Douglas Dare and Michael Price at the Lantern, Colston Hall

DareDouglas Dare‘s album, Whelm, has been pretty much played to death by me these last months. Certainly it doesn’t cover the jolliest of themes, as he readily recognises, but the music and lyricism is outstanding and grabbed me from the first notes. So the prospect of seeing him live and, as it turns out, his first headline show outside of London, couldn’t be missed.

 

Dare, and his partner in crime Fabian Prynn, managed between them to produce a captivating and mesmerising set. A live performance is naturally always a different beast and, for me, last nights bettered the now much-loved recordings. Of course the vocals were spot on and crystalline, the keyboards pin-sharp and unfailingly romantic. fabainBut the revelation was Mr Prynn (no disrespect to Mr Dare!) – ye gads his work was fine stuff, the rhythmic complexities thrown into sharp relief, a contribution that is so much more subdued on the recording. Prynn’s playing was at once delicate, subtle and a driving tour de force; hypnotic stuff.

The set itself covering all the glorious tracks from the album, each made a bit more muscular in this setting. But we were also treated to three new songs, and we were seemingly the first people, other than the two on stage, to hear them (but I suspect he says that to all the boys!). The first was called New York, another as yet untitled but based around Oedipus Rex and the third, well I have no idea, I don’t think it was burdened with a titles. All were familiar but fresh, each showing the progression you might hope for. I guess they will be trying these and others out live before they commit them to wax, but at least there is an obvious promise of new material in the not-too-distant future. Dare himself was warm and engaging in a way that perhaps you might not expect from his aesthete, austere image (I am I too harsh here?). A bit of backchat  with the crowd, a charming twang of anxiety, all endeared him to the Sunday evening crowd.

Micahel PriceAs if that wasn’t enough, the evening was opened by another of the formidable Erased Tapes roster, Michael Price, whose new album Entanglement was released not so long ago. Another pair on stage, Price was joined by cellist Peter Gregson and together, plus a little technology ‘magic’ they gave us an intoxicating mix of tracks from the new album, his previous string quartet set and the Stillness EP also released via Erased Tapes. Sandwiched in there was the wonderful Vocal cello piece, written for Gregson by Max Richter.

Boyishly rather self-effacing and a little timid, the pair were an extraordinary and slightly unexpected opener for Dare. Price’s music is at once modern and timeless, ocassionally reminiscent of the wonderful Górecki, accessible but demanding.

Two pairs of men producing fine music, both in their own ways different and distinct but united in producing music of quality and purpose, with a finesse and attention to detail so sadly lacking in many-a quarter. Glorious and affirmative stuff.

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Kris Drever & Boo Hewerdine at the Convent Club

11180395_10153288677698055_909616014_oDoing so much folk lately I feel I should rush out, buy some cordurouys and stitch on some elbow patches…. latests is the first-time-pairing-out-on-the-road thing of Kris Drever and Boo Hewerdine at my new second home, the Convent Club; the end of a short tour in support of their colloborative EP, Last Man Standing.

It hardly needs stating that they are two of the UK’s most prolific and able chaps; greedily talented and musicians of the very highest standing. Drever has long been the owner of one of my favourite voices, mellifluous and golden; with seemingly effortless and wonderful guitar work. Hewerdine too is a prodigous talent, rather under-rated perhaps for both his song-writing skills and performance, with the voice of an angel and the lugubrious face of a an under-loved bloodhound.

Another ideal duo for this most sensitive and intimate of venues, Drever opened up solo with a few sublime songs, they then joined up for a couple of toons and then Hewerdine ended the first half with a few songs of his own. Relaxed and informal, it was like having two over-gifted mates playing for you in your (rather gothic) living room, the set peppered with anecdotes they may have told a hundred times, but which none the less drew the audience in, made that connection.

11201486_10153288677348055_101383789_oHearing them together and apart drove home, for me, their commonalities and their differences. Like a musical Venn diagram you coud see and hear their common heritage points but equally their distinct and different roots. Drever with his solid caledonion folk roots, the unexpected time signatures, the unusual chord changes; Hewerdine with his disarmingly simple song structures, anchored in that very best tradition of the late sixties song-smithing. Hewerdine’s rendition of the Bee Gees, I Started A Joke, ending the first half just reinforced this point for me.

