Swinging Addis – Seventies Style

One of the pleasures of #lpgroup is that it encourages you to revisit some of your favourite records, and to discover some new ones. And in some cases both.

This month’s topic is Neither UK Nor US, so obviously there’ve been some Nick Cave, Bjork and Sugarcubes mentions – all good stuff – but I thought I’d go for something else and one of the records I nominated was my copy of Volume 8 of the Ethiopiques series: Swinging Addis. Not sure if anyone’s going to go for it but it sure as hell woke me up. What a cracking record – all James Brown brass and wacka-wacka guitars combined with fuzztone lead and the most amazing fluttering breathless Amharic vocals. It really is a winner.

Predictably, the choice of Seventies Amharic funk-rock is a little thin on YouTube, but there is this by Alemayehu Eshete, who seemed to have been a bit of a legend of the times. I’m not going to pretend I know a lot (or indeed anything) about this record – not even sure of the name. Have fun.

(I have no idea what’s happening around 2:30 – but I like it!)

Sweet on a Green-Eyed Girl

Off to Brizzle the other night for only my second decent-sized gig of the year – the Decemberists at the Academy.

I’ve had a bit of an on-off thing for Colin Melloy in the last few years. When I first discovered Picaresque and Castaways & Cutouts, a while back, I was mad for his idiosyncratic ballads and stories, but I really didn’t much like last year’s Hazards of Love journey into “big” sounds…The King is Dead is a great record, though and a return to what I reckon are his lo-fi strengths

Support band were Blind Pilot, who were pretty good and I think I’ll post on them later, worth a mention of their own. The Decemberists, though, were terrific, really terrific; ploughing through a striking set of what is by now a really strong body of songwriting.

I’d not actually given much thought to the rest of the band, but they were really impressive, from the accordion and organ flourishes of Jenny Conlee to the intelligent string contributions of guitarist Chris Funk (Wikipedia, btw, has him down as a player of “ guitar, pedal steel, piano, violin, dobro, hurdy gurdy, mandolin, saxophone, the theremin” – wow!). I really liked his pedal steel work and zinging Byrds-y guitar. The whole band were really tight.

I’d imagined the set would be dominated by Hazards of Love and King is Dead, but in fact there was more than a smattering of older songs (sounding like they could have come straight off King is Dead). It was particularly gratifying to hear one of my favourites, Grace Cathedral Hill, still in the set list. A beautiful, beautiful song.

The set lasted over two hours, though I have to say most of the last half hour or so was kinda thrown away on a growing need to “engage” with the audience. I’m not a great fan of the call and response sing-along trend in concerts these days, – I generally go along with it – but a ten-minute “joke” blues number was a bit wearing, and the vaudeville stuff did get a bit tiresome after a while. I’m probably being a little churlish…

I made some recordings of the evening, which are … Ok, although I think my aging iRiver is moving into its dotage, and they’re a little trebly. I’ve uploaded some of the high points of the evening, and a zipped file of all sixteen tracks – I’m afraid Mariner’s Revenge Song and Chimbley Sweep fell foul of the general buffoonery of the last half hour. Fun to be there, but not a great listen…

None of that should detract from what was a belting evening – outstanding songs, outstanding performances, outstanding performers…

Grace Cathedral Hill

July July

This is Why We Fight

Rise to Me

The Decemberists, Bristol Academy, March ‘11

I’m a Sensitive Soul…

Ho hum… Nothing like striking when the iron is, er, hot…

This has taken me far too long and I feel like I owe the fine members of Laish a bit of an apology – they played a terrific set at Calmer, nearly two weeks ago and somehow still the recordings are yet to appear.

Let’s sort this out.


Laish and Tristram seem to be inextricably linked as they gig regularly together, share a drummer and at least two other members of Tristram play in the Laish set. Hard to tell at times where one ends and the other begins.

Liash do have a sound that is clearly distinguishable from Tristram, however, and this is because of the rich thoughtful songs that leader Dan produces.  Modern folk songs I thought of them as, handsomely accompanied by banjo, guitar, the occasional horn and soft harmonies.  They also played with a certain style and conviction that I felt Tristram didn’t quite match. I love it when people do their thing and just don’t give a damn what people say…

Here’s some video shot at Slak, but from last year. Beards and banjos, (but not bearded banjo players…)

Here are the recordings I made (apologies for the drunken ramblings you can hear in the foreground, some of them mine…):

Song on a Transition

A Happy Accident


Warmth and Humility

(Decemberists tonight…)

Colonise the Moon…

Why does life just whip by sometimes and others, drags and limps along like some dead animal?

I meant to get the second half of the Calmer recording out at the weekend before another gig. It never happened, and now I find myself almost a week late with it and a full three days late on some words about Gruff Rhys. Ho hum.

Worst of all, however, is that my near-legendary cack-handedness means that I somehow came away from a really great gig with absolutely no recordings of it or any of the brilliant set played by support band and PP favourites Y Niwl. (Although I did manage to record a conversation I had about Bo Diddley…) Disaster…

Worth saying though, that Gruff Rhys is a national treasure. He was funny, wacky and profound in turn, bewilderingly so at times. Third time I’ve seen him now and I’d go again tomorrow… We were also treated to a bit of a who’s who of whimsical Welsh pop. Not only were the surf sounds of support band Y Niwl fun and, well, boss, they were also excellent backing Rhys with his own set. Spoke to guitarist Alun Evans during the interval  and he was a really charming feller, enjoying immensely the whole Gruff Rhys experience and hinting at an appearance at Green Man this year. Onstage the band were serious about what hey did but likeable, and I found especially endearing the way Evans gave an infectious little clenched fist at the end of his set. Nailed it!

On top of that we were treated to a couple of cameos from a couple of other PP favourites in Sweet Baboo and Cate le Bon. Spoiled, we were…

Other highlights of the evening were a new selection of electronic thingamajigs, punctuating a lot of the songs, strong performances of most of the songs off the new album and a belting 20-minute version of Skylon. Wow!

Fortunately, some kind soul has already posted a video from the evening to rescue the situation. Many thanks Mwnghawk!

Thinking about it would be hardly fair for poor old Laish to share a post with a madcap genius like this, I’ll return to Calmer tomorrow…

Soon anyway…