Well, Monday nights don’t get much better than this. A new venue for us, and what a great venue (apart from the usual O2 fare of Tubourg and Heineken) the Institute in Birmingham is. Capacity of 1,500 this is an intimate place and a host of fine bands regularly tread these boards. Great views of the stage, this really is the, 'seeing a big band, in a small venue' gig.
Great to see Israel Nash back on stage and hopefully there is a new album soon. Just with a pedal steel guitarist tonight, the duo unleash a firestorm of acoustic music for half an hour or so, finishing up with a gritty version of The Band’s ‘I Shall Be Released’
Band of Horses, last seen at the Shepherds Bush Empire in 2016, where songs from the new album ‘Why Are You Ok’ got a live airing in the UK. Now a few months on and the band are back in the road groove and the tightness is clear. A set around 1 hour 45 mins, has a liberal sprinkling of better known songs throughout . It’s a nice trip through the band’s history as they enter their second decade.
Formed in Seattle in 2004 their full length debut was the 2005 release of ‘Everything All the Time’ which remains their touchstone however, the four albums since and various band member changes has not diluted the superb songwriting or live sound.
This is a cracking show, loud, raw and rocking, this 5 piece turn a Monday night into a Friday night with ease!
Dull Times/The Moon
The Great Salt Lake
Throw My Mess
Cigarettes, Wedding Bands
In a Drawer
No One's Gonna Love You
Islands on the Coast
Is There a Ghost
The General Specific
American Football have become regular visitors to the UK over the past couple of years and with the release of LP2 in 2016 they have returned for a show at “their favourite venue” The Shepherds Bush Empire.
The gig is a real winter warmer. Support comes from New Jersey native/Chicago inhabitant Evan Thomas Weiss AKA; Into It. Over It.
Before he plays bass for American Football, Evan gets an extensive solo set, suffering from ‘Man flu’ like symptoms his singing voice remains intact and with three albums of material, he delivers a fine solo set.
American Football sound as dreamy live as they do on record. LP2 is played front to back and in order for the first half of the gig. Perhaps playing the songs in order is a bit uninspiring (unless it’s a 20th anniversary tour) but,, it really does suit this particular band. The music is intense, relationships, ups .. mainly downs ... so when listening to LP2, you listen to the whole album again and again, so for the live show, you can experience the same emotions.
The band formed in1997, with LP1 disbanded in 2000 and then reunited in 2014, with LP2 as already mentioned being released ilast year. There is a certain mystique about the band so, when Mike Kinsella say’s something like “You’ve had your money’s worth”, you wonder if the gig is coming to a premature close. Thankfully it’s just a break (not sure why they would need one) and after fifteen minutes they are back for songs from LP1 and the ninety minutes of the show are effectively sublime.
Where Are We Now?
My Instincts Are the Enemy
Home Is Where the Haunt Is
Born to Lose
I've Been So Lost for So Long
Give Me the Gun
I Need a Drink (or Two or Three)
Desire Gets in the Way
Everyone Is Dressed Up
The One With the Tambourine
Stay Home Honestly?
I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional
The Summer Ends
New dates added for more shows in the summer:
- Brigton Concorde 2
2 Sep - Albert Hall Manchester
3 Sep - Summerhall Edinburgh
4 Sep - Button Factory Dublin, Ireland
It's 27th May 1967 the first line-up of Fairport Convention play their first ever gig at St. Michael's Church Hall in Golders Green. Some 25 members later and Simon Nichol (who is the one remaining original member though he went for a mid 1970's wander), Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie and Gerry Conway who have been the band since 1998 celebrate Fairport's 50th year. The celebratory year starts with the traditional Winter tour criss-crossing the country during February and March.
Fiddle player Ric Sanders introduces tonight's support Sally Barker, who you may know from a recent series of The Voice, but for many years she has been a member of The Poozies and sings with the re-formed Sandy Denny's Fotheringay, which provides a neat link to an early Fairport Convention line-up. Sally plays folky-country-blues songs from her most recent solo album 'Ghost Girl' along with tracks from earlier in her varied career.
There's a beautiful country song possibly called “Two Hearts”, which she's considering giving to Dolly Parton to record. 'Talk About The Money' gets a good rapport with the audience tonight. The tradition is that before starting their set, Fairport accompany the final track of the support's set which tonight is an excellent track called 'I'm Not Whole' which was written by Sally's son.
Fairport Convention start their first set with a new track 'Our Bus Rolls On' from the new album 50:50 @50, which acts as a bio for the current band members echoing the themes of 1971's 'Angel Delight'. Whilst Chris Leslie has been the band's main songwriter since 1996, the band always recognise their significant earlier authors. 'Genesis Hall' is introduced as written by Richard Thompson when he was “ .. just out of nappies ....which he'll be going back into shortly ... well it happens to all of us” a Swarbrick/ Thompson track “Now Be Thankful” (one of my personal favourites) is sensitively and beautifully played with Chris taking lead vocals.
There's a preamble to explain the origin of the next track which is a new arrangement of the instrumental 'Danny Jack's Reward', which goes something like this ; Ric “ I phoned Peggy and told him I wanted to make a new arrangement of Danny Jack's Reward for us to play at Cropredy with some additional musicians”, Peggy replied “How many additional musicians do you want ? “, “I replied 43!”. What follows is the arrangement which Joe Broughton's Conservatoire Folk Ensemble (all 43 of them) played at Fairport's 2014 Cropredy festival and is now known as the expensive version, although tonight we get the cheap version played by the five piece it's still a great new arrangement.
