Monday, August 31, 2015

Dyn Gwyrdd 2015 - Green Man - Part 4 - amrywiaeth

Amrywiaeth. What's that all about?
Well this post is about a lot of things that haven't made it into the previous three posts on Green Man 2015, so what to call it was a mystery. Welsh has this one word that encompasses several English ones - such as miscellany, variation, variety, assortment - and is more appropriate in this instance than any one of them. That is my excuse.
The tented Far Out stage is large and, whilst I didn't spent as much time there this year as last, I have mentioned it hardly at all since seeing Gwenno play it on Thursday afternoon. First support Sunday evening was an Australian artist rapidly establishing herself as one of the break-out acts of 2015, following the release of her first full LP 'Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit'.

Courtney Barnett. Far Out Stage,  Green Man 2015, 23 August.
She is not the most forthcoming of artists on stage, however, tending to lurk in the shadows towards the edge and there were many such in the Far Out tent. The performance was simply breathtaking -  verging on the confessional.

In keeping with my oft-stated policy of favouring the smaller stages and the opening acts on any stage here is the smallest stage - Green Man Rising - and the opening act of the Festival on it, Seren the Heron.
A Crickhowell native, she has just released her début album Scrambled Mess. Give it a listen. Here and now.

One thing about the Green Man Rising stage is that as well as having a lovely setting overlooking a pond and a with couple of wasp nests for some excitement, it has a fantastic view across the arena of the neighbouring Mountain stage.

Here on the Green Man Rising Stage, and when I found a wasp nest for myself, Saturday lunch-time...

London three-piece Girl Ray.

It is impossible to sum up a three day festival in four posts and with twenty-something pictures, however much one might wish to try. The truth is, really, you just have to be there. Some things are so unpredictable that they can only ever be memories and this could very easily have been just another one of them.
St. Vincent, headlining The Mountain stage on Sunday evening. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Green Man - Dyn Gwyrdd 2015 - Part 3 - The Mountain Stage

The Mountain Stage, the main one at Green Man Festival, has a strong claim to being as perfectly situated as any at a UK festival. When The Garden Stage was the main one at End Of The Road Festival, before the addition of The Woods Stage in 2012, then that was probably the one but the Mountain Stage is far bigger and its situation in an amphitheatre, the result of a long vanished country house garden and with views of the mountains (weather permitting) as a backdrop seals it. 
On early Sunday evening, with a low sun illuminating the stage, it was pretty amazing.

Jessica Staveley-Taylor of The Staves, Mountain Stage, Sunday evening.

The sun was an even rarer commodity on Saturday but during the couple of hours when it graced us with its presence one of the beneficiaries was the awesome Marika Hackman performing completely solo.
Without any doubt this set was one of the highlights of the weekend.

Indeed, Saturday afternoon on the mountain stage was on good form generally. She was followed by the always heart-warming, and every-time-better-than-the last The Leisure Society.
While, despite the release of five LPs, still not really well known in the UK Australian Darren Hanlon deserves to be more so. This was the first time I had seen him play live and it was time well spent. Songs based on observations of detail and a very special way with words.
A bonus of going to multiple festivals is that, when they share the same acts it is possible to ameliorate the situation as regards clashes somewhat. Natalie Prass, from Richmond VA, also appears this coming weekend at End Of The Road 2015.
 The other possibility, and it happened to me a couple of times last summer, is that one simply decides to see them twice!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reading & Leeds: To those that Rock, I salute you...

I don't do getting old all that gracefully but if I have to admit one thing it is that I have no desire whatsoever to brave is Reading/Leeds Festival as it is now. Enjoy your GCSE and A-level results, the music, the freedom, and don't even think about next week...  We only get so many trips round the sun.

Here is the poster from Reading festival 1979.
Be aware that you are becoming a part of history...  history is defined by the things that are much older than you are. History is more interestingly perhaps also defined by the custom type and fonts that were used for the poster.
Think about that...  and the deal on weekend tickets too - available in advance and only by post, of course!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dyn Gwyrdd 2015 - Green Man - Part 2 - The Walled Garden

I like the smaller stages, that is no revelation unless you haven't been reading for long and in which case hello and welcome. Of those stages at Green Man Festival the Walled Garden stage is the one that matters most. Here is just a flavour of what happened within those four walls last weekend.
I'm not going to do this in chronological order, as of the festival, but I will start with an artist that I have serial convictions, as regards failure to see live, going back as far as 2009. Nothing is ever that simple...
Emmy The Great - Walled Garden stage - Friday evening.

