Friday, August 10, 2018

A musical journey by proxy...

It's been a while since I did one of these posts but I have to say it is always on my mind. The thing is that it just takes a little something to get started. In this case it is the realisation that I am spending twelve days over the next four weeks at music festivals.

For a start that means that I will be seeing one hell of a lot of live music.  Another aspect is that I need to prioritise what I wish to see and part of that is to examine the possibilities in the context of what I already know. Finally, it needs a seed to grow into an idea and at the time I was fairly sure that this might be one possibility. 
I was at the smallest stage of a festival almost four weeks ago and saw this woman live for the first time; in fact it was the first time that I had ever heard of her therefore I came to it with no preconceptions at all.
Nor indeed did I realise that Alabama blues was a thing. If I had then I would have come along with the concept that I was almost certainly gonna like this. I would have been right, too.
This turned out to be a starting point. It has still taken me almost four weeks to write about it.

Debbie Bond, Apple Garden stage, Truck Festival, 22 July 2018.

Back home she normally plays with full band backing. Here it was just her and, on keyboards or harmonica, 'Radiator' Rick Asherson. I'm actually rather glad that I first got to hear this music stripped back and in such a small and intimate setting. It was pretty much how I imagine it should be, for this is essentially down-home music. Try 'Enjoy the Ride (Shoal Sessions)' here.
What really prompted me to start writing is another artist, again new to me, who has been plying her trade for a long time.
In this case festivals or indeed live music was not involved. Based on what I have heard I would love that to change. Again not a household name --- I suspect that this applies in her home country too.

Sarah Peacock - Hot Sheet Motel EP (27 July 2018, American Roots Records).

This, her latest offering, is definitely toward the rock side of things and is what initially caught my ear. I can't actually recall how this came to be so. I suspect it was via a Spotify 'Discover Weekly' playlist. This is a more acoustic take on her craft.

Sarah Peacock - Beauty In The Ashes Unplugged Volume 1 (12 May 2017, American Roots Records).

What bearing does this have on what I might wish to see at forthcoming festivals?
I have the opportunity to see the gamut of somewhat younger female US artists live in a very short space of time.  At this time most are still playing the smaller stages and I can't imagine another circumstance in which this might be possible.
Here are five such, listed alphabetically by artist, that have come to my attention:
The respective releases that have lead to this see-live equivalent of a play-list are also there.  That might sound like a mission. In a way I suppose it is but it is just a splash in the pool when it comes to three 3½ day festivals.
I rather suspect that some of the highlights will be acts about which I currently know absolutely nothing at all. I really hope that this is the case once again. One of the very best things about festivals is the surprise factor. Truck Festival last month only served to remind me just how important that is.

Monday, July 30, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 22 - Eliza Gilkyson - Secularia

There is a total change of tack for this post. We head over to Austin, Texas and the realm of US folk and, in passing, something of a dynasty in that regard. This is the latest from Eliza Gilkyson.

Eliza Gilkyston - Secularia (Red House Records, 13 July 2018).
  • Solitary Singer
  • Lifelines
  • Conservation
  • In The Name Of The Lord
  • Dreamtime
  • Seculare
  • Reunion
  • Sanctuary
  • Through The Looking Glass
  • Emmanuelle
  • Down By The Riverside
  • Instrument
This has certainly caught my attention. It has also led me to investigate her extensive back catalogue too. I like the fact that it is about finding meaning but that the title suggests that it is, I guess essentially, about humanism.  I know that I will be returning to comment on this further in due course. It's steadfast tone but lack of dogma is very refreshing.

Her brother is guitarist Tony Gilkyson who played almost all the guitar parts for the biopic film 'Walk The Line'. Their father Terry Gilkyson was also a folk writer, singer and musician, being of the same generation as Woodie Guthrie, who wrote songs with and for many well known artists including, amongst others, Johnny Cash. He also widely entertained commissions for other artistic outlets including writing music for cinema.

That included this: one of the most widely recognised songs from animated film that there is:

 This is the original, slightly scratchy and static inflected, version. Just the bare necessities.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 21 - Phantastic Ferniture

Just as summer in the UK seems to have gone AWOL for the weekend comes the release of this gem from Australia, where it is winter, but that's just fine!  It's almost as if it had been organised to be so.  It is perfect summer leaning, summer seeking indie garage rock.

