Tuesday, August 31, 2010


With August and festival season behind us, it's back to a month chock-full of gigs. Well, festival season is not quite over.

Not only does this month have the excellent (and now sold out) End of the Road Festival in North Dorset but also, closer to home, Manchester's own boutique, urban one-dayer Postcards From Manchester, this year at The Deaf Institute. Twelve hours, ten bands on the poster, three more in the basement courtesy of For Folk's Sake (and all for £12 pounds advance); it certainly lives up to to the promoters' aim "to show what Manchester is all about- innovation, originality, and most importantly, fun". Read more about the bands on Pull Yourself Together and buy a ticket whilst there still are some about.

This month's mixtape could have been just from Postcards From Manchester but instead it draws from the full month's offering. It may not be as coherent as Postcards From Manchester but there's so much this month I wanted to feature - and then look at all the other great gigs missed out! The download link for the mixtape [63mins/73 MB] is in the post following.

Manchester Gigs in Music: September 2010 Mixtape

Slaraffenland Meet and Greet [3.48] (12 Sep Academy 3 BUY TICKETS)
Ólöf Arnalds Innundir Skinni [6.44] (16 Sep Dulcimer BUY TICKETS)
Homelife Buffalos [10.49] (9 Sep Band on the Wall BUY TICKETS)
The Brute Chorus Hercules [14.00] (16 Sep Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Grinderman Get It On [17.05] (29 Sep Academy 1 BUY TICKETS)
Brown Brogues Wildman [19.08] (4 Sep An Outlet BUY TICKETS)
Ducktails Hamilton Road [21.31] (22 Sep Trof NQ BUY TICKETS)
Deer Tick Twenty Miles [25.11] (30 Sep Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
The New Pornographers Moves [29.01] (8 Sep Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Allo Darlin’ If Loneliness Was Art [32.30] (18 Sep Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Kath Bloom Heart So Lonely [36.50] (10 Sep Band on the Wall BUY TICKETS)
The Soundcarriers Last Broadcast [41.42] (11 Sep Ducie Bridge BUY TICKETS)
Erland and the Carnival Gentle Gwen [45.14] (25 Sep Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Zola Jesus Night [48.47] (2 Sep Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Damian Jurado Mr Brown [50.56] (26 Sep Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Josh Ritter Change of Time [55.02] (22 Sep RNCM BUY TICKETS)
Walton Hesse Auld Claude [58.18] (26 Sep Odder BUY TICKETS)
Phosphorescent South (of America) [63.08] (6 Sep Night & Day BUY TICKETS)

And not forgetting:
2 Sep Women Deaf Institute / 4 Sep Neon Indian Deaf Institute / 4 Sep Eels Academy 1 / 6 Sep Cymbals Eat Guitars Deaf Institute / 6 Sep Jonsi Academy 1 / 8 Sep Bright Light Bright Light The Corner / 12 Sep John Head Deaf Institute / 14 Sep Moddi Night & Day / 14 Sep Horse Feathers King’s Arms / 15 Sep Black Mountain Academy 3 / 15 Sep Trouble Books Trof NQ / 16 Sep Sky Larkin Deaf Institute / 18 Sep Sage Francis Roadhouse / 18 Sep Joanna Newsom Palace Theatre / 20 Sep Liam Frost Sound Control / 21 Sep The Travelling Band Sound Control / 23 Sep The Answering Machine Sound Control / 23 Sep The Vaselines Deaf Institute / 23 Sep The Wilderness of Manitoba Night & Day / 23 Sep The Shout Out Louds Ruby Lounge / 25 Sep Mount Desolation Deaf Institute / 25 Sep Hexstatic Sound Control / 25 Sep Young British Artists Soup Kitchen / 26 Sep Fuzzy Lights Dulcimer / 26 Sep Pete Molinari Academy 3 / 28 Sep An Astronomical Evening with Darren Hayman Godlee Observatory / 28 Sep PVT Deaf Institute / 28 Sep Islet Islington Mill


Mixtape: September 2010 [63 mins/73 MB] - download here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Sunday got off to a punchy start with sunshine and the “seventh live concert performance” from The Singing Adams. The band features Steven Adams, ex-Broken Family Band, plus Matt Ashton on guitar, Melinda Bronstein on drums and Michael Wood on bass. As the band pointed out they were appearing on the Main Stage directing after Saturday’s headliners The Flaming Lips: “good to see they didn’t appear too disconcerted about going on before us”.

