Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Live in 2015: Tim Bowness at The Louisiana, Bristol on Tuesday 25th August 2015

It is quite a coup for The Louisiana in Bristol to have Tim Bowness. 

Tim Bowness - one half of No-Man, one of the side projects of Prog mainman Steven Wilson has come to Bristol as part of a very selective tiny tour in support of his new solo album - Stupid Things That Mean The World.

Tim's last solo album, the magnificent Abandoned Dancehall Dreams was almost my Album Of 2014 last year.

So there was no way I was going to miss a chance to see Tim play live at a venue not too far from me - he rarely plays live at present so this was a rare treat indeed.

His band for the evening were

Andrew Booker on Drums - Colin Edwin on Bass - Stephen Bennett on Keyboards & Michael Bearpark on Guitars.

Andrew, Colin & Michael came on first and played a instrumental track for about 20 minutes where they showed their obvious competence as musicians.

Tim then came on to join the band with Keyboard player Stephen Bennett and the show opened with the first track on the new album - The Great Electric Teenage Dream.

For tonight's show - Tim has pulled songs from not only his last two solo albums but also from his No Man days.

With such a small band, the musicians involved do a great job in reproducing the subtle textures of the newer albums and the more industrial rocky sounds of his No Man project. 

An early highlight for me was one of the best tracks from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams the driving The Warm Up Man Forever.

Press Reset and Sing To Me from the new album were up next before the first of the No Man songs - Time Travel In Texas from the Wild Opera album from 1996. 

Tim's onstage demeanor is rather intense - he regularly looks directly into the crowd - no stage antics but often moves to the side of the stage to let the musicians do their thing through the longer instrumental passages of tonight's performance and often seems lost in the music at several stages. Although the stage is so tiny in The Louisiana, there isn't really anywhere to go!

Two more new songs from the new album followed - Know That You Were Loved and the title track Stupid Things That Mean The World. Several of the tracks chosen for tonight's performance were of a more reflective nature - or lots of songs about death, as Tim puts it, which makes the more dynamic songs stand out even more.

Dancing For You was a slight calm moment before the sonic assault that was up next.

The next track was a sonic attack of the No Man song Housewives Hooked On Heroin.

Abandoned Dancehall Dreams contains several songs about a character called Smiler and tonight Tim chose to play Smiler At 50. This happened to be the last track of the set.

And as Tim introduced the band we find out that the guitarist Dr Michael Bearpack has now become a Professor. Check him out.

In the Louisiana, the band have to go through the crowd to get on the stage - so the band stayed on for the one track encore and the final No Man track of the evening,

All The Blue Changes from the 2003 album Together We're Stranger.

It was a pleasure to see the man perform songs that are clearly built for albums listening. The band did a great job this evening and let us hope that Tim decides to do a longer tour - and come to Wales this time as I like to see him again.

Twitter - @TimBowness

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Live in 2015: Iain Matthews & Egbert Derix at Barry West End Club on Thursday 13th August 2015

The Barry West End Club continue to bring quality artists down to the South Wales seaside town and tonight we have the pleasure of sitting down and watching two excellent performers.

I've always loved a Rock n Roll survivor of the Music Industry. Someone who's been around since the 60s, still producing music and has lived to tell the tale.

 One such artist is Iain Matthews. First coming to prominence as a co-founder of British folk institution Fairport Convention in 1967 - Iain has been plying his trade since the mid 1960s and has continued to make music right up to the present day.

But first up we had local trio Seafall who played a mix of Folk and Singer/Songwriter material and had a really good response from a packed Club.

Iain is one of those artists who has consistently been producing albums - first as part of Fairport Convention and then with his own bands including Matthews Southern Comfort and Plainsong. 

Matthews Southern Comfort took one of Joni Mitchell's best songs and had a global hit with it - Woodstock.

Here is Even The Guiding Light by Plainsong - taken from the album In Search Of Amelia Earhart

And a song from his 1972 solo album Journeys From Gospel Oak - Gene Clark's Polly

Iain even had a brief flirtation with the USA charts in 1978 with his album Stealin Home - which is where I really became aware of his work.

So today, we find Iain still treading the boards and producing albums - in the last decade or so he has been working with Dutch jazz pianist Egbert Derix as well as releasing solo albums.

Iain's acoustic guitar and Egbert's electric piano are the perfect mix for this intimate evening and of course Iain still has that fabulous voice, which sounds as good as ever. The duo performed material from a range of albums but rightly concentrated on the last 3 albums they have produced together - Joy Mining (2008) , Afterwords (2010)  & In The Now (2012)

But there were some lovely surprises thrown into the mix.
One was a performance of the title track from Iain's 1971 solo album If You Saw Thro' My Eyes.

