Monday, June 30, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 21 - The Secret Sisters - Put Your Needle Down

After a spell in which the 'New Music' series has predominantly been about UK based artists the pattern, like the weather does, seems to have wandered west to feature North American ones once again. As usual this is often dominated by ones that I have seen live, are going to see live or simply wish to see live. This one falls in to the first of those categories.

'Put Your Needle Down' is The Secret Sisters recently released second LP. 
They opened the Garden Stage at End of The Road Festival 2011 around noon and, true to festival form I got off to a very poor start with photography. I only took two and this is the better of them!
These days I am aware of this problem and, while I still don't really know why it happens, I am consciously able to compensate for it to some degree. One thing is evident here: that had I had wished to be up against the barrier, towards the left of this picture and a spot that would have been ideal, then there was absolutely nothing to stop me.
WTF was I thinking?
One answer, given that I only had the faintest idea about what to expect, is just how astonishingly good it was. The self-titled début LP had then only recently been released and I had not heard it. Unlike some such sibling-named acts Laura and Lydia Rogers really are sisters and, since these things matter more than they seem to in some forms of music, their home town is Muscle Shoals, Ala.
The title of this LP may be rhetorical; I don't know and I have no knowledge as yet of this LP released on vinyl. That is no matter but I can tell you is that it was considerably cheaper (delivery to the UK included) to buy it brand new and sealed (it arrived thus) on CD from the USA than to download it on
That says something.  It took a few days longer; I'm quite down with that. I'll buy LPs direct from the artist if I can.
It certainly won't please everyone (and that I regard as a good thing) but for me the overarching thing about 'Put Your Needle Down' is that it is perfectly poised between being reverential of tradition and a contradictory need to seem to out-grow the same. Some of the new songs could have been written in the late 1950s or early 1960s except to say that they weren't.

There is a cover of a much more recent song in PJ Harvey's 'The Pocket Knife' and then, from the early 1980s, something more than a cover - Bob Dylan never completed 'Dirty Lie' and so, about twenty years down the line he offered Secret Sisters the demo recordings and a plea to pull it together, which they duly did.

There is a whole lot of good stuff coming out at the moment, and even the 'major labels' have stepped up to the plate, at least to some extent. It is hopeful, but tempting, to say that 'Times They Are A Changin...'. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 20 - Free The Honey - In Our Hands EP

Much as I like my music in a physical format, sometimes vinyl, I have to say that (legal) download and the internet has the huge bonus of immediacy sometimes.
This EP is a great example of that. There is probably no physical release and its digital release was only yesterday.

My attention was bought to it by Folk Radio UK and it is one of the most stunning pieces of Americana that I have heard all year. That isn't for a lack of such things. If you like Carrivick Sisters or their more expansive outlet Cardboard Fox then likely you will covet this and, at seven tracks it is more of a mini-album. It is available to download here (in almost any format) and I chose MP3 320. It costs from $4 but that seems so mean when a pint of beer costs more than that and I know I will, indeed probably already have, got more enjoyment from it.

The three young women hail not from the perceived home-ground of Americana or bluegrass rather from Gunnison in the high mountains of Western Colorado but don't let that put you off, and not least for the other sounds that they bring to bear.

This is 'Iridology', the third track on the EP and one that has touches of gypsy fiddle on it. Given the status that folk, roots and Americana is currently enjoying in Europe don't be at all surprised to see them touring over here in the coming year.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Behind The Castle Festival 2014 - Part 4

I can't remember when I last wrote six posts in the space of a week.
That it has been dominated by coverage of Behind The Castle Festival, which I was attending this time last week, finds me quite unapologetic; it only goes to show the impression that it made on me. I am not unused to festivals either and, judging from what I saw and heard, Behind The Castle made a far more important and favourable impression on those who clearly were.
It was, for many I suspect, their first taste of the arena-action of a multi-day festival but one that just happened to all take place within the space of twelve hours. The setting was exquisite, of course - this was taken from next to the main stage during Newton Faulkner's set.

The Castle Behind.

