Be soft, be softer still, give yourself love beyond all thrill.

I’ve been fannying around with this for a while now and all too quickly it’s a couple of weeks old already…

A rather late first gig of the year for me (a close-to-six-month drought in fact) but a welcome one, for sure. Having seen Meilyr Jones last year “unseen”, with pretty much no previous knowledge of him and been suitably wowed by the whole experience, the enchanting Welshman and his wonderful 2015 record have assumed impressive proportions in this old git’s mind (and record collection).

Meilyr Jones, The Fleece

A second gig can be a disappointing affair and it occurred to me this might be a bit of an issue as we walked through the doors of the ever-dependable, gummy-floored Fleece. A brief period of ho-hummery with a support band whose name passed in one ear and out the other, and all of a sudden Meilyr Jones is once again bounding on stage, grinning like a loon on his first day at school. And we’re back there.

I’d forgotten how fond I am of his soppy little face, how much I envy his flimsy Byrds haircut and how much I want to iron his rumpled outfits. In top-buttoned shirt and the shortest grey slacks I think I‘ve ever seen, he cut the gawkiest of figures, a look he embraces unswervingly.

What a guy.

The set whipped by, and even though it was pretty much the same as before (I didn’t catch any new songs), it still sounded fresh, intelligent and passionate. I remember last time being particularly mesmerised by the encore performance of “Be Soft”, which if anything he actually managed to emulate this time, bringing his two violinists off the stage and deep into the audience. All un-miked and somehow even more intimate and overwhelming than even before.

Here are recordings of the two encore songs (the second is a little muddy, thick with feeling a romantic soul might say…)

Watchers

Be Soft

May be confused about a few things, but honey I’m on the move…

white-denim-at-pembyfest-2016-viesmag-4If the day comes (when, surely) for there to be a general reckoning of Bloggers and sundry Internet quacks for their overall contribution to the commonwealth, I’ll stand in the line amongst the other middle-aged saps in Fall t-shirts, and blink nervously in the harsh sunlight as a series of solemn gentlemen open their man-bags and begin to interview their charges.

I’m guessing the exchange will be a fairly short one, before I fall silent and sullenly await the guillotine. There’ll be some sort of polite shuffling of papers, before my arbiter leans forward and says, in a gently concerned fashion,

“You, er,  missed a fair bit, didn’t you?”

White Denim, O2 Academy

Those last two (fairly florid) paragraphs were my way of berating myself for once again taking my eye off the ball in a particularly daft fashion. A friend of mine got me a ticket for this gig a while back, and I’d not really given it much thought since.

Truth be told, since I last saw them a few years back, I’d gone off White Denim a little and wasn’t much of a fan of 2013’s Corsicana Lemonade. It’s not bad but not as exciting as the earlier records, and this particular butterfly had other sticky treats to investigate. Consequently I was completely unaware of White Denim’s recent upheavals. You’ll no doubt have been all over the half-the-band-leaves-midway-through-next-record thing, and will have already formed your own opinions, but I missed it entirely.

Worse still, seeing the band come out at Bristol’s premier rock venue, I somehow remained unaware of the changes, and although one of my memories of seeing them in 2012 was the exhilarating interplay between guitarists Petralli and Jenkins, I managed to convince myself that these recollections were unreliable, figments of a flakey, capricious imagination.

*Shakes head ruefully*

Having said all this, sometimes ignorance is indeed a form of bliss – a couple of people I spoke to later had pooh-poohed the new line-up and recent performances, and being the hopelessly impressionable feller that I am, the evening would’ve been coloured somewhat if I had actually stayed awake at the wheel.

In fact, it was a pretty good, if boisterous evening with the new line up acquitting themselves well. New drummer, Jordan Richardson, impressed particularly, an enthusiastic, barrel-chested presence at the kit. He played the drums like Gareth Evans (Gloucester’s injured No 8) runs – head up, chest puffed out, boisterously charging through the set, arms akimbo like some sort of tubby wind-up toy.

