Tag Archives: americana

Acoustic Night with Blue Mountains, Mick Le Huray, Richey Powers and Llewellyn Van Eeden – The Fermain Tavern – 08/04/17

Richey Powers

Richey Powers

After a jam night and an international Folk Americana night, Guernsey Gigs continued their run of shows at The Fermain Tavern by inviting four acoustic acts on to the stage. Spanning veterans of the scene to new performers the night featured a mix of sounds, once again in a relaxed ‘club’ style setting.

First up was Llewellyn Van Eeden. Having played open mic nights and a few smaller gigs including a set on the busking stage at last year’s Vale Earth Fair, this was only my second chance to catch him play and, for the most part, it was an enjoyable performance.

With a blues feel to the majority of his set, Van Eeden added a nice abrasive edge that didn’t feel forced to a fairly standard sound.

Llewellyn Van Eeden

Llewellyn Van Eeden

Adding a harmonica to a few songs rounded it off, albeit in still standard way, and, combined with a relatively easy-going nature on stage, made for a nice way to start the night.

Later in the set we were treated to a folkier song in Afrikaans before the set closed on a pair of what can only be described as ‘pirate folk’ that, while a little novelty, were good fun and went down very well with the audience.

While better known as frontman of psychedelic folk beast The Recks, Richey Powers had the opportunity to show a slightly different side of himself going solo. For the most part it was what you’d expect with folk sounds from various traditions rubbing shoulders with something of an American indie rock sensibility.

Richey Powers

Richey Powers

Much like with The Recks, Richey’s songs were often long, and in a solo setting a little over long on a couple of occasions, but generally were engrossing rides that drew the audience in.

The solo setting also gave us the chance to hear the more intricate side of Richey’s playing that often gets lost in the multilayered sound of The Recks.

With Frugal Heart providing a nice highlight the set then ended with a more intense stomping blues-y song that, if nothing else, proved a good pair of Cuban heels can work just as effectively as an amplified stomp box.

Mick Le Huray is a longstanding member of Guernsey’s music and folk scene and has been a fixture of the Sark Folk Festival since its inception and many events before. With his first solo album recorded and released in the last year he has found something of a new lease of life and that was evident here.

Mick Le Huray and Andrew Degnen

Mick Le Huray and Andrew Degnen

Accompanied by Andrew Degnen on fiddle, Mick played a set strong with the feel of the 1960s folk revival delivered with a real sense of feeling and humility. Andrew’s violin expanded the sound nicely but didn’t help the set dragging a little in the middle for me when it went a little too traditional folk for my tastes.

A song with Guernsey French lyrics and a more upbeat closer brought Mick’s set to an end on a high point though and made a nice contrast to the two younger solo performers that came before.

In trio mode tonight Blue Mountains delivered a set made up of many songs, but all continued their journey into a melancholy side of dark Americana.

Colleen Irven and Mike Bonsall of Blue Mountains

Colleen Irven and Mike Bonsall of Blue Mountains

With Andrew Degnen’s fiddle and a few tracks where Mike Bonsall swapped from guitar to banjo, Blue Mountains new songs expanded their range of sounds but it was the harmonies and style that remained at the heart of their songs.

A real highlight of the new songs came with Hummingbird, while We Come & Go shifted things into slightly more upbeat territory towards the end of the set, it was just a shame the audience had drifted away somewhat by this stage of the night.

Rounding the night off on a great vocal harmony moment to close their take on Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Girl, Blue Mountains concluded things on a high point and, as this gig was clearly promoted as the first in a series, I hope to see more music of this quality in this relaxed setting going forward.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Guernsey Gigs Folk Americana Night – The Fermain Tavern – 25/03/17

Great North and Will Wood

Great North and Will Wood

Following their inaugural Jam Night event the Guernsey Gigs guys were at it again on Saturday 25th March with a night of international playing folk americana style songs at The Fermain Tavern.

Guernsey’s Gregory Harrison was behind the event and opened the show with Chris Callahan from Nashville, Great North from New Zealand and Will Wood also from New Zealand but via Berlin.

My review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 1st April 2017 (you can read it below) and you can see my photos from it on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Folk Americana night review scan 01-04-17

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Tiger Army – V…-

Tiger Army V coverIn their near 20 years as a band Tiger Army have continually defied the generic stereotypes of their chosen style, while none the less continuing, in many ways, to be impossible to describe as anything but a psychobilly band.

