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. 

 

 

Sweet Baboo – Tuesday February 2nd – Leicester Musician

I’m pretty sure that I’d never want to be a gig promoter. It’s all a bit easy sitting behind this keypad saying that ‘I love X’ and ‘I want to be Y’ but these promoter types are the sort that really put their livelihoods on the line. 

The best promoter that we have in Leicester is Ian Magic Teapot. I’m not entirely sure how he still does it. For the ten years plus that I’ve been in this ‘top of the league’ city, Ian has worked incredibly hard to bring some of the best to our venues. 

Sometimes, he has a win. I think that all who know Ian don’t begrudge him those paydays when he sells enough tickets to break even.. Because, so often, for a reason I don’t really understand, we try our damnedest to avoid supporting live music. 

Tonight Magic Teapot put on a show by Sweet Baboo. Here’s an act that I’ve barely been able to see in some festival tents, such is the push and the popularity. Tonight, it was hard to keep a low profile at the Musician. The room was perhaps half full. If this was a gig in Nottingham, thirty miles up the road, I doubt that I would have been able to swing my cat whilst I danced yet here I could. 

Stephen Black is his usual self-deprecating self. This is the first night of the tour and he plays with us that his band might be a tad under-rehearsed. Epic and long, indulgent prog-rock endings to bouncy pop tunes are threatened but hardly materialise. Instead, this show stays on the right side of sweet. Sometimes, there are dips further back into the Sweet Baboo catalogue and sometimes we’re thrust bang up to date with notes from the recent ‘Dennis’ EP but mostly this is a setlist made up with tunes from last years fabulous Boombox Ballads record. 

Charles from Slow Club plays guitar tonight in Stephen’s band. The last time that Slow Club were in Leicester I wrote about it here. It’s fair to say that was a much busier gig. 

But, in terms of quality, both were on a par. Both were excellent nights out. I wish you were there to see this one for yourself. 

But not half as much as Ian Magic Teapot probably does. 

 

 

The Sonic Breakfast Top Ten 2015 – Five To One

As 2015 draws to a close, I’m reminded that I’ve kept regular readers of Sonic Breakfast hanging. It’s been over a week since I let people know what was ten through to six in my posts of the year that I was keen to revisit. I’m still to do my top 5. 

Hoping that turkey was loved and Santa bought you everything you wanted… Without further ado… 

 

5.OBS Unplugged – Steve Parker

Steve is still a legend in Leicester. Unlike others in this top ten, he’s released nothing since I did my blog post about him in January and appeared in no videos promoting new tracks. I expect the same level of minimal marketing intent to carry him into 2016 as well. He’s played gigs around this fine city, just his unassuming, slightly world-weary, warm voice and guitar picking. Everybody who knows him knows how great he is. Sometimes, people who have never seen Steve live before catch him playing a tune or two at pubs and festivals around town. They might even try to buy his latest CD. He rarely has anything to sell. A true gent. Younger musicians could learn much from this man.

I wrote about Steve on the back of a set I saw him play as part of the OBS unplugged showcases at Leicester’s Musician. We’re not far from another series of these fine January gigs – a fab way to begin the year and these nights never fail to unearth some pretty special talents.

 

4.Rope Store – Get Me Out

The weekly listening post over at Fresh On The Net often reveals new acts that I can’t help but fall in love with. When Norwich’s Rope Store apparently came out of nowhere with their fine track ‘Get Me Out’ back at the start of the year, it was clear that 2015 was going to be an interesting one for Gemma and Jason. That certainly seems to have been the case. 

Gigs in London and growing popularity in Norfolk see them end 2015 with BBC Introducing videos and a Christmas single release which again was featured on the Listening Post. ‘What’s Life All About’ is a belter of a track. I’d recommend watching Rope Store closely in 2016.

 

 

3.Peaness – Fortune Favours The Bold

 I’m not bragging about this in the slightest but I think that Sonic Breakfast was the first blog to feature Peaness. I sent this ace track across to a well connected friend in North Wales and since that point, Peaness have been taking the indie-pop scene in Wales by storm. 

 Sold out shows at Cardiff’s SWN festival and a review from Huw Stephens suggesting that Peaness were one of his highlights bode exceptionally well for 2016. With a knack for writing seemingly simple songs that surge under your skin, Peaness’s size will surely grow.

 

 

2. OBS Unplugged – Lucy Davies-Kumadiro

 Lucy’s one of the most captivating artists I have ever seen play at an OBS unplugged night. She played her first ever show at one of these nights. Her performance at Leicester’s Musician back in January was simply sublime. 

 She’s now studying at University in Nashville and, by all accounts, wowing her fellow students and those slightly wider afield with her gentle, sweet soul. I dare say it’s been a term of settling into American life. As Lucy gets more familiar with her surroundings, Tennessee will be wanting to claim her as one of their own. 

