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

2017 – the ‘slow down year’..

Whilst I always seem to be busy, 2017 was a quieter year than the last couple – that’s borne out by the blog activity, 68 posts this year compared to 90 in 2016.  Home ownership, life events and an inherent need to slow down a little bit (but only a little) took its toll.

There were a few occasions where I bundled events into single mega-posts rather than splitting them out that might be artificially manipulating the statistics downward.  But on the music front it’s been another belting year, regardless!

January got underway pretty late with a trip to Droitwich to see Nick Parker and Paul Henshaw, an ace gig and a chance to finally put a visual reference to a place that had always stuck in my mind from DFS adverts of yore.  Now I’m just looking to head to Darley-Dale and Measham for gigs and I can tick off the sofa-based trilogy of places from those cursed interludes that used to plague us between films around Christmas in the 80s and early 90s!

February was a little livelier, we had a trip with off-duty Nick Parker to see previously unheard of Kevin Devine in Nottingham which was awesome, great support too from The Lion and the Wolf and George Gadd.  Ferocious Dog dropped their From Without acoustic album to us which went down very well indeed, whilst Mad Dog Mcrea played an amazing set in Nottingham along with The Outlines and Star Botherers (I’m not sure if they’d officially dropped the ‘the’ by this point!).

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Freeborn Al / 30th December 2017 / Band, Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos

The West Country’s always been good to me..

Ever since I’ve got into Gaz Brookfield I’ve always harboured an ambition to see him play closer to home, particularly one of his Christmas shows.  Then they always seemed to clash with Dogfest, but this year it didn’t – so I booked tickets aaaaages ago along with a hotel and consigned it to something to be excited about.  Then Ferocious Dog announced they were playing Weston Super Mare the next day, well, I was practically there wasn’t I?  So I booked tickets and a hotel.

A support of The Leylines Duo made this doubly exciting.  Then to compound matters Nick Parker announced a full band gig at Bocabar in Glastonbury on the Friday night before – well, y’know, since we’re in that neck of the woods anyway – it would be rude not to wouldn’t it?  An extended weekend of gigging taking in some of my very favourite live performers in a last hurrah before Christmas takes over.

So Nick was up first – Ella trained to Solihull where I was working so we could hit the road to Glastonbury.  A pretty good trek down there found us at the Premier Inn, and a fully booked restaurant next door.  D’oh!  Luckily we found an Aldi nearby (there’s not a lot else!) so ended up stocking up on stuff there for something to eat before heading to the venue just over the road from the hotel.

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Freeborn Al / 24th December 2017 / Band, Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Farmer Phil’s 2017 – part two!

Saturday morning started with sausage cobs (yes, they are cobs!) for breakfast – then we were up to the arena early doors as Morgan and Ella were doing a Morganella ‘meet and greet’ at the Pink Flamingo Bar. Lucan was a hero and arranged for a 4×4 to pick up our stuff to take up to the stage so I left Mark in charge of my stuff and accompanied Ella up to the arena. Starting the day with a cheeky cocktail and the first questions and answers was fun, but soon enough I needed to report back stage to get The Star Copiers set up – so that’s where I headed.

The sound crew were awesome – we aren’t very experienced really so we take all the help we can get! They got each monitor set up for us so that we could hear what we needed to hear, something I’d never really appreciated before until performing.  Once soundchecking was finished I found a quiet corner to get changed into my silly stage wear (okay, I just got changed in front of everyone back stage, haha!). Mark’s guitar seemed to not want to stay in tune, Kev was a bit nervous, Jacquie was practising lines – I was pretty excited in truth, definitely our biggest stage to date.

We started up by going on one by one with a slow intro to Down Under, Mark first, then Jamie, me, Kev and finally Jacquie to kick off the vocals. I thought it worked rather well! Donning sunglasses meant I couldn’t see the people in the barn – but I could see Kenny grinning at us from the bank outside the stage enclosure. What’s Up was next – even if I was tapping into a different song, already looking too far forward on the set list. Oops! It didn’t put the others off, so I could drop back into the correct beat soon enough. Listen was next, then I Still Believe (the one I started off on before by accident). It’s a song we always cock up in rehearsals – I’m happy to say this time I don’t think we did, although my monitor mix was largely Mark, Jacquie and me.

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Freeborn Al / 27th August 2017 / Band, Gigs, Hell Hounds, Lee Bonsall, Music, Other Bands, Photos