LIVE: Richard Hawley – Bristol Colston Hall, 9th November 2015

Here’s the thing, musical taste is subjective – I get this fact, even though most of today’s raft of “pop” acts are as closely related to music as Spam is to meat. That said, subjectivity aside, if there’s currently a better British singer, songwriter or guitarist than Richard Hawley then I’ve yet to hear them. Last nights gig at Bristol Colston Hall, the final of one his current tour, was further proof that Hawley is, seven albums into a solo career, at the peak of his powers. 

With a top-notch band now in place, along with his usual acerbic and very funny banter, Hawley gave us nearly two hours of the sweetest melodies plus the occasional rocking wig-out, all delivered in his rich Sheffield via Tennessee baritone and accompanied by musicianship of the very highest order. 


The set list stretched across his exceptional body of work, and personal highlights included (in his own words) “the most miserable song he’s written for a long time”, the beautiful and heartbreaking “Tuesday PM” taken from his current, and possibly best ever album Hollow Meadows, an outstanding version of the creepy and foreboding “Down In The Woods” from Standing At the Sky’s Edge 

and set closer, a stunning version of the beautiful, shimmering “The Ocean” from 2005’s brilliant Cole’s Corner. In between proceedings, we even had time to sing his daughter Rosie, currently at Bristol University and in the audience, Happy Birthday! 

That he hasn’t even been nominated for this year’s Mercury Music Prize further highlights the fact that in 2015 industry awards are increasingly irrelevant and in an age when X-Factor, auto-tuned, pro-tooled wannabees sell millions, Florence & her screeching Machine can headline Glastonbury and Sam Smith gets chosen to write and perform a Bond theme, Hawley should have a residency at Caesars Palace and be selling out shows there night after night! 

Anyway, here is the maestro with “I Still Want You”, his current single and my favourite track from the best album of 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Kontiki Suite – The Greatest Show On Earth

Back in 2012 Carlisle’s Kontiki Suite released their brilliant debut album “On Sunset Lake”. Inexplicably, I managed to miss it at the time but after recommendations from several of my trusted musical cohorts, I eventually got hold of a copy in mid 2013. Suffice to say I was blown away by what I heard and had I not missed the original release date, there is absolutely no doubt that it would have been one of my albums of the year.

Three years on, and this time around (probably due to regularly badgering the band on Twitter that they should pull their fingers out and release something new asap) I had advance warning that “The Greatest Show On Earth” would be released in early October. Well, after living with it on repeat for over a week I can happily announce that it is an absolute cracker of an album.

Not only is this another collection of finely crafted songs, large on melody and sprinkled with a liberal dusting of Laurel Canyon country and psychedelic shimmer, they also sound more accomplished and confident both lyrically and musically. In fact, most of these tracks certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on albums released by their heroes and undoubted influences, The Byrds, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, The Band, Buffalo Springfield or more recently, The Jayhawks and Teenage Fanclub.

Although each of the album’s ten tracks are undoubtedly worthy of mention, for me the highlights are opening single “All I Can Say” (above), “Here For You Now”, with shades of Here Comes The Sun era Beatles running through it, the sweet and sour “Under The Rug”, the 8 minute Neil Young-esque country-rocker “Burned” and album closer, the gorgeous and reflective “Years Roll On”.

Without any shadow of a doubt, in a world where substance over style should be the order of the day, Kontiki Suite would have a massive audience to appreciate their talents, so go out and buy their music and help redress the balance- I guarantee you won’t be sorry.

Website; http://www.kontikisuite.com

Bandcamp: http://kontikisuite.bandcamp.com/music

iTunes: http://tinyurl.com/bged2jx

Amazon MP3: http://tinyurl.com/bgw9utc

Amazon.co.uk: http://tinyurl.com/b4v2l6x

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kontikisuitemusic/timeline

Twitter: @kontikisuite

2014 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year (Part Two – No’s 10-1)

Well here’s the bit you’ve all been waiting so patiently for – numbers 10 to 1 in 2014’s “The Acoustic Egg Box Albums Of The Year”.  If the amount of letters, emails, tweets and phone calls are anything to go by after the 20-11 section was issued, it appears both of you were disappointed to see there were no entries from One Direction, Mario Lanza or Anal Vomit. Never mind, there’s always next year…….

