Peter Bruntnell/The Wynntown Marshals. @Soundsin TheSuburbs. 13th Note. Glasgow. Friday 2nd September.

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It’s been some time since Peter Bruntnell ventured north of the border with a band and news of this gig had veteran supporters salivating at the prospect. Bruntnell, hailed by The Guardian recently as an “alt country genius” in their cult heroes column is a superb performer solo, his songs, described in that same Guardian article as “classically constructed, melodically rich, lyrically ingenious and emotionally, intellectually affecting…,” delivered by his gentle voice and guitar playing always win over audiences. The prospect of a band show and in the sweaty and confined cellar of The 13th Note however was a dream come true for several of the audience as Bruntnell and his band line ups have been known to achieve heights  that recall the best of the crunchier power pop rockers and even Neil Young’s psychedelic guitar work outs. Tonight he and his band did not disappoint. The four piece (Bruntnell on guitar, David Little, guitar, Peter Noone, bass and Mick Clews on drums) stormed through a set that showcased several songs from the excellent Nos Da Comrade and cherry picked several highlights from the back catalogue. The intimacy of the small venue (a shame really as Bruntnell truly deserves a larger audience) allowed the crowd an experience that was at times transcendental, a rock’n’roll nirvana.

With the guitars cranked up they launched into the chunky rhythm of Ghost Dog with Little already burning on his solos before a wall of sound was launched from the stage on the perfect power pop of  Fishing The Floodplain, gears shifting smoothly leading up to a glorious chiming conclusion. London Clay, a song that was only briefly available via the ‘net continued in a similar vein, glorious harmonies and sun dappled pop with chiming guitars recalling the likes of The Lemonheads at their best but this was topped by the guitar refrains of Long Way Down From A Cloud which recalled The Byrds’ reappropriation of Bach.  All glorious so far  but the band were well able to swerve into darker territory with Where The Snakes Hang Out a powerful slow groove and the brooding epic of Yuri Gargarin a slow burning extravaganza of guitar workouts and pedal effects that was hypnotic in its burnished twists and turns, Bruntnells’ whispy vocals floating over the mesh of amplified strings and the propulsive rhythm section.

While well able to channel the guitar carnage of Neil Young and Crazy Horse Bruntnell is a master of melodic rock displayed tonight on the brisk delivery of City Star  and on two  songs which are perhaps his best known, songs which probably are responsible for his inclusion in that  alt country label mentioned by that Guardian article. Here Come The Swells and By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix are superior examples of UK Americana and tonight this was amplified by the inclusion of Iain Sloan (from support band The Wynntown Marshals) on pedal steel adding another dimension to the band. Hearing Sloan step into the shoes of Eric Heywood was a bonus, his pedal steel woven into the golden tapestry of both songs as Bruntnell took the opportunity to offer some pithy comments on Swells while Phoenix was just majestic, the guitars racked up for an astonishing finish. Coming to a conclusion there was a fine display of sonic wizardry (replacing the studio sitar effects) in the run up to Cold Water Swimmer which metamorphed into a shimmering white noise barrage before the punk infused thrash of Peak Operational Condition saw the band exit on a high.

The conditions were right, the band was right and the audience were rightly rewarded for their recognition of one of our “unknown heroes.” Do spread the word.

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There was a fine bonus tonight in the shape of the supporting act, a two man version of The Wynntown Marshals featuring that man Iain Sloan on pedal steel and acoustic guitar with singer Keith Benzie, also on guitar. While the full Marshals line up is a clamorous vision of high end rock and country tonight the pair stripped back some of their songs, sieving the nuggets from their usual melodic mayhem, allowing Benzie full accord as an excellent singer and lyricist. Moby Doll carried a sense of ennui heightened by the pedal steel stylings while Low Country Comedown was a creamy country laden ballad and The Submariner was given a fine country lope. Curtain Call saw Sloan switch to acoustic guitar for this poignant tale and its deadly denouement, deliciously delivered by the pair. Their rendition of Red Clay Hill really allowed the lyrics to shine as it came across like an earthbound version of Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night? while their closing song The End Of The Golden Age was just sublime, Benzie in fine vocal form with Sloan harmonising excellently on a song that is on a par with the Jayhawks.

More pictures from the show here

Chuck Hawthorne/Les Johnson. House Concert. Glasgow. Wednesday 27/716

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You’ve probably heard of the house concert movement that’s been creeping up over the past few years, you may in fact have attended or hosted such an event. For Blabber’n’Smoke this was our first foray into such an event as we’d heard that Chuck Hawthorne, the Texan ex-marine was appearing at one not a million miles from our headquarters.

