It’s The War on Drugs’ second and final performance at Brixtons 02 Academy on a Monday night. The Brixton 02 is freezing cold and around me, seated upstairs, audience members are swathed in coats and gloves (O2, please take note). After an impressive set by New York trio Amen Dunes, The War on Drugs take their place on the stage, Adam Granduciel’s personal front-of-stage territory graced by a Turkish rug. The War on Drugs 2   The War on Drugs, BrixtonWith no messing about, the band launch into Under the Pressure from Lost in the Dream, the band’s lauded album from 2014, a body of music borne from a dark period for Granduciel, a failed relationship, a disconnect from life. To be fair, contentment with your lot in life never did produce the best tunes. Performed live, all the elements that distinguish the track on the studio version all shine through, the lush, rich sound, the pulsing guitars, with Granduciel’s languid vocals rising above the noise of the guitars, at other times his lyrics unintelligible, sliding down into the mix. He shares with Kurt Vile that distinctive, swoopy Dylanesque intonation which can sound anguished, and at other times triumphant.

Baby Missiles follows and Granduciel makes a dedication to The Windmill in Brixton, a place he’s played before three times – how times change now the band are filling Brixton Academy twice over. He seems upbeat, and later thanks us all for coming out on a Monday night, but keeps some distance between himself (and his band) and the audience. Arms like Boulders from 2008 Wagonwheel Blues introduces an earlier more gentle Dylan-influenced number, before heading back to Lost in the Dream with Burning. This is one of the numbers with War on Drugs’ trademark driving beat, insistent like a heartbeat, anchoring the base of the song, allowing the upper layers to float free and take their own course. It also has a Dire Straits The Bug feel.

Eyes to the Wind sounds hauntingly beautiful with the slide guitar, the dreamy vocals, building till the piano crescendo. And as the show continues to get into its stride, the mesmerising quality of the band’s work exerts its magic. It seems to reach out and pull you under, submerging you to the point where you find you just float off into your own head and submit to the song’s power, never wanting it to end. The ending to An Ocean in between the Waves always makes me smile, the way it draws you in with an elongated instrumental, then screeches to a halt with a sound akin to a needle dragged across the record.

The stage set is a graduated set of panels forming half of a kind of stone circle, the backdrop for a series of playful lighting effects of different colours. Mid way through the set, shards of powerful white light beam out across the auditorium, stealing the limelight from Granduciel and his band.

The set continues to ricochet between earlier numbers and those from that last album. For the encore we are treated to three numbers, the first is the title track itself, a low-key Lost in the Dream, and closes with It’s Your Destiny.

The set included most of Lost in the Dream, and credit goes to Granduciel’s band who played superbly. I am, perhaps rather unfairly, crossing my fingers we don’t have to see War on Drugs at an even bigger venue next time they tour the UK.

The War on Drugs 3 THE SMALL PRINT
WHO: The War on Drugs, support: Amen Dunes
WHEN: March 2, 2015
WHERE: 02 Brixton, London
TICKETS: £22 approx

Fest No 6

Music, beach, sea, bands, at Festival No 6

Festival planners are busy putting together their lineups for 2015 – and these are just a few of my personally tried-and-tested events.

When it comes to festival size, I’m not one for marathon walks from tent to stage (nothing like a trip back to basecamp for an afternoon snooze and a cup of tea) so there’s no mention of the G word here. Small to mid-size events offer enough entertainment – somewhere around four stages and a dance tent should keep you busy enough over a long weekend.

Ticket sales festival-wide are proving to be very healthy this year with Early Bird tickets long gone and some events have sold 75% of their tickets. Check out these easy-to-navigate events, which are all set in beautiful landscapes (I’ll be writing about some very small and niche festivals soon). The first festival listed is in May. Yikes, that’s only three months away! The winter really is just about on its way out and festival season is approaching fast.

