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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

 

The Staves / February 2015 UK/Irish Tour

 
By on Tuesday, 11th November 2014 at 9:00 am
 

Sister trio The Staves have announced that they will release their new album ‘If I Was’ on the 2nd of February 2015 via Atlantic Records. In support of the new LP, they have also revealed a list of UK and Irish tour dates immediately following the release. Tickets for the following dates go on general sale Friday, the 14th of November, at 9 AM. If you belong to their mailing list, check your email for access to a presale tomorrow (Wednesday the 12th of November).

Below the tour date listing, watch the video for ‘Blood I Bled’, which featured on the Staves’ recent EP of the same title, reviewed by Mary here.

Wednesday 4th February 2015 – Nottingham Rescue Rooms
Thursday 5th February 2015 – Leeds City Varieties
Friday 6th February 2015 – Gateshead Sage 2
Saturday 7th February 2015 – Edinburgh Queens Hall
Monday 9th February 2015 – Dublin Olympia
Tuesday 10th February 2015 – Liverpool Arts Club
Thursday 12th February 2015 – London Hackney Empire
Friday 13th February 2015 – Oxford Academy
Saturday 14th February 2015 – Exeter Phoenix
Monday 16th February 2015 – Cardiff Glee Club
Tuesday 17th February 2015 – Cambridge Junction

 

Album Review: The Staves – Blood I Bled EP

 
By on Monday, 27th October 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

The Staveley-Taylor sisters – Emily and Jessica and Camilla – are better known as the Staves, now well known for their jaw-droppingly brilliant, familial-driven harmonies. When you’re this good, you don’t need a whole lot of instrumentation, and I feel pretty honoured to have seen them play a stripped back session as part of the bill put together by Communion Records’ Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons fame at my first SXSW in 2012.

After several early high-profile touring slots supporting the likes of the (now defunct) Civil Wars and their most current highly acclaimed and sold out UK tour this month, it seems strange that the three sisters haven’t released a follow up to 2012 debut album ‘Dead & Born & Grown’ yet. One can only assume that they’ve biding their time, continually honing their craft and choosing to release music only a trickle at a time, under their own terms. The latest from the Staves’ fountain comes in the form of the three-track EP ‘Blood I Bled’, out today on Atlantic Records.

In a classic example of an artist suffering for their art, the EP was produced in the dead of winter in Wisconsin by Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon. Just from the title alone, you know already this was going to be a painful affair. The title track has been released as a single and as should be expected, ‘Blood I Bled’ is the standout on the EP. The lyrics speak of a storm coming (“calm the gathering rain”) but of a relationship confused: “suffering as I suffer you / you when you speak of pain / if I was, if I am, if I did, if I have”. The strings and horns lend an amazing grandeur to what might have been an otherwise sparse Staves track, and they suit the powerful vocals, expressing conflict and bewilderment, well.

‘Open’ opens the EP initially gently and pleasingly but as the song rolls on, it seems like Vernon’s contribution was to make this release dark, as crackles and an ominous backbeat more suited to Patrick Wolf’s darker days give the song an overall unsettling feeling. Third track ‘America’ reads like a love letter to their temporary home, the girls requesting “do not disturb me ‘til the morning”, while “drinking in the evening and sinking in the sun”. Less dramatic than ‘Open’ and less emphatic than ‘Blood I Bled’, it’s more the sweetly-finishing song that most Staves listeners are used to. It’s a nice enough group of songs; there is little to criticise here, except maybe more variety between the tracks would have added some autumnal spice?

7/10

The ‘Blood I Bled’, the latest from the Staves, is out today on Atlantic Records. If you purchase the EP from iTunes, you’ll also get a bonus track, a special remix of ‘Open’ by Justin Vernon that you can listen to below.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013: Singer/songwriter and folk UK artists showcasing at this year’s SXSW

 
By on Tuesday, 29th January 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Please note: all information we bring you about SXSW 2013 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts and bands scheduled to appear may be subject to change.

