Ben Watt – Bristol Fiddlers – Friday October 24th

It is never good form to turn up late to a gig. Aside from being rude, you’re never quite able to fully enjoy what’s going on. When punctual audience members laugh at jokes that are clear callbacks to something that has gone before you smile and nod in a pretence of understanding, hoping to not be exposed for the fraud you most certainly are. You resist the urge to shout out when prompted for ‘any requests’ for fear of requesting a song that’s already been played. You are on the outside looking in.

But, sometimes late arrival is impossible to avoid. Such is the situation I find myself in on this Friday night in Bristol; a combination of terrible traffic and the need to eat means that the Ben Watt Trio have already been playing for half an hour or so when I walk into Bristol’s Fiddlers. I’ve completely missed support act, Meadowlark – a shame for I have previously blogged about them here.

Ben Watt’s new album, ‘Hendra’, has been a late-night listen in my house over the past months. The man who takes the back seat in ‘Everything But The Girl’ comes into the limelight thirty years after releasing his only other solo album and shows that he shouldn’t be in the shadows. ‘Hendra’ is a spirited album about grievance and loss. Written and recorded whilst reflecting upon the sudden death of his sister, Jennie, it’s at times an emotionally wrought listen – but it’s also a positive statement about hope and resilience.

It’s a state of relaxed contemplation that we find Watt in tonight; at times, it’s just him behind electric piano; at other times, it’s a full trio with Bernard Butler on guitar (Suede) and Martin Ditcham (Talk Talk) on drums and percussion. Whatever the musical combo, we rarely get more than a pedestrian shuffle, the slightest of peaks before a return to the downbeat, dark and morose that permeates throughout. There are strained smiles from Watt, Butler and Ditcham but you suspect they’d feel more comfortable if they didn’t have to.

And for many of the audience gathered this is exactly what they want from a Friday night in Bristol. I’d guess at an average age of 45. These are people who are perhaps on their second or third marriages. They cling to Watt’s words because his poetry means something to them. Since the EBTG days, he has written the soundtrack to their lives. Yes, there are a few Friday night revellers expecting Butler to break out into a ‘suede classic’ but mostly the people here don’t want any surprises. “Who am I fooling when I say I have no regrets?” sings Watt on current single, ‘Forget’, and the audience tap their toes and nod their heads in recognition of the emotion on display.

“I always think I write songs about some form of resilience. There is some form of hope, even in the darker moments,” explained Watt in a recent interview. There are few here tonight, even those who arrived late, who will disagree that this has been a pretty brilliant exercise in subdued positivity.

 

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Sam Baker – Dingwalls – Broken Fingers

“Life is a gift. I went through a lot of bitterness- a lot of anger. But those things are toxic. Gratitude for what remains is more helpful than resentment for what was lost.” Sam Baker

I’ve mentioned this before but one of the many benefits of working out of London so much recently is that I’ve been able to schedule in some gigs for acts that aren’t heading to the East Midlands when they tour.

I have a nagging certainty that I might have once been hastily ejected from Camden Dingwalls. I can no longer recall my crime but I almost certainly will have felt aggrieved and victimised as a result. Huffing and puffing, bursting vessels in my head, I will have argued the toss about my heavy-handed treatment at the hands of over-efficient security jobsworths. Goodness, I was unpleasant back then.

I seriously hope that the security personnel haven’t marked my card for life because I’m quite looking forward to seeing Sam Baker on November 10th, a couple of Mondays from now. Sam’s a relatively new addition to my list of must-see acts. It’s difficult not to be drawn into the sparse musical narratives that he creates. Here is a live performer who makes every word count, every guitar note resonate and every space between sound vital. His is quite a story.

A Peruvian train bombing almost killed Baker in 1986. Others on the train weren’t quite so lucky and you can only imagine the psychological and physical distress this must have caused. Baker turned inward, to relearn the use of his body and brain.

This video shows what incredible progress he’s made.

