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From time to time, "severe weather events" with names hit the UK: earlier this month we had Storm Kathleen and now Hurricane YNES has blasted in across the Atlantic.

All too recently the most potent force of nature on the local scene & one so many people were tipping for success, Great Britain became too small and parochial to contain her. Now based in Vancouver, (check out the album of a live acoustic set of the ‘Born Loser' songs she recorded there which we reviewed in December), I was delighted when she surprised everyone (as is her style), with news of two British shows: at The Sunflower Lounge in Birmingham on Monday & last night's  "It's D.I.Y Ennit" self-promoted home town gig at the LTB.

The cyclonic side of her was much in evidence from the speed in which the gig came together to her semi-chaotic stage presence to the passion & commitment to her songs.

However, as I'd like to think that my reviews have suggested, there has always been more to her than this aspect & Canada has helped bring out other aspects more. Songs composed there have dialled back some of the overt anger (let's face it, living in Vancouver must affect mood & vibes differently to Coventry), but the personal vulnerability & fragility underneath the noise is a key trait.

The songs, as my review of the live acoustic release said, are robust enough to have value and impact in various settings and arrangements: from the overdubbed versions made in Woodbine Studio with John Rivers to the acoustic café ones to the ones we probably know best (and heard tonight): solo with electric guitar.

It was a stark, almost skeletal set: (no scope for her writhing on the floor tonight) with just the guitar and this brought out the pathos and the moments of near self laceration (it's a good job that her between songs patter tends towards the humorous & self deprecatory as otherwise it is in truth potentially very dark matter).

The set bounced between all phases of her career to date (it included the rarely played "Five Minutes Time" from the ‘Front Room Sessions' COVID compilation) and included more recent, unrecorded material (including one (working title "Kid") which got aborted before she even started it as she hadn't got the words in her head yet) and ranged from the upbeat-with-melancholy (e.g. "Used To Be") to the raw & purely melancholic.

It was good to have her back: even for a short while. Unlike the overblown & histrionic divas who shamelessly try & evoke emotions through excess & hyperbole, YNES has a real heart & a rare capacity to nail down actual emotions through genuine images told in language we all can relate to, but few can write in.

I have no idea where her career is going: as you know she's not only high in the esteem of our local scene but rated by Billy Bragg himself, so possibilities are many. To some extent, she seems to thrive on degrees of spontaneity (I refer you back to the "Hurricane YNES" comment) and that's a strength as it sets her apart from those more cynically seeking "success" via conventional routes. I doubt she knows precisely herself, but I look forwards to experiencing & relaying to you all that she ends up doing: and I don't have the skills to predict her moves at all.

YNES chose to close her main set with "I Wanna Be Overrated" which I think was a really good choice as it more or less epitomises my comments above: an emotionally complex yet staggeringly deeply personal song, its power originates with its composition & then gets amplified by her performance.

 However, audience demand resulted in an encore of "The Daily Male" which as I agree totally with the sentiments she expresses in it, was much to my personal taste & demonstrated the side of her the world probably knows the best so far: YNES precisely skewering those who merit being skewered.

You can catch YNES on the final date of her UK tour on Monday 22nd April at the Sunflower Lounge.

Meanwhile, Alan Denyer (who did a great job on the sound desk in addition to his host role) shared with me the great news that the LTB Showrooms have a stay of execution until September, so please look out for many more great gigs there over the next few months.

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Singer-songwriter and guitarist John Smith concludes the UK leg of his The Living Kind solo headline tour at Coventry's Warwick Arts Centre on Saturday 27 April 2024.

The genesis of Smith's new album, The Living Kind, dates back to 2022 when he and producer Joe Henry (Billy Bragg, Joan Baez, Rhiannon Giddens, Elvis Costello) cooked up the idea for an intimate record together - a record which Smith described initially as "an acoustic album that sounded like Spirit of Eden." Other reference points alongside Talk Talk's 1988 masterpiece were John Martyn's enduring Solid Air and Joni Mitchell's electro-acoustic odyssey Hejira.

The resulting collection showcases brilliantly Smith's musicianship and skill as a songwriter, with Henry placing his voice and guitar to the fore - surrounding it with only minimal accompaniment.

Shaped by a period of personal loss and grief, the songs see Smith finding his feet, accepting the past, and moving forward.

"The Living Kind is about responsibility and being very keenly aware of your place within a family dynamic," he explains.

"When I started writing these songs, I knew immediately what was happening; in the space of three years, I had essentially become a different person and had a lot more to deal with. I wrote the songs just as we were beginning to rebuild our lives. They are about changing for the better in the face of loss. Celebrating the good things and facing up to the bad. Staying positive, trying to keep an eye on the centre, holding on to those we love and working towards a better future."

