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.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Interview: Matthew & The Atlas

So after hearing Matthew & The Atlas' exquisite debut EP To The North a few months ago I decided I needed to interview the bands eponymous 'Matthew': Matthew Hegarty and find out what the story was behind the EP and how he writes his songs.   

So in the beginning, what made you want to write songs?

I taught myself to play guitar when I was 15 or 16 years old. I was pretty much writing from the start, whether it was a guitar riff, or couple of chords strung together with a melody. I think I got a better feeling from that than learning other peoples songs.  I've felt a need to keep writing better songs since then, like the last one was alright, but I know I can write a better one. I get a buzz when I think I've got something good,  sometimes it slips away, and sometime you keep hold of it. It can be quite elusive at times, I think that makes me want to keep writing all the time.

Who influenced you as you began writing? (Do these people still influence you?)

I was really into Nick Drake, John Martyn, Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan when I started writing. I'm definitely influenced by them still, its not as immediate as I don't put there records on as much as I used to, but I hear it coming out in new songs still, whether I want it to or not sometimes.

When did you all come together as a band?

The band came together piece by piece. Lindsay and Dave where the first to join, we met when they were both running a music night in Woking, and she booked me to play. We did some gigs together, each doing our own sets, playing our own songs, sometimes just with Lindsay and sometime Love.Stop.Repeat, which is Dave and Linds. Eventually we started working on my songs, seeing how they sounded, while we were doing this, Communion offered to make a record with me, so I put some songs together and us three went into the studio. During this time I'd been booked to play at Notting Hill Arts Club for Communion, it's there I met Harry our banjo player. He seemed into it, so I asked him if he wanted to come along and put some banjo parts on the EP, he very kindly did, and his playing just blew us all away. He's been in the band ever since. Our drummer Tommy is an old friend of mine, I used to play in another band with him. He's more into rock music, so I initially didn't think of him when we were looking for a drummer. We had a couple of practices after we'd done the EP in the winter, and he got it straight away. About a month later, it was our first gig, which was March.

What inspires you when you write?

There are lots of things that give me inspiration, sometimes its might be something that's happened to me ,or something a friend is experiencing. Films and book give me ideas, and can put me in different moods to write. I think I revisit certain themes occasionally, looking back to the past more.

What’s you’re instrument of choice?

The guitar, but I pick the banjo up quite a bit to write on.

You changed your name to Matthew And The Atlas last year, where did the “and the atlas” come from?

I didn't want to perform under my full name any more, I liked the idea of having a moniker and the detachment you can have from it, though not fully as my first name is Matthew. The Atlas was the first name I came up with after trying a hundred others. I like the vastness the word Atlas gives, I really like to travel as well and I like the feeling and imagery it gives. Someone said I should of have named us Matthew And The Sat Nav if I liked to travel so much. Doesn't have the same ring though. 

The harmony between you and Lindsay West is beautifully balanced, how did you discover your voices gelled so well?

The first time I saw Linds play was when she booked me for her night in Woking and she asked to borrow my guitar so she could play a couple of songs first. I just loved her songs and her voice, and there weren't a lot of people playing folk music round were we lived, so she really stood apart. It made sense to me that our voices would fit together well, having a voice so pure sounding as hers, is only going to make mine sound more world weary and beaten up, I really liked that idea. 

When you come to write a song do you find you always approach it in a similar way? Or do you have a formula as a band? (Do you write the songs as a band or do you write the lyrics and then approach the music as a band?)

Our approach to song writing is changing all the time. Before we were a band, It was just me writing, and I still approach it in a similar way. I mess around on the guitar trying to find a melody I'm in to, then I work on lyrics, then demo the song on a 12 track. I can layer vocals, put banjo and percussion down, try to get a general feel of how I want it to sound. I send these to the band and they bring there input to rehearsal. It's not always like this as were still gelling as a band and working this stuff out, but this seems a good way for the moment.

Your EP ‘To The North’ is available now, what can listeners expect from the it?

Some banjo, hand claps, gravely vocals and girly vocals and hopefully some enjoyment.

Why did you choose to call the EP ‘To The North’?

To The North was actually the 5th song on the EP we decided to drop. I liked the name, so we kept it as the title. I like the way it works with the atlas, and the movment it gives.

What music are you into at the moment?

I just bought Villagers new album, which I'm really into and Micah. P. Hinson latest LP, which is a slight departure from his last three albums, It feels more experimental, it's good. The National's new album is great as well.

