Black Thorn – Zealous

I’m horrendously late penning this review – a combination of laziness and busy-ness on my part, but better late than never, right?

Black Thorn put a new EP out as a follow-up to their superb album a little over a month ago – I’ve raved about them in the past, a heady brew of folk, dance and just general feel-good festival vibes with a modern funky twist. I always want to say ‘saccharine’ when I think about them, which could sound in some way derogatory, but it isn’t – it’s just a way of describing the pure joy of the kind of music they produce.

With Zealous though they’ve underpinned this with their darker side – perhaps not surprising given then general climate of the world and the UK in particular. Mr Anonymous kicks in with an audio recording spelling out the bubble of ignorance we live in with bass thrumming behind with occasional guitar strums and accordion – the song kicks in slowly, ethereal before building up to a full on rock number with folk infusion from the accordion. You still get a ‘woo!’ though! The addition of a full drumkit really gives their sound some oomph.

2 Chord Groove kicks in with mandolin before settling to a proper sleazy, erm, groove I guess! As it builds vocals are layered and instrumentals overlaid to build some complexity, it’s a really pleasing effect – a perfect sit in the sun and chill out with a cider kinda song, and then if you have the energy as two thirds in the electric guitar and drums take over into a bit of a rock out! I think this one might be my favourite.

Lazy has a ponderous start leading into what feels like a stream of consciousness lyrics (I do like the rhyme of biscuit and risk it, though!). Eventually kicking in to a rocky chorus before lulling you back into an almost paranoid-sounding verse with great use of backing vocals to add atmosphere as it gradually builds up again with layers to the beefy chorus – I’d love to understand more about what the lyrics mean, if anything! The instrumental is a change of pace and style, a middle-eastern fusion with dance music before a final extended chorus to tie it all together, ending with a bit of studio chatter which personally I always really like!

Home Appliances starts with an old-skool keyboard style start which falters and is taken over by a catchy groovy overlaid with accordion. The vocals kick in extolling the virtue of, well, home appliances! Ranging from a fridge with an ice-dispenser to a microwave to a kettle. That might sound mundane but for the bouncy soundtrack underpinning the song – a proper dancy little number, then you’re thrown into an almost hair-metal middle-eight, then back into the familiar bounce and an abrupt finish.

Mr Bigg starts with some funky bass riff work, joined by accordion and then vocals picking up familiar themes from Black Thorn’s past work – a lament of working life, building up with minimal percussion of cymbals and a woodblock gradually building into a fuller and fuller sound. The story as far as I can make out centring around not really wanting a job as much as a more work-obsessed boss might think so.

Dog Bite Nose documents a story you’re probably aware of if you follow the band on social media, Joel had an unfortunate incident where he was attacked by a dog (I think it was after a gig, I could be wrong) – it’s a slow ponderous start with guitar and accordion, and again kicking in with full drums and guitar chords into a more full on rocky track overlaid with swirly accordion, moving into a more ska sounding section in the middle before returning inexorably to the rocked out section, then winding itself down to ease you out of the EP.

Black Thorn are definitely showing their darker side here, but not losing the charm and songwriting craft which they’ve built their sound and image around – I’m a big fan of adding the heavier sound to their musical canon – heavier guitar work and adding full drums courtesy of of James, and the keyboards and brass of Lily has added new dimensions to what was already a complex and heady brew, but they’ve not overdone it on the ingredients here for my money. It makes me look forward to what is to follow.

You can avail yourself of Zealous and other Black Thorn goodies by visiting their website.

Freeborn Al / 12th August 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Another fine Dogfest!

As if Dogfest isn’t a prospect mouthwatering enough for your musical delectation, Bart runs a pre-Dogfest night to get you limbered up for what is to follow – so I decided to bash the two reviews together as a further time-saving measure (given I’ve got three gigs coming up this weekend, d’oh!).  We got ourselves up to The Black Market Venue in good time and for a mere fiver were granted entry to the back room where both stages were being utilised to put on an amazing line-up.

First up on the side stage were 3 Wise Men, acoustic mellow tunes with all three of ’em providing vocals at one point or another and well synchronised guitars.  In The Cold Cold Night was early in the set which was followed up with That’s Life.  I was really enjoying the set – especially a cover of Massive Attack’s Man Next Door which was simultaneously unexpected and delightful in equal measure – well worth getting in early doors for (not, of course, that the event started on time – arf!).

The Outlines were up next on the main stage – looking ever more confident in their own skins, launching into Waiting and filling the room with energetic grungy rock, a stark contrast to the gentle set before but just as enjoyable.  Static, She Don’t Know, Calm Down – all quickly establishing themselves as classics.  Next up was probably my favourite of theirs (for now) in Buried a Lie.  Tight backing vocals and Kyle’s distinctive voice over an unfeasibly heavy sound for three of ’em..


Freeborn Al / 13th December 2017 / Band, Gigs, Hell Hounds, Lee Bonsall, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

The gig that launched a brace of albums..

The Black Market Venue was resplendent with candlelit tables and black table cloths, the curtains were pulled across (initially at least!) to make what is a cavernous space feel more intimate, red and black balloons bedecked the place (including some HUUUUUGE ones by the stage!).  The room was filled with possibly a larger crowd than anticipated – eagerly ready to support the album launch for not just Star Botherers, but Strange Currencies too – and if that wasn’t enough, there was a set by Black Thorn to get the night underway!

Jamie had been kind enough to give us a lift up to the venue – so I could have a cheeky pint of Illicit or two for a change – and not have to gamble a trip in my increasingly erratic car (but that’s another story!).  By the time we were herded into the back room by Brad there was a sizeable gathering in the front bar, but unbeknown to us there was quite the crowd already ensconsed in the back room – tables had filled up, we installed ourselves by the bar, by the time Kev, Julie and the kids arrived the curtains had to go back to make room for everyone.

I’m really glad about that – it’s great to see so many people out to support local independent and unsigned artists.  As well as an album launch it was a showcase for The Black Market Venue’s recording facilities – where, of course, Happy Angry was recorded, and is headed up by Joel.  Venue, bar, brewery and now recording studio – certainly a diverse establishment!  As we got ourselves settled in Black Thorn were getting themselves soundchecked – and soon enough were underway.


Freeborn Al / 9th November 2017 / Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos

They’re so pretty, oh so pretty..

Pretty Babs seem to have appeared on the scene pretty damn suddenly – and bam, they have an album pretty much ready to drop.

It’s true that they appeared made up of people that I was already very familiar with – Sam Jones on guitar and lead vocals has appeared on these pages loads, and Liam Bainbridge of course played bass in his self-named band (and I’m sure featured with Brad Dear at some point pre-blog days) – and on drums there’s Brad Drury, of course formerly of Ferocious Dog and occasional Star Botherer.  So familiar faces in a slightly less familiar setting.

The thing that struck me when I first saw Pretty Babs live was that Sam’s powerful voice has been absolutely crying out for a heavier backing track than he formerly had – either just with his acoustic guitar or band.  So taking a step back from the folkier bluesier sound and getting down and dirty with some more grungy rock has been a revelation – so obvious, but it’s easy to say that with hindsight.  They’ve clicked though, and landed on a sound that is both engaging and, dare I say, has the potential to be commercially successful too (like I know anything about that, ha!).

So, Graffiti Lights is their debut album – complete with artwork by The Famous Artist Birdy Rose, and I’ve been getting to grips with it for longer than I ought to have before getting this written down.  I was going to drop Sam a message and ask why on earth they plumped for Pretty Babs as a name, but decided against it – I really have absolutely no idea!  It’s certainly catchy though – it always makes me smile as the canteen ladies at my office in Solihull always call me ‘Bab’ when they hand me a tea or coffee – I think that the Solihull canteen ladies would probably surmise that Sam, Liam and Brad are indeed pretty babs.  So maybe that’s it.


Freeborn Al / 11th April 2017 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Gone for a Burton..

Saturday started for many of us with reminders to get online for noon when Ferocious Dog tickets for the Red Album intimate gig ticket link going live.  Dan always gets a hard time for lateness, sometimes a little unfairly, he was bang on time on this occasion – alas, so were the technical gremlins at Alt Tickets meaning lots of F5 pressing was going on around the country.  After a bit of waiting the new link went live and I’m happy to say I snagged a couple of tickets.