The setting is not enough a successful festival for to make. I heard nothing but praise for the toilets - and that always seems to be one of the worries most exercising festival newbies.
So the bar was busy, and was later drunk dry, but that only serves to to show that it was offering drinks that folks wanted at prices that they were willing to pay. The only problem was it became a victim of its own success...

This was taken towards the end of the Boat To Row set on Stage 2.

Later in the afternoon, when the weather threatened a shower that never materialised, I returned to Stage 2.
Cara Dillon

The final artist on the MAS stage was another that I had never seen live before. This is despite the fact that originally from Amarillo, TX he now lives in Frome, Somerset as do I.
It was a great set but the tricks came at the end and it did sound good. Here are two versions of it.

Rodney Branigan plays two guitars at once.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 19 - Clara Engel - Looking-Glass Fire

I seem to be in a writing mood at the moment so I guess that it is best just to roll with it. In any case I just keep finding out about stuff that interests me and, as it often does, this tends to result in a positive-feedback loop all of its own. For times when this pattern fails I keep a list of things that I really ought to investigate but simply haven't done anything about. It may seem a curious way to work but that is how it is.

This is the latest release from Canadian artist Clara Engel, whom I have written about before in respect of the Madagascar EP (2011). It is another EP/mini-album and I am currently unaware if a physical release is planned, but no matter.

You can stream below but if you like what you hear please buy it. Only this way can independent artists subsist, let alone continue to record and thus make our lives a much richer place.      

There is plenty more by Clara to explore and enjoy. If you like the above then try her most recent full LP 'Ashes and Tangerines' (2014).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 18 - Table Scraps

Whilst pursuing my New Year Resolution to listen to more new (at least to me) music - my target was 8 hours/week and I'm doing well almost six months in - I was listening to Simon Raymonde's show on Amazing Radio yesterday evening when something came on which, although quite new wasn't as simple as that.
It was 'At The Bottom of Our Stairs' by Birmingham duo Table Scraps.

It immediately struck a chord as there was something about the female vocals that was distinctly familiar but from a long while back. I'd decided that it wasn't one or two possibilities when it was announced that the band was Scott Vincent Abbott and Poppy Twist. It could have been a coincidence, just possibly, but it certainly wasn't. This post could just as easily have been titled 'Whatever happened to Poppy Twist?'
The last time I heard of her was the 2007 release of the six-track  mini-LP 'Follow Me Down' as the lead singer of female four-piece Poppy & The Jezebels. Here is that record, Reveal Records REVEAL 19LP.

To say that this had influences beyond their years is not the half of it - many an artist would kill to write the song 'Gracelin'. The passage of time has, if anything at all, only made it slightly easier to classify. It certainly hasn't detracted from its worth.

Table Scraps keep the angular, feral sound. I like this.

Behind The Castle Festival 2014 - Part 3 - and on it goes

That I can fill three posts with the result of ten-and-a-half hours live music says a great deal about what was on offer at Behind The Castle 2014 (BTC). There are a couple of acts that I don't mention and simply because I didn't get to listen to, see and photograph everything!
One case in point was Steve Knightly on Stage 2, which was the busiest that venue was all day. That said I saw him recently on his on-going tour of village halls and covered that here. I headed to the MAS stage to catch Dorset duo Ninebarrow instead.

I have seen Ninebarrow live before but could listen all day.
The album 'While The Blackthorn Burns' was released in April 2014.

The same ability to listen also applies to the next artist, also on the MAS stage, who I have never seen live before. Indeed, before the BTC line-up was revealed I was quite unaware of Lizzyspit. This is another fine example of why I like festivals so much.

Arresting original songs and a fine interpreter of others' songs.

