Guy Jones – Leicester Cookie – Thursday March 3rd 2016

I’ve been submitting lots of reviews to the Leicester Mercury recently. Mostly, they seem to appreciate my efforts and to publish my thoughts within the paper. Sometimes, they’ll post my reviews on line as well. I’m doing this with one main aim in mind. I think that supporting live music, especially gigs that are happening locally, is a really important thing to do. If people are more aware of the quality and vibrancy that occurs every night in our fair city, perhaps they’ll be more inclined to venture out themselves. 

Last week, I reviewed an old friend of Sonic Breakfast, Guy Jones, at the Cookie. The Mercury might have printed this but I didn’t spot it so I’ll copy here instead. 

 Guy Jones, the travelling troubadour, has made the relatively short trip from Halesowen, to charm us at the Cookie on a Thursday night. His special brand of Americana-fuelled songwriting is amplified and electrified by a tight and talented quad of musicians. Guy grew up in West Brom so this is Country music formed in the Black Country streets. We respond by lapping it up, albeit politely.

It’s by and large a gentle affair. The room, laid out in a cabaret seating style, allows us to relax as the weekend approaches. Guy has a laidback, natural manner and does his best to draw us in with pleasant singalongs and simple handclaps. Guy sings about real love; he has  a song about friends who grew up bullied; a song about people he’s met whilst touring the States and a song about how he’s grown from a spurned, chubby teenager to a young man able to capture his girl’s heart. 

These tunes (and others) will all be found on Guy’s forthcoming album that’s due for release in May. It’s a sign of the high regard that Guy’s fans hold him in that this was fully funded through a Pledge campaign. Recorded in New York, it’s going to be crammed full of the melodies and harmonies that Whispering Bob Harris and other Radio 2 sorts are likely to praise highly.

Credit for the harmonies at this gig needs to go to Guy’s keyboard player, Kerry Smyth. Their voices weld together with such robustness that it’s very easy to get drawn into this world. Earlier in the evening, Kerry had given us a set of her own songs and covers. She’s a younger Beverley Craven but entertaining enough. Local lad, Reuben Wisner, opened the show with considerable craft and skill. Acoustic pickings, polite audience singalongs and occasional tracks with loops and layering are Reuben’s thing. It sets the mood for the evening well. 

But the night belongs to Guy. Confident without being cocky, this is optimistic and cleansing. Affable and tender, good-natured and nice, we drift away into the night hoping that Guy made enough on the Merch desk to get home to Halesowen. 

 

Louis Barabbas – Gentle Songs Of Ceaseless Horror

Next Tuesday, I am very much looking forward to seeing Louis Barabbas live at the Musician in Leicester. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast might recall that it was Louis who invited me to a Snowapple gig last year (details here) that I managed to miss through an almighty diary malfunction. 

Such a monumental fuck up will not be happening next Wednesday (ha ha).

If I were a musician, I think I’d want to release records on Louis’ label, Debt Records. The quality of the output always seems pretty special to me but it’s also badged with a collective spirit and seemingly sage advice from the man himself. I’ve never quite met Louis but I get the sense he’s genuine in his desire to support other musicians. I put forward his role with the Musician’s Union, his appearance on industry panels and his moderating involvement in Fresh On The Net’s Listening Post as evidence.

When I say that I’ve never quite met Louis it’s true. A few years ago at the fine Musicport festival in Whitby (review here), I arrived after a long Friday evening drive, just as the set with his band, The Bedlam Six, drew to a close. I enjoyed the energy on display. At Boomtown last year (review here), I must have been sleeping when Louis took to a stage. 

Louis has a new album coming out this Friday, ‘Gentle Songs Of Ceaseless Horror’. He’s surprised at the departure from previous snarly and shouty ‘dirt-swing’ offers. This is a more relaxed affair that calls upon the ghosts of Nick Drake and Lionel Bart. It’s fucking ace, rather fabulous, brilliantly beautiful. 

Take a chance on me.

 

Mt. Wolf – Anacrusis

Being neither a musician nor a poet, I had no idea what an ‘Anacrusis’ was until I started to dig beneath the new track from Mt. Wolf. 

The Beatles threw one into ‘Yellow Submarine’; those words ‘in the’ that precede the rest of the verse we know and love are an anacrusis. They’re the pick-up before a downbeat; the first but unstressed syllables of a lyrical verse. In a broader sense, they are the beginning of something.

There’s also a genus of moths known as ‘Anacrusis’ – never say that Sonic Breakfast doesn’t try to inform and educate eh? 

I saw Mt. Wolf twice last year. Both of those gigs were at ridiculous o’clock and so (not that this should always follow), both times I could barely stand. At the Great Escape festival in Brighton, they were one of my must sees. It had been an excessive day and night of industry bashes and special gigs so all I could do was sway. Something was beginning as something was ending. Later, in the evening, I fell over and bashed my head, waking to think I was in Berlin.

The second time I saw them was up north at the Beat Herder festival. I sat in an armchair at the back of the tent, having overdone the evening considerably. I allowed their gorgeous brand of fractured, folky electronics to wash over me whilst I considered falling asleep. They picked me up before I eventually downed my tools.

