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'The Life I Had 'Til Now' EP by Little Girl Screaming

Review

One of my favourite local bands (and I am far from their only admirer) has long been Little Girl Screaming, a band I came to via their incendiary live performances and subsequently their excellent recorded material: John Rivers at Woodbine Studios doing a marvellous job to reflect their power & edge. I was so pleased that their song "Bit Late for a Conscience" (originally released on the 'Pretty Noise' album in 2007) appeared on the inaugural ‘Hot Music Live Presents' album but sadly despite my considerable enthusiasm, you won't find any previous reviews of them by me in the magazine as they've neither released a record nor played locally in the years I've been writing here.  2008's ‘Two Butterflies' EP being their most recent release.

Thank goodness the wait is finally over as they have unleashed their ‘The Life I Had 'Til Now' EP on us today. Reunited with John, they were fortunate to get their sessions at Woodbine complete before the lockdown & it's tempting to say that the wait was worth it, so strong is this set (I was fortunate enough to know that it was on its way as John had conveyed his enthusiasm to me some time ago).

It's like they've never been away frankly. Each track hurls itself off whatever device you are playing it on, shakes you roughly by the throat & then stays in your mind forever.

One personal delight was the inclusion of long time live set favourite "Am I Not Here, Can You Not See?". This is archetypical Little Girl Screaming: melodic yet punky, utterly memorable and above all lyrics with a point: ones which frankly anticipated the #MeToo debate by quite a number of years. (They did in fact record this song on ‘Two Butterflies' but I think this version really adds considerably more venom).Vocalist/lyricist Tree pulls no punches here: not even a bit of shadow boxing. This is for real & it deserves a wide distribution. Men listening should be ashamed at what they are being called out about.. Somehow the band & John not only pull off the feat of producing a version every bit as dangerous as their live performances, it actually appears to be played at even faster a rate than I remember it. Marvellous.

Kicking off the EP is "Pictures" (check out a video for this song, with a nice topical NHS plug, at   https://www.facebook.com/chris.kendall.79/videos/10219684999329526), another fine addition to their repertoire of a song with catchy pop pulling power backed by insistent & compelling playing: intelligent lyrics (as always) setting us questions almost as uncomfortable as on "Am I Not Here, Can You Not See?", in this case on how to deal with the passage of time. If the latter had faint echoes of Buzzcocks jamming with early Altered Images, "Pictures" restrains the rush slightly & its menace is all the greater for it. Until of course they press the accelerator and off it goes again.

The curiously titled "What About the Cats?" (don't worry, it becomes clear) is again a song which doesn't shy away from the difficulties of life. Again passages of noise & less noise, fast playing/singing & less fast, alternate almost too quickly to adjust to as the story of a disfunctioning relationship reaches its terminal phase. Tree doesn't exactly hold back on conveying senses of frustration nor displeasure at the consequent situation. Presumably to spare the blushes of family listeners, you actually get two versions of this song on the EP, one with less explicit articulation of her thoughts on the matter.

 

"Watch Me Float' sounds like its title might lead you to expect  & actually hits some Floyd moments which came as a surprise (though in a good way: I would much rather be surprised by a band however much I like their signature sound) until it subtly builds into a much bigger soundscape (and boy does it get big. You start wondering just how far the band & John are actually going to take it).

Little Girl Screaming at full throttle are an awesome band (regular readers will know my concern that the adjective is used far too lightly in music reviews & I very very rarely use it: it applies here) & I cannot wait to see them live again. May that day be soon. However, in no way do I wish you to take away the impression that their considerable vocal & instrumental heft lacks subtlety nor nuance. The songs are built upon excellent musicianship and once you shift your attention from the very ear catching words, repeated plays reveal the intricate arrangements: not a note is wasted & well crafted parts dance round each other, usually with most memorable riffs & lines, playing with each other & certainly never repeating anything for too long, whether its volume, tempo nor series of notes. And John of course allows us to hear all this clearly through the wall of sound.

Let's face it, they've been away too long & now they are back let's embrace them & support them.

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"Darling" by Batsch

Review

It was April when I wrote about the "Colour of Love" single by Batsch in the magazine.

Three months on, defying lockdown, they are back with "Darling" (though in fairness it was recorded before the situation clamped down).

The recording took place at the Tin and in addition to members Mason Le Long, Joe Carvell,
Matt Rheeston & Andy Whitehead, it features Lætitia Sadier guesting on vocals and Pink Shabab on bass.

Less ambient in tone than its predecessor, the song has the edginess so characteristic of their work: an unsettling arrangement which never seems comfortable settling for any length of time. If anything it evokes at times what ‘Sergeant Pepper' might have sounded like if recorded by a garage band or at least one with a far lower budget than the band who actually did it. A psychedelic summer afternoon in Coventry. The lo-fi sensitivity evident in the cover art is reflected in the arrangement (not that the production itself is anything less than excellent) and offers a stark rawness which adds to the authenticity of the sentiments expressed. Charmingly laid back in tempo and mood, the band subvert this with anxious keyboards & drums & a menacingly slightly indistinct additional vocal (in French). If you begin thinking that this is going to be an easy listening experience then Batsch shake you out of your complacency. Good for them.

