Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Goodbye 2014: Hello 2015

Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone who has clicked on the Blog and made it such an interesting experience for me in 2014.

It has been viewed over 23K times since I started writing back in October 2103. And people are viewing from all over the world from America to New Zealand via many of the countries in between.

It really amazes me that people can be interested enough to click on and for that I thank each and every one of you who has read it.

Just a note to say that I am not affiliated or connected to ANY music label or company. This I do just for the love of the music - no monetary gain whatsoever.

Several people have contacted me regarding my musical heritage upon reading the Blog, so I'll just take a few lines to explain. I've always loved music, of all varieties, for as long as I can remember. 
Music was always being played in my parent's home. Before I was born they used to run a pub and amassed hundreds of 78rpm records that used to be played all the time when my parents moved to their new home. My brother, who is 12 years older than myself, always played records. 
I was in my local school & county orchestra playing trumpet and I've dabbled with guitars since my first 12 string (seen above) bought for me by my parents in 1974..
Over the years I've bought thousands of records, tapes, mini discs, Cds and downloads.
I don't think there's been a day that I've never played some music. Music has ALWAYS been a major part of my life.

So, now hopefully I've shined a light on where I'm coming from with this Blog. 

I always highlight music I like - there's too much negativity on the internet as it is, without me contributing to it.

It's been an excellent year in my musical world. Many albums I've loved. Many gigs that have been an absolute joy to attend. I've discussed these as the year has progressed and will continue to do the same next year.

First Aid Kit - Bristol 2014

And 2015 looks to be as interesting as 2014.

With new music due from many artists I like, including

Benjamin Francis Leftwich

Danny & The Champions of the World

Balsamo & Deighton

Zervas & Pepper

Danni Nicholls

Bella Hardy

Stephen Kellogg

Don Gallardo

The Dreaming Spires


and many, many more.

As you can see above - I have contributed to several PledgeMusic campaigns over the last year and they are an excellent way to support artists directly. You can find out more details here

And gigs already booked, including

J Mascis

Luke Jackson/Amy Wadge

Julian Cope

Jack Savoretti

Rick Wakeman

The Staves

Simple Minds


The Handsome Family


Justin Hayward

The Unthanks

Ward Thomas

Steven Wilson

and several more

So, why not join me and I'll try and point you in the direction of some great music.

If you see me at a gig in 2015 - come and say Hello - we can talk music.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Live in 2014: Martyn Joseph at Neath Little Theatre, Saturday 6th December 2014

Neath Little Theatre pulled off a coup on Saturday night as it played host to Welsh singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph.
We knew we were in for something special when we saw the Welsh flag on his mike stand and guitar case. One of Wales' best and most repected singer/songwriter had come back to Wales to play.

From the opening song, Dic Penderyn, we were treated to a very special performance.
Martyn has always been a proud Welshman and now was his chance to prove it. And he did, with aplomb.

Martyn stated that it had taken him 32 years to play in Neath and he set about making up for lost time.

With Proud Valley Boy again exploring Welsh history, Martyn covered most of his career with an exciting set of songs that highlighted his excellent lyrical and melodic skills.

With gorgeous ballads like Seahorse and more political songs like 5 Sisters, Martyn proved just what a skillful performer he really is. If you've tread the boards for over 30 years then you're going to learn something about how to entertain an audience.

His sense of humour shone throughout the performance and he related to his Welsh audience as only a Welshman can. Who else could talk about Max Boyce's more emotional lyrics?

Crowd pleasers like Lonely In America were interspersed with Martyn's more reflective songs.

His humour came to the fore when he stopped the show as he spotted some latecomers entering the theatre and decided to do a quick recap of the songs he's already played to rapturous applause.

Martyn then took some time to talk about his new charitable concept called Let Yourself Trust.
Here is a short film by Martyn explaining it.

So Many Lies ended the first half of the show after an hour on stage.

His award winning song, There's Always Maybe announced his return to the stage and his song Cardiff Bay will always be a winner at a Welsh gig - even if it is this near Swansea!

Martyn also previewed several new songs and one about Bobby Kennedy called unsurprisingly Bobby showed that he still has the skill to write a great story song, even with a political edge. And Liberal Backslider encouraged some good Welsh audience participation in the singing department.

