Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween - Without Sinking

It is not that I had forgotten about the night when music is more eclectic than on most others. I just needed to find something to suit and so from Iceland, as it is darker and more inexplicably musical than anywhere else I can think of, comes this...

Difficult, unapproachable, scary even... Isn't that what Halloween is about?
This is 'cello-based music intent on challenging even the warmest heart. Survive this without shivering and you are all set for whatever, indeed the worst, that the forthcoming winter might throw at us.
If you are still up for more then anything by Demdike Stare would be good - particularly 'Tryptych' and if you still can't face being the wrong side of dead (or bed) and trying to sleep here is a suggestion: 'Sadly The Future Is No Longer What It Was' and that is itself only one third of a trilogy...
After that you probably will believe absolutely anything. Real spooks love vinyl.

This spook forgot to mention that Leyland Kirby's 'Intrigue and Stuff - Vol 3 (of 4) is released on November 7. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Acoustic Moon 3 - Where were you when...?

If you were bemoaning the vile weather, thinking about the logistics of Christmas and being autumnal in all the wrong ways, together with the fact that it was still only Thursday, then here are three words:

If that is so then you have only yourself to blame. You could have been in a cosy village pub, with great food - from three-course feast to bar snacks - and drink at very reasonable prices, listening to some of the finest and most varied acoustic music that the UK has to offer. That is Acoustic Moon and the admission charge for that aspect is £5 on-the-door.  Trading Standards Authority motto to the public is this: "If something seems too good to be true then it probably is."
It is indeed good advice but, then again, all rules need a few exceptions for validation and this is one of them. Yesterday's selection of music was nothing if not varied except in that it happened to include two very different artists playing one of the rarest of percussion instruments and one that is new in the 21st century...
One of the oldest tuned acoustic instruments of all is, in its various forms, dulcimer. It doesn't have to look or sound ancient and around here we know that. It has been hammered into us in the best way possible.
Opening the evening - Intricate.
Barbara J Hunt on guitar and lead vocals with Dizzie on a thoroughly modern hammered dulcimer and sometimes including theatrical interpretations. There are absolutely no warm-up acts here and very soon that 21st century creation - the hang. It combines mid-19th century physics of acoustics, courtesy of Helmholz, and late 20th century metallurgy in the form of ammonia-gas-nitriding in an instrument that both looks and sounds like it might have actually been around since forever.  The first example did not however make a public performance until 2001 and they are all still made by a "cottage industry" in Switzerland.
To see one hang player in an evening is good fortune, to see two is a miracle.
The second hang player was Venus Bushfires and I do not actually have any pictures of that. It is for a reason. I was borrowed for another duty. I was watching, listening and recording but have no pictures of the set. She played solo, sometimes actually acapella, and showed a completely different aspect of hang playing. It sat in her lap rather than on a stand and was in support of a quite different style of music.
This is the one photo I did take, just after her set had finished.
It is rare that I don't write about an evening such as this in a single post, rarer still that I don't stick to the order in which the artists or acts appeared. In this case I have decided to do both - the three acoustic guitar artists are to follow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More Thoughts on Americana

We have been here before, readers new and old. Once I thought it was just a passing phase of mine but as 2009 has slowly moved on towards the end of 2011 I'm no longer so sure about that.  
It is time to start thinking about those 'Best Of 2011' lists and don't get me wrong for I am - but there is also the fact that UK folk - new or traditional, strictly original or not, acoustic or not, is hardly a new beat on my drum and yet a huge feature of 2011. All thought of that is not going to trouble me tonight. Predictions for 2012 are interesting but they too will have to wait.
I write things with the hope that people might perhaps think to look beyond that music they already know and love and therefore discover something new to them. I don't care if you like it, that you are opinionated and disagree, unless you are offensive. I would far rather deal with that than battle apathy, particularly my own.   
The first LP is something that should have been obvious to me for quite some while and that, until very recently, I did nothing about seeking.

This next album has a title that you might find almost strange but they chose it. It was mentioned, just in passing, by one of those whose likes in music are certainly not always the same as mine but whose opinions I respect.
It demonstrates exactly why I think I should do things this way. If you have an appreciation of the sheer variety of UK folk I now think it hard to see why you might not find this interesting. Neither of these albums are 2011 releases.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Acoustic+, Frome, October 14, 2011

OK. I have finally got round to starting this and that, more often than not, is the hardest part. In fact I'm currently accumulating items and topics to write about much faster than I'm doing the writing. Perhaps now the days are shorter and colder I will make a big effort to catch up and to that end will start with some notes from the most recent Acoustic+, and apparently the 77th such, last Friday.
One interesting change from the last few that I have been to is it included only acts and artists that I had never seen before; all but the last being (almost) entirely acoustic.
The evening started with two shorter-than-usual sets of which the first was by Maisie Robinson solo. With an audience that I estimate was just the right side of one hundred it must have been pretty daunting. 

