Sunday, November 30, 2014

My 2014 in Music - Albums - Part 1

With December, traditionally the start of the pre-Christmas hiatus in meaningful musical releases, just hours away it is time to start mentioning those releases of 2014 that have for whatever reason been highlights for me.
One change is that while the acts are grouped in alphabetical order the number of entries has been reduced to ten in this list. This is not due to a shortage of possibilities, far from it indeed, but rather to make compiling and writing each post more manageable.

One thing that changed not a jot is the influence that music I have seen live during 2014 has had on the outcome - eight of the ten above fall into that category and of those eight I have seen four live on at least two distinct occasions. Of the ten, five are LPs that I own on vinyl.

I just felt the need to get the ball rolling on this late autumn afternoon. It is easy to keep putting the start of such things off for another day for while it is certainly not a chore, a certain activation barrier has to be overcome nevertheless. Links - some might be my own and others to the artist or label - and probably some relevant photos will follow shortly.
I am happy if people would like to make comments and suggestions. I will be equally so if this leads anyone to find music of which they were previously either unaware of had forgotten about. If it tempts you to head out and see some live music then that is a real bonus. It is also, truth be told, quite simply the music that I really liked.

The alphabet is as it is; it starts this list with an artist that was a complete surprise, and a revelation, to me. I had heard it said that, as a performer, she is at best diffident and at worst obtuse. Be that as it may I can now go only with what I heard and observed myself. Those descriptions are quite harsh I believe; reserved and self-absorbed maybe, which means it admirably mirrors the album title 'Burn Your Fire For No Witness'. 

Angel Olsen - Green Man Festival 2014.

A bonus that accrued from starting a blog is that I really had to go out to see live music and soon armed with a camera. I often don't go far at all...

Ward Thomas, Cheese & Grain, Frome, 2 August 2014.  The opening date of their début headline tour.

The Moulettes are currently supporting Bellowhead on tour, but often playing as a four-piece and good though this is (dubbed the Moulllites by Hannah Miller) when I saw them thus live at Reading Hexagon just a couple of weeks ago you really do need to see them live as a six-piece playing a full set because that is in another league entirely. This was fresh on my mind as I had seen them thus just ten days previously at Marnhull Acoustic SessionsYou can do exactly that at Behind The Castle Festival on 13 June 2015.

One of the Reading absentees: Ruth Skipper, Marnhull Acoustic Session, 9 November 2014.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Looking forward... 2015 and all that.

Only yesterday evening, while writing my little piece on forthcoming lists and then touching on festivals in 2015, did the bigger picture start to coalesce in my mind. I must have kept thinking about it too as I woke up whilst dreaming about it  --- and so I never did get to find out what the denouement of this really very curious "festival" was. That the whole thing was devoid of real-world viability was beyond any doubt.
It has however made me turn my attention to some more of those 2014 festivals that I attended and the ones I might be anticipating a visit to in 2015.  I shall start with the upcoming announcement of (almost all) the line-up for the second edition of Behind the Castle Festival, Sherborne, Dorset, 13 June 2015.  It is to be announced on 27 November and, while currently embargoed, I'm quite certain that it will not disappoint. It will also be featured in an article in The Western Gazette.
Tickets go on sale on Monday 1 December. It is also one of the first festivals to declare any, yet alone the majority of, acts for 2015. Ticket prices remain essentially as last year but various new options are available.

Yesterday I mentioned the poll of 'UK Blogsound 2015'. It coincides with the BBC 'Sound of 2015' list, with which it often shares a degree of commonality - George Ezra and Royal Blood, two acts that arguably share little other than popularity in common, appeared in both lists in 2014 -  and both long lists will appear at the start of December with the top five in each announced in early January.
Here is an artist that featured on the 'UK Blogsound 2014' that I subsequently saw live in 2014. Only after this did I decide to seek out the LP 'Mirrors the Sky' (Sub Pop, 17 March 2014).

Lyla Foy - Garden Stage - End of The Road Festival - 31 August 2014.

It is also just one example of why, once again, my lists of 2014 will be dominated by artists that I have seen live or those that I am determined to ensure that I see (for the first time or once again) in 2015. The surprise factor, both artists and audience, that festivals provide is one of the aspects that most appeals to me. That said you might regard this next as just thirty years of wilful ignorance on my part. I'd never real bothered to engage with Pavement and so Stephen Malkmus' post Pavement career had also largely passed me by until, for a reason that was not pre-planned and I can no longer recall what provoked it, I suddenly decided to make amends. I discovered that I enjoyed it a whole lot and I totally appreciate their stance, which is to not to dwell on the past at all and eschew the playing of any Pavement material whatsoever.
Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks - Woods Stage - End of The Road Festival 2014.

