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.

Bravely there’s no tracks from the EP from a couple of years ago reprised here – a couple from the live EP that followed last year do appear here, and rightly so – they are both well deserving of the studio treatment!

Title track Jack of all Trades opens proceedings – guitar and stomp box is classic Brian, an autobiographical reflection on a varied career and lifetime, and a desire for variety.  Some clever rhymes in here (although there are lots of ation words I guess!).  In his sleeve notes he asks whether his (in his view!) failure to excel at any of his past vocations casts doubt on a claim to be a musician now – I think he definitely is!  As the tune develops some bass, drums (courtesy of Joel) and electric guitar beef up the finalé.

I’m Not might lead you to thinking there’s going to be a lot of self-depreciation going on here, but this is a fun tune – it references Nick Parker right at the start, and you can see there’s a bit of his influence here, I could imagine him tackling a song like this (and he’s also a master of self-depreciation and clever wordplay).  Again there’s an underpinning of bass and drums from Joel, and now layered beautifully over the top is some fiddle from Jono Watts of Leatherat fame, with a beautiful instrumental.  I think it is a love song, of sorts!

No Truck kicks in with some lovely lovely lovely finger-picked guitar – which is kind of a false start as it kicks in with a barnstorming stomp, charting the uprising in Wales against paying staff by means they could only spend on goods from the company rather than actual cash.  As ever, when I compare I’m not suggesting plaigerism and maybe it’s the socialist underpinning too (and the spoken word section) brought Parson’s Lot to mind – although vocally Brian is a very different beast to Jethro!  Again Joel adds bass and drums – you’ve got a proper moshable song!

When I saw the title Put a Sock in it! I wondered if it might be inspired by a young fella who will be familiar to lots of my festival friends, especially Pasta, but I think it’s just a happy coincidence!  Again we start with finger-picked guitar – and again it kicks in to a livelier beat with drums and bass, with lyrics highlighting the need for us to pay stuff back and actually help rather than just offer empty platitudes – which I guess with the rise of social media we can all be guilty of at times.  Jonny Wallis appears here too on backing vocals.  Be the best that we can be – it’s not a bad mantra is it?  I suspect this is inspired by the refugee crisis in Europe where I know Brian spent time volunteering.

It’s Down to Us has been making live appearances for a while – the title and chorus refrain is borrowed from Brian Haw.  This is punchy from the off – with bass, drums and bodhran as well as a veritable choir of backing singers. There’s a cunning singalong device in there too where the instrumentation is stripped back over a clapping-track – there’s a few excellent potential crowd participation devices scattered around this album.  It’s an absolutely irresistible foot-tapper and singalong number, I’ve thought that since I first heard it live to be fair – it really stands up well in the studio with the added layers.

Upon this Shore starts with some absolutely gorgeous guitar work – I love it, delicate picking, you can hear the fingers sliding up and down the fret board.  Gentle vocals kick in and it’s a tribute to the wisdom of Brian’s father, gleaned I’m sure from a lifetime but particularly during time spent with him in his final few years.  It’s absolutely beautiful in melody and sentiment – a wonderful tribute to a man who was clearly a huge influence – and a gentle reminder of the limited time we have on this crazy planet.

Perhaps necessarily the pace is picked right up for Give it Up with a full on drums and pass from Joel and bodhran from Maty along with Brian’s guitar.  It’s a compelling argument for accepting some things you can’t control and things always change, and it’s pretty futile to resist it.  Musically I can detect Leatherat-like vibes in there, then when the pre-chorus kicks in there’s a Leylines type of feeling too – all woven together neatly in a Brian Stone package who vocally is very different to either Pete or Steve.  Awesome song.

Far from Home is a prequel to when Brian and Karen finally took perhaps the inevitable plunge and made their home on wheels so they were home whereever they went!  It’s got an initial guitar riff reminiscent of a certain Mr Brookfield song, the percussion drops in gently along with bass and mandolin courtesy of Joel.  Every troubadour needs an ‘on the road’ song – and ideally it needs to be a singalong one – and this delivers on that front in spades, it’s jolly and inspiring – travelling is more about the journey and the people than the destination in most cases.  Much like life!

We’re back on the slow pace – Did She Know? is another slower track, and a tribute to Brian’s mother – another touchingly lovely dedication charting her life right through from childhood to its end.  Clearly a strong and influential lady who was dealt some bloody tough cards early in life – as the song builds so do the layers, we have some bass and backing vocals which really add to the passion without taking away the personal sentiment – it must have been really tough to know whether they’d added ‘too much’ here – for my money they got it spot on, another beautiful tribute.

Interestingly the notes for Under the Sun suggest the chord progression sounds like a Gaz song – I’m not sure I can pin point which one, but certainly the observations in there that the sentiment is similar to his song Frank and Sam are apt.  There’s only so many chords after all, but we’ve got a bit of clever picky bits in between – it might be true that all the best songs have already been written, but there’s always room for a few more.  I quite liked that when he sings “I’ll sing my song, like an old song..” then drops a ‘ba-da ba bada ba!” in there which may or may not be a conscious reference back to Quiet Anarchist from the EP.

Sold Short starts with just guitar chords which almost sound like Gaz Brookfield’s Land Pirate’s Life, but then we get electric guitar stabs and bass and drums that take it somewhere else and pacy lyrics.  It’s a damning appraisal of career politicians – now this is definitely a moshable song, I’d go so far as to say if you added a fiddle layer on here then you’d have a credible sequel to Ferocious Dog’s Spin here – not as in a soundalike, but a nice progression on the narrative and a very bouncy punky song.  This is one of my favourites on here – so I’m glad he persisted with an ‘old song’ that didn’t make it onto his EPs according to the sleeve notes.

We draw to the end with a swashbuckling shanty – a full on sound with Maty on bodhran, Stevie Simpson on mandolin, Joel with mandolin, bass and drums and a big cast of backing vocal pirates – Another Rum Song isn’t exactly a sequel to Why is all the Rum Gone? but a continuation of the rum theme, which any self-professed pirate must life by – it charts an imaginary pirate voyage and name-checks many many English pubs along the journey.  I was going to attempt to count them – and gave up.  I also manage to feature on this track as I along with lots of other folks sent Brian an ‘arrr!’ recording!

And there we have it – twelve songs giving a rollercoaster of pace, sentiment and complexity – Brian showcases here that there’s more to his craft than a solo acoustic guy, there’s band arrangements in here, and it works brilliantly.  And it’s wonderful that the folk who contributed these extra flourishes are all from the said same festival scene we’ve all come to love so much, including the excellent accompanying artwork created by Pete at Non Profit Print.  This is a project I’ve been looking forward to the fruition of for ages, and it was well worth the wait – if you’ve not already pre-ordered then you’re going to want to get yourself a copy.

Jack of all Trades Master of None is out NOW and available from here. I’m sure that the usual digital outlets will follow in good time.  Photos pinched from Brian’s website, and taken by Pete Connor, Chris Rollason and Naomi @ Bang to Rights.

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

Prince of Thieves?

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.

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Freeborn Al / 18th February 2018 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

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

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..

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

Gaz, Joe and Maelor not lost in The Maze..

(pic by Angela)

Gaz Brookfield is a very special performer – The Maze is a very special venue, and yet put the two together and you get some kind of exponential growth in awesomeness.  With many people seemingly surprised I wasn’t over at the Hairy Dog for Ferocious Dog (including Gaz!) there really was only one choice for me on this occasion, as much as I’d have loved the other option too.  Nottingham always seems to reserve an especially warm welcome for Mr Brookfield – and it is actually exhilarating to be a part of it.  The last night of the tour too, so extra special for that too.

We drove into Nottingham and dumped the car behind The Maze and hotfooted it through town to find some of the revellers already well on their way in town – John, Angela, Russ, Michelle, Tony, Trudy and Wez were duly found in the ‘Spoons off St James’ Street.  So drinks (soft drinks for me – boo!) and merriment commenced (well, for us – the rest of the party had been engaged with merriment for some time – not least Angela who’d earned yet another 7 deadly sins t-shirt from The Pit and Pendulum and gifted it to Ella, ha!).

Soon enough it was time for the walk back up the hill to The Maze – the back room wasn’t open yet, so we settled in the front room of The Forest Tavern and awaited with lots of other familiar and friendly faces. Soon enough we made our way into the venue to get wristbanded by Jayne and Lee, I found Maelor and Gaz inside – both somewhat surprised to find me there rather than in Derby, and once we’d all caught up it was soon time for the former to take the stage.  That’s the bonus I’d not mentioned yet – support from Maelor Hughes and Joe McCorriston was also on offer.  All for £8.  What a bargain.

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Freeborn Al / 22nd October 2017 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Just the Start..

Ah, the impossible review – how do you go about reviewing an EP that your other half is the lead singer for?  I shall attempt to do so dispassionately, after all, this whole blog generally documents and is named after a band who’ve all become my mates over the years – so I should be able to do this without bias.  Morganella have been on the scene a little over a year, forming to play an open mic slot at Something to Smile About last year, and comprising of Morgan on guitar and Ella on vocals.

The way they work is pretty interesting and I guess I get a unique view of that – there’s a pretty big distance between where they live, Morgan is still at school, Ella can’t drive (yet) which makes regular practices well, pretty much a no go.  So when they started out with acoustic covers it’s relatively understandable they could work in isolation then bring things together with a quick run through somewhere quiet before a performance, but to come up with original material – surely that’s a step too far?

