1 – 4 May 2015
View: Craic-ed up
The “friendliest little festival in the world” got off to a sensational start with a searing performance from John Murry. Looking and acting increasingly like a baddie in some deranged silent movie, Murry with his pick-up band killed Pavement’s Shady Lane before debuting new songs that indicate that his next album might even outdo the award-winning Graceless Age. Nominal Kilkenny bill-toppers were Calexico, whose panoramic and super-slick show at the plush Set Theatre ended up in mass partying. Male / female folk duos slugged it out in the form of London’s The Rails and Saskatoon’s Kacy And Clayton, both vying for the title of the new Fairports. In terms of commercial appeal, the highly-accessible Sons Of Bill seem set for mainstream success, but the band that Kilkenny clasped closest to its bosom was Montreal’s Barr Brothers. Their category-defying world / folk / blues virtuosity proved that there really is room for a harp in rock and roll.
South By South West Festival
17 – 22 March 2015
After last year’s overcrowding and huge headliners, it felt like a conscious move back towards the original spirit of sxsw. With the help of some rain, it was quiet enough to return to the core task of seeking out hot new bands. American Aquarium, a Springsteenesque outfit from North Carolina, drew attention, as did Virginia’s classic rockers Sons Of Bill. On the country front, Andrew Combs looks set for stardom. At Hotel San Jose, a slightly damp showcase symbolised the genre-bending line-ups that make sxsw so special: Carl Barât, Gang Of Four and cool new band Houndmouth mixed it with The Zombies. Who’d have thought that the voice of the festival would be that of 70 year old Colin Blunstone? The best live band in the world right now is Chuck Prophet And The Mission Express, who were stalked by RC as they did nine shows in three days. Imminent breathroughs included Australia’s Courtney Barnett and Germany’s super-accessible Milky Chance, but only one outfit demonstrated the clear power to conquer the States. The ridiculously frantic energy levels and in-your-face enthusiasm of the Pogues-ish Skinny Lister mean that a Mumford-style triumph is inevitable. And you haven’t lived until you’ve been crowd-surfed over by someone playing a double bass.
View: Behind a six foot seven man
If this is the future of rock, forget it. Not because they aren’t any good, but simply because of the audience’s demographic: forties and fifties. If Sleaford Mods revive the spirit of punk (which they sort of do), it’s not an introduction of punk to a new generation, it’s old punks reliving their youth. Sleaford Mods are a lot of entertaining fun. There’s Jason Williamson with a severe case of Tourettes, who jogs round in circles, gobs on the stage and wiggles his tongue, shouting like a cross between Eminem and John Cooper Clarke. Arguably even more entertaining is Andrew Fearn, whose role is to swig Corona, check his phone, do a mild grandad dance and, every ninety seconds, press a button on his laptop, like a grinning, emaciated John Shuttleworth. Williamson’s profane lyrics are actually very clever, with nifty wordplay, relevant themes and caring attitudes, rewarding repeated listening on the vinyl which, interestingly, at least a quarter of the audience walked away with. They ain’t here for the long haul (there aren’t enough real tunes for that), but go see them while they last. They sure are different, and in a bland musical environment, that counts for a lot.
The Cellars, Southsea
View: Hunched on a stool
This was a strange show. Why has a flame-haired Welsh songstress recorded an album of her songs with some of the finest session musicians America has to offer? And what enables her to bring those very musicians to a cosy back street pub in Southsea? There’s legendary drummer Russ Kunkel and dreamy bassist Lee Sklar, although advertised guitarist Waddy Wachtel is inexplicably absent. It may possibly be to do with Judith’s husband, none other than Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer). The band is promoting Judith’s new album Ebb And Flow and the show contains not only some of the rambling songs of Laurel Canyon philosophy it contains, but also some reworkings of songs by artists they originally worked with, such as Carole King’s “It Might As Well Rain Until September” and James Taylor’s “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox”. More bizarrely still, Judith likes to completely rework some popular classics, in this case Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” and David Dundas’ “Jeans On”. The musicians, despite barely breaking into a sweat, are sublime, but the question is, is the world ready for a cross between Tori Amos and Lyndsey De Paul? Maybe. “This is just the start of something much bigger”, says Judith, confidently. We shall see.
Salisbury City Hall
Desperately eager to please, it would be hard to imagine a less suitable Eels support act then toothsome duo Daughters of Davis. It was probably a typical bit of ghoulish E-style humour paving the way for a long series of what the dapper Everett called “soft rock bummers” – two minute laments such as “Parallels” from new album The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett, culminating in the saddest song ever written, “It’s A Motherfucker”. There was a valedictory feel to this last date of a 53-date tour (“nursing 52 hangovers”, as E put it). Bookended by two tear-jerking standards, “When You Wish Upon A Star” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, were energetic re-workings of Eels favourites “Fresh Feeling” And “I Like Birds”. Not since Chuck Berry has an artist been so adept at recycling his own songs while still retaining the affection of his audience. We’ll forgive him anything.