When Julia Jacklin finally made it back to her Australian homeland in the summer (Northern hemisphere definition) of 2017, after about a year of touring her excellent but folky and somewhat downbeat début LP 'Don't Let The Kids Win' across the US and Europe, she was ready for a break and a change. I saw her live twice in that time and I certainly got that impression on the second occasion even though she provided a great show and had visibly grown in confidence from the one almost a year earlier.

The project might possibly have started as an idea, concocted over a beer or two, by Julia and home-town friends Elizabeth Hughes and Ryan K. Brennan.  They are also joined by Tom Stephens.
Whatever the truth might be this feel-good garage rock album is the result. The only snag is that, if it were to be just a project for their own musical amusement, it has worked out rather too well. It's winning plaudits left, right and centre. Rightly so I think. It is light-hearted in intention but never trivial in sentiment. They might have created themselves a new problem here; this needs touring.

Phantastic Ferniture, Phantastic Ferniture (Transgressive Records, 27 July 2018).

Phantasic Ferniture:
  • Uncomfortable Teenager
  • Bad Timing
  • Fuckin 'N' Rollin
  • Gap Year
  • Take It Off
  • Parks
  • I Need It
  • Dark Corner Dance Floor
  • Mumma y Pappa

It is also a rare beast: the first half is good, plenty good enough to recommend this album. The second half is even better. Dark Corner Dance Floor is a serious statement of musical intent.

Friday, July 27, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 20 - Kick Out The Twang - Speedbuggy USA

Now this was fun! A band that I have seen before, at Truck Festival 2016, returned with a new album in tow and played two full sets within the space of 24 hours.  I saw all of both of those. That is only the sixth time that I have ever managed to do this with any artist.

Speedbuggy USA, Truck Festival,  Veterans & Virgins stage, 21 July 2018.

That new LP is this. It's a good time to be in the UK...

Kick Out The Twang - Speedbuggy USA (Wagon Wheel Records, 8 August 2018).

  • Take the Last Train to Clarksville
  • Get Around
  • Shaky Train
  • Hold My Head Up High
  • Southbound Train
  • Sorry
  • Wood Screws & Nails
  • Unchain My Heart
  • Long Gone
  • Honky Tonk Singer
  • The Devil With Me
  • Darlin' I'm Coming Home
And here is a picture from the second set.  Maybe the adults in the audience were a little jaded come Sunday lunchtime but the kids were just loving it. Great band and just lovely people too.

Speedbuggy USA, Apple Tree stage, 22 July 2018.

This was the playlist, more or less. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Festivals... Truck Festival 2018 and other things.

Two three-day festivals down and still three to go!
One of the great things about festivals is the expectation of seeing favourite artists once again. The other, perhaps more exciting still, is those complete surprises; the ones that blindside you and here is one such from last weekend.
Most festivals of any size run a competition for new artists with the prize(s) being a performance slot. Truck Festival is no exception. Once in a while this can be disappointing. This was most certainly not one of those occasions. Almost all original material and always beautifully done.

Charlotte Hackett, Market stage, Truck Festival, 21 July 2018.

This was not to be the first nor the last of such welcome surprises. There has been a big discussion in the media about the relative lack of female artists at UK festivals, especially in headline roles the last year or two. It is a valid point I think and Truck Festival isn't at all good on that count.
On the other hand it is often not the headline acts that make me want to go to a festival anyway. On that premise then Truck Festival actually hosted several very good acts that were either all-female or female-fronted. Given that writing about it seems a pretty obvious thing to do despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that I am male.

Truck has a bit of history when it comes to all female grunge/garage rock as I recall. Here is another manifestation of that.

London-based trio Hey Charlie. Market stage, Truck Festival, 22 July 2018.

Originally formed as an art college project in Brighton in 2014, Dream Wife took wing and perhaps surprisingly it is the only one of these three acts to have yet released a (self-titled)  LP 'Dream Wife' early in 2018, which arguably just goes to show just what new talent is on offer here.

Market stage, Truck Festival, 21 July 2018.
Originally from Iceland, Rakel Mjöll on lead vocals.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Beardy Folk Festival 2018

Back in the cold, dark days of January I started to think about festivals again. Even the wet days of the previous summer's shows somehow seemed less discouraging after four months or so. I had already made a decision that at least one new (at least new to me) festival would have to be included in 2018. That was about as far as my planning had got until near the end of January a brand new festival came to my attention.  I can't really recall how I became to know about it, but it was known as Beardy Folk Festival. The line-up, in so far as it was then available, looked very good indeed and there were super-early-bird tickets on offer. I bought one pretty much on a whim on 30th January. What is more, being in June it was well apart in time from all other festivals that I had ideas about attending.

