Loved my visit to Cropredy again this year, fab to see Wildwood Kin on the big stage going down a storm while other highlights on and my visit included a fine dose of prog rock by Caravan and wonderful sets by Richard Thompson and a full of action Seth Lakeman.
Also loved the diverse set by Wilson & Wakeman which stretched from David Bowie to Les Miserables also caught acoustic sets at the BBC Radio Oxford tent including a couple of numbers performed by Frank Turner.
Well here I am again, this time reviewing not one but two artists on whom I fear I may have already used up my supply of appropriate superlatives in previous reviews.
But of course not. They are so good that the last thing either would do is simply produce facsimiles of past concerts.
The Mechanicals don't have support acts as a rule, yet such is the level of mutual admiration that yesterday afternoon at the Magic Lantern, this rule was set aside for their guest Ellie Gowers. After all they have much in common: consummate musicianship, impeccable taste, a drive to create their own music on entirely their own terms plus one other similarity which I'll reveal in a moment.
The latter as is her wont, held the rammed venue spellbound: from her traditional a cappella "Robin" set opener, you could hear a pin drop. Even when she started playing her guitar, the intensity of her performance was only matched by that of the audience's attention to it.
As I've said before, Ellie completely inhabits her own songs, dancing & moving to them with a restless energy matched in the pieces themselves: passionate lyrical images set in idiosyncratic melodic structures: although Ellie is probably thought of as a "folk" singer, her writing completely avoids the traditional formal structures of that genre with neither words nor music repeating in the predictable ways of the canon. We are always kept guessing at what is coming next.
The only negative aspect of Ellie's set in fact was that immediately after delivering what sounded to us all as a haunting pitch perfect rendition of "For A While", she was forced to curtail her set as her voice had gone. What it must have cost her to deliver that last song in that way is impossible to guess, but I thank her as the song is one of my favourites: I defy anyone not to have a moistness in the eye so moving are the words & melody.
I suppose too that it was fortunate that one of the songs she had in the earlier part of the setlist was a brand new one "The Sky Is On Fire" which could well be her finest so far. I suggested it was "zeitgeisty" to her afterwards & she seemed happy with that so I'll leave it in. You really do have to hear it to appreciate it so I recommend that you attend one of her live shows since Ellie also said that she won't be recording it until she has, in her own mind, perfected it (and since she has plans for future musical collaboration, I imagine that will be a factor in its final arrangement). And don't just take my word for it: I think we can safely say that if a musician who was present and has had a number one single calls it "awesome" then it is indeed a really great song. (Incidentally I am just adding this sentence as while I was finishing my review I caught sight of a comment by Adam Barry of Merrymaker about Ellie saying "Simply put, I don't have the vocabulary to put how good this girl is into words. From the opening line to the final chord, she's hands down one of the best artists I've ever ever had the pleasure to listen to and to hang out with.....you're an inspiration, and you've NO idea how good you are. Incredible". How could I not include that?)
Catch up with all things Ellie Gowers at her online bases:
You can catch her live back at Temperance on September 7th with Greengrass as her special guests.
And thus the Mechanicals began their set a little earlier than scheduled, by about two songs' worth of time. They too had temporarily lost a vital element but more fortunately it didn't stop them playing. Viola player Katrin Gilbert was unable to be part of the band & as drummer Ben Haines said, the other four filled the space she left in the arrangements. This manifested itself in several ways including violinist Jools Street standing rather than sitting and in the intimate space of the Magic Lantern, there was more room for him and double bassist John Parker to move about as their music took them, adding a visual element not usually associated with the Mechanicals. Whether this too accounted for the slight shift in the set towards the more jazz orientated end of their repertoire is moot: it may have been a nod to the recent birthday of Philip Larkin (born 97 years and two days previously): they have been working on a suite of songs "The Righteous Jazz" for a hybrid music/drama celebration of his life. Several of the songs from that project were played, along with three of the Shakespearean settings from their first album ‘Exit, Pursued By Bear' and several from their latest EP, ‘Miscellany #1', moving seamlessly from jazz to folk to classical & various composite styles entirely of their own, enriched by the textures only musicians of such calibre can bring, yet not allowing their own virtuosity to detract or distract from their prime objective, to give poems they (especially singer/guitarist Wes Finch) admire, settings which complement & enhance the original words.
I have noted in previous reviews how although starting with writers well known to me, such as Shakespeare, Masefield, Larkin, Yeats etc, their latest work has introduced me to poets previously I was unaware of (thank you), none more unknown to me than the most recent writer they have set, Australian artist/cartoonist/poet Michael Leunig whose poem "When The Heart" was in the set & it was a highlight of the evening to have Australian audience members who were familiar with him & his work: a first apparently for the band.
Where they had a similarity with Ellie I mentioned earlier, was in playing a superb & unrecorded (to date) new song "I've Got Your Back": the only original song of Wes they played & I think one of his best, even by his high standards. As with "The Sky Is On Fire", this is one I'd really liked to hear recorded & to thus have with me.
It was a wet day outside & the steam rose from the audience as Ellie observed. However the sheer joie de vivre of musicians so enjoying what they were doing, what each other was doing & the audience in turn appreciated this themselves made for an afternoon & early evening not to miss however damp we were to begin with. I'll give it five stars as that's what real reviewers do.
The Mechanicals will be performing "The Righteous Jazz" on November 2nd at Hull Truck by the way.
Few "Hot Music Live" readers will need introducing to the name nor talents of Sam McNulty. Even if you weren't around for his late 1970's foundation of top Coventry punk band Squad (thereby launching the career of original vocalist Terry Hall), you may well have delighted in his much loved subsequent band The Giraffes & its successor Two Giraffes. Even those too young for either will know Sam for his ceaseless promotion, encouragement & mentoring of local musical talent via such avenues as open mics, his Godiva Festival & other festival stages & his writing.
True to his ethos, Sam crafted his own evening at the Magic Lantern also involving two great talents he had encountered via his music evenings, Angelo Cardone & Bill Cameron. Even the structure was carefully honed with the notion of "headliner" and "support" blurred in terms of running order & stage permutations, each playing a solo set, a final trio ensemble performance & combinations of them all as duos.
Sam began the evening with a beautiful solo set of material from the classic Two Giraffes' 2005 conceptual album "Twelve Songs", reminding us of the exquisite melodicism of that band & naturally evoking memories of the late Steve Edgson, Sam's partner in the band & many of whose friends were present. One of the songs he played in this part of the evening was "Clifftop Dreaming" which of course he kindly allowed up to use of Volume One of "Hot Music Live Presents"
Neapolitan Angelo Cardone is one of the artists making a big reputation locally at the moment, winning fans as soon as they hear his talents. A frequent BBC Coventry & Warwickshire Introducing presence, I myself witnessed jaws drop at his 2019 Godiva Festival performances. This classically trained tenor & superb guitarist offers our area so much: not least his repertoire of traditional Italian songs but also his own excellent, sensitive material plus moving interpretations of songs such as Don McLean's "Vincent" and "Through The Barricades" originally by Spandau Ballet. Not a combination one hears from a single artist too often. Singing in both Italian & English with equal facility, Angelo frankly entranced the room & received long & loud applause from the packed venue after every song.
Check out all things Angelo at his page: https://www.facebook.com/angelocardonesinger/
Bill Cameron is I understand, primarily a jazz pianist, (and I was lucky enough to hear him play during the soundcheck on the vintage Magic Lantern piano, so recently tuned that the tuner was sitting there enjoying it too), however we got to hear another three aspects of his talents tonight as he accompanied himself on guitar for a solo set demonstrating both his skills on that instrument and his equally excellent singing voice and then he accompanied both Sam & Angelo on sax.
The final portion was dedicated to more of Sam's canon: delving back into the Giraffes days for classics such as the beloved "Lazy Hazel Heart" single of 1990 and bang up to today for material from his forthcoming solo album (possibly to be titled "From The Land of the Broken Hearts")
I've heard Sam play both sets of material but usually solo, so the addition of Angelo on lead guitar & backing vocals plus Bill evoking the original clarinet parts of Steve Edgson (on the Giraffes songs) on his sax, added a great deal of nuance & texture & frankly brought back memories of the Giraffes with the similarity of the sound to the originals.
