Guts Club – The Arm Wrestling Tournament

The year is 2010. There’s a man selling newspapers in the Welsh valleys. He’s been doing so for many a year, ever since his music career came to an almighty halt. He remembers Merthyr Tydfil’s RM Rock Club fondly. It was here that his playing reached a pinnacle (of sorts) – the Hendrix tribute band. He pins a poster to his kiosk, taking no notice of the content and settles down to another dead-end day. The poster simply says, “Fire Guts Club“.

It’s purely unintentional (of that I’m sure) but, five years later, the world is about to see the release of ‘The Arm Wrestling Tournament’, the debut album of Guts Club. This is a lo-fi, anti-folk beast; armed just with a battered-sounding acoustic guitar, Lindsey Baker gives us an insight into her world. “I want to give you all my guts, I want you to have my intestines“, sings Lindsey in the opening verse of the album. It’s a skewed re-take of the fairy story, Rapunzel; a lovely, love song for those of us who have scant regard for the most cliched proponents of the genre.

 

 

Take it on face value and you’d probably find Lindsey’s vignettes a little creepy. Songs about keeping people tied up in the boots of cars will not be a choice cup of tea for many. ‘Old And Ugly’ begins as a proclamation of everlasting love (“I will always love you”) but then heads off on a warped tangent. Her lover leaves but the love doesn’t as the song heads into new haunts.

 

 

To take it on face value misses the playfulness and humour within. Like Courtney Barnett or Jeffrey Lewis, Guts Club takes a scenario and then twists our mind with child-like wordplay. The humour is dark but I defy you to not smile. The videos that have so far been released from ‘The Arm Wrestling Tournament’ amplify the approach. For ‘All Of The Babies’, grainy home videos of babies, lined up on a sofa, are contrasted with home drawn, cartooned borders. The effect is unsettling and delightfully distracting. I get Guts Club.

 

 

The man selling newspapers is still at his kiosk. He’s forgotten the headline from five years ago. He will never hear of Guts Club. It is his loss.

Skinny Lister – Cathy

I had to get away from the fortress. The exuberant house music was playing havoc with my head. People that I’d never seen before were smiling as if they were long lost friends. Perhaps they were long lost friends. I doubted it.

I walked towards the main stage. The relentless beat in the heat was stifling these dancing feet to a walking pace. Skinny Lister were about to come on the stage. I’d seen them before. A bit of folk was surely what I now needed to recharge my batteries. I could sip at a pint of cider whilst chilling on the grass.

Little did I know.

Skinny Lister became my favourite festival band that day. There’s something contagious about their enthusiastic, inclusive approach. You might watch them from a distance when they take to the stage but, by the end, you can’t help but be immersed in the throng they create. Here’s what I said about their gig at Beat-Herder:-

“Skinny Lister on the Saturday afternoon are a case in point. Their well-rehearsed folky festival set doesn’t fail to get the skin blistering as those that are assembled work up a sweat with their energetic bouncy dancing. The flagon of rum that gets passed amongst the crowd is communally quaffed by thirsty onlookers. Laura Thomas takes a break from her vocal duties and waltzes with the audience. People wake from an afternoon slumber to find a double bass being plucked next to their heads. This is how Mumford and Sons should be.”

I saw them twice last year at different festivals. After both sets, I walked away beaming. Hangovers from a previous day of drinking were forgotten about. It was time to get back on it.

Skinny Lister are building up to the release of a new album, Down On Deptford Broadway, in April. They’ve pre-released two tracks from it although these are folky-punk lunges that live show regulars might already be familiar with. Singer Dan says about latest single, Cathy, that ‘It’s an ode to addiction and recklessness. A declaration of desire for something or someone you know is bad for you. The classic wrestle between head and heart.’

 

 

Previous single release, ‘Trouble On Oxford Street’, had an accompanying video full of beer and rebellion to entertain us.

 

 

It might be grey and dismal outside but I can sense festival fields not far in the distance. This makes me smile.

Nozart – Orphanage

Every now and again, I have a recurring dream. I am, once again, in the company of an ex-girlfriend. We’ve not met since we were both teenagers but, in the dream at least, the years have been kind. Our conversation and laughter flows in much the same way as it did when we were dating. We’re older now and the arguments that were always a feature of our real time together have diminished in this dreamland.

Sometimes, we kiss. Mostly, my alarm wakes me just as we’re making plans to see each other again. “Let’s not leave it so long until we next catch up”, she says with that infectious giggle she seems to never have lost.

