Montrell, Michael Kurtz and Foreign T.V. – The Victoria – November 21st 2019

I’ve known Michael Kurtz since he was 16. That was six years ago. Back then, I spent January evenings down at Leicester’s Musician watching the best of the area’s local acoustic acts. And Michael was undoubtedly one of the best. With a rich, baritone voice and a lyrically astute delivery style, you couldn’t avoid the sense that he had effortless talent beyond his tender years. 

Dean Jackson, the influential BBC Introducing man of the East Midlands got wind of Michael’s talents and studio sessions beckoned. Deservedly, Michael’s profile was rising.

We’ve stayed in touch a bit via social media. I was delighted when Michael checked in a few weeks ago to tell me about a couple of gigs that he was playing down here in London with his new band, Montrell. 

I went along to the Gotobeat promoted Thursday night at one of my favourite haunts, Dalston’s Victoria. Michael generously added me to his list. I’d not come across the Gotobeat model before but I like what they’re trying to do. They’re putting on shows for a club of gig lovers. For a tenner a month, club members can go to all promoted Gotobeat gigs. Arguably, it’s an advanced way of doing things better for bands rather than fronting up the various free shows that London offers. I’ll watch their model with interest. And it’s their photo here as well. 

Before Michael takes to the stage to we get those Tricky Dicky’s from Billericay, the cheeky chaps of Foreign T.V.. They’ve all come straight from work if their stage garb is anything to go by. Their lead singer sports a fleece advertising the painting and decorating firm that employs him. “I’ve still got paint all over my face, I’ve come from an orgy”, he jokes before the band launch into a James Taylor cover. It turns out that the hip-hop vintage vest wearing guitar player is a primary school teacher. “It’s times tables tests tomorrow”, he tongue-twistingly laments.

Musically, Foreign T.V. jump through a range of genres with their main focus being a laidback and sleazy 70’s jazz-funk. Yet over the top of that, they place the swagger of a Britpop era Blur and a lyricism of early Squeeze. We get talk of pheromones in the back seats of taxis before their lead singer throws his fleece into the crowd and conducts a choreographed aerobics. “I need it back for work tomorrow”, he warns. 

Michael’s playing a solo set before he then takes lead guitar responsibility for Montrell. No slouch in the height front when he was 16, this giant man now towers over all as he haunches towards the mic stand. Foreign T.V. are a hard act to follow inasmuch as they make a lot of noise on stage and Michael doesn’t. And that background chatter (often coming from the mouths of that first act) is undeniably off-putting in the early part of the set. Michael perseveres though and his charm wins through. Like Nick Drake (or indeed James Taylor), his songs are gentle, clever and melodic. His voice still belies his years. He’s proud that Montrell have asked him to join them as their guitarist and the original members of the band repay the compliment by joining Michael on stage for a beefed-up and simply brill version of ‘Carved In Stone’.

There’s no denying Montrell’s musical prowess. So capable are they that they give off an air of session musicians having a night out. They write fine songs that might be classed as easy listening, middle-of-the-road pieces; think Bread (the band, not the sitcom) and you’d be in the right space. None of that is meant as an insult; indeed, I can’t think of many bands I’ve seen this year occupying such a space and I’d take such considered songwriting over indie bluster every day of the week. Jonny, lead vocalist, has a calm charm about him as he regales us all with tales of tracks written in German hotel rooms and songs about feeling alienated in the morning when you wake up in a strange place. There’s a picture of a lemon posted to the wall; the reason for which is none too obvious. 

Montrell tell how they met Michael and knew he had to be their guitarist. The baby-faced one seems to be fitting in well and certainly adds to the overall effect of the band. It’s been a neat night and I head home happy. 


Si Clancy – That’s All

A couple of weeks ago now, I went along to a session organised by BBC Introducing in the East Midlands. I wrote a bit about it here. At the event, I bumped into Si Clancy. We’d talked briefly before at a party before Christmas. But, I was incredibly drunk at that party and I doubt that our conversation made much sense. 

Before Christmas, Si was talking enthusiastically about his album/EP that he’d spent a considerable amount of time and money recording. It was clear that this was a project that was a labour of love, something that Si simply had to do. Evidently, once released this was going to have quality stamped all over it – recorded at Yellowbean (a studio that I’m told is the best in the East Midlands and one that can compete with those in London), produced by Jez Burns (the best local producer if you’re looking for attention to detail), partly orchestrated by the wonderful Martha Bean and then mastered at Abbey Road, this was a project unlikely to fail.

At the BBC introducing event, Si gave me a copy of ‘That’s All’ in advance of the official launch this Thursday at the Musician. I’ve been listening to it on and off in my car on the drive to work ever since.

