Dear Leonard

Dear Leonard,

Whilst sitting in Manchester Apollo last Thursday night waiting for Paul Simon to take the stage, my wife and I spoke of how lucky we were to be there to witness one of the songwriting greats performing.  He did not disappoint, more vital and enthused than we had ever seen him, holding the audience in his thrall with his mighty gift of words and melody.  We ended up talking about other great concerts and fondly remembered the time we able to see you perform live at Liverpool Arena in 2009 where you made the cavernous cold venue feel like a cosy intimate jazz club pulling the crowd into your world of wordplay, musical subtlety and wisdom.  As we recalled these happy memories little did we know the news that was to break the next morning – you had left us behind to disappear into the place unknown.

After performing the song ‘America’ Paul Simon quietly mentioned that we were all looking harder for America after the news of recent days, alluding to the dire presidential result in the USA; no need to mention the devil by name… Your passing Leonard, as darkness falls, seems to me to mean that beauty will be even less easy to find as the world adjusts to its uncertain future.  “It’s coming to America first, the cradle of the best and of the worst” (‘Democracy’ from The Future 1992).

I discovered you rather late in the day, but feel enriched that I did find you.  With the obligatory greatest hits bought years ago, I used to lead a sing along version of ‘Suzanne’ at a day centre for adults with learning difficulties… “And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China” (‘Suzanne’ from Songs of Leonard Cohen 1967).  I can still see and hear the enthusiasm of the raucously percussive version the Lewisham gathering produced on those afternoons together.

The first LP proper for me came in 2004, with ‘Dear Heather’ followed by the late flourish of ‘Old Ideas’ 2012, ‘Popular Problems’ 2014 and ‘You Want It Darker’ – just released and only just torn from its cellophane as I write – it has been on repeat since opening and it-is-stunning.  Older LPs have been bought and dipped into over the intervening years.  A collection of LPs that shines a light in the darkness, addressing love and longing, touching both the existential and sensual, with a sly sense of humour never far away… Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey, I ache in the places where I used to play” (‘Tower of Song’ from I’m Your Man 1988).

I loved the way you decided to embark upon a career in music as a way of paying your bills when poetry and novels had failed to provide a decent enough living, both perilous professions with no guarantees, but the land you inhabited in your world of words described a life full of questions and uncertainty, so maybe you were just taking the only path you could to be true to yourself.  I’m thankful that you did find a wider reach through music otherwise I may never have found you.  Through your songs, along with those by Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, I have learnt to fully appreciate the idea of a particular kind of poetry in music, of words rich with imagery and humanity entwined with melody.

Your life as a wandering minstrel is itself the stuff of novels, taking you from Montreal to the Greek island of Hydra, to Mount Baldy near Los Angeles where you spent time as a Zen Buddhist monk – a life’s quest drilling down to the nub of existence, all poured out in your finely honed lyrics.

Behind the sometimes simplistic beauty of your work I have read that, on occasion, you spent years whittling and refining your words til you deemed them worthy for the world.  Such dedication and craft to creating beauty can only be admired.  It is mind blowing to think Hallelujah was trimmed down from eighty verses…!  “There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah”, (‘Hallelujah’, from Various Positions 1984).

You suffered from bouts of depression and, seen in that light your work also helps to shed some understanding towards, and some solace for, those who also suffer.  I have read that your early years of touring were cripplingly difficult but, despite the forced reintroduction to the live arena in 2008 due to impropriety by a former business manager leaving your short of currency, you were able to find real enjoyment on stage in this late wandering of the globe.  It certainly seemed as though you were in your element when we were in the audience in Liverpool, joking with the crowd and almost skipping on and off the stage.

Marianne Ihlen was your former muse from your sun kissed days in Greece and who you immortalised in song on such early classics as ‘So Long, Marianne’.  Just recently when you heard that she was gravely ill, you wrote her the most touching letter which itself reads like a poem.  In it you seem at peace with your next journey:

“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road”. 

There is no doubt your memory will live on; the songs you have left behind will resound for generations, some maybe forever.  Your son Adam, a singer in his own right forges his own path while championing your work and your daughter Lorca has a daughter with the singer Rufus Wainwright.  Long may fresh water be drawn from the Cohen well…

Thank you Leonard

Rest in peace

JB

17th November 2016

Warrilow: There comes a time…..

