Friday, September 30, 2011

Oxjam Brum Takeover 2011

As most of my wardrobe comes from Oxfam (seriously...I draw the line at pants and socks but everything else is up for grabs as far as I'm concerned) it only seems right to give the Oxjam Brum Takeover thingy a massive shoutout. Taking place on Saturday 15th October loads of awesome bands (25 in fact) play an equally awesome number of gigs across Brum. Awesome.

Of course it’s all to raise money for Oxfam with bands giving their time for nothing and last year they raised just over £6,000 on the day. I’m going to say awesome again. Awesome! Tickets are a mere £6 which is so ridiculously cheap that you should buy at least one...even if you can’t go.

I know how John Peel felt...

John Peel famously felt a huge amount of guilt at not being able to listen to the huge pile of demo tapes that flooded into through the hallowed letter box of Peel Acres on a daily basis. Somewhat less famously I now get a dozens of emails from PR companies, record labels and bands with free downloads to listen to. This is a very good thing. I listen to as many as I can during my waking hours (9am – 11am...if I’m feeling particularly energetic) and even post up the odd one or two but many sadly get added to the virtual pile in my inbox. In an effort to assuage my guilt, and an attempt to fill you in on the good stuff I’m lucky enough to get to hear, I’m going to make a concerted effort to post more new tracks up here, starting right now. They may come without my sparkling wit (like that’s a great shame eh?), but rest assured each one will have been given the official Hearing Aid thumbs up.

Ready? Ok. Hey ho, let’s go.

Sun Ra meets Kraftwerk...possibly...thanks to Santa Barbara’s Gardens & Villa. Trippy!

"Spacetime" by Gardens & Villa from Secretly Jag on Vimeo.

Debut single from London 5 piece Zulu Winter, a touch of Wild Beasts perhaps, even a shade of Japan to the bass line. Impressive. Me Like.

Never Leave by Zulu Winter

Psychedelic drum pop anyone? Welcome to Beatyheart.


Descended from Liverpudlian executioners and rag and bone men (or so it says in her press release...and who am I to doubt it...don’t fancy being decapitated by a Scouse Albert Steptoe) Liz Green’s mix of The Decemberists meets Devotchka meets Alela Diane has been described by the Sunday Times as “haunting and beautiful”. Now that’s the kind of insightful cliché free writing I really aspire to. Jeez.

If the Ramones had been adopted by Brian Wilson this is probably what they’d have sounded like. Big dumb brilliant surf punk. Fun fun fun from Two Wounded Birds

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Young Runaways - There Is A World Outside

The lovely Young Runaways release their equally lovely new EP There Is A World Outside on October 3rd on Commercially Unviable Records. Rich strings, heartfelt vocals and enough of a kick ass rock backbone to drive the whole thing along at a fair old pace it’s another in a fine series of releases from the band and, being the good folk that they are, they’re celebrating with a brace of gigs in support of the annual Oxjam Takeover event on Saturday 15th October. They’ll be at Cafe Blend during the day and the Yardbird in the evening.

Tellison – Edith

Lettttttts get ready to ruuuuumble!! Yes, indie rockers with a light punk twist Tellison release their new single, Edith, from their Wages Of Fear album, accompanied by this rather fun new wrestling based video. Bonus points for the band’s acting ability, some nice ‘reaction faces’ there chaps. Musically there’s a touch of The Decemberists to it all along with a neat smattering of the Young Knives knack for a catchy hook. The song itself is apparently inspired by American novelist Edith Wharton and, according to frontman Stephen how real life ain't as “compelling, powerful, ordered, dramatic or satisfying as fiction (particularly hers)”. I guess he’s never watched Deal Or No Deal then...

‘Edith’ is out on October 2nd and Tellison hit the road throughout October.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thomas Dolby – A Map Of The Floating City

It’s been almost 20 years since the last album of original material from Thomas Dolby. Not the longest gap ever (wasn’t that Vashti Bunyan’s 35 year between album sojourn?), but long enough to get the fans positively drooling at the prospect of a new release. He pretty much gave up music for most of his exhile, preferring to focus on launching a business that gave the world polyphonic ringtones. Hmmmm...thanks for that. Happily he began playing again a few years back and now, after making a brace of EP’s available to his fans, here’s his first new offering of the 21st century. Being Thomas Dolby of course it’s not just a new album. Hell no. That would be far too easy. It was/is a ‘multiplayer online game too’ apparently. Given that the last computer game I played was Hungry Horace Goes Skiing on a 48K ZX Spectrum in 1983 I’ll gloss over that and just focus on the album, okay?

