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

Besieged..

Whilst I’ve worked out how to do this here blogging lark I’ve got another album I’ve been hammering lately to muse upon. It’s one I’ve been waiting to hear for what feels like ages.

I’ve made no secret of my love of McDermott’s 2 Hours in the past – so relatively new release Besieged was a very exciting prospect and it’s not disappointed. A collaboration with the aforementioned along with Levellers and Oysterband, it’s a long overdue sequel to excellent similar co-creations – the last one I think was Disorder way back in 2004… gosh, that makes me feel old! This could well be the full-stop for McDermott’s 2 Hours.

And sure enough, it’s a fitting epitaph (of sorts – I don’t think Nick is hanging up his metaphorical creative boots for other projects).

It kicks off with the barnstorming Firebird, fiddle-driven and bouncing from the off with Nick Burbridge‘s inimitable vocal delivery setting down a strong marker. I absolutely adore both Nick’s lyrical skill (and Jeremy’s in the case of this song) and his delivery. This is a great example of both working in wonderful harmony with the expert instrumentation from the band – drenched in themes of some kind of renewal, characterised of course by a firebird, which is a phoenix, innit?

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Freeborn Al / 2nd March 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Kept in the dark..

Ooh, hello – amazingly I actually remembered the login details for the blog!

The new album from Headsticks landed on my doormat this week, and whilst I’ve deliberately reined back on writing it has inspired me to try to remember how all this internet stuff works. Because it’s just shy of an hours worth of excellence.

What struck me above anything is there’s some real diversity in stylings and tone from what I expected, and a progression from their previous two excellent albums (I wrote about Feather and Flame just here). The Stoke on Trent band present here a collection of songs that showcases a band really comfortable in their own skin – and perhaps most stark that I’ve not really associated with them before is a sense of playfulness and fun.

Which probably isn’t surprising for anyone who’s spent any time with Andrew (and I dare say the rest of the band, who I don’t know so well!), but where before social-consciousness and politics have been central pillars, in here we have that enhanced with a proper cheekiness – not least with Mushrooms which, whilst underpinned with a serious message delivered over a bouncy skank overlaid with sinister pixie laughs. It sounds silly written like that, it’s so catchy though!

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Freeborn Al / 2nd March 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Master of plenty! Brian Stone album is OUT NOW!

Brian Stone releasing his debut album is definitely a good reason to dust the cobwebs off the blog again – I was really chuffed when he got in touch to ask if I was still reviewing stuff.  Admittedly I’m doing so much less fervently these days – so getting a download link and getting everything synced across to my phone felt quite exciting – I could get a few listens in before getting to grips with writing up a review.  Also that residual nervousness, it’s a mate’s blood sweat and tears you’re being expected to somehow do justice to in words.  Well, I’ll give it a go!

I was reflecting when I first got to know Brian, I think it was at a Gaz Brookfield gig in Oakham, Rutland when we first got talking a good few years ago now – about three and half years ago he and Karen kindly provided me a bed for the night after Ferocious Dog played Cambridge.  After that gig he casually picked up his guitar apologetically before playing through some FD, Gaz Brookfield and Leatherat songs – always one to play down his talents – which quickly became a fixture around campfires and then of course stages over quite a short timespan really if you think about it!

What I particularly love about this album is the assemblage of lots of friends to add their instrumentation to the songs – it’s a risky prospect, we’re used to Brian in solo acoustic guise – but this is done really well, some songs have a full band sound, which don’t detract from the underlying tune, some remain stripped back – it’s all done very well (I was terrified to see Maty Tustian listed on backing vocals, for example!).  The combination of Brian’s songwriting, the artists’ interpretations of that and the predictably awesome production Joel Howe lends to proceedings gives a polished but authentic collection of songs.

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Freeborn Al / 12th October 2018 / Music, Other Bands

New Ferocious Dog song aired by the BBC

Wow, I remembered the login details to this page!

