Artmagic, The Left Outsides & Thom Ashworth – Paper Dress Vintage – May 21st 2019

Cast your eyes around the crowd before Artmagic take to the stage at Paper Dress Vintage and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re at a convention of Suede fan-club obsessives. Friendships are reunited whilst band T-shirts from back in the day are admired. It all shouldn’t really surprise as one half of the Artmagic duo is Richard Oakes, long-term guitarist of Suede. 

I surmise that I’m no more than a Johnny-Come-Lately here and marvel at the loyalty. Because in truth, Artmagic aren’t much like Suede. Admittedly, the expansive guitar vision within Oakes’ repertoire crosses both bands and the effortless flourish adds to the floss. But Artmagic are very much a duo in their own right. Sean McGhee, no slouch in terms of music industry influence either, is more than an equal partner. It’s his words, his character sketches, his soaring vocal and his position as the carousing frontman that carries this gig forward. And the Suede fans have clearly adopted him as one of their own.

Before Artmagic do their thing, there are two supports. Thom Ashworth sings a range of folk tunes, some self-penned and some covers whilst playing an acoustic bass. His politics are left-wing and his banter engaging. He advocates against poverty, breaking Union lines and capital punishment. His brief impressions of Martin Carthy might be lost on many gathered but they’ve probably just about heard of Richard Thompson, a track from whom ends Thom’s set. 

 

Maybe I missed something in second support, The Left Outsides. A husband and wife act, they wallow in mournful 60’s folk whilst playing guitar, squeeze box and fiddle. At best, it’s deliberately haunting; at worst, pedestrian and dull. The slow ripple of applause between each song suggests that others are as enamoured and confused as I am by the bleakness on display. I like them more on record.

 

Artmagic are a modern-day English folk band. Pastoral and laidback, they sing of farmers and fisherman, photography, lost faith and lost love. It’s clever pop, often ‘metrically irregular’ but never to a degree that it alienates. Sean sings at a tone that’s almost falsetto but not quite; the late, great Billy Mackenzie is an obvious reference point. There’s little within that’s jolly although a few upbeat numbers from the latest EP are sprinkled throughout; “we’ve come to terms with what we are”, observes McGhee, content to be languid, almost revelling in it. 

“Today’s the warmest day of the year”, says McGhee, noting that the temperature might not be best placed for the wintry chill of Artmagic. But his analysis is flawed; for, despite the evident wistfulness on offer, there’s an undeniable sunnier tone trying to get out. And when it all comes together this dip into their ‘Songs Of Other England’ album is an invitation to celebrate and not denigrate. ‘Sing For The Snowfall’ encourages one and all to live for the moment before a beautiful and chilled encore is conducted without amplification.

The Suede fans and new converts bond together, happy with what they’ve seen.

Louis Brennan – The Greenwich Pensioner – 18th March 2019

I am drunk. On a Monday night. This is evidently not a good thing. Even if I make excuses in my own head and try to justify it all by saying it’s just my St. Patrick’s Day one day late this is far from convincing. 

I have an excuse of sorts; it’s another gig in this fair city and a new venue for Sonic Breakfast. The Greenwich Pensioner, out Poplar way, has had a makeover. Energetic new owners have lined up a tasty range of beer, a fine pizza menu and a set of live gigs that are not to be sniffed at. “I’m just booking things that I hear and like“, says the Northern proprietor. “We’ve not even got a PA. I don’t know what one is“, she adds, in a refreshingly honest moment.

You suspect though that these are people of good taste. And they’ve struck lucky with their first booking, Louis Brennan, even if the crowds aren’t exactly flocking in to support. Louis has been featured on Sonic Breakfast before (here). He’s got the quality to be playing venues much bigger and the select few know they’re getting a treat.

“I hope everybody likes depressing music“, he says by way of opening banter. A table of beer-swillers having a few post-work pints show their opposition by raising the level of their conversation. Louis wears them down by attrition and a few songs in, they leave. 

