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gig reviews - april/may 2010


 

 


Neal Casal
30.5.10 - Ruby Lounge, Manchester

Neal Casal is one of Ryan Adams’ Cardinals. I say this right at the beginning only to confess that were it not for Ryan I’d have probably never heard of the dude. But Neal’s solo career is long and varied, and after Ryan put the Cardinals on hiatus in March 2009 Neal is back with a new album and a guitar. He’s also brought Jon Graboff, pedal steel guitarist for the Cardinals, but who also appears on guitar tonight. The Ruby Lounge is full of people who look like Ryan Adams and who are here for that connection (not criticising, just an observation) and people who seem like genuinely ardent fans of Neal’s. There aren’t many casual observers but if anything that makes for a tighter, more receptive crowd.

First support comes from a local band who don’t deserve to be written about. Second support comes from a man who looks like the unholy lovechild of Ryan Adams and Pete Wentz. He is actually Jo Rose from Manchester via Tennessee musically. He plays slow, acoustic country and is nice to listen to, and although he attempts a little intersong banter he isn’t confident enough to pull it off and the audience is mostly just baffled. This is my one criticism of him, though, and he deserves to be checked out.

By the time Neal and Jon take to the stage it’s 9.30pm which even for Bank Holiday Sunday seems a little late. They open with Chasing Her Ghost and play twelve songs in a little over an hour. Neal is chatty, talking about how he always bombs in Manchester so is glad to be getting a good reception tonight. His music is sweet and melodic country music, with both is and Jon’s voices and guitars harmonising beautifully. Neal’s voice in particular is wonderfully clear and he never misses a note. I suppose I’m looking for the Ryan comparisons but there are some; Neal’s guitar sounds in parts like Cardinals songs such as Natural Ghost and Sink Ships, and a song called Queen Sylvia sounds a lot like Ryan’s Sylvia Plath. These similarities aren’t a bad thing, and really only serve to show how much the Cardinals took to Ryan’s music. I am extremely charmed by Neal’s songwriting skills. He and Jon leave the stage to a lot of applause and the audience waits impatiently for an encore.

It comes in the guise of just Neal, who plays an upbeat and jaunty little tune called Tomorrow’s Sky, which with the exception of Chasing Her Ghost is probably my favourite of the night. Neal then says, “Come on Jon man, come on up here!” so Jon rejoins him and they play two more songs and finish just after 11. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself and am giving this gig an 8/10.

Rebecca McCormick


Johnny Flynn
17.5.10 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Johnny Flynn needs to take some echinacea. The last time he was in Leeds he played the Brudenell by himself and had a shockingly bad throat. Tonight he’s backed up by his band The Sussex Wit, but his throat is bad again and he struggles to sing.

The Cockpit has made an effort tonight, though, with tables and candles in the main room. Sadly the audience is somewhat sparse and even after the lacklustre support band it remains fairly empty. Johnny and the band start strong with The Box and Cold Bread, but after this Johnny starts apologising for his voice. Clearly I’m not the only one who was at the Brudenell in November, because there’s some mild heckling. Undeterred the band rattle through some new songs like Kentucky Pill and Lost And Found, as well as touching on Johnny’s solo EP Sweet William. There’s a nice mix of old and new songs, giving us a chance to hear the new stuff love (the album drops June 7th). There’s a crowd-pleasing version of Tickle Me Pink where we are, to be honest, the lead singer, since Johnny can’t manage the high notes at the end.

Johnny Flynn is one of the new breed of folk music that’s popular at the moment – check him out if you like Laura Marling or Emmy the Great or Jeremy Warmsley. They are all very different, but they have the same attitude to music and much of the same style.

Johnny sort of makes up for his voice by playing brief interludes on both trumpet and violin, and he does keep apologising and promising Leeds he’ll do better next time, but after Eyeless in Holloway the band are done, and there is no encore. I adore Johnny and his music and will forgive him a lot, but there’s only so many times I’ll put up with a bad vocal performance before I give up entirely. Tonight scores a somewhat disappointing 6/10.

Rebecca McCormick


The Unthanks + Hannah Peel
26.5.10 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

An early date on the Unthanks, “Here Is the Tender Coming” tour, named after their third album , from 2009, and coinciding with the re-release of the first album, ‘Cruel Sister’, originally released in 2005, but unobtainable for the last 18 months. The tour also consolidates the band’s name change, from Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, (used temporarily to reflect the new band line up, and while Rebecca Unthank was taking a bit of a back seat while being at University), to a more accurate reflection of a band build around the unique voices of the two Unthank sisters.

This was a gig that had been looked forward to for months and that, in the end, turned out to be almost absolute perfection.

Due to a lengthy sound check the doors opened late, and so as soon as people were settled Rachel came out to quiet the audience and introduce multi-instrumentalist, singer and current band member, the very lovely and charming Hannah Peel as the support act for the evening. A solo artist in her own right, Hannah joined the Unthanks for this tour, hot foot from studio work with Tuung, and occasional work with her friend, Laura Groves, of Bradford’s Blue Roses, who provided keyboards and vocals on a couple of the numbers in Hannah’s short set this evening.

Hannah gave us a selection of her own quirky, idiosyncratic material, like the first song, “The Almond Tree”, the very strange tale of Temperance the deer, who poisons people with meat, with musical accompaniment from the Farfisa piano organ; “Song of the Sea” and “Solitude”, accompanying herself on solo piano; but the last thing I expected to hear tonight was a re-imagined version of the Cocteau Twins, “Sugar Hiccup”, sung along to a music box. This was taken from, “Re-box” an EP of covers done on the music box, (originally released on 7” vinyl but still available from I-Tunes as a download). We were also treated to an equally enchanting music box version of New Order’s “Blue Monday”, with Laura on synth. and vocals, before Hannah’s final song, using a backwards music box loop and solo piano accompaniment.

I won’t attempt to describe how mesmerising some of Hannah’s performance was, but simply recommend you check out, http://www.myspace.com/hanpeel , and maybe try to catch her when she re-visits the Brudenell on July 4th.

‘Magical’ is one of my, (many), over used words, but I can’t find a better one to sum up the Unthanks band’s performance. Ten people crammed onto the Brudenell’s stage, looking a little cramped and precarious at times – seven bonny lasses, and three, well, not so bonny lads, (No offence gentlemen, but given the competition what else can I say?), a string section, brass section, double bass, piano, drums, keyboards, melodeon, guitar, banjo, ukulele, auto-harp, marimba, bouts of clog-dancing, and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten – so no wonder the doors opened late due to the sound check. Still, from where we were sitting the sound, the singing and the playing were all immaculate, and well worth the wait outside.

Drawing on all three of their albums, opening with “Felton Lonnen” from their second album, “The Bairns”, one outstanding performance followed another; “Annachie Gordon”, “Here’s the Tender Coming”, everyone looking and sounding, entirely comfortable and assured on stage, making everything appear effortless and seamless. If Rachel and Rebecca were not kind enough to remind us that these were ‘traditional’ song, most originating from the North East of England, and to tell us a little of the long stories behind many of the songs, it would be easy enough to regard them as originals, given the Unthanks arrangements, and the uniqueness of the sister’s voices, as soloists and in spell-binding harmonies.

The band had the audience they deserted, and despite the venue being packed there were times when you could have heard a pin drop, or, at least once, when the sisters sang unaccompanied, and without microphones, a car-alarm bleating in the car-park outside the venue.

It’s funny - given that for half my life I’d associated ‘folk-music’ with beardy, real ale swilling , Arran-sweater wearing, finger in the ear blokes, singing songs with endless verses; after having been dragged a few times to the Staincliffe Hotel folk club at Seaton Carew by my Mam and Dad when I was in my early teens – that all the gigs I’ve been to so far this year can be filed firmly under the ‘folk’ label; including The Imagined Village at Leeds Irish Centre, and a semi-pilgrimage all the way to Lincoln to sit in a school hall surrounded by mostly pensioners and be mesmerised and awe-struck by Martin Carthy’s guitar playing and Norma Waterson’s singing. But perhaps it’s just important to remember how useless musical label’s are, and how apt for the Unthanks to quote the late great Louis Armstrong on their MySpace page, (http://www.myspace.com/rachelunthank ): “...all music is folk music, I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”

Of course, that is not to devalue the work that bands like the Unthanks are doing in keeping these old songs alive, fresh and relevant, by placing themselves firmly within the English folk tradition, and in extending and broadening that tradition in new and surprising directions. So, tonight we are reminded of this by the choice of material, and in particular, a stunning cover of Robert Wyatt’s “Sea Song”, and an interpretation of Lal Waterson’s “At Firsts She Starts”, both with Rebecca taking the lead voice; a rendition of “Twenty Long Weeks”, like some slow Nick Cave song, sung by Geordie angels; “John Dead”, sung by the sisters, unaccompanied and at the front of the stage without microphones; an audience sing-a-long to a chorus of “Till the tide comes in..”, from “Blues Gaen Oot O’the Fashion”

Both of the sister’s have voices so absolutely unique and distinct as to make comparison almost a ridiculous exercise. Rebecca has a ‘smokey’ undertone that made me want to write Billie Holiday in my notebook, but really, given they sing in their regional voices, if they have folk precursors, one can only really cite the Nottinghamshire singer, Anne Briggs; and of course, Lal and Norma Waterson, especially in the way that their voices interweave and complement each other when they sing in effortless harmonies. Truly great voices, that on songs like “The Testimony of Patience Kershaw”, (a song based on a transcript of the real words of a working woman from 1842), can move a grown man to tears.

So why was the gig only almost absolute perfection? Well, on their album, “The Bairns” they have a cover of a song by Terry Conway, “Fareweel Regality”; that I first heard Terry sing on an album called, “The Northumberland Collection”, by Kathryn Tickell and Friends. I find the Unthank’s version so moving and powerful, for reasons completely unfathomable to me, that it makes my spine tingle and I have to choke back sobs every time I hear it, and that’s quite a confession for a grizzly old bloke like me. So of course I had hoped to hear the lasses sing it live - but then, maybe it was for the best that they didn’t, since the Brudenell might not have been dark enough to hide my inevitable embarrassment at being such a big softie.

Like I said at the very beginning, the Leeds show was an early date on the tour, so if you are quick you might catch the mighty- fine Unthanks live in another town, or look out for them at one of their many festival appearances. There is no need to take my word for it, you will feel yourself in the presence of greatness, but be prepared to be moved occasionally to tears.

Bill Howe


Here We Go Magic + Phosphorescent
18.05.10 - The Lexington, London

On arrival to The Lexington, fresh from my first whiff of the stale, sweaty ‘summer stench’ of the tube I was pleasantly surprised to see a reasonable crowd assembling and the support act, Phosphorescent, just tuning up and check-one-two-ing. Their first time in London from Brooklyn, the band put on a decent show and received a warm reception from the ever growing crowd filing in for Here We Go Magic. Consisting of six members and with an organ and pedal steel competing with the two guitars and bass the sound did become a bit muddy in the more riotous sections of the set as with Here We Go, but big band plus small venue never equals great sound. Their songs however, managed to shine through and the set, sweet though short, definitely impressed.