Signed with Thirty Tigers in the US - also home to that other acoustic guitar hero, Richard Thompson - Smith has opened for the late Davy Graham and guested with Jackson Browne, as well as playing with David Gray. Much admired by Pentangle's John Renbourn, he's also toured with Iron And Wine and James Yorkston, and appeared as a member of The Elizabethan Session (with such folk luminaries as Martin Simpson and Nancy Kerr).

Smith's last studio album, 2021's The Fray, featured such guests as Bill Frisell, Lisa Hannigan and Sarah Jarosz as well as members of Milk Carton Kids and The Staves, and was accompanied a year later by the six-track The Fray Variations - which saw the musician revisit several cuts from the earlier album.

Released in March, The Living Kind has been praised for it's 'innovative guitar stylings' (Folk Alley) and for capturing 'all the chaos and beauty of a joy-filled life' (Holler), while KLOF (formerly Folk Radio UK) declared it 'a masterpiece'.

  • John Smith visits Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on Saturday 27 April 2024.
    For tickets and more information, see:
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As you know, with my finite resources (especially time), I have to handle my caseload for "Hot Music Live" by prioritising those artists whose work excites & uplifts me: it makes for pretty much consistently positive articles, avoids struggles to find pluses in work I can't locate them in easily and to some extent provides me with a quantity I can handle generally.

The rod I make for my own back with this strategy is that with going for the best, I can experience difficulties choosing adequate words to reflect both the quality of the music & the profundity of my own emotional response to it.

I persist though because I feel so strongly that their talent needs drawing to people's attention & because there is a remarkable correlation between the best music & the amiability of the people who made it.

You know by now the artists whose successive releases are knocking my proverbial socks off every time: how on earth do I raise the bar on my writing each review to try to keep up with how they are doing that with the music?

On this occasion, the band in question is HEK and once again they've produced a single, "Sinking Stones", which comes out on April 20th which is of such high calibre that I think it stands up against anything I hear in this style nationally or beyond, let alone locally. Britain needs to hear & embrace HEK in 2024.

Written by rhythm guitarist/vocalist Reiss Pinder, you must know who else contributes to this magnificent sound by now, but they really deserve a mention each time: they are bassist Liv Gardner, keyboard/synthesizer player Lucy Gardner, lead guitarist Josh Sellis and drummer/percussionist Sean Statham.

Individually, each is a very talented player, yet together they've found common ground and contributed to a highly distinctive sound which is one of the great strengths of HEK and I'm not sure that can be said of too many bands. This will take them far by itself. Hopefully Jon Webb of The Moonbase can accompany them on this journey as he's found a way of presenting this uniqueness in a pristine form, yet one in which each element is clearly discernible.

The other element is that Reiss is such a good writer: one of those poetic lyricists (and I'm so glad his idea of poetic writing doesn't include the juvenile & irritating sacrificing of meaning to ensuring each pair of lines rhymes). It takes quite a few listens to grasp what many of his images might mean (and challenges like that pull you into the song and continue to reward you), though as with all good poetry, the general overall sense comes across right away.

Like a lot of his songs, it certainly sounds at least partially autobiographical and he often seems to heading down roads full of regrets and hurts. In this one, he may well be the protagonist, but there is an anonymous female character plus a mysterious "Joe". Who are these people? I'm not sure that I want a definitive answer: enigmas elevate songs for me & enable me to interpret them according to my own imagination. I think that option of personal applicability is a hallmark of the best songwriting: what emotional engagement is possible where the lyrics allow of only one interpretation?

The words of "Sinking Stones" contain many evocative images and they alone provide plenty of succulent listening moments. What do they add up to though? Is Reiss being pessimistic or fatalistic? Or is he just trying to process his experiences & feelings in order to survive? I'm not sure I know & hope you'll enjoy working that out. If this is literally stuff he's had to deal with, I ca only hope things are better for him now.

Round all this, the band wraps a web of that highly characteristic sound I mentioned: in this  case it serves partly as a counterpoint to the words (its far more upbeat & you'll know from plenty of previous articles how much I like it when words & music seem to be pulling in different directions, setting up yet more audience-friendly tensions) and partly to ratchet up the already high emotional quota. In which it's wholly successful: in fact at times it sounds like the instrumentalists are drawing more and more angst out of Reiss' vocals. Consequently he ends up in that weird state where he sounds almost out of control but you know he's not.

