Thursday, 27 February 2014

Live in 2014: Oysterband at The Courtyard, Hereford

A long trip up the A465 led us over the border to Hereford and The Courtyard Theatre.

It is set in a new purpose built entertainment complex with gallery and cinema area. 

The Courtyard was the setting for the first gig in the tour by Oysterband, who are currently promoting their new album Diamonds On The Water.

It is the first album without long serving member Ray 'Chopper' Cooper, who left the band last year to concentrate on his solo career. A few months ago I managed to catch Oysterband who now have their producer Al Scott on bass and mandolin and at that gig had Adrian Oxall on Cello. Adrian could not make this gig so we saw Ian Telfer compliment his violin with a Korg keyboard from which he conjures a lot of the  cello sounds found on various songs.

I have to say from the off that Diamonds On The Water, in my humble opinion, is the best album the band have ever produced. The loss of Ray seems have re-energised the band both in songwriting and performance and I'm sure we will see the same when Ray releases his second solo album Palace of Tears in May. The loss of a key member always forces the band to revisit the older material for reinterpretation and sound.

I have been to many Oysterband gigs over the years and I've seen them at their boisterous best and their gigs of delicate thunder. The new album sees the band in a more reflective mood and it is one of their quietest but also more considered offerings. 

From the opening acapella vocals of A Clown's Heart, the band give us a show of beauty and joy. 

They play a lot of songs from the new album, obviously and they sound excellent in the company of the Oysterband standards.

Highlights of the new material included the opening A Clown's Heart, the title track Diamonds On The Water and The Wilderness.

The beautiful surprise for me was the addition of female vocalist Rowan Godel, who produced some sublime backing vocals and contributed lead vocals in the gorgeous versions of Street Of Dreams and a totally stripped down Oxford Girl. She appears on the new album on several songs and the band played a particularly uplifting version of No Ordinary Girl with Rowan proving how good a vocalist she is and a lovely version of Lay Your Dreams Down Gently, in which she duets with John Jones and is one of the best songs on Diamonds...

Rowan Godel photo courtesy of Paul Chandler

Let me say a bit about the venue. It is a lovely new building with a smallish tiered theatre. The sound was excellent but it did seem a little soulless. 
The show was literally a show of two halves with a 20 minute interval. A bit of advice - order your interval drinks before the gig as the bar area was very busy due to the cinema crowds that were also in the building.

The merch stall at the interval was VERY busy with people buying their discs ready for the band to sign after the gig. The Oysters have always been approachable and will happily talk to their supporters after gigs.

One more thing, they don't like you taking photos here. I could have had some beautiful photos from my seat but was stopped taking them. Even though my phone has no flash. But as you can see I did manage to get a couple before the light shone on me and the photo police stepped in.

The band also played some of the brilliant standards for which they are well known including The Road To Santiago & When I'm Up I Can't Get Down

And for this Welshman and his colleague, it was a brilliant surprise to hear the Oysters version of the Bells Of Rhymney.

By now, there were quite a few Oyster fans, especially up the front area with me, who would have loved to have got up and danced about but this was the most polite Oysterband show I have ever attended. Polite applause was the order of the day in Hereford.

The band came back for the encore with the great (and topical - in title) Here Comes The Flood and  John Jones did manage to get the crowd up for this one song. They closed the show with the totally, and I mean totally acoustic (no mics) version of the new album closer Like A Swimmer In The Ocean. Just beguling. I'm even sure I saw a tear in John Jones' eye at the end.

So overall, a triumphant Oysterband performance enhanced by the new interpretations of some of the classics, the brilliant new songs and the sublime addition of Rowan Godel. May they continue to grace us.

And come back to Wales before the end of the year please.

Here is a video of Rowan Godel with Al Scott - they revelation of the show for me.

Twitter - @oysterband1 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Live in 2014: Chris Mills & The Distant Stars at The Chattery, Swansea

It was down to the 'Greatest Music Cafe In The World', The Chattery in Swansea, yet again, to see Chicago musician Chris Mills with his band The Distant Stars.

Now officially my favourite Swansea venue with lovely welcoming people and a friendly, homely vibe, The Chattery continues to attract some great musicians to this great little venue.

The evening kicked off with some able support from Welsh band Rugfire - minus their lead guitarist, they played some music from their current album - The Difficult Second Album. They had plenty of support in the room and played music that reminded me of early Crowded House (no bad thing).

It was then time for Chris Mills and The Distant Stars. Introduced to me by a friend who also likes to seek out new music, Rob Hurley, Chris has been around for quite some time. From the Mid 1990s, Chris has produced some lovely LPs with a sort of folk, country & Americana sound.

Chris and the band are on tour supporting their latest album 

When I listen to Chris, I hear the influences of The Replacements, Tom Petty & even Jonathan Richman but his music is not really derivative of any of those great artists - he has cut his own path.

Looking mean and lean and ably supported by his tight band, Chris performed songs from throughout his career and varied the pace to great effect.Chris has played The Chattery before and was obviously at ease in the venue and this showed in the performance. He was among friends tonight.

Chris has been getting some great reviews for the new album Alexandria and the songs take on another dimension live.

Chris brought the gig to a close with a cover of the Big Star song, Thank You Friend.

The end to another great evening of music at The Chattery.

So take my advice, if you get a chance to see Chris play live, GO. You'll be glad you did.

