So it begins....
A considerable amount of research went into this Austin visit. With changes over the last few years happening at SXSW, with less dependency on corporate sponsors and big name acts and an emphasis on discovery and new bands, it was essential to have a clear plan before we arrived.
Despite a new focus on badge holders, and less lineups at venues, there is still a very good chance that if you try to get to too many venues to see bands around the city, you will run into an issue getting into one of the spots.
Nothing is worse then standing outside of a venue trying to see one band when you had a very good option elsewhere, especially if you had just left a perfectly good showcase...so my plan was to find a showcase that featured a band we really wanted to see, listen to all the bands playing there in advance, and we would just stick to one venue.
The plan worked since the festival is about discovery, ...we succeeded and were able to see 95% of the bands we wanted to see...some twice!
Our trip to Austin started on Sunday, March 12. The music portion of the festival starts earlier every year and now Music Badges can get into other parts of the festival including SXSW Interactive which has a number of great music showcases on their own. We arrive...in Austin, a couple of days before SXSW Music festival really begins but there is still plenty to do, and despite our flight being 4 hours late, we arrived in time to get a good night in.
First a showcase that featured Austin bands....one who we had seen before and a couple of new bands. Amherst Live brought out the local acts as well as a night full of free craft ale and food and for those who know us well...you know how much Sandra and I are fond of good Craft beer, so that little surprise combined with some great little bands was a great way to start our visit.
The first act was Erin Ivey, a young Austin singer songwriter with a lovely voice but sadly, she was having a hard time competing with the volume of neighborhood venues who were cranking out some seriously loud dance music. Still, the songs were solid and the beer was flowing, not crowded and very inviting so we stuck around.
Next up was another local band who we had seen in Toronto playing a free show close to our home. Tje Austin a former contestant on NBC series the Voice, this guy has a very very good voice. An American soul artist accompanied by a full band with plenty of horns and percussion, he had no problem competing with the noise and he put together a great set of his own material.
Tameca Jones was up next, Austin's Queen of Soul, and like Tje Austin, has an incredible voice. Well respected in the industry for putting on great live shows, her and her band put on another great set of music. It seems others have discovered her talents as Gary Clark Jr has used her on his albums and the venue is full now with fans and the venue is jumping, especially when she jumps into a very funky version of Elton Johns "Benny & The Jets” Its a full on funk fest now and we are bouncing Tameca, though, is the last of the bands to perform at this showcase so we are off to Latitude for the start of the British Music Embassy.
We arrive at Latitude for the last show of the night and it’s the band Sykes. This 3 piece Electro pop alternative group from London, featured on BBC 1 and NME a lot over the last year or so, put up a very upbeat, smooth and somewhat nostalgic synth laden set of pop songs that is a perfect way to end the night and after a short set, we are off to rest and get ready for the full days ahead.
Monday is a beautiful morning in Austin. The sun greets us as we wake up. As it is still early in the week and the music showcases have really not kicked off yet, the choices are few today but there is one massive party at the Mohawk from noon until 11:30pm that features a considerable amount of bands so we head to the venue after lunch. There is quite a lineup as this is one of the many parties that occur during the festival that are open to everyone, you need not have a music badge, so into the lineup we go.
When doors open, the bands hit the stage, the venue has two stages, a large stage outside and a smaller stage inside so the sets are back to back and there are plenty of them. As a note for anyone that plans to ever attend the festival, be warned, the stage inside is very small so it gets crowded. Best to leave the main stage area a little early, before the band gets off there, and head into the smaller room, to make sure you get a good spot!
First up outside is Chrissy & Hawley. A Dance Electro Pop group that they themselves refer to as nu-disco...is a energetic duo that perform very upbeat and active dance tracks and their onstage activity and fun approach is perfect on a sunny stage outside.
Inside is a complete change of pace and a blistering punk set from The Muncie Girls. This group from Exeter feature a very active lead singer who reminds me of Patti Smith and sounds like she could be singing for Sleater Kinney. The three piece is exceptionally tight and wakes everyone up from the slumber of the nu disco with a set of fast paced punk that is loud enough to push the day along.
Bash & Pop are up next outside and the crowd has grown even more as this band, who features lead singer and guitarist Tommy Stinson (Replacements), is one of the big buzz bands in Austin and they are only playing a limited amount of shows. They perform a blistering set of Alternative rock and roll...very very loud, and it’s a fierce blues based rock that is led by Stinsons guitar work and his distinctive voice, and his band are great. It is a professional crew of musicians and when they jump into a cover version of the Who's "Kids Are Alright"...it is fantastic. Again, picture yourself outside on a sunny day and a very very good band is cranking out a classic like this and pulling it off...its a great little moment during the day.
