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Great Escape 2015: Day 1 Roundup (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 20th May 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Part 1 of my Thursday (day 1) roundup of is this way.

Up front the seafront I went and back to Patterns to check in on some relatively new American friends. Philadelphia band Cold Fronts, who I met last year supporting Chicago’s Empires on their North American tour. At the time, they weren’t known outside of Philly and I had made the suggestion to frontman Craig Almquist that they had a vibe and sounded a lot like the Cribs (one of Almquist’s favourite bands) and to see if they could get in touch with the band to maybe support them one day. So Cold Fronts’ people called the Cribs’ people…and the next thing I hear, Cold Fronts are supporting the Cribs’ New York residency in March 2015 just prior to SXSW. Is that mad or what? See, kids? Dreams do come true. (A sidenote: when Mary Chang suggests you to do something to further along your career, it’s probably a good idea to do It. Because, you know, you might end up supporting the Cribs one day.)

Probably one of the biggest regrets I have from the Great Escape 2015 is leaving their set early to run up Brighton’s hill to see another band I’d heard good things about. As I was stood waiting for the Cribs the next night at Wagner Hall, a local musician and his girlfriend who were behind me were telling their other friends, “we saw these guys from America last night, they’re called Cold Fronts, they were amazing. The best part was when the singer got up top of the bar and started dancing!” And I missed that! ::grumble:: This was a sentiment that was repeated in multiple venues I stopped in for the rest of the festival, and I couldn’t help but feel proud to be an American once, knowing a band I like and support won over the Brits at a music festival across the pond.

Cold Fronts at Great Escape 2015

There were two persistent themes throughout my time in Brighton during the Great Escape 2015: queues everywhere and equipment problems at venues. The latter proved problematic twice for my plans for the evening. I left Patterns early to go back up to the Brighthelm Centre in anticipation of catching CLAY, a band from Leeds that sound like a more poppier Jungle on their early track ‘Oxygen’. Unfortunately, like Patterns that afternoon, the venue were facing a major delay in getting things sorted for the evening. I waited for a while, chatting to a fellow American who happened to be visiting London from her graduate school program in music in Valencia, Spain, but then realised my time would be better spent down at the Old Ship Paganini Ballroom, where I assumed I’d be seeing up and comer North West singer/songwriter Adam French. His father befriended one of my American friends in an Irish pub the night before (I wasn’t there because I’d left her to go home and plan out my 3-day schedule – seriously, you can’t make this stuff up).

Lake Malawi @ Paganini Ballroom

I arrived to the Paganini Ballroom to much confusion. After making my way to the front of the crowd, the music the band onstage was making didn’t match up to my idea of French, who sounded to my unsympathetic ear like another Ben Howard. No…these guys sound more like Friendly Fires, the first band I’d fallen in love with as a music blogger 6 years ago, crossed with the melodic guitars of Two Door Cinema Club and pop whiffs of The 1975. Interesting…

Lake Malawi, fronted by Albert Cerny and his Czech buddies who split their time between Prague and London, I steeled myself based on Cerny’s bouncing around on stage that the music would quickly turn bog standard boring to me the way Bastille’s does, but phew, they didn’t. Incredible vibrancy in the music from Cerny and his mates, and their punters shouted their appreciation for the band, which Cerny himself said he was surprised about – I guess he thought they wouldn’t be well received, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Their debut EP ‘We Are Making Love Again’ is out on Monday, and expect that – and them – to go stratospheric.

astronomyy @ Shoosh

I couldn’t wait around for Adam French after all, because I had a hot date with a man who had so far proved very elusive. astronomyy had been given a shout to SXSW 2015 but turned it down, so I assumed I’d be able to see him live finally at Live at Leeds 2015. Thanks to the HiFi Club being plagued with equipment issues, it was not meant to be, though he amused himself after the incident by checking out the bands at Nation of Shopkeepers, stood behind me while I was photographing Boxed In but was too bashful to say hi (I really don’t bite!) while I had no idea whatsoever.

