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

Heeeeeerrrrrrrre’s Jonny!…

Friday night saw a short schlep to Derby to the very welcoming O’Dwyer’s Bar where Jonny Wallis was playing, with support from Morganella.  I had a bit of a senior moment missing the turning to their drive twice, so doing a couple of laps of the neighbourhood before finally landing.  There’s the bar, a proper old skool place where a stage was already set, and some kind of function going on in the building next door.

Jonny and Katie had already got stuff set up and sorted, and once Clan Parry arrived there was a chance to get Morgan’s guitars sorted and he and Ella to get soundchecked.  Folks had started arriving, lovely to see Faye and her family in particular, as well as usual suspects like Amanda, Dean, Sarah, Russ, Michelle and Rob.  A fun hour or so was spent being silly, perhaps regrettably I taught Lucy how to not have all her live videos starting in selfie mode!

Morganella were up first – launching into Daisies and Sunshine in a diversion from starting with a cover version, and I think a good move.  The sound was ace and both Morgan and Ella were looking very comfortable up on stage (the former perhaps because he spent most of the set hiding behind his hair!).  Refuge followed, Ella really not holding back on the vocals in what is a pretty empassioned song.

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Freeborn Al / 17th February 2018 / 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

Got stuff to do.. Groovy.

Yesterday was the kind of day that defies description really.  Many readers will know Richard, he’s often found at Ferocious Dog gigs, festivals and countless other events – and has undergone a number of years of recurring diagnoses, remissions and recurrences of that bastard we’ve come to know as cancer.  But rather than let this be a barrier he’s relentless optimistic, sharing his company, humour and wisdom freely (despite not being able to speak any more) along with his ‘rock’ and wife Julie.

In what was originally billed by Rich as a pre-funeral – in typically dark humour – we just enjoyed a superb day and evening of entertaining bands, laughter, tears and dancing – a perfect ‘living wake’ (as I’ve seen another friend coin it).  A dedicated team of friends worked tirelessly to organise the space at The Yew Tree Inn and Lodges in Ednaston, there was space for vans to stay over, and hotels dotted around the area were booked up, and a big mob of friends brought together through a love of music came together with Rich’s family to celebrate – and did so in fine style!

From the open mic with Niamh singing along to Brian’s guitar beautifully, to Spike doing an amazing and difficult job in making a speech that Richard had written but couldn’t physically say himself, since the disease has robbed him of his voice box.  People underwent the two-verses-one-breath challenge (you have to sing two verses of The Subhumans’ Work Rest Play Die in just one breath) – kudos to Mark who learned it on guitar too and did it at the start of our set over the course of the afternoon!

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Freeborn Al / 15th October 2017 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos

Rockstock and … well, long overdue…

This is long overdue, so apologies – it’s been a busy ol’ time.  Rockstock and Barrel happened at the end of September, and it was as magnificent as ever.  After finishing up work we arrived on site on Thursday evening and got ourselves set up and reunited with our lovely festival friends.  Soon enough the cider was flowing (Pear and Chilli was my weapon of choice for most of the weekend) – and the music was starting in the acoustic lounge before the festival proper started on Friday.

Phil Cudworth took to the stage first – probably more familiar to most of us for his awesome woodwork, it turns out he’s a bit of a dab hand with guitar and singing too!  He opened with a potentially childhood-destroying song called Disney Princesses where he painted probably on reflection a more healthy set of role models than those proferred by the film company in question, then on to Coward about growing up in the 70s.  A mixture of irreverence, humour but also underpinned with real charm.

Coward was up next and then Bounce, then it was on to Hippy Chick.  I must admit I started losing track of song names – there was one about a chap called Gary, Computer Nerds has a question mark next to it then there was a really bluesy number called Tollpath Blues.  Then we get to where I’ve just covered subject matters – one song was about Russians, another about VIPs, then one called Green-eyed Monster.  The set finished up with Free for a Day but as Zoe took the stage she asceded to the crowds demands for an encore, which we got in the form of Sunglasses – a reflection on how stage-performing can adversely affect ones personality.  Something to watch out for!

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Freeborn Al / 10th October 2017 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Lee Bonsall, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Farmer Phil’s 2017 – part one!

Farmer Phil’s Festival is one of those impossible to sum up times of the year. It can last potentially for a week if you’re lucky enough to have the time to get on site the Monday preceding it. It was Thursday evening for us when we were able to wend our way to this Shropshire idyll – the original plan was a Wednesday arrival but sadly a funeral waylaid us slightly – it had been raining a bit, we immediately got stuck in some mud but were pushable, having located a route to our camping spot we found ourselves sunk again – this time relying on being towed by the wonderful Craig.

