices as finally the old way of thinking is cast aside. “So take the blame, little bigot. And throw that hatred on the fire,” he sings.
Belle and Sebastian – Cat with the Cream
Politicians and the banking elite are the smug cats here on Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch’s bitter take on British politics. Written after the Tory led coalition came into power in 2010 it was not released until this year when the Conservatives won an outright victory and looked to lap up even more cream. ‘Tory like a cat with the cream’ sums up many of that party’s politics wonderfully, but Labour and their ‘grubby little red’ MPs and the Lib Dems ‘flapping hopelessly’ also come under fire.
John Howard and the Night Mail – Tip of your Shoe
This is the second mention in this list of protest songs for Robert Rotifer, who in between fronting his own band Rotifer and helping Darren Hayman out, also collaborated this year with 1970s singer songwriter John Howard as part of the Night Mail. Here Rotifer’s lyrics and Howard’s wonderful voice and music take on xenophobia and right wing media commentators, especially ones of the likes of Katie Hopkins, who spout all sorts of vile political rubbish on their “21st century toilet wall” of social media.
Southern Tenant Folk Union – Slaughter in San Francisco
It seems incredulous that the US government still allows gun ownership to go unchecked in yet another year of horrific shootings. The school shootings are particular tragic and provide the sad inspiration for Slaughter in San Francisco, among the best songs on Southern Tenant Folk Union’s album The Chuck Norris Project, which is packed full of protest at a range of issues from bigotry to gun laws.
Here singer Rory Butler provides genuine emotion as he shows the horror of such incidents through the eyes of one of the frightened young victims. It’s one of the year’s most heartbreaking songs that sadly is set to have resonance for years to come until the US legislature finally sees sense on gun crime.
Matt Creer came onto our radar thanks to a tweet by Chris T-T declaring his love for the Isle of Man singer songwriter’s latest track North Northwest. We listened, we agreed, we got in touch and Creer popped his new album The Leeward Tide in the post.
As befits a biography that boast music credits working with the aforementioned Chris T-T, as well as Mike and the Mechanics’ Paul Carrack and Beverly Craven, on The Leeward Tide Creer straddles mainstream, independent music and folk with aplomb.
There is an immediate comparison with Seth Lakeman, who with the aid of a Mercury Music Prize nomination brought his Devon folk rock to a wider audience. Creer could quite easily do the same. In fact listening to this album I’m struggling to see why Creer isn’t headlining Cambridge Folk Festival and gaining regular UK airtime as Lakeman does.
Creer is getting there though. He’s made the top ten of the iTunes singer songwriter chart over 2014 and 2015 and at the time of writing The Leeward Tide was in the top 20 of the same chart just a day or so after release.
As well as the instant appeal of North Northwest, there’s the beauty of the harp on Flesh and Bone and the tender Islands that also stand out; as does Shout Me Down, which reminded me of Scottish based folk collective Southern Tenant Folk Union.
Another song that deserves a mention is Your Dancing Shoes, which reminds me of the smart observational lyrics of Somerset singer songwriter Nick Parker.
The Leeward Tide sounds polished and beautiful, especially on Flesh and Bone, but crucially it is not over produced. It still feels like a group of musicians in an Isle of Man bar or a friend’s living room performing an intimate gig.
It also feel very Manx. As someone who has never been to the island though I should clarify that it sounds like how I imagine its coastal and rural landscape to be. As calms after the storm go this is just about perfect.
by Joe Lepper
To Download The Leeward Tide and find out more about Matt click here.
Edinburgh based folk and blue grass collective Southern Tenant Folk Union arguably took a big risk with their latest and sixth album, which improbably uses Chuck Norris film titles as a springboard for a collection of left leaning protest songs.
It has paid off though with critics and fans alike so far approving of the album’s odd notion as well as its eclectic take on bluegrass, which moves effortless from protest folk song to funk, to soul to jazz.
Live the new album, called The Chuck Norris Project, works even better, making their two hour set that takes in their bluegrass back catalogue and gospel standards, perfectly weighted and enthralling throughout.
What also comes across strongly live is the strength of the musicianship and vocals, especially guitarist and lead vocalist on The Chuck Norris Project, Rory Butler who opened the set with a handful of his own Nick Drake-esque tracks, such as Cigarettes in Silence. His vocals tonight were superb, beautiful even at times, especially on his own songwriting contribution to the Chuck Norris Project, Slaughter in San Francisco, about the heartbreak of a school shooting.
