David Woodcock & The Fixtures, Joseph Futak and Preen – Biddle Bros – March 12th 2020

 

I wrote this piece in May about a gig I went to in March. For some reason, I never published it. Now feels like as good a time as any to do so. With an incredible, determined spirit, bars, their staff and the musicians who play in them have struggled on through 2020 reinventing themselves, releasing lockdown videos and generally keeping our spirits up. I miss those small and sweaty back rooms of bars from where live music flowed… 

 

 Can it really only be just six weeks ago that I went to my penultimate  gig (for the foreseeable future)? Back then, London was mumbling towards an eventual stop but, by and large, none of us truly could see what was just around the corner. We talked in whispers about the impending doom as if that might ward off the disease and gave people stares on public transport if they inconsiderately coughed our way. 

I’m glad that the memory of seeing David Woodcock And The Fixtures is such a positive one. In many ways, signing off from active gig-going after such a fun gig at Biddle Bros up in Clapton seems stupendously lucky and entirely appropriate. A grand venue and a jubilant night of music for this unforeseen swansong.

I’ve been to Biddle Bros before. Blink and you’ll miss it; it’s a small boozer, a quirky local with a back room music venue. There’s no stage and this back room can barely hold more than 30 people without it being a squeeze. But squeeze in we did; social distancing wasn’t a thing for us gig-goers determined to keep on keeping on. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing. 

When we return to live gigs, we’ll all let out a collective cheer. The efforts made by musicians to fill our living rooms with live Facebook feeds are noble but any avid gig-goer will surely concede it’s not the same as being there in person. I’ll be sure to celebrate their return by checking out all three acts on this bill put together by that interesting promoter, Sad House Daddy. 

Up first are Preen, a three piece folk act who let us know that this is one of their first gigs. With smart harmonies and clever key change, they play their own songs about English sun, watching and not dancing at parties, puzzles and hanging on. At times, it’s a bit Mamas and Papas. They play an obscure Jeff Buckley cover as if it’s one of their own. These are nice people and they go down a treat. 

 

Joseph Futak begins by praising Preen. Tonight has that sort of close camaraderie about it. With rich, baritone vocal, Joseph melts the crowd with a mellow, soporific sound. Think Tindersticks with a chilled shoegaze layer and you’ll be in the right space. Backed by George, Osian and Lucy, Joseph’s maudlin and dry humour comes to the fore before a deliberately ‘stompy’ tune wakes us from our peaceful dreaming. Neat stuff. 

 

David Woodcock takes to the stage giving off the air of Jarvis Cocker (if JC was a foot shorter). Dressed with dapper-retro style, in red shirt and one of those piano-keyboard ties, he soon gets the crowd onside by throwing some toilet paper into the audience. Back then, stockpiling was a very real thing. David’s dog, Barkley, barks along attentively right at the front of the crowd. 

Think the very best of British – the Kinks meeting Ian Dury before a bit of a Blur crossed with music hall and you’ll have imagined the space that Woodcock inhabits. Lyrically astute and melodically engaging, this is a knees-up for thinkers and drinkers. It’s not long before a honky-tonk contagion spreads from the house piano and spontaneous dancing erupts. 

David knows his pop history. He tells a story about Sir Paul McCartney before launching into Guilt Tripper, a tune that recalls when their paths nearly crossed. Barkley obediently observes at stage right as a troupe of punters launch into an early English folk dance. Handkerchiefs and toilet tissues are thrown into the air with reckless abandon as an incredible run of the best pop tunes you’ve never heard are strewn from the stage in the finest of finales.

If only we knew the full impact of what was just around the corner… 

 

Lael Neale – Every Star Shivers In The Dark

Sonic Breakfast has just received another note from Pete to Joanne to follow up on previously published letters here, here and here. I hope neither think I’m breaking their confidences by publishing the new one in full here… 

 

Hey Joanne,

It’s years since we last spoke and I have no idea if you’re still at this E-mail address? I’ll try you anyway as I’ve just heard a song that I have to share with you. 

