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Lessons from a 1980s childhood: let the music play

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Charlie Dore

Charlie Dore – “Milk Roulette”

Milk Roulette showcases Charlie Dore’s many gifts. Chief among these are lyrical originality, a heavenly voice and the ability to produce comforting, homely melodies in every song she writes.

The opening tracks are sparsely orchestrated, backed by celestial lullaby-like harmonies which swathe you in soft layers like voices you’d hear accompanying a 1930s balladeer on the wireless set.

Subject matter on the album is the universal themes that span life from its very beginnings to its close. “All These Things” muses on the endless possibilities awaiting the potential embryo in a petri dish. “Please Don’t Let Me Be Promoted” focusses on the grief of bereavement. In between these songs lie tales of love’s bloom – “Pheromones” explores the mysterious laws of attraction – and also love’s withering, as in “Best Man For The Job”, which features the memorable lines, “If you leave a garden you should know, only weeds and discontent will grow there.”

The middle songs are more up tempo, backed by a full band and featuring delightful slide guitar and violin cameos, as well as a supple, sinewy double bass part embellishing the title track. Milk Roulette is the most likely hit single here, with its catchy Carly Simonesque chorus. The final track, “Cradle Song”, is an experimental piece in which phrases of spoken word come and go like the memories said to flash before a mind on the verge of death: “…sweet smell of honeysuckle… lovers holding hands…”. It’s a success, and a satisfying way to tie up this charming set.

Milk Roulette is released on 3rd November 2014. http://www.charliedore.com/index_flash.php

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Music Reviews, Reg Meuross

Reg Meuross – England Green And England Grey

On England Green And Grey Reg Meuross has put together a full band line-up including long term collaborators Jess Vincent (vocals) and Roy Dodds on drums and percussion. This is the satisfying sound of a group of musicians very much on the same wavelength, presenting a collection of songs that vary in style yet fit and belong together like the many and varied elements of a bespoke suit.

The opening three tracks set the tone of the album in that they relate aspects of England old and new in terms of both regret and celebration. Firstly, “What would William Morris say, if he could see England today?”, Meuross asks. The answer while not explicit is implied in a lyric describing the replacement of pianos in pubs with karaoke machines and the disappearance of farms to make way for big industry’s warehouses. The current trend towards mass disenchantment with politics (perhaps it was ever thus?) is encapsulated in the line, “Liars all speak politics with poison on their tongues”.

Balancing this take on the decline of communal culture and the lack of esteem in which politicians are held today is “Tony Benn’s Tribute To Emily Davison”, in which the writer’s admiration for these two pioneers of English society in the century just gone is evident. The swishy pitter-patter of brushes on drums and a piano picking its way lightly forward recreate the furtive movements of the suffragette as she crept through the Palace of Westminster to protest in support of universal suffrage by taking up residence in a broom cupboard on the night of the 1911 census in that House which back then admitted no female representation either in person or in votes.
Meuross is, like Ray Davies, a perceptive chronicler of the moments, events and characters who conspire to shape the great sweep of England’s social and cultural history. England Green And England Grey’s title track, for instance, could be put to work by innovative teachers up and down the land in the service of sparking debate among and firing the interest of drowsy teenagers who would otherwise be snoozing through their dull, dank Monday afternoon history class. Coincidentally, the writer’s soft, clear voice sounds not at all dissimilar to the that of the Kink as observations such as “Austerity and slavery – I thought they were behind us” trip off his tongue.
The music takes on an American, countryish sound for the middle chunk of the album. Given the influence that the States have had on English culture – music in particular – over the last sixty years and more, this is pleasingly apt. There’s the magically evocative tale of a traveller whose “future lies in ribbons of river, rail and road”, which with Mike Cosgrave’s piano bass notes rumbling forebodingly beneath warm layers of vocals and Phil Henry’s lush dobro, feels every bit like the latest incarnation of Cash, Jennings, Kristofferson and Nelson’s Highwayman.
Many’s the album that peters out with a few weaker songs towards the end. In the case of this one, though, the quality remains staggeringly high throughout and the emotional highlight arrives on the tenth track. The Band Played Sweet Marie is a touching, heartbreaking song imagining the thoughts and feelings of Maria Robinson, whose fiancée Wallace Hartley was one of the 1,500 people who drowned in the North Atlantic’s icy water when the Titanic went down. Hartley, the ship’s bandleader, had been given a violin  – engraved, as an engagement gift – by Maria, which was later found and returned to her in its leather bag that it’s thought he strapped to himself in his final moments. This beautiful, tender love song imagines and captures Maria’s almost unbearable sadness, and with it therefore the devastating sense of loss that thousands suffered following the ship’s demise. “Every note my darling played took further away my love from me.”
See the title track’s video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdewAuU3nMc
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The Understudy

A totally heartwarming read by my favourite hippy corporate sellout.