While this is going on, you suddenly start hearing other things going on at the same time & you need to peer aurally round the vocals on repeated plays to appreciate them. The rhythm section seem to be channelling later period Beatles, Josh is playing solos behind the vocals as well as in the tiny gaps left between them and then there are those glorious keyboard/organ swathes which are so important to the HEK sound. This time round, there are fewer instrumental showcase passages than on other tracks: they all come together for one unified arrangement and again that takes me back to my earlier point how they all favour the song & the band over individual agendas.

I do not nominate "singles of the week" but there are those who do & if they do not pick "Sinking Stones": why ever not?

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I am reliably advised that the debut album by the Dirt Road Band (appropriately enough it'll be called ‘Righteous': because they are) is now completed and ready for pressing, so hopefully it'll be available to you very soon: I'll be reviewing it for you in due course too.

In the meantime, to give you both a taste of the delights in store and enable you to savour each new song on its own merits, the band have been sharing some individually.

I told you a little about both "What's Going Down" and "Next Train Out of Town" back last August (they date from the first batch of sessions with John Rivers at Woodbine Street Studio in Leamington) but unfortunately due to personal distractions at the time, I missed writing about "Don't Count for Nothing" in September.

The sharing of "Cheap Talk & Whiskey" now from the second set of sessions however gives me the chance to repair that omission while bringing you fully up to date with the original work which Steve Walwyn, Horace Panter & Ted Duggan have been creating to go with the many fine covers which made up their superb setlists when the band first got together.

Both are Steve's compositions yet I think within them both (and the narratives are contrasting) you can hear plenty of accumulated wisdom from the band (there have been plenty of calculations of the combined professional musical experience and it's impressive to say the least). Obviously that includes the chops of three artists long at the top of their profession (this is a rare example of my being able to write in a Coventry & Warwickshire music magazine about musicians with global profiles: though I live in hope of doing it more often) but more than that, they love this music. You'll probably all be aware that not so long ago both Steve & Horace were playing in commercially very successful & well known bands and now that's no longer the case. This then is a chance to combine their talents & musical preferences into something done out of love without the pressures of expectations which being in "name" bands can impose. Well I say that, but looking at how in demand they already are as a live proposition and anticipating the increased response once the album comes out, no doubt DRB audience expectations will soar accordingly. Which is not a bad thing.

One should also take account of the fact that they relish playing together: that explains the genesis of the group (actually for a one off event which then didn't actually take place) and is evident from what you hear. John also speaks of how enjoyable the sessions were.

The other aspect of the shared wisdom is in the lyrics: they seem to tip their hats to the lives & experiences on the road & in the business of working musicians. If "Cheap Talk & Whiskey" provides vignettes of the places they've all played & the sights they've all seen, then in "Don't Count for Nothing" one can detect the weary cynicism of "real" life as a musician: the struggles with finding success, being let down & exploited and the interminable drives between gigs (and long after this song was recorded, the DRB were stranded in the small hours when their van broke down recently: even with their stature you are not protected from those issues). In some ways I suppose it can be seen as a sequel to his own solo song "Instinct to Survive".

I certainly had no intention of reviewing these two songs as a pair, but as that's how things have fallen, it's interesting how they contrast & I suppose are a little microcosm of DRBmusic. On one hand you have the lyrically more upbeat "Cheap Talk & Whiskey" and on the other the grimmer more existential "Don't Count for Nothing". Reflecting this dichotomy are the accompanying styles. The former showcases their love of the "source" material: the authentic American blues sound. The latter is much more like that material as filtered through the British pub rock blues scene: grimmer, edgier and more urban. This sort of range & variety is presumably indicative of the album as a whole & not only will be tracks as yet unheard be revelatory, so will the running order, given their penchant for both the styles just mentioned, plus more country blues, funkier blues and the sort of material which reflects what certain guest musicians, whose contributions are as yet unshared, bring to the feast.

All four preview tracks are currently available as downloads via the DRB Bandcamp page ( so you can get a heads up on the pleasures still to come.

Damn right they've got the blues: in all its varieties.

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- 4 & 5 MAY 2024 -





As he approaches two huge landmarks - his 3000th show and the release of his upcoming tenth album ‘Undefeated' on 3 May - FRANK TURNER - today announces details of a unique challenge.

On 4 May, he will embark upon the first ever
Music Venue Trust world record attempt to play the most gigs in different cities in 24 hours by playing fifteen shows across the country.

The rules are simple. In a timeframe of 24 hours, Frank has to play 15 solo shows, with each set running for a minimum of 20 minutes. The previous (official) record is held by Hunter Hayes with ten shows and before that it was the Flaming Lips with eight. But there's a serious point too. The challenge will support grassroots venues and independent record stores across the country. To attend one of the shows, purchase an album and ticket HERE.

