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SXSW 2014: the second half of Steve Lamacq’s BBC Introducing showcase at Latitude 30 – 13th March 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 3:00 pm
 

A universal problem faced by all punters attending any festival are the dreaded schedule clashes that tear your insides apart. When I met Steve Lamacq Wednesday night at Parish Underground, he asked if I was going to be at his BBC Introducing night at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 on Thursday night. It was surely going to be a huge night for Lammo,as he had not put on a showcase at SXSW since 2008, when he brought a then unknown Florence and the Machine to Austin. I knew where my night was going to begin – we’d RSVPed to a Sofar Sounds: Austin secret show nearly 10 miles north out of town but knew nothing else – and I felt terrible telling him I could not be there for the start when THUMPERS were due on at 8. But I promised him I’d do my best to get there as quickly as I could once we were done with our previous engagement. And anyone who knows me well knows I will do everything in my power to keep a promise.

After the Sofar show, we drove back into town and I prayed to the parking karma gods that we would find a decent space not too far from all the downtown action. I guess they listened. As soon as we were parked, I left Carrie, who had a leisurely walk to Cheer Up Charlie’s, and practically sprinted all the way down to Latitude 30, going the long way round via Trinity and 5th Street to avoid the busiest section of 6th Street. (Yes, folks, after having done it 3 years running, SXSW does run like a military manoeuvre in my head.) I just missed the eccentric Cousin Marnie, who finished shortly before I arrived. But I was okay with that, because I was looking for someone else. Well, five other someone elses.

I don’t normally go up to people I don’t know and ask for help looking for someone else. But SXSW is a unique animal, am I right? And if you don’t ask, you don’t get. There were a couple of guys sat on the benches outside Latitude 30, and I went straight up to one of them and said, “excuse me, sorry to bother you, but I’m looking for the guys in Longfellow. Do you know where they are?”

He laughed. “I’m in Longfellow!”

Oops! Maybe it was divine intervention, but I found who I was looking for. One of Fierce Panda Records’ most recent acquisitions, Longfellow are a London band who everyone, including compere for the night Steve Lamacq, is expecting huge things from. As a fan of many of the bands on the Fierce Panda roster, when I received their first single ‘Siamese Lover’ in my email, I had to have a listen. I was instantly smitten. As the band were only playing this one BBC Introducing showcase and it was going to be their American premiere appearance, I knew I had to be there. I wished them good luck and we were going to catch up afterward, which we did for this post-gig interview in which they were humble, yet wide-eyed lads eager to start the next phase of their career.

I viewed their actual performance as a bit of a fairy tale, so I can only imagine how they must have felt. They don’t even have a debut album out yet, but Steve Lamacq took a chance on them and the other UK acts playing in the showcase that night. Because the BBC were both recording audio and video of the night, you can imagine the lighting was even more impeccable than on any of the other British Music Embassy nights. Nerves must have run rampant as this was the London band’s first experience with an American audience, but they played as if seasoned veterans as Austin – and later through BBC iPlayer – listened and watched on. In a particularly heartfelt moment, frontman Owen Lloyd – whose speaking voice some compare to Prince William’s – thanked the BBC and everyone who’d been supporting them up to this point, even going so far as to dedicate their next single ‘Hug – Kiss – Makeup’ . Bless. I’ve included the BBC’s professional video of the song below, because you’ll spy the camera of someone else who was videotaping the song as well. (Guess who.)

There’s an anthemic quality to many of their songs, which explains why many people are already making their predictions that Longfellow is on track to become the next Coldplay. As the lights alternated from red to blue to purple from song to song, I couldn’t help thinking about that crazy wristband thing Chris Martin and co. did at stadium shows a couple years ago and wondered if this was a sign of things to come. However, the deepness and heightened emotions of Lloyd’s voice beats out Martin’s easily. ‘Waiting for Elvis’ was a highlight, as was an earlier song of theirs, ‘Gabrielle’, which will remind you of Chapel Club‘s debut album, except brighter when the song breaks open at the chorus. However, it was ‘Siamese Dream’ that swept me into a dancing mood, and I’m sure I amused more than a couple staring Americans.

