Friday, August 31, 2012

MANCHESTER GIGS IN MUSIC: September 2012 Pt. 1

After the August lull, a much fuller and more eclectic month ahead gig-wise in Manchester. Just the mixtape itself veers from Vermont freak-folk to Swedish tropicalia, from New Zealand charm-pop to Mancunian math-rock, from Danish post-rock to harmony-pop from Teeside. Also this month two all-day events: the return of Rowf! Rowf! Rowf! to Islington Mill and the new dual-venue All Dayer from Mcr Scenewipe. Sadly both are the same day. Doh.

As ever a mixtape of bands playing Manchester this month to help inform your gig-going decision-making - link in the post below this one

Manchester Gigs In Music Mixtape: September 2012 [53 mins / 60MB] - download here.

Euros Childs Be Be High [2.09] (5 Sep Kings Arms BUY TICKETS)
Jaill Waste A Lot Of Things [5.04] (27 Sep The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Deep Time Clouds [7.43] (20 Sep Kraak BUY TICKETS)
Dan Deacon Lots [10.31] (28 Sep Islington Mill BUY TICKETS)
New Hips All Prologue [13.41] (14 Sep 2022NQ BUY TICKETS)
Secretaire Prick On The Racetrack [16.45] (1 Sep Fuel BUY TICKETS)
Crybaby True Love Will Find You In The End [19.32] (18 Sep The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Hurray For The Riff Raff Look Out Mama [22.52] (6 Sep Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
The Cornshed Sisters Dance At My Wedding [26.56] (2 Sep Odder BUY TICKETS)
Lawrence Arabia Travelling Shoes [31.06] (13 Sep Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
MV and EE Sweet Sure Gone [34.13] (22 Sep Islington Mill BUY TICKETS)
Jens Lekman An Argument With Myself [37.58] (19 Sep Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Sleep Party People The City Light Died [44.30] (4 Sep Soup Kitchen BUY TICKETS)
Memory Drawings Chinese History Of Colden Water [48.31] (16 Sep Sacred Trinity BUY TICKETS)
Meg Baird The Finder [53.12] (12 Sep The Castle BUY TICKETS)

And not forgetting:
1 Sep June Brides Kings Arms / 1 Sep Queer’d Science + Klaus Kinski Fuel / 1 Sep Poor Moon Ruby Lounge / 1 Sep Colorama The Castle / 4 Sep High Wolf Night & Day / 4 Sep Blue Rose Code The Castle / 4 Sep Lesbian Kraak / 5 Sep A Sky Jet Black Kraak / 5 Sep The Step Kids Deaf Institute / 6 Sep Danny George Wilson The Castle / 7 Sep Deap Valley Soup Kitchen / 7 Sep Allo Darlin’ + Just Handshakes We’re British Deaf Institute / 7 Sep Patti Smith Academy 1 / 8 Sep Nothing But Abbatoir Blues Festival The Castle / 9 Sep Husky The Castle / 14 Sep The Necks Band On The Wall / 15 Sep Rachel Sermanni Soup Kitchen / 15 Sep The Logicals Deaf Institute / 15 Sep Manatees Kraak / 16 Sep The Sun Devils Odder / 16 Sep A Place To Bury Strangers Ruby Lounge / 17 Sep Butch Walker Night & Day / 17 Sep El-P Academy / 18 Sep Macklemore + Ryan Lewis Deaf Institute / 19 Sep Frightened Rabbit Deaf Institute / 20 Sep Withered Hand Kings Arms / 20 Sep Last Dinosaurs Trof Fallowfield / 21 Sep Dexys Bridgewater Hall 22 Sep Mcr Scenewipe All Dayer including Temple Songs Eagulls Kraak + Soup Kitchen / 22 Sep Young Knives Sound Control / 22 Sep The Fall Lower Kersall Social Club / 23 Sep The Dunwells Soup Kitchen / 23 Sep Cult Of Youth Kraak / 24 Sep Ken Vandermark Kraak / 25 Sep Telepathe Soup Kitchen / 25 Sep Venetian Snares Sound Control / 25 Sep Beth Jeans Houghton Deaf Institute / 26 Sep Richard Hawley Academy / 27 Sep Omar Rodriquez Lopez Group Deaf Institute / 28 Sep Pale Seas + Kult Country Roadhouse / 28 Sep The Rubys Night & Day / 28 Sep Thomas Truax The Castle / 28 Sep Devon Sproule Band On The Wall / 28 Sep The Portlands Ruby Lounge / 29 Sep Cave Painting Trof

MANCHESTER GIGS IN MUSIC: September 2012 Pt. 2

Manchester Gigs in Music Mixtape: September 2012

Manchester Gigs In Music - September 2012 by Follyofyouth on Mixcloud

Or download mixtape [53 mins / 60 MB] here.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

GRANDADDY @ THE RITZ 29 August 2012

Reunion gigs. Never a good idea. And so the unwritten rule is avoid them. Remember how much hand-wringing I went through at Dean Wareham Plays Galaxie 500 night
and that wasn't even a reunion. So when Grandaddy announced earlier this year they were reforming for a short tour, even though I'd never seen them live first time round, I thought good on you to get a bit of adulation and cash - but it's not for me. Even if one of only four UK gigs was in Manchester. Remember the rule.

So I gladly ignored the tour despite writing a few words as a preview elsewhere. Until earlier today when I got offered a ticket to tonight's sold-out gig. Principles and The Rule be damned.

A Randy Newman-esque 'welcome back' show tune presaged the band taking the stage. The affection from the crowd was palpable even delirious but the demeanour of the five band members was a little cooler. There was no back-slapping camaraderie here – chilled Californians and ex-professional skateboarders remember - and other than referencing Manchester and asking for requests, Jason Lytle’s stage banter barely expanded from ‘thank you’ to ‘thank you a lot’ over the ninety minute set. But what impressed from the outset – a feisty opening duo of ‘El Caminos In The West’ and ‘Now It's On’ - was how muscular and crisp the sound was. The loud guitars were all low-end growl, the keyboards and robotic bleeps pin-sharp and alive and Lytle’s voice was strong and unbroken whether for the halting frailty of ‘Underneath The Weeping Willow’ or the rough-edged ‘Chartsengrafs’. Grandaddy was largely - and certainly became - a Jason Lytle solo studio project so it was good to hear how in tune and interdependent with each other the five musicians were. And the set ransacked all corners of their back-catalogue rather than just focus on the millennial sadness of "The Sophtware Slump".

For the first of two encores, Grandaddy played a rocking version of Pavement’s ‘Here’ adding in some lines about their reformation with Lytle singing “we’re so fucking stoked to be HERE”. But as the final words of the song echoed around The Ritz (“last time...last time”), a sense of passing, of ending returned. There are only fifteen dates on this tour and especially for a band who sing of decommissioning and technical obsolescence, I sincerely hope they stick to this. Repeated global treks and no new material smacks of pure mercenary cash-in (hello Pixies). But also because after this evening’s excellent performance, if Grandaddy do continue their reunion touring, I might have to sacrifice my principles. Again.

The Set List (‘Chartsengrafs’ may be in the wrong place)

El Caminos In The West
Now It’s On
“Yeah” Is What We Had
Fare Thee Not Well Mutineer
The Crystal Lake
Underneath The Weeping Willow
Lost On Yer Merry Way
The Go In The Go-For-It
My Small Love
Jed's Other Poem (Beautiful Ground)
So You'll Aim Toward The Sky
Stray Dog And The Chocolate Shake
Hewlett's Daughter
Laughing Stock
He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


The second God’s Little Eskimo album, “Said The Owl To The Mouse”, arrived in January last year and was distinctly arboreal. The third, “Dives Of Lazarus”, is out this week and is distinctly marine. Or rather submarine. If “Said The Owl To The Mouse” mimicked the jaunty scurrying of nocturnal woodland creatures or the sweeping flight of owls, “Dives Of Lazarus” follows the slow, graceful arc of denizens of the deep, most explicitly on ‘Leviathan’ in which surging, majestic piano suggests the gentle poise and power of the whale ("
joyous and fearful"). Piano appears (almost) consistently on each of the half-dozen songs here, another departure from the previous album, but the mood of whole is closer to sparse atmospherics and minimal instrumentation of ‘Goodbye Great Auk’ from the 2011 album.

‘An Island’ is an impressionistic ten minute suite that alternates intense and airy sections with just piano and octave-shifting voice like the hovering then soaring sea-birds it sings of. It is so engrossing the duration is unnoticed. ‘Sea Mist’ combines piano, bass and bowed saw in a hauntingly atmospheric, not-quite-jazz-noir instrumental ending in long wave radio crackle. The song without piano (or maybe it is snuck in somewhere) is the opening track, the dream-like ‘Scapa Flow’. This begins with the ping of sonar but is constructed mainly of multiple, echoing vocal harmonies to relay the watery fate of a sailor (“
torpedoes slammed our sides / no time / no time at all”).

But what really makes this collection so compelling beyond the judiciously spare arrangements and poetic tale-telling is the confident use of John Eskimo’s richly timbred voice. If the instrumentation and atmospheres tend to aquamarine chill, his voice is warmly emotive and alive even at its most poignant. The closing eight-minute ‘Dives Of Lazarus’ like ‘Scapa Flow’ is another song foregrounding John Eskimo’s voice front and centre, here with only minimal accompaniment from autoharp, guitar and wine-glass chime. All are used delicately for a deeply moving tale of a dead man making his grave beneath the waves “
crabs scuttle along my spine / now a marble bridge from A to B / seahorse caper through my bones / the males rest pregnant at my side”. This spellbinding conclusion to the album similarly scuttles up your backbone.

God’s Little Eskimo appears as reticent and shy as some of the ghosts and creatures he sings about. I only discovered his real name via an obscure Dutch psych-folk site before spotting it modestly in copyright small print on the album sleeve. I remember his name on a poster several years ago but am not aware of him playing live recently and he has very little active social media presence other than some You Tube videos and an irregular blog. But on this record his presence is utterly alive and intimately real despite singing of the dead and decaying. On that blog he says this is the “
third and final God’s Little Eskimo album”. A damn shame if this comes to pass. “Dives of Lazarus”, his best record so far, is a haunting triumph of imagination and execution. I cannot recommend this self-produced collection of eerie elegies highly enough.

God’s Little Eskimo
Dives Of Lazarus [BUY]

Friday, August 24, 2012


"I'm not going to lie to's going to be slow". But actually the meditative folk musings of Fence Records’ Seamus Fogarty were the perfect start to the final day of Green Man. The mud and two long days of excellent music plus the Growler ale had taken its toll and rather than launch noisily in, songs from the excellent “God Damn You Mountain” performed with accordion from brother John, vocal harmonies from friend James and from Rozi Plain (also on ‘shaky egg’) was a great entree to the brightening but long day ahead. The accompaniment took the songs closer to the album versions than the solo versions I’d seen but in any configuration and live or recorded, the music of Seamus Fogarty is highly recommended. And not just for festival Sunday lunchtimes.

Seamus Fogarty Set List
The Evening Lay Down Upon Us / Down By Waterside / Little Mama / The Undertaker’s Daughter / Train To Mexico / Heels Over Head / God Damn You Mountain / The Wind / The Question

Knowing I was going to miss Tiny Ruins later, I hot-footed it to see her in the Rough Trade tent. Songwriter Hollie Fullbrook with double bassist Caz have been touring Europe constantly since I saw them last at No Direction Home. However they have used the time wisely, writing songs on the road and using this session to air some of them – plus ‘Little Nose’- saving “the greatest hits for our main set”. Gorgeous.

Alaska make an offer too tempting to miss: “reverrrrrrb-heavy, B-movie-influenced psychedelic garage rock with a surf pop twist”. The Leeds four-piece, all dressed in white (at a festival?!), were not quite as quirky and blatantly B-movie kitschy as they claimed on this boisterous encounter but have done enough to send me in search of their EP.

I caught three songs of dark, electronic angst from Ghostpoet on the Mountain Stage - was pleasantly surprised how well it worked in the open air festival setting – before heading for Crybaby on the Walled Garden stage. With a stage name taken from a Garnett Mimms song, Danny Coughlan writes soulful balladry that occupies a similar space to Richard Hawley. Here with three piece backing band Crybaby suggested "we’ve brought our rainy set not the sunny one" but whatever the weather (the sun came out for final song ‘Twist Of The Knife’) these deceptively simple songs of heartbreak were neatly engaging.

More weather references from Damien Jurado: “I’m from Seattle, Washington. I like the rain”. After hearing Jurado on various compilations a decade or so ago, I’d wrongly ignored him until this year’s excellent ‘Maraqopa’ album. On the Mountain Stage, seated, he played songs from that album plus much older ones to a hushed crowd – compact stories of heartbreak, departures and failings. Entrancing. Before he brought them on he introduced Megafaun as a band “seeking marijuana”. The North Carolina band then backed him for two noisier final numbers including the “psychedelic rock jam” that opens the latest album to close with. One of the highlights of the weekend for me and now I have a ten year plus back catalogue to catch up on.

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins make an odd couple physically – one tall and neat even severe, the other shorter, rounder and more – well – cuddly. Musically however it is an inspiring musical partnership. With Hopkins at grand piano and harmonium, King Creosote at the front of the stage plus backing vocalist and drummer, they navigated the “Diamond Mine” album plus a cover of ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ with graceful aplomb to huge cheers.

I stayed at the Mountain Stage to secure a front-rail view for Tune-Yards and glad I did because there was a hefty throng waiting for them when they came on. “This mud’s for you”; Merrill Garbus had used Green Man mud in place of her familiar warrior face-painting but I think most people missed this reference as her band launched into ‘Party In A Can’. I’ve written before (here and here) about the inventiveness, fun and energy of Tune-Yards live and today it remained fresh despite this being the last date of a “very, very long” world tour but it was even more energetically charged. The loud mock-angry shrieks of Garbus drew equally loud responses from the crowd. It really was a party, finishing with a mighty segue of ‘Killa’ into ‘My Country’ featuring heartfelt thanks, a dedication to Pussy Riot, posing saxophone players and a dancing tour manager. Of course the band could only be called back on stage for an encore.