Apparently not.  And I’ve seen how it happens – Morgan will sit and come up with the instrumental parts of the songs, he’ll video them and send them to Ella who will have ideas around themes or subjects for the lyrics and then fit them to the music – they can back and forth this a bit and come up with something that works, then next time they’re in the same place they’ll fine tune it literally just before going on stage, and invariably smash it.  That’s pretty much the story for three of the five songs on Just The Start.

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Freeborn Al / 18th September 2017 / Music, Other Bands, Photos

Small but perfectly formed.. part 2..

For longer term readers you might remember a detrimental Saturday morning breakfast with Jamie, Paul and Jayne at last year’s Roystonbury Festival.  I’m happy to say that this tradition was continued but with a different cast – he led a merry band of troubadours to a local pub to watch the Lions play Rugby – I swerved this, with little interest in the game and a desire for a lie in and being able to remember the day – those that did complete the trip returned with mixed results!

So with lie-in in the bag I surfaced and was offered some delicious breakfast wraps by John and Angela, which along with a cheeky cider set me up for the day very nicely indeed!  We popped to see Amanda and Sarah by the Purrple Peeple Eater to await the return of the Rugby revellers which was suitably hilarious.  Between the five of them they’d managed to run up an impressive bar tab and an advanced level of drunkenness.

Dean immediately set to the task of providing speciality shot slippery nipples for everyone, with limited success – before reappearing in slightly different clothing – that soon made its way onto Jamie who spent the rest of the day in a rather fetching dress.  Mark fared less well, he and Simon ended up in bed whilst Darren the fifth intrepid adventurer had been less voracious on the Guinness, Jäger and tequila consumption so was doing pretty well!

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

Saturday smiles..

On saturday we awoke to glorious sunshine – a welcome relief from the dampness of the night before!  I headed on down to Creative Intentions to get myself and Ella an awesome vegetarian breakfast, sold largely by the inclusion of halloumi in truth, but it was delicious – and that’s coming from normally a fairly committed meatosaurus!  We ate it listening to Steve Grozier opening up the main stage with some lovely chilled out acoustic music.

Once sorted we wandered to the Hidden Stage – I wanted to catch the open mic slots and we were playing shortly after that anyway, so went armed with the stuff I needed for stage too.  Pete Drake was up first, launching his EP and entertaining the crowd with catchy songs with clever lyrics – one about accidental discoveries particularly tickled my funny bone, I grabbed an EP off him which I’ve been really enjoying!

Dusty Herb was up next on the open mic – I’ve seen Herb perform plenty around campfires but never on a stage.  He got off to a banterous start which had the decent sized crowd chuckling before dedicating his first song to his wife Sue on the dawning of a landmark wedding anniversary.  Initially kicking into Please Release Me he quickly changed tack with a cover of Suzi Quattro’s If You Can’t Give Me Love – it worked really well.

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Freeborn Al / 9th June 2017 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos

Ey Up Mi Ducks! Part one.

This weekend is going to be one of those impossible to sum up festivals.  Ey Up Mi Duck – what an absolute triumph!  We arrived on site on Friday afternoon and were immediately directed to ‘Camp Copier’ by Jamie (this was our corner of the campsite, not Mark’s nickname – although it might yet have a dual purpose!).  So after finding a suitable spot to park up we set about sorting out van things before cracking a drink and settling down with our neighbours – Jacquie, Aimee, Mark and Amanda were already in situ, soon enough Kev, Julie and the kids would arrive and Jamie would be relieved of his stewarding duties.

It was a bit of a headspin (in a nice way!) to have an artist wristband for the first time, too!

The entertainment in the evening would all be in the clubhouse – as we’d got an earlyish set the next day we all decided not to be too ridiculous on the drinking front, the best laid plans and all that!  As we moseyed on down to the clubhouse we found some rather splendid ciders on offer – and Al Rate kicking off the music.  Difficult slot, it was a talky room with lots of folk catching up, but Jacquie and I made a point of watching his set – at one point the gentleman whose name I’ve forgotten (but he was drawing folk as they played) settled nearby – and promptly started drawing me rather than Al!  Awkward!

I really enjoyed Al’s set – he kicked off with Lady Chatterley’s Bower, and attempted to fight the background noise with Americana-infused folk – Greenback Dollar was in there, A Protest at the Protest and Sinnerman (with some vocals help from a chap whose name I didn’t catch) – my notes are a bit sketchy at this juncture, it has to be said!  It reminded me that I really must make an effort to get to see DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show soon, though.  If nothing else it had me listening to their album when driving about today!

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Freeborn Al / 2nd May 2017 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos

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