Tentative plans for 2018

Have I fallen out of love with blogging? A quick look at the sparse, sporadic Sonic Breakfast updates in 2017 might well indicate that to be the case. To my shame, the regular ‘Sonic Breakfast Top Ten Of The Year’ feature didn’t even feature between Christmas and the New Year. 

In truth, I have perhaps lost a bit of that fire. It might come back or it might take another form but at the moment the thought of scanning through the ever-growing mountain of E-mails from PR companies and bands desperate to be introduced as the next big thing holds less allure than once it did. 

There’s such a quantity of great art out there that doesn’t see the light of day; so much great music that gets released to the slightest of fanfare; so many great films that are left in the editing suite to decay and rot. It all becomes a bit overwhelming. Whilst friends did end of year lists documenting their 100 favourite albums of 2017, I simply wallowed in the corner feeling fraudulent for barely listening to a dozen albums from start to finish in that twelve months. 

 A couple things are happening in my life that regular Sonic Breakfast readers might care to know about. 

(1) After 12 years in the day job, I’m taking redundancy at the end of March. I see this as a positive thing though it’s only natural that stepping out of a comfort zone also brings accompanying fears. My plan is to head to Spain. Sarah has a villa over there. I want to give myself the headspace to write words every day. With a view looking out towards real mountains, the ever-growing mountain of E-mails will surely seem less daunting to deal with.

(2) I’ll be renting my house out – or at least making use of the services of AirBNB. Close friends who’ve seen my house will know that there’s a fair bit of largely cosmetic redecorating work to get through if I’m going to achieve the Spanish dream in April.

(3) The day job workload shows little sign of abating. I’ll be kept busy before I go. Appalling at saying ‘no’ to things, I’ll also still be writing comedy festival reviews for the Mercury during February and knocking together the occasional piece for the fine Leicester listings magazine, Great Central. This all takes time. 

(4) I’ve been developing a love for ‘random’ word generation games. I’ve been managing that overwhelming pile of E-mails by not managing them and finding other ways to unearth great music and film. The internet has some great, little tools for generating random words. I’ve been using those words with which to search Spotify or IMDB movie databases. I’ve been forcing myself to expand my horizons; to listen to the music that a random combination of words entered into search tools might spew back; to watch the awful TV movie if that’s what the search results demand. Somewhat amazingly, employing such randomness rarely fails to delight and always seem to inform. Even when the art isn’t entirely to my taste, I’m taken down new and exciting avenues of thought. I’m discovering new things in a way that feels comfortable and pressure-free. I plan to keep playing around with such practice.

Yesterday, to my general surprise, I received a press invite to the incredible Eurosonic Norderslag festival. It takes place each year in January in Groningen, Netherlands and I was lucky enough to head out last year to review it for eFestivals. (My review can be read here). It’s happening next week which gives very little time to plan but after a bit of frantic arranging it does look like I’ll be heading out again. Despite all that I’ve said elsewhere in this post, I’m genuinely excited about the new acts I’ll get to spot. 

And tomorrow on Sonic Breakfast, I’ll make use of random word generation in order to introduce one of the bands on the ESNS bill. For now, feel free to take a look at this. 

 

Oliver Sean – New York

I’m not as knowledgeable as many about the Leicester music scene – but it is the city I live in and, as such, you do tend to hear about the locally based acts with an international profile. It’s really hard to get my head around the fact that somebody played on VH1 and with MTV awards might be ‘anonymously’ living in our midst.

So, it was something of a surprise when the new music of Oliver Sean was thrust under my nose via musicsubmit, a U.S. based promotions company. They often send me tunes to listen to and then link me up directly with the artists I like. Oliver Sean is a chap from Oadby, Leicestershire.

And he has a name that would lodge in my head. It’s not something I’d easily forget. My nineteen year old son is called Oliver and his middle name is Sean. Coincidence can account for so much but this seemed beyond that. I wondered if somebody was winding me up.

(Click on page 2 to find out if it is a wind-up)

Little Comets – Common Things

Leicester’s Comedy Festival kicks off again today. For a large proportion of February, those of us living in this fair city get the chance to laugh our socks off at shows. We can pretend that the world isn’t quite as shit as it actually is. By the end of the festival, March is pretty much upon us and Spring optimism is in the air. Perfect. 

Anyway, I’ll be doing a fair few reviews for the Leicester Mercury, the local daily newspaper. I’ll try hard for it not to be the case but posts on Sonic Breakfast might lapse under the weight of alternative writing pressures. Before I head off into that world of giggles, I thought I’d make time for one quick post. 

(Click on page 2 to read about Little Comets)

 

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. 

 

 

French Leave – Tourist

It’s a fantastic time to be a citizen of Leicester. 

I’ve lived here more than a dozen years now and have always raved about its wonders. When Kasabian headlined at Glastonbury, I wore my retro-foxes top all day even though their brand of indie swagger is not exactly my thing.

When King Richard was buried, I was in Yorkshire but should have been on our fab streets. 

Now, we have the football. An amazing thing is happening across this beautiful city. A place so used to not really singing from the rooftops about its wonder now finds itself thrust onto the back pages of national newsprint. I was on a train heading back to Leicester yesterday with tourists who thought they’d visit because ‘it seemed like a vibrant place’.

These are great times. 

It’s a common theme that I keep coming back to both in my blog and in my live reviews for the Mercury. When I went to see the Brandy Thieves (and reviewed it here), I had to state that there was a movement occurring. Earlier this year when I featured Plaudits on this blog (here), I sensed that this was a city dancing to a different drum. 

Now, we have the new single from French Leave. ‘Tourist’ is an absolute belter. Occupying a similar space to Plaudits, French Leave appear to revel in a hard-edged electro-pop thing. I deny you to not think this is brilliant. When they sing ‘Come see me in my town’, it’s an invite to head here and party with us all. Yes, this is a tune that might well become a soundtrack to my summer, blasting from the speakers when the team are transported in their open top bus. 