At first listen to these songs live there clearly is a debt to BFB as you would expect from a band formed around their main songwriter but The Singing Adams seem to concentrate more on the ‘indie’ than the ‘country’. And the themes of the songs appear to be more about flight and starting over but contain the same wit and sarcasm as BFB. And if the music wasn’t enough to wake us up, the band made the front rows turn around and sing a line of one song repeatedly to the hill. Just the sort of enthusiastic start the final day of Green Man needed. The Singing Adams are starting work on their debut album this month.

I then caught two songs from eight-piece (or so) Sons of Noel and Adrian in the Cinema Tent. These two new songs, including one about “eighty bottles of gin”, are a natural continuation of the slow-moving doom-folk sounds of the first record and therefore an essential purchase.

Shame not to stay but I wanted to see Je Suis Animal on the Far Out Stage. I tend to narrowly categorise the Norwegian five-piece as indie-pop but forget there is much more to them than this. And also seeing them in the flesh I realised they were not the youthful striplings I imagined.

Mixing songs from “Self Taught Magic From A Book” album with new songs plus a couple of instrumentals their sound is closer to early Broadcast or even in one drone-motorik number, Electrelane. The sound didn’t bring out any subtleties of the melodies so it was the louder numbers that worked best here.

Back at the Main Stage for Alasdair Roberts. During the set, he introduced one song as being inspired by reading an academic book on dying which featured the tales of an Arabic traveller recalling burial rituals he had witnessed in Russia in the 9th century. Simple songs about fancying the girl next door these ain’t. Instead the four-piece band mixed Alasdair Roberts originals with traditional ballads from places as diverse as Newfoundland and Derby, including two from new album “Too Long In This Condition

His final song had an extended spoken word introduction about St Columba and medicinal herbs before turning into a separate song which ended with another crowd singalong of the refrain of “all days will end in joy”. Most songs may have been slow-paced and quite serious folk ruminations but by the end you realised not only how varied and engaging the forty-five minutes had been but were left with a silly smile and a hopeful heart.

The rest of Sunday has an open book. Most of the bands we had wanted to see had been and gone so it was time to make some random choices. The only expectation I had of Megafaun was that they would probably play some gloomy Appalachian folk. I didn’t expect their set in the Far Out Stage to be on of the uncontested highlights of the whole three days.

The trio of two brothers, Phil and Brad, and childhood friend Joe, do play hillbilly music – but as though it was high-octane rock and roll. These baskeball-loving, heavily bearded dudes were also some of the funniest and most genuine entertainers I have come across – they talked about cricket, Norwegian food, temporary tattoos and how they’d turned down a signing session in the Rough Trade tent because they would rather set up an NBA Discussion Table to talk basketball. Not many takers for this but there were plenty of takers for the music.

Not knowing any of the material was irrelevant. Performed on banjo, acoustic guitar and drums, two or three-part harmonies were at the core of most songs - some were simple, almost acapella numbers, others larger-than-life performed with shouts, glee and gusto. Even Phil playing two harmonicas at once didn't feel like a gimmick. The overall vibe was party but there were moments like the song about their grandmother that were intensely moving.

The reception was off-the-scale: not sure if this was people who seen them before live and knew what to expect or from those, like me, caught up in the emotion and exuberance on stage. This included their song ‘Worried Mind’ sung with The Tallest Man on Earth and members of Bear In Heaven. Astonishing. Afterwards I got to shake Phil’s hand and get Brad to sign my freshly-purchased CD. Just need to track Joe down next time they visit the UK.

After the emotion, a break and some food was called for so I caught a few songs from Laura Marling, watching from on top of the hill. I’ve never seen her live before so would have been tempted to stay but instead opted for another act I’ve never seen live.

The Tallest Man on Earth is Kristian Matsson who performs with just guitar and voice. But what a voice. For such a slight, unimposing figure in skinny jeans and T-shirt, he has a deep growl of a voice with a huge range that filled The Far Out Tent with ease. Walking around the stage, occasionally crouching or leaning out towards the crowd, he turned his songs about “flowers, insecurities and death” into little pieces of theatre without ever appearing precious or forced.

This was another powerful emotional performance that was met with an equally emotional response. Returning the favour Megafaun and others came on the stage for the final song a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free Now” (caught on camera here). If it had been emotional before this moving scene left grown men weeping. At least it did the two I was with.

It was unlikely that anything else would touch the magic of Megafaun or The Tallest Man on Earth. So the rest of Sunday became a bit disjointed as I caught part of different acts to wind up the final day of Green Man.

Girls in The Far Out Tent got a good reception. The first half of their show mixed songs from “Album” with a few new ones – all mainly mid-tempo and a very straight rendition of the recorded ones. It was well delivered but felt a bit flat after the earlier scenes on the same stage. So after the excellent ‘Lust For Life’ I headed back to the Main Stage.

