Monday, 23 March 2015

Wolf Alice

Òran Mór, Glasgow - 23rd March 2015

I've been following the progress of North London ensemble Wolf Alice since the release of their self-titled EP in 2010. At that time they were a duet of Ellie Rowsell (vocals, guitar and keys) and Joff Oddie (guitar), and their musical style could best be described as folky-pop with promising tinges of rock. In 2012 Drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis joined the band and they released the single Leaving You.

Ellie and her new shell-pink Fender Telecaster
The next couple of years saw the release of two EPs - Blush and Creature Songs, and the musical style was changing, definitely more hard edged rock, with little concession to their folky-pop roots. 

The band have been doing extensive touring in the US, but this was the kick-off gig for their UK tour, to promote their debut LP, My Love Is Cool (due to be released 22 June). The Òran Mór venue was sold out and the hype was massive. 

So it was with eager anticipation that I stood, watching the stage crew prepare everything for the band. The sight of the hefty roadie strapping on and tuning Ellie's brand new, lady-sized, pink Fender Telecaster was incongruous and raised a smile.

Finally, after some technical issues with a sound pedal, the band bounced onto stage. "Hello Glasgow!" Ellie shouted. The sardine-packed crowd raised the roof with noise.
"Hello Glasgow!"

Fluffy was their first song, and for a band that have yet to release their debut album, they played with the polish of a well-rehearsed headlining act, but with youthful enthusiasm and a serious amount of amplification! While Joey Amey and Theo Ellis provided bowel vibrating rhythm, guitarist Joff Oddie was given free reign to unleash some wonderful riffs and feedback filled sections.  Ellie Rowsell,  alternated between melodic crooning and powerful yelps and screams, provided rhythm guitar.

Storms and Your Love's Whore were similarly delivered, and the audience located centre-stage-front were in full flow, bouncing up to the low ceiling and surging toward the safety barrier. The sound was generally really good, if perhaps just a tad too loud at times. The over-amplification tended to remove the light and shade from some songs.

One of the highlights was Blush (from the EP of the same name), where the first few introductory bars of Ellie's guitar generated an audience singalong before the song had even started. Joff Oddie applauded the crowd. 

At one point, Joff, Ellie and Theo even did a bit of comic sychronised dancing, with guitars moving in time.

The closing songs You’re a Germ, Radio 1's recent track of the day Giant Peach, and the encore Moaning Lisa Smile sent the whole room dancing.
Ready to crowd surf?
Ellie Rowsell shouted out "This has been such a great start to the UK tour, thank you so much!" and they were finished - well almost finished, because bassist Theo Ellis, then unstrapped his guitar, leapt from the stage onto the barrier, and reverse-dived into the audience. He was carried by the crowd for some time at arms length, face-up, and finally deposited back over the barrier. 

Did they live up to the hype?  
You bet!

Setlist was 
(This is very roughly, cos I forgot to make notes): 

Your Love's Whore
Leaving You
90 Mile Beach
The Wonderwhy
You're A Germ
Giant Peach
White Leather
Moaning Lisa Smile

Support Acts were:


The Crows are a Rock/Punk style group from London. They provided a stonking set of frantic music, with heavy bass and drums, great guitar hooks and vocals delivered by James Cox.
Cox was a menacing figure on stage, and off stage (he occasionally ventured over the barrier into the crowd), combining the vocal styles of Ian Curtis and Johnny Rotten.
Highlights were Crawling and Pray. Listen here - Crows SoundCloud

The Magic Gang

The Magic Gang are from Brighton, and this was their first venture up to the frozen north. They looked like a preppy pop band, but delivered much more. 
The Magic Gang
With probably the clearest sound of the night, they delivered catchy guitar riffs, good vocals and harmonies, all driven by some excellent bass and drums. 
No Fun, Shallow and She Won't Ghost were highlights of an energetic and enjoyable set - they'll do well I think.
Listen to some tracks here - SoundCloud

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Paul Weller

Edinburgh Playhouse - 22nd March 2015

Paul Weller has always been a serious musician. He writes serious songs, and tonight he seems pretty serious about the business in hand. No introduction, maybe just a quiet hello, he kicks of the set with White Sky, the single from the forthcoming album "Saturn's Pattern" due to be released 11th May.

