Peter Bruntnell. King Of Madrid. Domestico Records

kingofmadrid-3It’s a real joy to hear a new disc from Peter Bruntnell, commonly regarded as one the best songwriters and performers around these days. It’s also commonly acknowledged that he is woefully unheard by the record buying public despite acres of news print over the past 20 years singing his praises. A peek into those archives would surely make him blush with all the superlatives lavished on him over the years and it’s certain that more will follow in the wake of King Of Madrid’s release. It’s one of those albums which make’s one’s heart melt a little as its sumptuous layers of sound swell around his lugubrious voice whether he be singing over jangled power pop or pastoral delights.

The album opens with a doleful church bell tolling over synthesised keyboards before blossoming into a gorgeous mix of piano and pedal steel guitar as the song, Broken Wing, glides perfectly, distilling all that is great about Bruntnell. There’s a melancholic beauty to the song which is perfectly poised between its driving acoustic guitar with piano and pedal steel flourishes and a closing electric guitar solo which fades far too soon. Bruntnell sings wonderfully and the harmonies are superb, it kicks off the album with a bang but it’s only a taster really for the feast which follows.

Bruntnell roams from rockers- the churning Beatles like guitar pop of Dinosaur and the chiming neo psychedelic glory of Thief Of Joy – to more contemplative numbers such as Widows Walk which has some of that fractured vulnerability one associates with Sparklehorse, and Memory Hood, a magnificent exercise in nostalgia worthy of Ray Davies. Reminding one of Bruntnell’s anti Trump song, Mr. Sunshine, on Nos Da Comrade, National Library takes aim at David Cameron and his foolhardy referendum along with those others who will sail on regardless of any Brexit outcome. There’s not one song here which doesn’t arrest the listener. King Of Madrid is a splendidly understated gem with creamy pedal steel from maestro BJ Cole, London Clay is another song evocative of Ray Davies’ Kinks and Snow Queen floats regally over a mesmerising mist of guitars and keyboards as Bruntnell again burrows into nostalgia with an opaque mix of Dennis Potter and Hans Christian Anderson.

With a basic crew of Bruntnell on vocals, keyboards and guitars along with Mick Clews on drums and Peter Noone on bass, there are appearances from BJ Cole and Iain Sloan on pedal steel, David Little on guitar and James Walbourne on keyboards. The album is a wonderful texture of sounds with electric guitar forever waiting to be let off the leash while acoustic layers wash the songs and keyboards add to the sonic tapestry. Foremost however is Bruntnell’s mastery of the song and his excellent delivery. Surely, one of the best albums we’ll hear this year.

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Winchester Texas? The Evolution of SC4M

sc4m-2017-for-webYou wouldn’t think that anyone would mistake a one day music festival in Winchester for the sprawling SXSW held annually in Austin. However, the lawyers at SXSW thought the possibility was there so they slapped a cease and desist order on Oliver Gray’s SXSC (South By South Central) some years back. Oliver, an author and long time music fan had set up SXSC in 2009 although he had been promoting shows in Winchester under that banner since 2004. Writing about his encounter with the SXSW folks he says, “The 2013 SXSC Festival was to be the last under that name, following a surreal series of email exchanges with lawyers representing the South By South West Festival in Texas. I tried to respond with levity but was always flat-batted back with stern, unresponsive legalese, so in the end gave in.” Thus was born SC4M – South Central For Music. Held annually the festival has featured many acts mentioned on Blabber’n’Smoke and this year is no exception so we reached out to Oliver to chat with him about the festival and his tireless promotion of Americana and roots music.

You say that you first really got interested in Americana type music when you saw Peter Bruntnell back in 2000.

