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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!).
In true British fashion social and mainstream media alike was awash with perhaps rather exaggerated fears regarding the weather, casting doubt on whether the Warsop leg of The Leylines tour would happen. It’s true some areas of the country really were hammered, but certainly North Nottinghamshire was okay, it put paid to a few acts making it, but some redrafting by Dave and some rearrangements meant a splendid day of music would definitely go ahead – with some hardy souls camping in the car park from the night before!
For our own part, both Ella and Morgan had fairly chunky distances to come – Ella and Becki drove up to mine the night before in occasionally grim conditions, with Nick and Morgan joining us in the morning in plenty of time for a sit and chill before we convoyed up to The Black Market Venue without incident – we could’ve probably squeezed into one car but it proved to come in handy later having two. Once at the venue there was time to catch up with folk in the bar side before the main room was open.
First up were Darwin’s Rejects – we got Ella and Morgan’s stuff sorted by their stage as they struck up with Phat Bollard’s Millionnaires – I must say they were sounding the most tight I’ve seen ’em, and as a fellow box banger I did have slight envy of Rob’s cymbal/tambourine stand! A Levellers section comprised Sell Out and then a Leylines style arrangement of Fifteen Years with the slow build up. Back to grassroots and Ferocious Dog’s Unconditional and Headsticks Cold Grey English Skies were up next.
It feels weird not going to see Gaz Brookfield at The Maze in Nottingham – but in full band guise with his fellow Company of Thieves he was on at The Bodega this evening. We got in to town a bit early to grab some food and meet folk in The Pit and Pendulum for some pre-gig drinks (lime and soda in my case – on driving duty – it’s all so very rock and roll!) – it was great to see so many folk out though, especially Lisa, Paul, Suzy and Bryan who I’ve not seen for a while!
By the time we ambled over to the venue over the road Chris Webb was already underway in an already well populated room – it’s a genuis move of Gaz, recruit people into your band who can also provide not one but two support acts! I headed to take in his performance and hadn’t realised I was stood directly behind Gaz doing similar, amusing! Meanwhile I’d become transfixed by watching how Chris strums his guitar, with his hand perpendicular to he guitar but his thumb out to pinch bass tones from the top two strings, whilst alternating picking or ‘flick’ strumming the four thinner strings.
It was mesmerising! As I said he was underway when I went in, so the first song I picked up was called Breakfast which is from latest album Bungalow. I’ve already mentioned the clever guitar playing, he’s a clever lyricist too – I couldn’t tell you what they were, but expect to become more au fait as I made sure to pick up a couple of his albums from the merch desk at the end of the gig! I missed another song title, but then came Heat which had a frankly baffling array of lyrics – not just a feat of memory, but breath control too to get all those words out! That’s also on Bungalow.