It’s been four years since Jesse Malin played in the UK and the audience was psyched up after a strong introductory set from Hollis Brown. The interim has been spent writing and recording a new album, which on first live hearing sounds to be stuffed with characteristically affecting songs. The diminutive New York road warrior exudes rock and roll charm and comes with the band that helped him record the new material, featuring guitarist Mike Montali and extremely dapper bassist Don DiLego. Apart from a confusing incident when too much instrument swopping went wrong and they lost their way, this made for a storming show with some moments of pure beauty, such as when the whole audience sat down, hippie-style, for the gorgeous “Bar Life”. Jesse has a great way with an anecdote and charmed the midweek audience with his fury at press accusations of being “alt-country”. New songs like “Addicted” and “Year I was Born” vied for attention with old favourites “Wendy” and “Hotel Columbia”. Let’s hope this marks the start of a Malin revival.
End Of The Road Festival
29 August – 21 September 2014
Considering that half the bands here have been influenced by Pavement, it was a joy to hear Stephen Malkmus, master of the contorted guitar, in action. By contrast, Jenny Lewis was as poppy as this festival gets, as the chill wind blew around her. The first exclusive was the cumbersomely-named Gene Clark – No Other Band (featuring Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes and the often sadly overlooked Iain Matthews, plus a Vegas-style compère). There were some truly beautiful voices here and a blockbusting encore of Eight Miles High.
New names making breakthroughs included Montreal’s Barr Brothers, cementing the role of the harp in rock and roll and sounding uncannily like The Low Anthem in so doing. Andrew Combs also charmed, as did the fragile but bewitching Tiny Ruins. Forthcoming plaudits for young Benjamin Booker as the new indie Hendrix are inevitable – and deserved. One exciting and unexpected show was the blazing psychedelia of Sean Lennon’s new band The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, almost giving the Flaming Lips a run for their money.
Talking of whom … It was a joyful enough festival anyway, but Wayne Coyne and gang ratcheted up the happiness meter to the level of ecstasy. With their skill at turning a potential shambles into a technological multi-media masterpiece, they amazed and thrilled everyone from kids to grandparents. The organisers of this brilliant festival will have to go some to top this next year.
14 – 17 August 2014
From Bellowhead to James Blunt, Wickham Festival 2014 enhanced its reputation for relaxed musical randomness. Equally reviled and adored, Blunt boosted attendance figures to the extent that camping chairs were banned – controversial. The energetic skanking of Neville Staple (close your eyes and it’s the Specials) interrupted the general drowsiness of Friday afternoon. Hazel O’Connor is still playing Breaking Glass songs but now in a quite charming cabaret trio format. An almost unchanged Hugh Cornwell played some Stranglers numbers (close your eyes and it’s definitely not the Stranglers) and embarrassingly got an enthusiastic response when asking how many audience members read the Daily Mail. Among the enormous sub bill, two new acts stood out – Tankus The Henge and Connecticut’s Caravan Of Thieves – so good they were asked to play twice. They covered Bohemian Rhapsody and lived to tell the tale. It was left to a genial Steve Earle to be crowned as the highlight by delivering a crowd-pleasing set of hits. Wickham’s Boomers wear their bus passes with pride, and have a lot of fun on the way.
17 -19 July 2014
In past years, Truck has endured travails such as floods and insolvency. Not this time, though. Happiness was the keynote of the weekend, as a sell-out crowd escaped the corporate nature of bigger festivals and concentrated on the music. The main stage paid host to a stream of slightly dated synth-based indie rock from the likes of White Lies and The Twilight Sad, all of them dwarfed by a dramatic set from local heroes Stornoway. Slow Club’s performance was frustrating, starting off enthusiastically and fizzling out in a bunch of mediocre songs, before Roots Manuva got things moving again. Of the main headliners, The Cribs were the most polished, while riotous duo Deap Vally caused the most controversy and a discreet veil needs to be drawn over the latest version of Gang Of Four. Continung the cheerful eclecticism, British soul-rockers Danny And The Champions Of The World brought the house down – twice, while musical joy could be found in adventurous sets from lesser-known (but very Truckish) acts like Chris T-T, Co-Pilgrim and the twinkling Steven James Adams (ex of the Broken Family Band). Pure fun in the sun.
The Art Bar, Oxford
14 June 2014
The vibe is that of a smoky nightclub as the Delines hit the fourth show of their debut UK tour. Intended originally as a side project from Richmond Fontaine, this band has taken off in an unexpected way, with sell-out notices every night. Amy Boone’s voice has been compared to Dusty Springfield – the ultimate accolade, and what is striking is that Willy Vlautin has written his most affecting set of songs ever. There’s a satisfyingly organic vibe to songs like Colfax Avenue and I Won’t Slip Up, country soul that grabs your heart, but the variety is clever too – from the almost trip-hop of Flight 31 to a brace of drinking songs, one of them a cover of What One Bottle Can Do by Al James of Dolorean. Bassist Freddy Trujillo chips in with his own Freddy Fender while pianist Cory Gray adds colour to some of the songs with virtuoso trumpet. You get the feeling this is a story that’s only just beginning.