Yes, although I’ve been going to gigs since the mid sixties I really first stumbled upon this more roots based music when I first saw Peter Bruntnell. That was in the Tower Arts Centre in Winchester and I decided then that I’d have a go at promoting what was then called alt-country with my friend, Richard Williams. Our first show was in 2003 and the act was of course Peter Bruntnell. After that, we put on shows at The Railway Inn on a fairly regular basis and also started doing house concerts before we decided to try a one day festival. I’d been to SXSX several times and thought we’d call ours South By South Central as it seemed to fit Winchester geographically and sum up the music.

So this year is the eighth festival?

That’s right. We started off in 2009 with Peter and Richmond Fontaine headlining. We call Peter our lucky mascot because he is one of our very favourite musicians and he’s played at The Railway Inn so often and it’s almost a tradition that he and his fans will be at the festival and this year is no different. His latest album, Nos Da Comrade has been so successful  that we take it as a compliment that he’s still happy to come along and play for us. He’s a busy man these days touring in various formats and we’ve actually got him coming back in October when he’ll be playing with the legendary BJ Cole but for SC4M it will be the four-piece band who can really rock. I saw them a few weeks ago at Static Roots in Oberhausen and they were really good as were Danny & The Champs, another great band who have previously headlined SC4M.

The festival takes place in The Railway Inn. Can you tell us a little about the venue?

Yes, it’s almost my second home. It’s your classic, slightly dingy, music venue but it has a great atmosphere and it has the advantage of having two rooms, the barn, which is the main room where we have the bands, and the attic which is where we put on the acoustic acts. We alternate the location so there’s never two acts playing at the same time which is one of my pet hates at festivals when you’re watching a band but really wishing you were at another one playing at the same time. So the audience can amble from room to room and see all of the acts. It’s very homely, almost club atmosphere, just a bunch of friendly people having a nice time together which is what we’re all about.  The capacity is 100 and if all of them came into the attic it can be a bit claustrophobic but some people take time out for a drink or a bite to eat so usually it’s not too crowded. It starts at noon and goes on until 11. Tickets are £32, same as last year even though our costs have gone up and there’s a range of food and lots of ale. It’s not your overpriced festival stuff, it’s a proper pub.

There’s quite a lot of these smaller events going on these days and I’m glad to see that. I was at Ramblin’ Roots a few weeks ago and they had a similar set up with several of the artists who were on veterans of SC4M but it seems that as the appetite for what we call “Americana” grows there’s room for more, we’re not in competition.  The more the merrier I say as there’s an astonishing amount of talent out there and if we can help in any way to let them play to sympathetic audiences then it’s a job well done. It’s always a fraught time as financially it’s extremely tight, we don’t make a profit and each year I get into a bit of a panic over whether we’ll sell enough tickets but in the end we always do. I hand out flyers for example at The End Of The Road Festival and quite a few people seem to come having seen them so it seems to work. We don’t have a publicity budget so it comes down to word of mouth and sympathetic folk mentioning us although I have to say that RnR magazine (formerly R2 and before that Rock’n’Reel)  very kindly gave us an advert in return for us advertising the magazine at the festival. It’s very kind of them and they’re a great supporter of roots music. 

Blabber’n’Smoke has mentioned many of the acts appearing this year : Peter Bruntnell, Emily Barker, Benjamin Folke Thomas, Joanna Serrat, Curse Of Lono, Robert Chaney and Vera Van Heeringen. There are a few we’re not familiar with, can you tell us about them?

Lucas & King are two girls from the Southampton area and we’ve put them on a lot. There’s quite a taste right now for sweet voiced duos but these guys are quite different. Bo Lucas sings and she sounds almost like Tammy Wynette but the songs aren’t anything like traditional country as they go into quite biting and original topics while Hayleigh King is a wonderfully fluid electric guitarist who plays with no effects sounding almost like Chet Atkins. Jonas and Jane are a bluegrassy husband and wife duo from Farnham, just up the road for us  and they played last year and blew the audience away so we’ve moved them up the bill a bit this year. Finally there’s Dan O’Farrell, the “token” local guy, he’s quite a political writer, our local Billy Bragg.