Rory Butler and Pat McGarvey (l-r)
Tonight the collective was a quintet, including percussionist Steve Fivey, whose contribution to The Chuck Norris Project is vital, especially on the more film soundtrack moments, such as on The Wrecking Crew Part 1. On double bass was Craig Macfadyen and their violinst for the night and this section of the tour was Frome resident Gemma White. She is a long term collaborator of STFU band leader and banjo player Pat McGarvey, having also played in his former band The Cole Porters. McGarvey proved an engaging host giving plenty of time to offer funny anecdotes and explaining the stories behind the songs, whether they be left leaning protest songs, love songs or bluegrass standards.
We learn before the joyfully romantic Let Me Wipe The Tears From Your Eyes, which is about his wedding, that the ceremony also featured a reading of Rutger Hauer’s death speech in Blade Runner.
Before Ida Don’t Go, from their fourth album Pencaitland, we find out that when they performed on the track on Irish TV show the Late Late Show they had to settle for second billing behind a dancing dog performing a canine version of Gangnam Style.
With White there performing at her local venue this gig had an extra friendly feel, which was also helped by the venue itself where the seating goes right up to the front of the stage. This proved invaluable for the set’s encore, where the STFU unplugged the central mic they play around and went entirely acoustic for a rousing gospel singalong up close with the audience.
STFU are continuing to show how far the boundaries of bluegrass can be pushed, while ensuring they do not leave the traditionalists behind.
It’s a testament to how far the Southern Tenant Folk Union push the boundaries of folk that their sixth album features tracks all named after Chuck Norris films and they can make a banjo sound like a John Carpenter soundtrack.
In fact musically the album may feature mandolin, fiddle and aforementioned banjo but the Chuck Norris Project seems a long way from folk, with jazz, soul and funk among the genres that weave in and out of these songs. The added use of clarinet and orchestrated violin, along with cello, give it an epic soundtrack quality as well.
But do not think that this is a series of covers of 80s action move soundtracks. While all tracks are named after Chuck Norris films they are not about the right wing Hollywood hardman, who once proclaimed that electing Barack Obama as President would bring “a thousand years of darkness.” Instead these films, with titles such as The President’s Man, Slaughter in San Francisco and Invasion USA are used as jumping on points for a range of weighty modern issues from gun control to terrorism and equality.
For those that enjoyed their last album, 2013’s post apocalyptic themed Hello Cold, Goodbye Sun, this acts as a fine follow up with even more musical invention and a similar ‘end of days’ feel driven by a genuine fear from band leader Pat McGarvey of Norris’s right wing take on world politics.
Among the many highlights are the clarinet and beautiful vocals from Rory Butler on Octagon, one of the album’s slower tracks. His vocals also add genuine emotion to the heartbreaking Slaughter in San Francisco, about the continuing horror of school shootings in America. The seven minute long orchestral Martial Law is another high point on a truly original album.
Given McGarvey’s passion for cinema music (he is also a member of the Incredibly Strange Film Band) surely it’s about time STFU were commissioned to produce a movie soundtrack? Although for political reasons I suspect Norris himself may pass on using them for any of his future releases.
The first half of the year was a pretty poor period for releases but we just about scrabbled together our June feature, Top ten albums list of 2013…so far. But since then the rate of excellent releases has picked up pace and now in December we find ourselves struggling to cram them all into a Top 20. It is therefore with a heavy heart that we chop off some superb 2013 releases by the likes of Jackson Scott, John Howard, PINS and Josh Rouse from this list. We think we’ve got a good range for you here and urge you to read our full reviews, buy their albums and go see them live. Anyway, enough of our guff, on with the list.
20. Young Knives – Sick Octave
Finally, after over a decade on the sweaty coalface of jerky punk rock, some long overdue acclaim for this industrious trio. It’s taken a series of well received EPs, extensive tour schedules and three studio albums to get them thus far, but this fourth offering will, our reviewer John Haylock confidently predicts, cure your jaded and cynical hearts. Read our full review here.
