Saturday 1 March 2014


Back, I guess. It's been a strange few months and I'm not entirely sure how to get back into the swing of things.

Coming back from an unexplained break is always strange, and it's always hard to get back into old habits. I'll eventually explain some of what's been happening in the last few weeks. For now, I'm trying to get back into the practise and instinct of doing and making and talking about things without thinking too much. Which is difficult in itself, because the practise of making art itself makes obsessively searching for meaning and it makes relating back to inner-questions kind of unavoidable.

So I don't know what the solution to that is, but I've definitely been trying to find it. Because I think even if you're in mega-gloomy-self-destructive mode, the need to make art - or just to make things - doesn't really go away. Whether that's just writing bad poetry in the pages of journals. Or collaging. Or getting out of bed and finding the energy to cook pasta.

This playlist is an amalgamation of a sequence that came up on "shuffle" a few weeks ago, on a Tuesday morning, and everything that trailed off from it.

Call To Arms - Beirut (x)
Back The Dogs - Eddi Reader (x)
Sleep - Imogen Heap (x)
Reunion of Friends - Harry and the Potters (x)
The Captain and the Hourglass - Laura Marling (x)
Set Fire to the Third Bar - Snow Patrol ft Martha Wainwright (x)
My Winding Wheel - Ryan Adams (x)
Adieu Mon Coeur - Martha Wainwright (x)
Will You Please Be There For Me - The Reindeer Section (x)
Silver Dive - Ed Tullett (x)
Suzanne - Leonard Cohen (x)
Flicks - Frou Frou (x)
Babylon - David Gray (x)
Shiver - Lucy Rose (x)
Hoppipolla - Sigur Ros (x)
A Sunday Smile - Beirut (x)
The Devil's Tears - Angus and Julia Stone (x)
Mexico - The Staves (x)

A surprise appearance from the Harry Potter soundtrack, probably too much Snow Patrol, Eddi Reader - my newest hero - and trusty old Imogen Heap. The perfect antidote, or accompaniment, to February winter gloom.

Monday 30 December 2013

Foy Vance brings the Joy of Nothing to KOKO

You hear a lot of talk about “how nice!” and “how humble!” certain musicians are when people talk about them, so it feels a bit futile to say all these things with fear of putting across what sounds like empty words. But what I will say that within ten minutes of walking through the maze of stairs to the dressing room at infamous London venue KOKO, Foy Vance has already poured me a gin and tonic, and as we sit in the back room with the window open he apologises for smoking about ten times (I’m trying to quit for a bit, after picking up a horrendous chest infection, and I assure him it isn’t his fault when I erupt into ugly fits of coughs every couple of minutes).

Foy Vance is a singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland, and in this past year he’s released much acclaimed album, “Joy of Nothing”, toured with Ed Sheeran, and collaborated with Bonnie Raitt. Tonight, he’s in London for a sold-out gig, in the middle of the UK leg of his tour.

I want to start off talking about the album, and Foy explains that he started writing a lot of the songs that are now on the record when he was living in London, but the inspiration really began the moment that his train pulled away from Euston, when he moved away.  “It was when I moved to the Highlands - you know what? I booked the house, unseen, because I was told where it was and who owned it and all that and I thought, that's going to be alright, so I put the deposit down and thought, I'd better go up and see it. So I got on the train at Euston station. And that journey, that change in scenery... I felt that this weight of city life was starting to settle the further north I got. By the time I got into the Highlands I was in love already, and I'd written the first lyrics of a song called "Closed Hand Full of Friends" and that was the catalyst to the record. The journey to the new record started before even getting there, but it was only when I got up there that it all came together all of a sudden.”

His move to the Highlands was an escape, after finding no comfort in the city where so many artists go to find inspiration. The title of his album, “Joy of Nothing”, refers to the silence and peace he became at one with, when re-settling in the Birks of Aberfeldy. “There is a nothingness up there - a beautiful nothingness, a simplicity I think. And I think I was feeling pretty complicated - to quote Annie Lennox - in London. It was like, I was touring all the time, trying to facilitate the London life, because living here's so expensive. I found that I actually wasn't enjoying London. The reason to be in London is when you can appreciate all that it is. It's one of the most amazing cities in the world, but all I was getting was the stress and the traffic and the to and from the airport and crowded trains, and paying for a house you couldn't swing a cat in. I just had enough.”

He says that we don’t spend enough time in silence, by ourselves, and points out to me how noise is something that it’s so hard to escape. “We're sitting here now and we're engaged in conversation. But I can hear the buses go by,” he says, gesturing out of the open window, traffic jams through Mornington Crescent, going down to Chalk Farm Road, there’s the occasional ambulance, or car alarm, in the distance and always a faint hum of machinery. “I can hear people talking in there,” he indicates to the lounge, next door, “but there's something about being in Aberfeldy, or anywhere where it's quiet, being in silence just focuses you. It does me, anyway.”

But Foy’s roots are not in Scotland – he grew up in Ireland, the son of a travelling preacher. “It was by the sea, by the water, which is a different kind of thing all together, even if you've got the city and all the signs of mankind behind you, you still look out to the sea, out to nowhere, and where does it go? I wonder, if I just went that way, where I'd end up. So I loved that growing up. Especially on Bangor Bay, because the boats would go out there and I'd see them going by and think, where are they going?”

I ask if he sees stories like this in everything. “It was beautiful. I remember just thinking having that sense of travel with me, if being born by the water had helped that, I've always had an affinity with the natural elements more than anything else.”

Leaving London, he says, has helped him not only to find inspiration but be creative in an environment far from the heart of the music industry. Yeah. You know what, not to put too fine a point on it, but it honestly felt like I'd moved from the humdrum of the industry to the haunts of the ancient bards, because that's what it's like up there, you know what I mean, people go there to write, and where I live's quite an artisan area, a few galleries, and a guy that's trying to reinvent tweed... or not reinvent, but he's a designer basically, with a little tweed shop. There's furniture makers, there's guitar builders, an old nineteen fifties art deco cinema, it's a lovely wee spot, and you feel that when you go there and it just makes you want to create.”

Foy also collaborated with Ed Sheeran on album track “Guiding Light”, and toured all over the States as Ed’s support act – arenas full of screaming girls being a very different experience to his normal shows. “It’s not what I'm used to at all. I mean, until that the biggest names that I'd toured with were people like Pete Townsend or Bonnie Raitt. Actually, The Who is a bad example because people go mental at their concerts, but Bonnie Raitt - you go to her concert and people sit down and they're there for the music and nothing else. The celebrity element doesn't come into it, it's about music, it's all about music. That's what I've kind of always strived for - a music loving audience. Because there's something... again, silence, at a gig, sometimes I get finicky about it when people talk or shout out during songs and I don't mean to be a prick, I don't mean to be a pretentious little twat but it's just cause I think music works better in silence, because then you can play with dynamics and go places that you just can't go if you're working with a constant din. At Ed's gigs, they were great fun, and I had a ball, and it was great to get to know Ed better. He's just a solid heart, a really good guy. But the gigs were just a different thing, I played to the people more than I played music, really, and had fun.”

However, he doesn’t want his audiences completely silent necessarily – people singing along is something that he finds very unifying and special. “I get people to sing a lot - well not a lot, but for a bit, and I like that, I like that when a room feels unified, but I also like it during quieter songs or whatever when you can disappear into your own little world and you know, almost forget that they're there, finish the song and open your eyes, hopefully they've enjoyed it as much as you have. But in saying that, very often when I play in Dublin - it always happens in Dublin - they just sing. Everything. And it just changes the gig, it's lovely. It's lovely because it makes it kind of... it makes it as if you're all in a band together. So I guess you've just got to take gigs how you find.” Silence, however, is important, both in his performance and his day to day experiences. “I like to be on my own as much as I can, because I think it’s good for you. We don’t spend enough time by ourselves.”

The show that night in sold-out KOKO is a beautiful collaboration of joyful unity, loyal fans singing along with lyrics like it’s a gospel church, and moments of complete silence, nothing but the music filling the room. Highlights include a special guest appearance from Foy’s ten year old daughter, Ella, who plays percussion excellently during the jovial and majestic “Closed Hand Full of Friends”, an angry and heartfelt rendition of “Janey”, which Foy dedicates to his friend Janey, who is in the crowd tonight. He pays amendment to Lou Reed, covering “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” and asking the crowd to “doo-doo-doo” as he declares, aloud, “Dear God - If Lou Reed isn’t in Heaven, I don’t think any of us want to go there.”