As with Peter Bruntnell we’re happy and proud to have Emily Barker back as she puts on a lovely show and she has been a stalwart supporter. As for Benjamin Folke Thomas we’re hoping he has the Swedish Mafia with him but at  present we’re not sure if he will or if it will be a solo performance. And then there’s Curse Of Lono. It’s unusual for me to book a band I haven’t seen personally but they’re playing a bunch of festivals and I thought we’d better get them while we can. It’s a great line up and you could say we have two themes really. The first is Internationalism as our acts are from all over – Sweden, Spain, Australia, Holland etc and secondly we wanted to try and feature as many female acts as we could and I think we’ve managed that.

I was looking at the SC4M website and the list of artists you’ve promoted over the years, at the festival, The Railway Inn and your house concerts, is just astounding. Are you able to mention any particular highlights?

We always love it when Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express come as they always do a storming show and I was really pleased to see that Uncut did two full length album reviews this month of acts that we’ve presented.  They featured John Murry who  headlined the festival last year and This Is The Kit who are of course originally from Winchester.  I think that the best show that we’ve ever done was not at the festival but we put on Sarah Borges with Girls, Guns and Glory and there was only about 12 people in the room. Despite that they played the most exciting show I’ve ever seen.

The house shows have been going on for some time and they’re a wonderful experience. As empty nesters we’re able to offer to put the musicians up for the night which of course helps them to keep the costs down. These musicians are inevitably incredibly nice people especially the Americans who are so polite and appreciative. Through this we’ve become good friends with some of them over the years especially the guys in Richmond Fontaine. Although it’s a hobby and doesn’t make us any money it’s a privilege to be a part of it and I honestly believe that we’re living in a bit of a golden age for Americana.

So, it sounds like a great day out and you can purchase tickets here. As Oliver says there’s only space for 100 folk so best to snap one up quickly. At £32 that’s less than £3 a band!

The SC4M webpage has a host of information including a great list of all the acts who have appeared under the SC4M/SXSC banner over the years. There’s also a Youtube channel, The Swiss Cottage Sessions , where you can see many of the acts who have played at the house concerts. In the meantime here’s classic clip from a previous festival…

Static Roots Festival, Oberhausen, Germany, 9-10th June 2017

A few weeks ago we delved into the background of and the inspiration for the Static Roots Festival with Dietmar Liebecke. It’s a fascinating story and all down to Dietmar and his wife, Marion’s love of music. Well the second Festival has come and gone and unfortunately we weren’t able to be there. Fortunately, a good friend of Blabber’n’Smoke, the inveterate gig goer Ken Beveridge attended and he was kind enough to pen this report for us. So, over to Ken.

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Mr. Beveridge in his usual habitat

Many of you will have heard of (or attended) The Kilkenny Roots Festival. One of the stalwarts of that festival is a seriously nice German chap, Dietmar Liebecke. So enamoured has he become of The Kilkenny setup he decided last year to have a go at organising a similar, but much smaller event in Oberhausen in Germany. The inaugural Static Roots Festival was held last June and was such a success that Dietmar set about putting together a second one, which was held on June 9-10th this year.

The festival takes place in one indoor venue in The Altenberg Zentrum, a former zinc factory turned cultural centre, with a beer garden, that hosts drama, concerts & parties. It is a small and intimate venue which houses around 200 people. The immediate exterior is a tree-strewn terrace with loads of seating and tables where festival-goers can sit, chat, drink and eat the most gorgeous of beef burgers or German pastries. It is a fantastic venue. The festival featured nine bands over the two days – three on the Friday evening and six the following afternoon and evening.

34924303630_6ca603e5f5_bThe opening act was the wonderful David Corley. David played a divine set featuring songs from his first album Available Light and the follow up Zero Moon (released this month). That David is even here playing is remarkable given that he suffered a major heart attack whilst playing onstage in Holland less than18 months ago. His whisky soaked voice, reminiscent at times of Tom Waits, holds the audience spellbound. Highlights include Available Light and the marvellous Down With The Universe from his latest release. Mention has to be made of the sublime keyboard playing of Canadian Chris Brown and the subtle drumming of Gregor Beresford (who came on as a half time substitute!)