Rhys Bethell is a musician who performs his music under the name Warrilow.  Formerly based in Sheffield, in 2013 he relocated to Newcastle.  He is preparing to release his first EP of studio recordings.  It will be called Chief and it’s been a long time coming….

There are three things to know about Rhys Bethell – he has a captivating voice; his dexterity on a guitar is mesmerising; and he deserves recognition.  He’s moving to Newcastle, which makes me sad because Sheffield is losing a true talent”.
Toast, Issue 40

Rhys Bethell, the artist now known as Warrilow (photo: Gerard F Morgan)

I first got to know Rhys in 2008 when we worked together in Sheffield.  Despite him being nearly young enough to be my son, we soon struck up a friendship and would chat about all sorts including a shared love of music.  He revealed that he was a singer and guitarist but seemed somewhat reticent to share his muse with the wider world, satisfied to sit at home tinkering in his bedroom studio.  After some sustained encouragement from family, friends and work colleagues he eventually ventured into the live arena.

Occasionally performing on the same bill, I saw hints of the performer he would become.  His guitar playing style was already fully formed, his dexterous spider-like fingers adventurously exploring the fretboard bringing to mind the playing of Nick Drake and Jose Gonzalez.  His voice in those early days gave away the nerves within.  This was somewhat surprising because when you meet him he exudes such an easy going nature.  If only he could channel that into his music and performance….

Well it seemed all that was needed was some more of that stuff called life and experience.  Leaving our shared workplace Rhys set off on his travels finding inspiration in the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand returning with a tattoo and an awakened verve.  He studied for a Creative Writing degree at the University of Sheffield and joined a band for a while, slowly finding his own creative voice.

By the time he opened for The Janskys, when we launched our LP in July 2013, the transformation was long complete.  His voice had a maturity and the melodies of his newer songs matched the guitar virtuosity.  He was also at ease with the crowd.

“As expected the evening got off to a wonderful start with a spellbinding set by Rhys Bethell accompanying himself on the Spanish guitar made for him by his partner’s father.  A beautiful instrument beautifully played.  The crowd were held captive to this young man’s unassuming delivery of incredibly intricate vocal and guitar melodies”.
Sawayaka Sheffield July 2013

Warrilow, the artist formerly known as Rhys Bethell (photo: Gerard F Morgan)

Warrilow, the artist formerly known as Rhys Bethell (photo: Gerard F Morgan)

He describes his music as ghost-folk: inspired by traditional folk, story-telling and poetry, building songs around atmosphere based upon melodic playing and metrical lyrics.

You can hear some examples on his Soundcloud page.

Since moving to Newcastle Rhys/Warrilow has become more focused on his music, posting regularly on YouTube – including a brave and enchanting version of John Lennon’s Imagine.

 

 

One eye on the Green Man Festival

One eye on the Green Man Festival

He has featured on BBC Radio Newcastle, has ambitions to play the Green Man Festival and is now set to release his EP ‘Chief‘ recorded at Loft Music studios in Newcastle with producer Liam Gaughan.  In his own words….  “These tunes took every ounce to write, and I’d love to see them realised fully: as a beautiful CD that I can put into your hands.  This music is very important to me, it would mean worlds to me to send them out as more than just wavelengths and pixels”.

So, Warrilow has launched a ‘Kickstarter’ campaign for fans and patrons to help fund the pressing of the CD.  It’s an innovative way of getting your music out there, engaging your followers and making them part of the music making process.  Donations for pre-orders can be made between £3 and £23 and there is a deadline of 30 days for the campaign to reach the initial target of £1400.  This will ensure the project is funded.

Artwork for the 'Chief' EP

Artwork for the ‘Chief’ EP

 

The great news is that the money pledged has already passed the target after only three days since the launch; indeed, as things stand, Warrilow could well exceed the modest amount he had hoped to raise.

 

 

It’s easy to sign up, which you can do here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1380708546/chief-a-studio-ep-by-warrilow

By donating to the project we can help Warrilow release the Chief EP and possibly give him the scope to plan beyond this recording – to the next step along his creative path.

C’mon…. Let’s spread the joy!

DS
April 2015

 

Some further information/contacts for Warrilow:

Twitter: @Warrilowmusic

Facebook: facebook.com/warrilowmusic

Tumblr: warrilowmusic.tumblr.com

The War on (Apathy won by) Drugs

Despite having been to hundreds of gigs in my lifetime, if you were to draw a graph, there could be seen a slow and steady decline in my gig attendance in the last 10 years.  Not such a surprise really when I’m slowly mining deeper into the seam of middle age.

