Friday, September 28, 2012

The Catharsis / Black Shapes / Sexwolf @ The Actress & Bishop, Thursday 27th September

It’s been a few months since I attended a sweaty pub gig and by Satan’s horns I’ve missed ‘em. Especially when they’re as ear shreddingly, bone crushingly, eye ball gougingly good as this one, set in the delightfully shabby chic...well, shabby above the Actress & Bishop.  

First up Sexwolf. Never had sex with a wolf myself, or any wild animal for that matter (not that I can remember anyway) but if you were inclined towards a little mild bestiality the music of the ‘wolf would pretty much make the perfect soundtrack. Readying himself for the onslaught the band’s lead singer removed his trousers revealing a rather fetching pair of Hawaiian shorts mismatched with a well worn Bad Brains t-shirt. Hell, this ain’t a fashion show though, right? From the very first note the ‘wolf slayed it, mashing up rock, punk, metal and screamcore into one huge great slab of noise. Pick of the set was the boiling nihilistic rage against the machine of We Were Bought Up To Fuck Up, an anthem for the misshapen, lost and lonely amongst us. Awesome. Kudos to Mr Hawaiian Shorts who repeatedly risked tearing his nut sack in half thanks to some particularly vigorous scissor kicks too.  

Next up Black Shapes, all the way from that there London. As black and doom laden as their name suggests they frankly they terrified some of the audience thanks in no small part to the lead singer’s primal, wounded animal vocals and the band’s attempts to summon up Beelzebub himself. Hard, heavy and veering wildly from full on 200mph rock outs to slowwwwwwwww, skull grinding breaks it was the musical equivalent of being violently blended (hmmm...can you be unviolently blended?) in a liquidiser...and all the better for it. The drummer’s well worth watching too, how that dude avoids serious brain damage each night’s beyond me. There’s head banging and then there’s seriously attempting to separate your skull from your spinal column. Good work there my friend...neat drumming too.

Finally headliners The Catharsis. Look up catharsis in the dictionary (oh you must) and it’s defined as being an act of ‘purgation, purification and clarification’. Certainly The Catharsis tick the first two boxes with the band’s vocalist ripping his throat to shreds in an effort to get whatever’s possessing him out of his body. Of all tonight’s bands they were the only ones who really strayed from the stage and got up close and personal with the audience which, let’s face it, is an important part of this kind of gig. Adding a second guitarist to the mix really beefed up the sound too (not that the sound needing beefing up tonight...ears were well and truly beaten into bloody submission early on), most evident perhaps on arguably their best song to date and pick of an incendiary set, Empty Lungs, the kind of track Gallows (the new or old version) would happily sacrifice a kidney or two for. A crowd pleasing Pantera cover (sadly my knowledge of Pantera would fit onto a plectrum) also clearly hit the spot giving the band the chance to really show off their musical chops. Impressive. Full on, throttle heavy metal/hardcore heaven from Sabbath Town. Be afraid very afraid. 

PS: Big up to the lovely Rhi Lee and Distorted Tapes for putting on a cracking show. 

Kids Interview...The Wombats

Connie and Olivia (aka Kids Interview Bands) continue their mission to interview every band under the sun by hooking up with Hearing Aid faves The Wombats. Here's the interview:

And here's one of their finest moments. Bliss:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Semi Regular New Music Roundup

Wow, two new music roundups in a week. Blimey. Getting efficient now eh? No, you’re quite right, still a slack ass. Anyway, here are the pick of this week’s tunes from the old inbox. Enjoy!

Imagine Pet Shop Boys fronted by a goth and that pretty much sums up Trust’s Dressed For Space. I’ve never been a goth myself but back in the 80s I was a mincing synth boy...hell, who am I trying to kid...I’m still a mincing synth boy. The band’s debut album TRST is out on 15th October...hmmmm...all that’s missing is U...see what they did there? Genius.

Remember XTC? Of course not, you’re not 104 are you? Anyway, they were a pretty cool indie band back in the day. I imagine this lot, Weird Drums, do remember XTC, given the jangly Generals and Majors feel of this little beauty, Vague Hotel. Neat.

Okay, this one from A Girl I Know (I don’t know her though...that’s the name of the band...confusing eh?) sneaks in thanks to its insanely hooky bits and the piano break about two minutes in. Listen to it a few times and I defy you to think of anything else. Aghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Apparently the bloke doing the rap bits was in something called Breaking Bad. Yep, me neither.

