Tag Archives: The Stinger

Record Store Day 2017 – live from Music’s Not Dead, Bexhill-on-Sea 22/4/17

My article was originally published by The Stinger here

When he arrived at 7.30am they were snaking around the block confirms Richard, one of the co-owners (along with his business partner Del) of Music’s Not Dead. Bexhill’s independent record store was set for another busy Record Store Day.

2017-04-22 14.53.19

Going some ten years now, with the aim of championing the nation’s remaining independent record stores, Record Store Day has been coming in for a fair bit of stick in recent years. Record companies release a load of limited edition vinyl while punters out to make a fast buck snap it up first thing and then sell it on at vastly inflated prices on ebay later that day. The whole thing is little more than a cynical exercise in profiteering, so the argument goes.

The reality, however, is quite different maintains Richard when I catch up with him during a temporary lull,”There’s always one or two in the queue like that, and you know who they here, but the vast, vast majority are here because they want to buy a record from an artist whose music they love.” He is also keen to stress that it has helped them gain loyal customers who proceed to then come in throughout the year – which was the main motivation for the whole initiative in the first place.

So, in spite of some of the press cynicism, at Music’s Not Dead they are wholehearted champions of Record Store Day and are happily shifting 1,000 units of special limited edition releases to purchasers who are in the main real, genuine fans.

Personally, however, I would no more queue up at a record shop at 7.00am in the morning than I would camp out overnight to buy a cheap sofa in the Boxing Day sales. And while I’ve been a happy participant in numerous Record Store Days, my purchases in recent years have included a second-hand Status Quo Live CD, a stack of half price Blur CDs and the most recent Santana album in bog-standard format, hardly exclusive limited editions any of them. But there is far, far more to Record Store Day than queuing up for limited edition vinyl, a point Richard is keen to stress as I make my way in to Music’s Not Dead around mid-day shortly before the programme of live acts kicks off. “We don’t want it to be just about us filling the till all day. It is also about us giving something back to the community and supporting artists.”

They have an impressive line-up for Record Store Day this year: 80s/90s indie front-man, Pete Astor, performing a solo acoustic set; alt-folk band, Noble Jacks (minus their drummer due to space restrictions); guitar/double bass acoustic duo, Moss & Clarkson; solo Americana artists, Jason McNiff; Nashville-tinged country duo, The Worry Dolls; and headliner, the soulful, folky, bluesy rising star, Emily Barker.

2017-04-22 13.41.36.jpg

Trevor Moss who performed as half of Moss & Clarkson today remains an enthusiastic supporter of Record Store Day. As well as the fun of performing he sees it playing a small but significant redistributive role for “the poorer end of the music industry,” as he puts it, whether shops, labels or performers. “We know about some of the things that go on. But on the whole all the people we come across are here because they’re sincere,” he enthuses to me after his well-received performance.

By late afternoon the sun had come out and was shining brightly through the shop windows, parents and their kids lounged about on the floor soaking in the ambience, Jason McNiff gave a lovely laid-back set and somehow it all began to take on the vibe of a very, very minature summer festival.

Emily Barker, the final act of the day, gave an utterly stunning set with selections from her new album recorded in Memphis, including an incredible tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She’s appeared on the small shop-window stage at Music’s Not Dead some half a dozen times now and is also an enthusiastic champion of Record Store Day. She had already performed sets in stores at both Portsmouth and Lewes before turning up in Bexhill. “I had to leave Stroud at 5am this morning. I’ve had four hours sleep but the minute I got in the car and started up the engine this morning I was excited about Record Store Day.”

Certainly the view from where I was standing at Music’s Not Dead was that it was about celebrating independents – labels, stores and artists, it was about a genuine community event and it was definitely very much all about the love of the music.

And today’s purchase? The very unlimited and non-exclusive edition of the new Fairport Convention CD for a tenner – but with cakes, live music and friendly company thrown in for free. You don’t get that at Amazon.

http://musicsnotdead.com/

Review: Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017 – Unplugged Saturday 25/2/17

The view from The Royal Standard

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

The ‘Unplugged Saturday’ ran across sixteen different pubs in Hastings Old Town on Saturday afternoon as part of the Fat Tuesday weekend.

Each bar was hosting ten different acts for fifteen minute acoustic slots between 1-6pm, with each performing at multiple venues. That gives you 160 separate performances to choose from – all free – so punters had a choice of strategies. You could either stay in the same place and take in a succession of acts, loyally follow one band around all afternoon or, what I suspect the majority did, take a bit of a mix and match approach trying out a few different venues and a few different acts.