The packed Edinburgh audience are on their feet from the first number and despite Weller's stated intention to exclude any hark back to the Jam or The Style Council, they are loud in their praise and stand throughout. With little chat between songs, Weller powers through number after number, mixing songs from the new album with older stuff, his band a well disciplined and top quality ensemble.

After 4 or 5 songs Weller takes off his jacket and says "It's nice to be back in Edinburgh, last time I was here in the Playhouse was in 1977 and they trashed the seats. I'm not proposing that you do that tonight though!" - a few of us remember those halcyon days, and cheer.

"Here's a song about boxers and fighters in general" - Empty Ring is a good example of his ability to create images with words and melody. The appreciative audience roar their approval. Above The Clouds is the first opportunity for the mixed age crowd to sing along, and they don't miss a word.

A man of few words, but beginning to warm to the very enthusiastic Edinburgh reception, Weller introduces Long Time as a "salute to Lou Reed". The Attic has a wonderful New Jersey carnival sound reminiscent of the early E Street Band. Porcelain Gods, from the Stanley Road album, is wonderful, but turns into a bit of a jam session.

Weller turns to the keyboard and says "This one is dedicated to our keyboard technician, I think that's what they're called these days, who got married today" and launches into a glorious rendition of You Do Something To Me. The couples in the audience snuggle closer together.

A problem with his guitar necessitates a change to the setlist, and one of songs normally reserved for the encores, Broken Bones, is next. The dancing in the aisles immediately starts in earnest. Peacock Suit and Whirlpools End maintain the dance momentum and the Edinburgh Playhouse is really jumping, but suddenly that's the end of the set. Weller thanks us and the band depart.

The noise is deafening as clapping and stamping ensue. The Playhouse audience want more. 

Weller takes his time, but returns after 4 or 5 minutes to perform a couple of relatively low-key numbers These City Streets and Foot of the Mountain. Then he and the band depart again.

The crowd are not having it, and we've all heard that Weller usually does 2 encores, so the stamping and clapping escalates until the Modfather returns - finally smiling. 

The 2nd encore is more like the thing - Picking Up Sticks is powerful and full of Weller on guitar. There's also a slightly superfluous drum solo, but no matter, The Changingman, one of his best know tracks is next. The aisles are full, the dancing is frenetic but finally it comes to an end. Weller, really smiling now, thanks us all and says goodnight.

We all know that "you never get 3 encores", and anyway the house lights have come on, the PA music has started up, and a third of the crowd are already headed towards the exits. Despite all this, the die-hard front half of the hall are still noisily demanding more

Much to my surprise Weller bounds back on stage alone, quickly followed by the other band members. "Thanks for being such a great audience. Here's one you might remember" and A Town Called Malice halts the exodus of non-believers in their tracks. 

A Town Called Malice
This is an very fine rendition by Weller and the band, if perhaps a little less polished than the previous setlist. I do believe that this is actually an unrehearsed 'extra' for a very enthusiastic and appreciative Edinburgh audience. Everyone goes seriously wild and we all pull out our best 1980s dance moves. 

Finally it is really over, the house lights come back on, but everyone goes home happy.
I'm glad I was there.

White Sky
Come On/Let's Go
Uh Huh Oh Yeh
I'm Where I Should Be
When Your Garden's Overgrown
From the Floorboards Up
Into Tomorrow
Saturn's Pattern
Empty Ring
Above the Clouds
Long Time
The Attic
Friday Street
Porcelain Gods
Brand New Toy
You Do Something to Me
Broken Stones
Peacock Suit
Whirlpool's End

These City Streets 
Foot of the Mountain 

Encore 2:
Picking Up Sticks
The Changingman

Encore 3:
Town Called Malice

The Support was:

The Merrylees

I arrive just as the lads are starting (bang on time). I was immediately struck by two things. Firstly they look like they've just stepped off the set of a 1990s teen nerd movie (think Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) but carry it off with aplomb. Secondly, these guys can really play and sound very professional for a local band yet to release an album.
Touted as purveyors of 'Psychedelic Western Pop', the band members are Ryan Sandison, Simon Allan, Reuben Toy, Lee Brown, Kev Tierney, Craig Somerville - all from the Edinburgh, Glasgow area. 