Bearded Theory  –  May  21 to 24 

Seth Lakeman

Seth Lakeman, Bearded Theory 2013

Bearded Theory is nothing to do with the hipster’s favourite face furniture, more to do with making a fun, fake beard to bag yourself Top Beard prize. This event puts on a consistently good lineup of rock, indie and folk faves at this festival season opener, which for the second year is set in the grounds of Catton Hall, south Derbyshire. This year they’ve pulled out all the stops. My top pick acts are Alabama 3, New Model Army, British Sea Power, James, Misty in Roots and The Beat. I could go on. Mystical Sounds Tent offers an equally expertly put together dance extravaganza, with a psytrance-heavy lineup primed for mid afternoon to late night raving – Eat Static for starters. This small festival remains one of the friendliest events on the calendar, and is still only a measly £87 (adult price) but hurry, there are only around 1000 tickets left, at time of publishing. Get your ticket here

The Blockheads at Bearded Theory

The Blockheads 2014, Bearded Theory 2014

Field Day  June 6 to 7

Expert curation means this weekend-long event in Victoria Park, east London is stuffed full of a heady mix of cutting-edge sounds, with artists and DJs both featured. The stages are spread out through the park, and the place is dotted with an eclectic mix of food stalls. Location wise, Victoria Park is slap-bang in hipster territory so there’s no prizes for guessing the crowd FD tends to attract. Maybe two of this year’s headliners, Ride and Patti Smith, will turned this event into something more demographically mixed than previously? Tickets available here, with tickets at £78 for the weekend.

Womad - July 23 – 26

SWNS_WOMAD_DAY1_21Womad attracts a loyal crowd whatever the lineup! But it’s been announced now, and appearing are Bellowhead, De La Soul, Tinariwen, Banda Magna, Aurelio and lots more. Womad is increasingly about world food as well as world music.The Taste the World Stage, which proved popular last year, will be hosting different artists preparing a range of dishes. Womad has seven stages, and the festival is set in lush, leafy Charlton Park in Wiltshire. Check out the San-Fran Disco Bar, plus a range of workshops and the largest children’s activity area of any UK festival. What I do enjoy is the family festival aspect – you find the greatest span of ages – from babies and toddlers up to great-grandparents. Buy tickets here 

Final day at WOMAD festival 2014, in Wiltshire. July 27 2014.

End of the Road – September 4 to 6 

Peacocks

Peacocks venture out at the Woods Stage

The 10th year anniversary of End of the Road is a week later than its usual slot and it promises some special headliners. This festival is set in the beautiful grounds of Larmer Tree Gardens where peacocks strut about, and secret pop-up gigs randomly happen in a pirate ship in the woods – make sure you keep an eye out for these. Sufjan Stevens appears on Saturday night, his first ever UK festival appearance. Also appearing are Ozzie psychedelics Tame Impala plus The War On Drugs,  Django Django, Future Islands. and My Morning Jacket. Heavenly Records are holding a 25th birthday celebration at EoTR with a few of their acts, so far Mark Lanegan Band, Eaves, Stealing Sheep and H Hawkline (for their birthday weekend at The Trades, read here). Other Heavenly artists hopefully will be persuaded to join the revelry. Tickets have already been selling fast; EoTR operate a tier system and are currently  already on Tier 4, at £195. Buy them here

E of EELS

EELS frontman E at EoTR 2013


Festival No 6 - September 6

I attended Festival No 6 in 2014 for the first time and can vouch for its truly magical properties. It is set in spectacular setting on the estuary of the river Dwyryd, with the Italian-style village of Portmeirion looking as if it had been constructed exclusively to host this very event. You can drift from your tent (or any manner of glamping-style sleeping arrangement – including the hotel, and cottages dotted round the village) to the main stage area which is set on a plateau with views across the estuary. Then down through the woods where you discover a Welsh artisan market, and finally you drop down into the Italian village where you find artists, talks and choirs. On the shoreline is the hotel terrace where revellers sip champagne at tables over looking the bay. Dip your toes in the swimming pool while waiting to see bands on the stage down by the rocks. A path through the woods lead to a pontoon set in a leafy bower while DJs pumped out dance music day and night. This year Grace Jones, and Belle & Sebastian are headlining – no doubt showcasing their new upbeat album. Tickets are here