10: ALLAH-LAS – Worship The Sun (Innovative Leisure)            The second album from L.A based Allah-Las sees them once again ploughing their own retro furrow of fuzzy psyched up/ 60’s garage, but with a more assured feel than their 2012 debut. The influences are many (The Byrds/ Love/ Seeds etc) and their version of The Frantics’ 1960 single “Werewolf” (No Werewolf) is great, mad fun.

9: DAMIEN JURADO – Brothers & Sisters Of The Eternal Sun (Secretly Canadian)                                                            Although still as inventive and “out there” as ever, Jurado’s Richard Swift produced 11th album is the most eminently listenable and coherent record of his prolific career. In places, the songs are shimmering and beautiful, in others psyched up and jazzy but all of them worthy of repeated listens.

8: SLOW CLUB – Complete Surrender (Caroline)                                From 2009’s folky debut to 2011’s poppier follow up and on to this, their fantastic, tune laden and soulful third, Sheffield’s male/ female duo, Slow Club, have certainly been anything but formulaic in their musical progression. The production, although polished, stops short of being too contrived, allowing their superb vocals room to shine.

7: TY SEGALL – Manipulator (Drag City)                                                Manipulator is the longest album in this top twenty with its 17 tracks running to just over an hour – an hour of joyous, rocky, glam, psychedelic, driving, garage from start to finish. Segall may be prolific but he certainly doesn’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Fans of Bolan, Bowie, Iggy, The Stones, Yardbirds et al won’t be disappointed.

6: CHERRY GHOST – Herd Runners (Heavenly)                              Cherry Ghost is, essentially, Simon Aldred – one of Britain’s finest, most underrated songwriters. This is an album of proper songs; songs of romance, heartbreak, lost love and found love – all sharing a soulful, melancholic beauty. If you can listen to “Drinking For Two” without a lump in your throat, you must have a heart of stone.

5: ELBOW – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything (Fiction)      For a band who have now been together for nearly 25 years they aren’t having a bad run of form! Their trademark melodies and orchestral flourishes are here in full effect and the vivid songwriting and unique lyrical aphorisms are better than ever. In summary: the more things change the more they stay the same – but in a good way. Gorgeous

4: MANIC STREET PREACHERS – Futurology (Columbia)            The fact that Futurology was recorded in Berlin is evident from the off. The album brims with influences from Neu! to Bowie and even the early (good) incarnation of Simple Minds. Synths are used to great effect throughout but especially so on “Let’s Go To War” – one of 2014’s best tracks. A brave, brilliant album from a band still very much at the top of their game.

3: REAL ESTATE – Atlas (Domino)                                                          It could be lazy of me to describe Real Estate’s “Atlas” as “21st Century Byrdsian”, but that’s pretty much the vibe that they conjure up, and an absolutely joyful vibe it is too. Listening to this album on a cold, wet and windy English December day has the power to transport you to summertime on a Californian beach.

2: REIGNING SOUND – Shattered (Merge)                                      Greg Cartwright is the best American songwriter you’ve never heard of and, on “Shattered”, he’s honed Reigning Sound’s (largely) garage rock output into a brilliantly eclectic Stax era soulful, funky, country rock album replete with horns, strings, pedal steel and flourishes of Hammond organ. To hear it is to love it!

1: BECK – Morning Phase (Capitol)                                                      Comparisons to 2002’s sublime “Sea Change” are inevitable but, as good as that album is, “Morning Phase” blows it out of the water. This is a record that could have been made at any time during the prodigious late 60’s/ early 70’s Laurel Canyon era and still been hailed as the classic that it most certainly is. It is an often mournful but always mellifluously beautiful suite of songs that luminaries such as Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young, The Byrds, Dylan, Nick Drake et al would have been proud to call their own. This is quite simply a stunning, timeless album and a career-best by some way.  A worthy Number One!