 It all makes me most excited about OBS unplugged 2016 and what talent will be on offer to see.

 

1. Workers In Songs – Sorry Marie

 There was never any doubt in my mind what would be the Sonic Breakfast number one post for 2015. We need to go right  back to the first day of the year and the very first video premiere that we ever had. The wonderfully deranged alt-country act from Roskilde, Workers In Songs gave me the opportunity to launch their video for ‘Sorry Marie’. I still love watching it and hearing that anguished vocal.

 

Over 2015, Workers In Songs have released a new EP, Scrapbook. It’s another impressive stunner. Here’s a one-take video with a song from that EP, Big Ol’ River. 

Thanks for the support for Sonic Breakfast across 2015. I’ve been lucky enough to hear some great music and to go along to some fine gigs and festivals. Looking forward to sharing more of my life in music with you next year. 

 Sean

 

 

 

 

OBS Unplugged – Claire Schofield

“Time goes by but you never realise
Until it’s gone and you’re still holding on, but is it too late?”

Memories of last weekend are fading slowly. We sang, we danced, we drank and we laughed. It was the fifth OBS Unplugged finale nights down at Leicester’s Musician. Twenty tremendous acts across Friday and Saturday, hand picked to ensure much praise was elicited from the busy throng watching.

It’s not my style to review these nights. I’d run out of superlatives and others do that better than me. OBS Unplugged is going to be supplying acts to local festivals over the summer; at some, it’ll be running a stage. You’ll be able to judge for yourselves at the likes of Simon Says, Riverside and Western Park whether or not my exuberant praise is based in bias.

I’ve previously blogged about Lucy Davies-Kumadiro and Guy Jones. They both delivered incredible sets on Friday. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed.

In some ways, the delightful Claire Schofield had one of the toughest slots of the weekend. First up on Friday, it was Claire who was able to set the tone for the rest of the evening. We were in safe hands. With delicate grace, she plucked at her guitar and sang with such a gentle and beguiling charm that few wanted her set to end. Despite some calls for more, Claire stuck carefully to her allocated time. Her style is not one of forceful arrogance. Once her set was done, Claire sat, quiet and content with her boyfriend, watching the rest of the evening evolve, generous in her praise of each of the other acts.

She sent me an E-mail the following day with a link to her debut album. I’ve dipped in and out of ‘The Unwind’ this week. It’s worth getting to know these tunes. ‘Summer Song’ is one of my favourites. When Claire plays this live, the melody sticks in your head so much that you find yourself humming the tune hours later. Claire tells me that her second album, ‘The Lighthouse’ is due for an imminent release in March.

 

 

There’s a video to another song from ‘The Unwind’ that I’ve attached here. ‘Plain Park Signs’ has both folky fragility and worldly weariness. Basically, it’s beautiful.

 

Snowapple – Leicester Musician – Wednesday February 11th

On Tuesday evening, I went to the Y Theatre to see the wonderful performance poet/comedian Rob Gee deliver his new stage play, Icarus Dancing. It was an absolute joy to behold; bittersweet, well-constructed, funny and intelligent. On the surface, you might think that this has very little to do with Snowapple (even though their songs are bittersweet, well-constructed and intelligent) – and you’d be right.

As I waited for the Rob Gee performance to begin, I got chatting to a guy who was sat at the same cabaret table. “Have you seen John Etheridge before?” asked the man. I considered his question a little odd but did my best to answer. “I’m a massive Soft Machine fan”, continued the man, “and I can’t wait to see them tonight.” At this point, I had to jump in and correct. “This is a comedy night you know?” The man looked at his ticket, cursed loudly and sheepishly confessed that he had got the wrong night. The Soft Machine gig was happening the next night. How I laughed at his foolishness.

They say that he who laughs last laughs longest (or something like that) and I have now experienced how true that is.

Tonight, I had it in my diary to see Snowapple. I’d been put onto them by the brilliant Louis Barabbas (who runs the record label, Debt Records, on which the latest Snowapple album, Illusion, has recently been released). Louis had kindly written to me asking if I’d take a listen to the album and come along to review their show at the Leicester Musician on February 11th. I had a listen to the record and thought it was brilliant. I replied saying that I’d love to go and added the show to my diary (for February 12th).

At least the man who got the wrong date for Soft Machine was able to resolve his error.

When Louis was describing Snowapple to me he said, “They’re a Dutch group comprising three women of very different musical backgrounds (Laurien is an opera singer, Una is the daughter of South African jazz saxophonist Sean Bergin, Laura’s more into synths; they tour with a fashion designer who makes weird outfits for them between gigs…), they mix pop, psychedelia, folk and classical elements. Beautiful harmonies throughout and always quite theatrical.”

I thought there and then that I’d be foolish to miss such an opportunity. I am foolish.