19. Wave Pictures – City Forgiveness
Conceived on a US tour with Allo Darlin this latest album from the perplexingly under rated Wave Pictures is heavily influenced by the American blues. Thankfully in their stellar guitarist David Tattersall they have a musician who can pay tribute to the blues and put the band’s very English slant on the genre with aplomb. Some say it’s a little long. But we say, who cares when the bulk of it is so good. Read our full review here.
18. La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin
After watching this video for Antitaxi, the opening track on the debut album from Bairritz based surf popsters La Femme, I’m fairly convinced they are just about the coolest band on the planet, well, in France at least. Blending 60s guitar pop with psychedelia and electronica this album is among the most creative and original of the year. Read our full review here.
17. Thirty Pounds of Bone – I Cannot Sing You Here, But For Songs of Where
This third album of folk music by Thirty Pounds of Bone, aka Johny Lamb, manages to sound traditional without ever slipping into genre cliche. It is one of the best folk albums released this year and one of the best albums of 2013 full stop. Read our full review here.
16. Mogwai – Les Revenants
Mogwai’s soundtrack for Les Revenants, the French TV series about the dead returning to haunt a small town, perfectly matches the show’s sense of foreboding. The dead in Les Revenants have feelings too and this is perfectly formed in Mogwai’s brooding mix of piano, cello and percussion and tender glockenspiel. One of the best TV soundtracks you will ever hear.
15. Just Handshakes –Say It
This impressive debut from Yorkshire’s Just Handshakes features many a familiar C86 sound, with whirly-gig keyboards, chorus pedals and choppy insightful melodies, all providing the perfect backdrop to the sumptuous, earthy English folk vocals of singer Clara Patrick. Indie pop with a distinct folk twist. Read our full review here.
14. Mum – Smilewound
Icelandic foursome Mùm’s sixth album Smilewound will draw inevitable comparisons with fellow Nords Sigur Rós. Fortunately this is for all the right reasons. Our reviewer Rob Finch says this is a damn-near perfect album, punch-packed with effortless experimental Scandi dreampop and intelligent, intelligible lyrics. Read our full review here.
13. Robert Pollard – Honey Locust Honky Tonk
This is Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollards self-proclaimed country album, but aside from the name, cover and one song (‘I Killed a Man Who Looked Like You’) it would be hard to hear any strong country influences on this album. Our favourite of Pollard’s many solo and Guided By Voices releases this year. Read our full review here.
12. Okkervil River – Silver Gymnasium
The band’s first on ATO Records is the most autobiographical yet of singer/songwriter Will Sheff’s tenure as Okkervil River frontman as he takes the listener into a brief period of his childhood in the small New Hampshire town of Meriden, where his parents worked in 1986 as teachers at a local boarding school. Its full of influences from the era and the band have even drafted in Cyndi Lauper’s producer to give it that 80s sheen. Read our full review here.
11. Low – The Invisible Way
Centred around husband and wife duo Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker Low have been fine tuning their brand of so-called slow core rock across ten albums now. The Invisible Way takes the haunting, tender ethos of previous album C’mon one step further. Gone are the overt ’50s and ’60s electric guitar sounds to be replaced with piano, acoustic guitar and an even softer Americana feel under the direction of producer, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Read our full review here.
10. Tullycraft – Lost in Light Rotation
While many of their twee peers are still drinking weak lemon drink from a flask and grumbling about this and that, America’s veteran indie pop outfit Tullycraft have added a good splash of gin to this poor metaphor of a flask and are belting out optimistic happy pop as if the recession and all the other ills since their last album in 2007 had never existed. Read our full review here.
9. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Arguably the longest album title of the year, but one of the most simple albums of the year. Great songs and great voice from the peerless Case. Fans will know there is a darkness to all her albums and this is a much darker beast than the upbeat Middle Cyclone. One of the true great North American singers. Read our full review here.
8. Mark Mulcahy – Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You
Classic guitar pop from the former Miracle Legion frontman. Great vocals and some killer tunes here including ‘Poison Candy Heart’ and ‘She Makes The World Turn Backwards’, which our reviewer Dorian Rogers believes should be available in every karaoke booth round the world. Read our full review here.
7. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Born out of the chaos of the hurricane that ripped New York state apart last year the Brooklyn based band have produced one of their most calming and satisfying releases yet. Read our full review here.