There’s a bit of Love feel to this one from Unknown Mortal Orchestra...and that’s good enough for me, tip top 60s tinged psych soul.

Have I pimped this one from Tame Impala yet? Hell, even if I have it’s worth another spin. More 60s psych meets 70s rock from the best thing to come out of Australia since Rolf.

Manchester’s Dutch Uncles seem to making some classy pop right now, again harking back to the 80s but this time embracing some of that eras more experimental acts like Talk Talk and Japan with a dash of Hot Chip to bring it all up to date.

That’s it for now. If you’re in Brum tonight hop along to the Actress and Bishop for the moshtastic The Catharsis...that’s this lot. Hell yeah.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Green Day turn the air blue

Well, blue-ish, if you consider the f-word much of a profanity these days. Yep, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong was a little bit peeved about having his set cut short in Vegas at the weekend best punk rock style...made his feelings known. It's been labelled a 'meltdown' but he seems pretty composed to me. I'm sure it'll do the sales of their THREE new albums no harm at all. Even if it is a PR stunt it's hugely entertaining to watch. He's supposedly checked into rehab today but he'd probably be better off popping down to his nearest guitar repair shop...if anything needs rehab it's that poor instrument.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mini Almost Semi Regular New Music Roundup

Been away for a few days. Paris since you ask. Very nice too. Didn't hear much music although we did catch a band doing slightly punked up Phil Collins cover versions through the door of a club near the Moulin Rouge. At least I think we did...we’d had a bit of vin rouge by then and the whole thing may just’ve been a grape induced dream. Anyway, excuses for slackness over, here are a trio of tracks that leapt out of the old inbox for you delight and delectation.

First up the oddly named duo Blind Benny with their recently released Chewjitsu. Fronted by Puerto Rican hottie Jade it’s a classy slice of breathily emotive pop with a faint echo of 60’s girl groups in there for good measure. Niiiiice.

El Mudo from An Blonds may sound like it was recorded on a 1980’s cassette tape...and it probably was...but don’t let that put you off. Far from it. There’s a pleasingly wilful lack of polish on this one that suits its retro Scritti Politti leanings perfectly.

Last up Ruby Goe and Sq1. This one’s borrow from her website...'a brooding retrofuteristic disco belter'. Couldn't have put it  better myself. There’s a bit of a Santigold feel to the vocals and musical trainspotters will lurve the 80s drums and 90s rave style synths nestled in amongst it all but whatever the influences it's just ruddy glorious stuff.  

PS: Oh...gotta post this one too. Ever wondered what Adamski's early 90s classic Killer would sound like as a shoegazey femme anthem? Yep, moi aussie. Happily hotly tipped London duo 2.54 have obliged producing one of those rare cover versions that actually comes close to eclipsing the original. Epic.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dexys @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Wednesday 12th September 2012

Mindful of one of Dexys’ best songs, Let’s Make This Precious, I wasn’t going to write a review of this show. There’s something about analysing a gig for a review that somehow nibbles away at the...let’s just say...specialness of it all and, as a long time Dexys fan, I’d deliberately left the old notebook and pen at home. The old hack in me just can’t resist scribbling a few words though. Oh well...

For anyone who saw the band’s 2003 tour some of this new show will be a little familiar. There’s that mix of almost vaudevillian stuff (Pete Wiliams dressing up as a copper springs to mind) that blurs the edges between straightforward gig and something more theatrical. Perhaps given Kevin Rowland’s singular way of doing things the majority of the show’s given over to playing the new album in its entirety too and anyone expecting a trip down Memory Lane will have to wait a while.  Quite a while in fact. Remarkably given Rowland’s well documented lost decade or two (during which he snorted his way through all his money and, according to one interview with The Guardian back in 2003, ended up begging on the streets) this show lasts nearly two and a half hours, during which he’s seldom off the stage. Impressive. That distinctive voice of his is still intact too, a little older and wiser perhaps but still one of the most recognisable vocals in pop. This time round though he seems more willing to enjoy himself, making light of a bit of a technical cock up during She’s Got A Wiggle On for instance, an event that might once have produced a bit of a 'scene' and frequently smiling. Yes. SMILING. Blimey...