Whatever happened before meant nothing now though, stood under the overly bright lights of Shooshh’s stage and prepared to be amazed. Shall we say I was not disappointed in the slightest? astronomyy seems to me a master of production and the studio, but from what I have read, he is new to the live scene, so these series of shows and festival appearances this spring are like a baptism by fire. Songs like the upbeat ‘When I’m With U’ feel like the next logical, soulful, more chill progression from my previous love Friendly Fires, maybe if the xx had convinced their former touring buddies that less is actually more. If not readily apparent from listening to his music online, he also plays a mean guitar, which is a surprising fact that makes the live experience the more awesome. It’s kind of like finding out the guy you fancy also knows how to bake cupcakes – ooh.

astronomyy at Great Escape 2015

There is a fragile beauty to the minimalist nature of astronomyy’s music that I find intoxicating. This is not hit you over the head with production kind of r&b (you know who I am talking about), nor is it the kind that turns me off in a second with all of its swearing and awful language (though, okay, there is some occasionally), but to me the vibe is so strong and more important. If you read the lyrics, ‘Nothin On My Mind’ is about finding that perfect love that transports you to another place and time, where nothing else matters. That is a good way of explaining what good music does to a music fan: it takes you away from anything that is hurting you and puts you on a higher, better plane. I don’t know, maybe I have just bored you with my waxing philosophical on astronomyy, but yes, the man’s music does something to me very special and I am looking forward to hearing much more from him.

Tropics @ Prince Albert

Maybe I should have called it quits after having a near religious experience with astronomyy at Shooshh, but I thought I should try and shoehorn artists #10 (NYC singer/songwriter duo Jack and Eliza, who I caught just minutes of at Patterns upstairs after leaving Shooshh) and #11 into my Thursday after deciding a very late night set by Belgian electronic artist Mugwump (who would have been #12) at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar was not in the cards. Tropics, aka Chris Ward, was scheduled to perform at the Prince Albert, whose upstairs performance space I generally avoid because it’s always hot and sweaty and therefore deathly claustrophobic. I don’t have fond memories of seeing my first Great Escape band ever, Francois and the Atlas Mountains, in that room. But a music editor’s work is never done, so in I charged.

How Ward was wearing long sleeves and looking so relaxed, I have no idea. I guess he and his band were in the zone. Two women next to me were throwing shapes and not to the rhythm of the songs, so I think it’s safe to say they were very, very drunk. The atmospheric ambient music of Ward, from the sexiness of ‘House of Leaves’ to the soulful ‘Rapture’, demands a captive audience (I think anyway) and while there were plenty of appreciative punters at the Prince Albert, the overall amount of squeezing, pushing and shoving around in that relatively small space distracted me from enjoying Ward’s craft. Suffice to say, I hope I get an opportunity to listen to his music in a much more relaxed way one day when sweat is not pouring down my face and I haven’t been running around for the last 12 hours. One day. Soon. I hope.

Tropics at Great Escape 2015

 

Great Escape 2015: Day 1 Roundup (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 20th May 2015 at 11:00 am
 

Ah yes, Brighton. London by the sea, rainbow flags a-flyin’, the smell of skunk hanging in the air if you walk down the wrong alley (or most places if it’s sunny), a place populated by way too many aggressive seagulls. It has been 2 years since TGTF last stepped foot in the seaside town to cover the annual emerging music festival here, which of course is The Great Escape 2015. Some things have happened since John and me were last in Brighton and due to some things in 2014 transpiring to keep us away (and I think for good reason too, if you want to get all moody and astrological about it), it was time for my return.

