Your arm was resting on his shoulder… his eyes were filled with victory…

298062585For a while, I’ve been meaning to say something about this Louvin Brothers book I bought in the summer, which I’ve just finished. These days,
the brothers are in danger of being chiefly remembered for the fantastically lurid cover of their 1959 “long-player”, Satan Is Real. It’s actually a terrific record I’d recommend to anyone but mostly you’ll come across it’s sleeve used as an illustration of old-time fifties hokum. All of which I think is a bit of a shame, their instinctive and intricate harmonies and their ear for a fine old tune deserve more. What would the Everlys have sounded like without Charlie and Ira?

The book’s great, contrasting chief song-writer and mandolin player Ira’s hell-raising, hard-drinking ways with the more pragmatic support of God-fearing younger brother Charlie. It’s a fine, fine read (the pages on the photoshoot for the famous album cover are particularly interesting – the scene was pretty much what just it looks like: two nervous hillbillies in front of a huge pile of burning tyres, watched by a pitchfork-wielding, homespun Lucifer.)

Surprisingly (considering how regularly they played the Grand Ole Opry) there’s not tha much actual Louvins footage available. There’s this clip, though, complete with introduction by Ernest Tubb:


Wonderful stuff.

It’s all sent me off on a bit of a Steinbeck / Folkways sort of adventure and I’ve recently downloaded the first volume of Harry Smith’s classic Anthology of American Folk Music. Compelling stuff it is as well, stuffed full of once-real stories and echoes from a simpler, more chilling world. Many of the songs, however, as well as being documents from the past (and in some cases are recordings of songs that were of-another-age even back then in the thirties), still sound remarkably relevant to these musical times. I’m thinking of some of the banjo and fiddle work which manages to sound both folksy and edgy with a pretty modern monotone, repetitive style. Some of the vocal performances are just crazy too, pretty much feral in some places. I’m thinking particularly of the tracks by Clarence Ashley, Buell Azee, William & Versey Smith and the, intriguingly named Carolina Tar Heels (no idea …).

Unbelievably, there’s this clip on YouTube, again from the fifties I think, of an interview and performance by a sixty-year-old Clarence Ashley. He sings “Coo Coo Bird” which I first heard done by the Holy Modal Rounders. It sounded haunting on their first album but, as some wise old stick points out in the comments, actually sounds even more ghostly and affecting than any of the other (many) versions.

This! This is history! (Song starts at 3:30, but do listen to the interview – “Well” I says “Give me that banjer”)

The train comes to take you where you’ve got to be

telemanWell, I guess the Green Man “moment” has passed. School has started again and summer’s feeling like it’s over – the tent’s been wiped down and packed away, the mud’s dried up on my boots and 2016 Early Bird tickets go on sale next week.

I will do this, though – there are a couple of really good sets still to post. And to be honest, there were a few fairly ordinary ones that I’ll mention, in that White Fence, The Fall and Super Furry Animals all disappointed somewhat, for different reasons. The first didn’t look very “connected” to the whole Green Man vibe (inexplicable really, considering GM stalwart Cate le Bon is still playing with Presley and co); Mark E Smith’s approach to live performances I’ve covered before (it wasn’t a whole lot better than this time); and although SFA started off well, the onset of rain and an over-extended Mwng section squandered an adoring crowd’s late Saturday evening attention. I need to listen to the recordings of each of these sets again, I may well be doing them an injustice.

This lot were a treat, though…


I played the Breakfast record quite a lot when it came out, but by the summer had lost touch with it (and stupidly passed up on the chance to see them at Thekla). So it was good to be taken through some of the highpoints of a fine collection again on a heedless Friday afternoon in the big tent.

Actually, bounding around onstage, infectious and friendly, Teleman led us through a fair few new songs as well, some of which I cannot give names to (this drives me squirell-y), but which suggested that another equally good record cannot be faraway.

I’m not a big synth and eighties baseline man, which I think it’d be fair to say are Teleman’s signature sound, but such is the strength of their melodies (which are deftly accompanied by Thomas Sanders’ words and polite vocals) that it’s surprisingly easy to forgo the pleasures of fuzztone and farfisa.

The set concluded with a mesmerizingly kraut-ish version of “I’m Not in Control” which set us off on our way with something of a Suuns-ish buzz in our ears. Good stuff.

Steam Train Girl

Strange Combinations

Glory Hallelujah

I’m Not in Control

Passing slowly through the town…

IMG_1570The picture on the left is a souvenir from last week’s Kevin Morby gig. I often hang around the merch stall at gigs but by now have learned to curb my natural urge to buy an ill-advised t-shirt or the support band’s murky CD. But I did buy the t-shirt this time, partly because it looks quite cool, but mostly because, now, I have seen this man and by the looks of things last night, I am one of only 25 West Country folk who actually has…

Kevin Morby, The Louisiana

So anyway, I flew solo down to the Louisiana last Monday evening to see ex-Woods member and (ex?) Babies frontman, Kevin Morby, whose two terrific solo records I think I’ve droned on about before. Both of them are great, I reckon, and have been well-received by press and Twitterati alike, so I was pretty surprised at how few people had come out to see him, the Louie being pretty much empty when I arrived (admittedly early). The contrast between this and the previous night’s Sufjan concert couldn’t have been much stronger. He looked a little pissed off himself, although he graciously thanked those who had showed up, mentioning other good shows in Bristol that evening that might have tempted folk away, but I could see that fresh as he (also) was from End of the Road, it must have been a bit disheartening.

No matter. It was actually a very good show indeed. Dipping in and out of Harlem River and Still Life, he led a drums-guitar-lead trio, with Justin Sulivan and Meg Duffy, that switched to drums-bass-lead once he strapped on the electric guitar. The set went up a notch, to be honest, at this point, to be honest, and he injected a bit of life into his itchy, awkward songs. “Motors Runnin” and “Harlem River” were particularly blunt, both with extended freakouts to close.

And, all a bit soon, it was over. No encore, and by the end it all felt a little perfunctory. I would like to have heard “Arlo Jones” and perhaps something from the Babies’ records, but there you go. I can understand it, a fine set nonetheless, and the recordings are well worth hearing.

Motors Runnin’

Harlem River


Sucker in the Void


Even more, they were boys with their cars, summer jobs…

I’ve got all the recordings for Sunday’s Sufjan … experience… sorted out now and picked a few you might be interested in. I’ve thought on the evening long and hard, and considered my immodest, somewhat gushing review of a few days ago.

I regret nothing.

Here. Enjoy, try to ignore the squeaky seat, the audience reactions (I was obviously sat near to a “whooper”), and the ninnies sat in front who managed to kick over their beer at one point; but most of all enjoy:

All of Me Wants All of You

There’s No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross

The Only Thing

John Wayne Gacy Jr (his “murder ballad”)

There’s blood on that blade, fuck me, I’m falling apart…


The Green Man sets will have to wait.

I’m still going over and over in my mind a really quite special night at Colston Hall on Sunday – a beautiful, beautiful evening in the company of Sufjan Stevens.

To be honest, I’m going to struggle even more than usual to get thoughts onto paper, it was simply magnificent. I cannot remember ever being swept away by a concert as much as I was, two hours slipped by in the blink of a moistened eye.

Sufjan Stevens at Colston Hall

Haven’t been to Colston Hall for quite a while now and I always forget what an impressive old venue it is. This being a larger gig, all the seats were out and there was an encouraging buzz in the hall as we came in. A quirky, enjoyable set from Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear (who it turns out is Ward’s Mum…) got the evening off to a light start and I might well come back to it at a later date. A deceptively short turnaround meant that I was caught chatting to friends and was left stumbling around in the dark, looking for my seat, apologising profusely, as the main event started. Unforgiveable behaviour…

All forgiven, I like to think, as a long intro moved gracefully into “Death with Dignity”, the opener of the heartrending Carrie and Lowell record. Backed by the ethereal vocals of Dawn Landes; guitarist Casey Foubert; drummer James McAllister and a multi-instrumentalist whose name I missed but bore more than a passing resemblance to Ripley Johnson, Stevens ran through the whole record, mostly (although not religiously) in order. From the first bars of the intro, I was just spellbound and for the first three or four songs I don’t think I moved in my seat at all. When I did, I glanced around me to see other people similarly hooked, a hall full of people looked on, entranced, stupefied…

In my head at least, Sufjan Stevens has become something of a man of mystery. I’ve not bothered to look at any performances of YouTube; I’ve obviously never seen him play, and I don’t think he’s been over here all that much. I know a couple of people who are real Sufjan obsessives and somehow this also adds to something of a disconnect for the rest of us.

And I have to say, he wasn’t quite what I expected; he was, well, bigger – I’d imagined him to be a sensitive and slightly nerdy type. He had a few endearing tics and mannerisms and seemed at times as if he wanted to burst out into ill-advised mime. At one point, he wore a pair of red sunglasses that made him look like a member of a lo-fi Daft Punk. Some of the songs were given a new perspective to how I’d imagined – “All of Me Wants All of You” was particularly different, a whole new light shed onto it by a harder, dancier rhythm track.

