Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday listening (and some more new music)...

Still feeling a bit of the post-festival blues but at least I'm not tired any more. Still looking through the photos that I have taken in the last couple of weeks and listening to... well a strange mixture really. Part of it by, or influenced by, artists that I have heard live recently but interspersed with other stuff, new and old.  Maybe the whole Amy Winehouse thing has had influences in such matters but I seem to have dug out stuff by those who expired prematurely. Alan Hull's 1973 solo album 'Pipedream' being something that was long overdue a revival, once I could find it in my collection that is.
In fact you could make the case that today's playlist is pretty gloomy and introspective but, to me at least, it doesn't seem that way. The album 'Violet Cries', as well as being by Esben and The Witch and a band that I have seen live at Latitude 2010 and 2011, is almost certain to appear on my end of year 'best of' lists.  Some acts work better on some stages but, all things considered, I'm not sure that any can beat the Sunset Stage at Latitude, even if it is raining.

Rachel Davies of Esben & The Witch. Friday, Sunset Stage, Latitude 2011.
I can think of a couple of other albums that might well be tussling with the above in those lists.  This is one that I haven't even heard yet. That sounds stupid I suppose; but then buying new music totally unheard is something that I enjoy. The problem is that the more involved I become the more I hear, which actually makes it harder to do. I've read some reviews - summery music with female vocals - of the début album from Seapony.

'Go With Me' - Seapony.  Hardly Art Records - out now on vinyl, CD and download.
Another strong contender is by a band that I saw at EOTR 2010 and again last weekend at Truck 2011. The début album 'Gracious Tide, Take Me Home' will be released by the Tyneside six-piece Lanterns On The Lake on Bella Union Records in early Autumn. 
They played a few tracks from it on the Clash Stage at Truck last Sunday, which combined with the EPs that I already have makes this a near certainty. They are also appearing at End of The Road 2011 too. Whilst on the subject of bands touring début albums the first act that I saw at Latitude this year was Montreal's BRAIDS, with the recently released 'Native Speaker' (Kanine Records - vinyl, CD and download) - what a great way to start a festival and again on the delightful Sunset Stage.
This stage was also the setting for the best headline show that I have seen so far in 2011, about which more to follow, and once again an act on the trail with their first album offering.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday evening with no live music.

It seems strange. It is not actually remotely unusual but after two weekends spent at festivals it suddenly does: normality has become slightly surreal, which is interesting in itself.  I wonder if, when I wake tomorrow morning, I shall be surprised to discover that I am not in a tent or even inside a sleeping bag?  To all of you at festivals this weekend, and during August too, have a great time.  I'm taking a break (from festivals, well probably) until the first weekend of September and that, of course, is End Of The Road 2011.
So that means, as well as catching up with household chores, more time to explore all the non-festival aspects of music and perhaps to write. I shall also attempt to sort through the pictures that I have taken, all that I have heard and seen, my thoughts and memories, if only to divine just what it meant to me.

So I'm gonna sleep with the light on
 And I'm gonna drink in the afternoon.
Here is an interesting question. What music would you play if an hour was yours to fill and the mission was to convert others to the virtues of physical music? 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Music 2011 - Evi Vine - and so the morning comes

I've not added a post like this for a few weeks but that is not to say that I haven't been keeping an eye and an ear open for new delights. This one is something I can't resist mentioning.

I'm not going to say anything more just now. Listen and you might understand why.

Acoustic @ Truck 2011

Truck is certainly not a folk festival, indeed it doesn't pretend to try to be one, but given the contents of this post you could be forgiven for wondering. This is not a complete list by any means, rather just some of the acoustic artists that I saw.  It did however give rise to much discussion about the minefield that is musical sub-genre when discussing such things - be they new folk, Anglicana, or some other name you choose.  Whatever else they share (or don't) one common thread in such songs and many traditional ones is a sense of place and belonging be that from the perspective of being there or, for whatever reason, of not being (able to be) there.  Is is nicely summed up in a line from a song performed by this first artist. I think that it also sums up the spirit of a good festival too.

"With your sense of dislocation you make the perfect travelling companion."
Roddy Woomble - Main Stage - Saturday afternoon.