Frank's effort will be supported by London's No. 1 Taxi app FREENOW, who will be providing e-taxis for him to complete the almost 500 mile journey, which runs from Liverpool to Southampton.

Frank says:

"With nearly 3000 shows under my belt, I've never been one to do things by halves or shirk a challenge - I once played all 50 American states in 50 days, for goodness sake. For the release of my tenth studio album, ‘Undefeated', I will be making an attempt at a world record: the most number of shows in different cities in 24 hours.

It's not just self-promotion either. We're working with 13 independent record shops and 15 independent grassroots music venues for the shows, highlighting two bits of the infrastructure of the underground that I care about most. It's going to be tough, but hopefully fun too. Come down for a show!"

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd adds:

"We are delighted to support Frank Turner's attempt to set the official Music Venue Trust world record for the most gigs played in 24 hours. With the help of FREENOW black cabs, Frank will be criss-crossing the nation hitting some of the country's finest grassroots music venues for an action-packed day which promises to set the global standard for dedication to live music."

The schedule will hit the following venues:


  • 12.30pm - Liverpool, Jacaranda - instore
  • 2.30pm - Huddersfield, Parish - outstore for Vinyl Tap
  • 4pm - Leeds, Boom - outstore for Crash
  • 6pm - Sheffield, The Foundry - outstore for Bear Tree
  • 7.30pm - Chesterfield, Gasoline - outstore for Tailbird
  • 9pm - Nottingham, Saltbox - outstore for Rough Trade 
  • 10.30pm - Birmingham, RMBL - outstore for Eclipse Records 



  • 12.00am - Leamington Spa, Temperance - outstore for Head
  • 2am - Leighton Buzzard, Crooked Crow Bar - outstore for Black Circle Records
  • 4am - London, Underworld - outstore for Rough Trade
  • 6am - Kingston, Banquet Records
  • 7.30am - Aldershot, West End Centre - outstore for 101 Collectors
  • 9am - Portsmouth, Staggeringly Good Brewery - outstore for Pie & Vinyl
  • 10.30am - Winchester - The Railway - outstore for Pie & Vinyl
  • 12pm - Southampton, The Brook - outstore for Vinilio 

The world record attempt is sponsored by FREENOW, the mobility super app with the largest vehicle choice for consumers across Europe available in 9 markets and in over 150 cities. Users can access all types of mobility services within a single app including public transport services, taxis, private hire vehicles, car sharing, e-scooters, e-bikes, and e-mopeds. FREENOW aggregates numerous mobility brands with the ambition to make urban mobility more efficient and sustainable without adding new vehicles on the street. The Germany-based company is backed by the BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz Mobility.

FREENOW's continued support of MVT includes ‘Ride for Music' which saw FREENOW donate £1 from every ride to MVT. London's No.1 Taxi app is proud to support grassroots music venues, ensuring local nightlife continues to thrive throughout the UK. 

‘Undefeated' is available to pre-order HERE, with the pick of its physical formats being a limited edition picture disc with one-shot photography captured by a vintage tintype camera. The album is the follow-up to his first UK #1 album, 2022's FTHC, and sees him again embracing the liberation of being an independent artist.  

Thematically, ‘Undefeated' finds the sweet spot between youthful outspokenness and surviving midlife's challenges, it's a record that explores both emotionally compelling topics and lighter reflections on those troubles that eventually come to us all. Sonically it's full of echoes to influences that Frank has touched upon at various moments in his kaleidoscopic career, from Black Flag to Counting Crows, from Descendents to The Pogues, via Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg.

Once Frank has recovered, hopefully undefeated by the world record attempt, he will return to the road in more conventional style. He will play a run of European dates in May, including shows as special guests on NOFX's final tour, before heading across North America in late May and throughout June. He will play a series of UK festivals in the summer (Docksfest, 2000trees, Latitude and Y NOT?) before taking the seventh instalment of his Lost Evenings extravaganza to Canada for the first time in September. Please see HERE for a full list of dates.


Website | Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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This summary of the output of Daffod'i'll is actually rather different: he has only advanced from album number 152 where we left him last time to number 156 ('Friday'). This is the fewest number of new album releases from him since his prolific solo career started. However in addition to 'Tuesday', 'Wednesday' and 'Thursday', he has written his own 'Good Friday Mass' which probably accounts for the change of release pace.

This, as with all his many other records is available via his Bandcamp page:

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Most of the cast both musical & cinematic for the new Eyes of Isabel single "Every Single Day" will be immediately familiar to readers of past reviews of the band.

Another Tony Ally composition realised by John Rivers at Woodbine Street Studio in Leamington with both John & his colleague Ollie pitching in on the performance side as well as production side, this time Ian Black (of Man Made Moon and The RedHills) who guested on guitar on the previous single "Black Mamba" returns to add six and twelve sting guitar ("possibly the cleanest guitar sounds ever created" as he puts it) so maybe he's now a long term member of the team too.

On the inevitable film side (it's not possible to conceive of an Eyes of Isabel release without one: it's symbiosis) it's the established team of Andy McGeechan and Adam O'Neill who take the credit for the production (and both actually act in this one too). At this point multiple interpretative forces come into play as they always do and while this time I don't think that Andy goes off on extreme a tangent from Tony's original narrative intentions as he did with say "Crime Scene", once again a complex (even though short) plot illustrates a simple & abiding truth which as Tony puts it about "..when we lose the people that we love in our lives as long as we carry them in our hearts they will always be with us every single day..". Eyes of Isabel songs don't tend to shy away from the more difficult & less pleasant sides of life, but generally the films incline to leavening these via humour or through the filter of classic cinematic style. "Every Single Day" though is heavier on the heartstrings.

You can see at at:

The piano & organ (John I assume) set a tone which at one end of the spectrum is gothically morbid (or morbidly gothic) and even away from that leans towards the melancholic. Given that the narrative is about a chap losing his wife, that's perfectly suitable & shows the band to be capable of covering an emotional range. "Bittersweet" covers most of the story of how his memories (which are dramatized in the video) help him come to terms with his bereavement in a touching way. You can understand why they went for that clean guitar sound: this is no rock song and doesn't need an approach any heavier than the words & melody have already given us.

Filmed in Berkswell & London Road Cemetery, as noted Tony, Andy & Adam play roles as does Eyes of Isabel film regular Tracey Gillan and Leo Ally. With the exception of the rather over-dramatised hospital interaction, it's told visually quite gently (the location scenes are pastoral) and the two media work harmoniously together to tell the tale.

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Ironically, the tremendous personal enjoyment I got out of attending "A Celebratory Cruise on a Tiny Boat with Lauren South & friends" at the Albany Theatre in Coventry yesterday evening contributes to how hard it is to reflect what I experienced in adequate words.

I've long sang the praises of Lauren & her music and reviewed her debut solo album ‘Tiny Boat' (whose title track is also featured on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Eleven') in the magazine, again attempting to express my response as best I could. In the event of course it has received a great many equally glowing reviews since: she is definitely regarded as a rising star of the British folk scene.

That the musicians who contributed to the album included such eminent names as Ellie Gowers, John Parker & Ben Haines in addition to her regular duo partner Keith Donnelly is an accurate reflection of the esteem in which she was held even before she'd recorded anything.

The problem of course with working with such stellar names is that recreating the album live was always going to be tricky given the level of competing demands they are under: therefore it was wonderful how they were able to find this mutually convenient date (and they so enjoyed playing together that they are seeking to identify future possibilities which I urge you to try to witness).

The context must not be taken lightly either as it was in fact the monthly CVFolk event (the second Sunday) at the Albany Theatre, put together by Pete Willow: this is one of those vital events which offers performance opportunities for creators of original material who really deserve audiences who pay rapt attention: lord knows there are far too few of these and all those I tend to write about & feature on "Hot Music Live Presents" compilations could do with as many as possible: this will only sustain with your support. As it happens, the next event in this series (on May 12th) showcases Liam Vincent & the Odd Foxes whose track "Rise Up" appears on "HMLP12" (and Rebecca Mileham from that band was also in the audience yesterday).

Thus, the above mentioned luminaries were not the only ones on the bill: honourable mention must also go to Maria Barham & Becky Syson who played short, contrasting & well received support sets both as appetisers for the main act and as important contributions to the CVFolk night in their own right. Both came back on stage to contribute to the encore "Shine Away", helping to supply the harmonies which Lauren's young daughters had provided on record.

Which brings me at last to the point at which I came in.. these are superb songs as so many people have attested over the last few months. The calibre of these musicians is beyond both doubt & my levels of impertinence in even commenting on.

As I say, the songs have generally been performed by Lauren solo or with Keith's help, so are those sort of pieces so well constructed that they work in various arrangements. So what do these virtuosi bring to them?

Well of course fuller forms is the first answer: each came enhanced with additional nuances of sound which took the meanings into slightly different territories without loss of intent or emotional clout. This was ‘Tiny Boat Plus' and if you hear it next with just Lauren & Keith, you are in for a treat: it's just that on this occasion we got it with many cherries & other delights added.