If I had to choose just one highlight, and I strongly think that many others shared my opinion here, it would be Megan Henwood and her band on Stage 2 in the early evening. The new songs, from the forthcoming album 'Head, Heart, Hand', are so good and the whole set was a delight.  I couldn't tear myself away and this is why I didn't get to see any of the set by Tinderbox. I'll just have to wait until North Dorset Folk Festival on October 25, 2014.
I haven't even mentioned Rodney Branigan yet...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Behind The Castle Festival 2014 - Part 2 - The Main Stage

The four main stage acts were scheduled that they did not coincide with those on either Stage 2 or the MAS stage, which hosted acts simultaneously. This resulted in two things; it was possible to see all of the main stage acts in entirety without sacrificing anything else and that there was almost no down time in which there was no live music taking place. Another advantage is that never could the sound from the main stage bleed over into the other two stages whilst allowing the site to be compact but never feeling overcrowded.
The first artist on the main stage was one I had never seen live before - Irish acoustic songwright Paul Brady. I must admit I knew shamefully little of his work before Saturday and it was probably an omission, and certainly a mistake on my part, not to check it out before the event once I that I was aware that he was playing.

The early afternoon slot saw most of the crowd sat on the grass, which was a shame.

After another hour interlude on the other stages, about which more in 'Part 3', it was time to head out to the main stage for Newton Faulkner. He again is someone that I had never seen live before but at least I was well aware of his catalogue and so with baited breath I wondered...
In the glorious mid-afternoon sun there would be no danger of the soporific attitude mentioned above. It was some set and I was well impressed by the good-natured fervour of many of his fans - this was less folk festival than many might have thought. 
His set was text-book showmanship without actually showing off. That is a fine line to tread.

After another sojourn it was the time for the prolific Seth Lakeman to take to the stage. It seems that hardly a few months pass during which he does not release something or other in one of his guises and collaborations. I have seen him live on several occasions and you are being lectured by one of the converted - it's my blog and so I can be biased in it! Indeed my bias largely determines all that is covered, including Behind The Castle Festival.
Much fierce fiddle playing included. 'Solomon Browne' saw the tenor guitar bought to bear.
It is a tale of a tragic modern disaster told in the traditional folk idiom.

The festival was finished in style by a band that deserve the epithet legendary - The Levellers. When in 1991 their second LP 'Levelling The Land' was released it did what it said - it changed the map. The Pogues had done this kind of thing, and to some degree so had The Stranglers and others, all with great success but this really album bought it home to roost.
It was hot on that stage.

I'll finish with a quote overheard... "This is absolutely f*****g amazing."
It was. Exactly that. He was quite right to be proud of it.

[Behind The Castle Festival - Part 3 will follow soon.]

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Behind The Castle Festival 2014 - Part 1

I spent yesterday at the inaugural Behind The Castle Festival in Sherborne, Dorset. As you may have gathered I had great expectations and, I have to say right at the start, they were exceeded. There were three stages; two tented - Stage 2 and Marnhull Acoustic Stage (MAS) and the out-door main stage. The setting is a dream.
From the start it was clear that this was going to be something rather special. These are just a few of my first thoughts and pictures...

Sun hats and a parasol -- I didn't see a pair of wellies all day!
The main stage seen from outside the MAS stage at about 5pm, during the latter part of Newton Faulkner's set.
The first to play that I saw was not even on the bill...
Tom Clements testing the MAS stage as one of the sound crew.

Stage 2 also incorporated the bar, which proved to be very popular indeed, and also some terrific performances including the first artists on the programme.

Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys.
Their LP 'Any Other Morning' was released just last Monday and here is a sample from it but be warned, to see them live is quite something else:

Sunday, June 08, 2014

New music, old music.

Folk music, roots music and all that is not for high days and holidays. It is for everyday and that is why I have chosen to mention this now. When the great and the good of the BBC decided that Mike Harding was "too long in the tooth" he had other ideas.
I'm currently listening to the 76th edition of the Mike Harding Folk Show and I haven't missed a single one. It is on-line so that is not a problem; you can listen to it anywhere at any time you choose. You can also listen to the shows on Mixcloud here but his own pages also provide a cornucopia of information about the artists played as well as links to forthcoming events such as folk clubs and festivals.

Another thing that I'm enjoying these days is the vital interchange of 'Americana' (home-grown or otherwise) across the Atlantic. This is apparent in the artist lists of all the festivals that I am attending.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 17 - Vena Portae

This is what I was intended to write about yesterday. As it happens I seem to be in a blog-posting mood at the moment so that's not an issue. This is in part spurred by the abundance of interesting new music and also, just today, by the fact that my ticket for End of The Road Festival arrived in the post. That has somehow made the 2014 festival season seen real, even though it is (currently) the last one that I shall be attending this summer.