Model Aeroplanes @ Brighthelm Centre (Showcasing Scotland)

Within 30 minutes of leaving the flat I’d booked for the duration, the Great Escape 2015 wasted no time to remind me of my first rain-drenched event here in 2012. Like a scene out of Mary Poppins, my brolly turned inside out, pieces fell off and yes, it became entirely inoperable. Somehow after getting my photo pass from the press centre in the Dome, then getting lost (a recurring theme when I’m running behind schedule) I made it to the Brighthelm Community Centre without looking like a wet cat; the place is connected to a church and it was where the Creative Scotland afternoon showcase would be kicking things off. First up were the rough and tumble Model Aeroplanes, who you readers are aware I’m a big fan of. You might think that at 12 noon on as dreary of a day as it was, they were unlikely to draw a sizable crowd.

Model Aeroplanes at Great Escape 2015

Wrong. The lively four-piece all the way from Dundee were raring to go, and a pretty packed out room awaited them. ‘Deep in the Pool’ is their latest single, and as their past releases, it’s a fun little guitar number that I expect will go down well in front of festival crowds this summer, as will recent tropical-tinged single ‘Club Low’. However, I still have a soft spot for earlier songs such as ‘Whatever Dress Suits You Better’ and the lovely honeyed way ‘Innocent Love’ has about it, and their guitar-swinging energy was just what Brighton needed on the rainy start to the festival. The band also brought me a gift: bottle of very special Dundee marmalade down with them, which was a very sweet and nice touch – thank you lads!

The Merrylees @ Brighthelm Centre (Showcasing Scotland)

From the footloose and fancy free and sunny indie pop / rock of the opening band, The Merrylees couldn’t be more different. Having already supported the likes of legends Paul Weller (in town to play a not so secret show on Saturday) and Richard Hawley, the Merrylees are clearly on to something, but what that is might be marmite for at least part of the British population, the six-member strong band finding themselves galloping away on a country/western-themed bent for most of the set.

Confusingly, lead singer Ryan Sandison of the group has a haircut and dresses all in black like Alex Turner, yet when he opens his mouth, he sounds nothing like the Sheffielder, instead alternating between a croonery vocal style (ah, so now the Hawley connection makes sense!) and the theatrical, as if he’s playing to a cabaret in the West End, not a community centre rec room this afternoon. The cautionary tale in ‘It’s Catching Up With You Now’ is dark Hawley-esque territory, as is the haunting beautiful ‘Turn for the Strange’, and their debut single produced by Bill Ryder-Jones, ‘For You’, barely skirts the psychedelic line until heralding horns kick up the dust. Definitely unique, but I wonder if they can really make a go of it. I bid my adieus to new Scottish friends made and master of ceremonies, BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway, and emerge to head down in the direction of the seafront to immerse myself with music from another part of the UK. (Hint, not England…)

What used to be known as Audio on Marine Parade was just recently refurbished, turning into another nightclub called Patterns. I’m actually disappointed that I can’t tell you the place has changed dramatically and for the better – all that really obvious to me was that the stage in the upstairs performance space was rotated 90 degrees and the actual stage was made lengthwise longer. I’m never in a club long enough nor do am I there to check out the cocktails or the clientele. The upstairs area Thursday afternoon was host to the Gorwelion Horizons showcase being put on by Music Wales. No stranger to the funding project after meeting funding recipients The People the Poet at SXSW 2015 in March, I was eager to see who else was on the Welsh music radar and also to meet BBC Radio Wales presenter Bethan Elfyn, who appreciated the work I’d done in reporting on their show in Austin.

Casi @ Patterns Upstairs (Gorwelion Horizons)

Casi at Great Escape 2015

The venue was running at least an hour late, as when I arrived after getting a bite and a drink in a pub, I assumed I would enter in the midst of Cut Ribbons’ set. No, the tall, leggy blonde Casi, with her soulful vocal stylings, had yet to perform. The Bangor-born beauty and her band crafted a very pop, radio-friendly sound that I can see having massive mainstream appeal. I prefer the icy crunchiness of a track like ‘Grace’, while Radio 1’s Huw Stephens favours for his Radio 1 programme ‘Roads’, with its syncopated r&b beats.

