Music Reviews

Never Die, by Campbell Young

Pop music’s early purveyors hoped they’d die before they got old. Later generations realised happiness can exist beyond – in some cases only be experienced after – youth’s departure. Never Die is a prime example of this maturing of the 20th century’s favourite musical genre from adolescents’ rebellion into food for the soul of the modern adult.

Campbell Young is from Oklahoma via Kansas City. The lead track from his debut EP captures a moment in time that everyone feels, or certainly hopes to, at some point in their life. “My life is at the mercy of happiness, Where I’m seeing all the things that I used to miss. I know I’m so happy that I could cry – that I just hope that I never die.” In putting his epiphany down in song he gives the listener proof that joy is there for the taking once you see life clearly.

This recording is defiantly rough around the edges, as are heaps of Bob Dylan’s most affecting records. Ditto early Billy Bragg. There’s an exuberance in Never Die that hasn’t been lost to excessive overdubs or piecing together of different takes. On occasion Young’s vocal is double tracked. It lends a summeriness to his Billy Joe Armstrong style delivery that will extend its appeal beyond punkers. His willingness to let an “imperfect” guitar part remain is to be applauded, giving as it does charm and character similar to that which you hear in Nirvana’s Unplugged cover of The Man Who Sold The World (the bit when Kurt Cobain, beginning the instrumental outro, lands beautifully on a “wrong” note).

The only criticism I have of Never Die is that its intro lacks the dash of colour, and therefore individuality,
that a hook, riff, or any kind of noise – perhaps from Young’s voice – would add. That minor gripe aside, I can confirm Never Die is a worthy and life-affirming addition to pop’s canon.

The Campbell Young EP will be released on January 7th 2014.
Hear it (and pre order if you wish) at http://campbellyoung.bandcamp.com/

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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.

https://soundcloud.com/tomcraven/parisian-trial-by-fire?in=tomcraven/sets/oceans

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Broken Boat

Rich layers of sweet sounding goodness await at http://www.brokenboat.co.uk/ 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. https://soundcloud.com/brokenboat/sets/peace-and-quiet-sample

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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.

https://soundcloud.com/the_neverists/the-neverists-november-in?in=the_neverists/sets/the-ones-the-world-forgot

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

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Lyrics

Breathe Easy

When the mountain is in me, I’m a bird on a chimney

I’ve got nothing to do, and a three-sixty view of a dream

Dream, dream

I fly higher and higher, land on a telephone wire

When the mountain is in me, I breathe easy

Slow down, slow down

When the mountain is in me, I’m stood tall on a fortress

Made of memories and stone, like the devil’s backbone

It’s a dream

Dream, dream

On a five finger strand, I take my life in my hand

When the mountain is in me, I breathe easy

Slow down, slow down

Take a long look around

Slow down, slow down

Feels like the loveliest day ever

Sunshine, the longest day, summer

Summer

When the mountain is in me, I see fire colours sliding

Down a giant hillside, see them flicker and glide

Dream, dream, dream

In the stillness I find a bit of hush, peace of mind

When the mountain is in me, I breathe easy

Copyright 2013 Noel Cowley

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Lyrics

Breathe Easy

When the mountain is in me, I’m a bird on a chimney

I’ve got nothing to do, and a three-sixty view of a dream

Dream, dream

I fly higher and higher, land on a telephone wire

When the mountain is in me, I breathe easy

Slow down, slow down

When the mountain is in me, I’m stood tall on a fortress

Made of memories and stone, like the devil’s backbone

It’s a dream

Dream, dream

On a five finger strand, I take my life in my hand

When the mountain is in me, I breathe easy

Slow down, slow down

Take a long look around

Slow down, slow down

Feels like the loveliest day ever

Sunshine, the longest day, summer

Summer

When the mountain is in me, I see fire colours sliding

Down a giant hillside, see them flicker and glide

Dream, dream, dream

In the stillness I find a bit of hush, peace of mind

When the mountain is in me, I breathe easy

Copyright 2013 Noel Cowley

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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 www.chameleonboy.co.uk 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 http://www.chameleonboy.co.uk/#!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: http://thetuesdayclub.tmstor.es/
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Music Reviews