The second half of the show begins with a couple tracks from the back catalogue, the traditional track 'Sir Patrick Spens' and Sandy Denny's composition 'Fotheringay'. Sally Barker returns to take Sandy's vocals on 'Rising For The Moon'. There's 'Farewell, Farewell ' from the multi-award winning 'Liege and Lief' album really brings out the beautiful twin fiddle playing of Ric Sanders and Chris Leslie.
The opening track from the new album is 'Eleanor's Dream' which is a rockier number in the style of 'Myths and Heroes'. Final track with the now familiar banjo intro from Chris is of course 'Matty Groves' ,which tells the story of doomed love between a lady of the manor bored with her husband and the handsome man she sees in the church (the years and the venues may change but the theme remains). Sally Barker returns (place a bet on her appearing at Cropredy this year) to sing a verse of 'Meet on the Ledge' as we bid farewell to old friends and promise to see them them again because as the song finishes “if you really mean it, it all comes round again”.
The Winter Tour continues until 5th March, there's a special 50 years celebration of the first show at the Union Chapel in London, and Fairport's Cropredy Convention is 10th -12th August in a field in Oxfordshire.
“Martin Simpson is listed in Gibson Guitars' Top 30 Acoustic Guitarists of all time, and Acoustic Guitar readers voted him number 12 guitarist in the world”- thus read the blurb advertising this concert. Undoubtedly Martin is that, and in addition he is a songwriter, a fine singer, storyteller and a kind of music historian, who could keep an audience enraptured even if he did not play anything at all.
I have been a fan of Martin's since first coming across him at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2007, at the time of his 'Prodigal Son' album. I have followed him since, seen him many times over, mainly at Cambridge, and bought every subsequent release, yet he never seemed to come to Ireland - unless I missed it of course, but I do watch gig listings rigorously.
The Hot Spot Music Club in Greystones, a venue above a pub/restaurant, was sold out for this rare performance. I arrived really early as I very much wanted a front row seat. This was partly a muso audience. Men around me were discussing technical guitar stuff that I have no understanding of. I take it from friends knowledgeable in these matters that Martin is an absolute master on the guitar.
Support came from a sympathetic singing fisherman from Wexford. Then some local musicians played, and the audience readied themselves - drinks, rest room, everything out of the way so as to not miss a minute of the gig. Martin himself was sitting on the edge of the stage, looking down and seemingly getting himself mentally ready, in the way I have seen musicians do this at house gigs, where there is also no dressing room to provide privacy. Martin was flexing his fingers and I noticed he was wearing one leather glove, on his right hand. He looked up and shot me a smile. Then an audience member walked over and they talked animatedly for a bit. After that Martin stood up and the gig started, without fanfare.
What followed was a dream of a show. It was a joy and a privilege to be there. Martin played the entire set on one guitar, tuning in between songs in his unique way. His tuning is like short instrumental intermezzos. He played three songs before addressing the audience, but from then on he talked at length about the songs. His introductions are an integral part of the gig and to me he is like a favourite teacher. I could listen for hours. And so it seemed to be for everybody present. If only audiences could be so quiet and appreciative at all gigs!
'Dark Swift and Bright Swallow' from the Simpson Cutting Kerr album was an early highlight. 'The Plains of Waterloo' from the same album was played as well. Martin had no setlist and did not pause at all, only to tune. He just kept playing. There were no requests, we did not have to sing. Everybody simply listened intently.
Martin talked about his father and his family and played what he described as his hit, 'Never Any Good'. He also talked about his time in the U.S. and played, 'Delta Dreams' and one of my favourites, 'An Englishman Abroad'. He spoke about Leonard Cohen and the wonder of his late career renaissance, followed by a beautiful cover of 'Stranger Song'.
As the gig went on I was aware that we would be missing the last train back to Dublin, but leaving was out of the question. In the end my partner and I were rescued by a kind American who let us share his ride. This man was over in Dublin on business and presumed that Martin plays here regularly. Not so.. I asked Martin afterwards why he does not come over to Ireland more often, to which he replied, "I should really. People don't seem to be opposed to me being here". An understatement if ever there was one.
Martin has a new album coming out this year and it seems he will once again be back at my favourite festival.
A truly life affirming gig. Three hours, fifteen musicians on stage most of the time and a real musical camaraderie amongst the troupe.
Transatlantic Sessions revisits shared roots between Celtic and Americana musicians, so it say’s on the tin and indeed that is the blend of the evening. The project’s founding musical directors are Dobro maestro, Jerry Douglas, and Shetland fiddler and all-round legend, Aly Bain who lead a band that includes John Doyle, Danny Thompson, Michael McGoldrick, Russ Barenberg, John McCusker, Donald Shaw and James Mackintosh.
Then comes the guests, ex-Civil Wars man, John Paul White, Singer/Songwriter, Tift Merritt, multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, legendary singer, Jim Lauderdale, the lovely Irish folk singer Karan Casey and from Scotland the ever wonderful Eddi Reader.
The two part show either sees the main band in full instrumentation jig flow or one of the guest artists up front with the band playing along. Most people on the stage seem to have new albums out (this is a running joke all night, even if someone has not got a new album out, they say they have!) so, there is plenty of new music to hear.
Throughout the night most people get four songs each and it’s a real contrast is styles between them all, there is never a moment where the enjoyment dips.
Tributes to Guy Clark and some other lost souls of 2016 are handled beautifully. The key to the night is the humour, stories and banter between everyone on stage.
This was the first visit to Cambridge for this annual tour so, let’s hope they are back next year. A truly wonderful show.
credit: Murdo Macleod