The video to the first track from Illusion , ‘Small Stone’, is worthy of watching. Get your fill on this if you’re not able to see them live.

 

OBS Unplugged – Steve Parker

I’ve been in Leicester for a dozen or so years now. One of the many things that I love about this city is the continuity within the music scene. Yes, there are bands and acts that come and go, rise and fall, but there are also mainstays of the scene. These are the decent people who will always have their instruments close by should they be called on to entertain. These are the people who live for playing and listening to music.

Last night was another at the Musician for the fourth in this years OBS unplugged. One such mainstay of the local scene, Steve Parker, opened the proceedings. Suffering from that January sniffle and sore throat that seems to be affecting us all, Steve did well to get through his short set. I’d heard these gentle songs from this gentleman before but that only increases my enjoyment. I didn’t want this set to end.

I’m reminded of one of the very first times I ever went to the Musician. It was a much smaller venue then and I’d driven into Leicester from out of town. I knew nothing about Bryter Later, the Nick Drake tribute band, that I was dragging my then partner along to see in a rare night away from baby-sitting duties. I had no idea who this man was who was singing many of the songs but he clearly had even more of an affection for the music of Nick Drake than I did. His voice had the same nervey velvetness that I associated with Drake. That man was Steve Parker. When tales were told about festival excesses, I questioned whether I was actually happy with my life of domesticity in a small market town.

Fast forward a couple of years and I had moved to Leicester. I had a flat in the centre of town and was footloose and fancy free. I could go and see whatever live music I wanted to and often ended my nights stumbling back from clubs at dawn. A regular Saturday would have been live lunchtime music at the old Phoenix followed by afternoon music at the Criterion. I recall one particular Saturday when I was still buzzing from Friday nights club. Steve played a two hour set at the Criterion and I stared at him, jaw agog, for much of this two hours. It could have been pretty disconcerting for Steve but he played on, probably oblivious to the effect that his healing manner was having on my wired mind.

There’s so much else I could mention; sitting around a camp fire in Dorset in the build up to Monkey Fest; Steve’s encouraging and probably misplaced support of an acoustic act, Dreaming Of Insomnia, I once dabbled with (“A bit like Jonathan Richman“, Steve once said) and how I missed Steve’s presence around town when he ran away to Spain. But that would make this piece too long.

It’s part of the ramshackle charm of Steve that he doesn’t really do self-promotion. You’ll struggle to find marketing campaigns and press releases attached to this man. There are no highly produced Youtube videos of Steve covering the latest Sam Smith hit. You might just about find a ‘MySpace’ site as a concession to social media. Twitter is just what people do between songs right?

But, none of this matters. Let’s celebrate a mainstay of the Leicester scene who lives for the music.

 

 

 

 

OBS Unplugged – Lucy Davies-Kumadiro

January isn’t an easy month for live music venues. Many of us have overspent and over-indulged in the build up to Christmas and so as a result we become austerity hermits on health kicks. We’d rather relax with cups of tea and home comforts than brave the frequently freezing world outside.

The excellent ‘Musician’ venue in Leicester has, however, found a neatly compelling way to drag me from my sofa. Now in its fifth year, OBS unplugged is the acoustic little brother of the band showcase that I featured last year here. Running over ten or so nights in January, promoter Val McCoy puts a heap of effort into ensuring that the line-ups are varied and interesting. More established acoustic based acts mix with those newer to the scene. Gems are often unearthed.

Last night, I went along to the first of the 2015 series. It was a night in which quality shone through. I bought my first EP of the year from Birmingham-based songwriter, Guy Jones which I plan to review on Sonic Breakfast in the coming weeks. I can’t actually remember the last time I bought a CD at a gig.

And then there was Lucy.

Lucy Davies-Kumadiro is a 17 year old singer-songwriter from Loughborough. Last year, she played her first ever gig as part of OBS unplugged. Everyone who saw that set knew that they had witnessed something pretty special. With a calm charm and serene style, Lucy’s delivery melted the most cynical of hearts. When I overheard a punter at Leicester’s Simon Says festival enthusiastically ranting about ‘the most wonderfully stunning artist who was a hybrid between Lianne De Havas and Kate Nash (before she got punky)’, I gave myself a secret pat on the back for already realising how captivating a live performer Lucy is.

A year on and Lucy plays OBS unplugged again. Her guitar playing has developed over the year as has her on-stage banter. Her pristine and pure voice has always had the ability to melt hearts but there’s now an added layer of soulful husk that sometimes comes to the fore. She plays a new song, only finished the night before, about how when you run it’s not always an act of running away. Lucy is following a dream and heading off to University in America in the next year. 

If you’re at a loose end an in Leicester over the next couple of weeks I wholeheartedly recommend having a peek at the listings and taking a trip to the Musician. OBS unplugged can get you through January.