The Merrylees 
Since their debut in 2013, The Merrylees have gained notable recognition and celebrity support. After hearing their music,  Richard Hawley produced their 2014 single “Forever More“, and the band were also nominated for “Best New Band” award by the Scottish Variety Awards. They've been gigging hard, supporting the likes of Paul Weller, Temples and Babyshambles and working on their debut EP.

With 3 guitars, a bass and a slide guitar on top of the punchy drums, The Merrylees really deliver a glorious sound. The introductory theme from Once Upon A Time In The West and the addition of a Mariachi style trumpet on For You makes me smile. 

The vocals and harmonies are good, and the soundmix is just right so the lyrics can be heard over the lovely guitar riffs.

Definitely a cut above the average support act, these guys are really worth hearing live. Will look forward to some headline gigs to promote the debut EP - hopefully soon.

Listen to the Merrylees on Soundcloud or Bandcamp

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Joan Armatrading

The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh - Thursday 19th March

Over her 42 years of recording and touring, Joan Armatrading has never done a solo world tour. For this, billed as her last major tour, she has decided to do a series of intimate, small venue, solo concerts, and The Queen's Hall is the ideal venue for this type of gig.

She walks on to thunderous applause, a huge grin stretching right across her face. "I actually came out here to do something, but I've forgotten what it is," she frets, gazing around the stage. "People tell me that’s what happens when you get old."
It’s the first of many jokes from a seasoned performer who seems to be really enjoying these smaller solo gigs. 

The stage is sparsely furnished, 3 guitars on stands, one keyboard and a small screen to host rolling videos or photographs. No mike stands, she's wearing a wireless head mike. Armatrading looks relaxed and chats easily with the audience.

"I was thinking that I might play a song from each of my albums" she says, "but with 20 albums that's not going to happen." However she says "But I will be playing a selection of songs that cover my career" and she kicks off with City Girl.

Her voice is strong, and the guitar is excellent, both in timbre and her ability. More amazing guitar work was to follow and I have to admit to being surprised and impressed at her guitar skills. 

The Caribbean-born, Birmingham-raised singer-songwriter tells us that she is on the 112th show of her “final major world tour”, and after the second number Promise Land, she claims that she is already so tired that “this is the last song”. The audience roars, because when she sings, her voice is ageless: she can still reach the high notes of her youth and is clearly bowing out of intensive touring with her famous powers undiminished. She's joking of course, and begins More Than One Kind of Love at the keyboard. The song has a beautiful organ gospel sound, and her voice is effortless. 

Returning to yet another guitar (the guitar-tech guy was kept busy all night, re-tuning and cleaning the strings of her 3 guitars) she plays a few chords of All The Way From America and receives a smattering of applause. She stops and says "So, some of you recognise this one - feel free to sing along. Don't join in if you don't know it" - big smile.

Alone with a guitar and keyboard – with occasional pre-recorded enhancements - the well-chosen set list reflects a remarkable career. She flits from folk to raw blues to some feedback filled rock with ease. These are timeless tunes and the song In These Times – accompanied by images of anti-war and apartheid protests interspersed with images of human love, is a particularly powerful moment.

Outside Ronnie Scott's in 1974
The banter returns as she introduces old photographs of herself: Posing outside Ronnie Scott's, getting her MBE, meeting Mandela and, not least, being immortalised in the Beano cartoon Tom, Dick and Sally. 

Despite joshing us earlier about not performing (probably) her biggest hit, Love and Affection receives a standing ovation, 1983 hit Rosie although wonderful to start, with sparse reggae guitar, is slightly messy, but is soon forgotten as she moves into Drop The Pilot and Me Myself I

Highlights for me are the blues slide guitar of My Baby's Gone, the jazz-blues excellence of Steppin' Out and the feedback fueled sections of Drop The Pilot.

Armatrading eschews the encore ritual and instead remains on stage, savouring the moment as the crowd stamp and cheer for more. Still smiling, she says jokingly "Wow, I didn't expect that. That came out of the blue!" 

The "encore" is Willow and the audience, shy to start, soon form an enthusiastic choir to finish a wonderful set.