Inside is a band I have been really looking forward to seeing, Frankie Rose. Former member of the Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, this band features a very dynamic lead singer and her distorted dream like voice and along with a drony, sonically beautiful guitar work, Frankie Rose is a great afternoon band perhaps best suited to a dark late night setting but this show will have to do. Its a very blissful set of music that reminds me a bit of Lush and that pleases me and really hope to see this band again, back in Toronto.
Outside, and another change of pace with the dance band GGOOLLDD Synth pop hooks and upbeat dance tracks by this big 5 piece band, and if dancing is what you are after, you found it outside with these guys. It’s a big sound and a full set of dance pop.
Inside..we switch it up again and we have the 3 piece Alt Rock band Split Single. This band, hailing from Chicago, put out some Replacements'ish rock. Led by former members of Superchunk and Bob Mould Band, they have some great vocal melodies mixed with some distorted riffs and it all works very well. Another great set of rock and roll
Outside our next band was supposed to be Lizzo but she cancelled so, happily, Har Mar Superstar fills in and its a full on funk party led by one of the most charismatic and entertaining singers you will every see. While he may not ook the part, this guy is a talent, his band are tight and it’s one of the most enjoyable sets of the week. He is a popular artist around here and the crowd is bouncing, it’s wonderful to watch and wish it could go on for hours.
Inside it’s another buzz band with singer songwriter Adam Torres. This 4 piece that features some great violin work creates some solid country tinged roots rock led by Adam's solid singing and while a departure from outsides party, it is still rather lovely.
Outside, a rather large crowd has gathered for Noname.This very popular American hip hop artist was associated with Chance the Rapper and got a reputation as a stand out performer and her freestyle rapping style is clearly why this crowd is here. She is great, very entertaining, and with the amount of people who are singing along with her rhymes, its clear this crowd of mostly US college kids are enjoying this as well. She is a very positive entertainer, choosing to smile and dance around even if her lyrics are about some serious subjects. Good fun.
Inside again and it’s loud, messy guitar band and a great set from Mothers. Its hard to really describe what this band produces live. It’s loud, drone, intense and influences are all over this band. The lead singer will reminds me of Angel Olsen or Sharon Van Etten at times but her voice fades in and out around her band that will one minute be at Pixies level and then swing into a prog rock sound.
Outside is probably one of the bigger bands of the day, English electro singer songwriter Sohn Signed to 4AD, Sohn has worked as a producer for a number of different bands but his work on his own is really quite powerful live. He is a singer, multi instrumentalist, and performer, who I gather is singing rather sad songs but you couldn’t possibly tell that by listening to his live show which, is s a brilliant mix of effects and beautiful singing and despite its rather slow pace, its a constant beat that keeps everyone moving. It may be minimal electronica but it feels much bigger live and is a treat.
A quick peak outside from an upstairs patio reveals that despite the fact that there is only one band left at this showcase, there is still hundreds of people hoping to get in for the last band on the outside stage and that is Sylvan Esso.
Sylvan Esso are a very popular indie pop duo. This two piece pop duo features a lead singer and her partner, who provides the samples and beats. They work hard to entertain but compared to Sohn, it seems a little tired. It is upbeat and is making the crowd happy but it is pure pop and not as clever as what we found Sohn to be so we stay for most of their set and move off to Latitude again for the end of the evening
Quick walk to Latitude and the British Music Embassy and we arrive just in time for Jamie Issac. This London performer leads this downbeat electronic group through transitions from ambient electro to hip hop, its bass heavy and upbeat and good for a late night.
It is 1am and the last band of the day is supposed to be Blaenavon but scheduling issues mean they cannot perform and the band False Advertising is here to play instead. A hard edge 3 piece from Oxford and Manchester produce some very loud, hard rock/alt/guitar rock and they have a bite. The guitar work is rather good and this rock band produce some memorable moments despite the fact i am nearing complete exhaustion! It’s a fuzzy and passionate set to end my evening and an easy walk home to rest up for another day!
Tuesday morning finds a chill in the air and lots of discussion on TV and online about storms that are hitting the US. Again, its early and there are only a few showcases today and we choose one in a bar that we enjoy going to called the Blackheart It’s an afternoon that also features a two stage event so there is no downtime
First up, inside the venue, is a band called Swimming With Bears. A pop/nu soul 4 piece that produce some atmospheric guitar based rock its blissful enough and arty and a comfortable start to the day Outside is another 4 piece pop band, from Brooklyn, called Charly Bliss. Synth based guitar rock with another solid singer, it’s another dreamy pop band in the sun, hard not to like
Inside, is Eric Slick, the drummer from the band Dr Dog. These guys produce some solid Alt Pop Americana. Eric has taken his years of experience producing some quality Americana with his former band and, while his new band has a bit more of a bite to it, it still rolls along smoothly with guitar work and his singing pulls it together as he takes the opportunity to be up front.
