The Party We Came For – Joe McCorriston (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

15027401_1270837229632912_6714003727288243038_nI guess, in a way, singer-songwriters performing their solo sets are a bit of an unknown factor, or at least just the tip of their own potential musical iceberg. When they perform in the raw, one guy/girl and guitar, I’m sure you are only ever getting the bare bones of the song that is actually in their head, the news in brief of what might be a breaking, epic story. That is what is great about Joe’s latest release, The Party We Came For, as after years of listening to and loving the one man band version of events, now I get to hear his music in all its wide-screen, panoramic glory.

 

There is an element of destiny about the route being pursued here whether Joe is aware of it or not, just look at the likes of Frank Turner for a probably over-used reference, a fellow traveller of sorts down the DIY folk-punk troubadour route from solo pub shows to anthemic, full band sound. But where as the ubiquitous Mr T. opts for a very transatlantic sonic language more New Jersey than New Cross, Joe’s sound has more of a Billy Bragg feel to things, more homespun and quintessentially English, especially in the albums more reflective moments.

 

As an album it offers a wonderful cross roads moment for our hero. Obviously solo shows are often the only cost effective way of making a living for many artists these days and the sofa surfing life made possible by kindness of strangers generally doesn’t extend to a van full of musicians and a stack of amps in the living room. But The Party We Came For does perhaps offer a taste of the future, the bigger sound that these songs obviously benefit from raise questions and a tantalising glimpse of a possible next chapter in the story of Joe McCorriston.

 

 

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Seegulls EP – Seegulls (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a3319165558_16Indie as a genre has been pretty well defined for a while now. Having evolved from its original political meaning within the music industry to become a genre label in its own right, it generally indicates pop aware melody and musical adroitness, that fine line between commerciality and underground cool, between accessibility and integrity. But what does the indie band of 2016 do to stand out from the pack? Well, I’m glad you asked….

One answer is to do what Seegulls have done. Forget warping the genre and kicking down generic barricades or cross-pollinating your sound with the tricks and trappings of other genres to gene-splice indie into some sort of modern musical Frankenstein’s monster isn’t the answer either. It isn’t about subverting expectations, it is about feeding them. It is about doing what the rest of the pack do but just doing it so much better. Underline – so much better. The result of such an attitude can be found on their recent, eponymous debut e.p.

For whilst you will find a lot here that is familiar, shimmering guitar work, dance fuelled grooves and instantaneous melodies, it is how they fashion those elements together that is the real skill. The building blocks may be familiar but the resulting sonic architecture is dazzling none the less.

Slightly mathy, hypnotic guitar patterns dance around solid backbeats with overdriven rhythm guitars acting as the accelerator pedal powering on and off, as the song requires. Just listen to the wonderful interplays on opening salvo Reach Out for an example of this. There is even room for a jaunty interlude as Good Enough takes your hand and spins you around the dance floor, that’s chart-bothering potential right there.

And maybe the fact that three guitars have gone into the mix means that more thought has gone into how they interact with each other than usual but resulting musical textures and nuances are a testament to a bunch of musicians who can put their personal ego to one side and just play what the song requires.  And nuance is exactly what Explode is all about, a more reflective piece but driven by space and atmosphere as much as the clever orchestration that these elements hang on. Underplaying a song is much harder than overplaying and other bands could do worse than take a few notes out of Seegulls’ book about layering, restraint and dynamics.

Even if there aren’t many new places to go within the broad genre we call Indie, maybe the answer is less about heading off into the unknown and more about consolidating the current position, but it is a position that is in safe hands with Seegulls.

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The Consequence – Eddy Mann (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

14610993_1215839788480878_3412889816577109409_nWhenever I see a review of any of Eddy Mann’s extensive back catalogue the opening paragraph always relates to his beliefs, his role as a worship leader and often uses the label Christian music. Why do we need such a handle to explore his music? After all did we label The Beastie Boys as Buddhist Hip-Hop or feel the need to identify Billy Joel as a secular pianist? Coming purely from a musical perspective surely the songs should sell themselves? And indeed they do.

 

The Consequence wanders down some very lyrically personal pathways for sure, any music worth its salt does, but lyrics are all in the interpretation and if people come away with something more relevant to their own lives then that is just as valid, surely? Message aside, Eddy musically references some classic singer-songwriter styles, not least the poeticism of James Taylor and the clean-limbed minimalism of David Gray or Damien Rice.

