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

I know you cheated on me, but I cheated on myself…

largeActually, having suggested that Sturgill Simpson’s band could handle themselves in a knifefight, I got to thinking of another bunch of ne’er-do-wells we saw later that night who really did look rather chilling…

Strand of Oaks

Timothy Showalter is a larger-than-life shaggy character, festooned in tattoos who goes by the name of Strand of Oaks. He was another artist I knew nothing about but was keen to see on the Green Man sayso. Occupying the late-night last up spot on the Walled Garden stage, I thought it’d be good, and so it was.

He’d bought a band with him that was made up of a rather tense but skillful second guitarist who looked like he might’ve been brought up at CBGBs; an uncomplicated and possibly mute drummer and a Metallica-style bassist who although he sported the routinely-mocked (in our house at least) “hipster beard”, actually looked as if he might have bodies to his name. (I kept my opinions on hipster beards to myself, thankyou…)

At first listen, Strand of Oaks sounded like they might just be a rather routine crude but effective rock band but once you got past this, and Showalter’s intense lyrics and delivery started to fix themselves in your mind, it became an absorbing and exciting set. He sounded at times like one of his heroes, Jason Molina, and indeed his tribute to Molina, “JM”, was particularly spellbinding, and not a little moving.

He’s a pretty engaging soul though, and (you get the feeling) an emotionally naked person with lyrics that don’t leave a lot unsaid. His most recent record, last year’s Heal, is some sort of dark night of the soul experience about which he’s said:

“The record is called HEAL, but it’s not a soft, gentle healing, it’s like scream therapy, a command, because I ripped out my subconscious, looked through it, and saw the worst parts. And that’s how I got better.”

It was also gratifying to see that he’s one of those “polite American” types who seem genuinely thrilled to be out there performing in front of a group of like-minded souls. The graveyard slot was perfect for him and his troupe, and it also allowed him to do an encore, despite his genuinely shot-to-pieces voice. An intense, if unexpected, pleasure late at night…

Goshen ‘97

Heal

JM

Sterling

I’m sorry but I’m just thinking of the right words to say…

Screen-Shot-2014-04-17-at-1.52.29-PMOK, so in no particular order, other than of the recording I was most looking forward to hearing again, first up it’s Sturgill…

Sturgill Simpson

I confess I had not heard of this feller at all until he appeared on the Green Man roster a few months ago (he’s not the first to have come to my attention this way – you can certainly trust the Green Man bookers…) He has a recent record out called Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, which has been billed as a sort of psychedelic country blend but in truth there’s little for the freakbeat fanatic here other than a series of drug references. The man’s certainly lived a bit, a modern-day Hank Williams fuck-up, if you will.

The record’s lovely though and well worth grabbing if you get the chance (it’s on eMusic…). I listened to it quite a lot at about the same time I bought my GM ticket but by the time I wandered over to the Mountain Stage on Friday afternoon, I’d not heard it for a while. I was actually a bit concerned for Sturgill, thinking the smaller Walled Garden stage might have been more suitable for him rather than the grander scale of what is the largest stage on the site (I do worry for my charges…). Well, dummy that I am, I needn’t have lost any sleep.

Flanked by a rugged band of brigands, whom I reckon know how to look after themselves in a tight spot, he went through a fierce, confident set which took in most of the record plus a good few I didn’t know which I assume came from his first album. Actually another word about his band: Sturgill’s guitarist, Lil’ Jo Joamets, is apparently raising a few eyebrows in Memphis, not only because he’s a goddam Yoo-ro-pean (Estonian, no less) but also because he’s even more of an outsider, coming as he does from a heavy metal background. I was unaware of this (which is probably just as well – you know how I take against people…) but he was pretty special, adding a real edge to Sturgill’s spikey, belligerent songwriting. (There’s a decent interview with Lil’ Jo here.)

Having said all this, Sturgill is still mining some familiar territory and sits pretty comfortably in the outlaw company of Country greats. In fact, listening to the record, I was constantly drawn to Jerry Lee’s country output from the sixties for comparison, and I was reminded of this as he stood there with the impassive Welsh hills glowering in the background (obviously not the keyboard pyrotechnics – and presumably not the marriages to underage cousins). He rollicked through a series of belters which were well-received by an afternoon crowd and the version of “Listenin’ to the Rain” was a particularly electrifying ending to the set. It was a really, really strong performance and I am looking forward to seeing him in tighter surroundings when he returns to these shores.

