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Liverpool Sound City 2012: Initial impressions and festival launch party

 
By on Wednesday, 6th June 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

You might be surprised to hear it after sunny Brighton, but I was really looking forward to heading oop North and on to Liverpool for Sound City. It really is like being in a different country, going from as far south as possible on English land up to the Northwest’s biggest port city. It’d been 5 years since my last visit to ‘pool and I was quite excited. A security man in the Lime Street station helped me with my bag, said he enjoyed my accent (which seems to be a running theme whenever I visit blighty?) and directed me to help his coworker figure out a honeymooning place for he and his future wife in America. Do I look like a travel agent? Maybe it is my disarming American nature. Or my bashful grin. Who knows!

I had a “pinch me I’m in Liverpool” moment realising that indeed, the place I’d chosen to hang my hat for 4 days and nights was within sight of the Liver Building. Upon arriving at my hotel, an old but kindly old man helped me carry my bag up the steep stairs into the lobby and all he wanted was a hug. I couldn’t say no. Besides, the man was wearing a red Liverpool F.C. jacket and then unzipped it to reveal further LFC kit. Yep, I was definitely in Liverpool! (Unfortunately, while I was having lunch next to a tv tuned to Sky a couple hours later, I learned that they’d given the boot to Kenny Daglish. I decided then it was probably not the week to visit either Anfield or Melwood. Next time. Instead, I spent the sunny day taking some snaps of the Albert Dock.

That evening, I was pleased to be asked to join an invite-only party at the Town Hall, the official launch to this year’s Sound City festival, the night before things officially got underway. The Lord Mayor, dressed in all his medals and finery, gave a speech welcoming everyone to the city, as did David Pichilingi, the festival director, explaining that the festival was merely “5 years young” and getting bigger and better every year. Besides bigwigs making big speeches, nice hors d’oeuvres and free alcohol, there was also a performance courtesy of local sons the Hummingbirds.

If you’re a regular TGTF reader you probably could tell from reading the Bands to Watch piece I did on them in January that I really dig them. This night was just the start of their busy gigging schedule for the next couple of days, which included an appearance for the Queen the next morning when she made a visit to Albert Dock and an appearance on CALM’s stage at Bumper on Thursday night. I’m glad that I made it to this launch party, as I missed the show for the Queen (too many people, though you can see in the video below, people get very excited to see her car go by) and the timing was just too tight for me to run down to Bumper and back between the last two acts I planned to catch. It also appeared that their interview schedule was busy because I never managed to get them in one place so I could chat with them for a TGTF feature, but I believe our friends at the AU Review cornered them, so I’ll keep an eye out for a link.

Let’s face it, playing for a bunch of industry types who are there more to mingle than to actually pay attention to the band performing on stage is a bit rough going. Despite this, I thought the Hummingbirds sounded great and the upstairs reception room in the Town Hall had good acoustics for their skiffle-y setup. Rather appropriately, they ended their short set with ‘Back in Liverpool’. Aww. I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about that song. That was a definite coulda shoulda woulda videotape moment that I did not take advantage of. Sniffle. (Yes, I can be a big softy…sometimes.)

The night ended on a sad note, when I realised the next day after turning over everything in my hotel room, confirming I’d a favourite pink scarf I’d had practically forever somewhere between the Town Hall and walking back from an Irish pub in the centre of town to my hotel. End of an era. Hope a nice lady found it and gets as many years of use as I did with it.

 

Live Gig Video: 1/2 of Van Susans play an acoustic version of ‘Rat Race’ on the Echo Wheel of Liverpool

 
By on Friday, 1st June 2012 at 4:00 pm
 

Van Susans – or rather 1/2 of their band: singer Olly Andrews, guitarist Eddie Dullaway and fiddler Holly Mclatchie – jumped on the Wheel of Liverpool right outside the Echo Arena to record a stripped down version of their song ‘Rat Race’. The tune will feature on their debut album to be released this summer, called ‘Paused in the Moment’. Matching up with the Queen, the band are planning some pretty exciting things for themselves this Jubilee weekend. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for the latest.

