One of the joys of being long in the tooth as a reviewer is that you get to watch acts evolve over the years and Wilding has been one of the more enjoyable and rewarding careers to watch. From the sleek and simple lines as a solo singer-songwriter to the brilliant textures that the Lighterthief team wrapped around his already elegant and eloquent songs and finally with a full live band gathered around him, George Wilding could almost be a template of how to kick-start your career as a musician. The lad I used to describe as looking like Nick Drake’s dealer is actually much more astute, much cleverer than his rabbit in the headlights image suggests.
Stu Rowe has been evolving and adapting his Lighterthief project for years now. A fluid recording project spawning some truly unique music and some rare but memorable live shows, and also a recording studio which has coalesced into a record label. And indeed a record label in the old sense of the meaning, one with a set of house musicians, one that helps write, build and expand the ideas of those artists. And two of those artists were show cased in all their glory at The Arts Centre last night.
I have enjoyed watching George Wilding develop ever since Being Ragdollian dropped into the review pile three years ago and he seems to have since walked the perfect path at the perfect pace from quirky solo guy to the mercurial full band we now see before us. There has always been something vaguely Bowie-esque about his music, not the alien rock star era which made an icon of the man but more reminiscent of those first few albums where he was still threading pop commerciality through a strange fey folkiness, slightly odd, wonderfully other.
I love artists who continue to musically meander, evolve their sound across a number of styles and therefore keep coming up with the goods. And whilst you can’t quite say that this song represents some sort of Bowie-esque, chameleon-like, morphing of identity, if you look closely enough you can already see two distinct phases of the George Wilding musical journey.
If the first saw him pitching himself as a bed-room poet, throwing roses in the rain and acoustically wrestling with unrequited love, loss and life in general and phase two took that bare boned eloquence and added electric elegance, psychedelic threads and a wonderfully textured backdrop, maybe So Vanilla is the start of a third chapter.
What we find here is George playing with a straighter bat, the word play is still there, still lovelorn but less existential, the music more straight down the line, a clean limbed, no frills garage rock groove. Maybe it is the start of a new chapter, maybe just a wonderful interlude but it’s a song Bobby Gillespie would have bitten your arm off for, either side of The Primal’s acid tripping years and it shows that no matter how dressed up or dressed down the end result, the combination of George’s songs and The Lighterthief Collective’s support mechanism and musical colouring in is a majorly winning combination.
I 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.
Although I have been keeping an eye on the enigmatic George since his debut collection of songs, the wonderfully named Being Ragdollian, it was when I first heard the work in progress recordings of this song that I realised just what potential he has to go the distance.
In a way this is sort of a transitional song, one that sees him step from the more acoustic driven and open sounds of that first release into the more textured and sculptured world that became Lunatic. But even though it sits slightly in both camps and reminds us that he probably has any number of musical avenues just waiting to be explored, the one thing that seems to be the constant is his lyrical prowess.
Here we see him the wrestle with unrequited love, scars and bruises metaphorical and otherwise, as he plays the vulnerable romantic and tap room poet spouting gutter fairy tales and drunken wisdom. It’s a role he was born to play and Tchaikovsky On The Tamborine is destined to be resident in your head for the foreseeable future. Better get used to it.
If debut release “Being Ragdolllian” pitched George as a whimsical, acoustic troubadour, Lunatic takes everything that was great in the first place and wraps it up in a soundscape that runs between the delicate and the devastating, the gentle and the gigantic. But any fears that the studio has swamped his core qualities quickly vanish, the same wit and wisdom, bohemian lyrical poise and dexterous musical structures are still much in evidence. But all of those characteristics that we have come to know and love now have a fantastic musical platform to launch from.
There is a moment during opener “One More Time For Me, Sweetheart” as the dynamic builds and the anticipation of the impending chorus can be felt in all of the places music has no business toying with, that you realise that this is George and his music coming of age. Not satisfied with a gentle lift the chorus goes into the stratosphere, Kerouac’ s fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars. It’s big… by god is it big! And such a literary reference is quite apt when talking about his music, or more specifically the lyrics, as here we find him revelling in the same juxtapositions of the poetic and the mundane, normal relationships become mythical tales and people the stuff of small town, legend. But at the centre of it all is the pen of someone wholly self-deprecating, happy to take the fall or play the fool. Nice guys might finish last but some do so with a bag of great songs to show for it.
I always believed in the quality of his songs but what is breath taking now is how they are packaged. “Tchaikovsky On The Tambourine” is now driven on with just the right amount of jaunty folk rhythms, “What’s Wrong With Baby Blue?” channels a Jeff Buckley vibe and “Martha” is wrapped in the warm embrace of Gilmore-esque guitars. These are no longer mere tunes, they are soundscapes, sky-scraping and soaring thanks to the musicianship, influence of and production by The Rowe Brothers at the Lighterthief underground musical bunker.
It seems like George Wilding is now the full package, the eloquence of the lyrics now matched by the elegance of the production, the heart and soul of the songs now taken to their illogical conclusions by the musical bed they are served up on. And that voice…sincere, committed and where necessary stop-you-in-your-tracks intense.
When I first wrote about “Being Ragdollian” I predicted George had a great career ahead of him, but I don’t think anyone quite expected this!
Well, that’s 2015 all wrapped up then, and musically speaking it wasn’t half bad at all. But, what will 2016 bring us? And who will be the artists and bands to watch out for? In an attempt to answer these burning questions I dusted off my crystal ball, muttered some incantations to the musical gods, realised this was all a load of crap and resorted back to good old fashioned gut feeling, common sense and a keen pair of ears to come up with my top ten artists to watch in 2016.
These are those artists who I feel are in the best position to break out of their own local and regional scenes and start making some waves on a more national basis. Generally they are the best of everything I personally have seen and heard in the last 12 months, and also the ones best equipped to break out. So this has been drawn from my own limited pool of experience and has not been influenced by any other sources, taste makers or media, and as I have already said, I have no particular foresight or insider knowledge other than my own instinct, experience and opinion. I have also omitted the bands I work with through Secret Chord Records as we all know they are the best of the best already! I present these in no particular order either; I am not daft enough to hang what reputation I have on one artist above all other. They are just listed in the order they came to me on New Year’s Eve as I sat quietly supping beer and reflecting on the past year.
For a town locked into its nostalgia-fest of tribute and cover bands, there is still the occasional gem to be found amongst the denim clad purveyors of classic rock and the Ellie Goulding wannabees, and The Cadbury Sisters coming to town is a show that stands out from the pack immediately. And so there I was, at The Vic, a wonderful line up of music in front of me and a pint in my hand, watching music the way god intended…live, not via the wonders of the Internet or TV.
Opener, George Wilding, looks every inch the rock start before he has even done anything. Tall and painfully thin, with a tousled mane and Chelsea boots he looks like someone put Marc Bolan on the rack and stretched him out. But past the image he quickly proves that he has the goods to back it up and what follows is a set of wonderfully poetic songs put to some very talented guitar work. And with his immortal words “ He thinks he’s Edgar Allen Poe, but he never stole a traffic cone” still ringing in my ear, the first full band of the night launch their first song.
Wasuremono make music that sits between the gossamer side of shoegazing and the more intricate side of progressive pop, an intricate weave of subtle bass lines, chiming guitars, fluid keyboard washes and melancholic vocals that could be the missing link between Ride and Arcade Fire. When they want to really drive a song they can pull out all the stops but their real selling point is the sky-scraping ethereality and otherworldly atmospherics that exists between the notes.
Having always been tarred with a folk brush, the Cadbury Sisters announcement of a new, more commercial direction must have had the “folk-police” up in arms, but this show proved that it was clearly the way for them to go. Still retaining their core sound of beautifully complimentary harmonies, their more rustic undercurrent has now been replaced by beats, bass lines and backing track and the result is nothing short of glorious. Revelling in a sound that is obviously closer to their heart, they head into territory occupied by the likes of Bat For Lashes and even re-interpret some of their older songs via their new sound. It’s a sound that should see them shift from fringe festival favourites to a bankable dream-pop concern.
But if this all seems too exotic, too left field, too far outside your comfort zone, don’t worry, remember that this is Swindon and there will be a slightly above average Green Day tribute act along any moment.
I know it is a rather clichéd thing to say, but isn’t it great when you stumble across a young, local artist who is truly doing something original and more importantly…interesting. Finding the video for My Backwards Head on the first day of the year seems like an omen for the musical potential that 2014 has to offer and certainly a great calling card for an artist whose name I had only heard in conversations along the lines of “You haven’t heard George Wilding yet, have you been off doing missionary work in darkest Peru or something?”
Everything about this video was just perfect. A subtle and chilled folk vibe accompanying a song that Nick Drake would have been proud of and a film brimming with lush modern bohemia meets dark Dickensian imagery. Never a foot put wrong. Further exploration led me to his e.p. Being Ragdollian, a wonderfully Lewis Carroll infused title that goes hand in hand with the quintessentially English sounds found within.
And if the lead song weaves pastoral imagery with insular poetry, the boy is more than a one trick pony. Elephant Man has a wonderfully timeless, Bowie does vaudeville feeling, highlighting the maturity, originality and deliberate anti fashion stance he has adopted.
As for opening number, Terrible Little Secret, again a strutting, confident number with the faintest hint of music hall sensibility about it and a lyrical eloquence and musical elegance that belies the artists tender years.
In avoiding the cliché and bandwagoning that seems to be the norm, particularly with the explosion of singer songwriters that we are experiencing at the moment, George has managed to create something that truly stands head and shoulders above the competition. If this is the musical starting point, it’s going to be a great year.