If you didn’t hear the four piece incarnation on Jo Good’s Radio London show earlier, then thankfully Matt was on hand to save a recording as the popularity of the band seems to have broken iPlayer!  Featured is a first live airing (and first acoustic attempt) of one of the songs from their soon-to-be-released album, it’s called The Landscape Artist and was co-written by non other than Jeremy Cunningham from the mighty Levellers.

You can have a listen below – it sounds great, lyrically evocative and a great melody – it’s really whetted the appetite to hear the full band version! Enjoy, and thanks to Matt for grabbing it as by the time I tried to do it iPlayer was broken!  Well done chaps, bodes well for the new album which obviously we’re all ludicrously excited about anyway!

Freeborn Al / 13th September 2018 / Band, Hell Hounds, Interview, Lee Bonsall, Music

The adrenaline of denizen..

I’ve been looking forward to Funke and the Two Tone Baby’s new album – Denizen – ever since he’s talked about creating it.  There’s a few familar songs there from the last year or so of gigs which have evolved over time, and some new ones – and unusually we had the opportunity to hear them all live before getting home to eagerly listen to the recorded version.  Playing the last date of his tour at Bodega in Nottingham last Sunday we all crammed in to see what the fuss was about.

First up though was support act She, Robot – also known as Suzy Condrad – she took to the stage in a sparkly top behind a console of gubbins much like Funke does, and frankly she had me won over from the off.  To start a gig just up the road from where Xylophone Man used to busk (although he actually played a glockenspeil) with the said same instrument, looping it into the mic to open the set with Whose Army, was a sure fire way to win me over.

She effortlessly builds layers of sound and vocals to build an ethereal soundscape – really clever stuff, and really engaging.  Seven Bells was up next, then a Ukulele makes an appearance for Walk of Shame.  A sublime cover of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control was up next, one of my favourite songs which always means a cover needs to tread carefully – no fear on that score, it was a compelling interpretation.  Breakdown was next, then Fragments and finally forthcoming release Brains.

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Freeborn Al / 27th April 2018 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

We the Collective..

There’s always that extra bit of excitement at the prospect of a new Levellers album dropping through the letterbox – unfortunately for me the postie arrived when I wasn’t in over the bank holiday weekend, so impatient I had to resort to iTunes to have a listen before picking up my goodies this morning.  Reading reactions online has been a bit like those irritating Marmite adverts on TV (for the record, I definitely fall into the hate camp for Marmite) – with fans seemingly either loving it or hating it.

Having not made it so far to the live tour – my postponed date in Milton Keynes has been rescheduled for when I’m at a wedding, sadly – so I’m going to have to peruse the fixtures for another suitable date to check it out.  The new arrangements of familiar songs were a surprise to me, and I’d say a very pleasant surprise!  Recorded in the famous Abbey Road under supervision from John Leckie, and some musical assistance from The wonderful Moulettes and Tobias May this is the familiar (mostly) rendered in a very different way.

I can kind of understand people’s cognitive dissonance – the Levellers music has lived with many of us for years, a comfort blanket replete with meaning both in the merit of their own lyrics and melodies or through life events they provided a soundtrack to (or in mosh pits they’ve been danced to in).  I’ll be honest, I struggled when ‘wrestled with our’ became ‘whispered all our’ fears on the 1998 re-release of One Way.  I still bristle a bit when they still sing it that way now (I wonder if they did on the Levelling the Land anniversary tours?  I’ll have to check on the Live CD!).

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Freeborn Al / 3rd April 2018 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Did you miss Ken and Dan on the radio?

And Alex too, I suppose!  It seems highly apt that The Enemy Within tour took a diversion to the BBC – BBC Radio London, to be precise where presenter Jo Wood spent 20 minutes or so chatting with Ken, Dan and Alex and had them play a few tunes too!  If you missed it, then you can catch up here.

They did a really good job I thought of getting the message out there, and some quality tunes ahead of their data at the 100 Club in that London!

 

Freeborn Al / 5th March 2018 / Band, Interview, Lee Bonsall, Music

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