In order to have the best possible chance of taking in as many acts and as much variety as possible for this review, however, I parked myself in the Royal Standard on the seafront for the full afternoon. (Well, it would be the full afternoon but I got slightly sidetracked en route and missed the first act – apologies to Strum & Bass!)

So, first three general observations about the afternoon:

1. The variety of acts was enormous – from the jazzy vibes of Andy Harston, to the massed choir of Vocal Explosion, to the raucous punk-folk of Matilda’s Scoundrels there was a real range of musical styles and formats.

2. It all ran like clockwork – getting large numbers of musicians and their instruments performing around the town and ensuring everyone gets to the right venue at the right time ready to start and finish bang on time is obviously a logistical operation but, impressively, it all ran very, very smoothly, certainly in the Standard.

3. The livelier acts tended to make the biggest impact – having just fifteen minutes to build a rapport with audience and complete the set meant that the acts who could immediately grab the audience by the throat were tending to have more impact than the more reflective singery-songwritery types

It was enormous fun and a great annual celebration of the town’s live venues and live music scene. Much as I enjoyed it I’m sure it’s probably not how most of us want to consume live music on a day-to-day basis. So as well as enjoying it for its own sake I also took it very much as a showcase for particular acts I’d like to see a lot more of in the future.

And three acts who really stood out for me:

Again, apologies for missing the Strum & Bass duo – their brand of vintage slap-bass acoustic rock n roll (which I checked out on You-tube when I got home) would normally be right up my street.
But here are three acts who definitely stood out for me at Unplugged Saturday that I will certainly be checking out again.

1. Matilda’s Scoundrels – How come it’s taken me this long to check out Matilda’s Scoundrels? Hastings’ ‘folk-punk’ band are brilliantly entertaining, reminding me of a cross between The Levellers, The Clash and folk-festival favourites Blackbeard’s Tea Party.
They brought a big crowd in with them and, after bringing the house down, took a fair chunk of the crowd out with them again when they set off for the next venue. Fortunately, I was able to catch them on the Sunday at Flairz, as part of the Off Axis event, for a half-hour full electric set. I’m a total fan. I’ll be seeing a lot more of this band I hope.

http://www.matildas-scoundrels.com/

2. Harry Osborne – While all the acts were well-received I did stress that the 15 minute format in a crowded pub probably created a bit more of a challenge for some of the less raucous, more reflective sets. One act who absolutely rose 100% to that challenge was guitarist/singer, Harry Osborne, who was able to create an immediate connection with the audience and went on to deliver some fine songs and sensitive guitar playing. Definitely on my ‘one to watch’ list, a talented, engaging singer-songwriter who can also be found performing with a band Someone /Anyone.

https://www.facebook.com/harry.harryosborne

3. Le Skiv – The last act of the afternoon I the Royal Standard Le Skiv were a brilliant way to finish. Describing themselves on their Facebook biog as “incorporating the feeling of a Nova Scotian kitchen party to create a good ol’ sonic hoedown” they pulled off that vibe perfectly. Banjo, guitar and percussion, lovely harmony vocals and some lively but beautiful songs they went down a storm and are another band I want to catch more of.

https://www.facebook.com/weareleskiv/

A brilliantly fun (if fairly drunken) afternoon with a list of bands I am keen to see more of, Fat Tuesday’s Unplugged Saturday was a definite hit.

1487015952904

Preview: Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017

A newcomer to Hastings finds out what’s it’s all about.

This is my recent piece for local independent music website The Stinger. You can find the link here

For those new to Hastings the sheer range of festivals, parades and community events can be exhilarating, exciting but sometimes bewildering. Just what on earth is Fat Tuesday? Is it on a Tuesday and does it have anything to do with being fat?

As a relative newcomer to this small but fun-loving town on the south coast I’ve been on a mission to find out. While few people outside Hastings may be familiar with the term “Fat Tuesday” most will have heard of “Mardi Gras” and, literally, Fat Tuesday is the French to English translation of Mardis Gras. Traditionally held on Shrove Tuesday, such celebrations were a chance for people to let their hair down before the onset of Lent and, supposedly, a long period of sobriety. New Orleans and Venice have renowned Mardi Gras celebrations, Venice has Carnivale and, for the past eight years, Hastings has had Fat Tuesday. Running from Friday, 24th February through to Tuesday 28th, it’s a long weekend of fun, colourful parades and lots (and lots!) of live gigs.