Setlist: City Girl 
Promise Land 
More Than One Kind of Love
All the Way From America 
In These Times 
Mama Mercy 
My Baby's Gone 
Down To Zero 
Steppin' Out 
The Weakness in Me 
Empty Highway 
Woncha Come Home 
Love And Affection 
Drop The Pilot 
Me Myself I 
-- encore --

The Support Act was:

Adriana Spina

Local girl Adriana told us that Armatrading has always supported new music and local talent. For her 2012 Starlight tour she invited 56 singer–songwriters/artists to open for her in their respective home towns. In this series of concerts, 8 of those support acts were chosen to support her in the UK. She said she is honoured to be one of the 8 and has been Aramtrading's support in Ayr, Dunfermline, Inverness, Perth, Arbroath and Aberdeen. Tonight is Edinburgh and tomorrow Glasgow.

Adriana Spina

Spina is relaxed and chatty, telling us she's from Livingston originally. "Is there anyone from Livi here tonight?" she receives a cheer.

Her voice is strong and she can strum and pick a mean guitar - you can tell immediately why she's been chosen to support Armatrading. The songs are well written, quite personal, some beautifully melodic and some are real up-tempo guitar numbers which you could imagine being performed with a full band.

She also plays a hear-wrenching cover of Woodstock, written by "One of my favourite songwriters" Joni Mitchell.

Highlights for me are Two Steps (a story of being on the road) , Fall (if you're friends with a songwriter don't ever tell them any secrets cos it'll end up in their songs) and the poignant Jeannie's Song written for her "wee Edinburgh Granny" on her 80th birthday "It's my turn to sing you a lullaby, it's my turn to keep you safe".

Her album Never Coming Home is available now and definitely well worth a listen.

Don't Recognise Me
Two Steps
The Same Drum
Jeannie's Song

Sunday, 8 March 2015

David Knowles

Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh - 8th March 2015

The atmosphere in the Ball Room of Edinburgh's Voodoo Rooms was that of a private party, expectant but not too rowdy. The venue was small and intimate, with twinkling stars peeking through the surrounding black backdrops.  This was the launch of David Knowles' debut album "Footsteps", a testament to the artist's years on the road (released on the 9th March 2015 and available here to purchase or stream). 

Due to a glitch with the stage lighting, the gig was a little late starting, but at around 10:30pm Knowles and his band took their places on a deliberately darkened stage to much applause.

 Matt Varty, Claire Schiavone, Dave Ross and David Knowles

While the stage remained dark (apart from the starlight), we were treated to a beautiful extended cello introduction to Silence In The StormClaire Schiavone on electric cello setup a looped background, then added more cello layers before Knowles soulful vocals told the story of being far from home and changed perceptions. Imagine Ray LaMontagne meets Yo Yo Ma and you'd be close. Although quite dark in tone and mood, this was a very fine opener, and when the lights came up the partisan crowd rightly expressed their delight. 

Knowles appeared relaxed and confident as he welcomed everyone, and launched into the next song, On The Road. Drum and acoustic guitar driven, On The Road is a good example of Knowles vocal style, which has been compared to Eddie Vedder, Ray LaMontagne and even Chris Rea. But Knowles is actually grittier and more soulful than these, particularly on the more bluesy tracks. 

Howlin' At The Moon was next - a wonderfully atmospheric performance with cello, cajón (Spanish drum box), understated guitar and  pain-fueled vocals.

"I walk this lonely road, holding out my hands.
All I can feel is cold, shaking all my bones.
Angels follow, calling out my name, 
'cause they can feel my sorrow playing all these messed up games we play.
And I'm howlin'. I'm howlin' at the moon."

Howlin' At The Moon

David Knowles explained that he'd been playing guitar since he was 17 and now at 33 this was the launch of his debut album "Footsteps". He'd spent much of the intervening years honing his guitar skills and for 12 of those years travelling the globe, (including Latin America, Asia and Europe) providing him with a rich vein of inspiration for his songwriting and familiarity with a wide range of instruments. 

Lightening the mood a little, a new instrumental track was next, featuring guitar and a Swahili Djembe drum. 