The concept is relatively simple. A host connects with an artist, arranges whatever deal needs to be arranged and then opens up their house to a bunch of strangers (and some friends presumably) who have the opportunity to hear and meet the aforesaid artist. Thereafter the details can vary.  Is there a suggested donation as a cover charge? Do you bring your own beer? Where do all the chairs come from?  Fortunately, there’s a wealth of information and advice to be had regarding all of this on various websites and Facebook pages and one such site is managed by Blabber’n’Smoke’s good friend Rob Ellen (it’s here ) and it was Rob who connected Mr. Hawthorne with last night’s host.

First off, it was comforting to see that you don’t need to have a mansion or some such in order to host a house concert. This one was in a top floor Glasgow tenement flat, the front room set up with three rows of assorted chairs and couches at either side. A simple wooden pallet allowed a podium for the artists. While some of the audience were already acquainted by the end of the night we were all on good talking terms, swapping emails etc after a couple of breaks which allowed a fine degree of mingling. I didn’t do a headcount but there were about 25 folk in attendance.

It’s all about the music of course and here the concept really proved its worth. First up was local singer Les Johnson (normally to be seen with his band Les Johnson and Me offering up some croonsome velvet country stylings) who, armed only with his guitar and striking baritone voice sang a set mostly taken from his album 15 Hands. With his easy wit and rapport with the audience (remember, those sitting at the front less than a couple of feet away) this was a delightful experience. Anyone remembering a tipsy relative giving it laldy in the parlour at New Year will recognise the intimacy that was on offer here, fortunately without the attendant embarrassment. Johnson’s dark humour in the song introductions was excellent as he sang what seemed to be a love song to a horse on 15 Hands. Requested to sing a Ronnie Lane song he gave us a finely understated version of The Poacher and there was also a powerful rendition of Dylan’s Senor (Tales of Yankee Power). Best of all however was the “urban country” melodrama of Dear Marvin where Johnson was accompanied on vocals by a member of the audience (Meghan, sorry didn’t get the surname) for what was a fine Glasgow version of George and Tammy.

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With a short break to refresh drinks, dash down three flights for the smokers and queue for the loo it was time for Chuck Hawthorne to come on. By then he’d already swapped at least a handshake with all in attendance and was on first name terms with those in the front row and his set was perhaps the best mixture of song craft, performance and informality that I’ve seen. Hawthorne is formed from the same Texas dirt as Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. Tonight he was freewheelin’ with nods to both telling stories about his one encounter with Clark before his fine rendition of LA Freeway while TVZ’s No Deal was quite affecting.  Hawthorne grew up in cowboy country and told his tales of working amidst the piss and shit of bovine herds before eventually signing up for the Marines reckoning that it might be safer and at least it was a steady wage. As the songs unfurled there were tales of his dad’s old tools, his mum’s erratic driving, his chance encounter with Ray Bonneville (who eventually produced his album) and finally a grim recounting of service in Iraq. As with Les Johnson, the frisson of hearing and seeing Hawthorne up close as he sang several songs from his album Silver Line was somewhat shivering. Away from the cover songs Hawthorne proves to be a gifted songwriter. He grabs blue-collar working songs by, well, the collar on The Gospel Hammer and Welding Son Of A Gun while Silver Line flowed wonderfully. Dusty ballads, hard hammering work songs, he works them all but the most poignant moment was on the incredibly moving Post 2 Gate, a song about a kid blown up by an IED in Iraq. Hawthorne was there, billeted in a Saddam Palace in the green zone, the kid familiar to the leathernecks as they drove in and out. Had a pin dropped at the end of this it would have startled all as there was an awesome silence. The balloon was burst as Hawthorne valiantly moved on to a cover of Tom Russell’s Navajo Rug but it was a powerful reminder that he’s lived a life and more.

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Getting back to the house concert concept, after the show both Johnson and Hawthorne were happy to pose for pics, sell CDs and just hang about.  Beers were quaffed and the fat was chewed. A tremendous night.

 

The Mike + Ruthy Band. The Glad Cafe. Glasgow Sunday 24th July 2016

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This was Mike + Ruthy’s second appearance in Glasgow this year, the first being a spirited and well received show at Celtic Connections back in January in the Old Fruitmarket. Tonight was a not to be missed opportunity to see them at closer quarters and they did not disappoint making few , if any, concessions to the intimate setting, a far cry from their appearance at Newcastle’s Summertyne Festival last Friday and their forthcoming shows at The Cambridge Folk Festival. A five-piece band with folk roots they can rock as well; at one point Mike Merenda almost apologised for a song being somewhat loud before going on to say “that’s because it is loud.”