Terebecki and Petralli were still the heart of the band, however, and a set which ran through most of the new record, Stiff, and touched on a lot of favourites from the back catalogue, was a reminder that even if the exhilarating twin guitar thing is no more there’s still plenty to get excited about. In fact, at least one punter remained blissfully heedless of the changes.

As before, it was something of a machine-gun attack, one blistering song piling on the shoulders of the previous one, with precious little chat and the sparsest of breathers between each one. Exhilarating stuff it was, and this old chap was left a little punch-drunk by the end of it all

The younger Academy punters got pretty excited and amongst the normal festivities, there was stage diving, limb-flailing careening around and enough rough stuff at the front to merit a few incursions from the security gents (and at least one feller being dragged out).

Sweaty, first class entertainment, all in all.

I’ve got a few noisy recordings for you…

Real Deal Mamma

Anvil Everything

Mirrored in Reverse

 

and if you fancy a quick comparison…

At the Farm (2016)

At the Farm / Say What You Want (End of the Road ’11, twin guitars a-sparkling…)

In the days when there were stars…

meilyr_jones_liverpool_29-4-16_mike_hughes_live9_445_297As any one of life’s beleaguered teachers will tell you, October is the season of the Harvest Festival – a charming old-world tradition that I marvel every year has somehow, against all the odds, scrambled into the 21st Century. In the old days, Harvest Festivals would have involved skilfully fashioned wheat-based items, marrows and other long-forgotten winter vegetables but nowadays mainly consist of precariously piled tins of peaches, sachets of Uncle Ben’s Rice and the odd packet of plain biscuits. Times have changed for sure, the common thread being a slightly forced sense of gratitude for cyclical graces.

This being my Blog, against all reasonable advice, I’m going to develop this seasonal theme into a laboured, music-based metaphor and suggest that at the very top of my Harvest Festival table of bounties for which to thank the Lord would be The Unexpected Gig…

Meilyr Jones, Thekla

Got a call a couple of weeks ago from Coleser saying that he’d bought me a ticket for this geezer of whom I was completely unaware, just knowing that I’d like him.

Thank the Lord for good friends, eh?

A week spent revising with Jones’ 2013 album left me intrigued and rather looking forward to an evening in the company of a slightly eccentric Welsh crooner. Traffic (and a group of revellers utterly bemused by new-fangled parking ticket dispensers) held us up, so that we just made it into the darkened, depths of everyone’s favourite hipster vessel. As if by magic, Meilyr Jones appeared onstage at the same moment as a pint snaked into my hand – not the only instance of perfect timing from the evening.

Cheerily-arrayed in rumpled white polo, tucked into eighties-style pegs, he looked like some young thing from the pages of the Face (ask your parents), and bounded onto the stage, fist pumping his way into his storming album-opener, “How to Recognise a Work of Art”. It was a cracking start to a great set, punctuated by winning smiles and self-effacing Celtic charm. He warbled and careened around Thekla’s tiny stage, gorgeously supported by a troupe of guitarists-cum violinists who occasionally threatened to (ever-so-gently) steal the show.

Highlights of the evening were a Jean Genie-style version of “Strange Emotional”, with a lengthy dream/nightmare middle sequence; a witty, full-throated “Featured Artist” and a beautiful, audience-silencing “Be Soft” finale, Jones slipping quietly off the stage as his band gently finished things off. (The latter recording is almost spoiled by the somehow amplified sound of below-deck air conditioning as an entranced group of punters craned their collective necks toward the stage…)

Triffic stuff!

Strange Emotional

Olivia

Featured Artist

Now what I did I do regret…

IMG_1867I’ve spent fifteen minutes now, trying to fashion some sort of clumsy Mason-Dixon line metaphor to introduce a few lines about seeing the Long Ryders last week. However you re-word it, though, the M5 is a pretty feeble substitute for a six-lane highway, crawling along the M32 no match for cracking through an Appalachian pass.

No doubt about it the Long Ryders were/are a really American band, albeit one with some of the best inspirations and passions a band can have – the Byrds, Elvis, Gram, the Burritos, you can’t fault them. I liked them quite a lot in their Paisley Underground heyday, but if truth be told they were never quite paisley enough for my tastes. I was at the time looking for something with a little more Syd Barret, maybe some Pretty Things, a dash of Soft Machine in it (the Soft Boys in fact…) And, thinking about it now, the old transatlantic gap cliché really does ring true. A very North American band, something missed in translation.

When I saw that Sid Griffin and pals were coming to the Fleece, however, I started listening to Native Sons and State of Our Union again for first time in…ooh… ages. I don’t think I’d heard either record this century, and in fact I had to repurchase them because my originals were actual cassettes… But, wow! What great records they are – chockfull of references my callow twenty-year-old self couldn’t be bothered with but which to a frosty-bearded fifty-year-old veteran now sound just fine.

The Long Ryders, The Fleece

The Fleece continues to be my current favourite venue, obviously for the acts it manages to get (not to mention the pillars and the sticky floors which I always refer to) but also for the reputation it’s managed to earn amongst gig-goers. You know it’ll be well attended and noisy. And so it was, full of middle-aged punters, both balding and silver-highlighted, who burst keenly into song as soon as Griffin embarked on the first bars of Run Dusty Run.

It wasn’t his first appearance as it turned out. We’d spent a puzzling 15 minutes or so watching a muffled and be-hooded roadie setting up guitars and plugging in amps in what was already a stuffy atmosphere. A few bemused looks were exchanged and it wasn’t until the rest of the band trouped on that the hoodie came down and Sid Griffin (for it was he) introduced himself. To be honest, he’s looking a little heavy these days and sporting an endearingly seedy “Beatles hair cut”, which actually reminded me of Robyn Hitchcock more than a little (the Soft Boys references are going to keep coming, I feel).

It’s interesting what you notice about a band’s music at a distance of thirty years or so. Just as the country stylings washed over me at the time, leaving me unmoved and barely cognisant, I was also completely unaware of the contrast (possibly even, tension) that exists between the two main songwriters in the band. This came out really clearly onstage, as vocal responsibilities were tossed back and forth between Griffin and guitarist Stephen McCarthy. Griffin goofed around between songs and generally sang the rougher good-time ditties, while McCarthy didn’t do a lot of the banter but sang on his own more soulful, slightly more reedy, Gene Clark-type numbers. Bassist Tom Stevens also sang on a couple which I’m guessing were his own. I like this intra-band democracy thing (it reminded me of my mistakenly imagining Richmond Fontaine to be just Willy Vlautin’s band). Turns out that some of my very favourite Long Ryder songs were McCarthy compositions. Who knew? (Why didn’t I know?)

It was a great set which included the obligatory Gram Parson cover in the encore (“Older Guys”) and was more than a little shambolic at times – there were a couple of sound problems; Griffin forgot his words more than once and occasionally came across as more Jack Black than Drug Store Truck Driving Man – but one that was hugely appreciated by the grizzled bunch of punters that spilt out onto the road at chucking out time.

The recordings are a little spoilt by the gutsy singing of more than one emotional feller nearby, but if you can get over that, they’re kind of fun…

Mason-Dixon Line

The Light Gets in the Way

Lights of Downtown / State of Our Union

Jackson stays at my place, ’cause he ain’t got a home…

IMG_1846Gah! I’m annoyed with myself.

I’ve had a nice leisurely Bank Holiday Weekend, shooting the breeze, watching footie and yet somehow not got round to writing this up… *Smacks head theatrically*. Great evening too.

Richmond Fontaine, The Bullingdon

My second trip to Oxford’s fine Bullingdon, saw the arrival of the ever-enjoyable Willy Vlautin and Richmond Fontaine. Actually, as I write that, it makes it look like Vlautin’s chums are no more than a backing band, the musicians who provide background colour for his extraordinary song/story writing gifts. If I’d bothered to pay attention to stuff, of course, I’d know that songwriting credits are not exclusively Valutin’s; but as I hadn’t (routinely don’t) it was left to this evening to make it clear to me that RF are a proper band, Vlautin repeatedly referring to drummer Sean Oldham as “the leader of the band”.