Most of the set naturally comprised his recent solo material but the above lyric is from the Idlewild song 'Take Me Back To The Islands'.  He and his family now live on Mull.
Other inveterate wanderers featured in the line up. Duo Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou are as likely to be found touring by canal boat or camper van than the more modern means of so-called luxury transport.
The Clash Stage was curated by label Heavenly Records on the Saturday (of which phenomenon more later) and they were appearing on that bill.
On Sunday the same stage was host to a selection of artists chosen by Bella Union Records, a label that I have mentioned many times in posts before, and this is one recent addition to their family of artists.
Alessi's Ark - Clash Stage - Sunday afternoon.
Please don't just take my word for it:
"(She) played with a delicacy — and a casualness — that would simply be impossible anywhere else here (at SXSW)."  
New York Times
This fall she is returning to the US as main support artist for Laura Marling's headline tour.  
All in all four stages were involved in this and here is an artist that has been on my want-to-see list for some time. On Saturday the Last FM Stage was dedicated to acts that, in one way or another, are part of Oxford's Blessing Force Collective.
 Rhosyn - Last FM Stage - Saturday afternoon.
While this next picture is far from the best the same can hardly be said of the assembled line up!
Wood Stage - Saturday evening.

Kris Drever and Heidi Talbot both performed sets that evening in this smallest of venues. This was taken during the latter but, as the assembled cast was much the same, you will have to take my word for that. I'd call this a super-group: L - R: Roddy Woomble (backing vocal), John McCusker (fiddle and, on one song, whistle), Heidi Talbot (vocals) and Kris Drever (guitar and backing vocal).
The tendency of folk musicians to combine in new permutations is legendary, and you could start a multi-dimensional tree starting with these alone, but Truck had some collaborative surprises beyond that to come later.

Lastly, and back to the Main Stage where this post started, this set did spawn some of the aforementioned sub-genre discussions and for very good reasons too.
Michele Stodart - Main Stage - Sunday lunchtime.
Eclectic and astonishing are two adjectives that I might apply to all of this and yet it was just one facet of what I saw last weekend.
Festivals are, to an extent, what you choose to make of them. I'm fairly convinced that many present paid their ticket price and spent almost the entire time drinking and chatting in the camp site.  Far be it for me to criticize, and not least because it made the stages less crowded, but it is not the route that I choose to travel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What the Truck? In search of music as fun...

Never before have I attempted two 3-day festivals on successive weekends: Latitude followed by Truck Festival this weekend just gone.  When I added the latter in April it was because it just seemed an interesting thing to do and a way of seeing a wider range of live music. It did occur to me that, whilst almost certainly interesting, that might not be wholly in a positive way.
After two wet days at Latitude I was still wondering about the wisdom of it all. The contrast, not just in the weather, was such that once I had arrived on site in Oxfordshire I forgot clean about it because they were so different and that is the starting point here.
The following comments are not intended as a criticism of either event: Gone was the throng and corporate sponsorship gloss of Latitude and in came the homespun, almost folksy, intimacy of Truck Festival. It was very much a place to go to see and listen to music rather than a place to go to be seen to be listening to music.  It was certainly a whole lot of fun and one very much got the impression that the artists were enjoying themselves too. All kinds of music were on offer, from acoustic folk on the Wood Stage (and elsewhere) to technicolour noiseniks on the Last FM Stage and most things in between including more than a few lesser-known acts from middle England. As usual the problem is where to start.

Let's start with two bands that admitted that they had been burning the candle at both ends before appearing!

London based Tribes on the Last FM Stage on Sunday afternoon. They had been performing, and partying, at 'Secret Garden Party' the night before and apologized for being jaded. If this is what they can do in that state then the mind boggles. Despite the guitars and drums set-up and the powerful sound their songs are hook-laden.  Should you want to know how I think guitar-led pop should sound then it is pretty much like this.

Cashier No. 9 hails from Belfast. Here it is on the Clash Stage on Sunday lunch time.
Another good effort because this set was faultless despite the fact that they came on stage just twelve hours after they had come off the one at their previous gig in Londonderry.  It was summer music played out live on a perfect summer's day and the band has recently released its first album, the aptly titled 'To The Death Of Fun', on Bella Union Recordings.
This last comment leads me to another thought from the weekend - the resurgence of the record releasing 'label' as a guide to style and content. It was also a weekend that involved much discussing music and, in that sense, was much more reminiscent of End Of The Road than of Latitude.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Variety is the festival word

One of the things that I find hardest to do when thinking about writing about festivals is to devise some hopefully coherent plot.  That difficulty is actually also one of the great selling points of the very same festivals - the bewildering variety to be found there.  It is perhaps no surprise that 'Thoughts on Music' is a blog title that conveniently makes it quite difficult to go totally off-message!
Here are a few pictures, all from Latitude 2011 but in no particular order, of acts that I saw on the tented 'Word Stage' and all of which I particularly enjoyed.  Last year I spent a disproportionate time in front of the Lake Stage but this year very little in comparison. I spent it here instead.