First off, don’t expect a return to his synth-tastic Golden Age Of Wireless era. He’s been pretty clear on the fact that he’s moved on from all that, boldly declaring “I have zero desire to add to the myriad of machine-based, synth-driven grooves out there”. I think that’s pretty clear don’t you? So anyone who’s coming to Dolby via the really old stuff then is likely to be a little surprised. For the more devoted Dolbyites there were hints of where he was going on the distinctly synth free Astronauts and Heretics album way back in 1992, not to mention its funk drenched older brother Aliens Ate My Buick (which, for the record, I kind of loved despite its brashness).

This new album’s apparently divided into three sections forming, according to Thomas, “a travelogue across three imaginary continents: In Amerikana I’m reflecting with affection on the years I spent living in the U.S.A., and my fascination with its roots music. Urbanoia is a dark place, a little unsettling . . . I’m not a city person. And in Oceanea I return to my natural home on the windswept coastline.” That’s the background to it all then, but is it any good? Well, yes, it is rather. It’s taken a few listens to get into it and, here and there, it does sound a little like it was recorded by one man in a studio converted from an old lifeboat (which it actually was), but boy it’s good to have him back. The album’s an eclectic mix of styles, in the first three tracks alone you get a little bitter MOR with Nothing New Under The Sun, the deliciously squelchy electro gypsy / middle eastern feel of Spice Train and, bizarrely, a track called Evil Twin Brother which features Regina Spector as a waitress and a Jacko impersonator that Dolby found on the internet (depending on your view of Jacko it’s arguably either the highlight or the nadir of the album).

Maybe after such a long time away he’s just in the mood for playing around with the genres. And why the hell not eh? After all arguably it’s this genre hopping that made him such an interesting artist back in the day, happily leaping from sparse synths on one album to full on funk on the next, seemingly without batting an eyelid. Here he takes this one step further, creating an album that’s prett much designed for the shuffle generation. Don’t like MOR or Jacko? Stay tuned then, there’s A Jealous Thing Called Love with its Burt Bacharach meets Herb Alpert feel, some gentle jazz and classical strings with the sophisticated Cole Porter-isms of Love Is Like A Loaded Pistol and this...The Toad Lickers, which goes seriously bluegrass on your ass.

If all that leaves you a little shagged out you can chill to the mystical theramin, sax, congo fest of Simone, which noodles on nicely for nearly 6 minutes (I read somewhere that this track’s inspired by his son Harper, who was born a biological female but had a sex change last year and now lives as a male).

Thomas leaves us (hopefully not for another 20 years this time) with To The Lifeboats, which starts off with some nice mellow guitar before exploding into a sudden squall of sound. Delving into the lyrics there I’m guessing these are metaphorical lifeboats we’re talking about here. Is this anything to do with Michael Ruppert (the dude who says the world is screwed, the climate’s buggered, there’s less oil than anyone wants to admit and the financial system is one giant ponzi scheme...which seems a pretty accurate assessment of things to me) and his Lifeboat Hour radio show? Could be. Anyway that would explain Dolby’s rather resigned “There are no fucking lifeboats” as the song reaches its peak. Whatever the meaning it caps off that rare beast, a comeback album that’s actually worth coming back to.

A Map Of The Floating City is out on Lost Toy People Records on October 24th and Dolby’s off on a UK tour (probably by spaceship) throughout November.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Odonis Odonis...Hollandaze are here again...

Imagine being stuck inside a huge cement mixer full of speed with Dick Dale, Link Wray and The Ramones, crank it up to several hundred revolutions a minute and lob in a bottle or two of Jack for good measure...that’ll give you some idea of the source of Hollandaze (I just couldn’t resist a cheap pun eh?), the debut offering from Odonis Odonis. Punk meets Surf in a dark alley and gives it a good kicking, Punk takes Surf out on a bender, Surf drunkenly shags Punk...yes, it’s a whole big Punk/Surf thang. Hailing from Toronto the whole shebang was recorded home alone in a tiny studio by a certain Dean Tzenos who’s now formed a band to bring the whole thing to life. I imagine that’ll get messy...anyway, for now we have an album that’s screams out to be played LOUD...actually make that FUCKING LOUD (turn it up to 11 then just keep going), preferably through a pair of battered old speakers, whilst pogoing around like a nutjob. Take a look at the songtitles and you get even more of a flavour of what you’re in for...Busted Lip, White Flag Riot, Blood Feast, We Are The get the idea. Some of the tracks flash by in less than a couple for seems faster...others noodle on for a whole 3 minutes 14 seconds. Dripping in reverb it’s the soundtrack to a world on the edge and, if we all end up blowing ourselves into oblivion in a mad orgy of riots, strikes and Cheryl freakin' Cole, I can think of no better song to go out with than the album’s standout number White Flag Riot, a dirty protest of a track slamming together blues, punk, surf and some truly throat ripping vocals into the kind of noise that might well wake Joe Strummer from the dead.