Tune-Yards Set List
Party In A Can / You Yes You / Gangsta / Powa / Real Live Flesh / Es-so / Bizness / Killa / My Country / Jumpin' Jack

I didn’t last the full set from Jamie N Commons - a disappointing Brit School take on faux blues-rock-noir. But proving to be the real deal in the Far Out Tent was Jonathan Richman. It’s difficult to capture the playful fun of a man in his sixties acting the kid in such an idiosyncratic, slightly camp fashion accompanied by Tommy Larkins on drums and dark glasses. The opening song sung of Vermeer being better than Rembrandt but included a welcome message and some high kicking dance moves. The next song invited everyone to come to the party with verses in Hebrew, Arabic, Italian and Spanish at least. A snippet of 'Egyptian Reggae' led to a lengthy crowd singalong to ‘I Was Dancing In the Lesbian Bar’. Good to see someone live up to their legendary status.

I went to Daughter at the Walled Garden expecting some intensely moody noir-pop along the lines of Esben And The Witch. Instead it was cosily predictable and fairly dull fare. A major disappointment.

Several songs in Megafaun referred to their performance two years ago in the Far Out tent as “the most meaningful show of their career”. It was certainly one of the most joyous, surprising and life-affirming live sets I’ve seen - astonishing to be part of a moment when band, even wearing basketball vests, and the crowd felt indivisible. I’ve seen the band subsequently so I know that their Green Man festival appearance in 2010 was the exception not the rule. I think some here seeking a return to that communal spirit were disappointed. For others it was a good-natured and heart-gladdening - if short – set of laidback jams with the band making up the set-list as they went. It may not have matched previous festival heights but the off-mic rendition of The Band’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ to conclude did feel suitably celebratory.

So another Green Man over. There had been a few minor disappointments in what I chose to try out, mainly due a mismatch with expectations, but overall this was a very strong musical programme, much better than last year. As always what I missed could be a whole festival in itself but I saw will stick with me – unlike the mud which only now remains stuck to the soles of my unwashed wellington boots. Diolch Green Man!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


There are always going to be clashes at festivals. But come on Green Man, Withered Hand and Sweet Baboo on different stages at the same time?! This was just too, too cruel. In the end I opted for the performer I’d seen least live: Withered Hand, here in full band set-up. Dan Willson said he had elaborate stage costumes planned but a late night got in the way and so they were “dressed like The Wurzels”. Self-deprecation can only be expected from the man who wrote ‘I Am Nothing’. But even with the sound in the Far Tent being far too echoey for my liking, this was a great, engaging set of pathos, humour, compassion and yes self-deprecation. Two new songs plus the “punk-rock number” ‘New Dawn’ left me very, very happy – and this even without ‘Religious Songs’ being in the set.

Withered Hand Set List:
Cornflake / I Am Nothing / Gethsemane / Providence / Jubilee / New Song (Walls?) / New Dawn / Love In The Time Of Ecstasy / No Cigarettes / Heart Heart

And for completeness, I hear the Sweet Baboo set was all-new material except for 'I’m A Dancer' and 'Twelve Carrots Of Love'.

The Perch Creek Family Jug Band had come to Green Man from the Edinburgh Fringe which figures – they added a touch of chirpy Australian showmanship to their stomping five-part harmony hillbilly music. The band – two brothers and two sisters plus boyfriend James - used banjo-ukulele, bowed saw, washboard, tap-dancing and, as the name says, jug to whip up the Walled Garden stage crowd. And then produce the longest queue I’ve seen to buy their album. You would have had to be the worst kind of curmudgeonly indie-snob not to enjoy their performance. And to be very clear, I did enjoy it.

Back to the same stage for RM Hubbert. The bearded and tattoo’d Glaswegian actually looks like a metaller but plays intricate flamenco flavoured acoustic instrumentals about his ex-wife, his dog and a dead friend “so I get to think about him each time I play it”. He sang the Aidan Moffat part from ‘Car Song’ from his recent Chemikal Underground album plus a traditional folk song taught to him by Alasdair Roberts but I found the wordless songs deeply hypnotic and moving (and his between song chat very, very funny).

Each time I see The Wave Pictures I state that repeated viewing of the band cannot dent the view of what a brilliant live band they are. Today was no exception although that cavernous Far Out tent sound wasn’t ideal and a set-list spat did occur. One of my party thought it overly favoured the new album to the detriment of older songs; I didn’t. Plus if you are as prolific and relentless in your touring as the Loughborough trio, I reckon you have earned the right to play what’s newest and freshest.

Again the curse of multi-stage festivals: I’d missed Dark Dark Dark and then only managed to catch two songs of the Bowerbirds (one was ‘In Our Talons’ though). I did however get to see Dark Dark Dark do a short acoustic set in the Rough Trade tent. “So this is piano-based music...” the Minneapolis band joked hemmed in between trestle tables, before playing four songs on just banjo, clarinet, accordion and snare drum. It left me kicking myself I’d missed both their Green Man set and their Salford gig earlier that week.

I caught a few songs from Portico Quartet’s Nick Mulvey in the sun in the Walled Garden before heading off for a drink. Now the act I had no intention of seeing at this festival, and the sore thumb in the three day event, was Van Morrison, the Saturday night ‘headliner’ but here getting on stage at 7.30pm. Which meant I did inadvertently catch the opening four numbers of his set whilst in the main stage beer tent queue. “How can he mangle his own song so badly?” was the reaction to ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. All dues to his career achievements and admittedly I was inside a crowded, canvas beer tent but it did sound like Van The Man was turning in lame jazz-lounge covers of his most well-known songs. What a bizarre booking for Green Man.

You’ve got to give everyone you’re not familiar with two songs’ worth of your attention. And Benjamin Francis Leftwich in the Far Out tent got that from me but he’s not having anymore. More familiar and interesting territory was Liverpudlian flute- wrangler Laura J Martin. Despite several live encounters this year, I still find her performances fresh and winning and tonight’s felt the most assured I’d seen her. Maybe she was upping her game for Stealing Sheep who acted as her backing band for two songs plus drummer Lucy also joining her earlier for ‘The Lesson’. Classy, classy stuff.

Laura J Martin Set List:
Fire Horse / The Lesson / It's Taking So Long / Tom / Red Flag / The Hangman Tree / At The Close Of The Day / Spy / Salamander

Much-heralded, passionate American troubadours with a good back-story are two-a-penny and most don’t live up to either the hype or the myth. Ex-carpenter Joe Pug on acoustic guitar and accompanied by Greg on electric guitar, managed to combine some Springsteen heart-on-the-sleeve moments with raspy Dylan-like story-telling as promised and neatly so for his first visit to Wales and appearance before Willy Mason on the Walled Garden stage. He was entertaining without being exceptional and warmly witty: “my father who is a teacher is nervous about calls from The Authorities when I play the next song. It’s called ‘I Do My Father's Drugs’...”. Although as one sage man observed: could he just turn the sincerity down by one?

It was two years ago at this festival that grown men wept during the afternoon set from The Tallest Man On Earth. Here he was back with a larger following (check the venues for his UK autumn tour) and a 2012 album which relies heavily on piano to headline the Far Out stage. However the approach to his performance was similar to his previous one here: using just a – large – bank of acoustic guitars and a chair as prop, the vest-wearing Swede swept to every corner of the stage in a semi-crouch whilst playing. Was my memory playing tricks or had he made it even a touch more theatrical? Teasing the crowd by pausing between familiar lines, throwing a plectrum dramatically over his shoulder to flutter beneath the vari-lights or letting the crowd sing the final line for ‘The Gardener’ before returning to repeat it himself. Either way the packed tent lapped it up. I didn’t see any tears this time but a lot of happy faces. A star performer.

Day two at Green Man done and I didn't even mention the mud and rain.

Monday, August 20, 2012


"And if you can't stay dry, have a good time getting really wet". Well that late afternoon stage announcement at Green Man Festival pretty much summed up the whole weekend to come. Having got the tent up in a fierce downpour (again), the first band I got to - two hours into the tenth edition of the festival in the Brecon Beacons - was Welsh youngsters Sen Segur in the Walled Garden. Their chugging pysche-rock was quirky and inventive in equal measures - one song title's English translation got it right: "It's Angular". Impressive start to the weekend.

Next saw M J Hibbett and “my friend Steve” present their science fiction rock opera “Dinosaur Planet” featuring acoustic songs, multiple headwear changes, plastic dino masks, a guest appearance from Van Morrison and the total destruction of Peterborough. Silly but very entertaining.

Two songs of King Charles on the Mountain Stage was enough to send me back in search of some noisier, more interesting fare. Step up Mowbird from Wrexham. The four-piece complete with new birthday guitar play a zippy surf-punk mixing the energy of the current nofi movement with some of the wayward melodicism of Pavement’s “Wowee Zowee” - plus they also covered Sex Hands who they have a split single with out soon. Excellent stuff – one of my highlights of the weekend (and it was still only Friday afternoon).

After a pit-stop to check out the festival ale Growler (OK and to stand under cover for a few dry minutes), it was back to the same stage for Joanna Gruesome (and if Sen Segur were youthful...). The Cardiff five piece - “piledriving indiepop fans since 2011”- had a loud Dinosaur Jr-like sound complete with blistering guitars and topped off with male/female vocals. Again another excellent live set from a noisy Welsh band early in the day.

Over at the Rough Trade tent Cate Le Bon played a short four-song solo acoustic set in which I may have been standing inappropriately close. Truly entrancing and a perfect warm-up for the later, headlining set.

The reformed – and name-shortened – Dexys on the Mountain Stage turned out to be an unexpected treat: dapper soul revue theatrics meets personal therapy. The in-song dialogue between Kevin Rowlands and Pete Williams acknowledged the former’s problems and struggles but in a playful almost light-hearted manner. And they even managed to return one of most overplayed songs ever to its original desire-riddled angst by making ‘Come On Eileen’ a deep soul song complete with extended pleading finale. Last song ‘This Is What She’s Like’ saw Kevin Rowlands stomping across the stage, saluting the audience and repeatedly chanting “this is our stuff” with utter conviction – and rightly so. A welcome return.