Outside is the band The Shelters. Touring with Tom Petty, hand chosen by Tom himself, this is a great rock n roll band. They sound very polished and with Byrds like guitars and great harmonies, The Shelters check a lot of boxes if you like guitar rock and they are a great live band. The songs are well formed and with lots of changes of tempo, it never gets dull. Another great show out in the sun!
Hate to leave the sun but have to go inside to see Naked Giants.These guys are a highly touted new alternative punk band from Seattle. Blistering Blues guitar rock moves seamlessly into some heavy punk, they are loud but its a great bit of noise. If you like lively guitar rock, go check them out.
Outside to another change of pace with Ben Sollee & The Kentucky Native. This band are the real deal, a Kentucky band, lead singer/cellist plays in a unique way with some R&B influences and assisted by banjo, fiddle, lots of string and a true Americana Louisiana sound. Drifting off into the sun, these guys play some great bluegrass based folk music and it’s a nice change.
Back inside and we have Split Single again. Another set of rock n roll and it may be louder than the previous set!
Outside is Communist Daughter. Loved their album last year and am glad to be outside in the sun to see them. 5-piece band, with 5-part harmony and a pure indie rock sound. The songs are rather sad as they seem to tells stories of the lead singers past, time spent in rehab and difficulty dealing with his issues but the songs are built up to portray a more sunny look to the future. It comes across well in a live setting and the songs flowed quickly and the set was finished and I was happy to have had the chance to see them.
Inside, its Jamie Isaac again, just as lively as he was the night before and he made the crowd happy inside
Outside, its Ne-Hi.I had very little knowledge of the band before we got to Austin so I was surprised to see a crowd gathering for these guys. As soon as they kicked off their set, people were singing along and it was clear they had some fans around here!. They are from Chicago, a big grunge/garage rock...at times quite similar to The Cribs. There is a quality to the band and do the indie rock thing very well and they do look like they are a band who is just about to break. They appeal to a large cross section of fans and looks like they have a very dedicated fan base already.
Inside we have Johnny P. This Nashville based soul singer songwriter is a very skilled singer. He is smooth and his band plays very well around him and his voice is suited for his R&B style. The songs he has written are solid and he has a good way about him on stage with the crowd and its a strong set.
Outside is the sunny psych rock band Temples. I was curious to see how the new songs translated to a live show and am happy with how they sounded. Having seen the band a few times, it was a typical Temples set and they are quite popular here so the crowd is into them as well.
In the evening we are at Latitude for one band before we take off for the main showcase of the evening. That one band is Dream Wife. Having heard some of their songs, I was intrigued to see how they would manage to pull it off live. It turns out they have no problem playing their hi octane punk garage rock live.
The band is led by 3 young talented women, one from Iceland and 2 from England with a very versatile drummer behind them. The singer has a delicate style about her but the songs are fierce and powerful. The guitar work reminds me of some very good grunge rock bands and the songs are fantastic. They have an endearing style about them that you can’t ignore and the songs are so sonically smooth that the set is over before I was ready to leave them. Definitely one of the better bands I was going to see this week and I am glad I fit them in here
Next up is a walk over to the Spoon showcase. Spoon were asked by SXSW to create a 3 night residency at one bar and curated showcases based on bands they admired.
On the way to Spoon, we walked through the lobby of the Hilton and happily ran into quite a good band playing there. James Junius was playing inside and this kid was fantastic A young political 70's style singer songwriter who calls his music "heartland shoegaze" and I quite liked it. He is a huge Ride, Slowdive and Cocteau Twins fan and you can tell. His sound is unique and a pure sound, his voice was stunning and I am going to have to do more research on this youngster, as I was very impressed
Now we head to the Spoon party just in time to see Big Big Love. This Mexican rock band is heavy on keyboards and a very big sound. It’s an energetic show of dreamy rock songs and being on the big stage set up for Spoon, they have the advantage of professional sound crews and lighting and its a solid show. Nothing new but a quality set of upbeat lively rock songs
Next up is Bright Light Social Hour. These guys were fantastic. I am partial to big psychedelic rock bands and this one fits the bill. Austin based and with albums produced by Britt Daniels from Spoon, these guys are popular here and it is noticeable with the crowd. This band is very good. Great voices, clever guitar work, rhythms that are brilliantly infectious and it all comes together in a perfect package. Its a high quality set of brooding songs or ones that pack a mighty punch and it keeps you on your toes. I am very impressed
A Giant Dog is up next on the stage. These guys are the big buzz band of the festival. The band has been together for a while but its only recently they have come into their own. The lead singer, Sabrina Ellis, is your quintessential lead singer for a punk rock band. She is fearless, and lively and engaging and a fantastic singer. Her band, of four very solid musicians including two guitarists, bass player and drummer, follow her lead and its a great set of instant punk rock classic songs. When Sabrina splits her lip with her mic, and with blood pouring out of the wound, she doesn't miss a beat, she sings, screams and runs around with a manic approach that must be hard to keep up with.