Odonis Odonis by Odonis Odonis

Hollandaze is out on FatCat Records on 7th November.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

All The Fun Of The Fair @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Friday 16th September

Take one of the biggest sex symbols of the 70’s, add half a dozen genuine smash hit singles and set it all in the slightly seedy world of a failing funfair and you’ve got the recipe for one of the most enjoyable new musicals of the past few years. Of course there have been oodles of musicals based on existing greatest hits recently, ranging from Abba’s Mama Mia to Madness’ Our House, each one pretty much a readymade smash, just as long as the band or artist still has enough fans. Perhaps David Essex has been a little bit out of the public eye over the last few years hence, I’m guessing, his profile raising role as dodgy antiques dealer and silver haired lothario Eddie Moon in Eastenders. He’s got a genuinely impressive back catalogue of hits though (23 top 30 songs in the UK and a pair of number ones from the days when this actually meant something), many of which have made it into this incredibly likeable tale set in the fading glory days of the Great British funfair. Happily Essex has got some impressive form in the world of musical theatre too, having taken the lead in the West End production of Godspell in ’71, appeared in Tommy in ’73 and played Che in the debut run of Evita in ’78 before co-writing and starring in Mutiny in ’85. Not a bad CV eh? Add his traveller heritage (his mum, Olive, was an Irish traveller) and you’ve got the ingredients of something a darn sight more substantial than many of the recent back catalogue cash-ins.

A funfair’s musical gold as far as settings go, packed full of opportunities for some neat tricks (I loved the cup and ball sketch), great characters (gypsy fortune tellers, spivs and a runaway from a children’s home) and a bit of low rent glitz and glamour. Essex plays Levi Lee, a recently widowed funfair owner with a wayward son (shades of the Eddie Moon character in there in fact) and the plot’s the classic boy meets girl, girl’s dad ain’t too impressed...well, you get the picture. It’s Romeo and Juliet meets The Greatest Show On Earth meets Eastenders.

Essex was in great form. He’s always had a bit of a smouldering quality to his vocal which the passing years have mellowed nicely. He’s a natural actor too, not too theatrical and OTT, which is an easy trap to fall into in musical theatre. His brief It’s Gonna Be Alright interludes were subtle but genuinely moving. Clearly ladies of a certain vintage still have the hots for him too, cue much whooping from time to time, especially when he was talking about his character’s younger days “I had long black curly hair in them days”. I swear you could smell the oestrogen in the air.
The songs rarely felt shoehorned in and, given the setting, seeing the cast burst into song every few minutes didn’t seem all that incongruous. Everyone was in fine voice with Rob Compton (as Levi’s son, Jack) and Tim Newman (as the simple soul, Johnny) putting in an excellent Nightclubbing. David Burrows and Barry Bloxham were suitably menacing as the heavies and Louise English neatly captured that smouldering passion between her character, Rosa, and David’s Levi. There’s a nice blend of pathos and humour too, perhaps a little more could be made of the setting...a few more tricks or some subtle background sound effects to conjure up the atmosphere of the fairground...but these are minor quibbles.

This musical’s name says it all really, it’s FUN, FUN, FUN, a couple of hours of escapism with one of musical theatre’s underrated talents. People of a certain age will love wallowing in Essex’s hits, newcomers to his music will get a neat introduction to some fine rock and pop classics (actually I reckon Essex is due for serious revival, check out this current cover of Rock On by super cool Texas band Love Inks) and you’d have to have a heart as hard as a coconut to avoid feeling some genuine emotion at the end. Roll up, roll up for a great night out.

All The Fun Of The Fair is on at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until 18th September before hitting the road (in true funfair fashion) for a UK tour. Check out the website for dates. 15% discount for bearded ladies and a free goldfish in a plastic bag...possibly...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Brian Wilson @ Birmingham Symphony Hall

Brian Wilson is a legend. He's right up there with the greats. No question. Equally indisputable is the fact that he's had severe mental health issues for decades (some self inflicted through the drugs, others the result of that unique brain of his), so the mere fact that he's able to turn up and function at all is pretty miraculous. The first time I saw him live (at Glasto a few years back) I had to walk away. He looked downright confused and the backing band (actually a fine group in their own right...The Wondermints) were doing at least 98% of the work. Tonight he seemed a little better, a bit more with it, but still showing serious signs of the wilderness years, the need for the teleprompter, that glazed shark eyed expression and a lack of much meaningful interaction with his band. I only mention these things because there's a nagging concern in my head about who's driving him to tour these days. He seems vulnerable to me but, who knows, maybe he's a bundle of laughs backstage? I spoke to one chap who'd been to see him this evening and Brian happily signed a guitar for him so perhaps he's a bit more with it than he sometimes seemed on stage.