Back in the day, all of my twenties were spent living in London, and while gigging regularly with my band The Violet Years I was also out and about watching bands all over the Big Smoke taking in venues such as The Kilburn National, The Astoria (Charing Cross Road), The Forum (aka Town & Country Club – Kentish Town), Hammersmith Odeon, The Venue (New Cross) and Brixton Academy.  All could be reached with a 4 zone travel card from whichever postcode of South London I was currently residing in.  Journey times were of no consequence and varied enormously with night buses and unlicensed taxi drivers sometimes featuring in the journey home.  Up for work the next morning, no bother* (*occasional exceptions aside).

Fast forward a decade or two where I’m well settled in Sheffield, bang in the centre of the country, with a thriving music scene and the northern music mecca of Manchester and the favoured stop off for bands visiting Yorkshire – Leeds, less than an hour away.  But nowadays it seems it takes more and more to raise my interest enough to warrant the effort of leaving my sofa to seek out the thrills of live musical performance and even more so to venture beyond Sheffield.  I imagine this partly comes from having heard so much music that it takes something quite special to really connect and encourage live exploration.

This eventually leads to a cold Sunday night in Nottingham…

It was only towards the end of last year that The War On Drugs started to appear on my musical radar with their LP ‘Lost in the Dream‘ –

The War On Drugs 'Lost In The Dream' 2014

The War On Drugs ‘Lost In The Dream’ 2014

a wonderful mix conjuring Dylan and Springsteen via a kaleidoscope of instrumental segues.  I found this combination fascinating.  When I read a little more about them I discovered the band was based in Philadelphia and built around singer, main songwriter and guitarist Adam Granduciel.  The latest LP was their third so if I actually made the effort to go and see them they would have quite a selection of material to draw from in a live setting.  The band’s UK tour was selling out as it went, but I noticed that their Nottingham date had been moved from a Wednesday to the Sunday of the same week so they could attend the Brit Awards – they’d been nominated for a gong for ‘Best International Group’.  They eventually lost out to the nicest man in rock and roll, Dave Grohl & his Foo Fighters.  By the way, Mr Grohl’s recent series ‘Sonic Highways’ is a fascinating look into the workings of bands, producers and studios alongside a musical history of eight American cities… but I digress.  The War On Drugs‘ loss at the Brits was a gain for myself and my good pals F and PB, as we were able to swoop in and purloin three returned tickets from unfortunate folk who either could not make the rescheduled date or could not face the thought of heading out on a Sunday night before a week’s nose to the grind.  Must admit I had to fight that feeling too.

Going out on a cold Sunday night... What was I thinking?

Going out on a cold Sunday night… What was I thinking?

F and PB who would help lift me from my Sunday sofa position.  It was actually their fault that I had a rather enjoyable time at the Green Man Festival a couple of years ago… {Green Man 2013 Diary & Review}… If you’re interested.

Anyway, it was arranged that I would meet PB in Sheffield at the rather wonderful Red Deer Pub to enjoy a swift pint while F would sit at home watching his beloved Spurs lose to current UKIP favourites, Chelsea, in The [insert company name here] Cup final.  F would then pick us up and drive us to Nottingham, Rock City… I mean Nottingham’s ‘Rock City’.

As PB and I enjoyed our pint we were accosted by a chap who started talking all things football but mainly about the travelling hooligans or ‘Firms’ as they are known in footie parlance.  We did our best to pretend we knew about the beautiful game, failing miserably – the conversation in the snug around the corner about being murdered in Tenerife, or dying in a plane crash on your way over to Tenerife, somehow seemed more appealing.

As arranged F picked us up from the pub and an hour later we were off the M1 and snaking towards Nottingham on the A610.  Compared to arriving in Leeds or Manchester this approach could almost be done blindfolded.  Ok, it does help that the venue is on the right side of town.

Rock City is a great all standing venue – a wide room rather than a long one with a good raised area all the around the edge of the room and a balcony too.  Really good sight lines from every angle.  Even with a sold out crowd it felt quite easy when moving around the space unlike in some venues where it really is ‘sardines’.  We were able to get centrally positioned, halfway between the mixing desk and stage – a perfect position for sound and to see the whites of Mr Granduciel’s eyes (if only he wasn’t back lit for most of the gig, which he would be, tsk!).