This Glasgow show was one of four gigs squeezed in between the two festival appearances (there’s one to go on Wednesday 27th at The Birnam Arts Centre in Perthshire) and the band were obviously out to have some fun. They treated the audience to a two hour set plus encores, the core being their main show but allowing them an opportunity to drag out some old songs and to road test a couple of new ones. There was no horn section tonight (unless you count Merenda’s occasional harmonica) but  the infectious, joyous and robust playing of the rhythm section (Jacob Silver, bass and Konrad Meissner, drums) along with Rob Stein, superlative on pedal steel, hummed and roared with the front pair (playing guitar, fiddle, banjo and banjo-uke) sparring  and bantering and delivering some deadly songs.

They slipped into the set with the beguiling simplicity of Simple & Sober with Ruth Ungar in fine voice on a song that is rooted in American folk music as popularised by Pete Seeger. With some fine three part harmonies wafting the song along and a sweet liquid pedal steel solo this was a hypnotic opening but then they pumped up the volume for the rousing folk rock strains of Bright As You Can, Ungar transformed into a powerful belter while the band just rocked out.  Almost as if they were setting out their stall they then launched into a magnificently slow lumbering rendition of sixties’ peacenik Len Chandler’s civil rights song, I’m Going To Get My Baby out of Jail before wafting into their rendition of an unfinished Woody Guthrie song, My New York City.  With these four songs they had established their credentials, rooted in protest era folk of the fifties and sixties and fuelled with the bite of later folk rock acts, a true embodiment of the spirit that inhabits the Catskills and Woodstock to this day.

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While Ruth Ungar was to the front for the opening songs Mike Merenda stood up for the excellent Word On The Street as Ungar skirled away on fiddle with Stein skirting around her bowing. Thereafter we were treated to a cornucopia of delights, delightful folky numbers such as Freckled Ocean and the ominous Cigarette, their fine and full bodied tribute to The Band on The Ghost Of Richard Manuel. The pulsating Golden Eye,  a song that Ungar described back in January as “country disco” allowed the band to riff magnificently while there was some soulful wailing on the powerful Rock On Little Jane and  Merenda’s banjo had a fine outing on The Farmer which was Appalachian in its rippling country flavours and hi lonesome harmonies.  There were some new songs, one, from Ruth called Old Days another nod to Greenwich Village times and they closed the set with an invitation to the audience to sing along on the rousing On My Way Home, the pair duelling on their respective strings and the band all offered a short solo that was somewhat invigorating. Time up but space for an encore and here they really called in the audience for an affecting rendition of The Water Is Wide, the audience reciprocating in fine voice. Thereafter there was a rip snorting Cajun like instrumental, again with solos from all band members that just about raised the roof. A fantastic show from a very versatile band, loud, soft, folk, blues, country? All of these and more. They should slay Cambridge.

 

Sturgill Simpson/ Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules. O2ABC Glasgow. Wednesday 13th June

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I reckon this is Sturgill Simpson‘s fifth appearance in Glasgow in less than three years. In that time he’s grown from appearing in pubs and clubs (to small but very appreciative audiences) to become a Grammy nominated, Billboard chart topping phenomenon. Seen as the salvation of real country music (seeing off those boozy ‘Bros) with his albums High Top Mountain and Metamodern Sounds in Modern Country Music there was no doubting his credentials and his sheer talent. The philosophical bent that informed some of Metamodern Sounds shook some traditionalists but didn’t prevent the album from ranking high in the best of lists in 2014. Earlier this year Simpson unveiled A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, an adventurous epic which saw him travel further from his basic update on outlaw country, a concept album of sorts, inspired by the birth of his son, it saw Simpson add horns, strings and electronics as he pulled in soul and funk influences. A bold move for his first major label release the album has been almost universally lauded for its vision and for Simpson’s refusal to be cast in any one bag.

It was an expectant crowd therefore who turned up to see the man tonight. Reports from shows in Newcastle and Manchester on previous nights indicated that Simpson and his seven man band (guitar/pedal steel, bass, drums, keyboards and three horn players) were playing the album in full and so it was. There was some softening up beforehand as he ran through past favourites that were rearranged to take account of the horns and keys; forty minutes or so and had he left at the end of these there would have been no complaints. The opening lines of Sitting here Without You hummed like railroad tracks with a train approaching before the band battered into honky tonk heaven, the horns given  space halfway in before the band got back on the tracks. Water In The Well was an early example of Simpson’s aching way with a ballad before they launched into an almighty delivery of Long White Line which started with a soulful organ groove before Laur Joamets’ wicked guitar sparked up, eventually sparring with the horns. Chugging and grooving, the song reached its logical end but the band segued expertly into an audacious rendition of When The Levee Breaks discarding any Memphis Minnie notions as they honed in on the Led Zeppelin cover, Jaumets’ casually riffing off on Jimmy Page, pretty astonishing. There was another nod to an older song on I Never Go Round Mirrors, this time with whiffs of The Tennessee Waltz woven in. Railroad of Sin and Living The Dream were powerful reminders of Simpson’s ability to deliver hi octane country rock along with his oft-mentioned recall of Waylon Jennings while tonight’s delivery of The Promise was infused with a soulful feel that brought to mind Otis Redding.