That's the negative stuff out the way (and I'm not criticising the guy by the way, merely reflecting what's pretty clear for all to see). On the positive side, hell...this is Brian Wilson, one of the few people I've seen who got a standing ovation before he'd even sung a note! The writer of some of the most beautiful songs ever. BRIAN WILSON! We had to wait a while for his stuff though, the first half was given over to his latest project, the Wilson-isation of another fine songwriter, good 'ol George Gershwin. It's a bit of a weird concept at first but some of the tracks lent themselves pretty well to a bit of a surf twist or some lush strings. I Got Rhythm, It Ain't Necessarily So, S'Wonderful, can't go far wrong with songs like these. "If you don't like it, yell at us and we'll stop" read Brian from his teleprompter (at least it looked like he did...he seemed unable to function without it). No one did, so I'm guessing the fans were happy enough.

After an intermission the faithful got the real fix they were looking for, one full on Wilson classic after another. You just can't knock the songbook and, to be fair, Brian can still sing 'em pretty well, albeit often with the safety net support of his co-vocalists Jeffrey Foskett and Darian Sahanaja firmly in place. The crowd were up and dancing for most of the second half, a furious run through many of the big hits and favourites, Surfer Girl, Do You Wanna Dance?, Darlin', Sail On Sailor, Sloop John B, California Girls, Good Vibrations. It's all great fun, I just wish Brian looked like he was enjoying himself a bit more. The real highlight,God Only Knows, has to be one of the greatest songs ever written and, given Brian's obvious frailty, it takes on added poignancy this evening with perhaps a flicker of life sparking up in his eyes as he sings "my best one". The encore rolled out more musical gold including Jonny B Goode, Barbara Anne and Help Me Rhonda before Brian Shuffled off into the wings. Should you go and see him? Absolutely. The band are superb, Brian can still sing and, let's face it, there aren't many legends of his stature left these days. Shut your eyes and the show's a blast, open them and, if you're anything like me, you may feel a little uncomfortable from time to time though...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Home Of Metal...YEAH!

Finally spent a very enjoyable few hours at the Home Of Metal exhibition yesterday and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in music (metal or otherwise). If you want to see what Ozzy’s living room looked like or fancy sniffing the crotch of one of Rob Halford’s stage costumes then Home of Metal’s definitely your bag.

Smell my groin you muthas! Sadly it’s only on until 25th September, when the ticket stubs, plectrums, guitars, fanzines and vinyl will return to the various bedrooms of the fans that kindly lent them to the organisers. Shame. I reckon Birmingham deserves a permanent museum dedicated to the music that sprang from streets of the Midlands. On top of being the birthplace of metal there’s Duran Duran, Dexy’s, Fuzzbox, Slade, ELO, Moody Blues, The Move, Traffic, The Charlatans, Editors, Wonderstuff, PWEI, Pram, Broadcast, Ocean Colour Scene, Misty’s Big Adventure, Dodgy, get the idea. I seem to recall there was a plan to do something like this at the old Futurist Cinema some time ago before it became another lap dancing joint. What happened eh? Personally I'd be quite happy to pay a fiver to get up close and personal with Simon Le Bon's hairband or Vix from Fuzzbox's hot pants...

Anyway. Home of Metal. Go. Now. While you still can. Or Ozzy'll come round and piss on you. He does that you know.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bearwood Shuffle...The Second Coming

Yep, full marks if you got the Stone Roses reference in this post title because this Sunday we're chuffed to have none other than the legend that is Mr Aziz Ibrahim (Stones Roses guitarist) together with the equally legendary Mr Dalbir Singh Rattan (the guy who's on Paul Weller's speed dial when it comes to tip top tabla). Whoo and indeed hoo! But that's not all. Oh no it isn't...oh yes it is...oh no it isn't etc (soon be Christmas eh?) We've got a whole bunch of other great bands on offer too... Little Liam, The Nortons, Rudie and the Revolvers, The Sharp Darts, Mr Naylor, DJ Craig Anthony on the ones and twos...and possibly threes.

Incredibly the whole thing is free, free, FREE and we've even had a word about the weather. Yes, sunshine is guaranteed (probably) so all you have to do is pop along with a picnic (scotch eggs, cheesy nibbles, sausage rolls, maybe some hummus if you're a bit posh), a rug or chair (or sofa if you're feeling particularly energetic) and enjoy the show. Bargain. The fun kicks off at 2pm and winds up at 6-ish so you'll be home in time for Songs of Praise. Hurrah!

To keep up to date with all the latest info why not follow our Twitter thingy @bearwoodshuffle or befriend us (befriend us? good grief I sound like a Victorian) on Facebook.

Joe Goddard unleashes Gabriel

Joe Goddard feat. Valentina - Gabriel (Official Video) from Greco-Roman on Vimeo.

Perhaps better known as one of the key players in hip electro nerds Hot Chip Joe Goddard’s just come out with a cracker of a track, Gabriel, featuring some lovely lady called Valentina. It’s one of those low key numbers that creeps up on you and becomes naggingly lodged in your central lobe, a bit haunting in places, a little soulful in others, all driven along with a bit of old skool synth and instant Hot Chip-piness. Splendid stuff.