Just what a fantastic decision that was only revealed itself last weekend. On Friday morning I headed north over the old Severn Bridge in glorious sunshine and then followed the river Wye north, pausing at Tintern and Monmouth, before arriving at the festival site near Cleobury Mortimer at about 12:40. Once was actually there I discovered just what a stunning location this is.  More importantly though is that it soon became obvious the level of attention that had been put into organising this event. If you did not not know that this was the inaugural edition then you would not have guessed that it was the case.
The stage premise was very simple - just two the performances on which never clashed. The smaller, acoustic stage shared a long open-sided marquee with the bar at the top end of the walled garden and the Main Stage was at the bottom of the slope at the other end. Approximately 300 yards separated the two. Around the sides of the upper half of the garden arena were the food stalls and the quality on offer was really good.
What had attracted me back in January was the list of acts announced then, and in particular some of those those lower down the running order.  One huge exception to that generality was, from Scotland and the main stage headline act on Saturday - Skerryvore.

Skerryvore, main stage, Beardy Folk Festival, 23 June 2018.

I had never had the chance to take live pictures of bagpipe playing before. Various small pipes yes,  but not the real deal. Then I ended up with two for the price of one! The band's latest LP 'Evo' was released 11 June 2018.
Up at the other end of the garden was another artist that I really wanted to see live and on the back of her two EPs 'Tracks and Trails' (2016) and 'Dandelion' (2017). It could hardly be further from the bombast of the above. Just voice and acoustic guitar, clearly British and she is based in the West Midlands, but quite evidently country-tinged. 

Demi Marriner, acoustic stage, 24 June 2018.

Next is an artist that I have seen live before and that, as a result of which, I was most keen to see live again.

Kitty Macfarlane. Main stage, 24 June 2018.

She played both stages that day and included several new songs. Her début album is scheduled for release this autumn. Her 'Tide & Time EP' was released in 2016

Another artist that played both stages was Kim Lowings and The Greenwood.  Whilst much of the music was from the traditional British folk canon the instruments were not so much so.  In this case Kim Lowings on mountain dulcimer and Andrew Lowings on bodhran.
Many of the songs were taken from the album 'Wild & Wicked Youth' (2017).

Kim Lowings and The Greenwood. Main Stage, 23 June 2018.

That's just a few of my highlights from what was a truly memorable weekend. My thanks to the main organiser, known only to me as Dave, and everyone else that made it such a great occasion.
I have no doubt that I shall be posting more about it very soon. Super-early-bird tickets for Beardy Folk Festival 2019 are available here.

Friday, June 29, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 19 - I'm All Ears - Let's Eat Grandma

I have taken a month off blogging but that certainly doesn't mean that I haven't been listening; be that recorded or live. I spent a wonderful three days at a brand new folk festival last weekend too. There will be plenty about that here sooner rather than later.

To ease back into writing this seemed an obvious start. It isn't folky at all. It is precipitated by the release of the second full-length album by a band that I saw live last summer.

I'm All Ears - Let's Eat Grandma (Transgressive Records, 29 June 2018).

The twisted pop and psychedelic leanings of their début LP 'I, Gemini' were quite something. It is worth noting that Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth are not twins, indeed they are not even siblings. Both from Norwich they met at the start of primary school education. It was certainly a very adept album release, or at least I thought so. Then I saw Let's Eat Grandma live. That is the point at which I realised this was something very special.

Let's Eat Grandma, Big Top stage, End Of The Road Festival, 2 September 2017.

Difficult second album syndrome? My inclination is that this is every bit the equal of their first and, if anything, even more surprising. They do eclecticism and see no reason to apologize for that. This album covers a lot of ground in its eleven tracks and 51 minutes. It is all the more likeable for that.

Let's Eat Grandma - I'm All Ears:
  • Whitewater
  • Hot Pink
  • It's Not Just Me
  • Falling Into Me
  • Snakes & Ladders
  • Missed Call (1)
  • I Will Be Waiting
  • The Cat's Pyjamas
  • Cool & Collected
  • Ava
  • Donnie Darko
It is also not the only album that I have that includes a song 'Cat's Pyjamas'; there is another quite different one of that name on the 2003 album 'Amorino' by Isobel Campbell! It is another beautifully off-kilter LP that is worth your attention, as it happens. It is here.