The War On Drugs Nottingham Rock City Sunday 1st March 2015

The War On Drugs Nottingham Rock City Sunday 1st March 2015

Live, The War On Drugs are a six piece band – they took to the stage with no fuss and just got on with creating wonderful music.  Many of the songs emerged from Adam Granduciel’s weaving layered guitar intros, with him hunched over the guitar, stamping on different effects pedals carefully placed around his territorial Persian rug*

warondrugsrugnpedals

warondrugsrugnpedals

(*I’ve seen such ruggage under Tom Petty and each of Crosby, Stills & Nash – I’d imagine The Grateful Dead and Robert Plant have partaken too.  It could be said evidence of such rug behaviour exists at the homely studio of The Janskys, the band I’m in now, but on closer inspection disparate off cuts of carpet take the place of luxuriantly exotic woven panels).

Back at the gig the sound is spot on and there is no rock pretension just sonic craftsmanship.  At times it felt like watching Bob Dylan in full flight fronting the E Street Band featuring John Squires, Neil Young, J Mascis, and Kevin Shields taking turns on the six string.  Classic rock songwriting melding with the motorik 4/4 beat of Neu! and careering into the epic wash of Mike Scott’s early Waterboys.  In quieter moments mellow Byrdsian psychedelia could be heard before layers of crisp glacial keyboards would drive a tune towards a layered climax with bowel shaking baritone sax drones underpinning proceedings.  Later, the essence of Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine would give way to Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois noodling quietly in the corner.  The War On Drugs’ occasional dips towards AOR and eighties mainstream were forgiven easily and actually worked if I’m honest – not a guilty pleasure, just pleasure.

The War On Drugs 'Slave Ambient' 2011

The War On Drugs ‘Slave Ambient’ 2011

It was a recipe that on paper shouldn’t work but in reality tasted delicious.  A whole section of my favourite kinds of music had been thrown into a mixing pot, distilled and served up – the results leaving me with a broad grin of satisfaction.  With the band’s previous LP ‘Slave Ambient‘ purchased from the merchandise stall, I am looking forward to devouring more of their fare.

All that was left was the journey home to Sheffield, no teleportation tonight (RIP Mr Nimoy #LLAP) just F’s reliable Mazda.  It was at this point I confessed to both him and PB that I’d booked Monday morning off work… Rock and Roll.

DS, March 2015

Elegance and Stillness – ‘To The Bone’ by Jones – LP Review

So let’s raise a glass to our younger selves, remembering how it used to be” (Phil ‘The Hat’, from To The Bone)

To The Bone’ is the latest release by Trevor Jones aka ‘Jones’.  I stumbled upon Trevor Jones’ work a few years back reading a review of his 2009 LP ‘Hopeland’ in The Guardian.  Having never heard of Trevor or his band Miracle Mile, I was intrigued by the review describing the beautiful music within and I cut out the article thinking ‘I must get that album sometime’.  I put it on a Christmas list and, upon receiving it as a gift, it became a favourite of both my wife and I.

hopeland 1

‘HOPELAND’ by Jones

A couple of years later I happened upon a review of Miracle Mile’s ‘In Cassidy’s Care’ in R2 magazine (which I’d bought as I’d heard they were due to be publishing a review of the forthcoming LP by The Janskys).  Again the words in the review encouraged me to add the LP to a must have list – I was lucky enough to receive this LP as a present also.  It was only recently when playing ‘In Cassidy’s Care’ again, while being pulled into the gently sonically textured lyrical world of Trevor Jones and musical partner Marcus Cliffe, that I thought I should actively seek out more music by these gentle weavers.

In-Cassidy-sCare 1

‘IN CASSIDY’S CARE’ by Miracle Mile

So, with the wonders of the Interweb I managed to find Miracle Mile’s website, www.miraclemile.co.uk , and discovered a whole host of other releases including the latest Jones offering, ‘To The Bone’.  Actually parting with my own cash this time, I ordered a copy.

Looking across the sleeves to all three LPs the line up of writers, producers and musicians is very similar.  And to be honest, why would you mess with a blend that works so well?  It seems that the difference between a Jones release and a Miracle Mile release is a subtle one.  On a Jones release Trevor Jones is credited as songwriter with Marcus and Trevor on production duties, whereas on a Miracle Mile release they are both listed as writers and producers.  It feels like I’m reviewing three LPs here, but context and continuation seem to me like a theme in Trevor Jones’ work.

