Monday, 4 December 2017

David Thomas Broughton - Live at MIMA Middlesbrough 2nd December 2017

I was at MIMA, Middlesbrough on the evening of Saturday 2nd December 2017. I want to make sure that we have that on record.

There were others there too. David Thomas Broughton (jeans, jumper, scarf, beard) stepped onto the stage without fanfare; a stage constructed under the stairs in the black, white, grey and glass foyer. A bright, multi-coloured curtain serving as a back-drop in an area almost certainly more used to storing stacking chairs than hosting gigs.

This is no ordinary venue, and this is no ordinary gig.

This gig is all about atmosphere. All about the experience. Songs start sweetly and, via various combinations of loops, whistles, rattling loose change, electronic blips (somewhere between feedback and the sound of the air being squeaked out of a balloon) and a small electronic toy megaphone, collapse beautifully in upon themselves. At times it’s like listening to two radio stations, nestled closely on the dial, tuned in together, battling gently for dominance. These are slow, gentle, glorious, almost self-sabotaging, descents into mayhem. Tunes are sometimes spectacularly rescued before slipping away again, only to flip beautifully into the next.

David’s magnetic, occasionally unnerving, stage presence and his tendency to move from one track to another without pause leaves no space for applause until the entire set is over. It’s almost as if the audience feels that applause would be an inappropriate way to break the atmosphere. At one point David balances precariously on the rear left hand corner of the stage. Later he becomes deliberately entangled in his own microphone cable. David also uses his miniature megaphone to fantastic effect, occasionally using it to replace his microphone but, more often, pipping it percussively and looping it repeatedly until it sounds like a choir of Clangers.

At times he leaves the stage beneath the stairs altogether and steps toward us, singing dramatically and mournfully toward the corrugated roof 50 feet above our heads. There’s every reason for the sound quality to be challenging in such a unique venue, but the purity of the performance and the priceless work of the sound engineer mean it’s actually astonishing.

Choosing highlight songs seems a touch futile, as every moment is shot through with magic, however ‘Nature’ and ‘Liberazione’, when David forgets the words and ad-libs a few lines admitting to such, were my own personal favourites.

Ultimately, however, it’s all about the intensity of every minute, the overwhelming joy of the experience. The simple act of being able to say you were there.

Photo credit: Eugene Cheah

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Album review - Meursault - I Will Kill Again

Prepare to be unnerved.

I’ve been listening to, immersing my ears in, I Will Kill Again, the latest album from Neil Pennycook (and some extremely talented friends), under the guise of literature’s greatest outsider, Meursault. Four years in the making and recorded beneath the sunshine of Leith, it’s unnerving and disarming and heart-warming and haunting and strange, right from its opening track (enigmatically entitled ‘…’), all tinny piano and bowed banjo, and, just when you’re starting to warm to it, up pops a slightly robotic, cold voice to chill the blood with the words “I. Will. Kill. Again.”

It’s an ‘all bets are off’ opener, strapping in the listener for a ride to some dark but beautiful places; ‘Ellis be Damned’ is musically sweet but lyrically frightening and, on an album where you’d be best advised to expect the unexpected, ‘The Mill’ is a deftly handled melodic number until, three minutes in, it’s gloriously rear-ended by a yelping harmonica, simultaneously out of place yet perfectly suited.

On the anti-sea-shanty, ‘Ode to Gremlin’, guitar, piano and voice combine superbly. It’s raw and fragile and there are absolutely no hiding places in its sparse, open arrangement.

Meursault - Klopfgeist from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

Unbelievably, from this point, I Will Kill Again slips its leash and starts running even wilder; ‘Klopfgeist’ finds Pennycook at his most inventive, with its cut and paste backing track, part Kanye, part Norman Collier, a lyric about Sinatra’s last words and a sparingly sprinkled piano. And ‘Belle Amie’, my favourite of a great bunch, has a fractured vocal (“It’s true that I still miss you, and it’s true that I’m still angry”) over a delicate waltz, barely there in some places, cacophonous in others. ‘Gone, etc…’ boats another fragile vocal, set to a backing of piano, valve hum and Geiger counter (possibly).

The title track holds the whole album together, as all great title tracks do, by means of a craftily constructed lyric, thoughtful and dark, as the story hinted upon in the four word opener unfolds across almost seven intriguing minutes. It’s a deep and complex tale of suppressed thoughts that holds the attention throughout, until it finally fades into the gentlest of piano themes.

