JP Harris – Ent Shed Bedford – November 17th 2018

I feel robbed by the imposter. JP Harris has surely given a sort of shout-out to me from the stage of Bedford’s Ent Shed and  somebody else, a nemesis in a front row seat, has just claimed the glory. 

“We’ve got somebody who’s travelled all the way from Spain tonight to see us”, he offers, mirroring some text we’d previously exchanged. “It’s a great country – we’ll get there next year”, he might say in his Southern drawl but I’m distracted, already reeling from the blow. 

JP now thinks that I’m that distinctly uncool person sitting to his right, the one waving at him like a deranged, drunken harlot. She clearly doesn’t  know the words to his tunes like I do; she’s not getting his references to great Country songwriters of the dim and distant past; FFS, I bet she’s never even been to Spain for longer than that week in Benidorm. 

My anger isn’t healthy. There’s little that can be done. I temporarily toy with the idea of standing up and arguing the toss but “No, I’m your Spanish fan”, seems like a foolish intervention. I anonymously slink into my chair and resolve to get on with enjoying the gig. 

And enjoying yourself at a JP Harris gig is an easy pastime. This is a songwriter who’s at a pinnacle of sorts. His latest album, Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing, sees the slightest of diversions from the out and out country that’s made his previous records so great. But the variety, the veering into blues, soft-rock and folk, simply makes this two hours in his (and his astonishingly talented bands) company more palatable. And ultimately it does still feel like we’re being transported to a backstreet bar in Nashville.

The Ent Shed is a new venue for Sonic Breakfast; it’s an impressive community hall, an extended skittles alley in the backwaters of Bedford. Attached to the Gordon Arms pub, it’s a place to love, cherish and value. Capping capacity at 100 people, it seems to be building a fine reputation in promoting these sorts of gigs. The plethora of punters in cowboy shirts and wrangler jeans have clearly clocked on that if they want their fix of slightly under-the-radar Nashville quality this is the place to be. 

The sound could be better. JP’s songs come alive with the lyrics, sometimes poignant, often sad but mostly true stories about past misdemeanours and struggles. Happier tales do surface from time to time. If only his vocal was slightly elevated within the mix we could engage more. As it is, we marvel at the playing and at the tunes without quite getting the full blow by blow account.  

His banter is engaging between songs. Hirsute with the best of beards, authoritative and tattooed to the hilt, you’re inclined to accept his murmured wisdom without question. He talks genuinely about the extreme hassle that women face in the music industry before launching into set highlight, ‘Lady In The Spotlight’. A curious explorer,wanderer and reveller, he talks of leaving home when young and the impact it had on his Mum. Crazy tours of the past, lost love, mistakes, regrets, solitude and his battles with alcohol also come to the fore. ‘When I Quit Drinking’ and ‘I Only Drink Alone’ being gut-wrenching statements of his stark honesty. 

I’d hate to give the impression that this is all navel-gazing therapy though; for the most part it’s a rollicking ride, a bar-room blitz, a storming hoot. The pedal steel merges with the guitars and drums to create a pretty party on this Saturday night. 

Miss Tess supports. Part of JP’s band, her set is a gentle prelude to the main event. Clearly a Nashville name, she duets acoustically with Thomas Bryan Eaton (also JP’s pedal steelist) giving a showcase of her cabaret-country tunes. Like JP, she’s also an entertaining raconteur moaning that her professional touring life gets in the way of her love life. She glows when telling all that a marriage proposal came her way earlier on this tour in Scotland and delights in disappointing Bedford’s Tourist Information Office by questioning the greatness of the castle. I didn’t know Bedford had a castle. I won’t now go. Essentially though, the songs stand up to scrutiny and I resolve to check out more when I get back to Spain. 

Like all here, I’ve loved my night out in Bedford. I’ll head back to Spain happy. As the gig draws to a close I think about waiting around to put right the wrong and to claim my prize. I realise such behaviour would simply be churlish and head out to the car with a spring in my socks. 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Femke Weidema – Stranger Than A Stranger

I sense that I’ve probably not embraced Twitter like a good blogger should. Sometimes I’ll get DM’s (I’m reliably told this is the abbreviation for a direct message) from artists who might want me to check them out for Sonic Breakfast. But, these artists often seem to struggle to capture my imagination within 140 characters. Indeed, I often just feel sullied by the brevity of the experience and rather suspect that the approach is the PR equivalent of a mass mailshot in which, if I’m very lucky, I’ll be a guaranteed winner.

This makes it a little bit surprising that I gave Femke Weidema the time of day. A couple of months back now, I got a DM from her twitter account that simply said, “Hi! Thanks for being awesome, would love to know what you think of my new video!” I didn’t let such praise swell my head. I didn’t think for a minute that Femke thought that I was any more (or less) awesome than the many other people she probably DM’d with the same request.

Despite this, I am, of course, particularly susceptible to blatantly inaccurate flattery and so I clicked on the link to the video. Typically with such approaches, I will regret doing so almost immediately. But, this was not the case with Femke. The link that Femke had sent was for her song, “Mixtape”. It was a perfect, perky, upbeat pop song. It brought a smile to my face to see the quirky Femke and her band dancing around the lounge, bedecked with studio equipment. I needed to find out more.

A quick internet search revealed that Femke was originally from The Netherlands. Periods of travel took her to America and she’s now holed up in Nashville with her fingers in all sorts of musical pies. She recently won a Latin Grammy for her work with Beto Cuevas on Transformation. (Beto Cuevas anyone?)

I watched further videos. ‘Leave The Lights On’ inhabits a similar space as ‘Mixtape’ – a credible pop song with Latin rhythmic influence. It might not change the world but it’ll make your day happier. I was now chuffed that Femke thought I was awesome because I was coming to the same conclusion about her.

It’s difficult to catch up with Femke’s output. Just a few days ago, she posted a new track on soundcloud, ‘Stranger than a stranger’. On hearing this less upbeat beauty, I knew I had to write a Sonic Breakfast post. You suspect this is a pretty autobiographical piece. It’s about being away from home and trying to fit in to your new surrounds whilst fighting loneliness. It’s pop with a Nashville country twang. And it’s brilliant.

Thank goodness for the Twitter.