Thursday 30 October 2008

James Yuill @ Portsmouth Drift Bar

He may not be the most extrovert of front men, but James Yuill is currently producing a live set that is innovative, interesting and full of tunes that are both mellow melodic and danceable. The chilled ambience of the evening has already been set by the support acts, the draped twinkling multi coloured light chains, the hushed attentive audience and chairs around tables at the front, so Yuill’s mix of acoustic picking and electronic beats are never going to generate a pumped up rave night club atmosphere. However he does manage to get plenty of heads nodding, a couple of people at the back dancing a little and shouts for an encore, which he politely declines.

As Yuill straps on his acoustic guitar and merges it with his banks of buttons, sequencers, sliders and faders it is fair to say that the description of his music as folktronica hits the nail on the head square on. This is a man who fully embraces technology but also understands the warmth, tenderness and humanity that an acoustic guitar can bring. I imagine his CD collection features both The Aphex Twin and Nick Drake, and they sit comfortably side by side. In fact there is a moment during his second song No Pins Allowed where it seems that Aphex Twin is in the house, as he drops in a fuzzed up disjointed synth beat vaguely reminiscent of the track Windowlicker, but because of Yuill’s gentle soft voice and melodies it never seems as harsh or aggressive as that of Aphex himself Mr Richard D James. This Sweet Love is announced to a whoop of joy from certain members of the crowd and gets toes tapping with it’s simple repeated guitar refrain underpinned by a gradually building rhythm and beat. Simple but highly effective.

Surrounded by his electronic gadgets and gizmo’s, guitar slung across his back, Yuill looks like a late 20’s floppy fringed geeky glasses wearing student; but despite his laid back appearance he is in total command of what he is doing, producing many hypnotic aural laptop lullabies, which would be just as acceptable in a bedsit as it would be in a club. This is forward thinking music for forward thinking people, and is a joy to listen to.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Rose Elinor Dougall - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

There are some things where the parts are very much equal, but everyone has to have a favourite. For example, the bobble ones in Liquorice Allsorts always get my vote. In bands it’s always been John in The Beatles and Baby Spice of the Spice Girls for me. And likewise everyone had a favourite Pipette; Was it tarty welsh blonde Gwenno? Nerdy looking but fun Riot Becki? Or the slightly sultry raven haired Rosay? It was a close call between Becki and Rosay for me, but with Rosay just winning by a short head due to some of her witty onstage put downs. It therefore came as a great disappointment for me earlier this year when I heard that Becki and Rosay were both leaving the band to be replaced by two new members, and that musically they were to jump from their very retro polka dotted 60’s shimmering pop to a much more 80’s influence. It was like getting rid of your favourite Revel from the pack.

However I am now delighted to say that Rosay is back. Throwing off her pop shackles she is about to release her own debut solo single. Another Version of Pop Song is a limited edition 500 copies only 7” single and download, released under her real name Rose Elinor Dougal, and a fine lightly lilting pop song it is. Apart from a few starting handclaps, the song is far removed from The Pipettes output, reminding me instead of the sadly much forgotten Sundays with a touch of added Casio. Not as obviously commercial as The Pipettes it displays a dreamy maturity and depth way beyond The Pipettes that bodes well for future releases. Her My Space page references Broadcast, The Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Bjork, Stereolab and Portishead as influences. If Rose can match up to anywhere near these acts, forthcoming releases should be something to be cherished.

Monday 27 October 2008

Crime at UK Festivals

One of the basic selling points of music festivals is to enable people to get away from their everyday existence and have a good time. As part of that basic ideology it is reasonable to expect the environment where the festival takes place to be a happy and safe one, to feel part of the community of that festival.

Words such as community are banded about far too often these days in the UK; maybe as a result of a sadness of the loss of the concept. Over the last 25 years both Tory and Labour governments have destroyed the very idea of what the word stands for. Instead they have instilled in society the selfish values of looking after the individual as everyones priority. The "I'm all right jack," attitude is now almost everywhere we go. However it is quite often at UK festivals, that I still find a strong sense of community; where people get to know their neighbours, enjoy the company of strangers and most importantly look after each other as well as themselves. Inherent in this sense of community that is created by such actions is a feeling of security.

