THE BEDROOM HOUR, an emerging west London band I’m a big fan of, wants to get their debut 2-part album out to their fans first. So they have turned to crowdfunding. There are several funding sites out there operating in slightly different ways, but they all have the same objective; offering fans an attractive way to contribute towards a chosen artist’s creative process. This gets you, the fan, closer to the band. And it gives the musicians a chance to exercise their PR and marketing skills by dreaming up ingenious and fun pledges. From signed set lists to exclusive studio gigs with dinner, the more inventive, personal and exclusive the pledge, the better. The Bedroom Hour’s pledge page is proving mega successful – proof that they have a solid base of followers out there, who believe in the band.
Simone Felice starts his gig at Bush Hall with New York Times – it’s a haunting and gritty number which encapsulates familiar Felice territory - man’s vulnerability and cruelty, human struggle, death. But also love, finding beauty and joy in life, and the pleasure and importance of good friends. Of the grittier subject matter, Felice doesn’t shy away but tackles things head on, and uses the beauty of his words to somehow work though pain and find hope.
The second song is from Strangers, his brand new album. Bye Bye Palenville, about fathers who abandon their children, is an exquisite ballad and my favourite on this new release. The arrangement is spare and simple, which allows Felice’s expressive and slightly trembling vocals to be the focus. Later in the set comes the emotive number Our Lady of the Gun, Felice voicing his concerns about America’s relationship with guns.
The 80s – a much maligned decade for music but dig deep and there was plenty to enjoy. I’m a fan of my office’s occasional “Power Ballad Thursdays”. Instead of a sea of hunched computer nerds nodding along to their own private world via their headphones, we’re all sharing the moment as Africa by Toto and Urgent by Foreigner blast out over the speakers. There’s also a frisson of satisfaction if you can be the one to unearth a tune everyone else has forgotten. Gloria by Laura Branigan is my current fave 80s pick. But before I digress further… there was a lot more going on in that scrunchie and pirate-pant filled decade. One reminder was Blue Zoo who played last week at 02 Academy 2, Islington. The band originally formed in 1980, and although success was coming their way, they split up in 1985. They reformed in 2010, with their album Two by Two rereleased in 2013.
As in their former days, Blue Zoo’s front man and vocalist is still the charismatic Andy O. I remember him from his days with forerunner outfit, Modern Jazz (with Dave Wolfson on keyboards). The years have been good to Andy, he’s remained lean and youthful looking, still able to project a formidable vocal range with the occasional yelps which remind me of Suede’s Brett Anderson. In another life, Andy could equally be at home in musical theatre with his intuitive sense of the dramatic. The newest member of the band is Tom E Morrison, a veteran of the music industry as producer, writer and guitarist, and he also performs with Bliss. With his moody Robert Smith style makeup and on-stage swagger, Tom steals – or shares – some of Andy’s limelight.
Dust down the sleeping bags and camping stove, the start of festival season is only a couple of months away. These days, music festivals are working harder to attract a following, offering debating sessions and workshops, banquets and ballooning, hoping to carve out a unique and identifiable image from a sea of formulaic events.
Here are a pick of the festivals for 2014, most of which I’ve attended over the years. I like these ones because they seem to attract a good balance of ages and social groupings (families, couples, friends), they are small enough so it’s not too much of a slog to the arena from your tent, and most are in fairly scenic locations.
Bearded Theory May 22 – 25
It’s not surprising that Bearded Theory won Best Small Festival in the UK Festival Award 2013. This is a really friendly event which gets the season off to a good start, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Two years ago I attended a four-act swirly psychedelia night at The Lexington on Pentonville Road. I was particularly drawn to The See See. (Also memorable were Canadian band Elephant Stone whose music is enriched with Rishi Dhir’s mesmerising sitar playing). Fast forward two years and we were back at The Lexington last week for The See See’s return.
I don’t remember them sounding quite this good. This is a psychedelic-driven sound without fey, flowery overtones, it’s raw and ripply, as it should be, but there’s a muscular element to it, something harder edged. Something that defines it from this era.
Uplifting track Gold and Honey encapsulates the bands feel-good elements – supple, driving, jangly guitars and strong riffs – all overlaid with echoey harmonies with a breezy Beach Boys style touch.
The Rain & The Snow is a beautiful languid, wistful ballad which fuses guitar, organ and vocals. The harmonies are again rich and echoey in a nod to The Yarbirds and Zombies era.
If there’s one issue with The See See’s music, it’s that some of their songs are over too quickly. The band really get going in the instrumental sections, drawing you into the complex rippling interplay of guitars. But just as you’ve melded your brain with the music and moved off into another plane, the song goes into its final flourishes and comes to a halt. The framework of a 5-minute song isn’t adequate to do this band justice. To put it another way, I was enjoying them so much that I didn’t want their songs to end.
Penultimate number is And I wonder from the bands first CD released in 2011, Late Morning Light. It’s a country style ballad overlaid with Shadows-esque guitar.
I bought their latest CD Fonteyne Mountain at the gig and haven’t stopped playing it since. The band are touring in Spain later this year, but here’s hoping they get themselves onto the lineups of some UK festivals this summer, they deserve a much wider audience.
THE SMALL PRINT
WHO: The See See, Kelley Stoltz
WHEN: March 5, 2014
WHERE: The Lexington, London
TICKETS: £6 approx
The intro of a song is all that’s needed for special memories to come flooding back. Just a bar or two and you find yourself catapulted back to a particular moment in time: whether funny or joyful, romantic or melancholic, it’s the music that will take you there.
