Guided into my parking space by a convoy of friendly, and mostly older, stewards, I’m struck by how well organised Towersey Festival is. Although to be fair, they’ve had plenty of practice, as this year marks Towersey’s 50th Birthday celebration.

Towersey is 50

Towersey is 50

Towersey Festival is an institution on the local calendar, with a dedicated and enthusiastic fan base, many of whom arrive early on the first morning to claim their camping spot. No sea of miniature pop up tents meets the eye here, this is serious tent territory, with kitchen areas filled with equipment to rival Gordon Ramsay, and marquees acting as the social hub for vast family get togethers.

My last Towersey was three years ago, when I fell in love with Saltfish Forty, 3 Daft Monkeys, and the Monster Ceilidh Band (read an account of Towersey 2012 by Tessa Gordziejko here). I’m hoping to be similarly entranced by some of the acts  today. The first recommendation is for an upbeat young band called Rusty Shackle, who are playing in the beer tent at lunchtime, and they certainly feel like a solid outfit with a good future ahead of them.

The Big Club Tent, which was reconfigured a couple of years ago, is a capacious seated venue where latecomers can enjoy the music while basking in the sunshine outside. The afternoon sees one of the festival highlights – a concert dedicated to Topic Records. Screens show a visual potted history of this venerated label. The first half of the concert progresses somewhat akin to a relay race: a couple of artists perform a song, one artists leaves and another is introduced and so on, building a thread between them.The place is filled to capacity and the audience are clearly enraptured by the star billing of luminaries such as Eliza Carthy and Martin Carthy. After half of the concert I’m urged to join friends enjoying a Cajun couple, Sheryl and Russell Courmier. So we leave the festival site and walk along the lane, arriving at the picturesque village church, where the couple are holding a Q&A session interspersed with delightful tasters of their wonderful Cajun sound. They play Jambalaya and their own composition, La Boutille, which prompts several couples to start dancing in the aisle.

St Catherine's Church

Later, back at the festival site, evening approaches and there is a palpable frisson in the air. Towersey’s more dancey music venue, Venue 65, becomes the focus for the evening’s entertainment and cars begin to roll in for Seth Lakeman’s impending appearance. Just a quick aside about Venue 65 – it’s probably the most ‘workable’ big tent I’ve seen at any festival. At the back are a few rows of tiered seating, there’s a proper bar at one side (with draft ciders and beers, not just bottles), a small outside area, and a beautifully lit stage. As there is no photographers pit, you can stand at the stage’s edge, and the soft floor has spring in it, perfect for dancing.

The first evening’s act is Georgia Ruth, a softly-spoken and modest young Welsh singer/songwriter and multi instrumentalist from Aberystwyth, who has justifiably won prizes such as the Welsh Music Prize 2013. Her voice has a touching clear purity and when teamed with the harp stirs something in the soul. There have been comparisons made between her and some of the 60s stars of folk. The song Mapping reminds me of early Joni Mitchell in the phrasing. Her compositions such as Week of Pines are hauntingly beautiful and the sound of the harp elevates the songs.

Georgia Ruth at Towersey Festival

Seth Lakeman is a returning Towersey performer, and his entrance onto the stage is greeted with waves of affection from the audience. The band commence with The Courier, a strong and dramatic song from his latest album Word of Mouth. The song has the perfect measure of excitement with its rousing violin, drama, and tribal drums set the tone of the evening. Already the audience are starting to gather as one, and it’s not long before the floor starts to bounce beneath our feet, echoing the beating of the drum. A few numbers along, and a parade of glowing, colour-changing balloons are brought in among the audience, adding a touch of festival drama.

Balloons at Towersey Festival

Seth is a consummate performer, polished, communicative, with a superbly talented band, including Lisbee Stainton who adds vocals, and Ben Nicholls (also from The Full English), with a magnificent double bass. The set takes in more songs from his new album, such as Portrait of my Wife (the album is a fascinating mix of songs which Seth put together from stories he had heard from locals of his native Cornwall and Devon). Other numbers are from Tales from the Barrel House and there’s Take No Rogues from Freedom Fields, his 2006 album. It is a brilliant, dazzling and exhilarating set and Seth fully deserves the rapturous applause.