I hope they let me into the venue…

 

 

Chemistry Lane – An interview

I first met Dan from Chemistry Lane at the 6 Music Festival in Manchester early this year. It was late and I was spectacularly drunk. Mark King from Level 42 fame was buying drinks for everybody but us. We bonded over such rejection.

Dan told me about his band and gave me a CD to listen to. I threatened to start a blog so that I could feature bands such as his. I didn’t know if I’d like Chemistry Lane back then but suspected I would.

 

I’ve been sent things in the post since – press releases and videos on beautifully designed, bright orange memory sticks. For Chemistry Lane, the image, style, product and concept is important.

We had a crazy, mad night dancing in the silent disco at the Off The Tracks summer festival. It was also spectacularly drunken. Earlier, Chemistry Lane had proved to be one of the highlights of the whole festival. I loved their approach to live performance. I loved their sound. They have answered my questions in delightful fashion. This is well worth a read.

Introduce Chemistry Lane to the readers of Sonic Breakfast in no more than 100 words….

Bridging the gap between the intensity and momentum of a rock band, and the clinical electro loops of dance floor hypnosis, Chemistry Lane surf waves of paranoia that redirect your gaze toward the illusion, like sleight of hand in reverse. Or we make the music that we want to hear that hasn’t been made by anyone else yet.

Where does the name ‘Chemistry Lane’ come from?

Choosing the name was quite a lengthy process, suggestions would come and go, gloried by some of the band, pilloried by others. In the end, Sam noticed a rather unique street name in Sandycroft, North Wales and it was the offering that met with the least resistance. Chemistry Lane were born.

What’s been the highlight of 2014 to date for Chemistry Lane?

Our first gig of 2014 was supporting 65daysofstatic. Playing with a band which we all hold in great esteem in our hometown was pretty special. FestEvol at the Kazimier in Liverpool was a superb event, very enjoyable to play with the added bonus of some fine reviews. The same was true for Off the Tracks Festival in Derbyshire, however the undoubted highlight was releasing our debut single ‘Faustian’. Making the accompanying video was a fun experience though we fear we may lose drummer Sean to Hollywood after his much-lauded and captivating performance.

What’s the process that’s involved in writing your material?

It’s like an argument where everyone is on the same side but no-one agrees, like a jigsaw where you don’t have all the pieces, the box, or any type of illustration, and reaching a consensus is occasionally like trying to catch a lubricated eel in a tumble dryer.

Getting signed to the Victoria Warehouse label. How did that happen and how do you see that developing?

We were approached after our second self-released EP launch by the founder of Victoria Warehouse Records Danny Hambrook. That night saw us take the visual element of our show to new levels with lights, visuals and video projected against an all white background. This also included the band dressing all in white, a look that becomes bassist Dan surprisingly well. Our set had reached a point where we felt we were breaking new ground and really starting to connect with audiences, and that was recognised by the label.

The label provides an opportunity to have our releases distributed and promoted, and hopefully make the most of the opportunities that can arise from the growth of the label. The labels attachment to the Victoria Warehouse venue which recently hosted the BBC 6Music festival is also an exciting prospect.

If you were curating a festival, who would be your headliners (dead or alive)?

Good Question. We could quite easily have spent the remainder of 2014 debating this, but we’re now super professional and have an album to record so we’ve settled on:

The Who (circa 1970)
The Doors (circa 1967)
Ziggy Stardust (circa 1973)
Fugazi (circa 1998)
Marvin Gaye (circa 1971)

What’s the music scene like in Chester? What do you most like about living there and what do you most despise?

Chester has some good bands but there isn’t much of a ‘scene’ as such. Like us, the bands with a bit more ambition play the odd gig in Chester but focus their attentions further afield. Chester has some good restaurants and a zoo. We find the low crime rate beneficial when taking a late night stroll listening to minimal electronica.