34501937613_f8e1f98f0c_bNext on stage was the much-travelled Peter Bruntnell and his band. Your correspondent has seen Peter many times in various, mainly small, venues in the UK and Ireland. The larger stage here allowed Peter and his band (the magnificent Dave Little on guitar, Peter Noone on drums and Mike Clews on bass) to broaden their sound. His set contained crowd pleasers Here Come The Swells, his anti Trump Mr Sunshine, the mighty Yuri Gagarin from his latest album (Nos Da Comrade) and the show topping By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix.

35182344551_60aaa6fb03_bClosing the night were the Irish band John Blek and The Rats. Front man John O’Connor is a larger than life character whose frame belies the most gentlest of singing voices. He and his five piece band, including the brilliant Anne Mitchell on keyboards, presided over a rollicking set containing the sing-a-long Calling Out My Name, the poignant The Barman, The Barfly And Me and a magnificent rendition of Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down.

A great end to a great evening.

35289358266_4c5520e998_bA late night and the need for some brunch meant that I missed the first act on the Saturday – Nadine Khouri. By all accounts she performed a great set which I now regret missing. Next up was Jack Marks, a Canadian singer who was completely new to me, He and his two sidekicks – Leslie Ann Christi on drums and her husband, Alistair, on bass – played a faultless set featuring Americana ballads that could have been taken from The John Prine songbook. Brilliant story telling songs full of imagery that had me spellbound. A great new find and well worth looking out for.

35199960951_8e0949b545_bNext up was another new to me British artist, David Ford. In contrast to the previous act, David, played solo and entertained us with his wonderful set of strong gritty songs whilst backing himself via a loop system incorporating guitar, keyboards, drums and a variety of percussion instruments. His heart felt To Hell With The World had me mesmerised – think Bruce Springsteen meets Billy Joel. The song that he sang eschewing the rampant greed for stardom – the title of which I have forgotten – was worth the price of entry on its own. Another wonderful act which was followed by the incomparable Erin Rae and The Meanwhiles. This American songstress is in the mould of Iris DeMent and Kate Campbell Succulent, intimate, songs, sung in a wonderfully understated voice with backing vocals provided by her brilliant guitarist Jerry Berhardt. She sings to you as if you are the only person in the room, nay universe. The haunting Clean Slate is the pick from a most wonderful set. The need for food and the chance to have a chat with Erin Rae on the terrace means that I miss most of the following band’s performance. That which I did catch from the German band, Torpus And The Art Directors, was interesting. Fairly standard Americana stuff (hints of Wilco) with the quirky addition of a trombone-playing front man.

34960793870_8b5c0339fb_bAnd so to the highlight of the weekend. The ever popular, spectacularly hard working Danny and The Champions Of The World. I can’t count the number of times that I have seen this band. They never fail to deliver. In Danny Champ they must have the most effervescent front man in Roots music. They play with a tightness that only comes with much hard work on and off the road mixing songs from their soon to be released album with a host of crowd-pleasing favourites. Particular favourites on the night included (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket, Stop Thief, Clear Water and they finished with the ever popular, crowd sing-a-long that is Henry The Van.

The whole weekend was marvellously managed by Master Of Ceremonies, Canadian DJ, Jeff Robson. His obvious knowledge of each and every act and his enthusiastic cajoling of the audience to listen, enjoy and buy merchandise was spot on.

We finish as we started, out on to the terrace, where nearly every musician that has played during the day is hanging about talking and drinking with members of the audience. Not an ego in sight. If Roots music is your thing, look out for this festival next year. It really is The Business.

Thanks to Ken for his words and to Klaas Guchelaar for the pictures.