By the time Here We Go took the stage, the venue was almost full with what seemed to be real fans of the band, I sight I rarely see at small gigs in London making it refreshing all the more. The band played around an hour of quirky psychedelic pop jams that got everyone moving and seemed fitting under the primary school art display style decorations hanging from the ceiling, almost as if they’d put them there themselves. The set began with jaunty psych-pop a la Clap Your Hands Say Yeah complete with seriously great backing vocals and quickly turned off into 60’s Floyd territory with squealing organ solos (provided by their very sexy keyboard player), pounding bass grooves and crazed guitars that tumbled over and fell into each other to create some really fun and catchy psych pop tunes with a clear method buried deep down in their madness.

Here We Go received a great reception from it’s audience who were growing ever more animated as the songs continued and the sound swelled. The band put on a blinder, soldiering on despite the kick pedal breaking and one of the keyboards cutting out mid solo. With MGMT’s latest offering and a new Here We Go Magic album out on June 8th this kind of sunny psych pop could hopefully come back, and I hope it does...too many bands taking themselves way too seriously these days. Anyone who’s going Glasto, be sure to check them out, it’ll be well worth it.

A.Tzikas


The Brian Jonestown Massacre
14.5.10 - Shepherds Bush Empire

A few months back I interviewed Anton Newcombe of legendary psychedelic rock collective the Brian Jonestown Massacre for one of the web sites I write for. Infamous for his eccentricity and dislike of journalists as well as well documented bouts of physical violence, I approached the event with natural caution. My most recent memory was seeing him obliterate a heckler at a London gig with a barrage of laser-targeted abuse. He stormed off the stage at least two or three times during the gig.

The Newcombe I met was erudite, fiercely intelligent, well-read, contradictory, alternately arrogant and humble, and above all passionately creative. With a clear head after a period of self-enforced sobriety, he was polite and friendly throughout. So don't believe everything you read in the music press.

So I arrive at the Shepherds Bush Empire with a different perspective than many. Let's start with the support band. They only murmured their name once in embarrassed stoner rock fashion, so unfortunately your reviewer is unable to enlighten you on who these gentlemen may have been. There were five of them, and they were actually quite good, but as usual the crowd were largely disinterested and applause was polite rather than rapturous.

I can only imagine how great the roar that greeted BJM must have felt from the stage. With Matt Hollywood and Anton Newcombe playing together live after years apart, devotees of the band had already got their money's worth.

With such a large back catalogue, it's no surprise that the songs that get the best reaction tonight are the classics: When Jokers Attack gets an awesome reception (with six guitarists playing at full pelt). If I shut my eyes when I hear Who? it could be 1967. Vacuum Boots, the second track in tonight's set, is energetic and deliciously ramshackle. Servo drives the message home with its insistent rhythm and riffs.

Matt Hollywood plays the guitar with a disdain Alex James can only dream of. In fact he spends most of the gig facing away from the audience, strumming away to the drummer. Percussionist Joel Gion is the polar opposite – animated, chatting with the crowd, shaking his tambourine like his life depends on it.

The jumping gets higher in the audience as crowd surfers are gently peeled from the morass. Plastic pint glasses are thrown at the stage, but Anton doesn't flinch. Times may have changed, but this band remains an awesome musical force. Overlooked by the mainstream press, they can pack out one of London's biggest gig venues and send 2,000 music lovers blinking into the night - tired, sweaty, satiated. Forget the albums, if you really want to connect with this band, hunt down a live show and get down to the front of the crowd. You won't be disappointed.

Chris Moffatt


Lightspeed Champion
10.5.10 - Heaven, London

Wandering coolly around the venue pre-gig, Dev Hynes could just be another typical London gig punter. It's only when you hear him sing that you realise the depth of his talent.

By rights, he should have his face plastered on bus stops across the country, and be playing a decent slot at this year's Glastonbury festival. Instead, record companies continue to force feed us the awful Kate Nash and buffoons like Paolo Nutini. In Lightspeed Champion we have a British songwriter in the classic Dylan/James Taylor mould, more than capable of writing melodies that swim in your head for days, combined with intelligent, ironic and thoughtful lyrics and harmonies that the Beach Boys would be proud of.

Dev kicks off with Marlene, one of the best tracks from his latest album Life is Sweet, Good to Meet You. Let me know if you hear a funkier beat from a songwriter this year. Faculty of Fears is another highlight. Midnight Surprise is a crowd favourite, another great melody with more than a hint of Bright Eyes about it.

Heaven isn't a particularly great gig venue, but the energy coming from the stage more than makes up for this, and there's plenty of love coming from the audience.

On stage there's no showboating, and the set comes in at a compact thirty minutes, but I've heard more good tunes in that time than you get on most albums. Fans of Field Music, Conor Oberst and The Dears will find much to love in the work of Lightspeed Champion.

Chris Moffatt


Shy Child
22.4.10 – ICA, London

Arriving at 7pm and finding out the first act don’t go on stage until 8.45pm, I wasn’t worried how I was going to pass my time. With good food, a DJ at the bar and a Billy Childish exhibition the ICA was a lively place to be late night Thursday.

First up was a Brighton outfit in the name of Pope Joan, an indie pop band with quirky synth. Not really knowing what to expect I was taken aback by their energy, especially the lead singer Sammy Aaron Jr with his shouty vocals. The crowd took a warm liking to their dance floor friendly music. My personal favourite had to be the dark and delightful Mattias, sang in a dramatic storytelling fashion.
A great performance which left the crowd ready for the main act, what more can you ask from a support band.

