Fireside lullabies..

I picked up a lovely email in the wake of posting a review of Paul Henshaw and the Scientific Simpletons excellent new album from a fellow called Josh Lobley. Someone I’ve yet to encounter on the musical rounds, but with such luminaries as the aforementioned Paul, Nick Parker, Davey Malone, John Leonard and Ben Sydes as friends in common on Facebook hopefully in live terms at least that’s an omission I’ll be able to put right in time.

He wanted me to review his new EP – Fireside Lullabies – which is set for launch on 25th January (with an accompanying event that day hosted at Albert’s Pour House in Shrewsbury). It still freaks me out a bit when people ask me to do that, I’m not a musical expert – I only really started this blog to help build the profile of a little known band called Ferocious Dog, after all – haha!

But I do still muse upon releases of artists I’m more familiar with occasionally, so it’s really humbling when someone reaches out – and it’s a responsibility I take quite seriously. With my limited dabbling in creating music I know how much hard work it is even to get to my ham-fisted skill level, so it’s quite the privilege to be asked my view on something someone has poured their hard work, creativity and passion into.

Five tracks quickly winged their way into my email and I’ve been immersing myself in them for a few days now – mercifully (selfish of me, I know!), I really love these heartfelt tunes. It’s brave to put your music out there regardless, doubly so when the lyrical content is really personal – or broader musings about the state of the world, which I think will probably resonate with most of us!

The EP is bookended by the soothing crackling sound of a fire, very in keeping with the title. Digital Age starts with gentle guitar and vocals lamenting our fixation with our digital lives – obsessions with Facebook likes, Twitter followers whilst neglecting real life. Definitely something I fall foul of (not that I really care how many likes or follows I get, but certainly I spend an inordinate amount of time using social media).

Official video from a previous EP release

Percussion kicks gently along with backing vocals to build up a few layers. Vocally Josh reminds me a bit of Doozer McDooze – not in a soundalike kinda way, I guess he must have a similar vocal register! There’s a whiff of Paul Henshaw in there too (I suspect they are geographically close in origin so maybe that’s just an accent thing!). As the song builds bass kicks in and some background singalongable ‘Whoa-oh ohs’ and what sounds like some kind of pipes as it builds up to a tumultuous climax, finally calming down back to a gentle finish.

15 Years On starts with some lovely melodious guitar picking, and reminiscing about the difficulty in dealing with parents getting divorced during childhood. Mercifully not something I can relate directly to – eventually percussion and accompiment arrive and the passion in the vocals picks up. It feels like an overdue opportunity to address something that perhaps you’re not equipped to as a pre/early teen.

Keep that in Sight follows – again we kick in with picked guitar and vocals, ruminating on our tendency to chase the dollar as we get entrenched in the rat race. As the rest of the instrumentation kicks in you’re treated to one hell of a catchy chorus – don’t feel the need to go so high, you may realise in your sombre eyes things lower down are alright – with an all too welcome reminder that it’s all too easy to get lost in that kind of ambition and drive for money, and forget the simple things in life like being kind.

Percussion builds with some grungy acoustic guitar for a change of mood with This Maze, the mood is darker although the vocal delivery offers a shred of optimism. Josh told me that the focus is around anxiety and how that feels, and there’s certainly that kind of dystopic feel to it. Self doubt and self pity is a prominent feature – although once the electric guitar kicks in with a jangly lilt it definitely offers more than a glimmer of hope, with a promise to help others who might find themselves in a similar place.

Finally acoustic guitar strumming and some gorgeous strings backing it up brings us to the gentle lull of Fireside Lullabies, which does feel like a nice positive ending point. Rife with messages of inclusivity and acceptance and – perhaps most crucially – the importance of spending time with people. There’s affirmation for aspiring artists in there too to keep plugging away. It’s a nice uplifting end to close what have been some challenging topics.

The track fades out to more comforting crackling fire sounds. Colour me relieved – I’ve genuinely enjoyed listening to these songs over the last few days, which has made writing a review all the more easy! So keep an eye out for release on 25th January next year (I’d recommend giving Josh’s page a like so that you’ll get a helpful reminder!), he has a couple of existing EPs out already too which you can check out.

Freeborn Al / 18th December 2019 / Music, Other Bands, Videos

Five Compass Lighthouse

I’ve been playing Paul Henshaw and the Scientific Simpleton‘s new album, Five Compass Lighthouse, for a few weeks now ever since the album launch night at Katy Fitzgerald’s.

It kicks off, much like the gig did, with spoken-word poetry Where I Was set to a soundscape – words that are later referenced in the lyrics of the songs that follow, and as the percussion kicks in launches straight into the punchy chords of Heads, Hearts and Voices.

