Sunday, August 30, 2009

GREEN MAN FESTIVAL Day Three: 23 August 2009

Day Three started with the threat of rain and darkened skies but bringing some sunshine to kick off the Main Stage was Manchester's Its A Buffalo.

They may not have appeared as dapper as some of the publicity shots I've seen previously of the band (very Deadwood) but the music was great: country-tinged, ramshackle indie with shout-along choruses were just what was needed to clear a foggy head. Their album "Don't Be Scared" is well worth checking out. From here Mr P and I headed for the Green Man Pub to see 'Fence affiliates' Love.Stop.Repeat.

Dave Millar and Lindsay West use mainly harmonium and ukulele or guitar with occasional percussion to create music described in the programme as "willowly nu-folk". This is pretty accurate but it doesn't convey the charm and beauty of their music. It was gorgeous set (including a version of Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" every bit as haunting as the original) that had me joining the scrum to buy one of their CDs at the end. My only record purchase of the weekend as it turned out.

From here it was to the Far Out Stage for an afternoon of Fence Records started off by Rozi Plain.

I'd previously seen Rozi performing solo supporting James Yorkston and she appeared quite nervous and a bit giddy then. Here she was much more assured and was supported by full band. It was enjoyable but I'm not sure I gave it my full attention (lack of sleep? afternoon beers hitting home?).

Next up were The Three Craws aka James Yorkston, King Creosote and The Pictish Trail.

"The boys of East Fife" perform other Fence Records artists and traditional songs and nothing is taken too seriously. Certainly James was enjoying himself - possibly a bit too much during domestic violence sob-story "Blue Bleezin' Blind Drunk " - but when they held it together they produced some beautiful moments. It just felt all too short.

After a not-so-quick turn around it was label-boss Johnny Lynch aka The Pictish Trail. He started this full band set with just him and Rozi Plain on backing vocals before they were then joined by full band included James Yorkston and King Creosote.

Again this had some moments of real charm but at four songs (even if long-ish ones) this felt curiously unsatisfying. The normal Fence Records magic didn't seem to be happening this afternoon. Or it could have just been my high expectations. Or the booze.

And as if Mr P and I hadn't had enough of Fence Records we headed for The Green Man Pub were Player Piano had just started.

Player Piano aka American Jeremy Radway records all the instruments himself but today he was backed by three piece band. And this was a very different offering from most Fence Records - keyboard-led power-pop rather than lofi folk and highly entertaining to boot. Another one to add to the list to find out more about.

Next it was my first (and only) visit to the Literature Tent for David Thomas of Pere Ubu performing "Ghost Line Diary". He'd clearly heard about the likelihood of rain too - he was wearing a full-length overcoat and brimmed hat, all in black.

For this performance he read pieces ("songs" he called them whether sung or not) partly from printed pages which were either snatches of Ubu songs, travelogues of "places that don't exist" or general observations. He arrived on stage swigging a can of Red Stripe - after finishing that he kept take large mouthfuls of Remy Martin from a hip flask - he claimed the performance would be better if he "was liquored".

As he spoke he swayed dramatically looking close to falling over a few times (act or alcohol?) and at times he appeared almost confrontational (again, act or alcohol?). But he also gave some hilarious impromptu (I think) stories or observations. When the mike stand fell over, he picked it up and started railing against modern, frail and thin microphone stands "Would James Brown have put up with this??! Would IGGY have put up with this??!" He finished with a reading-cum-acapella version of ("my favourite song" he said) "Dark" from the "St Arkansas" album. It was spell-bindingly spooky and made the hairs on back of neck stand up. He finished with another acapella song but by then the magic had been broken, in part by the sound and rapturous applause from She Keeps Bees bleeding in. A shame because this was a great festival moment and I would have loved to hear more. "Ghost Line Diary" can be downloaded via digital shop Hearpen.

So following a second visit to Pieminister to help us get through the evening, we headed to The Far Out Stage to join an evening of psychedelia and freakiness. Just about to start were The Yellow Moon Band (featuring Green Man founders Jo and Danny).