That night, I also caught BBC Sound of 2014 nominees Royal Blood. But maybe ‘caught’ is the wrong word, as I could only stand four songs (I hung tight for behemoth ‘Little Monster’; see video below) before I had to give my ears a rest. I probably should have stood in the back instead of trying to be down the front in a desperate attempt to photograph Mike Kerr (vocals / bass) and Ben Thatcher (drums) but it was kind of pointless, because unlike Longfellow’s gorgeous multi-coloured light display, Royal Blood basically played in near darkness. Sorry John, I am sure you are disappointed, but I figured if I had stood there any longer, my ears would start bleeding.

I met with Carrie later on, who was waiting for CYMBALS to bring the dance funk to the indoor stage at Cheer Up Charlie’s. But in a hilarious twist of fate, I accidentally got swept up in the wrong crowd, having been directed into the wrong queue and ended up knee deep with the photographers on a raised platform waiting for Future Islands on the outdoor stage instead. Seeing that the buzz surrounding Future Islands at this year’s SXSW was so massive, yet I didn’t bother to wait for them to start as I was concerned I’d be swallowed up by the crowd once they began playing, I beat a hasty retreat to be reunited with Carrie inside.

And if you were wondering about my keeping my promise to Lammo, I found him inside Latitude 30 before Longfellow took to the stage. I proudly showed him the photos I’d taken on my camera to show him why I wasn’t able to arrive to his showcase any earlier and who I’d gone to see. Upon seeing a band important to both of us, he smiled. When I told him that I was interviewing Longfellow after they played, he replied, “that’s great. They’ll be dead chuffed!” “Dead chuffed” is actually how I would describe myself upon meeting this band who I think has what it takes to be massive stars.

 

Live Review: Meursault with Sick Lion at the Crown, Baltimore, MD – 24th March 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

While Baltimore is not that far away, it is a hike from DC, so I personally don’t get out there as often I probably should. However, this past Sunday was a very special occasion and related to the week Carrie and I spent out in Austin for this year’s SXSW. We haven’t gotten to our Saturday SXSW coverage yet (hopefully it’ll be all online later this week), but a band that impressed us so much that we ended up seeing them twice in 7 hours was Edinburgh band Meursault, fronted by singer/songwriter Neil Pennycook. Myself and Cheryl, who I knew would love them upon first listen, headed north to see the band play in Baltimore, as the previous night’s show in Washington had been cancelled. It’s like they say, desperate times call for desperate measures… Joining Pennycook at SXSW and on a tour of America via RV are Rob St. John on bass and Sam Mallalieu on drums.

I celebrated my 5 years in music writing while we were in Austin, and I have been contemplating quite a bit about how my musical tastes have changed since 2009. I like to think that since starting my music as a professional venture, I have broadened my horizons significantly when it comes to sounds and voices I like, though I sincerely wonder if I would have liked Meursault if they had appeared at my first SXSW in 2012. Probably not. However, this year as we stood spellbound watching them play stood down the front at the British Music Embassy, there is no question that in Mary Chang’s life, there is certainly room for headbanging. While I think both Cheryl and I assumed the Crown on North Charles Street would be a dive bar, we were surprised by the impressive array of libations on tap (they had cider on tap, which is rare to find in DC) and the menu from which we could order from even at 10 at night. Take that, Washington. Crispin’s for $6? We may have just found our new favourite bar.

The opening act was local to Baltimore solo artist Lucas Rambo, playing under the moniker Sick Lion. The gig promoter explained to me that Rambo is in another band, American Folklore, but his work with Sick Lion is “more soundscape-y”. Definitely on the experimental side of things, Rambo wore a large straw hat and a navy blue trenchcoat-cum-housecoat, but you couldn’t really see him because he was squatting down behind one of the monitors on the stage. I’m not sure if he did this because he’s shy or if in that position, he felt his voice sounded better.

From what we could see from our vantage point, Rambo had a fairly swish sequencer at his disposal, and was intoning gloom into his microphone. A visit to his Bandcamp does show you even he himself describes his music as ‘spooky’, so make of that what you will, in addition to a video of burning Mexican prayer candles projected on the screen behind him. Unfortunately, he was a little too out there experimentally for us to appreciate, I think.

