B-Sydes myself with excitement..

The latest of my installments of procrastinating like a professional procrastinator! It was back on 13th December that Ella and I headed to the excellent Portland Arms in Cambridge for B-Sydes‘ album launch gig, which is where I first picked up said album – Self-Sabotage – along with a bonus EP. It was an awesome night, and a great first chance to see Ben in as a frontman to a band rather than a solo acoustic guy.

It’s funny really – Ben is part of a pantheon of solo-acoustic performers wot have bands, Gaz Brookfield, Nick Parker, and Jake Martin – all artists I encountered on their own but translate rather brilliantly to a full band setting (although bastard-timing has so far prevented me seeing Jake in this guise). After the gig I grabbed an envelope from Ben before hitting the road, as ever frustrated modern cars don’t have CD players any more – but eventually getting to rip it to my phone, and get stuck in.

That said, there’s a few songs here that have been on his set list for a while so felt like familar friends, and of course fresh in the mind was the launch gig which showcased a number of the songs here. It’s a proper triumph – the kind of clever lyrics and catchy melodies you’d expect from Ben, drenched in personal meaning much of which might go over my head – but moments of brutal exposure that really does encapsulate the most honest of art.

It opens with Witching Hour, with an atmospheric introduction the title demands – guitar and fiddle interweave without lyrics, giving a haunting lead in to bouncy guitar and drums of Crutches backed by some singalong-ready Whoa ohs – the lyrics are self-depreciatingly autobiographical, instruments fade out with percussion remaining, then back in again – it’s a pacey start after the ethereal introduction.

Good Times starts with palm-muted guitar and vocals before the rest of the band kicks in. It’s a bit pessimistic sounding until the chorus kicks in – it’s a great message, sure – things might be a bit grim (bear in mind the first time I heard this song was the day after the election!), but there’s always good times if you care to look for them, and they usually involve taking in a bit of live music! Another singalong (over a banjo track) opportunity presents itself here too!

This Was My City Once has become a staple of live sets for a while so it was almost a surprise to realise it hadn’t already made it onto a recording! Fleshed out with violin and band backing doesn’t mask any of its potency, it’s a proper anthem. It might seem odd documenting a relationship ending and reclaiming a place after that, but I can kind of understand that – and if you’ve seen it live you’ll know there’s a Whoa-oh-oh singalong opportunity which shouldn’t be passed up. It translates bloody well to a full band track.

All at Sea has a heavy start, all electric guitars and empassioned vocals. There’s some tricksy pace-changes in here too to flummox the singer-alonger in the car I’ve found (doesn’t take much in my case!). I really like the bass-chugging middle-eight (maybe that’s what it is) repeating the line “I tried my best but I can see that you were never really listening to me” before it eventually builds to a tumultuous climax before dropping out into a gentle guitar-picked end.

Safe and Sound is back to acoustic guitar-led and husky vocals – ruminating on our tendencies to play down pitfalls we encounter, large or small. Violins joins and the vocals dance around some of the cleverest lyrics on the album – a really sad song, it makes you sad for the person singing it but also for yourself a little as you recognise the behaviours it paints through its melody and words. Really moving.

Epiphanies changes the mood with some chugging electric guitar, bass and drums with drawn out vocals laid over. A proper rock number, I’m trying to do that dangerous thing of thinking of what it reminds me of because it definitely evokes something – maybe a hint of Placebo in there somewhere, but there’s something else that’s evading me. I really like it, despite it painting quite a bleak picture in my head at least (I am a grumpy sod at heart).

Propaganda is similarly electric driven by more upbeat immediately – guitar solo work over chugging chords, drums and bass leads into the vocals. The subject probably isn’t as upbeat as the music – it speaks of the isolation probably with modern politics, with smears, with lies, with the futility in trying to rail against it, of the rush to the kind of horrible ‘I’m all right, Jack’ individualism we seem to be seeing. Ultimately rather than war, going to the pub probably is the more viable solution. There’s a drum solo in here (is it a solo if there’s still vocals? Drum duet? Either way – it rocks!).

The acoustic guitar is back for 5 Minutes. Once the vocals kick in the percussion kicks in with a basic beat then the bass kicks in before the chorus unleashes into a full on assault followed with a guitar solo. Lyrically this track gives the album its title, it’s a combination of a lament and celebration of a seeming inability to make sensible life-decisions I think (or maybe what are perceived sensible life-decisions). Sometimes you do have to trade-off what the world sees as sensible and what’s good for your soul.