Salisbury City Hall
The significant looks when a mistake is made, the relieved grins at the end of each song – such are the tell-tale signs of the first night of a tour. Mind you, it’s forgivable when your benchmark track is the 23-minute long “Nine Feet Underground”, written in 1971 by the absent David Sinclair. Indeed, only the statuesque Pye Hastings remains from the original line-up, although stalwarts like Geoff Richardson and Jan Schelhaas have been around for a long while. Caravan have a new album called Paradise Filter and it’s not very proggy. Many of the new songs which formed the bulk of the set, including I’ll Be There For You and the title track, are actually quite conventional rock / pop tunes, played mainly with great competence by the multi-instrumentalist Richardson. Among the small selection of oldies was a rather inappropriately funked-up version of Golf Girl. Back in the day, there was much swopping of members between Caravan and Camel. Now, in the battle of the unlikely prog comebacks, Camel are winning hands down.
The Barbican, London
When a show starts with a standing ovation before a note has been played, something special is going on. “It’s good to be here”, said Andy Latimer. “At my age, it’s good to be anywhere”. Knowing his recent history of severe health problems, there was hardly a dry eye in the house; most of the audience had thought they’d never see this day. What’s more, as sole original member, Andy is on tip-top form, his guitar playing as rich as ever in tone and melody, and tough and gritty when required. The historic run-through of The Snow Goose (the first since the mid seventies) took up the first half, the musicianship precise, the atmosphere joyful. Nothing could replace the silken Hammond of Peter Bardens, but keyboardists Jason Hart and Guy LeBlanc do a grand job. This is one band for which “prog” never meant ”pretentious”. Part two saw an eclectic selection of Camel classics, some less successful than others. An acoustic intro to Never Let Go was scrappy and Fox Hill was ill-chosen, but For Today was reminiscent of Gary Moore at his best and by the time an ecstatic audience was being entranced by their biggest “hit” Lady Fantasy, it looked, sounded and felt as if Camel is back for good.
The Railway, Winchester
An amazing fifteen years since their last studio album, the audience thought they were witnessing a miracle as the original Hoax line-up reconvened to present their new crowd-funded effort “Big City Blues”. This was the first date and the capacity blues addict audience was pleasingly tolerant of support act Well Hung Heart, featuring Hoax bassist Robin Davey and his wife Greta, sporting – yes – a lampshade, as she covered Radiohead’s “Creep”. You had to be there to appreciate the fun. With great courage, The Hoax blasted out the whole of the new album, which consists of snappy, grunge-bluesy two minuters like “Hipslicker” and “Let It Shine”, each with the kind of attention-grabbing hooks that got people joining in even though they had never heard them before. This is a new, leaner Hoax with the guitar battles between Jon Amor and Jesse Davey now heavily edited and all the more impressive for it. The band is, amazingly, hotter than it’s ever been before.
1 – 4 August
View: Among the picnic chairs
Wickham has discovered a lucrative way to attract festival-goers: Combine a trad folk fest with a bunch of retro pop and rock acts and pull in a crossover audience. It worked, as it was a sellout. A laidback crowd of mellow grandparents enjoyed the likes of Seth Lakeman, who could use some new creative input, and Show of Hands, whose eclectic approach and super-smooth professionalism mean they are always entertaining. The Waterboys impressed on their comeback and a version of 10CC hit the nostalgia button, while Dexys riled the audience by ignoring their hits. The seemingly never-ending supply of hoedown specialists (don’t mention the Peatbog Faeries’ bagpipes please) gave way on the final day to some classic and much-loved rockers. Wilko Johnson stormed through a high-energy set and even joined the Blockheads later. Not much in the way of new bands here, it’s not that sort of festival, but Public Service Broadcasting shone like a beacon of innovation and Southampton’s Sean McGowan triumphed against some leaking sound from the dire covers band in the next-door tent.
The Palmeira, Hove
View: Trampled underfoot
You may think that a festival of UK Americana and folk would be a laid-back affair but not in this case. By the time Danny George Wilson was leading his eight-piece Champions Of The World towards the late-night climax, the Palmeira pub had been turned into a massive, sweaty, pogoing moshpit, consisting largely of artists who’d previously been on stage and were now letting their hair down. Peter Bruntnell and his electric band had just finished a set of psychedelic rock of such power that the audience, after a day of hard drinking, was almost hysterical with joy. Two stages alternated throughout the day, with acoustic sets from gruff-voiced Jack Day and Radio Two’s favourite Liverpudlian Robert Vincent. But things took off with Welsh scallywags The Caves, sounding like a cross between The Hollies and Ash, and then the beautiful, wafting songs of Devon’s Small Town Jones, accompanied by guitarist of the day, the extraordinarily gifted Dave Little. Oxford’s Dreaming Spires added an indie touch before the Champs almost literally brought the house (well, the chandelier) down. Wild stuff.
