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

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.

(more…)

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!

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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

Fishing for Owls..

I’ve been sitting on Paul Henshaw and the Scientific Simpletons‘ latest album for a while so I do apologise profusely for the delay in finally jotting down my musings.  Fishing For Owls has been on my regular playlist for a little over a month now, and it’s a mixed paced collection of folk-punk goodness – one moment irreverent, one moment deeply moving and at times funny.  There’s full band big sound, acoustic moments and all manner of paces.

Middle Finger Thank You is a ballsy opener – drumsticks click a count in to a wall of guitar and percussion before it slows up for the vocals to kick in.  Defiant in sound and message – Paul describes it as a ‘bit of an internal battle and ‘fuck you’ to myself, which fits nicely with the sound here – uncompromising, relentless and aggressive instrumentals overlaid with measured and considered vocals for the most part.  Don’t let life get you down and deal with your problems is the message here.

A folksier feel with stomping feet and acoustic strumming heralds Wild Turkey – a song telling the tale of a trip to London to play a gig involving perhaps a little bit too much of the titled whiskey for the narrator.  Slightly self-sorry in tone, but quite philosophical about it too – I’m sure we’ve all had one of those moments when you feel like there’s nobody on your side and you’ve only got yourself to rely on.

(more…)

Freeborn Al / 14th June 2017 / Music

Who put the crown on the head of the clown?

I do bloody love 3 Daft Monkeys, there’s no denying it.  They’re playful yet poignant, irreverent but relevant, mischievous and mystical – they weave and fuse their modern folk sound with celtic and balkan type influences – they bring smiles, they bring tears.  It was a real honour to be sent a preview copy of their new album – The Year of the Clown.  I’m always touched to be asked to review something somebody has created, it’s a personal thing and I’m only too eager to make sure that I treat it with the respect it deserves.

The CD arrived whilst I was galavanting at Rockstock and Barrel – I excitedly put it in the car when going to take Ella back to Stevenage only to be greeted with the dreaded ‘disc error’ message – oh well, I’ll rip it when I get home, I thought.  And I did – but only nine of the twelve tracks copied successfully… modern technology is great though, a quick email and Tim kindly furnished me with digital copies of the remaining tracks which I’ve spent the last few days getting to know whilst commuting, doing chores and well, basically any time I’ve been listening to music.

Accompanying the disc is a press release – Year of the Clown is a deliberate reference to the frankly terrifying global political stage – it positions the album as being very personal, 3 Daft Monkeys exposing their bare bones and their souls.  It shows in the sound too – in typical style there are powerful observations masked by catchy melodies, mischievous rhyming devices and swirling soaring fiddle journeys.  It’s unmistakably 3 Daft Monkeys, but with a degree of themeatic reinvention we’ve seen in their last few albums – and going another step toward trying to capture their raw live energy on a recording.

(more…)

Freeborn Al / 6th April 2017 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos

Outlining their credentials..

The Outlines are really going from strength to strength this year so far, and have released their second album Bones Bones Bones to underline this quite emphatically.  Whenever I try to write about how they sound it seems to somehow do them a disservice, a three piece grungy punk band, packed with power chords, chugging bass and drums, never-quite-gratuitous feedback and guitar solo work – they’re getting really rather comfortable in their own skin after a pretty solid start with their first album.

Much like their first self-titled release, this is a frenetic and mostly breakneck-paced affair – it’s done and dusted in half an hour and ten tracks.  It kicks in with Waiting, a guitar riff is quickly joined by drums and bass and then Kyle’s distinctive sneering-yet-tuneful vocals – there’s clever pace changes and moments where the instrumentation drops out completely to let the vocals hold sway before coming back with a vengeance – the middle-eight does sound like they’re shouting ‘Pazazz!’ though which makes me chuckle.  A strong start, fading out with feedback and leading straight into…

… Static, rapid drums and chugging guitar and bass kick into a proper headbangable track – it reminds me of my mate’s band Red Jester (who really ought to get back on the gigging circuit!).  A proper whirlwind tour, it’s over in a smidge over two minutes of mayhem.  She Don’t Know has a more ponderous guitar intro with percussion and bass more gently added – before the song kicks in properly, some intricate lyric work before the backing vocals of the song title hypnotically take over before the verse kicks in again, it’s a catchy bugger – I was merrily singing along to the chorus of this the first time I heard it live!

