Music Reviews, St AlbanDs

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


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.


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


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

Music Reviews, St AlbanDs

St AlbanDs vol.2: Tom Craven, Broken Boat, The Neverists

A shade apologetically Tom Craven says his repertoire contains “the inevitable acoustic stuff” – the consequence I imagine of his influences including Idlewild, Turin Brakes and Alanis Morrisette.

In so doing he reveals an awareness that mid-nineties britpop morphed into late-ninetiesbuskrock and spawned an ocean of earnest acoustic noodlers largely indistinguishable from one another among their six minute strumathons of morose introspection.

Happily for Mr Craven, advance apologies prove unwarranted. Of the material he’s made available to hear on Soundcloud, imho his most memorable set is 2010’s Ocean EP. Acoustic!

With one, sometimes two guitars as the sole backing for Craven’s vocals, his melodies and lyrics are laid bare to stand or fall on their own merit. They don’t fall.

Subject matter is varied and the tunes and voice are strong. The guitar playing is confident, assured and dynamic enough to hold the listener’s attention from start to finish – no mean feat on an all acoustic ep. You get urgency of sound and optimism of spirit in Heads Rule Hearts followed by their flipsides – a ballad of loss and despair that is A Last Time For Everything.

Then the track which has left the biggest impression on me – (Parisian) Trial By Fire. This compares well with some of the stuff James Dean Bradfield does on the Manics’ Everything Must Go album – I’m thinking in particular here of songs such as Removables and Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier.

It’s spiky, angry even, and its most memorable line describes a character in the song as being “likeshowrooms on the Champs Elysees – unnecessarily antisocial”. Good eh?

Tom Craven plays Trestle Arts Base on January 25th 2014.


Broken Boat

Rich layers of sweet sounding goodness await at Here you’ll find a sample of the music of St Albans and Harpenden’s Broken Boat.

Broken Boat’s sound brims over with a sunshine and joie de vivre that’s summed up in the refrain of “I’m aliiiive” towards the end of Small Defeats, the first of the two songs on their website sampler.

There’s Hammond organ throughout, a bit of jaunty brass (a real case of what’s-not-to-like?) and it’s a gift for any band to have the option, which this band does, of equally good male and female vocals.  Broken Boat make use of them to quite thrilling effect in the second song, Morning Rain.

Morning Rain is a duet, if you like, featuring these two components alternating the lead at first before joining on the melody in unison an octave apart and then together winding two distinctly separate yet entwined vocal lines. With accordian featuring strongly and a small dollop of brass again, this is a collage of a track that succeeds in delivering a wealth of audio colours and textures and, like Small Defeats, by its close has left you feeling  undeniably uplifted.

Accomplished folk-pop.


The Neverists

The pang of unrequited love is apparent from the wistful beginning to the explosion of ache near the end The Best Thing I Never Had, one of a few tracks on Soundcloud by The Neverists, a band from Hertford, Stevenage and London who are recording an album as you read this.

If you’re in the “Radiohead’s music is depressing” camp, then read no further and listen no more to The Neverists, as there is some out and out misery set to music here. Gloriously and elegantly so.

The best songs often take human heartache and present it in such a way as to enthral, and I love how The Neverists do that on this track. Singer Simon Williams’ voice resonates in its mid to lower range a little like Brad Roberts (Crash Test Dummies).

On November In Brooklyn, Williams’ vocal shows itself capable of a more tender sound on higher notes, a tad like Semisonic’s Dan Wilson. In this song’s key words, “Time doesn’t heal, it just takes its toll” the Neverists’ outlook appears Beckettian in its bleakness but again their music takes sadness and transforms it into something beautiful. Can’t wait for the album.


With thanks to Denise Parsons of Trestle Arts Base for introducing me to these new sounds.