6. Southern Tenant Folk Union – Hello Cold Goodbye Sun
Conflict about musical direction, song choices and album themes, can be a destructive influence for some bands. Fortunately for Southern Tenant Folk Union, the Edinburgh based collective that loosely falls under the folk/bluegrass banner, the opposite has happened and pre-production disharmony has conspired to create one of their best releases and one of the year’s most innovative albums. This is folk and bluegrass like you have never heard it before. Read our full review here.
5. Matthew E White – Big Inner
White is part of an eclectic country, rock, soul, gospel, you name it, collective of musicians in his native Virginia who are put through their paces with on this, his first album. The end result is timeless country soul at its best and fans of Lambchop’s Nixon are going to love this. Read our full review here.
4. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
American album of the year and our favourite so far as Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck expertly blends country, soul, electronica and rock. Perhaps the greatest exponent of sounding epic and in need of a good night’s sleep in modern music. Marvellous stuff. Read our full review here.
3. John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
In Pale Green Ghosts, sweary ex-Czars man, John Grant, presents an album of wonderful contradictions. In parts almost dirge-like folk rock, this incredibly raw and openly confessional record is also awash with poppy electronica. Read our full review here.
2. Rotifer –The Cavalry Never Showed Up
Clever political lyrics mixed with some fine guitar pop make this the best album yet by Austrian broadcaster, artist and now resident of Canterbury Robert Rotifer and his band. With the track I Just Couldn’t Eat As Much As I’d Like To Throw Up this trio has also served up our favourite song of the year. Read our full review here.
1. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
This US band emerged this year with a sound that has captivated us. Part Sonic Youth, part The Modern Lovers and with a liberal sprinkling of Pavement at their most Fall-obsessed this is a noisy, snotty album and the 15 songs fly by with several bum notes but no duff tracks. Read our full review here.
Thanks to all our album reviewers during 2013: Rob Finch, Patricia Turk, Conal Dougan, John Haylock, Scott Hammond, Kevin McGough and Matthew Nicholson.
List compiled by Neonfiller.com co-editors Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers.
Conflict about musical direction, song choices and album themes, can be a destructive influence for some bands. Fortunately for Southern Tenant Folk Union, the Edinburgh based collective that loosely falls under the folk/bluegrass banner, the opposite has happened and pre- production disharmony has conspired to create one of their best albums.
Originally conceived by Southern Tenant Folk Union’s film-score-loving banjo player Pat McGarvey as an album focusing on horror, this theme ended up being pulled apart ahead of recording as the members own ideas tussled for attention.
It was a pre-production process that McGarvey admits created ”some disharmony, especially in the whole voting process.” However, he adds “when we got into the studio to record the atmosphere was actually pretty good and positive, it was just the pre-production that sucked.”
The band’s traditional technique of recording and playing live huddled around a single mic helps foster such unity and the end result is an album that is eclectic without losing cohesion and succeeds in taking the folk and bluegrass genres to new levels.
The horror theme still courses through many of the tracks, particularly on McGarvey’s Chest Freezer, a post apocalyptic tale of a liar bragging to the body parts he keeps hidden away.
Crash is another to stick to the cinematic horror theme, with its five string banjo dampened to sound like the Moog 960 module used by Tangerine Dream in the 1970s and many a film score. It even sounds like the theme to 1980s show Knight Rider at times, but don’t let that comparison put you off, this track pushes the boundaries of roots music in directions few others are attempting in the UK.
Alongside such horror film sounds sits flashes of more traditional folk, giving an indication of the collective’s differing views. This is particularly the case on the upbeat Men in Robes and Guitarist Chris Purcell’s vocals on Relic Of a Reasonable Mind, which drifts into the folk balladry territory of say a Nick Drake.
Even though the original concept of a horror themed album was pulled this way and that, as McGarvey says: “The fact of having a starting point at all did, I think, give it more of a focus than if we hadn’t begun with one.” Vocalist Carrie Thomas’s traditional folk singing on Days By the Seaside With Ice Cream, the Donald Ker poem about a family murder from the children’s perspective, appears a good example of how both the horror theme and band’s folk music roots remained intact and intertwined well during production.
Southern Tenant Folk Union’s previous album Pencaitland explored similar musical themes of pushing the boundaries of roots genres. On Hello Cold, Goodbye Sun they have taken this mission to the next level and shown that the collective is as strong as ever, even if they do not always agree. It is no wonder that we included them in our Top Ten Bands To Watch Out For in 2013 list and even though the year is a few days old I’d be surprised if this album, their fifth to date, doesn’t figure in our next annual Top 20 Albums list.
by Joe Lepper
To hear tracks from Hello Cold Goodbye Sun click here.