During the next song, I'm On My Way, Martyn decided he would like to get a little closer to his audience and came into the theatre - stood on a couple of seats and led some audience singing yet again, now that we'd been sufficiently warmed up.

Martyn has produced an album called Tyres Rushing by in the Rain, which is a collection of Bruce Springsteen covers - it's a splendid record and Martyn took the opportunity of playing a couple of songs from the album, the shimmering The Ghost Of Tom Joad & Blood Brothers.

If you've heard Springsteen's Nebraska, the songs on the album are very much in this style and worth getting.

It's the measure of a performer as how they deal with the unexpected. During the beautiful Luxury Of Despair, in which Martyn sings about his experiences in the Middle East, a vital lower e string broke on Martyn's guitar. He stopped the performance, restrung the guitar and carried on to loud applause. 

It didn't take away from the power of the song and was quickly followed by Still A Lot Of Love Around Here which talks about the power of good in the world. An excellent choice of closing song.

But then there was the encore.

During Kiss The world Beautiful, Martyn made up lyrics about his journey from Cardiff to Neath. A lovely local touch which rounded off a sensational performance.
He certainly cemented his reputation as one of Wales' most consistent and quality assured songwriters.

I hope he doesn't leave it 32 years to return and judging by the reception he generated, I don't think we'll have to wait long before Neath Little Theatre sees him again.

Twitter - @martyn_joseph 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

New To Me: Dan Whitehouse

The support act on the latest Simone Felice tour was a performer called Dan Whitehouse.

Now, I like my singer songwriters of the intelligent variety and not your usual June Moon Spoon school of songwriting. When I knew I was going to be seeing him twice, I decided to investigate the man.

To my delight, he is an excellent singer/songwriter and his latest album Raw State has been produced by none other than Danny George Wilson and Chris Clarke of Danny & The Champions Of The World.
Now I know Danny to be a man of taste, so I wondered what had attracted him to be involved in Dan's album in such a big way. So I listened to the album on Spotify before I got a chance to buy it from the man himself in his gig with Simone at The Louisiana in Bristol. It's an album of dynamism, excellent songwriting and quality production.

He played an excellent acoustic set of several of the songs contained on Raw States.

Included on Youtube are 6 videos about the recording of Raw States - I have included two on this page but do seek out the rest.

The album has the golden touch of The Champs who have themselves released two of my favorite albums of the past couple of years in Stay True & Live Champs.

When you speak to the man he is intelligent, obviously loves his music and has a knowledge of his peers and past musical heroes. A man after my own heart.

Although the acoustic Dan is a wonderful thing, Raw States is a much richer experience. With the full band sound and lovely female backing vocals, it's a joy.

So seek out Raw States and BUY IT! And keep an eye out in your local area for any live performances. Dan is definitely a cut above and is worthy of your attention. So seek him out. And give him a firm handshake and a smile. He deserves it.

Twitter - @dan_whitehouse

Live in 2014: Simone Felice at The Louisiana, Bristol & The Chattery, Swansea on December 2/3 2014

Ponder this? If the performer of your favourite album of the year offered to play his greatest songs in your own home, just for you, how would you feel?

Well, this is how I felt when I got the chance to see Simone Felice twice in two days (possible because both gigs were within my travelling distance). 
Both venues were so intimate, it actually felt like he was singing just for me. Of course he wasn't, both The Louisiana and The Chattery were packed and the atmospheres were fantastic.

It was my first time to The Louisiana Bristol, which is a short walk from The Thekla (if you know where that is). The hall is a small space above the pub which can hold an audience of about 100 standing people.

Simone Felice's album Strangers is my album of 2014.

So, I could not wait to see Simone perform the songs in a live context.

But first let's talk about Dan Whitehouse. Dan has been the support artist on the whole of this tour and he is the best support artist I have seen all year.
He came on, armed with just his acoustic guitar and won over the crowd with songs from his newly released album Raw States. The album, produced by Danny & The Champions Danny Wilson & Chris Clarke is an excellent listen and the songs transfer really well in a purely acoustic context. I urge you to check out the album and to catch Dan live if possible.

Following Dan's set, Simone took to the stage with the talented Anna Mitchell on Harmonium, Piano & Percussion.

Now, Simone's albums are beautiful and often delicate things. But nothing prepares you for the Simone Felice who performs live.