It’s important to stress here that albums of this quality are rarely made alone, and the contributions of Liam Chapman, Faith Eliott, Alex Livingstone and Reuben Taylor can’t be underestimated, the powers of I Will Kill Again would be considerably diminished without them.

Sad to say, I can guarantee that you're unlikely ever to hear another album like this one, which is all the more reason to seek it out and treasure it deeply.

I Will Kill Again is released by Song, By Toad on 27th February 2017.

UPCOMING LIVE DATES (full band shows):
25th February (Song, by Toad's GRANFALLOON) – Summerhall, Edinburgh 
4th March - The Lexington, London 

Don't forget you can still get your hands on one (or all) of my books at Google Play by following these links;

The Great Cassette Experiment
Writing about music
More writing about music

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Modern Studies, live at Sage Gateshead 25th January 2017

If you aren’t aware of Modern Studies then please take note: You should be.

They’re a (largely, but not entirely) Scottish band whose debut album, Swell to Great, was released last year and gathered considerable acclaim. That’s not really the important bit. The important bit is that they make great music; thoughtful music with depth, and catchiness and, like all the best music, a little dollop of weirdness.

Central to Modern Studies’ sound is a slightly wheezy harmonium, that infuses the music with a distinctly analogue glow in an increasingly digital musical world and sees their tunes sliding around the little-known spectrum where ‘otherworldly’ lurks at one end and ‘Victorian Sunday school’ sits primly at the other. If this all gives the impression that Modern Studies are a bit grey and fusty then please forgive me, because they’re entirely the opposite; this is ‘feel good’ music, as those who have gathered in the magnificent Hall One at Sage Gateshead tonight will tell you.

Modern Studies (Emily, Rob, Pete and Joe) are here tonight primarily to support King Creosote, but their warmth soon engages those who have been sensible enough to arrive early, and the reaction rises from an appreciative ‘this could be interesting’ ripple of applause for their opening track, ‘Supercool’, to a full-on whooping and hollering for their last, ‘Ten White Horses’, which, like many of their tunes, starts slowly and quietly, then swells majestically with the aid of an almost military drumbeat and glorious group harmonies.

In between, the harmonium is used to best effect on the hymn-like introduction to ‘Bottle Green’ and when coupled with the double bass on the mournful and hypnotic ‘Sleep’.
For my money though, it’s the timeless ‘Father is a Craftsman’ that’s the best of the night, it’s intelligent and beautifully constructed and it sounds like it was written by a little-known folk singer back in 1962, rather than lovingly crafted by Emily Scott.

Not a bad way to spend Burns’ night.

Don't forget you can still get your hands on one (or all) of my books at Google Play by following these links;

The Great Cassette Experiment
Writing about music
More writing about music

Friday, 13 January 2017

Modern Studies on tour in January 2017

In an industry that loves to put artists in little boxes with neat labels it’s always refreshing to find musicians that steadfastly refuse to fit in. So refreshing, in fact, that it’s so very often the difficult to categorise musicians who turn out to be the most entertaining.

Modern Studies, who released their debut album Swell to Great in 2016 to some positive kerfuffle are one such uncategorisable and entertaining band, consisting of Emily Scott, Rob St John, Pete Harvey and Joe Smillie. Quiet, thoughtful songs, written mainly by Emily on a wheezy old pedal harmonium, found fans across the discerning members of the BBC 6 Music squad, ending up on their ‘Recommends’ playlist and grabbing a top 20 spot in Mojo’s albums of 2016 list (just above Bob Dylan’s Fallen Angels.)

Later this month Modern Studies support King Creosote on their tour, playing six dates in Liverpool, Birmingham, London, Bristol, Cardiff and Gateshead before they play at Joe’s Glad CafĂ© in Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections.

They’re definitely worth catching up with, as you’ll see from their slightly unsettling video for ‘Swimming’, from Swell to Great, below;

Swimming from Modern Studies on Vimeo.

Full list of tour dates;

20th January (supporting King Creosote) – Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
21st January (supporting King Creosote) – Town Hall, Birmingham
22nd January (supporting King Creosote) – The Barbican, London
23rd January (supporting King Creosote) – Colston Hall, Bristol
24th January (supporting King Creosote) – Tramshed, Cardiff
25th January (supporting King Creosote) – Sage, Gateshead
26th January – The Glad Cafe, Glasgow (Celtic Connections)

Don't forget you can still get your hands on one (or all) of my books at Google Play by following these links;

The Great Cassette Experiment
Writing about music
More writing about music