There’s six polished, exceptionally well-produced tracks on ‘That’s All’. I’m not sure whether six tracks makes this an EP or an album but I guess such detail doesn’t matter. At his core, Si Clancy is a singer songwriter that will appeal to those women (and men probably) who listen to Radio 2. He has a voice that I’d place somewhere between James Blunt’s and Passenger and a songwriting style that takes a leaf or two out of Tom Baxter’s songbook. What sets this apart from many singer/songwriters on the scene at the moment are the string arrangements  and orchestration within. Starting gently, each song adds layers onto layers, detail onto simple starts which makes for an engaging listen. The exquisite voice of Martha Bean adds texture and depth to the tracks completing a beautiful concoction.

These songs mainly focus on loss. Si is in a place of anguish and he wants us to know about it. Whether it’s alone in his  bedroom, lights out and making calls to a partner who’s not answering (as he is in the EP opener ‘What would you know’) or repeating patterns of behaviour that he knows are ultimately futile (in ‘Old Abandoned Feeling’), here’s a man on the edge of making some life changing decisions if he could just muster the confidence to do so. It’s only in stand out track, ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’, that Si grabs the bull by the horns, takes a deep breath and says that the ‘doubt is no longer going to kill him’. He mans up and throws his troubles away. Martha sings like an angel which can only help that decision making process.

Already getting considerable airplay from Dean Jackson at BBC Introducing, Si has created something here which will have a mass appeal. The indie kids, rock chicks and dance fanatics are likely to walk on by but those who are able to appreciate the beauty of things will surely stay a while and spend time testing all that’s ‘That’s All’.



If you’re Leicester based, you could do worse than take a trip down to the Musician for the launch on Thursday. For a fiver, you not only get Si but also Martha Bean, Joel Evans, Adam Dunmore, Thomas William Shephard and a new acoustic group called ‘Thawn’. 



Dean Jackson and Kevin Hewick

Dean Jackson is a fine man. For years now, he’s been a man to influence if you’re an act from the East Midlands. Dean is the presenter of The Beat, a show that goes out across the BBC local radio network in Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. Between 8 and 10 every Saturday evening, Dean and his team feature the very best unsigned music in the region via BBC Introducing.

Kevin Hewick is a fine man. For years now, he has been an influential and yet largely unrecognised talent on the local Leicester music scene. Spend five minutes in Kevin’s company and he’ll entertain you with one of his many rock n’roll tales. Kevin was once signed to Factory records. He was very nearly the man to replace Ian Curtis as lead vocalist in Joy Division. I reviewed one of Kevin’s recent Leicester shows here

Tonight, at the BBC radio studios in Leicester, Dean Jackson briefed a gaggle of interested Leicester musicians on the processes behind BBC Introducing. In an informative session, Dean and his team told all those present how they could maximise their chances of getting airplay. If you’ve got a song with a short intro that lasts no more than four minutes and if you can convey emotion whilst singing in tune you could well be onto a winner. Clearly, there’s more to it than that and there are always exceptions. 

On Kevin Hewick’s latest album, the excellent ‘Heat Of Molten Diamonds’, there are tracks that are 13 minutes in length. Kevin was listening to Dean tonight. He asked some questions and made some comments when given the opportunity to do so. Kevin’s point (I think) was that some of the rules laid down by BBC Introducing (there are always exceptions) make it harder now than it ever was to get an audience for your recordings. This wasn’t the way it was for Can. Kevin then told all how Lauren Laverne told him to ‘bog off‘ on Twitter when he complained about her playing ‘that Daft Punk tune about Giorgio Moroder that’s 9 minutes in length.’

Despite some of these differences in opinion, you could tell that both men have a healthy respect for each other. I wish I’d written the phrase down but Kevin said something like, ‘You’re a good man within an evil empire‘ about Dean. And you got a sense that, if BBC rules allowed, Dean would love to play Kevin’s 13 minute opus on a Saturday evening. It’s certainly true that both are good for the East Midlands music scene.

Here’s a track from Kevin’s latest album. If you’ve not got a copy, it can be purchased from his website. It’s worth adding to your collection.



And here’s the excellent video of the same tune. 

The Native

I’ve lived in Leicester for over ten years now – and have found it a wonderfully welcoming place. I’ve always gone to gigs in this lovely city and have seen many, many great acts over the years. There’s websites that promote the local scene and I’ve no intention of duplicating what they do well but from time to time when I hear a track or see a band that I want to write about then I’ll post details of them here.

I first saw the Native over a year ago – except they weren’t called The Native then. They were simply called Ben and Chloe. Ben’s vocal style reminded me of Coner Oberst. Chloe stood looking nervous waiting to complement on vocals and to accompany on violin. They’ve improved in the year since and this track has been played on Dean Jackson’s BBC Introducing The Beat. Both Ben and Chloe are still in their teens. Ben’s latest song is an ode about narcissism.