Static Roots Festival takes off

sr posterBack in the sixties Immediate Records (home to The Small Faces, The Nice, Humble Pie and others) had a neat little slogan which went, Happy To Be Part of The Industry of Human Happiness. Reason I mention this is because I recently had spent some time in the company of a German friend of Blabber’n’Smoke who just about epitomises that epithet especially with regard to music. Dietmar Leibecke is a tall (very tall) and wonderful human being who may be known to several readers given his habit of turning up all over the place whenever there’s some good music to be heard.

Dietmar lives in Mullhelm An Der Rhur in Germany and for the past ten years he’s been promoting Americana and roots music in Germany with a host of house concerts along with booking tours for bands we’re all familiar with. Last year Dietmar ventured into the dangerous waters of setting up a music festival which he called Static Roots. Held in Oberhausen it was a two day event that featured Leeroy Stagger (Canada), The Wynntown Marshals (Scotland), John Blek & The Rats (Ireland), Malojian (Northern-Ireland), Meena Cryle & The Chris Fillmore Band (Austria), The Midnight Union Band (Ireland), and Anna Mitchell (Ireland). By all accounts, it was a great time and he’s set to do it again this year. Intrigued by the thought of setting up such a venture from scratch Blabber’n’Smoke wanted to hear more so we spoke to Dietmar to learn his story.

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The first Static Roots was held last year. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you did it?

Well last year was a year of anniversaries. First off, there was my Silver Wedding anniversary and it was also my 50th birthday. It was also ten years since we had started to promote shows and on a personal note it was five years since I had received a kidney transplant so there was a lot to celebrate. My wife and I wanted to do something special and we decided on the idea of setting up a small festival. Where I stay there wasn’t anything like that going on and I was completely influenced by the Kilkenny Roots Festival. They always have a great line up and it’s so much fun. Wherever you go you see great acts and it’s not just the music but it’s the people as well, a real community. So we were thinking about that and decided to go for it and we got in touch with some of our friends in the music business and asked them to come over and play and we got a great response. Artists we had met in Kilkenny like John Blek and The Rats, Malojian and The Midnight Union Band agreed to come and then my friends from Scotland, The Wynntown Marshals signed up. And then there was Leeroy Stagger from Canada who has become one of my best friends, I’ve known him for around ten years now. The one act we got who I didn’t know personally was Daniel Romano. I’d seen him live and thought he was great but in the end his satnav took him to another town called Oberhausen which was near Munich. He called and offered to come the next day but by then the festival was closing so we didn’t get to see him.

It sounds like quite an adventure but you’ve been promoting shows for around ten years now. How did that start?

It was another birthday, my 40th. Steve Wynn has been my biggest influence since I was young, his album with The Dream Syndicate, Days Of Wine and Roses was really the first record that blew me over and made me think that this was music that was made for me. It opened up a completely new world for me and it’s still one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to.  So I got in touch with Steve and asked him to play my 40th birthday and he said yes! He came with the Miracle Three and put on a fantastic show and that’s really how we got into the business of putting on shows. When Steve came over he introduced me to the idea of doing house concerts.  I hadn’t  really heard of the concept up till then but then I looked it up and found a couple of American bands who were open to playing house concerts so a little while later I invited Leeroy Stagger over to play our house. He was the first artist to play there and it was just so touching and so intense so we’ve continued to do it and so far we’ve hosted about 50 house concerts. We started off with solo acoustic shows but then we had Easton Stagger Phillips (Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips) come to play and we had to get a PA system for that. From then we went on to have full bands like Danny & The champions of The World and The Wynntown Marshals playing in our house. I think that Leeroy has been here the most, about five times. It’s great fun and nowadays I occasionally book tours in Germany for bands I want to see in my house. The house concerts, even with a full band are very intimate and it’s great to see the audience being so attentive and the acts can take their time and tell their stories behind the songs, it’s so much more than playing in a bar for them.

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So how many people would you normally have at a house concert?