Cut Ribbons @ Patterns Upstairs (Gorwelion Horizons)

Cut Ribbons were to close out the Gorwelion Horizons showcase, and they’re definitely more my bag. Fusing the best elements of electronic, rock and even a little pop, the London via Llanelli group also employ alternating and harmonising male/female fronting vocals, which I can always get behind. ‘Walking on Wires’ has a relentless rhythm and anthemic quality, almost as if Kodaline had gone much more electronic and added a female frontwoman to join Steve Garrigan. If you are a fan of Prides, you will want to take note of Cut Ribbons too; the Glaswegians remixed the Welsh band’s ‘Bound in Love’. I reckon they will be future touring buddies once Prides’ debut album on Island Records is out in July.

Cut Ribbons at Great Escape 2015

This is also the kind of music you want playing while you fall in love with someone under a mirrorball in a club. Well, I do anyway, in my dreams. (I assume John has a completely different kind of fantasy, probably involving Josh Homme and Dave Grohl beating some guitars in.) Pardon the cliché, but ‘Clouds’ lets you float satisfyingly, the synth notes and guitar notes springy, while the main vocal lines are gentle until the chorus pulls you in with “…and that’s what lovers should do.” Vigorous nod. Yes.

STAL @ Digital (Clash)

After a brief break for food and drink, it was down to the Arch to check out two bands at what was formerly known as Digital. Along with the new to me dance club Shooshh and our old friend Coalition where we hosted the TGTF stage in 2011 (starring a then-unknown Foster the People, I might add), The Arch is one of several true seafront clubs in Brighton. Clash Magazine’s night there began with STAL, an electronic trio from Paris. Well, at least I thought they would be straight electronic and that would be the end of it. That would have been perfectly fine with me, because I love electronic and if they kept laying down big beats and synths, I would have been a very happy panda.

STAL at Great Escape 2015

STAL, however, had other plans for us. I’m still not sure exactly how to explain what I witnessed. I’ve never heard of the band and neither had another music editor friend of mine who was also at the Arch, and I was just gobsmacked by the amount of singing along – and screaming and squealing – there was by the girls down the front, who then went over the barrier and crawled onstage to get their set lists after the band finished. How on earth did we ever miss these guys? Upon further examination of STAL’s Soundcloud, you learn that STAL is actually the stage name of Pierre-Marie Maulini, who acts as lead vocalist, guitarist and synth player live.

Because they are both French, I think STAL will be inevitably compared to M83; nevertheless, I find the celebratory, positive feel good vibes of STAL’s ‘Gone’ to be a real winner eclipsing anything I’ve heard from Anthony Gonzalez (I know, them’s fighting words), while the interesting juxtaposition of otherworldy synths and banging guitars on ‘Burning Desire’ live reminds me oddly enough of the bombast you might feel at, say, a Muse concert. I have heard the complaint on occasion that electronic music is too fey, too feminine, not manly enough. Well, listen up. If a bunch of Frenchmen like this can make electronic sound muscular, have a listen and you might change your mind.

Neon Waltz @ Digital (Clash)

Neon Waltz at Great Escape 2015

Neon Waltz were next up on the Clash showcase. Another six-member band, it seemed trying to fit them and all their gear onstage at the Arch would be a difficult feat, but they got it to work. The band from Caithness in Scotland just released their debut EP on Atlantic Records in April, ‘First Light’, so it’s still early days for them. I really liked what I heard on the EP, so I was disappointed when I heard them play ‘Sombre Fayre’ Thursday night, the gentle beauty of the lead vocal on the records lost against the harder instrumentation. I’m guessing the mix in the club wasn’t right, since an electronic band performed before them. Or maybe having so many instruments on stage was muddying up the overall sound? I’d be really curious if they are ever in for a Sofar Sounds session or something similarly acoustically just how different it would be.

Part 2 of Thursday’s coverage at the Great Escape 2015 follows this afternoon.