While their first two albums certainly fell into this category the third and fourth began to stray and now, with V…- they have taken things yet another step beyond to create what could be a soundtrack to a film noir while packing in some great punk power as well.

As has become traditional the record (and I feel I certainly can call it that as it is available not only as CD and digital but also on vinyl with a great looking gatefold sleeve) begins with a short instrumental opening that merges into first track proper, Firefall, that shows while Nick 13 has evolved both his own and his bands sound punk rock ’n’ roll and pyschobilly is still a strong part of Tiger Army’s make up.

From there the album weaves in a vaguely laconic fashion through what feels like a dark night of rock ’n’ roll drenched in the Americana and 1950s obsessions of the band’s leader while maintaining the idea of this being created by a gang of Orange County vampires akin to antagonists of seminal 1980s movie The Lost Boys.

Tiger Army in 2016

Tiger Army in 2016

Lead single Prisoner of the Night (debuted at last year’s Octoberflame shows) sets a tone for the film noir-ish quality of what is to come and really this link between the sense of visuals and the music is something that defines the album throughout leading to something of a concept album feel – albeit nothing like the proggy self-indulgence that might suggest.

As well as the ever-present thrum and thwack of the double bass and Nick 13’s Gretsch guitars (both in overdriven and more melodic style) the album features a host of new sounds growing on the developments seen on 2008’s Music From Regions Beyond.

So we get pianos, strings, organs, pedal steel guitars and, possibly most notably, brass, that gives a slightly mariachi or Mexican feel to some of the songs and adding a western movie vibe to the noir.

While World Without The Moon and Devil Lurks On The Road are fairly typical of what we’re used to from Tiger Army, Dark And Lonely Night really highlights the 1950s sounds coming in the form of something that, in a different context, could be mistaken for being from an easy listening crooner and shows Nick 13 has grown into a confident singer and frontman from the howls and screams of the band’s early days.

Tiger Army live by Samantha Madnick

Tiger Army live by Samantha Madnick

Culminating with the feel of a south-west US sunrise on In The Morning Light, V…- completes what feels like a long hot night on a lower key note. After spanning everything you’d expect from Tiger Army and more the album shows a band confidently treading their own path regardless of what some other parts of their subculture may think of them to create a great record that continues to show extra levels listen after listen.

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Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks bluray coverIn the 25 years since its first broadcast Twin Peaks has become a genuinely cult television series with aficionados debating seemingly every second of the show to explore its hidden (or not so hidden) meanings and in that it has become hugely influential on a lot of TV (and general pop culture) that was to follow.

Particular to this was the mid-1990s trend for supernatural themed TV that peaked with The X-Files and almost certainly led to the likes of Lost having a home on international TV. But, for a newcomer, what charms would David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks have two and a half decades on?

Going into my first watch of Twin Peaks I knew very little, simply that it was set in a remote town on the US/Canada border and that the general theme was a murder mystery with the body of a local girl called Laura Palmer being the catalyst for everything that was to follow.

For the first, shorter, season of the two, my expectations weren’t far wrong as I was plunged into an almost soap opera like setting with a host of characters; from our maguffin chasing lead, FBI Agent Dale Cooper (the always convincing, Kyle MacLachlan) down to seemingly bit part players of the various, eccentric, townsfolk.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

As the series goes on a more esoteric thread is gradually introduced through Agent Cooper and his various visions that seem at odds to the almost heightened, soapy, feel of the rest of the show. All this builds to create at atmosphere that could only come from the mind of David Lynch.

Given the extra scope of a TV series, compared to a movie, this off kilter feel is explored with great success and gradually builds in such a way that it becomes simply part of the nature of life in this town.

While some of this leads to some funny moments, that always feel intentional, the main arc of Laura’s murder and Agent Cooper’s investigation always has a serious feeling to it and the series actually deals with some pretty serious themes as the bodies pile up and drug running and prostitution get added to the mystery.

The Log Lady

The Log Lady

Ending on a great cliffhanger Season One of Twin Peaks is a tight, undeniably weird, murder mystery with hints of Lynch’s ever present theme of exploring behind the veneer of, so-called ‘normal’, small town American life.

While season one seemed content to merely hint and suggest at a paranormal aspect from the start of its second season Twin Peaks escalated this and never let up. As intrigue and mystery piled on top of one another the plot does waver at times as it develops from a relative simple murder mystery into something much more.

