As dawn breaks…

images (1)Funny bugger, I am, sometimes…

I’ve been listening to Mwng again this week, and from there, its predecessor Guerilla. And I realised I’d somehow kind of forgotten the absolutely majesty of Super Furry Animals. A great, great band. That run of albums from Guerilla, through to Phantom Power, is pretty much peerless.

Mwng

I got to thinking about last summer’s Green Man set again, and how it was a little underwhelming, and that it being so had somehow obscured that wonderful evening at the Guildhall, little more than a couple of months earlier. Listening back to the slightly sodden recording I made of the Green Man evening, it’s not even that bad a set either.

For on old befuddled gent, the images are still very clear. It had been a long day “in the field”, mud had been tramped through, drink had been taken, bands had been watched, there had been laughing, chat, general arsing around and all the other stuff that goes with festivals. The drizzle had begun to set in, and it was after midnight, I believe. The sight of a couple of young fellers leaping around in front of us, goonishly, absolutely out of their trees, added to the general feeling of things beginning to unravel a little.

But when SFA shambled on stage (I probably need to think of another Gruff-verb, to be fair), there was such an outpouring of warmth, fondness and elation, from everyone around that I remember thinking “here’s a band that people really love”.

One of the reasons I’ve not put up any of the recordings of the set is because the amount of “noise” around is pretty immense, even by festival standards. Not irritating, couldn’t give a toss about the band, here’s one for my Facebook page, sort of noise. More like people just having a banging good time, drinking lager, smoking herb and joining in with a band they’ve known and loved for many years. You can’t really complain about that.

And as the first chords of “Rings Around the World” jumped across the bobbing heads of the people around me, there was what felt like a discernible ripple of pleasure, joy, whatever you will, that swept you along with it.

As I write, I’m recalling it clearly, starting to rebuild pictures and wondering where on earth the memories have been…

Thing is, and I remember feeling this at the time, an opportunity was missed as soon as the Mwng section of the performance started. Lovely as the songs are, it definitely slowed down the force and drive of the set. You could feel people’s attention gradually wandering, the loons in front of us calmed down considerably, the rain started to get heavier. You can hear on the recording people chatting and generally losing interest. Gradually you realised you had more elbow room as people started to drift off to their tents. My own sleeping bag began to call…

Anyway, it’s funny how vague feelings that you’ve not really acknowledged or possibly realised, can lead you off on roads you didn’t realise you’d turned down. I’ve not played Mwng since…

Until this week. What a gentle, beautiful, strange record it is.

The train comes to take you where you’ve got to be

telemanWell, I guess the Green Man “moment” has passed. School has started again and summer’s feeling like it’s over – the tent’s been wiped down and packed away, the mud’s dried up on my boots and 2016 Early Bird tickets go on sale next week.

I will do this, though – there are a couple of really good sets still to post. And to be honest, there were a few fairly ordinary ones that I’ll mention, in that White Fence, The Fall and Super Furry Animals all disappointed somewhat, for different reasons. The first didn’t look very “connected” to the whole Green Man vibe (inexplicable really, considering GM stalwart Cate le Bon is still playing with Presley and co); Mark E Smith’s approach to live performances I’ve covered before (it wasn’t a whole lot better than this time); and although SFA started off well, the onset of rain and an over-extended Mwng section squandered an adoring crowd’s late Saturday evening attention. I need to listen to the recordings of each of these sets again, I may well be doing them an injustice.

This lot were a treat, though…

Teleman

I played the Breakfast record quite a lot when it came out, but by the summer had lost touch with it (and stupidly passed up on the chance to see them at Thekla). So it was good to be taken through some of the highpoints of a fine collection again on a heedless Friday afternoon in the big tent.

Actually, bounding around onstage, infectious and friendly, Teleman led us through a fair few new songs as well, some of which I cannot give names to (this drives me squirell-y), but which suggested that another equally good record cannot be faraway.

I’m not a big synth and eighties baseline man, which I think it’d be fair to say are Teleman’s signature sound, but such is the strength of their melodies (which are deftly accompanied by Thomas Sanders’ words and polite vocals) that it’s surprisingly easy to forgo the pleasures of fuzztone and farfisa.

The set concluded with a mesmerizingly kraut-ish version of “I’m Not in Control” which set us off on our way with something of a Suuns-ish buzz in our ears. Good stuff.

Steam Train Girl

Strange Combinations

Glory Hallelujah

I’m Not in Control

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

Lucky Seven – The Joy of Sets

dexys2OK, regular Christmas readers of this organ will remember that it often takes me a while to get into this end of year malarkey, but once I’ve warmed up…

So, anyway, I’m venturing forth and starting with some great gigs I’ve been to this year. I’m always a bit sheepish about recounting my gig tally for the year – usually I can do this on the fingers of both hands, although this year I’ve had to take off my shoes and socks too. (I have buddies who talk about getting close to three figures, think about it…)

That being as it may… here we go, chronologically:.

 

February: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins @ The Fleece, Bristol

My first visit to the Fleece, if I remember rightly, and really enjoyable evening it was too. Hot, pubby, beset with sound problems yet still gentle and intimate. Spent a lot of time following Creosote and his warm, delicate songs, but Hopkins impressed too, sympathetically colouring in around the King’s bold lines. Really nice support spot from Withered Hand too.

Only Living Boy in New York

 

April: Trembling Bells with Bonnie Prince Billy @ Frog & Fiddle, Cheltenham

Possibly my highlight of the year. Oldham was as unconventional as you’d expect, by turns daunting, witty and self-effacing, employing a new and impressive set of quirky gestures and never less than whole-hearted in the delivery of a terrific bag of songs. Trembling Bells were also powerful and more than a little scary, and a storming set was delivered with what can only be described as Gusto.

Every Time I Close my Eyes (We’re back there)

 

June: Anaïs Mitchell & the Young Man Band @ St Bonaventura’s, Bristol

Another massive treat in the warm, DIY surroundings of one of my favourite venues. Performed most of the wonderful Young Man in America record, and a good selection from her earlier stuff, all with affection and intelligence, and was supported expertly by one of the most talented bunch of musicians I’ve seen for ages. And she signed a copy of Hadestown for me.

Saw her later in the year solo in Oxford, which was also brilliant but didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of this gig.

Tailor

 

June: Andrew Bird @ Trinity Centre, Bristol

Another debut venue, and another beautiful evening in Bristol; and if we’re talking expert musicians you’ve got to tip your hat towards Andrew Bird. I’ve never seen a man play the fiddle like this guy, bowing beautifully, then strumming it like a yuke, then back to the bow all within a verse sometimes. Played a good long, occasionally theatrical set and finished it up with an Ol’ Timey clutch of toons. Didn’t know whether to stroke my beard or grin like a loon…

Desperation Breeds

 

July: Wooden Shjips @ The Fleece, Bristol

This was the steamy, roller coaster of an evening you kinda hope for when Ripley Johnson and his awkward crew lumber on stage. You know what you’re going to get with the Shjips, meandering, uncomplicated and repetitive yet somehow fascinating and complex at the same time. The Elevators of the 21st Century… Another evening where the support band, three young lads from Weston called Towns, added to the fun.

Flight

 

August: Dexy’s @ Green Man

So to the festival season.

Despite the rain, there were some fine moments at Green Man as usual –some of them young (TOY, Savages, Field Music), some of them old (Van) and lots of them Welsh (Cate le Bon, H Hawkline, Sen Segur, Pen Pastwn). But the most enjoyable set of the weekend came from the wild-eyed bugger himself. Only managing to get through 5 or 6 numbers in his hour (so gloriously teased-out was each one), Rowlands, and a band that included long-suffering confidante Pete Williams; Mick Talbot and spurned chantoose Madeleine Hyland mugged their way through a hugely pleasing set. Highlights included This Is What She is Like, Lost and a gigantic version of Come On Eileen. Wow!