Keeping the Glass Half Full

Guest post by Tarah Cammett

Writing for me has always been simple.  A therapy of the mind.  A way to release my past.  Process breakups and major life changes.  Throw it out there in the Universe and remove it from my spirit.  What I have realized as I have tried to write about my experiences so far of being a ‘Stepmother’ – or ‘Understudy’ as I so often refer to it, is that I’m struggling.  Greatly.  It’s easy to write about the past; things that no longer exist or serve me anymore.  It is however, extremely difficult to write about something deeply personal and ever present in my day to day life.  More so, how do I possibly encapsulate all that I have experienced?  How this has changed me?  How wonderful and frightening it’s all been.  I can’t.  Not in a simple blog post but I have to start somewhere. …

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Kelly Oliver, Music Reviews

Kelly Oliver – Far From Home EP

In Kelly Oliver the British folk music scene is witnessing the emergence of a bright new star. What a coup it is for the new independent label Folkstock Records to have her debut EP as its first release. In turn the Folkstock label, known predominantly for its support of emerging singer-songwriters, is the perfect home for Kelly in the early stages of what Far From Home indicates will be a long and sparkling career.

Kelly’s mature voice belies her young age. The natural melancholy in it is well suited to the title track, a song about a seemingly doomed love affair but which leaves the door slightly ajar for fans of a happy ending. “He was always far from home, but he knew he’d always come home”. Her singing bears favourable comparison with Joan Baez, rising to land on higher notes with ease and unerring accuracy. When she holds long notes the effect is as fresh and vibrant as a warm summer breeze.

Far From Home leads into Keilan Are You Coming, an upbeat track dipping a toe into folk-rock territory. The subject of the song is a boy in a shanty town. The singer of the tale is invited into the boy’s mother’s threadbare home to eat. What happened before and what happen after are left to the listener’s imagination. This is artistry at it’s best – like a good play or film it makes you think. That’s often everything an artist hopes to achieve. Mission accomplished.

The EP’s closing track, Brazil Song, has much in common with Keilan Are You Coming in that it’s likely a postcard from time spent travelling. This one (well timed in World Cup year) records the writer’s experience of the first and developing worlds meeting and the contrast is startling: “You know great, I’ll show you small. You know wealth, I’ll show you poor.”

Grandpa Was A Stoker sounds like in time it will come to be seen as the EP’s highlight. It does one of the things that folk songs that stand the test of time often do – it tells a story that can be passed on to future generations – a story that might be lost forever were it not recorded in this way. As such it can be a valuable source of material for social historians. This song vividly describes the travails of a ship’s stoker who endures back breaking, mind bending toil to provide for his loved ones, and so as the ship can sail. It showcases Kelly’s guitar playing, harmonica and vocal skills. Her voice is softly and enigmatically accented into a smooth blend that sounds neither entirely British, Irish or American – more all three at once – like Judy Collins for instance. As she sings she picks out a counter melody on the guitar which adds an extra layer of depth to an otherwise stripped back sound. The song progresses into a Donovan’s Catch The Wind style strummed rhythm and takes in some tidy harmonica too. All the elements are tied together and balanced beautifully by the other youthful individual involved in this recording, producer-engineer Lauren Deakin Davies (also of the folk-pop group Delora).

Folk music needs artists like Kelly Oliver. She’s one of a new breed of young singer-songwriters who take their influences from the folk greats of old, like Bob Dylan and Luke Kelly. Most importantly, she’s injecting new material into a genre which, perhaps more than any other, needs constant renewal and development to survive.

I fully expect Kelly to be receiving nominations and picking up gongs for Best Newcomer, if not Best Vocalist and Best Song/EP outright, when the awards season returns at the end of the year.

Far From Home is available to hear and buy now: http://folkstockrecords.bandcamp.com/album/far-from-home
It will also be released on iTunes and Amazon on 14th February 2014.

