Video Premier : Quick – ‘Never Heard a Voice Like Yours Before’

Here’s the brand new video from Glasgow based “newgrass folk” band, Quick. Never Heard A Voice Like Yours Before is the first song to be released by the band since the 2017 release of their debut album This I Know. Since then the band have played at Celtic Connections, KIng Tuts Wah Wah Hut, the BBC’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Eden Festival, Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival and the Country to Country Festival.

The video was directed by BAFTA award winner Tim Courtney and the song is available from Holy Smokes Records.

 

JP Harris & The Tough Choices/Miss Tess/ Trusty Buck’s Lone Star Revue. Nice N Sleazy, Glasgow. Tuesday 13th November 2018

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JP Harris tore into town for a night of hard-core country and honky tonk which just about blew the socks off of everyone at the show and dispelled all doubts about the current state of American roots music. Harris, originally from Alabama, is the real deal with a hobo background and who earns his crust by carpentry when he’s not riding the rails with his band. with a cracking new album, Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing, under his belt, and sporting one of the finest beards in captivity played a powerful and joyous show full of riveting lyrics and twangtastic guitar to an enthusiastic crowd in the bowels of Nice N Sleazy.

Honky tonk was on his mind as the band swung into Two For The Road with guitarist Justin Mahoney twanging away as pedal steel player Thomas Bryan Eaton deftly laid out his delicious curling licks. There was pure dirt stained country on Badly Bent while I Only Drink Alone, from the new album, was a fantastic nod to the tear stained waltzes so beloved of bygone Nashville artists such as Ray Price but Harris showed that he can shine on poppier material such as the sixties folk sound of Lady in The Spotlight. It’s hard however to imagine any band right now who can hammer through songs such as JP’s Florida Blues #1 and Gear Jammin’ Daddy with such ferocious energy. The latter song received the most enthusiastic response of the night and with Eaton fairly soaring away on pedal steel it was well deserved. With the songs all packing a punch in less than four minutes each Harris and his band roared through the set with commentary kept to a minimum (although he did take a poke at Trump at one point). An encore of Jerry Reed’s Freeborn Man topped the night as they ran through all the red lights with the brakes off, trucking the highway and riding the rails with a fury and, it has to be said, a great deal of gritty country style. As we said earlier, JP Harris is the real deal.

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The evening opened with an inspired set from an impromptu conglomeration, a super group of sorts featuring local musicians from the Holy Smokes recording roster calling themselves Trusty Buck’s Lone Star Revue. A raggle taggle ensemble (composed of members of The Hoojamamas, Harry and the Hendersons, Awkward Family Portraits and Tom McGuire & The Brassholes – do check them all out), they played a short set which ranged from skiffle like numbers to Ronnie Lane inspired rambles. There was a wonderful song about flying to Peru which floated on some inspired lap steel guitar while there was a nod to local hero Les Johnson & Me (who was billed to appear but sadly didn’t) as they covered one of his songs. They finished with a fine version of The Stones’ Sweet Virginia with the audience singing along.

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Squeezed in between Trusty Buck and JP Harris, Miss Tess (who was handling bass guitar duties with the Tough Choices) ran through a short set accompanied by Thomas Bryan Eaton on guitar. An established artist in her own right Miss Tess set the scene well for JP as she had a fine twangy guitar presence along with a finely hewed sense of neon lit sadness as in her opening number Going Downtown. On Moonshiner, with JP’s rhythm section sitting in, she romped through a rambunctious salute to old time rebels with some fine country picking from Eaton.

 

 

The Strange Blue Dreams. The Strange Blue Dreams. Holy Smokes Records

a4106934099_16Back in March 2016 Blabber’n’Smoke raved slightly over an EP from The Strange Blue Dreams, a Glasgow based combo who played songs which seemed to have been gathered from some Twilight Zone littered with rock’n’roll relics. Unlike many retro rockers, The Strange Blue Dreams pilfered from the past with some finesse, their songs, written by their crooning front man, David Addison, celebrating the worlds of Larry Parnes, Barry Gray and Joe Meek while the band delivered dreamily reverbed swoons along with a touch of exotica garnered from the likes of Martin Denny along with Eastern and Balkan music.

This debut album truly fulfils the promise of the earlier EP as its eleven songs shimmer and shake like jelly on a bone. They delve into a truly strange universe on songs such as Electricity and (yes) Twilight Zone while others swing delightfully in a manner reminiscent of such luminaries as Dan Hicks and Leon Redbone. It’s a heady mixture but it all hangs together with some style and a magnificent sense of cool which just exudes from the speakers.

With a very brief sound effect of sparks fizzing from a plug the album soars into being with the scintillating romance of Electricity which speeds along with a hint of Mink Deville’s Spanish Stroll in the harmonies as the guitars clash and clatter wonderfully. Reverberatin’ Love follows and as we said when we first heard it, it’s reverb set to stun, attitude to cool. If anyone asks you to sum up the band just play them this one. Twilight Zone dials down the frenzy as Addison croons wonderfully while the band lay down a Hawaiian backdrop replete with some fine mandolin from David Rae, it sounds as if Ry Cooder was zoning in from another universe. The Ballad Of The Sun And The Moon features Addison at his best, his unhurried voice clear above some frenetic fretwork as he sings of a tale of cosmic rivalry. Staying with celestial bodies, Up To The Stars is the first song to feature the band’s Eastern sympathies as they break into a Klezmer like rhythm, a style they revisit on the frenetic closing song, Anyway, a song which is bound to have audiences on their feet in a live setting with its cinematic evocations of films as diverse as Fiddler On The Roof and Cabaret.

Jungle Drums is a wonderful melange of surf music and Cotton Club like tribal drumming as popularised in the forties by Duke Ellington and others and there’s a nod to Buddy Holly on Towards The Warm Place although it’s the Buddy Holly from Mars, not Lubbock, that the band resurrect here. Meanwhile Lyrebird has a touch of Dan Hicks’ Hot Licks around it as it skitters along with some brio while Pretending Everything follows in a similar manner with the melody and delivery filtered through a fine production which suggests that the song again belongs to another dimension, one where Van Dyke Parks collaborated with the Sopwith Camel instead of The Beach Boys. Finally there’s the icing on the cake which is (That’s The Place) I’m Falling. Here the band pull in influences from Flamenco and Mariachi, Morricone and Tom Waits for a truly dramatic number.

The Strange Blue Dreams release the album with a launch gig at Cottiers Theatre in Glasgow this Friday. In the meantime check out their video channel, Tuned To The Moon, for a fine peek into their  weird rock’n’roll universe.

 

Quick. This I Know. Holy Smokes Records

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Quick, a three-piece acoustic band were winners of Celtic Connections’ Danny Kyle Open Stage award in 2016. As winners, they were then offered a support slot in this year’s CC Fest appearing with Chicago Bluegrass outfit Special Consensus. They also delivered a live session on Celtic Music Radio and this Friday they release their debut five song EP, This I Know.

The trio (Alex Hynes, guitar and vocals, Willem Mckie, mandolin & vocals and Emily Barr vocals) use their spare instrumentation to underscore their superbly arranged and intricate vocal harmonies. While all three are excellent singers it’s the harmonies that shine here although Barr carries most of the delicate My Half Moon by herself with the guys only appearing towards the end. The opening Salt & Water is an atmospheric folk number that is surprisingly assured for the band’s first outing while Barber’s Song, while still in the folk idiom, is quirky in a Fence Records sort of way as the band stealthily invest the tonsorial protagonist with a quiet dignity and a fine sense of hubris. Sonder has a more straightforward brisk delivery with added bass and percussion allowing Hynes and McKie an opportunity to show off their fine finger picking and the EP closes with the Acappella Crazy Grace (apparently dedicated to Hynes’ niece) with the three voices creating a sublime sound which recalls Gospel and Appalachia.

The EP is released this Friday with a launch gig at Glasgow’s Old Hairdressers. Presumably they’ll play this song…http://player.stv.tv/video/43q0/live-five/danny-kyle-stage-quick/

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A renaissance man? AJ Meadows talks about art, music and the colour of feeling.

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Back in June Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed an EP,  Got Me Singing The Blues,  from a band called Starship Nicola and we were able to catch them live at the release show a few weeks later. Information about the band was fairly limited, a collaborative effort between Glasgow band Harry & The Hendersons and a chap called AJ Meadows, an American apparently. We were impressed enough to pursue the enigmatic Meadows in order to find out some more about the man who wrote the startling Ella, a song we likened to Dave Crosby singing with The Incredible String Band. Turns out he’s a polymath; an artist, sculptor, musician and writer and he is from The States and is a bit of a globetrotter. Back in Glasgow for a few weeks Meadows took some time out to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke about his work, the band and his future plans. We started off by asking him to tell us about his background, his art training and how he got involved in making music.

I was born in Michigan, USA but grew up in the south, travelling back and forth between Mississippi and North Carolina completing a course of study at Mississippi State University, graduating with a BFA in sculpture in 2009.  I first came to Glasgow in 2011 after just finishing a year of study at the University of North Carolina in order to study on the Masters of Fine Art course at the Glasgow School of Art.  Since completing the Masters course at GSA I have been quite lucky to be able to continue making my work.  I’ve recently been in several exhibitions across Italy and currently have a large-scale sculpture on display at Franconia Sculpture Park back in the States.  When did I first get involved with music? I remember I was 12 years old, and I was getting ready for school and just heading out the door to catch the bus, when my father stopped me….told me I wasn’t going to school that day.  In a mixed state of confusion and sheer pleasure, we hopped in his red Chevy pick-up and drove an hour into the nearest town. We pulled into the parking lot of an old pawnshop, and before we went in he said that I could pick any guitar I wanted. We came home that day with an old Yamaha 6 string.

Can I ask where or why you got the name Starship Nicola for the band?

There is a bit of a back-story to its origin.  I forget offhand the events that led up to that day, but on the 19th of November 2014 I flew into Dublin to meet an amazing woman who had a 50 ft long wooden vessel that was in need of repair.  The boat was docked in West Cork and in exchange for lodging on board and several hot meals a day it was agreed that I would utilise what carpentry skills I had and provide four hours maintenance every day.  She and her partner also had a house in Dublin that I agreed to paint.  So I would visit on the weekends and the train into town would announce the stops in Irish, one of them sounding like “Starship Nicola”.  I couldn’t shake it. Anyway, Anne, the woman with the boat, had a sister who was romantically involved with a producer, by the name of Billy who had a little recording studio above his garage up in Donegal.  Anne mentioned Billy in passing, and her willingness to put me in contact with him to say thank you for the work I was doing.  I didn’t hesitate, something felt very right.  I phoned him and he agreed to have me in the studio for 3 days.

And is that where the EP was recorded?

Yes. I think it’s important to say that at this point I was already planning to record some material that I had been sitting on.  The Starship Nicola EP itself wasn’t entirely pre-meditated, my original plan was to visit Billy on my own and record a very simple album with a similar to feel to Nebraska. One song I knew I wanted to record was Ella, but I was listening back to recorded versions and something was missing and that’s when I contacted Harry (of the Hendersons).  I asked him if he and the guys would be interested in coming over to Donegal in 2 weeks time to perform on the album.   I had first met Harry &The Hendersons at Stereo sometime back in 2013.  I was in a three piece folk outfit and we were their support act.  I actually met Vincent, one the singers for H&TH’s, at the Art School just weeks before that gig.  I was just finishing the Masters course and he was just coming in as an undergraduate and I was assisting a course that was intended to help prepare the student portfolios for review.  We talked about all kinds of whatnots, music came up, he mentioned the gig and not having support and I cheekily said I would do it. Anyway, they were onboard for coming to Donegal and then I phoned my friend Mark Gilbert who I had busked and played several shows with in the previous year, and he also agreed.  I then phoned Billy to tell him that seven more members were coming to his studio garage.  He laughed and said ok.

It all seems like a fortunate example of happenstance. The line up really gels on the EP and at the live show there was a great sense of camaraderie but I get the sense that this is but one phase of the Starship’s evolution, that you and The Hendersons are not the only incarnation you envisage.

Whether or not the line up is finalised? I think the answer lies somewhere in the unknown, tucked somewhere between a no and a resounding yes. I don’t think we ever really meant to become a band.  It was something very special and spontaneous, and perhaps it is best to continue to approach it as such.

On the EP you do a version of Wildwood Flower, do you listen to much old time Americana? What artists/music do you listen to and what have been your influences?