He ends with “Guiding Light”, once again, asking the crowd to sing along with the refrain, and they do – a continuous repetition of a thousand voices chanting “­When I need to get home, you’re my guiding light, you’re my guiding light.” And the most magical thing is that they carry on, long after he’s left the stage – in their seats, in the foyer, and out in the street.

Friday 22 November 2013

Treetop Flyers play Manchester's Night/Day Cafe

TREETOP FLYERS - Night/Day Cafe, Manchester - 15th November 2013

 Country/folk/rock band Treetop Flyers have been playing together in various formats for a couple of years, and won the Glastonbury Festival Award for Emerging Talent in 2011, releasing their debut album “The Mountain Moves” earlier this year. 

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I meet lead-singer Reid, guitarist Sam and drummer Tomer drinking beer on the saggy sofas of Manchester’s Night/Day CafĂ©’s dressing room, where tonight they’re playing one of the last shows of their headliner UK tour, having wrapped up Bristol and London gigs earlier this week.

After having to part with their old bass-player over the last month, they say that their performances feel different, yet in ways better than ever before. “I think we’re a lot more relaxed now,” says Reid, “We had a gig in London the other day and someone said “That was the best you’ve ever sounded”, and we feel like a different unit and a lot better.”

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Sam describes a growth in audiences, and a warmer reception compared to previous tours. “We’ve seen at this tour a slight lift; we’ve had more people at our gigs. When you do sound check and it’s an empty room, it’s like oh God, what’s going to happen. We’ve done enough empty rooms in our time. It was a scramble to get everybody ready for this tour, but the music feels brilliant, and so we are actually really grateful just to play, it’s all just been a tremendous experience.”

They tell me how they met: an amalgamation of various London bands. “Mine and Tomer’s band fell apart, so as we’d known Sam for years we started to get everyone in a room with [bassist] Laurie as well, purely just to have a laugh,” Reid explains, “and I think deep down we knew that it would work.”

Sam interrupts, “Reid always had an idea that him and myself would play together. I didn’t really realise that, I thought we’d just get drunk together,” he jokes. “But when we got into rehearsals and messed around, we quite quickly realised that we could all bring something to the table and the music could be born. It was like a reinvention for all of us, coming together.”

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Over the last few years, a lot of writing together, a lot of intense touring, has led to an intensity comparable to an actual relationship. The writing process for their first album, “The Mountain Moves”, has consisted of a lot of fighting, and a lot of painful honestly.

“It’s like when you have a girlfriend and you have an argument, and you have to take a few days to make it up to her,” Reid tells me. “It’s like having four girlfriends.”

I ask about something I’m always intrigued with regarding bands – as much as it’s a relationship, do they see their project as a business too? And does this business have ethics?

Tomer says that this is something they consider more and more now. “Sometimes you don’t really have a choice, you know, which is unfortunate. I think you have to compromise in order to get anywhere in life in general, but there are definitely things we wouldn’t do.”

“The argument sinks with doing adverts and stuff like that," says Sam, "That is quite a different landscape than it was when you dream of being in a band. Five or ten years ago it wasn’t very cool to do an advert. But if you’re on the inside and you look at how business works, there’s very limited options to make money but also have that kind of exposure. A good example is The Lumineers. Do the ad, take the money off the devil, and then all of a sudden you’ll be playing two thousand capacity gigs around the world – you’ve got to do what you can to get past a certain level. “

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Tomer explains that an old band of his, in the States, went through that same ethical dilemma. “Our singer wanted to turn down a chance to be on an ad campaign for Coors Light,” he says. “They were going to put a free download on a billion bottle caps. A billion. And some of the bands that were involved were big bands, and they asked us to be involved with it. He didn’t want to do it – he said, ethically speaking, that he didn’t want to be involved with Coors because they had something to do with the Nazis in World War Two. I think it depends on your personal ethics.”