Bush Hall, London
John Murry and his band Dark Matter’s show benefited the from the intimacy of what is surely London’s most atmospheric venue outside the Union Chapel. Murry was onstage during the support, duetting with Peter Bruntnell on the lovely Handful Of Stars. Starting the set dressed in a soon-abandoned flat cap, Murry had the audience transfixed as he revisited tracks from his extraordinary Graceless Age album. The music is squally rock, not the fey “Americana” with which he has been lazily tagged and Murry’s stage presence defies description, wavering between super rockstar confidence, nervous diffidence, wry humour, baffled innocence and twitchy edginess. He also plays a mean Telecaster, entwined with the potent lead guitar of Sean Coleman. But in the end, it’s all about the songs and the story of salvation from drug addiction. While the album is lushly produced, beautiful songs like California and Southern Sky take on harsh new dimensions, with the tour de force Little Colored Balloons being one of the world’s great live music experiences. Murry gives it absolutely everything every night and the audience simply melts. How does he do it?
Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
View: Among friends
A rotund but chipper figure, Kark Wallinger shared the stage with a stripped down World Party consisting of the Blockheads’ Jon Turnbull on guitar and regular violinist David Duffy. The big mystery was how such a canon of genius songs can’t even fill a little venue like this. The avuncular Wallinger, seemingly a picture of contentment, took charge of every song from his substantial back catalogue, and out they tumbled. An interlude at the piano featured a celebratory “She’s The One”, while Duffy switched to mandolin for “Is It Like Today”. There wasn’t a person in the house not bellowing out the uniquely irresistible choruses of “Put The Message In The Box” and “Ship Of Fools”. The band were clearly relishing every moment and by the time they were encoring with Way Down Now, the audience was consumed with a wave of emotion, shouting out their love for Wallinger. “Don’t be silly now” was all the self-deprecating star would say, as the audience continued to bellow the Stonesian “whoo whoos” out into the night.
View: Installed in the stalls
Why does Ray Davies keep running off stage every few minutes? Speculation was rife. Surely not drugs at his age? A weak bladder, maybe? Suddenly, someone spotted it: “Look, he’s changed his shoes!” This was a fun, nostalgic evening of hits, but the workmanlike band made it a long way away from the excitement of the Kinks. You definitely had the feeling of a job being done the same way as every night, with singalongs encouraged and compliments paid to the wonderful Southampton crowd (same as any other). The most poignant moments came not with the throwaway versions of the hit singles but rather with the beautiful and still tear-jerking “Celluloid Heroes” and a lovely acapella version of “Days”. Ray almost met his match in the form of support act Small Town Jones, drafted in at the last minute to melt the audience’s hearts and empty their pockets at the merch stand.
Birmingham HMV Institute
11 May 2012
Alabama Shakes must be feeling strange right now. Just months after their UK debut in a London pub, here they found their show being upgraded from the Institute’s smallest room to its largest. With just the one Boys And Girls album and less than an hour’s worth of music to play, they faced a rowdy and inattentive Friday night audience and, frankly, didn’t deliver. The number of people complaining about their neighbours chatting loudly through all the (many) quiet sections must reveal something about the band’s ability to grip an audience. The most common comment in the room was ”Give it six months and Brittany Howard will be a solo artist” and the most noticeable thing about the band was the complete absence of any interpersonal communication or indeed enthusiasm. Which is a real shame, because Howard is an undisputed talent. She uses that extraordinary voice in clever and subtle ways (perhaps too clever for this goodtime crowd, who only seemed to recognize Hold On) and her underrated guitar playing is particularly impressive. The band? Well, remember the expression Sleeperblokes? They’re back, folks. Those expecting Adele-style rapture were deeply disappointed.
Richmond Fontaine / Richard Buckner / Peter Bruntnell
Cecil Sharp House, London
The folkies of Cecil Sharp House had never heard the like. Guitarist Dan Eccles was on all fours as a good five minutes of controlled feedback provided the coda to an extraordinary re-working by Richard Buckner of The Cars’ Candy-O. This was the climax of a show which reinvented the package tour, as Buckner, designated driver Peter Bruntnell and the Richmond Fontaine duo of Eccles and Willy Vlautin first did their own sets and then linked up for the finale. Bruntnell’s invariably excellent songwriting went down well (new songs included London Clay and Caroline). Using all manner of guitar trickery, Richard Buckner presented a career-spanning set in the form of clusters of five or six songs, merging into each other in mesmerising fashion. As for Richmond Fontaine, there’s a uniqueness in the way their gripping songs of death and disappointment are presented in an atmosphere of the utmost good humour. This rainy London evening provided fantastic value for the sold-out crowd.
View: Plush balcony
It was one of those never-to-be-forgotten moments. Alone on stage, battling to articulate the meaning of her song House Full Of Empty Rooms, Kathleen Edwards gives up. ”Shit, fuck”, she spits, and the tears begin to flow both from her and the audience. Such a sassy, confident, stomping stage performer and yet so vulnerable to pent-up emotion. Something about London seems to bring out the best in her, as she seemed truly emotional about the audience’s reaction to her performance. Starting with a cool double whammy from the new Bon Iver-produced Voyageur album (Empty Threat and Chameleon / Comedian), Kathleen satisfied all wishes with a chunk of new songs and a ready scattering of favourites such as Asking For Flowers and a truly storming Back To Me. She sure knows how to pick a band too. Long-standing bassist John Dinsmore is joined by drummer Lyle Molzan, Daniel Ledwell on keys (causing hysterics on stage and in the audience with emergency mid-song repairs) and a stunning replacement for Colin Cripps in the form of long tall guitarist Gord Tough. Cool and calm, his soloing nevertheless elicited several outbursts of mid-song applause. Kathleen has a beautiful voice, intriguing onstage manner, gorgeous songs and she bows a mean violin too. It was quite a night.