Here Tindersticks were halfway through their set and the rain had started again. This was another band who surprised me with how well they fared in an outdoor festival setting. Stuart Staples said he had hated the first half-hour “but now I don’t want to leave”. I don’t know if this was earlier nerves or if they got a rough reception in that first half-hour but the second half I watched was deeply moving (finishing with ‘Harmony Around My Table’) and enjoyed by a respectful if soggy audience.

More running about: I caught a few Efterklang songs in the Far Out Stage and then ten minutes of Joanna Newsom on the Main Stage. Watching the harp being played on the big screen was engaging but those ten minutes like the other ten minutes I’ve spent with her records made me again realise: I can’t really take more than ten minutes of Newsom tweeness. The grand piano or harp-playing accompanied by string quartet, bass and drums was beautifully arranged but I can’t find a way past that voice or the complex melodies.

So the end to my Green Man was instead spent warming up and drying out around the bonfire. This year’s Green Man Festival had some exceptional music programming on offer. Inevitably there's the occasional disappointment and the rain and mud took its toll but there was so much good and unexpected stuff in such a beautiful setting that a return visit next year will be an essential part of 2011 whatever the weather.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Saturday morning at Green Man was spent applying plasters to welly boot blisters, sipping coffee and analysing the skies to work out whether the rain was stopping or not. However if it had just been drizzling in the morning by midday day two at Green Man was greeted by another almighty downpour.

Our first destination was the Cinema Tent – not because it was dry but because of the great line-up for the “Disappointing Crazy Golf Tent” strand in which Welsh bands performed in front of the “whacked-out art-trash video projections” of Casey Raymond and Ewan Jones. First band we saw was H Hawkline fronted by Huw Evans on guitar and accompanied by drummer and (that man again) Sweet Baboo on guitar. Their extraordinary set was only three songs: the first two were extended krautrock jams with occasional distorted shouting. The third (“Steve just reminded me this is the first and only proper song we will play”) was a cover from a Welsh 80s post-punk band – I missed the name but must track it down. Shockingly good and given an extra edge by those surreal images. H Hawkline have an album due later this year on Shape Records.

After a short break the next band Sweet Baboo appeared. Or rather it shuffled around. With a new drummer, Sweet Baboo took over the guitar and vocals and Huw played bass. This was an electric set that reprised all the songs from yesterday’s acoustic set and more but was just as hilarious and engaging if a little more hungover: they’d been drinking with The Flaming Lips drummer the night before – who later came into watch wearing a Cymru shirt. These new Sweet Baboo songs are sounding mighty fine – my favourite lyric being “Daniel Johnston has got hundreds of good songs / And I’ve got six / So there’s catching up to do”. Maybe it doesn’t translate on the page. Sweet Baboo live is a delightful package of self-deprecation and comical boasts, casual mistakes (“this is the one Huw is most likely to get wrong, so watch out for that”) and rambling stories but ultimately clever, witty and moving songs. A talent to be celebrated.

Next was Richard James and band - here performing under the alias Pen Pastwn. Sadly I only caught 20 minutes or so but what I saw was a hushed and mesmerising set of instrumentals and Welsh language songs lovingly played - like the one below (the video playing behind the band is for ‘When You See Me In The Pouring Rain’ from this year’s highly recommended “We Went Riding” album).

Leaving the cover of the Cinema Tent, I was pleasantly surprised to find the rain had stopped and there were patches of clear blue sky ahead. So it was back to the Main Stage to see Race Horses – another Welsh band releasing a highly recommended album this year (and so a shame they clashed with Y Niwl playing in the Cinema Tent). The four piece play psyche-pop in the tradition of Gorky’s and SFA but with youthful dashes of music hall, glam and even (on record) sea shanty.

Towards the end of the set singer Meilyr Jones broke a bass guitar string. The comment from Dylan on keyboards was “That’s the fourth gig in which we’ve broken a bass string. I believe in their whole career Led Zeppelin only broke one. And they did alright didn’t they?”. Smart boys who won new fans here and deserve much more attention and acclaim.

The Race Horses Set List:

Last year at Green Man Festival I spend much of my time at the Pub or the Far Out Stage. This year and today particularly the Main Stage was an irresistible draw. Next on was Montreal’s psychedelic rockers The Besnard Lakes. My last encounter with them was in a tiny pub upstairs room with smoke machine. How would they fare in the open air? Pretty well is the answer – the loud epic nature of their songs suited the expansive setting. There were a few dissenters in my group (“crap”) but to hear songs like ‘Devastation’ and ‘Albatross’ roll out across the Welsh hills whilst the beer can I held was vibrating with the volume was pure joy. The band were mostly tight-lipped but singer/guitarist Jace eventually gave us a smile as the sun broke back through the clouds during ‘And This Is What We Call Progress”.