Lost

 

August: Woods @ End of the Road

There were some even better sets at my End of the Road debut this year too. Honourable mentions should go to Yeti Lane, Gravenhurst, First Aid Kit, TOY (again) and a bedraggled Midlake, but my favourite section of the weekend was Saturday afternoon’s belter from Woods. Their records often major on the slightly fey, slightly geeky tones of Jeremy Earl’s vocals and Woods’ bubblegum sound. On stage. however, the shackles were off and some great garage-y, psychedelic meandering went on. We also heard a lot of stuff which was new then, but which appeared on Autumn’s Bend Beyond.  Happy daze.

Cali in a Cup

Completing the Circle

I am feeling inordinately pleased with myself at the moment – I have some beautiful music cascading through my headphones and the feeling that I’ve somehow completed the circle. (Probably should add, in the interests of unflinching journalistic accuracy, that I have a large glass of red at my side as well…)

Not sure if you’ll remember (why would you?) my post about the new Welsh music in August loosely based on a few acts I saw at Green Man this year. Well, one of the thing that made me chuckle over the weekend, was the way that H Hawkline, Cate le Bon and Sweet Baboo all played in each others’ backing bands for their various slots over the three days; a stirring gesture of harmony that I rather appreciated. I remember wondering at the time whether the drummer had a band too…

Silly me, of course he does. (Turns out he’s quite good too…)

R Seiliog

Yup! The aforementioned drummer with Hawkline et al, calls himself R Seiliog and has just put out his first EP on Peski Records called Shuffles.  But quite apart from the pleasing symmetry of all this, it turns out that the record’s an absolute stonker.

Someone asked my opinion of the current wave of Welsh artists recently and I got thinking about their similarities and influences, which broadly follow similar goofy, psychedelic paths. If you wanted to be unkind (and I don’t), by now there’s a certain template you can follow – sixties-influences, Welsh-speaking, willing to be experimental, disarmingly casual, shambling almost…

I don’t think R Seiliog got the memo about new Welsh music, either that or maybe he just chose to ignore it. No Welsh language here, (no language at all, in fact), no acoustic Green Man-type instruments, no DIY keyboard sounds… Shuffles is all playful electronic noodling, bizarre loops, oscillations and tinklings, mischievous buzz and hum. (One of the Blogs I read, referred to “kosmische rhythms” – wish I’d thought of that…). To use my favourite word of the summer, it’s all about the mo-to-rik… and to use my favourite band of the summer, it’s all a bit Yeti Lane.

Honestly, you’re gonna love it!

It comes on strong, waits till I’ve gone…

Genuinely can’t decide about this month’s Hot New Act, TOY. Lots of people talking about them, of course, and their record  has just come out to some sort of fanfare all around…

TOY

I’ve seen them play twice this summer and both times were pretty exhilarating affairs, lots of sonic boom and feeding back, liberal amounts of dry ice, great look and all the rest…

The record has its moments… not quite as good as I hoped, not quite as “murky” really; and nowhere near as good as their live performances. I like the mumbled vocals and repetitive rhythm guitar assault. I really like the reedy, Joe Meek-style organ that niggles away through a good few of the tracks. Not so keen on the tone (or tonelessness) of the feller’s voice when it does come through or the slower more ponderous tracks that wind the record down.

Guess it all comes down to whether you associate them with My Bloody Valentine (in which case they’re shamelessly derivative) or whether you listen to them with a psychedelic (or even motorik) helmet on, in which case, they’re bang on…

Here are a couple of tracks recorded over the summer, one at each festival (the two sets were pretty much identical btw…)

Motoring @ Green Man

Strange @ End of the Road

And here’s some video I shot of TOY at Green Man doing “Dead & Gone”:

I’m going for the drones of the Seventies….

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