Finally we came to the main act, Shy Child. They first hit the UK airways with their third album Noise Won’t Stop back in 2007. After a successful year on the festival circuit, supporting the The Klaxons and appearing on Later with Jools Holland, the band fell off our radar. Three years later they’re back on tour with their 4th album ‘Liquid Love’. Hoping to get some great pics, my heart dropped when I saw them set up close to the edge of the stage and the lights behind them. It’s difficult to engage with your crowd when all they can see is your silhouettes. The old hits like The Noise Won’t Stop and Drop the Phone got the crowd moving, others like the new Disconnected had the same effect but with less energy. Gone is the edgy rebellious Shy Child that I first fell for and in comes a more pop version. A highly enjoyable evening but everyone left with one question on their mind ....... where was Pete’s Keytar?

http://www.myspace.com/popejoan
http://www.myspace.com/shychildmusic

Sharon Soor


The Duke And The King + Danny And The Champions Of The World + Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou
24.4.10 - Academy Club, Manchester

Gathered in the basement of Manchester’s Academy Club are a group of people who prefer their music a little off the beaten track. Tonight’s gig, essentially a collection of some of this country’s most competent exponents of folk, along with headliners Duke And The King from across the pond, you get the sense very few here have simply stumbled across this event.

First on is Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou, a married duo who play folk tunes whilst singing about the mundane and every day. Not that the songs are mundane or every day but, in the greatest of folk traditions, simply talk about the normal, simple things in life set to a meandering, wistful soundtrack. It’s genuinely pleasant music, extremely difficult to dislike even if a little difficult to become overly enthusiastic about. It is a shame that, as they play, the room is half empty as it certainly deserves a larger audience, if only to allow people to form an opinion.

The room then begins to fill in expectation of Danny And The Champions Of The World and it is clear from the buzz amongst the crowd that many of those assembled tonight are here simply to see this main support act. The band is a collection of many of the players of the UK folk scene, a folk super group as it were, headed by the charismatic Danny Wilson. Tonight the band consists of Danny plus the nights previous players, Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou. Imagine Bruce Springsteen but instead of the E Street Band support is given by the Woolpackers. Springsteen on a banjo and it is as excellent as it is curious.

And then tonight’s headline act. All the way from New York State, in the good old US of A, come 4 piece The Duke And The King. American folk sounds with songs describing the great, shattered American dream of the everyman. A truly competent band, members swap instruments and vocals throughout the set. Our lady violinist has a lilting, haunting voice, our drummer has a soulful, booming holler that seems to negate the need for a microphone. Middle of the set song, Susanne, is quite possibly the saddest song I’ve ever heard, charting one man’s unrequented love of a lady, and although the set is blighted towards the end by sound problems this only results in the highlight of the show, the band playing an acoustic offering without amps or microphones, which sends the crowd wild. The band claim they grew up round camp fires in the New York state mountains and watching them on the stage you get a sense of this. 4 friends gathered on stage playing as they would if gathered in the hills. On stage ho downs also feature, banter with the crowd is witty and warm. Having listened to the band’s music beforehand I was expecting a dour, dark affair but, although much of the subject matter documents the bleaker side of life it is delivered on stage with such warmth and humour it can only be considered a positive experience.

An excellent live show from start to finish, blighted only by the extremely unhelpful door staff whose refusal to speak to the promoters denied Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou the interview arranged with Tasty.

Jim Johnston


Trail
22.4.10 - Cross Kings, London

Trail took to the stage just after all the charity money was stolen. “I want to have a chat with who stole the money,” lectures lead-singer, Charlie Afif, “if it was you, or your friend, or someone you know, please persuade they to give it back, no questions asked.”

Despite the do-gooder protestations and crime-related fear-mongering among the audience, it was a relief to have five-piece indie outfit, Trail, on stage; they were playing a charity gig and the previous hour had resembled a grimy Butlins club night, complete with camp cabaret musical numbers, a booed off female “comedian” and various slaughtered cover versions (they should ban some people from owning loop machines).

After being a little disappointed by their debut album, “To the Rest of the World”, I wanted to give Trail a go live to see if their mechanical rock had more flair in the flesh. They certainly looked like they knew what they were doing; as they sauntered onto the stage, their ‘designer’ image would’ve made Coldplay’s Chris Martin jealous.

With ‘Prism’ as the opening number, they soared through their first song. In fact, they soared through their entire set. Followed by ‘Forever Young’ and ‘Worry Free’, even a new song (about vampires) from their new album couldn’t make this band falter from their flawless performance, influenced by the likes of the Foo Fighters, Blink 182 (on the drums) and Coldplay.

The performance was crisp, succinct, no-nonsense indie-rock. These guys have got the tunes and talent but yet they’re still lacking oomph. It’s as if everything has been carefully choreographed; down to the way Charlie Afif caresses his microphone and guitarist turns mid-way through a song to nod in time to the drummer (although perhaps avoiding eye-contact with a middle-aged couple drunkenly jumping around at the front).

If their ear-pieces were for a click-track, I say, lose it. It’s sleek and slick but lacking all the excitement of seeing a band live. I could’ve stayed at home and listened to their album and had the same experience – and foregone the musical torment at the beginning of the evening.

Jenny Williams


Danny and the Champions of the World
19.04.10 - Union Chapel, Islington

A church hall could not have been a more perfect venue for Danny and the Champions of the World’s acoustic set. As Danny shuffles onto the stage, in front of lines of church pews, to join fellow bandmates, Hannah Lou and Trevor Moss, “How are we doing?” he chirps – and, with no messing around, they’re off: banjo, ukulele and acoustic guitar.

While album, ‘Streets of Our Time’, is intentionally ramshackle and a little rough around the edges, Danny George Wilson, Hannah Lou and Trevor Moss’s three quarters of an hour set (supporting The Duke and the King) in a chapel in Islington is far from it. Gobsmacking three-part harmonies sound as synchronised as if sung from a single, joint breath, bringing Fleet Foxes to mind – and putting them to shame.