To some extent I like it simply for its unpredictability. Here it is in the rain late on Sunday morning.
and, just minutes later...
Meilyr Jones playing and it is raining no longer!
That is Stephen Black, aka Sweet Baboo. playing bass on the far left of the shot. Never knowingly under used! It is not the only time, as this post unfolds, that artists appear more than once...

This next artist was not the easiest to photograph - she put me in mind of Angel Olsen at Green Man last year.
The opening act on Saturday was Anna B Savage.

On Sunday, and utterly different, was Norwegian singer and songwriter Aurora Aksnes.

Back to Saturday evening...  no band is as aptly named as this and the latest album 'Bashed Out' carries the theme admirably, right down to the point of walking on stage attired as on the cover artwork of the album. It was too warm for the jumper to last even the first song and the hat was removed soon afterwards too.
This Is The Kit - Kate Sables on banjo (at least for now) and Rozi Plain (see below) on bass.

Rozi Plain played the same stage on Friday afternoon in support of her latest LP 'Friend'. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Green Man - Dyn Gwyrdd 2015 - Part 1

Did it rain?
Well yes, quite a lot to be honest. It was also a wonderful festival and that is certainly no lie. So how does one square this circle? A great deal of this was down to the way that the festival is organised. It is not possible to prevent it raining but there are things that can be done, and importantly were pre-emptively done, to minimize the problems it causes. It was a triumph.

That doesn't help me with where to start my commentary on the music or indeed anything else! What I have decided to do is start with two very different Welsh solo artists (who both performed the most part of their sets in the Welsh language) that are very different, indeed of different generations, but both of which I very much wanted to see live for the first time.
The first, and the younger generation, was represented by Gwenno who played songs from her recent LP 'Y Dydd Olaf' (The Final Day), which is a concept album based on a 1970's Welsh-language science fiction novel of the same title, about a dystopia ruled by patriarchs. 
Her comments about the songs were suitably political...  It hardly sounds like a trendsetting theme but, particularly if you are from outside the UK in 2015, you might easily underestimate the sentiment.

It took place in the Stygian gloom of the tented Far Out Stage on Thursday afternoon as a heavy and relentless drizzle fell outside.

In recent years I have been trying to catch up with what I see as the greats of the UK (and wider) folk scene from the 1960s onwards. Some are no longer with us of course, but otherwise I'm doing well and this is someone that I had somehow failed to notice, or had and then forgotten, in the releases before the event. I hot-footed it to the Mountain Stage, just as the rain was abating early Sunday afternoon, to catch this. It was worth it and then some.
Meic Stevens - Mountain Stage - Green Man Festival 2015.

New Music 2015 - Part 64 - Free The Honey - Fine Bloom

I mentioned this forthcoming release here back in April and on Monday, following my return from Green Man Festival, it was waiting for me in my mailbox.

'Fine Bloom', the début album by Free The Honey, is officially released, independently by the artists, on 12 September and I'm hoping that good record shops here in the UK will see fit to stock the physical release too, because it most definitely deserves that. If I had to suggest a likely candidate then that would be Union Records, Lewes, Sussex.
The original trio of Katherine Taylor, Jenny Hill, Lizzy Plotkin, later joined by Andrew Cameron, weave a seam through Americana - from bluegrass to alt- country via blues and gospel - that makes the whole sound seem quite astonishingly natural.
The track listing is below and the CD comes with an insert that details the lyric to each song, which I think is always a nice touch:

Fine Bloom - Free The Honey:

  • take me home
  • high peaks
  • honey blues
  • crooked child
  • a beautiful life
  • hymn for renewal
  • dark and muddy
  • wabbit time
  • vultures
  • waiting for fergal
  • go with the light
  • jenny caught a catfish
  • come up to the mountain

Monday, August 17, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 63 - Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Banjo Banjo EP

I was making preparations for my trip to Green Man Festival 2015 whilst idly listening to this-and- that and just simply trying to keep up with music. I didn't have plans to post anything between now and the start of next week.
It only takes one track to totally derail a train and it doesn't matter which one.