The Besnard Lakes Set List: Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent / Devastation / Glass Printer / Albatross / And This Is What We Call Progress / Disaster / You Lied To Me

On a quick visit to the Far Out Stage I caught two songs from Rick Tomlinson’s Voice of The Seven Thunders including an impressive psych-folk instrumental that somehow built in intensity section-by-section without you even noticing. Must make sure I catch their full-set at End of the Road in September.

Instead for me it was back to the Main Stage for Fanfarlo, a late but perfect addition to the Festival line-up. And the sun was still out. Despite their apparent non-stop touring the five-piece looked fresh and relaxed. Their set included oldies like the gorgeous ‘We Live By Lake’ (“a song about a village far away in Sweden”) plus the two new songs I’ve heard before – growing on me slowly – and even possibly a third new song. I was right at the front so couldn’t tell how big the crowd support for them was behind me but certainly ‘The Walls Are Coming Down’ got huge cheers and a hefty singalong. New album. Soon please?

Fanfarlo Set List
Atlas / Finish Line / Harold T Wilkins / We Live By The Lake / The Walls Are Coming Down / ? / Fire Escape / Waiting in the Wings / Luna

Next: Mexican food at the top of the hill with Johnny Flynn in the background.

I then caught the first two songs from The Unthanks. At first I thought they had misjudged their opening song. A slow dirge-like number with just voice and tap-shoes. But as they added in the string quartet and piano it took on a life of its own. One day live or on record I will give The Unthanks some proper attention.

Instead I was intrigued to see how These New Puritans would fare live presenting their new album ‘Hidden’. As I arrived, the empty stage was strafed with searchlight beams. At the side of the stage two bassoon players looked on nervously. Ominous rumbles turned into ‘We Want War’ and three of the band (no keyboard player Sophie? Unless she was one of the bassoon players?) appeared to play drums, keyboards/samplers and guitar/vocals.

For just five performers they made a hell of a racket – I think the drums and roto toms were double if not treble-micced. The combination of all the elements played loud together with the lighting effects was thrillingly dramatic. A nice touch mid-set was when singer Jack Barnett took off his jacket to reveal a chain mail vest. Like on ‘Hidden’ it does feel as though they are spinning out the same trick – but you can’t fault the band for ambition or for a sense of dark theatre.

By now the mud and late night was definitely catching up with me – and I watched the remaining two Main Stage acts sat down from the top of the hill. Billy Bragg’s solo set included stories about tea-drinking, GCSE results, Ingrid Bergman and a basic guide to politics (“whatever The Daily Mail says, do or think the opposite”) mixed with ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’, ‘The Milkman of Human Kindness’, ‘Sexuality’ and a new song about bankers moving to Dubai (“he says he’s an ex-pat but we all know he’s an economic migrant”). He finished with “let’s have a singalong” ‘A New England’ and then to the tune of ‘One Love’ a chant to politicians urging them to drop international debt. Elder statesman in so many senses.

Saturday headliners The Flaming Lips were never likely to be shrinking violets. I’m not a fan but was intrigued to see the latest stage show. And if you wanted razzle-dazzle it didn’t not disappoint: giant animated visuals, confetti cannons, oversized beach balls, Wayne Coyne surfing the crowd in a giant hamster ball and then singing sitting on the shoulders of a bear. At one point Wayne wore giant hands (lobster claws?) that then starting emitting green laser beams. However I couldn’t help think it was disguising a deficit in the music which was mostly noodling and directionless. Also Wayne’s continual urging to the crowd in the lull between songs (“come on, come on, come on, come on Green Man”) became a bit tiresome. We left during the encores to avoid the crush.

Trudging through the mud in the campsite the music and crowds were far in the distance. But in the still night air there was still confetti falling peacefully around us like snowflakes. Confetti and mud: a fitting combination for another special day.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Arriving at Glanusk Park Estate in thunder and lightning and then having to put the tent up in a torrential downpour was not the start for Green Man Festival promised by the druids. Ah well, even mystics can get it wrong sometimes. The best way to forget about being soaked to skin within 20 minutes of arriving on site was to start watching some bands. Especially with this year's visit being an extended group trip with many first-timers - they needed to be distracted from the rain and convinced of the merits of being here quickly.

Given the conditions and delays in putting up the tent we missed the opening acts on each stage and instead the first band we saw was the thirteen piece Spencer McGarry Season. This was dapper soul-pop with an occasional touch of The Divine Comedy and a natty wardrobe of bowties, braces, cocktail dresses; plus the first appearances of many this weekend for grand piano and a string section on the Main Stage. A fun start despite the rain – and also first sighting of several of the weekend of Sweet Baboo here playing guitar.