You can find the full programme on the website: Hastings Fat Tuesday, but highlights include:

Fat Friday – Friday 24th: Things kick off on the Friday evening with a performance from 20yo singer-songwriter Marie White. Compared to the likes of Tracey Chapman and Macy Gray, she’ll be performing short sets over the course of the weekend but this is a chance to see a full show.

Unplugged Saturday – Saturday 25th: 40 acts play fifteen minute sets in a variety of venues, equating to an afternoon of 200 gigs across Hastings Old Town, from acoustic rock to Folk to Blues and much more besides.

Off Axis – Sunday 26th: Again, Hastings comes alive with a mega-run of gigs. 32 acts from across the country, play in 4 town centre venues, with a gig starting every 15 minutes between 1pm and 9pm. It’s a live showcase for some of the best emerging, unsigned acts in the UK and afterwards it’s followed by an after party with Hastings-based punk folkies Matilda’s Scoundrels at The Fountain on Queen’s Road.

Thee Sunday Sonics – Sunday 26th: On the more arty side there’s Thee Sunday Sonics, a one-day celebration of avant garde electronic music, video art and spoken word.

UnConvention – Monday 27th: UnConvention is a one-day music conference aimed at the grass roots of the industry and The Palace on the seafront plays host to the official launch of Hastings & Rother as a Music City. There will be a session on Music Cities and Music Tourism at 11am, followed by the formal launch at 1pm. It’s free but do register in advance here: UnConvention/Monday/

The Fat Tuesday Tour – Tuesday 28th: Fat Tuesday night itself runs from 8pm-11pm and as well as fancy dress and all kinds of frivolity there are 24 bands playing 20 minute sets across 12 venues, headlined by Britpop trio, Dodgy.

No serious music lover could deny what a fantastic and varied selection of music will be available over the course of the weekend. But for someone like me, who can get spoilt for choice at a summer festival when there are just two stages, how can you make the most of it and how can you take in as much as possible without getting completely overwhelmed?

I sought advice from seasoned Fat Tuesday regulars via social media. David advises: “The participating pubs do get very crowded and if you eventually find somewhere you like my advice is to stay where you are and let the bands come to you!”

See you there folks.
Let the good times roll.

http://www.hastingsfattuesday.co.uk/

1487015952904

Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 10/12/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

Having been warmed up very nicely by the support acts, Felix Hagan & The Family and Esmee Patterson, the place is absolutely throbbing when Frank Turner comes on stage.

“I believe first impressions count,” declares Turner a couple of songs in. And bang – he certainly achieves that. Opening with ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’ from his 2008 album ‘Love Ire and Song’ he combines anger, affection, passion, celebration and wry humour – and that’s all in the space of a single song. In terms of delivery and audience response it’s more like an encore than an opening song but that level of energy is maintained song after song after song.
1035x1035-mi0003888505-313x313Six albums into his solo career, it has only been the two most recent that have made it into the top five and his singles have hardly ever troubled the charts. Yet he’s built up an absolutely devoted fan-base. Deservedly so, from tonight’s performance.

Turner and his excellent band pack in many highlights from his solo career in a two-hour set, including a good smattering of songs from his latest album ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’, in addition to an old Million Dead song ‘Smiling at Strangers on Trains’ as part of his encore.

From a well-connected, well-to-do family, Turner’s libertarian brand of politics has attracted strident criticism in some quarters, and he’s been notably hammered as a right-winger in the Guardian. I can’t pretend I’ve analysed Turner’s philosophical beliefs in great detail but of his between-song interventions tonight three could be described as vaguely ‘political’ in one way or another.

The first was a plea urging support for the charity War Child, an undeniably worthy humanitarian cause. The second was a passionate speech in support of the Safe Gigs for Women campaign, highlighting the unacceptable nature of the harassment and abuse that far too many women are forced to endure while trying to enjoy a live gig. And the third was pretty much a theme that ran through his chat throughout the course of the evening; namely the very collectivist ideal of urging the audience to look out for one another and to take some of that spirit away with them into the outside world.

Indeed, the only performer I’ve seen place a similar degree of emphasis on that whole ‘audience-as-community-thing’ was the avowedly-socialist, veteran folk singer, John Tams. What Tams never did was follow that through with stage-diving into the audience and being transported from one side of the hall to the other by a rapturous sea of fans, but you get the point…

A passionate advocate for live music, Turner tells us that tonight is his 1,995th solo gig. Judging by tonight’s performance one suspects there will be many thousands more, and he’s promised to come back to Bexhill soon.

The greatest voice on the contemporary music scene? Probably not. One of the most charismatic and compelling performers of his generation? Almost certainly.