Before that, in early February, I have a ticket to a gig that requires just a brisk ten minute walk from home to attend. Fairport Convention. Cheese & Grain. Frome.

What happens at festivals can change the course of bands too, as this very recent review indicates of Saskatoon-based 'Slow Down Molasses'. The revelation, or so the band would have it, was playing at End of The Road 2011. I'll tell you something about that too - it was awesome.
Not all band members are in the picture. Slow Down Molasses, Tipi Stage, End of The Road Festival 2011.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Carpe diem quod tempus fugit.

To put it simply - December beckons and it is soon to be time for those ubiquitous lists. I have already made a contribution to one that concerns bloggers' 'Artists To Watch 2015', about which more to follow. All talk of this is currently subject to embargo.
It is also time to start seriously considering the festival options in 2015 - though some seven months out that seems a strange thing to relate - and indeed I am actively doing so.

First, however, come the lists of 2014 of which I shall contribute my own as I have done every year since 2006. I'm not planning to make many changes to the format of the last few years but, as I promised at the start of the year, and it is one of the few New Year resolutions I have ever kept, I have listened to more new music - be that live, recorded, via radio, streaming or suchlike - than ever before. I set myself a weekly target that seemed ambitious at the time. I have comfortably exceeded that. This has however caused new problems all of its own making!
Once-upon-a-time the category of EPs was a niche concern and I used to start with that list as it was easy and self-contained. It is now a huge issue. I am going to choose six, at least that is my current thinking, and that's going to involve some pretty harsh choices.

A more recent development, and I might start with this on November 30, is the rise of albums that are recorded live...  It is a genre the zenith of which was between the early 1970s and early 1980s. Its return is in part a result of the revival in popularity of live music in general but also, and in practical terms most importantly, the available and affordable options to record live in almost any venue.
Occasionally I have wondered whyever it was that I started writing; this year I think it is true that I have never done so.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Emma Ballantine, Beth Porter, and Winter Mountain - The Green Room, Frome

This is only the third edition of The Green Room but it is showing signs of becoming one of the best new-music showcases this side of anywhere. It is also good value: £8 advance, £10 on the door, with cabaret-style tables and seating.
First to play was London-based, though originally from Salisbury, Emma Ballantine. That she made the gig at all was itself a triumph over adversity. Her car was stolen yesterday and so she and her guitar made it to Frome by rail instead.

She played songs from her self-released 'Flying Machine EP' (2013) and other compositions too.
I had never heard her live before and one thing that I should mention is that she has none of that awkwardness that solo artists often display when introducing or describing themselves or, particularly, their songs.

Next to play was the flagship project of someone that you may very well already have heard, though are unaware of nevertheless. Bethany Porter is one of the most sought-after session cellists in the UK but there is a great deal more to enjoy than that.
Her headline project is Beth Porter and The Availables. The début LP 'Open Doors' will soon be available, on vinyl and download only. It has been a long time in the works due to pressure of commitments. 'The Availables' is just what the term implies: yesterday that comprised Emma Hooper (viola) and Ian Vorley (violin and baritone saxophone) with both adding vocals. Beth plays instruments other than 'cello and not all of them have strings.
The recorder is not the most fashionable of instruments. This is a treble recorder. Then again the even less common tenor recorder features in one of the most remarkable modern folk albums of 2014 - played by Josienne Clarke in that case - so just possibly its time is coming.
Top of the evening's bill was Anglo-Irish duo Winter Mountain. Joe Francis is from St. Agnes, Cornwall and Marty Smyth from the northern tip  of Co. Donegal. They met by chance at Union Station, Chicago and the rest is history.
Winter Mountain is signed to Frome-based Charcoal Records and this set was recorded live in its entirety.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lotte Mullan, Heg & the Wolf Chorus and The Moulettes - Marnhull Acoustic Sessions

It is fair to say that it has not always proven easy to tempt sufficient numbers to commit their Sunday evening to acoustic music, however exceptional, in an intimate (as in less than 100 seat) venue in rural North Dorset. I wonder, and very much hope, that the well-attended event will be seen as something of a game-changer.
The Moulettes were the big draw and quite rightly so, but something that those drawn in by that possibly appreciated even more was the whole package. I knew what to expect in that sense but I too had never seen either of the support acts live before. I don't worry about that too much; once I have the measure of some event or other  I'm happy to take it on trust and buy a ticket. A few misses are part of the rough-and-tumble and have, taken over time, been far overshadowed by the surprise hits.
First to play was Lotte Mullan - and I have an admission here: not only had I never heard her play live I had never even heard of her at all.