Last time I saw The Felice Brothers, singer Ian Felice was so intense and scary-looking I had him pegged for a convicted murderer on the run. Tonight and especially on the larger Mountain Stage the New York stage quintet were a less ominous - but still thrilling – presence, mixing the idiosyncratic moodiness of songs from their latest album like opener ‘Honda Civic’ and ‘Cus's Catskills Gym’ with earlier and more rowdy and rootsy singalongs like ‘Whisky In My Whisky’ and ‘Frankie's Gun’. Good raucous fun.

Next a band whose stage show you would never describe as raucous: Eagleowl in the Cinema Tent. The Edinburgh ensemble now expanded to a six-piece with drums and cello and freshly signed to Fence Records played a typically exquisite slo-core set to a group of soggy but attentive festival goers enjoying a rare sit-down on the matted floor. “This will be our last song but don't worry it's very, very long”. Eagleowl: not only not raucous but a group who know how to take their time.

The night finished for me back at the Walled Garden stage with the headlining set from Cate Le Bon and band: Huw “H. Hawkline” Evans on keyboard and guitars, Steve “Sweet Baboo” Black on bass and Andy Fung on drums. The first time I ever encountered Cate Le Bon was at this very festival four years earlier. My obsession has grown steadily since and been cemented by the excellent second album ‘Cyrk’ from earlier this year. The set drew strongly from that album and was similar to the one I was at in April at The Soup Kitchen in Manchester but, even with senses a little dulled by steady drinking, felt beautifully darker and more intense. Mesmerising and an utter joy.

The Set List:
Julia / Fold The Cloth / Cyrk / Carmelo / Eyes So Bright / Falcon-Eyed / Puts Me To Work / The Man I Wanted / What Is Worse / Ole Spain

Day one summary: wet but wowwed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

AMBULANCES Flying Simply Explained

The last album review here was for a record called “Levitates” which had a subterranean sound. Now here is an album called “Flying Simply Explained” which was recorded at The Sub Station in Rosyth. I’m not sure if The Sub Station is actually subterranean but despite occasional moments of darkness, the second album from Ambulances is a much more of an airy, overground record than the one from Devoted Friend.

The Fife four-piece have re-grouped in the wake of band members departing and even dying and produced a crisp, shiny collection of largely sunlit alt-pop songs. Never purely synth-pop despite the synthesizers and drum effects; never fully indie-pop despite the bitter-sweet male/female vocals; and never backward-looking despite its 90s sheen and musical reference points. The double-sided single in April (both sides included here) was a neatly upbeat package that drew comparisons from me to King Biscuit Time for ‘Feeling Sick’ (of which Steve Mason has now created a dub version) plus Ladytron and The Dandy Warhols for ‘Shine On My Shoes’. The remaining songs on this eleven track release are a cohesive grouping but mix wider sounds and styles with a tendency to more occasional downbeat moments.

Opener ‘Too High’ is a love-song about being broken in pieces that mixes a rich guitar twang and the seductive cooing vocals of Sara Colston with a feeling of dewy-eyed sadness. ‘Bimble Grimm’ is a curious fairy-tale slice of slow-tempo psyche-pop. Later the jubilant swing and gleeful horns of ‘Animal Song’ is the record’s most upbeat moment despite more stern vocals from Scott Lyon. Elsewhere I hear hints of Cinerama and Kirsty Maccoll in ‘Wee Beast’, more Ladytron in the crunchy electroclash-leaning ‘Weak Spot’, and even the romantic bar-room croon of an Edwyn Collins or Richard Hawley in ‘Falling Apart’. For all the hints of sorrow sitting beneath the sunny dream-pop, whether lyrically or in the contrasting voices of Lyon and Colston, ‘Telescopes’ does provide a moment of unequivocal optimism: ‘I’m in love with the future’.

‘Flying Simpled Explained’ is a mature, carefully constructed set of songs that doesn’t kow-tow to the zeitgeist or hip references but is confident in its own happy-sad, self-released sheen. The sound of a band coming up for air?

Ambulances Flying Simply Explained [BUY]

Monday, August 06, 2012

FREE SWIM She Dreams In Lights + Q&A

Last month saw the release of the fourth Free Swim EP "She Dreams In Lights". The previous three - I became a devotee upon hearing the second one last Februrary - are splendid cuts of English whimsy DIY pop that tell tall tales with utter conviction. The latest contains many familiar Free Swim motifs - deliciously clever wordplay, exotic animals ("
a twist-necked turtle...from Venezuela") and surreal pop culture references (Leo Sayer's Fortune Teller?) but is a more cryptic and dream-like listen, beautifully encapsulated by Sweeping The Nation as a "cinematic, washed out haze, as if Felt had listened to latter Mercury Rev". Here band mastermind Paul Coltofeanu answers some questions to shed some more light on "She Dreams In Lights" and the world of Free Swim.