How would you describe your music, genre wise?  Some artists/bands seem reluctant to describe themselves as ‘folk’ for various reasons.

I don't' mind the folk tag, it's not particularly traditional, though it does owe debts to it. Hopefully its a mix of this, contemporary folk and Americana, and whatever you may think it sounds like.

What's coming up in the summer? Gigs?  I see you’re playing Green Man Festival, Will there be an album anytime soon?

We have quite a busy summer writing for our next EP, and we'll be heading into the studio in September. We'll also be shooting a music video in a few weeks which should be ready for mid August. The were off on tour with Mumford and Sons in the autumn, which were really excited about!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit: Manchester Academy 3, 29th June

I first saw Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit in Liverpool on their club tour just before ‘Been Listening’ was released.  They played a tiny club, Zanzibar, I was stool on a chair about 15 feet from the band.  I’d been enraptured with ‘A Larum’ for almost a year at this point and as soon as I heard he’d be playing, I immediately got tickets.  The Liverpool gig was great.  So when I heard they’d be touring in support of the new album I looked up the dates and to my disappointment the Manchester date was just a day before my first year uni exams.  So I gave up hope of seeing them again in favour of exams.  

But I’ve been lucky, Johnny had to put off several gigs early in the tour due to a bout of flu. The Manchester Academy gig was rescheduled to late June so I grabbed a late ticket. It was worth it.   

Fresh from the Glastonbury BBC Introducing stage Dry the River returned as support, albeit in depleted numbers with only 3 of the 5 members making it, to play an impressive Fleet Fox-esque set. 

By the time Flynn & The Wit take to the stage the place is packed as they open their set with a raucous rendition of Cold Bread.  The set mixes the old and new from both albums, playing live levels the playing field, removing the production differences between albums.  The stripped feel of a live performance overrides all and Flynn is left to showcase his raw talent and the craftsmanship of his songs.  Giving searing performances of; Kentucky Pill, Howl, The Box and Tickled Pink alike.   Mid set he gave a tongue in cheek apology for having to reschedule the gig saying: ‘it’s wouldn’t have been good.’ The crowd forgave him.  

Switching to Banjo Flynn closed the set with Eyeless in Holloway leaving the audience baying for more.  An intimate version of The Water was met with hushed reverence as Johnny and James Mathé (keys) made a brave attempt at recreating the exquisite album version (featuring Laura Marling).  The show rounded out with a boisterous sing along of Leftovers. 

The fresh songs from ‘Been Listening’ sat effortlessly by the older better known songs from ‘A Larum’ and Johnny Flynn didn’t disappoint his audience even if he’d made them wait a few more weeks to see him.  

Set list:

- Cold Bread
- Kentucky pill
- Lost and Found
- Brown Trout Blues
- Barnacled Warship
- The Box
- Churlish may
- Wrote and The Writ
- Howl
- Tickled Pink
- Been Listening
- Eyeless in Holloway

- The Water
- Leftovers

Friday, 18 June 2010

An Interview with Dead Cities

Continuing the string of interviews I've posted with local musicians and bands about how they go about writing their songs I recently got the chance to interview Ryan Wyatt, bass player with the multi instrumentalist Liverpool Folk-Rock band Dead Cities.

So in the beginning, what made you want to write songs?

Nothing really, Martin had a few tunes and hadn’t played for a while so me and Oli started playing on top of them and they sounded pretty good so we carried on for 3 months or thereabouts before we realised we were a band.

Who influenced you as you began writing?

Probably Martin without sounding cheesy, just because he had these songs lying about and me and Oli just threw anything over them we thought we could add.  After a while when we started doing songs from scratch with each other, I think it was obvious that people like Neil Young has an influence on us as a band and Led Zeppelin for me are always going to influence ideas I come up with.  The Beatles too and anything more contemporary we listen to as a whole together – Wild Beasts, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes – there’s a lot of stuff in there.

So how did you all come together as a band?

I already knew both Oli and Martin, and they had played together in The Alterkicks. I had been playing in a few different bands around the same time, as well as my flat being in the same building as Oli’s, so it just kind of happened by accident really. Me and Oli had played in a few bands together already before Dead Cities, and as we lived in the same building as each other, and with Oli’s bedroom becoming a kind of local rehearsal room for bands we played in it, seemed the obvious choice for Martin to use me and Oli as the rhythm section.