Well they always sell out and we have space for around 65 people there but it depends on the size of the band. If it’s a six-piece band we only let in 60 people but for a smaller band we can squeeze in maybe five more people.

You must have quite a large room

It’s not so big but we have a couple of beer benches, you know the traditional lederhosen and sauerkraut German beer benches so we have space for about 30 to 35 seats with the rest of the audience standing at the back of the room.

OK, you’ve got a full band, amplified, playing in your house. What do the neighbours think?

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They are all invited! Last summer we had John Blek and The Rats over and it was loud but it was so hot we had to open all the windows and leave the door open and some folk came over to see what the noise was and ended up staying. We converted a few people that night and made some new friends. Sometimes it’s been so loud I’ve wondered if the police might show up but so far so good.

 

Back to Static Roots. Can you tell us a little more about that?

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It’s held in an old zinc factory which has been converted into a theatre. It was built I think in 1904 and it’s a lovely building with old brick walls and some of the original fixtures. It looks really cool with huge windows, a big stage and a great sound and a great crew. It’s a nice big venue with a beer garden out front, burger stands and all and it really worked well last year. It holds around 300 people which I thought was a good number. I didn’t want to go for a bigger place because I knew it would be hard to fill it. Again I was thinking of Kilkenny where I think the biggest venue holds around 400.

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Have you gone again for acts you know?

Danny and The Champions of The World, Peter Bruntnell and John Blek are good friends but we’ve also got David Corley who I saw last year at Kilkenny and Erin Rea and The Meanwhiles, both of them making their first appearances in Germany.

Hopefully this is not an insensitive question but do you expect to make any money from this?

Well last year, because it really was a celebration of our wedding anniversary and such it was an invitation only event in the main. We did spread the word around friends in the music world and asked them to donate to a fund we had set up for Doctors Without Borders (AKA Médecins Sans Frontières) so there was no ticket fee, just a donation and we collected around 9,000 Euros for the campaign. We covered the artists’ fees and the cost of the venue out of our own pocket. This year it’s a public event and we’re selling tickets for the show and so far it’s going fairly well with more than half the tickets already gone. We are getting some press coverage and we’ll see how it goes but I’m sure that the festival is going to be a success some day along the line. It will need some time to get established but it was so much fun last year and the audience was great. We had a bunch of folk who came over from Kilkenny, the Kilkenny Roots Family we called them and there’s a great bunch of Scottish people who came over as well. A lot of people I had met at shows before, there were so many friends there. It’s quite funny but also important that wherever you travel music wise you meet people, like minded people and you keep in touch and it’s such a great community of open minded people interested in music, peace, love. I love the idea of music bringing people together, I’ve been to Rambling Roots in High Wycombe, March into Pitlochry and Kilkenny Roots so far this year and I can keep all those memories for ever and I hope that Static Roots will be as good. I’m going to have the time of my life at it even if it’s been lots of work in setting it up but once the last note is played I’m going  to say, “Man, this was brilliant” and then it will be looking forward to next year’s festival.

Static Roots takes place on the 9th and 10th June at Oberheim  with the following line up

David Corley

Peter Bruntnell

John Blek & The Rats

Danny & The Champions Of The World

Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles

Torpus & The Art Directors

David Ford

Nadine Khouri

Jack Marks

Tickets are available here. It’s only a hop and a skip away.

Festival pictures by Klaas Guchelaar

 

 

 

Peter Bruntnell and Norrie McCulloch. Sounds In The Suburbs @ The Doublet, Glasgow. Wednesday 22nd March 2017

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At times, it seems like life is just one big shit storm, the past year a steady downpour of blows against the empire of anyone in their right senses. So any rays of sunshine are to be welcomed and one such was the welcome return of Peter Bruntnell (a cult hero according to The Guardian  to Glasgow just a few months after his last visit to the city. Back in September Bruntnell and his band tore the roof off as the guitars gyred and gymbled with some ferocity. As that Guardian article pointed out Bruntnell is not only a psychedelic guitar warrior but also a master of the perfectly crafted pop song. Tonight this side of his coinage was expected to be at the fore as he proffered the UK debut of The Peter Bruntnell Trio; Bruntnell on acoustic guitar, Scots string wizard Iain Sloan on pedal steel and veteran  Danny Williams (ex Black Grape and St Etienne)  on double bass.