Many of us have a copy of favourite songs as part of our vinyl hoard. My own record collection – of which I was immensely proud – met a bit of a sad end at university when someone made off with most my albums: John Mayall, Doobie Brothers, Captain Beefheart, Gang of Four, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell… far too many to mention. Fortunately a few survived the clutches of the mystery vinyl thief, and I’ll be taking them with me to one of the Stylus Stories evenings which are happening in north London.
Stylus Stories is a night that was put together by four Hornsey lads, Dave Black, Dave Scott, Steve Wilkins and Tommy Doyle, otherwise known as The 45ers – Dansette Dave, Victor Vinyl, Stylus Steve and Tommy Turntable. The four were growing tired of running pub quizzes and at the end of 2012 they were casting around for a new formula. Steve suggested they should do a vinyl night – and thus was the beginning of Stylus Stories.
The success of that first event took the four by complete surprise. They expected a crowd of around 30 or 40, if they were lucky. But that night, people filed into The Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey… and they carried on filing in, bringing in boxes of albums and carrier bags stuffed with singles, memorabilia, picture discs. The theme had ignited that symbiotic passion of music and memories. The stories unfolded, and the vinyl spun.
There have now been around a dozen or so Stylus Stories nights, with the event now finding a new home at the Earl Haig Hall in Crouch End. Victor Vinyl explains the evenings thus, “you don’t have to contribute, but if you do, you can offer a story that has a personal thread about your life to share with the audience, and fuse it with a tune that is universal to all.. .it’s a meeting of individualistic with the popular, the unique with the universal, the unknown story and the well known music, or something like that. It doesn’t have to be funny or bawdy, it can be sad and lonely if you like, and indeed some are. It’s not all about blokes not getting shagged at pop festivals in 1972.’
Meeting a couple of friends for a drink one eve at Earl Haig, the Stylus Stories beer mat on our table was the catalyst for a storytelling session between the three of us. One friend told this tale: “When I first came to London I had a job delivering and operating technical equipment for theatres and film. An early task was to deliver lights and a smoke machine to a small film studio in Wandsworth. When I arrived, they were filming something weird with a girl on a wire. I was asked to stay and operate the smoke machine. A few weeks later I saw the video on Top of the Pops, promoting the debut single by The Buggles: Video Killed the Radio Star.”
Whether you would like to share your story (or maybe keep it to yourself and just share in the fun), dust down the vinyl and pop along to the next Stylus Story event. Oh, and if you don’t possess the vinyl of your chosen song, just let the 45ers know, and they’ll track it down for you.
Next Stylus Stories evenings: Earl Haig Hall: May 7, July 5
The Aussie-accented, country-tinged tones of Courtney Barnett’s songs have been floating over the Radio 6 music airwaves of late.
Last Thursday was her second London appearance, this time at Ace Hotel, Shoreditch. Courtney takes keeps things minimal, walking on stage to plug all the leads in before she’s joined by her bass player and drummer. With no introduction, the band gets right down to the first number.
It is immediately clear that the smoothed-out recorded versions of her songs that I’ve heard so far pale in comparison to Courtney live. This is stripped back, grungy rock with a country, folky edge, those trademark stream of consciousness lyrics carrying the songs along – paens to suburban Melbourne life, agonies of love, but all retold with an edge of humour. Angsty, textspeak poetry tells the stories of her life so far. And she’s a mesmerising performer in her low-key tomboy style: torn shirt, messy layered hair, no makeup, eyes closed, keeping a distance from her audience who stand mere inches away.
Courtney leaves any form of conversation till half way through the gig when she introduces new song Depreston. Do you have a ‘Preston’ here in England too? she ask. Yes we reply, before answering an amused ‘no’ to whether it is a place we’d like to hang out.
The short set ends with History Eraser from her EP How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose. New double EP out now is A Sea of Split Peas from which comes her most talked-about number, Avant Gardener. Canned Tomatoes (whole) is my particular favourite: a deceptive, fluid country ballad which lulls you before breaking into psychedelic mode. The song is also on 6-track album I’ve Got a Friend called Emily Ferris.
Courtney is touring the UK at venues here and there through May, book now, here’s a link
Ace Hotel, Shoreditch.
Our evening was supposed to commence with a drink in the hotel’s main bar, but my friends got lost. Actually, they had walked straight past the hotel. That library or, er…. bicycle repair shop – yup – it’s actually the hotel.
I returned on Sunday to check it out, and loved the vibe of the inviting, coolly-designed, multi-functional lobby, with plenty of areas for relaxing, reading newspapers, or working on laptops (this was originally supposed to be a reasonably-priced hotel for creatives before the area shot up in value). A coffee shop at the front does small snacks, and at the rear is the main bar.
Just to the left of the main entrance, you find the separate door leading down to the music venue. It’s a really pleasant space, as big and airy as you can get for a basement venue, with sofas and low tables arranged around the edges. The bar is in the process of setting up to serve draught beers but for now it’s bottles only, we drank Camden Hell. Courtney’s gig was a sell-out (the venue takes a maximum of 235 people) yet the space never felt crowded. This is a fairly intimate venue and you can stand pretty close to the bands on the low stage. Ace Hotel has definitely found a place high on my “small venue” list.
Ace Hotel, 100 Shoreditch High Street, London E1.
THE SMALL PRINT
WHO: Courtney Barnett plus support
WHEN: Feb 13, 2014
WHERE: Ace Hotel, Shoreditch, London
TICKETS: £11 approx