After Carrie and Lowell was over, the man went on to a light sprinkling of material from his other albums, and played a generous encore that included perfect versions of Chicago and John Wayne Gacy. And on top of everything, the lights and visuals were also brilliant, genuinely adding an extra dimension of wonder to an already swollen evening.

Reading this back now, it all sounds a little over the top (hyperbole being something of a weakness of mine), and that I’ve got rather over-emotional about the whole thing. Let’s just say, I shall remember the evening for a very, very long time.

The downside of the stunned attentiveness of an entire audience was on occasion the creak of my seat or the slightest rustle around me can be heard on the recordings. I’m afraid as the evening wore on, and people’s weak bladders got the better of them, this got slightly worse (at one point, I can be heard on the recording saying “It’s like being in the Buildbase”…). I’m not finished fiddling around with them yet but I can only say, go with it, take them when I post them (er…, very soon), they’re still great recordings of a special performance…

Here’s a taster:

Death with Dignity

A little bit of heaven, a little bit of heaven of our own

p02c9r4cAnd once again, it all gets away from me. Green Man gone two weeks ago, End of the Road drawing to an end, Sufjan tonight, Kevin Moreby tomorrow, and I’ve still got a load of GM sets I was hoping to post. Time? Where does it go?


Meant to post this a good week ago, but well, you know. Slug are a Sunderland band I was completely unaware of until I was tipped off about them by a sage old friend in the bar on the Thursday night. An album out at the moment, produced and played on by none other than the Brewis brothers. Say no more.

In the end, when I went to over to the big tent, there was a moment’s disappointment when it became clear at the sound check that neither of the Brewises were about, but this was quickly dispelled when each of the members came on stage dressed in sailor suits apart from band leader Ian Black who was in full concert dress.

Tempting to say that Field Music may not have been there in body but were very much there in spirit, but this does Slug a massive disservice. There was definitely an awkward galumphing presence and rhythm that made me think instantly of Field Music but pretty quickly I’d forgotten this, as there was a whole lot more to enjoy.

Black pranced and postured around good-naturedly and weaved through a really enjoyable set of complex, polished songs that impressed from the start. I recognised (and enjoyed) Greasy Heart from somewhere but the rest was all new to me.

Black’s voice was strong, drifting easily in and out of falsetto regularly, the drumming was interesting and varied, there was a bunch of interesting sounds coming from the keyboard and Black showed himself to be fond of the odd rock-out. I enjoyed it a lot and I’ll get hold of the new record, Ripe, very soon…

Greasy Heart

At Least Show That You Care

Grimacing Mask

Get ye doun frae my horse, ye’re a brazen faced hoor…

1042329My third set of recordings is, I’m afraid, rather cruelly thin. A combination of the wind and an audience of chattering ninnies has meant that my recordings of this national treasure are not as great as I hoped.

Alasdair Roberts

Cards on the table.

I love Alasdair Roberts.

I love the man, at times, beyond all reason. I love his sparse lushness, his monotone vibrancy, his cheerless glee. Probably most of all I love the fact that he continues to plough his lonely furrow, year after year, with no apparent desire to move any further afield. If that sounds patronising, it really isn’t meant to be. In less austere times, I’d be providing lavish funding to the man…

So anyway, I wandered over to the Walled Garden on the Friday afternoon, really looking forward to another chance to see him. And he really didn’t disappoint, putting together another modest but brilliant set, blended from new and traditional material (I can never tell which), flanked by Rafe Fitzpatrick on the fiddle and Stevie Jones on the double bass. He picked songs from his guitar with hunched, painstaking craft, rarely speaking to a largely appreciative audience, his endearing eccentricity seemingly becoming more pronounced as the years go by. I was again captivated – a real pleasure to watch.

Unfortunately, I completely underestimated the effect of the wind on my mic which make some of the recordings pretty much unusable (the number of times my own voice can be heard on them suggests drink may have been taken). As well as this, there’s quite a lot of chat over some of the tracks, which you can either take as endearing Green Man atmosphere, or irritating intrusions from outside. I’ll leave you to decide…

Jock Hawk’s Adventures in Glasgow

Farewell Sorrow

And … I’ll give you this one because it’s such a wonderful song, but to be honest it’s not really up to scratch (the recording, I mean, not Roberts – he’s electrifying…)

The Fair Flower of Northumberland

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