Over the two hour performance the quality of the songs and performance made the evening fly by. Iain told a few stories - how he has been living in Holland for the last decade - in the same town as Egbert.

Another fabulous surprise for the purists, of which there seemed quite a few in the audience, was a performance of the Fairport Convention song Sloth, from their 1970 album Full House - which did not feature Iain as he had left the band 3 albums prior to it's release. It's a nine minute tour-de-force which dominates the album and Iain & Egbert give a terrific performance of it tonight

As someone who has been around so long as a songwriter and performer, Iain has written many excellent songs - and on his latest release he has a song which sums up what he feels about being a musician. It's a fantastic song called Pebbles In The Road.

I suggest that you start with Iain & Egbert's most recent albums and then go back to the beginning of Iain's career if you want to investigate his music.

Iain & Egbert ended the evening with a superb version of the Tom Waits song, (Looking for) The Heart Of Saturday Night.

Go and see Iian & Egbert if you get the chance - they are a perfect blend and with a wealth of material on which to draw, you are guaranteed an evening of sublime music and musicianship.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Live in 2015: Joseph & Maia at Demspsey's, Cardiff on Friday 7th August 2015

It was my first time at The Four Bars Music Venue - The City Centre Venue in Cardiff which is situated upstairs in the Dempseys Pub in Cardiff. And hopefully it won't be the last.

Tonight we were in for a treat as four acoustic performances were spread over 3 hours as three Welsh artists supported New Zealand duo Joseph & Maia.

First up was Arwel Lloyd Owen who goes by his stage name Gildas. 

He sings his songs in Welsh. Although I don't speak Welsh I can appreciate a good tune and a decent guitar player.  And Gildas songs including Nos Da & Carreg Cennen come across well this evening.

It's always good to see local talent coming to the fore and singing in Welsh hasn't stopped the Super Furry Animals from becoming popular. His quiet brand of folk sounded very good in this intimate venue.

Gildas was followed by another Welsh Speaking artist, Aled Rheon. The difference with Aled this evening was that he did play several of his songs in English.

He started with September Night.

He was an engaging performer with a nice line in chat and he did his best to get the crowd involved with a couple of singalongs.

Aled said that tonight was his third gig of the day although I didn't detect any tiredness or fatigue in tonight's performance.
Other English performed songs tonight were the lovely Wrap Up Warm and a new song Little Rock.

He has the personality to become a popular performer, especially in his home Country and I would like to see him again perform his own complete set.

Remembering August are comprised of Luke Searle on vocals/Guitar and Jessie Hallet on Vocals/Keyboards. They are also Welsh. They have released two EPs so far and tonight's performance was based around these two EPs.

It was good to see two young Welsh artists come together to make such a pleasing sound. They are very much influenced by the other side of the pond and their sound on the EPs reflects this.

They opened their set with Bones.

Luke and Jessie have developed a lovely chemistry in their short time together and their harmonies tonight were spot on.

As their set went on, you could see them grow in confidence at the reaction of the audience - which was very much a positive one. It's great to see such young performers at the beginning of their careers and it as good to hear that they've signed a management deal with a well respected manager who should guide them though the pitfalls of the music business.

Other songs played this evening included Fires, Disarm and The River.

The quality of the duo's songwriting so far has been very good indeed and with a new EP on the horizon I would expect another good song and hopefully some headlining gigs.

The headliners tonight were the New Zealand duo Joseph & Maia. Made up of vocalist/guitarist Joseph Thompson and Maia Potier, the Antipodeans have come over to the UK to begin a life on the road as touring musicians.

They released their debut EP Roll Up Your Sleeves in 2013 and have since left their record company beacuse - as the duo said - they did not want to become an electronic band. Which does seem a rather odd choice when the duo have more in common with another New Zealand hero Neil Finn than Shapeshifter. I admire their conviction in their pursuit of the music they love rather than be pigeon holed into some corporate idea of success.

Read an interview with the duo here.

Their latest release is an extended seven song EP called Sorrento- and very good it is too. Tonight's performance was based around Sorrento.

Now with a sound very much based in the Americana/Folk/Roots camp - the duo give a passionate performance which highlights the quality songwriting of Sorrento.

They even decide to come into the audience to sing with no microphones - nothing like getting down and dirty with your audience in a campfire-like ambiance.