Dancing at Festival No 6

All ticket prices are accurate at time of publishing

As far as festivals are concerned, winter is the new summer.  Take SHHH Quiet music festival organised by The Local.TV and visual artist Luke Drozd – a musical feast lasting from noon to nearly midnight, in a cosy church in north London. SHHH is now in it’s 8th year, with much involvement from music promoter and musician Howard Monk. The location is Heath Street Baptist Church iin Hampstead village, and the interior feels as if it could have been designed for this very event, if I can say that without upsetting the powers on high. Once you’re inside, tucked away from the elements, you do feel you’ve escaped from the world for however brief a time.

blue guitar

The event works like this: artists perform either in the church itself, with the audience sitting in the pews, or downstairs where there’s a large hall, set with tables with tables and chairs, and candles twinkling on the tables. While you watch one act upstairs, the next will be setting up at the same time downstairs. This way there’s very little overlap, meaning you can get to see most, if not all, the performers and not experience that feeling of angst over who you might have to miss. There’s a little cafe too, serving coffee and wine; food-wise it’s primarily a sausage-fest, to use the term in its literal sense, with hot dogs and a variety of artisan sausage rolls.

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With each album and with each collaboration, Mark Lanegan‘s star ascends one notch higher into the firmament. He’s a man with an impeccable rock backstory, American bad boy incarnate, equally at home as a character from Butcher’s Crossing to Twin Peaks, his is a world seen from the wrong side of the tracks, His voice is raspy, but capable of wistfulness and warmth, and laced with a menace that thrills. His lyrics, powerful and beautiful, tell tales of love, mortality, darkness, death and torment.

Very last minute, we bought tickets Shepherds’ Bush 02, up on Tier 2 which didn’t seem vertiginously high but was not exactly part of the action. I found myself musing on the fact that The Trades, where he played four days previously, would have been by far the better option: squashed into a room of around 200 for a more intimate experience.

Lanegan makes his entrance on stage. When You’re Number Isn’t Up from Bubblegum is a stark, still and effective mood setter, drawing us in. Judgment Time follows, holding the slow mood with this gem from Phantom Radio. “I saw whole cities drowning, I saw whole armies dying”. His gravel vocals slide round the lyrics, with that vibrato quality used to great effect. Dead on You lures you in with its lazy, sexy swampy blues. Things ramp up a bit a few numbers in, taking on a more synth quality, and the very air seems to thicken: there’s the exquisite, expansive The Gravedigger’s Song and it’s turbulent lyrics, one line always makes me shiver with its beauty: “To the stars my love, To the sea”. The more upbeat Harvest Home injects a lighter mood into the proceedings. When Lanegan launches into Sleep with Me with such lush sleaze in his voice, I don’t imagine anyone would refuse his invitation.

Lanegan is on stage surrounded by his four musicians. But the problem is, they’re barely visible in the gloom. The lighting is set at such an atmospheric mean and moody low that Lanegan and crew are not much more than silhouettes for most of the show. I don’t recall a gig where the lights have been kept at such a level, or certainly not at a venue the size of Shepherd’s Bush. Lanegan is known to be not one for any audience chit chat – I think that apart from a small wave and a ‘Thanks’ there wasn’t another word from him all night. And nor does he care for stage antics, preferring to stand still, a hunched figure over his microphone.

As someone who has attended gigs on a regular basis for … erm, around 40 years, this was somehow one of the oddest experiences. Beautiful songs, beautiful delivery, but something didn’t feel quite right. I had a strange sensation of not being present with the musicians, without the uniting experience between performer and audience. There’s only one thing for it, which is to see him next time around with a ringside seat.

Mark Lanegan

Zooming in on Lanegan and band

 

THE SMALL PRINT
WHO: Mark Lanegan Band plus 2 support acts
WHEN: January 28, 2015
WHERE:02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
TICKETS: £20.00

 

The Trades ClubHeavenly Records are celebrating their 25th anniversary by taking over the Trades Club for the weekend with a packed programme of shows. In order to cram it all in, they’re putting on some matinee performances as well as evening ones. It’s a slightly odd feeling to leave the snow, shops and cafes of Hebden Bridge behind and enter the blacked-out Trades venue at lunchtime for a gig and a few drinks. The Heavenly event is giving the Trades a real buzz, the place is packed, and the stage looks particularly fetching with its sparkly Heavenly banner.