Undeterred by the rain and eager for more music we (an extended group trip this) then tried to catch the end of Matthew and the Atlas. But in what would be a theme for the weekend we managed to edge into the packed Far Out Tent (the only music stage with shelter for the audience) as the band walked off stage earlier than advertised. Ah well the walk had done us good and helped to churn up some of that Welsh mud.

Then it was back to the Main Stage for The Wave Pictures making their first Green Man Festival appearance. I may not be objective in this but they did not disappoint even with just a thirty minute set. After 3 songs the band invited audience requests – Mr P and myself managed to get three in starting with ‘Now You Are Pregnant’ sung by drummer Jonny Helm - but a fourth (for ‘Strawberry Cables’) proved too much. But there was nothing to argue with about this uplifting set.

The Wave Pictures Set List: Canary Wharf / Long Island / Leave The Scene Behind / Now You Are Pregnant / We Dress Up With Snowmen / Friday Night in Loughborough / I Love You Like A Madman / Sleepy Eye / Too Many Questions / Blind Drunk

Up at the Green Man Pub we then caught the second half of Katell Keineg. Backed by guitarist and bassist she delivered a very engaging downbeat folk including a lovely cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen”. Worth further investigation.

A return trip to the Main Stage found us waiting for Mountain Man in the rain. Alas they had been delayed en route (probably followed the open-to-interpretation directions of the Green Man website?). Instead we were treated to four acoustic songs from the exceptionally talented Sweet Baboo.

After playing with The Spencer McGarry Season and not expecting to play this afternoon he had got “twatted. So don’t expect any fast ones”. Instead he played four new songs of about super brains, zombie collages, balloon rides and dancing, most from his third album due imminently. The video below is the one about balloons from his collaboration with The Voluntary Butler Scheme and others as Wickes. With banter as good as the songs this was a hilarious and inspired turn that never felt like a ‘fill-in’.

Further re-jigging of the main stage running order followed with Caitlin Rose moved across from the Pub.

Wearing sunglasses through the set was a touch odd given the weather but her brand of Nashville country was very soothing despite the shockingly young appearance of her and her band.

More sunglasses on the main stage followed with Erland And The Carnival. I find it difficult to categorise their music still (psyche-folk-rock just doesn't do it) or capture what makes it so thrilling. But the pounding rhythm section and the frazzled guitars and garagey keyboard sounds continue to impress live – even more than on record. A great live band and a stirring appetiser for a Pieminister tea-time visit.

Following pies, next on the main stage was Fionn Regan. I only know his first album of quiet folksy songs. I think for his second he has decided to move and live in 1967 - large sunglass, head band, amulet around his neck. The sound is similarly up-dated – or is that back-dated - a sixties tinged rock that just didn’t hold my attention on first listen.

Instead we went to catch the re-scheduled Mountain Man on in the Green Man Pub. Only to arrive as they finished their last song of course.

Sleepy Sun are on the new Rough Trade Records Psych-Folk compilation. This was my first encounter with them live or on record and they weren’t particularly folky. In fact after 1967 we now seemed to find ourselves in Far Out Tent visiting 1972. For Sleepy Sun played a sensuous heavy rock with much throwing of long hair and thrusting of hips from the long-haired male and female co-vocalists. Plus full-throated wailing and some possible prima donna reactions to technical malfunctions - which all shouted hairy 70s rock. For the most part they got a good reaction but I need more convincing.

Next on the Main Stage was John Grant whose “Queen of Denmark” album is one of my favourites of the year. He performed either seated at grand piano or singing at microphone with one other musician who would either alternate playing the grand or provide acoustic guitar/keyboard accompaniment and backing vocals.

It was an astonishingly beautiful recreation of the record with just one/two performers. Highlights included ‘I Wanna Go To Marz’ with simple piano accompaniment for Grant’s singing, a solo performance of ‘Queen of Denmark’ (“some more gloomy shit”) from Grant seated at grand piano and this acapella rendition of ‘Chicken Bones’ as requested by several in the front few rows.

John Grant Set List: Drug / New Song / Sigourney Weaver / Where Dreams Go To Die / It’s Easier / Outer Space / Queen of Denmark / Paint The Moon / Chicken Bones / Caramel

Forsaking a good spot for Beirut, I hot-footed it to the Far Out Tent to catch Steve Mason. I entered to see the band finish a song and (I thought) the set as per the theme of the day. However there was one more song to play – an impromptu (“I don’t do this often but since it’s you”) version of The Beta Band’s ‘Dry The Rain’ performed just on acoustic guitar, bongos with occasional percussion and electric bass. It transformed the tent into an arms-aloft revivalist meeting. Quite beautiful and a special moment to catch but as Steve said “Keep it quiet I played this”. So shhh.

