Hailey Tuck – Alcohol/Junk

Until yesterday, Hailey Tuck was a name that had passed me by. Maybe I’d seen the label ‘soft jazz covers’ and thought that her music wouldn’t be for me. But how wrong I’ve been? 

 

She’s been around for a while, an American still in her 20’s who has spent the best part of a decade living in Paris and reconnecting with a time that was altogether more glamorous. Sporting a beautiful bobbed haircut and giving the impression that she means every syllable that she purposefully utters, it was the video to a track from her forthcoming (and debut) album, Junk, out in May that got me foaming at the mouth. 

I’m a fan of The Kinks and firmly believe that Ray Davies is a songwriting genius. It’s fair to say though that his tune, Alcohol, from the Muswell Hillbillies album might never be considered a classic of their catalogue. However, Hailey Tuck has scrubbed the song down, added extra clarity to the slightly muffled vocal of the original and come up with a tune tinged with beautiful sadness. When she sings ‘who thought I would fall a slave to demon alcohol?’, you believe her every word. 

I had to get a copy of the album and promptly requested a preview copy. 

‘Why don’t you shut the door and close the curtains?’, asks Jarvis Cocker in Pulp’s fine tune, Underwear. In their version, it’s the sound of a seedy Sheffield, bedsits off Bramall Lane. But Hailey transforms the song and its meaning into a slightly skewed but perfect love song. Her voice is truly to die for.

 

Underwear falls towards the end of this most astonishing of listening experiences. I’ve never really been one for cover versions or tribute acts but on Junk, Hailey (and her fine band of jazz players) take us through an eclectic mix never once dropping a beat. From soul to folk originals, she turns Solomon Burke into Peggy Lee and Broadway musical-tunes into heart-wrenching ballads that you want to hear again and again. 

‘I fought against the bottle but I had to do it drunk’, sings Hailey in the opening track of the record, her cover of the Leonard Cohen song, ‘That don’t make it Junk’. Battles against addiction do surface from time to time, perhaps nowhere more so than in her exquisite cover of Colin Blunstone’s ‘Say You Don’t Mind’. Hailey knows that the word ‘wining/whining’ has double-meaning when she pleads to be forgiven for her wrongdoing in this classic. 

Ultimately, this is an exercise in taking old tunes from a range of genres and finding something new, immediate and exciting within. Her art form (soft jazz covers) might be as old as the hills but Tuck breathes and invigorates new life into it.

We’re at the final track of the album – a cover of Paul McCartney’s Junk. ‘Something old and new, memories for me and you’, sings Hailey and you suspect that sums up her modus operandi. 

Make no mistake though – this record is far from junk. 

 

Shelter – Stephen Karl and Handsome Animals

It’s raining in Alicante today. At one point, for about five minutes, it came down quite heavily. But, for the most part, this is the sort of rain that might register as light drizzle back in England. When I meandered back from language school this afternoon, people were sheltering in doorways or tentatively reviewing their instructions for putting up barely-used umbrellas. I took some delight in openly walking in the rain. I’m hardened to the extremes it seems. 

But the rain has served to quell my exploratory spirit. I’ve spent the afternoon drinking breakfast tea whilst eating tomatoes, cheese and bread. Instead of wandering around this fine city, I’ve been listening to music that’s been sent my way. I’ve barely scratched the surface. 

There’s a lot of great music being released but this track, Shelter, by Stephen Karl and Handsome Animals caught my ear on this rainy day.

“My heroes are Prince, Springsteen, Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt”, says Stephen, clearly a man with fine taste. “A lot of these tunes that were written around this time deal with romantic relationship struggles: ‘Shelter’ is an honest story of a relationship that is failing, but it does it in an honest, compassionate, and not-too maudlin way by acknowledging what I’m experiencing, and what I love about the woman I’m losing, and how I basically do want the best for her.”

Sonic Breakfast thinks it’s a belter of a tune; the exact sort of Americana that sends us all wobbly and quivery. Stephen has a rich voice that digs away into your brain whilst his quality musicians burrow into your body.