P1050394 copyThe band remained on stage and Simpson gave a short preamble to the leviathan that is A Sailor’s Guide To Earth before it rumbled into view with a thundercloud cacophony of guitar and keyboard before settling into the melody of Welcome To Earth (Pollywog). Thereafter the songs appeared in sequence, billowing and blasting with tsunamis of sound from the horns, unfortunately Simpson’s words of sage advice at times swallowed up by the clamour.  Never mind, the overall effect was impressive. The brass burbled over some superb slide guitar on the pulsating Keep It Between The Lines, Bobby Emmet on keyboards coming on like Garth Hudson at times. There was a scintillating moment midway through In Bloom when pedal steel glided into a sharp horn break and the thunderous bass guitar intro (from Chuck Bartell) to Brace for Impact (Live a Little) led the band into an almighty wallow through funky Little Feat territory, guitar sinuous and sinister as the rhythm section locked into the groove. This was awesome.

P1050407 copyThere was a brief respite from this juggernaut of sound on the soulful bliss of All Around You before it grew into a wall of sound with the horns blasting away and the soul train continued with the deeply moving Oh, Sarah, Simpson approaching the romantic heights of The Promise with his vocals. The ship was berthing now as Simpson mentioned his local bagpipe player, Dougie Wilkinson before Call To Arms hove into view, a perfect closer to the night as the band ripped into it with a fury. Away from ship and sea metaphors the band played this like they were in a roadhouse on fire, the last of the honky tonks. As they blazed away Simpson grew more animated throwing shapes and pacing around the players, ducking into the wings allowing soloists to shine before winding it all up with a ferocious blast of joyous noise before an abrupt end and a sharp exit from the stage. And that was it. The crowd seemed momentarily stunned before erupting into applause. There was no encore but it would be difficult to see any way that they could have topped that.

P1050371 copySimpson’s Glasgow buddies, Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules were the support tonight, evidence of the man’s affinity with this dear green place (indeed a fanciful article in a local newspaper had him musing on moving over here from Nashville, if only). Playing to a home crowd The Mules were on top form playing a selection from their new album, Let Me Off At The Bottom along with several favourites from Mr. Meade’s back catalogue. Always a good bet for some infectious rock’n’roll their recent bout of touring sees them razor sharp in their delivery and there was even some dancing going on as they tore into Please Louise. There’s a Headstone Where Her Heart Used To Be, As Good As Bad Can Be and Back To Hell were real crowd pleasers while the plaintive lament of He Should have Been Mine showed that they can be tear jerking as well as barnstorming.

DH Lawrence and The Vaudeville Skiffle Show/ Ciaran McGhee. Nice n Sleazy. Glasgow. 6/7/16

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Crikey. you go along to a mid week show in a cellar bar on a rainy night expecting to see the same old stalwarts in the fair to middling sized crowd that has turned up. Not tonight however as the place was packed. Had Nottingham’s prized purveyors of skiffle, folk and old time country started trending since your correspondent left the house? Snatched pictures of Al Rate and Kate Moss appeared on the Huffington Post or Barak Obama revealed they’re on his Spotify playlist? No. Truth is a couple of The Vaudeville Skiffle Show players moonlight as physiotherapists when they’re not whipping up a storm onstage and there just happened to be a worldwide physiotherapy conference going on in Glasgow this very week. Canny folk that they are the band slipped the word out with the result that this was perhaps the most cosmopolitan crowd Blabber’n’Smoke had ever hung out with. Australians to the left, Americans to the right and that was the English speakers. Indeed, there was a veritable Babel of chatter in between songs.

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Now I don’t know how many of the audience were fans of the band before the show, perhaps just keen to investigate the ergonomics of playing a washboard or banjo, but I’d bet that by the end each and all were converts after a storming set. Skiffle, jugband and old time country are all kind of rabble rousing in their own way and the band stoked the crowd throughout ending up with a fair amount of them on stage scrubbing away at a variety of washboards and kitchen implements and wheezing into kazoos and whatnot for the final song, Mama Don’t Allow No Skiffle ‘Round Here. Indeed as one entered a kazoo was thrust into your palm with instructions to wait for the invitation to play.