She is onstage wearing a red one piece bathing suit with a hood, it’s an odd sight but it works. Their songs are powerful and about many social issues and the band is unapologetic, they have a message and its coming at you quick. It was a very very good set of punk rock.
Things slow down a bit with a bit of Canadiana and a rare set by the band New Pornographers. This indie rock band has plenty of songs to choose from but their set was quite solid as far as what I was hoping for. A few new songs and a best of set of some of my favorite songs (Brill Bruisers was brilliant) was a great way to lead into Spoon. New Pornographers are one of the premiere indie rock bands out there and they sound fantastic. Dreamy Rock and Roll is great at midnight and this was very dreamy and high quality stuff.
Local heroes Spoon are up next. The band were once based in Austin and a couple of their members including their lead singer Britt Daniel have moved back. Their new album is out the week of SXSW.
There is a huge lineup outside and the place is buzzing. While the bands leading to Spoon have been great, really, most are just here to see Spoon. The guys hit the stage and the place erupts and that includes people outside as well, they can hear and they know the band has started up. Classic hits like "Inside Out" and "The Underdog" light the place up as does new song "Hot Thoughts". Spoon are a very good rock and roll band and they have a lot of high quality songs, it must be tough to pick and choose what songs to play and I think the crowd would be happy with anything. It’s 2am and its time to get back, get some rest, and start again tomorrow.
Temple Bar Tradfest is now in its twelfth year, and as a certain Michael Eavis would say, this year's was the best one yet! A welcome attraction at the end of the bleak month of January, the event is comprised of concerts, recitals and special events in venues, pubs and churches in the centre of the capital. The term trad is applied loosely. There are indeed events that are very traditional, but the line up also included Billy Bragg, Fairport Convention, the Rails, Martin & Eliza Carthy, Mundy and an ultra-rare concert by Maria McKee.
Perhaps not quite as extraordinary as Kate Bush returning to live performance after thirty years, this Maria McKee show had a similar vibe to it all the same. Maria has not toured since 2006 and she released her last conventional album in 2007. Since then she has been working with her filmmaker husband on films and soundtracks. She still has a devoted fan base, which became clear when she asked on Twitter what people would like to hear at this one off concert in Dublin. Many obscure requests were tweeted. People travelled from the U.K., Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Norway to be at this gig.
St Patrick's Cathedral is a fabulous venue for a concert. The vicar came on to welcome us, mention fire exits and introduce support act Luan Parle. After a short interval Maria walked onto the stage, to a huge ovation, which prompted her to say, “I must come out of retirement more often!”
On some songs she was accompanied by friends on acoustic or electric guitar, but the main part of the show was performed solo, either with acoustic guitar or piano. It is amazing how well complicated songs such as 'High Dive' and 'Absolutely Barking Stars' translate into acoustic versions. She played the hits - 'A Good Heart', 'If Love Is A Red Dress' and a particularly impressive 'Show Me Heaven'. Her voice is as strong as it always was, and it sounded huge, reaching all corners of the cavernous cathedral.
Maria's in-between-song-chat was very funny and despite her becoming a bit of a recluse she seems well and happy. We learned that she is the same age as her dog, is Facebook friends with Linda Thompson and is not ruling out living in Ireland again. The encore, 'Life Is Sweet', was the highlight for me. Several people were wiping away tears.
Afterwards Maria came out to chat and was generous with her time. Fans stood around and listened to each other's conversations. A man in front of me announced that he had come from Italy, which caused Maria to exclaim, “Are you Lorenzo? You called your baby after me!!” Hard to top that... My trump card was a photo of me and her at Tower Records Piccadilly from 1986. Most people just wanted to say however how grateful they were for the opportunity to see her perform again after such a long time.
The Tradfest has a number of free events, including the Front Row Sessions, with artists such as the Fureys, Stockton's Wing and Sharon Shannon. Each act performed a number of times over the weekend. I caught Sharon Shannon at the Old Storehouse for an afternoon gig. I have followed Sharon since her Waterboys days, so I knew she would be great. It was lovely see her in an intimate pub setting.
Sharon was accompanied by Jim Murray on guitar, Sean Regan on fiddle and beatboxing and Jack Maher on electric guitar and vocals. This is as good as trad gets and it is to Sharon's credit that she has made this music accessible to an audience that would not normally go for this kind of thing. Of course none other than the late great John Peel was a Sharon Shannon fan.