The second half contained the new songs from the EP interlaced with dry and laconic stories and commentaries. For me the instant favourite was When All The Shouting Is Over, a great little song in 7/8 time.

Along the way we were treated to others from their canon including the wonderful Capernaum and a blissful rendition of Poorest Company led by Drever and the timeless Patience of Angels from Hewerdine, made famous by his mate Eddi Reader. Wrapped up inn the encore was the brilliant Drever version of Hewerdine’s Harvest Gypsies and finally Sweet Honey in the Rock.

All in all an evening as comforting as your favourite onesie and as sparkling as a fresh cut diamond. The answer to their musings about ‘whether there is a future’ (not cosmically of course but as to these two playing and recording more) is of course a Yes, lets have a full album and come back to Gloucestershire to play it to us.

 

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Fabian Holland at The Convent Club

HollandIan Drury’s claim that ‘There ain’t half been some ever b*st*rds’ may not be the most flattering way to introduce a few scribbles about Fabian Holland but hopefully you get the point.

There sometimes seems to be an almost limitless supply of talent, everyplace you go is some gifted and able musician performing their heart out, reaching for the stars. The incomparable Convent Club, a mere stones throw from home, is getting more than its fair share of them through their splendid doors.

Tonight, though, the impeccable sound system of the Chapel resounded to the uncommon talent that is Fabian Holland. An accomplished and remarkable guitarist he is blessed with a fine voice and songwriting ability and if that wasn’t enough he has admirable floppy hair…. gah damn the young and all their, erm, youth… Nurse, the screens please, I’m getting off the point.

Holland 2Holland was accompanied by almost equally talented drummer who not only played with great sensitivity but can do a fine harmony and acts as driver/chauffeur as well. Fred Claridge (for it is he) also plays with the likes of Blair Dunlop and so is no stranger to the Convent.

Classically trained, brought up on blues by his Pa, a once-pupil of Eric Roche (with a beautiful rendition of Angel  in the set), played electric in bands and now firmly in that alt folk song writer mould, Holland seems to have squeezed a fair few things into his tender years. Truth be told, and not surprisingly, you can find echoes of all these elements in his quite startling playing. The rare fluency, technique and passion is perhaps the first (if not only) thing that marks him out from the busy throng that is the folk scene.

But so too does his songwriting which stands up effortlessly with the songs of others that are woven throughout tonight’s  90 minute set. His songs are inspired by the personal and reflective – the geese he sees from his narrow boat, his Grandfathers old tobacco tin, the people who live around him in the river (It was slightly ironic that I found myself tweeting, albeit about him, as he sung Four Inch Screen about our inability to live much beyond our electronic devices…. Oh well). His songs naturally have the familiar construct of the traditional but with a modernity and currency, both in form and delivery, that ensure that they are no mere pastiche, not backward looking.

Holland 3The Convent show was almost at the end of a short run of shows around the country, running up to the release by Rooksmere Records on April 27 of his new, second album, A Day Like Tomorrow. The new album is indeed a fine thing, already getting well deserved plaudits from none other than the Telegraph with a four star review.

Matt from the Convent said this was one of his most eagerly await gigs in the Chapel, and now I can see why. Holland, together with Betty and Bertha his guitars (oh, and Fred too), gave us an eve of remarkable music, played with a proficiency, skill and passion that would be hard to beat. A ‘clever b*st*rd’ if ever there was one…

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Moonshine – Jay Jay Johanson

jay-852x550Jay Jay Johanson (Jäje Johansson) is gifted with a voice that is at once fragile and vulnerable but strangely steely strong and determined. His recording career stretches back almost twenty years with some trip hop and electroclash excursions along the way.

He has a new album, Opium,  due out in May but before that he has released an EP, Moonshine, on French label Kwaidan Records. The EP is currently streaming in its entirety on French site fip.

The title track to the EP has a dinky little video to go with it (below) but for me the track that really grabbed me is the Bat For Lashes cover, Laura. A completely delicious affair, with his signature vocals laid over some skittering beats and the most restrained and effective piano. Its one of those tracks that stays with you long after its four and a half minutes have expired. A gently glittering thing, both melancholic and soaring, quite a gift on this splendid April day.