 

Live Review: Stornoway at Sheffield Leadmill – 8th May 2015

 
By on Wednesday, 13th May 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to see some old band friends of mine play the storied Sheffield Leadmill. Stornoway, who only just weeks ago released their third album ‘Bonxie’ on Cooking Vinyl (my review of the album here), have been touring in support of the new release since the middle of April and Sheffield was one of the last stops in this series of UK dates.

I can feel the tears forming behind my eyes as I type this review out, because as a long-time supporter of the band as well as a friend to them, I have a special connection to them, as they seem to be one of the very few bands still standing after so many years who have not compromised their integrity or changed their music for the sake of self-preservation in this ever-changing business of ours. Indeed, they will be playing a trio of shows for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 2 weeks’ time, with the purpose of preserving and bringing attention to the wealth of wildlife in Britain. When’s the last time you heard of a rock band doing that?

When they started their PledgeMusic campaign in what month and managed to reach their target goal in just days, it was clear the people had spoken: Stornoway fans are some of the most loyal, supportive music fans in this country, and this is because their heroes are people they can believe in. As what we used to think of as the basics of music industry finances dry up, it is becoming ever more important that a band connects with their fans on a personal level, and Stornoway have this genuine way about them and are able to do this and so effortlessly.

As described in my review of ‘Bonxie’, this is Stornoway’s first album with an outside producer, and after having seen them live at Leeds Academy during Live at Leeds 2015 and now at the Leadmill as well, I feel that their path to rock star-style stardom isn’t far off. While the songs are all still heartfelt and full of incredible harmonies that Stornoway have become known for, there is a confidence and a brashness they demonstrate live that pays off big time. The gentleness of the folk pop ‘Between the Saltmarsh and the Sea’ is an excellent entry point to the newly evolved Stornoway, opening both ‘Bonxie’ and the show, quickly followed by the endlessly catchy ‘Get Low’. The only thing that could have made these songs – and the gig itself too – better was if they’d been joined with those adorable ducks that starred in the ‘Get Low’ promo. Fear not: doctorate of ornithology holder Brian Briggs has bird call samples from the field, peppering the set with them, making the Leadmill feel a little less than a club and more like a day out in the countryside.

As much as I’m sure Stornoway would have been happy to have played just songs off the new LP, for their fans they provided ample nods to their debut album from 2010. This turned out to be a fateful decision, as the gusto with which their fans sung along to every word of ‘I Saw You Blink’ (a personal favourite, as it was the song that still conjures up the image of a certain blue-eyed boy I fell in love with during the time of ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’) and ‘Zorbing’ was nothing short of impressive, as was the near deafening cheering. Good to know Sheffield has plenty of old skool Stornoway fans! ‘Boats and Trains’ was another contemplative blast from the past, perfectly distilling heartbreak, pain of separation and the regret of passing ships in the night.

One of the things I have always loved about Stornoway is despite their moments of sorrow regarding of matters of the heart, their supply of uplifting tunes and optimism seems neverending. As I predicted rightly, ‘Lost Youth’, with its gay xylophones and inspiring harmonies works amazingly live, and as did ‘When You’re Feeling Gentle’, a real foot-stomping barnstormer. The four band members – Briggs, Jon Ouin, Oli Steadman and Rob Steadman – huddled in a circle at front of stage for a particularly gorgeous unplugged rendition of ‘Josephine’, its beauty still ringing in my ears days after. There is nothing contrived here. This is pureness of heart and pureness of talent.

And in case it wasn’t obvious prior to this point in the show, something becomes eminently clear when the band trot out the final track of ‘Bonxie’ to end the evening, much to the delight of the middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter stood in front of me. ‘Love Song of the Beta Male’, one of the most self deprecating love songs in the history of creation, could only ever be written and performed by Stornoway: it is as humble declaration of love that is honest and real. Just like the band themselves. Please, do yourself a favour and catch Stornoway live as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.