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Banjo Banjo EP.

It ranges from a Chinese song, Abigail speaks mandarin, to a cover of Europe's 'The Final Countdown' as a purely instrumental tune. What more could you ask? Except that possibly that you could stream it all, free and legally?
Well, courtesy of The Bluegrass Situation you can do exactly that and there is plenty more goodness to be found there, across all sorts of genres, to be discovered.
If you still want more clawhammer banjo from these two artists then here it is...

On the other hand this is exactly why I'm doing this. It is why I'm going to Green Man and then a couple of weeks later to End of The Road. It is why I'll try and stay out for fourteen hours a day, for three days in a row, listening to live music and trying to take photos of it. I want to do that.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 62 - Joni Fuller - Letters From The West Coast EP

Having heard her song 'The Penny' several times in passing and, given my self-imposed New Year resolution to listen to more new music and music that is new to me, I naturally felt compelled to investigate further. The result only served to confirm why I decided to do this.
It is one of four songs on Joni Fuller's self-released 'Songs From The West Coast' EP.

Simply being called Joni might in some ways be seen as a bit of an albatross for someone planning on making a mark in acoustic music. Not so it seems and indeed the title of the EP, which is actually not her first, plays cleverly on that too. The West Coast in question is not that of the USA but that of England - specifically Lancashire - as she is from St. Annes-on-Sea that is one half of an urban area usually known as Lytham St. Annes and famous for its golf links.
What makes this music stand out from the rest, and the Lancashire coast is producing plenty of good artists (Karima Francis, Rae Morris, Little Boots and Låpsley being four others) just at the moment, is her use of live looping to allow her to play solo but sound like a band. What marks her out from those I mention below is that, whilst she loops all of them, her principal instrument is the violin.
I think its popularity in this milieu, it has long been used in hip hop and such, has benefited from its use by Ed Sheeran and I have also mentioned Bristol-based Daisy Chapman's use of it several times in the past. It makes for compulsive live performance as it is something fascinating to observe, as well as hear, and so Joni Fuller is added to my list of ones to see live as a matter of urgency.

Here is 'The Penny':

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 - Part 4 - all sorts of folk

This post doesn't have a specific theme, in part simply because I can't think of one, other than to add how good it all was in its variety. There is however a mild sense of urgency I suppose: I was at Cambridge a fortnight ago and I am still processing that; this time next week I shall be in Wales and about half way through experiencing Green Man 2015.

It is right, particularly in these politically heightened times, to start with a legend. She played the first ever Cambridge Folk Festival in 1965 (the year that I was born, I was about seven weeks old then). Here she is performing solo again fifty years to the day later. And also being nothing if not political...

Peggy Seeger, Stage 2, Friday evening.

She was an artist that I had never seen live before. The next two I have, the former more recently than the latter. The word iconic is possibly over-used but this is one time that I feel it is totally justified.
Show of Hands - Stage 1 - early Saturday afternoon.
As they often are, Steve Knightley and Phil Beer were accompanied by Miranda Sykes on double bass for a romp through their observations on the eccentricities of England and Englishness.
In some ways this artist does that too, but perhaps less stridently. It is over three years, and therefore far too long, since I have seen her play live. Three years in which she has produced so much music too.