It would be a bit rubbish if I wasn’t able to write about the first airing of their new album material after all – so very much a relief!  Then it was a day of chilling – for the second time this year there was going to be a gig that was easily taxiable from home!  Indeed, had the day gone fully to plan then Simon would’ve given us a lift but unfortunately couldn’t make it up to stay, so I booked a taxi and loafed – Becki arrived, we had pizza and honey rum and coke and eventually hopped in a cab to Tower Brewery in Burton on Trent down the road.

Upon arrival soundchecking was going on – but outside Dave, Caroline and Murphy had already set up camp outside – with Russ and Michelle arriving shortly after we took advantage of the sunshine and sat outside enjoying a drink or two and a catch up.  Heaven knows what the passing motorists must’ve thought as we sat there.  Gradually as more and more folk arrived we headed into the venue – it’s a great venue, a high stage by the front, a bar at the back, some seating, a balcony and an irresistible spiral staircase makes for some interesting photo angles!


Freeborn Al / 10th April 2017 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Tam-Worth it!

Since moving to South Derbyshire around half a year ago it’s been pretty good realising there’s so many places within easy reach of home where live music is happening.  Admittedly gaining access to Tamworth’s Two Gates club threatened to prove difficult – a members only establishment requiring you to be nominated and seconded by existing members to gain access.  Luckily an email explaining I’d just like to go to the gig rather than join secured a couple of tickets on the door.  The sat nav did less well at finding it, but eventually we rocked up in the car park then over to the chippy for some tea.

Once in the venue, rather than the Eyes Wide Shut type scenarios or masonic lodge we’d imagined it was perhaps something more reminiscent of Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights.  A traditional social club with a lovely welcome – we got ourselves checked in, paid up and found the soundcheck underway – giving us a chance to grab a drink and catch up with Nick and the Black Thorn collective who were waiting their turn to get underway.  Soon enough Clakka, Mark, Russ and Ann arrived too so we had some kindred gig-going spirits with us!

Nick Parker was up first – it did have a bit of a feel of a family party with some background music on for much of the room – we’d positioned ourselves in the sweet spot for the sound system though so the chatter didn’t distract me at all from listening.  It was a crisp sound too – kudos to Dan for that.  After a swift soundcheck he kicked off with Departures – gradually luring in a decent number of the crowd into abandoning their conversations and taking in the clever lyrical interplay.


Freeborn Al / 25th March 2017 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

The year the music died?

Image credit: christhebarker

2016 will probably go down as one of those years where sad news overshadowed the good – certainly that was true for me both in personal terms, which I won’t cover here, but also the seemingly relentless march of famous icons being taken by the grim reaper.  Just as we were coming to terms with Lemmy passing away at the end of 2015, in 2016 we’d be constantly reminded by social media of a glittering parade of cultural icons shuffling from this mortal coil.

David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Jimmy Bain, Terry Wogan, Harper Lee, Frank Kelly, George Martin, Keith Emerson, Frank Sinatra Jr, Paul Daniels, Ronnie Corbett, David Gest, Victoria Wood, Lonnie Mack, Prince, John Berry, Nick Menza, Muhammad Ali, Henry McCullough, Anton Yelchin, Caroline Aherne, Kenny Baker, Dalian Atkinson, Gene Wilder, Pete Burns, Leonard Cohen, Andrew Sachs, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Rick Parfitt, George Michael, Liz Smith, Richard Adams, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

That’s not an exhaustive list, I’m sure, but that’s not really what I wanted this blog post to be about – but you can’t really do a review of the year without mentioning the elephant in the room.  As with seemingly most things these days it caused ruckuses on Facebook with folk taking to social media to express their sadness whilst others get irked at seeming over-emotionalness.  Certainly there’s a lot in that list who whilst I’ve never met have had huge influences over my life, and I felt genuine sadness at them moving on – some seemingly far too early, others having reached a ripe of age.


Freeborn Al / 30th December 2016 / Band, Gigs, Hell Hounds, Lee Bonsall, Music, Other Bands, Photos / 0 Comments

It’s all butter side up for Black Thorn..

a3508657378_2Butter Side Up is a great name for this album.  Your metaphorical dropped toast lands butter side up on a good day, and whacking this in your CD player is definitely a precursor to one of those!