So here we are, the last week of January. Each Tuesday we’ve been bringing you genre ‘chapters’ of the UK bands that have been given the all important shout for this year’s SXSW 2013 taking place in venues across Austin the 12th to the 17th of March 2013. On the 8th of January, we brought you the pop and pop hybrid acts list, with a follow-up addendum on the 14th of January after the SXSW people updated their books on the 10th. The 15th of January saw the posting of the sound heavyweights, on the list of rock, metal and punk acts. Last week, on the 22nd, we wanted to showcase the wizards of the music world with the list of electronic and electronic-based bands and DJs.

This week? Possibly the genre that is most prolific – and the most crowded: the singer/songwriters and folk artists. Last week it was interesting to read that in an interview with SPIN, singer Scott Hutchinson of Scottish band Frightened Rabbit complained of being compared to current folk rock behemoths Mumford and Sons. Love ’em or hate ’em, they brought folk rock to the forefront of popular music and proved that that brand of ‘popularised’ bluegrass could be popular around the world. There is no doubt a whole new generation of folk rock artists that are being given a second glance, instead of being ignored, thanks to the hard work of Mumford and other acts soldiering on in this genre. And then there are the singer/songwriters: we may romanticise the image of a solitary, guitar-wielding man in front of a crowd, the reality is that there are both men and women who are pouring their hearts out into song, sitting in their bedrooms wondering what might be. In that respect, SXSW does its best in giving these folks the proper credit – and surely the proper platform – that might propel them into the big time.

What I had envisioned this weekly guide to be was simply a handy resource if you were wondering which acts to catch at this year’s marathon week of showcases, parties and secret shows. But even if you’re not attending the big event, I hope it’ll also introduce you to the solo artists and bands you haven’t heard of, because that’s the most exciting thing about SXSW: at any one moment, you could walk into a bar, a club, a hotel, a warehouse, wherever…and you might just discover the next big thing in music. And that isn’t limited to one place or one event. You can find new music anywhere. And without further adieu…

‘Allo Darlin – Australia collides with Britain in this folk pop band fronted by Elizabeth Morris. Their songs are so cute, you wish you could just pinch their cheeks! Martin caught them at the End of the Road Festival in 2011.

Sounds like: the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, with a female lead

Read our previous coverage of the band here.

Lauren Aquilina – This 17-year old is from Windsor, but knock off the Royal Family jokes, please. She independently released her debut EP ‘Fools’ in October, so what a coup to get the SXSW nod when you’re still unsigned!

Sounds like: Lucy Rose, Ellie Goulding (but minus the synths)

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

Jake Bugg (added 10/01/13) –Noel Gallagher’s young protégé who has already found fame in the last year at the Great Escape and Liverpool Sound City, the Nottingham native has made folk and country guitar rock popular again with his debut album

Read our previous coverage of Bugg here.

Bo Saris – blue-eyed soul delivered in a falsetto. It’s difficult for me to listen to, but if a Dutchman described as ” the new, male equivalent of the late Amy Winehouse” doesn’t make you shrink in horror…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-cUVZThQVs[/youtube]

Bwani Junction – Edinburgh band invoking the Afrobeat spirit of Vampire Weekend with their jaunty guitars. They even describe themselves as “Big Country were from the Soweto”. They made their Great Escape debut in 2012 with the Scottish contingent, so it seems only fitting that they make their SXSW debut this year.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbYjSamxS30[/youtube]

Matt Cardle (added 10/01/13) – the winner of the 7th season of the UK’s X Factor, it’ll be interesting if his popularity in Britain will translate into fame in America.

Jamie N Commons – Has singing the blues, just like plaid shirts, become trendy again? If yes, then Jamie N Commons is its poster boy. And if for some reason you miss him and you live in America, don’t fret: he’ll be supporting Lianne La Havas (his fellow BBC Sound of 2012 longlist alum also at SXSW) on her North American tour directly following the festival.

The Dunwells – it is unfortunate that in the post-Mumford and Sons world, other folk bands that came out in 2009 were left behind. Hopefully, Leeds’ Dunwells will use this opportunity in Austin (and New York in January and Colorado in March post-SXSW) to show everyone just how talented they are and they’re not Mumford wannabes.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDuv-cG5rtM[/youtube]

Paloma Faith – imagine my surprise to hear that Paloma Faith is now on my mum’s approved list, after watching her perform on Graham Norton. I’m kind of interested to see what kind of people would show up to see her in Austin: Amy Winehouse fans?