To the show runners’ credit despite this escalation in scale it never really loses sense of its underlying feeling of peeling back the skin of Americana as everything is heightened and cranked up further and further.

Twin Peaks - The Red Room

The Red Room

Again there is some great comedy, particular coming in Lynch’s cameo as deaf FBI chief Gordon Cole and this is very welcome as other threads becoming increasingly disturbing – particularly those surrounding the mysterious BOB and Agent Cooper’s former FBI agent partner.

The most impressive thing as the series continues is how the various, often separate storylines, are intertwined and all join together as we head towards the dénouement.

Even 25 years later it seems wrong to spoil the ending of Twin Peaks, but its safe to say that the concluding few episodes capitalise on all that’s come before to create something the likes of which I’ve never seen in a supposedly mainstream TV show.

Twin Peaks opening titles

The original opening titles

Across both series the soundtrack and score, from Angelo Badalamenti, is a permanent fixture, often leading the action and emotion of the action or counterpointing it with reverb drenched twangy guitar and bass tones that hint at Lynch’s love of 50s rock ‘n’ roll and, in this, suit the off-centre Americana of the series.

With a movie (Fire Walk With Me) following soon after and a new series in the pipeline as I write, its clear that Twin Peaks had a strong, lasting effect on pop culture and, while I know there’s a lot more to it than one watch could ever give, it more than stands up 25 years down the road as both a landmark series and genuinely fascinating and enjoyable experience that I would describe as essential viewing for any fan of modern television.

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CC Smugglers – Write What You Know

CC Smugglers - Write What You KnowOver the past 12 months I’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to see upcoming country and roots band CC Smugglers live on two occasions; at the 2014 Sark Folk Festival and at the Buffalo Huddleston album launch. So, when they launched their crowd funding campaign for their debut EP (and an upcoming live DVD) through Pledgemusic I jumped at the chance to support the project.

On stage CC Smugglers are a real force of infectious energy and enthusiasm and I was wondering if that would be captured on the EP. While it doesn’t reach the same energetic levels of their live shows, the first three tracks of the record certainly have something of it.

Mixing Americana-folk with an almost music-hall like sense of fun the six-piece are all wailing trumpets, twanging banjos and screaming fiddles when they are at their upbeat best and opener Good Day is a fine example of this, with following track How Long adding a bit of dynamic variation.

CC Smugglers at Sak Folk Festivals 2014

CC Smugglers

Third track, Lydia, is a song that is a sing along favourite live and, while it doesn’t quite capture that gang mentality here it still sounds very good.

What the EP allows CC Smugglers to do very well is demonstrate the more low-key side of their side and show the range of their songwriting. This is particularly evident on Don’t Go a folky anti-war song that sounds reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions album and is clearly influenced by the mid-twentieth century folk movement spearheaded by the likes of Woody Guthrie.

The EP finishes up back on an upbeat note with Home Sweet Home that rounds off proceedings nicely.

CC SmugglersAs a record Write What You Know acts as a great sampler of what CC Smugglers do and, while it doesn’t manage to capture the massive energy of their live shows it still offers hints of it. With a live DVD upcoming and interest from the likes of ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, CC Smugglers certainly seem to have what it takes to really make a name for themselves both on the folk scene and beyond.

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Vale Earth Fair Unplugged 3 – The Fermain Tavern – 31/01/15

The John Wesley Stone

The John Wesley Stone

For the third year in a row The Vale Earth Fair kicked off their new year, and the road their summer festival, with a night of ‘unplugged’ acoustic style music at The Fermain Tavern.

With two stages the night took on something of a Later With Jools Holland feel as compere Graham Duerden introduced the eight acts who played non-stop from 8 until half past midnight and spanned pretty much every sort of acoustic pop-rock sound you can think of, and a bit more besides.

Starting things off was Chloe Le Page who, despite lots of tuning and some fiddling around with an iPad, sounded very good. Starting the set with a few originals set a nice tone as the Tav got nice and busy early on. Part way through the set Chloe was joined by Joe who sang and played guitar with her on a few covers that, while less satisfying (and I’m always going to be picky when people cover Foo Fighters’ Everlong) was still a good listen.