The first song almost immediately put me in mind of Illinois singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield, with its careworn yet stoic theme and accompaniment to match, but that is no bad thing at all in my book. That is not to say that there was anything at all wrong with the other songs; rather that it is unusual that I find myself thinking something like that so quickly particularly because I don't want to pigeon-hole by using such comparisons -  just go listen. As soon as you get the chance.
Next up was another short set by Josh & Ethan White. They are brothers but I'd like to know what they thought about some factions in both audience and management that decided on a vote to re-name them 'The White Brothers'. I'm not sure whether they were consulted so it is perhaps just as well that the vote, a TUC-style show of hands, was quite convincingly inconclusive giving them a mandate to call themselves whatever they want. Frome is a haven of grass-roots democracy, right down to matters such as this.
One admission that I shall make, and it should matter to them, is that they were far better than my attempts at photography. We have now worked up from solo artist to a two-piece and that is in fact an electronic drum kit, hence my proviso above.
The next act, another two-piece, was a different challenge entirely. Soundgarden doesn't come from Frome. Xenophobia has no place here either and Soundgarden comes from Bradford-on-Avon, although originally clearly even further away than that. This probably explains why one song was sung in Finnish.
Soundgarden - Acoustic Plus - October 14, 2011.  
Joining the phalanx employing once almost forgotten acoustic instruments that have seen a huge resurgence, and therefore I have seen played live on many occasions, in the last couple of years it saw employment of the 'portable' harmonium.  It is however the first time that I've seen one played predominantly as a lead instrument. Awesome. Some of the other songs they played had so much Roma influence that it sent me off in search of some vinyl (in my archive) from long, long ago...
Then this... and very different to all that had come before. Al O'Kane and Richard Kennedy have, so they say, only recently started playing as a duo.
Be scared. This is Americana territory - dust, rust and things more visceral. The next hobos, they might even have left for good on the next freight train out of town as it passed by the back of the Cheese and Grain, but who knows? I rather hope not.
Last to play was a very new-formed band, also all young, Haters. Yes, they are not acoustic, in fact quite the opposite, but I don't hold that against them not least because I like much electric and electronic music too. They were last to play and also suffered an electric guitar failure that upset their first track and were thus indubitably flustered. Such things happen. That can happen to any act at any venue, it was quite probably no fault of their own. I do, however, think that it might have been better if they had opened the event with all the others, in the same order and with the same time-slots, following.  The other issue, and perhaps a more generally important one, is that if the drummer and guitarists are going to take to stages, ones as far apart as is obvious here, there will likely be a problem even if it is one only perceived by the audience.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Behold The Machine - Vernian Process

Just to demonstrate that I scour the corners of as much as I can of that on offer, here is a free slice of Steampunk music for you.  The artwork is very reminiscent to my mind of that of Hawkwind, Magnum (the earlier albums especially) and many other bands from that era. If I did not like it it would not be here.

Click image to stream the track (free, for now) or download the album.

New to me... music I found and more that I want.

I'm not sure where to start this.  It has some aspects of things I saw and heard at festivals this summer and more than a bit that also comes from almost all things Americana, which comes from the last four years of festivals and then just trying to find what else is out there. It will be a strange mixture - rent by contradictions - of genre and style. It think I'll start with two artists who are in fact English. Most of us can be snobby about the music we like and I'm no exception but ultimately I don't mind if I hear about something I really like via obscure recommendation or daytime commercial radio.  If you find something that catches your attention here, that you then discover you like, then that is a bonus for me.
I have decided to start with the gentler option first.
The music is soft and ballad-heavy delta blues recorded in Nashville, with the vocal tropes that go with that, but then again 'Delta Maid' comes from Wavertree and while Merseyside has a long and glorious music heritage it is hardly on the scale of the Mississippi. Equally surprising, and perhaps a reflection of the change in UK music taste and the situation of the industry, it is a major label release (Geffen/Polydor).  The two album tracks that also appeared on the 2010 vinyl Broken Branches EP are less raw and conventionally produced, which might be a reflection of this.