This feeling of security can be massively undermined by a few less savoury elements that can make the whole festival experience very upsetting. Crime, and in particular, tent theft is unfortunately a sad fact of many of today’s festivals. I am lucky that I have attended over forty festivals and never been the victim of crime. However this year the BBC reported that crime at Glastonbury Festival more than doubled, thefts from tents being the major non drug-related crime, with more than five times as many incidents reported. This pattern is common place, particularly at other big UK Festivals.

A while ago I reported on the formation of the Association of Independent Festivals, who had been created with the aim of bringing independent festivals together to help make events greener, more cost-effective, and better for fans. The Association have now reported on the first piece of work they have been doing, which is the formation of a security task force to help stamp out thefts from tents and campsite crime at festivals.

An announcement today on E Festivals website describes this work. “The task force will be set up to provide a constant presence at participating festivals, working with event security firms and police services throughout the UK to identify known thieves before they enter festival sites.

Building on existing police initiatives, including intelligence-pooling which reduced tent thefts at some festivals this summer, the task force will provide support for security with extra teams on hand over busy weekends when there are multiple festivals being held.

It has been acknowledged that a small number of organised criminal gangs, rather than opportunist thieves, are responsible for the majority of thefts on site at festivals. These gangs follow the festival circuit around the country, normally targeting campsites on the first night when people have all their weekend's money. The new task force will allow festival organisers to more effectively target the gangs involved.

Jim King, director of Loud Sound and AIF board member said, "Whilst still statistically low, thefts at UK festivals have to be addressed. Customer experience and safety is a most important part of the whole festival experience and we want to act to ensure that customers have a great time at our events without experiencing the upsetting scenario of being a victim of crime."

Although the security task force is an AIF initiative, the board realise that this is a problem that affects all festivals, and say that they would welcome the involvement of non-members in the scheme. Thefts can take place at all shows and criminals move from show to show, and so the AIF will make this service available to everyone. The AIF believes the larger festivals who are affected the most will welcome the support of this initiative to help them in combating crime.Speaking at the launch of the scheme, Rob da Bank, Bestival promoter and AIF co-founder said, "Tent theft at our festivals has always been very low, but any theft at all is really upsetting for the promoter and the people involved. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to set up AIF and I really believe we can make a difference with this initiative."An open invitation to tender has been sent by the AIF to all reputable security firms with experience in outdoor event security. The AIF expects to have the new team finalised, ready, and in place by March next year.

The AIF aims to establish best practice for festivals, to make them as good as they can be in a variety of areas such as security, the environment and beyond, providing a knowledge base for festival promoters, as well as creating collective purchasing and marketing opportunities for its members.The AIF is also working on a number of other initiatives including helping members with issues around securing UK visas for international artists and developing databases of suppliers, and services. AIF networking and tutoring events are expected to be announced in the New Year these will cover topics from licensing to booking artists for festivals.”

Breaking More Waves hopes that this initiative is a success, but that increased security is kept as unobtrusive as possible for the vast majority who are attending a festival simply to have a good time and have no intention of spoiling it for others

Thursday 23 October 2008

Alessi's Ark - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

“My songs are like potions, I have my guitar and I'm stirring a big cauldron of ideas,” says Alessi Laurent-Marke, who is Alessi's Ark. It’s time to knock back that potion and feel the magic.

But first, an apology. This month has already seen four pieces reflecting on the wonder of various female artists that have rocked or at least gently swayed my musical boat. I was not intending to produce any more for a while. But then I read a post on The Daily Growl, and just a few hours later, I am compelled to write another, but this time with a note attached reminding me that there is more to music than angel voiced girls.

Hailing from West London this artist produces beautiful, organic, lush acoustic folk with a pretty childlike tone that will inevitably draw many comparisons vocally to Bjork, Joanna Newsom and Julia Stone. This however is fine company to be compared to.

Her songs are spindle soft silken lullabies filled with delicate romantic lyrics; whether she’s singing about crystals around the moon and dreams of kissing someone between the eyes on Woman, or how she was told that kite flying is for lovers at the start of The Horse. Alessi has a breathless natural dreamy vocal that will make you want to waltz in the fallen autumn leaves. Or maybe fall in love. It's not all serenely gentle though. The Dog grows quickly from gentle strumming to a banjo flavoured full band effort reminiscent of a female fronted Thrills.

If you are lucky you can catch Alessi's Ark on tour next month as she is out on the road across the UK with Brighton’s Peggy Sue (formerly Peggy Sue and the Pirates) and Derek Meins. An album is also due to follow.

Sunday 19 October 2008

Moshi Moshi 10th Birthday Party @ London Matter

Brands. Everywhere. On your television. On your clothes. On your street. In your record and CD collection.

I like to consider myself a relatively free thinking and open minded individual who is not subject to the marketing mans every whim; but these days it is virtually impossible to get away from some brand expression as part of your personality. And if I had to choose a record label that represented me as a brand then Moshi Moshi would certainly be one of my high level choices. I love Moshi Moshi for its eclecticism, quirkiness, vibrancy and colour that sometimes hits the mainstream and sometimes doesn’t. From the electronic springiness of Hot Chip to adventurous indie rockin’ Bloc Party, Moshi Moshi were there releasing the bands first singles.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary Moshi Moshi took over the prestigious new super club Matter, recently opened by the owners and founders of the almost legendary status Fabric, and threw themselves a bit of a shin dig, with DJ’s and a host of bands.

There has been an incredible amount of publicity about Matter, particularly its vibrating ‘Body Kinetic Dancefloor’ and stylish interior. The club itself, which is part of the 02 Dome complex in Greenwich, feels rather like an industrial space age multi storey car park, heavy on harsh concrete and steel, with exposed services and projections on nearly every service. Although primarily intended as a club, the two room venue can easily function as a gig venue as well. Tonight Moshi Moshi provide a party that goes on till seven in the morning, and a mix of some of its bands past and present.

The venue is still filling up when Kate Nash takes to the stage in a flurry of sequins to kick things off in the smaller of the two rooms. Anyone expecting bitter lemon sucking keyboard pop is in for a shock tonight as Kate dispenses with her piano and for a short while becomes an indie mentalist. Starting with a foul worded poem about groupies, she kicks off her shoes, grabs a megaphone and jumps up and down whilst screaming to distortion. It is a far cry from the heavily produced pop of Pumpkin Soup and Mouthwash. Strapping on a guitar she races through a set which for those looking forward to Foundations etc would disappoint. The only song she plays from her debut album is Birds, a beautiful tender and simple song which deals with the inarticulacy of young love. She also wheels out her very first single, the scrappy opinion dividing Caroline’s A Victim, which was of course released on Moshi Moshi. Half an hour later she thanks Moshi Moshi, flashes her eyes and with a sparkle is gone. Judged on this performance, what Kate Nash does next is anybodies guess.

The Mae Shi open the main room with their physical rock n shout n roll. The band throw out huge multicoloured parachute sheets over the audience to cover them, whilst they bash out their ambitious guttural yet glistening punishing lo fi sound that sounds like the toys are having a riot in the nursery. Guitars growl, keyboards shriek, vocals scream and ears tremble. Run To Your Grave is an electric knife stabbing, withdrawing, and stabbing again, just for fun. Let's get murdered.

Florence from Florence and the Machine arrives on stage in sparkly hot pants, tuxedo, white blouse and bow tie and proceeds to bash hell out of a single drum at the front of the stage before twirling and whirling like a ravaging spinning top. Florence has a big set of lungs that deliver the goods, part soulful, part wailing harpy. Her whole performance seems full of chaotic energy, but it is only when she almost pulls the clothes of her keyboard player and proceeds to have a girl fight on the floor of the stage with her that things seem just a little contrived, having seen her do exactly the same thing last time I saw her play. Having said that her smoking confident tribal melee of sound gets the crowd bouncing, particularly during the controversial turbo charged single Kiss With A Fist which packs the required emotional punch.