After the cut: Stornoway’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Stornoway at Sheffield Leadmill – 8th May 2015

 

Live Review: BAD//DREEMS and Francisco the Man with Beat the Bandit at Sheffield Frog and Parrot – 7th May 2015

 
By on Tuesday, 12th May 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Years ago, for boring reasons I won’t go into here, I decided music wasn’t a sensible career. As the years go on as I’m a music editor, I continue to see more and more instances where the unexpected nature of this job would have driven me absolutely bonkers. But like most things in life, you have to learn to roll with the punches, pick yourself back up and push yourself out there again.

As you may have read in part 2 of my Live at Leeds adventure 2 Saturdays ago, my intention had been to see Adelaide, Australia band BAD//DREEMS performing at A Nation of Shopkeepers. To my shock, really – compared to American crowds, I usually witness extreme politeness when I’m around Northerners, who usually see me trying to make my way to the front of a gig and part the seas so I can do so – everyone who had shown up to see BAD//DREEMS refused to move, staking their spots so they could enjoy the Aussies’ entire gig unbothered. This is a good thing, mind: I’m glad they were so well-received in Leeds, their first time in that city. And luckily, I had a plan B available: they were supposed to play a gig the following Thursday at the Rocking Chair in Sheffield, alongside their current UK tourmate coheadliners Francisco the Man from America.

The original show in Sheffield was to be headlined by local garage rock duo Hot Soles, who wowed me at Liverpool Sound City 2014 with their spunk at a Yorkshire showcase last year at one of my favourite Liverpool clubs, the entirely unpretentious Mello Mello (RIP, sob). After receiving a frantic slew of emails while I was still in Dublin, it became apparent that the Thursday night gig was now up in the air, as someone in Hot Soles’ camp had taken ill, so the Rocking Chair event was now cancelled. A few more emails later, and the decision had been made to move the show to the Frog and Parrot on Division Street and turn it into a free gig.

Obviously, a free gig is not the best for bands, since that means there’s no cut from the ticket sales from them. However, seeing that both BAD//DREEMS and Francisco the Man had travelled thousands upon thousands of miles to come out to blighty and had already brought all their gear out to Sheffield, it’s important to point out that showing up and playing for the locals, even as part of a free gig, is an important step. These days, even with the internet, music Web sites and services like Spotify and Hype Machine, I still find word of mouth an extremely important tool in separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to bands. Even if the two bands had one new fan from the show in Sheffield, that fan can turn around and tell 10 of his friends about the bands and turn them on to them. And so on. I want to stress this, as even though major label signings are forced down our throats (especially and sadly true in America), us down at the grass roots levels can and will still make a difference to indie music.

Right, so off my soapbox and on to the gig review. From what I gather, BAD//DREEMS and Francisco the Man have already become good friends during their time together over here, which is always great to hear. BAD//DREEMS explained to me before they played that they’d been taking turns with would headline, and this night, it was BAD//DREEMS who went first. With nearly 12K likes on Facebook, the Aussies are already beloved back home, and this trip out would be their first chance to make an impression on the Brits.

BAD DREEMS at Sheffield Parrot

Their 2013 debut EP ‘Badlands’ features some truly rip-roaring tracks, including the heart-pound-inducing ‘Hoping For’ and the psychedelic leaning ‘Caroline’. The more recent single ‘Dumb Ideas’ plays right into the lo-fi, garage-y sound that the UK and America love at the moment. What I found most interesting, especially given I’d explained to them earlier in the evening how the Temper Trap were the first Aussie band I had really backed as a blogger, that they are heads and shoulders more fun, loud and aggressive than I had guessed from watching their videos on YouTube, making them just like the Temper Trap an even better proposition live than what is presented on their records. I am admittedly a sucker for a great melodic guitar line, and set standout ‘Too Old’, hit the spot.