Each year we give our run down of ten acts that have caught our attention over the last few months and are set for bigger things in the coming year. These are artists that we’ve either seen as emerging artists at festivals or as support acts, or those that have released teasingly good singles and EPs during 2012. Some are old stagers, some are brand spanking new bands. To be boastful for a moment, we have a pretty good track record with our lists, with the likes of Tigercats in our bands to watch out for in 2012 list more than delivering this year with the release of their album Isle of Dogs. Tigercats also played at our Oxjam gig in October among a raft of gigs across the UK, France and Spain. Even when we mess up we just about get it right, our top act to watch out for in 2011 Django Django ended up spending most of that year in the studio, but did eventually become a huge success in 2012 to spare our blushes.
10. Owl and Mouse
Owl and Mouse, a four piece from London, fronted by Australian born songwriter Hannah Botting are self confessed lovers of “ukuleles and bittersweet pop songs”. They came to our attention on a set of free Christmas releases by Fika Records last December in which their tender track Sandwich Day was the perfect way to showcase Botting’s intimate, beautiful vocal style.
During 2013 they have plans for a UK tour during June and July and possibly some European dates too. A split 7” picture disc single featuring their track Canvas Bags is due for release in January and you can catch them at the Hangover Lounge, at the Lexington on January 6, 2013, where they will be launching the release. An album release is also a possibility during 2013. Hannah says: “We’ve been at Soup studios with Giles (Barrett) from Tigercats and have enough material for an Album which we’re determined to release in 2013.”
Their five track EP, called EP One, is available for just £1 here. Incredible value.
9. Evans the Death
The summery indie pop spirit of the mid 1980s courses through the veins of this London band, which released their self titled debut in 2012. Cut them and they bleed Shop Assistants and Mighty Lemon Drops. We just missed out on reviewing the album through time constraints, but are making amends now by recommending them for 2013, when they attempt to take the next step in their career by impressing the great and the good at the South By South West annual music meat fest.
Signed to Slumberland in the US and Fortuna Pop over here they already have two respected labels of the indie pop world to promote them and further their credentials as one of the UK’s most interesting new bands. Fans of Allo Darlin and Veronica Falls will find a lot to like in their music and we’ve been particularly impressed with the vocal talents of Evans the Death singer Katherine Whitaker.
8.Southern Tenant Folk Union
One of our favourites since the release of their last album Pencaitland. While broadly speaking this is a bluegrass act, they exhibit a range of influnces from soul to cinematic music to indie rock that gives them a real edge. Those that like Miserable Rich and Leisure Society will have a lot to like here and 2013 looks set to be a busy year with the release of their album ‘Hello Cold Goodbye Sun’ and a string of dates planned. This is set to be an excellent follow up to their previous album Pencaitland, which was among our highlights of 2011.
We caught their live set in Frome last year (pictured above) and urge you to go and see them when they play near you. Superb music that adds further depth to the vibrant British folk and roots scene.
To hear tracks from Hello Cold Goodbye Sun check out their soundcloud page.
Brighton drums and keyboards duo Soccer 96 make some of the best low budget electronic music around. Powerful and catchy hooks that adorned their self titled debut album impressed us this year and during 2012 they were named as one of BBC 6 Music presenter Steve Lamacq’s ‘new favourite bands.’ They are primed for more live shows during 2013 to build on the good publicity they’ve already received during 2012. This includes a show at The Green Door Store in their hometown in March with Can singer Damo Suzuki and members of Sons of Noel and Adrian.
They are also in the studio working with producer Dan Swift on some new tracks which, accordng to the duo, “promises to be a real step up production wise” A second album release is pencilled in for 2013 and a collaboration with Stereolab’s Joe Watson is also on the cards next year for the duo, who go by the pseudonyms Danalogue and Betamax to hammer home their back to basics approach to electronic music. As our review said of their debut album “The drums are heavy and the analogue synths pleasingly squelchy and bassy, with 8-bit style squeaks and beeps adding retro texture.”