Back in room two, Slow Club, the fluffier alt country White Stripes, suffer a few technical problems and endure the fate of a band whose quieter jangling pop songs require a quiet respectful audience, rather than a crowd who have had a few drinks and now fancy a chat. Sporting the first bad moustache of the evening, co vocalist Charles Watson harmonises perfectly with drummer Rebecca Taylor and despite the technical issues they make it to the end with their infectious cuteness.

Infectious cuteness continues with Tilly and the Wall who are becoming a bona fide glittering, tinsel wearing cartoon pop band with added tap dancing. Even a guitarist with another bad moustache cannot stop the joy of current single Beat Control and a surprisingly well received cover version of Erasure’s A Little Respect. They end firing ticker tape into the audience and bouncing off with obvious joy.

It is left to Hot Chip to bring the party to a climax, which they do with ease. Warning that they “Might get a bit punk,” Hot Chip are sounding harder, tougher, funkier and dirtier than ever, with the songs sounding far more exciting than the recorded versions, turning Matter into a full on hands in the air experience from opener One Pure Thought, through Shake A Fist, Over and Over, to Ready For The Floor. The band have to plea to the crowd to take a step back to stop those at the front from being crushed and are even the subject of a couple of celebratory stage invasions. Hot Chip now have justifiable cause to claim the crown as best dance band in the UK.

I wish when I was 10 years old I’d had a birthday party like this. Maybe when I’m 40 instead ? Any takers ?

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Marina and the Diamonds - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

Marina and the Diamonds music fits perfectly in the top drawer of the Breaking More Waves treasure box. It’s quirky, cuckooing, kooky, female fronted slightly left of centre pop music with an earthy richness that is seductive. If Mr Kipling made bands this would be another one of his exceedingly good ones.

With Rosie Oddie and the Odd Squad, Florence and the Machine, and Cassie and the Cassettes to name just a few, there seems to be a growing trend of bands with strong female singers who use their own name to set themselves apart from the rest of the band and Marina and the Diamonds is another to add to this list. It certainly redresses the balance from the plethora of Razorpigeons and Liberkooks bands that have deluged the UK music scene with ever decreasing creative returns with over the last few years.

Marina’s very eighties styled operatic shriek and stomping tunes can be heard to good effect on the rather wonderful Girls Girls Girls, which frankly wouldn’t have sounded out of place as the UK entry for an early 80’s Eurovision song contest; it would have probably won the thing. With an opening line of “I look like a girl and think like a guy, not ladylike to behave like a slime,” you can tell that you are dealing with someone with plenty of metaphoric balls here; someone who has serious potential. Not all of her songs are upbeat epics though, with the piano led We’ve Got Obsessions having a similar style to a bedroom based Regina Spektor. But despite all these female references I‘ve just thrown in, don’t mention the Allen or Nash words to her. On Nash, Marina sarcastically says “Oops I have a vagina and a keyboard. We’re so similar!” and Allen “She was quite good until she wrecked it all by turning into everything she’s not,” citing Allen going on a diet, dying her hair slapper blonde and flashing her boobs as examples of where she thinks Allen has tripped up. So don’t expect to see Marina on the front page of Nuts if a deal and success comes her way. After all this is a girl who sings in the most ironic of ways “I love your Botox bitch, I’ll curtsey for you.”