Her one hour set featured her biggest tunes, 'Coridinio', 'Mouth Of The Tobique', 'Rathlin Island', but also a new set. A new album will be out in March. Jack Maher sang a lovely version of Dylan's 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' and the inevitable, but always hugely enjoyable, 'Galway Girl'. For the final song, 'The Bungee Jumpers' the band were accompanied by a class of special needs children on about twenty bodhráns. It sounded fantastic and put a smile on everyone's face.
Grammy nominated multi-instrumentalist Wunderkind Sarah Jarosz played St Werburgh's Church early on in the festival. There was a long queue well before the doors opened. I had seen Sarah before but this was her best show yet. She was accompanied by two musicians who played various string instruments and who were superb. I thought the electric guitar parts were particularly beautiful. It made you wish you were somewhere in a vast sunny open space, rather than in this extremely cold church (note to self: If I ever go to a concert in St Werburgh's again bring a flask of vodka..).
Sarah commented on the cold a number of times, also indicating that it affected the instruments. Some furious tuning went on. It made for a very quiet atmosphere, though it is hard to say whether people were too cold to move much or just listening so intently as the show was that good.
Notify are a modern trad quintet, lead by concertina player Pádraig Rynne. Their songs feature traditional-sounding melodies, played by Pádraig, backed by more contemporary sounds coming from keyboards, drums and an electric bass. It works wonderfully well. The compositions are their own. The band are unassuming and non-showy. Check out their CD 'In Concept'.
Notify played in St Michan's Church (heated!) and were followed by Jiggy, a nine piece collective who are trying something not dissimilar to the Afro Celt Sound System. Although the group includes very talented musicians including Éamonn De Barra on flute and Matthew Noone on sarode (a Indian instrument) it did not work for me as a whole. I would always be sceptical of a band that includes someone on MacBook on stage...
I saw two lunchtime recitals at the City Hall, and they are terrific events in a very pretty setting. The most traditional of gigs, they are introduced by festival director Kieran Hanrahan himself, and his enthusiasm for the music he is presenting is plain to see.
Concertina player Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh treated the lunchtime crowd to an hour of reels, jigs, hornpipes and airs on three different types of concertina. His banter was witty and the tunes hypnotic. I often think that in trad less is more and it was great to have the opportunity to hear these instruments at length and unaccompanied.
Flute player Órlaith McAuliffe is from London with Kerry roots. She played a one hour show on flute and whistle. As Mr Hanrahan said afterwards, not a note was out of place. It was also refreshing to hear Órlaith talk about the tunes, in a break from the trad habit where musicians think it is hilarious that they do not know the names of tunes.
LIVE AT THE HUB
Under this banner the Tradfest presents up and coming artists at free late night concerts at the Old Storehouse. Singer/songwriter Sive has her own band, her own songs and a confident stage presence. One to watch for sure.
Female a cappella quartet Landless were good too. They sing four part harmonies, with songs from the Irish, English, Scottish and American tradition. Their set was well received. They made people stop chatting despite the late hour.
Cáitlín, Ciarán & Cathal were not listed in the festival programme, so they must have filled in. Their set was one of the most traditional and all the better for it. The guys looked old-fashioned in their tweed jackets; their music was top-notch. Ciarán is a member of the Na Mooneys musical family from Co.Donegal, and Caitlín Nic Gabhann is an All-Ireland concertina champion and a former Riverdancer.
Temple Bar Tradfest is held annually the last weekend of January.
A warm welcome from festival directors Mick Peat and Bob Rushton, plus local folk heroes John Tams and Lucy Ward greet us at the start of the 10th Derby Folk Festival. As it's the 10th festival they've put together a great line-up including the new and as yet unknown, the traditional and much loved, and the unaccompanied voices to the full-blown band.
The festival is now split across eight venues around the city, but the first night is mainly focused in the City Marquee which has been erected in the city's market square.
First off tonight is Alma, who consist of award-winning fiddle-players Emily Askew and John Dipper with guitarist Adrian Lever. They play instrumentals inspired by their various backgrounds in English and European traditional music, there are waltzes, mazurkas and bourees all played beautifully and very well received by the attentive audience.
Next, Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys playing a lively up-tempo mix of traditional and contemporary songs and a couple of surprising covers. Sam has a great, strong voice and works in a variety of bands and projects. Traditional folk songs such as 'Jolly Waggoners' and 'Blackbird' are played beautifully, 'Dullahan' is an original song about the Irish Bogey man stories of which Sam's grandpa used to scare him. In the folk tradition of collecting songs , they have a “song collected in the North East of England by Mark Knopfler” which is a great cover of 'Sultans of Swing'. End of set is the second surprise cover, a folky version of Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain'. An excellent set which leaves the audience on its feet and with beaming faces.