Trestle Theatre
Music Reviews, St AlbanDs

St AlbanDs vol.1: Nick & The Sun Machine, Chameleon Boy, The Tuesday Club

The town of St Albans is the hub of a growing live music community in Hertfordshire. In September the county hosted the Folkstock Acoustic Festival which brought 77 folk/roots/acoustic acts from the local area and as far afield as Orkney and Copenhagen to four stages in Aldenham Country Park. Back in St Albans Denise Parsons of Trestle Arts Base runs the volunteer led Live Music Project at The Trestle Theatre, bringing live original music into the area all year round. Each week three local acts perform in the theatre, giving them a high quality venue in which to showcase their music and local people pleasant surroundings in which to enjoy it. Denise sent me some music by three bands who have played at The Live Music Project.
The first act I listened to is Nick And The Sun Machine. This band is the sound of a free spirit in touch with its surroundings and with itself. From the opening lines of White Chalk, “High above the slopes we did climb, Drinking up the patchwork skyline”, Nick Stephenson’s strong voice remains at glorious full capacity throughout. There’s something of the rugged wanderer who will not be tamed about it. The words “I’ve got no mind to be tied down or be defined” in Baby A imply this may indeed be the case. Not a word is wasted, each one sung with gusto and with diction such that there’s no wondering what the lyrics are. At times the band – guitar and drums in particular, play with a freneticism that fills their recordings with vitality. Moments of abandon when the guitar gets its delay on and drumstick smashes ride cymbal see the band wigging out to arena sized proportions which match Nick’s stadium sized lungs. They squeeze all there is to squeeze out of each second of sound, pumping the tracks full of an effervescence which fizzes out joyously from their folk-pop sound and lust for life lyrics. Nick And The Sun Machine are notably inventive with their backing vocals and should they continue to develop this it could be quite a hallmark of their sound, much in the way it was for Queen. They have it in them to do this in a way that’s beyond the capabilities of many’s a group. Nick And The Sun Machine’s 4 song EP “Wide, Lying Smiles” can be sampled on soundcloud. It’s a taster of what’s to come on their imminent album.
Next up are Chameleon Boy, a four-piece who scale down to an acoustic duo as the occasion requires. Of the songs available
to hear on Soundcloud via their website I feel the standout track is Never Too Late. It’s a melancholic
take on the idea that you don’t realise what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. This full band recording encompasses the whole scope of their sound, from the pared down, sparse guitar introduction to the middle section where the drums go big and the guitar lets loose. Chameleon Boy’s sound is pleasing to my ear as I loved Don Henley’s Boys of Summer way back when and the tasty rimshot and hi-hat combo from early on in Never Too Late puts me in mind of that song. The sparkly steel string acoustic guitar layers also hark back to the sound of the 80s pop charts, crystal clear and bright as in Spandau Ballet’s Through The Barricades. Chameleon Boy’s sound is mainstream radio friendly. Top down on the convertible, AOR FM rock – a fine thing in my opinion.
Download and hear tracks from Chameleon Boy’s debut ep!downloads-page/c9wt
The Tuesday Club are a modern new wave/punk band. Because of this I was expecting to listen to one or two of their songs and then get bored, much as you can do with any number of punk throwbacks any night of the week at The Hope & Anchor of London legend. But no, The Tuesday Club are an exciting, intelligent, humorous and inventive group. Sonically they resemble Blur when Graham Coxon was allowed to do what he wanted and the potentially harsh sound common to this genre is softened by the male/female vocals. Top drawer vocals they are too. Listening on Soundcloud to the handy “short but nifty snippet sized bundle” that takes you through excerpts of their debut album is a joy. There’s a wealth of varied sounds, moods, textures and tempos on offer. Nods to Jilted John and Gary Numan are nestled in among welcome updates on the bass, drums and guitar template. You get lovely bleepy synthesizer, you get rock n’ roll piano and you get humour that’s genuinely funny as well as the essential raw punky guitar stylings which, a la Green Day, are a façade for some quite touching lyrics. This is an album I’m looking forward to getting (on CD, though the white vinyl is tempting). I hear they’re brilliant live as well, so whenever they’re next in London I’m there with bells on.
Get See You Next Tuesday on CD or LP here: