Dietro a un vetro – Giulio Fagiolini


a0997660413_16Increasingly I find myself taking refuge in music that gives me access to that zen-like space that I find when swimming or running, a space for clarity and focus. There are, I admit, times when I embrace the fuzzy, buzzy and the disruptively energising, but Giulio Fagiolini’s (debut?) album Dietro a un vetro (Behind a Glass, if my limited Italian is anywhere near right) runs over me  like the waters of the Dart on a summer day.

Ian Hawgood (who did the mastering here), from the altogether splendid Home Normal label, reminds us all that there is a welter of piano based music nowadays, and unfortunately not all of it escapes that insipid and unsatisfying category of people jumping on a trend.

Fagiolini doesn’t fall into that trap, and this (short) suite of tracks, whose simplicity belies their depth, is a sparkling example of how wondrous a solo piano can be. The spaces between the notes are full of intent, the playing light and assured, the melodies fresh but somehow familiar, I have played this countless times now and each time I am wrapped up in its charms.

Really there is little more I can say apart from go listen, and do listen, it repays attention and time, be ‘present’ with it and let it weave its magic… oh and go buy a copy too, we all need music of integrity, the young Tuscan pianist and the label would be happy people!

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Apart For So Long – Hail Taxi


haiul-taxinIts one of my great joys, receiving an email introducing some new music or artist. But often sadly its a short lived joy, finding the content not to my personal liking. But then sometimes, boom, you hit the jackpot and there is something that makes the hairs on your arms lift just a bit.

So it was when I finally got around to following the links in the email to Hail Taxi‘s new EP, Apart For So Long. Hail Taxi is the latest nom de guerre for Nathaniel Sutton, who calls Edmonton, Alberta home and who has released material under his own name in the past; it seems that Hail Taxi is his return to the fray after a few years away.

0008621646_10The all too brief five tracks manage to feel related but different – the opening track that hooks you almost immediately, the fine acoustic instrumental, the slightly poppy, the melancholic, and the closing instrumental that takes me straight to Vini Reilly. But their golden threads are the vocal; be it in the breathy mode,  or the Elliot Smith echo, and the guitar work; picked, resonant and reverb-y  – both of them mixed pleasingly high and clear.

There is a disarming simplicity to all the tracks which manages not to be simplistic but just direct. Produced with a lovely openness, a space for the sounds to move around, inviting you in to be snared by the hooks and melodies.

I don’t know if Mr Sutton appreciates it, but this little gem of an EP is delivered with the confidence of someone who is comfortable with what he is delivering, not feeling the need to over-extend or complicate, that’s why I find it so compelling, that’s why it rewards and deserves frequent visits. I wonder what a full albums-worth would be like?




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Talk Baby – Matt Elleray

a0375860579_16A short little email announced Talk Baby, a ‘new’ish’ track according to the message from Matt Elleray. The picture of an apparently dissolute young feller-my-lad might lead to you to expect some God-awful white urban gangsta tosh, but not a bit of it.

An enticing combination of late night/early morning desperation, guitar that bleeds seamlessly from Vini Reilly to funked up whah whah smooch and a voice that surely belies his tender years.

Mentions of  Lake Windermere and reference to Silverdale  on his Bandcamp page made me wonder about what must be an inevitable connection with the wonderful Sun Drift aka Zac Barfoot – Silverdale can’t be home to these two chaps without them knowing each other.

Well, whatever, Talk Baby, and the accompanying Not In Love are shiny nuggets of goodness and I for one would like to hear some more – deceptively simple, dark but enveloping. Thanks for getting in touch, enigmatic Mr Elleray.


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Daniel Bachman at the Lantern, Bristol

Bachman 2It has been a long time coming, waiting to see Daniel Bachman play in flesh, so to speak. A musician of rare and remarkable talents he popped up at the Lantern in Bristol this weekend. Apparently this was his third visit to Bristol; the first some tiny basement somewhere, the second with the wonderful Ryley Walker at the Cube (both of which I missed).

I have long been enamoured of his quite astonishing music, from my first listen courtesy of Hands in the Dark Records in 2011 who alerted me to Apparitions at the Kenmore Plantation, then later Oh Be Joyful the following year and most recently the superb album, River out on the ever-excellent Three Lobed Recordings on whose Bandcamp page you can stream (and buy!) the album.