 

 

Shelter is one of four songs on a split EP with another New York based act, Darlin Darlin. Perhaps in future Sonic Breakfast blogposts I’ll feature them. Cyndi, the other track from Stephen Karl and Handsome Animals on the EP is also a cracker, especially for those of us who like story-songs.

“I wanted to present a fun story, and ‘Cyndi’ is that—about a night when I was 25 and got a kiss from Cyndi Lauper,”, says Stephen about this track whilst men and women of a certain age fight back the feelings of envy. 

 

 

El Dia Del Libro, Tardeo and Cambio de Idiomas (aka 3 reasons why the UK is culturally poor)

I’ve now been studying Spanish at a school in Alicante for six days. I’ve really enjoyed the learning experience and, as mad dog woman has still not left the villa that I’ll be moving into, I’m planning on booking an additional week. This’ll take me up to my trip to Lisbon for the now annual drunken mess that is the Eurovision party. It’s frustrating that the original plan, to write the novel in the sunshine by a pool, has yet to begin but I’m filling the time with all sorts of cultural experience.

We do things differently in the U.K. Those who cling to a misguided and outdated sense of the islands importance could do far worse than spending a few days in this part of Spain. Open your mind and there are lessons to be had. Everyone knows about the weather, the food and the general camaraderie but there’s other, more specific things that I’ve been learning.

Today is ‘el dia del libro’ or ‘world book day’ in much of the world. UNESCO decided years ago that April 23rd would be a good day to hold it given that it’s the date of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes. Of course, us Brits, cantankerous and awkward to the end, choose to pick another date for it (School Easter holidays being used as the excuse for us not playing ball with the rest of the world). April 23rd, as the English will know is also St. Georges Day (Dia de San Jorge in Spain and Sant Jordi in Catalonia). But whereas the English use the slaying of the dragon to pump their nationalistic fists and drape themselves in flags, it’s quite different here and particularly in Catalonia. There, in a day that’s akin to Valentines Day, men give their women roses whilst women reciprocate by giving books. I think it sounds like quite a charming cultural tradition. 

A much newer cultural ‘tradition’ but one that has nevertheless impressed me is the ‘tardeo’. When I arrived in Alicante on that Saturday afternoon, I had no idea why the streets seemed so alive at 4PM. But, I’ve since learnt that this is a concept that has emerged from Murcia. As we get older, it’s harder to justify dancing the night away. So, the tardeo makes the whole nightclub experience easier. In the afternoon and early evening, the nightclubs open their doors to an older generation. They typically play party music from the 80’s and 90’s and encourage the clientele to reminisce. Predominantly populated by people in their 30’s and 40’s, I can still just about cut the mustard there. The clubs don’t seem to charge an entrance fee and the middle-aged adults are up for a dance. I found myself wondering if such an experience could ever take off in the UK but then remembered how stubborn we are about foreign imports! 

One of my favourite bars that I’ve discovered in Alicante is Freaks Arts Bar. The proposition there is different in that it considers itself a cultural cafe. It hosts art exhibitions, theatre, art workshops and film programmes amidst a really friendly space. I’ve been along twice now for a form of ‘cambio de Idiomas’ (or language exchange).  Essentially, people seem to travel from miles around to learn about new cultures. The Spanish people there seem really keen to practice their English whilst I use the opportunity to learn more Spanish. Maxi, the bar owner, is an amiable Argentinian chap who’s lived here for a fair few years now. When I ask him why his English is so good, he declares it’s all from the films that he watches. He’s clearly a film buff; he’s a film-maker as well. 

I briefly allow myself to think why ‘cambio de Idiomas’ are barely a thing in England yet so vibrant in Spain but stop when the appalling thought becomes so obvious. We’re not a curious nation; we have little interest in language and we can get away with being lazy. More than that, we have little interest in others. Whether it’s world book day, Tardeo or language exchanges, we have to maintain our own place and identity. And we’re culturally poorer as a result. 

On another visit to Freaks Arts Bar I met Tim Ellis. Tim hosts a discussion class at the bar every Wednesday. Last week, we talked about a favourite subject, the weather. Tim’s a musician in this town. He’s clearly travelled extensively and shows no sign of wanting to return to his native Brighton. I can’t blame him. A composer of film and TV music, the humble Tim decides not to tell me that he’s produced for Julian Lennon but does tell me that he’s a singer-songwriter. That phrase conjures up all sorts of images but he’s not a man to be pigeon-holed. When I return to my student lodgings, I watch one of Tim’s songs on YouTube in a video that was produced by Maxi. This dark, warped and angry electronica pulls influence from the likes of Depeche Mode and Gary Numan. It’s about as far removed from the traditional singer-songwriter genre as you might expect. And I really quite like it. The adventure keeps on giving.

 

 

Back to school with the FB LSC group

Today I went back to school for the first time in over 25 years to learn a bit of Spanish. At 08:00, when the Enforex school opened the doors on us new starters, I was standing firmly outside of my comfort zone on Alicante’s esplanade. Initial assessment confirmed that I’m an absolute beginner (I took a test and guessed a lot) but my anxiety and nervousness soon crumbled as I got into the swing of things. By the time that five hours had passed I had to concede that I’d enjoyed the whole experience – and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s instalment.

 

For over a year now, I’ve been part of a closed Facebook group. FB LSC looked like lots of fun when I heard about it back in 2017. The idea’s a relatively simple one – a group of people keen to hear new music and to be pushed out of their comfort zones get together virtually to listen and comment upon new tunes nominated anonymously by others in the group. It all takes the form of a monthly song contest and (one of the immediate pulls for me) the scoring is based on the Eurovision point system. 

After getting the hang of things by awarding my points in one contest (FB LSC 24) I was able to nominate a track in the next. I thought I was playing it safe going for a solid number from the back catalogue of The Lovely Eggs but it didn’t register much interest from the other panel members and limped home in 15th (out of 19 songs) place. The winners of that contest by some margin were The Babe Rainbow, a band I’d not heard of before but was happy to be introduced to. 

The LSC was founded by Conor Fanning. He still participates in the contest and was happy to provide a bit of background.

“I initially set up the group on last.fm. I cannot take credit for the idea as it is based on the Eurovision voting structure and there are other versions of this idea on the internet. The reason I set it up was I missing a social connection with fellow people who were passionate about music. Through the medium of last.fm I felt it was appropriate. What came from it was not simply just a means to express individual taste but also to form a community. During those days we were on average between 25-30 participating members. And the group as a whole had up to 400 members. The community aspect built from the live shows, people would comment and chat live as the songs were posted. It was a fun environment. It was particularly enjoyable for those who were open-minded to other genres and people’s negative comments on their entries. There were some members who appeared to take these personally sometimes and left the group. What was interesting was you would usually see a band of supporters actually emerge to encourage members like this to not take comments personally. The group also offered a general forum for discussion topics and lots and lots of games. This was a very active space that allowed members participating or new and old members to build a community-like environment outside of the contest. I honestly put a lot of heart into that group on last.fm so when last.fm removed the group function I was rather bummed out. The group on Facebook – I’m not involved with the administration side of it. I was actually asked by Martin for permission to carry it over to Facebook.”

Martin takes over the story:-

“I’ve been involved in the contest since 2010 and the fifth contest back when it was on the old last fm site.  At that time we were few in number.  Conor was the founder and Jens has been involved since the inception I think.  For me it’s provided a group of people who are passionate about an exceptionally wide range of music.  It’s opened my horizons to genres that I would previously never have even considered exploring.  It’s allowed me to look outside of the English speaking world and find some incredible artists from other nations.  It’s inspired my love for nordic female led folk/acoustic music and spurred me on to explore electronica in much more detail than I had previously.  To top if off, as well as being an excellent vehicle for musical discovery, it is peopled by a bunch of thoroughly decent folks.  There is no nastiness and everyone is free to disagree with each other on the songs.  When that happens it is nearly always done respectfully and it is good to get other perspectives.  I’ve been one of the hosts now for a long time and when Last fm ruined itself and got rid of the social aspect it was me that started up the facebook group. Jens and I then oversaw the migration to here from last and even prompted a few people to actually set up their first FB accounts just so they could stay involved.”