Seth Lakeman at Towersey Festival

I would love to see Lau in their entirety, instead of the intriguing half-set that I hear after Seth’s set. Their delicate material needs to be enjoyed in a more peaceful and contained environment – but as happens at festivals there is a crossover, so they remain on my ‘to see’ list

Overview: There is much to enjoy at Towersey – the Ceilidh tent where you can learn all the steps, and which is in full flow for much of the day; thoughtful and multifarious children’s activities, including a climbing wall; and the craft tent where potters and jewellery makers sell their work. Oh and the film sessions, my partner joined a small band of people who watched The Mooman, an engaging, charming and interesting film about a dairy farmer. The toilet facilities are excellent, offering proper flush toilets and running water, as opposed to the increasingly usual hand gel option. My only criticisms is that there could be a few more food stalls, offering slightly more unusual fare. And day visitors would be better provided with wristbands rather than extremely easy-to-lose tickets, which constantly need showing to the stewards.

This is Towersey’s last year at its current venue. It is a quirky and charming site, split between the two venues, with the addition of some local village stops. From next year the festival will be sited at Thame Showground where things will be more streamlined, but one hopes, retain the quirkiness that makes Towersey such a pleasure. So for now – Happy 50th Birthday to Towersey.

THE SMALL PRINT

WHO: Towersey Festival; www.towerseyfestival.com
WHEN: August 21-25 August, 2014
WHERE: Oxfordshire
TICKETS: £40 for day, festival plus camping £135 approx

Interview: August 7 2014.

It hardly needs to be said that I’m a big fan of The Bedroom Hour. I managed to catch up with their singer Stuart Drummond as he was rushing down to the studio one evening. He and the band are very busy at the moment with debut album Hinterland deservedly getting a great reception, a summer tour is taking up weekends, a pledge gig is on the horizon…

ME: You’ve all been in bands previously, but when The Bedroom Hour got together, did you know you had something special?

STUART: I think when we wrote Heart will Haunt, that’s when we realised we had something. There’s a real intricacy to the guitar parts and the drum parts, that was when I thought, well wow, we’ve got a special song here. I don’t want to sound arrogant but I knew we had a good song, an anthem. That hadn’t happened before and then that came along.

the bedroom hour 1

At Proud, Camden

What was the first album you bought?

I’m not completely sure, but I think it was (Whats the Story) Morning Glory by Oasis. From there I started discovering other bands like The Verve, then that led to older stuff like The Stones …  and of course I bought a few turkeys.

That’s interesting that you first album was  by Oasis, as The Bedroom Hour have developed quite a connection with Manchester, there’s a bit of a love thing going on. 

It hasn’t happened on purpose but we do love Manchester bands, Doves, The Stone Roses, Joy Division, Oasis, north west bands, The Verve …  our music, does seem to resonate more up north. It struggles to transmit down south.  I don’t know if people have more time on their hands up there, or if it’s the fact they realise work is just something you do Monday to Friday, that’s all it is. People in London have more stress on their plate and don’t realise so much that the weekends are for enjoying yourself.

You’re a London band but before this all this popularity with Manchester happened, did you have connections with the north?

Pretty much, I played Manchester with my old, old band but that was in the days of My Space, which never was successful for us in the way that Twitter has been. That’s how we’ve built everything up. My own personal connection is with Scotland, that’s where my folks are from.

Your social media is really good, you really make an effort to connect with your fans in a very positive way

Being older guys, haha, we can’t always rely on our friends to come to our gigs, we’ve got mortgages and other stresses going on. So we have been trying our best to engage with people through social media, we try to engage with fans on Twitter and Facebook and build it that way. We make an effort with people. I don’t like the way some bands think it’s they’re god-given right to have people like them of follow them. You have to put the effort in with the people who are putting in the effort in to listen to you. You must give that back by showing your appreciation rather than expecting it.

When did you first realise you wanted to sing?

It a cheesy story but I was drunk… hammered. I was about 17 years old and in the pub with my mate. He was a proper karaoke whizz kid, and suggested we sing. We got up and he coerced me into doing a song together, I think it was a Blur song, Girls & Boys. Then I found myself singing on my own. I was a bit shouty but I felt a little buzz. I was already writing lyrics though, that was the other piece of the jigsaw. Karaoke night in a pub – not very rock n roll is it? I didn’t get into a band till my early 20s though.

The bedroom hour play camdenAre you going to concentrate on the north or try and get more of a London connection? 

Manchester feels like a second home, we launched our album Hinterland there and the feedback, the support of the room blew us away. We get such an amazing welcome. We did a similar gig just outside Doncaster, we got such a vibe back from the crowd. But we do want to get our name known in London coz that’s where we are from but we don’t want to swap one for the other. Somehow we want to bring it all together.