To The Bone 1

‘TO THE BONE’ by Jones

The new LP ‘To The Bone’ is the most stripped back of the three I’ve heard.  Based around gentle piano and acoustic guitar with occasional waves of pedal steel, the LP works beautifully as a whole and moves effortlessly between each song’s core, subtle instrumental sections and on ‘Cabin Fever’, spoken word.  The effect of this, and with Trevor’s voice to the fore, means you are drawn into the stories, while the delicate musical arrangements direct you even more so to the words.

There is a gentle elegance and stillness about the work that brings about a kind of happy melancholy and sometimes almost a meditative wistfulness.  Themes of love, loss, longing and friendship crop up, and the detail in the everyday is made beautiful and important.

What started out as a letter always ends up in a song” (Pardon Me, from To The Bone)

There is no drama, just a subtle intensity that glows and grows with every listen.

I would urge you to spend some time in the musical world that Trevor Jones and Marcus Cliffe have created, you really won’t want to leave.

DS (Jan 2015)

Some wandering thoughts on Lou Reed

As we hurtle towards the end of the year with no way of applying the brakes, life again shows its cruel hand by taking another artistic great.  I’m still taking in the grim news of Lou Reed’s passing at the end of October, but able to reflect on the legacy of the man and the mighty body of incredible recorded work he has left us.  Through albums ranging from The Velvet Underground & Nico to Transformer and onto later career classic, New York, he explored every facet of the urban human experience – melodies that stay with you and lyrics with humour, pathos and the darkest literary noir.

The many sides of Lou Reed - cover of the 1989 LP 'New York'

The many sides of Lou Reed – cover of the 1989 LP ‘New York’

I was lucky enough to catch him live twice at Glastonbury in the early nineties, once solo and once with the reformed Velvets.  This later reformation was criticised by many but I enjoyed their take on the classic line up.  I remember at the solo gig almost missing the start of his set as I wandered slowly from the tent area.  Luckily, being young and vaguely fit in those days, I was able to break into a sprint upon hearing the opening chords of Sweet Jane strike up from the Pyramid main stage.  The set was a mix of classics and cuts from New York and Magic and Loss and I bought a bootleg from the nearby stall which in those days (1992) was knocking out CASSETTES within the hour for fans to take away and relive their Glastonbury experience upon returning home.

Lou live at Glastonbury 1992 - Bootleg cassette cover

Lou live at Glastonbury 1992 – Bootleg cassette cover

A couple of years earlier in my final year at University in London somehow I was allowed to write about indie music, the Mad-chester scene and youth culture for my dissertation.  In the second chapter I wrote enthusiastically, if rather badly, about the ongoing influence and importance of The Velvet Underground in the development of the UK indie music scene of the eighties, reflected in the music, style and attitudes of bands such as The Jesus & Mary Chain, Echo & The Bunnymen and The House of Love.  On the strength of this hastily thrown together tome I was offered the chance to give a lecture the following year but ran away scared.  At that time I was using my degree to full advantage as a courier and pretended my van had broken down in Brighton the night before and was thus stranded there.  What a coward.  How different would my life be now if I’d taken the brave step to share my knowledge and appreciation of Lou et al.  Maybe I could have blossomed into the role of a Uni lecturer with my beard and cardigan elbow patches earning a legitimate position in the workplace. Somewhere in a parallel universe I’m leaning on my finger steeple discussing Lou’s Berlin song cycle with over keen wide eyed under grads.

Enthusiasm trumps quality. Anyone recognise the silhouette?

Lou Reed helped paint a picture of New York for me along with the likes of Woody Allen and Paul Simon.  The picture these very different artists painted still holds a huge cultural hold over me and I can’t help but lap up the tales of their city.

Lou made music to lose yourself in, to challenge you, to laugh with and to be moved by.  We will always need these attributes in our art and our lives and for these reasons his work will live on.

DS, Sheffield, December 2013

Green Man 2013 – Diary and Review

Having not been away to a festival for more than ten years it was with some trepidation that I ventured back onto the scene to visit the 11th Green Man Festival in the beautiful surroundings of the Brecon Beacons. My good friends F and PB, both Green Man regulars, persuaded me to consider going and once I saw the line up I was sold: Band of Horses! Midlake! Low!

Having decided that my old trustee Glastonbury tent was just a little too brittle and consisting more of gaffa tape than tent fabric, I made the move of purloining one of those new pop up tents with easy pull cord for repacking… Demoed by a helpful young man in the shop – Sold to the old man with the beard.