Hobbies starts with acoustic guitar work and gentle vocals – this is a proper heart-wrencher. Having seen a dear friend go through a loved one going missing, the thought processes documented here are all too familiar and incredibly poignant – only picked out more with the sorrowful guitar and guitar harmonics during a brief instrumental section. I don’t know the back story behind this, but it makes me just want to give Ben a big hug. I will next time I see him.

Quicksand brings the album to a close – staccatoed percussion (if that’s a thing) with typical B-Sydes cleverness going a long way up the fret board. It’s almost like Ben’s duetting with himself with the two different vocal styles – eventually the rest of the band kicks in building the song into quite a wall of sound. As the track builds and builds it drops down to a chant of “I’m stood here waiting. Wait, is this quicksand? Hoping that you’ll pull me out” before the instrumentation drops out to a clap-track and the odd guitar pluck. An epic finale to cap off a superb album.

Variety of pace and musical layers – and all underpinned with personal heartfelt and clever lyrics. Then there’s the matter of the cheeky bonus EP that I wasn’t expecting but might’ve been a perk for pre-ordering the album (I should really pay more attention to these things!).

It’s called City, Sea and Mountains which makes a lot of sense – as we’ve three tracks on here – all acoustic renderings, two of which feature in the previous verbal diarrhoea I’ve blurted out above – This was my City once gets the more familiar treatment for anyone who’s seen Ben live over the last couple of years, and All at Sea makes for an interesting translation into just a stripped back acoustic track – it works really well.

Which leaves – to complete the title – Mountains – which is an excellent cover of Jake Martin’s Mountains. This works really well with a bit of accompanying banjo. Jake’s a really clever song-writer too, and the fusion of this and B-Sydes’ interpretation is quite intoxicating (not to mention the surprise ending which I won’t spoil, but it’s awesome!). All in all, I’m very happy with my musical haul from nearly a month ago.

If you’d like to avail yourself of this musical feast then you can do so here. You really oughta. It’s only £7 for a digital download or a tenner for a CD!

Freeborn Al / 4th January 2020 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos

Fireside lullabies..

I picked up a lovely email in the wake of posting a review of Paul Henshaw and the Scientific Simpletons excellent new album from a fellow called Josh Lobley. Someone I’ve yet to encounter on the musical rounds, but with such luminaries as the aforementioned Paul, Nick Parker, Davey Malone, John Leonard and Ben Sydes as friends in common on Facebook hopefully in live terms at least that’s an omission I’ll be able to put right in time.

He wanted me to review his new EP – Fireside Lullabies – which is set for launch on 25th January (with an accompanying event that day hosted at Albert’s Pour House in Shrewsbury). It still freaks me out a bit when people ask me to do that, I’m not a musical expert – I only really started this blog to help build the profile of a little known band called Ferocious Dog, after all – haha!

But I do still muse upon releases of artists I’m more familiar with occasionally, so it’s really humbling when someone reaches out – and it’s a responsibility I take quite seriously. With my limited dabbling in creating music I know how much hard work it is even to get to my ham-fisted skill level, so it’s quite the privilege to be asked my view on something someone has poured their hard work, creativity and passion into.

Five tracks quickly winged their way into my email and I’ve been immersing myself in them for a few days now – mercifully (selfish of me, I know!), I really love these heartfelt tunes. It’s brave to put your music out there regardless, doubly so when the lyrical content is really personal – or broader musings about the state of the world, which I think will probably resonate with most of us!

The EP is bookended by the soothing crackling sound of a fire, very in keeping with the title. Digital Age starts with gentle guitar and vocals lamenting our fixation with our digital lives – obsessions with Facebook likes, Twitter followers whilst neglecting real life. Definitely something I fall foul of (not that I really care how many likes or follows I get, but certainly I spend an inordinate amount of time using social media).

Official video from a previous EP release

Percussion kicks gently along with backing vocals to build up a few layers. Vocally Josh reminds me a bit of Doozer McDooze – not in a soundalike kinda way, I guess he must have a similar vocal register! There’s a whiff of Paul Henshaw in there too (I suspect they are geographically close in origin so maybe that’s just an accent thing!). As the song builds bass kicks in and some background singalongable ‘Whoa-oh ohs’ and what sounds like some kind of pipes as it builds up to a tumultuous climax, finally calming down back to a gentle finish.

15 Years On starts with some lovely melodious guitar picking, and reminiscing about the difficulty in dealing with parents getting divorced during childhood. Mercifully not something I can relate directly to – eventually percussion and accompiment arrive and the passion in the vocals picks up. It feels like an overdue opportunity to address something that perhaps you’re not equipped to as a pre/early teen.

Keep that in Sight follows – again we kick in with picked guitar and vocals, ruminating on our tendency to chase the dollar as we get entrenched in the rat race. As the rest of the instrumentation kicks in you’re treated to one hell of a catchy chorus – don’t feel the need to go so high, you may realise in your sombre eyes things lower down are alright – with an all too welcome reminder that it’s all too easy to get lost in that kind of ambition and drive for money, and forget the simple things in life like being kind.

Percussion builds with some grungy acoustic guitar for a change of mood with This Maze, the mood is darker although the vocal delivery offers a shred of optimism. Josh told me that the focus is around anxiety and how that feels, and there’s certainly that kind of dystopic feel to it. Self doubt and self pity is a prominent feature – although once the electric guitar kicks in with a jangly lilt it definitely offers more than a glimmer of hope, with a promise to help others who might find themselves in a similar place.

Finally acoustic guitar strumming and some gorgeous strings backing it up brings us to the gentle lull of Fireside Lullabies, which does feel like a nice positive ending point. Rife with messages of inclusivity and acceptance and – perhaps most crucially – the importance of spending time with people. There’s affirmation for aspiring artists in there too to keep plugging away. It’s a nice uplifting end to close what have been some challenging topics.

The track fades out to more comforting crackling fire sounds. Colour me relieved – I’ve genuinely enjoyed listening to these songs over the last few days, which has made writing a review all the more easy! So keep an eye out for release on 25th January next year (I’d recommend giving Josh’s page a like so that you’ll get a helpful reminder!), he has a couple of existing EPs out already too which you can check out.

Freeborn Al / 18th December 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Videos

Five Compass Lighthouse

I’ve been playing Paul Henshaw and the Scientific Simpleton‘s new album, Five Compass Lighthouse, for a few weeks now ever since the album launch night at Katy Fitzgerald’s.

It kicks off, much like the gig did, with spoken-word poetry Where I Was set to a soundscape – words that are later referenced in the lyrics of the songs that follow, and as the percussion kicks in launches straight into the punchy chords of Heads, Hearts and Voices.

This brought a couple of things to mind, both quite randomly, the ‘daaah daaah daaah daaah’ chord progression reminds me of Levellers’ Broken Circles (things reminding me of Levellers is usually a good thing, this is no exception!), but the lyrics oddly brought to mind the scene in Dirty Dancing where there holiday camp owner leads the singing of a song that features ‘join hands and hearts and voices’ – which probably betrays how many times I endured that particular film beloved of my first girlfriend more than anything!

It’s a great way to launch into a gig, and indeed, an album!

Throwing Lines is a bit gentler starting with acoustic guitar before the electric kicks in with decisive up-strums (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this). The tone for this one is much lighter and optimistic – evoking the idea that sometimes you just can’t control what’s going around you so might as well just go with the flow as best you can.

Waves is a bouncy cheery sounding song too, acoustic strums accompany the tongue-twisting vocals with some bouzouki accompaniment before the band kicks in. From reading Paul’s notes it’s actually about him selling his childhood home and moving away, this track gives the album its title too (which you can research yourself 🙂 ) – so it’s actually documenting a rather traumatic experience, but ultimately with a positive outcome. The song feels optimistic to me anyway!

The Last Day Before Bedlam has a much grungier feel which I like a lot – an empassioned chorus rife with self-criticism, it’s really energetic and really rather dark. But that gets betrayed a bit by how much fun it looks to play live (especially Matt, ha!). It kinda works on both levels really – it gets those feelings out there, and in a way that’s clearly fun to perform. This might be my favourite.

I’m Still Empty brings the intensity down with gentle acoustic guitar and more soulful lyrics. Quite philosophical lyrics, and eventually there’s layers of sound introduced from the rest of the band – and a great singalong opportunity with some ‘Whoa oh oh ohs’ which was enthusiastically taken up by the crowd at Katy’s.

The Road to Krumlov is actually really charming – a lament to the loneliness of touring, in this case in the Czech Republic. This song probably delivers the most heartbreaking lyric I’ve heard in ages: “… so I type in my postcode to the Sat Nav to kill a few moments, and I’m saddened to see that I’m more than a full day away.” You can just imagine some poor fella sat in a car park waiting until he can load his gear in missing a familiar face or two.

Glasgow starts with recorded background noises (from Glasgow, Paul’s blog informs me) before the song kicks in. It’s a cheery tribute to a trip to – wait for it – Glasgow! It’s made me want to visit now, as much like Paul my only visit here before has been fleeting – for a Ferocious Dog gig perhaps unsurprisingly – it was fun enough, but hotel, pub, gig, hotel, home is probably not the best way to showcase what a city might have to offer!