Friday, May 18, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 18 - Living Room Worktapes EP - Tenille Townes

It's never been rare that I feature artists from Canada performing in the folk, roots and Americana space. This is another one of them - the artist here hails from from Grande Prairie, Alberta. It is an EP as good as I have heard this year but perhaps not something I might have expected to be released on a major label. It is acoustic.

Tenille Townes - Living Room Worktapes EP (Columbia Nashville, 13 April 2018).
  • Where You Are
  • Jersey on the Wall
  • Somebody's Daughter
  • White Horse
Four tracks is all you get but it is a triumph of quality over quantity.  I'm not in the business of making comparisons but I'd say a full album is worth the wait, however long that may be.

I'm minded to take an audio 'road trip' through recent Canadian music sooner rather than later. There's plenty on my mind, several of which I am looking forward to seeing play live at festivals this summer. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 17 - Hawktail - Unless

Acoustic. Bluegrass. Instrumental.

I know that this isn't going to please everyone that happens upon it. I don't care about that. I like this. It is my blog.

Hawktail - Unless (Padiddle Records, 11 May 2018).

What awaits here is no less than forty-something 
minutes of acoustic-string-band music virtuosity, courtesy of Brittany Haas (fiddle), Paul Kowert (upright bass), Dominick Leslie (octave mandolin) and Jordan Tice (guitar). Some of it is actually recorded live with an audience and these pieces are intercut with the studio recordings.
  • Abbzug
  • In the Kitchen
  • Horpe's Reel
  • Unless
  • El Camino Pt. 2
  • Boatwoman
  • Britt Guit
  • Randy
  • Frog and Toad
This is the opening piece:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Festivals 2018 - must see (Part 2) - Joana Serrat

Next in my 'Spring Homework' series about artists that I have never seen live before and inspired by the artists appearing at festivals that I am attending this summer. This is one from the programme of the all-new festival The Long Road.
In contrast to the largely UK folk theme of my last post we have swapped genres to that of Americana and alt-country but with things never being simple in these matters the artist in question is in fact from Spain but sings in English and is signed to UK label Loose Records; a label that is the home of very many good things. In 2017 she released her latest LP and this is it:

Joana Serrat - Dripping Springs (Loose Records, 29 September 2017).

This latest was recorded in Texas by Israel Nash (see him live if you get the chance - I have and you certainly won't regret it) at his studio near the small town that gives this album its title. He also plays guitar on some tracks. The rest of the band is absolutely top-notch and so is the production. The whole thing is however carried by the lyrics and vocals of its prime creator.
It is her fourth LP within the space of five years, so rest assured that she has no shortage of material from which to choose. This of course meant that my "homework" involved listening to all four albums. I can say that it was not a chore.
I can't wait to see what her live playlist throws up.  As for my personal favourites? I need a few more listens to decide. There will certainly be some from the earlier albums, that much is true.

Keep On Fallin'

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Festivals 2018 - must-see (Part 1) - Kim Lowings and The Greenwood

Right. It is time to jump in and mention the artists and acts that I want to see at the festivals that I am attending this summer.
This post is just one from the first of those festivals. The rule of engagement is that it must be one that I have never seen live before. It's not going to be difficult, apart for the choices between candidates that simply need to be made. I shall start with some folk, much but possibly not all of it, traditional. In any case, what exactly qualifies as traditional?

Kim Lowings and The Greenwood - Wild & Wicked Youth (self-released, 2017).

Other versions of several of the songs on this record have appeared recently; 'The Cuckoo', it appears courtesy of Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker on their 2017 LP 'The Bird', is one.

More remarkable, at least in contrast between versions, is 'Oh The Wind and Rain', Kim Lowings and The Greenwood and 'Bows' as it appears on the LP 'From Here' by Stick In The Wheel (2015). Both are versions of the same macabre tale of sibling murder and mysterious retribution. The source is Child Ballad 10 and the UK version of the song is likely of Northumbrian origin. 'The Twa Sisters' is yet another, more local name for it. The similar stories in other Northern European folklore traditions (see preceding link) are interesting in that, amongst other differences, the drowned sibling is
 as often as not brought back to life, but the means to this end vary considerably.

