United Downs – Trelawney

a0682703264_16Benjamin Reynolds aka Trelawney, is the possessor of a remarkable voice. In these days of homogenised, tuned and tweaked voices his is one of those rare examples of characterful and distinctive pipes that demand you listen, that can hardly fail to catch your attention as something extra-ordinary.

I have no idea whether he likes or loathes comparisons and mine are hardly original and they are offered merely as a means of locating him in that great spectrum that is ‘music’. There is a sumptuous visceral nature to his sound, a gladioli-waving theatricality, an authenticity so sadly lacking to much output these days, an emotional quality that comes from the gut rather than the throat. In this respect you can hear echoes of the late Billy Mackenzie, wafts of Scott Walker and hints of best-period Bowie (sorry I know everyone is referencing the sadly missed Messiah these days, but there we are…).

rescue1_ramsgateUnited Downs is (at least for me) the long-awaited new offering after a couple of years absence from the Bishop, and released today, as I write this, via the Bandcamp site (limited edition physical and limitless download versions). It is released on Since Records Began Records, where you will also find the rather magnificent recent album Swimming from his buddies Tessellators and the back catalogue from the sadly missed Hundred Handed with whom Mr Reynolds sang; I am indebted to my dear chum Mr Peebles (he of Bravo Brave Bats) for introducing me to all of this many a-year ago.

The new album sees Mr Reynolds teaming up with five other fine fellows, Kate Knox (Piano and Vocals), Alex Norman (Drums), AJ Dehany (Bass and Vocals), Nicholas Newman (Guitar and Vocals), Dom Lethbridge (Synth and Production), and together they build a muscular but controlled soundscape into which that voice nestles perfectly.

There is no need for me to go over the Cornish-ness riven through this set, important though it is, you can get that ‘dreckly’ from the West Briton interview so, rather, a few comments on this notable, satisfying and glorious collection of songs.

Truth be told there isn’t a track here that, in its own particular way, doesn’t deserve a place on the album. Sometimes, even for a band you like, an album can give you too much of a good thing; you like what they do but eight or nine tracks of the same thing you like can give you indigestion. Here there’s a golden thread running through it but the variety and changes make it like being in a house where all the rooms are different but still part of the same building (need to brush up on my metaphors I think).

tumblr_nv3itvDROV1qc87eyo1_1280I am especially taken by, and appreciative of, the drum, guitar and bass work respectively of Messrs  Norman, Newman and Dehany whose work frequently propels the songs along as with opener Clockwatching and closer The Falcon to the Falconer, the two longest tracks here (not that all the playing isn’t of the best quality).

It’s great to see Under a Black Flag (from the Beast of the Black Heath EP from 2012) getting a rework (I think!) with its dark, vaguely threatening overtones and shanty-esque chorus and some especially tasty guitar.

Title track, United Downs, perhaps the most heartfelt song, is wistful, and redolent of Shipbuilding in its simplicity and directness, Ben’s voice up front and untreated, emotional and sadly reflective.

What’s the Rush, an early released track from the album, is the voice of an early middle-aged man (sorry!) looking back on those things of his youth and finding a-new, deeper values than the hurly-burly of the urban existence. This  is the sort of sentiment that you find in many of the songs in this set, the sounds of a man re-appraising his life, and values and where he has come from.

A peerless voice and a band that knows just what its doing makes United Downs something of a triumph. I so wanted this to be brilliant and, lawks-a-mercy, it is just that. Hie thee to Bandcamp and buy it now; satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.

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My ’12 from 2015′ list sort of thing …

Another year has zipped by so fast it almost feels premature to have an ‘end of 2015’ list; but looking back now so many old friends only seemed to make an appearance over these last twelve months. So here goes, in some mutant alphabetical sort of order:

a0872409397_10Daniel Bachman – River
. This album is pretty much the best thing Mr Bachman has produced to date – haunting, amazingly accomplished, recorded in single takes, yikes the boy done good (again).