Filling out the bill for the evening were locals Beat the Bandit. From the first few bars they played, I had to laugh to myself. If I’d never been given any background on them, I would have known just based on sound they were a Sheffield band. Trading on the expert guitar playing and at times, the melodic, heart-twangy sound of bands such as Britpop’s Longpigs and more recent acts like High Hazels, this isn’t a criticism, just an observation. The band’s most recent release, an EP called ‘Winter’, is available from their Facebook. When you’re there, you see they have roots in Preston, which may explain why a song like ‘Let Me Teach You How to Dance’ sounds just like the most famous musical export of the Sixties from the Northwest, the Beatles.

After an intermission of local indie rock, it was up to Californian rockers Francisco the Man to pull it back and end the evening on a raucous note. An East Coaster such as myself generally does not take bands from California too seriously; as the adverts say, it is true we think they’re all surfers and have ADD, while we chug down our umpteenth coffee, complacent in our neuroticism. While it is true that Francisco the Man’s songs do give off that sun-dappled vibe that usually only comes from a coastal band, the washy, shoegazey guitars on songs like ‘Progress’ alongside hard driving drum beats make for an engaging watch.

Francisco the Man at Sheffield Parrot

Frontman Scotty Cantino (yes, that is really his name) has a hipster beard but thankfully lacks any sort of pretentiousness. They released their debut album ‘Loose Ends’ last year on Fat Possum, and they share their label mates The Districts’ love for huge sounding guitars and emotional lyrics, and you can’t help but be drawn in by a track like ‘You & I’, which filled a place like the Frog and Parrot with so much luscious sound, you’re reminded how great indie rock can be. For more of a live taste of Francisco the Man, check out their live session at Seattle’s KEXP from last year.

Both BAD//DREEMS and Francisco the Man are at the Great Escape this week, so check them out!

 

Live Review: The Staves with Little Hours at Dublin Olympia – 6th May 2015

 
By on Monday, 11th May 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

For more photos from this show, head to my Flickr.

Probably much like people from outside DC think of the 9:30 as a venerated institution, the original location being the live birthplace of punk pioneers Fugazi, I’ve always held the Olympia Theatre in Dublin in high esteem. As an R.E.M. fan, how could I not, them having recording ‘Live at the Olympia’ during a 5-night residency there in 2007? I was a tourist in the Irish capital for a few days last week and I had to take a moment when I stumbled out of Temple Bar onto Dame Street and saw the maroon signs for the theatre. This trip has definitely been filled with those kind of moments: if there was a motto for my time over here so far, it would be “don’t go looking for inspiration, it will find you.”

Wednesday night began with a short set by Little Hours, John Doherty on lead vocals and piano and Ryan McCloskey on guitar and backing vocals. You might never have heard of them outside Ireland, but I reckon you soon will: despite their relatively young age, they were nominated for songwriting in their home country’s Meteor Music Awards (the Irish equivalent to the BRITs and Grammys), which saw them shortlisted alongside Eire’s household names Hozier, Kodaline, The Script, The Coronas and The Delorentos. They’ve also been named by Irish music magazine Hot Press as a Hot for 2015 Ones to Watch group.

Little Hours live at Dublin Olympia

There is obvious appeal to the BBC Radio 1 and even possibly the older leaning Radio 2 crowd: this is thoughtful but still highly accessible pop from two British and Irish Modern Music Institute graduates, with piano and guitar complementing each other well with Doherty’s gentle vocal style reminiscent of both Damien Rice and Steve Garrigan of Kodaline (the latter especially on ‘Tired’). The pair released their first self-titled EP just last year, toured this month with previous TGTF Band to Watch Hudson Taylor and have announced their recent signing with the RCA arm of Sony, so expect great things from them.

‘Crossfire’ and ‘Ember’ were set highlights, the banged piano chord and melodic notes with Doherty’s expressive voice proving memorable. They also proved self-deprecating, both saying how they hadn’t met the Staves – yet – but explained they were proper fanboys of the sisters and couldn’t believe they were sharing a stage with them. I hope they eventually did get an audience with them!