Bella Hardy - Stage 1 - early Sunday afternoon.
The emphasis is less on her amazing fiddle playing, and when she does it is often finger-picked, because it really doesn't have to be. She chose to play songs from her latest LP 'With The Dawn'. She played a new song too - she is nothing if not prolific, even excluding collaborations. It does however appear that the forthcoming, second Carthy Farrell Hardy Young LP and the follow-up to Laylam (2013), will be without Bella Hardy. On the other hand, not all news is bad; I believe that Jackie Oates is to take her place. To be honest this is about as amazing as discovering that a square can have five corners, despite all you had been taught.
I shall end this with an Old Etonian, but not one that turned out quite like the current Mayor of London, or indeed the current Prime Minister.
After a degree at LSE (History) he was with punk band Million Dead for a few years. When that dissolved, rather than a career in merchant banking, he took the acoustic route to fame, if not so much fortune. We can be very thankful for that.
Frank Turner - Stage 1 - Friday evening.
This, of course, included songs from his newly released album 'Positive Songs for Negative People'. He had us round his little finger, but he was very nice about it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 - Part 3 - down at The Den (with an exception)

You might have spotted that my previous post consisted entirely of acts that played the main stage and that this is uncharacteristic. You are right --- this therefore is almost all about The Den, the smallest of the four stages. It is situated in the Cherry Hinton camp site that is adjacent to the Arena and it is Indian-themed, sort of. It is also very red and translucent, which makes photography something of a challenge. I'm not making excuses here, it is for you to judge how I coped with that but it was certainly an issue; an interesting one, however. The music, even if the artists were lesser known, was uniformly awesome.
Here are a few of my highlights; I missed several acts that I would like to have seen, because of clashes, but that is only to be expected.

This first one was someone that I first thought was totally unknown to me. When he started playing I realised that this was not so - simply that I didn't know or had somehow forgotten his name.

Jake Isaac - remember him. I will now. 
His 2014 War Child EP might be a good place to start.

The advertised acts on Saturday evening (there are open slots thereafter) were rounded out by Hampshire-based eight-piece Threepenny Bit, which just about fitted on the stage. Here is just tree farthings (or a quarter of part of it), caught between playing their parts.

From one rowdy band to another...
I have also swapped days and stages, for this is now Sunday evening in The Club Tent.

From Canterbury, Kent  ---  CoCo and The Butterfields.

Finally, returning to The Den again, this is London artist Flo Morrissey (no relation of the other Morrissey, as she mentioned, and tinged with regret I think, whilst introducing a cover of one of his songs). Most of what she played was from her recent début album 'Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful'.
I have mentioned this LP before. Seen and heard live and close it is almost surreal.
Flo Morrissey also plays End Of The Road 2015.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 - Part 2 - The American connection

One thing that very much appealed to me, as the line-up was announced incrementally, is that Cambridge Folk Festival does not define its sense of 'folk music' too parochially. That was particularly noticeable in the choice of artists from North America. Here are five such that I saw perform full sets. They all played Stage 1 and each was wonderful in its own special way.

The Stray Birds, from Lancaster, PA, serve to show that the old-time art of singing around a single microphone stand is far from dead. That is with good reason and the latest LP is 'Best Medicine' (2014).

This next is something a little closer to country - but not the increasingly derided bro-country. Indeed, had I not been in Cambridge (she played on Saturday) I could have seen her play Frome Cheese & Grain the previous evening. It was billed as a warm-up for Cambridge, so here is the result of that.
Gretchen Peters in support of her latest LP 'Blackbirds' (2015).

Although well known, not least to me for her work with old-time, jug band-influenced compatriots Carolina Chocolate Drops, this is that first time that I have ever actually seen Rhiannon Giddens live.
She is touring in support of her début solo LP 'Tomorrow Is My Turn' (2015), which is interesting in that it contains none of her original compositions. It takes a soul, roots trip through a variety of covers and traditional material.

Another band that has been garnering attention here in the UK recently is Brooklyn-based three-piece The Lone Bellow.
This is on the back of the band's second LP 'Then Came The Morning' (2015). It is even more difficult to assign a genre, whatever that means, to this than to the foregoing but suffice it to say that it has been gathering plaudits in its home country too and it is not hard to understand why.