As ridiculous as it might seem, this recurring dream derails me. I’ve got no desire to find out what has happened in the life of this ex. But, I find myself overwhelmed with a sense of loss; for a short while, I’m an awkward teenager again. Life, with all of its uncertainties and anxieties, is spanning out in front of me. I’m clinging to a child-like romantic ideal. I’m refusing to allow myself to grow up.

This long preamble does have a purpose. Last week, Nozart sent me the video to his new song, ‘Orphanage’. I’m a sucker for delightfully romantic, sentimental gush, especially when it’s all wrapped up in a story-based song. This ticks all of those boxes. The beautifully animated video just adds to the sense of ‘awww’.

Nozart is from New York. He’s currently playing piano on tour with a chap we have featured regularly on Sonic Breakfast, Elliot Moss. I hope that they’re having fun. ‘Orphanage’ is taken from a yet-to-be released album that Nozart has been working on for the past two years.

He says about ‘Orphanage’ that “this is a story about being in love before you know how. It’s about losing that love too soon and being afraid to grow up, because you don’t want to grow up without it. It’s about holding on even when the person you loved might not be the same person at all.”

For me, it evokes much the same feeling as that recurring dream.

 

Hayseed Dixie – Derby Flowerpot – 27th January 2015

You’ve got to hand it to Hayseed Dixie. When they first registered a ripple of praise for their bluegrass covers of ACDC songs back at the start of the century, few might have predicted that they’d still be rock n’rolling with the same gimmick years later. But, look around this sweat-laden, attentive, squashed in like sardines crowd at the fabulous Derby Flowerpot on this wintry Tuesday evening and the evidence suggests that there’s still a good few miles to travel yet on this highway (to hell).

Maybe, it’s the recent boost of an appearance on Jools Holland’s hootenanny that sees Hayseed Dixie resurgent. Maybe, this fusion of rock and bluegrass (rockgrass) is particularly lauded in Derby. Or maybe, word has got around that the latest album, ‘Hair down to my grass’, is actually a top notch exploration of stadium rock classics from the 1970’s and 1980’s. As front man John Wheeler (Barley Scotch) explains, “success in Germany had eluded us. During a Spring tour of Germany, we heard the song “Eye of the Tiger” 6 different times on 6 different German radio stations in a single day while driving between Dortmund and Frankfurt. We knew we had to cover it.”

There’s a fine mix from Hayseed Dixie’s back-catalogue expanding across this show. They play just shy of two hours. It’s a relentless journey in which the pace rarely drops much to the delight of the hollering crowd. You expect that the ACDC covers will be met with much moshing but it’s great to see that the songs from the new album, such as Twisted Sister’s “We’re not going to take it” and Def Leppard’s “Pour some sugar on me” are received rapturously as well. For me, it’s their ‘Rockgrass’ version of Bohemian Rhapsody that really sets the place alight. Strings break on instruments, such is the frantic pace with which they’re strummed.

You cannot fail to be impressed by the quality of musicianship on display. Apparently, current banjo player and relatively recent recruit, Johnny Butten, is listed as the worlds fastest in the Guinness Book Of Records. His playing merges in with Wheeler’s on guitar, whilst the other new(ish) member, Hippy Joe Hymas, prances around the stage like a Tasmanian devil, plucking on his mandolin and occasionally sticking his tongue out in rock posture. The collective is made up by Jake Byers, imposing with epic beard, who plays acoustic bass with such rhythm that there’s no need for any extra percussion.

We’d seen Brother Jake earlier in the evening when he joined support act, Tom Copson, on stage. Tom might have sported a pair of braces as a concession to the fashion sense of the band he was supporting but, in many other ways, this was an unlikely alliance. Very much a singer-songwriter, he entertains this audience with songs about splitting up with girlfriends after they’d accused him of drinking too much (‘Empty can’) and not being afraid to make great mistakes (‘Afraid To Fall’). With a nod to Hayseed Dixie’s love of covers, he launches into his very own (Prince’s Kiss) displaying a neat turn for a falsetto vocal. He gets the Derby crowd on side by saying that the Flowerpot is his Dad’s favourite venue in the country (his Dad lives in Cambridge). There’s enough roguish charm and nomadic spirit about Tom Copson to see why Hayseed Dixie chose him as their main support on this tour.

Hayseed Dixie’s set is drawing to a close. We know this because they’re playing one of their own tunes, ‘Merchandise song’, a simple piece that implores the audience to buy something on their way out. There’s time for a banjo duel before an epic mash-up of an encore that begins and ends as Hotel California whilst dipping into Careless Whisper and Eternal Flame en-route. Derby goes wild. The crowd realise that they’ve just been in the presence of a bunch of professional performers. Over the years, Hayseed Dixie have honed their craft to such a degree that they now put on a gig that’s pretty much perfect. We head home smiling.