2014 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year (Part One – No’s 20-11)

In a time honoured tradition going back many years, that no one really cares about apart from, well, me, here is 2014’s unscientific and utterly subjective “Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year”.

Obviously, as a man with a time-consuming day job plus evenings and weekends spent ferrying kids around to a never-ending stream of social and sporting events there are only so many albums that I can physically listen to during the period. Therefore, as happens every year, there are undoubtedly some great records I haven’t even heard yet but almost certainly should have! I am always open to suggestions regarding what I should have included (or not), how dazzlingly brilliant my taste in music is, or why I should never be allowed near a record ever again. Anyway, here goes for the first instalment:

 

20: SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS – Give The People What They Want (Daptone)                                      After beating cancer last year, Ms Jones and her Dap-Kings celebrated by going on tour and releasing their 5th, and best, album to date. This is old school soul and funk played by a band at the top of their game and sung by a charismatic vocalist quite obviously enjoying life to the full.

19: GRUFF RHYS – American Interior (Turnstile)

Ex Super Furry Animal Rhys has written a brilliantly inventive album about an 18th-century ancestor searching for a mythical Welsh-speaking Native American tribe along the Missouri River – with tunes. If this doesn’t sell it to you, I don’t know what will…..

 

18: NAOMI SHELTON & THE GOSPEL QUEENS – Cold World (Daptone)                                                                              Despite recording material since the 1960’s, this is only 70-year-old Shelton’s second solo release. Although containing hints of reggae and country, this is a defiantly old-school gospel album released on the consistently excellent Daptone label. Fans of Mavis Staples will find much to love here.

17: DAMON ALBARN – Everyday Robots (Parlophone)          Albarn has had involvement with 12 albums since Blur’s demised yet this is the first bearing just his own name – and a lyrically smart, beautiful and often plaintive one it is too. Albarn has always been one of those artists who divides opinion, but on the strength of this release, the balance should definitely be with the “ayes”.

16: THE PRIMITIVES – Spin-O-Rama (Elefant)                                   An album that feels as fresh and vibrant as their brilliant debut “Lovely” did 26 years previously. 28 minutes crammed full of superbly crafted sunny psychedelia, with a nod to the 60’s here and a splash of Blondie style power-pop there. One of the year’s unexpected but hugely welcome comebacks.

15: RODDY FRAME – Seven Dials (AED)                                              As this is his first new album for 8 years, Roddy Frame could hardly be described as prolific. However, he remains one of our greatest songwriters and has an ear for a tune only a handful of others possess. Seven Dials is the musical equivalent of a warm summer’s day spent with an old friend – comforting, reliable and welcoming.

14: THE AUTUMN DEFENSE – Fifth (Yep Roc)                                  Given the title, you won’t be surprised to hear that this gem is the 5th album release from the band formed by John Stirratt and Patrick Sansone of Wilco. Containing melodies the Byrds or the Beatles would be proud of, this beautiful collection of songs wouldn’t feel out of place in Laurel Canyon circa 1971.

13: AVI BUFFALO – At Best Cuckold (Sub Pop)                                Four years after releasing their brilliant debut album, the Californian based Avi Buffalo do it again with 35 minutes of sublime West Coast bittersweet pop. Think Eliot Smith sings the songs of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and you’re not too far wide of the mark.

12: THE HOSTS – Softly Softly (Fierce Panda)                                    Sheffield’s The Hosts unashamedly channel their hero, Roy Orbison, on several tracks (including a cover of “In Dreams”) throughout this excellent debut album – and they do it superbly. Richard Hawley’s production duties are also much in evidence – no bad thing for a new band so obviously in love with the 50’s & 60’s.

11: GOAT – Commune (Rocket Recordings)                                          Goat are an enigmatic Swedish psych-rock outfit shrouded in a mystery mostly of their own making and on this, their second album, they’ve concocted made some magical sounds: heavy, hypnotic tribal beats, chanted vocals, driving Krautrock and Afro rhythms. You have to hear it (lots!) to appreciate what an uplifting and glorious noise they make.