The Naked and Famous, from New Zealand.
Tirelessly energetic and incredibly tight - it is hard to credit that this time last year they were all but unheard of beyond their distant home-shores. The début album 'Passive Me, Aggressive You' has certainly carved them a home from home and a well deserved live following.
The reliable half of a totally unpredictable, but equally legendary, musical partnership.
Carl Barât and his own band finished with something you just knew they couldn't resist!
There were plenty of those hats in tribute to HMP Peter Doherty but no delays, no bust-ups, just a thoroughly professional and entertaining set. The new solo material was very interesting too but equally I had failed to realize how good the 'Dirty Pretty Things'-era Barât material would sound live. That cello wasn't included as a nod to current trends; it played a major part in the structure of the sound.
More assuredly in the traditional and acoustic theme was Bellowhead. It is true that it is a 'marmite' band in that those who do not like it tend to do so with a passion. I am not one of them.
In my opinion they can do no wrong and, given this performance, I believe that I am right.
I should have taken this differently as I only managed to include nine of the eleven band members.

The next is another band that I have seen before at Latitude (in 2008, I think). If you are going to make quirky indie guitar rock then the best way to do it is with absolute conviction but on the face of it there seems to be nothing remotely unusual doing here.
You may not make as many fans that way but, as British Sea Power amply demonstrates, the ones you do will be equally passionate and quirky too. The fascination with greenery goes back to the earliest days of the band, though don't ask me why. For those wondering about the return of guitar bands in 2011 this is one to make you realize that they never really went away.

Last but not least, in what is still a far from complete synopsis of the acts I saw on the Word Stage last weekend, is James Vincent McMorrow.
These songs were mostly from the 2011 album 'Early In The Morning'. If you think that it is good (and it is) then live it is just something else.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Latitude 2011 - my first thoughts...

First to mention is that the weather wasn't all that could have been hoped for. In a strange way I'm glad that I have now experienced and survived an often rather soggy festival.  I have in truth been very lucky thus far.  On the other hand I hope that the experience did not discourage those first time festival-goers from repeating the experience. Yes there was some mud, unlike in previous years, but nothing like that to be found at the likes of Glastonbury. I took no pictures of that for it was unremarkable and merely a slight annoyance at worst.

Of course good weather is better for all outdoor activities but, judging from most of the arguments that I overheard, often from within my tiny but dependable tent, it was camping in the wet that led to most of the problems and attendant arguments; it seems to lead to frayed nerves and fractiousness that results in an irrational blame culture.
I didn't take any mud pictures and few that even made the rain seem apparent simply because that is not in the spirit of the whole affair and, in any case, Friday was a glorious English summer's day!
Just how a festival should be - chilling in front of the main stage on Friday lunchtime.
This next one does however capture the wetness of Saturday and, because essentially solo acts on a big stage in daylight always lack visual punch, it looks bleaker than it really was.
Suffolk lad and 2011 success story Ed Sheeran performing 'The A Team' on the Obelisk Stage.  It was a very good set indeed and there was no shortage of excellent music from my perspective across all three days.
The first act I saw, on the Sunset Stage on Friday, was Montreal's BRAIDS. 
They had been on my want-to-see list for sometime but until the Thursday I had somehow neglected to notice that they were actually performing.
I have loads more to add and I haven't even looked at 75% of the pictures I took yet!
There might be a slight delay as on Friday I'm off to Truck Festival in Oxfordshire for the first time and so once I return on Monday I should have more than enough to write about for the whole of the rest of the summer, or at least until EOTR 2011 over the first week in September by which time the first Acoustic Moon will also have taken place.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Latitude 2011 - Play List and Clash Finder

Don't worry your heads with the supposed smartphone app. (I can't - I don't have a smartphone). It has been added here:



Please send your messages of thanks and support to the folks that made this possible!  I think, judging from the announcements in the Latitude site today that there are more additions on Thursday that were announced too late for addition to the above synopsis.
Just been packing...  See you all there, come rain or shine.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lady Nade - live in Frome

Yesterday evening was the combined Frome Festival Feast and Acoustic+. It was all good - the food, the weather, the music and the impressive turnout being just four things that readily come to mind. About the appearance of Frome's mayor in a swimming costume, but still with the regalia that befits his status, I am less sure [but I do have a picture]. Rather than attempt a full low-down on the events I will mention two things.
The first is that there were so many children there, from infants upwards, and most were interested in the music. The other observation is that just sometimes one act will, for all the great endeavours of the others, simply steal the show. I've seen this a couple of times before, mostly at festivals, and one of the tricks is that as well as it being an unpredictable phenomenon they do so seemingly without trying.

Yesterday was a case in point and Bristol's Lady Nade was the one to pull it off. Soul-jazz it might be but it is most certainly inflected by her remarkable contralto. I'd already heard it recorded and even so it was a surprise live. Watching what happened when people walked in from outdoors - many probably just wondering where their kids had gone - was very interesting.
Most of the kids were upfront and most of the adults just stood and listened.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Frome Festival 2011 - Launch Party

The opening gambit was the launch party, held at Rook Lane Chapel, on Thursday evening. It was quite some event and to begin it were two artists that have featured in these posts before.

Barbara J Hunt (guitar and vocals) and Dizzi (percussion and dulcimer).
 The dulcimer appeared of course, not least because she has just released her own signature model, as did the hang drums.
The Frome Festival is not just about music, far from it, although that is mostly where my interest lies. I have however mentioned that Frome has a wide range of independent shops and one amongst them actually has a poet-in-residence.  Here she is...
...welcome to the (largely imaginary) world of Muriel Lavender.
From Frome's industrious Freecycle community to, via the topic of Marks and Spencer Food advertising, and the contents of Dervla Kirwan's fridge, not much was spared the searchlight. It was funny and then some... now I understand why there is a whole poetry arena at Latitude. If it is half as good as this I might have to check it out this coming weekend.
Local politics was mentioned too (there is no longer any music in Wiltshire, apparently) and one of this event's main organisers, Leander Morales, lives just across the border. A regular feature on the Frome scene, as Morales Watts, they were joined by a violinist for this set.
For the most part they play original material but, this once, included a seemingly improbable cover song as a sing-along. It worked. People sang! It was song that, thanks to The Animals' version of 'House of The Rising Sun', is one that almost everybody has some knowledge of and not least because this iconic version topped the singles chart in UK, USA and Canada. What is lost in this is that the song is a traditional one and it could easily have become extinct in the canon were it not for some recordings of local singers made in East Kentucky several decades before.
It is a recurring theme, one that Cecil Sharp well understood in relation to English folk dance and song.
Then there were some short films, conceived and produced by students at Frome College. They were very good too but do not lend themselves to still photography.
Next was Benji Kirkpatrick, one member of the recently all-conquering Bellowhead. Frome Cheese & Grain is again to be visited by the whole ensemble on Friday 25, November. The solo set was a rather different, and very personal, affair. The patter was excellent which, when faced with a guitar that goes out of tune and breaks strings, is some trial. I now want to hear some of the recorded solo material, much of which is about travelling.
This eight-string instrument and his 5-string banjo had no such tendencies.
He said, about the banjo, that apart from the accordion few instruments are less liked. In my world, and that of many others that I know on both sides of the Atlantic, this could be hardly be further from the truth. He then proceeded to play a Jimi Hendrix cover on it. Give me some time and I will remember which song it was!
Last up was Luke Concannon. Of course there was the 'JCB Song', as it was his to play as one of Nizlopi, (and as he reminded us, it kept fellow Irishmen Westlife from the #1 spot in the UK singles chart) but the rest was equally genius. If you want a party - and surely Ireland could use any excuse for one these days - then he was up for it. 
Who needs amplification and all that stuff anyway? I wonder if the staff at the venue thought it might never end...