The intensity of the performance, especially at The Louisiana is staggering. Simone is just mesmerizing. You cannot take your eyes off him.
The way he attacks his acoustic guitar and physically drags the words from his psyche remind me of a firebrand preacher. He is so dynamic in his presentation. Ranging from silent whispers to an almost religious urgency. He never shouts or screams but you can feel the latent power in his voice.

Right from the opening song, Charade, I was transfixed.

In both performances, Simone picks the best from throughout his career. His work with his brothers band, The Felice Brothers is covered by Radio Song and Don't Wake The Scarecrow.

His work with his last band, The Duke & The King includes the song, If You Ever Get Famous and the uptempo The Morning I Get To Hell.

Simone's eponymous solo debut is represented by killer songs like simmering The New York Times, lovingly uptempo You & I Belong and the brooding Hey Bobby Ray.

In The Chattery, Dan performs a spectacular version of Bruce Springsteen's early classic Growing Up to superb applause.

Dan Whitehouse, performing to Bob Dylan at The Chattery

I really wanted to hear how Simone performed the songs from Strangers and I was not disappointed as he played several throughout the sets.
The beautiful Bye Bye Palenville was a highlight with Anna providing some exquisite backing vocals. 

Simone had quite a few friends at The Chattery and I think this helped him to relax as his performance in Swansea seemed a more relaxed affair than in Bristol. It had a softer and more intimate vibe. But then all gigs in The Chattery are special.
I've stated before that I think The Chattery has a vibe similar to what being in Greenwich Village in New York back in the 60s must have been like. Regular musically astute audiences in a small and intimate setting. And with portraits of Bob Dylan on the walls, as both Simone and Dan commented, it's like you're being watched by greatness.

My favorite song of 2014 is the final song from Stranger called The Gallows. I was waiting for it and Simone, Anna & Dan delivered it in style.

The Gallows as performed at The Chattery.

In both shows, the main set ended with the spell binding Running Through My Head from Strangers with the obligatory audience singalong.
As The Chattery is a seated venue, Simone's performance gained a several minute standing ovation

The encore was a superb version of The Band's I Shall Be Released in which Dan is called back to the stage to sing with Simone and Anna. A truly heart stopping moment.

I've never seen anyone perform like Simone Felice - he's unique and unmissable. God bless him for it. And I can't wait to see him again.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Albums of 2014: Mary Chapin Carpenter - Songs From The Movie

This album was released very early in 2014 and has stayed with me throughout the year. Mary Chapin Carpenter has been an award winning songwriter and artist for many years and has produced many excellent albums since her debut Hometown Girl in 1987.

When I heard she was going to release an album of her songs with an orchestral treatment, my first thought was 'would it work'. Joni Mitchell has successfully released such albums but did Mary have the emotion, songs and voice to be able to make her own statement as Joni did with her albums. The answer is a resounding Yes.

Here Mary discusses how she approached the project.

Backed by a 63 piece orchestra and a choir, Mary has matched Joni for beauty, intensity, emotion and delicacy. She may not have the seductive voice of Joni but I honestly think she could not have done any better with the material or the treatments of the songs.

pic courtesy of Billboard

Mary's style has been to produce songs of Country, pop, rock and ballads and she is a Grammy Award winning artist. She has handpicked a selection of songs from the breadth of her career in this orchestral format.

photo courtesy of haysport.com

Many of Mary's songs are based on storytelling and the orchestral treatments of the music add a certain gravitas and depth to the songs. 

photo courtesy of thebluegrasssituation.com

This is one of those albums where I don't want to say too much. I just want to let you discover the music for yourself. If it encourages you to go and investigate the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter then I have done my job. 

Mary has performed throughout the year all over the world in support of the album with an orchestra in the various destinations.
For me, the most moving moment of the album is the final track Goodnight America.

Twitter - @M_CCarpenter

Albums Of 2014: Danny & The Champions Of The world - Live Champs

I always knew that I might have a live album on the list of my Albums of 2014 when I found out that Danny & The Champions Of The World were due to release a live album of the Stay True Tour.

Live albums have always had a historic reputation in the music world. Whether they are produced to record a historic event such as Woodstock or used to run out an artists contract or to showcase up and coming artists to larger labels, such as KISS ALIVE, every music lover will always have their favourite Live album.

For many years, my favourite album has been Jeff Buckley's Live At Sin E. Away from the production of Grace - Live At Sin E is just Jeff and his Telecaster. Showcasing his songwriting talent and that incredible voice Sin E is a model of simplicity.