If I could sum up playing it briefly (not my forté I realise!) then it would be that it feels optimistic, summery – it wonderfully encapsulates the kind of festival feeling in which you might invariably encounter Black Thorn strutting their stuff on a stage.  I think it’s the accordion wielded by Josie more than anything that soaks these tracks with cheerfulness and light-heartedness, with Joel’s heartfelt vocal style, Jack’s bass rhythms and Adam’s guitar it all knits together into a well-honed collection of songs.

There’s some development from the live performances I’ve seen – double bass, brass, melodica and synths feature in here, as well as guest appearances giving more vocals, percussion, didgeridoo, harmonica and cornet, but it doesn’t detract one little bit from the kind of turns on stage I’ve seen the band put in a number of times over the summer.  It’s ambitious, but it doesn’t over-reach by any stretch – add to your consideration that the whole thing was mixed and mastered by Joel himself – in a damp cellar in Derbyshire according to the album sleeve – and it becomes all the more impressive!

It opens up with Cabin Fever – one that felt immediately familiar with a few festival outings – starting with birdsong and guitar strums, a ‘woo!’ kicks the full track in (Black Thorn are a very woo-y band – and it fits them perfectly) – it changes rhythm and pace, I think the narrative is the anticipation of waiting for summer.  Psychic Sally picks up a very different theme – on the dubious merits of the psychic industry, whether or not it’s inspired by a famous ‘psychic’ of that name was fervently denied on Facebook by Joel – it carries on nicely in tone from the first track but is gently scathing by the same token with an empassioned chorus.


Freeborn Al / 8th September 2016 / Music, Other Bands, Photos / 0 Comments

Geddin’ on Farmer Phil’s land.. part one..

IMG_5010How to go about summing up the best part of a week in a field in Shropshire at Farmer Phil’s? Herb did a great job in poetic form already – I doubt I’ll be as succinct!  It was a windy field I arrived at on Tuesday evening, soon enough I’d got myself sorted nearly in the same spot as the year before, a fun night was spent eating fish curry (thanks Spike!), being cheated out of winning a rock, paper, scissors game, campfire singing and watching the stars.

Wednesday arrived and so did more people – Dave and Caroline got stuck in the mud, needing to be towed out by festival ‘Mr Fix It’ Craig, having spent our time in the campsite Tim, Jo and I opted to head up to the arena to case things out – and see Debbo and Phily in the Cheezy Vinyl Bar.  Back in the campsite there was more fireside singing, more star gazing and lots of dogs to make friends with.  Lurgan was a gorgeous young lurcher camped nearby – sadly Murphy didn’t get on with him!

IMG_5017Thursday started with bacon, a shopping trip with Tim and Jo to pick up supplies (for me that was a gas bottle and more bacon, ha!) whilst Caroline whipped up an awesome chilli.  Ella arrived having been delivered by the lovely Parry clan – eventually finding me having been for a wander around the campsite.  We took Kezzi up to the arena where she put on a dazzling performance in the kids open mic, before Emma and the Professor put on an early performance whilst we socialised.


Freeborn Al / 16th August 2016 / Band, Gigs, Hell Hounds, Lee Bonsall, Music, Other Bands, Photos / 0 Comments

Deer-stocking.. across the universe.. (part two)..

IMG_4816Feeling surprisingly fresh we emerged from the van into an already pretty warm day – greetings made, breakfast acquired (again, from Nana’s Kitchen), we had an early appointment up at the arena.

Saturday was Pixiestock day – so it started for us in the kids tent, where Tina was telling the assembled young ‘uns a story about why foxes and badgers live in holes.  Ella was up next, complete in tiger onesie, to read The Tiger That Came To Tea – with the temperature already soaring it was warm work!  Kezzi followed with a fairy story before the assembled children were led to the glade by the Pixie King.

IMG_4817Lucky escape for me, Naomi had been plotting for me to dress as the pied piper at one point for the purpose of leading the procession to the stage!  Once in the glade Spike read The Gruffalo complete with amusing accents – before we were treated to a frankly slightly sinister yet oddly compelling Mouse Circus puppet show.  One of the fantastic things about Deerstock is the amount of thought that goes into keeping the young folk entertained.

There was a vote whether the wooden deer mascot called ‘No Eye’ should be burned or saved – I’ve no idea what the outcome was.  I voted to burn him. Mwah ha ha!


Freeborn Al / 29th July 2016 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos / 0 Comments