DOMDawn of Midi – Dysnomia. Hypnotic and deviously inventive album; live the effect is astonishing and mesmerising. Quite a revelation and spellbinding at the Nils Frahm show.



idlewildIdlewild – Everything Ever Written. Just about by favourite band (ever) return with an album of maturity but with the energy of back in the day. Live its uplifting and better than ever,  i couldn’t be happier – sigh!


mcraeTom McRae and the Standing Band –  Did I Sleep and Miss the Border. Building on his canon of wonderful songs delivered with his grit and no-compromise attitude, another great album from the foolishly under-valued (by some at least) Mr M.


StonesTom Mitchell – Stones. Bristol Tom’s latest EP contains his finest songs yet, played and sung with his usual aplomb and the care and attention to set the songs free.



chopinAlice Sara Otto and Olafur Arnalds – Chopin Project. I had quite forgotten how much I enjoy Chopin and this wonderful re-imagining of some of the Nocturnes is quite the thing – all of the magic of the compositions plus  a whiff of the contemporary that adds not detracts.


Max_RichterMax Richter – Sleep. I don’t think that any other piece of music has provide me such solace, calm and decompression. A staggering achievement and music that will be with me so regularly over the years to come.


SufjanSufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell. I slipped away from Sufjan for a bit however Carrie and Lowell is a thing of real beauty and emotion, a warm sleeping bag of wonderfulness.




sun driftSun Drift – Tied. An impeccable, elegant and amazingly accomplished first outing  from Zac Barfoot. Gentle, uplifting and all sorts of sparkly  – more soon please!



Alba-EP-CoverTamu Massif – Alba. These tracks got me from the get go – an elegance and charm that doesn’t feel contrived, melodies that sneak their way into you head – quite, quite lovely.


SwimmingTesselators – Swimming. My unfailing admiration for these roister-bloister lads from the Smoke has been repaid with their most immediate and most assured album yet. Sparkling playing and fresh as a daisy toons.


DarlingVillagers – Darling Arithmetic. Snuck up on me this. A perfect show on launch day but the album only slyly crept up on me; but now it has, probably the most affecting of all the Villagers albums, all the better for the sparse and sensitive arrangements.

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Swimming – Tessellators

SwimmingOh dear, a hopeless case of over-produced, auto-tuned dribblings; the inevitable triumph of demographic driven, guitar-bothering vacuity.

Sorry… One, Two, Three and …’back in the room’…. I was thinking of someone else entirely. Now where was I? Ah yes, a welcome batch of new Tessellations. You could never level the accusations above at this bunch of young fella-me-lads. I have a massive soft spot for all the outputs of Tessellators (and indeed Hundred Handed back in the day – btw some other imposters have jumped up and nicked that excellent moniker now… tsk) and each time new material comes around I seem to say the same things… ooh its been a while, this is even better than the last thing; that sort of thing (I know ‘cos I checked).

But truly, this is their best yet. Swimming is a six number, twenty five minute set, out now on (their own?) Since Records Began Records (yes, very smart) and available, with the rest of their oeuvre, via the Bandcamp page for a scandalously small amount of cash.

tessellatorsIn a “and Then There Were Three’ Genesis-post-Steve Hackett sort of way, Tessellators are now just Dan Barrett, Ben Beare and Alex Norman following the departure of the fine Moh Rahman (who still played on this set). To coin a phrase the six toons here are indeed a Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy affair, perhaps more immediately accessible than before, but without losing compelling, slightly quirky, flavour of before. I am especially fond of their ability to make it all sound just a little like they rocked up, played and popped it onto tape, that slight sense that it has the merest whiff of running away with them.

Always ones for a touch of ‘concept’ in their sets – see the super-hero themed Harvest of Sorrows or the splendid The City/La Ciudad – this one has, perhaps thankfully, a slightly looser concept of swimming, wild water swimming and a dash of exotic hotel pools (someone has been on holiday I suspect). The drums and bass throughout are quite excellent, driving it along at a fair lick and the whole affair has a sense of urgency and purpose. Invidious I know to have favourites from a set but Pier to Pier and Marina Bay Sands are especially fine offerings here in my opinion.