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Music Reviews, St AlbanDs

St AlbanDs vol.3: Minnie Birch, Indi Forde & The Vegas, Starseedz

MINNIE BIRCH

Understated, delicate, sensitive. This is Minnie Birch’s style. She lays bare her feelings on matters of
the heart with the sparsest of musical accompaniment – rarely more than gentle acoustic guitar, occasionally individual piano notes dropping like splashes of colour onto an almost blank canvas.
It’s said that it’s the space between the notes that makes the music and Minnie’s use of it gives an unnervingly intense quality to her sound. Conor O’Brien (Villagers) comes to mind as an example of this type of hypnotic
music that captures your attention precisely because it isn’t screaming for it. Minnie’s recordings draw you in completely if you will but let them.

Her live shows are no different. Rare is the performer who can hush a festival tent without raising her voice above the crowd – but Birch’s aura and the gentle power of her pure voice and personal lyrics turn heads without the need for anybody to go “ssshh”.
Recommended listening is Sea Shanty and Fight Song from Minnie’s Settled EP, produced by George Shilling whose sound engineering credits include Billy Bragg, Teenage Fanclub, Texas, The Corrs and many, many more.
Also check out Glitter, Minnie’s new video single.

On Saturday 18th January Minnie Birch will play a FREE entry gig with donations welcome to help raise funds for Watford Hospital Radio. The event is at Watford Museum 194 High Street Watford Herts WD17 2DT.

http://minniebirch.bandcamp.com/

INDI FORDE & THE VEGAS

It’s no overstatement to say this band’s debut ep, Fair Fight, is brilliant. You could listen to the radio all day and not hear anything as hot as this. There’s a tension running through each song – the urge to rock. The band satisfies this desire excitingly without fail, lurching into Museisms of riffery with the bass and drums free to wander and thrash until satiated. It’s all done in the best possible taste, the band never straying into indulgent territory. All their songs stay on target with choruses as their focus and admirable brevity in the face of the ever present temptation to go off piste. Prog/rock and metal influences are channelled into short, snappy, thrilling portions of radio friendly guitar pop. An extra funky Sterophonics might be a reasonable comparison.

Indi Forde has those qualities people speak of when discussing Jimi Hendrix – in admiring his original, natural, skilful guitar parts it’s easily overlooked that here too is a vocalist of the highest order. Power, energy, subtlety, unpredictabilty and innate musicality combine to produce a singer with a voice that’s gold dust in pop – you know who it is within an instant of hearing him.

Indi Forde & The Vegas will play The Live Music Project on Saturday 25th January 2014 at Trestle Arts Base, St Albans. Free entry, doors open 7.30pm

http://indiandthevegas.bandcamp.com/album/fair-fight

STARSEEDZ

In the month during which we lost Phil Everly it’s worth reaffirming just how good it is to hear voices singing in perfect harmony. Even more so, perhaps, when it’s a male/female blend such as that of Starseedz who remind me of St Etienne and Dubstar in their pomp.

This duo has a delightful sound, easy on the ear, enthralling and very much the kind of thing we should be hearing day in, day out on BBC Radio 2 or Magic FM, say. It’s atmospheric in a summery way. Listening to Starseedz is like opening the curtains on a July morning and letting the sun in. Their sound is light, bouncy, soft, bright. The lead vocals are shared by songwriters Catrine O’Neill and Jonothan Willoughby, which makes for good variety. Their voices are matched incredibly well and like Lineker and Beardsley (outdated football reference – sorry) the pair have an obvious understanding of how they play off each other to great effect.

Starseedz’ songs and recordings are easily radio quality and it’s a minor outrage that none of their material is available on iTunes or similar yet. Can’t be long now though, it’s to be hoped.

Starseedz will play The Live Music Project on Saturday 25th January 2014 at Trestle Arts Base, St Albans. Free entry, doors open 7.30pm

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THE BEST OF 2013

THE WORLD WON'T LISTEN

2013

Yep, it’s that time of year again, and as I mercifully find myself in the rare position of being finished my year’s work early for once (!), I thought I’d list my highlights of the year.

I do love a good list, but not necessarily to rank ‘x’ over ‘y’ – I find that it’s really helpful to read other peoples’ lists and maybe get a good sense of any albums/songs/films that may have bypassed you during the year. It’s so easy to overlook records when you’re listening to so much stuff for work, and it can be difficult to keep up with the sheer volume of stuff being released. Nevertheless… below are my  favourites of 2013.

Have a lovely Christmas!

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