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.

Advertisements

Saturday 19th October: The Black Feathers, Oliver Daldry, David Booth – Live at the Cottage

The Black feathers

The Black feathers

How do you review a friend? This thought was prominent in my mind before the opening Saturday’s Live at the Cottage. I’ve known David Booth a few years , have sung with him, and now he was  about to open the night’s entertainment. What if he tanked? I had no need to worry. David is one of those annoyingly talented people who can turn their hand to anything. Initially a drummer, he has added singer-songwriter, guitarist, sound engineer, record producer and promoter to his list of achievements and he is damn good at all of them.

David Booth

David Booth

There is no hiding the influence the Finn brothers have had on his songwriting, especially his older songs like the upbeat ‘Find our way back home’ and ‘The left behind’, where his bitterness at seeing childhood friends caught in the trap of pre-programmed expectation of what they can achieve in life is accentuated by the choppy guitar rhythms made popular by Crowded House at their angriest.

Yet he is not afraid to show his more introspective side. Love will win every time was a romantic, thoughtful number enhanced (as in all his songs) by excellent harmonies with Roisin O’Hagan. For me, though, my favourite song was his last , so far untitled, which intertwined impressionistic lyrics of a Suffolk coastal scene with the greater ebb and flow of life itself. It showed how far David has come as a songwriter as he created a sound truly of his own and was probably the closest we  got to see of the David I know in his music.

This guy is going to be huge! That was my first reaction to hearing Oliver Daldry and I haven’t changed my opinion. He is just fantastic. This young singer-songwriter – he’s only 19 – has the world at his feet. He is able to get the the complexity and rhythms of two guitarist from one acoustic guitar whilst at the same time knocking out catchy tune after catchy tune. His music is reminiscent of Vampire Weekend in that he uses similar rhythms to the American band, but he has a touch of Nick Drake to his playing which brings a freshness to the mix.

Daldry’s album, ‘The Boy Who Fell’, is out on iTunes for £2.49 and he is touring small venues around London and the East of England. All I can say is buy the album and go and see him in this type of venue while you still can. He won’t be playing them for long.

The Black Feathers are a duo made up of Ray Hughes on guitar / vocals and Sian Chandler vocals, who is also the main songwriter. Their music combines the British and Irish folk tradition with a transatlantic sound that in some cases wouldn’t be out of place in the Grand Ole Opry. Their songs are all based around their tight, sliding harmonies over a pared down guitar; a sound drifting between alt-country to being more evocative of some of the folk based vocal groups of the counter-culture revolution depending on the song.

They were technically fantastic, incredibly polished and all songs were well constructed and excellently performed. My problem was, it left me cold. No matter how impressed I was with their performance and ability, I just couldn’t get into their music. I think, for me, it was a little too polished. The songs ticked all the boxes in my head, but didn’t hit me in my heart (yes, despite what I’m writing, I do have one). There were times, like in ‘Blind’ and ‘Breaking’ where I felt a hint of the muddiness and rawness I prefer, but as much as I tried, for me it just didn’t click.

BUT (and it is a big but)…

I know I was very much alone in this opinion. Everybody else in Dove Cottage loved it, and for the majority it was the first time they had ever seen the Black Feathers perform. I spoke to a number of people after the gig and every single one was blown away by what they had heard. “Absolutely brilliant”, “those harmonies were stunning” and “fantastic songs and performance” were just a few of the comments I noted. And instead of feeling upset about being out of sync with the rest of the audience, I’m really pleased,  because having met Ray and Sian after the gig I found the two of them to be genuinely lovely people, and I wish them all the success in the world. So please, visit their website, take part in their Kickstarter campaign and help these two find the success they deserve. And when they do make it, I will be the first to offer them my congratulations.

 

Saturday 7th September: Kevin Pearce, Cara Winter, Terence Blacker – Live at the Cottage

Kevin Pearce: Simply magical

Kevin Pearce: Simply magical (image source: last.fm)

There’s a bit of the rogue in Terence Blacker. You don’t open your set with a song promoting one night stands in a room packed with middle-aged villagers without looking to provoke, and judging by the nervous laughter around me, Blacker got his wish. The secret love child of Richard Digence and Victoria Wood, Blacker seems happiest when puncturing pomposity and self-delusion, his clear-eyed observations matched by a playful use of language that betrays his day job as an author, and columnist to a national newspaper.

The highlights of his set were “Sad old bastards with guitars”, a song that had me laughing out loud as I recognised many of the images portrayed, and “My Village”, a song betraying his affection for village life whilst still giving him the chance to tweak a nipple or two. All Blacker’s songs come with a veneer of gentle humour but don’t be fooled. There is real bite to his wit, and while his choice of targets  in “I’d rather be French” and the “Anti folk, folk song” were spot on, some of his quips dripped with disdain. For the most part, though, Blacker had the room in stitches and I would heartily recommend you see him play, provided of course that you aren’t a third generation village dwelling ex-pat rocker cum folk singer.

In complete contrast, Cara Winters writes songs of a much more personal and introverted nature. Her combination of rolling piano and delicately sweeping melodies places her very much in the school of singer songwriters that includes Kate Bush and Tori Amos, though without the melodrama of the latter. From the opening chords of “Butterfly” Winter created a sonic soundscape that was fragile but with a strong emotional pull.