As the candles circling the room flicker among the red stage lighting, and the audience shuffle in the pews, Danny doesn’t stop to chat, the three ‘champs’ sway through their set with full attention upon their musical creation. They cover all their albums highlights, including, ‘Follow the River’ and ‘Streets of Our Time’, ‘Restless Feet’ and ‘Truest Kind’ with more simplicity than the recorded versions’ E Street Band vibe. While their stage presence is unassuming, Danny’s voice is fantastically granular and far more impressive sounding live than recorded on the recent album.

As the trio step away from their mics and sing outwards to the chapel’s acoustics, the simplicity of their evocative songs rings out. It’s ethereal. As they finish their last song in perfect harmony, Danny pipes up, “Come and say hello. We’ll be at the back. Don’t feel like you need to buy anything,” he says humbly, as if saying this sentence is the official ending of the song. Some music doesn’t lend itself to being recorded. This is true for Danny and the Champs; their music needs to be shared live. Preferably in a chapel.

Jenny Williams


Reef
18.4.10 – UEA, Norwich

There is, Reef fans take note of the irony, a line in Mike Leigh’s Naked, where Archie (Ewen Bremner) asks Johnny (David Thewlis) is he’s ‘takin’ the piss’. Johnny, without so much of a beat, responds ‘taking it? You’re giving it away, aren’t you’. And that sums up any attempt to accuse Reef of selling out. The band who were first introduced to the public in conjunction with that other lasting treasure the minidisc are now selling their wares on the ‘it’s like I’m fifteen again’ merry-go-round.
But Reef, ho ho, aren’t giving anything away for free, hee hee; for an extra tenner on your ticket price, you can listen to Reef sound check, meet the band and, here’s the really, really, really good part, visit the merchandise stall THIRTY MINUTES before anyone else. What is the bloody point? Honestly. The music industry complains that it’s dying due to downloading; bands bemoan a lack of cash from album sales, so they put up ticket prices. Things keep going this way, music will hopefully die out as an art form. People will talk about four piece rock acts in the same way we do about mime artists, or white dog shit.
So now what? Do I review Reef? Perpetuating their dirty money grubbing truffle hunt of Great Britain (what next, charging groupies ten quid to give the eternally youthful Gary Stringer a hand job, twenty quid if you want to do it on the tour bus). People will go and see them and they’ll put their hands up (even though it’s ‘on’, isn’t it, Will). There’s no stopping them, because we all desire nostalgia, and in our gone in a flash culture, nostalgia has a twenty minute turn around. Gary Stringer looks a bit like he’s laughing at the crowd, I kept expecting him to utter the words ‘ever feel like you’ve been cheated’, but he just kept saying meaningless sentences with the word Norwich in. No-one else seemed to notice, maybe it was just me.
Tom enjoyed it. That’s not a slight, by the way. But then, they were a band he was into as a teen, and I wasn’t. The whole experience was like attending a leaving do for some guy you never worked with, who keeps on making in-jokes you’re not in on. Everyone else in attendance looked absolutely thrilled; a school reunion without any of the dickheads who went to your school.
I can’t, though, express how utterly loathsome I think charging your fans extra for shite is. A sound check, for ten pounds? That’s not a special offer, that’s an affront to your fan base. Not to mention charging them, the people who gave you a career, a tenner to meet you. Fuck. Pete Shelley, from The Buzzcocks, used to ask people for their signature if they asked for his, because he found the whole thing embarrassing. Not you though, ay Reef? Not a bit of it. Honest, I’m sure it’s an overreaction on my part, but I can’t get passed it. I’m seething. It’s not the death of music, but it’s that kind of whimpering noise that lets you know that the wound is never going to heal, and the pain is all too much to bear.

0/10 from me

Tom gave it a 7/10: They gave it all they’ve got. Played the hits, sounded tight, and he’s still got the voice. Zeus was awesome as well.

N.B. Zeus, the bass playing Norse warrior, was quite a treat actually. You want to google image that chap.

Sean Gregson


Angus & Julia Stone + Alan Pownall
16.4.10 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

The Brudenell was at near-capacity on Friday night, if not totally sold out, and was filled with a nice mix of people, from young students to older people dotted around the edges. Too often crowds at the Brudenell are full of hipster students, given its location in the middle of student land. But this was a diverse crowd and it was better for the performers.

Alan Pownall was accompanied by a guy on guitar who sang and played some beautiful harmonies with him. Pownall describes himself as sounding like Michael Bublé, but I feel this is unfair; he’s a lot more soulful and genuine-sounding than the polished Bublé. I’m going to call him acoustic soul, and I’m going to say that I quite like it. He played an accomplished set, which included some of the tracks that are free for download on his website (http://www.alanpownall.com/home) and a cover of the Strokes song ‘Someday’. This was downbeat and quite beautiful in a very different way to the original, I love when artists do this. Pownall’s album is due out in July and he is an artist I intend to keep an eye on.

Angus and Julia took to the stage with a drummer and a bass player in tow to flesh out their sound. Julia is engaging and very sweet, she sounds like a normal girl, but then her voice changes immensely when she sings. Angus sounds permanently stoned and it’s to his disadvantage, because it means that his anecdotes about certain songs are lost in his mumble. I’d actually like to know what he said but I wasn’t the only one who didn’t catch a word of what he was saying.

I’ve seen Angus & Julia before, supporting Martha Wainwright 18 months ago, and they seem to have matured and gained fans in that time. They engaged with the crowd when asked for certain songs, and use their voices as much as any other instrument. They also seem to have a way of appearing to cover their own songs live, by adding things and taking things away and, in the case of ‘Hollywood’ (probably my favourite of the night) by adding a distinctly jazz feel to it. It sounds almost as if they’re doing covers of their own songs, in a lovely, familiar way. I wish more bands would do this but it does take talent.