Twenty One Trains starts with moody acoustic guitar before the band joins in then the lyrics kick in. Apparently there are actually 21 trains featured in the recording too, Paul asks if ‘you get what I’m trying to say’ – I must admit I don’t, it’s not a happy song – the instrumentation reminds me almost of Joy Division which probably explains why it sounds unhappy if that’s what I associate it with. The lyrics are really personal and deal with insomnia, hopelessness and even potential suicidal thoughts. It’s really rather moving.

Wren is another dark moody track. Bird-related songs will always pique my interest and the throbbing bass and incidental guitar stabs only heighten the tension. It’s actually documenting something as routine as trying to save a wren that had been caught by a cat and failing to revive it. It sounds trivial – it’s the sort of thing that would absolutely haunt me for ages, so I find it satisfying that it’s inspired this epic grungy number running at almost six minutes.

Promised Lullaby is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a song Paul promised to write. It’s beautifully gentle, which a lullaby should be really. Gentle layers of accompaniment to the acoustic guitar and vocals are perfect without distracting – the tone is of reassurance and nurturing – its placement on the album after the trauma of the garden bird massacre is perfect.

fAR REACHING Rage is a rare foray into politics – actually, in kinda isn’t, it’s really a fairly self-evident appraisal of one particular figure who arguably isn’t actually a politician anyway, just a self-serving rabble rouser (okay, so maybe that is a definition of politician). The clue is in the capitalisation of the track – this is actually, subject aside, a really fun song, with another corker of a lyrical masterpiece in the chorus “The country is a better place with the absence of your face, I hope they blast you into space, why don’t you go away?” – all set to a chunky rock soundtrack.

Bible Chords issues a challenge of “so you think you understand this song” – in truth, no, sorry Paul! It feels like it’s quite a personal rant – a bit of a reckoning, a rise from a slumber of over-familiarity and realising there’s a need to chart a new course. I think we’ve all been in that place at one time or another – self-imposed isolation, and eventual realisation there’s an alternative to that. This features lots of recordings of people Paul asked to contribute some ‘Whoas’ – Facebook’s algorithms clearly denied me the opportunity to join in. Bastards!

Nothing O’Clock starts with sea noises, and who I suspect might be Frank the dog yapping happily around. Gentle acoustic guitar and vocals start to paint a picture of the scene by the seaside, lilting into philosophical musings – the guitar picked melodies are lovely. There’s almost Nick Parkeresque observational lyrics of people-watching. Just before half way percussion gently joins the party, then a little while later the picking gives way to strumming as the percussion gets heavier and finally with a cymbal crash the tumultuous arrival of the rest of the band for a frankly triumphant finale.

Except it’s not quite a finale – the track ends with more sea noises, with the return of the guitar picking and a final spoken word piece, weaving together lyrics from the songs we’ve just heard. It’s affirmative and positive – bookending what does feel like quite a journey, whilst maybe not entirely autobiographical or chronological – there’s a sense that this album has developed over a seismic period of Paul’s life and has in that sense provided a documentary of kinds of that journey. And mercifully it feels like a journey that’s heading in the right direction.

A fantastic and brave achievement – amazing songwriting, and awesome work from the other Simpletons in giving them the depth and intricacies they need – which translate brilliantly to a live setting too. It’s been out more than a month now so hopefully you have it already, if you don’t, then you should remedy that omission posthaste.

Freeborn Al / 8th December 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Is this the end of it all?

It feels like it sometimes doesn’t it? The 12th December is certainly a decisive moment for the sentiment – not just because of the general election, certainly the most divisive and in my time as an eligible voter it feels like the most important and scary – but because Lawrence County (formerly DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show) are launching their new single.

Hauntingly melodic and foreboding in equal measure – it strikes the perfect tone for how many are feeling in as the countdown to the election looms nearer. The polls – whilst not always a reliable bellweather – predict a continuation of the policies that have led us to where we are.

The world is on a knife-edge of recoverability from human abuses, domestically we have ever increased disparity in wealth and, whether you favour EU membership or otherwise, a ruinous and calamitous divorce and years of negotiations from a weakened and desperate position that puts our very health service at risk is probably not what the majority of ‘the majority’ voted for back in 2016.

But anyway, I didn’t start this blog to talk about politics – there are plenty of others out there that do a much more thorough job, and I’m not self-important enough to think my musings are likely to make anyone think any differently to how they do already – this is about music, and here is some!

So come the evening of 12th December if you fancy something other than sitting in and worrying about the outcome of the ballot box counts, then you could pop yourself down to the single launch event at The Running Horse and sink a few consolatory pints.

Freeborn Al / 8th December 2019 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Politics, Videos

We’re just Lost Folk..

