Sunday, 29 September 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: Kathryn Williams : 'Crown Electric' (One Little Indian)


'It's time I showed you something you've not seen / 
I've held it all inside'


Finally, with her 10th album 'Crown Electric' , Kathryn Williams has gained the strength from a person who has enabled her to have pride and confidence in her own talents and songs - namely, herself. Recent collaborative projects with Neill MacColl and her 'Pond' album appear to have given her the courage of her own conviction. This album is a testament to that personal growth and life experience.

The albums' main theme is time. Time passed, time that is left, how it is wasted, how quickly it disappears and how it measures out achievements and mistakes. Its not an album looking backwards, more taking a  moment to look around and breathe. 
Yet there is a realization that life, time and the world goes on whether you are in it or not. People come and go from your life, places change and all you can do is make the most of the people and experiences you have. 'That's the most important part of all / Someone to catch your fall'

The everyday pressures of life from the fear of the bustling hoards in 'Underground' , the desperate feeling of 'Monday Morning' and the scarcity of enough hours in a day in 'Count' are universal truths we can all share. If Kathryn has a recurring theme throughout her career, it's the ongoing battle between darkness and light. Darkness often appears as worry, guilt, panic attacks, lack of self belief and death. Light is from love, friends, family and the simple kindnesses we all take for granted.

'Darkness Light' starts gently but slowly builds until the strings swirl tempest like around the vocal raised against the storm 'Sometimes there are shadows that I have to fight, you can make my darkness light' with the 'light' making everything calm and still once more. Ben Trigg's string arrangements on 'Crown Electric are vital as they enhance and give real weight to the material as well as simple joy to the infectious single 'Heart Shaped Stone'. Ed Harcourt's appearance on 'Morning Twilight' alongside a wonderful melody proves that much beauty could come from a full album from the pair. 

I have bored friends silly with my admiration of my highlight on the album 'Sequins' another collaboration with Ed Harcourt. It somehow treads that line (if one even exists) between humour and touching melancholy. A woman muses that 'If I walk through heaven with no make-up on I'll be frightening the angels for good' but reveling in the feelings that medication and death allows 'I've never felt better and I like the sensation of finally feeling numb'. Ed Harcourt's sweet piano playing and Kathryn's voice create real magic in the air. 

The album ends with a flurry of dissatisfactions about our society - the divisions in families and communities, the failure of the welfare state and the greed of the banks which is a welcome new side to her songwriting. Likewise the yearning 'Arwen' featuring James Yorkston which could hold the key to Kathryn's new found stability 'From the bottom to the top / I didn't think that I would make it' but finding stability in people and places called home. 

Having lived with this album for a month or so, there are no 'ifs' and 'buts' for me - it's the best album of her career. 
If you've never sampled her work it's a great place to start. If you fell off the train at some point, a perfect time to get back on board. This feels like the culmination of so much hard work, perseverance and the flowering of her confidence. Kathryn's prime is so very much not behind her - this is her crowning glory.


Friday, 27 September 2013

Kathryn Williams : The Belle Of St Marys (Guildford)

Kathryn Williams & Alex Cornish - Old St Mary's Church - Guildford 26\9\13



As I am duty bound to see Kathryn play if she is within 40 mins drive from my house (or in London, Cambridge, Chester.....) I sped my way through rush hour traffic to the historic town of Guildford with its Olympic size lido.

The gig was in St Mary's Church off the High Street but when I wandered up to the only door I could see it was ghostly quiet. Was the gig cancelled due to the band overdosing on bananas on the M3? 
















Upon opening said entrance I was greeted by a packed church, every pew full with the faithful and a bloke in a dress by the altar clearly leading them in mass. I quickly shut the door as loudly as I felt it had opened to disturb the congregation currently staring in my direction. The tremulous 'Fuuuuck' I exclaimed may have also got their attention. I bolted out of the graveyard with a man I assumed to be the verger shouting 'Oi you!' at the clean pair of heels on display.  