To me perhaps the biggest surprise from Stateside to be announced for Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 is the last of the five that I have chosen to mention. As one of US alt-country trio The Pistol Annies, along with Ashley Monroe and Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley was the last to release a solo album by a country mile.
Some things are worth waiting for. 'American Middle Class' was most definitely one of them. It was a late entry into my list of Best Albums of 2014 and this set, had I had any doubt at the time, just proved to me why it was included there.
In case you are wondering about the letters on the fret of her guitar, rather obscured by the microphone stand, it is 'HOLLER' - she was 'Holler Annie' in the Pistol Annies. Miranda Lambert was 'Lonestar Annie' and Ashley Monroe 'Hippy Annie'.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Cambridge Folk Festival 2015 - Part 1 - Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker

I have to start somewhere with what turned out to be a very memorable long weekend. It was my first visit to this long-running festival and the first time that I have visited Cambridge that has been attended by good weather.
I haven't really decided how to group all the various highlights and so having mentioned Orkney five-piece Fara, who opened proceedings on the stages on Thursday evening, I thought I'd go with this, also from Stage 2 on Thursday evening.
It is a couple of years since I have seen Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker live and that was at The Bell in Bath. Nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 'Best Duo' in 2014, they lost out to Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin.
They triumphed at the same, in the same category, in 2015 and here they are.

Ben Walker and his guitar. Only a few I have seen live play guitar in such a mystifying way.

Josienne Clarke on vocals.
We learnt a couple of other things too; Ben has a lovely singing voice but refuses to use it in public performance, and that the secret to being an award-winning duo is to have more than two members. In the picture above is Jo Silverston on 'cello and out of shot to the right Anna Jenkins on viola (both formerly members of Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo).

Josienne played guitar as well as confessing to a miserabilist song-writing tendency.

Friday, August 07, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 61 - The Mynabirds - Lovers Know

If you are wondering what has happened to my commentary on Cambridge Folk Festival last weekend, fear not. It takes time to sort through the photographs (500+), thoughts and all the related links. In any case I need a change - I'm all folked-out just at the moment.

It is time for something new, the sort of listening that sits well with the chilled end of a BBQ party when everyone left is just hanging and chatting over another glass of whatever takes their fancy. This - Lovers Know from The Mynabirds - is one such LP.
It was released in the UK today by Saddle Creek Records.
I'm not saying for a moment that it is world changing in some way; that indeed is part of the charm of it. Neither is it inane but it is certainly summery in an indefinable way. It is fronted by principal singer, songwriter, and also keyboard player, Laura Burhenn. The rest of the band is just what is needed - nothing more, nothing less.
To sum it up, possibly rather brutally, this is what Lana Del Rey might sound like if she were less in thrall to the melodramatic lifestyle that she portrays in her songs. The Mynabirds' 'Lovers Know' is far from alternately euphoric then miserable; more knowingly resigned contentment. It is certainly none the worse for that.

If you want me to review one truly despondent LP just let me know. Today I discovered an Americana album, one of the best I have heard so far this year. In fact it makes most others look at worst very depressing.
It is that good.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 60 - Chantel McGregor - Lose Control

I have mentioned Chantel McGregor here before and have been waiting for the release of her second LP with much anticipation. 'Lose Control' is released on 9 October 2015 and you can pre-order it here (signed copies, PayPal payment available worldwide). She is once again nominated for the British Blues Awards in the category 'Best Guitarist'.

Here is the track list for 'Lose Control':

  • Take The Power
  • Your Fever
  • Burn Your Anger
  • Anaesthetize
  • Southern Belle
  • Lose Control
  • Home
  • Killing Time
  • Eternal Dream
  • Walk On Land

This is 'Walk On Land', recorded live in The Netherlands in 2014.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 59 - Fara

Although not titled as such, here begin my thoughts on Cambridge Folk Festival 2015: it was first held in 1965 and, as this run is unbroken, this was its 51st edition. It was my first, however, despite the fact that we are the same age to within a matter of six weeks!
The music started 6pm on Sunday, using just Stage 2, for the early birds. That is not to say that the quality was in any way compromised. The opening act of the festival was a recently constituted five-piece hailing from Orkney and that is Fara.

Four of the members play fiddle, Jennifer Austin plays piano.
Jeana Leslie takes most of the lead vocals.

Their début release is the self-titled mini-album, released 20 December 2014. I don't usually buy music on impulse at festivals and suchlike. This was an exception. Listen below, then buy it.
It did cross my mind that this standard could be hard to sustain across four stages over the next three days. I soon forgot all about that, and almost everything else beyond my immediate surroundings. That is the hallmark of a really good festival.