God only knows

It’s been a while since I posted music I like, but I saw this and thought I would share. It’s a promotional video for music on the BBC, featuring one of my favourite songs performed by lots of different artists.

How many do you recognise?

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Normal service to be resumed shortly

Time for a rethink

Time for a rethink

My life tends to work like this. I publish my book, get excited, decide to write the follow up (and the follow up to the follow up) and at that point all the other things I agreed to do at various points have now come to fruition. I’m doing some consultancy for a friend’s business, building a website for the local pre-school (with two others lined up), have my normal childcare duties and, of course, I’m on a purple patch with the first draft of book two. Something has to give and sadly that something is this blog.

It won’t be for long.

Just for a bit

Until things calm down.

I may also be less active reading and responding to many of the blogs I follow. It’s nothing personal and I can’t wait until things quieten down so that I can catch up with you all.

So many apologies in advance. I hope it won’t be for too long but I’m sure I’ll find time for the odd tweet before I’m back with a post about how terrible writing is and why the hell did I agree to put myself through this again.

I look forward to catching up with you all shortly. Until then, here’s a lovely song by Stephen Hodd, recorded live at Live at the Cottage last year and which I wrote about here. If you get the chance, look up Stephen on Soundcloud and listen to the whole set. Simply beautiful.

Saturday 16th November: Raevennan Husbandes, Stephen Hodd, Daniel Storey – Live at the Cottage

Raevennan Husbandes (source: https://www.facebook.com/LiveAtTheCottage)

Raevennan Husbandes (source: https://www.facebook.com/LiveAtTheCottage)

It was the last Live at the Cottage gig of the year last Saturday and what a gig to finish with. We a started with Daniel Storey, a local boy channeling the spirit of 90’s britpop. While laddish guitar bands may have fallen out of favour in recent years, as somebody who came of age during that time, listening to Storey put a new spin on an old (I can’t believe I’m writing this) style brought memories of my youth flooding back.

Storey’s opener, “Unbreakable”, set the tone for his performance; a good solid riff and an ear for melody, wedded to an unmistakable Manchester sound. As he continued through his repertoire of “Under the Metal Sky”, “Let the Light fall” and “Roll on”, the theme continued, each song performed with a brittle intensity that kept you interested. Then, for his final number, “The North Sea”, Storey changed style, the strumming replaced by finger-picking, and while it wasn’t his strongest song of the night it was the most intriguing, as it showed that he isn’t happy to rest on his laurels and is looking to push into new areas.

One of the great things about coming to live gigs is that, if you are lucky, you get to see a moment where artistry, experience, talent and venue converge to produce an unforgettable experience. This is how I felt watching Stephen Hodd. I’ve never seen him perform before but it was clear from the opening bar of “North Star”- a song about the sea and life, of uncertainty – that we were watching somebody on top of his game.

Hodd plays in a very sparse, almost delicate style, enabling you to hear every creak from his guitar, every movement of his hand. While you can tell he writes from an irish folk tradition, to me Hodd’s style was most reminiscent of Bon Ivor, in that he is not afraid to use silence for dramatic effect and the pauses between the notes are almost as important as the notes themselves. This was never more apparent than with the songs “Unbelievable Ways” and “Soul Getter”, his use of soft dynamics making the songs particularly moving.

There is also a wonderful poetic flow to his lyrics, the opening lines to “Desolation Town” being particularly poignant. What’s more, you can listen to everything Hodd has ever recorded (or buy as you so wish) by going to Savage Acoustic Records. This will give you a taste of what you missed, but in my opinion you should go and see him live while he’s in this form. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Raevennan Husbandes has a wonderful stage presence. She exudes warmth in a way that can’t be faked. There was a playfulness to her set in contrast to the more serious, introspective nature of the preceding acts. She sang with a smile that shone through her music. She started alone, playing a beautiful cover of Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” which she followed by one of her own (the name I sadly missed) and it was noticeable that her original song didn’t wilt in comparison with Paul Simon’s masterpiece.

Husbandes’ style is to play a simple picking rhythm topped with a floating vocal melody – like Norah Jones singing Nick Drake – and when joined by the excellent Simon Lewis on cello, produces a rich, mellow sound unique to her. A good example was ‘Box of Innocence”, where Husbandes’ understated vocal dexterity blends into the fabric of the song to form a whole, as opposed to many modern artists who use vocal gymnastics as a means of showing off, to the detriment of the song.

Songs like “House of wood“, written by (and recorded with) Guy Chambers on the album “Harbour of songs”, and “About Somebody” confirmed that Husbandes has talent to burn, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Having Husbandes play as the final headliner of the year was, I felt, appropriate. The quality of the acts playing each month has been outstanding and with Raevennan Husbandes’ set the guys from Wet Feet Records sent everybody way with warm and happy hearts. I can’t wait for February when it all starts again.

