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.

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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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