The recordings are, well, festival recordings and therefore more prone to chitchat and outside “atmosphere”, but I commend them to you heartily:

Life of Sin

Livin’ the Dream

The Promise

Listenin’ to the Rain

Green Man ’15

0ct15_219Well, I’m back from my seventh Green Man, having vowed never again to return to a swampy carpark a couple of years ago. And guess what? It rained…

I reckon I’ve probably used the “muddied but unbowed” line for at least three of my previous Green Man experiences, but I’m afraid it was again appropriate. For the second time in succession, we found ourselves skidding drunkenly out of a waterlogged carpark, rain teeming down all around us, a day early. I am not proud of this, but with the forecast particularly grim, it seemed sensible. Still, we had two good days of music (and a third pre-festival day of drinking) and as my friend said, we should look at both sides of the ledger…

I’ve started listening to the recordings and all things being equal there should be some good ones in the offing once I really get started. I saw some great sets from Sturgill Simpson, Alasdair Roberts, Teleman, Calexico, Slug, Strand of Oaks and Songhoy Blues, and allowing for a bit of drunken cack-handedness, blogger laziness and general fuckwittery, I should be able to get a good five or six belters online in the next week or so.

So here’s to the joys of Goan Fish curries, breakfast bars and Growler!

Drive to the forest in a Japanese car…

IMG_1387Well, last week it was Jacco Gardiner sprawling all over the car stereo, this week it’s been the Basement Tapes taking over the show and in a perfect world (or at least in a world where I worked a bit harder on this Blog) both these worthy, terrific records would merit a lengthy post (it was Gardiner’s wispy, ethereal recent release, Hypnophobia, that was going to be part of the Kevin Morby post, until I started rambling…) Maybe, I’ll get onto these, but currently exercising my spirits are the booming events of last weekend…

Jah Wobble, The Fleece

He came last year but I never quite got myself together to do it – pretty damn lazy, really, although it’s taken a year to realise this… (I did, in fact, send a few feelers out to friends at the time, via Twitter, to which the man himself replied “Yeah, I’m totally up for that!”)

It needs to be said that The Fleece seems to be having a really good run of gigs this year – I think the score is currently Thekla 0 Fleece 4, and that’s not including the Sonics gig I didn’t get to this week… – and I’m again struck by what a great little venue it is, sticky floors, tiny stage, pillars and the rest of it…

For the second or third time recently, we missed the beginning of the set, staying too long in the pub next door, and for this tardiness I can only apologise, although to be fair we were on our way over by 8:30 or so… Nonetheless, we could hear the thunderous sounds of a bass guitar as we turned into St Nicholas Street, and sure enough, the man was already on stage and at it as we came in.

With a band made up of the really nifty guitar, introduced as “Chungy”, a feller called George on keyboards, who was perhaps inevitably referred to as “Gorgeous George” throughout and a fondly-abused drummer (“I love because of his faults”) and introduced only as “The Drummer”. There was another guy in the shadows, adding “texture” to some effect and of course Wobble himself, gabby, at ease and “top of the food chain” on that bass. The set wandered around capriciously, taking in jazz, spaghetti westerns, TV themes, some PIL, a lengthy dub interlude and some “middle period Wobble”.

He was an engaging, affable host, taking the mickey out of himself at every opportunity and genuinely funny. The band were tight (Wobble was at them frequently) and loose enough to follow their leader when he went off script (again, frequently).

His claim about halfway through (after a 15 minute version of Liquidator) that this band were “good, but not even out of fuckin’ second gear yet” (followed by a quick aside to the band “fuck’s sake, don’t let me down, now”), proved no idle boast, as everything got pretty hot and sticky, pretty quickly. What had at one stage looked like an only modestly-full Fleece, suddenly began to feel packed and bouncing, and certainly the recording deteriorates a little as at least one punter begins to lose his dignity somewhat.

Wobble moved between bass and occasional percussion duties, sang on a few tracks, used a few vocal overdubs on others, and in true King of the Jungle fashion, yawned and scratched himself a lot. It was all pretty damn good, and a 20 minute encore that included a really fine, light but still grim version of Poptones rounded off a cracking evening.

There was, as I’ve said, a certain amount of jigging about, but by and large the recordings are good:

Poptones

Visions of You

Java

(and, of course) Theme from “The Sweeney”

Why didn’t I go last year?

If you come to find out who you are…

kevin-morbyThought I’d drop a few lines about a couple of artists whose records I’m really enjoying these days and whom you may, if you’re lucky, hear drifting from the window of a tiny Nissan Micra scampering around the Gloucestershire countryside this summer. If you’ve got your ear to the ground you’ll no doubt be well acquainted with these fellers, but if not, well, you’re welcome.

Kevin Morby / The Babies

Up until last year or so, Kevin Morby’s dayjob was to play bass in Jeremy Earls’ wonderful, technicolour Woods, another of my very favourite bands. I didn’t realise this at first when I originally picked up on Morby’s sparkling solo records, so when the penny eventually dropped, it made me look at the Woods records he was involved with (four, I think, up until Bend Beyond in 2012) in something of a new way. An embarrassment of riches for sure – think Jimmy Page playing bass with the Yardbirds, or maybe Petr Cech on the bench at Chelsea.