Stage compère Chris Sweeney introduces the headline act as “.. a band I first saw in 1972...and the creators of the first album I bought 'Liege and Lief'”, it is of course Fairport Convention. The set list tonight covers the whole of the band's history, the title track from the most recent album 'Myths and Heroes' is played early in the set, followed by a beautiful version of 'Crazy Man Michael' from the aforementioned 'Liege and Lief'. There's an as yet unrecorded new song 'Devil's Work' , which I first saw multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter Chris Leslie play solo about a year ago. At one point Simon Nicol looks genuinely surprised as an audience member runs up to the stage and hands him a fiver !
Ralph McTell gets the songwriting credit for 'The Hiring Fair' featuring some beautiful fiddle playing from Ric Sanders. 'Matty Groves' has the now familiar bluegrass banjo intro and for the encore of 'Meet on The Ledge' there's a nice touch as they invite the festival directors and stage compère on stage to sign the chorus. At the end the audience are on their feet giving the band a deserved standing ovation, there's clearly a lot of love for this band here tonight.
Day 2 starts with a genuine set of Americana in The Guildhall. Sam Gleaves is from South Virginia and plays traditional and original tunes in the Appalachian style on banjo, guitar, and American style fiddle. Clearly playing to his audience he sings a fun version of 'The Derby Ram', there's an original song 'Ain't We Brothers Too' which addresses contemporary issues of discrimination. Sam is joined on-stage by Peggy Seeger who we can quite rightly use that overused word icon to describe as she is acknowledged as one of the finest interpreters of Anglo-American folk-songs. Although now 80 she still plays and sings beautifully and is endlessly entertaining in her between song chat . 'Old Friends' is a beautiful and moving song with Peggy on autoharp, the song about the Mississippi steamer 'John Gilbert' is lovely and the call and response of 'Grey Goose' is a delight. Sam Gleaves returns for a duet on the blue grass favourite 'The Cuckoo'. A genuine icon and an absolute pleasure and privilege to spend a hour in her presence.
An early October downpour causes a steam to creep under the marquee and West Midlands folk trio Granny's Attic, to comment “this is a Sea Shanty, it's called 'Death of Nelson'”,which they reveal the children at a recent school concert thought refers to Nelson Mandela. Granny's Attic are a lively three piece combing guitar, fiddle and accordion and get some dancing, or splashing around in the marquee.
Next is 9bach , who are playing their final live show of 2016. Some find appreciation of 9bach difficult as Lisa Jen sings entirely in the Welsh-language (providing translation for the non-Welsh speaking audience prior to each song). But I find that this adds to the mix of beautiful, haunting melancholy. The harp playing in Brain (Crows) is beautiful, the very moving Plentyn (Child) is written about the lost generation of aboriginals. Wedi Torri (It's Broken) with a repeating guitar motif and Llwynog (Fox) with the extended live vocal loops are both gorgeous. Anian has no direct translation, the closest interpretation of it is a deep, gut-level connection we may feel to each other or a place and a lovely thought; and a lovely of tune.
Over to Derby Cathedral for Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, who were the 2015 winners of R2 Folk Awards duo of the year, and now as Josienne puts it “just a duo”, but they are far more than that. Josienne has a captivating, rich almost bluesy-folk voice and the perfect accompaniment to Josienne is Ben's beautifully finger-picked and played acoustic guitar parts. As they say it's not music to dance to, almost guaranteed to clear a party , but their melancholy is “ .. the best five star misery you can get your hands on”. Beautiful cover of 'Banks of Sweet Primroses' and 'Reynardine'. Original song 'It Would Not Be A Rose' from 'Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour' is moving. They are the perfect fit for the ambience of the Cathedral and the find of the festival.
An early Sunday morning slot for duo from Dorset ,Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere, who perform under the name Ninebarrow. Together they produce great harmonies accompanied by ukulele and a pump organ and captivating interpretations of traditional folk tunes such as 'The Begging Song' and 'Dark Eyed Sailor' as well as some original songs. For a duo who left Dorset before dawn, they are remarkably bright and have an engaging sense of humour which gets Day 3 of to a great start.
In the Georgian ballroom of the Old Bell Hotel, the good people of Furthest From The Sea who do worthy work promoting Derbyshire talent and creativity are putting on a fringe festival. Threaded are a three piece consisting of the unique instrumental combination of clarinet, violin and guitar. All three are classically trained from the Birmingham Conservatoire but play a mix of folk and acoustic music. Today's version only features violin and guitar but there's still stunning musicianship here, and I cannot wait to check them out as a three-piece soon.