Much of the new material's an exercise in therapy with Kevin mulling over his inability to love or find happiness, something that’s played out in dramatic fashion with Madeline Hyland on stage. It’s a world away from the Dexys of old, more reflective and low key as opposed to punchy and beat driven. It takes a little getting used to at first but as the night progresses this new soul vision starts to make more sense. Happily there’s still time to revisit some old favourites too and an improvised Bearwood-centric intro to arguably their finest moment This Is What She’s Like drew some appreciative whoops from the more local members of the audience (RIP The Little Nibble). Perhaps the highlight of the whole night for me though was actually just seeing Kevin up there performing. After decades in the wilderness that would send most of us six foot under it was a particularly heartwarming sight to see him repeatedly clasp his hands to his heart in response to the first of several standing ovations. More than anything this was what was most precious of all this evening. Perhaps that elusive 'love' was there all along eh? 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Amanda Palmer kills it...

Blimey...Amanda Palmer's been a bit of a fetish of mine for quite a few years now but her latest video notches up the insanity a peg or two...and I like it. Whoooohahahahahaha! Musically it's glossier and more polished than a lot of her previous stuff, partially no doubt to her new found wealth (she raised an incredible $1million through fan funding website Kickstarter...oh...and she's married to Neil Gaiman he ain't short of a bob). Visually, well, don't watch it before eating your tea, put it that way. Oh, and if I was Gaiman I'd sleep in the spare room for a while.

This video came via our Ohio correspondent The Bobby Dazzler who's been busy on a project of his own...well...his daughter (Connie) and her friend (Olivia) have been. He's probably been busy necking the odd pint or two. They've come up with a website called Kids Interview Bands...videos of the pair of 'em interviewing bands. Genius! It's a neat twist on the old interview thang and somehow the bands seem to open up a little more, probably 'cos they're not being interviewed by yet another borrrring old fart or wannabe TV presenter. Anyway...there's some great stuff on there and oodles of cool new bands to discover too. Go visit. Here's a sneaky peak of their interview with Minus The Bear...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday morning mellow out with Anja McCloskey

Monday mornings eh? Who had that silly idea? I know, we'll give people a couple of days off, get 'em all relaxed and stuff then chuck 'em back into the old sausage making machine on Monday morning. Pah. It's a double 'pah' this morning in the UK as the weekend saw something pretty extraordinary too. Sunshine. Things are back to normal again now though with the drizzle, clouds and ominous rustling of the leaves. Thank 'eaven then for this lovely tune from Anja McCloskey (she's played with The Irrepressibles too, so that pretty much guarantees my undying lurve). It's a lovely country swing tinged lullaby of a track, the kind of tune old couples would sway gently to across fading ballroom floors...ahhhhhh...beautiful stuff. So if your Monday morning sucks ass listen to this tune on repeat for an hour or two and I guarantee you'll feel at least 78% better. At least. Maybe 79% if you throw in a chocolate muffin and a cup of tea...

Anja McCloskey is off on tour across the UK this week. Check the dates out here. Her debut album An Estimation is also out now.  

Friday, September 07, 2012

"It has to be the best" - George Barnett aims high

So, what had you done by your 18th birthday eh? I’d appeared on the local news very briefly with my conker collection (don’t ask) but that was pretty much it. George Barnett makes me feel slack. Very slack. 

From winning young drummer of the year at 14 (check out the video above) and recording an EP at 16 through to making a feature film and releasing a self produced debut album (you can stream it all right here) – all before his 18th  birthday – Barnett’s packed more into his first 18 years on earth than most. You’d expect a bit of an ego but he’s surprisingly modest about all this stuff, perhaps as a result of his less than conventional home schooling.

“It definitely shaped who I am, yeah. In a very positive way. I was exposed to a huge amount of music from early on, and was able to dedicate a lot of time to learning my instruments and writing music. My parents, particularly my mum, have been so tolerant, and I'd never take it for granted. Can you imagine a kid banging away on drums, badly, every day for five years? That was me. I'm slightly better now, but no less annoying.”

A quick skip through You Tube reveals that this humility is a huge understatement, but we’ll let that slip for fear of embarrassing him. Polite, humble, talented...let’s see if we get his blood boiling a bit eh? There’s a lot of talk these days about George’s generation being ‘lost’ or, to put it more accurately, ‘well and truly shafted’ by their parents/grandparents who’ve merrily spent the last few decades gorging themselves on the consumer boom leaving today’s teens with the bill. Surely that’s enough to get him foaming at mouth?