Reg Meuross – My Name Is London Town

Saturday 28th September 2013

No finer setting could there have been. Reg Meuross launched his new single My Name Is London Town in St James’ Church, Piccadilly this evening. Tucked away inconspicuously only yards from the neon and bustle of London’s famous thoroughfare, this 17th century Christopher Wren church was the venue for a flawless, seamless concert by a master of storytelling in song. As did the craftsmen of old carve ornate designs into the oak pews from which his audience listened, so did tonight’s performer weave beautiful and varied melodies through each of his songs.
In his rich tenor voice Meuross sang songs from his 20 year solo career accompanied initially by just his stylish acoustic finger picking.
Later Emma Hooper and Bethany Porter added gorgeous colour, shade and rhythm on viola and cello respectively for the second half of of the concert. Jess Vincent, who earlier had played a fine support set of songs from her new album Seesaw Dreams, made the trio a quartet for the encore, augmenting the layers of music further with her vocals and baritone ukelele.
My Name Is London Town continues a tradition in English folk that every couple of decades comes up with a song capturing the ever changing nature of this city at a given moment in time. So to Ralph McTell’s 1960s Streets Of London and Richard Thompson’s Sights And Sounds Of London Town from the 90s we can now add this definitive portrait of life in London in the 21st century.
Like each song of London before it, this one provides an update on themes that remain constant through the generations. Multiculturalism is as much the heartbeat of London now as it’s always been: “I’m the Union Flag, I’m the red, green and gold… I’m the dome of St Paul’s and the Regent’s Park mosque.” Now, as ever, the financially rich and poor are thrown together daily: “I’m the sharp suited broker who steals like a fox, to the stock exchange floor to sell coffee and corn… I’m the bundle of rags in the Oxford Street doorway”. New as it is this song already has the feel of a classic to it and sits very comfortably alongside its great predecessors.
Reg Meuross is known for writing songs that trace the social history of England, both modern and olde. Dick Turpin, one of history’s favourite outlaws, had his reputation as a dashing hero shredded tonight in the revisionist tale Lizzie Loved A Highwayman, in which the infamous Essex man was revealed to be a brute and a murderer. The story was told through the eyes of the woman who loved him, who he let down and left behind, and in this song we heard the essence of why Meuross is so admired as a songwriter. What stays with you  is not so much what happens in the stories as how his characters are affected.
My own highlight tonight was the new, as yet unrecorded, Sweet Marie. This incredibly tender and poignant song based on the story behind a violin recovered from the wreckage of the Titanic is rooted in historical fact but again this is merely a means by which Meuross puts the listener in touch with the universal emotions of love, grief, joy and sorrow.
My Name Is London Town is taken from the album Leaves and Feathers
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Music Reviews, The Constellations

The Constellations- an introduction

Your and my introduction to The Constellations is Afterparty and Back In Atlanta, two songs that trawl this US band’s Georgia hometown for inspiration and anecdote.

Back In Atlanta is a sonic trip through the sights and scenarios of the town in question. It’s got funk. It’s got soul. Think Mark Ronson’s remake of The Smiths’ Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This Before and you’re in the right ball park. The overall atmosphere of the track is “good times!” and as such it’s an effective disguise in which to describe the less salubrious elements of city life in the same breath as appreciating the beauty of a shining urban skyline. Despite the hardship that blights the city, as it does all cities, “I won’t ever want to leave, no, you can bury me in Atlanta”.

En masse handclaps and bootstomps open Afterparty as a warning of what’s to come. An exhalation of breath segues into the initial hi-hat hit and together they create the “aaah” and hiss of a seasoned party goer cracking open his first can of the evening. Anyone familiar with Randy Newman’s Mama Told Me Not To Come will recognise the decadence and debauchery on show in this song. It’s a raucous affair chronicling all manner of characters and shenanigans that can make the post gig experience “no party… no, no fun at all”.

Afterparty blazes a trail of upright piano tinkling (the spit ‘n sawdust bar kind) and fuzzy, overdriven bass behind a claustrophobic wash of organ sounds. Add to this the sparse, tight Charlie Watts-on-speed drums and rapid, vivid lyrics and it’s a heady concoction indeed. When the multitude of voices has chimed in on the chorus in unison for the final time, the party’s over. The song has its desired effect – as is The Constellations’ intention, you feel glad you weren’t invited to this party.

Back In Atlanta and Afterparty are taken from The Constellations’ second album Do It For Free, out now on iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/the-constellations/id258843985

http://theconstellationsmusic.com/

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