Sugarmoon – Autumn Leaves

I’ve said it before on Sonic Breakfast but I’m no fan of Autumn in the UK. I know that others love the season; they delight in stomping through the mushy leaves at the side of the road whilst ticking off purchases from their Christmas list. I just find it bleak. As the days get shorter, colder and generally uglier, the sense of loss pervades. I am so glad that, last year, my extended stay in Spain meant I’d have to face one less UK Autumn in my life. 

 

Bristol’s Sugarmoon get it. Their folk-pop gem, Autumn Leaves, artfully captures a strained relationship on the edge of decay. The love is dying though there’s hope that this might be rekindled by the Springtime. Gently paced and delightfully delivered, it’s a tune laden with loss. It’s beautifully maudlin, made so by a combination of Sophie Jones’ calm, restrained vocal and the minor chords of the keyboard.

Sophie’s vocal was very nearly not part of this track at all. It was circumstance that thrust her into the limelight for this song. Guitarist Ryan McMurtry, who wrote the track, says: “I lost my voice right at the start of the first lockdown in April and we had a live stream planned, so we changed the key of Autumn Leaves and Sophie sang it. We were all blown away by how it sounded, so we just kept it like that when recording!

The video to ‘Autumn Leaves’, a collection of old family footage found in the attic at Sophie’s Grandparents’ house, adds to the atmosphere. Sporadic memories, bittersweet moments, day trips in Wales and a look back to times that were simpler, happier and more civil. 

I ask Ryan what’s the first thing he’ll do when lockdown eases. “Hopefully, the first thing we’ll do on june 21st is play some music together!”, he says. “And dish out the hugs 🙂 how about you?

There are hugs a-plenty on offer in Autumn Leaves and there’s more to come from Sugarmoon at the end of March. The days are getting longer and things are on the up. 

StanLei – Wake Up

It seems kind of obvious that Sonic Breakfast, a blog with the tag-line ‘Music musings with your muesli’, should feature a song called ‘Wake Up’. The breezy chorus of the tune and gentle, laidback beat could be perfect fodder for those still yawning, dabbing the sleepy dust from their eyes and trying to get their arses into gear for an inevitably busy Wednesday. 

But it doesn’t take long to realise that StanLei’s ‘Wake Up’ is asking you to do so much more than to smell the coffee percolating in your cafetière. This is a protest song, a call to arms that’s urging us all to take much more interest in the political, environmental and social issues of the day. “We are all in this together so why cant you take a minute before you sit back down, put your blinkers on and settle in it“, says StanLei in the song before another chorus kicks in.

StanLei (‘stan-lay’) – real name Jennifer Stanley Smith – is a singer songwriter and producer based in Toulouse. Leaving the adopted hometown of Bristol to spend years travelling as a nomadic seasonal worker, Jenny looks to have now settled in France. It’s from there that her debut album will be released, hopefully in April. 

Having spent one unexpected night in Toulouse back in 2018, I obviously hardly feel qualified to wax lyrical about the place. But the city did seem to have a vibrant energy and an ‘alternative’ culture that marked it out from other parts of a slightly dated, stuffy France that I’d been previously travelling through. “Toulouse is a really cool city, it even reminds me a bit of Bristol.“, says StanLei when I mention my sole visit. “I’m actually in the countryside outside Toulouse now though so 2020/2021 has been a bit more bearable here I think.”

Being free to travel across France (or to drive across any Continent) seems a long way away right now. But that surely doesn’t mean that I have to self-isolate without talking about the things that really matter. Today is a day to begin to ‘take back my power.’

Gürl – Surrender

I decided to make the most of a few days away from work to head to Valencia. I’ve never been here before but I can now see why friends rate it so highly. Despite being visibly impacted by the pandemic, there’s still an urgent sexiness, a thrilling throb in the air. Like a virgin, I can’t wait to give in to the full experience. 

My legs are tired though from all of the tourism-walking that I’ve been doing. Eagerly, I look at the health app on my phone to realise with disappointment that I’m simply covering the same steps that I did in a normal London day pre-pandemic. I’m out of practice.

Then, after work, I was invariably rushing across the city to spot the new and the up and coming. I still keep an eye out for what those acts are now doing. Bristol’s anti-pop  band, gürll, were one that most impressed. 

I saw them twice in 2019, both times as the support act for Gazel. The first time I saw them (review here) at Paper Dress Vintage, they delighted with a powerful, sexual machismo, their vibrant desire-fuelled soul bouncing off the vintage garments in the clothes shop. 

Last month, gürl released a new single and video for a song, Surrender, that perfectly sums up the mood they create. As lead singer, Joshua Dalton observes, “Surrender tells a story of desperate submission; giving yourself to someone fully and them giving themselves to you. A dangerous kind of love, filled with the shallow base yearning of smoky eyes, tipsy confidence, and hands running up your back, through to an endless, cosmic devotion. Surrendering to someone, totally.” 

You can’t say fairer than that. 