I ask what these ethics are – to them, personally, and where they would draw the line. “I wouldn’t want to endorse politicians,” says Tomer. “I feel like it’s a bad place to get involved – I see when bands get upset when politicians use their music in their campaign, Reagan did it in the 80s with [Springsteen’s] “Born in the USA”. That song is actually a massive criticism of power in the United States and politics. I know that Springsteen wasn’t very happy about it.”

“We could re-write “Things Will Change”, and it could be “Things Won’t Change,” says Sam.

They throw about names of musicians they think have successfully walked the line between channelling a political message without it becoming cheap – Woodie Guthrie, and the Beatles’ “Blackbird”. “It’s clearly a civil rights song, but you can listen to it and it just sounds like a song about a caged bird,” says Tomer. “Many great songs reflect on the troubles that people come into in life, I think that’s the best way you can delve into people. Music is about reflecting on life.”

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And it always come back to heartbreak, Reid says, that is the most powerful force behind their music, and, decidedly, the majority of pop songs. “It’s really intense. You can’t lie about it. When you feel it, the world just disappears around you. It can hit you really hard. It’s the purest emotion you can ever feel.”

“All of us combined have lost so much in the last couple of years,” adds Sam. “I think the band is a big part of the longevity. We’ve lost girlfriends and family members and lots of things but we’re all still here, looking at the same ugly people.”

The loss of Reid’s father played a large part in the creation of “The Mountain Moves” – his ashes were actually used as an instrument on one track. “I remember telling the producer and he was like, that’s so fucking cool, good idea, he said to me, you’ve got to do that. We never forgot it, we put it really high in the mix.”

It's an emotional experience watching them play that night, with all these things still fresh on the mind: their live set is so tight that it's hard to believe they've recently replaced their bass player. With the Mumford hiatus going on, I'm sure it won't be long until critics are putting hype around risingly successful folk bands like this, but I'm keen to forget that and see them for what they are - clearly very close friends, smart guys, making music that is full of heart.

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You can check out more of Treetop Flyers here 
Photos from Rachael Farrington.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Recommendations: October 2013

October has been an insane month of travelling, hard work, and giving and taking a lot from every single day (I'm also very aware that I have been awful with keeping up with this blog but hey, I always come back).

"Without/Within" - Bear's Den
The third EP from one of the best folk bands to have emerged this year, and in my opinion it's probably their best yet. Each track is beautifully produced, from the boundlessly atmouspheric and colossal opener, "Sahara", to nostalgic heartbreaker "Sophie". I know I chime on about them a lot but they also put on a great live show, go see them if you can.

Hannah Georgas
Canadian artist Hannah Georgas graced the stage at Folkgeek Magazine's first birthday party, has just put out her second album, which is self-titled. Rich and ethereal, her music reminds me a slightly edgier Feist.

"Recover" - Chvrches
Glasgow electronica band Chvrches have I'm not even sure what appeals to me so much about this song but after seeing them play at Manchester's Ritz I listened to it pretty much straight for two days entirely - it's something about the deeply tranquil "ooo's" of backing vocal during the middle eight, with the simple yet haunting conclusive lyric "I know you don't need me" falling into a minor chord.

"August and Everything After" - Counting Crows
This is clearly nothing underground or super-cool but I found this lovely 1993 album in a crate at my local market, and was filled with the nostalgia of listening to this record - folky, rootsy and a little bit unique - in my friend's father's car a few years ago. This is no doubt them at there best. And it's sad and also in some ways very lucky, how all treasure washes up in plastic crates in market halls some day.

Monday 21 October 2013

"Take up my heartstrings, play me what love brings"

"WILD LOVE" - Gossling

Melbourne singer-songwriter Helen Croome is "Gossling", who hasn't really reached us here in the UK yet but is a increasingly successful back in Australia - her new album is released over there on the first of November, and single "Wild Love" was the eighteenth most played song on Triple J last year.