This was instrumental psyche-folk that was heavier and proggier than I expected. Great musicianship and an enjoyable performance but over the whole set it felt too much like the same song being repeated.

If The Far Out Stage was a haven of psychedelia tonight, the Main Stage was home to different strains of Americana including the Australian post-rock version. This was my first time seeing The Dirty Three (who were "so fucking happy to be here") and I was unprepared for how funny main man Warren Ellis is. It's easy to assume all Bad Seeds are just plain gloomy buggers. As well as leading drummer Jim White and guitarist Mick Turner in their intense bluesy instrumental work-outs with a show of high-kicking, sashaying and spinning that made Jarvis look demure, he told some great jokes. Particularly the running gag of asking younger songwriters and musicians to send them songs or ideas ("chords, anything") for their next album because they have run out of inspiration.

I went back into the tent at the Far Out Stage for Amorphous Androgynous and thought I walked into 1973. The three men I could see all had shoulder length curls and beards half way down their chest. The keyboardist was sat infront of two banks of vintage keyboards, the flautist was bare to the waist wearing a full-length frock coat and the singer/ringmaster was in flowing white robes.

I nearly turned around and walked out but stayed with it. And I was rewarded by their live version of their remix of "Fallin' Down" by Oasis ("the first thing we did was remove Liam's vocals"). Featuring Alisha Surfit on vocals, sitar, more flute and general weirdness, it was great and far from the lumpen sound I associate with the Gallagher brothers.

Leaving here is was back to Main Stage for headliners Wilco.

I'm glad I saw this (and I particularly enjoyed "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"); and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves but overall it was a subdued performance and not quite the punching-the-air finale Sunday demanded. So I am pleased to report that I then got to see Hawkwind where there was some actual punching the air going on.

You know that space-wooshing sound on "Silver Machine"? Well all four songs I heard (including "Silver Machine") were drenched in that. It was difficult to tell them apart or whether they were any good. But it was entertaining in its own way with two female dancers (space aliens first time around, then Japanese geisha with scythes) and a crowd of ALL ages really enjoying themselves. Plus it was fun to see Dave Brock in a straw hat.

So a few disappointments, a few discoveries and some general freakiness to this last day. Green Man may not be as consistently strong musically as say End of the Road Festival but it was a joy to attend and I am sure we'll be back next year (it was just a shame on Monday morning to take the tent down in pouring rain and then endure an eight-hour car journey home).

Its A Buffalo
Don't Be Scared [BUY]

Love.Stop.Repeat [BUY]

The Pictish Trail
Secret Soundz [BUY]

The Yellow Moon Band
Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World [BUY]

Monday, August 24, 2009


Well I could be tempted to complain about a gig in which the main part of the set comprised of only 11 songs. But when those songs are so exiquisite and so gently expansive it felt like time stood still whilst listening, you can’t complain at all.

In front of a packed but deeply reverential Deaf Institute audience, Bill Callahan and four piece band (cello, violin, guitar and drums) rewarded that hushed reverence with a 90 minute set drawn mainly from latest album “Sometimes I Wish We An Eagle” and 2005’s “A River Ain’t Too Much To Love”. The set-up and playing style of the band delivered surprisingly rich and faithful renditions of these songs. Like the album where most of the set came from it was hypnotic, gorgeous and graceful - and one of my musical highlights of the year.

And although tending to gentler material, Bill occasionally reminded of his darker side: the guttural growl during "Eid Ma Clack Shaw", playing "Bathysphere" (yes!) to close the main set and then the pained screams during final encore “Cold Blooded Old Times”.

I always seem to be late for Bill Callahan gigs - and a horrible eight-hour journey back from Green Man Festival (review to follow) threatened this would be no different - but I managed to reverse the trend here. Bill was very dapper tonight (skinny black trousers, pointy black shoes, white shirt with sleeves rolled up and unbuttoned to the waist) and seemed more relaxed than on previous occasions I'd seen him. He spoke little between songs but gently joked when he did and although his face appeared impassive when singing he would occasionally indulge in some tippy-toe jigs or throw in a quick side kick to suggest a less serious mood. It all ended with the great Velvets-y chug of "Cold Blooded Old Times" with extended instrumental jam and occasional yelps and screams. Just stunning. Bill Callahan: bloody genius. Please come back soon.