This slightly oddball catchiness is as good an excuse as any to randomly drop this one in your lap too, Roy Vedas and his Fragments of Life from way back in the day. Whatever happened to him eh? Answers on a vocoder to the usual address.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Moseley Folk Festival Friday 2nd September – Sunday 4th September 2011

Mo Fo Fo and a bottle of rum! There aren’t many festivals where you’re greeted by a bunch of pirates offering you ship’s biscuits (with added weevils...nice touch) or a 'spray' of graffiti artists but then again in the six years since it began Moseley Folk Festival’s grown into something pretty special. The organisers have pulled together some pretty impressive bills, but this one’s the best. Hands down. No diggity. It’s not just the obvious treats though – Gruff Rhys, Tinariwen, Billy Bragg – nestled in amongst the big names were plenty of other gems too, all served up in the rather magical surroundings of Moseley Park (seriously, it’s like another world in there...I could swear I saw a hobbit or two...that may have been the Festival Cider though).

Friday kicked off in the sun...yes...I know...SUN...where’ve you been this year fella... with 9 Bach (sadly we missed the heavenly voiced Vijay Kishore...bit of a queue getting in...) who, in between songs about hangings, informed us that there’s no Welsh word for greenhouse. There’s a fact to wow ‘em down at the local tonight. Yes, 9Bach, in case you were wondering, sing purely in Welsh, a beautiful lyrical language, well suited to traditional tales of suicides, death, murder, a bit more death...and some added death for good measure. Somehow some of it sounds surprisingly upbeat, due in part to the lead vocalist’s ‘clear as a Welsh mountain stream’s’ voice.

The Mariner’s Children were next and you had to feel for them. Due to a serious of unfortunate incidents (dog ate my homework, an overturned lorry load of treacle on the M5 etc) they’d arrived late and only had time to play three songs, which was a real shame judging by their lively alt folk feel. Have ‘em back next year eh?

Next up a bit of a festival exclusive from one of this summer’s big success stories, Anglo/Spanish collective Crystal Fighters. Today was their first ever fully acoustic show.

Despite being bereft of their techno techno techno pulse they still managed to encourage a huge number of the crowd to get up and dance and the stripped back set up actually gave more room for the lyrics to breathe (can lyrics breathe? Balls...they can now). Champion Sound worked particularly well, encouraging two wasps to ‘get it on’ on the lead singer’s mic. There you go then, Crystal Fighters, Viagra for wasps.

After a quick toddle over to the Bohemian Jukebox tent caught Ben Calvert’s solo set, including a fine version of Jackson C Browne’s underground gem The Blues Run The Game. Ben’s own stuff’s every bit as good and Flee (delivered, once more, at “a fair old pace”) remains a firm favourite. There’s a new album out (Festive Road) too, which you can buy on a stress ball. Seriously. It comes with a download code. Now that’s creative. More Ben (with his band, The Swifts, later...).

Winner of an Ivor Novello award for Becoming A Jackal Conor J O’Brien and his Villagers continued their mission to tingle spines (not an easy trick on a warm afternoon). Conor’s dark lyrics and eyes wide shut delivery made for one of the most emotive sets of the weekend. When this dude sings I Saw The Dead you actually believe him...

Are Malpas signed yet? If not, why not? No, I don’t think they are. Good grief, what’s the world coming to? They’ve still got that magical slightly twisted fairy tale quality to their music but there’s a harder edge creeping in, maybe even more of a pop sensibility. They just seemed to have more oomph than ever before today, with one or two tracks hitting the kind of groove that folk rarely gets anywhere near.

Right. Abandon your marbles. Take off your shoes and socks and prepare to leave planet earth for a bit. It’s time for the greatest living Welsh man (Sorry Tom), Gruff Rhys. Sure, he’s a random as a bluebottle in a tumble dryer, but that’s all part of the charm. In amongst the meandering intros (including details of his 8 hour journey to the festival) there were some of the most magical pop tunes of the last twenty years.

Even the motorik Welsh language track Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru (that’s Welsh for Driving Driving Driving) is as catchy as hell. After a number of solo projects he’s got loads of this stuff and he’s one of the few artists who genuinely seems to be getting getting getting better better better. If you’re in any doubt just have a listen to today’s set highlight, the mariachi tinged Sensations In The Dark from his latest offering Hotel Shampoo. Genius.

A bit of a new name next. Well, new to me. Tom Martin’s been performing for over 40 years and it shows. Combing the grizzled majesty of Van Morrison with a little Bob Dylan in the mix and some fine guitar playing he played an intimate set in the Bohemian Jukebox tent. One track in particular, Visiting Time, about those we’ve loved and lost deserved to be heard right up there on the big stage.