The trio, packed into a corner of the tiny room with a capacity audience just inches away didn’t disappoint. The opening Clothes Of Winter was a winsome reminder that Bruntnell follows in the footsteps of writers such as Nick Drake, a sense reinforced by the following Sea Of Japan while Tin Streamer Song was suffused with memories of a lost way of life. The songs were delivered with a creamy melancholic air, Williams supple on bass, Sloan winding his way through the melodies and they turned in magnificent versions of Here Come The Swells and an awesome By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix. So far so sublime but the trio (despite this being their first time together) expanded their sound with Sloan picking up his telecaster and Williams proving to be quite adept at coaxing sounds from his bass with his bow with the first murmurings heard on John, a song that pays tribute to Mr. Cash that had some stormy guitar from Mr. Sloan. They ventured further into the hinterland with a stunning delivery of Cold Water Swimmer as Williams bowed a low droning backdrop before Bruntnell and Sloan added some fractured psychedelic haziness as the song slowly segued into the summery bliss of Domestico, tonight given a tougher approach than on the recorded version.

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Allowing his compadres a breather Bruntnell played End Of The World solo which was quite mesmerising, a quiet moment equal to the best of McCartney as on Blackbird. With the band back on St. Christopher flowed sweetly while Have You Seen That Girl Again dipped into power pop territory. The crowd were loving this but all too soon the curtain dropped allowing the one encore which surprisingly saw Bruntnell dipping into the catalogue of another English songwriting genius as he performed Roy Harper’s Another Day. A wonderful end to a fantastic show.

 

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The evening opened with Norrie McCulloch, Stirling based singer/songwriter who has recently released the excellent Bare Along The Branches. I saw Norrie play a very fine album release show a few weeks back but have to say that tonight topped that. Playing a 12 string acoustic for much of the show added resonance to his playing which was further aided by the electric guitar of Dave McGowan who came on stage for several numbers. The opening Calico Days (from second album These Mountain Blues) positively skipped with joy and celebration. It’s a song that increasingly reminds me of Fairport Convention’s Come All Ye, not sounding similar but a fellow jubilant hymn to comradeship. From the new album the languid Little Boat floated on McGowan’s liquid guitar fills, Frozen River rippled with a folky lilt and Around The Bend satisfied all with its down-home Neil Young like honeyslide harmonica intro. Best of all though was the closing song which was a tremendous performance from McCulloch and McGowan of Beggar’s Woods, a song soaked in memories and tonight glowing with McGowan’s silvery playing.

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

Peter Bruntell tour dates

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Peter Bruntnell is heading out throughout July with band in tow for what promise to be some spectacular shows. Fresh from his recent jaunt to Ireland and what was reported as a barnstorming performance at Maverick Festival Bruntnell is riding high on the very postitive reviews of his current album, Nos Da Comrade, a recent Mojo album of the month. Described by The Guardian as “an alt-country genius,” over the course of 11 albums this Welshman has been a flag carrier for home grown rock that picks up from where the likes of The Byrds and Crazy Horse left off. Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Nos Da Comrade here while Americana UK gave the album a rare 10/10 review.

Peter has very kindly offered one pair of tickets for any of these shows for Blabber’n’Smoke to hand out. If you want them just email us at paulk.blabbernsmoke at gmail.com with Bruntnell in the subject line and tell us who was the inspiration with his bully boy tactics for Peter’s song, Mr. Sunshine. Please include contact details and the show you wish to attend.  The tour starts on the 14th July so the competition closes on Tuesday 12th. In the meantime here’s an example of the man in action.