Holy Now, Lazy Pilgrims and Calluna – Sebright Arms – March 13th 2019

The AirBNB is comfortable this week. I’m paying peanuts to be in Bethnal Green. The room has a desk (on which there’s a couple of cups and a box of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry infusion teabags – but no kettle) and the bed’s a dream to sleep on. I sit and write at the desk and I’m almost tempted to not head out to a gig. 

But this one comes recommended by a good friend who’s music taste I trust. I realise that the Sebright Arms (a venue I loved when I visited last – here) is no more than a twenty minute walk away and I’ve always been a sucker for a bit of Swedish jingle and jangle. Holy Now, recent additions to this year’s Indie Tracks festival line-up, are probably going to be worth making the effort for.

I’ve got some time to kill so order a burger at the Sebright bar. When it arrives, it’s nothing short of a taste-delight though I’d completely miscalculated that preparation time plus eating time would result in wolfing the food down to catch the opening act. Rather than give myself indigestion, I masticate slowly and saunter down to the Sebright basement when Calluna are in full flow.

They’ve clearly brought a fair following to the Sebright – and it’s unfortunate that some of the between-song banter fails to reach out beyond the dewy-eyed front row friends and family. For, despite hailing from Milton Keynes, Calluna should be more confident than this. In lead singer and band leader,Heather Britton, they’ve got a vocalist who has a pleasant, mellow husk to her voice. The band make a polished gentle shimmer of a sound and you can see why they’ve already got Match Of The Day (or is that MOTD2) soundtrack credits. My notes say it’s a bit like if Tanita Tikaram ever did shoegaze. My notes are probably wrong. 

 

The fan room empties for Lazy Pilgrims. They’re an altogether more challenging proposition than Calluna. A four piece, two boys in beanies flank a singer, Georgie, who’s probably well dowsed in patchouli oil. Their thing is grunge with a fair dose of prog. My notes suggest that it moves into stoner jazz at one point but given that’s barely a genre (is it?) I’ll just settle on the fact that they give us extended jams with power vocals. Chris, the guitarist, changes guitar after one particularly epic solo, probably because he’s worn the other one out. I notice that Chris is wearing no shoes but is wearing a particularly thick pair of woollen socks. Georgie is odd in that she wears a black boot on one foot and a sock on the other. Random things distract as my mind wanders. “This one is called ‘Sepia lips and the cosmic elliptical”, says Georgie. Oh my, I am done. In a festival field though, this could be right up my street. 

 

Holy Now are two boys and two girls from Gothenburg, Sweden. They write great songs but that is probably where the similarities with ABBA cease. “They’re like a band that would have been on Sarah Records back in the day”, says a decent chap I chat with before Holy Now take to the stage. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that this is a label that appeals and so I await their entrance with anticipation.

“It’s been a long day. We had to be up at 4.30 to catch our flight”, says Julia, singer with Holy Now. Nobody can tell that this is a tired band though. Their breezy tunes are delivered with attention-grabbing energy. It’s all about twee melody, discord and harmony. Julia has a high-pitched wail of a vocal which makes it sound less pleasant than it actually is; the rest of the band moderate with bursts of backing vocals which take the songs to new and interesting places.

Best of all, there’s a sense that Holy Now want to have shambolic fun. They admit that they’re testing a sharper approach to their chat between songs. “How does you say Sebright?“, ponders Ylva, the drummer. “What does it mean?“, she adds before telling all about the lovely merch on offer. We’re encouraged to count to four in Swedish enabling the count-in to an upbeat jaunt of a number. “Grab someone you love for this ballad”‘ we’re told – potentially strange advice for a song with a chorus containing the lyric ‘Break It Off’.  “That’s a really sad song”, admits Julia as it draws to a close. 

It’s been another night when making the effort to get out and about has richly rewarded. I’m lucky to be living this nomadic lifestyle. 

 

 

Xuan – Sheila

I woke early yesterday. It gave me chance to write up a couple of outstanding (as in overdue) articles whilst the villa remained cool. The night had dipped below twenty degrees for the first time in months. My head, for so long a fuzzy mess in this heat, yearned for a return to routine. 

So, once the articles were done and dusted, I turned to what I know and love best. And spent most of the day scouting around for new music. I was stumbling over so much that I enjoyed. Some of it made me cry; some of it made me laugh; some of it was clearly great art but pretty unlistenable all the same. 

Before long I had a list as long as my arm of acts that I wanted to feature on Sonic Breakfast. It’s fair to say that I’d had a productive day. Music can make you feel good. Out here in this remote space where it’s entirely feasible that I won’t speak to actual live humans for days on end, music had again been my companion and friend. 

Xuan (pronounced ‘swan’ apparently) was one such act that made me smile. This young woman from Dallas, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, is releasing an album, ‘Have Some Fun’, in November on Palo Santo records. On the evidence of the two tracks I’ve heard from it, there’s no misnomer here. 

Regular readers of ‘Sonic Breakfast’ will know that I’m a sucker for a bit of indie bubblegum twee. Initial single release, ‘We Were Just Talking’ ticks those boxes as it playfully sets up the tried and tested girl-meets-boy / girl-misses-boy story. Xuan’s voice, deliberately innocent, gives the sound some extra chewiness. Let go of any cynicism you might have and I’ve no doubt you’ll find charm within. 

Xuan has just released a new video for another song from the album ‘Sheila’. It’s another belter of a tune. On the surface, it appears to be about an old classic car but dig beyond that and there’s a wider metaphor at play. This is about classic friendship and fun times. 

I’ll be looking forward to more music-listening fun when I get to hear Xuan’s full album.