FILM REVIEW: Northern Soul

As a brief introduction for the uninitiated, the term “Northern Soul” was coined by DJ and soul music aficionado, Dave Godin, in 1970 and can be loosely described as a specific type of heavily syncopated, black American “Motown-esque” dance music, often originally released in the 1960’s, by unknown and largely forgotten artists. The burgeoning scene that grew up around the phenomena developed its own unique fashion style and dance moves and peaked during the mid 70’s with worshippers flocking to several well-known venues including Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, The Golden Torch in Stoke, Blackpool Mecca and most famously Wigan Casino, where the film is centred.

t has been reported that the “committed clubber” and Northern Soul obsessed writer and director of the film, Elaine Constantine, remortgaged her home, cashed in her pension and poured all the family savings into funding its making which has taken over three years from the first day of shooting to its commercial release in October this year. It probably goes without saying that this fact alone would guarantee an astonishing level of detail and authenticity from such a devotee to the scene – and we aren’t left wanting.

Growing up in a farming community in the West Country during the 70’s, the nearest I got to dancing at a drug and drink-fuelled “all-nighter” was playing air guitar to Status Quo at a local barn dance while sipping cans of Shandy Bass and getting a sugar rush from too many sherbet dib-dabs, but, like all great period dramas, Northern Soul’s strength lies in is its ability to transport you to a time and place with such skill, that, on leaving the cinema, I spent 5 minutes wondering where I’d parked my Morris Marina.

The film itself, set in 1974, is an age-old tale of disenchantment, rebellion, friendship, love, loss and hope but with added dancing and a peerless soundtrack. There are decent cameos from experienced actors Steve Coogan (teacher), Lisa Stansfield (mother), Ricky Tomlinson (granddad) and John Thomson (youth club DJ), but the two main leads, Eliot James Langridge who plays John Clark and Josh Whitehouse his best mate Matt are relative newcomers to the big screen, and both put in superb and believable performances. They portray a couple of teenagers who discover the joys of the Northern Soul scene which serves as something of an escape route from their uninspiring school days and dead-end factory jobs. Such is their passion for the music that they make plans to open their own club after flying to America with a dream of bringing back bundles of undiscovered and collectable 45’s.

There are both moments of high comedy and some touching, emotional scenes during the film’s 102 minutes, but what sets it apart from its inevitable touchstone, 2010’s “Soul Boy”, is the dark and menacing undercurrent of drug use which is an increasingly prevalent theme throughout. As a result of the escalating amphetamine abuse we witness imprisonments, paranoia, the breakdown of friendships and ultimately, tragedy and these are the main reasons, despite the two movies being depictions of the same subject, that they are in many ways, about as similar as Mickey Blue Eyes and The Godfather.

One point should be made clear – the naysayers bemoaning the fact that the film doesn’t contain enough dancing or music should probably be seeking out a more prosaic representation of the scene. If it’s facts and reality that you’re after there are some excellent documentaries available about this wonderful genre, however, it does seem that the people making these negative statements are missing the point – this is fiction. Well written, meticulously researched and at times, no doubt, subject to a little artistic license, but fiction nevertheless.

So, for anyone that hasn’t actually seen the film yet and who may have been put off watching by the pedantic few, rest assured, as plenty of great music and incredible dancing DOES form a not inconsiderable backdrop to what is, ultimately, a cracking, well produced story. Keep the faith – you won’t be disappointed.

ALBUM REVIEW: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Give The People What They Want (Daptone Records)

 

That Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings 5th, and best, studio album has been released at all is great news for soul fans everywhere. The album release was postponed indefinitely last year after it was revealed Sharon was undergoing treatment for bile duct cancer. Thankfully, everything went well and the band are looking to announce a tour during 2014.

As far as the music’s concerned, this ten track album with a compact running time of around thirty-five minutes could have been recorded at any point during the past 45 years or so. The fact that “modern” studio techniques are eschewed in favour of analogue production values is in keeping with the feel of the album which, throughout, is a fine homage to late 60’s/ early 70’s Motown and Stax recordings. This is evident from the opening notes of the Supremes channelling “Retreat” (below), in which the feisty leader sends out a defiant battle cry to her prospective lover, right through to the gorgeous slow-burning closing track “Slow Down, Love”.