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Festivals and stuff - Part 2

How good it would be if the weekends of Latitude and Truck Festival were as perfect as the one that we have just experienced here in sunny Somerset. When it comes to festival weather then the best one can really hope for is good planning (by all concerned) in advance and palliative measures once the show has started.
In my last post I mentioned that I had come across a clash-planner for Truck Festival 2011 (and also some others).  Bear in mind that it can only be as accurate as the data to which its maker has access, and you therefore keep checking back as the date nears, but as planning goes it is certainly a good place to start. It has also served to remind me of some of the acts that appearing and which made my decide to make Truck 2011 my third festival of the summer and my first time at this particular event, now in its 14th year.  I had initially considered Deer Shed 2011, a newcomer on just its second edition, but the travel issues - as it is in North Yorkshire and like Truck it is the weekend immediately after Latitude - won the day for me as much as the then published list of performers.
Looking at the Line-Up listing on the same site makes me think that this is going to be a bumper event when it comes to seeing artists that I have never really heard of before, as well as those that I have. Some on-line research will have to precede much of the more detailed planning.
In a similar vein to my post about Latitude 2011 and likewise in alphabetical order, these are some that I am aware of but have, so far, never seen live. This list is done without any reference to the clash-list: what I want to do becomes before that which is actually possible.

  • Alessi's Ark
  • Gunning For Tamar
  • Islet
  • Johnny Flynn
  • Jonquil
  • Justin Townes Earle
  • Peggy Sue
  • Pete Molinari
  • Rhosyn
  • Roddy Woomble
  • Sea Of Bees
  • Tunng
Much more to come, including more thoughts and links, very soon. Going to a festival is always exciting even when it is a familiar one. That Truck is new to me adds that extra frisson.  I was half convinced as I drove to Latitude, for the first time in 2007, that I'd just freak out and come straight back home!
It might be worthwhile mentioning that (as of this evening, July 3) the last Latitude 2011 Weekend Tickets are going fast and when they are gone they are gone...
As of this evening (July 5) tickets for Truck Festival 2011 are still available. See you there?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

2011 Festivals and stuff - Part 1

Important, but rather dull, things first:  I've just collected the most vital things together and checked that all parts are present and correct and thus I am reminded so much of my days supervising Duke of Edinburgh Award Expeditions - there is no better way to look a fool than to forget, or lose, those things about which you have lectured everyone else.
Tent, sleeping-bag, sleeping-mat and (the thing that I forget more often than anything else when camping) a pillow. The last item might seem relatively unimportant, because a pile of clothes can take its place; well yes it can, but a cheap synthetic pillow that doesn't get damp is much better and when shut-eye is at a premium this matters. I know because I forgot mine in 2007. It is indeed a somewhat mundane task but the anticipation it engenders makes it all worthwhile!
Yesterday someone asked if I have a list of timings for music artists at Latitude 2011.  I'm afraid that I do not, at least currently, have such information because I'd like it too, so that I could plan my days but such is life. [If you do have some idea, even if it is only fragmentary, then please add a comment.]
On the other hand that is something to do on Thursday afternoon, official festival programme in hand, once the tent is pitched and life in the orthogonal dimension has begun!
That has just made me remember other things to take - a pencil and paper (soft pencils still work on damp paper) to make notes, either about the timings or on the acts that one sees. Add to that insect repellent - I have run out so now added to shopping list - and to check the basic first aid kit.
Planning is good but inflexibility stifles discovery. Having a preconceived plan, some structure at least, is very worthwhile even if exigencies, either personal preference or unavoidable such as changes of artist or performance times, result in last minute changes. I have never actually done exactly what I planned to do and I've never really regretted it either.  In a strange way the regrets of what I might have seen or done but, for whatever reason, couldn't just make me want to go to another festival.

Here is an artist that was certainly not on my 'to-see' list at Latitude 2010 because I hadn't even heard of her a year ago.  Impressive on the Lake Stage, although I only caught some of her set, was Alice Gold. She was due to play EOTR 2010 some weeks later, and was therefore on my want-to-hear list, but had to cancel at shortly before the event and this is yet another reason for changes of plan. The timing is now however good - her début album Seven Rainbows is released in the UK on Monday, 4 July and it is on my list of New Music 2011 that I want.

As far as I know she is not appearing at any of the festivals to which I am going this summer. The counterpoise is that there are artists, about whom I currently know nothing at all, that are. That actually matters more.

If you are going to Truck Festival 2011 then there is a very useful site, that acts as planner and clash-alert, that I found on Wednesday. More on that, and some first thoughts on the artists that I particularly wish to see there, very soon.