Judie Tzuke at St George’s Bristol

photoAs a fan you, of course, want to rock up to a show and for it to be flawless, the embodiment of all you love about that artist. Sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t,  because the venue’s a bit rubbish, the sound is flaky or the band just can quite turn it on live. But occasionally something else happens, like tonight (although this was a couple of weeks ago now…) with Judie Tzuke; no-ones fault, you can’t help catching a cold which is a bit of a bummer for a singer. Now some would cancel but not our Judie, at the splendid (if rather uncomfortable) St George’s she came on armed with cups of children’s Benylin  and later a more efficacious vodka, to coax her voice through the show.

I know she felt she wasn’t giving of her best and was super apologetic, but really there are many who can only dreaming of singing this well on a good night let alone when you’re feeling well below parr. For her grown up audience (and disturbingly some of us were indeed rather ‘grown up’) it mattered not, and if anything her suffering brought both the band and audience together and a palpable wave of supportive love was in the room.

Listening back now to that first album with the crystal clear voice and fine tuning, all that has happened is a maturing of the voice, a rounding out, but the essence is still there loud and clear. The newer songs also show the maturity gained after the years of work. For instance the title track, Woman Overboard, from the new album  is a finely balanced, deftly written and haunting song.

I hate to think that an artist needs to retread the ‘greatest hits’ and so hearing new and recent material reminds you both of the qualities of the musician but also that they aren’t stuck way back when. But, guiltily, it’s is good to hear some of the old stuff and better still to hear them with a new twist – the Tzuke sisters adding their own dimensions, getting the band to do the a cappella version of For You, and of course the perennial Stay With Me Til Dawn. To boot a rather lovely version of the John Martyn song May You Never – as the lady said, really a show of her favourite tunes – good job she has so many to chose from!

And a word for the excellent band. Great. So good to see Ben Mark on guitar (I can only find his twitter, @benmark7) both for the main set and also with Bailey Tzuke in the second support slot. I often find myself focussing on one band member for a show and tonight it was bass player Jimmy Sim with his fierce beard, 3 inch deep turn ups and shiny red bass; sounded great (especially the uke on a couple of songs) and a cheeky chappy demeanour at the back of the band.

A final word for the opener, Jamie Lawson, with a brief but rather lovely set – sounds a little bit like Robin Warren-Adamson, he of Wise Children,  not just in the vocal but the turn of phrase – anyway definitely worth checking out on wax and in person if you get the chance.

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Best of Times – My Sad Captains

MSCWell if the chance to see Shearwater in Bristol wasn’t enough, I noticed that support was from none other than My Sad Captains.

Now I burbled on about these chaps back in 2008 and 2009 but then they rather slipped off my radar and I missed the second album and other fancies took their place. It seems they had a little interregnum of sorts too but here they are now signed to the peerless Bella Union roster.

So stupid us turned up just for the later part of their set at The Fleece and so got just a tantalising taste of what they had become. I nabbed a copy of Best of Times from bass player Dan Davis from the rickety table that acted as the merch stand and promised to give it some time.

The chaps have been busy honing their skills and Best of Times is just that, all the qualities that drew me to them all that time ago but with added ‘sposh’. The echoes of Pavement are still there a little, but more now the flavours of Sea and Cake, a sort of less is more approach. A cleaner sound, more space, a sense that great care has been taken with all aspects of the album, that it has been given time to grow and emerge. Indeed it demands a little time to open up despite its clear hooks and catches.

Everything seems to happen at the right time and place, a quality that displays a confidence and sureness which means the album will last and repay repeated plays. ‘Gentle’ is the word that comes to mind in describing it, but never limp or insubstantial, My Sad Captains have produced the album I rather hoped they would all those years ago – there are all sorts of themes in here, the futility of social media-type communication, the difficulty of saying the right things to the right people, oh all sorts, but all delivered beautifully, enticingly and charmingly. Wonderful stuff indeed, I have missed them, so glad they are back.


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Patterns – Lifecycle

artworks-000062741885-u0ny27-t500x500 Lifecycle, apparently a London based trio made up of Geoff Dent on guitar and vocals Tish Austin, bass and Nick Holder on drums, popped out a single, Patterns at the end of November, as a precursor to their debut album slated for later this year. Despite a FB page and their own website/tumblr etc, plus what seems to be their own label, Ricochet Records, they feel a little hard to gather info about, still no matter.

