Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Festival review – Bestival

My tent has barely been away 24 hours and the post-festival blues have hit me hard...so it's the perfect time to ponder whether Bestival 2012 was best of all. 

With a whopping great Glastonbury-shaped hole in our summers, my group of festival-loving friends and I decided to turn our attention to Bestival – the last of the big names in the festival calendar. It couldn't have gotten off to a better start as we arrived on the Isle of Wight on Thursday to find that holy grail of all festival trips – sunshine! The glorious September rays made for an especially joyful atmosphere and the site with its giant stars, love hearts, glowing swans, wishing tree and enchanted forest looked amazing. Not forgetting that 80% of the crowd were in permanent animal mode (the theme for this year was Wildlife). We were ready for everything the line up could throw at us. Here are just a few of my personal highlights.

Florence + The Machine never really disappoint but there was something especially brilliant about Florence when she headlined the main stage on Friday night. Maybe it was her pre raphaelite inspired look and staging but the whole thing felt as if Mother Nature herself had landed on the stage and bought with her strings, harps and a choir to teach us how to "just keep following the heartlines on your hand." It was completely magical. 

In contrast to the extravagance of Flo in full flow Daughter, made up of Elena Tonra and chums, sort of stumbled through their first couple of songs but by the time we hit the midway point I knew this was going to be one to remember. The band were completely dumbfounded that they'd managed to pack out the awesomely named Psychedelic Worm tent and the friends that I'd dragged along left converted to the Daughter cause (one even cried – that's how good it was.) 

Ryan Keen played a super set to a modest crowd (he was on exactly the same time as Ben Howard) and was the only act I saw at the festival to indulge the audience in a bit of a singsong (we love singsongs!). Yes, he's a friend of mine, but he's also a genius on guitar and with 25 festivals under his belt this summer he knows exactly how to give everyone a good time. 

In an all too familiar scenario the hype band of the moment Alt-J, were too big for the small stage on the outskirts of the arena on which they found themselves late on Friday afternoon. But that didn't stop heaps of us from sticking around outside to hear what all the fuss is about. They wisely got radio favourite Tessellate out of the way early on and impressed with the amount of really great tracks they have.

And then there was Miike Snow. Having seen them do their thing at Brixton Academy recently I knew their upbeat 90s dance vibe and pop lyrics would be a great start to the final night of the festival and I wasn't wrong. We all enjoyed the last few hours of the festival with their track Pretender stuck in our head and with smiles on our faces. 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Interview – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Written for and published by the awesome The 405.
Alex Ebert portrait by Natasha Thompson, see her blog, here

It's no secret that I love Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – I've even blogged about them a couple of times before. So when the lovely guys at The 405 asked if I would like to have a chat with lead singer Alex Ebert I jumped at the chance: 

Before you guys were Up from Below and now you’re Here – does that mean Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros have arrived?
You’ve put it together, right? You’re the first one! I mean that’s exactly how I describe it – the first album was reaching towards something and this album is sort of speaking from somewhere. The first album is moving towards someplace it wants to be and it’s sort of chaotic in that sense, it’s sort of desperate. But this album is speaking from a place that’s arrived and yeah…you’re exactly right.

How do you even make an album – there’s so many of you? There was a nice video going round of you all in the studio making some amazing sounds.
Well yeah, that’s basically how some of it happens. I think writing is still very often a very intimate experience but sometimes it happens on a group level and all at once. The thing that we really all did together consistently was work out arrangements and put the time in and be present to play our instruments over and over again and work out what was what and what goes where. That’s something that we didn’t really do on the first album – the first album was all like demo’d up before we recorded it so…

So there is kind of a more relaxed feel to this album maybe?
Yeah it’s a bit more relaxed and I gotta keep reminding people that it’s one part of a double album and the second part is coming out in November. And the second part is definitely a lot more rambunctious! It’s not necessarily that the end of this chapter has been reached and that’s where we stand, but this album is just part of what we wanted to express and it’s where we’re coming from right now.

And what’s the message you’re trying to spread with this first half of the double album?
I think to me, it’s defiance. That is the biggest theme to me, and that sort of commitment to joy and transcendence – even in the face of realism or pessimism and all that kind of thing. We get called a very joyful, celebratory band and I think that’s true but I don’t think we ignore, or that there would be any benefit of trying to ignore, all of the sort of more painful sides of life, we just like to be about transcending that stuff into something else.