Unusually for a Wednesday night I was unfeasibly excited on 21st November in 2012. Despite being full of cold and feeling rotten, I was off to Rock City to see the mighty Levellers, and by virtue of winning a charity auction I’d been handed a backstage pass to go and collect my swag directly from the band. My love of live music had been reignited by Ferocious Dog, and looking back made me once again more receptive to new music that I’d struggled to find in the mainstream.

Nestled under the righthand staircase (which has subsequently moved in a remodel of the venue) nursing a Diet Coke and sporting a ridiculous Movember moustache was where my enduring love affair with Gaz Brookfield began – and it was love at first sight. I couldn’t even tell you the set list he chose that night, I definitely remember The Ballad of Elizabeth Duke being in there, and either Thin or The West Country Song (or maybe both – I definitely remember a singalongy song).

Whilst awkwardly hanging around the dressing room door after the gig I mumbled something incoherent about how much I enjoyed his set to him as he was presumably gearing up to depart (as we now know, from Land Pirate’s Life, the promised lift on the tourbus went unutilised due to the rubbishness of our rail network) for the next leg of the tour in Leeds at the O2 Academy. I then captured a series of awkward selfies with the Levs – ridiculous moustache instantly regretted!

Citizen Fish followed Gaz and didn’t really do it for me, so I popped downstairs to the merchandise stand and availed myself of the CDs he had on offer – either Trial or Error or Tell it to the Beer, again, possibly both. Since then I’ve avidly consumed his prodigious output and taken in as many live shows as I can – aided not least by his hooking up with Ferocious Dog on their From Without tour.

That love blossomed for a solo acoustic guy, but his incisive lyrics and catchy songs don’t get lost when backed by a band and incrementally flashy production or extras as we step through the albums. I remember Gaz posting that he was ‘throwing everything’ into this recording – and here we’ve got loads of layers, there’s brass, piano, synthy sounding things and more guitar effects along with the more customary acoustic guitar, percussion and fiddle.

Whilst this might be an album for the Lost Folk, you can easily navigate your way through the complexity of layers – the songs cut through loud and clear. The depth and layers of instruments might be considered the mirrors and the smoke of this recording – to steal a line from the title track – but you certainly don’t get lost in it.

Like in his homage to Loudon Wainwright III, Gaz’s semi-autobiographical tendancy either through charting his musical career, personal life or topical musings without getting preachy is both brave and poignant, and I guess being in a very similar age bracket there’s a lot of resonance in those musings for me – perhaps not so much in the musical career musings – but ultimately as humans we’re all fragile with the same kind of life concerns.

Title track Lost Folk opens up the album at pace, I love the addition of brass and chugging bass with swirling keys in the background. Typically catchy lyrics – creating or maybe defining in a demographic grouping I’m sure lots can relate to. Not quite old, definitely not young, politically marginalised in an increasingly polarised world and not interested in the sanitised and saccharine mainstream musical offerings. I’ve been in a few fields full of those kinds of people. It’s more of an attitudinal grouping I suppsoe than a demographic one!

The promise of bigger and more ambitious is delivered without comproming the essence of Gaz’s music. IOU is an uplifting tribute of thanks, The Glorious Adventure Co. slows the pace but doesn’t dull the mood – a bit of googling suggests it’s charting a motorcycle based tour given Gaz’s love of his two-wheeled conveyance – imagery of getting lost for the sake of it is always appealing to me, I do that quite a lot albeit usually walking rather than on a motorbike. I’m far too clumsy for that!

Afterthought has swirling fiddle and brings the pace back up to a bounce – a supportive anthem of how we need to look after each other and it’s really important to not be afraid to talk about your problems. Sage advice – did you know in 2018 there were more than 6,000 suicides in the UK? Men are three times more likely to make up that statistic – and most likely to be in the 45-49 age bracket. Awareness of mental ill health is becoming less stigmatised – but there’s still a way to go, it’s a good subject to address.

We’ve heard Aged Revolt before – an anagram of a popular hotel chain who wouldn’t give Gaz and Jake permission to use their name for their collaborative album. It’s given a facelift here – Ben’s fiddle in particular is rather spectacular! Given the overall theme and feel of the album it does make a lot of sense to revisit it here, and it’s a banging tune he and Jake collaborated on.

Any excuse to use Ella’s awesome shot from Farmer Phil’s a few years back!

Whilst I’ve talked a lot about the layers and complexities – it’s nice to take a break in the middle of the album with just Gaz and his guitar for Pen to Paper – you might’ve seen him open recent shows with this songwriters block lament with two chords and no chorus (although as the lyrics suggest he does sneak some E minors in amongst the Gs and the Cs!).

Snakes and Ladders kickstarts us back into high energy territory with electric guitar, robot-trumping synthy noises and – once of those gently nearly-political ones that ultimately concludes we might just take life a bit too seriously. Oalaego has a swaying feel to it, with an almost country feel to it – I have a nagging feeling I’ve heard Gaz explain the backstory to this song but I’ll be damned if I can remember it – googling or anagram hunting hasn’t helped, I’m sure it’ll come to me!

Uneducated Guess has a much rockier feel musically and notably in vocal delivery – machine-gunned at you over chugging guitars. It works really well for me, unusually for Gaz might prove a tricky one to sing along to (the verses at least).

Another reprise from Aged Revolt is the charming Great Minds Drink Alike with Jake Martin, a bromance of a duet with a bit of a facelift – most notably the piano giving it a pub knees-up feel which is very fitting, with the crowd at the Beehive in Swindon providing backing vocals as the track builds (I was gutted I couldn’t make the logistics work to join in with this – I’m sure I can hear Jamie Westwood on there though!).

Which leaves the finish of Just Another Day, starting with just vocals and guitar and again picking up the themes of ageing but ultimately acceptance as bass, percussion and keyboard joins the mix. The preference of a local pub to a noisy club is something I’ve been able to relate to since my early twenties, so this is definitely up my street – the brass section starts to come into the mix as the track builds and ultimately is simply faded out to bring us to the end.

Another awesome album – and reflecting on looking at the array of talent involved, it brings be back to the start of the post on discovering new acts through old favourites. There’s the likes of Chris Webb, Jake Martin, Nick Parker involved who of course are all songwriters and performers in their own right who through osmosis I’ve subsequently discovered through following Gaz. Supporting the support is the gift that keeps on giving!

Now I really need to get my arse into gear and work out which of Gaz’s tour dates I can make!

Freeborn Al / 28th September 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Black Thorn – Zealous

I’m horrendously late penning this review – a combination of laziness and busy-ness on my part, but better late than never, right?

Black Thorn put a new EP out as a follow-up to their superb album a little over a month ago – I’ve raved about them in the past, a heady brew of folk, dance and just general feel-good festival vibes with a modern funky twist. I always want to say ‘saccharine’ when I think about them, which could sound in some way derogatory, but it isn’t – it’s just a way of describing the pure joy of the kind of music they produce.

With Zealous though they’ve underpinned this with their darker side – perhaps not surprising given then general climate of the world and the UK in particular. Mr Anonymous kicks in with an audio recording spelling out the bubble of ignorance we live in with bass thrumming behind with occasional guitar strums and accordion – the song kicks in slowly, ethereal before building up to a full on rock number with folk infusion from the accordion. You still get a ‘woo!’ though! The addition of a full drumkit really gives their sound some oomph.

2 Chord Groove kicks in with mandolin before settling to a proper sleazy, erm, groove I guess! As it builds vocals are layered and instrumentals overlaid to build some complexity, it’s a really pleasing effect – a perfect sit in the sun and chill out with a cider kinda song, and then if you have the energy as two thirds in the electric guitar and drums take over into a bit of a rock out! I think this one might be my favourite.

Lazy has a ponderous start leading into what feels like a stream of consciousness lyrics (I do like the rhyme of biscuit and risk it, though!). Eventually kicking in to a rocky chorus before lulling you back into an almost paranoid-sounding verse with great use of backing vocals to add atmosphere as it gradually builds up again with layers to the beefy chorus – I’d love to understand more about what the lyrics mean, if anything! The instrumental is a change of pace and style, a middle-eastern fusion with dance music before a final extended chorus to tie it all together, ending with a bit of studio chatter which personally I always really like!

Home Appliances starts with an old-skool keyboard style start which falters and is taken over by a catchy groovy overlaid with accordion. The vocals kick in extolling the virtue of, well, home appliances! Ranging from a fridge with an ice-dispenser to a microwave to a kettle. That might sound mundane but for the bouncy soundtrack underpinning the song – a proper dancy little number, then you’re thrown into an almost hair-metal middle-eight, then back into the familiar bounce and an abrupt finish.

Mr Bigg starts with some funky bass riff work, joined by accordion and then vocals picking up familiar themes from Black Thorn’s past work – a lament of working life, building up with minimal percussion of cymbals and a woodblock gradually building into a fuller and fuller sound. The story as far as I can make out centring around not really wanting a job as much as a more work-obsessed boss might think so.

Dog Bite Nose documents a story you’re probably aware of if you follow the band on social media, Joel had an unfortunate incident where he was attacked by a dog (I think it was after a gig, I could be wrong) – it’s a slow ponderous start with guitar and accordion, and again kicking in with full drums and guitar chords into a more full on rocky track overlaid with swirly accordion, moving into a more ska sounding section in the middle before returning inexorably to the rocked out section, then winding itself down to ease you out of the EP.

