“If you’re going to take a dip in the North Sea in January you either have to be much hardier than I am or extremely desperate to feel something new!” – Ali Begg, Arbor Green
I’ve been reading about the growing amount of people who take cold showers in the morning. They’re often the same people who find unfathomable amounts of pleasure in cold water wild swimming. Without wetsuit, they plunge into lakes, rivers and pools without a care in the world. They talk evangelically about the health benefits that such extreme activity is providing; it helps with mental agility, daily concentration and in boosting energy levels. As good as that all sounds, I’m not sure that the ‘freezing your nuts off’ treatment is for me.
I suspect the same is true for Ali Begg, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind emerging Scottish indie-folk act, Arbor Green. In the recent video for their glorious track, As We Grow, we find Ali dunking his body into the sea at a wintry Edinburgh beach. “I spent a solid hour shivering in a cocoon of towels after that.“, he tells me. “I dunno how all the middle-aged cold water swimmers do it. They’re out there in all fucking seasons.”
There is a method to his madness though. The perky and upbeat folk tune dowsed with a liberal sprinkling of Americana masks a lyric that questions ‘the daily grind of a listless reality’. We’re all desperately pursuing the next thing that’ll give us happiness, those moments that’ll lift us out of the general mundanity of life. This is not a happy tale, rather it’s a gloomy, wry reflection on the human condition.
“So I’ll fight like hell, And I’ll hide like a kid, And I’ll scream that I am just so sick of this, All I want is to be gone.“, sings Ali in one key moment of ‘As We Grow’.
Arbor Green have recently released a new single, Waiting On The Sun. It’s all part of the build-up to the release of a debut-album in the next few months. If the releases so far are indicative of the quality across the album then we’re all in for an alt-country treat. Ali’s delighted that Roddy Hart has been playing the latest single on Radio Scotland. It’s easy to see why it has been getting airplay though. You should check out that single as well.
But today, take the plunge with ‘As We Grow’..
Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will recall that I’m not one for ceremony; on Valentine’s Day when other blogs were featuring tracks about glorious love, I was being contrary and ignoring the day’s existence. I’ll do the same this Easter weekend. You’re unlikely to find a song about bunnies, crucifixion or eggs in these parts (though a song featuring all three would surely pique my interest).
I’m in a conciliatory mood today though. The long weekend and the four days away from my day job are dampening my cantankerous spirit so I’ll make a slight concession and feature a great song this Good Friday that has the word ‘good’ flowing through it like a stick of rock. “Love looks good on you“, sing the Sleep Walking Animals on their indie folk track, ‘Aengus’ Fool’, originally released on Valentine’s Day.
It’s a cracking track and really marks Sleep Walking Animals out as ones to look out for when live gigging resumes. A tour is tentatively planned for October. The vocal harmonies in Aengus’ Fool build and fall over the shuffling, broken march of the drums to produce something both relentlessly modern and vigorously vintage. There’s a slightly, sinister edge running throughout as well, an approach explained by Jack from the band when we exchange E- mails.
“We released Aengus’ Fool on valentines day because it’s a confession of infatuation and desire.“, he says. “And although the song is about love (it was inspired by Irish Mythology – Aengus is the god of love) it has darker undertones. I think we wanted to subvert the usual sickly expectations of valentines day.”
I’m onboard with that. Jack also mentions that Sleep Walking Animals have another single, Wild Folk, out right now. “If you want something more current it might be worth reviewing that as well/instead.“, he suggests. I take a listen and there’s no denying it’s quality.
But I think I’ll stick with my contrary, original plan and just feature Aengus’ Fool. Have a good Easter weekend one and all.
I’m not sure why but the often-cited ‘fact’ about Paul and Linda McCartney used to bring me out in a rash; Paul would say that, since meeting Linda, they had never spent a night apart. I’d wonder about the impossibility of this; Surely Paul’s work must have got in the way of such doting practice? Or, at the very least, surely there were times when one or the other fancied a night out with their own crowd? I’d try to validate my own objections (not that it’s any of my business) by mumbling something about ‘absence making the heart grow fonder’ and suggesting that it’s just not healthy to live in your partner’s pockets. By then, I think some of my friends had just written me off as cold and callous.
It’s true that I have friends now who are such a compatible match that they’re barely apart. It’s lovely and it makes me sick. In their togetherness, they’re able to find such happiness that they need no external distraction. They’ve sailed through lockdown and the challenges of Covid-19 largely because their lives have barely changed. I suppose, at the heart of my feeling, there’s an envy that such stability can be found within such limited horizons. Of course, the properly advanced state of thinking here would be ‘each to their own’. There are many ways to swing a cat and one man’s liquor is another man’s poison.