This brought a couple of things to mind, both quite randomly, the ‘daaah daaah daaah daaah’ chord progression reminds me of Levellers’ Broken Circles (things reminding me of Levellers is usually a good thing, this is no exception!), but the lyrics oddly brought to mind the scene in Dirty Dancing where there holiday camp owner leads the singing of a song that features ‘join hands and hearts and voices’ – which probably betrays how many times I endured that particular film beloved of my first girlfriend more than anything!

It’s a great way to launch into a gig, and indeed, an album!

Throwing Lines is a bit gentler starting with acoustic guitar before the electric kicks in with decisive up-strums (I’m sure there’s a technical term for this). The tone for this one is much lighter and optimistic – evoking the idea that sometimes you just can’t control what’s going around you so might as well just go with the flow as best you can.

Waves is a bouncy cheery sounding song too, acoustic strums accompany the tongue-twisting vocals with some bouzouki accompaniment before the band kicks in. From reading Paul’s notes it’s actually about him selling his childhood home and moving away, this track gives the album its title too (which you can research yourself ūüôā ) – so it’s actually documenting a rather traumatic experience, but ultimately with a positive outcome. The song feels optimistic to me anyway!

The Last Day Before Bedlam has a much grungier feel which I like a lot – an empassioned chorus rife with self-criticism, it’s really energetic and really rather dark. But that gets betrayed a bit by how much fun it looks to play live (especially Matt, ha!). It kinda works on both levels really – it gets those feelings out there, and in a way that’s clearly fun to perform. This might be my favourite.

I’m Still Empty brings the intensity down with gentle acoustic guitar and more soulful lyrics. Quite philosophical lyrics, and eventually there’s layers of sound introduced from the rest of the band – and a great singalong opportunity with some ‘Whoa oh oh ohs’ which was enthusiastically taken up by the crowd at Katy’s.

The Road to Krumlov is actually really charming – a lament to the loneliness of touring, in this case in the Czech Republic. This song probably delivers the most heartbreaking lyric I’ve heard in ages: “… so I type in my postcode to the Sat Nav to kill a few moments, and I’m saddened to see that I’m more than a full day away.” You can just imagine some poor fella sat in a car park waiting until he can load his gear in missing a familiar face or two.

Glasgow starts with recorded background noises (from Glasgow, Paul’s blog informs me) before the song kicks in. It’s a cheery tribute to a trip to – wait for it – Glasgow! It’s made me want to visit now, as much like Paul my only visit here before has been fleeting – for a Ferocious Dog gig perhaps unsurprisingly – it was fun enough, but hotel, pub, gig, hotel, home is probably not the best way to showcase what a city might have to offer!

Twenty One Trains starts with moody acoustic guitar before the band joins in then the lyrics kick in. Apparently there are actually 21 trains featured in the recording too, Paul asks if ‘you get what I’m trying to say’ – I must admit I don’t, it’s not a happy song – the instrumentation reminds me almost of Joy Division which probably explains why it sounds unhappy if that’s what I associate it with. The lyrics are really personal and deal with insomnia, hopelessness and even potential suicidal thoughts. It’s really rather moving.

Wren is another dark moody track. Bird-related songs will always pique my interest and the throbbing bass and incidental guitar stabs only heighten the tension. It’s actually documenting something as routine as trying to save a wren that had been caught by a cat and failing to revive it. It sounds trivial – it’s the sort of thing that would absolutely haunt me for ages, so I find it satisfying that it’s inspired this epic grungy number running at almost six minutes.

Promised Lullaby is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a song Paul promised to write. It’s beautifully gentle, which a lullaby should be really. Gentle layers of accompaniment to the acoustic guitar and vocals are perfect without distracting – the tone is of reassurance and nurturing – its placement on the album after the trauma of the garden bird massacre is perfect.

fAR REACHING Rage is a rare foray into politics – actually, in kinda isn’t, it’s really a fairly self-evident appraisal of one particular figure who arguably isn’t actually a politician anyway, just a self-serving rabble rouser (okay, so maybe that is a definition of politician). The clue is in the capitalisation of the track – this is actually, subject aside, a really fun song, with another corker of a lyrical masterpiece in the chorus “The country is a better place with the absence of your face, I hope they blast you into space, why don’t you go away?” – all set to a chunky rock soundtrack.