Read our previous coverage on Paloma here.

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

Fossil Collective – If you transported the Byrds to Leeds, what would they sound like? Probably something similar to Fossil Collective. I might have compared them to Fleet Foxes, except that in the press shots I’ve seen of Dave Fendick and Jonny Hooker, only one of them has a beard so…

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

For some mp3s and John’s review of their EP ‘On and On’, head here.

Goldheart Assembly – Having loved their 2010 debut album ‘Wolves and Thieves’, I felt like it’d been nearly forever since I last heard anything about Goldheart Assembly. When I checked on TGTF, the last thing I’d written on them, a post about their single ‘Harvest in the Snow’, was posted in March 2011. It’ll be 2 years, then, when they make their way to Austin, and not a moment too soon. Were they waiting for the Fleet Foxes love – and expected backlash – to die down? We’ll never know for sure, but I for one will be eager to see them live for the first time.

Catch all our previous Goldheart coverage here.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeRse7-lXM4[/youtube]

Ed Harcourt – Compared to the other singer/songwriters on the SXSW list, Ed Harcourt is a relative granddaddy – at 35, he’s released five studio albums to date, with an sixth, ‘Back into the Woods’, to follow in late February 2013. ‘The Man That Time Forgot’, the first song to be offered up from the new album, can be downloaded for free here.

Robyn Hitchcock – When your own Web site is called ‘a museum’, you know you’ve paid your dues to the music industry. This is where cult singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock finds himself, revered in the UK for his English eccentricity, though I am very curious at the kind of turnout for his shows at SXSW and indeed, where they will have him play.

Jesca Hoop (added 10/01/13) – to some of us, she’s better known associated with Elbow. Not actually British (she’s a Californian transplant to Manchester after Guy Garvey discovered), she started with a very eclectic sound which turned decidedly poppier with ‘Hospital (Win Your Love)’, the last time we checked in with her.

Read our previous coverage of Hoop here.

James Hunter – from the same town as Lammo (Colchester) comes this r&b and soul singer, previously nominated for a Grammy for his 2006 album ‘People Gonna Talk’. This is exactly the kind of music I don’t usually seek out, so I’m rather keen to see him play. I’m imagining the scene to be as hopping as JD MacPherson’s at last year’s Great Escape.

Josephine – if Morrissey was a young black woman, he might just sound like Josephine. (And yes. I didn’t believe Paul Lester either until I heard ‘What a Day’.) I haven’t heard her debut album but I’ve been told the rest of it doesn’t sound Smiths-esque, so you can’t blame Manchester for it.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hngRpjPafI[/youtube]

Kodaline – Gary Barlow’s favourite new band from Dublin doesn’t show any signs of slowing down after getting a BBC Sound of 2013 longlist nod, We’ve written quite a bit about this band, so you can read all of that here. They have new EP out in March, and the promo video for its title track ‘High Hopes’ is below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4povfmX144[/youtube]

Cate Le Bon – Cate Le Bon is a breath of fresh air compared to most of the other Welsh acts tipped for 2013’s SXSW, which appear to all be thrashy, hard rock bands made up of men.

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

Sounds like: Beth Jeans Houghton with a fixation on death

Let’s Buy Happiness – happy guitar rock/pop band from Newcastle.

Sounds like: ‘Allo Darlin, without the harmonies.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-1nLr6Gl4I[/youtube]

Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun – Jim Lockey sans band was the first band of the Xtra Mile Recordings showcase on my first night at SXSW 2012, so let’s see if he can manage to bring his entire band out for 2013. I think of his as ‘Frank Turner lite’, if that helps you imagine what he sounds like.

Read our previous live coverage of Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun here.

My Darling Clementine – ‘country/soul’ duo from Birmingham by husband/wife coupling Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish. Long Facebook profiles seem overdone to me, so…

Willy Moon (added 10/01/13) – placing #6 in the TGTF 10 for 2012 readers’ poll, signing to Jack White’s Third Man Records, having one of his songs play on a new iPod advert in America? Willy Moon’s life just gets better and better. A little bit pop, a little bit soul, a little bit ‘50s styling for one hip sound.