It seems a bit late in the day to have made this discovery, although not as late as I did at one time believe. Turns out from talking to Dan Eccles after, there’s another tour this Autumn, which will be their last. (After which, he revealed to me, exclusively if you will, that one of the projects he intends to work on the setting up of a piano tuning business. You read it here first…)

Eccles and bassist Freddy Trujillo came out and chatted for ages to people after what was a long set, and it all went to reinforce the idea you couldn’t help but form watching the set – they’re a really decent bunch of fellers. Vlautin particularly comes across as self-effacing, ordinary and likeable, introducing many of the songs with charming, incidental stories. A bloke you could find yourself chatting to for ages over a few drinks…

They played for coming on for two hours, including two encores and 22 songs drawn from pretty much all the albums (although the latest “You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To” featured heavily). Vlautin’s story telling talents were much in evidence and were enhanced by his part-drawled, part-sung delivery. Eccles’ guitar work was also pretty remarkable, light at times, heavy and almost ungainly at others. He’d already done a set previously, backing support act Fernando (who was also very good) earlier in the evening, so he could’ve been excused for wanting to get off early.

The Bullingdon is great for sound and the recordings are OK, with wild cheering and clinks of bottles being thrown into bins at the bar, all adding to the atmosphere. I’m attaching a particular run of three (four) great, great songs that came one after each other towards the end of the evening. You’d be a fool not to…

The Boyfriends

Lost in the Trees / Willamette

We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River

How’s the church? How’s the job?

IMG_1841Having been to only one gig so far this year, by the end of this evening, I’ll have been to a couple (and if I’d been better organised, have a ticket to a third). So tonight I’m off to see Richmond Fontaine in Oxford, but in a rare moment of “getting my shit together”, I thought I’d be well advised to post this early, rather than, you know, late.

Ought

These drives over to Bristol are becoming much simpler affairs these days (Easter’s pan-tastrophe excepted, of course), so I was completely unprepared for the closure of the Lodge St entrance to my go-to Colston Hall carpark. A half hour of trying to navigate my way round to the other entrance followed and lacked only a round of the Benny Hill music in the background and a man cleaning windows on a wobbly ladder to complete full-on comic ridiculousness.

Got there, eventually, a little flustered and didn’t really make the most of support band Milo’s Planes, a three-piece who actually looked quite fun with loads of different ideas bulging out all over the place. It was also my first visit to Colston Hall’s number two hall, The Lantern and I like it a lot, especially its typically Colston Hall deep carpet.

Ought are a Canadian band I’d been enthusiastically turned on to by a friend at Christmas and since picking up what is I think their second long player, Sun Coming Down, I’ve become rather fond of their tight, clanky sound, especially singer Tim Darcy’s languid, sardonic delivery.

Darcy, live, is if anything more languid and foppish than I imagined, and in my fancy quickly became some sort of dark-clad, slightly baleful Uriah Heep-type figure (I’m talking Dickens here not the Seventies hard rockers of Demons and Wizards fame – I looked that up I should add)

He did seem to be in some sort of poor health, (which allowed to me to add “consumptive” to my mental pen-picture of him) and spoke of being “tired” clutching some sort of Sport drink for much of the set.

Ably supported by a tight rhythm section and the imaginative colourings of Matt May on keyboards, Darcy gave us most of the record I knew plus enough from the first one to make me want to get hold of it. The touchstone I’ve tried to avoid when describing the Darcy style is of course Mark E Smith, but seeing him and listening back to the recordings, David Byrne might work better. He jerked and fidgeted around the Lantern’s small stage with self-conscious gawkiness. His guitar work was by turns awkward then intricate and between chords there was a vigorous amount of pointing and finger waggling. He also spoke in pretty much the same stylised, back-of-the-throat manner as he sings, which was a little disturbing. But overall it was hard not to like the feller.

In the end, it was quite a short set. I didn’t actually mind this, to be honest, and in the same way as Sun Coming Down is quite a brief but nicely put together outing, playing under the hour seemed quite appropriate. I enjoyed the version of my favourite song, the wonderfully existential “Big Beautiful Blue Sky” with hearty audience participation all round (Warplane! Condo!). The Lantern turns out to have a really clear sound, so the recordings are more than fine.