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Elbow @ Portsmouth Guildhall

For the next year it will be almost impossible to read or write anything about Elbow without the opening text starting along the lines of ‘Mercury music prize winners Elbow.....’. Even Guy Garvey, the bands lead singer cannot help but mention it on stage at Portsmouth Guildhall “We’ve had an exciting year.... We know that most of the tickets sold out before we won the Mercury prize, but it’s always nice to see new friends too,” he jokes. Watching the band perform tonight it seems that for once the Mercury Award doesn’t seem like a noose around the winners neck. This is a band who have been creatively surfing a wave for a very long time now. They are unusual recipients in so far as they were already far advanced on their musical journey, having on the fourth attempt delivered their best and most consistent work to date. The Mercury is renowned for being given to a debut album. The award for The Seldom Seen Kid has been seen by many as being well and truly deserved, not only for its life affirming songs, but for the bands unerring perseverance and dedication to producing quality music. It is that dedication that has paid the dividends and allows the band to expand and continue, with a body of work behind them that frees them from the mental shackles of worrying about how they produce a follow up.

It also says volumes that for a band that were once dropped by their record label that tonight they are playing Portsmouth Guildhall, the towns largest venue, a step up from the last time they were here at the smaller Pyramids centre. There is a feeling here tonight of celebration. As the band walk on stage the applause seems to go on for ever, before they have even played a note. Elbow have finally made it, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer and better band.

Guy Garvey is the most un rock n roll of front men with his un-tucked white shirt and lack of slenderness. He looks like he has just strolled out of the office and somehow found his way onto the stage of the Guildhall. However his voice, reminiscent of Peter Gabriel, gravel like and comfortingly warm is perfect, as is the rest of the sound that his band make.

The set is full of songs from the new album, from the opening tenderness of Starlings, where the band punch out a wake up call of singular trumpet blasts as bright white light obliterates the stage, to the string laden anthemic One Day Like This with its euphoric chorus of "Throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right." There is also a collective shudder of appreciation through the audience as Garvey takes a seat and a guitar to play Newborn from the bands first an album Asleep In The Back, a song full of musical diversions and complexity that builds to a crescendo before cutting out to a dark nothingness. It is near perfection and shows a band operating at the highest level.

Live at Portsmouth Guildhall Elbow’s music is powerful and full of emotion, yet despite the size of the venue the band retain a sense of intimacy. Any criticism that they are just too serious musically is deflated by Garvey’s in between song banter, which has developed since becoming a BBC 6 Music DJ ,where he asks if he can refer to the audience as Joe, which he does. But best of all he asks the crowd to abandon the normal clapping for an encore if they want the band back, and instead to sing I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, which the crowd duly oblige him.

This gig is best summed up when Garvey asks the crowd “What day is it?”. The response from an audience member ? “Elbow Day.” At this rate we may yet go on to rename all of the days of the week in their honour.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Lisa Mitchell - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

My third blog this month, about another female performer, and another with the initial L....

Remember a couple of years ago when a young lass from the suburbs with a tender melancholy vocal and acoustic guitar appeared and stunned us all with sepia tinged folk songs that were mature beyond her years ? Then we jumped forward in time and she was nominated for a Mercury Prize for her album Alas I Cannot Swim.

Her name was Laura Marling.

Well, now it’s time to meet another singer songwriter protégé, that in terms of vocal styling and acoustic beauty is bound to draw many comparisons with Miss Marling. Her name is Lisa Mitchell; like Marling she’s still in her teens, and she’s from Australia, although she has roots in the UK having been born in England to a Scottish father.

Unlike Laura Marling however Lisa Mitchell started her career with massive TV exposure. Yes folks, she was a contestant on Australian Idol. Now usually on hearing such a fact my ears would switch off immediately to defend against the possibility of the nightmare soundscape of Gareth Gates and Michelle McMannus infiltrating my brain . However Australian Idol seems somewhat removed from the UK versions of these karaoke freak shows, having allowed musicians to play their own instruments. It has therefore produced a number of performers who are actually of some credibility and artistic worth. Although Mitchell didn’t win the show, it was a stepping stone for her to a move to London, a deal with RCA records, and as yet unreleased album being recorded with Ant Whiting of Arctic Monkeys and Zero 7 fame, together with a song writing collaboration with Ed Hardcourt. Certainly not the sort of CV Rik Waller would be able to write.

