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.



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.



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!



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

Good times are coming, I hear it everywhere I go…

Criminey! Was that two weeks ago? Where does the time go?

Wooden Shjips

Well… two weeks ago (apparently), I went to see San Francisco guitar fiends, Wooden Shjips in the appropriately grimy, down-to-earth surroundings of the Fleece in Bristol.  I think I’ve said before how much I like the Fleece, it really is yer bona fide “rock” venue, stone floors, old gig posters, real ale, ridiculously in-the-way pillars, and it really suited the dark, dark sound of Ripley Johnson and the boys.

We had a couple of support bands, one slightly ridiculous (Scarlet Rascal and the Trainwreck, ho hum) and one, Weston band Towns, rather fine (more of them soon I hope…)

The Shjips came on fairly late and did their thing for an hour or so, lumbering through a raucous, heavy set that drew largely on “West”. It was bassy, uncomplicated stuff, high on meandering solos and fabulously repetitive – pretty much what the punters ordered, in fact.  To be honest, I’d’ve liked the organ to have been a bit higher up in the mix (and I always find the vocals hard to hear) but that’s being churlish, really.

You get the impression that Johnson plays the music that’s in his head and won’t be deviating from that path any time soon – it’s up to us to keep up really, and I’m ok with that. They played for a long (or very short) hour, did an encore of Vampire Blues and were gone all too soon, a slight whiff of sulphur hanging in the air… All wonderfully shadowy and psychedelic…

The recording is patchy, (mainly because the sound was a bit erratic again), full of audience “participation” but on the whole good, highlights being an endless version of “For So Long” and a particularly brutal “Home”.

Black Smoke Rise


For So Long

Vampire Blues

Won’t Fear the Sun…

I’m beginning to get my teeth stuck into this pile of recordings left over from last summer, and finding some real gems…

Wooden Shjips

Somehow I missed this recording, again made by my good friend Marcus, again at End of the Road.  As before, can’t say a whole lot about the set, other than that the performance seems pretty faithful to the records (remarkably so, to be honest) and that the sound is a bit muddy (but that’s OK it kinda favours Ripley Jonson’s playing….)

I’ve only fairly recently grown to love Wooden Shjips, especially the haunting vocals and the equally spooky keyboards of Nash Whalen, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them at the Fleece in the summer. I like the sludgy, bass-driven sound they’ve fashioned (and keep returning to) and approve of the way they doggedly refuse to move on from it. Something very Sky Saxon and Daryl Hooper about it all…

Wooden Shjips @ End of the Road, 2011

Black Smoke Rise

Lazy Bones



For So Long

And while we’re at it…

Dear Santa…


It’s that time!

Time to eat, drink, be merry and write some lists!

If you’ve been following the Blog for a while, you’ll have noticed that I approach the whole list-compiling thing with some trepidation but as the days move on, I get in to the spirit, and by the end, well…

So, here goes:


Seven Records I Should Own

(and am a bit embarrassed that I don’t)


In the past I think I’ve used this list to give a cursory mention to records that everyone else has been salivating over but which I couldn’t be arsed with. This year, though, this is a genuine Dear Santa letter of a list, with records on it that I am genuinely arsed about and am hoping to get (one way or another) over the Christmas period.

As ever, the list is in no particular order and I can’t say much about any of them, so there’s a video of something from each one.

West – Wooden Shjips

Only just catching up on Ripley Johnston and band’s records and have been really enjoying the Moon Duo stuff, but I’m told this is their first studio album proper, and is even better than their other releases.

Lazy Bones


Apocalypse – Bill Callahan

I’ve been a Smog fan for a good while now, but somehow the dropping of the name, plus a pretty dull live set at Green Man one year meant that Bill Callahan has drifted from my radar in recent years. I gather this record is a bit of a return to form for the man. Looking forward to hearing it…

Riding for the Feeling


Days – Real Estate

Another band who have suffered from my butterfly approach to record buying. Bought their debut album and enjoyed it immensely, but again when this their second release appeared, I was nowhere to be found… Gah!

It’s Real (lovely guitar sound…)


Ashes and Fire – Ryan Adams

And another artist I’ve sadly neglected until recent weeks. I loved Heartbreaker and Gold when they came out, and have lately played both records a lot (and benefited from the latest LPGroup session on the former). I’m ready for the new record now…

Lucky You


The Whole Love – Wilco

Oh God here’s another one! What have I been doing all year? This is even worse – I actually turned my nose up at the chance to see them inBristol, because I was too tight. C’mon Andrew, get it together!

Born Alone


Parallax – Atlas Sound

Really enjoyed Bradford Cox’s first two records, and quite liked the Deerhunter stuff too. This record is getting a lot of love across all the end of year lists…



Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Missed this guy’s voice something terrible…



Let England Shake – PJ Harvey

This one’s a bit different in that it’s been voted top of list after list, and even more prestigious than that it’s been voted record of 2011 by the members of LPGroup, who’ll be spinning and discussing it 1st Sunday in January (all welcome). Better go and buy it I guess…

The Glorious Land


That was eight wasn’t it?

I feel the walls closing in on me…

Not sure of it’s the credits from Emusic, the proliferation of end of year lists to peruse, or maybe just the season, but I have a load of great records buzzing around in my earphones just now…

Moon Duo

(Actually, “buzzing” really is the word for this lot. They like a fuzztone for sure. )

I was going to apply my generally haphazard levels of research (ie none) to this article but at the last minute had a quick look online, which is probably a good job. I’d been all set to make a series of clever-clever Wooden Shjips analogies, but it turns out that Moon Duo are in fact a bona-fide WS side project, having been formed in 2009 by WS guitarist Ripley Johnson and partner Sanae Yamada. Apparently, having lost his job around then he found himself with rather more time than previously and two years and two records later, he’s grizzled example to us all.

The more I listen to the new record, Mazes, the more I like it, although it’s hardly a complicated appeal – fuzzed up, recurring guitar riffs, coloured by distorted organ sounds and droning rhythm instruments.

I’ve seen names like Suicide, the Doors and Can being throw around, but I’ll also chuck Lee Perry’s name in there, and not just to be perverse – there’s a fair amount of dubby playing-around-with-the-cans action going on here too. Probably should also mention that you certainly get your money’s worth – for a, well, duo, playing songs based around minimalist and repetitive riffs, they’re not afraid to stretch it out to a full (and full-sounding) six or seven minutes.

I’ve heard Johnson make comments about slower, repetitive styles suiting his Buddhist beliefs and meditative practices. Can’t say I know much about all that but the record’s charm is certainly not a lyrical one – it’s all about the noise. I imagine they’re great fun to see.