Do you remember our holiday to Los Angeles? How could I forget? It was the first time that you told me that you loved me. We went for an early morning walk that turned out so well – from the Dodgers stadium into Downtown – along Alameda and up in the hills. And wherever we went, we were struck by the fact that people spoke, waved and acknowledged our existence. What a gorgeous day.

I yearn for such a beautiful walk now. This virus shows no sign of going away though. I’m holed up here in Manchester and the prospects don’t look good. I’d love to be in a festival field again soon, smiling at random strangers as we dance to wild beats in elevated states. Joanne, you were great company at those festivals. Your life has changed now I guess?

I digress. This tune I want to tell you about. It’s truly hypnotic, simple yet powerful. Lael Neale (no, I’ve not heard of her before either) seems to have gone on a similar walk as us through those LA landscapes. She charts her progress with beautiful little observations; slight vignettes into the lives of many in the bustling city.

There’s no chorus Joanne but I remember you used to love that about Squeeze’s Up The Junction so I don’t think you’ll be disappointed that this song doesn’t take a traditional form. There’s no guitar either; just a church organ, a drum machine and Lael’s crystalline voice. I think the sparse approach works. What about you? 

I’ll bother you no more Joanne. I’m sorry for writing out of the blue but my memories of Los Angeles are bound in this and I had to share. 

I hope you’re well,

Pete 

Ela Minus – dominique

For many of us, 2020 has been the year when ‘working from home’ has really come to the fore. In the past, we might have dabbled with the odd day here and there from the kitchen table but try working a whole week from home and attention would likely be drawn to your office visibility. 

Now the office is the place many of us go if we can to get away from our home surrounds. If we are able to temporarily escape from the dining room table, it’s likely that a trip to the office will mean rotas, excessive cleaning protocols and plants in need of water. Colleagues are unlikely to be there. It’s not the place it was.

And there are undeniable benefits about working from home. Personally, it’s given me the opportunity to hunker down at the Spanish villa whilst doing my London-based day job. I’ve worn shorts to work most days, started earlier because my travel time is nil, managed my own time and had a siesta when I’ve wanted. The flexibility has been liberating.

But, let’s not kid ourselves that damage isn’t being done as well. The boundary between work and home, already eroded by year’s of technological advance, is now clinging on by a thread. Our nights become daytime and vice versa as routine gives way to the reluctant acceptance that you do have time before sunrise to write that paper that’s needed for later.

I’m drawn to the new single, dominique, from Colombian musician, Ela Minus, because it documents a time last year when, for her, night and day blurred. “today I woke up ‪at 7PM‬ // my brain feels like it’s going to break“, sings Ela in the opening line of the track. Over spritely synth and uplifting electronica, Ela shows how she’s wedded to her creative craft. Like many artists before her, writing and recording works better in the witching hour.

It’s a song of solitude; a deceptive banger that’s ready-made for our hours of quarantine. I love the dark humour within; the hazy memories of a time-more-normal that Ela draws upon to convince that her sanity remains in tact; the gradual realisation that messing with your body-clock can be a very small act of rebellion. Somewhat appropriately, Ela’s new album is called ‘acts of rebellion’ and it’s out tomorrow.

It’s 5AM on Thursday morning. I wake, feel unable to sleep and begin to write a blogpost. 

 

Matthew Frederick – Fragments

I’ve been exchanging occasional E-mails with Matthew Frederick for over a year now. In that time, Matthew’s told me about each of the singles he’s released from his wonderful indie-folk album, Fragments. I’ve listened, always enjoyed but never written a blog post to show my appreciation. I guess I owe him one. 

The frontman of much lauded Welsh band, Climbing Trees, this solo project is a reminder that there are still great songwriters about in 2020 – and that they don’t always get the credit they deserve. 