More info on War Child can be found at: warchild.org.uk  

More info on Safe Gigs for Women: sgfw.org.uk

Setlist:
I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous
The Next Storm
I Still Believe
Losing Days
Try This at Home
Long Live the Queen
Glorious You
Polaroid Picture
Silent Key
Plain Sailing Weather
Wessex Boy
Mittens
Cleopatra in Brooklyn
The Way I Tend to Be
The Opening Act of Spring
The Road
If Ever I Stray
Out of Breath
Photosynthesis
Smiling at Strangers on Trains
Recovery
Get Better
Four Simple Words

dlwp-frank-turner-and-the-sleeping-souls-840x561Photo credit: official tour publicity

http://frank-turner.com/home/

Talking Musical Revolutions with Zoë Howe at Kino-Teatre, St Leonards 24/11/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

Rock writer, Zoë  Howe, who has produced acclaimed biographies on the likes of The Slits, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Wilko Johnson, Lee Brilleaux and Stevie Nicks, dropped in at St Leonard’s’ Kino Teatre on Thursday to talk about her experiences writing those; and also about her latest book, Shine On Marquee Moon, her first work of fiction.

Shine On Marquee Moon, named after the iconic Television album, follows the adventures of a fictional 80s new romantic band, Concierge, who are enjoying something of a modern-day revival.In spite of owning up to getting Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” as the first ever single she bought with her own money (which she played us the video of, along with Duran Duran’s ‘The Reflex’) this is less Howe’s world than the rock world she knows far more intimately, both as a writer and a performer.

She explained that although she started out with a rock band in mind, she switched genre’s because she “didn’t want it to become too Spinal Tap.”

From the couple of readings she gives us tonight, however, it’s brilliantly observed, hilariously eccentric and caustically witty, yet at the same time it comes across as a very human and empathetic portrayal, too.

3d9aac_36ae5f53993b49d78c5c3bbb22c15929mv2_d_1748_2473_s_2

And when Howe moves on to talk about her rock biographies, it’s abundantly clear how precious to her maintaining that human element is.

Drawn to bands like The Who at an impossibly young age, Howe reveals that the first rock biography she ever read was a sordid hatchet job on Keith Moon.

She denies that she consciously set out to do this when I put the question to her later on, but that lurid account could almost have acted as her personal manifesto on how not to do it when it came to working on her own music biographies years later.

She emphasises the importance she attaches to giving her subjects a degree of dignity and respect, as well as love she’s keen to stress, regardless of whatever bizarre rock star behaviour or low points in people’s personal lives her books inevitably touch on.

Howe seems to have taken a Punk DIY ‘just get on and do it’ approach to writing: experimenting and learning as she goes along, rather than bending over backwards to fit the usual constraints of the publishing industry. And it certainly seems to be paying off.

3d9aac_c29c0e00d5f54575a1be3b84f8d1b517

Talking Musical Revolutions makes for a fascinating evening and with some thought-provoking questions from interviewer, Gavin Martin, a great selection of video clips (The Who, The Slits, Bauhaus and Dr Feelgood, for example – not just Falco and Duran Duran!) and some highly entertaining readings from her new book, the two hours just fly by.

Whether it’s her rock biographies or her new foray into the word of fiction, it’s clear that Zoë Howe deals with her subject matter with warmth, passion and good humour.

And at least one or two of those publications are likely to find their way on to my Christmas present wish-list this year.

http://www.zoehowe.com/

85320b_a06adc1ada4b4e73a367be48a4fa259bmv2

Photo from event publicity promo

 

Eliza Carthy at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 4/11/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

We see it in other musical genres, but with this one perhaps even more so, and second and third generation offspring of the 50s/60s folk revival have been making a significant impact on the contemporary folk scene.

This is unsurprising in a way, given that folk in its original sense was always about songs being passed down through generations.And there aren’t many singers with more impeccable credentials than Eliza Carthy, daughter of folk mainstay, Martin Carthy, and Norma Waterson, of the renowned Waterson singers.First up tonight, however, and keeping it within that illustrious family, is none other than Eliza’s cousin, Marry Waterson, performing with guitarist, David A Jaycock, with whom she’s just released an album.A warm, earthy and passionate singer she’s a good choice for support act, singing a mixture of songs from the duo’s album and from her family’s incredible back catalogue.

Although there are some similarities in the voices of both Eliza and Marry, the contrast between the opening act and the main act couldn’t be greater.

Where the first is stripped back, intimate and reflective the second is big, bold and theatrical. Eliza Carthy and the other eleven members of her latest venture, The Wayward Band, make an instant and lasting impact the minute they hit the stage.