The Bee Charmers

The Bee Charmers

The Bee Charmers made their live debut next and, while their particular folkified take on a various pop covers and a few folk tunes was a bit twee, its hard not to be when the main instrument is a ukulele, the trio made a decent first outing. If nothing else the combination of Jo Lamb’s voice, Jo Dowding’s uke and Stuart Ogier’s djembe was a new sound and in this setting was spot on.

It was next that Graham earned his place as compere. While Ramblin’ Nick Mann and the sound engineers on the night tried to get some kind of noise from Nick’s homemade guitars Graham kept the crowd entertained before we got a rather protracted two song set from the Ramblin’ one.

This was a shame as Nick’s Seasick Steve-esque take on old-time blues is always at least interesting using as he does a pair of homemade, three-string ‘cigar box’ (or biscuit tin) guitars, but tonight it wasn’t meant to be, though his one full tune and a capella version of Black Betty (I assume he was aiming more Lead Belly than Ram Jam) were still greeted warmly.

To The Woods

To The Woods

Things kicked up a gear next as we got a typically sweary and lairy, but still slightly toned down, acoustic take on To The Woods. While he may have been playing an acoustic guitar Bobby Battles voice was a forceful as ever and Dan Garnham continued to improve why he’s such an impressive drummer with a stripped down kit and more mellow (comparatively) flavour to his drumming.

I got the impression Bobby’s between song chat might not have been to everyone’s tastes, there’s no doubting he knows how to make an impression and hearing the bands now familiar songs in this style demonstrated that there’s a lot more to them than distortion and shouting – and no one else can say “The working title for this one is Sloppy C**t” and make it quite as charming and funny as Bobby manages!

Following To The Woods is never an enviable position but Dan Guilbert’s reggae drenched acoustic was a very different prospect and, while its something that’s been done a thousand times before, Dan does it well. The highlight for me was his take on Sublime’s Santeria, but as it became increasingly loose and freeform the set lost my attention as it went on.

The John Wesley Stone

The John Wesley Stone

Always one’s to be someway contrary The John Wesley Stone decided to ditch the stage format of the evening and set up to play genuinely unplugged in the raised area of the Tavern surrounded by photos of those who’ve graced the venue and packed in with the crowd.

Hillbill’s slap bass and Tinshack’s guitar kept the rhythm going strong while Jimmy The Pimp and English Bob added embellishments over the top with mandolin and fiddle respectively while all four a’ hooted and a’ hollered the catchy lyrics, with much assistance from the crowd.

If the crowd hadn’t got into the spirit this could have been a problematic set but with everyone getting involved it made for a real highlight that proved just how acoustic music can sound, and despite no engineering the sound was remarkably balanced with all instruments coming across.

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

The Americana feel continued next, albeit in a less raucous way, with the Appalachian folk and murder ballads of Blue Mountains. Once again the duo brought a real sense of meaning to the songs that can often be lost in the more hipster or ‘traditional’ ends of the folk movement.

James Le Huray added some mandolin and percussion on a couple of tracks, expanding the duo’s acoustic guitar based sound nicely, but it Henry Lee that provided the highlight of their set for me.

Clameur De Haro had their work cut out for them as the headlined the show tonight with technical issues causing a delay to the start of their set, but it wasn’t long before the crowd got into their lighthearted, folk-ish, mix of rock covers and originals. With technical problems persisting some bands could have been put off but The Clams carried on regardless and after a few tracks the dancefloor was getting moving.

Clameur De Haro

Clameur De Haro

While this probably wasn’t the tightest or most energetic set Clameur De Haro will ever play it was still great fun with Devil’s Hole being a highlight of the original and it rounded off a great night in fun and entertaining style hopefully paving the way for good things to come for the Vale Earth Fair in 2015.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

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Jack White – Lazaretto

Jack White - Lazaretto album coverFor the follow-up to his solo debut, 2012’s Blunderbuss, Jack White has created another fine record that still draws on many influences but presents a more coherent ‘Jack White sound’.

Much like Blunderbuss this certainly feels like the natural evolution of White’s work in The White Stripes, rather than any of the other bands he’s played with, as it pulls in sounds from many sources. This sonic diversity is really summed up with a sense of geography.

As his career has gone on White has, physically, moved from Detroit to Nashville and that is clearly evident as a good portion of Lazaretto has a real countrified Nashville sound, but with an underlying feel of the Detroit garage that made his name. Added to this is now is a sprinkle of the sound of Sun Records out of Memphis and something of New Orleans too.