I go through exclusive stages with music.  What I mean by that…when I come across an album that affects me in some way I tend to give it my full attention, almost obsessively.  Take for instance my iTunes library, Paul Simons’  album “Graceland” has 120 listens, The Bad Seeds “Abattoir Blues” and Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief” are both in their 53rd rotation, and “24 Postcards in Full Colour” by Max Richter is on its 86th play.  There is a wonderful compilation of Ethiopian music called “The Very Best of Ethiopiques” that I am listening to at the moment. As a child I was of course introduced to the rock classics, but more importantly the likes of Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and the more playful Ricky Skaggs, Cajun Moon to this day is one of my favourite songs.  But it wasn’t until after high school that I began to appreciate and understand the importance of earlier Americana. When I was 19 I was gifted the Anthology of American Folk Music, a compilation of 80 or so folk and blues tracks from the 1920’s and 30’s. It was an easy introduction to the roots of a genre of music I loved but my knowledge of which at the time didn’t expand past The Carter Family.

Influences for writing music go far beyond the actual music I listen to though it is an integral part of the songwriting process.  I tend to document in detailed writing the happenings and goings-on of my immediate surroundings and encounters with real people.  These writings are almost always the source for the lyrical composition of my songs.  When the time is right to compose a song I don’t sit down with a pen and paper.  I sit down with the dozens of journals I have kept over the years and I read them using lines taken directly from the pages and allowing the song to develop in an intuitive manner.  I don’t try to force a meaning.  The meaning behind the song is secondary.  The colour is important.  Colour is feeling.

Can you talk us through Ella? It’s a captivating song with some tremendous harmonies but it twists and turns quite a bit before the choral ending.

Thank you Paul.  Ella is actually the first track off the EP.  Sometimes a song, an object, or even a smell can become fixed to a memory. I had Ella Fitzgerald’s “You Got Me Singing the Blues” on repeat for about a year. I would make dinner, put the record on, and it never failed.  No matter what was happening around me and in my life, she was still singing the blues. My song Ella tells a story, with the first four verses speaking of loss, and the dangers of living life to someone else’s standards.  The very end of the song, where we build the voices into a wall of sound is the manifestation of memory…a heartfelt version of Ella’s classic song.  When I showed Ella to the guys for the first time it was the night before we were meant to be recording and though we had shared the same bill, we had never actually played music together. And I think this is why the song works so well, how it is able to maintain this sort of honesty and rawness.

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Got Me Singing The Blues EP artwork

What about future plans for recording or playing live?

There are actually several recordings currently in the works.  Alongside a handful of demos we’ve started as Starship Nicola, Mark and I are going forward with a short concept album.  At its root are seven songs written during my stay in Glasgow all revolving around and questioning this idea of “home”. Mark is an incredibly talented musician and has supplemented the tracks with layered violin harmonies as well as gentle synthesizer.  Various recorded sound samples can also be heard throughout. It’s currently 22 minutes in length, and has the potential to continue to grow.  We are hoping to finish and release it in the next month or so.

At the moment I am working with Chris Blackmore of Holy Smokes Records to line up a small Scottish tour, a handful of shows that would potentially start here in Glasgow in October.  Future live shows, for now, would logistically be few and far between simply because of visa regulations but I don’t think this is going to stop us. There is already talk of playing across Europe next summer and bringing Starship Nicola to America in 2018.

You’ve got a blog called Temporary lovers which is populated with fairly gnomic thoughts and memories. Have you any thoughts about publishing any writing, short stories or such?

The blog loosely chronicles the development of Starship Nicola and highlights each of the members.  It takes its name from the idea I mentioned earlier about the accidental nature of the band and it being special and spontaneous, but goes beyond the scope of the music.  It is stark social commentary. I’m actually waiting to release the final post for Temporary Lovers.   I intend to publish the writings in small quantity just as a record of our time together.

Outwith Temporary Lovers, I am collaborating with a good friend of mine.  His illustrations are amazing, quite unsettling.  It’s my hope to put out a short illustrated novella, a playful mix of fiction and personal memoir.  It is nearly complete, so I anticipate this coming to fruition quite soon.

So there we go, a sneak peek into the world of AJ Meadows and Blabber’n’Smoke will try to keep track of those future plans. In the meantime you can catch up on Starship Nicola goings on here and read Temporary Lovers here.