I actually rode this the wheel the day before they did and reported to them it went round four times and sussed this was plenty of time to record a song. And I did get a credit for this video, guys!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXDU8ip7lK8[/youtube]

 

Live Gig Video: The Gaslight Anthem’s entire set at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg

 
By on Thursday, 31st May 2012 at 4:00 pm
 

The Gaslight Anthem played a great show in Brooklyn, New York City at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in mid-May. For their fans, they’ve put it it on Livestream so you can watch the entire performance. Enjoy it below.

 

Luke’s Alphabet Tour – K: Krystle Warren at London Dingwalls – 22nd May 2012

 
By on Thursday, 31st May 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

As you stroll into Dingwalls you’re met with the humble surroundings of wine glasses on candlelit tables. Couples and friends chat and drink in the flickering light while understated, soothing music creates a relaxed ambiance but also one filled with anticipation for tonight’s showstopping songstress, Krystle Warren.

The Kansas-born singer/songwriter has popped into the Camden venue this evening – after a run of shows with Rufus Wainwright – to showcase tracks from her new LP ‘Love Songs – A Time You May Embrace’ to a devoted audience. The intimate room is full of fans of all ages from all walks of life who feel the same passion for music that flows through the veins of this talented musician.

Despite usually being accompanied by The Faculty, tonight Krystle’s entourage are the folky five-piece The Wagon Tales who only met the frontwoman yesterday after learning her extensive set list. With a musical arsenal including a banjo, double bass and a mandolin, the bluegrass sound of the American Midwest comes alive in North London through an array of harmonious, heartfelt ditties delivered in a beautiful baritone.

The names of Nina Simone and Tracy Chapman are often thrown around to describe this talented performer and the comparison is just. The tone of Krystle’s voice and her onstage persona is just so similar to these legendary singers that she may one day join the ranks of. Opener ‘Tuesday Morning’ is a folk/country ballad that starts the ball rolling as those without a table toward the back begin to warm up their dancing (primarily swaying) feet.

William Blake‘s 1794 poem ‘The Clod and the Pebble’ also receives the American jazz/country treatment but still keeps the inherent whimsy and English romanticism. Stating that she prefers sad songs, Krystle’s show is one in which loss and love underscore everything, which is in stark contrast to the upbeat nature of Kansas bluegrass and country. ‘I Worry Less’ and ‘Sadness is a Good Thing’ crossover the borders of blues and pop seamlessly while the merry minstrels on stage never miss a beat. It’s unbelievable these musical maestros met only a day previous as they’re tighter than a hipster’s jeans.

Ending on a rousing, gospel-like chorus of the words “forget me not” echoing throughout the audience, Krystle’s deafening standing ovation is wholly deserved. Over an hour of heartstring-pulling folk fused with jazz, blues and country leaves this London crowd elated at the discovery of their new American folk hero.

 

Great Escape 2012: Final thoughts and Day 3 Evening Roundup – 12th May 2012

 
By on Thursday, 31st May 2012 at 1:00 pm
 

After a happy meetup with my NYC PR friend Marni and some finger food from the final press reception of this year’s Great Escape, I was on my own again. As a wheat allergy sufferer, finding food to go can be a bit of a challenge; for example, pasties aren’t too good for my body, and neither are sandwiches. I can have an occasional hamburger bun, but I try to avoid bread and pasta where I can. Knowing I had hours ahead of me for my last night at the festival, I decided to duck into the Yo Sushi! across the street from the Hub that I’d been eyeing for days. After a particularly unsuccessful time – I guess Brighton’s locals aren’t fans of raw fish, as I only managed 2 plates of salmon sushi after sitting there for 40 minutes – I up and went. Gutted.