Beirut was one of the must-see acts for me especially having always missed previous tours. There was equal anticipation amongst the crowd including quite a few teenagers – clearly a bigger and broader following than I thought. So when Zach Condon, looking relaxed and fresh-faced, walked on stage with a seven-piece band there was a rapturous welcome and later impressive word-for-word singing of songs like opener ‘Mount Wroclai’ or ‘A Sunday Smile’. It took me the first three songs to put away my nervousness and high expectations and enjoy this set of songs from all three albums and a new one (or two?) too.

It wasn’t just that this was a festival that earned such applause for a band whose front line includes an accordion, trumpet, French horn and trombone. It’s the glorious sound they bring to the songs and how they conjure faraway places. As beautiful as the Brecon Beacons are, when Beirut hit their stride you couldn’t help but feel transported to a Mexican street corner or East European street cafe. This was consistently impressive but occasionally exceptional. Headline act and longer set next year please?

Sticking with the extended group, I hung around for Friday Main Stage night headliners Doves. I only know one Doves song. And they didn’t play it. Instead they seemed to play one thin and insubstantial song over and over. I gave them the benefit of the doubt initially and thought they would work in this slot (and they did for the vocal fan club at the front) but soon it was apparent this was in my view a rare and under-powered misfire in the programme.

A shame but this or the constant rain were not enough to spoil the many, many delights of the first day of Green Man 2010. Reports on day two and three to follow.

Monday, August 09, 2010

BLIND ATLAS "Take A While" Single + Interview

The debut single from 'Mancunian Americana' five-piece Blind Atlas has been out for a couple of months now. Limited edition CD copies are still available in Piccadilly Records (including by mail order) and in Kingbee Records. And last month it was finally released on iTunes too. 'Take A While' is a great woozy slice of classic alt-country "designed to soundtrack long, whisky-addled nights of anguished soul-searching". But in a good way; a very good way.

But this song is only part of the Blind Atlas story. The last live performance I saw of theirs (supporting The Acorn), they finished with an extraordinary song called 'Ironwall' featuring tribal drums, dark incantations and bowed electric bass - spooky-as-hell and a world away from the laconic country-rock of other songs. So to get more of an insight into the influences and workings of Blind Atlas I threw a few questions in the direction of Ross, Cam, Pete, Crhis and Adam:

“Hailing from Denver, Colorado and disparate points around the UK” How did you all come to be making music in Manchester?

Cam Ross was living in Boston and getting disillusioned with the 'Boston scene'. He had some friends living in Manchester who recommended for him to come over to Manchester as it has such a great reputation for making good music. After a few months checking out bands, he met Adam and myself in 'The Bar' in Chorlton. Adam was wearing his Flying Burrito Brothers T-Shirt and we got talking...

Ross We got together for some jam sessions and really liked what we were doing.

Adam So we decided we had to start a band. We find Chris a little while later, he was looking for a band and was checking out the notice board where Cam and I worked. He fitted in straight away.

Ross Pete was next. He was in Walton Hesse who we all liked and we invited him to play on a track, and again, it was great because we just clicked. So he had no choice but to join us.

“Ryan Adams fronting The Black Keys” is one of many comparisons thrown around. Who are your real musical influences? And do they differ amongst the band?

Chris The Doors, Radiohead and the Terminator theme have really influenced me. I'm into a wide range of music and really enjoy a lot of classical music like Stravinsky.

Pete I come from a more blues rock background. I really enjoy exploring the great bands from the '68 to '74 period like The Stones, Floyd and Zeppelin.

Ross Neil Young, Creedence and the Grateful Dead. There are more I like but I also enjoy contemporary artists like Modest Mouse.

Cam Calexico, Nirvana and Captain Beefheart. I do enjoy the mixing of styles in the band as it means we always find something fresh.

Adam I do believe that every band has one good song no matter what genre. But if I had to chose a few that really influenced me they'd be The Velvet Underground, Fairport Convention and Ride.

How did the hook-up with Christian Madden of The Earlies come about for recording the single?

Ross A lot of people had stated that we're like The Earlies, and we were introduced to their management who setup a meeting with Christian. We really enjoyed working with Christian and his brother Nicky. We're going to record the whole album with them.

Adam They bring out the best in us.

Chris They have a fantastic range of instruments for us to use, like vintage organs.

What should we expect from the debut Blind Atlas album? And how are you financing it?

Adam With our wages, we don't eat much. You do have to make sacrifices to do music. It's hard but hopefully it'll be worth it.