His voice, baritone gold, is one to get lost in. Sat on a bar-stool in the corner of this square and open room, Louis picks away on his guitar playing new songs and old songs. It really is all sorts of lovely. Ideas flow from lyrics with such speed that it’s sometimes not possible to keep up with this master poet-raconteur. It’s like discovering that Leonard Cohen is alive and well and playing a secret show at your much loved local.

Louis declares that he was going to play three half-hour sets but will now settle for two 45 minute halves. “It’s like a paper round where you’re diligently delivering the free papers rather than throwing them in the hedge“, he suggests whilst stoically working through his set-list and wondering if anybody actually cares.

But we do. This is a night of unplugged joy, a Monday night delight for the discerning. As Louis draws things to a close, a local group of Kendo enthusiasts come into the pub in an altogether surreal quadrupling of the punters present. Their menacing looking swords are sheathed but Louis doesn’t risk alienating them by playing on.

Beer is drunk. The wonderful Wild Brew beer at 6.6% is not one for a Monday night session. But it’s too tasty to not test. Taxis are booked. This hangover will hurt at work tomorrow. 

Skinny Lister and Wood Burning Savages – Leicester O2 Academy – March 9th 2019

It’s exhausting to simply watch Skinny Lister live on stage. Goodness knows what it must be like to actually be in the band. They just don’t stop moving, none more so than singer, Lorna Thomas. Quite how she still has the breath to sing without wilting is anybody’s guess. They’re certainly well practiced in this hard-partying performance lifestyle.

Indeed, this correspondent wonders whilst watching them at Leicester’s O2 on Saturday evening if there’s a band that he’s seen more times over the last five years than Skinny Lister. And if there is he’s not sure who. Be it hungover early afternoon at a festival or later at night at their own headline gig you always know what you’re going to get. This is a frantic, riotous folk, an exhilarating Clash-like head rush, a sharing-caring  united celebration, an opportunity to let your hair down whilst all else turns to shit. 

Ostensibly, Skinny Lister are here to promote their new album, The Story Is. And they take the opportunity to play a fair few of the songs from it. It might have only been out for a few days but the tunes already appear to have worked deep into the heads of the moshing crowd and the more-cautious types who position themselves just outside the throng. There’s no sign of discernible lull here when the band plays new ones. “This is not a drill”, we urgently sing reminding ourselves that life is to be cherished whilst also comprehending the stark situation described within set and album opener, 38 Minutes.

For Lorna (and her brother Max), Leicester is pretty much their homecoming gig. They tell us regulars once again that they remember Saturday lunchtime folk sessions at the old Phoenix (what days they were) – and a Skinny Lister gig in Leicester wouldn’t be what we love without an appearance from Party George, their Dad. He comes on stage during the traditional encore as do the rest of the touring entourage, support acts and shameless liggers, in a finale free-for-all knees-up. Six whiskies is the most exuberant of drunken excess party tunes and it’s hard not to delight in its playing tonight. 

 

I mention the support; we berate ourselves for missing the opener, Trapper Schoepp, but happily arrive just in time for the Wood Burning Savages. From Northern Ireland, they’ve got a neat take on the angry, the political and the human.  They’ve got a retro -rock anthemic sound not dissimilar to The Alarm (though I’m sure they’d baulk at such a comparison). “Put your name on our mailing list and you could become our First Minister“, says their lead singer, clearly as despairing of the state of things in Stormont as most are here about the impending Brexit gloom. 

 

Lorna dances with the punters; she dives into the mosh and crowd-surfs. The flagon of rum gets passed around as is tradition though I’m no longer close enough to the action to take a gulp. John Kanaka, Skinny Lister’s largely acapella call and response number, raises the roof like never before. 

This is a band at their very riotous heights. As they head off overseas with leg one of their UK tour done and dusted, the neatly reworked Scholars bar at the O2 knows it has witnessed a treat. 

Linda Em – Wild Fire

I’ve never known weeds grow in quite the way that they do out here in Spain. I guess that the rain of the past weeks has helped their considerable spurt. 