Back in August 2019, Matthew took the time and effort to wish me well after I was mugged in London. I listened to his lovely track, Hay-On-Wye, around that time and was smitten. Evocative and laden with hazy memories , it recalls a happy day of drinking cider and messing about on the river – a fragment that wouldn’t be out of place on a best of the Lilac Time record. “It’s definitely my cup of tea”, I tell Matthew before he ‘exclusively’ reveals back that he doesn’t care much for tea or other hot drinks. 

 

This Spring , as we dealt with the ongoing impact of life locking down, Matthew sent me news of ‘Laura Jones’, his new single. Infused With classic piano-led, power-pop sentiment and innocent charm, this tune wonders what happened to the girl-most-likely-to in the eyes of the teenage Matthew. “Whatever did happen to Laura Jones?”, I asked by correspondence. I so hope she’s heard the song now but back then Matthew could shed no light on her fate. 

 

Tonight on the terrace, and on the back of a new mail from Matthew promoting his fifth single from Fragments, Leave The Light On, I blast the album out. There are chirpy, up-tempo numbers but mostly this work of porch-music beauty glistens with an honest melancholy. Matthew plays every instrument on the record. I think that needs to be known.

As the Welsh circuit-breaker begins, I wish Matthew well and urge regular readers of Sonic Breakfast to get a slither of hope from the gems on Fragments. 

 

 

The BOBS – Bargain Booze

“When booze was new its highs were true

But now the weekend is all you do 

And all the highs just lie to you”

It’s another Saturday night out in Alicante. As the alcohol flows our guard drops and we both take risks that sobriety would have warned against. 

We temporarily forget that there’s a global pandemic going on as we freely chat with cynical men from the North. They don’t believe they’re in danger and neither should we. 

Beers and shots are downed as we sympathise with the lad from Denmark who’s just had his laptop stolen from beside him. I buy a bongo, a cheap drum with garish decoration from a man selling all sorts of tat to impressionable tourists. 

Much drink is imbibed. It’s a night of high jinx, insane spirit and bargain booze. The bars are instructed to close at 1AM but by then we’ve had our fill. And we know about it in the morning when our heads throb.

I dare say that Bargain Booze, the cheap liquor store back in the UK, has been doing quite well  over the last months. Certainly, the tales in the media of the chain’s financial vulnerability seem to have abated since it was taken over a couple of years back. A model of business where location is everything, you’ll find these stores on the edge and in the heart of mass conurbations. With pub hours reduced, the Bargain Booze shops now become the social hubs for many.

The BOBS (Best of British Suicide) from Brighton have written an off-kilter ode to Bargain Booze. I’m not sure if this is directly about the store or more about the culture that we live in that both celebrates and demonises drinking depending upon your social class. 

Whatever, it’s a playful piece calling upon the frantic staccato of the Cardiacs before developing into a sort of punky Britpop four-pints-in chorus. Here we have a song that in the space of three minutes captures the highs and lows of drinking alcohol – joyful, spiky, wayward and carefree in a couple of shots. 

Even if the music is not entirely your thing (what are you, a teetotaller?), the video will surely make you smile with its stop-motion antics. Who knew that bottle openers and corkscrews had so much rhythm? 

Bargain Booze is a tune to lock-in to – and with this release, The BOBS declare themselves as ones to watch. 

 

Kären McCormick – Retro

Friday must be the day of the week when most new music is released. I honestly have no idea when is the best time to release music to give it the best chance of hitting the heights of the charts but my own mailbox always booms with press release a-plenty when the weekend’s cusp comes. 

Perhaps finally accepting old age with grace I now like nothing more on a Friday evening than sitting down with a glass of wine (or water in sober months – the alcohol is not important) to listen to those PR promoted tracks. 

I indulge in light banter with friends who say that all music released in this century is dull, uninspired and not as good as it was when we were young. I sympathise to some degree with their assertions but feel certain that they’re wrong. 

Because every Friday (and every day in total truth) my mailbox bulges with beautiful new jewels. 

Music that makes me grin, music that sparks memories, music that connects or simply music you can dance along with whilst singing the catchy chorus out loud. 