Knowing the songs so well & the musicianship of each, I hope you'll excuse my getting out of the bind of trying to review the perfect & sublime by sharing moments of detailed joy.

As ever, Lauren switched between tenor guitar, violin and shruti box and Keith between six and twelve string guitars, but as Pete quipped, they could have had a competition to guess the numbers of strings needing tuning (apparently they got there very early to do this) across the band. And that was only stringed instruments.

In fact they switched continuously in an orgy of perfectionism to do each song justice.

Ellie, apart from performing backing vocals (and it says a lot that someone of her stature offered herself to Lauren in this role), made her stage debut on shruti box while Lauren switched to violin for "Hope/Boo to the Goose". She then debuted her thunder tube skills on "Weather the Storm" while Keith played a rain stick.

Ben, while remaining behind his kit was constantly on the move, switching sticks/beaters/brushes, retuning his snare mid set, changing cymbal type, deploying a vast array of percussion instruments & ultimately playing through bits of cardboard box for the right effect.

John too alternated between bowing & using his fingers so his ringing the technical changes were modest by the standards of the others, but one innovation I'd never before seen live which I enjoyed was how he & Keith quietly played on under Lauren's expositions: apparently conceived as "faffing about" to cover her own guitar retunings, nevertheless it provided a groovy accompaniment to her spoken word and elevated matters still further. More people should try this as it's really classy.

Ironically, they ran out of time: I'd loved to have heard "Judith's Song" as it's a favourite & no doubt they planned to play it.

It's possible to make something of a general statement and suggest that John's contributions in particular moved the songs from what might reasonably be described as in folk idioms to somewhere much more jazzy. This (partial) metamorphosis was not just one of the highlights of hearing the songs in these arrangements but helps Lauren's music move into a less rigidly defined genre definition. Ellie has gone this way before her of course: my recent review of her current work in progress as well as many recent releases shows that she may have started as a "folk artist" but there are many forms she excels in. Both Ben & John regularly play in a range of musical styles too. It's a grand thing to be solidly rooted in an authentic tradition, but that does not preclude growing branches in many directions too.

Lauren is a writer of great depth, perception & emotional integrity. She Is blessed in having the performance skills to interpret her own songs and those of others in exquisite ways and a stage presence of warmth and honesty to which audiences respond every time. Place those attributes within a wider setting composed of her peerless peers and you get something extra special. I promised myself that I would avoid using "magical" this time as I've done so many times before in relation to Lauren. Let's go with "mesmerising" for last night instead. What a privilege to have been there.

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I'm sure that my review of the debut album ‘New Beginnings' from Project Overload left you in no doubt of my excitement at the emergence of this original & dynamic young band. That's why we featured their single "Second Chances" on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Twelve' of course.

I'm therefore delighted to report for the first time on their live performance and it's true to say that they are even more exciting in that context.

Hats off to HMV Coventry for hosting the gig (look out for future ones they have planned: and not just their Coventry branch as you'll remember how much I enjoyed their fellow HMLP 12 featured Liam Vincent and the Odd Foxes album launch in HMV Banbury).

Credit too to sound engineer & mentor Mason Le Long for helping them achieve such an excellent sound in a space not designed for bands to play in: with a very economical kit too.

As I have said before, the Tin based "Live on Stage" mentoring project seems a superb & essential initiative through which talented young musicians can develop confidence in writing and playing what they hear in their heads without the pressures which the more cynical & commercially focused elements of the music business tend to impose upon such artists. Mason was saying that they've been working with some of this band since they were around ten years old and the outcomes yesterday speak for themselves: look out for a feature on the project in the magazine soon.

As you may remember, there was a 40% lineup change in the band during the course of recording the album & so not all the band wrote or were terribly familiar with several tracks: credit to them for taking these in their stride alongside the ones they'd helped write.

We heard much of the album, but also a handful of newer songs: almost all still at "working title" stage, even if they had the songs themselves down tightly. They also had the taste to finish with a cover of The Wombats' "Lemon to a Knife Fight" (which to me is a relatively recent song but is presumably rock history from their point of view) and this is by no means not a hint at how they sound.

I said that they were even better live than on record…. Quite understandably the opener, the album title track was performed with the same level of diligence and care as the whole record. However once that was past, a great deal of inhibitions seemed to melt away and aided by the sound mixing, took the other songs into new, vibrant territory.

Another key is how much they seem to enjoy playing: tracks were attacked with verve and energy and as you all know, that sort of thing is central to how audiences respond to bands: as they did on this occasion.