(more…)

Freeborn Al / 17th March 2017 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Travelling along the (longer) ancient road!

My list of releases to write about never seems to get any shorter!  But that’s no bad thing, and The Silk Road are the next on my list – with a self-titled album to follow up from their EP released in the summer last year.  Back then when I wrote about it I drew parallels with both Levellers and Ferocious Dog in their sound – and that still stands.  As an aside, one of my friends once described FD quite disparagingly I thought at the time as ‘Levelling the Clash’.  To be fair, back then they probably had a few Levs covers in their set.

I’ve subsequently mentally reappropriated the description to be a badge of honour (maybe that’s how it was intended, to be fair!).  So if Ferocious Dog are ‘Levelling the Clash’ then I reckon The Silk Road are more like ‘Levelling the Pistols’.  And much like the former, the latter belies some of the intricacy and individuality on offer – but with the music often tending to the punk end of the folk-punk spectrum (although not always), and Tich’s visceral sneering vocals (although not always) it feels like a suitable pithy description.

All the tracks from the EP are reprised, along with eight companions – here we have a much more polished (without losing the bite) and varied collection of songs.  So whilst I might have suggested that The Silk Road are more punk than folk, there’s plenty of glimpses at their softer underbelly in here too – with traditional energetic instrumentals like Montagu’s Harrier which featured on the EP, and the frankly lovely Elizabeth Rose which almost sounds like it could morph into a McDermott’s 2 Hours song.

(more…)

Freeborn Al / 15th March 2017 / Other Bands, Photos

Acoustic albums like buses!

It feels like we’ve been waiting for ages, but no sooner does Ferocious Dog’s acoustic album land then shortly after The Leylines Trio’s album hit the doormat.  It’s taken me a while to get around to getting around to writing this up, which is good as it’s given me more chance to listen to it!  The packaging is basic, a cardboard sleeve – the front artwork is understated, but the tracklisting design is a thing of beauty – if the first bite of a meal is with the eye then maybe the first listen of a CD is, maybe not – but it’s a good start nonetheless!

Trio Album is short but sweet – clocking in at just under half an hour it has seven tracks, five of which you’ll know if you’re familiar with The Leylines and two new tracks that might offer a teaser into the new full album release (or might not!).  It was recorded live as a band rather than track by track in a studio – which helps to enhance the stripped back and more intimate sound that resonates throughout these tracks – you can get properly up close and personal, and also appreciate some thoughtful new arrangements of familiar tunes.

Gotta Get Out of Here kicks in with guitar and mandolin before the more familiar guitar strum brings in some pace and Steve’s vocals, not a million miles from the full album track although here obviously we don’t get the bass and percussion oomph – instead you get the backing vocals really popping to the fore, occasionally all the strings drop out to give full on harmonised acapella sections which is really very effective indeed – a familiar song performed by familiar artists but in an unfamiliar yet delightful manner.

(more…)

Freeborn Al / 14th March 2017 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Besta Venya..

It’s always such an honour when an artist lets me have a sneak preview of a forthcoming release – I’ve been listening to Nick Parker‘s album-in-waiting, Besta Venya, for the last few weeks now.  Nick was a new discovery for me last year but he’s catapulted himself firmly as one of my very favourite songwriters and performers – be it in solo acoustic mode or with his band, The False Alarms.  If you don’t want too much by the way of spoilers before listening yourself, don’t read on!

I was reading an article the other day that explained that depending on whether you major on left brain (logical) thinking or right brain (creative) thinking helps to dictate whether your appreciation of music centres on the lyrics (left brain) or the melody (right brain).  Whenever I do tests to try to pigeon-hole my brain I generally come out balanced between left and right – so perhaps it’s not surprising that I find both pretty important in my very favourite music – I bring that up because Nick excels at both, he’s a clever lyricist and puts them to lovely tunes too.

There’s a thoughtful mixture of full band big sounding tracks, delicate acoustic ditties – there’s poignancy and humour throughout.  Nick manages to create music that perfectly balances on the tightrope of being charming without being twee, and his songs are frequently drenched liberally with the kind of self-effacing modesty that – if you’ve ever had the opportunity to speak to him (and you should definitely do that) – wouldn’t be in the least bit surprising to you.  Some of the songs are very familiar from recent gigs, others are new discoveries – but it’s genuinely a wonderful collection of music.

(more…)

Freeborn Al / 27th February 2017 / Music, Other Bands, Photos / 0 Comments