Bachman1I am always enthralled by an artist who can take the stage and hold an audience by making the most head-filling sounds from a guitar. Simultaneously old and contemporary, this is the sound of the American South from perhaps the best American primitive guitar player of our day, edged with bits of blues, psychedelia and a healthy dose of experimentalism. It’s a music that feels instinctively familiar but none the less weaves its own way, growing, changing, unfolding and improvising without any sense of self-absorption and without losing its way.

The technique is as flawless as the casual lack of pretension. Few people would open  up for a largely unknowing audience with a fifteen minute track like Wont You cross Over To That Other Shore, the lead off track from River, and keep them rapt and absorbed.

The all-too brief set of course had material from River but also some wonderful lap steel playing from a new release set for the autumn, also on Three Lobed. The man told me he is due to come  back to these shores next year, perhaps with a couple of pals on their own drone instruments for a set of them  together and Bachman playing solo – as and when they set the dates, you would be a fool not to strike out and see him and his captivating playing. Matt Roberts at The Convent, I hope you are listening and find this fine chap a slot in your schedule – its hard to think of a finer pairing than this exultant music in that most remarkable of settings.

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Blue Rose Code at The Convent

IMG_4964Sat here on this spring Sunday morning with my second illicit cup of coffee, my head is still swirling with the songs of Blue Rose Code from the night before, and most particularly Edina from The Ballads of Peckham Rye and tracks from the heart-stoppingly beautiful new album ‘And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing’.

The Convent must be the perfect setting for these intimate songs with their searchlight illumination on those personal moments of joy and despair. Ross Wilson’s songs are so patently personal and confessional, so soul-baring and poignant.

Accompanied this time by three accomplished but restrained chaps on piano, guitar and bass; the songs were able to breath more deeply and lift that glorious and effortless Caledonian voice just a little higher.

Dressed in a black suit he looked a little like those dullard auditors that you have to deal with, but he sings with a truth and a tone like the very Rapture (should there be such a thing). I am a noted push over for anything approaching a Scots voice and with Blue Rose Code I get this and the heart-swelling emotion of Van Morrison at his best and most authentic.

As always the select band that is the Convent audience was respectful and appreciative, I just wish we were a bit more demonstrative sometimes. If I were capable of those fingers-in-mouth whistles I would have done it, and I did so in my head.

IMG_4965Many acts tell you how grateful they are of your attention and support but never more genuinely than Ross whose comments make you feel that it’s this support that keeps him going on occasion. Opening track Grateful from the new album puts that sentiment into song.

The album is a genuinely beautiful and affecting suite of songs, written around the time he moved from London to Bournemouth. So strange for someone who sings about and embodies such strong Scottish connections to be living on the English South Coast, but he is a bundle of contradictions I suspect, and all the better for it.

Mrs HC and I keep threatening to head back north of the border, and when we do this is the music that will be the soundtrack for our journey.

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Holding Back – Tamu Massif


Oh my, I have bleated on about this chap before. Mr Dixon/Tamu Massif just does it for me – every now and again he drops a new track or two and occasionally, like last year, a whole EP like the intoxicating Alba.

So we should be thankful that another little slice of wonder has appeared in the form of Holding Back which can be streamed from his Soundcloud pages along with more of his magic, or alternatively download for free from his Tumblr site – whichever way you get to it, just do.

Another track with the trademark layered sounds, the bits of loop and digital bips and blips plus some carefully judged electronica and his his distinctive voice riding along on top. Like a song forming out of smoke, it swirls and shifts, morphing and developing until it  holds its form. Its all far too sophisticated and delicious for such as young whippersnapper, but like all his material so far it sends me to a place of calm and comfort. Quite superb.

Oh and he is out and about on tour too, find the dates here, so go here it live, its just as infectious and rewarding as it is on record.

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Turin Brakes with Tom Speight at Gloucester Guildhall 

IMG_4618Chatting to chums at another gig (the towering Shearwater as you ask), I mentioned that I was off to see Turin Brakes (for the tumpy-tum time) the next eve. ‘Really? Why do you keeping going to see them?’… mmm I pondered…’Well’ I replied,’I have this fav charcoal grey cashmere v-neck, and although I’ve had it for an age, I love wearing it, it makes me feel good and class is always hip (daddy-oh). TB are my musical cashmere v-neck.’ Ok I’ll give you my extended metaphor strains at the seams a little, but you get my drift. TB were the first band I took my lad to see (October 30 2005, Bristol Academy) when he hit the 14 year old age requirement, and we’ve seen them every year they have taken themselves around the circuit. Every time they deliver the best of shows, always the old favourites and the new songs, and the more time goes on the more they seem to enjoy the whole business – the playing always superb, relaxed bits of banter ) I am especially looking forward to Eddie’s range of loungewear), and a crowd that loves them to bits, helping make every show a bit like a house party with your over-talented mates.