This new track (and video) from  Kären McCormick ticks all of the boxes above. Yes, Retro is cheesy and probably designed to be a massive hit on the Nashville radio airwaves. It doesn’t push any musical boundaries and some of my friends (see above) would argue that they’ve heard it all before. 

But Kären brings a positivity and breeziness to the fore in Retro. Like many good, well mannered, clean living  Country girls who have gone before she urges her new beau to take it slow, to court her and write her love letters in an attempt to date like in the pre-app old days.

The video also features a landline and we already know how partial I am to those. (Here)

It’s delivery is sweet and spritely – you suspect that Kären has got more in her tank if she really wants to let rip – but I can’t help dancing and singing along to the wide-eyed innocence within and I’m sure that many readers of Sonic Breakfast will be no different. 

Here’s to a weekend full to the brim with new music. 

Marie Naffah – California

I’m thinking about heading home. It’s not that I particularly want to leave this oasis in the South East of Spain to head back to the South East of England but I know I’ll have to one day soon. When I left from Stansted in July I had no idea that I’d still be here now. I’m stretching my Summer wardrobe out to the extremes pretending it’s still warm enough to wear T-shirts and shorts. And it is, just about, even though the nights are on the turn. 

I’ll miss it when I go. I was out here two years ago at exactly this time of year and though I built up a wild bank of memories, I was ready to return to London and a day job when the time came. But now, because of this odd year that we’re all experiencing, London pulls me less – and I can do the day job from here. I like my own company and I’m no longer a novice at dealing with the solitude. 

I’m drawn to the new single, California, from Marie Naffah. It’s competent stuff, soulfully delivered. There are happy memories within as Marie recalls a recent road trip and the smiles it still evokes. The song, a gentle jazzy-pop meander, is a vehicle for Marie’s fine voice as we drive along the coast in search of hidden coves and new dreams.

Marie sums it up better than I can when she says that, “Quite simply, ‘California’ is a love letter to a place. It’s meant to capture the infatuation of being somewhere that is not your home. Where the mundane becomes marvellous and every detail is a souvenir.I wrote it after coming back to London – the verses are just lines lifted from my diary pages. It all happened – the smell of the dock, the drives to nowhere, the early sun rises, the coffee from big cups ’.

I have no doubt that I’ll write similar love letters to Alicante when the time comes to leave. But, for now, I’ll try to live in the moment more, to soak up the sun as it touches the terrace and realise just how lucky I am to be living here right now. 

Cloudy Clouds – I Wrote You A Love Song

The press release waxes lyrical about Cloudy Clouds comparing him to Eminem, Lupe Fiasco and others of that ilk. But I’ve learnt to pay scant regard for the excessive hyperbole that surrounds new releases and prefer now to just give them a listen. 

In this case I’m glad that I did.

Cloudy Clouds is Claudio Elliston, a young man from Crouch End chiselling away at a very specific crevice of the hip-hop mountain. I hope Claudio doesn’t mind when I compliment by saying that this is a hip-hop for bedroom-based geeks. It’s Jilted John for the misfits of 2020. Eschewing the grandiose, the guns and the fast cars for something altogether more civilised, Cloudy Clouds moralises with modern parables about love and life. 

Take his new single, I Wrote You A Love Song, released alongside his new album, Imprisoned In A Daydream, this week. The humour in the words draws you in before the pathos takes over. “It’s all made up”, confesses Claudio in the last verse, not missing the opportunity to make a point about how we might all be better off if we learn to be honest about our feelings. 

 

It’s when telling a story that Cloudy Clouds really breaks through the Cirrus. The lead single from the album, Your Future Daughter, is absolutely worth five and a half minutes of anybody’s time. A sensible plea for the legalisation of Class A’s is accompanied by a wholly engaging mixed-media video. 

 

 

Geeky, wispy and yet unique enough to steer a clear trail through the humdrum, Cloudy Clouds is a worthy investment for anybody’s precious time. He doesn’t seem as messed up as Eminem and that has to be a good thing.