It’s fair to say that the track record of the tunes I’ve entered to date hasn’t been spectacular. Winning is obviously for muppets but I’m yet to come close. I’ve not even scraped inside the top five and one or two of my entries (which shall remain anonymous) have been placed last (although not with nil points). I randomly entered a song by Nahko that I was somewhat ambivalent about and his musing on dragonflies came in sixth overall – my best effort to date. A PR company has just sent me details about his new track; Hamakua resonates with me more. 

 

 

To get a sense of the latest LSC playlist, you can look here on YouTube. 

 

 

Why don’t you take a step outside of your comfort zone today, challenge yourself with something new and throw yourself into this fine bit of social network fun? To join, search for LSC General group on Facebook and request membership. Martin or Jens will then sort you out with what you need. Or, if that sounds too complicated just speak to me. Hasta pronto.

Barrio Boutik, Alicante and Illumenium

I had to write something at this desk – correspondence from a charming boutique hostal in the old town of Alicante. Downstairs in the Barrio Boutik, the bedroom has a little narrow alcove at the end of which is a small desk. There’s an ornamental lamp on it. And a mirror on the wall. Whenever I look up from the glare of my I-pad, I’m reminded that I desperately need a barber. 

 

The Barrio Boutik is exceptional value for money and a great place to stay. I think that the French owners were a little concerned that I might leave a critical and harsh review about the noise that surrounds. It’s located in a vibrant part of town and I was suitably warned after booking that Saturday night noise can permeate until the early hours. Us hardened festival-goers don’t mind the background beats as we drift off to sleep – and if it gets too much there’s always earplugs. 

 

Truth is that the noise is currently pleasant rather than intrusive. There’s a punk club just down the road and if I wasn’t such a loner I’d consider heading back out. 

Initial impressions of Alicante are positive. I’m here to learn a new skill but I do wish I was able to speak a bit more Spanish right now. From mid-afternoon, stags, hens and birthday bods have partied with raucous intent, plastic cocks stuck on faces with the dressing all fancy. I’ve felt like an outsider looking on. My ‘holas’ can lead nowhere.

Earlier as I walked up the esplanade, I was stopped by an enthusiastic youngster waving a CD under my nose. “Do you speak English?”, he asked. I was grateful to respond, to feel potentially useful. Turns out that Illumenium are an Estonian metal band. They’re wildly and widely travelling around Europe actively pushing their music into the hands of anybody who might listen. I refuse to feel bad for not buying the CD despite being urged to support a group of struggling musicians realise their dream. Illumenium’s determination is undoubtedly impressive, as is the quantity of their Facebook followers (“We have over 100,000“, I was told, the efforts to impress me by numbers falling upon deaf ears).

 

Of course, being the music geek that I am, I had to head home to this desk and listen to Illumenium. As I’d suspected, it’s not my sort of music. It could well be decent and the future of metal but I have no critical framework in which to base it. Regardless, I have all sorts of respect for a band that are taking such active steps to promote their music. I’d be keen to know what other Sonic Breakfast readers with a heavier taste might think. 

 

My first week in Spain

I’ve been in Spain for a week now having left Leicester with my carload of ‘stuff’ back in March.

 

By now I should be settled into the villa that will become home for the next year. But the previous tenant is dragging her feet and despite paying no rent to Sarah is showing few signs of urgency in terms of vacating. It’s all a tad frustrating. The lawyers might well need to get involved. Without Sarah’s permission, the current tenant (who we’ll call mad-dog woman for ease of reference) has been using the property as a dog rehabilitation home. The fixed kennels that have been installed on the land don’t appear to be coming down. This could be a long and drawn-out process. 

We’ve tried to use the time productively by touring around the vast and varied Muebles that operate in these parts. Warehouses by the side of roads almost look closed when you drive up to them (and some are – we set off an alarm in one when we innocently wandered in). But enter inside these sprawling caves and you’ll find all manner of home furnishings. We figure that the furniture currently in the property might need replacing when mad-dog woman and her troop of fifty dogs finally decide to leave. Not that anything can be bought as yet. 