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It wasn’t all party music. On their album, Sons & Lovers, DH Lawrence and The Vaudeville Skiffle Show delivered some skilful and moving songs that draw from English and American folk traditions with several delivered tonight along with some choice covers. You Saw Me Fall was given a cool viperish vamp, Sons and Lovers (adopted from DH Lawrence’s novel, “he was a bit of an arse,” they said) portrayed their roots while their latest single, the somewhat awesome Black Rain did have the audience transfixed with its sinister delivery. However it was the good time element that had the crowd baying, a mass kazoo participation on Tom Waits’ Chocolate Jesus was great fun while keeping with the Jesus theme their rendition of Hayes Carll’s She Left Me For Jesus (with the band aping a gospel tent confessional) was a definite hit. The band with an ever revolving frontsman and with much swapping of instruments entertaining throughout the night.

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Support tonight was Ciaran McGhee from Edinburgh, a chap you can catch at the likes of The Royal Oak. McGhee is in thrall to traditional Scots folk music and has a voice that can thunder out the throatiest ballad as evidenced on his powerful rendition of the Jacobean Macpherson’s Rant, at times reminiscent of Dick Gaughan in his prime. A songwriter himself McGhee sang several of his own songs which show promise including Hypocrite and Sing me A Love Song, the latter showing he is not all rant and rave. Perhaps to celebrate a night out in Glasgow he offered his take on Cod Liver Oil and The Orange Juice, a song popularised by the late Hamish Imlach. Steeped as it is in Glaswegian patois he obligingly translated the words into Standard English for the benefit of our visitors.

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Howe Gelb. Erika Wennerstrom. Stereo, Glasgow. Sunday 19th June

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Ever the maverick, Howe Gelb returned to Glasgow to perform what was billed as a solo piano show, reports of the demise of his long-standing moveable feast of a band, Giant Sand trailing behind him. Gelb’s no stranger to performing solo and has been known in the past to drop his regular show if there’s a piano sharing the stage with him while scattered within his dauntingly large back catalogue are four albums of piano music (Lull Some Piano, Ogle Some Piano, Spun Some Piano and Snarl Some Piano should you wish to pursue them).  In almost any other case these discs would stand out as oddities or vanity projects, in the weird happenstance world of Gelb they are simply another outlet for his restless quest in search of another note, another way to capture the sounds around him, molecules of music I believe he once described them.

Anyhow, as Howe aficionados will know, the night was up for grabs, no one sure what to expect. This has caused frustration in the past, audiences puzzled by his somewhat gnomic utterances, his lack of a set list and detours which have seen him singing along to Kylie Minogue records. Tonight the first impression on entering the venue was somewhat surprising, the cellar venue, grungy to say the least and usually home to hot and sweaty shows with plastic beer glasses spilled due to jostles had seating set out with the front rows set out cabaret style, tables with candles lit. Sure enough there was a solitary upright piano up there, stage left, a chair also which led to the initial pantomime acted out by Gelb as he appeared on stage, sat down and unimpressed left the stage to look for another perch. He soon reappeared with another chair, a very similar chair in fact and spent some time clowning around trying to set up his seating. One had the feeling that at this point “serious rock fans” would be muttering and complaining but tonight it seemed that the audience were attuned to the man and his antics drew serious laughter, a phenomenon that continued through the night as Gelb turned in a show that recalled memories of Victor Borge, the Danish keyboard prodigy who turned classical music into a comedy routine.

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Gelb’s target tonight was not the Minute Waltz but what we can consider The Great American Songbook and in particular those which are considered piano based jazz standards. Announcing that the night was to be devoted to his next recording, Future Standards, his foray into that weird world where serious jazz musicians rub shoulders with cocktail classics he proceeded to play an immensely impressive Cry Me A River. His croon was more than a match for Julie London’s torch singing, his playing displaying the occasional nod to the angular twists and dissonant chords of Thelonious Monk. Like Borge, Gelb was into explaining the music saying that almost any song can be turned into a cocktail standard before performing his own song Shiver with occasional ragtime and bop keyboard interludes. Well into his stride he then performed several songs from the forthcoming album, some sounding like Jack Kerouac performing with Steve Allen, others more cocktail jazz with Gelb asking the barmaid at the back if she knew how to mix a Martini. On Terribly So he stopped, explained that the song really needed a bass and drum rhythm before hauling out his Smartphone, dialling it to the studio recording therein and proceeded to duet with the phone held to the mic as he sang along and tinkled some ivory. Classic Gelb here.

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Aside from Victor Borge Gelb also summoned up the ghost of Chico Marx with his keyboard mannerisms but it was Chico’s brother Harpo who loomed large as Gelb stood up and removed the piano’s lid and front exposing the strings. Harpo famously wrecked a piano in the movie A Day At The Races, eventually pulling the strings from the piano carcass and using it as a harp. Gelb didn’t go so far as that but his plucking of the strings added to the occasional dissonance of his playing, his version of John Cage’s prepared piano.