Vocalist Emily Birtwistle was one of the revelations: she co-wrote and sang on many of the songs but as noted, had to adapt to a few that she didn't. Throwing herself into the set, she increasingly revealed a power which came across much more live than in the studio and I truly hope she explores that aspect further. What I especially appreciated was how she used this ability to punch harder sparingly to good effect: it really works much better in a nuanced performance and I sincerely despair of one trick pony singers blessed with powerful pipes who keep on demonstrating it in one dimensional sets.

The rhythm section too came into its own live and again power was one of the characteristics but founder members Callum Hall (bass) and Joe Friday (drums) seemed to have more space to demonstrate their considerable technical skills and at one point I mentioned to Mason how much I liked the bass sound he & Callum had devised with the instrument prominent in many songs.

Guitarists Tom Male & Lucas Male are called just that: they don't seem to have that rhythm/lead dichotomy in their own minds and watching them you can see why: both play lead parts at various points. They tend to aim to mesh together into the jangle pop sound which they use as their mission statement (with the splendid addition of "with sharp elbows") and as I'd bee playing some early Aztec Camera on my drive over, the comparison formed in my head: I wouldn't be surprised if they listened to Johnny Marr either and of course they covered The Wombats. With female vocals, maybe Altered Images and The Bangles are on their playlists too. Personally as I love that sound, you can understand another reason why I so much enjoyed the gig.

The "sharp elbows" bit is crucial though: Project Overload are keen to sing about their world and their perspectives on it: "Society's Standards" (possibly the highlight of the set and maybe worth considering as a single), "Reassuring Sound of No", "Nightmare" and the newer "Wildfire" (if that's what it ends up being called) are not just shimmering pop ditties but emotional statements (including plenty of righteous anger) and I imagine that it is no coincidence that these particular tracks followed each other in the heart of the setlist & drew such powerful performances.

If Project Overload are the future of at the very least our local music scene, then I'm delighted. I look forwards to the "end of term" gig for the Live on Stage bands to which Mason invited me: I imagine that the other ones are on the same upward road as this one, albeit probably not as far along it. If they have as much self-belief in their own ability to write songs they have such ownership of in addition to excellent musicianship, then they'll go far. In a world where too many artists are being coaxed into emulating the already successful & colluding with that, it's so refreshing to hear bands write & perform their own thoughts & values with such truth. I really can hear the difference & I heard it on this occasion.

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As foretold in my recent account of my visits to two workshops for Streets Arts Project, the professional musicians who facilitate them came together on Saturday (in two shows such was the demand & level of support) at Stratford upon Avon United Reformed Church to raise funds for the project.

The theme was a tribute to the final concert by The Band (filmed by Martin Scorsese) in 1976 and featured a core band of Katherine Abbott (acoustic guitar), Jack Blackman (electric guitar), Wes Finch (bass guitar) and Jono Wright (electric guitar) performing as WLDFLWRS augmented by friends including Ben Haines on drums (I remarked to him afterwards how rarely I get to see him play rock music on a full kit: which was a treat), Adam Barry on keyboards (essential for the set in question) & vocals and James Maguire on saxophone (he also took a verse as vocalist on "The Weight") in addition to others, whom I'll name later, as vocalists.

With so many people whom I'm used to hearing as lead vocalists on their own material, this was a definite supergroup, but what impressed me was not only their sense of democratic collaboration (I certainly wasn't expecting egos from people who give so much in terms of working with homeless & vulnerable amateur artists) but how their voices, blended beautifully together with the help of sound engineer George Adams, emulated the seamless harmonies of The Band: not least on the multiple parts in "The Weight". What a great metaphor this created to reflect the values of the project overall.

Taking this & the church atmosphere (a canny choice to go with this venue rather than the adjacent Playhouse where the workshops and Street Arts album release concerts are held) into account (and of course it was on Easter Saturday), the deeply spiritual aspects of the songs were emphasised: pretty appropriate given the philosophies of Street Arts. Set closer (at least for the first set) was "I Shall Be Released" (with Katherine on lead vocals) and for this, Adam ascended (literally) up to the church organ. You couldn't wish for a more fitting finale.

Obviously recreating the entire original concert (it ran for over five hours) wasn't terribly practical, so WLDFLWRS opted for highlights of some of the best known songs by The Band, opening, as with the original gig, with "Up On Cripple Creek" thence "The Shape I'm In", "It Makes No Difference", "This Wheel's On Fire", the highly appropriate song in Stratford "Ophelia", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "The Weight".

If these well known & well loved songs demonstrated a sense of community which embraced those on stage and flowed out into the audience, paying tribute to the many guests who'd been part of the concert (including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dr John, Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond and many more), threw the spotlight back on individual singers, each with major challenges.