Fever dream play music you can lose yourself in. It’s what some might call showgaze, others call indie rock and they call “dark, fuzzy menacing music that blurs the line from noisy new wave to angular post punk.”
We were first introduced to them via 2011’s Vostok 5 compilation CD about space flight and since then they’ve released a self titled EP, which they will continue to promote during 2013. They are back in the studio this month to record some new tracks. As Adey from the band tells us: “If we can scrape ten or so songs together, I’m sure we’ll call it an album.”
They played the Long Division and Land of Kings festivals during 2012 and more festival appearances during 2013 are sure to follow. Adey adds: “As we’ve only played one foreign gig so far – in a toilet, in Berlin – it would be good to spread our wings and creative juices all over the World, so if anyone fancies inviting us to play abroad we’ll jump at the chance.”
This London based singer songwriter’s EP of piano ballads The Gift left us really impressed in 2012. There’s more to come in 2013 with a follow up EP planned, plus the possibility of a full band record. Heavily influenced by the likes of Bill Fay and John Howard his songwriting is full of subtleties few others can match.
Long is an emerging talent that you should keep an eye out for in the gig listing, where he tours with his band Primary 3 as well as solo, as well as the new release sections. Among our favourite of his tracks is Elizabeth from The Gift.
If you are in Australia next year we urge you to check out this Melbourne based indie supergroup Boomgates, who are oozing with DIY punk spirit, catchy indie pop hooks and fronted by one of our favourite singers, Brendan Huntley from Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Other members include Teen Archers’ Gus Lord, The Twerps’ Rick Milovanovic, Sean Gionis from Trial Kennedy and Steph Hughes, ex of Children Collide.
They’ve got a raft of gigs planned in Australia during 2013 to continue promoting the release of their 2012 debut album Double Natural and are sure to continue to pick up interest in the US, where Brendan’s stock is high after a string of Eddy Current Suppression Ring releases on US garage punk label Goner. 2013 will also see them support Wilco during the Australian leg of their tour, which is certain to bring their ramshackle pop to a wider audience.
To here more tracks from their debut album click here.
Robert Rotifer has been knocking around the indie and alternative scenes of Europe and England for a while now and with a new album planned for 2013 we sense this will be one of his band’s most successful year’s yet. Now a three piece, Robert has assembled two of the UK’s most experienced musicians , Death in Vegas’s Ian Button and The Television Personalities’s Mike Stone.
They were our headliner for our October Oxjam gig and have one of the best live guitar sounds around thanks to Rotifer’s playing and Button’s electronic wizardry. Their last album The Hosting Couple, which featured Darren Hayman on bass, was one of our highlights of 2011 and is worth checking out while you wait for their new album.
Another Brighton band on our list, who are set to release their second album Wash the Sins Not Only The Face on indie heavyweight label Matador in January 2013, followed by a 12 day UK and Europe tour ending on Feb 26 at London’s Scala. Described by NME as “gothic not goth” they are as haunting and unsettling as that description suggests.
While their 2011 debut album received a reasonable response, from what we’ve heard of their latest release it’s set to bring them to a far wider audience and make 2013 the busiest year yet for the band.
This Liverpool trio with a folk surf feel somewhere between Pentangle and a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack have the accolade of being the best support band we saw all year. They quite simply blew the crowd away when they supported Field Music on their sell out tour this year. By the end of 2012 their debut album Into the Diamond Sun, with great tracks such as Shut Eye, had received similarly excellent reviews and they were headlining shows in their own right.
It’s at 2013 festivals where you should particularly watch out for this band, after a run of successful festival gigs in 2012 garnered them even more attention. Great live band with a wholly original sound. A deserved number one in this list.
For more information about Stealing Sheep visit their website here.
Maudy Tree, the second album by Edinburgh based four piece Blue Flint, is the latest excellent contemporary folk album to find its way to us. Signed to Johnny Rock Records, who also have Southern Tenant Folk Union on their roster, the band have a traditional feel, with banjos, violin, double bass and sumptuous story-telling vocals, but remarkably for the genre do not rely on a single traditional cover.
Each song is penned by one of the three main vocalists Deborah Arnott, Clare Neilson or Roddy Neilson, which for the more traditional sounding High Country comes as a real surprise. All rivers winding through lands and images of nature. It’s classic folk fodder but remarkably penned by Clare Neilson in a 21st century era. Its my favourite on the album, timeless and perfect.