Arriving on site about 5pm on Thursday we managed to gain a spot close enough to the car park and main arena and close enough, but not too close, to some toilets (we’re all old enough to occasionally need to take a wander to the little room in the night).

F had brought enough provisions from Sainsburys to open a franchise with, I kid you not, fresh herbs including basil, FLAT leaf parsley and mint – just how middle class can we get?  Anyway PB ‘King of Camping’ had put up his bell tent (similar to a teepee but with one large central pole) before I’d even got my pop up out of its pristine bag.  After some fine dining we headed into the festival which has grown from 300 capacity in its first year to 20,000 now (please don’t get any bigger).

Note the freshly torn Basil… (photo by DS)

Thursday evening had a gentle start with just a few acts on in the Far Out tent at the top of the site including a beautiful intimate acoustic set from the legend that is Patti Smith.  Her performance included a touching version of John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’.

Friday was the day to start exploring the site as all sections were up and running and the sun was keen to keep us company for the duration.  The site itself was thoughtfully laid out making the most of its natural setting and had a very family friendly feel with areas such as Einstein’s Garden offering a wealth of stimulation for the young and inquisitive.  As you’d expect some interesting stalls and food outlets as well as a good smattering of beer tents including one – oh this just gets better – hosting the first Green Man Beer and Cider festival.  And what’s this? A Rough Trade shop tent, this could be dangerous… Must keep wallet in pocket.

Sculpture in Einstein’s Garden (photo by DS)

First off was a visit to the Talking Shop tent to see the reliably bonkers and thoroughly engaging Julian Cope talking about his Copendium of the rock n roll underworld and revealing snippets of his forthcoming first novel.

The sundrenched Mountain main stage saw a soothing set from California’s Julia Holter with an off kilter jazzy classical gently ambient set.  Next up was an uplifting country gospel soulful mix of songs from the wonderful Phosphorescent.  Main man Matthew Houck is effortlessly cool and the album ‘Muchacho’ is highly recommended.

The Mountain Stage (photo by DS)

Later, on the main stage Edwyn Collins held court and his set was top notch with the tightest band you can imagine and a voice of honey that sounds as good as it ever did.  Edwyn’s son William rather nervously joined his dad for a lovely duet on ‘In your Eyes’ and a special mention must go to guitarist James Walbourne whose solo on set closer ‘A Girl Like You’ was just incredible.

Then a stroll up the hill to the Far Out tent to catch the end of Darkstar’s set whose comedown vibes were a bit muddied in the mix to my ears unfortunately.

We then raced back to the Mountain stage for a solid sounding harmony drenched set from Midlake.  The Denton, Texas band’s performance came hot on the heels of the official announcement of lead singer and songwriter Tim Smith’s departure so I was intrigued to see how the band would fare.  While Eric Pulido has a quite lovely voice (almost too lovely) the guitarist and now lead singer lacks Tim Smith’s vocal fragility and tension as the main focus.  Musically though the sound was more varied, if a little measured, than previous shows I’ve seen, as in the past Tim Smith seemed to mould the sound of the set to suit his latest stylistic interests.

Back up at The Far Out tent I caught the second half of Portico Quartet’s performance.  Their mix of jazz and dance beats using sax, double bass, guitar drones, electronic and acoustic percussion was just dizzying and a wonder to watch.

On record I like the gentle harmonious acoustic work of The Kings of Convenience but for me their headline slot on the main outdoor stage at 11pm was an odd choice.

Finally I wandered up to the Cinema tent for the last official Fence Collective curated event, with main man Johnny Lynch announcing that the label would be relaunched under the guise of Lost Map.  With this knowledge I wandered down the hill to my bed, well a slightly uncomfortable air mattress to be more precise.

We’d heard that the weather was going to do a U-turn and the prediction was right with a fine mist of rain slowly and subtlely soaking our Saturday.  Memories of the previous day’s sun seemed to carry the mood of the gathered revellers though.

Rain, pah! (photo by DS)

F would disappear early each morning to get a paper and a cup of tea from the ‘Strumpets with Crumpets’ – a stall run by women in basques serving hot beverages and the aforementioned snack.  F drunk a lot of tea over the weekend.

Hoping to get into the stage areas before midday was never going to happen as PB ‘the chef’ was determined to give us a cooked breakfast each morning to sustain our hours of walking across beautiful countryside wondering what musical strains to listen to next.