‘Despise’ is a strong word for peace loving folks such as ourselves, but the Tory council run by mustachioed masons is a definite negative, as is the lack of a cinema or theatre. These factors made the Chester’s recent bid to become the City of Culture rather comedic. But it does have some good schools and a zoo.

Should those watching the video to ‘Faustian’ believe that it offers them an insight into the lives of Chemistry Lane? Are any of your influences seen within the images?

The video is cut through with a definite Orwellian influence and carries a political/social observation that a lot of people can relate to. Maybe this speaks of our hometown too. A typically Cestrian existential crisis surely involves a resident rising one morning and realising they’re never going to escape middle management in a multinational banking and financial services corporation and even if they could, they wouldn’t.

Where will Chemistry Lane be in twelve months time? What will you look to have achieved?

Our primary aim is to have our debut album finished, released and for us to be happy with the result. The plan is also to gain wider exposure through the album, bigger gigs and festivals, measured by the increasing nature of our font size on gig posters.


Jet Setter – Dippin’ Toes

“If you dip your toes into something, you start doing that thing slowly and carefully, because you are not sure whether it will be successful or whether you will like it.”

And such is the cautious dilemma that lead singer, Ross Hamer, finds himself in for this latest single from Dublin’s Jet Setter. Amidst a fuzzy guitar riff, decisively speeding along towards its final resting point (there’s so much hurry in this two minute gem that there’s no time for a chorus as such) Hamer tries hard to hammer against the urgency. He’s really not sure whether he likes this person/this thing very much but he keeps coming back. Five times.

Today, Jet Setter have released a video for the song. This shows them off as the jaunty exuberant lads that I thought they might be after listening to their tunes. Pizza spinning, jocular banter and bargain buys, it might make you feel a bit hungry. I’m not sure that it says anything about ‘Dippin’ Toes’ and was probably just filmed as an excuse to get free pizza. This is no bad thing.

Long may such indecisiveness continue…

 

Eliza And The Bear/Lisbon – Leicester O2 Academy – Scholars Bar

The rain is pouring and the leaves are falling. It’s a trudge through the congealed sludge of Autumn’s detritus as I make my way to Leicester O2’s Academy to see Eliza And The Bear. “We’ve never been to Leicester before“, announces lead singer, James Kellegher, towards the end of that set and you find yourself wishing that they’d seen it on a warmer, sunnier day.

For Eliza And The Bear’s singalong, sunny, festival-friendly brand of rocky pop is best perhaps imagined when accompanied with a cider in hands and the heat beating down. The largely female audience here, at this O2 bar that’s attached to Leicester University, are doing their best to relive their post-A-level states of bliss by mouthing along to the words from the songs they recognise. The marching, uplifting beat elicits raised, clapping hands from the Freshers. Fan girls at the barrier exchange glances with each other when they sense that guitar player, Martin Dukelow, has flopped his excess of blonde hair in their direction.

It’s difficult not to get caught up in this sweetness. There is an undeniable charm and happiness about the proficient pop that Eliza And The Bear produce. “I’ve got friends. I’ve got family here“, sings James in Friends, the set opener. It’s this inclusive tone they establish that remains throughout. They want you to be their mates, because they are all mates together. They’re more than happy to chat with you at the merch stall after the gig. They sympathise with support band, Lisbon, who have had much of their gear stolen the previous night in Birmingham. Bands often seem to get their kit nicked in Brum.

 

I only managed to catch the last three numbers from Lisbon but any unfamiliarity with their instruments doesn’t show. On the evidence of tonight they come from that same sunny factory as Eliza And The Bear. There are backing tracks adding to the layers here but nobody in the appreciative audience seems to mind that. A general tick in the box from this direction and I’ll mark them down as ones to watch in full when I next get the opportunity.

Eliza And The Bear do not seem to be lacking in equipment. This is a show in which their guitar tech is kept pretty busy with Fenders being replaced by Gibsons. Towards the end of the set, Martin is handed an acoustic guitar and the rest of the band, apart from James, leave the stage. It’s the obligatory chilled-out moment and a chance for this duo to show off their vocal and musical talents. The girls at the front don’t need sunshine to melt at this point.