But while High Country is my standout track it is the contemporary tracks, that use traditional instruments with a modern feel that are perhaps the album’s most interesting trait. Roddy Neilson’s Bottlebank is another of these more contemporary sounding tracks, with his strong Scottish vocals reminding me of Ballboy’s Gordon McIntyre, in particular his vocal turn on Isle of Eigg from Darren Hayman’s January Songs project.
Another highpoint is Arnott’s Last Waltz, positioned towards the end of the album and sung by all three vocalists. The three modern tales of love are also worth a mention, from Arnott’s saucy Take your shoes off, to Clare Neilson’s two break up songs Missed the Boat and the comic P45, with such lines as “I’ll be the P in your P45, the dog shit on your shoes.” I guess that’s as final as a relationship can be.
For their latest UK and Ireland tour Edinburgh based Southern Tenant Folk Union have turned to the world of regional arts centres to showcase their unique and contemporary take on bluegrass. It’s a choice of venue that is working well based on this performance at the Merlin Theatre, on the outskirts of Frome in the heart of rural Somerset.
The acoustics perfectly matched the intimate nature of the music as the six-piece band huddled around a single mic to create the kind of clear, crisp amplification bands in a back room of a pub can only dream of.
They also planned it well, a 90 minute set, featuring local violinist Gemma White on a number of tracks and a completely acoustic encore without mic to give the audience a taste of how the instruments were heard before Edison. The self deprecating request section was also well done, as they concede that any of the almost full 240 seater theatre knowing “this obscure band’s” back catalogue would be a surprise. In the end two did and requested ‘The Cold Flagstone’, a murder ballad with a contemporary, suburban twist from their 2007 self-titled debut album.
It’s impossible to do this kind of gig by only belting out track after track. Banter is the key to successfully handling an arts centre gig and luckily STFU have that in spades.
Before each song each songwriter explains how it was written, often with an improbable story attached. The conveniently bluegrass tale of a failed long distance relationship with a woman in Louisville was the inspiration for one of singer and banjo player Pat McGarvey’s tracks.
Performing at a caleigh on Ibiza “for the wedding of some guy in Coronation Street.” was the inspiration for another for violinist Carrie Thomas. Jed Milroy explains before another track how he went to a pub in Edinburgh and ended up in Alaska. We also learn that Thomas is improbably a trainee embalmer in addition to being an accomplished violinist.
Even the absence of seventh member and lead singer Ewan MacIntyre sounds like fiction. We learn after the gig that he couldn’t make this latest tour as he is also a puppeteer and on tour with one of the team behind 1970s kids show Rainbow. We are assured by McGarvey that all these tales are true.
As well as the engaging banter the band are helped by the eclectic nature of Pencaitland, their latest and fourth album that they are promoting for this tour. The tracks from this album may be performed on blue grass instruments but often sound like soul in places. This mix of genres led us to compare them in our review of Pencaitland to other progressive UK folk acts, such as The Miserable Rich and The Leisure Society. These also use more traditional instruments to create a far more contemporary sound.
It was the Pencaitland tracks that were among the most interesting and most familiar for us during the performance. ‘At the break of dawn ‘, the title track and ‘If’ you’ve got the love’ were among the best of these. The Milroy penned ‘An Irish Airman Forsees His Death, based on the first world war WB Yates poem was another high point, with its themes of camaraderie and fear as relevant now in the mountains of Afghanistan as they were then on the fields of Flanders.
Tracks from their other three albums also get an airing and you can see how they’ve become bolder with each release, perhaps becoming less traditional each time. On third album The New Farming Scene, an album that attracted critical acclaim from the likes of Stewart Lee, the aim was to create music of the future. Perhaps wisely though they predict that as gas and oil runs low the real music of the future will be acoustic banjos and singing, rather than the electro-bleeps of 1970s films like Logan’s Run or Clockwork Orange.
While we are far more used to reviewing acts while standing in a sweaty venue with mobiles annoyingly held aloft to record every moment, this 90 minute set offered something different, intimate and far more engaging. There was a sense of finding out more about the song writing process, of actually hearing the instruments and the songs. It went down well among the audience. The band’s vocal harmonies in particular were striking in this venue. I think I’ll check out my local arts centre lineups more often, especially if they continue to book bands as interesting and engaging as STFU.