A quick mercy call to Kathryn's manager led me to the OTHER St Mary's Church just off the high street. Unlike the other place this had different flavours of wine but none of those little round biscuits. Despite being a heathen child, I love gigs in churches - for completive, quiet and soul caressing music like we were expecting tonight - its damned (arf!) near perfect.

Alex Cornish's support set was a wonderful start to the evening. His on stage persona immediately warms you to him and his songs with a confident air and easy going manner. He plays as yet unrecorded songs requesting feedback later on whether to include them on his next LP. Both a charming move and to ensure people's attendance at the merchandise stall at the end of the night. 'The First & The Last' was haunting stuff so thats the one to get the thumbs up from me. 


He admitted that 'Skyline Of Paris' had been played recently at a wedding service but also at two funerals. so if any couple are struggling for music for their nuptials - check it out so he can even the score. 'Footnote On A Page' about his hometown of Dunbar bewitching in its yearning and melancholy. Made me want to see him play a full set which I very rarely say about support acts but more often than not with Kathryn's. What did happen to that Damien Rice fella?

I must confess this is the 5th time I have seen Kathryn play this year so far so my stalker credentials are well and truly there for all to see. I do go see other things as my still delicate head and tinnitus from the Pixies gig the night before attested to but it really has been fascinating hearing her new songs grow and develop over the space of a few months. 

Kathryn's band was back to full strength tonight with Jon Thorne on double bass adding real weight and depth to the arrangements of the new songs. Kathryn is playing 'Crown Electric' tracks at the start of the set which reflects her pride and confidence in them plus her audiences' ability to not skip to the toilet or bar. The toilet itself plays an offstage role tonight - its loud hissing upon flushing echoing through the chapel. Kathryn's audiences are like none I have encountered elsewhere - quiet, appreciative and free of wazzocks with mobiles or chatterers. A friend who attended one of her shows with me said afterwards "Her audience are even silent BETWEEN the songs".  


Now that the new album is about to "drop", as the kids say, Kathryn is clearly having fun exploring songs like 'Count' and 'The Known' to see what lies beneath. Little inflections here, different emphasis and vocal changes there bring fresh meaning for the listener too. She displays her vulnerable side "I wrote this whilst lying on Kings Cross Station having a panic attack" she says of 'Underground' but a slightly mardy soundman gets a tersely proud 'Don't try it with me, I'm from the North'. 

But at heart she's a lover not a fighter and a gratefulness for love and some kind of stability is at the heart of many of the songs from 'Crown Electric'. 'Of all the fishes in the sea, you cast your net, you chose me' from the infectious single 'Heart Shaped Stone, 'That's the most important part of all, someone to catch your fall" from 'Out Of Time'. These tunes ache with longing, needing and giving. Live, they become drenched in melancholy but Kathryn many times takes you by surprise with an emotional outburst or whispered line. 

'Sequins' remains the album and gig highlight for me and she really emphasis the humour and deep wish for the  'medication\finally feeling numb' tonight. There is a glint in her eye as if she has stepped into the woman's shoes as she traipses through heaven. Alex Cornish picks out the song's refrain so sweetly and gives the whole set a lift with his playing. The set ends with 'Grey Goes' as Kathryn performs onstage sampling and making the walls vibrate with a monster final note. Her cover of The Boss' 'Dancing In the Dark' really does give a new spin on the the lyrics, she turns a poppy track about writing songs into an appeal for peace, love and understanding. A lovely note to finish on.  

So by the time I am due to see Kathryn again in Chester she will have been all round the country so I urge you not to miss seeing this tour - Alex and Kathryn combined make for a superb night out. Support smaller artists, support smaller venues - get out of the house and prepare to be moved & dazzled by their talent. 

Click these links!

Live Dates
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The new album 'Crown Electric' out next Monday (30th September)

Read this MOJO review!










Thursday, 26 September 2013

Meet The New Bass. Same As The Old Bass?


THE PIXIES - i-tunes Festival, Camden Roundhouse - 25th September 2013 



So Pixies Mk II. Cool-as-fuck Kim Deal has departed and the marvellous Muff's Kim Shattuck has the unenviable task of taking her place. Kim's unconventional playing and unique vocals are there for the destroying. 

I was fortunate enough to win a pair of tickets to the show via the band's mailing list which meant we were able to walk past the other ticket holders waiting outside and get a prime spot for the show. I was a little apprehensive about seeing this new line up if I'm honest.

I needn't have worried. Within seconds of the opening UK Surf take of 'Wave Of Mutilation' it was business as usual. Kim S was able to underplay the bass lines like Kim D but also add her own style. As the show went on it failed to matter, she passes the audition in front of the band's "other home" crowd.

Of course I am unsurprised they dropped Deal's signature song 'Gigantic' but was good to hear some new\old songs alongside the new\new songs. A slimmer Black Francis, despite uttering not a word to the audience all night, seemed to be really focused and enthused to be on the stage. Slowly warming up the crowd they gave us a sublimely perfect 'Here Comes Your Man' (AKA The Best Song That REM Never Wrote) with the 'so long, so long' refrain echoing round the dome. 

'Velouria' was majestic as ever but you could sense the crowd wanted a bit of energy which arrived with a bam thwok with Break My Body, Crackity Jones, River Euphrates and Something Against You' that sucked a 35 year old teacher I know into the whirlpool of flaming limps and a couple of old skool crowd-surfers. From that point the show really took off.

The new songs blended easily with the old material. Lead release 'Bagboy' sounded great along with tracks from EP-1 although played alongside a bizarre cover of The Fall's 'New Big Prinz' which I failed to recognise at the time (how very Fall) gave the audience a "Don't know these" rest before a ferocious run to the finishing line topped by a head rattling 'Planet Of Sound'. And obvious encore of 'Monkey' led to a ragged 'Vamos' with engaging in some guitar histrionics, feedback and vocals. 

Some of the crowd may have left wondering why 'Debaser' or 'Nimrod's Son' failed to arrive but I was happy that the band seem to have gained an extra spark since recording new material and despite the Kim swap, maintain their power and edge as a live band. 

Next day, fuzzy head, fizzy ears and flaky voice. We still adore ya


Setlist:

Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf) 
Hey 
ENCORE

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Piano Man - He Makes His Stand In The Auditorium


ELTON JOHN - BBC RADIO THEATRE - BROADCASTING HOUSE 
LONDON - 11TH SEPTEMBER 2013




I couldn't believe that my friend couldn't find anyone who snapped her hand off to go to this gig. 

Ok there would be a risk that it would be 'new material' heavy with Sir Elton having his umpteenth album 'The Diving Board' to plug but even so - its bloody Elton John in a tiny venue. Must admit the London sky hurling rain at me as I stomped up Regent's Street to Broadcasting House didn't lift my mood. 

Although seeing a life size Dalek and TARDIS (plus of course my good mate, Jo) inside the BBC cafe raised my spirits. Apparently Doctor 10 was amongst the celeb guests up in the balcony.



We few, we lucky few, out of the 77,000 who applied for tickets were ushered into the historic radio theatre which got a bit stuffy but with only 200 of us in there wasn't uncomfortable. 

After a mercifully brief intro by Jo Whiley (where is by crossbow when I need it?) Sir Elton took the stage in glittery jacket and crashed into 'The Bitch Is Back'. His band, seemingly led by a cross between Tom Petty, Todd Rundgren and as my pal noted, Janice from Dr Teeth's Electric Mayhem sometimes trod a bit lumpily over the songs but the sound mix was a bit rough to begin with even at the Beeb. Probably sounded better for those at home.

Wasn't expecting any "hits" but broke out into a grin when Elton hammered the chords to 'Bennie & The Jets' - a song he once claimed to hate. Likewise, I had been told to shout for 'Tiny Dancer' but he didn't need prompting. "We're being fed before a 40 minute  'here's another from my new album' famine" I thought. 

But Elton is a flippin born entertainer and pop star. 'This new album is one fo the most piano driven I've done' he told us before playing two tracks from 'The Diving Board'. Opposed to what, Sir E? All those guitar solos you're known for playing? The new tracks did push his playing to the fore, often with solo passages and felt like an attempt to do something different. 


See that guy in the white shirt right at the bottom of frame left hand side. Thats me
His voice was in pretty good shape - of course those high notes on tracks like 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' and a lovely reworking of 'Rocket Man' were handled by the backing singers. He wasn't going to do a Macca and fall flat on his face trying to jump too high but he still pulled those same classic faces when hammering out the rock n roll runs of 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting'.

Once the cameras had been put away (people next to us waving at them - really? really??) we got some more. i was surprised that he played some his 80's cheese but they are bloody good pop songs so why not? 

I'd never seen Elton before and I think it'd be hard to top this special experience in such a tiny venue. It was a fabulous fun show with top pop tunes - who could ask for more. And when asked about the Mercury Prize nominations he was extremely knowledgeable and interested out the acts. Which is more than you can say for most musicians his age. Or me in fact. Don't believe that excitement in new music has ever left him. 

Think footage from the show will be on the red button on your telly this weekend and on the radio player right now. You may be able to spot me 'almost dancing' at this once in a lifetime opportunity.

SETLIST:

The Bitch Is Back 
Benny And The Jets 
Tiny Dancer 
Home Again 
Oscar Wilde Gets Out 
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 
Rocket Man 
Levon 
I'm Still Standing 
Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting 
Your Song

ENCORE (not on TV\radio)

Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me
Sad Songs Say So Much
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
The New Fever Waltz

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

No Religion Only Music #2: Giant Steps Each Day



Whilst the world's music media was focused on the O2 Dome in Greenwich as Led Zeppelin reformed (sort of) on 9th December 2007 I was over at the 2nd of two Acoustic Mainlines shows by Spiritualized at Islington's Union Chapel.



I had seen this setup earlier in the year down in Brighton and its was a bit of dispiriting affair. Nothing to do with the band or their performance but the behaviour of the audience. As this was not the usual Spiritualzed sturm und drang attack the band requested via signage that the audience respect their "no talking" request during the show.

Sadly, this did not occur and the show was disjointed by periods of waiting for people to get the message and stop their yakkin'. Jason Pierce, would just sit there and wait until people were quiet. The backing singers and string section often had to motion to people as they knew that he would wait all night if necessary. The annoyance of the silent majority towards the babbling minority soured the whole gig. The tempest that raged outside the gig on the drive there and back only added to the misery.

In the beautiful surroundings of the Union Chapel, however, you could have heard a feather hit the floor. The two shows I saw are amongst my favourite I have witnessed and one section in particular was spellbinding and moving both nights.




J Spaceman's delicate and fragile vocals on Anything More convey the yearning and pain on the song beautifully. The lyric "when my body gets tired" may well reflect his recent life threatening illness that coloured much of the current album 'Songs From A&E' except that the song was from 'Let It Come Down' some six years earlier. 

But it was the 'Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space' coda to the song that made my hairs stand on end. Both the backing singers and Pierce sing a variation of the song's lyrics alongside Elvis Presley's 'Can't Help Falling In Love' echoing the version released then withdrawn from the original 1997 LP.

It was just a wondrous mix of sounds, the soaring strings, the quiet reassurance of the female vocals against pained yearning of Pierces' desperate romantic lovestruck figure. The climax when they sweetly croon "Wise men say, only fools rush in...." just lifted my heart and made me weep. I've just listened to it again and it has this extraordinary effect on me

When I am finally called by the Great Architect \ Flying Spaghetti Monster I would like a recording of this song at this gig to be playing at my funeral. If this were the last music I were ever to hear - I could die happy. 

Yes, it means that much.

Below is s recording from that show which I hope will convey a little of what I mean. 