Gloucester Guildhall was sold out and all present and correct for Tom Speight who kicked everything off with an enthusiasm and energy which is either how he is or reflective of the second night of the tour. A tidy little set and a crowd pleasing foray out into the crowd for an unplugged number. Certainly a chap well worth looking out for if he comes within striking distance. The Brakes set was its usual mix of ever-evolving old friends blended seamlessly with songs from the rather fine new album Lost Property. The Brakes are one of those bands who just get better the longer they play together and they seem to have hit that sweet spot; a bunch of mates playing together and enjoying it and (hopefully) making it pay without recourse to the hideous compromises that many a new band has to make in order to keep going.

 This spirit is for sure part of the thing that makes them so special for so many people. I bet that everyone in the room would be well up for a pint or two and a good old chatty hangout, they just feel like friends you’ve had for ever. Of course the musicianship is easy and peerless: Gale’s guitar a thing of joy, Eddie’s bass as fluid and playful as his caveman-on-speed looks, Rob’s disarmingly relaxed drumming and Olly’s voice better than ever and a truly unmistakable and unique asset.

IMG_4615IMG_4624 It’s impossible to come away from a Brakes show not feeling buoyed up and positive, always uplifting and a couple of hours that take you out of yourself and let you forget your worries of the day – you can’t ask for much more now can you?

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Shearwater at the Fleece, with Cross Record

Shearwater 1 Jet Plane and Oxbow may well be the sainted Shearwaters best album yet (although I might have said that before for their other releases!) In many ways it is the record that sounds most like them live, always a soaring and uplifting experience. So anticipation was high to hear this towering collection in the flesh, so to speak.

The Fleece may not be the perfect venue but according to Jonathan Meiberg it is the ‘best sounding stone room in the universe’ and my, did they sound great. This band line up must surely be their best yet, everyone playing their hearts out and looking like they were enjoying themselves with a new-found urgency.

It is of course invidious to single out particular members but Josh Halpern (also of Marmalakes) on drums was a revelation, never less that at full tilt, propelled the band though song after song. But fine mention must also go to Sadie Powers (Dead Fame) on bass who was the second engine for the night. Sadie was apparently a bit off colour and so JM rather revelled in telling is that she did the most punk thing the band had done during a song – started to vomit but took it all back down. Lucas Oswald on guitar and Emily Lee on keys completed this fine assembly. Mildly gross though the Sadie anecdote is, the punk reference felt pretty much on point, for amongst all the other delights there was an undoubted punk spirit in there through the set – back to that energy and urgency.

JPAOThe new tracks sounded even better, if that is possible, than on record (the Loser double blue vinyl is a thing of beauty by the way). I don’t think they missed a track out, which is just as well as they are all superb, and added in a couple of old favourites like Rooks and, I was especially pleased to note, You As You Were from Animal Joy.

Like many I suspect, I was intrigued by the news that the band is soon due to play their own version of David Bowie’s Lodger album, and we got to hear two songs from that set, both sounding powerful and muscular (I wonder of there might be some record of the Lodger show for those of us on the wrong continent?). Not that I really suspected it, but JM confirmed that exploring Lodger was underway before Mr Jones’ demise and this isn’t some mawkish band wagon jumping exercise…

The merch desk of course had the newly launched Complete Island Arc digital box set amongst other things, but sadly not the hoped for Safe Houses; an instrumental ‘deconstruction and reimagining of Jet Plane and Oxbox by their producer Danny Reisch. apparently a merch ‘snafu’ and this set will be available via Bandcamp once the band is back in the States (don’t be put off by the Sold Out tag – just ain’t ready yet!). I have been accorded sneak access to opener A Long Time Away and its so different, cinematic and beguiling. Cant wait for the rest!

A more than honourable mention must go to Cross Record who opened up the evening with a few tracks from their new album, Wabi-Sabi released through Ba Da Bing Records. It is really worth grabbing the album (as I did) and giving it a good old listen – on record it is yet more intriguing than live by dint of the fine production. Emily Cross and her husband Dan Duszynski (also the producer here) create a soundscape not unlike an approaching summer thunderstorm – go discover!

But the night was for Shearwater –  and a wonderful rollicking and life affirming thing it was. A band surely at the height of its powers, playing ferociously but with sensitivity and care, one of my Desert Island Discs has their name on it.





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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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