View: Slightly damp
Taylor Goldsmith has got the frontman thing down to a tee. Unbroken eye contact with the front row and others behind ensures that the ladies in the audience gently melt (almost literally, as the heat means that droplets of warm rain are falling on their heads). Then, as he throws out the very precise and tuneful guitar solos which pepper each song, the musos are entranced as well. Add in an entire album’s worth of killer songs and you have a band whose future is secure. Goldsmith has a happy knack of pronouncing all his lyrics in such a way that you can hear every word – very unusual in rock and roll. No wonder Dawes fans and collaborators include Glen Dampbell and Jackson Browne. Playing pretty much the whole of their aptly-titled Nothing Is Wrong album (although not necessarily in the right order) means that one melodic gem after the other tumbles out, accompanied by an audience which knows them all by heart. Not even a recalcitrant Wurlitzer can ruin the general joy, with drummer (and brother) Griffin Goldsmith providing vital extra vocal muscle and a languid backbeat worthy of Mercury Rev. Following a truly majestic So Well, the climax is reached with the lyrically surreal Time Spent In Los Angeles. One of those ”I was there” gigs.
Mark Eitzel / Richard Buckner
Buffalo Bar, Cardiff
View: Over a Buffalo Burger
A triple bill of extraordinary quality was kicked of by Sacri Cuori, an Italian minimalist instrumental trio with strong Calexico connections. Next up, the brilliant Mark Eitzel. Currently between albums, Mark here displayed his torch singing ability with classics like I Left My Heart In San Francisco and favourites such as Gravity Talks and Nothing Changes. If he sings anything new, he says, it’s leaked on the internet within hours.
Performing his first UK shows in eight years, Richard Buckner was worried about following Eitzel, but it worked out fine. Backed with sympathetic precision by Sacri Cuori, the big man’s downbeat, laconic melodies as displayed on his new album Our Blood were an understated treat.
A certain awkwardness about addressing the audience was summed up by an incident involving an injured finger and a snack in the front row. ”I’m bleeding over your nuts”, observed Buckner wryly. I bet you don’t hear that every day.
22 24 July 2011
Big names were absent from the expanded Truck, unless you count Graham Coxon or St Etienne. Instead, the voguish Americana mode was embraced, making for a pleasant, low-key event. The over-clever Bellowhead contrasted with a triumphant set by the folk-soul of The Duke And The King, arguably band of the festival. Flop of the weekend was Philip Selway, who managed to empty the tent of people who were not angry, just bored. Following on, John Grant showed his accolades are deserved. There was an exciting breakthrough by the innovative Sea Of Bees and a life-affirming set from a hearteningly sprightly Edwyn Collins with his great session band. Caitlin Rose and Richmond Fontaine had acoustic fun in the sun, while, on the pop front, Young Knives revealed a debt to Blur. Interesting new acts included Oxford’s Spring Offensive and young Danes Treefight For Sunlight (although they should have refrained from destroying Wuthering Heights). Not a bad way to spend a weekend at all.
The Flaming Lips
Eden Project, Cornwall
30 June 2011
Free admission to the domes and an all-day programme featuring the likes the excellent OK Go (full marks for the multicoloured outfits) made this a grand value day out. And what more appropriate setting could be imagined for Wayne Coyne’s traditional audience excursion in his very own geometric dome? The balloons, confetti and general bonhomie ensure that the audience is up and in a state of hysteria before the show is three minutes old. Among the newer material they resurrect She Don’t Use Jelly, allowing some breathing space before a storming Yoshimi and encores of the ever-stunning Race For The Prize and Do You Realize? bring us back to fever pitch (not to mention a tear to the eye). Still endearing is the falsetto ”Thank You” that Steven Drodz uses to acknowledge the adulation. He is the evil genius behind it all, after all. Meanwhile, they’ll still be picking up the confetti from the Cornwall countryside this time next year.
Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter
Monto Water Rats, London
21 April 2011
It was one of those classic London gig scenarios featuring noise leaking in from next door and endless support bands from hell, but nothing could faze these seasoned Seattle pros. Boldly easing themselves in with a lengthy instrumental (Weight Of Cancer), they had the audience entranced from the off. Playing almost all of their new album Marble Son (which deserves success of at least Fleet Foxian proportions), guitarist Phil Wandscher is very much to the fore with brilliantly broody, effect-laden soling. On the proggy Pleasuring The Divine he sounds much like the criminally under-rated Andrew Latimer of Camel. Between all this come Jesse’s atmospheric close harmony songs such as Be It Me Or Be It None and the Sykes classic The Air Is Thin. A picture of concentration, she warms the audience’s collective heart with her ethereal presence and her other-worldly voice. Its only a matter of time.