Julia sang a cover of ‘You’re The One That I Want’, mentioning something about Olivia Newton John beforehand. Julia also has a touch of the mumbles, but not as bad as Angus. The crowd helpfully sang John Travolta’s part, which seemed to please Julia.

Angus & Julia Stone are Australian and fit quite nicely with many similar Australian indie bands. If you like your indie chilled out and mellow while remaining clever, I recommend them.

Rebecca McCormick


Olaf Arnolds
15.4.10 - Cafe Oto, London

“Ah, it’s that song they always sing in Canada,” greets the duet Ólöf Arnalds and Davíð Þór Jónsson provide whilst their audience is given gracious permission to visit the bar and to use the toilet.

This is after Davíð Þór Jónsson’s introductory solo set has seamlessly become Ólöf Arnalds’ first in London, one which she reveals afterwards (when we approach her to compliment her on her performance and beautiful red dress – which mentioning in the main body of this review would see me impeached) she has been nervous about. Yet this isn’t shown throughout a debut in which she is utterly charming, winning, and with Jónsson’s piano and guitar accompaniment, captivating.

Davíð Þór begins the evening by turning off the lightbulb right at the front of Dalston’s Café Oto, a venue renowned for its outstanding line-up of esteemed jazz and outsider musicians. Tonight’s sell-out crowd is rewarded with a late spring night of intimacy, with lowered lights and artists pinned in place due to the eruption of a volcano in Arnalds’ homeland. She makes light of it throughout her set, her English more impeccable than that of Jónsson, whose humour comes across as slightly more dry. After standing on a chair to dim the lighting manually, he continues to perform in a DIY, free way, verging on performance art and feeling at home in Oto, manipulating the miniature grand piano he plays on with cards and, at one point, with a bottle of water. His minimalist playing is intriguing, teasing, and though he seems at times to be performing via a fibre optic transmission from another stratosphere, he catches his moment to become the charismatic host of Ólöf Arnalds’ maiden London performance as someone sneezes in the audience, smiling and blessing them.

Ólöf is all smiles, explaining tirelessly all of her songs, and her free and easy attitude – remaining Icelandic in the face of the suspension of all flights to and from home indefinitely – allows for a warm, easy night, progressing from Davíð Þór’s somewhat jittery solo performance. They both regularly switch instruments, and songs seem to interconnect, Ólöf at one point choosing to go through a series of songs which used what she claimed “my guitar nerd friends call” the “omelette”.

As a performer, she is particularly memorable not just for charming an entire audience of hardcore Serious Music aficionados, but for being able to seamlessly mix songs in her native tongue, in English and, at one point, in Japanese; for mixing covers with her own material; for having enough nous to improvise effectively; for mixing serious musicianship with a serious ability to have fun, to enjoy her own performances and to play freely.

Her soft voice becomes powerful on songs especially the short, beautiful ‘Klara’, which has been anticipated highly, it would appear, by the audience, despite being sung entirely in Icelandic, and despite only a handful of people in the room speaking that tongue (one of whom she thanks for providing her with an instrument fashioned from an armadillo – this isn’t cruel, she contends; Ólöf herself wouldn’t mind being turned into a musical instrument upon death). She also sings songs written at the height of the Icelandic banking collapse, encapsulating the angry spirit of a nation at that point; she sings to her friend, in New York, urging her to “come home”, entitled ‘Crazy Car’, which produces laughter from the audience, with her and Davíð Þór imploring said friend, slowly, “Don’t go in that cray – zy – car”, telling the audience that they will, in fact, make a circle fit in a square.

Ólöf has said that her songs are largely spontaneous. Her first steps on British soil show that she has a unique talent for doing so, a wonderful partnership with Davíð Þór Jónsson, and a charisma and determination that is capable of winning the sternest audiences. With her second record out later this year, her free spirit is set to take her wherever it will go – and hopefully that’ll be back in London again, very soon.

Phil Coales


Vashti Bunyan
11.4.10 - Union Chapel

The Union Chapel is brilliantly lit, its tower supported by scaffolding as the £1.1m restoration works go on, supporting the exceptional talents, new and old, of the new classical and folk movements. Danny Norbury is an altogether different proposition on cello, looping his full bowed instrument with the accompaniment of Nancy Elizabeth, who normally sings, but tonight adds to the structurally delicate build of Norbury’s ambient solo work. It is gentle, it is calming and it adds to the expectation for Vashti Bunyan.

A Vashti Bunyan concert is a special event, and the Chapel perhaps the perfect venue for so tender an evening. After Norbury finishes, the charismatic David Kitt takes the stage, admitting that he has had next to no rest from his performance of the night before, and noting wryly that his albums don’t get released anywhere apart from Ireland before. The majority of his performance is spent with his own accompaniment, two of the Magic Numbers, who from Romeo’s recent producing work seem to be now linking up with the modern folk world at grass roots level. Kitt’s songs follow on well from Norbury, in that they are simple, and why, charming. He is, especially accompanied by the voice of, well, of the woman from the Magic Numbers, perhaps overly precious, because the majority of the crowd isn’t here to be lulled by man-folk, but by the slight mysticism of Vashti Bunyan.

Another short break, where tea and flapjacks are served, and then she walks out, sitting down in the middle of the stage. Perhaps feeling awkward at the prospect of entertaining such an expectant crowd, Vashti explains, softly, each and every song, taken from the back catalogue that has been resumed in the last few years after lying dormant ever since she seemingly vanished in the mid 1960s, to the North and to Hebrides. Her songs are of adventure, of finding love, “naivety” she calls it, and of being disillusioned; the fragility of her voice, which she famously once pinned as being that of a “12 year-old choirboy”, is still an expression of curiosity, and an object of enchantment.