Read our previous coverage on Willy here.

Tom Odell (added 10/01/13) – Having already won the BRITs 2013 Critics’ Choice award, the sky’s the limit for this Chichester-born singer/songwriter.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwpMEbgC7DA[/youtube]

Christopher Rees – Cardiff singer/songwriter that NME describes like this: “It’s not easy to achieve noise metal god status accompanied by a cello but Christopher Rees makes an awesome, bloody fist of it. Pumped up and snarling but managing to wrench beautiful tunes out of the wreckage… This is seriously amazing stuff”. This description has us intrigued!

Roo Panes – ‘classical folk pop’ is not a genre normally explored here, but I’m always up for a challenge. This is Andrew ‘Roo’ Panes’ project with a strong backing and voal harmonising band. He has already been singled out for his handsomeness, as Burberry chose him to model their autumn/winter 2012 collection. Given Mumford and Laura Marling‘s recent meteoric rise to fame in America, Roo Panes is the odds-on favourite to follow in their footsteps.

Sounds like: he should be signed to Communion, if Ben Lovett hasn’t come sniffing round yet

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGP-TnIoejk[/youtube]

Lucy Rose – We, of course, already knew how talented she was. But 2013 could just be the year that Lucy Rose breaks out of Bombay Bicycle’s shadow and becomes a huge worldwide success in her own right. Though I worry what would happen to Lucy if she suddenly became massive; would she stop doing the things like Tweet at her mother on Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable that make me go, “oh, bless!”? A scary prospect…

Read our previous coverage on Lucy Rose here.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adBPg8Zdp2g[/youtube]

Paul Thomas Saunders – it must be hard to be Paul Thomas Saunders, a Leeds singer/songwriter in his late twenties and allergic to alcohol. But I guess he must use all that extra free time not boozing at the pub to write. Evidently I missed a “triumphant” appearance at last year’s Great Escape. Need to rectify that.

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

Jack Savoretti – part Italian, but that’s where any comparison to Paolo Nutini ends. Savoretti has already been on the road with Corinne Bailey Rae and shored up Radio2 support, but why isn’t he massive? Just wait until one of his songs gets synced on a major film soundtrack.

Sounds like: a harder, more pop Bob Dylan, a gentler Bruce Springsteen

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umBAmzf0SXs[/youtube]

Skinny Lister – this London folk band have already made quite an impact on America, through a previous appearance at SXSW and then an even more surprising appearance last year on the Vans Warped tour of North America. Could they be riding the Mumford wave? Possibly. Their debut album ‘Forge and Flagon’ gets an American release this month, so we’ll see if the momentum lasts.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsqaLfWMcp8[/youtube]

The Staves – three harmonising sisters with guitars from Watford who are no stranger to America, having toured here a couple times now with the (now defunct?) Civil Wars, I was surprised to see them get another turn at SXSW. If they do get an opportunity to sing in St. David’s again like in 2012, go, go, GO. You won’t be disappointed.

Story Books – Kent band sounding at times haunting and at times bombastic. Not really sure why they’re not more popular or, frankly, why we haven’t heard of them yet.

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

Richard Thompson – like Robyn Hitchcock, I’m not entirely sure what Richard Thompson is doing on a list of acts scheduled to perform at SXSW. Having already made a name for himself as a member of Fairport Convention and then with his wife Linda and now as a solo artist, I suspect he’ll be using the guest spot to advertise his latest album ‘Electric’, out in February.

Washington Irving – jaunty folk rock wrapped around a Scottish accent.

File next to: Arcade Fire

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

That’s it for the genre chapters in the TGTF Guide to SXSW in January. To not miss any of our SXSW 2013 coverage, bookmark this tag and of course, keep it here on TGTF for even more great content in the weeks leading up to the big event in March!