This album is a new project and is not released (vinyl, CD, d/l) until 18 August 2014. Recorded in Sweden in the winter of 2012/13 it isn't very summery. Indeed the lead track is 'Summer Kills' and it can be streamed below.

[post in progress --- to be continued soon]

Friday, June 06, 2014

Horse and I - a cover version

This has subverted what I was planning to write about this evening, but no matter. Two of my abiding themes are new artists and cover versions and this covers both bases admirably.
The song, Bat For Lashes' 'Horse and I', is from the 2006 album 'Fur and Gold'. It is only because of that album this this blog exists at all. This is an a capella version by London Contemporary Voices Choir and was only recently recorded live at St. John-at-Hackney church, East London.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

So what is next?

Here is a song-and-a-half and now a suitably great video to go with it... Ooh. This attempt to embed Vevo video might not work out as intended first time! Let's just see what happens... I like meddling, but the real point is that this video is simply too good not to share.  It worked for six months and then it didn't.  Fair is fair. Here is a direct replacement.

Well it could have been worse; at least something happened now I have meddled with it some more and that's OK, at least for now. If you think that Alynda Lee Segarra is a tough cookie then you are right. That, however, is certainly far from the whole story.

She is also one of the most self-effacing artists that I have ever met.
End Of The Road Festival 2012.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Hello summer - well sort of...

In the US at least Memorial Day seems to be regarded as the start of the summer season.
In the UK June 1st is the start of the Meteorological Summer and as the Festival Season starts so does the 'European Monsoon', which is not generally drastic but can, and often does, play havoc with festivals and particularly those that take place in June.
There is nothing we can do about it - this is simply the result of living on the windward edge of an ocean that has a vast continent to the east of it.
That said the UK hosts an astonishing number of festivals of all shapes, sizes and influences; the most famous is, of course, Glastonbury. I am not going to that, although it is just over a dozen miles away as the crow flies, and indeed I never even applied for a ticket. On the other hand I completed my festival bookings yesterday by adding one that, although now well established, I have never attended before.
Each year I aim to choose one that is new to me and last year that was Sunrise Festival, which was all of five miles away from home. There is a real frisson to attending a particular festival for the first time and that comes from not knowing the dynamic, be it the layout of the site, the audience or the presentation.
It is most pronounced whilst travelling there or that is how it seems to me. When I was driving to Latitude 2007 I was half-convinced that I would look at it and simply turn round and drive back home again. I guess that the price of the ticket and the length of the drive conspired against that. Once there it seemed exciting. Once I had pitched my tent, and I'm no stranger to camping, it started to seem more like a slightly strange version of normality.

In the meanwhile listen to this - the album streaming in toto - that I mentioned here, whilst you can.

It is available to download, in almost any file format you might wish for from Bandcamp, for £3.50, here.  That might lead you to suspect that this is just an EP or mini-album but, at twelve tracks not including Intro, this is almost 55 minutes long. There is also a very limited CD digipack available.

With the framework of my summer festivals booked I'm now starting to think about the acts at them that are my priorities, especially those that I am well aware of but have never seen live; Stornoway and Blood Red Shoes are two that both come to mind here.
The next task is to try and find out something about all the artists about which I know (next to) nothing. I always try to do this and as sure as hell I will change my plans once at the festival most often by word of mouth recommendations. This does not in itself render the endeavour invalid as it has great value when deciding what to do in the unenviable situation of not being able to be in two places at the same time. Other times I just decide to see something completely on a whim and that has led to some great discoveries too.

Before all that comes the first Behind The Castle Music Festival, a one-day festival that takes place on 14 June at Sherborne Castle, Dorset. Many of the artists on the programme I have seen live before and of those that I haven't I was well aware of. One that fell into neither category, but whom I have been listening to since, was Australian Lizzyspit. Her own songs are really strong but, more than that, she has the confidence to cover a song that is so well known in its original as to be a minefield: