So he turned the corners of his mouth up to the sky…

This month’s Acoustica was a bit of a mixed bag.

Some good (Bethany Porter playing some beautiful folk songs and playing cello), some bad (Sorry, Nuala and the Alchemy Quartet) and some well, ugly, is perhaps a bit strong. You’d have to say, though, that Stanton Delaplane is a little strange and this being the Blog that this is, you can guess where we’re going here…

Stanton Delaplane

I know, loop pedals are pretty much de rigeur these days, but they certainly make for a great way for a single artist to vary and enrich his strummings. I am still heartily in favour of the loop pedal.

Mr Delaplane pretty much depends on it to lend his rather odd series of songs a certain eerie nonconformity to them. I couldn’t begin to understand quite what was going on in the lyrics or where on earth he’s coming from, but I rather liked it. I still get a bit of a thrill when someone does something different on stage, and so as far as I was concerned the evening was a success, when it became clear that I could tick “euphonium” off from my list of never-seen instruments. A simple soul am I.

Although Mr Delaplane has a Myspace page, Myspace has had a revamp and now doesn’t seem to allow downloads from pages any more. So, no music, I’m afraid. This is all the more galling, because there was a free CD to be had on Friday, but I missed it as I fled guiltily to the bar half way through the Alchemy wotsit set. (I’m again forced to conclude that a real blogger…)

So anyway…

In my more po-faced moments, I like to think that by doing this Blog I am occasionally giving young bands a bit of a boost up. You know, cupping my hands and helping a deserving artist over the wall into the … er… cider orchards of success.

Passing swiftly over the unfortunately over-extended metaphor, I generally try to find new artists just on the way, as it were.

But when I’m doing this I often come across other people who’ve been around for ages and who basically don’t need any help from another small Blog. Nonetheless, there’s some great music coming from them. Here’s three tracks, I’ve really liked in the last few months that are well worth a listen…

Alastair Galbraith

This bloke’s been around for years, apparently, and is some sort of national treasure in his native New Zealand. Here’s his Wikipedia entry. And here’s the track that I found on the Emperor Jones site. Lovely wonk harmonies and complex guitar work, it reminds me of Alexander Tucker.

Bellbirds – Alastair Galbraith

United Bible Studies

Here’s another bunch who again have made a beautiful record that I really like, but which certainly needs no plugging from me. Again, donkey’s years.

Lowlands of Holland – United Bible Studies

The Anomoanon

And finally, this track is from a band that includes Ned Oldham, brother of Will, who hardly needs any publicity, but nonetheless is making good music. Read about him here.

Mr Train – The Anomoanon

Like a Freaky Swarm of Bees

You know that old cliché about music having the power to uplift you and transform your very existence? Well, turns out it’s pretty much true. (Who’d’ve thought, eh?) After a fairly rough week at work that left me shattered, I went along to last week’s Acoustica to see Nizlopi, and slightly against the odds had a helluva time.

I’d somehow missed out on the JCB Song, and so didn’t really know a whole lot about Leamington Spa’s finest, but a bit of homework and a quick watch of the JCB video convinced me it was going to be a decent evening.

First up was a rapper called Jimmy Davis, a real Brummie, who must have wondered what he’d stumbled into when he walked into the normal Acoustica set up, with soft lighting, chairs and tables and candles. And it has to be said, in front of an audience made up of balding, middle-aged middle-class types (and that was just the women). Hardly, his core audience, I wouldn’t’ve thought…

To his credit, though, throughout a witty and intelligent set of soft-ish hip hop, he was relentlessly upbeat, never once getting frustrated by the unwillingness of punters to leave their seats. Good man. I’ve not got much time for being berated by younger, cooler types, and this balding, middle-aged middle class feller enjoyed his set immensely.

There are three downloads that I can find for Jimmy Davis, which I think are available from the Channel 4 website, a couple of which I’ll put up here:

Sown the Seed

Jimmy Davis

Nizlopi

If things were a little awkward for Jimmy Davis, the Nizlopi thing was even more of a strain on the Acoustica format. There were quite a few younger punters than normal in the hall, and the whole sitting at tables thing was always going to be a problem.

And I think Nizlopi dealt with it pretty well. They chose not to come onto the stage at all at first, preferring to set up in amongst the tables, completely unmiked, delivering three great songs that clearly took everyone’s breath away. I loved the combination of Luke Concannon’s extraordinary voice and John Parker’s stand up bass / beatboxing.

After this they moved onto the stage and it got a little noisier, and with a couple of returns to playing amongst the tables, they managed to balance the slightly schizophrenic nature of the evening pretty well. They clearly make a real attempt to connect with their audience with Luke seeming to direct his voice and gestures all over the hall, and you could say that there website has got a similar nature to it, with forums, jukeboxes and even a “Demand Nizlopi play near you” facility. Only one download available unfortunately, although it is a good one:

Extraordinary

And I can’t resist putting up the video for JCB song. I know you’ve all seen it before, but still…

Cracking evening, Al!

Raise Your Hand to the Company Man

A list of words or phrases I really should try to avoid when describing Michael J Sheehy:

Dark
Gothic
Tom Waits
Tortured
Demons
Faustian

There will also not be any references to hellhounds on anybody’s trail or going down to any crossroads whatsoever, ok?

Michael J Sheehy

So, I went to see Michael J Sheehy of (brief) Dream City Film Club fame at the Guildhall last week, for this month’s Acoustica evening. In an uncharacteristic attempt to do some homework for the event I downloaded his new album from Emusic beforehand; but in more characteristic fashion didn’t really get round to listening to much of it before going. As it turned out, though, I’m kinda glad I didn’t get round to it, because the album’s fine, but considerably less edgy and compelling than watching the man himself.

I’m not sure if it was because a friend who knew him mentioned that Sheehy was a bit of a dangerous character or whether it was just the fact that he launched into his set with none of the niceties of the previous acts, but there was definitely a whiff of sulphur in the air, as soon as he started. I like a bit of an edge to a performer and I’m not that fussed about chitchat with the audience, actually – as far as I’m concerned no banter is definitely better than lame banter – so I was quite happy to see Sheehy and his band launch into their first few songs with no introduction.

Great songs they were too, drawing you in with his unrelentingly despondent and tormented outlook on life, which harked back to some of the great Country & Western songs and singers of the past. He also used a lot of church and biblical imagery too which again reminded me of the classic sinner-or-saint struggles of the early rockers.

He was backed by a really tight band, who (rather wonderfully) went by the name of the Hired Mourners and who drove Sheehy on with a well rehearsed but clunky rhythm. They included one man on acoustic bass, a really cool drummer and (brilliantly) one blessed individual who alternated between banjo, pedal-steel and wah-wah guitar and looked suspiciously like a brother. He was great. Sheehy’s gravelly voice was also well complimented by a woman, singing backing vocals, but whose name I’m afraid I didn’t catch. Apologies to her, she really added something to the performance.

All in all, it was a really great set, the best I’ve seen for a while, my favourite part being one of the last songs, “So Long Sorrow Town”, which mutated effortlessly into a rather spiteful version of “The Passenger”.

Really if you get a chance to see him (and he seems to be touring at the moment), I would, it’d be well worth your money. I’m posting a few tracks which I think I bagged from the Myspace page but which no longer appear to be there, and as I said his current album and the previous ones are available here on Emusic.

Michael Jnr

Donkey Ride straight to Hell

Love me

There, not a mention of Tom Waits to be seen (apart from the one at the start)…

Well, and this one obviously…

Tonight You Will be a Sleepwalker

Not since the days of my youth have I seen a man wring a tune from a household appliance – and, you’ll have to take my word for it that I’m referring here to the great Roy Castle, rather than revealing any painful family secrets.

Friday night, however, brought it all flooding back…

This month’s Acoustica line up at the Guild Hall, included Bristol’s the Wraiths, Swindon’s Chantelle Pike and the afore-mentioned, rather wonderful Thomas Truax, who, if he’s to be believed, hails from Wowtown, USA.

The Wraiths were quite interesting and made a good fist of setting some of their favourite poems by Emily Dickinson, Christina Rosetti and Thomas Lovell Beddoes to a rather folky beat. The Wraiths are Mog who sang vocals and played electric guitar (very prettily) and Jon who played an acoustic guitar, sang and had what can only be described as a manic glare. Believe me, he was a little scary. I liked what they did and can recommend you see them if ever the chance presents itself.

Chantelle Pike was, well, earnest. I’ve seen her before (and maybe even dismissed her on these pages before, I can’t remember), but really she was pretty dull.

Thomas Truax

The reason I’d come, though, was sandwiched between these two acts and was as unconventional as the other two were traditional. In reality, Thomas Truax, comes from New York (rather than Wowtown), but it was immediately obvious that reality wasn’t going to play such a large part in his set this (or any other) evening. Dressed in a tan suit with ill-matching black & white brothel creepers, he already cut a pretty memorable figure but what really set him apart was the instruments he played. As well as playing a fairly conventional dobro resonator guitar, he accompanied himself with a variety of Heath Robinson-esque homemade instruments, which against all the odds seemed to work.

My favourite was the Hornicator, made from the horn of an old gramophone, which he had miked up and could sing into, but which also had strings he could pluck. It was well weird and I cannot do it justice. Watch this:

There were other instruments too, all with names, including a marvellous mechanical drum machine, made from pram wheels and aerials that gave a Tom Waits-style clunky drum pattern and which was called Sister Spinster, and the String-a-ling, which appeared to be made from the tubing from a tumble dryer…)

The songs, well, they were fairly eccentric too, and I’ll put a couple up here that are available on his website, where you can also find details of his two albums (both of which are available on Emusic), but really it was all about the performance. I spent the whole set slack-jawed and then grinning inanely – I loved him.

Moonglow

Escape from the Orphanage

I am about to snap my fingers and when I do this will be over…

A break in the cloud for the sun

Well. It was rather good evening at this month’s Acoustica on Friday night. Not quite as good a turn-out as for the Martin Stephenson evening last month, but nevertheless a really good time.

First up was Chantelle Pike, whom I’ve seen before but I would best label as “not really my thing”, though I have to say as a performer she was quite charming. Visit her site, you may find she is “your thing”.

Next on was Edd Donovan, who was again very good indeed, introducing some new songs and playing a few that I remembered from last time, and was again accompanied by Mark Peters on second guitar. I spoke to Edd briefly before he was due on and it struck me that he looked quite tense and nervous. It’s kind of bleedin’ obvious really, but it always surprises me, as a complete outsider to the world of performing, that people do of course still get nervous before going on stage. Perhaps I should be grateful that he had the good manners not to tell me to bugger off, instead of politely discussing his World Cup record. For this, if nothing else, I liked the guy and his songs, so it would seem like a good reason to post the other track from his Myspace page, which I mentioned the other day…

A Friend To See Me Through

Ghosting

The main act, however, was Ghosting, who have been together, I believe, as a duet – George and Dan – for a good while, but have recently added a drummer to their ranks, Shane.

Now, I went to school with Shane and we were pretty close friends for quite a number of years, but have kind of drifted apart over recent years. So I was kind of interested to see what Ghosting were like, especially as this was, I believe their first outing as a threesome.

I’ll post here a couple of tracks from a promo cd they’ve put together, which I think I’ve heard elsewhere on their website too, but I should say that they don’t really do the band credit (to my ears at least).

On the night, Ghosting were quirky to say the least, coming on looking as if they were out for night at a rather strange opera, and using a variety of instruments, gadgets and microphones. I like all that sort of thing, me, anything to make me look at a song in a new way is a gimmick well used as far as I’m concerned. They also had one of those rather clever loop pedals which allowed them to build up layers as they are going on. And in the last song (I forget the name – something about monsters under the bed), they had a lot of fun looping sounds, and eventually walking off, leaving the various loops furiously bouncing off each other. It was all done with some humour, and it left me smiling. As I mentioned, this was their first time on stage with the present line up, and you have to say it was a little ragged in places, but first class entertainment nonetheless.