Bizarrely you may have already stumbled across a snippet of Lisa’s new single Neopolitan Dreams via the unlikely route of a laundry product advert, the ‘new sensory experience’ (well that’s what it says on their web site) of lemon and bergamot Surf. With its plucked acoustic guitar, xylophones, piano and ‘Ba ba ba,’ hook line it is probably poppier and fluffier than anything than Marling has produced despite the similarity in vocal. Here's the video.

Not all of her material sounds quite as Marlingesque, lightweight or commercial as Neopolitan Dreams though. See You When You Get Here is darker, edgier and almost claustrophobic and well worth a place on anyone’s I Pod. Unfortunately Incomplete Lullaby does not deserve any such place, sounding like a poor mans X Factor ballad, played by one of Regina Spektor’s piano technicians. However with that exception Lisa Mitchell certainly has some ability, and for once those dreaded Saturday evening talent shows may have actually come up trumps.

The video to See You When You Get Here

Friday 3 October 2008

Lykke Li @ Brighton Concorde

Lykke Li is not your typical pop princess. If you believe that pop music is lightweight and lacks edge, then she is here to convert you. In its studio form the album Youth Novels is a cute sounding blend of jazzy rhythmic pop with elements of electronica that intrigues through wistful sparseness. But it is in the live arena that Lykke Li really comes alive.

Prowling on stage, she is a delightful mixture of free spirited hippy and girlish sassy punk. “If you love me, clap your hands mother fuckers ,” she commands to the boys and girls who are shouting their adorations to her at the front. They are happy to oblige as Lykke Li stomps and thrusts with tribal abandon to the muscular metal military drums coming from the stage. A short snatch of Melodies & Desires quickly blends into the jerky percussion led Dance Dance Dance, and with this it isn’t hard for her to stamp her Swedish authority on the crowd.

This is a show that has rhythm and beats at its core. Even the stage is set up to emphasize this, with the drums pushed near the front, the guitarist relegated to the shadows at the back. Many of the songs are driven by nothing more than a clattering beat, overlaid with occasional piano, samples and Lykke Li’s vocal. She’s also partial to smashing a drum herself, or adding to the mix with kazoo, triangle or a distorted megaphone. It may sound simple, but with volume and sharpness to the sound it works and creates something quite unique.

With only one album of material to showcase the set is fleshed out with some cover versions including the Vampire Weekend song Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa which is faithful to the afro beat sounding original, and a crowd seducing set closer of A Tribe Called Quest’s Can You Kick It, which shows that the girl can rap as well as sing. The highlight though is debut UK single A Little Bit released at the start of this year, a love song with a twist, with its lyrics of “And for you I keep my legs apart, and forget about my tainted heart,” which so accurately portrays the power, darkness and surrender of love in just a few words.

Lykke Li has a lack of sterility and an abundance of natural energetic non self aware stage presence that makes a refreshing change to most modern pop music. It is no surprise that as she leaves the stage tonight the encore continues even when the house lights have gone up.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Little Boots - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

As the year starts to close in various bloggers, journalists and commentators will be pondering on their albums of the year lists, and also their ‘One’s to watch in 2009’ lists. Readers of my old Myspace blog or even my old paper fanzine will know that I am also partial to these lists. Last year I was reasonably successful in predicting Glasvegas, The Ting Tings, Adele, Duffy, and Vampire Weekend being amongst those who would do well this year.

My 2009 list may be a bit more of a struggle, but one that is bound to be on there somewhere is electro cat Little Boots. Victoria Hesketh, former lead vocalist of indie synth rockers Dead Disco has been all over the blogosphere, but with some justification. From the Giorgio Moroder disco pulse of Stuck On Repeat to the Hot Chip bounce of Meddle, this lady has the songs, the hooks and the slightly geeky but sexy style to rise to the top. If you’ve used You Tube for any short length of time you will have no doubt come across some horrendous bedroom cover versions, but Little Boots has smothered those to sleep with some sensational covers of her own. Here are just one examples, as she uses a tenorion to cover Hot Chips Ready For The Floor. Then Little Boots playing one of her own songs with a variety of electronic gadgets on her own song Meddle.