Audiences really connected with the last album and loved those songs, what’s the reaction been to the new tracks when you’ve played them live?
Oh it’s amazing! Man On Fire is amazing live and we’re starting to play that really well and that’s been amazing. Child is amazing and Fiya Wata – we’ve been playing that for a long time, but Man On Fire has become this very frothy experience where everyone just starts going bananas and it’s really wild. It’s so fun… so fun.

You’re getting bigger and bigger though, have you lost some of ability to connect with audiences now you’re playing to bigger audiences?
No, we’re playing bigger venues and the thing is that it gets stranger and stranger that we’re not changing and making it a suddenly “professional show”. The juxtaposition gets greater and greater between who we are and what the venue assumes you’re supposed to be. But realising that I felt that pressure on myself just by being in these venues and what these venues sort of expect from you as structures – they sort of ask you to be regal and sort of a bit more highfalutin – and rebelling intentionally against that has been a really interesting experiencing. We sort of just break down those walls and fly into the audience, and hang out, and do our thing, without a setlist and all that – it’s pretty wild. And I think for some people, to be in one of those larger venues, and for it to still feel somewhat chaotic is a pretty jarring but hopefully liberating experience.

You played a very theatrical show at the Old Vic Tunnels in London last year. Any plans for more of that?
You know, a lot of effort goes into that kind of thing and a lot of people and a lot of time. We would love to something like that again but I think the closest we will come to that is when we come to play at Latitude Festival. But other than that we’re mostly just going to bring our bodies not bring a whole giant show. But what we might try and do is to involve local artists and local people who want to participate in something and wrap our heads around something. But for the most part, right now, we’re just concentrating on playing shows and making the music.

Here is out on Rough Trade now. 

Friday, 27 January 2012

Something for the weekend

We all look forward to the weekend, right? And after five days of screen staring, strip lighting and decidedly below-par coffee who can blame us. Those last few hours of keyboard bashing can really feel like they last forever (no offence intended workmates). Well. Here are three of the very twinkliest indie pop records to ease us all through that difficult transition period between work and weekend. Nothing particularly new or challenging on the ears - just what the music doctor ordered for a Friday afternoon...

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A very indie Christmas...

In a time when pop groups claiming to have the 'we can make Simon Cowell a lot of money' factor dominate the charts, it's easy to feel a bit cheated that Christmas no longer means a congregation of new festive themed songs. But fear not, the trend for covering old favourites and releasing original Christmas tracks seems to be on the up among folk and indie bands. Hurrah!

Unfortunately these songs will never be Christmas number one, so you do need to know where to look to get your Christmassy fix these days. I've pulled together six of the best from the last couple of years to get you feeling all festive again...

Sunday, 18 December 2011

This year was brought to you by the letter B

Well, I can hardly believe it but somehow it’s the end of yet another year, and that means (among other, more important things) writing about a few of my favourite albums for my seriously neglected blog! Instead of last year’s rather lazy approach, I’ve actually put a bit of thought into selecting this year’s top three. It was tough though, because I think it’s been an amazing year for music. In fact, this should probably be a top 11, because the albums listed at the end of this post are also bloody brilliant.

Some of the albums have probably missed out on being in the top three simply because they were released later in the year. And it’s also telling, that the top three are all bands that I managed to catch live – perhaps if I’d seen some of the other bands with new releases this year I would have picked them. Anyway, this is a run through of my top three albums this year.

And weirdly, my favourite artists of this year all begin with the letter B…


Beirut – The Rip Tide
This whole album is just kind of magical, and despite its short length (I think the running time is just over 30 minutes) I could listen to it over and over again, and still enjoy it as much as I did on the first listen. I mean, I defy anyone not to crack a smile at some point during Santa Fe. And if, like me, you’re someone who’s borderline obsessed with musical instruments of various shapes and sizes, then this band will never disappoint you. Afterall, it’s not often you get to see a guy performing a sousaphone solo, but Zach Condon’s bandmate pulls it off.

Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind Of Fix
This was the soundtrack to my summer. Well, actually this was the soundtrack to my ‘summer holiday’… to Cornwall… in October. Me and eight or so friends packed our bags with boardgames, CDs and, in my case, a ukulele and left the big smoke for a beautiful house on the cliff’s edge in Port Isaac. We spent a week just hanging out and drinking (and eating, the boys even caught us some fish), but this album was often on in the background. The increasing and decreasing energy of the tracks mirrored our own (yeah, drink-induced) highs and lows... much like the ebb and flow of the tide outside the window.