Croome's prim and very distinctive vocals are the most remarkable thing about her music; she sounds very similar to Julia Stone and maybe even Lauren Mayberry. Until the album's released, I guess it's hard to get a good idea of what Gossling's sound is really like, and it's definitely too early to make sweeping genre generalisations, but I'm really excited to watch her grow.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Recommendations: September 2013

Fortunately, September ended up being a month of way more gigs than I expected including the ever-improving Catfish and the Bottlemen at Manchester's Night/Day Cafe, vibrant, French singer-songwriter Melanie Pain at the Deaf Institute and a beautiful Laura Marling show at the Lowry - solo, and acoustic, she's different to how I've ever seen her before.

Nick Mulvey
There's so many folky singer-song writer types around nowadays, but Nick Mulvey, who supported Laura Marling on her UK tour last month, is truly something to do it. He's an exceptional guitarist, his lyrics are pure poetry and he puts on a great live show. "Cucurucu" my favourite of his, and he's definitely one to watch.

"Tiderays" - Volcano Choir
"Reprave", the second album from Justin Vernon's new project is completely beautiful, it's a lot more accessible and little less ambient and abstract than the first album (personally, I think this the new album is a lot more Bon Iver than the last). "Tiderays", the opening track, swells from the softest opening of dainty guitar riffs to a refrain bouncing with heart pounding percussion and piano. Utterly serene and perfect.

"The Artist Is Present"
A documentary about Marina Abramovic, one of the most famous performance artists in the world - I don't exactly know what I thought of this, and whether it inspired or upset me, but I know that it made me think a lot about human interaction and communication. "The Artist Is Present" is the name of one of Abramovic's most famous projects, during which she took a seat in the Museum of Modern Art in New York every day for several months, inviting visitors to sit across a table from her, for however long they wanted, and look into her eyes.

"Home Again" - Michael Kiwanuka
I finally picked up a physical copy of this 2012 album, and it's been one of my favourites for long train journeys recently, I think Michael Kiwanuka's one of the best R&B artists to emerge in a long time.

"Nothing Compares 2 U" (cover) - Capital Cities
I'm not even sure I really like this but it's a really interesting cover and definitely demands a listen, the use of horns is really interesting. Their track "Hair" is so much fun, as well.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Sinead O'Connor's Letter to Miley Cyrus

This is written very much in a rush and something I really value your opinions on - if you've been anywhere near Twitter today, you'll probably have read Sinead O'Connor's open letter to Miley Cyrus today - which you can see here. Read that first.

It was when she compared her to being "made into a prostitute", that got me.

And if you've been hiding in a box for weeks, the video in question:

"WRECKING BALL" - Miley Cyrus

I've been actively avoiding blogging about Miley Cyrus to be honest, for two basic reasons - the first, is that lots of other people are much better articulating all these important points about slut-shaming and women in the media but I'm pretty fucking sick of being quiet about it at this point.

A friend of mine wrote this piece about Cherie Bebe's Burlesque Revue in Manchester recently, which I saw, and it really got me thinking about burlesque, and displays of sexuality - the thing that the music industry sees as so cheap and desperate as, in fact, an art in itself.

My take on it is pretty much this:

When someone makes bad (normally pop) music, we'll be quick to call them out on it. Rebecca Black's "Friday" is a prime example of it: an international laughing stock. But the object of attack wasn't music, was it? We weren't demonising and criticising the act of making music, it was the fact that it was an awful song.

But with Miley Cyrus' displays of sexuality, it's how dare a woman display her sexuality, and how dare she take her clothes off. I don't know if this is to do with our association that a naked woman is shameful, or an object, and that that's wrong. Because sexuality can totally be art, that's something we can embrace and be okay with - what's problematic isn't the way Miley Cyrus uses it, but the oversimplification and objectification of women in "Blurred Lines". It's almost like "don't hate the sin, hate the sinner". Except... not. Don't hate displays of sexuality. Hate demoralising ones, hate ones that objectify. And try to understand them. And try to think about why they're wrong.

The only problem I really have with what Miley Cyrus is doing is that, I hope it isn't out of fear. Or an effort to be controversial. Or, as Sinead O'Connor very explicitly assumes in her letter that she is vulnerable or nervous about exposing her body. And as long as that isn't valid, and she's comfortable as an artist expressing herself in that way, the problem isn't Miley's but belongs to us - as the media, as an audience.