Your songs are emotional but everyone can relate to them. How do you go about the songwriting process?

I write the lyrics, Rob [Payne] comes up with amazing guitar parts, Mark [Dudley] adds the keyboard parts, Andy [Copper] and Lew [Cosham] are like the the engine room and they knock everything together. .. everyone adds something. Most people look at the lyrics as most important element, but I would say it’s a mix of everything. But the bass is just as important as the vocals or the melody. If you look at “I am the Resurrection”, The Stone Roses, it’s the bass line of that song that is the hook, brings that song alive. Obviously the lyrics are important, so everybody can sing along.

Do you get nervous when you go on stage?

Yes, definitely yeah, I don’t know why it is. The second Manchester gig at Night and Day Cafe I was really nervous, I think it’s because there was a big build up. The first time we played there we got such a great reception, you don’t want to let people down. We’ve had a lot of support and passion for us, it’s amazing to sort of get back… its keeping on and capitalise on the amount of time people have invested in us.

The new album Hinterland is doing really well. What are your plans for the future, after the summer tour is finished?

I think we are going to keep writing, trying to build up another batch of songs, as and when they come out I don’t know. But we want to keep Hinterland fresh. We’ve noticed that sales of Themes have picked up since Hinterland came out, which is also really great. So when we get to the next step, hopefully that will help sell more Hinterland and Themes, and that way we keep on bringing brand new songs to people.

Final question: as a band with some experience of the music industry…  if you could give one piece of advice to a new band starting out, what would it be?  

The golden rule for a new band is first of all to write your own songs and keep on writing them. Don’t settle for a sets’ worth, make sure you have at least 10 – 15 numbers before you even think about gigging. And make sure they are as tight as they can be. Be well-rehearsed before you get out on the circuit. The second thing is use social media. Reach out to potential fans, and don’t be too proud or arrogant to make the first move. Listen to what your fans have to say and take an interest in them, build relationships and friendships with them. Take the time to treat people how you want to be treated. And the third thing about starting out with a band is: do it because you really love it, and only because you love it.

Big thanks to Stuart…

The Bedroom Hour are playing at Wigan Live fest, Saturday August 30, Glastonbrewery August 30, The Lomax Liverpool, Saturday September 13.

The Bedroom Hour, Camden

 Are you a fan of The Bedroom Hour? What is your favourite track on the new album? 

 

Ealing and its jazz and blues festivals have been a summertime fixture over the years at beautiful Walpole Park. I’ve attended the last two Blues festivals (2013 here) but this time round we rolled up for the final Jazz day. I wonder if the organisers have a pact with the weather gods? Each time I’ve been to Ealing’s summer festivals, it has been warm and mostly sunny.

Ealing Jazz

Ealing JazzThe organisers have found a winning formula and each year just do some minor tweaks – after all, why mess with something that works? There’s a generous-sized bar (complete with pianist and double bass entertaining the clientele later in the afternoon), two large music tents, set at either end of the ‘arena’, almost enough (clean) portaloos to service Glastonbury, and plenty of merchandise for those who are fond of a spot of festival shopping. Food stalls punch somewhat above the festival’s weight, which is no bad thing. Vast portions of jerk chicken sizzle on a grill, Moroccan tagines bubble away, there’s the French La Grande Bouffe with its giant pans of wine infused creamy potato, and delicious salted chocolate brownies at the cappuccino stall are hard to resist.

We sat and watched Sarah Tandy and the Watertight Group with the expressive trombone player Tom White joining them. They had gathered a huge crowd in the main tent; the sound was relayed by speakers to the crowd picnicking on the grass outside. Later we were entranced by the sinuous Latin rhythms of Geoff Castle’s and Paz Reunion Band who particularly suited the occasion. They have been together, in various forms, over many years and it was intriguing to find out that their guitarist Ed Speight played with Ian Dury and on Tubular Bells.

Ealing jazz festival

Tom White joins Sarah Tandy

The other joyful performance of the day was a roving band who made their way around the festival site carnival style – Dick Cook and the Jambalaya Parade Band. Their New Orleans style jazz was utterly infectious and they got several members of the crowd dancing.

jazz band

 

THE SMALL PRINT

WHO: Ealing Jazz Festival
WHEN: June 23-27, 2014
WHERE: Walpole Park, Ealing, London
TICKETS: £5 per day

 

 

Dolly Parton had offered to rescue a dog found at Glastonbury, discovered cowering in a tent by the cleaner-uppers. The lurcher was too old to travel so would not have been able to be rehomed in the States – but the owners have now come forward to reclaim the poor creature.

I am a bit mystified by all this. Dogs are banned from the majority of festivals. Did the owners, who aren’t English, maybe not understand this rule? What did the dog do for the festival’s entirety, sit in a tent while its owners went off to enjoy themselves each day?

Anyway, they have claimed her back and despite the charity who were looking after her understandably being concerned, they’ve had to hand her over to the owners.

I’ve arrived home from festivals without my jacket, sunglasses… any number of random items, but a dog? Anyone who can do this I feel doesn’t deserve to own the animal.

What looks at first like a heartwarming tale of owners reunited with their pet, plus a celeb to add a touch of glamour, is actually a sad tale of an abandoned dog left shivering in a tent amongst the detritus of Glastonbury.

So, The Bedroom Hour’s debut album, Hinterland is finally here. The band were posting regular updates on its progress and successfully crowd funded to help with its release (read here). I’m feeling that same sensation when a good friend has just had a baby  – you’ve been there for the announcement, cooed over the fuzzy scan photo, and now here it is, in its glorious vocal reality.

Hintlerland

Hinterland

Hinterland’s cover shot first appeared on The Bedroom Hour’s cool new website, which they unveiled a couple of months ago. It’s a dramatic, moody view of London under a thunderous sky in which your eye travels from the glittery Shard and financial district/tourist centre to its outlying sprawl, its whole suffused with something dark. I’m reminded of JG Ballard’s novel Kingdom Come, an unease, a dislocation, London the Hinterland. The image is accompanied by Ocean – an intriguing instrumental track, layered and dense, which oozes with tension.

Continuing on a watery theme is Sea without Water… one of my favourite Bedroom Hour songs, a dreamy, wistful ballad with a strong hook and pleasingly retro sounding rippling guitar by Rob Payne. It’s the perfect vehicle for Stuart Drummond’s emotion-drenched vocals which are allowed to soar as the song reaches its final few bars. And it’s the one you will find easiest to sing along with after a few drinks. The next number, Nocturnal is another powerful number: there’s the guitar intro which ripples and soars, and the strong chorus, Stuart’s lyrics bemoaning love lost, ‘sleep through the day, just to get away from the thought of you with someone…

Heart will Haunt is a song familiar to fans. The song paces itself with a slow build, a master of restraint that takes two steps forward and one step back. Its percussive start leads into Stu’s vocals with the guitars weaving in, Andy Copper’s bassline beautifully holding it together. I always feel that this song has to tread a fine line to keep the vocal delivery controlled, which Stuart manages successfully, but there’s the potential in the wrong hands for this number to sound overblown.

I’ve only heard track 6, Sapphires recently, and it’s a beauty, a vocal-lead number suffused with emotion, with an anthemic chorus.

TBhThings get more rocky and upbeat on track 9 I See Suns, with gorgeously sexy bass underpinning the track. The bluesy quality of Stuart’s voice really shines and I love the euphoric burst of keyboard. It’s good to see the band flirt with their music a bit more and explore their upbeat side. It would be interesting if someone could do a dance remix.

Title track Hinterland occupies the penultimate position  – the yin to first track Ocean’s yang – and it has that lush, multi-layered, dreamy quality of the opener.

The album closes with A Map Made from my Bones, which I first heard at the band’s appearance att Paradise at Kensal Rise. I was looking forward to hearing it again and it doesn’t disappoint. There’s a strong bass line from which the song launches into a wall-of-sound arena-filling intensity with a plaintive guitar riff hat complements Stuart’s vocals.

Wishing you guys all the best tonight in Manchester!!

Hinterland will be available on iTunes from July 14, order here

The album launch party is on Saturday 12th July at Night and Day cafe, Manchester

https://www.facebook.com/thebedroomhour

http://www.thebedroomhour.com

Below is an earlier video of the band:

 

 

 

 

 

Arcade Fire

If Lord of the Rings had a stage…

The hottest day of the year turned into a beautiful evening, and at Hyde Park, Arcade Fire gave a truly inspired performance. No doubt the band were making sure that this, their last night of the successful Reflektor tour, would be one for us, and them, to remember.

