Saturday, 16 October 2010

Owen Duff - intoxicated by London

With influences stemming from Rufus Wainwright & Sufjan Stevens and with a vibe reminiscent of Anthony & the Johnsons Owen Duffs new EP, Under, documents his arrival in London and his enamoured view of the city.  Owen has linked his music to interesting concept videos for each of the songs, including one using Google Earth to map out the song's narrative.

I recently got the chance to ask Owen some question and talk about what inspired the new EP:

What inspired the project?
For me songwriting or making anything is often a process of sublimation, whereby whatever I'm writing or creating helps to resolve or at least express thoughts and feelings that I may not be consciously aware of. The songs on the Under EP are a good example of that, I wrote them a long time ago in 2003-4 when I'd just arrived in London.

It seems London was your primary muse for the EP, is that right?
I had all these romantic notions of what it would be like to live here so moved down in a very cavalier way, without knowing anyone or having a steady job to go to.  The reality of it hit me pretty quickly and overwhelmingly, and while I was determined to stay it took me quite a while to find my feet. The song London You're My High is very ambivalent; on the one hand it's sort of a love song to the city but on the other it uses the dark imagery of addiction, which I think expresses how I felt at the time - intoxicated by London but also finding it pretty bleak.
The reason I kept the songs on
hold for so long was that I wasn't able to record on a real piano at the time I wrote them. It was only more recently, when I paid to go into a studio and record a whole heap of things on a real piano, that I was able to get versions of the songs that I was happy to release.


Owen Duff - Morning Finsbury Park

There was actually a 'twin' EP to Under called 'Over', which was much bigger sounding, and more upbeat, with drums and trumpets and stuff, and then a whole instrumental section where a Steve Reich-esque arrangement of 'London You're My High' plays backwards over an electronic beat. It was quiteinteresting as an experiment but overall it didn't really work. 

Why did you decide to link the songs with videos?
The video
aspect is something I've been meaning to get into for a while - I studied TV and Radio Production at university so it's something I've done before and have a long-standing interest in.

How did you come up with the idea of linking the song with google earth?
Because I'd written 'London You're My High' in my first year of living here I wanted to do something that summed up what had happened to me since then. I started drawing up a sort of bullet-point list of the big events in my London life from the past six or seven years, and then I got to thinking about the places those things had happened, which led me to plot out their locations on a map, which is when I had the idea to use Google Earth. I started off with quite specific descriptions but then made them more vague, partly for aesthetic reasons but mostly to make them universal enough that others would be able to identify with them.


What came first the idea for the project or the songs?
Well the gap between the songs and the videos was obviously pretty long, but the ambition to make an EP or album about this city arose at the same time as writing the songs, so those two aspects were of it were simultaneous.  A big influence was New York Tendaberry by Laura Nyro, which I played constantly when I first moved to London. That album is still one of my absolute favourite things to listen to, and I think its central concept of a romantic paean to a big city very much resonated with me in the early days of being here.

You can find out more about Owen on his site and you can download the Under EP from his bandcamp page for free.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Review: Colorado Thrift EP by Smokey Mountain English

Kacey Wade Stewart, Will Davis and Pat Loundas in just 5 hours have managed to capture a irresistible lo-fi charm with this brilliantly understated EP. The first thing that draws you in is the warm guitar tone punctuated by the cyclic banjo picking which are prominent through out the EP.  The opening 'Hard To Tell's' uptempo flow is hard to resist, and opens the way for the Guthrieesque 'Train Song' with it's homesick imagery.
Washboard percussion and Will Davis' banjo add to the uplifting 'Grow Old' beautifully, the 4 track EP is rounded out by another undeniably catchy love song 'Pearlsnap button'.

The whole EP captures the good vibe of friends making music together and boasts a charming blend of Folk, Americana and a touch of Bluegrass.  Well worth a listen, and the why not when it's free to download?  It's already on my iPod!

<a href="">Hard To Tell by Smoky Mountain English</a>

Saturday, 14 August 2010

I Am Gone


I've spent the last 6 months writing and recording and re-recording my second EP, the follow up to 'The Sea'. The title comes from a line in the second song on the EP called Moving On. Over 20 minutes 'I Am Gone' blends quiet folk with more raucous folk-rock, so here's the track listing:

Key To The Lock
Moving On
Summer Sanctuary

It will be available from Monday as a Digital Download for £2.50 and there will also be a limited run of CDs which will cost £3.50, these will include extras like links to early demo versions of some of the songs and some that didn't make it onto the EP.

So I made a little bit of a mess while I was recording.