I really hope that Joseph & Maia continue their journey of discovery and making the music they Want to rather than what others may think they Should. Their natural home seems to be America and perhaps that's where they'll need to go to fulfill their musical destinies. Like artists such as First Aid Kit or their fellow Antipodeans Crowded House before them.

Indeed, Sorrento was recorded in Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios and has the spirit of it's owner in several of the songs chord progressions and harmoies. If your going to be inspired by anyone, then be inspired by the best.

They are keeping physical copies of Sorrento to sell at the gigs as they want to meet the people who buy their records. Good move. They were truly nice people and seemed enthusiastic about their craft - which is half the battle. Try and catch them live - an support them. Artists such as this should be encouraged to follow their dreams.







Monday, 3 August 2015

Live in 2015: Gretchen Peters live at The Gate, Cardiff on Thursday 30th July 2015

I've always thought The Gate Arts Centre in Cardiff should have a lot more gigs. For those who haven't been there, it's a converted Church which has been turned into a very nice Arts Centre while maintaining it's special atmosphere. Churches were designed for singing - and Gretchen Peters certainly made the most of the acoustics in tonight's performance.

Gretchen has chosen Cardiff as one of two warm up gigs for a Cambridge Folk Festival appearance in a few days time. She asked the audience if we didn't mind being guinea pigs for the Festival set - she got an enthusiastic applause. And I doubt her Cambridge appearance bettered this performance tonight.

Gretchen hasn't visited Wales for a couple of years but made up for it tonight.

At the moment she is going around the world touring her Blackbirds album - which be be featured in the blog later in the year ;)
Indeed, the set is mostly built around Blackbirds and her last album, Hello Cruel World.

Today, Gretchen is joined by husband Barry Walsh on Piano & Accordian,  Christine Bougie on drums, lapsteel and electric guitar and Conor McCreanor on Bass & vocals.

With no support, it was a set of two halves. It opened with the driving When All You Got Is A Hammer, featuring some lovely lapsteel from Christine. This small instrumental set up really suits the stark songs of Blackbirds especially and highlights Gretchen's voice which is one of the most arrestingly gorgeous in the US music scene.

As I said, Blackbirds WILL feature in the blog later in the year - but it's songs are deeply personal, dark and brooding,

The title track from Blackbirds comes next and is followed by Pretty Things which Gretchen informs us has been playlisted by Radio 2. This is one of the most beautiful tracks on Blackbirds and gets a stupendous applause from the crowd. And at this point Barry said, 'That's why she's been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame'

The Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame

On introducing The House On Auburn Street, Gretchen asks if anybody has seen a neighbour's house burn down (the subject of the song) - well I have, so it kind of holds a special resonance for me. With other songs from Blackbirds including Everything Falls AwayBlack Ribbons the set shows just how strong an album Blackbirds actually is. The album is played almost in it's entirety tonight and deservedly so, as future albums and future tours will no doubt dilute this wonderful set of songs as fewer are included in the live sets. 

It's bound to end up on many peoples Best Of 2015 list and I know it's on mine.

But, there are also some choice cuts from Gretchen's album, Hello Cruel World, including the sublime, slinky title track.

One of my favourite tracks on Blackbirds is the gorgeous The Cure For The Pain and I'm so glad Gretchen played it - just as brilliant live as it is on record.

Part two opens with Gretchen solo on stage an brings us Independence Day from her debut album The Secret Of Life from back in 1996. This got a tremendous reaction from the crowd.

With a second half as strong as the first, this was always going to be one special show. With a wealth of quality material to chose from, I'm sure that some audience members would have loved to have heard their favourite songs which were left out from the set. But that's the disadvantage of being a such a great songwriter - what DO you leave out?

Following Woman On The Wheel, Gretchen left the stage to leave the other 3 instrumentalists led by Barry to play his composition, the instrumental October Waltz. A lovely little vignette in an evening of musical highlights.

But the magical moments had not ended yet - Gretchen and the band played a superb version of the most moving songs on Hello Cruel World, the song Idlewild. You could have heard a pin drop such was the latent power contained within the song.

After the encore - Conor & Christine left the stage leaving just Gretchen & Barry to give an intimate performance of John Prine's In Spite Of Ourselves. It was just as if there was no audience and they were playing it for themselves - just beguiling.

This was the performance of a lady at ease with her musical ability as a songwriter and performer. Coming off the most critically lauded and successful album of her career with Blackbirds, she is up there with the best - including Joni & Emmylou.

If you get a chance before she wraps up her Blackbirds tour - don't hesitate. You won't see better this year.

Twitter @gretchenpeters