French Leave are playing at the painstakingly curated Handmade Festival in a couple of weeks. It’s a great festival for this great city and it’s not escaped my attention that this might be the weekend when we’re really under the glare of worldwide media.

We love N’golo Kante. We want the French to Stay. 

French Leave..

  

 

The Big Moon & Virgin Kids – Nottingham Bodega Social Club – 30th March 2016

In a couple of weeks, I plan to nip along to The Cookie,one of my favourite venues in Leicester, to see The Big Moon. I’ll pull together 350 words or so about the night that’ll hopefully be published within the Leicester Mercury. In terms of content, it’ll be more concise than this waffling piece.

On Wednesday night, I had opportunity for a dry run; on the first night of their first ever headline tour, the London based four piece are playing in Nottingham at the fab Bodega Social. By chance, I’m here with my day job so a sneak preview beckons. It’d be rude not to. 

First impressions of a fuzzed-up Bangles fade slightly as the set progresses. It feels lame to draw comparisons with another all female band but I think the likeness just about holds. And at least I haven’t mentioned Throwing Muses, Belly or L7 as yet. As it is, this is a band not afraid to throw a Madonna cover into their mix (an exuberant Brilliant Stranger) so I’m sure they’re aware of their antecedents. 

I’m a bit fed up of seeing up and coming touring bands who play so hard at being ‘cool’ that they seem unable to enjoy the experience. Such accusation cannot be levelled at The Big Moon. Indeed, bassist Celia Archer, who does much of the between song jabber, is positively skipping with happiness. This adds to the charm. Tight and blissful, summer-fuelled harmonies tingle and shimmer through your core. Here we have a thoroughly modern Motown girl troupe, bounced through a scuzzed-up indie blender.

There’s a smell of wet dog in the air amidst the crowd. Lads with pudding bowl haircuts stare on with such awkward, spectrum-rubbing focus that I wonder if deodorant has been forgotten from their routine. It’s either that or somebody has wet themselves. I move towards the front just in time to catch the opening strains of new single, Cupid.

It’s undeniably one of the set highlights. The quality of this and a song (potentially called Pull The Other One) so new that this Nottingham crowd are the first to hear it suggests that there’s some longevity in The Big Moon story. They’re clearly growing in stature and confidence with each song they write. 

The same might also be true for the main support of the night, Virgin Kids, although so tall and gangly is their hair bun-wearing bass player that he definitely doesn’t need any more height on him. Unaware of his personal space, he auditions for a role in the ‘guild of incredibly tall men who make it their business to stand right in front of you thus blocking your view’. 

Minor quibbles aside, they do the business on stage with workmanlike skill. They give us a dynamic and punkish London thing. At times, the three piece almost veer towards the pre-punk, sweaty bar-room blues rock of Dr Feelgood but then project us forward into a more Libertine-like swagger. I mark them as ones I’ll see again and, given that they’re supporting The Big Moon throughout this tour, that chance will come again soon. 

Wishing both bands the best for the next couple of weeks and I’ll definitely look forward to hearing about the touring adventures when they arrive in Leicester on the 8th April. You should catch them on this tour if you can. 

 

 

Guy Jones – Leicester Cookie – Thursday March 3rd 2016

I’ve been submitting lots of reviews to the Leicester Mercury recently. Mostly, they seem to appreciate my efforts and to publish my thoughts within the paper. Sometimes, they’ll post my reviews on line as well. I’m doing this with one main aim in mind. I think that supporting live music, especially gigs that are happening locally, is a really important thing to do. If people are more aware of the quality and vibrancy that occurs every night in our fair city, perhaps they’ll be more inclined to venture out themselves. 

Last week, I reviewed an old friend of Sonic Breakfast, Guy Jones, at the Cookie. The Mercury might have printed this but I didn’t spot it so I’ll copy here instead. 

 Guy Jones, the travelling troubadour, has made the relatively short trip from Halesowen, to charm us at the Cookie on a Thursday night. His special brand of Americana-fuelled songwriting is amplified and electrified by a tight and talented quad of musicians. Guy grew up in West Brom so this is Country music formed in the Black Country streets. We respond by lapping it up, albeit politely.

It’s by and large a gentle affair. The room, laid out in a cabaret seating style, allows us to relax as the weekend approaches. Guy has a laidback, natural manner and does his best to draw us in with pleasant singalongs and simple handclaps. Guy sings about real love; he has  a song about friends who grew up bullied; a song about people he’s met whilst touring the States and a song about how he’s grown from a spurned, chubby teenager to a young man able to capture his girl’s heart. 

These tunes (and others) will all be found on Guy’s forthcoming album that’s due for release in May. It’s a sign of the high regard that Guy’s fans hold him in that this was fully funded through a Pledge campaign. Recorded in New York, it’s going to be crammed full of the melodies and harmonies that Whispering Bob Harris and other Radio 2 sorts are likely to praise highly.

Credit for the harmonies at this gig needs to go to Guy’s keyboard player, Kerry Smyth. Their voices weld together with such robustness that it’s very easy to get drawn into this world. Earlier in the evening, Kerry had given us a set of her own songs and covers. She’s a younger Beverley Craven but entertaining enough. Local lad, Reuben Wisner, opened the show with considerable craft and skill. Acoustic pickings, polite audience singalongs and occasional tracks with loops and layering are Reuben’s thing. It sets the mood for the evening well. 

But the night belongs to Guy. Confident without being cocky, this is optimistic and cleansing. Affable and tender, good-natured and nice, we drift away into the night hoping that Guy made enough on the Merch desk to get home to Halesowen.