Where did the name “Dead Cities” come from?

Martin had come up with a joke name which we would refer to ourselves as but when we realised we were turning into a band we just chose the name “Dead Cities” from a song title we had.  We managed to cut out all of the stresses involved in naming a band which is usually the biggest pain in the arse when starting a new project.

What would you say inspires you when you all write?

Wouldn’t be able to say to be honest as it can come from a film, book, concert you have been to, a noise you hear. For me I don’t really write as much as I usually help arrange or come up with melodies on top of existing chord structures so it is usually just something you think will add to a song for me.

You all play various instruments (live) but what’s you’re individual instrument of choice?

It would definitely be the bass as that is what I have played for 10 years in different bands and when people ask me to play with them it is usually to play bass. It’s the one instrument I feel completely comfortable on and never feel out of my depth on it. Since staring Dead Cities I have taken a real shine to the ukulele and find myself playing it everyday

Old Man (Live)

When you come to write a song do you find you always approach it in a similar way? Or do you have a formula as a band? (Do you write the songs as a band or do you write the lyrics and then approach the music as a band?)

It can work in different ways really.  Most of the time Martin will come in with a chord sequence and a melody and me and Oli will add what we think suits the song. It can result in me changing around different instruments to see what fits and Oli doing the same, then if we feel a song needs a change in direction or needs added sections one of us will usually come up with the idea of where to take it and it usually works without anyone thinking differently.  Sometimes we will literarily just write a song on the spot or in the studio and just take it there and then.

You grew from an acoustic band but have been branching out introducing other instruments, where do you see your musical direction going next?

Don’t have a clue and I would think that none of us do. We work on songs together and if they sound right they are in and if they don’t they will be put aside and we will work on something different. We might have 3 that we are working on all with different instrumentation that will sound like us but don’t sound alike so I think the sound always changes but can so easily come back to what it was we were doing at the start.  It’s all about how the song we are working on at the time feels. If it needs to be big it will end up big but if it needs to be soft it will be soft so I don’t think we ever have an idea of what the next track we work on will sound like.

What music are you all into at the moment?

I am into blues and have been for years and that is mostly what I listen to but I find I end up listening to a lot of music I hear friends playing or even listening to friends’ bands that I really look up to. At this very moment though it is The Movie Soundtrack to The Last Waltz by The Band which I just managed to get hold of at a record fair so that will probably be on my record player for the next month.

How would you describe your music, genre wise?

I wouldn’t know how to describe it really. If you say Folk people will expect Folk if you say Indie people will expect Indie and if you say Pop people will expect Pop I just say it’s a bunch of songs where we pass instruments about and try and create different sounding songs with just the three of us.

What's coming up in the summer? Recording?  Gigs?

I would imagine we will be going out and gigging over the summer as well as writing and looking at getting together more recordings for an album we hope to release this year. Unfortunately with being unsigned and some members working jobs and some unemployed the summer isn’t much different then other times of the year so you find you still push on and work as hard as any other time of the year. We have gigs starting to come in with Liverpool Sound City and one or two festivals so we will see what comes in and where they take us but in the mean time I suppose we will still just be writing, recording and drinking all of Oli’s tea and eating all of his digestive’s he tries to hide from us.


You can find out more about Dead Cities and check out some of their music at:

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Stornoway, A Band On The Run - From Genre

Fuel Up (on Later With Jools Holland)

Stornoway are a band running from genre.  Genre has it's gifts and it's hindrances.  It can help people understand your music, it can help people who like similar bands discover you, it can help critics classify you. OK well that last one may not be a plus side but lets face it people like to classify stuff.  Be it types of South American tree, umbrella or in our case new bands. 

Stornoway have recently thoroughly disowned the folk labels that were thrust upon them from everyone from the BBC to the NME.  But why have they been pigeon holed into the wave of new folk artists?  Well because their debut album Beachcomber's Windowsill is undeniably folky, that's why.  I mean come on even the album name is folk to the hilt!  The production on the album is reminiscent of the Fleet Foxes and the parallels between contemporaries like Noah & The Whale, Sons of Noel and Adrian and Mumford & Son are their in the instrumentation; featuring songs with banjo riffs a-plenty in We Are The Battery Human,  fiddles in The Coldharbour Road and delicate acoustic guitars in The End of the Movie.  Stylistically they range between folk and the more raucous tracks like Watching Birds

I Saw You Blink (Official Video)

So this begs the question, what is folk music?  Well what does it bring to mind for you? For some when they hear the word folk they think traditional English folk music (which personally leads me to think of Morris Dancers and Maypoles), others think 60s folk revival.  Well the dictionary definition is as follows:


plural noun 1 (also folks) informal people in general. 2 (one’s folks) one’s family, especially one’s parents. 3 (also folk music) traditional music of unknown authorship, transmitted orally. 4 before another noun originating from the beliefs, culture, and customs of ordinary people: folk wisdom.
  — ORIGIN Old English.