The Set List:
Jim Cain
Rococo Zephyr
All Thoughts Are Prey To Some Beast
Say Valley Maker
Rock Bottom Riser
Let Me See The Colts
Diamond Dancer
Too Many Birds
Eid Ma Clack Shaw
The Wind & The Dove
Our Anniversary
Cold Blooded Old Times

Bill Callahan
Sometimes I Wish We An Eagle [BUY]

A River Ain’t Too Much To Love [BUY]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Directions to Glanusk Park

Off to the now-sold-out Green Man Festival this morning. Mr P driving, I'm in charge of directions to Glanusk Park. Surprisingly the Green Man Festival is quite vague on how to get there. So trying to work out the route I found this on the Glanusk Park Estate website (it's owned by the Legge-Bourke family. Of course):
Please call us in advance if you wish to land a helicopter or light aircraft. Your grid references are as follows:-Lat: 51:52:03N (51.8676) Lon: 3:10:31W (-3.1751)
All Trades Vehicles are to enter the Estate via the B4558 entrance

Light aircraft not available this morning; I guess it will be the Trades entrance then.

Druids declared back in March that the Festival will be blessed with good weather. So far so good. The other news is Green Man Festival now has a 24 hour licence. Yikes may be not so good news. Back next week with a full report...hopefully.

I GO I GO I GO Wave Machines [BUY]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Folk Songs, Family Players and Folly

A new James Yorkston album came out last week. “Folk Songs” is played by James Yorkston and The Big Eyes Family Players (“I didn’t want to work with my usual band The Athletes but there’s no slur there – I Just fancied trying something different”) and is a collection of 11 traditional folk songs discovered by James in their 60s folk revivals versions by artists such as Anne Briggs and Shirley Collins or by more recent folkies like Nic Jones. A JY release is always something to get excited about. But let’s get the truly exciting bit out of the way first shall we?

Yes that’s me on the sleeve! Right there between Dave Holden and Nicki Refstrup Bladt. I’d talked about this in June: anyone who ordered the special edition of this album before 6 July got a credit on the album too. As well as the very handsome limited edition 2 x CD, 1 x DVD and poster version of “Folk Songs”. The credit is a small thing (and it is very small print) but it’s given me no end of joy since it arrived in the post last week.

Listening to “Folk Songs” the first thing is notice is the (subtle) differences to earlier JY albums. Firstly the lyrical content: where James tends to be more allusive, these songs are more direct. Where James often writes vignettes about those seemingly unimportant domestic incidents or situations that can make or break a relationship, these songs are longer narratives or deal with stock characters from the folk canon (poachers in “Thorneymoor Woods”, hunters and hares in “Hills of Greenmoor”). And then there is the playing: on some songs (but not all) the instrumentation and style can sound more traditional – whistles, mournful fiddle, chiming harp. On first listen I missed (or thought I did) the swoon and swell of those earlier albums and the Athletes full band treatment. But even on second listen some of that swoon is definitely there. And by the third listen what I thought of as subtle differences are long gone. This is a great JY album full stop and definitely worthy of your record dollars. Even if I’m biased by having my name on it.

