Sunday, July 27, 2008

Two more bands that amazed me...

British Sea Power were, as I have already mentioned and had also been led to believe, simply terrific live. What I did not anticipate is that I would soon feel the same way about two other bands, both of which come with at least some kind of reputation that might possibly have presaged a disappointment.

Foals - live on the Obelisk Stage @ Latitude 2008.

While Foals have been hotly tipped since they first appeared, and never more so than for their live performances on which their reputation is built, it does predispose one to worrisome thoughts. Their set was, however, one of the best I have ever heard and I now understand what all the fuss is about! If this is what "math rock" really means then I'm a convert now...

I have mentioned acts on the Lake Stage (BBC Radio 1 - Huw Stephens - Introducing...) before and I spent a great deal of time there at Latitude 2007. While I did not spend as much time there this year it was, regardless, the venue graced by the last of my "top three" bands!

The Beep Seals live @ Latitude 2008 on 19th July 2008.

The break-down to the final track of the set was just incredible - in both scope and disciplined execution - and without doubt it takes a lot of practice to make such apparent ad lib chaos so perfect...
They did it, with no second thoughts, and it was quite simply AWESOME.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Latitude and the french connection...

I have previous convictions for blogging French music and French artists and, should I decide to do so, I could quite happily spend the rest of this weekend listening to nothing else. It is, in fact, very tempting given that I'm already listening to Gourmandises - Alizée.

The tenuous Latitude 2008 connection is Parisian singer/songwriter SoKo, aka Stephanie Sokolinski, live on Saturday afternoon attempting, but failing ever so slightly... behave as if she were a normal human being!

This was another wonderful set on the Sunset Stage, nestled in the woods and lending itself to photography, which will forever in my mind be associated with acts that are strange in all the best possible ways.

If more evidence were required, to prove that normality and SoKo simply do not occur together in the same place, here it is:

The 'kittens' were borrowed ad hoc from the audience and if proof that French pop can be stunning, as well as not merely taking itself too seriously, was needed then this was certainly silliness of the highest order but it was also very funny indeed!

SoKo is just perfectly unhinged and quite brilliant!

To read a review of a more recent live performance go here:

Latitude and the US influence...

"Is Latitude a typically British Festival?" was another topic that we ended up talking about while there, not that we ever came to a definite conclusion about this, and in so-doing I think we probably got it just about right!

In some ways it is, particularly in the non-music arenas, but although the music programme is certainly predominantly given to UK artists it is not overly so and to prove it this was a truly wonderful choice.

Did it matter that she actually forgot the lyrics to one of her songs? Not at all! In fact she seemed more embarrassed about the genuine applause that greeted her admission of fallibility than that for her earlier confession concerning her nervousness of playing completely solo, and at a festival too, for the first time in over a year.
Latitude was a perfect venue and in the middle of the set she took to the grand piano to showcase a new song, which became three new songs and the second of them was particularly good I think, but what really struck me was that the way she plays the piano made it sound rather harp-like. I wonder if she writes songs on piano, at least primarily, and then transposes and elaborates them on the harp? Whatever the truth about that she was awesome and without-doubt one of the top-three acts I saw at Latitude 2008, which leaves you to guess the other two.

We like to complain that the US market does not, generally speaking, readily take to UK artists. That is true but I think we have a little soul-searching to do here because we are guilty of this too and almost certainly for the same reasons. This is taken from a message I sent to my niece earlier this afternoon:

That said the current wave of US talent doesn't stop there. One of my favourite albums of the moment is not yet on general release in the UK but was released by Archer Records (ARR 3319272-2), a US independent label, in late 2007. Anchors and Anvils is the second album by Amy LaVere who writes, sings and also plays a rather unusual instrument, upright bass, which is like a double bass but even larger!
The album is a seamless mixture of new tracks and a few covers (including Bob Dylan's 'I'll Remember You') and is, on the face of it, a fusion of delta blues and Americana but for the use of Wurlizer, gypsy violin (that lends an eastern European folk influence) and various unusual guitars, plus of course upright bass, which makes it near indefinable. While I dislike none of them I find these two tracks particularly impressive:

  • Tennessee Valentine
  • Pointless Drinking

Now I also want her first album - This World Is Not My Home - too!

Friday, July 25, 2008

I can see a theme here...