I hope you'll enjoy listening to it as much as I did writing and recording it. You can listen to the opening track Key To The Lock and Summer Sanctuary on myspace now.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Review: Jukebox Gypsy

Jukebox Gypsy have achieved the perfect blend of traditional Celtic & English folk, Americana and Folk Revival with there eponymous debut.  The album opens with the raucous ballad Whatever Happened To Elijah Cale setting the feel for the rest of the album.  The vocal harmonies and interplay between Ben Blance, Dave Hastie, Johanna Hillebrand and Isaac Tabor throughout the album are a brilliantly arranged with call and response sections fitting perfectly.  The album steps back from it’s up tempo opener with the more relaxed banjo led February and featuring Lucy Macdonald’s exquisite violin line and a catchy chorus.  

The uplifting Celtic climax of Union Hymn is quickly contrasted by the Americana feel of Papa Joe’s slide guitar groove. The delicate opening violin line of Water slows the albums pace as the song introduces finely balanced male/female vocal harmony and guitar harmonics.

The album’s passage from genre to genre adds to the aesthetic of the record springing a few surprises on listeners.  Automatic immediately reminded me of Stephen Still’s early solo records with its blues acoustic guitar line and as the texture builds towards the end of the song it unleashes a brilliant solo.  A couple of tracks later the record slips into Hey Mama: a catchy, easy going Ry Cooder-esque protest song with a gypsy jazz solo, reminiscent of something from a ‘30s D’jango Reinhardt record which was a nice little surprise.

The climax of the album comes from Over The Mountain, a song CSN&Y would be proud of.  This song really grooves and the electric guitar has a heavy blues rock flavour.
The album then ambles to a close with 2 more quiet tracks: the delightful Celtic flavoured Innismor & delicate folk song The Rain Invitation which showcases Johanna Hillebrand’s solo vocals. 

I think if the album had closed with the barnstorming Over the Mountain and the last two more sedate tracks had come earlier in the running order the album would feel more solidly concluded rather than have these later tracks feel slightly like after thoughts.  The fluidity of the album’s genre hopping makes it a thoroughly enjoyable listen.  

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Noah and The Whale: Manchester Cathedral, 3rd July

When Noah and The Whale announced they'd be playing just 2 UK dates this summer I was ecstatic to find one of them was at Manchester Cathedral.  I'm a long time fan, right from Peaceful The World Lays Me  Down, and First Days of Spring merely left me more enamoured with them. 

Nice view of the sound man too

Noah & The Whale took to Manchester Cathedral's makeshift stage surrounded by ramparts made from pews and flight cases.  Bursting into their set with a run of songs from their last album First Days of Spring including Blue Skies, Slow Glass & Love of An Orchestra.  The songs sombre yet uplifting feel matched the environment of Manchester's Cathedral perfectly and as the set gathered momentum the crowd shuffled and packed together in an attempt to get a better view and as close to the stage as they could.  There's a reason purpose built theatres don't have great stone pillars, because you can't see through them.  Some gave up and were happy enough to get a fleeting glimpse between heads now and then and just enjoy the vibe that NATW were creating.  Others, like me, shifted around the edge of the crowd for a better view, in the end I got a decent view from the right of the stage.

A powerful version of Give A Little Love (my favourite NATW song) and a set mixing the deeply personal newer songs with the catchy less serious earlier songs made for a great dynamic.

The gig was great and the Cathedral was packed, probably more people than it sees on a Sunday that's for sure, maybe they should offer great live music and a bar for services? 
They rounded out their set with a powerful encore of my favourite from the latest album My Door Is Always Open and 5 Years Time from their debut and ended the night with a new song L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N maybe Charlie's broken heart is mending?


Blue Skies
Give A Little Love
Slow Glass
Love of An Orchestra
Our Window
I Have Nothing
My Broken Heart
Two Atoms
Shape of My Heart
Rocks And Daggers
The First Days of Spring

My Door Is Always Open
5 Years Time

Since it was first awarded in 1992 the Mercury Prize has become one of the UK's best know music prizes with it's high profile awards show being covered by the BBC.  Set up as an alternative to the Music Industry dominated Brit Awards the Mercury shortlist is eagerly anticipated because of it's genre spanning nominations.
The prize itself? How does £20,000 sound? That and the honour of being nominated of course.  Last years winner was Speech Debelle, which surprised a lot of pundits.  This year's shortlist was published today and includes some interesting choices.
The first thing that sprang out from that list was that unlike previous years there are 3 folk acts nominated.  Rather than the "Token Folkie" which in recent years has been Lisa Hannigan, Fionn Regan & Laura Marling.  This year Villagers, Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling in her second nomination.
Other notable nominations are the supposedly 'underground' xx which didn't surprise me at all, their album is one of my favourites.  And a 1994 nominee Paul Weller for his 10th album.  

This years shortlist is as interesting as ever with a range of genre's being spanned from Hard Rock to Jazz & Folk to Pop and the winner will be announced on the 7th September.