 

SXSW 2012: Day 4 – Communion showcase at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary – 16th March 2012

 
By on Thursday, 5th April 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

While the catchphrase of most returning SXSWers to newbies is “pace yourself”, mine would be “be sure to factor in some downtime”. And “don’t apologise to yourself if your body says to go home”. Before I went to see the Burning Ear showcase on Wednesday afternoon, I stopped into B.D. Riley’s (not knowing I’d return for an interview on Friday, then later for the Music for Ireland showcase) for a lazy pint of Harp and a plate of fish and chips. Sometimes I regret not rushing over to see Lionel Richie at the Moody Theatre on Wednesday, or not extending my gig-going over to Creekside at the Hilton Garden Inn to catch a 1 AM show in the wee hours of Friday morning to see Ed Sheeran. I was just too wiped. So I looked forward to Friday night immensely: hours of Communion Records artists all under one roof, the main room at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary. I even stopped long enough to have a meal at the Roaring Fork on North Congress – some of the best corn bread I’ve ever had, to boot – before sauntering over to the church.

That was when I realized I probably should have arrived early so I could get the correct instructions on how and where to queue. After being directly incorrectly and having stood in the wrong queue for at least a half hour, someone kind finally sorted me out and sent me to the right door…and straight into the main room.

Matt Corby from Sydney, Australia had already begun his set, so I shuffled quietly into an empty spot next to a guy who was studying his iPhone. And then started taking photos with it. With flash. The nerve. I don’t have an DSLR, and unless I’m given specific approval to use flash, I avoid using my flash as much as possible. And here was this guy just snapping away! I guess our pew was too far back for security to notice. I knew nothing about him before seeing him and even know as I’ve been writing this, I had to look up for more information on this bloke: he was a runner-up in an Australian Idol competition, so I guess he’s reasonably well known back home. But boy, when he announced he was going to play ‘Brother’, the crowd let out a big whoop. Guess they know him here too! Below is a free mp3 of his song ‘Winter’ that you can listen to.

The Staves, three sisters from Watford, were second on the bill. They were really disarming, joking about things that had happened to them the last time they had played in Austin, opening for the Civil Wars the previous autumn. Judging from the cheers, many of those people were present, but we could all join in with a giggle as a sister explained that a burly looking man stood up after one song and said (done in an exaggerated Texan accent), “did anyone else cry?” Haha (evidence near the end of the video below). But early in their set, one of them claimed Matt Corby was the devil and warned us, “don’t look into his eyes”. The audience laughed, but I had a “err…” moment, figuring that had to be some inside joke between the sisters and him. ‘Mexico’ had many fans already; new song ‘Tongue Between My Teeth’ was so beautiful in its harmonies, it gave me chills. They ended with the sad yet so beautiful song ‘Winter Trees’. Good work, girls.

Next up is a man who longer needs an introduction in the UK: singer/songwriter Ben Howard. He came with his own cheering section. Seriously. Somehow I ended up in a pew with two Englishwomen and their guys, and the two women made it very clear they were there for Ben Howard, screaming every time he talked in between songs and squealing every time he played the first note of a song on his guitar. Watch ‘Black Flies’ below.

Before Ben Howard took the stage, there was a low yet noticeable murmur going through the crowd. I didn’t know what was going on until a teenage girl across the aisle pointed towards the far wall and shouted at her brother, “it’s Mumford and Sons!” And it was – Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Country Winston and Ted Dwane were just chilling out on the side, as if you cheer on their folky friends’ performances. I was so sure that there was going to be a Mumford collaboration at some point during the night but sadly, there was not. The closest we got was an impromptu John Martyn cover performed at the end of Howard’s set, when he invited the Staves and later performer Michael Kiwanuka. I apologise for the quality of the visuals on the video below; the couple in front of me could not decide if they were going to snog (argh), talk (argh) or break away from each other.

Willy Mason had the unique (dubious?) characteristic that of all the Communion artists performing I this showcase, he was the only American. I’d not heard of him until he had been associated with Communion, so I had mistaken him for an Englishman. He has a Johnny Cash aura about him (“man in black”) but a bit of rough and tumble like the Jim Jones Revue too. The coolest thing about his performance? His drummer’s kit was connected to a strange looking contraption that stood in the middle of the stage, so that whenever the drummer hit something on the kit, something else was set off on the contraption. Sorry to say, I wasn’t moved by his performance at all.