Highlights from her set were “Rebecca”, influenced by the Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name, and “Do you have a heart”, introduced as the mousey song. Winter has a very distinctive style and a wonderful voice that combine well on each song. If I was to have one criticism it would be that in their acoustic form her songs sounded very similar. Each on its own was excellent but as a set there was a lack of tonal or dynamic difference. Thinking back on the gig a couple of days later it is hard for me to separate one song from the other, yet her album provides a very different experience as she enhances each song  through clever arrangements. I would recommend seeing Winter with her full band, or even better full orchestration, which sets off her music beautifully.

The only previous time I had seen Kevin Pearce play was with Kal Lavelle in support of Bastille at the Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Playing solo, his subtle sound was lost in such a large auditorium but he had shown enough promise that I couldn’t wait to see him in a more intimate venue. He didn’t disappoint.

From the very outset, Pearce took us on a musical journey, his alternate guitar tunings giving “The Tale of Stardust” and “Tides” an otherworldly feel, as if Pearce had come down from space to spread tales of old Albion. He has been compared in the past to Cat Stevens and Nick Drake, which whilst understandable, does him an injustice. While he may plough the ancient past for inspiration, what Pearce delivers is very new.

Compositionally, Pearce enjoys playing with repetitive themes, using subtle variations in his playing to drive the songs forward whilst his soaring vocal lines act as counterpoint. This was nowhere more evident than with “Freezing” , where his lightness of touch drew you further and further into the song until, as he sang his final falsetto note, he brought you blinking back to reality. A virtuoso performance and a truly stand out moment.

Then, just as  you were becoming used to this mystic journey, Pearce reverted to standard tuning and a more familiar soundscape. Whether singing “We’ve been loving”, a song capturing that end of summer feeling, or the pared down “Winter Atmosphere Head”, Pearce slowly steered us back to the here and now. Eventually the journey had to end and with the wonderful song “The Wormhole”, we arrived home. The crowd gave Pearce a rousing round of applause and the called for encore was duly delivered, “Peaceful Skies” providing the perfect ending to a great night’s entertainment.

Sat 8th June: The Floe, Al Lindsay, Lucy Sampson – Live at the Cottage, Debenham, UK

One of the best music venues in Suffolk

One of the best music venues in Suffolk

Walking through the door to the venue, my doubts intensified. This was Dove Cottage, a place imbued with the essence of parish council meetings and WI tea mornings; famous throughout the village for its dusty beams and faded chintz curtains. Why had anyone thought that this could be a music venue?

Rows of chairs filled both sides of the V-shaped room. A number of people had arrived early and there was a palpable sense of excitement. Many had brought cool bags, taking full advantage of the ability to bring your own to the gig. As the alcohol flowed, the scent of spiced savouries filled the room.

I sat with some friends and waited, hoping the gig would go OK. While we caught up, the remaining seats filled quickly until at last every one was taken. The fact that the gig was a sell out should have put me at ease, but my concern increased; this was a lot of people to disappoint.

Finally, the lights dimmed and Lucy Sampson walked to the mic. She played the intro of her opening song and as she started to sing, all my doubts evaporated. The dusty beams and chintz curtains provided perfect dampening, enabling David Booth to deliver a sound so intimate that it felt as if the artist was singing for you alone. The surroundings faded into the background so that only Lucy, her audience and her wonderful music remained.

Now, I have a confession to make. While Lucy sang, a little piece of my heart was hers. There was an honesty to her performance that can’t be faked, gently taking us by the hand and leading us through stories of heartbreak and loss. The highlight for me was her song “Trust,” which has been on constant rotation at home ever since. When the lights went up after Lucy’s far too brief set my friend turned to me. “Shit a brick,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting that. She was fantastic.” I couldn’t have agreed more.

A quick changeover was followed by a change in mood with the soulful funk tinged songs of Al Lindsay and Oliver Arditi, every song an intricate interplay between guitar and bass so skilful that if you closed your eyes you would have believed there were twice as many people on stage. Al has a singing voice many artists would die for, like Chris Rea’s but dipped in honey, and the audience was soon swallowed up inside their acoustic groove.

Expectations were at a high as The Floe took to the stage, yet from the opening chords of Sakura, the audience knew they were in for something special. Here were two people clearly in love with what they were doing, delivering perfectly crafted pop ballads in a style open enough to fill stadiums yet with an intimacy that suited the venue and audience perfectly. Never has melancholy been so uplifting. There were so many highlights from their set: Sakura, Don’t Look Down; Irreplaceable, and the giggle filled Pearshaped to name but a few. Between songs, Sarah was witty and entertaining, clearly enjoying herself as she toyed with the crowd. It is a testament to their talent that their cover of Skyfall was one of the weakest songs of the set. Eventually it had to happen, and during Sun, Moon and Stars I fell in love once more. The standing ovation they received at the end of the gig was fully deserved.

Then, sadly, it was over. The lights went on, the audience started to leave. Dove Cottage reverted to type. Yet, for a few hours, Dove Cottage had been a venue of real quality. I may have had my doubts but the people at Wet Feet Records didn’t. If future gigs are as accomplished as this one, Live at the Cottage has an assured future. I have never been so happy to be proven wrong.