This collection has, compared to much of his previous output, something of a greater focus for White and leads to the album have a much more coalesced sound which is cut through by the distinctive crackly fuzz distorted guitar that has made his name along with the vintage organ and electric piano sounds that have also become something of his trademark.

Jack WhiteThe development of White’s sound continues on the second half of the album where, after a brief return to the Spaghetti Western style sounds seen on The White Stripes Icky Thump, there is something of an added sweetness to the tones on offer.

This is something a bit new for White and, while it adds a diversity to the sound, it is still laced through with the darkness that drives the album’s bluesier notes making for a few songs that vary things well. Still this doesn’t lose the more cohesive sound White has across the record and shows a development in his work.

Jack WhiteIn the end its harder to say which of Lazaretto and Blunderbuss is the more successful record as, while Lazaretto certainly shows a growth and greater confidence from White in terms of his own unique sound, and is probably the easier listen of the two, Blunderbuss possibly had a little more depth to it as a whole.

Honestly though this is something of a minor quibble as Lazaretto is yet another great record from White and really shows how classic Americana sounds can be combined to create something new nearly a century after many of those sounds were first committed to tape.

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The John Wesley Stone – ‘Shiraibu’ on Niche

The John Wesley Stone

Update: The Niche website has now been taken down, scroll down the page to read the full review

At the Sark Folk Festival 2013, earlier in the summer, country-skiffle-americana band The John Wesley Stone launched their second album Shiraibu.

You can read my review of it over at Niche Showcase by clicking here or on the screen grab below.

The album is available directly from the band or through amazon.co.uk – I’d also like to give HA Design a mention for their artwork on the album.

The John Wesley Stone - Shiraibu - screen grab

This summer has seen the release of two albums from bands of very similar pedigree and perception with both albums even being released over the same weekend at the Sark Folk Festival – they are The Space Pirates of Rocquaine’s Vraic and Ruin and, the album I’m looking at here, Shiraibu from The John Wesley Stone.

Appropriately enough, the title a Guernsey French meaning a particularly heavy drinking session, which for a fair chunk of this album, is perfectly suited.

The album launches into life with the high octane Caffeine, Benzedrine, Nicotine which really sets up the stall of the band’s take on country music as it roars along at a mighty pace with the rhythm being the thing that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and, within two and a half minutes will have you singing along to its chorus/title.

As well as this kind of roaring country number, also highlighted by Holly Gotta Hotrod, the album also lives up to its western side with some slower numbers that often bring the vibe of the more melancholy lone drunk at the bar than the party time drinking songs, and in doing so add a real sense of dynamic across the record.

These slower numbers are often sung by Nashville who, along with Tinshack, take the lion’s share of the time at the front of the band and really are its stars here, both vocally and in terms of instrumentation, particularly on the violin and harmonica respectively.

As the album rolls along we also get fronting outings from both Hillbill and, on one track, Tater, who also add their own dynamics to things and create a real feel that this is a genuine band, despite the fact that they have more links to the west coast of Guernsey than the deep south of the USA and, despite the music’s clearly retro nature, it comes without a whiff of the hipster vibe that has dominated so much of the so called “trust fund folk” of recent years – what you’re getting here certainly feels like some of the original three chords and the truth.

Amongst all of this its clear the band come with a real sense of humour too with Crack House Honey and Jersey Boy in particular bringing this to the fore, the former’s singalong chorus of “She’s my crack house honey and I’m her meth lab boy” and the latter dealing with an elicit love affair with a Jerseyman really making this clear.

As with many country and western songs the tracks on Shiraibu all tell a story and, much like the tone of the songs, this can generally be divided into two sorts. There are those, like the aforementioned Jersey Boy or A Darkness Inside, which are comparatively linear. Then there are the more raucous ones that take a more gonzo approach to storytelling, throwing all the facts your way in no particular order and generally at breakneck speed, but tell the tale just as well.

Ending on a track called The Road, with backing vocals by the fantastically named Wholly Methylated Street Choir, leaves things on a high that show how The John Wesley Stone have grown from entertaining and shambolic skiffle to fully fledged country and western, but have retained the sense of fun and honesty in their music that, to compare them to the earlier mentioned Space Pirates, makes them feel like the Pirates’ drunken, and slightly more edgy, friend and continues the trend for great albums being released in Guernsey this year across such a broad spectrum of styles.

And here’s a video of the band playing at The Fermain Tavern earlier in the year:

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