Win Butler was more engaging, and more humorous, than I was expecting – such as his opening line ‘For perhaps the last time – Arcade Fire’ – well, I hope that’s a joke. They opened with Normal Person, following with Rebellion (Lies). The high point for me was the glorious Intervention. Naturally the set was peppered with numbers from Reflektor, such as my favourite, We Exist. From The Suburbs they played Rococo. Regine Chassagne radiated warmth and energy, shimmering in a gold ‘reflektor’ dress.

Arcade Fire

The concert wasn’t all superlatives, though this wasn’t the fault of Arcade Fire. The venue doesn’t score highly with me – or with plenty of others as I’ve discovered. Hyde Park just isn’t the most viewer-friendly location to see a band. For anyone my height, 5ft, it’s tricky being able to see anything other than the screens unless you stand quite a long way from the stage, at which point you don’t feel quite so engaged with the performance, and are battling to hear the band against the talkers around you.

The ticketing raised some eyebrows: a company I work for secured a deal to offer tickets for BST for £2.50 each, quite a reduction from £66, so that was a pleasant surprise. Naturally the offer went viral and it is to the ticket company’s credit that they honoured everyone who applied. But it was difficult to get away from people just chatting away loudly to their friends, paying no attention to the band. If I ever get to be in charge of Hyde Park gigs I’ll divide the arena into two: those who want to listen to the band, and those who want to talk and take selfies. Or maybe I just need to lighten up.

Fingers crossed Arcade Fire will be back in the studio before long, and return to the UK to tour with a new album.

THE SMALL PRINT

WHO: Arcade Fire, Jake Bugg, Wild Beasts, Future Islands
WHEN: July 3, 2014
WHERE: Hyde Park, London
TICKETS: £66

 

 

 

There’s so much going on over the summer at the South Bank – or Southbank Centre, as it’s now renamed. On this night alone there’s raw, dirty blues from The Amazing Snakeheads and a comeback set from Edwyn Collins. I’m off to see Trentemøller. The last time I saw the Danish electro multi instrumentalist was at 2am in a field at Big Chill in 2008, where a rapt audience stood silently, thrilled to their introspective and enveloping sound, in particular Moan, and its accompanying heartbreaking video of Laika the dog who was sent into space.

Southbank beach

The “beach” at Southbank

southbank

From the Festival Hall, a sunny eve at Southbank

Trentemøller are appearing as part of James Lavelle-curated Meltdown Festival. Anders Trentemøller is now touring with a band, straddling both electro and indie camps. As it turns out, he feels more electro than indie. On stage, the band remain fairly aloof. For the opening numbers they resemble a row of iPod-advert silhouettes against the cold spotlights, occasionally Ander’s hand punching the air. As the set warms up, the band become more visible, and the two female members, vocalist and guitarist, gradually take over as the focal point. The visuals consist of four lanterns, set against what might be blinds… a peek into a world beyond, or an inward-looking gaze.

Trentemoller

Any vague concerns I had about the Royal Festival Hall’s suitability for their performance are banished; Trentemøller’s complex soundscapes fill the generous auditorium, waves of sound seeming to bounce off the walls. The auditorium is about three quarters full, with everyone seated, until suddenly, by some invisible signal, there’s a polite stampede as those in the rear stalls move near the front to dance.

Trentemoller
Trentemøller’s work precedes the whole Scandinavian TV drama explosion, but they share a moody, dark outlook, and I can envision Take Me Into your Skin as the soundtrack for another series of The Killing, if Sarah Lund could be realistically brought back. Or unrealistically. Please bring her back, I don’t think us fans will care how.

It’s interesting to hear Ander’s hyper-polished productions live, but some of the subtlety is drowned out, noticeably so on Moan. Trentemøller play several numbers from Lost (2013), the last album, such as Candy Tongue which is wonderfully suffused with an air of menace. Shades of Marble, an earlier composition, builds up tension with its multi-layered Tarantino-esque feel. Since last night, I’ve been on Trentemøller overload, and am captivated and enthralled again by the compositions, their power, fluidity, pacing and tension. However, with the ‘distance’ they maintain between themselves and the audience, and the power that their recorded music delivers, I’m just not sure how much this live performance has added to their appeal.

THE SMALL PRINT

WHO: Trentemøller plus support, part of Meltdown festival at the southbank centre
WHEN: June 17, 2014
WHERE: The Royal Festival Hall, London
TICKETS: £15

Festival updates and half price festival tickets… head over to Music News

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