Black Thorn are definitely showing their darker side here, but not losing the charm and songwriting craft which they’ve built their sound and image around – I’m a big fan of adding the heavier sound to their musical canon – heavier guitar work and adding full drums courtesy of of James, and the keyboards and brass of Lily has added new dimensions to what was already a complex and heady brew, but they’ve not overdone it on the ingredients here for my money. It makes me look forward to what is to follow.

You can avail yourself of Zealous and other Black Thorn goodies by visiting their website.

Freeborn Al / 12th August 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Hiding in plain sight..

I’ve written about my admiration for the lifestyle Doozer McDooze and Birdy Rose have wholeheartedly thrown themselves into in pursuit of their respective artforms. I keep tabs on them through their Patreon project, social media and of course at gigs and festivals where we coincide – I’m partly envious of the freedom, but perhaps mainly reaffirmed my ill-preparedness to give up creature comforts and convention quite to that extent!

They’ve been living full time from art and music now since 2013 – hitting the road in a camper van and literally living on the road. Four years later and their trusty van became not so trusty – so a crowdfunding campaign, t-shirts, artwork and music sales commenced. People like myself who both love what they do and also get a vicarious taste of life on the road through what they do chipped in to enable them to buy and convert their new home.

Doozer’s released a song which documents in video the build process, and in words the fragility of the life they’ve chosen to lead. Coinciding with the song release there’s also new #vanlife t-shirts and hoodies available. You’ll be able to find Hiding in Plain Sight, which was produced by Sam Duckworth, on your downloading or streaming site of preference right now – I for one find it really inspirational.

Part of me laments that I lack the nerve (or indeed, any tangible artistic talent to be able to) to throw off the shackles of convention, but of course, the inherent warning in the song also makes me appreciate those shackles to a degree too. So I’m grateful to properly authentic troubadours who are able to make it work, but to really make it work it needs engagement from the likes of us! Give it a listen and a watch – it’s a cracking song!

Freeborn Al / 27th July 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Concrete Rose single out now!

This represents a bit of a departure for my normal musical genre playlists – but really well-timed as it is, as I’ve just got home from basking in the sun (okay, there was a smidge of rain too) at the wonderful Something to Smile About festival in Hatfield near Doncaster. The reason I bring that up is if you imagine a beautiful field full of happy smiling people, maybe one or two days in, just the ticket for an early afternoon in the sun is a gentle bounce to some reggae.

I guess there could be a thriving reggae scene that I’m probably not generally involved in – most of the events and gigs I get drawn to tend to be folky punky acousticy things, maybe with a smattering of ska thrown in. Occasionally you’ll find a happy coincidence of Talisman or similar on a festival line up from a thoughtful organiser – so perhaps it’s not surprising that I got hold of this single to review because Concrete Rose’s drummer happens to be none other than Alex from Ferocious Dog!

So, Concrete Rose are Lewis on vocals and guitar, Ahmed on bass, Giuseppe on keyboards and vocals and Alex on drums – they’ve come together with this project to build music with positive vibes at its foundation – reggae at root, but introducing influences from hip-hop, R&B, dancehall, funk, soul and beyond.

And today their first single and b-side has gone live on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Music (as well as your favourite streaming services too). As I allude to above, the perfect soundtrack for a lazy summer afternoon – which is certainly what I’m having today in festival recovery mode with it playing in the background.

Title track Benjamin kicks in with a very short drum intro and cymbal crash then lovely staccato reggae strums along with keys sounding like steel drums pick out the melody of the track underpinned with bass and rhythm before the steel drum-like keys drop out to make space for lead vocals to take on the song, which has an accompanying lyric video (see below) – it’s a bouncy track you can imagine having a skank to on a festival field.

It’s followed up with Morning Sun – a deliciously leisurely slow-paced spread over six minutes – guitar starts, then the percussion and the rest of the band kick in with a ponderous dreamy intro with keyboard melodies playing over guitar, base and drums and finally the vocals overlay. I really like both tracks but this one’s my favourite – realising it or not you’ll be nodding along probably with a grin on your face.

The best thing though is the promise of more to come – Concrete Rose have started gigging in earnest, annoyingly I’ve not managed to catch them live yet, but I shall certainly be doing so as soon as I can – but also more recorded material in the pipeline too, it seems like the four of them have really gelled to find a creative sweet spot in their songwriting, so it’ll be great to hear what comes next. Keep an eye out for them!