It’s been called a folk supergroup and includes musicians from the likes of Bellowhead, Mawkin, Edward II and Peatbog Fairies.

It’s a very full sound (fiddles, cello, bass, guitar, keyboards, accordion, drums, percussion, brass section) and it’s possible that other folk singers could get a bit drowned out by such backing.

Not Eliza Carthy, though, who has both the strength of voice and the charismatic stage presence to never risk being overwhelmed.

Furthermore, they’ve put together a great selection of songs, too.

There will be a full album out in February but tonight those who wanted to hear more of The Wayward Band had to settle for buying the band’s EP.

Definite highlights from tonight’s set included a gloriously rumbustious ‘Good Morning Mr Walker’ and Carthy’s thoughtful reflection on the refugee crisis: ‘You Know Me’.

Introducing the song she said she felt moved to speak up for the long-standing and ancient tradition of offering hospitality to strangers.

Throughout the night the band were rewarded with a great reception from the crowd.

“Is this the new Bellowhead?” asks the poster advertising tonight’s gig. There are obvious similarities.

But there are obvious differences, too. Although there’s brass it’s not as dominant in the overall sound mix as it is in Bellowhead and in The Wayward Band there’s also an emphasis on Carthy’s own material as well as interpretations of traditional songs.

However, for those on the look-out for a big band that fills the stage and a big sound that fills the auditorium and an act that keeps folk music well and truly in the 21st century, Eliza Carthy and The  Wayward Band is definitely one to look out for.

Marry Waterson website: http://marrywaterson.com/

Eliza Carthy website http://www.eliza-carthy.com/
14947717_10154639273511449_7828087072667150063_n

The Divine Comedy at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 25/10/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

Perhaps one of the most unlikely outfits to come to prominence during the 90s Britpop era, Neil Hannon’s orchestral pop ensemble The Divine Comedy still retains a devoted following, is still selling records (the Foreverland album released in September hit number 7 in the UK charts) and is still filling venues.

The De La Warr Pavilion tonight is completely sold out and is absolutely ram packed by the time Hannon and his band take the stage.

Songs from throughout The Divine Comedy’s eleven-album career are greeted with a wave of affectionate familiarity as soon as each one starts up, not just the hit singles.

We are most certainly in the presence of a hall full of true fans. For the more casual observer like myself, I took the precaution of going along with a hardcore super-fan lest I needed anything explaining about the world of Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy.

I needn’t have worried. The evening was effortlessly and infectiously enjoyable.

Besides the ever-present Neil Hannon, The Divine Comedy has had a changing cast of supporting musicians over the years but he has certainly assembled a very talented bunch as they swoop through a vast variety of sounds and styles throughout the course of the evening.

There may be a wry tongue-firmly-in-cheek mode about many of the lyrics but the music is always delivered with absolute sincerity, authenticity and passion. Theatricality and musicality thus combine.

A few songs in and Hannon has donned a bowler hat and brolly for his scathing account of the global financial crash ‘The Complete Banker’ and later on he’s striding around the stage in full Napoleon outfit: ‘Napoleon Complex’ is the opening track on the new album by way of explanation.

One highlight is an unexpected but perfectly fitting cover of the late Cilla Black’s hit ‘Alfie’ before the band go on to perform Hannon’s own ‘Becoming More Like Alfie’

Hannon certainly has a gift for crafting lyrics. As a witty but bitter-sweet observation of everyday life ‘At The Indie Disco’ would even give some of Ray Davies’ finest tunes a good run for their money.

The small strip at the front of the stage starts filling up as a trickle of people leave their seats to dance along to it. “It’s fine by me,” says Hannon, “come on up.”

Soon the De La Warr Pavilion becomes its very own indie disco as more and more people squeeze to the front to dance away to this gloriously catchy tune, audience and performance melding into one.

From the back of the hall it couldn’t have looked any better if you had spent a week choreographing it.

It’s not long before everyone is out of their seats.

The whole place is on its feet for National Express, the bands biggest hit which has probably done more for brand awareness of the UK’s largest coach operator these past twenty years than any amount of paid-for advertising, even if the jolly hostess with the trolley does still struggle to get by to charge those sky high fees…

An utterly charming and naturally witty performer and a talented singer and song-writer with an ability to cross genres and elicit a whole range of emotions, in a different era Hannon would probably have been labelled an all-round entertainer.

For sheer talent and showmanship The Divine Comedy is clearly deserving of the loyal following it continues to attract.

http://thedivinecomedy.com/

1477498963212