Twitter - @chrismillsmusic

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Archivist: Gary Wright - The Light Of Smiles

During the mid 70s - I was given a mixtape which contained a track called The Dreamweaver by Gary Wright. It was a HUGE hit in the USA and the album of the same name went on to sell millions.

I did invest in Dreamweaver but Gary's next album, The Light Of Smiles, is my favourite Gary Wright album.

Relatively unknown here in the UK, Gary is a keyboard player who first came to the attention of the masses when in 1967, he joined the British band Spooky Tooth. But since 1971, he has recorded his own albums.

He also features on the classic George Harrison solo album All Things Must Pass.

The Light Of Smiles is a phrase from the Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda. Gary was given his book, 'The Autobiography of a Yogi', by George Harrison on a trip to India which they both took in 1972.

Mainly keyboard based, the album features various moods from very reflective to very uplifting upbeat songs.

Gary stills plays and has recently been a part of Ringo Starr's touring band. He continues to release albums to this day.

Twitter - @GaryxWright

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Archivist: Jonsi - Go

Now and again, a musician comes along that is one of a kind - not derivative in any way. Hendrix was one.

In April 1975, one such musician was born, in Iceland of all places. His name is Jon Por Birgisson - the closestt I can get without Icelandic letters. He also goes by the name of Jonsi. 

He is now one third, was one forth, of the Icelandic band Sigur Ros

Sigur Ros have been giving the world some of the most challenging and beautiful music since 1994. Jonsi is the lead vocalist and multi instrumentalist in the band. Over the years, they have gradually built up a very large international following and have hit albums and sell out tours all over the world. And their music can be heard on countless documentaries on TV and Film.

In 2009, Jonsi and his partner Alex Somers - they are both visual artists too - released an album together. They called themselves Riceboy Sleeps

And at the same time, Jonsi was also working on his first solo album away from the safety and confines of Sigur Ros.  And in 2010, the magnificent GO was released.

The album was more uplifting than many of the Sigur Ros songs and has various odd percussion and acoustic instrumentation. Jonsi's unique voice is often multi layered in harmonies to brilliant effect.

On Sigur Ros music, Jonsi nearly always sings in his native Icelandic or his own invented language Hopelandic. But on his solo album, the majority of the songs are sung in English.

A lot of the album's lyrics and the imagery of the various videos and the live tour that accompanied the album was based on Jonsi's love of animals and nature. Jonsi has become a vegetarian.

I was lucky enough to catch the live show in the Colston Hall in Bristol, and I have to say it was one of the best gigs I've ever experienced.

GO is an album of widescreen landscapes and small, intimate moments.

Jonsi has also contributed to soundtracks for various movies including How To Train Your Dragon and We Bought A Zoo.

He is now back with Sigur Ros as a threesome. The journey continues and I for one can't wait for his next solo album.

Twitter - @iamjonsi

Monday, 3 February 2014

Live in 2104: Zervas & Pepper - The Glee Club, Cardiff - Sunday 2nd February

The Show Must Go On.

On a cold and blustery night in Cardiff, Paul Zervas & Kathryn Pepper came back to Wales for a hometown gig.

The show opened with a set by Welsh songstress Gabrielle Murphy - although I only managed to catch the last song, she sang well and the crowd seemed to appreciate her set.

Next up was another Welsh singer/songwriter, Merthyr's Chris King.

I really enjoyed Chris' set and he reminded me a little of David Gray in his vocal style. He played several songs including a song called True - which is about the Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas coming out as gay. It is due to be featured in the Mickey Rourke movie.

He warmed the crowd up nicely and achieved some well earned applause at the end of his set.

So, Zervas & Pepper took to the stage and it was apparent right from the off the Paul Zervas was suffering from a bout of man-flu. But, the trooper he is, he carried on with the show and did the best he could.

It was nice to catch the duo in a full band set up that included guitar, keyboards, bass & drums. 

Fresh from a summer of successful festival circuit performances all over the UK and most recently India & their first Ireland gigs, the band are growing into accomplished performers.

The band opened up with Buffalo Crow and worked their way through songs from both their albums Somewhere in the City & Lifebringer.

The sound was excellent and it was an added bonus to see that Paul is playing an electric 12 string to compliment and beef up the sound. Some of the songs seem to have a rockier edge than they have in the past gigs. Is this pointing to a slightly more rock direction in the future?

One of the biggest cheers of the night came for the song Living In  A Small Town

The banter between Kathryn & Paul on stage obviously comes from love and Paul came out with some really funny lines, although he was obviously suffering for his art tonight.

There was some debate as to whether Starting Over was Pop (Kathryn) or AOR (Paul) - I'd say AOR myself.

They also played my favourite song from Lifebringer

They battled on through Paul's throat problems and got a rousing ovation at the end of their set. It was great to see an almost full Glee Club - which can hold a good few hundred people. It was the largest crowd I've seen so far for a Zervas & Pepper gig - outside of the Festival circuit and is testament to their growing popularity as songwiters and performers. And they are still being supported on the airwaves from luminaries such as Whispering Bob Harris and Bethan Elfyn, who continue to play their music.

The band returned for a one song encore with Jerome, due to Paul almost being unable to sing at that point.

So, a triumphant return to their hometown and their largest show to date in Wales.

You really couldn't ask for more.

Twitter - @zervaspepper