Her songs are pretty intense and personal.
She released 'Claw Marks EP' earlier this year and an LP will follow in Spring 2015 by the looks of things. I did think about asking what the title might be but I never quite summoned up the courage before it was too late and things had moved on.
The next to play was Heg and the Wolf Chorus in a diminished line-up as a three-piece (they should be five) owing to the winter lurgies. I was at least aware of them and some of their music but again had never seen them play live. I  managed a pretty poor job of photography too. Please believe me that this band sounded a whole lot better than this looks! I need to see them live again.
Dramatic it most certainly is - the songs and the arrangements both.

This also tuned out to be the perfect bridge between Mullan's introspection and The Moulettes decidedly cosmic perspective - from the title track from LP 'Constellations' to a brand new track pondering the secret life of nematode worms.

So new was it that the rest of the band left Hannah Miller to play it all by herself, on Ruth Skipper's auto-harp!

That, and the real possibility that the set would dissolve in fits of giggles at any moment, only made it seem even more surreal and wonderful. It was a long set but still it was over far too soon. That despite the fact that they played two encores, one of which was Songbird, from the LP The Bear's Revenge.
This is the whole band in action.
There is much more that I could add and in time I probably will. The above is probably sufficient to explain why I think that events such as this matter very much indeed.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 41 - French For Rabbits - Spirits

It is one of those late autumn days where it is raining outside and the best bet, if one is able to do that, is to stay in and try to keep it all at bay. Thus I find myself in front of the fire, with a bowl of home-made leek and potato soup, listening to this LP. It is just about perfect for days such as this and I'm a sucker for this kind of dream-pop anyway. Where they come from it is, however, spring.

Spirits is the début LP by New Zealand duo French For Rabbits. I don't know enough about music from New Zealand, nevertheless that which I do find I tend to like. This next might be a myth but I don't want it spoiled now, thank-you: the band-name apparently came during a discussion as to whether lapins, presumably a possible band name, was indeed the French word for rabbits.
'French For Rabbits' was, in any case, a far better choice.

Originally from Christchurch, but relocated to Wellington, the duo of (nominatively-determined) Brooke Singer on voice and keyboards and John Fitzgerald on guitar do a fine job of evoking the subtle wisps of autumn that try to sneak in wherever there is a chink in the defences. I believe that Brooke is also the principal songwriter too.
The album is very much a thing to be listened to in toto. I purchased it as a download but it will soon be released on vinyl too. I'm now more than tempted to upgrade to real.
See what you think. Have a listen:

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Moulettes - Marnhull Acoustic Sessions - 9 November 2014.

This is your final warning.
You will most probably never be able to see this again. One of the UK's finest bands, The Moulettes - a six-piece usually, live in a 90-seat venue.
Sunday 9 November from 7pm, Marnhull Acoustic Sessions for tickets.  If you miss this then you will be asking yourself why before very long.

It is not folk music like you ever knew it. Moulettes is supporting Bellowhead for many dates on the the latter's UK autumn tour and taking a day off to visit Marnhull. Bellowhead is playing Birmingham Symphony Hall that same evening and you can't now sneak off to that instead as it is sold out!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 40 - Lynne Hanson - River of Sand

'River of Sand', released in September 2014, is actually the fourth LP from Canadian folk-roots artist Lynne Hanson but the first that I became aware of. What took me so long is the obvious question. My weak excuse is that is the first she has released in four years.

Back in 2010 I was nowhere as inquisitive about new music as now I am - no doubt about that - but also with that change the range of music that I like and, at least to some extent understand, has burgeoned. I have not yet listened to this LP enough times to make stable comments on individual tracks but my inclination is that I never will. It is certainly not the polished 'Nashville product' and quite deliberately so. Suffice to say that if you like an album with a lot of meaning and a good dose of darkness and light then this as good as any I have found this year.

Hope is a just four-letter word when the feeling just ain't there.
'This Too Shall Pass'.

These are songs lived-in; well worn through good and bad, scruffy in places and threadbare in others, therefore now totally comfortable. This is music for the season, as winter approaches, to be appreciated seated near a real fire and with a glass raised to the passing of such times.
'This Too Shall Pass'. The Guitar Bar, Nottingham, September 2014.