I find little joy in gardening but these are no beanstalks leading to magic kingdoms. They’ll just engulf me unless I take action and so, armed with a bucket and a pair of gloves, this morning I set about tackling them. 

‘Tackling’ feels like the right verb to use for this was (and still is) a sporting endeavour. It’s me against nature and despite my very best intentions I suspect that the best I can hope for is a score draw. Or a narrow defeat. 

Regardless, there was great satisfaction to be gained in pulling at them. Their heads popped out of the gravelled driveway masking the submerged stems that wrapped themselves underground around clumps of earth, stone and tarpaulin. The ones that broke off before I got at the root mocked me but some came out of the ground complete. When they did I let out a little yelp of self-congratulation. The stray black cat, that’s made a habit out of spying upon me from a safe distance, smirked as it watched. 

“You crazy, sweat-ridden Englishman”, it no doubt thought.

Try as I might I can find little connection between pulling up garden weeds and todays choice of music. Linda Em, Irish and living in London released her ‘Wild Fire’ EP last week and it’s all sorts of smoky-seductive fab. 

If I was really pushing it, I could suggest that I’d love a wild fire to destroy these weeds. Or I could observe that the lead track is all about a power struggle in a relationship built on control and passion, where there can be no victor. That does feel a little like my battle with the weeds except I have little passion for them. 

No, it’d be foolish to force links. It’s best perhaps to simply sit back and allow Linda’s wonderful tunes to wash over you. Let the candles smoulder as the duet in Wild Fire tells the story of dying, impossible love. Allow yourself ‘the bitter sweet surrender’ mentioned at the end of ‘Two Hands’. 

The weeds will no doubt continue to grow. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

Louis Brennan – Airport Hotel

It felt somewhat neat and a little appropriate on Valentine’s Day to receive the new song and video from Louis Brennan, Airport Hotel.

 

Sending brightly-coloured cards with glossy emotions does little more than sabotage and sanitise the complicated feelings we all experience around ‘love’ and it’s perhaps this that turns many off from celebrating with flowers, chocolate and poor poetry on St. Valentine’s Day.

In Airport Hotel, the emotions are real and raw; let yourself get carried away with Brennan’s expressive, baritone voice as it gradually reveals the story of ‘forbidden’ love that permeates throughout the song. The string arrangements rise and fall as Louis ponders how he might explain to his wife (and kids) that he has fallen for another. It’s stark, dark and yet beautiful storytelling that’ll surely tug on the most emotionally detached. 

The release of ‘Airport Hotel’ comes slightly in advance of Louis’ album ‘Dead Capital’ which is scheduled to drop on February 23rd. It’s an album that Sonic Breakfast is quite excited to hear. Back in 2017, Louis released another track from it, ‘Bit Part Actor’. Brooding, dark and melancholic with the poetry taking centre-stage, the video stars one of Sonic Breakfast’s favourite comedians, Ed Aczel. 

In despondency, it’s entirely possible to find lovely art.

 

 

 

 

Blue Rose Code – Ebb And Flow

A cold, grey wintry Monday morning and it’s hard to think that ‘everything is alright’. It’d no doubt be easier to hibernate under the bed covers until the next tint of blue creeps through my curtains. It’s so easy to say that I can’t be bothered with today.

But that’s hardly adopting the principle of ‘Carpe Diem’. I can grumble as much as I like but the truth is I’ve got a fair bit to live for at the moment – the progression towards redundancy; getting the house ready for rental and the year of living in Spain. It’s not looking at things through rose tinted specs to say that today is full of opportunity.

And as I grasp these thoughts I pull back my curtains and see some blue sky.

I’m drawn to this uplifting tune and new video from Blue Rose Code.

Blue Rose Code, aka acclaimed singer-songwriter Ross Wilson, released his latest album, The Water Of Leith, in Autumn 2017. It met with some top-notch reviews from Folk, Acoustic and Americana magazines all declaring that this was Wilson’s best release to date. The previous ones had hardly been flops. 

(See what Sonic Breakfast thinks by clicking on page 2)