There is plenty more from this band and indeed this LP alone is quite sufficient to justify its inclusion in this list. She is not averse to covering Anglo-Scottish-Irish songs either. This, a lyric from which the title of the album comes, is the well known song 'The Newry Highwayman':

Kim Lowings and The Greenwood play Beardy Folk Festival main stage on Saturday 23 June at around 4:30pm.

You might like to check out the rest of the line-up too. I have seen quite a few of them before and there isn't one amongst them that I wouldn't see again. As for those that I have never seen live it is open season.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

My spring homework --- Thoughts on music

In previous years I have been rather lax about doing pre-festival homework aimed at investigating acts and artists about which I have little or no existing knowledge. There are plenty.
Whilst I regard absolute spontaneity as one of the greatest luxuries of attending a festival as an individual I am also acutely aware that this has caused me not to see bands which hindsight has revealed that I ought to have seen.

I made much more effort in this direction last year, by starting my homework earlier at the very least, but this year I feel I should try harder again and that is something I'm now doing and, furthermore, thoroughly enjoying
That's fine and I have done so, but this is a two-edged sword as it is now clear that at all the festivals I attend it will be quite impossible to see all the things that I
already know that I want to. I'm quite sure that I will, as always, make spur of the moment decisions some of which I might regret.  On the other hand such decisions have taken me in new, uncharted directions on many occasions too. Sometimes the deciding factor had been as simple as deciding to remain in a tented stage rather than leave it to see a band on an outdoor stage when it is teeming with rain. On some others it was a combination of incompetence and serendipity: this is how I came to see (at that point utterly unknown to me) Vukovi at Truck Festival last July; I headed off at the right time but to the wrong stage!  That actually worked out very well indeed; the band I failed to see then was Goat Girl and I got to see them play at End Of The Road Festival some weeks later.

If all of the above wasn't enough of a problem what I have discovered is tending to reinforce an impression that I have had for a long while. This is that as I get older I am actually getting to seek out and enjoy a wider variety of music. This seems to run against the grain of many studies and articles thereon that suggest that one's taste in music is largely guided by, if not defined by, that which one liked in late teens and early twenties.

I only started writing this on a whim this evening. I didn't really expect to get beyond the preamble. An hour or so later what has happened however is slightly different. My thoughts have crystallised rather rapidly. This is something of a 'Thoughts on music' version of the State of The Union. It has also rekindled my enthusiasm for writing more often. I go through phases when that doesn't happen. I also tends to coincide with times when I listen to the most music.
I'm fascinated by what I am discovering. I'm not yet sure how to present this but possibly an act that I have never seen before from each of the five festivals that I'm booked to attend. The only hard part of that is likely to be choosing which one from each.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

New Music 2018 - Part 16 - Bryde - Like An Island

I had wanted to see Paper Aeroplanes live for some time but before I took the chance that project had ended. Thereafter Sarah Howells and her guitar started a new adventure, Bryde (with occasional help from others). I wasn't aware of the connection until, at Green Man Festival 2016, our paths crossed.

Bryde, Rising stage, Green Man Festival, 20 August 2016.

A pair of EPs, both showcasing this from-the-heart brand of songwriting, followed. It is more direct than her work with Paper Aeroplanes but certainly none the worse for that. The recently released LP takes it to another dimension; raw, uncompromising and yet both compelling and relatable.

Bryde - Like An Island (self-released, 13 April 2018).

It is right up there with the best releases of 2018 that I have had the pleasure to hear and of those there is no shortage. I can't wait to see Bryde live once again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why festivals matter - a photo gallery.

I have been thinking about 2018 festivals of late and that has, in part, been responsible for reminding me about all the artists that I saw in 2017 that, at least in some cases, I have never mentioned before. This is a case of 'Live With No Comment'. I have added the act/artist and the stage to each photo but that is as much as you get.  
All of them were taken by me at End Of The Road Festival 2017 and I own the copyright in these pictures. Feel free to share away but please give credit to the artists. These pictures are in no particular order, by date or any other criterion. I flicked through the photos I took in an haphazard way and simply chose the ones I wanted as and when I found them.

Even more importantly please listen to artists, buy their music, go and see them live.

Julia Jacklin, Garden stage, 3 September.

Goat Girl, Big Top stage, 1 September.

Lisa O'Neill, Tipi stage, 1 September.

Shovels & Rope, Woods stage, 1 September 2017.

Tasseomancy, Tipi stage, 2 September.

Jens Lekman, Garden stage, 1 September.

Girl Ray, Tipi stage, 3 September.