It was my favourite until I heard Live Champs. This is now my favourite live album.

I have been lucky enough to see Danny & The Champs live twice while touring his latest album Stay True. And twice they have been totally electrifying.

Danny Wilson has to be one of the most honest performers in music today. Totally self effacing and engaging, he has the audience in the palm of his hand from the first song, which on the latest tours has been (Never Stop Building That) Old Space Rocket - the opening track of Stay True.

Danny has built an excellent band around him in the form the Champions Of The World (The Champs). Guitarist Paul Lush, Bass player Chris Clarke, Drummer Steve Brookes, Pedal Steel Player Henry Senior & Keyboardist/Saxophonist Free Jazz Jeff provide the meat to Danny's bones and are the best live band I've seen in many a year - comparable to Springsteen's E Street Band in my humble opinion.

With Stay True, Danny & The Champs have definitely found their sound and the live interpretations are just stunning. Now when I see a live gig, I do not want perfect recreations of the recorded music. What's the point of that? Stay in and play the record if that's what you want.

Many of the songs on Live Champs have been extended and it breathes new life into the recorded songs. On a record, the band is constricted to probably a maximum of 5 minutes a song but live they have they opportunity to explore the music to a much greater extent and they take full advantage of it.

The album sounds like it has been taken straight from the desk with very little production added at a later date. Again, that's how I like my live recordings with buzzes, clicks, feedback and mistakes.

Spread over two discs Live Champs captures Danny & The Champs at the top of their game. As a document of the tour, it is perfect. And the new songs that have been premiered live since this recording indicate that Danny is now riding on the crest of this new interest and optimism in his music. And they are VERY GOOD indeed.

Danny is a very funny guy and his banter with the audience comes across as both honest and reciprocal.  
The older songs such as Henry The Van get a great response and with new treatments in this format it's like hearing the older songs for the first time. 
Live Champs though belongs to guitarist Paul Lush. On the record Paul is very much a team player and his guitar work is sympathetic within the production. Live though, Paul is a different animal and takes the opportunity to showcase his sublime guitar work on the earlier mentioned guitar solos. He is never sounds flashy and never sounds boring. Very much in the mould of Steve Van Zandt or Nils Lofgren in the E Street Band.

Three of the tracks on the album Colonel & The King, Other Days and Restless Feet clock in at 12 minutes long and they are totally magnificent in their scope and magic. Exactly what I want from alive album.

By the time the band get to the final track, These Days, the crowd are really up for it and when Danny forgets the words, you can feel the love in the room as the band launch into their last song of the show and encourage a lot of audience participation. And Danny's last words on the album? - 'Let's have a beer' - and we did, cos that's the guy he is.

If you only invest in one live album this year - Live Champs should be the one. So go and put it on your Christmas list, right now. And make sure you get to a show when he releases the new album in 2015. 

Twitter - @Dannythechamp

Friday, 21 November 2014

Albums Of 2014 - Good Luck Mountain - Too

Good Luck Mountain are a band based around former Tandy man, Mike Ferrio.

Back in 2012, Good Luck Mountain released their debut album. This was an album steeped in sadness as it was the first release since the untimely death of Drew Glackin, Mike's friend from Tandy. The first half of the album seems to revolve around death, grief and sadness while the second half is about life and renewal. Indeed, the album was a new direction for Mike and he builds on this in his second Good Luck Mountain album, Too.

Good Luck Mountain 1 ended with the 6 minute almost cathartic, The Perfect Circle.

Too opens up with an electronic bleep and builds into the plaintive and atmospheric Morning Moon, an acoustic guitar and piano instrumental track which is a gentle intro into what beautiful music is to come.

White Calico Flower follows this gentle opener and is another 6 minute epic based around an acoustic guitar and piano with some gorgeous harmonies and some lovely violin flourishes near the end. Mike almost breathes out the words backed with female harmonies. It's like a happier continuation of The Perfect Circle. Mike is definitely in a happier place now.

Birdsong opens the next track World Turns, which is based around an insistent piano motif and more female harmonies.

The first track released from the album comes up next in the shape of Apollo. This introduces some tasty electric guitar into the mix and has a Byrds feel bringing some uptempo sunshine to the party.