After watching and thoroughly enjoying two sets by Meursault in Austin, I recognised the guitars on stage when we arrived at the Crown and started to get a little giddy. Oddly, the woman taking covers at the door asked *me* if I knew what was happening there that night. I was happy to help – I explained to her that a kick arse band from Edinburgh were to play there that night – but being asked that by staff there was a little strange to say the least! That began my night on a funny note. And the humour kept coming, thanks first to a projection of the ’80s film Blue Velvet superimposed on top of the band as they played, then on to Pennycook.

The man is clearly witty, and I don’t know if it’s a Scottish thing, but I was bowled over by the friendships I made – and continued – with Scots at this SXSW that I am confident that the Scots are a very charming people. Pennycook made everyone at the Crown laugh by asking open questions like, “is there anyone here who has never seen a Scottish person before?” He even solicited questions from the audience, with one punter biting, asking him, “what does Scott Hutchison smell like?”, to which he answered, “vanilla.” The punter was won over, saying, “I was just testing you.” Laughter all around.

But we were there for the music, right? Pennycook is also clearly someone who gives his songwriting an awful lot of thought. Sunday night’s rockier version of ‘William Henry Miller’ was inspired by a rockier cover by fellow Scots PAWS of the Meursault original, which was intended to be played on banjo. Got all that? Also, there’s this rumour that William Henry Miller, an actual Scottish politician, was a hermaphrodite and the legend has it that he wanted to be buried face down so he could watch the sinners down in hell. Or so sayeth Pennycook. Either way, it makes for an intriguing premise for a song, and I think we all agree that for a rock show, we’d rather hear the punked out version, yeah?

The set ended with the age old question in a song title ‘Was ist das?’, which is about as good as any song to dispel this horrible rumour having been spread round by someone reviewing this year’s SXSW that Meursault are an alt-folk band. Yes, so what if Pennycook knows how to play a banjo? Alt-folk bands don’t jump down from the stage and wail on their guitars, ok? Alt-folk bands also do not have a lead singer whose emotion you can feel in his visceral roars into the microphone and incites headbanging and hair flying. Listen to Meursault, and you will hear the difference. And maybe they’ll change your life.

 

SXSW 2014: secret Sofar Sounds Austin show – 13th March 2014

 
By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 1:00 pm
 

On the Thursday night of SXSW 2014, Mary and I had the unique opportunity to attend a special show outside the confines of downtown Austin. After our separate early afternoon activities, we met up and drove to a farther corner of the city for a Sofar Sounds showcase held in a private home and hosted by the Sofar Sounds: Austin team, which included the evening’s emcees, Amy Langton and Joanna Jurgens, videographer Brian Ferguson and photographer Bryan Taylor.

The stated purpose of Sofar Sounds is to connect emerging artists with enthusiastic new fans via small and intimate performances. The gigs are recorded and shared later with a larger audience, but only a select number of Sofar subscribers are admitted at the live shows. Though the lineup of bands for the evening was secret, we were assured that we would hear some high quality musicianship, so we decided to take a chance and try it out. We weren’t disappointed with the bill we discovered when we arrived, which included two British bands previously covered by TGTF. We were encouraged by the event organizers to share our experiences on social media and we happily obliged, as you’ll see by the tweets we’ve shared below.

The first act of the evening played outdoors in the host family’s backyard, just as the sun was setting. The atmosphere couldn’t have been more perfect for indie rockers Cheers Elephant, who played a cozy set featuring mellow acoustic guitar melodies and sweetly blended vocal harmonies. Fans of West Coast rock bands like Dawes won’t want to miss this band, who are no doubt more energetic in a fully electric context.

After Cheers Elephant’s set, and the sunset as well, we were moved inside the house to hear the rest of the evening’s acts, who had been busy setting up in the hosts’ living room while we were outside. Next up was Lansing, Michigan’s alt-country troubadour Small Houses, known offstage as Jeremy Quentin, who now splits his time between Atlanta and Philadelphia. He was accompanied by an old friend from Austin who was able to step in at the last minute and learn the second guitar parts especially for this private gig. The true magic of SXSW lies in this type of improvisatory cooperation among musicians; we were fortunate to see several examples of musicians’ kinship during the week, and this was indeed a special one. The two men played brilliantly off of each other, trading guitar riffs and countermelodies as seamlessly as if they’d played together for years.