My adventures in music: Part 1

The loudest drummer in the business

The loudest drummer in the business

I can remember the drive to the practice studios vividly. Mark, my housemate, had dragged me away from singing in my bedroom and convinced me to try out for his band. It is 1997 and I’m 26 years old, sitting next to Mark, cracking jokes and laughing a little too loudly as he drives me to Windsor. I was shitting myself.

I can’t remember a time when music hasn’t been part of my life. I started singing as soon as I could talk. My first memory of going on stage was at a Christmas Party when I was four years old. I’ve no idea what I sang, but I do remember the round of applause I received. I went on to perform at school concerts and like most children I would sing loudly along to the radio (it was the height of two-tone in the late 1970’s and my 8 year old self was hooked.)

Every Thursday I would watch Top of the Pops and stare in awe as these otherworldly acts performed in front of the awkwardly dancing audience. But at no point did I consider forming a band myself. You see, growing up in a village in the heart of Suffolk, it didn’t even occur to me that it was possible. Bands were what other people did. That was what I meant by otherworldly. I wasn’t talking about David Bowie in full Ziggy pomp, or the pansexual antics of Human League, Visage and the other New Romantics of my early teens; just that music was created and played by people different to those I knew and grew up with.

Half rhythm guitarist, half Duracell bunny

Half rhythm guitarist, half Duracell bunny

We arrived at Running Frog studios and I was hustled into the rehearsal studio. The rest of the band had arrived early and were setting up. Everyone seemed friendly enough but the thing that caught my eye was their equipment. They had Marshall stacks and Gibson Les Paul guitars. The snare was whip crack loud – Mark was the loudest drummer I ever had the pleasure to sing in front of, and responsible for the tinnitus I still have today – and the bass was, well, a bass. As they warmed up the sound was incredible; I couldn’t believe it, they sounded just like you heard on the record. I was blown away.

“What songs do you know?”

“Er, Oasis, Blur. Most things by Radiohead.”

“OK. Why don’t we start with High and Dry.”

The music started up and I sang. High and Dry is not the easiest of songs to sing, there’s a lot of falsetto, but difficulty never came into it as my nerves were so bad I was all over the place. When the song finished Mark gave me a grin and a thumbs up, but I knew I’d blown it. We played a couple more songs and then I went home, dejected.

A week or so later I was asked by the band to sing with them at an open mic night at a pub in West London. We went along and the place was packed. There were the odd punk band, a couple of acoustic singer-songwriters and us. We were one of the last ones on but seeing the other acts perform relaxed me. Nobody was brilliant, they were mostly trying out new material or using the event for a try out like us. When it was our turn, the band set up, adjusted the levels, and as I stood there looking out at the motley group of musicians who’d been on earlier, I thought to myself “Sod it,” and went for it.

I was told about a year later by Derek, part rhythm guitarist, part Duracell bunny, that the conversation the band had afterwards went along the lines of “Well, he’s no Dan (previous singer), but he’ll do.” I’d made it. Spudgun were about to take on the world.

The Good Companions is no longer with us, so here's a photo of the beautiful Elliman Avenue (source: geography.org.uk)

The Good Companions is no longer with us, so here’s a photo of the beautiful Elliman Avenue (source: geography.org.uk)

Our first gig took place at a pub called the Good Companions in Slough. Rarely has a pub so spectacularly failed to live up to its billing. It was a shithole, but it was a shithole that was two minutes walk from where we lived. Having met in the car park, we walked in on mass to be greeted by the landlord. He was over 6 foot, both tall and broad, covered in tattoos with a shaved head. And I thought I was nervous before the audition.

He showed us the playing area – a corner by the front window that had had it’s table and chairs removed – and we started setting up. At the other end of the pub were a group of very big, heavily tattooed men, knocking back pints with raucous abandon. I asked the landlord if it was someone’s birthday. “No,” he replied. “Someone’s just got out after a long stretch.”

I turned back to the rest of the band and found Damian, our lead guitarist, being shouted at by Elaine, my singing partner. He’d managed to take up half the ‘performance area’ with his array of pedals and she was having none of it. I could leave, I thought. Nobody would notice and Elaine could take up the slack. At that moment one of the ‘birthday’ group walked up to me.

“Are you in the band?”

“Er.. yeah.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m the singer”

“You better be good.”

The fact I’m alive to write this shows that we weren’t too bad.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Mark Given. Still thinking of you, big man. All facts correct at time of writing. Any errors probably due to failing memory than malicious intent.