The aforementioned EP is also well worth having. The version of 'Any Way I Want To' on it is for my money the best thing that she has done so far; it is world weary and yet perfectly resigned to the fact. If you can find the promo CD version of the EP it includes two very good cover versions too.
If it however leaves you thinking that it is all a bit soppy and easy listening then try this instead.  It is way more rattling and certainly not something to attempt if you are feeling the worse for wear - unless of course kill or cure is what you are after, in which case its just the job.
Ten all original songs from an artist in her early twenties when this, her début album, was released in 2009.
I had a listen to the songs on her myspace page but there was no easy way to be sure if it was representative of the album. It is released by German-based independent label Ruf Records and so I ordered it there and then. What a good idea that was!
It is quite a long album, at over 51 minutes, and I can't actually decide on my favourites on it despite a week of listening. One thing I can say for sure is that it doesn't suffer from the tendency of some such albums wherein either one or both of the artist and listener flags rather before the end.  Indeed it finishes with the longest track on the album  - Blackest Day - and despite its 8¼ minutes it is absolutely awesome.
It hardly needs to be said that her 2010 follow-up, Diamonds In The Dust, is next on my wants list and then to see her perform live.

I think I'll continue the theme with some genuine US artists that, although not new on the scene, have come in to the foreground of my conscience in the last couple of months.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Blackest day; brightest stars

This is part thoughts on music for Halloween, part reflections on autumn and on music in general. There is nothing like economic uncertainty to inspire music. You can say that I am maudlin, if you wish to do so, but be aware that I might attempt to do more than merely defend myself against the accusation. I shall start with a frank admission: I never liked Morrissey's music much. I still don't to be quite honest but I do have to concede that he was spot on when it came to observation. He wins and I lose. Nothing changes much; Marr still plays guitar - I've seen and heard him doing it live - and he is still f***ing good at it. That is a point, but not my point here...
That all happened a quarter of a century ago. I can remember it, sort of I think, but it is no longer of today. I can certainly understand that too. What is surprising is the influence it still has and, more surprisingly, what is happening now. Try telling me in 1989 that we would be where we are in 2011 and I would have just laughed at the improbability of it all. Suggesting that I'd be writing this would have been a rather bad place to start.  That is without the fact that, back then, we had no concept whatsoever of the revolution that Steve Jobs had in mind...
Steve Jobs did more for music in his lifetime than Michael Jackson could ever have hoped to do. Sorry.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

What You Just Missed... Acoustic Moon 2

It's still pretty new and it certainly hasn't settled in to any comfortable slot yet, but that is not to say that Acoustic Moon is anything other than remarkable.   It is now harder than one might imagine to find an evening when there is not at least one live, often acoustic, event taking place within a few miles of Frome. In a local live-music milieu that is currently firing on all cylinders live, and in particular finding an audience, is not always easy however good the event and reasonable the admission.
Spoilt for choice, you might say, but you'd surely miss it if it were to disappear. This is just a flavour of what you missed last Thursday evening. It is not, in any sense, a rarefied or exclusive event. However little or much you know about the acoustic music scene is quite unimportant - all that matters is the enjoyment of live music whether it is familiar or not.
The first to play was an act, Cadencia, that I had not seen before. Original compositions played in Spanish guitar style, this was both acoustic and entirely instrumental.

Following that came Frome-based guitar duo Leonardo's Bicycle - it takes its name from a relatively obscure cover version that, of course, they played. Part of their special appeal is the irreverent and rather varied banter that intersperses the songs some of which, including the splendid 'Cley Hill' that is about a local landmark, are their own compositions.
They were one of the guests on the monthly 'Live Lounge' on Frome FM in September and that is worth a listen (which you can do right here and right now).
The second half was given over to two artists who had come up-country from distant South Devon especially for this.  Nicky Swann previewed several songs from her forthcoming album, which has as its theme stories of the sea and seafaring.
This one is 'Newfoundland' and is about the fishermen who, from the 16th century onward, set sail from the ports of Devon and Cornwall to catch cod on the far-off Newfoundland Banks. There is an awful lot of very impressive new folk coming from the south west at the moment and this album is destined to add more to it.
She returns to Acoustic Moon for a second time on November 25, and I expect we shall hear more from this project then.
Last to play was Katie Marie, also from South Devon, and someone I have have heard and also mentioned in these posts before who also accompanied Nicky during some of the aforementioned set.
This was taken during the song 'Rostock', about touring in Germany.
Why not come along and join us for the next Acoustic Moon on October 27?  If you can't wait that long then just sidle into Acoustic+, at the Cheese and Grain, Frome, on Friday 14 October - doors 8pm and admission £5 - for a slightly different take on acoustic.
Live music is not scary - all ages can enjoy it and are welcome...
A young audience and Lady Nade, live at Frome Festival - 9 July 2011.