Harry & The Hendersons in the meanwhile are fundraising for their debut album and are playing a show this Sunday at Broadcast in Glasgow, details here

Les Johnson and Me. 15 Hands. Holy Smokes Records

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Not a new release but one that was new to Blabber’n’Smoke when we encountered Les Johnson at a house gig a few weeks ago (which you can read about here). We were very impressed by Johnson on the night, his baritone vocals and seam of dark humour impressive and both are present and correct on the 12 songs contained on 15 Hands, his debut album. Equally impressive are the settings for his songs, in the main delivered by The Shiverin’ Sheiks, a glorious time capsule of reverbed rockabilly, Cash like boom chicka boom and shimmering Tin Pan Alley melodrama with a hint of Joe Meek weirdness. Johnson croons and slowly burns his way through his set of songs with an easy authority equally at ease with the unabashed romanticism of Break Your Heart, a real tear jerker that sits up there with the best of Richard Hawley, the soul stirring country gospel of Beckon Me To The Light and the Celtic lilt of Sweet Promises.

For a man who says he never wrote a song until he was 46 Johnson certainly has a way with words, his more straightforward lyrics packed with arresting couplets such as the chorus on the stumblebum lament Small Time Big where he sings “Oh My Lord you made me your son, I got a god but you’re not the one. No, money is the one I want, ‘cos I ain’t got none, yet.”  The aching ballad Someone Who Cares rivals Kris Kristofferson with its descriptions of a troubled man as Johnson sings, “And you can walk wide and slipslide but you still ain’t able to move. With the evil and deeds done to you, you got nothin to lose.” This version of Kristofferson of course would be overweight in a soiled gold lame suit searching for the searchlight in a seedy Vegas nightclub. Elsewhere Johnson’s dark humour is evident as on the title song’s tale of a cowboy’s love of his horse which may go beyond the platonic, at the very least he advises, “Don’t fuck with my baby, she’s fifteen hands.The Morning After (The Night It All Came Down) is a homoerotic vision of comradeship in the face of adversity while Silver Suit complete with cheesy organ trimmings is an over the top obituary, Elvis in his cups, that celebrates a fallen idol whose showbiz career goes to pot when a man catches fire at the front of his house.

At his best Johnson reminds one of the garish karaoke weirdness of Dean Stockwell channelling Roy Orbison in Blue Velvet but we need to mention the most Scottish song contained here, the wonderful duet with Katie McArthur that is Dear Marvin. Here Johnson and McArthur inhabit George Jones and Tammy Wynette as played by Rab C Nesbitt and his wife Mary Doll, she singing “I’m gonna brain you Marvin” as she lists his defects, he, a Govan Zen master, accepting his fate.

A grand album then and if you’re quick off the mark you can catch Les Johnson tonight as he is appearing at Glasgow’s Broadcast, information here.

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Starship Nicola. Got Me Singin’ The Blues EP. Holy Smokes Records

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Starship Nicola is a collaborative effort involving Glasgow band Harry & The Hendersons and AJ Meadows of whom Blabber’n’Smoke knows little other than that he seems to come from Mississippi. Today sees the release of their EP, Got Me Singin’ The Blues, a bit of a misnomer as there’s nothing here that could be classified as blues in the accepted sense. The title actually comes from the refrain repeated towards the end of Ella, a song that, for sake of convenience, we’ll term as “freak folk”, that odd genre that gathered together some of the oddities from late 60’s and early 70’s folk rock and a sprinkling of psychedelic dust, Devendra Barnhart probably the best-known exponent. In any case it’s an excellent song, a gentle ripple of guitar and floating violin welcome a wispy vocal which in turn is supplanted by a deeper voice. The song weaves away with some fine harmonies joining in before the refrain eventually appears with disparate vocals adding a sense of tension. It’s a bit like David Crosby singing with The Incredible String Band if you can imagine such a thing. Add to that that it seems to be a celebration of Ella Fitzgerald’s work and the sense of discombobulation is complete.

Glasgow Summer is a much more straightforward affair, a sun kissed acoustic ramble with a skip in its step and a sting in its tail. There’s a hint of bossa nova here, some steely and then melting guitar breaks with a fine fiddle addition towards the end.

They open with a nod to old Americana with Wildwood Flower/Across Rivers, the first part of the song  a delicate rendition of the old chestnut that’s been recorded by artists from The Carter Family and Johnny Cash to Dylan. The guitar playing here is excellent, capturing that old time Carter Family sound before the band up the tempo for the conclusion, a brisk folk rock version of a Marty Robbins type ballad including an acappella and handclapped devotional interlude.

Starship Nicola have a launch gig for the EP in Glasgow’s Nice’N’Sleazy today, support from The Olifant Collective, details here.

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