He started with a cover and ended the set with another. This time Leonard Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep with his very fine croon a suitable match for Cohen’s voice and a fine ending to a show that, aside from the  comedy and verbal musings, allowed Gelb’s undisputed talent to shine. Show almost over Gelb did strap on his guitar for a fine rendition of Paradise Here Abouts (from the Sno Angel Like You album) before finishing with the wonderful Wind Blown Waltz, an opportunity to show that he can be as idiosyncratic on guitar as on piano but again a reminder that he is a supremely gifted songwriter.

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Erika Wennerstrom, singer with Cincinatti band The Heartless Bastards, opened the show. A diminutive figure she has a big voice and she played several songs from her band including Marathon. Here she didn’t need the band accompaniment, her guitar shimmering and trebly as she intoned the lyrics. She struggled with the sound at times, her guitar almost booming and threatening to feedback but as she said to the audience this was a first time solo outing and she was still finding her feet. I Could Be So Happy was a fine performance, her voice recalling the primal tones of Patti Smith.

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There’s time to catch more Gelb at the piano here.

 

Starship Nicola. Got Me Singing The Blues EP launch show. Nice & Sleazy, Glasgow. Friday 3rd June.

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Blabber’n’Smoke wrote about this Glasgow based collective’s EP here and we popped along to the launch show last Friday for what turned out to be a short but invigorating shot of harmonic roots music.  The band, AJ Meadows from Memphis, Tennessee, backed by Harry & The Hendersons and ably assisted by two fiddles (eight players in all) filled the stage as they delivered all three songs from the EP along with a couple of other songs (mea culpa but I didn’t catch the titles) and a final (and excellent) cover of The Band’s The Weight.

While Meadows on lead vocals and acoustic guitar was the focal point for the night the group as a whole were mighty impressive especially around the vocal harmonies. While the brisk and breezy Glasgow Summer showcased the collective voices it was on Ella where they really excelled. Here the lead vocals were swapped around over a plaintive fiddle while harmonies and counterpoints rang out until the song coalesced into its collective voice towards the end. It was an astounding performance and my notes simply state here that it was like hearing an unknown CS&N song. Wildwood Flower/Across Rivers was a refreshing blast of good old-fashioned country rock, the Appalachian clarity of Wildwood Flower flowing easily into the crowd pleasing folkiness of the second half of the song. It was a short but very sweet set and their version of The Weight, aside from allowing further opportunity to show off their vocal prowess had the audience singing along.

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Apparently, this was only the second time this collective have played live, the last event almost a year ago. It would be somewhat criminal if they leave it so long before returning.

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Unfortunately we arrived too late for the opening act, Megan Airlie but we did catch Olifant Collective, an entertaining crew who offered up a fine mix of Ska and Mariachi tinged songs with a hint of Klezmer in the mix.

 

Daniel Meade and The Flying Mules. Let Me Off At The Bottom album release show. The Rum Shack, Glasgow, Saturday 29th May.

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Lady Luck’s been smiling on Glaswegian Daniel Meade, either that or several years of hard graft is paying off as his song writing skills and musicianship are making waves well beyond his hometown. Following rave reviews for his independently released and Nashville recorded album, Keep Right Away, at the beginning of 2015 and support slots with artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Pokey LaFarge, Diana Jones and Old Crow Medicine Show Meade was signed to the well respected UK label At The Helm Records (joining an illustrious roster that includes Brent Best, John Moreland, Austin Lucas and Good Luck Mountain) earlier this year. The first fruit of this union, Let Me Off At The Bottom was released last week with some very positive press reviews in the run up to the day and the weekend saw Meade and his band The Flying Mules launch the album in fine style in Glasgow’s South Side.

Let Me Off At The Bottom is Meade’s third official release and the first to feature the band. Recorded in Glasgow (with mixing done by Morgan Jahnig in Tennessee) it’s a fine capture of the raucous hillbilly rock’n’roll and honky tonk country that Meade and The Mules (Lloyd Reid – guitar, Mark Ferrie – double bass, Thomas Sutherland – drums) excel in. Meade’s songs drink from the well of Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis (among others) and The Mules (who have notched up several hundred gigs over the past two years) are a well oiled music machine (not in the sense of well drunk). Their recent stint at The Kilkenny Roots festival in Ireland (five gigs in four days) is a contender for the festival highlight.

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Anyway, a capacity crowd turned up for the album launch. A good number were aware of the band but the audience was swelled by the show’s inclusion in Glasgow’s South Side Fringe Festival. This allowed the opportunity to see several folk, who before the band came on ask what sort of music they played,  pretty soon get up and join the party. And a party is what is was, the band in great form, the music infectious and impossible not to sit still for. There’s a great deal of nuance in Meade’s songs but live it’s much more primal as they cram sixty years of folk, blues, country and rock’n’roll into the set. With a batch of songs from the new album and some favourites from his back catalogue Mead and the band certainly ripped the joint.