Following Small Houses was folk singer/songwriter Kelley McRae, who performed with her husband in yet another case of exceptional communion between musicians. McRae’s heavenly singing voice was clearly the main focus of the songs in their set, but the couple’s warmth and familiarity allowed them a level of comfort and flexibility not always seen on live stages. Their brand of Americana completely lacks the slick and superficial predictability of mainstream country music, its authenticity shining through the honest lyrics and solid musicianship. I was impressed enough to nab a copy of McRae’s CD ‘Brighter Than The Blues’ after the show was over.

There was a slight delay after McRae’s set, to allow time for British electro-pop group Dems to prepare for what would be a complete 180-degree turn in terms of musical style and mood. More dependent on electronic equipment than any other band on the docket, Dems had some technical difficulties earlier in the day, which left them borrowing an amplifier from Langton for their show. Undaunted, they played an enthusiastic if somewhat unrehearsed set, and if I hadn’t been required to remain seated due to the videography at the secret gig, I would have happily bounced along to their beats. In lieu of that, Mary let her fingers do the dancing on Twitter.

The last act of the Sofar Sounds showcase was The Crookes, whom I’ve now seen a few times, but never quite in this context. Frankly, I had trouble imagining a seated Crookes show, because I always associate this band with joyful, unfettered dancing. But I did manage to remain seated, and I was delighted to hear unusual takes on some old favorite tunes, including George Waite solo on ‘The I Love You Bridge’ and a cover of the Wreckless Eric song and their ‘Maybe in the Dark’ single’s b-side ‘Whole Wide World’. While I gather that these versions are stalwarts for The Crookes on the British side of the pond, they were new and enchanting to this American fan. I smiled through the acoustic version of ‘Afterglow’, even though it left me desperately longing for the full-on electric version; I’d have to wait until later in the week to hear that one again.

Collected donations from this Sofar Sounds Austin show were given to the SXSW Cares Fund, to help the victims of the drink driving incident at the Mohawk the night before.

 

SXSW 2014 Interview: Until the Ribbon Breaks

 
By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Update 17/06/2020: This interview is no longer online. I did another interview with Paul Lawrie-Winfield in 2015 that you can read here.

For quite a while, I’ve had to argue with my non-dance music loving friends that dance has heart. Peter Lawrie-Winfield (pictured far right at top), aka the man behind Until the Ribbon Breaks further bolsters my theory, as he sings as soulfully as Bryan McKnight but to my glee, there are plenty of beats behind him. And he also plays trumpet! What doesn’t this man do?

Taken together, he’s one intriguing live performer indeed. I was so impressed by his appearance at the Universal Music Group takeover at the Palm Door on Sixth Thursday afternoon that straight after he got offstage, I asked him if we could do an interview and we agreed to meet on Friday afternoon, after he played the British Music Embassy’s showcase there. We talk about where the name of his act comes from, how he himself views his music and position in the business, his influences and much more. Have a listen to the interview below.

Thanks very much to the wonderful Pete for such a nice chat, and best wishes to you in Los Angeles!

 

SXSW 2014 Interview: Cocos Lovers

 
By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 11:00 am
 

In the middle of my hectic Wednesday night at SXSW 2014, I had the chance to sit down for what turned out to be a rather in-depth music discussion with two members of Kentish alt-folk group Cocos Lovers, Will Greenham and Phil Self. Will and Phil were kind enough to indulge my questions while they had a quick meal before their set at Esther’s Follies. While they didn’t end up onstage with Gabby Young and Other Animals on the night, they did have plenty to juggle for their own show. We talked about Cocos Lovers’ live arrangements and instrumentation, as well as their studio techniques and recording plans for the near future, and upcoming plans for a show with another TGTF-featured band.

 

MP3 of the Day #816: Cloud Boat

 
By on Tuesday, 25th March 2014 at 10:00 am
 

Sadly, I missed London’s Cloud Boat at SXSW 2014 (sob). But there is good news: a new album on R&S is supposed to drop this summer. I’m guessing this track, ‘Carmine’, will be on the second LP offering. Listen to and grab it while you can from the Soundcloud widget below.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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