In fact to be honest I prefer things a little frayed around the edges, which is why I say that these two rather well-produced recordings I’m posting here don’t really tell you how much fun Ghosting are to see live. I kind of hope they don’t get too well-rehearsed, or it might not be quite as enjoyable as this evening was.

Wanting to end with the girl

The Devil is harder to please than you think

A Really Great Weekend

Have had a great weekend, although on the face of it, perhaps not as successful as I would have hoped…

On Friday night me and Josie went to Acoustica at The Guildhall, and had a really good evening, mainly because the company was so good. Finally met Martin the man behind the only other Gloucester blog that I’ve come across – Uprock Narratives and Unknown Pleasures, which was good. Also caught up with a very old friend of mine that I’ve not seen a lot of for ages, really good to see him.

The music was not quite as good – I didn’t really go for the Emily Maguire Band – I do find myself taking the most ridiculous prejudices at times. This evening it was the bass players’ dreads – all uphill from there, really. But I have to say she seemed to go down well, and she did have a certain stage presence.

The main part of the evening was dedicated to Martin Stephenson, of The Daintees fame. I remember borrowing an album by this guy in the eighties, so he must have been interesting to me then (though, tellingly, I didn’t tape it…). To be honest, the only thing I can remember about him then was that he wore some sort of homberg and included a song of support dedicated to a friend who had come out as a lesbian, which today sounds like a standard script from Grange Hill, but I remember raising an eyebrow at the time. (Hey, I’m from Gloucester, OK!)

It was actually Martin (the blogger) who’d recommended we get along to this evening, so I’m afraid he’s going to hate me for saying that I found Stephenson a bit frustrating. The man’s clearly extravagantly gifted with his guitar (I mean, really – the ease with which he could drift between different styles and play seemingly anything, it was really impressive) but I just wished he’d treated himself a little more seriously.

Now, I’m sure Stephenson fans will say that this is part of the man’s appeal, that he’s a modern-day troubadour, who just loves to entertain; but I just found his constant jokes and asides got on my nerves fairly quickly. I found myself wanting to hear a bit more music and little less banter. It was all a bit Mike Harding for me. (Again, though, I have to say he went down really well.)

[I have to mention the rugby as well. We lost but it was a quite outstanding game, the sort that you almost don’t mind losing, the Cherry & Whites having scored two of the best tries I think I’ve ever seen at Kingsholm, and came very close to winning. Really cracking entertainment. Check in at the Sports Desk for the full report…]

No new music to report (though there’s some in the pipeline), but I do have the April May digest of all the tracks featured in the past two months, if you’ve been having trouble getting some of these Myspace tracks.

April May

Don’t leave my organs to a small defenceless child – I’m all fucked up inside.

I’ve seen this lot. Twice.

The Family Machine

In fact, I didn’t realise they had an online presence at all, until a couple of weeks ago, or I’d have put them on here from the start.

The Family Machine are a three-piece from Oxford, and they were great both times I saw them, playing a really infectious blend of tongue-in-cheek country and Indie styles, with liberal amounts of hand claps and whistling sprinkled into the mix. All in all first class entertainment.

They’re one of those bands that make the whole thing look ridiculously easy and (if that weren’t enough) that they’re having a laugh as well. Their between-song banter was also genuinely funny. I’d call them a bunch of smart alecs but they seemed such a decent bunch of blokes that I can’t even bring myself to do that. One of the features of the set I saw most recently was that they gave away CDs to members of the audience for “the best clapping”. In fact, I spoke to them after the gig, trying to buy a copy of their CD, and they’d actually given them all away! (Obviously a good night for clapping that one…)

I’m posting the only two free tracks I can find on the web, the first of which comes from the Beard Museum Site, and is called “Lethal Drugs Cocktail”. The Beard Museum is a club in Oxford with a number of good bands attached to it (and if you go to the site itself, I recommend the classifieds section, which made me laugh outloud). The second track is from their Myspace page, “Flowers by the Roadside”. I think it’s probably my favourite.

There are also a couple of streamed tracks on the Myspace page which are worth hearing. An album is apparently on the way in 2006, looking forward to it immensely.

Lethal Drugs Cocktail

Flowers by the Roadside