Vashti doesn’t need to explain. She does as a mother, now; as someone who has travelled, in search of freedom, love and shelter; as experienced. Her soft words and lyrics focused on spring (“Glow Worms”), simple and pure love (“If in Winter”) and nature – her realm, a playground which is profoundly more magical than anything else on show tonight, or to be found at any other folk show. The highlight of the evening is the recorder quartet which joins Vashti onstage for “Rainbow River”, faithfully rendered as arranged by the late Robert Kirby. The showcase of new material, which Vashti says she’s still working on, leaves the enraptured pews hoping, wishwandering, that she may continue on her journey for a while longer, and report back.

Phil Coales


Laura Marling + Allesi's Ark + Boy & Bear
16.4.10 - Birmingham Alexandra Theatre

First off the bat something has to be said for the setting of last nights performance. Shunning the typical Birmingham Academy route, Miss Marling instead opted for a venue more befitting of her beatific, acoustic laments; Birmingham's gorgeous Alexandra Theatre. The sound was phenomenally clear and powerful throughout all 3 sets and the atmosphere of the venue really added to the overall effect of the music. The uncomfortably tight seating arrangement (anyone over 6 foot tall basically spent the night in a state of contorted agony) was admittedly unfortunate but thankfully the music was so consistently enrapturing that after 30 minutes I barely noticed my kneecaps slowly caving in (a slight over-statement maybe but seriously Alexandra sort it out!).

It was a packed night of quality music from the get go with Australian quintet 'Boy & Bear' taking to the stage first to muted applause. They launched straight into their set of graceful acoustic soft-rock with gusto, the spare, echoing drums and delicate guitars backed by some of the closest harmonies this side of Fleet Foxes. It was a far from varied set and their Bon Iver cover was perhaps a little predictable but for such a young band they carried themselves with a humble grace and had a handful of really stellar songs, chief amongst which was the rumbling, upbeat single 'Mexican Mavis'. The harmonies were tight and expertly crafted but were used perhaps a little too heavily with almost every part of every songs backed by a wall of subtle "ooo's" and "ahh's". Similar bands such as Grizzly Bear and the afore-mentioned Fleet Foxes manage to get the balance just right and as Boy & Bear have a really charismatic and gifted lead singer in Dave Hosking it's almost a shame he wasn't allowed to spread his wings a little more. Overall however it was a great set from an exciting new band who effortlessly won over a fair share of the audience.

Next up was Hammersmith native 19 year old Alessi's Ark who spent the first half of her set backed only by her good friend 'Marcus' on heavily effected lead guitar. His dense delays and swirls backed a nervous Alessi's delicate strums and vocals which came across as a cross between the quirkiness of Bjork or Joanna Newsom and the country-tinged purity of Emmylou Harris. Her plaintive croon and delicate balladry was enchanting at first but as time wore on and the tone, tempo and instrumentation locked into a steady pattern I noticed myself watching the clocks. Thankfully the pair were eventually joined onstage by Laura Marling's keyboard played Ben Roe who added another dimension to Alessi's whisper-thin melodies. Marcus also switched to double bass for a couple of numbers which really added weight to the mix. Alessi was obviously nervous at first but opened up a little as the set progressed even sharing a few light hearted anecdotes regarding the international origins of a major high-street grocery store. The songs were all uniformly lovely but also quite interchangeable with no obvious stand-out tracks and Alessi and her Ark (your guess is as good as mine as to what the 'Ark' specifically represents) left the stage to polite applause.

Everyone was here for the headliner though and when Laura Marling and her band (consisting of drums, guitar, bass and cello) opened with 'Devil's Spoke' from the Reading songstress's recent critically acclaimed album 'I Speak Because I Can' almost without warning, the audience fell into a hushed, almost religious reverence. It's incredible for a woman of such tender years (she turned 20 in February) to have mastered her craft with such assurance, but after only one song I was simply floored by that calm, emotional voice, her commanding stage presence and the tight, focused sound of the band. 'Devils Spoke' and 'Hope In The Air' are two of the choicest cuts from 'I Speak Because I Can' and provided the set with a powerful opening salvo which rolled on through the next 5 songs. By far the most impressive songs of the night were the ones from the recently released album but the more light-hearted, low-key 'Ghosts' sounded right at home amidst it's more recent, accomplished brethren. The mere announcements of songs from her first album (2008's 'Alas I Cannot Swim') were treated with a rapturous reception by the audience but they all felt inferior to the more recent songs. We were even treated to 2 'brand new' songs when Laura's band departed mid-set to allow her to fill the stage with just her voice and guitar. The subtle lighting was incredibly effective here as her slight frame was echoed by a commanding shadow which surely reflects the towering talent housed inside such an unassuming young woman. She was utterly charming with the 2 new songs, her unique take on Neil Young's 'The Needle and the Damage Done' (preceded by a lovely little story which belies the cripplingly stage-shy persona she was once famed for inhabiting) and songs from both albums actually improved by the immediacy and intimacy of a solo performance. It was a clever move as it broke up the set nicely and reminded us all that Laura is indeed the star of the show. However that's not to belittle the talents of her band, without whom stirring songs such as 'Devils Spoke' and the almost middle eastern sounding darkness of 'Alpha Shadows' would not be a feasible or effective proposition.

The sole cover of the evening is an apt choice considering the heavy Youngisms present on 'Rambling Man' and 'Alpha Shadows' both of which could fir quite comfortably on Young's seminal 'Harvest' album but Laura Marling is very much a one-off performer. She might posses the delicate hands of Nick Drake and the soft, soulful pipes of Carol King but her voice and her talent are very much her own. If she impresses her other sold out audiences as easily as she did last night there's no telling just how far those talents will take her.