To me, the big highlights of this aspect were Nigel Clark's take on "Helpless" (close your eyes and it actually sounded like Neil Young was singing it): a performance of staggering power and impact and Katherine's version of the horrendously complex "Coyote". I think most performers would probably settle for just navigating Joni Mitchell's idiosyncratic song, yet Katherine gave a relaxed & natural sounding performance which again lived up to the original.

Something of a surprise was Generation Jones' (Jon Beynon & Geoff Carr) choice of  "Furry Sings the Blues": this fine song was omitted from both the film and soundtrack album (I have no idea why) and so I hadn't realised that Joni had played it on the night. It's good, even when you think you know the whole set, to have your expectations challenged in this way.

The next step for Street Arts will be the recording of the songs crafted in the most recent set of workshops. Look out for the subsequent release of their fourth album and its launch gig. They haven't yet got a further cycle of writing/recording planned (apart from anything it requires funding), but hopefully so valuable is the Street Arts project to not only the members of the project (many of whom were there in support: as was the Mayor of Stratford who is the patron on the charity) but the participating professional musicians and the many who support them as audiences, that the legacy of the work done & the values it possesses will long endure. 

Finally, much credit again to Street Arts founders Doug Armstrong & Jackie Lines, without whose initial vision & subsequent very hard work, none of this would have happened.

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It's been some months since I last wrote about Danny Ansell (amazing but true considering his prolific releasing and gigging) but he's back now with his new single entitled "Fireworks" out on April 24th.

He's a very grounded artist as you know (which probably accounts for the ongoing quality of his writing as he doesn't let success go to his head) but when even he describes it as "brilliant" (and his bar in my opinion is pretty high as my reviews indicate), then you'll know that he and his band really rate this one.

 The band's perspective isn't lightly dropped in there: Danny has had the song in his solo setlist for quite some time but has bided his time recording it until "it realised its potential" which he feels has now happened after the full band (his rhythm section being of course Patrick Beard on bass guitar & Steven Shelley on drums) have been playing it since last year.

In addition to his own feeling that they developed the song fully, impetus came from Eddie Thomas of Hednesford-based band Marquis Drive (whom they've been working with frequently in recent years) who has encouraged them to let him produce tracks of theirs.

Consequently they've been working at Woodworm Studios in Oxfordshire (founded by Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention) & both "Fireworks" and "Hurry Up and Slow Down" came out of those sessions.

Joining them there were Chris Eardley who added lead guitar to each track and Leon Harrison (also of Marquis Drive and also Ocean Colour Scene & Fun Lovin' Criminals) drummed on the latter.

So there you have the ingredients: a song long & lovingly worked over & honed to perfection with a new producer able to bring an outsider's perspective to the music while knowing the band well.

So how do they fare? Well as mentioned, Danny is delighted with both the process and the outcome (who am I to argue with that?). Undoubtedly, "Fireworks" is ‘bigger' than it would have been if Danny had put it out nearer its time of creation: both the band arrangement & production contribute to that. However, most (if not all) of his songs are so well rooted in the traditional craft of writing that they sound good in stripped down as well as band arrangements: I dare say most local music fans have heard most of his more well known songs in both formats live and enjoyed them equally, if differently. That said, I see why he waited & took the route he did: this sound certainly brings the most out of the track.

His songs usually have some degree of the epic in them (even the tender intimate ones): it's his trademark and the DNA of "Fireworks" is infused with it: therefore enhancing that aspect and ensuring that it's well served by arrangement & production is what justice demands.

The band throw themselves into playing with gusto and the huge sound and performance they come up with brings me to the first comparison I've given to Danny and his band with The Who (it's possible I suppose that this was in their minds). Even the production (and I can't remember a more overtly "produced" song of his) adds effects which drive it in that direction.

He's probably aiming to equate his feelings to one of those massive celebratory pyrotechnic displays and they pull that one right off: his audiences are going to love this one in this form.

To run slightly further with The Who theme, "Fireworks" is meaty, it's beaty, it's big and it's bouncy and it'll light up concert venues this summer. In fact, it may be too big a song for all but the largest indoors ones & be warned: it may fill your house and wake up your neighbours when you play it at home.

And the further good news is that Danny has another single already cued up for July when "Hurry Up and Slow Down" will come out.

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John Douglas from the Trashcan Sinatras will be making his solo debut in Coventry at The Tin on the 4th May. John says "I am heading out on my debut headlining tour of the UK. The show will feature me, my acoustic guitar and songs.I will be playing songs from my recent solo album, some of my favourite Trashcan Sinatras songs from through the years, some new songs and some choice covers.The shows will be very intimate affairs, a relaxed musical and storytelling evening. Come along, bring a friend… see you there"

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