Speaking of which you got the feeling that tonight’s headliner, Badly Drawn Boy, kind of feels like he shouldn’t be up there. “I hate this song” acted as the introduction to arguably one of his best loved tracks About A Boy, whilst later on he revealed that “I hate writing songs” and that he was “sick of talking about my wife”. Cheer up chap, it may never happen. He makes Morrissey seem like a bundle of joy. Of course Damon’s always been a bit of contrary bugger, I seem to remember him sitting eating a banana instead of playing songs at Glasto a while back, then calling him mum for a chat.

Tonight there was none of that and, despite playing down his talents, the set was (perhaps despite of his best efforts) a celebration of one of Brit Pop’s (god, I bet he hates hearing that phrase too) golden boys. After a bit of a lull of late he seems to be back writing again and one of his newbies (still helpfully untitled) is right up there with classic Gough. Although I guess he’d probably disagree with that as well...

Day Two – Saturday 3rd September 2011

Day two and, shrugging off a scrumpy head, managed to make it on site in time for Ben Calvert and The Swifts (or should that be the larks?) indecently early set (11.10 am...). Despite being breakfast time there was a decent crowd in attendance though, brave souls. Those that made it were treated to Ben and the band’s Nick Drake meets Morrissey meets Syd Barrett vignettes of modern life including the delightfully named Popstar Sits Alone At Home Crying Eating Hob Nobs (inspired by a Peter Andre inspired tabloid headline). Lovely stuff.

Any lingering hangovers were given a bit of kicking courtesy of Oh Ruin’s Doors-ish sludgefests (that’s a good thing by the way). Slow, dirty blues workouts lull you into a false sense of insecurity before the band explodes into some stomach rumbling kick in the gut rock outs.

There’s something lovely about starting your set with a track called A Nice Cup Of Tea, happily things got even better from there on in for the Bonfire Radicals, a hugely talented 8 piece that cleverly weave middle eastern and Jewish Klezmer influences into more traditional English folk. Not sure of the lead singer’s name but her voice was astonishing, particularly on the acapella number I Wish. The ability to play two recorders at the same time was pretty impressive too. Go on, you try it. Not easy eh?

Remember Nizlopi? A few years ago their track JCB song hit the number one spot and shifted half a million copies or so. Well after 17 years together the band split up last year and singer Luke Concannon upped sticks to Galway then went on a bit of a walkabout around Palestine. As you do. Like Sunday night’s headliner, Billy Bragg, Luke’s one of the life’s good guys. Someone who genuinely believes that the world could...and a better place for all of us. Joined onstage by Birmingham’s own MC Jimmy Davis this manifesto’s best captured in Change The World, a rousing call to...well... you get the idea. A touching tribute to his nan, I just Want a Cup Of Tea, revealed the kind of heart of the sleeve emotions that a lot of songwriters struggle to pull off.

The set ended on a high with the big hit and Luke jumping off the stage to wander around the crowd, barefoot, singing away. So happily lost in the music was he that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still out there somewhere...

A bit of a scheduling clash sadly restricted the time we spent with the legendary Michael Chapman but some fine guitar picking on Memphis In Winter captured the essence of a dude that produced one of John Peel’s favourite albums, 1970’s Survivor. Now that’s a real guitar hero there. Well worth investigating. Dust Motes were calling though and after a memorable performance at their Hare and Hounds gig (supporting Patrick Duff) last year I was determined to catch a second helping. Richey Edwards had to carve 4 Real into his arm before people would believe he was genuine, all Dave (the Motes singer) has to do is open his mouth. Fragile folk with a dark melancholy heart Dave’s lyrics and soft, almost haunted delivery can be devastatingly powerful. Take Smash Yourself To Pieces “I don’t know why these brittle arms can’t hold you” line for instance. Ain’t that a beautiful lyric?

Pinned to our seats (not literally...oh you got that...good) The Cribbler (aka Jim from meat loving mentalists Mills and Boon) amused with some fine story based songs including the unusually titled Long Nail and Big Toe about an eventful camping trip. There’s not enough story based songs around these days. Good work Mr Cribbler. Not a mention of meat neither...

Willy Mason arrived a little late so he ended up on the smaller stage but it didn’t make a jot of difference. Despite still only being 12 years old (oh alright, he’s 26) he sounds like he’s lived at least a dozen lives and his slo mo (fo) twangy blues n’country kept 2000 or so people entranced. Even the once ubiquitous Oxygen (which, let’s face it, was played to death when it came out) seemed a little fresher today. Previous festival headliner Jose Gonzalez was back for more as part of his new band Junip, fleshing out the sparse but effective sound that made him the intelligent pop lover’s wet dream. It’s actually better than a lot of his solo stuff for that very reason. There’s more going on in there, a Krautrock / Canned Heat feel on the sets key track Far Away for instance.