Searching for lyrics certainly remains an issue and, while I wish I could do more, time is the problem. I have an agenda of my own and, while it certainly does include lyrics, that it is only part of the whole. Live music is a large part of it, but not certainly not the only thing that I liked about Latitude in 2007 and 2008.

On Saturday evening, as we were waiting for Sigur Rós to do an encore, the moon rose over the proceedings and I pretty much had my back to the stage when I took this.
Taken a couple of hours, and a couple of pints, later is this snapshot of festival life...

Home for the weekend - 'red sector campsite' @ 2am Sunday.

I'm still not quite sure how I would define Sigur Rós, and I never have been, but seeing them live was quite something.
They are, and this is nothing of a revelation, quite unlike any other. As a live show it was certainly convincing and some, that I later overheard or talked with, described it as 'biblical'!
I'm still not sure exactly what I think so this, at least for now, is about as good a description as I can currently muster. Nevertheless I'm very glad that I was there listening to it for if live music is not to engender debate then I wonder what purpose it has!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why go to a festival?

My answer in a general sense is "How could I possibly know what motivates you?", which is another rhetorical question, but this kind of approach gets nothing practical done and we all know it!

If that were not true there simply could not be the festivals there are as they would not attract sufficient support to be viable. The deviations from normality are certainly newsworthy but this is simply because they are so unusual. If you want a statistically safe weekend away this is it: choose a festival of your choice, avoid drugs, and travel by train for as much of the journey as possible.

You might even want to listen to the music, enjoy a weekend away camping (possibly in a sea of mud) and partake of the other myriad delights on offer. On the other hand you might be one of the very few who simply see it as a chance to steal from others. Petty theft is the most common crime committed against others at festivals and much of it is easily avoidable but another problem was not the best start to my weekend. When I put my tent up on Thursday afternoon the pole supporting the porch split at a joint so even the tent wasn't worth thieving. It survived the weekend without further problems and maybe this further reduced the likelihood of depredation!
Just in case any of my former Duke of Edinburgh's Award expedition groups are reading this:
Yes, I had checked it fully before I left home and I had even had a pole splint (that I needed as it happened) and lots of spare pegs (that I lent to my neighbours)!
Far too much is made of the downsides and if someone really wanted to steal my manky, old (now only xenobiotically warmed) sleeping bag and some T-shirts, that are only one wash removed from becoming the next floor cloth, there is nothing much I could do about that. As you might predict, I still have them all...

Festivals are in fact very appealing for other reasons too - the variety on offer, the other-worldly aspects and the surprise factor being only three amongst many. Festivals also highlight both the contrast and the unpredictability of live performance because things, technical or otherwise, will go wrong from time to time. My experience suggests that, at Latitude at least, the audience is most tolerant of this sort of inevitability.

Beth Orton, playing on the Obelisk Stage on Friday afternoon, had an acoustic guitar with a mind of its own... it simply would not stay in tune from one song to the next! She wasn't exactly to everyone's liking anyway but her handling of the situation was exemplary and, never one to mince words in her lyrics, her ad lib was no exception and certainly not in the use of expletives!

Her set was followed by British Sea Power (who I have already mentioned) but there is also the time and place for an act whose music is just joyful Technicolor abandon.

The Go! Team is a band that is even more improbable in reality than it was in its conception. It started as Ian Parton's kitchen-table project - just using samples from here, there and everywhere - but then anything can happen...

Two albums later here is Go! Team very much live. Yes it does routinely use two drummers, from any of the four normally cited, but in this live set every band member took a turn on drums!
And Ninja wore stripy leg-warmers in July, which is surely just what a real festival is about?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Those I saw live @ Latitude 2008 (Part 1)

Festivals are not really that demanding when it comes to getting out of bed early in the morning, which is another appealing thing about them, but a little bit of effort can still pay dividends.

Live and exclusive on the Sunset Stage at about 10:40 on Sunday morning.

This was taken during the sound-check when they performed a complete song, not included in the ensuing live set, and for which the audience (excepting festival and band crew) was extremely limited indeed. The set itself was extremely good too and Tallulah Rendall is another artist to watch in 2008-9.

This next is the case of 'Who's That Girl?' (the one that I remember, who was she with her hands wrapped around the world?) and a late addition to the Latitude 2008 line-up.

Beth Rowley performing in the Uncut Arena on Saturday afternoon.