Freeborn Al / 3rd June 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

#upthebabs

Pretty Babs haven’t been slouching since they released their debut album, Graffiti Lights, back in 2017 (I had to check then, in my head it was only last year!) – with an ever-growing gig schedule they’ve released a new EP, #upthebabs – building on their debut by adding Craig to the ranks to beef up their guitar sound.

For a bunch of fellas so young they have a mature gritty rock sound – the kind of thing Sam’s powerful voice has been literally crying out for since I first used to go see his acoustic evenings up at the Brown Cow in Mansfield. Coupled with the clear bond of friendship the four of them have, it makes for a really engaging live show.

Most recently I caught them at the always awesome Ey Up Mi Duck festival last month, and have subsequently been procrastinating about writing this review having acquired their EP there (thanks Andrew!). Oftentimes I find that my favourite live bands don’t always translate to recording – not that I don’t enjoy them, but it can lose the buzz you get from a live performance.

Not so here – clearly the band are careful to work with producers who aren’t going to smooth the edges too much when they hit the studio. Guitars snarl, bass thumps and drums crash across these five tracks, paces change and they give the perfect backing to counterpoint Sam’s voice.

The Fall opens gently before the main guitar riff kicks in joined by bass and drums, as the vocals join the guitar slows right up. There’s pace-changes in the pre-chorus leading into the chorus too before a treat of a guitar solo – the lyrics talk of lighting beacons and I suspect echoes of the horrendous political turmoil we find ourselves in at the moment. It’s a strong start!

Tumbleweed comes with an accompanying video (well, okay, it’s more of an image!) – after initial guitar it’s very percussion led with some overlaid guitar intracies. Almost hypnotic verses are pretty much driven by Brad’s drumming with building guitar and bass input before a rousing chorus kicks in. There’s a nice instrumental bridge here too showcasing pretty much everyone before the backing almost drops out but for subtle guitar and vocals – then everything’s back for a final rousing chorus. More referencing to lighting of fires too!

Blue kicks right in with vocals and guitar strums and occasional stabs, then some drum fills kick in to the full track. If there’s an underpinning of political influences in the previous tracks then here it becomes much more overt “It’s such a pity she’s a Tory girl” is the lament throughout but this is a real barnstormer of a track – you could get a good sweat on having a dance to it.

Roadrunner kicks straight in after a cymbal count in – I do think they missed a trick to have a “meep meep” in there, but maybe it’s not about a cartoon bird trying to constantly foil a not-so-wily coyote! But on listening, perhaps not the right mood to set – we have heavy chugging guitar here and empassioned vocals – definitely much heavier, with an unfeasibly catchy riff following through most of the song.

Then finishing up with with the quieter lament of Death of the Free Man, starting with deliciously intricate finger picking and heartfelt vocals, which you can sample a live rendering of below. I’d half expected it to kick in with the full band – but even as Sam’s vocals lift for the chorus the guitar picking is all that accompanies him, and I think that’s the right call for this song – and rounds off nicely the multi-facets that Pretty Babs bring to the party.

Of all the unsigned bands on the circuit I’ve grown to know and love over the last few years, I’ve said before and I’ll say again that in Pretty Babs they’re the one that I could imagine crossing over to become more mainstream – and I certainly don’t mean that as an insult, but they have such an accomplished style that you could see landing well with a more mainstream audience.

You can catch Pretty Babs at The Bodega in Nottingham on 15th June with a glittering array of amazing support acts too for the sum of just ten English pounds. It promises to be a really awesome night – I for one am looking forward to it very much. You can avail yourself of a copy of #upthebabs from the band at a gig – and presumably digital releases will follow.

Freeborn Al / 22nd May 2019 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Fake News and Propaganda..

The final artwork is still in progress so have a gig flyer instead!

I never ask to get sneaky peaks of recordings Ferocious Dog are working on – when people ask I truthfully say there’s an appeal to waiting for the big reveal when the CD arrives in the post.

Funnily enough the latest person to ask was Ken – Ella and I had popped to see him a few weeks ago for some tattoos – he was surprised, and once he’d navigated the labyrinthine band and crew WhatsApp group admittedly we did hear a few songs through a tinny phone speaker whilst he kept tabs on Mansfield Town surprisingly failing to beat local rivals Notts County.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks and a Facebook message pops up from Dan with a link to a Google Drive with ten mp3 files. The only accompanying explanation was ‘nearly mixed’ – no matter how much part of me might want to wait for the big reveal, it’s not like anyone is going to resist that opportunity, now is it? So of course I fired up the laptop and got downloading, eager as a kid on Christmas Eve to get stuck in.

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Freeborn Al / 3rd March 2019 / Band, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

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