Fancy spending some time in heaven but aren’t so keen on the whole dying business? Just listen to The Staves. They’re three sisters and rarely have a trio of voices harmonised so perfectly. Wow. Just wow. They’re out on tour with Willy Mason soon so you can judge for yourself but trust me on this one. Possibly the best female vocal trio in the world right now? Could be.

I hate wasps. The little buggers were out in force on Saturday. No good to man nor beast. Bees on the other hand are lovely. Both the furry little critters and the...well...furry big critters from the Isle of Wight. Now ten years into their career their mashup of 60’s psychedelia, folk, soul, name it... is like a huge blast of sunshine through the ears.

Perhaps best known for two big covers A Minha Menina and Chicken Payback they’ve contributed more than their fair share of classics too, with Wash In The Rain, Listening Man and I Really Need Love all going down a storm tonight. Winners of the biggest cheers of the weekend competition.

After catching a tiny snatch of Pram’s twisted 60’s soundtracks for films never made the second day culminated in the mesmerising desert blues of Tinariwen which, for an hour and half, transformed a tiny corner of a darkening Moseley Park into the shimmering expanse of the Sahara.

Day Three – Sunday 4th September 2011

Day three and another early kick off with Bellevue Rendezvous playing a rather splendid hangover clearing selection of traditional folk tunes from Sweden, Norway, France, England...Mars...probably.

They certainly had a distinctly alien looking instrument in the form of the Nyckelharpa, a bizarre looking fiddle thing with keys. Elfyn impressed next with a beautiful cover of US folk tune May Blooming Fields before Sam Lee provided what was, for many early birds, one of the highlights of the festival. Sam’s a rising star of the traditional folk scene with a voice that’s folky enough to appeal to the real ale beard strokers but with a bit of modern feel too. He’s one of the few really traditional folk artists (by which I mean someone who sings traditional songs set the odd century or two before today) that you could imagine crossing over into whatever the mainstream is these days. This is a big deal. Whilst younger folk bands are big news these days there aren’t that many interpreters of ancient songs...the stuff that tells the history of this country...played on the radio or telly...or bigged up by Zane Lowe. It’s a bit of a shame. There can be more sex, death and violence in the average traditional folk song than a Biggie Smalls and 2Pac duet. Anyway, it seems that Sam’s been spending some time with the old skool traveller community (nothing to do with big fat gypsy weddings thankfully), learning some of the songs that they’ve kept alive from generation to generation. Sam and the band (again featuring one or two curious instruments) shared some of these (probably the first time most of them have been heard outside the traveller community I’m guessing) in an all too brief set that left me wanting to hitch up a wagon and dig in to some of this stuff for myself. The real gem of the set came when the power went off for a moment or two though. This happens at gigs and festivals from time to time and different artists handle it different ways. Some go off for a fag and a hand job, others embrace the opportunity to sing as nature intended (no...not naked...perverts). Sam and co fell into the latter camp. It’s not easy to sing to hundreds of people, unplugged, but he gathered them round the stage and sang like as clearly and crisply as you’re ever likely to hear, communicating the warmth of the human voice that electronic amplification blots out.

It was...cliché ahoy...a magical moment. But it really was. After the power came back on the crowd stayed glued to the stage for a rousing rendition of The Ballad Of George Collins...a charming ditty about catching the clap off a water sprite. Whilst that’s not something you want to catch, Sam Lee certainly is.

Over the weekend Oxfam were selling raffle tickets to see some of the performers play intimate gigs in a shed. What a lovely idea. Happily we won and were treated to an up close and personal show from the equally lovely Jim Moray.

Like Sam, Jim’s passionate about bringing traditional folk tunes back to life and he sang one of the best of these (unplugged again), rather beautifully too, Lord Douglas. Some beautiful lyrics in there, all about death...naturally...this is folk after all...and how a rose and briar grew together out of the graves of two doomed lovers.

Back over to the Boho Jukebox stage for Ebenezer Pentweazle’s delightfully ramshackle and low key set. “None of these songs have titles” he explained, fiddling with an out of tune borrowed guitar. That may be the case but I reckon there’s more to Eb than meets the ear. Like much of Daniel Johnston’s output it sounds a bit haphazard at first but there were some real gems in there.

Ian Campbell memorably played his last gig at Mo Fo a few years back and today one of his sons, David, kept the family’s folk flame alive with some of his dad’s songs (originals and covers) including a poignant (particularly given the economic hell that’s about to be unleashed on us all) Brother can You Spare A Time and a cover made famous by his old man, D Day Dodgers. Back over to the Boho tent for one of the most original band’s of the whole weekend, Village Well. A little like a mini Imagined Village they pop some Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Indian influences into the melting pop, stir it up and bit and serve nice and hot. Set highlight Kurdistan almost achieved a kind of lo tech ravey vibe whilst the Redemption Song / One Love mash up was one of the more adventurous covers I’ve heard for a while. Ain’t music wonderful eh?