My evening had to be restructured entirely on the announcement that Reverend and the Makers would no longer be supporting Africa Express Soundsystem, so to this day I still have yet to set foot and cover a show in the Dome. Next year. I had a difficult choices to make: I sadly had to give a pass to Perfume Genius at St. Mary’s Church because there was no way I’d get back up to the Pavilion Theatre and get in successfully for Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny, a band I’d circled in red early on as a must see. Then there was some confusion in my mind who I should see before then. In a fit of slight desperation, I started reading the band descriptions in my now dog-eared schedule book for some guidance. I’d heard of Fanzine and thought maybe going to see Novella the band before them, might be interesting. Maybe. “Encountering drone and dream-pop with the same glassy-eyed nonchalance, London trio Novella may seem dazed, but their grass-roots credentials prove they’re far from confused.” They had also graced the Dome prior to Maximo Park’s appearance on Thursday night, so I thought, hmm, that’s a plan.

The Audio sign was relatively easy to find. I breathed a sigh of relief. However, a mix of drunk stag party participants spilling out on the pavement and actual festival goers made for bewilderment requiring me to ask the two bald guys out front for help. I don’t know what is up with most of the bouncers that work the Great Escape, but geez, when a woman comes and asks you a question nicely, is it so hard to answer truthfully and without nastiness or sarcasm? I got another “there’s no way in hell you’re getting in there” kind of response. Then I asked about Above Audio. “Oh, you can go right in there. There’s no queue.” Now you’re talking my language.

Funnily enough, Above Audio was where my mate Ed and his mates had gathered. “You’re not going to like this very much,” he commented about the first act up and Brighton locals Regal Safari. He meant because they’re chillwave, and this is true, I’m not a fan of that genre. But perhaps it was all the alcohol that was flowing, but I quite enjoyed their style of dance music so much I could feel my feet, though sore, still itching to move to the beat. After the set, my friends soon departed but I wasn’t alone for long.

Suddenly it was Blog Up all over again when Shell Zenner, Mike Bradford of the Recommender, Robin of Breaking More Waves and I found ourselves in the same patch of club space. Seriously, given the number of shows happening at that very moment in Brighton, what are the odds? (Also, how do we NOT have a single photo?!?) We exchanged advice and moans of conflicts remaining for our weekends and at Robin’s advice, I stayed for Gold and Youth, a Canadian band Paul Lester has compared to Depeche Mode. They’re an electronic band but in the ‘80s sense that seems to be a nostalgic bent a lot of bands are trying to ape. Not sure if I agree with their label Arts and Crafts’ description of “neo-noir Los Angeles, cinematic haze and midnight solitudes”. But there is a definite dark, brooding nature that history has shown works extremely well with industrial synth action going hand to hand with great songwriting, and if this one performance is anything to go by, I think this band – now augmented with a female singer and bassist! – will be going places. Watch some live videp of the band below. (Sorry for the guy who was walking back and forth in front of the camera; that was their roadie and I was already taking my chances standing on the stage…that said, I have to say that I love the fact that in most UK venues, you can video as much as you please. Not the way with American venues…)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQaxepsYXqk[/youtube]

I am sure it is quite ironic, seeing that I’m an American, that I’ve not seen Howler live before. However, I shouldn’t have even bothered to head to Komedia, as it felt like the whole of Brighton descended on that very venue’s upstairs for Alabama Shakes. (Zzz.) Should I tell you what the bouncer there said to me? I should. (Incidentally, he is the same bouncer that took a horrible photo of me with the Crookes that morning and demanded 5 quid for his trouble. Very funny.) I asked where Komedia upstairs was. “You’re not getting in, it’s one in, one out now.” (Please keep in mind that I had arrived an hour before Howler was due on stage, and nearly 3 hours before Alabama Shakes’ set time.) I asked if this was the line he was giving every single punter who asked (insinuating he was just putting out false information). He gave a stern look. “No, I’ve been saying that all night to compensate for my small penis.” And there you have it, folks.

