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