Giving praise in a quiet way…

Bill-Callahan-02A very welcome and unexpected surprise came my way last week, and truth be told I’m still a little flushed …

Having day-dreamed through the fifteen minutes or so that tickets were available for Bill Callahan’s trip to the august surroundings of St George’s in Bristol, I was resigned to missing out. I told myself that I’d seen him before (I have) and that he’d not been all that good (he wasn’t), but well, you know…

Bill Callahan, St George’s

Anyway, out of the blue my generous chum @coleser scored an extra ticket and suddenly it was very much on and all memories of a rather uninspired performance at Green Man were dim and ever so distant. (To be fair to the man, I’m not sure standing awkward and misplaced, on a huge main stage in the lugubrious Welsh rain would be first choice surroundings for a song-writer of his type. And he didn’t have an album as good as Dream River to draw from, either…)

Speaking of misplaced, the Presbyterian charms of Alasdair Roberts seemed to go largely unappreciated as an opener for the evening. I though he was rather fine (and I did make some recordings, for another post, perhaps), but there wasn’t much of a connection with an audience who were perhaps impatient for the main fare of the evening.

Resplendent in check shirt and jeans, with his guitar worn high, like a member of the Hollies, Bill Callahan came on with three musical sidekicks and with little preamble moved straight into my favourite track from Dream River, opener The Sing. It was tossed away casually almost but still sounded brilliant, and left me rueing a missed opportunity to go to the bar and quote song lyrics at the same time (“Ah, I see what you did there, only the fifth guy this evening, that’ll be £7.95, sir…”). Probably best thing al round…

Callahan’s weighty, world-weary baritone seemed to fill the huge space that St George’s provides, and with an uncharacteristically adventurous band lifting him throughout, the cavernous expanses were at times filled by a very big sound indeed.

Over the course of the following two hour set, I think Callahan played pretty much all of Dream River, (just Small Plane was missing) and made lavish use of his impressive songbook, including a roguishly needy version of Dress Sexy For My Funeral which I particularly enjoyed. Other highlights for me were “America!”, “Summer Painter” and an enjoyable, fractured version of “Please Send Me Someone to Love”.

I’d been anticipating a good recording, with the still, sonorous surroundings of St George’s always being a good bet for a good deep sound, and I think the recordings reflect that.

Dress Sexy For My Funeral


The Sing

Summer Painter

No YouTube footage from St George’s, but there’s this clip from Dublin last week…

Master Sleeps

5340Apart from the ongoing Cumbia and Latin psych obsession (yeah, that’s still going on, I just sensed I was boring you….), one of my chief sources of new music continues to be the Liverpool Psychfest Twitter feed. There’s going to be a lot of this, come September…


Not to be confused with fellow label mates White Hills (pah! As if…), Hills are a fuzzed up psych-rock outfit from Gothenburg with an ear and a right foot for a bit of a groove, in a Can sort of way. The record I’ve just downloaded from Emusic, Master Sleeps, was originally released in 2011 (although I certainly missed it) and has now just been re-released on Rocket Recordings. It’s a dense, magnetic affair with more than a hint of Ripley Johnson in it, as gothic fuzzy guitars weave in and out of each other and combine with organs and bass to create a something of a dark psychedelic tapestry (if you will).

Hills are apparently good buddies with the only other Swedish wah-wah band you’ve heard of – those wild, be-masked Goat fellers who’ve been taking these shores by storm (peaking with a mention on these very pages). I think they’ve shared the bill a good few times too – now there’s a rider I’d like to see…

Here’s Bring Me Sand from Master Sleeps, which pretty much tells you what you need to know about Hills – harmonium drones, ragas, echoing krautrock. It’s all good…

Speak with your heart and everyone you meet will know who you are

Edd-Donovan-and-The-Wandering-MolesA fair old time ago, now, I wrote a couple of posts about this chap. Used to come across  him at the Slak Bar in Cheltenham where he played and fronted what now seems a golden age of local exotica with the quirky, intimate Calmer* evenings. (The * used to bother me too…) I still bump into him occasionally at gigs and festivals, but not heard of anything musically since. Until now…

Edd Donovan

So anyway, Edd has a new record out after a five year hiatus, Something To Take The Edge Off, and he’s been good enough to send me an advance copy of it. I’ve gone on before about how absurdly pleased I generally am to be given music to review, partly because it’s free (clearly a Good Thing), but also because it gives me the chance to don the peaked cap and grey hoodie of the real Blogger. Who doesn’t relish the chance to stroke the beard and pontificate once in a while?

In reality (and perhaps fortunately – I’d be no match for the impressively-bewhiskered Mr Donovan), there’s precious little beard-stroking going on with this record – it’s actually a charmingly (occasionally uncomfortably) frank affair. In truth, I’m becoming a little impatient with precious and wilfully obscure lyrics, these days, so it’s rather invigorating to hear a songwriter with intelligent, mature thoughts free of self-conscious pretence. There are, to be sure, some gorgeous, unassuming and affecting songs to be enjoyed here.

These days, Edd fronts an actual band (the Wandering Moles) who drive his songs along at some pace and carry his already brisk guitar playing shoulder-high through a purposeful selection of songs with some intent. As well as a busy rhythm section (with occasional loping bass-runs), there are great breezy organ contributions and some jaunty country-style guitar-picking too. (There is also an appearance from the much under-used jew’s harp. Hurray!)

I’m also quite intrigued about the range of Edd’s song-writing, all sorts of thoughts get an airing on the record. We have songs about courage and self-acceptance, pointed statements about others’ intentions and some fairly Zen-like statements of universal and personal concord.

Overall this is a lovely record, warm and generally upbeat in its outlook with some very real highpoints – I particularly like Don’t Be Afraid and the soulful, harrowing Social Worker. I’m guessing one of Edd’s favourites, however, is the disturbingly personal recollections of House on Fire, it being the one that appears most regularly in his recent YouTube appearances:

Enjoying this record very much, Edd, many thanks!