“I used to feel very strongly about that, particularly regarding tuition fees, student loans etc, but not as much anymore. If you want to go to uni, do it. I've realised the pressure's on no-one but yourself. There's still something in me that thinks if you truly know what you want from life you will go ahead and do it, regardless of outsiders' opinions or previous achievements. You make your own luck.”

For dozens of budding young performers making “their own luck” has involved jumping through hoops on prime time TV and balancing balls on their nose (not literally but that would be a darn sight more dignified sometimes). Has he ever been tempted? He visibly bristles at the thought.

Nah, never. I couldn't dream of not having control over how I perform. I don't know how the people who enter don't have the foresight to see how they will be exploited, during and after the series. I don't blame the creators behind the show, they've been extremely cunning. If it's entertainment for people, whatever. But I'm not interested.”

That explains 17 Days then, a hugely ambitious debut album written, played, sung and produced by Barnett who released one new track from it every 17 days for 6 months. If all that sounds like it might be a bit angst ridden or home spun prepare for a surprise. The whole thing’s a joy, merrily crossing genres from one track to the next, coming across like a cool mixtape of your new favourite tunes. Was this a deliberate decision to flex his musical muscles?

“No, it wasn't a deliberate decision, it's just the way I write at the moment. I think I listen to such a wide range of music it just rubs off. People have mentioned the genre-hopping, but it's honestly not me trying to be clever or consciously diverse. Maybe there's something wrong with me. I don't see those style boundaries at all. It's either good music or bad music.”

So, with the first album under his belt then what’s next?

“Well I'll be working on a couple of videos, writing more songs and playing a big show at Ludlow Castle (September 23rd). I'm always writing - I live for that creative buzz. One day, I want to make films that go with albums. Huge art installations as venues...”

You can almost hear the synapses fizzing away as a million and one new ideas pour into his head. It actually takes a moment for him to get back on track.

“I love having all this in front of me. I've already written most of a new album, but it's way too soon to release something so big. Besides, I want to live with the songs for a while, re-write and re-cut, and make it the best it can be.”

Another pause before he delivers what could well be his own personal credo.

“It has to be the best.”

If the next 18 years turn out to be half as productive as his first 18 that’s some promise...

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Moseley Folk Festival, Friday 31st August – Sunday 2nd September


It’s strange how some festivals seem to be blessed with good weather and others...well...seem to be doomed to suffer plagues of frogs. Barring the odd shower every single Moseley Folk has been reliably dry and pleasant. Given the fact that this year’s been the most relentlessly grim since Noah took up boatbuilding you’d have been forgiven for packing a lifejacket or two...but no...MoFo was pretty much a rain free zone again, with...yes...some sunshine. Maybe the good lord’s a folk fan eh? That beard’s a dead giveaway, I hear he’s often at the Prince Of Wales necking the real ale too.

Early arrivers on day one were treated to the wild haired Abigail Washburn and more soberly coiferred Kai Welch’s hybrid of Tennessee / Chinese folk (Abigail studied in China for four years and speaks the language like a native). It’s a subtly neat twist on what you’d expect, familiar and yet a little exotic. 

As is traditional at MoFo the good people at Oxjam (the bit of Oxfam that organises gigs n’stuff to raise money) had taken over the wooden pavilion and transferred it into a secret gig venue for lucky winners of its raffle draws. This relies on the generosity of the artists performing at the festival to pop along and do an extra set but an impressive line up were happy to pitch in including every girl’s dream (certainly several of the ladies in attendance seemed most enamoured with him) The Guillemots’ Fyfe Dangerfield. Fyfe’s a local (born just behind the venue, Moseley Park) and he seemed wonderfully at ease on home turf. Playing a 20 minute acoustic set in front of just a handful of lucky punters he dipped into his rich back catalogue emerging with (amongst others) Vermillion, Faster Than the Setting Sun and a heart melting (and I’m a bloke) version of Made Up Love Song # 43. He dropped in a dreamy version of Nick Lowe’s I Read A Lot too, along with a couple of new songs including Nowhere In The World that won’t do his reputation as one of the finest writers of love songs in the world right now any harm at all. It really was a privilege to have been there.