You really can’t follow that up with anything else, so I asked how the capacity for the Komedia’s Studio Bar. Wordlessly, he pointed his bald head in the direction of the door. I have no idea why Komedia downstairs doesn’t put on shows at night – they have the space, so they should, why not? – but after getting a little lost (admittedly still buzzed from the cider imbibed at Above Audio) I finally made it to catch the last couple songs of JD McPherson, who is best described as a white man having a go at being Little Richard and succeeding. After the disappointment of not getting into Howler, this was an impressive find and unlike anything I expected to hear at the Great Escape this year. I imagined this must have been the way the Beatles felt when they first heard ‘Tutti Frutti’. Watch his video for ‘North Side Gal’ below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZGn4LncY0g[/youtube]

I gave up the illusion I was getting close enough to take photos; the bar was packed full of sweaty revelers who hooted their approval for their new god. It might not have been the most inventive or original music at the festival, but who cares when you’ve got a whole room of very happy people? I was situated in the back, next to a group of girls in cute dresses and flower headband contraptions that must have taken forever to arrange. When I inquired – successfully – if they were part of a hen party and went on to declare my admiration for their outfits, I got hugs all around. Apparently they had not been treated well by the festival punters they’d spoken to, who had all declared that they were there specifically to get pissed. Their spokeswoman quickly clarified to me that it was the bride to be’s request that her hen do take place around the Great Escape because music is so important to her. That’s it. You’ve all been informed. When I’m getting married, I’m having my hen do around a music festival. That’s the way to do it!

Seeing that I had been thwarted on getting in on the venue Howler was playing way before the fact, I decided it was probably best if I stopped swanning about and headed to the Pavilion Theatre, where I would stay for the night. Not really sure how queues work for this place; maybe they counted everyone in the downstairs bar in the capacity? I arrived at the Club Uncut stage with the room half full, people sitting cross-legged on the floor while Hans Chew played. Jazz and blues are not my forte, unless there’s a definite rock ‘n’ roll edge to it (see JD McPherson above), and while he and his guitarist sounded well matched, I wasn’t feeling it.

I had another band to sit through, but “sit through” is the wrong phrase to use, because they actually got me up and hopping. Solar Bears, a Irish electronic duo, brought the beats and had me and my new friends (friends who actually enjoyed Django Django the night before and were being respectful and not shouting at each other!) and I were dancing up a storm. Yes, there were people being stupid and sitting on the floor still, but man, it was their loss. Apparently film scores and soundtracks play a big part in their musical upbringing, but I enjoyed what I considered a quite dynamic and fun electronic music experience.

Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny. Ooh. I don’t think I was adequately prepared. I was disappointed they weren’t dressed up in multi-coloured outfits. But Beth herself explained to the audience that they had just come back from a tour of Europe and were exhausted, and she was wearing a t-shirt that belonged to a bandmate and after a cursory nasal check, announced that it smelled. (Er…TMI.) When people say a woman’s voice sounds like a songbird, I usually am let down when I finally hear the woman and find she sounds nothing like a bird. Beth Jeans Houghton doesn’t sound like a bird but her operatic tones give any bird on a tree near you a run of its money. On paper, you’d think that her style of singing wouldn’t work in the pop environment, and that’s where you would be wrong. But listen to a bit of the live performance of below and decide for yourself.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BsOa7GiSgA[/youtube]

EMA followed with a down and dirty, grungey sound. And she had props! What looked like a hollowed out mirrorball hung from Erika M. Anderson’s mike stand. And for ‘Angelo’, she festooned herself with strings of lit Christmas lights; if you don’t believe me, watch the video below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWF6OvwOQuk[/youtube]

And that’s how my Great Escape ended, hanging with new friends and checking out a band I knew little about. Both things are what this festival was about. And I feel incredibly lucky I got to experience it this year, see 21 bands, and interview the Crookes. I feel quite isolated and alone in Washington, so something very special about the Great Escape was that it gave me the chance to meet so many bloggers and people involved in the music business in the welcoming realm of UK music that it gives me a fuzzy feeling just thinking about it. Same time, next year? Make mine a Kopparberg pear cider and I’ll see you down the front.

 

Great Escape 2012: Day 3 Afternoon Roundup – 12th May 2012

 
By on Wednesday, 30th May 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

Being at the Great Escape can be surreal: wending your way through crowds; down unknown cobblestoned lanes, only to find yourself at a dead end; drinking to be sociable and to have fun but not drinking too much that you won’t remember anything the next day, for you have know you have to come up with not just intelligible but thought-provoking reviews. So there’s nothing like a bit of Real Life to put you squarely back in the present. As I was getting ready to take on Great Escape Day 3, I was stopped by a phone call from reception saying she had arrived.