“We’ve spent a year now writing our debut album and in two weeks time, once this tour is done, we’re going to head into the studio to record it,” offers James during the set. On the evidence of tonight, a spring release should set Eliza And The Bear up nicely for some sunny, Summer days.

Eliza And The Bear were previously interviewed by Sonic Breakfast. You can read that interview here.

 

Musicport Preview

This coming weekend I’m off to another festival. I’ve lost count a little but I think it might be my 19th of 2014. It’s been such a privilege to be able to go to so many, writing for eFestivals. I said this last year but I won’t be doing so many in 2015.

Musicport was a great way to finally draw my festival season to a close in 2013 (review here) and I see no reason at all why it won’t offer similar delights this year. There’ll be wanders around the lovely harbour and beach strolls before heading along to the Whitby Pavilion for musical delights drawn from across the world. The Whitby Pavilion is a great venue to hold such a festival. Built onto the cliff edge, you look out to sea from the glass/perspex covered auditorium and can’t help but be grabbed by the horizon. There’s a whole world out there (or at least the North Sea).

It’d be wrong of me to pick out particular highlights; last year’s festival was about trying to see things not previously on my horizon. But, there will be an element of reacquaintance with acts I’ve seen over the course of the year.

I’m sure that the Sunday afternoon slot for Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita will be the perfect antidote for Saturday nights hangover. When I saw them play at Shambala’s main stage over the August bank holiday weekend (full review here), I commented that, “I lie down on the ground and rest my eyes whilst letting the beautiful sounds of Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita wash over me. On paper, a merging of Welsh folk played on a harp and African protest played on a Kora doesn’t necessarily work but Catrin and Seckou are recommended by Songlines for good reason.

I’ll be delighted to see The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown again. It feels a long time ago that I drank cider in the shelter of a church whilst hiding from the rain at Lunar Festival. Arthur Brown, still very much the god of hell-fire, delighted the young son of a good friend by posing with him for a photo. I said about his set, “It’s hard to believe that Arthur Brown is a man in his 70’s such is the energy with which he sets about playing old and new songs. He tangos in flames with a sultry dancer who joins him on stage. His colourful make up runs down his balding pate as he tells us all with absolute conviction that he is the God of hellfire.”

And how nice it is to see the band from Birmingham’s conservatoire on the bill. Steady Hands impressed all who saw them at OBS events at the Musician in Leicester. I wrote about them in an early blog post here. I’ll be excited to see how they’ve developed this year.

So, here’s to a weekend of great music – new friends, old pals and great company. Headlining the Saturday night are Lo’Jo, a band from France who are raved about but who I’ve never seen. Here’s one of their videos from a live show. My French is a bit rusty. I might need a translator on the night.

 

Alexia Coley – Drive Me Wild

Sometimes, you just want music to make you smile. You want it to be happy, uplifting and positive. There’s a place for the earnest, the morose and the angry but there are times when you just needs a healthy snack. On days such as these, when it’s damp and drizzling outside, I often get my fix from Soul music.

Londoner, Alexia Coley, has just released her debut record, Keep The Faith, on Jalapeño Records. I’ve not heard it from start to finish but there’s an album sampler on Soundcloud that gives a pretty good indication of where this is rooted. Here is a woman with a special voice backed with a stack of sax and a ton of tune. At times tender, sweet and sultry and at times bursting with a big band raw gospel power, Alexia sings lines that manage to sound both familiar and fresh within the same sentence. As her marketing says, this is “a modern twist on classic soul”.

The video for Drive Me Wild, one of the lead singles from the album, doesn’t need to employ gimmicks or effects to make it work. There’s a simple, smiley joy at play here. Only the most hardened heart will fail to go ‘Awww’ as this draws to its concluding moments.

See if it gives you that kick…