Once again I started in the Talking Shop tent, catching the tail end of John Cale in conversation.  Still somewhat bleary eyed at two o’clock in the afternoon meant I found it hard to concentrate beyond the sound of his unusual Welsh-American twang but did learn that he produced both The Stooges and The Happy Mondays debut albums almost twenty years apart.  Must find out more about Mr Cale.

From the hoarey to mere striplings – Girls Names a Belfast band whose sparce mix of guitars and keyboards reminded me of early Cure and a more aggressive XX.  Arbouretum followed as an afternoon nap called and their slow heavy psychedelic country provided a nice soundtrack to my interrupted dreams.

The Far Out tent (photo by DS)

Wandering back down the hill we encountered the wonderfully intense Low.  The Minnesota trio produced the most wonderful blend of epic tunes which moved from near silence to near guitar carnage with the most heavenly harmonies from husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.  Their reading of Neil Young’s ‘Down By The River’ was so slow and desolate I didn’t recognise it til the chorus was nearly over.  Beautiful.

After refuelling back at our PB’s restaurant I wandered back in to catch a bit of comedy in the Talking Shop tent happening across Charlie Webster who looked a little bit like someone you’d move away from at a bus stop and he played up to this when an ‘unfortunate’ in the audience guessed a quiz question correctly, Webster then donned a wig over his bald pate revealing the prize was a lap dance by him for the ‘lucky’ winner.  Disturbing.  Comedy singer/guitarist Gavin Osborne offered simple tunes – including one describing trying to spice up his marriage by sharing a bath with his loved one; his love for his wife would actually be proven by revealing that he never wanted to do this again.

Back at the Mountain main stage The Horrors’ light show must have left many a punter twitching, and as I staggered blinking through the crowd trying not to trip over those seated, the mix of brooding voice and use of eighties synth sounds (in a good way) somehow kept me there.  I wanted to be here anyway for what came next…. Only BAND OF HORSES!!

Band of Horses are up next… (photo by DS)

Lead by the endearing frontman Ben Bridwell the band tore through a set covering their four albums. Their mix of country rock, indie and punk spirit always leaves a big smile on my face and the band always look as if they are loving every minute.  At one point Ben asked the crowd how had his band come to headline a festival like this and stated that Green Man should be congratulated for putting together such a good line up.  No arguments there.  I must mention the rustic and natural world stills and moving images projected behind the band which pulled you into Band Of Horses’ world even further.

Highlights were ‘Is There A Ghost’ from the LP Cease To Begin, a wonderful down home ‘Neighbour’ with 3 part harmonies from Ben, Tyler Ramsey and Ryan Munroe huddled around one mic and the electric piano, and of course the wonderful set closer, ‘Funeral’.

I’d read much about John Hopkins and was interested in seeing him even though he wasn’t on til 1am (huh?) in the Far Out tent.  His set was far more hard core dance driven and less melodic than I had hoped but I would probably have gotten more from it had I had more energy to dance rather than just standing there nodding my head.  Free dance enthusiast PB loved it… as did F, probably high on tea and crumpets.

Sunday: the sun is back hurrah!  An even slower start back at the ranch finally hauling myself to into the stage area about 3pm, shocking, anyone would think I was on holiday…

Met up with some other friends at the Mountain main stage to see to folk trio Lau, who produced an infectious big sound with just accordion, guitar and fiddle.  Rushed back up to the Far Out tent with my feet now on auto-pilot as I wanted to see Brooklyn’s Woods of whom I’d read good things.  Starting with Byrds-y jangle the singer’s high voice grated a wee bit making things a bit twee for me.  But then as the set progressed the band opened up into some psychedelic krautrock grooves which really hit the spot.

Vertically Far Out as Woods get psychedelic (photo by DS)

Back to the friends who were still relaxing at the main stage and it was on their recommendation I checked out Johnny Flynn.  This young man is obviously a major talent whose jazzy country bluesy laid back tunes suited the Sunday afternoon perfectly.  Audible tuts of jealousy were heard when Johnny, who is also an accomplished actor, proceeded to pick up a trumpet for a solo before returning to the guitar.

Back at the….. yes that’s correct, Far Out tent, the spirit of Jimi Hendrix was alive and well in the hands of Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

At this point it felt that a break of tradition was needed so PB and I headed down to the Walled Garden, which had the vibe of a festival within a festival, some kind of secret place.  Not so secret though as it was packed for band of the moment Public Service Broadcasting.  I like the concept of looped newsreel style received pronunciation over a krautrock groove with eighties synth sounds but it’s hard to know where the band will go next.  Also they probably could have been on a bigger stage as, from where we were stood near the back, the PA didn’t have enough oomph so the sound seemed lacklustre.