And if the release alone is not enough, James and the Big Eyes Family Players are touring the UK in October to play the record including a (not-to-be-missed) date at Night & Day in Manchester on 24th. Buy tickets for that date here.
15th - Aberdeen - The Tunnels
16th - Glasgow - The Arches
18th - Fife - Cupar Arts Festival
19th - Edinburgh - Bongo Club
21st - Liverpool - The Kazimier
22nd - Leeds - The Faversham *
23rd - York - Fibbers
24th - Manchester - Night & Day Cafe
25th - Bristol - The Fleece
26th - Clwb Ifor Bach
31st - Fence Halloween Party (Secret Locations Around Anstruther!)
5th - Reading - South Street Arts Centre
7th - London - Tabernacle *
9th - Brighton - Hanbury Ballroom
All shows with support from Mary Hampton and David A Jaycock (except Fife w/ Iain Macauley Trio)
* With Alisdair Roberts

James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players
Folk Songs [BUY]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TONIGHT IN MANCHESTER: William Fitzsimmons

Willam Fitzsimmon’s biog seems to go out of the way to suggest an ‘other-ness’, to suggest how strange he is: born to blind parents , brought up in a house filled with sounds but with limited social interaction; spending years working as a mental health therapist. But if you are a fan of Sufjan Stevens or Iron and Wine, Fitzsimmons is less an oddity and more of a musical fellow traveller. Like them he sings sparse, intimate, folky songs that can make the hairs on your neck stand up – and like Sam Beam he has a damn impressive beard.

Tonight he plays the second night of his short UK tour at Night & Day to promote second (proper studio) album “Goodnight” with support from and Denis Jones and Christopher Eatough. Tickets only £6 in advance.

William Fitzsimmons
Goodnight [BUY]

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"Out there somewhere is the finish line": A Half Year Report

Well I'd talked about the packaging in May but I really should talk about the music. Especially since Fanfarlo's "Resevoir" is shaping up to my one of my favourite albums of the year if not (whisper it) THE favourite. So at the mid-point (late as usual) timely to think what are the runners and riders for album of the year. But first how the love affair began.

Mr P has been following Fanfarlo since their early singles - I remember him going on about "Fire Escape" in particular and I largely ignored him. My mistake. At first casual acquaintance, Fanfarlo can sound a little understated, a bit samey, almost anonymous. But in March I was listening to latest single "Harold T Wilkins" (which made it on to the March Gig Guide compilation) and after a few listens it had skewered itself firmly inside my cranium. By the eighth time, I was totally sold. The album followed - and the process repeated itself. Listen - skewer - love - buy the limited run, special edition version with hand-printed silkscreen box. It's a familiar tale.

I've tried to think (not very hard) what it is about this album that I love. And it goes something like this: it manages to combine clever orch-pop (Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird) with swooning indie-pop (most things Swedish or on Fortuna Pop) with literate pop nous (say The Shins) with a great rock dynamic (say Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! on their first album). BUT sounding completely original and not in the shadow of anyone. AND after that initial impression of 'samey' you realise how much DEPTH and VARIETY there is on the album. And THEN there's the instrumentation and the arrangements - umpteen listens down the track I'm still trying to work out what is making such beautiful sounds - Clarinet? Melodica? Harp? Bassoon? Glockenspiel? And did I mention Simon Balthazar's singing?! Or the lyrics?! Enough of the drooling.

So sorry Mr P for not listening to you sooner. And after Fanfarlo's March Manchester gig we missed, they are back at The Deaf Institue next month (a match made in heaven!). Not all US/UK dates seem to be listed on the site yet so here they are in full:

September 14 Seattle - Chop Suey
September 15 Hollywood - Troubadour
September 16 Los Angeles - The Echo
September 17 San Francisco - Popscene
September 20 Philadelphia - Kungfu Necktie
September 21 New York - Bowery Ballroom
September 22 Brooklyn - The Bell House

September 28 Manchester - Deaf Institute
September 29 York - Fibbers
October 1 Glasgow - ABC2
October 2 Middlesbrough - Westgarth
October 3 Nottingham - Bodega
October 4 Bristol - Start the Bus
October 5 Oxford - Jericho Tavern
October 6 London - Bush Hall
October 7 Brighton - Hanbury Ballroom
October 8 Cardiff - Iforbach
October 9 Leeds - Brudenell Social Club

So if Fanfarlo's Resevoir is in pole position for the Half Year Report for album of the year, who else is up with them? Well in no particular order: Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish We An Eagle, Camera Obscura's My Maudlin Career, The Phantom Band's Checkmate Savage, Sonic Youth's The Eternal, My Sad Captain's Here and Elsewhere, A C Newman's Get Guilty, Titus Andronicus, Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion, Slow Club's Yeah So. And then there's Malcolm Middleton's Waxing Gibbous, Bishop Allen's Grrr.., The Pains of Being Pure At Heart and.... oh it's going to be a long six (four) months to 31 December.....