The Low Anthem
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
11 / 4 / 11
View: Closer than expected
Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The most charming and memorable section of the Low Anthem’s set came when they descended into the audience for fifteen minutes of acoustic songs while frazzled engineers battled with an imploding sound system. Don’t go back, pleaded the audience, recognizing the obvious truth that this wonderful band simply doesn’t require amplification. They accepted it themselves too: We don’t need any of this gear, admitted Ben Knox Miller, promptly ceding the stage to a clarinet trio that could have come straight from a school assembly. A venue like this suits the band’s intimacy but not their loud interludes, which they really should consider dropping. Completely at one with their audience (who dutifully accompanied This God Damn House with their mobile phones), they remained low-key after the interruption, climaxing with the brilliant Oh My God Charlie Darwin and Cohen’s Bird On a Wire. How reassuring that such original, calm, understated music commands such a large following.
The Duke And The King
Electric Ballroom, London
27 / 10 / 10
When people ask what The Duke And The King are like, the nearest I can get is a cross between Neil Young and Marvin Gaye. Certainly, their jaw-droppingly soulful singalong finale of Young’s Helpless is one of current music’s unique moments. This London show was slightly muted on account of a family bereavement in the band, but it felt like a breakthrough show for them nonetheless.
The musical pot-pourri of indie-cool Simone Felice, violin-toting soul diva Simi Stone, mountain minstrel Bobby Bird and yearning funk drummer Nowell Haskins (he’s the son of P/Funk co-founder Clarence ”Fuzzy” Haskins) starts with what seems for a moment to be a standard alt-country strumalong with If You Ever Get Famous, then flattens the audience when Nowell’s vocals kick in and you realize you’re at a soul concert. It’s spine-tingling, and it continues for over an hour, with all four members taking lead vocals and harmonizing barber-shop style.
And afterwards, of course, the band are all out socializing with their audience. It’s a unique relationship, destined to be a long-lasting one.
Mr Kyps, Poole
View: Safely away from the talkers
Experiencing C.W. Stoneking is a bit like watching The Wire: for the first half you don’t understand a word but by the end, you’ve adjusted and relaxed into it. The Buster Keaton lookalike and ex-ventriloquist (he hardly opens his mouth throughout) has tales to tell as he delivers his jungle blues with the help of a battered tenor banjo, a National steel and a Dixieland brass section of cornet, trombone and tuba. Handyman Blues storms along, while Jungle Lullaby nearly morphs, Paolo Nutini-style, into I Wanna Be Like You. Even incorporating Jimmie Rogers-style yodelling into the spuriously explained jungle concept, its no wonder the folks of New Orleans were baffled by the arrival of the Australian bluesman and could only offer him a job in a hoodoo shop.
It’s all charmingly entertaining but probably, in the great scheme of things, more of a novelty than a great work of art.
9 / 3 / 05
Its lovely for the folk of Southampton to have a band to champion at last. Previously, they had to pretend to be proud of Craig David. Warmed up by the gorgeous retro chic of Winchester’s Scarlet Soho, the crowd felt like one big family as the appropriate intro music of the Stones We Love You wafted out. Like a cross between the Four Seasons and the Small Faces, these guys are so tiny that they are almost obscured behind the bouncers standing a metre lower than them. You And Me, the first track on the new album (which the audience mysteriously already knows by heart) demonstrates Greg Gilbert’s falsetto in all its glory. This is classic pop summed up in three minutes, and with two albums under their belts, they have an array of glittering tunes to choose from. New single Valentine breezes along like Odyssey-era Zombies. Behind the faded glamour there’s real craftsmanship at work; they know their way round a hook, but they can rock out and charm an audience as well. Little blokes with bouffants rule, yes?
Royal Festival Hall, London
23 / 5 / 05
Since Eels concerts have been known to feature fist fights because of E’s insistence on a seated, silent audience, the RFH must be his ideal venue. And the special guests turn out to be a Russian animated children’s film. Eels unpredictability is almost becoming predictable. To be fair, he couldn’t turn up at some rock dive with this Butch-less (i.e. drummer-less, not really Eels at all) band, complete with nubile string quartet. Hardly a song on Blinking Lights is more than two minutes long, so there’s very much a classical feel, with each brief movement being politely applauded. With his crumpled Charlie Chaplin suit, cane and ever-present cigarette, its purely the E Show, although something that is new and works brilliantly is the blending of strings, pedal steel and saw. Apologizing for maybe disappointing us (he even disguised Bus Stop Boxer, Birds and Dog Faced Boy as requests for the Queen), E really needs to learn that he can actually do what he likes and we WON’T MIND!