My spot of Real Life was provided by my good friend Jennie; we are and have been sisters in the Duran Duran fandom for years. Obviously (but unlike most of the Guardian’s readership it appears), we are both chuffed that Duran Duran were chosen to play at this summer’s London Olympic Games. Jennie often reads my Facebook page for a laugh, if only to bemoan that she knows nothing about the ‘indie’ bands that fill up my time and cause my heart to go a-flutter. I explain to her that I’m going to see a band from Sheffield in mere hours, following that with an interview, and all my insides have gone to mush, because I’ve had an ostensible band crush on them the first time Steve Lamacq gave their first single a spin on his Radio1 programme. (And that would be quite a while ago, since as you remember, Radio1 stupidly gave Lammo and his ‘In New Music We Trust’ show the boot in summer 2009.)

This is all happening while we’re watching her daughter, now talking and walking yet very bashful around ‘Auntie Mary’, playing around in this giant sandbox Brighton has down by the seafront. I can see now why Brighton is a kid’s paradise; the world’s your oyster when you’re playing in the sandbox, innit? It’s kind of sobering, stood there watching kids play and being kids, accepting this isn’t the life you’ve chosen. Reunions in my circle of schoolfriends now include everyone wanting to see my holiday snaps from England or wherever else I’ve been, everyone gawking, “that must be nice, to go on vacation whenever you want. You can’t do that…when you’ve got kids.” I’m not sure how or if I’m supposed to answer. Part of living life is coping with the hand you’re dealt. That’s how it’s been with me. On the other hand, sometimes I want to say to these people, “you chose that life.” And I chose this life. And music.

But before we risk falling into an entire post philosophising, you might be wondering which band I was referring to. And that would be the Crookes. It seems everyone else I knew who liked them had already seen them loads of times. Even a close mate’s band went on an entire tour with them. So I gave my goodbyes to my dear friend and her dear little sprog to queue early outside the Hope. As happened all weekend, a simple question of, “which is the right queue for delegates?” was met with a smarmy answer: “Pick one. Maybe you’ll be lucky.” I held my tongue in and hoped for the best with the right-hand queue. But I can tell you, there was about as much order as a queue to board an Amtrak train in Washington bound for New York. I got there early, and once they let us go inside to form a queue, I was #3 in line. And I was not going to be cut in front of by girls who showed up late and started their own queue parallel to ours. (For the record, they tried, but I ran – I mean ran – so I was practically stepping on the shoes of the bloke in the queue in front of me. A thousand apologies, dude. But desperate times call for desperate measures.)

I looked behind me, hearing American accents and thinking I’d get some back up in this regard; when I tried to exchange pleasantries with the couple, I was disappointed that they sounded snobby. And entitled. “We come every year.” I kind of gathered this by the tone and their badges, which in hindsight I probably should have examined more closely but I didn’t feel like bothering, as I had it in my head that they were just posh punters. As you can probably imagine, I didn’t run into too many Americans at either music festival I attended, and the Americans I knew and spent time with are all involved in music blogging or PR, so they’re all lovely people. Anyone else, though, was a different story. I hate thinking this is the way we look to everyone else at music festivals abroad. No-one should swan into these situations thinking they’re better than everyone else simply because of their nationality. Dear me. Maybe offering up those fish and chips the other night at the Queens Hotel gave me good karma? All I know is that the quickest way to alienate yourself in a new and potentially uncomfortable situation is acting all holier-than-thou…

So after practically running over Punter #2, it was up the stairs and into the performance space. Whoa. The Hope is tiny, with room for about 100, and that’s shoe-horning them in. For my first Crookes appearance, I couldn’t have hoped for a more intimate experience. They were a late addition to the Great Escape, so I could hardly believe my luck. Glad I arrived early…