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The band ripped into the opening trio of songs, Back To Hell, Not My Heart Again and There’s a Headstone Where Her Heart Used To Be creating an instant buzz before Meade sang the plaintive He Should Have Been Mine, a switch in mood but one which had the audience captivated. As far as I recall this was the only ballad of the night, the remainder being full blown rockabilly rock although the occasional country lope hove into view. With no  piano to hand Meade stuck to guitar for the night, showing some fine picking skills on Lock Up Your Daughters, a song which also included fine breaks from guitarist Lloyd Reid and bassist Mark Ferrie. Please Louise is a definite crowd pleaser, the bawdy lyrics going down a bomb, the girls at the front checking that it wasn’t their big behind Meade was singing about. If It’s Not Your Fault (I Guess It’s Mine) showed off the band dynamics starting off as a skifflish railroad beat before picking up steam. By the end there were dancers at the front and the back of the crowd (more space there to jitterbug I presume) and there was a definite (and justifiable) swagger about the band as they launched into Long Gone Wrong, a song that just about sums them up with its Sun Records rhythm and harmonies along with Meade’s lyrics that nail the travelling musician’s life. The set ended they offered one more song, a fine rendition of Sonny Terry’s Hooray, Hooray, a fine end to the night.

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There was an opening set for the evening from Sorbet, a guitar/bass/drum trio who ventured into the avant-garde as they responded to a backdrop of films which included the first two parts of Jean Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un Poète. They were followed by guitar/drums duo The Rivers who describe themselves as “country grunge”.  An exciting pair with jangled guitar and frantic percussion there was a Buzzcocks like rush to a song that I think was called your Love Is On My Side while their new single, Nine Miles High is worth checking out.

Malcolm Holcombe and Jared Tyler. The Hug & Pint. Glasgow. 18/5/16

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Malcolm Holcombe, on a return visit to Glasgow,  showed once again why he is considered by many to be a living connection to the age old Appalachian tradition, the front porch musician picking away  and plucking inspiration from the land, the folk around him, the music wiping away, if only for a moment, the cares and worries of the day. Holcombe, from North Carolina, is a primitive of sorts, his music unpolished, his voice rough and ready, his presence, enveloped in oversized jacket and jeans, with sunken cheeks and lank hair, the antithesis of show biz. Yet this is a man who has Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris turning up on his records, records which portray him as a master purveyor of powerful blues country and folk songs while live he can seem like the last in a line that includes Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Dock Boggs and Doc Watson, his visceral performance riveting. There’s a quote from Ray Wylie Hubbard saying, “He scares the living bejesus out of me, as he writes from a place only a true poet knows, and channels ancient mountain tones from dark overgrown hollows where ghosts and spirits moan and plead their cases to the devil.” Well, tonight he did just that.

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Curled up on his chair, rocking back and forward at times, his guitar cradled in his lap, Holcombe was a force of nature. He seemed to attack his guitar at times, flailing against the strings, wringing out dramatic chords and flashes of picking, his manic rhythms counterpointed by the excellent Dobro playing of his long standing comrade, Jared Tyler. There were gutbucket rushes and creepy excursions into deep dark territories, songs for the working man such as Papermill Man and backwoods poetry as on Savannah Blues. There was a bruised tenderness on For The Mission Baby and a burning anger on Another Black Hole. In between several of the songs Holcombe proved to be a wellspring of somewhat gnomic advice as he recounted events from his past including  a paranoid encounter with a neon bikini clad woman on Malibu beach culminating in the sublime, “If your dog tells you what to do and his lips aren’t moving, don’t do it”.  More seriously, he left the audience in no doubt where his political alliances lay, gouging into the Bushes and offering support for immigrants most pointedly on his encore of A Far Cry From Home. On this song, Holcombe pointed out the connections between North Carolina and the Celtic homelands (mentioning Maura O’Connell who recorded the song with him) before reminding the audience that his family were immigrants back in the days and that he would welcome those who flee from the horrors of Baghdad.

He might look like a hobo but there’s a heart of gold here and an acute sense of justice. Holcombe is a treasure.

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Jared Tyler, Holcombe’s producer and sidekick offered a fine set of songs before the main man came on stage. A fine picker he has a soulful feel to his songs that at times recalled Curtis Mayfield and Ritchie Havens. He offered up a fine take on a Holcombe song, The Door (from Down The River) while a song dedicated to an old Tulsa friend was quite affecting.  Local musician John Alexander opened the evening but unfortunately Blabber’n’Smoke arrived too late to catch him and we apologise for that. Word was he was well worth catching.