Daubed in what looked like magic marker Beth Jeans Houghton and her Hooves of Destiny (who were variously dressed as extras from a Clockwork Orange and Dad’s Army) were one of the poppier bands on the bill with recent single and set opener Atlas becoming a fixture on 6 Music’s playlist earlier this year. Although a much more mellow beast (at first) new single Dodecahedron looks set to repeat this success, showcasing Houghton’s endearing brand of Northern kookiness and poperatic warblings. One of the best things to come out of Newcastle since Byker Grove.

A slimmed down The Young Runaways just made it to the church on time...well the Bohemian Jukebox tent...for a high speed whip through their greatest hits (in a better world they would be). Closer’s one of those songs that superglues itself to your brain and refuses to shift and even in its stripped back form it remains a powerful piece. Picking up the bpm a little seemed to suit some of the tracks and a fast n’furious cover of the Wonderstuff’s Here Comes Everyone capped an all too short set off nicely. Staying in the Boho Jukebox the leader of the pack Ben Calvert married the laconic wit and wisdom of Morrissey with the gentle charm of Nick Drake. In amongst his self penned gems (and Everyone Loves Lucy and Flee are both 24 carat diamonds) he dropped in an intriguing cover version too. Girls Aloud’s Call The Shots. This might be akin to Steeleye Span covering N’Dubz but it worked really well. I feel a collaboration coming on...Cheryl could do with a leg up. Oh...loved the Ben Calvert condom with a digital download code on it too. Fixing his daughter squarely in the eye he gently murmured the immortal words “It makes you not happen”. Entertaining and educational...I’m pretty sure he’s available for kids’ parties.

Due to clashing with Calvert the Destroyers were almost done when we got back down to the main stage but there was just time to witness the usual madness with There’s a Hole In The Universe. If you’ve not seen them before sell a kidney and get on it. A demented frenzy of Balkan beats spinning wildly around the sorcerer of song Mr Paul Murphy it’s the musical equivalent of an out of control fairground can scream if you want to go faster but your head would probably fly off.

Back for his second gig of the day Fyfe and his Guillemots kicked off with a nice wine glass solo. Yep, normal instruments are little too passé, why not fill three wine glasses with water and do that thing with your fingers round the rim where you make the glass ring eh? Must’ve been a nightmare to get the sound right for that one, which could explain the technical difficulties that marred the start of the set (it’s a minor gripe but the main stage did seem to suffer from a few sound issues this year). After seeing the songs stripped back in an incredibly intimate setting just a few hours before it would’ve been impossible for this set to compete (the band were missing the divine Aristazabal too) but Fyfe and co still managed to wow the crowd. As a band they’re at their best when they’re...well...rocking out...with Fyfe pounding the keys like Elton on speed. With two albums released in just over a year and the songs still seemingly spilling out of him (there were rumours that the band were planning to release FOUR albums in for each season) it’s a particularly good time to be a Guillemots fan.

Day one’s headline act got one of the oddest introductions of the festival with compere Janice Long dragging her son on stage. Poor bloke. There was a link though. Echo and the Bunnymen’s lead singer, Ian McCulloch used to babysit Long jr. back in the day. How rock n’roll eh? I wonder if he read him bedtime stories? Or sang him to sleep? Hmmm...not sure the Killing Moon counts as a lullaby. Anyway, Mac the Mouth was on fine form tonight. He had a particular bone to pick with the beleaguered lighting tech “Who’s on lights here...David Blunkett?” 

The fact that his shades remained glued to his face throughout the set made all this moaning all the more bizarre but we can forgive him when he gives the capacity crowd what they wanted. The Hits.  It’s no secret that Mac would’ve loved to have been Jim Morrison (minus all the bloating and drowning in a bathtub bit you’d imagine) and opening number Rescue bears all the hallmarks of the lizard king himself. It’s an impressive opener from Mac and the lads. Unsurprisingly he wasn’t happy though, moaning about the “Chad Valley reverb” or some such nonsense. Seven Seas, Bring On The Dancing Horses, The Killing Moon and the Middle Eastern indie anthem so beloved of those 80s compilation CDs The Cutter (or the cutttttahhhhh as Mac sang it tonight) were all dished out to the 40 somethings reliving their youth. Janice Long led the chant for an encore with the admission “I was like a pig in SHIT!” and an acoustic take on Walk On The Wildside then full band version of Lips Like Sugar were the rewards. He may be a grumpy bastard a times but you can’t knock the tunes.