The Staveley-Taylor sisters – Camilla, Emily and Jessica – are no strangers to Dublin, and that was clear when the cheering started as soon as they took to the stage. The best singer/songwriter acts are those than connect easily with their audience, and the sisters had no trouble with that. They easily related the stories behind their songs and an early visit to Dublin to play their first appearance on Irish television, and their trepidation of performing the ever so sweet ‘Facing West’ with sister Emily’s whistling chops after a particularly dreary panel discussion of the Holocaust. I was a bit taken aback by all their swearing, but I think this only served to further endear them to their fans at the Olympia, as if in some weird way it proved their street cred went beyond their good girl physical appearances.

The Staves at Dublin Olympia

The Staves’ second album released at the end of March on Atlantic Records, ‘If I Was’, was recorded in the dead of a Midwest winter with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. This year’s album was preceded by the ‘Blood I Bled’ EP last autumn; the rich, evocative EP title track opened the evening on a wonderful night that showed off their now eclectic, burgeoning song catalogue. They pointed out just how scared they were to be snowbound and isolated in America in writing ‘The Shining’, inspired by a watching of the horror film based on the Stephen King novel, yet you can’t help but notice that they do enjoy a song to exorcise the demons of past failed relationships (‘No Me, No You, No More’, ‘Let Me Down’).

Newer bluesy number ‘Black and White’ showed off the harder side of the Staves, while older song ‘Mexico’, probably receiving the biggest cheers of the night, served as a reminder of the gorgeous sisterly harmonies from where the Staves originally made their name. Another set standout was ‘Teeth White’, initially sounding like an exercise in self-loathing; it quickly comes across as a positive message to all girls who have tired too hard to please a boy (“I got my hair long, but it’s still wrong”), only to be disappointed. Instead of dwelling too unduly on the mistakes made, the song insists that life is too short and you have to put yourself first.

The Staves at Dublin Olympia

Alas, the evening had to come to an end, but I doubt the Staves would have been content to leave us without breaking our hearts first. An a capella version of ‘Wisely and Slow’, followed by the everlastingly beautiful ‘Winter Trees’ finished me off. I don’t come to tears too often at shows, so it’s a testament to the Staveley-Taylor sisters’ talent that I walked out into the chilly Dublin night with my heart breaking and aching in all the right places and the wonderful feeling of being alive.

The Staves’ Set List:
Blood I Bled
Steady
Open
No Me, No You, No More
Let Me Down
Horizons
Black and White
Damn It All
The Shining
Don’t You Call Me
Mexico
Facing West
Teeth White
Make It Holy
//
Wisely and Slow (a capella)
Winter Trees

 

Stornoway / May 2015 English Tour

 
By on Monday, 11th May 2015 at 9:00 am
 

Oxford folk rock quartet and birdwatching enthusiasts Stornoway have joined with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to present the first ever “Nature Reserves Tour” of England later this month.  In the official tour date announcement from last week, frontman Brian Briggs invites:

“Come hear us play a mix of new and old material completely unplugged on a May evening against the backdrop of the evening bird song. I’ll even point out any interesting wildlife that we see or hear. Come and have a wander around the reserve beforehand too and see what the RSPB is doing for nature.”

Ahead of the Suffolk show, the band will appear on BBC’s Springwatch Unsprung at RSPB Minsmere hosted by wildlife presenter Chris Packham.  Tickets for the following live shows are on sale now and are extremely limited, with only 40 tickets available for Suffolk and Essex, and 100 available for Bedfordshire.

Friday 29th May 2015 – Suffolk RSPB Minsmere
Saturday 30th May 2015 – Bedfordshire RSPB The Lodge
Sunday 31st May 2015 – Essex RSPB Rainham Marshes

Previous TGTF coverage of Stornoway, including editor Mary’s review of their recent Live at Leeds performance, can be found right here.

 
 
 

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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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