 

Americana, roots-rock, folk, acoustica…call it what you want, it meanders around all such labels, if labels are even necessary but more than anything, what The Consequence continues to showcase is Eddy’s ability to craft and deliver affecting songs, songs that are deceptively simple, elegant and delivered in a comforting and supple voice.

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Valuables – Enemies (reviewed by Ian O’Regan)

14484617_10154032390593175_7743747420708136952_nLong ago, in days of yore, when I was growing up around the fringes of the Irish music scene, everything seemed rather small and restrictive. There was room for only one “sound” at a time, and “new” was a four-lettered word. “Country And Irish” was a continuous plague, Thin Lizzy was over, U2 were ubiquitous, The Cranberries hadn’t happened yet, and Rory Gallagher played blues so he obviously didn’t count.

Any burgeoning creative types seemed to be faced with a stark set of options; sound like the current Big Thing (invariably selected and canonised by the All-Powerful Dave Fanning), sound like something English or American so no-one would take you seriously, or emigrate!

Possibly a function of the emergence of an entirely more confident identity and character for Ireland as a whole during the nineties and noughties, all that seems to have changed for the better. Throughout Ireland, there has been for at least a decade and a half a creative buzziness that’s most refreshing to see and hear (albeit from the self-imposed distance for this reviewer who chose the Emigration option).

Among the more interesting and challenging of the emerging creative strands has been Enemies, gigging since 2008 and recording since 2010. Committed largely to an instrumental approach (how many of us can relate to the struggle to find a singer (a) who can afford a PA and doesn’t think that all he needs to show up with is a cheap Radio Shack mic, and (b) who can sing?), Enemies’ sound has explored as many of the corners of the rock-pop warehouse as possible, but has consistently avoided settling for simple compositional clichés, like verse-chorus structures, or arrangements that have rhythm sections supporting hummable melodies.

Their latest, and given that the band actually broke up during the recording stages, final album, “Valuables”, continues to embrace and to develop the same themes as on previous recordings, but this time including vocals on many tracks. Not vocals as most of us might expect – you know, lead singing, front-man sort of stuff – but layering vocals into the tracks more as additional rhythm and texture, sometimes barely audibly.

Instead, the drive seems always to be about creating endlessly challenging rhythms and punchy, hooky guitar lines, with tracks based on linear development, hardly ever repeating or revisiting earlier passages. Some tracks seems to expand and almost to overflow in a musical stream-of-consciousness without the listener being consciously aware of the development. Trés 60s!

The band has toured extensively, and have been delivering their music to live audiences throughout, but I do wonder how they intend their average audience to engage with them. Are we to stand still, appreciating but not interfering? Are we to attempt to sing along, if we can figure out what melody to settle upon? Are we even to risk tapping our feet along with the music for fear that we’ll look a bit foolish the next time the rhythm changes suddenly and leaves us lagging behind? All good questions, but I’m afraid I can’t offer much in the way of answers. But I can suggest that you’ll have a great deal of fun trying to figure it out!

The complexity of the rhythmic structures around which the music revolves and explores doesn’t feel in any way pretentious or constructed deliberately to confound the audience, and being a life-long Prog Rock fan, the whole effect works really well for me. By a couple of tracks in, I was content that the lack of simplicity wasn’t going to be any kind of problem at all!

But “Valuables” is no simple Prog tribute, not by any means. It’s driving pop-rock (or rock-pop, whichever your personal priority prefers) of a very high standard, blended in a sophisticated manner with a variety of other influences. My Irish emigrant ears reckon that the rhythmic complexity owes as much to Irish Trad as it does to King Crimson, and the production treatment of vocals throughout seems to cast sideways glances at Enya and Alan Parsons as much as anything else.

So there we have it – Experimental Psychedelia meets The Cranberries meets The Alan Parsons Project. We’re a long, long way from the days when if you weren’t a U2 tribute you went hungry. And a bloody good thing too!!

Released December 9th 2016 via Topshelf Records

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Madelyn Victoria E.P. – Madelyn Victoria (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

10626670_10153106807897542_574819086126275938_nCountry and pop have a way of sharing the same bed to very effective ends. Such a blend is never going to please the purists but genres should be allowed to evolve and spread their wings and if records such as this take country music into more commercial climes and appeal to a wider and more general audience then that can only be for the greater good. Can’t it? But for all this talk of pop and commerciality, this is first and foremost a country record with all the hallmarks and musical trappings that you except of such a label.

Current single He Only Loves Me on The Dancefloor acts as the centrepiece of this collection, its smooth, lilting beats the perfect pairing for the lyrical content of the song. But Madelyn is anything but a one trick pony, Hold On, and Wild Ride drive on an upbeat country-rock beat whilst Breaking My Heart harnesses jiving honky-tonk grooves and the e.p. bows out on a more reflective, late night, mellow note with Sand in a Bottle.

Music can either dwell on its past traditions and play with the familiar or it can look to the future and head into bright new horizons. Madelyn Victoria is that rare act which manages to do both.

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Songs of Praise, Swindon – My 12 favourite gigs of 2016 – part 2 (by Dave Franklin)

14939458_1559888457371002_5875406412455867816_oThe second instalment of the yearly live pick

Piano Wire, Dead Royalties and Sea Mammal – 29th September @ The Victoria

If the summer was a bit lean, our autumn dance card was deliberately aiming for some bigger names. Piano Wire is half of what used to be Eighties Matchbox B-line Disaster and revel in the same mix of incendiary, post-punkery, razor wire riffs and dark melodies.

Dead Royalties, a band who go back to our days of running a music label never disappoint, a mix of grunge, math and melody and Sea Mammal were their usual cavernous art-noise selves.

 The Groundhogs, The Harlers and Kikamora – 7th October @ Level III

This version of The Groundhogs may only contain one original member in the guise of drummer Ken Pustelnik, but it is no mere pastiche or rose tinted tribute. This is a band that proves that rock and roll isn’t just a young man’s game as they deliver psyched out blues that if you got too close might very well melt your face.

Local blues duo The Harlers sound had got even bigger than last time we worked with them and Bristol’s Kikamora did a neat line in classic rock meets grungy melodies with a surprise, sax driven, sleazy R’n’B finish.

 Non Canon and Sad Song Co – 23rd October @ Baila Coffee and Vinyl

Baila Coffee and Vinyl proved to be a great little venue in the short time they indulged our musical machinations. We’d booked Non Canon, the new musical vehicle for Oxygen Thief’s Barry Dolan and were amazed and overwhelmed when he said he would bring along the act he was currently supporting on tour with him.

Away from the more driven and raw vibes of his previous formats, Barry as Non Canon is a wonderfully sublime mix of chilled poignancy, and thoughtful reflection that both subverted expectations you may have from previous musical encounters with him and yet sounded like he’s been doing this all of his life.

Sad Song Co. is the musical sideline of Nigel Powell, normally found drumming for Frank Turner and Dive Dive. Here switching between plaintive piano and deft, minimal guitar with just a bass alongside him, Sad Song Co play with strange structures, pin-drop atmospherics and slightly proggy modus operandi.

 Nick Harper and Burbank – 27th October @ Baila Coffee and Vinyl

 There is nothing like experiencing Nick Harper up close and personal, so to watch him play to 35 people in a coffee shop was nothing short of awesome. Wonderful interludes and rambling anecdotes connected songs that warped normal musical templates, that subtly and sometimes not so subtly jumped generic boundaries and that was best described as having the ability to do things with his guitar that would have Segovia weeping into his Rioja.

Burbank opened the night with a selection of sublime and delicate songs that belied their young age.

Avon, Rewire The Time Machine and Phoxjaw – 3rd November @ The Victoria

 They say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but when they are as charming and friendly to work with as Alfredo Hernandez then I’d say, do it. The one time Kyuss and Queens of The Stone Age drummer was in the country with Avon and we were pretty excited to bag a date. Desert blues, grunge, alt-rock all go into the mix and what an amazing performance they put on.

And in the perfect “if you like that you’ll like this” line up both Rewire The Time Machine and Phoxjaw were the perfect warm up material on this fantastic night.

 Johnny Foreigner, Misfires and Cupcake Diaz and The Felt Tip Pens – 24th November @ The Victoria

 Describing Johnny Foreigner takes some doing. Punk, indie, pop, noise, warped deliveries, melody and mayhem are all in there somewhere in ever changing quantities but the overall affect is always tantalising and unique.

Local indie kids Misfires played a blinder of accessible Arctic Monkeys melody meets warped psychedelia and the brilliantly named Cupcake Diaz and The Felt-Tip Pens where their usual fantastic punky-grungy-rocky-pop musical art attack.

I could go on, I could mention the likes of Grant Sharkey’s bass-rants, Franc Cinelli’s panoramic travelogues, the madness that is Diagonal People, The Vim Dicta, Vienna Ditto, Port Erin, Los and The Deadlines, The Bohos, Empire and much more besides. I guess it is a testament to the support of Swindon’s gig going community that this 12 of the best could have easily have been 20 or even 30 of the best. Here is to 2017 being another great year for original music.

 

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Songs of Praise, Swindon – My 12 favourite gigs of 2016 – part 1 (by Dave Franklin)

12376559_918068144947598_1890568069506145317_nI don’t get to go to many gigs that I am not involved in promoting these days, but whilst I am always present in more of a work than a punter capacity, I still get to watch, work and hang out with some wonderful bands and a set of people who are imaginative, affable, mad, crazy, creative, visionary and unlike anyone you’d meet in normal walks of life. With that in mind I thought that I’d pick my top twelve gigs I have been part of this year.

Polar Front, Lionface and Honey Trap – 7th January @ The Victoria

Polar Front are the local success story of the last year from fledging steps towards a sassy melding of R&B grooves with shimmering indie-pop to becoming soundscaping leviathans. Not only do they build massive sonorous dreamscapes and towering sonic cathedral in Sophie Goldsworthy they have the voice to back it up.

Lionface have similar draw dropping qualities, twisted electronic pop, jagged guitars and brooding melodies and one of the most mesmerising performers you will ever witness fronting the musical package.

 Gaz Brookfield and Ben Wain, Nick Parker and George Wilding – 18th February @ The Victoria

 It’s always a fun night when Gaz and his right hand man Ben head back to the town of the formers, formative musical years. Now commanding massive audiences but somehow still able to deliver an honest, often poignant, sometimes just plain fun set that still feels intimate and accessible, that’s one hell of a trick.

Nick Parker is one of my favourite people from this strange musical world to spend time with and just as big a Waterboys fan as me. His set of quirky stories, kitchen sink narratives, and sing-along rhymes defy anyone not to join in.

Opening the night was George Wilding who may look like Nick Drakes drug dealer but whose command of gutter poetry, back street operas and strange urban mythologies are second to none….except Joseph Porter. (Oh, go look him up.)

 SNDubstation and The Hat Club – 18th March @ The Locomotive

 This one was so memorable not only for the class of the bands who both take reggae and ska and blend them into wonderful, euphoric and unique musical shapes but the fact that the venue, normally known for homing a smattering of speed addled, budget lager drinkers who try to ignore and find fault with whatever music was programed that week were invaded by a party crowd who proceed to blow the roof off the place.

 The Black Feathers, Jonny Payne and The Thunder and Phil Cooper – 7th April @ The Victoria

 Anyone who doesn’t like The Black Feathers can’t be my friend. I’m sorry, those are the rules and there is nothing I can do about it. As they wander country, soul and folk musical roads they manage to lay waste any competition via the sublime way their vocals harmonise. The song crafting is great and they have an amazing stage charisma, add to that the fact that they are thoroughly nice people to hang about with and the attraction isn’t hard to see.

Jonny Payne does a neat line in Americana – country, folk, soul and gospel all find their way into the mix and the fact that The Thunder who make up the rhythm section are also two thirds of The Black Hats, one of the first bands I put on in Swindon sparks a few nostalgic conversations.

No one does accessible, acoustic pop like Phil Cooper; imagine Neil Finn with an English accent…and a hat.

 White Lilac, Wasuremono and Neverlnd – 21st April @ The Victoria

 I grew up musically with all the independent labels of the post-punk era and this gig was like a journey back in time. Sadly White Lilac is no more, as far as I’m aware, but like Wasuremono before them they blend post-punk boundary pushing, pastoral dream-pop and shimmering shoegaze into interesting new forms. The headliners take a more raw-edged approach though tempered when needed by some haunting cello lines, their support pulling at more bucolic, and atmospheric strings and garnering strange sounds from an array of retro technology.

Opener Neverlnd take the more commercial approach but still manage to walk that difficult line between radio play and cult status.

 Don Gallardo and Luke Tuchscherer – 8th May @ The Beehive

 We don’t get to put on many gigs at The Beehive but when one of East Nashville’s finest comes looking for a show you beg, borrow or steal to make it happen. Thankfully it only took a phone call.

There is quite a market in this country at the moment for music labelled Roots, Americana, or even British Americana, but when the real thing comes to town you sit up and take notice. You know how the music score of shows like “Nashville” just sound different to anything we produce on this side of the water, well, that makes a good point of reference as some of that music for that show was supplied by Mr G.

That said Luke Tuchscherer is one of our own and not only did he play the perfect support he then jumped on the drums and backed up our colonial cousin.

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New Music of the Day – CXXX : Goodbye Enemies, Hello Friends – The Little Kicks

lkpress_v1_tonedwebThe Little Kicks first emerged around five years ago, a young Aberdeen band with the wind in their sails. A crisp, upbeat debut album followed, laced with off-kilter indie pop worthy of comparison to early Franz Ferdinand, The Long Blondes, or even Sparks. Then, the band took some time off to reassess, re-jig their personnel, and are now ready to stake their return.

 

With recent single You & Someone Like Me under their belts The Little Kicks have just announced that their long-awaited follow-up album Shake Off Your Troubles will be released on March 3rd through the band’s own Loosen Up Records. The second single to be taken from the album, Goodbye Enemies, Hello Friends, has just been released…

 

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Holding On – Jeff Healey (reviewed by Ian O’Regan)

jeffhealey_holdingon-940x940-810x810When I was a kid, I was never really interested in being drawn into speculation about that most important of pre-pubescent questions, “if you had a superpower, what would it be?”. But now that I’m a lot older and a little wiser, I’ve decided that such things are important after all, and having given it much consideration, I have settled on my desired superpower.

If I had a superpower, it would be to be able to un-hear things.

Now, as handy as such a superpower would be after every episode of Britain’s Got Talent, or for dealing with the destruction of self-esteem by the entirely predictable responses to requests for dates with women far too hot for the likes of me, I wouldn’t use it for that kind of trivial nonsense. No, no. The sole, single and exclusive use to which I would put my superpower would be to un-hear Jeff Healey.

“Why?”, I hear you ask, possibly indignantly. “What harm did Jeff Healey ever do to you?” But you see, I remember, vividly and with absolute clarity, the feeling I had when I heard Jeff Healey for the first time. And having heard him for the first time all those years ago, I will never hear him for the first time again.

And that’s incredibly sad!

Because every time I hear his recordings, even – or perhaps especially – when I hear something I haven’t heard before, I long for that feeling of utter astonishment, that mixture of delight and despair, of elation and fear, that suddenness of knowing that everything just changed, and that nothing will ever be the same again!!

And so with the latest posthumous release, “Holding On”, featuring half a dozen previously unreleased studio recordings and 15 live tracks recorded in Olso in July 1999, I have the same experience as with every other Healey recording; I approach thinking that I know what to expect, I am once again utterly astonished by what I hear, and then I am left slightly sad in the knowledge that if only I had never heard Jeff Healey before, this would have been sooo much more …. well, so much more Everything!

If you know Healey’s stuff, there’s nothing really different or unusual about this collection. The production of the studio set is bare and basic, but at the same time clear and precise – like the best demo you’ve ever heard, but not quite up to the polish that FM radio expects. And if you’ve never seen Healey live, the power and aggression of both backing band and Healey’s guitar may take you slightly by surprise. But it’s Jeff Healey! You know what he’s capable of, and this collection delivers all of it exactly as you would hope and expect.

Unless, of course, this is the first time you’ve ever heard Jeff Healey. And if this IS the first time you’ve ever heard Jeff Healey, I strongly advise that you wait until you’re sitting comfortably, undisturbed and surrounded by the very best quality sound that your budget can afford you, and do your level best to remember this moment. Because it will never come again. No matter how many times you wear your underpants outside your jeans and pretend that you can change your appearance completely by wearing glasses!

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Naked – Brielle Von Hugel (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

15192670_1099989733452300_686422526042388373_nIt comes as no surprise that Brielle Von Hugel has recently collaborated with and received a big nod of approval from Scott Bradlee of Postmodern Jukebox, her voice encapsulates the same vintage vibe meets modern innovation that they also work with, the same almost impossible blend of timelessness and contemporary. I say almost impossible as here we see that it is possible to walk that fine line between smoky, midnight jazz bar sensuality and clean limbed, chart accessible modernity.

 

But, as if that isn’t enough, there is also a wonderful second dimension to where Brielle finds herself with the release of this new, original ballad. Many artists who have used similar TV show springboards to launch their career seem to blow it straight away by going for the obvious, the overtly commercial, the cheap or the gratuitous but Brielle Von Hugel seems much more of a class act. Not only does Naked ooze with sophistication, commercial appeal and tap into music markets which cater for all ages and crosses numerous generic boundaries but in it she also has something to say.

 

The fact that she has enough foresight to deliver a song about trust and intimacy, honesty and acceptance when she could have played a much more obvious card just adds to the beautiful appeal and exciting potential of this emerging artist.

 

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