Earlier Free Swim EPs have had a strong - often surreal - narrative but "She Dreams In Lights" seems more allusive and reflective - and even quite sorrowful? What's the story here? Is it a conscious stylistic shift?
I think I was totally ‘whimsied’ out after the last EP, "Dennis". As fun as it is to have fun and make fun music for fun, I think every once in a while it’s good form to try and create something with a little more substance. Also, ex-Christian Bob Dylan once said that it‘s important for artists to never stand still. He wrote ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ so I think we ought to take the bastard seriously.

On the surface ‘She Dreams In Lights’ is a simple tale about the dreams of a girl when she goes to sleep one night after a hard day doing whatever it is she does. The opening crash of ‘Records in the Basement’ is supposed to be the moment she falls asleep and then on the last track, ‘The Snooze Function’, she wakes up. In between, the songs recount the seemingly nonsensical dreams she has. I’m afraid I need to quote someone else here, forgive me I promise this is the last one, but Dali said “just because something makes no sense, it doesn’t mean it has no meaning”. This is something one needs to bear in mind at virtually all times when listening to a Free Swim EP, in particular this one!

On a deeper level I think it’s also a little about the self-important artist in me feeling slightly narked that despite the endorsement of a heap of respected BBC DJs, reputable music blogs and the Political Editor of ITV Wales, Free Swim can’t get a record deal, a manager nor even a bloody booking agent so we can take the bastard Panda out on tour. So I think there’s definitely an element of me just retreating into my imagination, throwing my toys out of the pram and roaring “FUCK YOU ENGLAND, FUCK YOU SIMON COWELL AND WHILE I’M HERE, FUCK YOU JOHN TERRY!”

Despite all that, I think 'She Dreams In Lights' is the most ‘beautiful’ Free Swim EP yet.

Will a Free Swim LP ever appear or are you sticking with the shorter 4 or 5 track format?
When you end up writing, recording, producing, promoting and releasing an entire record yourself, from your bedroom, with nothing but six seasons of Dexter and the occasional Magnum Ecuador (I’m a man of taste) as a respite, I’ve learnt that if you try and do a fully-orchestrated 10 track album, the quality can suffer. I learnt that lesson from doing the three Android Angel albums – each was an enormous undertaking and I think they all have 3 or 4 truly charming ditties, but there’s an absolute ocean of filler and dross on there too.

Traditionally, concept albums are associated almost exclusively with bearded men and their penchants for ales, cheeses and farting loudly. Plus I think that over the last ten years or so the attention span of the music-listening masses seems to have crumbled in line with this whole ‘MUST HAVE NEW MUSIC ALL THE TIME’ mentality. Me and Dave (friend who does the spoken word parts on Free Swim records) meet every fortnight for ‘Album Club’ where we listen to three albums in their entirety. I tell people this and they often look at me like I’m insane, which I probably am, but is it so wrong to listen to and enjoy a body of work as it was intended?

Ultimately, I suppose I think that surreal concept EPs strike a balance and deserve a place somewhere in the grand scheme of thing.

How are you able to record and release all EPs free of charge?
In terms of recording, it’s just evolved that way. Basically, I have ended up working as a Science Technician in a secondary school. It’s surreal (I am bollocks at Science), not ideal (I should, of course, be headlining Glastonbury every year) and phenomenally poorly paid, but it does give me 3 months off a year to create all this eccentric nonsense in peace.

I’ve lugged my computer and mic stands down to the school music department during school holidays a number of times and I have some very patient friends who kindly lend me unfathomably expensive microphones. Most importantly, I haven’t had a proper girlfriend for what must now be approaching an age of man so I’ve had innumerable Friday evenings to familiarise myself with the intricacies of Multiband Compression on Garageband.

I put out "Two Hands Is OK" for free because I thought an EP about a man who has two hands grafted to his chest to help him multi-task more efficiently would be of no interest to anyone other than myself and Dave. Bizarrely, early reviewers actually seemed to find it rather refreshing so I made "Yolanda the Panda" a couple of months later and the reviews, reception and radioplay for that were unlike anything I’d ever known.

I have been stubbornly reluctant to alter the creative process or the ‘price’ ever since for fear of compromising the ethic on which the whole project was founded. Will I be able to sustain this in the future? Who knows? Who bloody cares?

What are the differences between Free Swim and your other (solo) musical project The Android Angel?
I think the easiest way to put it is that Free Swim is the music of my head, and The Android Angel is the music of my heart. That sounds gash. But it’s probably true. The creative processes are very different – Android Angel nowadays seems to involve me leaving England for a month or so every summer to drag my arse off to a far corner of the planet and fall in and out of love with a host of foreign women and then coming home and making a carefully constructed record all about them. Free Swim is the stream of consciousness sound of the farcical, giddy delirium my day-to-day life has become in middle-class suburban England! It’s going to be ok though because I think I might relocate to Vancouver next year and become a whaling enthusiast.