 

 

The Men From Leith: Blue Rose Code, Dick Gaughan, Dean Owens. Queens Halls Edinburgh, May 6th 2016

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First off an explanation of sorts regarding this show for those who might not be familiar with Leith. Until 1920, Leith was a separate borough from the neighbouring Edinburgh and even today some Leithers will consider Edinburgh to be a separate entity. This sense of pride in what was a fiercely working class area ( home to the docklands, infamous as the main location of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and still possessing a distinct character from the net curtains of Morningside despite two decades of attempted regentrification), was the thread that ran throughout the show. All three artists have their roots in Leith and tonight they offered up a tribute of sorts to the area in song and words be it the reminiscences of Gaughan, the regrets of ill spent times from Blue Rose Code or the celebration of the working class spirit from Owens. It was a slender thread perhaps but there was a palpable sense of celebration and memory throughout, reinforced by the MC, John Paul McGroarty, Artistic Director at Leith Theatre.

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Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

With three headline acts on the bill the sets were necessarily somewhat shorter than one might ordinarily expect, not a bad thing as such as the audience were treated to concise, almost “greatest hits” shows from the two bands. That’s not to say this was a run of the mill exercise, the first act, Blue Rose Code choosing to open with the extended suite In the Morning, a bold move. One of the many pleasures of seeing Blue Rose Code, the vehicle for Ross Wilson‘s talent, is that it’s a fluid enterprise, he can be solo or a four, five or even 11 piece set up, his words and melodies and his emotive vocals the nucleus around which the players revolve. Tonight it was a four-piece band well able to conjure up the mists and airs of Wilson’s Celtic romanticism as on the opening number and his setting of Robert Frost’s Acquainted With The Night. Wilson’s introspective ballads, the heartbreak of Pokesdown Waltz and a new number, another paean to lost love called Nashville Blue, tore at the emotions. Ghosts Of Leith, a song of regret recalling Wilson’s time caught in the throes of drink was played with Wilson later apologising for the song and explaining that he then wrote his wonderful salute to Leith (and Edinburgh), the song Edina, as a riposte before launching into it to a hugely appreciative audience.

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Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

While Wilson and Blue Rose Code offer a poetic folk jazz tinged Celtic freewheeling spirit Dean Owens, tonight supported by his excellent band, The Whisky Hearts, is a more robust affair. Owens is as much rooted in the USA as he is in Leith with the result an exultant mix of Celtic Americana, the stirring opener Dora giving notice that Owens and his band are able to provide a punchy, almost Richard Thompson like clarion call. Fiddle and accordion add a “raggle taggle” folk feel to some of the proceedings while guitarist Craig Ross can bend his strings in best Clarence White fashion. While songs from Owens’ latest album Into The Sea formed the majority of the set (including his warm memories of his late sister on Evergreen) there was of course a huge response from the audience for the song that lent its title to the night, Owens’ Man From Leith. An anthem of sorts, the song transcends its familial origins (having been written by Owens for his father) as it captures the pride of the working man. Tonight’s rendition was powerful, the audience singing along with the chorus. There was a first live airing of Owens’ latest single, the Civil War tale of Cotton Snow given a fine chunky alt country feel while Up On The Hill proved that Owens has a gift for writing memorable and rousing melodies. Throughout the set one was reminded of Owens’ song writing prowess, the songs stirring and emotive and instantly memorable with the closing number, Raining In Glasgow, the proof of the pudding.

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Dick Gaughan – appearing at The Men from Leith concert Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 06 May 2016 Picture by marc marnie WORLD RIGHTS

Sandwiched between Blue Rose Code and The Whisky Hearts was Dick Gaughan, the fulcrum for the evening. Despite being born in Glasgow Gaughan epitomises much of what folk imagine of Leith and its working class traditions. Recovering from illness Gaughan doesn’t cut the powerful figure he once did but any loss of vitality was more than made up for by his venerability and he stamped his authority with a ferocious rendition of No Gods and Precious Few Heroes, a fitting song for the day after a parliamentary election which saw a resurgence of the Scottish Tory party. His Leith tale lay in the middle of his song Why Old Men Cry, again, a call out to past generations not dissimilar to Owens’ nods to the past.  A lengthy spoken preamble to his closing song saw Gaughan recalling his early days in Edinburgh’s folk scene and his discovery that there was no shame in singing and speaking in Scots despite his teacher’s disapproval. This led to his spine chilling rendition of Freedom Come All Ye, a song written by his mentor, the late Hamish Henderson and a fine end to his brief set.

The show, part of Edinburgh’s Tradfest (yeah, another Edinburgh festival), was a tremendous success, the only murmurings heard on the night being some questions as to why it didn’t actually take part in Leith itself. A fully refurbished Leith Theatre, currently in the offing, would be an apt space for a return show.

All pictures courtesy of Marc Marnie.