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"Wayward" by Katherine Abbott

Review

After the pleasure at being able to review "Lullaby For Lucas" by Katherine Abbott last month, I'm delighted that so little time has elapsed before being able to do so again, with her latest single "Wayward" which came out yesterday to similar levels of acclaim as its predecessor. If I spoke previously about an outbreak of jaw dropping, how gratifying that on this occasion I can tell you that ‘American Songwriter Magazine' have already picked up on "Wayward". As they put it "with a very subtle arrangement, gentle acoustics weave layers around Abbott's effortless voice and angelic harmonies, creating a melodic, ethereal atmosphere"

Produced by Katherine's long-term producer and engineer, Jonathan Fletcher, in his studio in Stratford-upon-Avon (he also plays the sublime & subtle guitar solo), the song fits in snugly with "Lullaby For Lucas" in terms of subject matter: each turns around a sense of journeying, both literal (it was composed on a single car journey from the Lake District to Birmingham, though I hasten to add that she was a passenger rather than driver) and in the sense of self discovery & consequent transformation. If the earlier song projected this onto a third party, then on this occasion the first person aspect is more prominent.

Although the overall premise is ultimately positive, the journey (as far as the song is concerned) is as rocky & winding as real voyages in this world always are. Founded upon the dislocation of the end of a relationship & the relocation to a new part of the country, the landscape manages to encapsulate many features from the concrete to the metaphysical: crossroads, choices, the sense of freedom, fantasy & pulling that back into practicality.

As I said before, Katherine writes intricate multi layered songs which pack a lot into such a short space of time (though I note with interest her assertion that "it was one of those blessed and rare occasions where I don't have to put a lot of thought into the writing process and the words and music unravel from me in one go without having to coax them out so much" as that certainly isn't what comes across: it just sounds so well crafted). This is one of those records repeated plays are essential for in order to appreciate just how much is going on in there.

Perhaps more overtly folkish in sound than last time, this song (composed in an alternate tuning), "Wayward" also has those jazz inflections too, but generally is on the ethereal side of fragile with the arrangement held back with admirable restraint & taste, exposing an equally understated vocal which is all the more effective for being so, with less of the "breathy" style I cited before.

Katherine aims to tour in 2021 which let's hope happens (I intend to catch her) and has a plan to release more songs beforehand which I thoroughly look forwards to.

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14 Records

Feature

In my most recent article, I focussed on how local business Dr.Um were emerging from the restrictions of the last few months. In that piece, business owner Victor Guillamon talked about positives he was taking from the local music scene, one of which was how the large rehearsal room at 14 Records was now being used again.

Consequently, it seemed an useful idea to ask 14 Records owners Matt & Gemma Waddell about how the situation was looking from their perspective

Quite apart from the detail they gave me, what pleased me was their optimism. One could be entirely forgiven for feeling frustrated over the lack of opportunity to play, teach, record etc as one normally would, let alone suffer the practical issues of lower business & income. In their case however, they are buoyant over the developing possibilities & are clearly enjoying the challenges of finding new ways to work with musicians: after seeing their business of ten years being threatened by having their premises taken from them, overcoming that & moving on, the current set of circumstances is to them much more easy to deal with they told me.

As Victor reported, their large rehearsal space is open & already in good use. The space is entirely suitable to permit bands to work together at safe distances & the room is steam cleaned after each session. The smaller rooms obviously are not as appropriate for groups but if you are say a duo, do contact them as it should be possible to accommodate you.(As with all their services, please contact them via the details you'll find on https://www.14records.net)

 

Matt has been busy on production projects which do not need artists to be present: mixing, mastering etc and producing using material sent in online. However recording in their studio has recommenced: principally at the moment solo artists to work around the social distancing issue & as entry from outside is direct into the (steam cleaned) studio & Matt isolated in his booth, no contact is possible. Artists such as Bob Cooper, Ross Darby & Abz Winter (the latter as part of an exciting project to be revealed) have already recorded there under the current regulations.

Even more to my (pleasurable) surprise, 14 Records managed to create a video for The Session's "Denver Hill" single during lockdown & providing artists are looking for an outside shoot, this is something else they are excited to be back doing.

Tuition clearly brings its own issues & like Dr.Um, 14 Records have successfully tried online teaching and have now found ways to appropriately deliver on the premises, which is clearly a boost for the many young musicians they had been working with. Please do discuss your needs with them.

One of the reasons 14 Records can feel optimistic about moving forwards is that they have certainly not put all their eggs in one basket: their diverse set of activities has allowed them to work during lockdown & be able to progress the various elements at different speeds as needed coming out of it. Some work, for example helping with social media & online presence, or commercial composition was ideal for the last few months. Others, such as providing PA services for festivals etc will necessarily have to come back on stream later on, probably after all the above is back up & running near full capacity.

Finally, Matt & Gemma also help people write material: ranging from artists wanting a hand with songs to those who are not musicians but want to create a song for personal reasons & can supply the content & theme but need someone to turn that into lyrics & someone to set it to music.

As I say, they are (in their own words) "glasses half full kind of people" but like Victor they have their concerns about how musicians can reboot their careers & above all about suitable venues can survive closure & start operating again under the very necessary systems to protect the health of musicians & music lovers.

In the meantime they tell me that their message is "we're still here, waiting for you when you are ready: it will be nice to see people". Their main regret is that the customary 14 Records cup of tea & biscuits is on hold for the time being.

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