I do plan to see Mt. Wolf again. I’ll try for a less bleary and blurry experience in the future. They’re a fine band occupying a Sigur Ros sort of space and I owe it to them. This is the beginning. 

 

 

Left With Pictures – Afterlife

Afterlife, the new album from Left With Pictures, mightn’t be officially released until April 29th but I’ve had a sneak preview. It’s a laidback yet confident work; big themes of death and rebirth are considered within the gentle chamber pop on offer. The beautifully arranged strings and keyboard flourishes are often embellished with choppy bits of electronica to make this a tad special. 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know much about Left With Pictures before listening to ‘Afterlife’. And yet, they’ve been around for ten years. Over that time, the band has won critical praise and steadily refined their craft of inventive pop music, where the acoustic and the electronic are intricately combined. Afterlife will be their first release in five years.

It opens with ‘Multiplex’, an orchestral brief instrumental that sets the stall out for what will follow. This isn’t the album’s only instrumental track. Later, perhaps at the start of side 2 if this was a vinyl release, we get ‘Who’s there’, another short piece. That sense of shadowy menace is never far from the surface. But who is there? 

Something is knocking and I don’t assume that the diagnosis is good. As early as the second track, ‘Bloody Mess’, we’re told, in a tune that could be lifted from Love’s ‘Forever Changes’, that the protagonist is ‘waiting for the moment to come when you know that you’re done’. Such starkness is hauntingly followed up in the next track, Terra Firma. ‘One day, I’ll find you at the waters edge’, they sing. 

There are moments of respite. Within the jaunty keyboard riff of ‘The Start’, Left With Pictures prove that they can write a pure pop tune if forced. “Might this be the start of everything?” is the optimistic opine. This track follows the beautiful and cinematic ‘Stage Fright’, that sad waltzing moment in any Hollywood film before it all works out in the end. 

But, when the resolution does arrive in final track, ‘The Night Watch’, it’s not complete glitz and glamour. Amidst shimmering, fizzy loops, we acknowledge that ‘all who love you will be there‘. This is the last rites; the album’s final goodbye. 

Throughout, this is an album that contrasts the positive and uplifting with the unbearable lightness of being. It’s themes are challenging but it doesn’t make it inaccessible; for, at their heart, Left With Pictures remain a band that produce clever and captivating, interesting pop.

 

Axixic – Love In The Back Of A Cab

From time to time, I’m asked ‘what’s your favourite music?’ It’s a question that I always struggle to answer. I don’t have a genre and I’m not sure that I have a favourite band. Typically, when asked such a question, I begin to flounder and waffle. I might mumble something about quirky electronica, country or folk before beating myself up for failing to say very much at all.

If I’m asked about ‘favourite songs’, I fare a bit better. Ever since I was a young boy, the songs that really do it for me are ones that tell stories; they’ll be lyrically astute, often splashed with dashes of humour and poetry; they’ll often eschew the mythical for a more basic sort of kitchen-sink drama. That’s what I like. 

It’s probably why this song from Axixic appeals so much. The narrative to ‘Love In The Back Of A Cab’ is pretty linear and full of charm and romance. Bill Clarke (who is Axixic) explains that this is a true story. He shared a taxi with a beautiful woman which culminated in a kiss of magnetic proportions. They then proceeded to take different flights and, despite staying in touch on social media, being in different continents has meant that the cab passion has remained a one-off. 

Bill seems like quite a character with plenty of stories to relay. I’m drawn to the impulsiveness of his approach as much as I am by the warm and rich, velvety vocal he utilises. He told me the following by E-mail:-

“I chucked my former life in Canada and moved to a mountain village south of Guadalajara, Mexico to pursue my passion (writing). I record as Axixic (pronounced: acks-icks-ick) because googling my real name is pretty much the same as googling “John Smith”. Axixic is the original spelling of the name of the mountain village where I live (Ajijic).”

Do take a look at this. I think the tale will bring some smiles. 

The Liminanas – Garden Of Love

Many years ago now, I caught a flight to Perpignan. It was a ‘make or break’ holiday for a relationship which, in truth, was already broken. There were four of us and we’d hired a large tent on a posh campsite to keep us cool for a couple of weeks. 

The South of France was sweltering under unprecedented levels of heat. My young son (for he was one of us) flagged even though he wore a hat and drank lots of water. In truth, I didn’t fare much better, although I was drinking wine and beer rather than water. It wasn’t the best holiday ever though the green of the campsite, endlessly watered grass, sticks in my memory still.

The Liminanas are from Perpignan. Marie and Lionel have just released a video for their song ‘Garden Of Love’, the first track to be released from their forthcoming album, Malamore. Significantly perhaps, this track features Peter Hook doing his bass thing. Hooky also offers up some mumbling backing vocals to add to the atmosphere. 

I love it. There’s a definite Serge Gainsbourg thing going on within. It’s got a seductive edge, a dreamy breeze and a shimmering, sunny centre. As lips, glossed with bright red lipstick, mouth the words, other images from the ‘Garden Of Love’ flicker in and out of view. 

Commenting on the forthcoming album, The Liminanas say, “The main idea is a story with a start and an end, which can be linked even if they exist in different universes. Everything here is about love stories – thwarted love, aborted passions, funny or dramatic.”

The campsite could have been my garden. It wasn’t but I’m pleased to tell that story of aborted love.