And if Half/End of Year are your lists here are some others: Piccadilly Records; Sweeping The Nation; NPR's All Songs Considered podcast; Sound Opinions; and Spin.

Resevoir [BUY]

Sunday, August 02, 2009


At the far end of Blenheim Gardens SW2, past the row of bay-fronted , genteel Edwardian residencies, lies The Windmill. From the outside The Windmill is a unassuming single storey pub. Inside it is pure rock ‘n’ roll dinginess.

The walls are all peeling paint and crumbling plaster with what appears to be 20-years’ worth of gig posters and band stickers holding them in place. At the far end from the entrance door, behind the irregularly shaped bar, is the small stage: a shabby riser made of MDF, amps on beer crates, scuffed monitors and hand-written running orders and old set-lists blu-tacked to the side of a sound desk. But if you look again at all the rock ‘n’ roll scuzziness, you see that it is actually lovingly preserved and cared for. The whole bar is neat and tidy, those posters of future gigs at The Windmill are meticulously laid out and evenly spaced, it is debonair not squalid. I fell for it instantly.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing My Sad Captains live since End of The Road in 2007. The release of their debut album (a strong contender for my top ten albums of the year) in June raised by hopes but I couldn’t get to the Manchester date of the short tour around that time. Which brought me by happy coincidence to this part of Brixton: my first visit to The Windmill but the twenty-fifth for My Sad Captains. If not a homecoming-with-ticker-tape-parade gig this did have a warm, almost casual, feeling of a band playing mainly to family and friends.

MSC do not look very rock n roll: lead singer Ed (painfully thin, large-rimmed classes, maroon V-necked jumper) comes across as librarian-by-day, poet-by-night; the rest of the band (Jack, Jim, Juliet, Nick) do not appear so ‘bookish’ but they look more like the rest of the audience rather than The Band. Yet the five play together beautifully.

The sound of MSC - 'alt-pop with a hint of Americana' as the poster for tonight says – works really well in this intimate setting. The band bring out the subtlety of slower, more atmospheric numbers like “You Talk All Night”, the delicate harmonies of ”Here and Elsewhere” and the summery pop bounce of final song “All Hat And No Plans”, all with a seemingly casual confidence. This was a short set (nine songs, three of them new) but given the quality of the songs and those gorgeous harmonies, I went away more than satisfied. Only shame was no encore (and no “Bad Decisions”) and the fact My Sad Captains aren’t getting more attention and accolade. Yet?

The Set List:
“My Formative Years”?
Good To Go
You Talk All Night
Ghost Song
New Song
Here and Elsewhere
Great Expectations
A Peg Or Two
All Hat and No Plans

Tonight also saw my first foray into video:

Earlier support had been firstly from Randi Russo and then The Oxygen Ponies. Randi (she could only be American with that name) gives a garage rock twist to the standard singer-songwriter fare: attractive voice, pleasant songs and I would not be adverse to hearing more.

She then returned to partner Paul Megna who is The Oxygen Ponies: Paul sang and strummed electric guitar whilst Randi tapped out rhythms on blocks or tambourine and provided harmonies. The Oxygen Ponies played lit by a candle placed in an empty Jack Daniels bottle. It seemed entirely appropriate - spare, haunting late night tales touching on despair and loneliness. Paul may have looked like a grunge rocker but his voice reminded of E from Eels – deep, gravelly, occasionally bluesy but with a sweet, wounded side. Their six song set included a slowed down version of “Love Vigilantes” by New Order. Both have music to stream on their sites - follow links above.

My Sad Captains
Here and Elsewhere [BUY]