So then does modern folk music fit this definition?  Can we call Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons etc Folk?  Well no because we know who wrote their songs, they did.  Is their music traditional?  Well what's traditional? (Lets not go there right now we have enough on our hands with 'Folk'!)  Are they transmitted orally?  No.  We listen to their records.  So is anyone folk?  Arguably not by definition, no.

Zorbing (on Later With Jools Holland)

But who cares?  Stornoway like Marling and the Mumfords are all influenced by folk music, among many other genres.  So we should let Stornoway off with not wanting to be stereotyped as one of these new folk bands.  And their record has something none of the other bands have on theirs.  A Kazoo (on Watching Birds).


Go listen to the album The Beachcomber's Windowsill now, available on spotify here.  They're also part of my nu-folk spotify playlist, along with a load of other great bands, which can be found here.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Interview with Shane Beales

Liverpool based Singer-Song writer Shane Beales has just released his 4th EP Heavy Clouds describing it as "honest melodic music".  He released the EP for free, and recently played a set for BBC Radio Merseyside. In 2006 he began Project52 which saw him write, record and release a song a week for a year and described him as ‘Quite the up and coming artist’. In this interview I asked him about how he went about writing the EP and what spared him on. 

So in the beginning, what made you want to write songs?
I grew up in a musical family and everyone was writing their own songs so as youngest child, it just seemed the thing you did when you were old enough!

Who influenced you as you began writing?
I used to live in Melbourne and there is a folk pop band called “My friend the chocolate cake” and their lead singer David Bridie was a huge influence when I first started. Simple piano songs – beautiful!  Also Radiohead, Ben Folds and Dave Matthews band plus of course, Jeff Buckley.

What do you say your muse is, what inspires you when you write?
I am inspired singing about hope, change and being confrontational! (hope I don’t sound too much like a politician.)

What’s you’re instrument of choice parts of ‘Heavy Clouds’ seem piano led, while other tracks are definitely guitar led?
Both I guess – quiet and loud! Most of my songs lend themselves to either one or the other, though I used to happily play piano for hours on end without getting blisters, which is more than I can say for the guitar.

When you come to write a song do you find you always approach it in a similar way? Do you have a formula?
My only formula is to trust my instincts, I tend to write quite quickly and later rue all of my mistakes!

Do you find your approach to writing a song like ‘Across the Sea’ differs from writing a song like Crunch?
Yes  - the lyrics for across the seas were very much tied in with the music from the beginning – whereas I had the idea for The Crunch initially just instrumentally and had to find some lyrics just in the nick of time before it was time to record the vocals.

You released ‘Heavy Clouds’ as a free download, why did you do this?  Do you think artists should have to give away there music for free?
I released it as free download for promotional purposes to reach new listeners and also to question what monetary value music deserves. Why is 79p a track is the right price for a download or £10 for a CD?  
Do you think it’s a necessity with how today’s music industry works? I don’t believe it’s absolutely necessary to give music away for free, it should be a decision made on the merits of each project. I would hope people don’t feel that they are forced to give music away.

Your new album ‘Heavy Clouds’ is available now, what can listeners expect from the EP?
Heavy, sometimes musically, sometimes lyrically, confrontational and ultimately uplifting. With a variety of sounds and entry points…

How would you describe your music, genre wise?  Your latest release, Heavy Clouds, seems quite rocky.
Alternative singer-songwriter I guess, It’s honest melodic music from the heart. Sometimes aggressive, sometimes gentle, always sincere.

What's coming up for you, any gigs or recording?
In August I’m moving to London, promoting Heavy Clouds EP and preparing for an album is next. Also playing with my wonderful band!