We’ve also used the time to visit some of the lovely attractions around these parts. On the drive down from Bilbao we stopped overnight in Zaragoza. I wish we’d got the lift to the top of the Basilica on a day when my legs weren’t still feeling the ferry-wobbles. The view from up there of this fantastic city was surely impressive but such was my feeling of retrospective sea-sickness I clung to the lift shaft and barely looked down. 

The day trip on ‘Dave’s Coaches’ to Cartagena was also impressive. “Is this a history-like place?”, asked one punter to another, blissfully unaware of what they were about to see. In truth, although I’d read about the place in tourist and history books, nothing can really prepare you for being there. As you walk out of the Teatro Romano museum into the open-air space of the theatre itself, it’s hard not to be overcome by the sheer scope and size. I delivered my best Shakespeare soliloquy from the stage of the theatre, demonstratively flinging my arms in OTT fashion as I pondered the meaning of life. Sarah bought me back to earth by pointing out that this arena pre-dated the Bard by a mere millennium and a half.

Accidentally stumbling upon the burial of the sardine fiesta in Murcia last Saturday was another highlight. We caught the train from our temporary hostel in Crevillente keen to see the swish elegance of the casino and to experience the highly-rated tapas. We had no idea that we’d enter a city full of noise, vivacity and carnival troupes handing out toys and trinkets to wide-eyed children. As we shuffled down the main promenades full of Spanish cheer and beer, I couldn’t help thinking that the decision to spend a year adventuring in this country is a wise one. 

Sarah heads back to England tomorrow and then I’ll be very much alone. I’ve met lots of people willing to help in evicting mad-dog woman but it would appear that patience is the right tactic for now. She’ll go when she’s ready to and then I can concentrate on getting the villa into some semblance of order. Nothing seems to happen with haste here and it’s best to go with that flow. I’ve enrolled on an intensive Spanish language course in Alicante for the next two weeks. I’ll be sharing accommodation with other students, something that I last did 25 years ago. It’s been so long since I’ve attempted to learn a new language it’s likely that my brain will explode. In my spare time, I plan to listen to new music and blog about what I’ll find. I’m also going to see if I can get myself accredited for ‘We Are Murcia’,  an exciting festival that’s soon to take place in the city. 

Until next time, here’s a tune I heard whilst sat in the town hall in Catral yesterday. It took on new meaning amongst the inefficiencies and frustrations. 

 

 

 

Ferris & Sylvester, August And After & Lozt – Cambridge Boat House – February 23rd 2018

As my plans to move to Spain edge ever closer, I’m keen that Sonic Breakfast will still host gig reviews from the UK. My good friend, Paul Champion, has covered a couple in Leicester and now the lovely Katy Adkins reports from Cambridge after a happy Friday night. 

 

Sonic Breakfast introduced me to Ferris and Sylvester with its blog (here) about their newly released EP, Made In Streatham (Jan 31st 2018) and it was a love-at-first-listen affair. Over the last month this has been my go-to music and I’ve felt that inquisitive longing to get to know their work more extensively. Last night’s gig in Cambridge has left me temporarily sated. 

After a drive of just over an hour, with my +1 sidekick in tow we arrived at The Boathouse, Cambridge, to find just a single parking space available and it was directly outside the venue – joy!  This adventure was going very smoothly so far and there was a growing sense of excited anticipation for what was to come. 

The Boathouse is part of a popular chain of gastro-pubs and seemed an unlikely venue: we found that we were not the only people to find themselves questioning the bar staff about whether we were in fact in the correct place.  We were directed through a small door, upstairs to the intimate function room, where seats were set out in front of a small, warmly-lit stage area.  Whilst waiting for the acts to prepare and as people arrived I learned that this was one of a number of warm-up gigs being hosted around Cambridge by the organisers of The Den Stage as part of The Cambridge Folk Festival set to take place in August 2018.  They whet the appetite of potential crowds with up and coming acts whom have already graced The Den stage or those who are expecting to later this year. 

 (To read about the support acts, click on page 2)