KidwaveThe support are Kid Wave, Heavenly’s latest signing, a young act with a breezy summer vibe. Think 90s California. Front woman Lea, and Serra, drummer, both indulge in much hair swishing, as well as producing languid vocals set against breezy guitar riffs, at times reminiscent of early Pretenders. Give All I Want and Gloom a listen.

IMG_2546There’s something about Jimi Goodwin that inspires a lot of love. He radiates ‘nice guy’ vibes – even when a few incidents test his affable nature. And maybe he’s feeling slightly under the weather as he asks for water, then a ”petulant Z-list rock star” request for tea with honey, before taking a few hits of throat spray. There’s no evidence of anything being amiss though, his voice is its usual melancholic, soulful self.

The set concentrates on Odludek, his first solo album released last year, with a peppering of earlier Doves numbers. To open, Terracotta Warrior announces itself with its jarring foghorn notes – this is a sneaky song though, as those discordant notes lead into a complex and melodic section – I love the way this song builds. This is followed by the 2009 classic, Kingdom of Rust, with the more prominent keyboard lending the song a different feel.

Jimi Goodwin

A few technical problems arise with faulty leads, giving Jimi time to engage in some banter with the good-natured Trades crowd. Live Like a River suddenly makes sense when it’s played live. The band unleash their full power for Man Vs Dingo, the hardest-edged of Odludek’s songs with a swagger that reminds me of The Stranglers. It was a pleasure to hear The Last Broadcast again, here it’s a powered-up version, not the gentle treatment he gave it at Festival No 6 last summer.

The set closes with Lonely At The Drop – this song encapsulates the magic of a Jimi Goodwin number, a dreamy, evocative landscape overlaid with those melancholic somewhat doom-laden vocals. An absolute beauty of a song.

This was a lovely, unusual and memorable gig.

Links: Jimi Goodwin ; Heavenly Recordings ; Kid Wave, The Trades Club

THE SMALL PRINT

WHO: Jimi Goodwin, Kid Wave
WHEN: 24 January 2015
WHERE: The Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
TICKETS: £17

To come: Cherry Ghost and Eaves at Heavenly at The Trades… 

SHHH -a CELEBRATION OF QUIET MUSIC takes place on Sunday January 31st from 12 noon till 11pm at Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampstead . The evening lineup sees Richard Navarro, Seftel, Aaron Fyfe, Helmut, Pip Mountjoy, Ajimal, Lowpines, and Wooden Arms. The one-day event is now in its eighth year, a day of inspirational and gentle sounds – past Shhh performers include John Hopkins and a big favourite of mine – Phildel. The ‘quiet’ theme extends to the audience too so you can enjoy the music without inane chatter.
Be welcomed to a contemplative day dedicated to some of the best new music around.’

Aaron FyfeThe lineup has been extended and now features:

  1. Wooden Arms

  2. Laura Moody

  3. Pip Mountjoy

  4. Aaron Fyfe

  5. Forced Random

  6. Seftel

  7. Rhain

  8. With Sun

  9. Dusty Stray

  10. Richard Navarro

  11. Paul Armfield

  12. Ajimal

  13. Puzzle Muteson

  14. Helmut

  15. De’borah

A few of the SHHH Quiet Music Festival artists I’ve been listening to: Laura Moody recently released an album called Acrobat: its a simple and spare production, just her and her cello. Laura’s range encompasses jazz through to folk, to some unusual vocal hiccups and screams. Aaron Fyfe is an endearing young Scottish performer who won over the audience at The End Festival in November, with his charm and emotionally charged songs. I’ve been enjoying listening to Forced Random – multi instrumental producers of deep, hypnotic layered sound, somewhat reminiscent of Air. And Wooden Arms produce Alternative Chamber Music, who “mix delicate piano with luscious strings and trip-hop inspired percussion to create something quite beautiful.” – Tom Robinson (BBC6 Music)
Shhh signTickets available here

The church has music happening upstairs with audience seated in the pews. Downstairs there’s more music and a coffee bar too. Music doesn’t overlap. Late news: Laura Moody has had to cancel.

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