If there was one remarkable thing about this performance it is that, although it was preceded by a couple of minor technical hitches, it seemed as if she wasn't even trying to impress anyone. That it sounded even better live than on the album Little Dreamer was proof perfect. Given only twenty-five minutes on-stage she didn't even perform the single 'So Sublime', but it was.

2008 Mercury Music Prize nominations

The twelve albums that are short-listed for the 2008 Mercury Music Prize were made public today and, as it happens, the list dovetails with both my thoughts on Latitude 2008 and several other matters on which I have commented in the last year.

To serve as a point of reference here are the 2008 Mercury nominations (in alphabetical order):

  • Adele - 19
  • British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
  • Burial - Untrue
  • Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
  • Estelle - Shine
  • The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of The Understatement
  • Laura Marling - Alas I Cannot Swim
  • Neon Neon - Stainless Style
  • Portico Quartet - Knee-Deep In The North Sea
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
  • Radiohead - In Rainbows
  • Rachel Unthank And The Winterset - The Bairns

The selection is, as perhaps we would like, eclectic and that makes my life easier. Two acts here - Elbow and British Sea Power - were amongst those that I saw live at Latitude 2008 and in a pantheon that was not without competition, even if some of it was not eligible for a Mercury nomination, was far from lightweight.
[As usual click the images for a rather larger version.]

I've been told many times that British Sea Power are stunning live and, if I ever doubted you, all I can say is that I now plead guilty as charged; you were right and I was wrong!

Naval pennants, foliage and Hungarian backing vocals - British Sea Power live at Latitude 2008!

On a different tack I'm delighted to see that modern folk gets two nominations and that Northumbrian band
Rachel Unthank And The Winterset are amongst them is yet another massive boost for the impact that folk-inspired music now has and, as you might well know by now, Laura Marling has been on my play list for over a year and it is about time that she got some recognition.

This leads me on to another band in that genre and, as there is a collective tendency here, one with whom Laura Marling has also often played live. That is Noah and The Whale. They were at Latitude 2007 on the Lake Stage but I didn't get to see them. They were back this year, on the much larger Uncut Arena, and although there was a big turnout this time I did see them and it was another highlight of the weekend.

Noah and The Whale - live on the Uncut Arena - at Latitude 2008 on Sunday 20th July 2008.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Latitude 2008 - first thoughts

Latitude 2008 is where I've been these last few days. This will be brief, because I got back not long ago and some things such as a hot bath and some proper mugs of tea (simultaneously!) came before blogging.

I must say that, despite doubting it could be as good as last year, I wasn't disappointed. More importantly, perhaps, is that the many others that I discussed this with were largely of the same opinion. Everyone can think of a few things that they would change at a festival, were they in charge, but once again, although the weather was rather cool and gave us a few showers, there were no problems with that. It remains so genuinely friendly and real and, although it is a very selfish point to make, we all hoped that it isn't spoilt it by making it too big next year.

In one sense it the biggest little festival and that certainly goes for some of the music too. Sure the headline acts probably sell the most tickets - and Joanna Newsom and Sigur Rós are two that are about as diverse as one could wish for - but that is not to say that lesser known acts are any less important and that is what really matters at Latitude.
I'll mention some of both, and add pictures of my own, in the next week but to start off here is one that I took at the Sunset Stage on Saturday morning:

Wallis Bird live at Latitude 2008.

Also live on the Sunset Stage, but on Friday morning, were the now London-based three-piece 'The Joy Formidable'.

Ritzy (guitar and vocals) trades venom with Rhydian (bass and vocals) to good effect while Justin, drums and vocals but not visible in this shot, ensures that the whole show keeps on track!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

To look into the eyes of a borrowed horse...

One thing I did this morning, as part of the preparations, was to have a good lie-in and then a soak in a hot bath. Whatever the weather this coming weekend neither of these little luxuries is going to be possible. Both yesterday afternoon/evening and today I've been having a retrospective of Latitude 2007. While I already owned music by some of the artists, which is what really prompted me to go in the first place, it is only when I thought about it in this way it that I realised what an influence it has had on the music I have acquired in the last year.

Some of it has become mainstream in 2007-8, some of it hasn't, but that aspect doesn't bother me a bit. It would perhaps be possible to live entirely within the small world of music on the radio but it would be an unwelcome challenge. On the other hand it is getting more difficult but no less interesting, almost by the week, to keep tabs on new music. Here is one such item, long awaited but finally released two weeks ago by new artist Cate le Bon who I first heard at Latitude 2007, that only makes that issue more obviously difficult!