All I want in life's a little bit of love
To take the pain away
Getting strong today
A giant step each day
All I want in life's a little bit of love
To take the pain away
Getting strong today
A giant step each day
I've been told
Only fools rush in
Only fools rush in
But I don't believe
I don't believe
I could still fall in love with you 

I will love you till I die
And I will love you all the time
So please put your sweet hand in mine
And float in space and drift in time
All the time until I die
We'll float in space, just you and I
And I will love you till I die
And I will love you all the time
So please put your sweet hand in mine
And float in space and drift in time
All the time until I die
We'll float in space, just you and I 

Baby I love you today
I guess that's what you want
And I don't know where we are all going
Life don't get stranger than this
It is what it is
And I don't know where we are all going 

I will love you till I die
And I will love you all the time
Everything happens today
And we're out here in space
And I don't know where we are all going
Baby I love you today
I guess that's what you want
And I don't know where we are all going




Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Rutles : The Time Of Our Lives - Live!

The Rutles - Live at the Borderline, London - 30th August 2013

It's not my cup of tea / Its all the same to me

"Welcome to London's very own rat seller cellar" the artist known for tonight as Ron Nasty but otherwise Neil Innes beamed to an overjoyed and equally thrilled sold out Borderline crowd at this reunion of the Prefab Four.

Of course like those other crazy moptops , there can never be a reunion. Stig has again gone so quiet that no one can find him and a thorough body search of many female cabin crew of Indonesian airlines failed to turn him up.

Dirk was reported missing believed drowned while counting his money but was later rescued from a pile of premium bonds. His rift from the group is still open and bleeding five pound notes as the unsanctioned 'Rut-A-Lot' musical tours the UK with Christopher Biggins as Barry, Sanjay from 'Eastenders' as Stig, Dirk played by Steve Punt and Nasty by Shed Seven's Rick Witter.

But Nasty and Barrington Womble aka Barry Wom aka John Halsey keep the flame alive. 

When you go to see The Rutles its as if you are part of the joke, part of the films, part of this alternate history of 20th Century pop and therefore part of the Beatles mythology. I'm sure I am not the only one who feels this way. We are the strong devoted, we know every line, every side gag and every Beatles song that is being honoured / parodied / imitated or as Neil would say, being ruttled.

This isn't simple parody, that devalues how wonderfully Rutles songs capture the essence of Beatles and 60's pop with wit and subtle musical jokes. Regardless of the publishing disputes - standing on their own these are fabulous songs. 'Doubleback Alley' sparkles with carefree childhood memories

The band have the original 1978 soundtrack to the film to draw from and the lesser known 1996 'Archeology' album and they played nearly everything they had. Innes donned flowery specs and silver CND symbol for the 'Tea' years material. Their onstage banter and fun was infectious to the audience free of wazzocks talking, texting and twatting about - it was pure celebration.

Barry Wom "the voice of 1964" was like a delightfully dodgy stick of dynamite at times, overplaying his drum solos, trying to catch Innes out and making him laugh in the process. His star turns on 'Living In Hope' and 'Rendezvous' were greeted  with name chanting and thunderous applause. 

A charming version of 'All Things Must Pass' with Innes On uke was a nice nod to the guiding hand of Beatle George through the Rutles career in a way he would have loved.

Despite the heat we kept bringing them back for more and lesser known gems like Questionaire and 'Lonely Phobia' mixed with mass sing-a-longs to 'Ouch!' and 'Piggy In the Middle and the perfect Lennon ennui of 'Let's Be Natural'.' The evening ended not with the expected Oasis baiting 'Shangri-la' but one of my favourites 'Back In 64' with the sublime lyric 'Back In 64 before you were born, people were unconcerned with pouring scorn (or scoring porn)'.

"We should all go on tour" Neil yelled as the band took their bows. We love them, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

So put your hands together and let's really hear it for
Major Happy's Up and Coming Once Upon a Good Time Band...


SET 1

Goose Step Mama
It's Looking Good
With A Girl Like You
Let the Good Times Roll
Major Happy's Up & Coming Once Upon a Good Time Band
Rendezvous
Questionnaire
I Must Be In Love
Ouch!
Another Day
Living In Hope
Piggy In The Middle
Love Life

SET II

Hold My Hand
Cheese & Onions
Doubleback Alley
Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik
Lonely Phobia
Hey Mister!
Joe Public
Shangri-la
Easy Listening
All Things Must Pass
Number One
band Intros \ Get Up And Go
Let's Be Natural
Coronation Street Theme
Back In 64