The new material fits in nicely with the old as Sam's melodicism & romanticism endures. Love & its loss feature strongly in his songs & he also has recurring weather/nature motifs. One new song concerning "Mademoiselle" particularly caught my attention, as it managed to feature lyrics in English, French & Italian.... the latter thanks to Angelo of course.
To say that the audience enjoyed it would be something of an understatement and it was another privilege to hear such writing & performance talent in a space & place where it could be enjoyed to such respectful advantage: can't wait to hear them again.
You can catch Sam's open mic sessions at Millsys in Earlsdon on Monday evenings (not a bad place to catch Angelo nor Bill either). Listen out too for Angelo on BBC Coventry & Warwickshire Introducing where he is getting regular plays.
One of the issues which is a perennial worry for me in writing for "Hot Music Live" is how to cover even the most excellent of artists, the ones we should be reporting on, when I see them only a few months after my last review. We all realise & accept that most artists for obvious reasons may well have much the same setlist & lineup from gig to gig & in all honesty "they sounded as great as last time" isn't much of a review to offer you.
In practice, as hopefully my reviews show, this really doesn't happen with the calibre of artists we have around here currently: as anyone kind enough to follow my writing will see, I have repeatedly put myself in such a position yet every time lineups have been tweaked & even more often substantial repertoire changes made.
The Burning Salt gig at the Magic Lantern last night was no exception. When I saw them last in early May, the band playing consisted of singer/writer Hannah Hull on guitar & keyboards, John Parker on his customary double bass plus lead guitarist Bobby Williams. This time it was just Hannah & John so the sound had changed considerably in the arrangements of the songs I had heard before which was most interesting. Equally, the last time they played songs mostly from their latest album "Automatic Lullaby" and their "Dirt" EP, the collection of songs written about staff & inmates at Holloway Prison. This time, although material from both still featured, a significant portion of the set came from their upcoming 19 song (no that's not a typo) album "Close To Home", whose songs reflect Hannah's personal experiences in the way those on 'Dirt' reflected those of others.
Without Bobby's many textures, the songs tended to be stripped right back to their stark, bare bones: which given the equally stark, often haunting, frequently deeply unsettling lyrics, was highly effective.
The songs are unique to the point of being very unconventional & by and large the arrangements were equally unconventional to match.
John, whose bass playing I have loved & admired since I first heard it with Nizlopi, generally played a long way from the folkish roots with huge amounts of jazz & even hip hop stylings he used with that band. He varied his style quite a lot this time to complement Hannah's playing & to suit each song, but it was interesting how relatively high his lines were placed in many arrangements: often rather classical in style, he often adopted the sort of part one might normally expect from a ‘cello (John's bow got deployed quite a bit during the evening). Not that that meant he didn't play the odd Mingus type part when he felt it was appropriate.
I was struggling to adequately describe Hannah's vocal range & was rather tentatively going for "contralto" so I asked her: she revealed that there is a big cross over with a tenor range & that helped me: it is most strange but at times the lowest element in some arrangements came across as a (female) voice…. Which isn't terribly conventional is it?
Her playing of both instruments tends to be rather spectral to suit the tone (though on one of the more energetic numbers she switched from delicate picking to enthusiastic strumming) but on one of the most catching of the new numbers (one picked out by several people at the break), her piano playing had Bach like qualities I thought: though I bow to John who went for Debussy.
As with all her past songs (with the possible exception of "Superstitious Woman"), Hannah's lyrics can be melancholic at their lightest and can tell grim (genuine) stories at the other end of the spectrum: which, as I said last time, is in stark contrast to her buoyant & good humoured demeanour between them. It is probably a yin & yang thing.. Her performances are intense but that it is in the pursuit of emotional honesty: I found it illuminating that in conversation with her, she cited Patti Smith, another artist who would not dream of delivering work in any other way.
I for one am really looking forwards to "Close To Home" next Spring & hopefully Burning Salt will return to Leamington to play a gig promoting that record then.
Thanks too to Paul Otten who kindly gave his time to get the sound for this gig right (believe me with music this exquisite, poor sound could have wrecked the entire effect) and Martin Luckhurst for a vital equipment loan.
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