They tag themselves as Alternative/Tribal which I guess is as good a tag set as any if you need one. In truth, based on this single and its ‘B’ side Lose Control (doesn’t ‘B side’ sound quaint…) they are a rather pleasing confection of slightly psychedelic/trippy guitar and vocals over jazzy beats and base lines – sort of Black Market era Weather Report colliding with the echoes of Gong and whiffs of early Hawkwind. Neither jazz nor rock nor electro but somehow a bit of all of that.

Tish’s email to me flags them as an independent band trying to do it for themselves, and as such of course deserve to be encouraged and supported. I can see a slew of dates last year and rather assume that there may be more this year to support the planned debut album. The Youtube clip shows them banging out Patterns in Hoxton last year, so their live capabilities are clear.

On a drear and dismal first of the year Patterns brightens up the day, reminiscent of sunnier and cheerier times, for which I can only be grateful. If Tish is as good as her word, she will keep me updated with news and progress in Lifecycle which I will be only too pleased to pass on and share – keep an eye out.

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Albums of 2013

Always in two minds about the end of year list, it does never the less prove a useful reminder of what I was listening to when new fancies steal my attention away over the next year. Based purely on the amount I have played them – which I assume means they have that certain ‘something’ that makes them special – my top ten albums of 2013 are, in no particular order (cue ludicrous and dramatic music and overlong wait)….

Local Natives – Humming Bird

Due to my laziness and pre-occupations, scandalously no scribbles on either this brilliant album nor the entirely lovely gig at the nasty Bristol O2…..

Nils Frahm – Spaces

A combination of not always technically perfect recordings from various shows, Spaces does indeed capture some of the wonder of a live Nils Frahm show – mesmerising

James Blake – Overgrown

Very nearly my album of the year before others seduced me, and most definitely one of the better gigs of the year, Mr Blake et al make some wonderful sounds

Shearwater – Travelers

Never disappointing, Shearwater put together some unexpected and glorious cover tracks in Travelers rather helpfully introducing me to bands I knew little of

Mountaineater – Mountaineater -

At last, at last, a thunderous and joyous debut from Mountaineater, taken a while but so worth it

There Will Be Fireworks – Dark Dark Bright

Late in the year before we saw the second album from TWBF – full of fabulous Caledonian vocals, evocative lyrics and sparkling playing

Message to Bears – Maps

Jerome Alexander aka Message to Bears seems unable to make anything other than rather wonderful music, and on Maps he adds more electronica to sparkling effect

Villagers – {Awayland}

Almost last year and so easy to overlook, {Awayland} proved a brave and progressive step, and the live shows!….

Turin Brakes – We Were Here

We Were Here saw TB resurgent and resplendent, like all their best bits made a bit better and as always joyful live performances

Halves – Boa Howl

Then truly remarkable Halves issued the wonderful Boa Howl along with a few dates this side of the Irish Sea carefully timed so I couldn’t see them (again)


But not to be forgotten and only not there because Top Twelve doesn’t scan as well as Top Ten, the mighty…

Tesselators – Harvest of Sorrows

Whose Harvest of Sorrows provided the opportunity for an inspired collision of the concept album and tales of super-heros – top work chaps, top work

Tom Mitchell – Ruthless Thing

The irrepressible Tom Mitchell released EP Ruthless Thing, alongside countless shows and unending enthusiasm bringing his own twist on Elliott Smith/Mark Knopfler stylee, and as a reward may see a track used in the New Year to support TV and cinema adverts – wil you talk to me when you’re famous?

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Fellow Travelers – Shearwater

Shearwater-Fellow-Travelers1Shearwaters music lights up my life in so many ways, I can hardly think of a track they have done that doesn’t find a place with me. Always exquisitely played, with immaculate production, through it all shines the extraordinary voice of Jonathan Meiberg – swooping and soaring, operatic, clean as glass, distinctive and defining.