The set also included several covers: 
Ain't No Sunshine, the Bill Withers classic was performed solo, just Knowles and guitar, emphasising the pain and despair of the song, and Knowles' ability on guitar. 

A song often associated with Jimi Hendrix (but actually written by Scottish folk singer Len Partridge and William Moses "Billy" Roberts when they both performed in clubs in Edinburgh in 1956), Hey Joe was handled in soulful folk style. 
Both of these covers appear on the album.

Sympathy For The Devil (not on the Footsteps album) was one of the highlights of the gig, with Dave Ross moving out from behind his kit to play bongos. Knowles' vocals were really strong on this (despite his sore throat) and the audience joined in with the "Ooo, hoo, hoo's" 
Sympathy For The Devil

Other highlights for me were:
The Alchemist - the first David Knowles song I'd heard when he released his debut E.P. The Alchemist on 19th January 2015. This is a mature piece of songwriting which received substantial radio airplay earlier this year. This live rendition did not disappoint.

Satisfy My Soul - is probably still my favourite track from the Footsteps album, and here the live performance was really excellent. Gentle blues/soul start followed by an up-tempo finale filled with foreboding strings, footstomps and backing vocals. Knowles' distinctive vocals again particularly good on this song.

The final song of the evening was Child Soldier, a dark tale recounting the effect of the Khmer Rouge on 13yr old Khouy in Cambodia, repeating “I wanna leave this all behind”.
This live rendition of the album, plus additional material, provided a damn fine launch evening. David Knowles work is definitely intense and often dark in tone and mood, but the quality of the songwriting is obvious and I look forward to future material.

The artwork, which incorporates the lyrics, on the CD inner booklet (example above) is by Grisel Miranda and complements the musical content perfectly. If, like me, you still enjoy the physical aspect of owning music, be it vinyl or CD, this album is well worth parting with your hard earned cash to own.

David's Band Members:
Electric cello & tambourine: Claire Schiavone
Bass & cajón: Matt Varty
Drums, shakers, Djembe drum & Bongo's: Dave Ross

Silence In The Storm
On The Road
Howling At The Moon
New track - Swahili Djembe drum
Ain't No Sunshine
The Air You Breathe
Hey Joe
The Alchemist
Satisfy My Soul
Sympathy For The Devil
Child Soldier

Upcoming gigs:
"Live in your lounge” : To say thank you to his social media followers, David has arranged to play small, intimate gigs in selected fans’ living rooms where the host will introduce songs for a camera crew with the resulting video being aired on David’s YouTube channel. To win the opportunity to host your own David Knowles Living Room show, sign up here to the David Knowles mailing list.

Saturday 14/03/15: “Live in your lounge”. Lanark, Scotland.

Friday 27/03/15: “Live in your lounge”. Wexford, Ireland.

Saturday 28/03/15: “Live in our lounge”. Liverpool, England.

Sunday 29/03/15: Live on SW1 Radio with Angelika Miller. London, England. 7pm-11pm. LIsten live:

Monday 30/03/15 @ 7:30pm: The Bedford (Balham, London SW12 9HD). An iconic live music venue in London which has showcased emerging artists such as Ed Sheeran. Entry is free and the event will be filmed for YouTube so arrive early to avoid disappointment

Saturday 18/04/15: “Live in your lounge”. Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Sunday 19/04/15: “Live in your lounge”. Leeuwarden, Netherlands.


The support was:

El Cameroon
Scottish indie folk singer/songwriter Niall Cameroon is the voice, guitar and soul behind El Cameroon.
He performed 3 songs from his "The Obsession EP" which was recorded in various locations over the period of a year and released in 2013.

El Cameroon

He kicked off with "a bit of a downer, a song about regret and anger" Sad Lost Selfish Son
Niall confessed to being quite nervous after this first song, but his ability to engage the audience belied this. 

The Trigger was next, covering the subject of departing friends and being torn between loss when they leave, and happiness at their good fortune.

The title track Little Obsession, which Niall described as "I once really liked a girl for a couple of years but never told her. Cos I'm a bit weird like that" tells a story of raw confusion - of a struggle towards love, loss and finally acceptance.

Little Obsession

His set was necessarily short due to the aforementioned stage light issue, but I enjoyed the songs and bought the EP on the strength of his performance.