While I organised myself with notepad and cameras, I said hello to singer/bassist George Waites and explained I was from America. Poor guy, I think I may have given him a whole load of anxiety playing for someone who’d come all that way to see them. (Sorry George! Geez, I’m already apologizing all over on this Saturday, aren’t I?) They started with ‘Chorus of Fools’, a track off their 2011 Fierce Panda debut ‘Chasing After Ghosts’. “You and me / were fated to be / so damn blue”: I remember hearing these words and thinking they were some of the saddest lyrics I’d ever heard. Yet in the confines of a herky jerky, animated set by the Crookes, there was no sorrow to be had. The stage, which of course was just as tiny as the ‘club’ area was, buzzed with life as arms, limbs and guitars went flying as they were played (mostly) with reckless abandon.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rcwf_VnXNHM[/youtube]

Newer singles ‘American Girls’ (dedicated to the memory of the girls they met last year on their SXSW sojourn; watch it above) and ‘Afterglow’ sounded wonderful. So did songs on from their debut EP ‘Dreams of Another Day’, released in autumn 2010, which seems like a lifetime ago, yet still sound amazing, like ‘Backstreet Lovers’. Waites explained to me later in the sunshine that they were sat in someone’s car after lecture when Lammo spun the song the first time and how unbelievably weird and exciting that was. They’ve got a new album out this summer called ‘Hold Fast’ but you can hear them talk more about it in this interview I posted last week.

After the Crookes, I changed gears and headed over to Komedia. I should have paid better attention to the signs for upstairs, downstairs and the studio bar, because later that night, I didn’t know where I was going and it probably would have helped to have a better nose for navigation. My purpose: I was going to catch the only Juveniles set that didn’t have conflicts with any other band on my list. I’ve seen so many Kitsune bands, it made sense to go see this band before they blew up like La Roux, Delphic and Two Door Cinema Club, if only to be able to say, “I saw them at the 2012 Great Escape. In a basement. Neener neener!”

I have no idea who writes the blurbs in the Great Escape booklet but the claim that the band 22 “describe themselves as ‘an instructional guide to spiritual enlightenment, harmonic individuality and universal transcendence’” would make me believe I was about to see a Norwegian Enya. I’d describe it more like thrashy, metal prog from Trondheim, Norway. This generally is not my thing, but I have to say, with their wireless guitars, band members jumped down from the stage to the wooden floor of Komedia downstairs, axes blazing. It is sure more fun watching prog rockers leaping all over the place than standing still on the stage, concentrating on their chords.

After all of 22’s gear was sorted and removed from stage (and they left with the audience cheering for them, I might add), then came Juveniles and their stage setup. It is clear from hearing ‘Ambitions’, the hugely dancey song of theirs featured on Kitsune Parisien II released in February, that this band likes synths. So it’s no surprise to see not just one but two major synth setups onstage. However, this is not to say that they didn’t have the opportunity to eschew the synths for a moment and play guitars instead and bring out the funk, such as in ‘Blackout’ video below.

They’re the perfect blend of Two Door Cinema Club (melodic and infectious tunes) and Holy Ghost! (funky disco) and given the right and continual promotion by Kitsune, they could be the next big thing in dance / electropop. Watch this space.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkijQZnm9SA[/youtube]

You will probably not believe how I spent the rest of my afternoon. I set up shop in the now deserted press centre, borrowing a staff laptop to catch up on email and shore up the loose ends for our stage the following Friday at Liverpool Sound City. Disappointingly, I found out my last chance for a Dome show would not happen; Reverend and the Makers cancelled as Jon McClure was unable to sing. Yet again in Brighton I was forced to change course, but you’ll read my further frustrations in the next installment.

I also met a Wireimage photographer from Portsmouth and saw the AU Review guys again, before I ducked outside to see Simon Price of the Independent and his red ‘horns’ presiding over the celebrity front table during John Robb’s pub quiz. (It would not be the last time I’d see Mr. Robb but that’s for another city and another post…) And it must sound really strange that I was waiting for a NYC PR friend of mine there, as we’d never met before. But that’s something that surely can be said about the Great Escape: be prepared for the unexpected…

 
 
 

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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.

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