Today’s Sonic Breakfast track, ‘Stay Around’ by Lena Minder, is a song all about togetherness and the enduring nature of some relationships. Conversely, it could also be about never quite being able to deal with the memories of a break-up. I guess the simple lyrics are left inconclusive to enable the listener to layer their own interpretation over. At its core though, Stay Around is, without doubt, a tender love song.
Beautiful and lush, Lena treats her listeners to enticing harmonies and vocal effects. Over a finger-picked guitar line, the song gently meanders with occasional piano chord to a sweet conclusion. Originally from Zurich and now living in Berlin, Lena recorded this out of ‘The Famous Goldwatch’ studios.
I ask Thomas from the studio how things are going right now. “For now Lena plans to release a few singles which I’m sure she’ll eventually compile as an EP or even album.“, he tells me. “Lockdown is still hard for the musicians of course, but at least the weather now allows for busking and we try to keep our studio running as much as the restrictions allow us to.”
Have a lovely Saturday full of happy coupling moments if you can.
I still chuckle somewhat when I think back to the barnstormer of a Twitter row that I had with the Mum of an act I once reviewed. Taking offence at a gig review I published (here), the Mum of a ‘star from Nottingham’ got all uppity with me suggesting that I’m an awful writer with poor judgment. Whilst she might have had a point, I couldn’t help myself and had to respond pithily. “Pushy parent?”, I suggested and the floodgates opened. Even the act himself had to get involved threatening me with all sorts of cease and desist nonsense.
You suspect that if I said cruel words about today’s featured Sonic Breakfast act, Luke Lanzon, his family might not be so quick to rush to his rescue – or at least his 90 year-old Grandma wouldn’t be.
“Grandma is here to humble me, as she still does not enjoy my singing, which is also a deal breaker for her appreciating the songs themselves.“, says Luke by correspondence. “Maybe if my rival Frank Sinatra were around to sing it she’d feel differently, but all the same I’m determined to change her mind!”
Luckily for Luke, he has nothing to worry about. I couldn’t possibly have bad words to say about his debut single ‘Saving Grace’. It simply oozes charm. An indie-folk song about following your dreams and overcoming inertia, it’s the sound of an artist beginning to break free from the ties that bind. Luke tells me that after years of writing and stockpiling songs, it feels great to finally be putting out music. It’s something that will continue across 2021.
“I have several more singles planned for the rest of the year that I’m hoping will win Grandma over.“, he says. “The goal is getting into the groove of releasing music regularly and doing what I can to get people to listen. It’s definitely more work than people think, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Sonic Breakfast readers – I’ll leave it with you to decide if you’re a Betty (Luke’s Grandma) or not…
I’ve been exchanging occasional E-mails with Matthew Frederick for over a year now. In that time, Matthew’s told me about each of the singles he’s released from his wonderful indie-folk album, Fragments. I’ve listened, always enjoyed but never written a blog post to show my appreciation. I guess I owe him one.
The frontman of much lauded Welsh band, Climbing Trees, this solo project is a reminder that there are still great songwriters about in 2020 – and that they don’t always get the credit they deserve.
Back in August 2019, Matthew took the time and effort to wish me well after I was mugged in London. I listened to his lovely track, Hay-On-Wye, around that time and was smitten. Evocative and laden with hazy memories , it recalls a happy day of drinking cider and messing about on the river – a fragment that wouldn’t be out of place on a best of the Lilac Time record. “It’s definitely my cup of tea”, I tell Matthew before he ‘exclusively’ reveals back that he doesn’t care much for tea or other hot drinks.
This Spring , as we dealt with the ongoing impact of life locking down, Matthew sent me news of ‘Laura Jones’, his new single. Infused With classic piano-led, power-pop sentiment and innocent charm, this tune wonders what happened to the girl-most-likely-to in the eyes of the teenage Matthew. “Whatever did happen to Laura Jones?”, I asked by correspondence. I so hope she’s heard the song now but back then Matthew could shed no light on her fate.
Tonight on the terrace, and on the back of a new mail from Matthew promoting his fifth single from Fragments, Leave The Light On, I blast the album out. There are chirpy, up-tempo numbers but mostly this work of porch-music beauty glistens with an honest melancholy. Matthew plays every instrument on the record. I think that needs to be known.
As the Welsh circuit-breaker begins, I wish Matthew well and urge regular readers of Sonic Breakfast to get a slither of hope from the gems on Fragments.
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)