Edrych yn llygaid ceffyl benthyg. To look into the eyes of a borrowed horse.

It is hard to tell what might be the greater problem: the fact that it is only released as a 10" (45 rpm) EP, limited to just 400 copies all on heavy ivory-white vinyl (Peski 009) and only available through independent retailers, or the fact that it is entirely sung in Welsh! The title of this post is a mere translation. It is a saying similar in meaning to the phrase "to look a gift horse in the mouth" but rather more ambiguous.
This item is clearly not going to bother the UK charts, whether single or album, but it is worth noting that the album Rockferry, which is far and away the biggest selling in the UK in 2008, is the first by another Welsh singer-songwriter - Aimée Duffy - who hails from Nefyn.

In fact it is tempting to compile a list (in no order other than alphabetical) comprising ten of the acts that I most enjoyed at Latitude 2007:
  • Arcade Fire
  • Bat For Lashes
  • Cate Le Bon
  • Charlotte Hatherley
  • CSS
  • Jarvis Cocker
  • Kate Nash
  • New Young Pony Club
  • Slow Club*
  • Stephanie Dosen

And here, using last year's Festival guide but compiled today, are ten more that I now wish that I had seen:
  • Blood Red Shoes
  • Emmy The Great*
  • Jaymay
  • Joan As Policewoman
  • Joe Lean and The Jing Jang Jong*
  • Make Model
  • Noah & The Whale*
  • Patrick Wolf
  • Scouting For Girls
  • The Teenagers
* These artists are also appearing again at Latitude 2008 and so I will have a second chance but I can see the conflicts, between bands I want to hear but playing on different stages at the same time, are going to be even more acute this year.
Those highlighted in green have (from memory) been mentioned, at least in passing, in my blog but these are not currently links. I can promise myself one thing and that it is not going to be possible other than to make such mistakes again. That is probably the mark of a good festival!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Poor Man's Heaven - Seth Lakeman live in Frome.

Well, all I can say is that it was something special.

Seth Lakeman and his band were show-stopping. It is probably the only time that an artist with a top-ten album (UK #8), for the first time and on the week of release, has played 'The Cheese & Grain'. That was to a sold-out audience (of 625), as part of Frome Festival 2008, and I wonder if it will ever happen again? The set was brilliant and included tracks from all the albums. There were many highlights but two in particular come to mind:

Solomon Browne from the new album 'Poor Man's Heaven', which is about the disaster that befell the Penlee lifeboat of that name on 19 December 1981.
It was smashed to bits, with the loss of all the volunteer crew and all who they were attempting to rescue, when the ship-wrecked coaster Union Star rolled on to it during the rescue attempt in 40 ft seas. I don't think I've ever been to a concert that reduced a significant proportion of the audience to tears.
On the other hand another potentially sad song,
tty Jay (the title track from the 2004 album and the story of a suicide), was given a rousing version that, with Seth playing such furious fiddle that he was shredding his bow, means Dartmoor ponies must now forever live in fear of their tails being requisitioned. It was also the song that took the gig, and the audience, into truly remarkable territory.

It was not only a wonderful show but also a fine example of the changing face of music. I was however slightly annoyed by the reception given to the support act; much of the audience simply talked loudly at the back as though they had gone to a pub and there happened to be live music. I know that is not unusual but I still think it rude. In fact I now think the problem was, at least in part, that the sound was set up badly and that her genre of music was not what most of the crowd was expecting.
It wasn't exactly in accord with my expectation either but, as I wanted to be near the front, I wasn't ever going to make that obvious. In fact I had no idea what 'support' to expect as, although that there would be some was mentioned, it was not specified on anything I could find.
To be honest Bex Marshall did a fine job playing electric guitar (country & delta blues style) and singing, without any back up, in what must have been a very trying situation indeed. It just strikes me as an odd choice of support and that it would have been better if she had been with her band rather than solo. For all that I wouldn't be averse to listening to the album Kitchen Table and in fact I'm much minded to buy it.

Kitchen Table (House Of Mercy), 5 May 2008.

She played only one cover version and a brave, quite impressively successful, one at that. A bluegrass-rock version of Hendrix' Purple Haze!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Prospective nostalgia.

