Maheekats – Without Horizons

Sometimes you hear a song or watch a video and know that it’s one you want to feature on your blog. You start writing about it many times but give up or move onto something else because your words refuse to come out in the right order. That’s the dilemma I find with Maheekats and Without Horizons.

(Click on page 2 to discover if I resolved that dilemma)

Gregory Alan Isakov – Nottingham Bodega Social – March 27th 2017

I’ve got a busy week of gigs coming up. I’ll be reviewing some for the Leicester Mercury and some directly for Sonic Breakfast. If they’re all as great as the one I went to last night, Gregory Alan Isakov, then it’s going to be a fine, fine time. 

(Click on page 2 for the review)

Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker – Something Familiar

“Reflections at sundown can make me so sad, for there’s no way of keeping the day we’ve just had.”

Oh, isn’t that so true? It’s the final fragment of ‘Something Familiar’, a beautiful, hazy folk tune from Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker. Yesterday, I stumbled upon the video to this track from their recently released fifth album and, in truth, haven’t been able to get the touching, evocative images and the crystal clear vocal out of my head since. 

In many ways, Sonic Breakfast is as much a blog about memories as it is about music. I often write about new songs that give me glimpses into my past. These are tunes, covering a range of genres and styles, that take me time-travelling to invoke the dim and distant. I’ve got tales to tell, some imagined and some very personal. The music of others is my enabler. 

And tonight, as I sit in my comfy armchair and fret about my aching and ageing bones, I hold a mirror up to my face and spy the younger me. I flick through photos in a physical scrapbook that will never be saved to social media. I try to recall the dreams I had back then, the trinkets that I kept by my bed and toys that have long since been tipped. 

There’s a freedom in reflecting. You can see the distance travelled and grasp again at the things you’d filed away for another day. 

Today has been one of those days. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker have released a thing of sparse beauty here.

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Kerr & The Sweet Visitors – Leicester Musician – September 26th

A week ago, I went along to Leicester’s Musician to see Nancy Kerr and The Sweet Visitors. It was a show promoted by a fine promoter, Jeremy Searle from Greenbird Promotions. I was reviewing the gig for the Leicester Mercury and my friend from eFestivals, Phil Bull, was lined up to take pics. 

Immediately after the show, I rushed home and stayed up into the early hours pulling my words together. Copy submitted, I was assured it would be used. 

But, I’ve not seen it published as yet. So, I thought I’d share it on Sonic Breakfast for all to see. The pics are courtesy of Phil.

 

 

Nancy Kerr is full of stories. In best schoolteacher fashion, she primly prefaces most of the songs from her new album, Instar, with a tale or two about how these tunes came into being. The crowd, well versed in the rules of cosy, middle-class folk club, listen intently and with appreciation at the Musician on Monday evening.

 With plenty of plaudits in this folk world, Nancy and her band, The Sweet Visitors, waste little time in setting the scene. An instar is a transition and Nancy uses the concept to present a suite of songs about morphing social and political issues which matter to her. ‘Fragile Water’ is a song about changing gender identity whilst the spritely recent single, ‘Gingerbread’, recalls an austere time when pepper replaced ginger in the recipe of the day.

 Elsewhere, there’s a focus on place and how it transforms. Nancy tells all that she’s currently living at the bad end of Sheffield where steel is stolen to make a slide in a community adventure playground. ‘Apollo On The Docks’ looks at the effect that the Olympics had on East London land and set closer, ‘Crows Wing’, describes her feelings when, stuck in a traffic jam amidst an urban sprawl, Nancy sees a peregrine falcon swoop towards a pigeon. The common ground between urban and rural is never far from the surface. 

 Musically, Nancy has done her time in the folk traditions and the Sweet Visitors help her to develop this vision. Thus, at times, the songs veer into prog-folk, folk-rock and a more poppier, radio friendly form of the genre. The five members of the band employ fiddles, double bass, drums and an array of electric guitars to make the noise. The singing, as you might imagine, is a delight with effortless harmonies breaking through. When band member, Rowan Rheingans, impresses all by plays the bansitar, a hybrid instrument sitting between a banjo and a sitar,  it all makes sense. This is a mutated folk music for our time.

 Never quite sinking under the weight of ideas presented, this is a fine introduction to the tunes and themes present on Nancy’s new album. Some might yearn for a more traditional approach but there’s no arguing that the delivery is impeccable. Solid and dependable, we’re left with no doubt that these times are a changing. 

 

 

Skinny Lister – Cathy

I had to get away from the fortress. The exuberant house music was playing havoc with my head. People that I’d never seen before were smiling as if they were long lost friends. Perhaps they were long lost friends. I doubted it.

I walked towards the main stage. The relentless beat in the heat was stifling these dancing feet to a walking pace. Skinny Lister were about to come on the stage. I’d seen them before. A bit of folk was surely what I now needed to recharge my batteries. I could sip at a pint of cider whilst chilling on the grass.

Little did I know.