Day Two and after a little light drizzle on Friday night the clouds gave way to a bright orange thing in the sky. burns, it burns. The Terrapins gently eased the hangovers with a pleasing country rock set, Ellen and the Escapades lived up to their Q Magazine’s Emerging Talent award with some heart warming ballads and a couple of organ driven ass shakers before Revere stole the show with their soul saving chamber pop. A bit like the Miserable Rich Revere’s blend of soaring strings and emotionally raw vocals hit the spot few bands manage these days. There’s a touch of Elbow in there too, especially on tracks like The Escape Artist and it doesn’t take much to imagine them making the same leap that Garvey and co made.

Local hero Mickey Greaney’s seemingly been through the mill a bit, what with a battle against the bottle, ME, the loss of his father, writer’s block...good grief. Happily he seems to have come through it all with the battle scars needed to produce some stunningly compelling songs like set highlight The Last Word which scaled the kind of heights that Jeff Buckley reached shortly before his ill advised dip in the Mississippi. It’s not always easy to tell whether an artist is merely performing their songs or actually living them but Greaney’s tears during that last track left no one in any doubt. “Sorry I cried...” he admitted as he left the stage. No apology needed. I can’t imagine he was the only one.

Little Sister’s mix of klezmer, folk and reggae, sometimes all in the same track...yes, always huge fun and as with last year’s set they were one of the festival’s highlights. It’s bonkers in places (how many other bands use kazoos these days eh?) but they carry it off well and they’re a fine bunch of musicians. Pick of the set was a beautiful song called Golden though. Composed for one of the girl’s grandparents to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary it has some simple but touching lyrics “the pictures may be black and white but the years have been golden”. Lovely stuff.

A bit of a clash meant missing a large chunk of Devon Sproule’s set but the woozy bluesy meditation of If I Can Do This and the road trip down memory lane of The Evening Ghost Crab hit the post lunchtime spot. The draw away from Devon were the hotly tipped Cannon Street (sisters Nadi and Rukaiyah Qazi). 

Last year they were working as stewards at the festival this year they were playing it. They couldn’t believe their luck but with the kind of beautiful harmonies that only siblings can dream of hitting they deserved to be there. It’s still early days of course and the last thing they need is hype poured upon them but with tunes like You Never Doubted Me and Fortune Cookie (both deceptively simple but instantly loveable folk tracks) already under their belts the future could be as sweet as their giggles that peppered the set.

Goodnight Lenin have been busy boys this year, playing a whole bunch of festivals and recording their debut album with none other than legendary producer John Wood (the knob twiddler behind Nick Drake’s albums, he’s also worked with Pink Floyd, John Martyn, Squeeze, Sandy Denny, Nico...). It’s a marriage made in folk heaven...a band with a bulging sack full of classic sounding tracks and a dude who can sprinkle on the fairy dust. It’s not out until next year so you’ll have to wait to hear the results, for now we still have performances like this to enjoy. Like his musical hero the band’s chief lyricist John Fell has a knack for capturing the passing of time that belies his tender years. Songs like Edward Colby and Old Cold Hands (which rocked like a mother fucker today) nail the fragility of the human condition in a way that lesser poets would struggle to achieve in a lifetime. It’s the dynamic of the band that continues to win fans though and although there was a little less banter today the tightness that came with living together in the legendary House Of Lenin and playing gig after gig shone through as bright as the autumnal sunshine. A new song (still untitled but it contains a reference to “heart of gold” in there) was perhaps more piano led than previous material but lyrically just as strong. As is traditional the set closed with a rousing Glory Be, a great galloping beast of a track, rich with Dylan-ish harmonica and a gloriously messy climax. If sex was folk this would be the big O.
A quick dash up to the Boho Jukebox tent saw Anna Palmer (aka Little Palm and an ex-Tantrum) unveil her new project Anushka. With drummer Seb adding some jazzy beats it’s a more upbeat Anna but she retains that beautiful voice of hers (part Regina Spector, part Carmel) and perfectly paced piano playing. She’ll be recording a track (Let It Slide) with Birmingham’s very own noise monsters God Damn shortly. Now that’s going to worth hearing.