Ah one day I might get to see them bang a out a couple of tunes, but as they seldom venture far from that London I guess the periodic surfacing of some material will have to do, and Swimming will do very nicely thank you – to miss quote the poet, Not Drowning But Waving.





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Eliza Carthy & the Wayward Band and Larkin Poe both at the Convent Club

IMG_3029Two shows, two great bands, two musical traditions and one special venue. On the face of it Eliza Carthy et al and Larkin Poe couldn’t be further apart – one with their feet standing on the solid pillars of English folk music and the other built on the foundations of the blues and rock sensibilities of the Deep South. In truth, and although both bands take their heritage and give it a firm kick from the here and now, they represent the continued line of musical tradition that runs deep in their veins. And both found an ideal venue in the Convent Club – intimate but professional, with an atmosphere and aura that seems to lift and inspire most who play there (with the possible exception of a Mr Finlay Quaye who was rightly slung off stage recently and who, let’s be honest, was always a bit of a tool).

IMG_3025Eliza Carthy is of course of royal English folk lineage (you would have to be with parents like Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson) but she has always been her own person and done it her own way, which is nothing if not admirable. Full of throat, fine of voice and ferocious of fiddle, she leads a remarkable twelve piece band (fiddles, guitars, drums, percussion, melodeons, trombone etc) whose sound is appropriately huge, impassioned and joyous.

After a week recording new material at the Convent, and shooting an accompanying video in the bucolic grounds, they felt relaxed and contented, tight enough to be mountain goat sure of step, loose enough to feel authentic and the real deal. For sure in many a place, and festivals especially, this rollicking band couldn’t fail to get you bustin’ some moves. Here in the Chapel we played the moves out inside our heads but, my moons and stars, what a blazingly bacchanalian big band folk funk thing they are!

IMG_3036Larkin Poe, hailing from Atlanta,  were new to me, fresh from supporting Elvis Costello none other, and had squeezed in a date deep in the five valleys, managing to give my otherwise sleepy Sunday eve a kick up the a$$ in the nicest of ways. They are fronted by two sisters, Rebecca and Megan Lovell, and more than ably backed up by a fine drummer and bass player.

FullSizeRenderTo tell the truth I was expecting something a bit country, probably quite solid, but like much of the standard fare you hear on the radio as you drive around southern USA. But nope, here was something altogether dirtier and grubbier, and so much the better for that. Not knowing their material of course it all sounded new to me, but I appreciated the weaving in of other bits and pieces like the old Cher song Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) and the slide into Black Betty. As the set moved on they got looser and rockier and seemed to be enjoying themselves pretty well – maybe a small little bijou venue like this was a nice change from the normal like out on the road as a rising band?

So two more outstanding ‘beat combos’ gracing the hallowed halls of the Convent. That handy seat front right sees me in it so often now, I wonder if I could have a little plaque made to warn off unwary visitors that its mine?

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Alba – Tamu Massif

Alba-EP-CoverThis guys’ music just makes me feel so good – Dave Dixon aka Tamu Massif has released his first EP, Alba via Chiverin, fine purveyor of new toons and stuff from the Bristol area. I have waxed lyrical (or the closest I can get) before when JeJeune/Selene was released a few weeks ago.

That fine track is contained here along with three more, St Isidore, A Fate Much Worse (embedded below) and Delphine; the EP can be bought for a few measly quid from Music Glue and you would verily be a fool not to get a copy.

Its all swooney guitars, samples and the most chilled of beats, but above it all is Mr Dixon’s rather special voice, distinctive in an age where so few are. The effect is dreamy, melodic, totally entrancing and sweeps me away, for its short 16 minutes, to an altogether better place.

Should this tickle your fancy then pop along to his Soundcloud site for the few extra tracks that lurk over there. I am very happy indeed that Alba has slipped though my mail box, it is quite, quite blissful – all power to Mr Dixon and here’s hoping more of this sort of delight won’t be too long in coming.