It seems that so much in the world outside of music is depressing just now, as it was in much of the 1970s and the early 1980s. While my blog and I have recently been much exercised with a rather obsessive yet varied interest in American music, both new and now also not so new, anyone watching the 'I've Just Listened To...' list might have detected a heavy-rock influence creeping in from time to time. That is the case but it certainly doesn't mark a radical change in direction anymore than the inclusion of folk or pop.
Put quite simply, following some discussions with friends, it seemed to be time for a retrospective of some, perhaps lesser known, albums that for whatever reason we loved back then. They will certainly not all date from that era - some will certainly be older, others will be far more recent, and we don't even necessarily agree an them but and the first few should be here for your perusal by the end of this week!

To start with albums that almost everyone is well aware of would, I think, seem quite pointless. On another note, a week or two back a US court ruling decided that the reselling of 'promo copies' was not illegal and the bits of text, part of the track-list, are merely fortuitous extras...

Promos have been around for years and so here is one on 12" vinyl...

While rock indubitably has its fair share of true icons - and we might not even agree about them - I'm going to start with a wilfully iconoclastic approach; the things that now matter most were possibly lesser known even in their time.

Hell Hath No Fury - Rock Goddess, 1983 (AMLX 68560)

Both these images actually belong to the same album and it is, therefore, as good a place to start as any.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

It is supposed to be summer... Virtual Festival 3

This has to do with festivals both real and imaginary. On the real side, the latest Latitude 2008 update shows that a "special guest" will play on the Obelisk arena at midday Sunday. I can think of several that would be fit for purpose. There is however one, amongst them, that I would have deemed the most improbable...

...and that is Joanna Newsom.

She is often pigeon-holed as freak folk, which may or may not be a good call, but one thing is certainly true --- there are few artists, in this or any other genre, for whom the instrument of choice is a double-stringed acoustic harp.

One thing that I totally failed to predict for 2008 is just what an influence American music would have on me. Some of it I have mentioned already but, if more examples were needed, here are another couple of albums on my 'Want To Listen To' list.

She sings while also playing upright bass at the same time.

This is yet another, from New York, that has come to my notice in the last couple of days.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about it is that these three albums have all been released on North American independent record labels. Three different ones as it happens and artists and labels such as these deserve our support.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

It is supposed to be summer... Virtual Festival 2

This is less virtual than the last post. It is the 5th July and - as part of the Frome Festival - there was an international food event in the town centre this afternoon and evening. The weather for today was not predicted to be good but it was actually fine if perhaps a bit windy until about 4pm, which is when it really started to matter.

Then it started to rain steadily, if not particularly hard, when it really mattered most and this may have dampened enthusiasm but nevertheless the turnout (and the food of course) was good.

Local blues-rock band 'Sloe Jam' tried, quite successfully in a rather difficult situation, to keep spirits up and unusually for such a band they do no cover versions at all.

Sloe Jam live at Frome Festival, 5th July 2008.

Friday, July 04, 2008

It is supposed to be summer... Virtual Festival 1

It's the 4th July - which is just another day here in the UK, but it is supposed to be a summer day. Is that so? - fat chance!
Worse still, the radio stations have gone to pot as well. It is, and this is clearly an import from the US, the 'High School Prom' season and while that is a fairly recent import in the UK calendar, and with which I do not have a problem, I really wonder if what the radio stations have decided to play "in honor" bears a resemblance to any contemporary trend!
It seems to consist mostly of pop and disco ballads from 1975 -1988, which were all released far before the current protagonists were born. I'm not against the revival of old music, far from it in fact, but I think that this programming is actually aimed at an older audience - probably the parents of those school-leavers.

The radio was turned off early this evening and the advantage of having a sizable music collection of my own, whether currently in vogue or not, became very apparent and I'm old enough to make my own bad choices in music! I did think about the possibility of doing a mid-year 'favourites' list but have decided to do something different over the next few days and that is to try and decide which acts would appear, if I were arranging a festival line-up this so-called summer, and I will exclude any act that I have already seen performing live.

Every festival needs at least one infectious feel-good band and this would be my first choice:

This is a live DVD, recorded at Pure Groove in London in 2008.

In the last couple of years the seemingly impossible has happened and the UK has taken at least some notice of 'country music' if only in the cross-over formats. That said, this has to be one of the most improbable artists to play a part in that change...

This is a promo copy (PROP 05309) of Cock A Hoop (2003).

Since then she has returned to Wales and, as she is bilingual, may well reappear later in this list.