Caught Jim Moray for the second time in one day, this time he’d moved from the 1880’s to the 1980’s with an awesome version of XTC’s All You Pretty Girls. That dude must have a fascinating iPod. Cut A Shine’s hoedown disappeared in a haze of hay leaving the stage set for local boy made good Scott Matthews. New song Walking Home In The Rain invoked a bit of the spirt of Jeff Buckley, The Man Who Had Everything embraced country twang and Dylan harmonica but it was Ballerina Lake, a real slow burner of a track that suddenly burst into a bit of a 60’s blues/beat rock out before dying away again like the last embers of Summer that impressed the most. A vastly underrated talent.

How many bands do you know with 4 PhD’s? No, me neither. I do now though. Yes, Stornaway have brains by the bucket load and they were intent on sharing some of this wisdom with the crowd. Did you know that you can make diesel from a lamb? I prefer a nice roast myself but it seems that you can get about 10 miles to the...ahem...lamb-on. In amongst the facts and random stories of renegade cows on the run was a fine set of indie folk with newbie The Bigger Picture sticking out as one of the best. Still reading? Wow. Bless you. Right...onwards...nearly there...

Does John Presley gargle razor blades and Jack Daniels? I reckon he does, that’s the only explanation for that extraordinary voice of his. It’s the perfect weapon for delivering his scuzzed up version of the garage blues though, the kind of stuff you’d expect to hear in a divebar somewhere way off Route 66.

Other people attempt to do this kind of stuff but JP’s amongst the best of the bunch. Can’t help feeling that Jack White would cream himself silly over every single one of his tracks. A new signing for his Third Man Records label perhaps?

Okay, last but by no means least, Mr Billy Bragg, the bard of barking...or Dorset now apparently. I love Billy Bragg. Perhaps he’s not the best songwriter or singer around...some of his lyrics are downright ridiculous (and he knows it) but he’s written more than his fair share of modern classics and...and this is an important point...he’s one of the few artists who’s had the balls to keep politics and social issues in his material. Granted he had the benefit of coming up through the ranks during Herr Thatcher’s reign of terror but he’s stuck with it over the years. Tonight’s set, as ever, combined some of these early classics (Levi Stubbs Tears, Greetings To The New Brunette, To Have And To Have Not) with plenty of raging against the machine, some newbies and a couple of covers (including Woody Guthrie’s I Ain’t Got A Home In This Land Anymore”). He was on fine form too, perhaps because, after years of labour rule, the ‘other lot’ are in. Whatever the reason the fire’s clearly still there in the belly and a particular pet peeve right now seems to be our in built cynicism, the subject of new track Tomorrow’s Gonna Be A Better Day. Billy (bless him) wants us to, as Gandhi put it, be the change we want to see. I’m normally a cynical sod but for a few moments in Moseley Park it actually felt like a practical suggestion. It wasn’t all serious haranguing though. He found time to take the piss out of Mick Hucknall’s claim to have slept with 1000 women...and to apologise for to the three women he slept with over the same period. Bless him. The obligatory encore included Power In The Union and rousing singalong version of A New England (replete with a verse dedicated to the late, great Kirsty MacColl). Here’s hoping we can all make one eh?

There we go, three days, more fine acts than you can shake a pint of scrumpy at and the kind of late summer weather that Moseley Folk seems mystically destined to bask in every year. Remarkable. Congratulations to all involved in the organisation, everyone who played and the ruddy lovely crowd too. What a folking great festival.

PS: Mo Fo's as big as it’s going to get now (short of annexing Kings Heath) and routinely sells out so early booking for 2012’s a must...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Espirito Brum

Ola! If you’re not off to Moseley Folk this weekend (if not, why not...shame on you...what’s that...oh you live in Burkina Faso...oh’re excused) there’s another great Birmingham based festival coming up soon, Espirito Brum (16th-18th September)! It’s part of a global celebration of all things Brazilian (except far as I can tell)that also links in with local artists, people like the legendary Paul Murphy, 360 and Goodnight Lenin here in Birmingham for instance. There are other Espirito events across the world but the only one in the UK is right here in Brum! Hurrah!

Looking at the blurb it seems like there’s all types of music on offer (from Afrobrazilian Hip Hop to folk), graffiti artists, food (and drink I’m guessing...lots of drink...Brazilian’s know how to party), spoken word and various other hip happenings across several venues in Birmingham’s equally hip and happening Digbeth. I can’t find a full programme yet but here’s a nice mix tape of some of the artists you can catch during the festival.

Latest tracks by Espirito Brum

Tickets are a very reasonable £20 for the three day wristband...which is as cheap as salgadinhos as far as I’m concerned. For more details head over to

Ate mais!