 

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Wasted Hours – Little Dusty

Little DustySecond time in a matter of weeks that I have stumbled across something lovely connected to Chiverin, Bristolian label, gig producer, band champion and general musical type. First off it was the wonderful Tamu Massif and now the Bristol folk quartet, Little Dusty.

Truth be told it ain’t easy finding out too much about this lady-led four-some but I do know they Nicola, Sam, Dave and Luke. I also know that they have a sprightly little number, Wasted Hours, which  apparently might be available via the aforementioned Chiverin site, check the site out for the Tamu track and a tease for the Record Store Day EP. In the meantime Little Dusty material is there for your delectation on Soundcloud alongside the earlier Swimmer (also a free download on Bandcamp) and the Little Dusty EP.

Nicola has a distinctive and thoroughly engaging set of pipes, the chaps do a fine job alongside, the songs too are all of the finest order and manage to carve out something unusual and note-worthy from the crowded folk-pop frenzy.

Wasted Hours is to be a track on the Walking With Thieves compilation for this weekends Record Store Day, so well done them. In the meantime give it a listen here, a perfect soundtrack to the blossoming spring all around us.

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Villagers at St George’s, Bristol

VillagersSometimes things are just perfect. The day of the official UK release of Darling Arithmetic, the sparkling third album from Conor O’Brien’s Villagers, coincided with the opening night of the UK tour at the splendid St George’s venue in Bristol on the most sultry of spring evenings.

An ideal venue for the newly stripped back, intimate and deeply personal material, O’Brien took to the stage in his usual unassuming way along with his drummer, double bassist, keys player and harpist. Together they launched into a set which mixed the, at once fresh and immediately familiar, new songs with material from the two previous albums. Opener (a personal favourite), Let the Tigers Free, showed straight away that the older material had been given an amazing refresh to sit with the new songs and the lo-fi, acoustic set up. The make-over made the old familiars seem new all over again, and if possible, even better than before.

O’Brien’s haunting and ethereal voice was in extraordinary good order, every word sharp as a tack, no matter how quietly delivered, the audience hushed and hanging on every pitch perfect note. The band was the epitome of quality musicianship, the whole sounding achingly gorgeous and unimaginably polished despite this being the opening UK night; truly remarkable.

DarlingThe new album (surely a contender for those pointless ‘album of the year’ polls) is a thing of rare beauty, intimacy and honesty. The by now well know subject matter of O’Brien’s sexuality throughout the album is well documented, but I would rather see the albums theme as being about the twists and turns, hurdles and complications of anyone’s loves. The craftsmanship of the songs and the, less than usually Delphic, lyrics make them easily transferable into many people’s experience.

Support for the night was from the hugely talented Luke Sital-Singh, alone on the stage with his guitar and impressive, distinctive voice with songs from his rather wonderful debut album, The Fire Inside. Go seek him out.

It was none the less, and properly so, O’Brien’s night, and nights like this are rare and precious – remarkable voice, songs, musicianship, an evening of mesmerising, breathtaking and exquisite music.

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Jejeune/Selene – Tamu Massif

tamu-852x550Oh me oh my, I am totally obsessed with this track, Jejeune/Selene, and indeed the three others I can find on Soundcloud by Tamu Massif, aka Dave Dixon. Mr Dixon appears to be from Weston-super-Mare and this slice of blissful heaven is apparently released (although I have no idea how you actually get it) on Bristol new label Chiverin. I know practically nothing about Mr Dixon/Tamu Massif (but I do know that  Tamu Massif is a submarine shield volcano in the Pacific), except that Tamu was once three but is now just one (geography problems it seems). However his voice reminds me of Andrew Bird and the guitar work of early Vini Reilly – job done, match made in heaven for me. Languid, hazy-summery (despite the howling gale outside), a vibe and a quality here which makes me feel decidedly a-OK (no mean feat right now, let me tell you). Oh for a bit more of this stuff, four little tracks is nowhere near enough Mr Dixon, but what joy they are, delicious, like honey on toast.

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