Setlist:-

1. Devil's Spoke
2. Hope In The Air
3. Rambling Man
4. Ghosts
5. Blackberry Stone

6. "New Song"
7. The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young Cover)
8. Failure
9. Night Terror
10. "New Song"
11. Made By Maid
12. Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)

13. What He Wrote
14. Alpha Shadows
15. Alas I Cannot Swim
16. My Manic and I
17. I Speak Because I Can

http://www.myspace.com/boyandbearmusic
http://www.myspace.com/alessisark
http://www.myspace.com/lauramarling

Benjamin Hiorns


Xeno & Oaklander + Led Er Est
13.4.10 - Bardens Boudoir

You wouldn’t have guessed it was a Tuesday night in this much loved basement venue. A Grave With No Name opened the night to a decent sized East London crowd. Having done some myspace research beforehand I was looking forward to hearing some melodic tunes to drift away too. Instead the soft, feather-light vocals were drowned by the rest of the band. Things then went from second rate to awkward. A couple of songs were out of time and one even had to be restarted. After making their apologies, the band didn’t regain composure; instead the crowd had to watch some disheartened faces looking for an exit. Not a great start to my first Tasty assignment.

The crowd stayed patient as they were really there to see two of Brooklyns’ minimal synth/coldwave offerings. Watching the lead singer of Led Er Est roll up his sleeves, I knew he meant business. An enjoyable contradiction of friendly synthpop induced with harsh abstract sounds, cleverly balanced with desolate vocals. With influences from the disco and post punk era, you got caught in a 70’s/early 80’s time warp. With an engaging stage presence, Led Er Est leave you fascinated and wanting more.

Xeno and Oaklander carried on the vibe with a more industrial approach. Liz took us to romantic foreign lands with her French lyrics and fragile vocals, on tracks like Rendezvous d’Or and Celeste. Sean on the other hand had a more sinister style on songs like Shadow World and The Shot, The Fall, only to be described as wonderfully eerie. Generally quite moody and haunting, while still keeping a dancefloor element. Overall a great night for celebrating organic electronic music with analogue synthesisers and drum machines. A really live experience with not a laptops in sight!


Liam Frost
13.4.10 - Tabernacle, London

Just when fans had almost given up hope after Liam’s first album ‘Show Me How The Spectres Dance’ had become all but a distant memory, he returned with a collection of beautiful new songs ‘Ain’t Got No Money…’ a love letter to Manchester, heartbreak and tragedy. And finally, these songs are given the proper live, full band outing they deserve in Notting Hill’s Tabernacle.

The venue is around half-full, but as Liam notes, he’s seemingly neither lsot or gained fans between the first and second album,. With a full band – guitar, bass, drums and keys, Liam’s songs are given the full instrumentation sound from the album, and sound all the better for it, filling the space with a pure, strong sound.

‘We Ain’t Got No Money…’ picks up where the first album left off, delving deeper into Liam’s fragile state of mind, plummet to rock bottom, and rise back up, as a new, slimmer and happier man.

The emotion in his performance is palable, as one would expect with such personal songs. And whilst Liam has grown up, he’s still only young, barley into is twenties, and his stage presence confirms this. From his confessions of babbling nervous nonsense the night before, to referring to the audience (no doubt affectionately), as ‘fuckers’, there’s clearly still room for improvement in his stage banter.

His set is both uplifting and heartbreaking in equal measures, from the glorious ‘Your Hand in Mine’ and ‘Held Tightly in Your Fist’ to the huge ballads of ‘Skylark Avenue’ and ‘Try, Try, Try’, and both at once in ‘The Mourners of St Pauls’.

Liam Frost is back, and better than ever.

Catriona Boyle


Archie Bronson Outfit
31.3.10 - ULU, London

As my friend Michael said after we lost in the final of the 2010 Great Shakespeare Debate to some grammar school near Leeds, "You just gotta be yourself, because haters gonna hate." Yeah, Alexander Tucker! Play your crazy instrument with strings (a guitar) and the other instrument with strings, and the other instrument with strings...

The ULU crowd, some of whom May Have been to shows where ATP-R artist Alexander Tucker has supported at before, may be wondering why in the name of cosmic rock he is supporting the oh-so-Domino Archie Bronson Outfit. As ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farrage asked the EU President "Who are you?", and the same questions are still being asked of a slightly wonderful doom-folk guitarist who frankly must have a better sense of humour than Mr Farrage to get him through nights like these. Either that, or he just likes playing music, for some strange reason.

But forget boneheads who hate stuff. Forget the dicky guy on the door refusing to acknowledge that I should get free entry to things because I write for some webzine. Forget even that a restrictor being added in at the last minute means the sound is worse than the band thought it would be and that it sounded fine during soundcheck so they play the gig effectively behind glass. Forget that I'm meant to be writing a letter to my girlfriend's parents explaining my intentions for our relationship. Forget UKIP.

Archie Bronson Outfit mix the dirt and the heaviness of 'Derdang Derdang' with the grooves and humour of 'Coconut' to put on a show. That show stands separate from the new album, from the sound set-up at ULU. It consists of 'grooves and humour', 'dirt and heaviness'. Those are the core tenets of ABO.

ABO later apologise for the sound. (The internet maligns Tucker and noone will ever apologise.) ABO did seem more sure of themselves when roaring through the well-loved 'Dart for my Sweetheart' and 'Cherry Lips'. And 'Hoola' did seem less vivid live. Maybe it was a slightly subdued performance, especially considering the brilliant sound of the album which somehow managed to infuse a new, more disco-related off-beat fuzz that turned songs like 'Harp for my Sweetheart' into 'Magnetic Warrior'. Maybe the infusion was slightly impotent tonight.

Maybe ABO's live 'reputation' will suffer due to sound issues, apparently beyond their control. Maybe. But when a band puts everything into a performance after spending 4 years making a sublime record, then maybe you can forgive them. After all, haters gonna hate.

Phil Coales