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River – Daniel Bachman

a0872409397_10Getting to know Bachman’s latest, very fine, album several miles above the Arabian Sea feels both an odd thing and at the same time, strangely appropriate.

Throughout his releases so far there has been this running parallel with music from seemingly unconnected places. Of course at its heart is the uncompromising and glorious sound of the Deep South but this sits alongside music from equally identifiable and  special histories. Here is music that manages to transcend any one category and highlights the unexpected similarities of music from wholly different cultures .

River is released via the wonderful Three Lobed Recordings organisation and the river in question here is the Rappahannock that runs from the Blue Ridge mountains to Chesapeake Bay on the east coast. The opening, and wonderfully extended, track Won’t You Cross Over To That Other Shore, manages to blend the South with Indian Raga and Spanish flamenco and that deep drone bass note; growing, turning and developing into a thing all of its own, a remarkable piece.

The next two shorter tracks – Levee (a Jack Rose song) with all its slide chords and picked melodies is so redolent of a countryside I have never seen but feel like I have always known, from countless movies and travelogs; and Farnham (by William Moore) a brief pastoral piece you feel you should know from some race memory; they both set you up for Song for the Setting Sun parts I and II.

These two tracks are a rather joyous affair made up really of a number of shorter, different but connecting stanzas, all showing off the disarming ease that Bachman has with his extraordinary playing.

Old Country Rock couldn’t be more like its says in its title if it tried, and the closer track, a reprise of the opening track, creates a closing loop to the album, making it a circle, a whole and rounded piece.

Perhaps Bachman’s most complete and satisfying set set yet (though all are more than worthy of attention) his playing is ever more assured and purposeful and the fact that it was recorded over one single day and hasn’t been meddled with, no tweaks, no over-dubs, means its authenticity is complete, an honest and heartfelt suite all the more right for the sounds and noises that others may have stripped out in post production. Bachmans first ‘proper’ studio effort, the recording is wonderful and intimate,  thing of beauty, emotion and honesty.



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Dysnomia – Dawn of Midi

DOMMy first proper exposure to DOM was their opening set for the recent Nils Frahm gig in Bristol. From the opening thrum thrum of the double bass it was a mesmerising and spellbinding experience. They played this new album Dysomnia from start to finish without a break or a word to the audience – just three chaps on stage: one on keys, one on double bass and the last on drums. It has been a long time indeed since I have been so excited by a new (to me) band, the hairs on my arms fair stood up.

The music swelled and grew, collapsed like a wave breaking on sand, counter rhythms coming together like a rip tide creating an new and single wave, repeated notes that flex and bend with the slightest addition changing the whole completely.

Quite an astonishing thing to witness, a music so all consuming and absorbing, so at odds with so much other music you hear but then again so apparently right.

All the tracks on the album are named after moons, some with Greek references (as much the result of the minds of those who named them as anything else), and to be honest I have no idea why they should have chosen this as the theme for naming tracks, but it matters not.

The three chaps; Aakaash Israni on bass, Amino Belyamani on piano and Qasim Naqvi on drums, are Brooklyn based, and use North and West African rhythms to build an astonishing mix of sounds. Their own personal musical references litter the set, each identifiable in many-a place but the resultant melting pot is a wondrous thing.
The set has been my companion on two long  (uncomfortable) 10 hour plus flights and has saved me not only from dismal movies but also the mind twisting boredom of such travel. Instead I have immersed myself in these tracks, becoming familiar but still surprised at every turn. This is not easy music for sure, but it handsomely repays attention and a modicum of effort and the rewards are extensive

Another excellent addition to the Erased Tapes roster this an album of complex, intelligent music would be a valuable addition to anyone’s music library – but should you get a chance to see them live then go! it is even more astonishing to hear music like this being performed – MOD are a fascinating and compelling band indeed. Ye Gods and little fishes, this is good.


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