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 ūüôā ) – 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

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

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

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 Рalso known as Suzy Condrad Рshe 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

The Pests from the West beat the Beast from the East..

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.

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Freeborn Al / 4th March 2018 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Lee Bonsall, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

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