The video for the album’s storming second track “Stranger To My Happiness” (below) sees the defiant Ms Jones proudly embracing the baldness, resulting from her cancer treatment, and performing with just as much energy and verve as always. As much as anything, this performance serves as a real testament to her positivity and strength of character – a fact which is further enhanced when you see this amazing lady interviewed.

Elsewhere on the album there is the chugging “Now I See”; the summery slink of “Making Up & Breaking Up (And Making Up & Breaking Up Over Again);  Northern Soul dance floor favourite in waiting  “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” and the swampy Southern Soul of “Long Time, Wrong Time”.

All in all, whether you like your soul thang to be of the retro variety or just love superbly executed and performed R&B made by real musicians who obviously love what they do, I doubt you’ll hear many better albums all year.

Welcome to The Acoustic Egg Box!

I love books, art, films and well-made TV shows. I love great food and drink, sport, comedy, and, as an old mod, decent clobber. All of these things are important to me and, by removing just one of them, my life would be a far duller place. However, I’d give them all up for music. Music was my first love; an obsession for as long as I can remember. If it ever decided to pack its case and leave, I’d hunt it down with a psychopathic, swivel-eyed intensity and drag it back home at gunpoint, happy to do a lengthy stretch to stop it ever leaving again. So, unless you happen to share my passion, you might think that I’m in need of some therapy, but it appears I’m not alone in my madness, as Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the world’s greatest ever philosophers, once stated “Without music, life would be a mistake”, and if it’s good enough for Fred to say that, it’s good enough for me.

As well as great books, art, films, TV, food, drink, sport, comedy and clobber I also have two other passions; the 1960’s and soul music. The ’60’s was a period of massive cultural and political change. Among other things, we had JFK, Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, assassinations, Vietnam, the Moon Landings, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Woodstock, The Beatles, Motown, Stax, the Great Train Robbery, the first Bond movie, Mods, Rockers, the winter of ’63………and me! It is a decade that has, quite rightly, been granted iconic status, and the artistic output across all mediums during those 10 short years has never been equalled. Of course, many legendary and ground-breaking acts have emerged throughout succeeding decades, but the 1960’s will always remain unsurpassed in terms of the sheer quality and brilliance of talent on show, and the legacy of that period continues to be as influential now as it has ever been.

And so here we are, in a period when web-based social-media platforms allow virtually everyone on the planet, including the administration of the most powerful nation earth, the opportunity to share their likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, prejudices and intolerances and photos of their lunch. It also gives me the dubious opportunity of foisting upon you, The Acoustic Egg Box – a vehicle that will leave you in no doubt that my literary skills are borne of a severe intellectual inadequacy coupled with the overblown and mistaken idea that I am, of course, a comedy genius.

But, dear readers, my notable shortcomings aside, stick with me, as the main point of The Acoustic Egg Box is to share my discoveries and observations with you; gems and nuggets from the endlessly evolving realm of popular culture. Not just music, but other noteworthy and interesting titbits from the worlds of film and TV, art and literature. Yes, I admit, a fair smattering of items may be from or inspired by the greatest decade of them all, but don’t let that deter you from revisiting the site, as some of the very best new material continues to be inspired by those mavericks from 40, 50 and even 60 years ago.

As a classy bunch, you’ll almost certainly dismiss some posts as tedious dross, shooing them on their way with a swift kick deftly delivered by a stylish, expertly burnished, hand-made, wingtip brogue, however, I’m also hoping that other morsels might inspire you to search out the previously unheard, unseen or unread. For instance, you may unearth an undiscovered love for the Gregorian chanting of Benedictine Monks recorded in York Minster on a wet Wednesday evening or even stumble across the ideal song to be played at your funeral that isn’t Robbie Williams’ “Angels”. Whatever discovery you make, I hope you enjoy the journey with me.

And so it is, with the crash of an imaginary bottle of plonk against my ever expanding hull, I am almost launched and so, to kick off the party, and due to my unfettered love of classic soul music, here is the title track from the best album ever recorded.
Enjoy!