But I was adamant about staying put for the next act. The band I was most excited to see in this showcase was Daughter. As soon as I saw their name on the SXSW bands list, I was ecstatic. And I was not disappointed one bit. Unlike the teasing nature of the Staves earlier, Elena Tonra was so shy and soft-spoken but was adorable in her shyness. “Our name is Daughter. Nice to meet you. This one’s about death.” Laughter from the peanut gallery before they started into ‘Landfill’.

That’s when I just about lost it. I think had I not been in such close proximity to strangers, I would have been a bawling mess on the floor. Through her words, it’s obvious she’s been dumped, she’s been hurt, she’s gotten her heart broken. In the song ‘Love’, she asks the lover that jilted her for some easy skirt, “did she make your heart beat faster than I could? / did she give you what you hoped for? / oh, loveless nights / I hope it made you feel good”. It’s like what they say, a woman scorned… All I can say is…wow. In my top 3 performances at SXSW, for sure.

After that emotional reaction to Daughter, BBC Sound of 2012 winner Michael Kiwanuka was a safe, if not super remarkable choice to watch after. Before he came out onstage, Ben Lovett, dressed to the nines in a debonair suit, gave a short and stirring speech on how appreciative he was of everyone coming to this showcase and their warm responses to all the performers. Kiwanuka was confident, broadly smiling through his short set. (Six songs. SIX SONGS? That’s it???) From the opener of ‘I’m Waiting’ to the song everyone knows him for, ‘I’m Getting Ready’; from ‘Tell Me a Tale’ to set closer ‘Home Again’.

I had a wonderful buzz from the magnificence I heard in that acoustically sound room, but my mind was in a state of relaxation that could not be matched anytime else during all of my time at SXSW. Thank you, Ben Lovett, for putting this showcase together and thank you, bands, for bringing me to an incredible moment of zen in Austin.

More high-res photos can be viewed on my Flickr.

 

Live Review: Joshua Radin and Lissie at Bristol Thekla – 15th April 2010

 
By on Friday, 16th April 2010 at 12:16 am
 

I’ve seen Joshua Radin twice before (in London and Oxford), so it was only right that I saw him at the other end of the M4, in Bristol tonight at the fantastic Thekla boat.

As ever, he was amusing, chatty and able to make everyone feel like he’s playing for just them, that rare sort of artist that has girls swooning and guys not minding too much when their girlfriends drag them along. Treating us to a whole raft of old songs, new songs (“I always hate it when I see a band and they play just new songs… but as an artist I just wanna play the new songs… so as you’ve all been so nice, I’m gonna play some new songs, and then have some old ones you all know” he commented), which sound much fuller (and, dare I say it, more upbeat) and full-band like rather than just him and his guitar.

However, the real surprise for us was the fantastic support from both The Staves and Lissie.

The Staves look like they’re barely out of school yet had some brilliant three-part vocal harmonies that are both sugary sweet and sound as if they’re so fragile that they’d break if anyone dared talk through their songs. Music that’s perfect for a summer’s day, the three sisters were the perfect warm-up act that eased us all into the evening and fitted in perfectly with Radin’s songs when they played the role of backing-singers.

Lissie on the other hand was quite certain of herself, blasting through her short 25 minute set with force and a display of skill that many artists can only dream of. The Guardian called her “more freeway rock than floaty folk“, and at first we were a bit confused by this, however as she blasted her way through five songs sounding stunningly pitch perfect. Having gone with two friends to catch Radin, they were suitably impressed, going as far to say “I thought she was miming it was that perfect, but realised she wasn’t…”. Coming from California she had that way of sounding like a more laid back Neko Case (from the New Pornographers, and numerous other Canadian bands), or a (much less crazy) Courtney Love.

Lissie had that feeling of an artist that’s about to take a step up to the big time, so make sure you catch her soon if you can. In the mean time if you can’t catch her on tour supporting Joshua Radin, watch and enjoy this cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance in a whole new style, or the current iTunes single of the week, In Sleep

Continue reading Live Review: Joshua Radin and Lissie at Bristol Thekla – 15th April 2010

 
 
 

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