You can download Heavy Clouds for free at Heavy, You can also find out more about Shane on his Myspace and Site.  Heavy Clouds is also being sold as a Remastered Limited Edition on CD with super artwork for £9)

Friday, 30 April 2010

Hustle & Cuss by The Dead Weather

Hustle & Cuss live at Coachella 2010

Hustle & Cuss is the first release from The Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards follow up to last year’s Horehound, which debuted less than 10 months ago.  You can download the track for free here on DW’s site.  Instantly recogniseable as The Dead Weather, Hustle & Cuss is more funky than anything on Horehound, when I first heard it I was immediately reminded of the Black Keys whose songs have a similar dirty groove to them.  Sea Of Cowards is due for release on the 11/10th May.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

'Kentucky Pill' by Johnny Flynn.

'Kentucky Pill' is the lead single from Flynn's  new album 'Been Listening'.  This catchy mandolin driven track with its uplifting trumpet riffs make a perfect sonic background for Flynn to sing his vivid and imaginitive lyrics over.  From the first roll of the drums and boom of the bass the song hearlds something new, the mandolin reminds me of west african music, this shows Flynn is making music with influence far beyond its country/folk roots.  I can't wait for the album in June.  

Also part of my 'Nu-Folk' spotify playlist - here.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Seth Lakeman at the Liverpool Urban Centre, 7/4/10

When I was asked if I’d like to review Seth Lakeman’s gig at the Liverpool Contemporary Arts Centre I jumped at the chance, having heard of the Mercury Prize nominated Folk Singer, but never getting the chance to listen his music I was interested to finally hear him.  I hadn’t heard his music before so I checked out his albums before the show, I’d like to be able to say I was impressed.  Even more so I’d like to be able to say my opinion was changed by his performance.  But I can’t.  When listening to his albums it struck me that something was missing.  I couldn’t put my finger on it.  But having stood just 5 feet from him during his set I realised what it was that was missing.  While he played a confident set with varied material I felt throughout the set that there was a spark missing that let the songs down.

Guy infront of me at the gig in a stupid hat.
The evening began with support acts that were comfortably similar to the headliners style  with The Kevin Critchley Outfit playing in a similar vein to Lakeman’s own brand of slightly rocky English folk.  They opened with an energetic set, with songs from their debut album Scars. With a depleted band, just guitar, violin & cello instead of their normal 5 piece the KCO performed a confident set, engaging and joking with the crowd between songs. They were followed by Dan Donnelly who played a solo set accompanied only by his loop pedal, which he used to create his own backing using the body of his guitar for percussion and layering several guitar parts up to create songs like ‘Cigarette’ and ‘Diamonds in the Road’.

I went for a sit down at the back half way through

Lakeman’s set began with a track, ‘The Hurlers’, from his current album Poor Man's Heaven.  He then announced that he was releasing his next album Hearts and Minds on June 14th before playing the title track. He played several more new tracks during the rest of the evening.  Throughout his set Lakeman switched between violin and guitar and while I felt he lacked a certain spark of conviction in his voice his fiddle playing made up for this. He was ably supported by his band and while his particular brand of contemporary English folk may not be my cup of tea, I can easily appreciate its appeal to so many of his fans.  His songs are well crafted and he and his band played a dynamic set, changing the tempo of the evening several times, slowing the mood right down only to bring things to a peak announcing ‘I hope you don’t mind another hoedown’ and ending the set with ‘Poor Man’s Heaven’ before returning for an encore with an up tempo ‘Race To Be King’.
While Seth Lakeman might not be to my taste he was certainly interesting to watch live and he kept his audience’s captivated throughout.


This review was written for

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Watchman - Peggy Sue


My Band of the month, easily.  I heard about Peggy Sue about six months ago, I'd seen a few videos on Youtube and I knew there was an album in the works.  But I didn't pay them too much attention at the time.  But by accident they have become one of my favourite bands.  I was watching the Local Natives in Manchester last month and to my surprise Peggy Sue were the support act.  They have an energy on stage that's captured on their new album admirably.  Watchman is one of these tracks, the interplay between frontwomen Rosa Rex & Katy Klaw is attention grabbing.  The main refrain "I only came here to see you see me" is infectious.  The album as a whole reaches similar peaks with songs like Yo Mama & Matilda.  While Peggy Sue are part of the Nu-Folk vanguard they offer up something unique.  They have a raw edge, almost punky, sound which sets them apart from the others.  The album Fossils & Other Phantoms is availble now and is also on Spotify here.   Good Summer listening.

Also part of my 'Nu-Folk' spotify playlist - here.