Live they are a wonder, bringing yet more facets to their music. And they tour a fair amount, sometimes supporting, sometimes supported. From this experience has come a range of artists and their music that has connected with the band, and this latest (short) album, is a sort of recognition of some they have worked with, hence the Fellow Travelers title. A title with even greater resonance when you consider the Trotsky use of the phrase and its implications: ‘someone who does not accept all your aims but has enough in common with you to accompany you in a comradely fashion part of the way.’

So a collection of covers ranging from Xiu Xiu, to Coldplay (yes really), from Wye Oak to Clinic. So perhaps a little of a ‘my, look at the artists I know and like’ but at least you get to hear a few out-of-the-way songs as a result.

The album is booked-ended with two of the best tracks, a fragile and lovely take on Jessca Hoops, Our Only Sun and the closer and personal favourite, Fucked Up Life originally from the Baptist Generals. In between are other gems, among them the Xiu Xiu track I Luv the Valley OH and the only new song, the Sharon van Etten duet A Wake for the Minotaur.

This is an album of gentle and insidious charms, understandably without the punch of new Shearwater material but with honest and affectionate renditions of music the band loves. All delivered in an authentic and genuine fashion with the masterly musicianship and that inspiration voice.

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The Dark Dark Bright – There Will be Fireworks

1450297_10151786481344541_1423113728_nIts been rather a long time since the first, wonderful There Will Be Fireworks self-titled album back in 2009, even though there was that EP to keep the faithful on side. So, for whatever reason, not a band that throws out a tsunami of music, perhaps characteristic of a band that takes its passions seriously and will not be hurried.

The Dark Dark Bright, out on Comets and Carwheels, keeps the faith with the intensity and emotion of their first outing but as you might hope after the five year interregnum, there is a build here, an added poise with a bit more of the orchestral with softer edges that frame the impassioned vocals of Nicholas McManus and piercing guitar-work of tracks like River.

You could so easily see TWBF heading towards the anthemic, stadium sound which, if successful in such a crowded ‘market’, could bring riches but oh what a loss that would be. For me the distinctive qualities lie less in the soaring, euphoric nature of some songs, but the fragility and almost domestic intimacy that is woven through this album and indeed much of their work, especially on songs like Roots and Youngblood.

Lyrically always interesting and finely wrought, each song captures snapshot stories, moments in time, almost always emotionally charged with loss, hurt or longing. Perhaps not feel-good album of the year, but it does feel, its human and touching and good, very good.

Don’t stay away for so long next time, eh?

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We are Serious and We Mean It – Glacials

GlacialsSometimes a little bit of wonderful drops into the inbox and so it was with this album from Glacials. A serendipitous bit of six degrees of separation – Glacials are chums with the ever wonderful Tessellators, themselves pals with the Peeblemeister of (the currently resting but resplendent) Bravo Brave Bats – they somehow got to me, and how pleased I am that they did.

The London quintet is comprised of almost completely (sorry Kenneth you don’t quite qualify!) exotically named chaps; Jaemi Zahra-Hall on guitars and electronics, Kenneth Joseph also on guitars, Sen Xu drums, the enigmatic Ozon on bass and Kathryn Mae providing the vocals. The new album/EP, We are Serious and We Mean It,  (incidentally recorded with David Jackson on bass and Arielle Renwart on vocals) has been out for a few days and can be streamed through their Bandcamp site where it can also be purchased, including a limited edition clear 12″ vinyl version.

Self-described as post-rock, math-rock and shoegaze, they are in truth all and none of these, yes there is a touch of Mogwai in there, a little nod here and there to the guitar style so peerlessly championed by Tristan Dingemans, but there is also a bit of a punk echo beneath the sheen and class of the sound, a splendid squelchy bass beneath the layers of soaring guitar and a whiff of Souxsie-meets-Cocteau Twins in the vocals that adds a distinctive twist; a potent and satisfying combination.

There is much to enjoy here in the twenty five minutes that the set runs to, not least the rather wonderful Appreciator, with its glorious distorted opening, that morphs into (ride it like a cowboy) – I have no idea what the brackets signify – both of which act as a counterbalance to tracks like the ethereal and swooning Sweet Tooth Pink Wrist (the engaging video by Tyler Hurd embedded below)

They may be Glacials by name but not by nature, a thrilling and warm-hearted ride of accomplished musicality and purposeful punch. A head-filling sound as recorded music, you can only wonder how great this might all sound in a live setting.

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