Pete I think people will be surprised by the album. We want it to be the next step.

Ross It's our calling card. You'll hear it, hopefully connect with it and then want to see us live. Because live is where music is at its best. But we do want the album to be of its self and not a direct copy of the live performance.

Cam Hopefully the album will be out early next year. We have to record a little bit each month. This is a process started in October last year.

And what’s the most important lesson being in a band has taught you?

Ross You're only as good as your last gig.

So as well as investing in the single, I'd recommend seeing the band live to really appreciate the breadth and depth of Blind Atlas.

The band play the Baker’s Vaults Stockport on 5 November, are on the bill for the Francis House Benefit night at Sound Control on 19 September and have a couple of tasty support slots coming up too: The Travelling Band at Sound Control on 21 September and Blitzen Trapper at Ruby Lounge on 23 November.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Jens Lekman tours are infrequent but always special. Tonight’s sold out gig at the Deaf Institute was one of only two UK dates from the Swede now living in Australia. Jens with seven-piece backing band including Scots pianist Bill Wells played a 90 minute set to a reverential audience including five new songs. Then after the show he played another five songs in the unlikely setting of Sand Bar. Both were magical experiences and I could wax lyrical about either, or both, at great length. Instead I’m just going to write about two songs, one from each set.

Following the opening new song ('The Golden Key'?), Jens and (at this point) five-piece band neatly segued into 'The Opposite of Hallelujah' from 2007’s “Nightfall Over Kortedala”. Jens moved from centre stage to play piano – but a cable wasn’t working. So whilst the band continued to play the intro he picked up acoustic guitar and returned back to the mic now at the wrong height. Such technical malfunctions so early in a song might have floored many but this was handled with such unflappable cool I’m not sure many people watching even noticed. But this was not the most remarkable thing about this performance however.

The clever rhythms and lush string effects were delivered beautifully – a gorgeous mix of swoon and swing as on record – but with the band coming across like an all star soul revue band (two saxophones!). Jens passed out a tambourine into the audience at one point but true theatrics were to follow. The playing stopped mid-song and Jens and Viktor (laptop/samples) mimed a synchronised dance to a recorded snatch of 'Gimme Just A Little More Time' by Chairmen of The Board before the song effortlessly blended back to live playing. Then the whole song finished with a beautiful vignette as the musicians stopped playing and left Jens to reach out and upwards and mime playing chimes above the heads of the front row. All this was just the second song. It was magical, romantic, theatrical, soulful.

The Set List:

“The Golden Key”
The Opposite of Hallelujah
“Argument with Myself”
The End of The World Is Bigger Than Love
And I Remember Every Kiss
Your Arms Around Me
“Nothing At All”
Black Cab
“A song about Google street maps”
A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill
You In My Arms
Sipping on the Sweet Nectar
A Postcard To Nina
“Open Door”
Maple Leaves
Pocketful of Money

Fast forward to 11.30pm. About 30-40 hardy souls are on street waiting for the promised ‘open air’ set. Jens came out and the faithful trooped after him into Sand Bar. Ashley the manager provided one of the back-rooms and as people grabbed seats, benches and spots on the floor, Jens played five songs on acoustic guitar.

The fourth of these was ‘Silvia’. He started strumming but over this told the story of how he had a poster on his teenage bedroom wall of said Queen of Sweden – but when he grew up he realised she was just an “old conservative bitch”. Having set the scene of this innocent but doomed infatuation he recommenced the song. Only to interrupt it later to tell the tale of how his mother broke it to him that his childhood memory of meeting Silvia was false - but he kept it in song anyway (“do you know what they do to celebrities who lie?”). In a quietly intimate way it was as theatrical as the earlier song – but also witty, touching and utterly heart-breaking.

The Set List @ Sand Bar:

You Are The Light
Tram Number Seven to Heaven
Kanske Ar Jag Kar i Dig

A lock-in with Jens then followed. But by this point I was heady on the music alone and made my way home. I hope this tells you all need to know: if you ever get the chance to see Jens Lekman live, do not miss it. A poet of heart-break, an amusing story-teller and an exceptional performer.

Monday, August 02, 2010


Underachievers Please Try Harder have been putting on club and band nights at Café Saki for several years now – and at each visit I’m reminded how well this small student bar works for gigs. Watching bands play in the windowed alcove whilst police vans or the 15 bus to Flixton shoot past behind them is one its many little quirks. Shame then the venue's licnese has been under threat. Tonight’s line-up was heavily-leaning to the DIY garage end of the Underachievers indie-pop spectrum.