I have seen British Sea Power on several occasions and have been left disappointed a couple of times having witnessed a brace of meandering performances.  However, for me their Sunday evening show in the Far Out tent was spot on.  A tight powerful set with theatrical flair and amazing lighting and projections was coupled with both a black bear and polar bear walking amongst the crowd.  Their music is unique, although very much in the older school indie tradition they really don’t sound like anyone else.  Clever lyrics, epic tunes and an intellectual passion.

British Sea Power in full flow (photo by DS)

Walled Garden again, careful now, caught a snippet of Half Moon Run a Canadian band with some poppy grooves.  Green Man Growler real ale going down well.

Ok there’s nothing left for it but to face Swans up at the Far Out tent.  Recommended as essential I have heard that they can be terrifying.  They were in fact terrifying – Michael Gira steering and conducting his ensemble through an avant garde semi improvised canvas of gutteral percussive loud-as-hell soundscapes.  All the instruments seemed to be used to create brutal loping, grinding grooves which seemed to grow ever so slightly more melodic as the set wore on.  At one point I ran away for churros and hot chocolate for comfort before returning to the bedlam.  At the end I can’t say I enjoyed it but felt very alive having witnessed it.

After watching the traditional burning of The Green Man himself (a sculpture of twigs, branches and leaves, not a real person) I still felt the need to come down from where I’d been left dangling by Michael Gira’s noiseniks, so headed to the Comedy tent to settle my shattered mind before a final Green Man sleep.

Holiday now required.

PS: somehow the only purchase I made from the Rough Trade shop was joint one with F.  We bought PB a signed book of poetry by Patti Smith as a thank you for his Michelin starred efforts.

DS

 

 

Ray Manzarek – Music and Melody, a personal view

The news of the passing of Ray Manzarek, keyboard player of The Doors, has got me thinking of just how important music has been in my life’s journey.

The foundations of my love of music were prepared and cemented in the seventies and eighties in north west Kent (or South East London if I’m after a bit more street cred).

I was exposed to a diet of Top of The Pops (let’s remember the music not the presenters), both the programme and those cover LPs with scantily clad ladies adorning the sleeves, along with my mother’s love of Elvis, Glenn Campbell and John Denver and my father’s singles collection of The Beatles, The Hollies and The Everly Brothers.

The first singles I bought were Don’t Bring Me Down by ELO in 1979, closely followed by Someone’s Looking At You by The Boomtown Rats.  Moving through secondary school The Beatles were all I could think about until bands like The Jam, The Cure, U2, REM, The Smiths, The Pogues, Billy Bragg and Echo & The Bunnymen all began sinking their hooks into my forming musical consciousness.

Somewhere along the line the music of The Doors snuck in and grabbed me around the earlobes.  I think it may have been my older cousin in County Mayo, who first introduced me to them on one of my many childhood visits to the west of Ireland as a youngster.

I can remember sitting in the sixth form of my secondary school sharing sounds on the communal record player during yet another ‘free period’….  no wonder the exam results went down the toilet.  All of a sudden it seemed everyone I knew was listening to The Doors.  This was twenty years after the fact, yet somehow they spoke to those of us who were becoming obsessed with music.

The initial appeal was obvious; Jim Morrison’s cool front man snaking his way into your brain, all bravado, poetry, sex appeal and of course the rock ‘n’ roll death only added to his draw.  Then there was the music, those wonderful keyboard lines, providing cascading melodies that carried the songs, both underpinning and sometimes outshining the brooding vocals.  It’s worth remembering Ray was also responsible for many of The Doors’ bass lines, both on the earlier recordings and live, playing these parts on an alternative keyboard, a master of counterpoint.

In the late eighties my first band tried to copy Echo & The Bunnymen and U2’s habit of breaking into other artists’ songs during the middle of one of their own, doing a very poor version of Break on Through (To The Other Side) – I shudder at the thought.

So, fast forward twenty five years and the news is reporting the death of Ray Manzarek.  His legacy is one of melody, and melody has been the driving force in my love of music, inspiring me to seek out new music and to continue to play for the joy it can bring.

DS, The Janskys, Sheffield