And what are your own basement records?
Let’s go for Mercury Rev’s "Deserter's Songs", Spiritualized’s "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" and Super Furry Animals’ "Radiator".

Free Swim
She Dreams In Lights [BUY]

Friday, August 03, 2012


Somewhere between the echoing catacomb-wail-pop of opener 'Balled up Pt1' and the slo-core meandering misery of second track 'Grief' you realise the album title "Levitates" is a misnomer. This record doesn't take to the air but rather sits disconsolately at the bottom of deep, dark well (a place where I like a lot of my music to come from). Throughout these eleven tracks Devoted Friend, aka James Grimshaw, has created a sparse, fragmentary soundtrack for night-time doubts and fears, for when relationships rise and fall and for when life fails to live up to expectations. Many songs are just guitar and boyish, dislocated vocals from Grimshaw; others are given a spooky atmospheric depth from the addition of violin by Olivia Ward-Smith and drums and percussion by Ben Beheshty. Whatever the configuration of musicians, the overall effect is one of delicious despondency and displacement.

The twitchy guitar, distant drum rolls and loud finale of 'Balled Up Pt 2' could be a lofi Jeff Buckley fronting Sebadoh for one of the darker moments on "Sebadoh III". 'What Will We Do For The Rest Of Our Lives' or 'Hide And Seek' remind me of the skeletal, nocturnal alt-country of Songs: Ohia. 'It Doesn't Matter' is a sleepy, muted instrumental ushered in by electronic alarm-clock beeping and then angrily concluding in wordless howls. 'Chaos Fear-y' has a jazzy strummed guitar swing to undercut its gentle anguish and 'Levitate' sounds woozily at peace - at first - but such solace is short-lived. In theme and tone, "Levitates" also reminds me of "Flaws" by Boletes from earlier this year but not as cripplingly sinister.

Devoted Friend is a ragged, raw and uneasy listen but is also compellingly vivid - despite the lofi morbidity and cryptic, fragmentary nature of the album. What did I say about not soaring? A distinctive and powerful debut.

Devoted Friend Levitates [BUY]

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Slim pickings for gigs this August as usual but look closer and there's some astonishing quality acts playing Manchester this month. British Sea Power bring Krankenhaus North to The Ruby Lounge this Friday, there's an unmissable psyche-folk double-bill at Band On The Wall on 16 August (and of course I'm missing it) plus the initimable H. Hawkline at Soup Kitchen towards the end of the month to mention just three nights.

As ever a mixtape of bands playing Manchester this month to help inform your gig-going decision-making - link in the post below this one

Manchester Gigs In Music Mixtape: August 2012

Trembling Bells Adieu England [3.46] (16 Aug Band On The Wall BUY TICKETS)
British Sea Power Zeus [8.07] (3 Aug Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks Senator [12.26] (3 Aug Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Franz Nicolay This Is Not A Pipe [14.48] (20 Aug Star & Garter BUY TICKETS)
Frank Fairfield Poor Old Lance [18.35] (29 Aug Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Deer Tick Main Street [22.19] (28 Aug Sound Control BUY TICKETS)
Jenny O Well OK Honey [25.09] (1 Aug The Castle BUY TICKETS)
The Shivers House Of The Spirits [28.09] (28 Aug Sound Control BUY TICKETS)
Dan Haywood's New Hawks David In Cedars [31.07] (16 Aug Band On The Wall BUY TICKETS)
H. Hawkline Black Domino Box [34.10] (23 Aug Soup Kitchen BUY TICKETS)
Toy Left Myself Behind [41.54] (3 Aug Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Ensemble Economique Forever Eyes [45.54] (2 Aug Night & Day BUY TICKETS)

And not forgetting:
1 Aug IMP Night & Day / 3 Aug Lemuria Night & Day / 3 Aug Diabel Cissokho Band On The Wall / 4 Aug Dead Tapes Ducie Bridge / 4 Aug Band Of Brothers Night & Day / 16 Aug Lance Romance Band Night & Day / 16 Aug Joe Pug The Castle / 17 Aug Folks Ruby Lounge / 24 Aug Paris Angels Ruby Lounge / 24 Aug Paul Kelly RNCM / 25 Aug Damo Suzuki Lass O’Gowrie / 25 Aug Fat Out Fest Islington Mill / 26 Aug Star Fucking Hipsters Star & Garter / 27 Aug Pete Roe + Dave McCaffrey The Castle / 28 Aug Polly Paulusma Night & Day / 29 Aug Jeff The Brotherhood Ruby Lounge / 29 Aug Grandaddy The Ritz / 30 Aug Esben & The Witch + Moses Gold Soup Kitchen / 30 Aug Grimes Sound Control / 30 Aug Kimbra Deaf Institute / 31 Aug The June Brides Kings Arms / 31 Aug The Vu Deaf Institute


Manchester Gigs in Music Mixtape: August 2012

Download mixtape [45 mins / 53 MB] here.