I commend them and Ought to you.

Men for Miles

Big Beautiful Blue Sky

Getting baptised by your daddy

IMG_1765Live music is a wondrous thing, no?

You think you know a record, you have it neatly bundled up and categorised, you no longer spend a lot of time considering it, and then the hum of a cannily-plucked bass string, a clever little guitar run, or the expression on a player’s face as he does his thing… All of a sudden, all bets are off, and you’re somewhere you didn’t expect to be.

Ryley Walker & Danny Thompson, The Bullingdon

The fact that I was going at all was the subject of the odd eye-roll and raised eyebrow amongst my friends, as I’ve been somewhat luke-warm about Walker’s debut Primrose Green, a record that’s had usually-composed punters losing their cool. I do like it, but I can’t help hearing each track and saying to myself “This is him doing Tim Buckley. This one’s his Nick Drake song…” (This, of course, is not something you hear me say when the latest White Fence or Allah-Lahs record appears, oh no – consistency, pah!)

The truly massive figure of the great Danny Thompson clearly doesn’t have any authenticity issues, though, agreeing as he has to go on tour with Walker. And if that wasn’t reason enough to hoover up one of the last tickets at The Bullingdon, well…

I’d missed my chance to see the pair the night before at Bristol’s venerable old St George’s (also something of an
experience, I gather), so a maiden trip to Oxford’s number one venue was called for. It’s a decent enough spot too, although it was a little disconcerting to see it almost empty when we arrived just before the support act was due on.

IMG_1757We needn’t have worried. As soon as Meg Baird had finished her earnest (if flagging) set, a swell of old lags of Severn Bore proportions surged across the hall, and suddenly the room was abuzz with expectation. They were on pretty quickly after and once the introductions were over (“This is Danny Thompson, he’s just getting his start, so I thought it’d be nice to bring him along…”, followed by “I could’ve been at home watching ‘Flog it!’”), we were off.

It’s probably stating the bleedin’ obvious but Walker’s a helluva guitarist and almost immediately his impossibly deft guitar runs were filling the hall and mesmerizing a knowing but expectant audience. I cannot imagine how much you need to practice to be able to skip your way around a fret board as lightly and faultlessly as he does – I suspect no amount of practice supplants the sheer instinctive ability to articulate an idea in music. He was quite good.

Actually, I had to remind myself to switch my attention to the guitarist after about fifteen minutes once I realised that the equally nimble fingers and intense expressions of Danny Thompson had monopolised my attention almost entirely up until then. (Walker referred to him as “Mr Thompson” or “Sir”, so I guess maybe I should too…) His own description of his style (in this interview I read this morning) as being someone who just plays intricate bass solos is characteristically modest but was spot on for the evening. He scampered up and down the bass for intense seconds of activity then stopped and listened, looking for the next space, like some sort of woodland animal. He was massively captivating and yet never at any point hogged the stage. A dream to play with I’d imagine… (It’s perhaps worth
pointing out at this stage that his huge list of credits include being a founding member of Pentangle and playing on Five Leaves Left; Solid Air & Bless the Weather; Folk, Blues and Beyond and Dream Letter, not to mention Cliff’s “Congratulations” and also the Thunderbirds theme tune. What a guy.)

IMG_1769The pair of them showed a terrific understanding and a sensitivity to each other’s direction, which belied the fact that they can only have been playing together a matter of weeks. They ran through a number of songs unfamiliar to me which sounded fresh and above all original (making a mockery of all my prejudices), before finishing with two songs from Primrose Green. The evening ended (too soon) with an encore that included a dazzling “On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee” and a beautiful new song that according to the setlist doesn’t yet have a name. Neither man bothered to leave the stage for the encore which I kind of like, and as the seventy-six-year-old (Mr) Thompson pointed out “when we go off, we’re hunting crumpet!”

Here are some of the highlights of a great, great evening.

Funny Thing She Said

On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee

“New”

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