What can you say about Julian Cope? Anything you want really...he wouldn’t care. He’s in a world of his own...a world of ancient monuments, spaceships, giant paper mache headed aliens...right now he’s leading some kind of army / political unit called The Black Sheep. On the surface Cope seems like a bit of a nut, he plays up to this too. But if you’ve read any of his books or listened to him speak for a while you realise that he’s a...well...floored genius. Take set opener, a delightful ditty entitled I’m Living In The Room They Found Saddam In, not the most obvious song title in the world but in Cope’s hands it’s sounds like a pop hit. In fact pretty much everything he sang today sounded like it should be a hit because, despite his best efforts, Cope’s a natural pop star with an almost effortless knack of putting together catchy tracks from the most unlikeliest of material. Don’t believe me? Try Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland with its singalong chorus “This is a folk song, a what the FUCK song”. Okay, admittedly the swear words might not make it onto Radio One but damn...that’s some catchy shit. He’s a natural on stage too, a born raconteur who’s happiest spinning off on a tangent. His one man MC5 argument (replete with voices) was hilarious. In amongst the new stuff he happily revisited old favourites too. No, nothing from Teardrop Explodes sadly, nor a World Shut Your Mouth, but we did get Autogeddon Blues, Double Vegetation, Sunspots and Robert Mitchum along with a wibbly analogue synth backed Pristine. “I don’t do this much anymore” the Archdrude admitted as the crowd bayed for more “I’m just going to bask for a moment”. He stood soaking up the applause for a good minute or two then vanished back into his own little world again, an all too rare sighting of one of the UK’s finest musical mavericks.

Jonathan Wilson’s chilled out 70s country rock was the perfect accompaniment to the gently setting sun. With musical touchstones including Neil Young and America (the band...and the country I suppose) it’s a classic sound, evoking dusty highways, sleepy towns and campfires under the stars. As one fan put in on a recent You Tube comment “a transcendental experience”.

Up at the Boho tent Red Shoes played a beautiful set of original tunes including one specially written for the great Dave Swarbrick called Sunday Afternoon. It turns out they’re going to record it with him soon on their new album. A poignant musing on the fragility of life and the yearning for just one more Sunday afternoon as we near the end it’s right up there with Roy Harper’s When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease...speaking of which...

Harper’s a legend. I don’t profess to be an expert but his influence on other musicians is undeniable. If Led Zeppelin write a song about you (Hats Off to (Roy) Harper) you’ve got to be something special. He’s perhaps not the most obvious choice for a headline act on a Saturday night though and his own words “Most of you will be bored out of your brains by the time I’m finished” proved prophetic with a significant number of the audience sloping off before the end. It’s a shame, once you get into his world there’s plenty to enjoy but the frequent ramblings, an altercation with an overly chatty member of the audience and the odd spot of bug swallowing clearly alienated some. If you stayed your patience was well rewarded though with One Man Rock and Roll Band giving him chance to show off his truly amazing guitar playing skills and When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease tugging at the heart strings.


Sunday and the gloom quickly melted to give another sunny day. Continuing the slew of incredibly talented youngsters Sunjay Brayne’s folky blues or bluesy folk was an early treat. Buy his CDs and his dad says he can go to lots of them and as he put it “I won’t need to”.

Sunday’s always the more traditionally folky of the three days and Emily Portman’s voice and musical accompaniment – a fiddle and a harp – were a folkies dream. Loved Stick Stock, a nightmarish fairy tale track about being baked into a pie by your stepmother. Tim Burton could make a decent movie out of that. Speaking of films if anyone fancies making Rural England – The Movie! Spiro would be a shoe in for the soundtrack. A fine instrumental four piece with music as rich as a well hung pheasant the undeniable star of the show was Jane Harbour on violin, one of the few folk fiddlers around who could give poster boy Seth Lakeman a run for his money.   