In the chapel in the Cathedral there's Benammi Swift who's a melodeon player from Derbyshire and a finalist in the 2016 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. He plays a short, but fine set of tunes from fellow players such as Andy Cutting and concertina player Rob Harbron to a small, but stunned audience.
Heidi Talbot has brought her husband John McCusker and his band along as part of her talented backing band for this evening's show in the marquee. Her new album was released last week and several tracks are played here tonight She's a chatty storyteller with an engaging nature and husband John is on the end of several good natured digs throughout the set. Just before playing 'The Music Tree' she recounts the time one of her fellow Pilates students broke wind as her teacher was using the track as appropriately relaxing music. The lads in the band play of set of toe-tapping, hand-clapping Celtic tunes. Heidi has a bright, strong and beautiful voice and plays a great set of county-infused pop tunes tunes, which is a fine end of the festival for me.
I've only covered a small part of what the festival has on offer. There's loads to listen to and see and it's well worth putting the date into your 2017 your gig calender now. I'll see you there .
This festival has had one or two years off but was back with a bang this year. This time round featuring some top-class bands, and including the larger 'Pyramids' venue.
Great value for money at £20 a ticket. Bands were playing from 1.00 pm at the majority of the 20 venues so inevitable there would be frustrating clashes. Notably, bands we were unable to see included, The Big Moon, Pigeon Detectives, Honeyblood, Inheaven, Sisterray, Black Honey.
Apart from The Pyramids Centre all venues are located on Albert Street and range from the established Wedgewood Rooms to various small rooms within/behind/above pubs. Pyramids is a 15 minute walk away
The first-class nature of today's line up saw co-headliners Mystery Jets clashing with British Sea Power. Having caught MJs the previous Wednesday in Reading and being a BSP devotee this choice was in reality a no-brainer. In all we managed to take in 11 great acts.
The V2s - Little Johnny Russell's
Competent guitar band to get things underway. Set List written on a waiters note-pad
The Dead Freights - Little Johnny Russell's
Highly likeable local Southampton band. Tunes laced with 60's soundalike melodies. More Animals than Beatles
Just Millie - The Vaults
Undergoing a change of name later this month. At the behest of her label she is moving into experimental electronic territory and will perform under the moniker of 'Wren'. Today an acoustic set with bass and Nicki on box-beating drums
Cassava - Little Johnny Russell's
Back to noisy guitars. Having been running late, this venue had now caught up so only caught last two songs
King Nun - The Loft at The Kings
Most interesting venue of the day - an extensive room above a pub with stage in the corner. Interesting as it presented a down n dirty rock n roll backdrop. In truth the whole room and furnishings require a refurb. But no complaints, good to see an event like this creating a useful home for creative arts. This band are from Richmond (South London, not Virginia). Nirvana guitars with Mark E Smith vocals.
Palm Honey - Little Johnny Russell's
Far and away the best 'unknown' on show today. This band is truly one to put on the radar. Standard guitar line-up but with a prominent synthesiser giving colour and depth to most of their songs. Saw them at Truck Festival earlier in the summer. As then, they announced their last song 22 mins into the set and proceeded to go into an excellent 8-minute prog-based guitar jam which moves into an extended outro comprising scuzzy guitars and strangely melodic feedback as instruments are left strewn across the stage as the band walks off.
Kassassin Street – Pyramids
Off to the Pyramid Centre for three bands firmly on our list today. Kassassin Street are a local Pompey band who deservedly drew a strong local following. The big stage and vibrant light show enabled this band to show their dancey side in full flourish. At the end of the set, lovely to see them taking pictures of the crowd - savouring their big moment. This band potentially has even bigger moments in store.
Eagulls - Pyramids
Eagulls’ songs rely on George Mitchell's powerful vocal being front and centre. Sadly today the band were a guitarist down and seemed to over-compensate by cranking up the volume of the lone guitar. As a result George's sullen poetic lyrics were somewhat drowned out. The slower 'Life In Rewind' off sophomore release 'Ullages' was the best song in today's set.
Little Comets - Pyramids
Had to play a curtailed set to get the venue back to timetable but delivered 7 wonderful songs including one of my all-time favourite songs 'The Blur, The Line, The Thickest Of Onions'. Their jerky rhythms and concisely-delivered vocal lines give this band a truly unique sound.