Skinny Lister became my favourite festival band that day. There’s something contagious about their enthusiastic, inclusive approach. You might watch them from a distance when they take to the stage but, by the end, you can’t help but be immersed in the throng they create. Here’s what I said about their gig at Beat-Herder:-

“Skinny Lister on the Saturday afternoon are a case in point. Their well-rehearsed folky festival set doesn’t fail to get the skin blistering as those that are assembled work up a sweat with their energetic bouncy dancing. The flagon of rum that gets passed amongst the crowd is communally quaffed by thirsty onlookers. Laura Thomas takes a break from her vocal duties and waltzes with the audience. People wake from an afternoon slumber to find a double bass being plucked next to their heads. This is how Mumford and Sons should be.”

I saw them twice last year at different festivals. After both sets, I walked away beaming. Hangovers from a previous day of drinking were forgotten about. It was time to get back on it.

Skinny Lister are building up to the release of a new album, Down On Deptford Broadway, in April. They’ve pre-released two tracks from it although these are folky-punk lunges that live show regulars might already be familiar with. Singer Dan says about latest single, Cathy, that ‘It’s an ode to addiction and recklessness. A declaration of desire for something or someone you know is bad for you. The classic wrestle between head and heart.’

 

 

Previous single release, ‘Trouble On Oxford Street’, had an accompanying video full of beer and rebellion to entertain us.

 

 

It might be grey and dismal outside but I can sense festival fields not far in the distance. This makes me smile.

Ryan David Orr – Margaret

Monday morning… It’s all come around far too quickly… Weekends are but a flash in the pan…

Let’s all ease ourselves into the week with this laid-back, gentle folk number from Ryan David Orr. He’s an experienced songwriter on the North American folk scene and in this tune, ‘Margaret’, Orr brings his soothing voice to the fore. I’m reading it as a song about lost opportunities, mistakes that have been made and dreams yet to be realised. There’s something hauntingly positive within as well though and it’s this that makes for a good Monday morning listen.

I asked Ryan (a qualified massage therapist) to tell me an entertaining story about the touring and travelling life he sometimes leads when he’s not living in the home he’s built for himself in the mountains of Arizona.

This past May I had the great pleasure of playing at the Bitter End, legendary music venue in New York City. I was extremely excited and a bit nervous, and parked a couple blocks from the venue after scouring the city for a parking spot. I was right on time to the venue, played my show, checked out the band that played after me, had a great time and then went to pack my gear in the car.

Well, apparently I had parked in a “no parking” zone, and found an empty street where my car had been. I ran my license plate through the NYC database and discovered the car had been towed and was being held by NYPD at one of the pier warehouses. Being from Arizona, I was not happy about the prospect of not having my car until they opened again the following Monday, so I scrambled to get to the pier before they closed. However, all of the taxis that passed me were off duty and I couldn’t get a ride, so I opted to rent a bicycle and ride like hell to make it there in time.

So at about midnight, there I was, out-of-state musician, post performance, buzzed from a few microbrews at the venue, peddling frantically up New York City’s west side to beat the clock. I finally arrived and they informed me that my registration had expired two days earlier and I couldn’t have the car until I was valid. My phone charger was in the car, so with about 2% charge left on my phone, I fumbled to quickly hit up the AZ motor vehicle website and pay my registration. My payment went through literally 30 seconds before my phone died.

So they finally gave me my car, but now I was stuck with this freakin’ bicycle that I had to return to some rental site. So I shoved it in the back, managed to barely close the door, and went searching for the bike drop-off. Got the bike back, went back to the venue, got all my equipment, then finally drove to my friends’ house in Brooklyn for the night, several hours, hundreds of dollars, and a pretty solid bike ride later.

Next time I’m taking a train.

Here’s hoping that your Monday mornings are a bit better than the aftermath of Ryan’s gig at the Bitter End. If you like what you hear within this video then do head across to his website here to listen to more of his music and to find out more.

 

Police Dog Hogan – Thunderheads

I have a friend who knows everything that there is to know about clouds. He could tell you whether something was a nimbus, a curious or a bilious (I’ve made these up) and let you know what sort of weather we might be due as a result.

When I first heard “Thunderheads” by Police Dog Hogan, such is my ignorance that I had no idea that a thunderhead referred to a cloud formation. But, a little search of the good old internet, told me that a thunderhead is one of those clouds, a Cumulonimbus, associated with thunderstorms and atmospheric instability.

This is a song about resilience. It’s a statement about strength in the face of adversity. “You do not frighten me”, sings lead singer, James Studholme, as the song builds to climax and refrain. Whatever thunderstorm or instability might be on the horizon is of little consequence because resolve has already been built from years of the same.

There’s eight of them in Police Dog Hogan. They create a feast of folk well suited to festivals. Some have called it ‘urban bluegrass’ but I’m not sure that offers the full picture. This is Americana with a very English twist. With guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles and trumpets, there’s no doubting their musical expertise. They’ve an average age greater than 40, so have had a few years to perfect such talent.

I’ve been listening to a preview of Police Dog Hogan’s third album ‘Westward Ho!’ (Released October 6th) for some time now. As a young boy, growing up in Dorset, there are tunes on it that immediately resonate. ‘West Country Boy’ offers a very English insight into what it’s like as a musician to tour the village halls and cider pubs in that neck of the world. Any song that manages to name-check Melksham and Mere within a country-folk framework is fine by me.

This video for ‘Thunderheads’ has some truly gorgeous locations in it. As the summer passes and we face the onset of Autumn, it’s worth thinking how all of us are going to give a good, old two-fingered salute to those clouds on the horizon. This is as good a place as any to start.