20 / 10 / 05
View: From the Bus Stop (only kidding, folks)
Stylish threads, snappy guitars, cracking tunes and cool haircuts:
it could only be Franz Ferdinand. Or, indeed, the Hollies. With a new deal, their first original album in two decades due in February, and offical endorsement from the likes of My Morning Jacket and Fountains of Wayne, the Hollies are on quite a roll. Peter Howarth might have been born to front the Hollies, so perfectly does he fill the role. In among all the hits (many now expanded from three to four part harmonies), he unexpectedly inserts solo acoustic adaptations of Here I Go Again and Springsteen’s Sandy which contend with any of todays singer-songwriters and knock spots off James Blunt (ironic, in view of the fact that their best new song is called So Damn Beautiful). Both Bobby Elliott and Tony Hicks have drunk from the fountain of youth, and the new young Hollies members have rejuvenated the band. To be chucking in vital-sounding new songs and reinterpreting most of the old ones is pretty energetic stuff after 42 years on the road. And as Hicks launches into a spectacular Lynyrd Skynyrd style coda on Look Through Any Window, you wonder why they’ve never been treated with the respect they deserve. Michael Eavis, put them on the Pyramid Stage on Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury 2007. Imagine that lot singing along with He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.
Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
21 / 7 / 06
Cerys claimed that she’d been the first band member to reach the hotel lobby, so keen was she to get onstage after a six-year absence. How pleasing it is to report that what seemed to be one of the UK’s lost treasures is back in style, beauty, good health and fine voice. A small frisson passed over the crowd as, three songs in, Cerys and her crack band of long-haired instrument-swopping Nashville musos treated us to Lost Cat, but it was the only reference to either her Catatonia past or her more recent country dabblings. Clutching a guitar for most of the hour-long set, and with the occasional false start and nervous glance revealing that this was the start of a new project, she proved she certainly hasn’t lost her way with a tune. With both the little girl lost falsetto and the Rhondda Roar fully intact (albeit with an accent which combines Tennessee and Swansea), a good-humoured Cerys gave notice that her new Never Said Goodbye album is going to be a cracker and that her new career is going to be as exciting as the old one. Who’d have thought it?
End Of The Road Festival
17 / 9 / 06
Just when we thought there was no gimmick left to plunder, we realize we’d overlooked tap dancing. The unfairly pulchritudinous Tilly On The Wall are certainly the first band since Mungo Jerry to feature miked-up stomping boards. It would scream short-lived gimmick were it not for some super Abba-style tunes and harmonies. Howe Gelb can be either slick or shambolic. Today (sans moustache and gospel choir), he was in semi-shambolic mode, but that’s when he is at his most endearing. His version of PJ Harveys The Desperate Kingdom Of Love squared the circle between Arizona and Dorset. Despite (or probably because of) Ryan Adams’ drumming, Jolie Holland was a major disappointment, but Richard Hawley’s modern-day crooning cheered things up a lot, as did the harmony pop of Jim Noir, by no means as bleak as his name might imply. Plus, he had stolen Howe Gelb’s moustache. As Ryan Adams’ carpet techs hit the stage (don’t ask), the word was that he was “being an arse” backstage, but this turned out to be a measured and incident-free performance. Neal Casal has brought equilibrium with him and traded extended licks with the main man on Cold Roses and on numerous examples of what Adams terms his ”new jams”. Inspiring stuff, and a great coup for a new festival which, in the words of Chris T-T, is run by human beings and not a beer company.
Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
25 / 4 / 2007
The warm atmosphere and the billing of this three-hour show as An Evening With Steve Winwood revealed Steve as a man comfortable with all stages of his career. In no particular order, we were treated to Spencer Davis hits (a throwaway Somebody Help Me and a monstrous Gimme Some Loving), Traffic classics from early (Medicated Goo) to later (Light Up Or Leave Me Alone) via Blind Faith (Can’t Find My Way Home). Landing at the Winwood solo years, his most commercially successful period (Higher Love etc.) now sounds his artistically weakest, while the latest album shows an artist at the peak of his powers (his cover of Timmy Thomas’ Why Cant We Live Together being an unexpected highlight of a set with may highs). The evergreen Winwood can afford to surround himself with the cream of sessioners, and by any standards, saxist Paul Booth and stand-in guitarist Tim Cansfield are sensationally funky. From the very first note, the silken Hammond, the glorious work on the bass pedals and that voice seemingly unchanged since he was sixteen caused the audience to pinch itself at being so close to a legend. Dear Mr Fantasy indeed.
Spencer Davis Group
100 Club, London
3 / 2 / 07
View: Very close
The current version of the Spencer Davis Group has been together far longer than the original one, and contains such great musicians that it’s a mystery why their profile isn’t higher. The answer is, of course, No Winwood, but Eddie Hardin remains as excellent a replacement as he was in 1967, teasing out the huge Hammond sound to accompany the towering guitar of the evergreen and ever-dexterous Miller Anderson. The genial Colin Hodgkinson on bass gels nicely with the newest member, drummer Stef Porzel, while Spencer
well, he remains Spencer, the catalyst figure, still addicted to life on the road when he could well have been forgiven for slipping into a comfortable retirement. Warmed up by a fantastic London mod trio called The Turn, SDG’s act is the hits and more, of course, with my favourite being Hardin’s reflective interlude Deep In My Despair. As they blasted out Gimme Some Lovin’, the sweaty R & B atmosphere was probably much as it was when they were playing such subterranean London clubs in the Sixties. How nice to know that some things never change.