Second on the bill and first band I saw were Boy Or Bison. The trio play with familiar elements of 60s West Coast music before the drugs put a cloud over the youthful innocence and summer fun. So snatches of cartoon themes or surf riffs mix with bubblegum heartbreakers called ‘The Fog Of Love’, all drenched in a so-retro-its-now reverb-heavy sound. They had an enjoyable, easy-going vibe but when the songs got too familiar or clichéd or slack it was easy for the attention to wander.

Next up were Brown Brogues who seem intent to make sure your attention doesn’t wander. One or two songs into the set lead singer Mark beckoned the crowd forward so the front row were in the alcove right on top of the band. And in short: Brown Brogues are even better when you are closer.

One thing that was emphasised for me tonight following their June slot at the Deaf Institute was how the contrasting physiques of the duo match their playing. The drumming of Ben is solid, immovable and primal. The guitars and vocals of Mark are as distorted and unpredictable as his swivel-hipped gyrations. Sometimes his guitar neck points upwards, sometimes downwards, even out into the beer garden – but it is rarely still. But throughout such jerky contortions the drums keep pounding. For all its primitive visceral appeal, this is sophisticated garage rock par excellence in which the duo appear to work by telepathic communication (no set-lists, improvised or unplanned song endings).

Mazes I last saw in the sunshine of an early afternoon Deerhunter show. This nocturnal setting with its rough plasterwork and dressed-down interior better suited their brand of melodic fuzz-pop.

Earlier in the evening ‘Box Elder’ was on the PA – and this song reminds me of Mazes: not the cryptic and arch later Pavement stuff but the practising-in-the-garage joyful abandon of knocking out great tunes. Tonight the melody and fuzz competed with general noisiness. I was sometimes frustrated that the vocals became lost in the mix and the band were plagued technical problems which made the early part of the set seem a bit stop-and-start. But when it all came good and with songs as strong as ‘Bowie Knives’ and ‘Cenetaph’, it was hard to resist.

Tonight was £3 on the door before 10.30pm. That’s for four bands. I only saw three of them – that’s a pound per band (or fifty pence per Brown Brogue). It’s shockingly good value that deserves regular support (and makes any quibbles here look plain mean-spirited). So please support future Underachievers Please Try Harder nights, buy stuff from these bands and sign the petition to help to keep Café Saki as a licensed venue.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Summer holidays and festival season mean that August tends to be as quiet as January for gigs. But there's still plenty to see - including five excellent gigs all on one day. On Tuesday 3 August Manchester plays host to Wu-Tang Clan, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, World Atlas, Grand Archives and Pantha du Prince - any two of these would be an impressive clash. But all five?!

This month's mixtape [40 mins /46 MB] is quite a hushed affair - probably down to the effects of the languid August heat rather than my predilections? Download link is in the post following this one.

Manchester Gigs in Music: August 2010 [40 mins /46 MB]

World Atlas The Winter Stories [4.11] (3 Aug Café Saki BUY TICKETS)
The ABC Club Get Set Go [8.13] (14 Aug Café Saki BUY TICKETS)
C W Stoneking Goin’ To The Country [11.15] (2 Aug Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Caitlin Rose Shotgun Wedding [13.20] (25 Aug Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Grand Archives Torn Blue Foam Couch [16.42] (3 Aug Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
The Besnard Lakes And This Is What We Call Progress [21.45] (16 Aug Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Trembling Bells When I Was Young [26.32] (3 Aug Manchester Cathedral BUY TICKETS)
Laura Veirs + The Hall of Flames July Flame [30.14] (13 Aug Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Her Name Is Calla With Eyes So Full Of Sparks Of Love [31.42] (30 Aug Night & Day BUY TICKETS) Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy + The Cairo Gang With Cornstalks or Among Them [34.42] (3 Aug Manchester Cathedral BUY TICKETS)
Jens Lekman The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love [39.23] (2 Aug Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)

And not forgetting:
3 August Wu-Tang Clan Academy 1 / 3 August Pantha du Prince Ruby Lounge / 4 August Kitty, Daisy & Lewis Night & Day / 5 August The Heartbreaks Deaf Institute / 6 August Chapel Club Ruby Lounge / 9 Aug Dwarves MoHo Live / 10 August Get Cape Wear Cape Fly Deaf Institute / 11 August The Domino State Night & Day / 13 August Deaf To Van Gogh's Ear Kro Bar / 15 August Grammatics Deaf Institute / 20 August The Crookes MoHo Live / 25 August David Dondero Dulcimer / 26 August Rolo Tomassi Night & Day / 26 August Gideon Conn Band on the Wall / 28 August Laboratory Noise Café Saki


Mixtape: August 2010 [40 mins/46 MB] - download here.