Fancying a bit of a change we caught (almost literally) the delightfully homespun Kawa Circus, a travelling troupe from Rajasthan. Their show’s a kind of a love story with a couple of suitors trying to prove their affections by performing a series of tricks, tightrope walking, balancing spinning bicycles wheels on various parts of their anatomy and...most spectacular of all...flying around like a helicopter blade on top of a bamboo pole stuffed into the pants of a magnificently moustachioed man some 20ft or so in the air. In these days of health and safety gone mad it’s refreshing to see such reckless endangerment of life and limb. Hurrah!
Back over at the main stage Jackie Oates – one of our finest young folk vocalists - and band pulled together an impressive set of original and traditional tunes, including the obligatory murder ballad (Young Johnson from her fourth album Saturnine) can’t have a folk festival without the odd murder ballad eh? It’s a belter too, a tale of two blokes going out with each other’s sister. One suggests that he’ll marry the other guy’s sister if he reciprocates. The other dude says “no way mate, I’ll keep poking the fire but I won’t marry it” or something like that. Suffice to say dude number one ain’t happy so he stabs him to death. Sounds like something from the Jeremy Kyle Show. Who says Folk ain’t relevant eh?

After The Long Notes soundtracked the now traditional MoFo haydown (basically an excuse to chuck straw all over each other thinly disguised as a ceilidh) local hero Simon Fowler (yes, him from Ocean Colour Scene) unveiled his new project Merrymouth. OCS got swept along with the whole Britpop thing and found fame with their more riff driven material but clearly Simon’s a bit of an old folkie at heart. It’s a path that his musical hero Paul Weller has already gone down but it actually seems to suit Fowler’s voice far better. There’s a gentle quality to his vocal that the Modfather just hasn’t got and pick of the set Blink Of An Eye sounds like the sort of track John Lewis would pay gazillions to use in one of their schmaltzy TV ads. Naturally there was time to revisit some old OCS favourites too, including a movingly stripped to the bones version of The Circle.

From something old back to the Boho Tent for something new. Very new. At just 17 years old Katherine Priddy wasn’t even a gleam in her dad’s eye when Ocean Colour Scene were in their prime but she’s already been shortlisted for the 2012 PRS Songwriting & Composition Award and played at the O2 Arena. There’s a touch of wood sprite about her, with flowers in her hair she could be spotted wandering barefoot through the festival all weekend and even before knowing she was a performer she just looked different somehow to most of the audience. Continuing this ethereal theme her songs have a fairytale quality too, in fact she revealed that the first song she ever wrote was a tale of a man who fell in love with the moon. The word hypnotic is overused in reviews but hell...she was.

Staying in the Boho tent Wooden Horse delivered another one of the standout sets of the weekend with some fine stompin’ and a testifyin’ blues. When he’s in full flow vocalist Jamie Knight’s as powerful as a hurricane whilst fellow Horse Ben Church is one of the finest finger pickin’ bottle neck melting guitarists this side of the Mississippi Delta. As with all the best sets it just got better and better climaxing with a furious number that threatened to blow the roof off.

Penultimate act of the weekend were the marvellous Village Well, a three piece with the kind of line up that makes the UN look unrepresentative. There’s an Iraqi Kurd, a Chilean and an Indian who, together, produce a truly unique mash up and gypsy jazz, folk, tabla and possibly some genres not yet discovered by scientists. They got one of the best reactions of the festival with Zirak (the group’s lead singer) managing to draw an unusually enthusiastic participation from the crowd. Oh...and is Pritam Singh the fastest tabla player in the world? Could be. An awesome display, his fingers must be made from asbestos.

Ask the average man / woman / undecided in the street to sing a folk song the chances are that they’ll stick one finger in their ear and come out with “Aaalllllllllllllll around my hat”. It’s arguably THE definitive folk song. Shorthand for a whole genre in the same way that Hound Dog sums up rock n’roll, Tainted Love synth pop and Smoke On The Water metal. Given this the song’s most famous interpreters Steeleye Span are pretty much the perfect band to close a folk festival. They were too. Picking tracks from some of their classic albums (notably Now We Are Six) the Span rocked the folk out of the place. As originators of the folk rock sound they deserve more credit than perhaps they receive these days and arguably (as fellow reviewer John Kennedy noted) they perhaps had an influence on the developing prog scene too. Certainly tracks like Thomas The Rhymer have a distinct proggy feel in places. 

She may be a pensioner but Maddy Prior’s voice remains every bit as powerful as it was back in the day and the whole band were as tight as a milkmaid's grip. Unsurprisingly they saved the big guns until the end with a lusty All Around My Hat getting the more energetic members of the audience spinning around wildly. The climax was a truly hair raising Gaudete though. “This is risky” admitted Maddy before pulling off a note perfect rendition of Alan Partridge’s favourite song. What a voice. A truly beautiful end to yet another beautiful MoFo.