I didn’t want to write about Surrender in 2020 to get lost amidst the Christmas buzz; I wanted to feature this as my Happy New Year song. 2021 is surely going to be better and we won’t be able to surrender to those sexual urges any longer. 

Valencia – I’m about to see what your Saturday offers. 

 

 

Gazel & Gurl – Paper Dress Vintage – May 1st 2019

Wednesday night in the city – and it’s a hat-trick of new venues visited by Sonic Breakfast. Paper Dress Vintage is my favourite of the three. 

It’s a really friendly welcome I get when I venture over the threshold of this cool space in Hackney that’s a vintage clothing shop by day and a venue by night. Shirts and jackets hang around the walls of the upstairs, fashion statements from a range of yesterday’s subcultures. A soundtrack blasts out reminders of female-fronted indie twee pop bands that I’d long since forgotten about but love all the same. (Mikabomb, The Primitives and Darling Buds anyone?).

I’m here to see Gazel. This British/Turkish songwriter and producer has seen her stock rising in these parts with the recent release of single, ‘You’re Not Funny’. It precedes an album release later this year. But before I see Gazel, in an odd turn of events wholly appropriate for a ‘vintage’ store, Sonic Breakfast meets her Mum. We chat briefly, before the support band take to the stage, about homelessness, architecture and proud parenting. Gazel’s Mum has every right to feel proud.

Gurl are the handpicked support travelling all the way from Bristol to do the honours. The four-piece huddle tightly in the limited space they have on stage whilst running through a set that touches lots of bases and bounces around genres. From souped-up trip hop they head into guitar rock solos before a cover of ‘It’s a Man’s World’ shows of their vocalist’s powerful and soulful range. At times, they veer into sounding a tad Rag ‘n’ Bone Man before calling on the ghost of Bowie’s early to mid 80’s output. As Gurl’s set draws to a close in funk-prog excess, I reflect how much I’ve enjoyed their show. I’d see them again for sure.

 

Gazel looks the part. With sparkly gold trousers, a mass of hair and round Lennon-glasses, she imitates a 1970’s folk singer who’s taking her first steps to embrace disco. Impressive video visuals behind her band tell an intriguing story as the venue’s heart of glass starts to slowly turn. 

This is high concept arty stuff always managing to remain on the right side of pompous. Gazel’s forthcoming album, Book Of Souls, takes us on a conscious/sub-conscious trip encountering a variety of souls who dwell within. An elderly widow sits in a desert obsessed with the fear of going outside (even though she is). The night concierge occupies that space in our lives between being awake and dreaming. And this one is all about the process of becoming a zen master. 

Whilst some of the ideas might not completely connect with this old cynic, the show remains fresh and engaging throughout. Standard dance beats give way to more middle Eastern rhythms. Belly dancing moves are exotically thrown into the mix before electronic drum pads are beaten and a violin stroked. As the lights dim, a mock gas lamp is lit; Gazel is an adventurer striding confidently into a hidden cave armed with a spell of spoken word prose.

Gazel gets us all to sit down during a slower number. I’m reminded just how ‘vintage’ these bones are as I attempt to cross my legs. There’s theatre oozing out of this set. I imagine it’s the sort of show that a young Kate Bush would have put on; in fact, it’s probably not far removed from a show that Kate Bush would put on now if she had an appetite for live performance. 

Always attracted to the drama within gigs, there was surely never any doubt that I’d enjoy the multi-media assault on the senses that’s frothing within a Gazel show. I’ll return to both act and venue before 2019 is done for sure. 

 

 

Seazoo, Little Thief & The Desert – The Old Blue Last – April 3rd 2019

Sometimes, free gig nights in this fair city feel expertly curated; at other times, they feel like they’ve been thrown together with little thought to any common thread between bands on the bill. For a genre-hopper like me, the latter mish-mash approach is often more appealing. I had a grand time on Wednesday night at the Old Blue Last when three very different acts took to the stage.

The Desert were up first. From Bristol, this four-piece specialise in mellow acoustic pop layered with gentle electronics. Lyrically, they’ve got the broken love story off to a tee with words like distract, bitterness and gone featuring heavily. Their main singer looks fruity with a lime green dress and bob haircut and there’s no denying that she has a pleasant, calm voice. Think Everything But The Girl crossed with Sadė yet produced in the city of trip hop. Some of the more subtle changes in variety are a bit too much for a chattering Wednesday night crowd but mostly the good stuff on show here is appreciated.

 

Little Thief are a much harder proposition than The Desert. They’re a three piece and probably consider themselves a jagged indie-rock band. I can’t get over how much the singer sounds like Sting though.  A track that they put out a couple of weeks back, Bringing It Back, stands out as a slightly heavier version of Roxanne. The bass player (who is not the singer – a fundamental difference from Police) jumps into the crowd and plays his instrument behind his head before a ballad is announced and lighters are waved. It’s fair to say that the crowd are loving Little Thief. I didn’t dislike them myself.

 

Seazoo have featured on Sonic Breakfast before. Sometimes, back in my Leicester days, I ‘allowed’ friends to contribute and this (here) was one such post. My good friend, Paul, has pretty different music tastes to me but it appears that we converge when it comes to jjangle-pop from North Wales. 

Seazoo are a band made for Sonic Breakfast. It’s no accident that their album from last year, Trunks, shows up as one of my most played on Spotify. They’re are all about fine, happy tunes tinged with shuffling awkwardness. When we’re introduced to the ‘shoddy display’ of CDs and T-Shirts at the merch desk it’s all perfectly in sync with the somewhat makeshift and stumbling nature of the band. For me,this music is pure bliss but only those living with the Sarah Records and Belle And Sebastian back-catalogue might fully agree. 

Criminally, large swathes of the crowd that watch Little Thief leave and so, despite the long distance travelled, action is initially sparse for Seazoo. It must be a real bummer but like true pros, the show goes on. Those of us remaining get a treat. Spring is in the air and you can almost smell summer within these tunes. Many are enticed back and by the time the show ends, fans and new converts are energetically high-kicking with arms gleefully interlocked. 

Strangers smile over the friendly, ramshackle brew. It’s been yet another great night out.

 

Idles – Nottingham Bodega Social Club – March 29th

It’s time to rip up the notebook (or at least to stop trying to make notes on my phone). You see, that’s what i do at gigs. Those notes help to jog the memory when I come to write about what I’ve just witnessed. I’ve got pretty rubbish recall otherwise. 

Such is the immediacy of Idles, seducing us with their every sinew, here in Nottingham at the Bodega, I’ve got to just live in this moment. For this short blast of punk, spit and throb, I’ve just got to be. Fuck my phone – I’d probably drop it in the mosh pit anyway. 

(Click on page 2 for my review..of sorts)

 

The Blue Aeroplanes – Welcome Stranger!

Christmas is done for another year. Miles have been driven and much has been spent on petrol and snacks in service stations. I’ve quite enjoyed it but it’s nice to be home knowing that I can leave my car alone for a few days.

I used the time whilst driving to get to know some promo CDs that I’ve recently been sent. There was one CD that I listened to more than any other, regularly on repeat, and that’s the forthcoming release from The Blue Aeroplanes, ‘Welcome, Stranger!’. 

(Click next page to read on)

Idles – Well Done

Your blog’s a bit Radio 2 innit“, said somebody to me the other week.

“No, it’s not. It’s eclectic”, I protested. “It’s basically things that catch my ear and excite me.”

But then I looked back over old posts and I saw what they meant. There’s a fair few fiddles and enough acoustic guitars to shake a tambourine at. 

Well, all I can say is fuck you today! I couldn’t sleep last night and so found myself listening to new music at 4AM. Maybe noise and energetic aggression hadn’t been doing it for me but then I heard this new track, Well Done, by Bristolian band, Idles. I certainly couldn’t sleep after that.

It’s spit-simplistic and shouty, punky and direct. It name-checks Mary Berry, Trevor Nelson, reggae and a chap called Tarquin in what sounds like an angry protest against ‘stuff’. I want to believe that this ‘well done’ is a two-fingered salute against conformity and blindly accepting whatever might be popular. 

I hear that Idles live show is something else. They’re touring at the moment and, whilst not touching Leicester, there are options not far away with a gig at Derby’s Hairy Dog on November 11th being the obvious time for me to check them out. 

Well done Idles for giving Sonic Breakfast a shove and a kick. Love it. I’d still rather cut my nose off to spite my face.

 

 

 

The Allergies (featuring Andy Cooper) – Rock Rock

I take no blame. I did warn readers yesterday that the Kinjac video might be a bit gruesome to accompany your breakfast snack – so I consider the complaints received invalid.

“Can’t you just post something a bit more uplifting and cheery?” I was asked. 

“Oh, go on then”, I conceded. 

Bristol based production duo, The Allergies, have teamed up with Andy Cooper from the pretty legendary hip-hop act, Ugly Duckling, to release Rock Rock, an exuberant blast of tongue-twisting, mixed-up madness. Andy only seems to pause for breath when he punches the title  out; for the rest of this energetic extravaganza, he’s juggernauting along at breakneck speed uttering phrases quicker than my head can compute.

It truly makes for an exhiliarating ride. The crisp, soulful funky swagger given to the track by The Allergies’ production would probably be enough to carry this cake as an instrumental but the addition of the lyrical topping gives it a sweeter taste. I see that The Allergies are booked for a fair few festivals this year. It makes a lot of sense. Boomtown will go wild for this sort of thing.

Not only is this a top tune but it has a happy video as well. The puppet show towards the end is delightful. Andy’s clearly quite a character. 

What’s that you’re saying? You’d love to be able to exorcise the demons of yesterday by rapping along to ‘Rock Rock’? As a very special treat – and as long as you promise to watch the main video first – I’ll attach the lyric video as well… Good luck, you’ll need it.

 

 

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.