I’ve seen Woods a couple of times, and on both occasions they were superb. Morby had already left by the time Woods took the show at Psychfest last year, but the first time I saw them at End of the Road in 2012, I remember thinking that this was a band bursting with ideas and individuals. I’m rarely that prescient but within a year Morby had made the move across the city to Arsenal (if I’m going to try to maintain the dodgy bassist-as-reserve-goalkeeper metaphor) and was working on his own songs. By the time of End of the Road, he’d already formed the Babies with Cassie Ramone from the Vivian Girls and released a self-titled album, with another, Our House on the Hill, to come out later that year.

There are now two Kevin Morby solo records, Harlem River and Still Life, both of which are really excellent, jam-packed with emotive, unhurried strokes of some genius, and if you include the second Babies record, which sounds a lot more like a Morby record than the first, you’ve got quite a rich seam of music to pick at. All of this came out within two years’ pretty frantic creative activity – (Still Life was apparently completely written whilst touring with the Babies), the very purplest of patches

Here’s a rather fine KEXP session from the Babies:

 

It took me a couple of listens to get used to Morby’s Dylan-ish drawl but actually now I really like it. He has a knack of writing really insistent melodies that impress his ideas upon you. I’m a great one for imposing my own thoughts and issues on other people’s songs, mostly inappropriately and in the most superficial of ways, but I remember, at a time when my daughter was leaving for six months for America, becoming quite fixated with “Wild Side (Oh the places you’ll go)”. I think if you can do that sort of thing to your audience, you’re clearly hitting the mark.

Oh go on.

Here’s some more from one of those rather distinctive Blogothèque Take Away shows…

 

I have a ticket to see Kevin Morby at the Lousiana in Bristol in September, and I’m rather looking forward to it…

Ah now, I’ve gone on too much I feel, I’ll come back to the second of my car-stereo recommendations tomorrow. You know I’m good for it…

But in my father’s house, there are no doors!

Well, I did IMG_1352 (1) well with my four gig May/June mini-festival, getting two posts up at all (given recent form) is something of an avalanche. But now… alarmingly, I find myself a whole three gigs behind – not too fussed about Young Fathers or last night’s Everything Everything events: neither band, although well-fancied, were up to much (and don’t get me started on EE’s needy keyboard player…) – but last month’s Chuck Prophet, I should’ve got onto before now…

Chuck Prophet at the Tunnels Club

I do know of at least one punter who could with some justification be a little miffed at this delay. A friend of mine who is one of the grizzled cohort I stand with at Kingsholm on a Saturday afternoon, apart from being a textbook Springsteen fanatic, is something of a Chuck Prophet … devotee. One afternoon, he mentioned that the man himself was on tour, playing in Bristol and did I fancy it?

For those of you who might need reminding (I was one), during the eighties and nineties Prophet played in Green On Red, one of the “Paisley Underground” bands to come out of the States and were one of too few bands of the day who passed my stringent “quality control” guidelines, being both backwards-looking and still using guitars (in an age when they seemed at times to have been quietly shelved). I certainly had some fun rediscovering their back-catalogue and that coupled with the chance to glimpse the twilight world of an obsessive was more than I could resist…

Prophet has a whole catalogue of his own, mind, which doesn’t sound a whole lot like GoA, but his two most recent records “Night Surfer” and his portrait of hometown San Francisco, “Temple Beautiful” are pretty good, with some real highpoints.

The talk on arrival the Tunnels Club was of Prophet’s band, Mission Express, being stranded elsewhere and that a solo set was a possibility. In the event, I completely forgot about this as the evening developed, and a set that started solo (with support from wife Stephanie Finch), included an intermission and concluded with a full band section actually seemed a perfect balance. It allowed you to appreciate Prophet’s expressive, sometimes melancholic song-writing and then kick off your shoes and soak up the more energetic, boisterous run of songs that he completed the evening with.

So we got two sets from Chuck, both about an hour long, with a short break in between (presumably for his band to put down their cases and shake the biscuit crumbs out of their wrinkled suits). In the first half, we were given carefully performed versions of 12 songs, mostly drawn from the two records I’ve mentioned, all of which was intertwined with Prophet’s charming, lengthy introductions and stage banter, which was genuinely interesting and often very funny. Highlights were a plucky “Wish Me Luck” and a wittily introduced “Would You Love Me?”

By the time, we got on to part two, I was getting tired and this affected how much I enjoyed what the recording confirms was a cracking set of tunes, including a rousing cover of the Flamin’ Groovies “Slowdeath” and again many tracks from the two records I knew. I enjoyed Night Surfer’s exhilarating opener “Countrified Inner City Technological Man” and “Ford Econoline” which he paired with Jeff Beck’s “I’m Not Talking”.

It was a pretty great night, really – hot, sweaty and clever – with plenty of audience participation (I usually hate that sort of stuff but Chuck’s an engaging character…). The Tunnels is a pretty good place for recordings, it’s turning out, and although the audience were a little over-familiar at times, the songs I’ve got here are a good taster of a winning evening.

Wish Me Luck

Would You Love Me?

Ford Econoline / I’m Not Talking

Tell Me Anything (Turn To Gold)

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