Lucy Rose - Wedgewood Rooms
A great turn-out for this wonderful female vocalist. Tonight with a band but that didn't detract from the delicate style in which she delivers her beautiful songs
British Sea Power - Wedgewood Rooms
BSP are not on tour currently so this was a one-off; but they were still on fine form. What I find striking about this band is that each of the six members has a brilliantly defined role down to Phil on cornet and Abbi on strings, and cowbell on 'Matches', one of two new songs in this set that otherwise comprised better known numbers including 'Remember Me', 'Waving Flags', 'Great Skua' and 'Carrion'. The customary dancing bears joined in the fun during live favourite 'Spirit Of St. Louis'. The somewhat over-exuberant white bear (aka Bi Polar) took a crowd-surf following which he fell in an unceremonious heap across the barrier. Marvellous fun!
Ye Vagabonds have been on the road playing support to Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan and Roy Harper. They have released a wonderful EP but I personally cannot wait to hear their debut album, when it will finally see the light of day? This was their biggest headline show yet and my first time seeing a full length concert by the brothers. There is something old-fashioned about Brían and Diarmuid, and this is meant as a compliment. Their music is as timeless as it is superb.
They played some of their own, excellent compositions, as well as songs by others, explaining where these were "got". There is something very wonderful about siblings harmonizing. Cork Folk got their share of this as Lynched of course has two brothers too and the Unthanks had played on the opening night.
Ye Vagabonds had brought two musicians along for the occasion. Alain McFadden on banjo and bodhrán (plus good looks and tech duties) and Jesse Smith on fiddle and viola. I did not think they added much and I was grateful that for a large part of the show Brían and Diarmuid played by themselves. When it comes to trad, less is always more, in my view.
Brían performed a beautiful instrumental piece on his own, entitled 'For Bert'. I had not heard them do 'The Lowlands Of Holland' before; a beautiful song that I had incidentally never came across until I moved from the Netherlands to Ireland.
The audience was really into it and well behaved (in terms of talking). There was much joking about the sound of cans being opened. I love the concept of Live At St Lukes. This former church is now solely being used as a live music venue. Punters are allowed to bring drinks (the website recommends three cans per person) and the venue has full cooperation from the pub and the carryout off license across the road. The acoustics in the church are slightly echo-y, which was perfect for these particular shows, but I do not know how well it would lend itself to louder music.
Support for Ye Vagabonds was by Tiz McNamara, a sympathetic singer/songwriter from Cork. An engaging storyteller as well as a performer, Tiz specializes in sad songs. Guy-with-guitar support acts can sometimes be a drag, but this was not at all the case here and he went down very well. A name to keep in mind.
On the previous night support had come from Morning Veils, a female trio, also from Cork. This was gothic, atmospheric music; a bit shoegazey as well. I was reminded of acts such as Fursaxa and Miranda Sex Garden. The girls were curiously dressed in regular clothes (one of them wore a 'Repeal' sweater) but with gauze veils tied around their heads. Instrumentation included harmonium and percussions bells. Radie from Lynched was sitting in the audience nodding along approvingly and later mentioned that she thought they had been great.
Lynched were utterly fantastic at St Lukes. It had been nine months since I saw them previously, hence many setlist changes. Their acclaimed debut album is over two years old now. Lynched have been touring constantly (many festival appearances over the summer) and have introduced a lot of new songs into their set. By the time they get to record album number two, they should have settled on perfect arrangements for this well worn-in material, thus avoiding any difficult-second-album problems. I am most curious if they will have an original song as good as 'Cold Old Fire'. If they do, they are keeping that up their sleeve for the time being.
Highlight of the show for me were the three songs on which Radie Peat sang lead. The acoustics of the church probably played a part - it was utterly impressive. It caused Ian Lynch to say, "It just struck me that I am in a band with the best singer in Ireland". True true.
Radie sang 'What Will We Do When We Have No Money', which she learned from a version sung by traveller Mary Delaney. I did not get the name of the second song she sang, but that was the one that took Ian and I guess all of the audience by surprise. The gig closed with 'The Old Man From Over The Sea'. Radie probably has enough good songs for a killer solo album, but that may be for another day. If I had any say in the matter though, she should get at least three songs on the next Lynched album.
The show included plenty of humorous banter. The original version of 'Salonika' was played so as to not to upset the keyboard warriors from the People's Republic of Cork. They also played a medley of some lesser known songs that the Dubliners recorded. Daragh explained that they got these songs on an album that they found in a 'crusty punk house' in Seattle.
The interaction between band members is a special thing to watch. The role of the quiet man with the perfect pitch, Cormac, is not to be underestimated. I found myself wondering why people get nostalgic for the 60s and 70s when there are bands as good as Lynched - and Ye Vagabonds - around that you can go and see nowadays.
The band seemed to enjoy the show as much as the crowd did. They mentioned that they love playing in churches, they complimented the audience on "some savage clapping" and wrote on Twitter that it had been one of their best crowds ever.
Move over U2, move over Kíla. Lynched are the best live band in Ireland right now.