We found ourselves nestled just behind the Purrple Peeple Eater – and quickly reunited with our immediate camp-mates with a cheeky cider or two whilst setting the van up as quickly as we could. Whilst the festival proper hadn’t started yet Bart had organised some music up at the bar tent, and we were keen to get straight into the festival spirit. We wandered up to pick up our wristbands and then onward up the hill and into the arena – still in varying degrees of construction, to find a cast of hundreds of friends already mustered ready for the music to start.

Pete Drake was already underway on the stage, entertaining a burgeoning crowd in the large beer tent, meanwhile we were roving from friend to friend catching up, saying hello and fussing the ridiculous number of four-legged friends. Farmer Phil’s is absolute heaven for anyone, like me, who loves doggies! Pete was followed by Northern Monkey – which seemed to have Joel from Black Thorn amongst them playing bass (I’m sure that’s not the usual state of affairs!). Also nestled on the hill was the Cheezy Vinyl Bar and stalls. It was shaping up to be a stonking weekend.

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

Wistful festival goodness..

Whilst YNot Festival was busy providing both the question in its name, and the answer in its execution, just three miles over the hill Wistful Festival continued to incrementally grow and deal admirably with the occasionally inclement weather conditions high up in the Derbyshire Hills.  When I think back to the first nameless event Lisa organised, it’s pretty amazing to see how much it has grown into a fully fledged festival.

Arriving on site on Friday morning we were just in time to see Dirty Davey, increasingly confident on stage he rattled through a set including Shirt of Blue, the acapella Summer Fields and Riot ShieldsLand of Hope and GloryThe Old ManMarch On Have You Seen Them and finally I Hate You Mrs Thatcher.  Longest set I’ve seen from him, and no drafted-in accompaniments to boot!

A few sound issues troubled the set up of The Collective, but soon enough they were underway with a lively fusion of hip hop, rock and just generally bounciness – I couldn’t tell you many song names beyond Smoke My Troubles Away and a cover of Walking on the Moon – in the meantime we’d been checking out the set up of the arena, The Meadevil Bar debuting their new tent, the Cheezy Vinyl Bar next door – that was me pretty much sorted for the weekend!

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Freeborn Al / 5th August 2017 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos

Small but perfectly formed.. pt 1..

I’ve been feeling the pressure a bit of trying to find the right words to sum up another lovely experience courtesy of Roystonbury Festival, with a busy week leaving me no time the task has – if anything – become more daunting, but I’ve taken the plunge!  A little over a week ago we’d set off for the hour or so journey, we encountered a white van with a Star Copiers logo on the back on the way in that looked suspiciously like Jamie, indeed it was as he veered off to a service station for last minute supplies!

We got onto site to a lovely welcome from the volunteers getting everyone in and sorted, and found ourselves a spot close to the arena next to John who was setting up his tent (hell, the whole place is close to the arena, haha!) – Russ and Michelle arrived shortly after so a bit of adjusting of position we got everything sorted in the van and settled with a cider or two before getting our bearings ending up sat by a certain Purple Bus for some early liveners.

The open mic set was open on the acoustic stage early afternoon, and first up was Emily Batchelor who was stepping up for her very first live performance with her guitar.  We’d caught a glimpse of her rehearsing just before as they were camped close by, apparently she was dead nervous (which is understandable!) as we all gathered in the beautifully decorated acoustic area to watch.  She kicked off with Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive – nerves visibly evaporating as the song went on.

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Freeborn Al / 7th July 2017 / Hell Hounds, Music, Other Bands, Photos

Smiles defeat the rain..

Sometimes the best way to judge or consider the impact of anything is when you place it into adversity – and Something to Smile About had a few moments like that, from last minute snags with the camper van field, broken strimmers and mowers making the alternative somewhat overgrown, a near miss with a lorry deciding to nearly drive directly into the car park from the motorway to a biblical storm and stage malfunction on the Friday night – but organisers and volunteers alike rallied and sorted everything out – and more importantly the lovely festival goers kept their smiles intact.

We arrived the night before and found a handy spot backstage to set up camp for the weekend – in time to muck in with the stage set up whilst catching up with the other folk who’d got on site early.  Come Friday morning everything was looking good – there was a bit of rain forecast just after lunch, otherwise all looked good!  I put some bins out and tried to get a cider early only to be reminded the bar opened at noon by Zoe – so at noon I made sure I was first in the queue for a ginger cider – wow, what a revelation – it might be my new favourite festival tipple.

On the main stage Regime kicked things off – funky reggae dub with a healthy smattering of hip hop was a perfect way to gently introduce music to the arena.  In the meantime Becki had arrived along with Emma and Nick so I popped over to help lug stuff and attempt to help with putting their tents up, which wasn’t too traumatic an experience. It was heading to the car to pick up bags that I first caught sight of the jack-knifed lorry that had nearly ploughed into the car park / camper van overflow field – luckily the driver and presumably other drivers were unharmed in the incident – it was eventually craned away.

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Freeborn Al / 7th 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