Mike's delicate vocals usher in the next track Indian Summer, you can almost feel the heat as the brushed drums mix with the acoustic guitar and violins and yet again those lovely harmony vocals.A very sultry track indeed.

Much as the first GLM album, this album looks as if it was designed to be listened to on vinyl and to emphasize this the next track is almost a closer to side 1 - Maps (interlude) is 20 seconds of gentle electronica before Maps Of The Moon opens up what may be side 2 on a vinyl record. This track again uses the brushed drums but with a more spirited piano and violin backing.

The Seawall is a 7 minute epic that starts with a bass line and builds into a song of persistent drums, feedback guitars and whispered vocals. Very atmospheric and reminiscent of REM in some of their more experimental moments.

Another epic 6 minute slice of Americana comes next in the form of Angels. It's a song based around acoustic instrumentation and summons the ghost of The Band. With soaring violin and tremendous droning harmonies.

1.44 minutes of acoustic instrumental sweetness in the form of The Blue precedes the next track Out Of The Blue, one of the most simple songs on the album but utterly beguiling. 

Then we're back to where we started with Morning Moon (Reprise) closing what has to be one of the surprises of 2014.

Too is one of those albums that need to be listened to in one sitting - but what a joy it is - totally unexpected and all the better for it.

Friday, 14 November 2014

MY ALBUM OF 2014: Simone Felice - Strangers

Firstly, let me say that 2014 has been an excellent year for me in music terms - there have been some special albums out this year. My selections can be seen here. 

But one album this year has not let me go from the first listen.

I was aware of Simone Felice from the work with his brothers (The Felice Brothers) and I'd heard a couple of tracks from his first solo album. 

But nothing prepared me for Strangers. I love it when an album comes out of nowhere and grabs me so hard that it's hard to resist. And that is exactly what has happened with Strangers. Right from the first listen I was enchanted. I kept going back to it time & time again as it's beauty & scope gradually sank in. Simone has approched the album as a storyteller - which is interesting seeing as he's a published author. In fact, Simone really is an interesting story himself - he wrote in The Guardian about it and it can be read here.

The album is relatively short, sweet and perfectly formed - 10 tracks of absolute beauty.

I first highlighted it back in May.

I have been so impressed at how Simone & fellow co-producer David Baron have created an album of such filmic and widescreen beauty with such simple instrumentation.

It is an album of emotional beauty and is almost gospel like in places.

Strangers kicks off with the uptempo Molly O, which is the only real UP song on the whole record. Right from song one - the words grab your attention - poetic, enticing you in, thought provoking.

'Good trips and bad trips we're still gonna hold our lips to the chalice, 
even when the scales are tipped
You know I'd never hurt you baby, 
it's your virtue that hangs in the balance.'

The album was recorded in Sun Mountain Studios near his home in the Catskills Mountains near Woodstock in New York.

Simone - ''It’s really about, you know, the realisation that we can be so in love with someone, or so in love with an idea, or friends, or people in our lives,” he said.

'' Yea though I walk through the stripmall,
in chains of iron,
thrown to the lions, hunted by sirens,
Can't you hear them screaming,
like so many demons''

Simone - “Some of it was lonely, just me and my producer David. And then some of it we got to bring in a proper band, my brothers and The Lumineers and some good friends. So it was really just a special experience. Surrounded by a lot of talent and a lot of love.”

Simone has written a gorgeous and moving song about conflict in the moving Our Lady Of The Gun.

Family has always been an important source of inspiration for Simone and he looks back to his younger life in the hymnic Bye Bye Palenville.

'But I could never understand,
how a living breathing man
could run away and
leave his kids in the cold'

'And then the day our baby came,
and we gave her a precious name
so everyone would know
what a pearl we found'

Pearl is the name of Simone's daughter. 

I love the fact that many of the tracks on the album have an almost hymnic quality and one of the best is Bastille Day.

In a nutshell, the album for me is Intimate, Beautiful, Lyrical, Hymnic, Uplifting & Emotional.

I could wax lyrical about this record for hours - but that would be boring and I'm no talented journalist. 

All I can do is point you in the direction of the album and urge you to give it a listen.

My favourite track on Strangers is the final track - The Gallows.

Death has never sounded so beautiful.

'I am standing on the gallows in a winter's rain,
but I am light as a sparrow,
'cause I'm on my way'

Twitter - @SimoneFelice

Quotations by Simone courtesy of