Bon Iver – Bon Iver
This is an album that crept in as one of my favourite listens while I wasn’t really paying attention (I was probably busy avoiding haircuts, or wondering if flowery Doc Martens were acceptable for work). Plus, Bon Iver’s gig at the Hammersmith Apollo in October was one of the most emotional I’ve ever been to. The title of most emotional belongs to Blur at Glastonbury 2009. Just ask my friends – blubbering wreck doesn’t even cover it, I'm surprised they still speak to me. Anyway, the girls sitting in front of us back in October sobbed all the way through, and although I managed to keep it together, there is no denying the enchanting quality of Justin Vernon’s almost otherworldly music. The band is one of the tightest I’ve ever seen live too, and create sounds that can really transport the listener to another place. 

Special mentions:
Alexander – Alexander, Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues, Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials, Metronomy – The English Riviera, Other Lives – Tamer Animals, Primal Scream – Screamadelica 20th Anniversary Edition, Slow Club – Paradise, The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

Monday, 31 October 2011

Live review - Bombay Bicycle Club, Brixton Academy, 19/10/11

Written for and published by the wonderful For Folk's Sake

Bombay Bicycle Club gave the crowd at Brixton a real treat, rattling through the best of their material from the last couple of years as seamlessly as a band that has been together for decades.

They opened with ‘Shuffle’ a track from new album A Different Kind of Fix, and immediately the energy was through the roof. ‘Your Eyes’, a standout from the album, was next and heralded the entrance of Lucy Rose (onstage for the second time that night after playing as support as well as band Dry The River). If, at this point, the crowd thought they were in for a ‘new stuff only’ type of gig, they were swiftly proved wrong.  Jack Steadman and his pals then embarked on ‘Dust On The Ground’ from first album I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose. Given that this song is a quieter offering than many of the tracks on that album, the boys really rocked it on the night.

They revisited a lot of their much-loved older material throughout the set, even stopping to admit just before launching into the raucous ‘Open House’, “We haven’t played this for a couple of years.” This bit of communication was unusual in itself as the band barely stopped for breath between songs (which kept the energy rising relentlessly).  By the time we made a return to the most current album with ‘Leave It’ the crowd was well and truly warmed up. ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’ got perhaps the biggest reaction of the night, indicating that a large proportion of the crowd were recent converts.

‘Always Like This’ was a true highlight and made us wonder whether the band hadn’t taken a (small) leaf out of Beirut’s book – the addition of some brass gave the track an almost Latin vibe.

Jack took to the stage alone for the first song of the encore and sang a beautiful, more than faintly Thom Yorke-tinged, version of ‘Still’ – the last track on ‘A Different Kind of Fix’. Just Steadman’s powerful yet vulnerable voice and the piano echoed through the Academy, bringing everyone down to earth a bit before ending on a storming version of ‘What If’. The contrast between these two tracks provided a great example of what Bombay Bicycle Club can do: in one instant write beautiful music that, at its best, rivals the likes of Radiohead, and in the next make a venue full of people jump around to what has become an indie rock standard.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

EP Review - My Crooked Saint, To Kill A King

Written and published for The 405, here.

Having already made some small waves on the folk scene, thanks largely to their signing to legendary London label Communion, To Kill A King look set to make a name for themselves with their extremely competent EP called My Crooked Saint.

Hailing from Leeds the band did some early gigs at Communion and have since won praise from Zane Lowe among others. So what’s all the fuss about? Well we begin with ‘Bloody Shirt’ a stomping and upbeat tune that shows off the bands musicianship and the brooding voice of singer Ralph Pellymounter, which incidentally has got to be one of the best names I’ve heard in a while.

‘Wrecking Crew’ runs with Pellymounter’s moodier side and confirms this band have rock running through their veins as well as the folksier stuff, which have lead to the inevitable comparisons with Mumfords and Sons, Noah and the Whale etc.

Perhaps what makes To Kill A King stand out though is that they are keen not just to make a good song but to tell a story too. The band have talked about releasing four music videos to go with each of the tracks, where the same characters pop up and the narrative develops with each video. This approach goes some way to proving the thoughtfulness behind Pellymounter’s songwriting and how this band put songs together.

To Kill A King aren’t all doom and gloom though, ’We Used To Protest/Gamble’ is a joyous and multilayered number, the jangly piano really helping to lift this song to approaching anthemic territory. ‘Family’ is more stripped back but there’s still plenty of evidence of careful arranging and orchestration, perhaps why the Guardian dubbed the band’s music orch-folk.

To Kill A King have all the tools they need to carve out a name for themselves in the folk circuit as a band that offer little of what we know and like about the genre already, but with perhaps a little something extra.