Joiners Arms, Southampton
March 28 2007
This should have been a lot better. The Twang is the new buzz band (front of the NME after just one single, for goodness’ sake) but there was a surprisingly low-key atmosphere among the mostly male and - whisper it – largely middle-aged audience. The sparse instrumentation and Brum-accented spoken vocals attempt to give a 2-Tone feel but the effect is more The Streets played by Duran Duran. Yes, the dated guitar effects are pure eighties and laughable if we were’t convinced that these are cool dudes. They aren’t even convinced themselves, with front man Phil Etheridge only waking up two songs before the end and the guitarist and bassist looking terrified throughout. The audience only recognized one song, unsurprisingly the single Wide Awake, and there wasn’t much in the set of similar quality. One doesn’t like to be pessimistic, but a long and successful career seems unlikely.
Isle of Wight Festival 2007
The festival started with a tenth-rate Supertramp (The Feeling) and some music for TV ads (Groove Armada). Snow Patrol’s anthems were too squeaky-clean for their headlining slot. Saturday featured the original IOW troubadour, Donovan. The mass singalong to Sunshine Superman suited the mood perfectly. The impressive funk and ska of the charming Amy Winehouse had the whole field jumping. Total fun, as were Wolfmother, who brazenly usurped the approach of the islands honorary patron saint, Jimi Hendrix. Ash blew it by trying out new material on an inappropriate occasion, while Kasabian came close to stealing the show with a set of deceptive subtlety. Sadly, this competed directly with the island’s own brilliant Bees. Muse’s preposterous pomp-rock triumphed because of its sheer bravado, the Persil-white Matt Bellamy being second only to Jagger in the showmanship stakes. The plan was to blow the audience away, and it worked. Sunday was a delightful mish-mash of contrasts. Country Joe followed by Melanie C, anyone? The distressingly bland James Morrison caused mass dozing, but more exciting was cheery Scotsman Paolo Nutini, with his sideways approach, cool image, daft demeanour and willingness to rock. The frantic Fratellis seem to be in a career cul-de-sac like the similar (but better) Supergrass. Keane’s huge singalongs and undeniable quality made them a perfect warm-up for the rock and roll maelstrom that was to follow (see this page). Wonderful music, great organisation, nice environment; this was one damn good festival.
End Of The Road Festival
14 16 September 2007
Voted Best New Festival of 2006, this year’s End Of The Road reaped the reward with a hugely increased audience and fine weather conditions. Being entirely about music, there are no big stars or egos, as artists jam with each other and pop up for impromptu sessions all over the place. The setting, in the beautiful Larmer Tree Gardens, is surely one of the loveliest festival sites in the world, and the line-up of mainly Americana, indie and folk artists was adventurous and clever. The most exciting things about EOTR this year were the unexpected surprises. Here are some of the highlights: Jeffrey Lewis’ multi-media show featured wall-to-wall covers of songs by Crass. Dawn Landes concluded her set with a joyful duet with the unbilled Josh Ritter. The good-natured genuineness of blues plucker Charlie Parr succeeded in trumping the less subtle excursions of flavour-of-the-moment Seasick Steve. On a noisier note, the three-piece Charlie Bronson Outfit almost equalled the mad eclecticism of Yo La Tengo, who rampaged between the quietly melodic and the sonically insane. Howe Gelb curated the first day, guesting with every artist he presented, including the crazy but sensational Albini-prouced Scout Niblett, PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish and the magnificently atmospheric Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, arguably the best band of the weekend. Howe Gelb’s own set on the main stage featured gorgeous lounge piano excursions. The grooviest, most danceable band of the festival was undoubtedly the Isle of Wight’s Bees, whilst new discoveries included My Brightest Diamond, a Drugstore for the 21st century, the Flaming Lips-lite of Sweden’s I’m From Barcelona (beaten in the quirkiness stakes by Misty’s Big Adventure), the Proclaimers-like harmony anthems of King Creosote and the ethereal beauty of Midlake, all the way from Denton, Texas. That’s just for starters, and all of them put the bigger names like Super Furry Animals and British Sea Power, both of whom seemed to be over-egging the professionalism, in the shade. EOTR 2007 was a non-stop feast of music with no pretensions and no airs or graces. What a privilege to have been there.
Richard Thompson Band
The Brook, Southampton
9 / 8 / 07
”What a band!” enthuses Richard Thompson at the end of the first song. ”What? A band?” adds double-bassist Danny Thompson, sardonically. Yes, it’s rare for RT to tour with a band nowadays, so this sold-out performance was a thrilling way for the Brook to announce that it’s back in business. All the real and would-be guitarists in the audience were in ecstasy, and its true that there can’t be a guitar player in the world to match Thompson today, playing all those extraordinary sequences of notes which shouldn’t work, yet are somehow perfect. The emphasis was very much on the new album Sweet W