Bible Chords issues a challenge of “so you think you understand this song” – in truth, no, sorry Paul! It feels like it’s quite a personal rant – a bit of a reckoning, a rise from a slumber of over-familiarity and realising there’s a need to chart a new course. I think we’ve all been in that place at one time or another – self-imposed isolation, and eventual realisation there’s an alternative to that. This features lots of recordings of people Paul asked to contribute some ‘Whoas’ – Facebook’s algorithms clearly denied me the opportunity to join in. Bastards!

Nothing O’Clock starts with sea noises, and who I suspect might be Frank the dog yapping happily around. Gentle acoustic guitar and vocals start to paint a picture of the scene by the seaside, lilting into philosophical musings – the guitar picked melodies are lovely. There’s almost Nick Parkeresque observational lyrics of people-watching. Just before half way percussion gently joins the party, then a little while later the picking gives way to strumming as the percussion gets heavier and finally with a cymbal crash the tumultuous arrival of the rest of the band for a frankly triumphant finale.

Except it’s not quite a finale – the track ends with more sea noises, with the return of the guitar picking and a final spoken word piece, weaving together lyrics from the songs we’ve just heard. It’s affirmative and positive – bookending what does feel like quite a journey, whilst maybe not entirely autobiographical or chronological – there’s a sense that this album has developed over a seismic period of Paul’s life and has in that sense provided a documentary of kinds of that journey. And mercifully it feels like a journey that’s heading in the right direction.

A fantastic and brave achievement – amazing songwriting, and awesome work from the other Simpletons in giving them the depth and intricacies they need – which translate brilliantly to a live setting too. It’s been out more than a month now so hopefully you have it already, if you don’t, then you should remedy that omission posthaste.

Freeborn Al / 8th December 2019 / 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

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.

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Freeborn Al / 14th June 2017 / Music

Havin’ a blast in (Chetwynd) Aston..

Tonight was one of those pseudo-logic nights out – I work in Solihull, I live in South Derbyshire – so it wasn’t too tough a sell to myself that it was kinda on the way home to pop to Chetwynd Aston (not far from Telford) to see Paul Henshaw and Nick Parker at The Wheatsheaf. ¬†It’s not the most ridiculous example of this in my recent gigging history – earlier in the year I’d decided since I was already 30 miles in the right direction from home I might as well plough on to Glastonbury to see Nick along with The Leylines!

So with Ella training in to Solihull upon getting my Powerpoint presentation finished and sent we hit the road reaching the pub really early – soaking in the last of the sun in the beer garden, before Nick and Paul arrived in time for a good natter in the frankly excellent Wheatsheaf. ¬†A proper pub – they’d dedicated the front room to the gig which had a stage and PA set up in the corner – and as the locals wended out landlord Tosh started laying out chairs for what would be a really intimate little gig.

Paul Henshaw was up first – playing a mixture of older songs and some from his very imminent new album¬†Fishing for Owls (more on that next week, I’ve had a sneaky peek at this!). ¬†He kicked off his set with¬†Dancing in Lay-bys,¬†and then on to a new track¬†Wild Turkey – amusingly Tosh was busy behind the bar framing a photo of him with a bottle of the aforementioned whisky in the foreground. ¬†I Declare Shenanigans is one of my favourite song titles ever – and was up next!

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Freeborn Al / 5th May 2017 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos

Great music with a Worcestershire source..

So, yeah – welcome to 2017! ¬†January is traditionally a bit of a live music hibernation¬†and it’s been the same for me – until the last couple of days so I can sneak a couple of posts in before we’re into February and assorted tours beginning in earnest. ¬†Home ownership diverts more funds these days so I’m having to be a bit more picky and choosy on dates but that’s okay – life’s all about balance isn’t it?

So on Sunday Ella and I headed on down to Droitwich. ¬†All I think of when I think of Droitwich was the highly repetitive and irritating adverts around childhood Christmas for a furniture company who had a sale on, and outlets in Darley Dale, Measham and Droitwich. ¬†I think it might have been DFS. ¬†Tom Adams did the voiceover. ¬†Anyway, I digress, it was an early start and finish, which is good as it’s about an hour’s drive to get there – and a couple of miles outside Droitwich proper we found ourselves parked up at The Maltstone Pub & Kitchen.

Definitely more eatery in aspect than gig venue, it was a really nice space – with a few locals hanging around awaiting live music – this evening being provided by Paul Henshaw and Nick Parker. ¬†I’d cunningly deployed the slow cooker before leaving so we resisted the tempting looking menu opting just for drinks instead (although I still regret not succumbing to the ingenious idea of a bar snack comprising a Yorkshire pudding with gravy!). ¬†Paul and Nick arrived and had their PA set up in the blink of an eye.

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Freeborn Al / 31st January 2017 / Gigs, Other Bands, Photos / 0 Comments