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As you'll know from various earlier reviews, both of Street Arts Project releases & their associated launch gigs, I thoroughly support this marvellous initiative which supports street sleepers, homeless and vulnerable people in Stratford upon Avon.

However I'd always wanted to sit in on one of the project workshops at Stratford Playhouse in which their music is composed & developed and I'm so grateful to the group for letting me do so a couple of times this month (on 1st & 15th February).

Some of the songs are essentially conceived by individual group members & then brought to the workshops to share & develop communally. Others are totally group written with everyone pitching ideas in.

As you know, quite a few professional musicians facilitate the group (most of whom we have featured in the magazine doing their day jobs) such as Jack Blackman, Wes Finch, Katherine Abbott, Jono Wright, Geoff Carr (from Generation Jones) and Nigel Clark (of Dodgy fame): though not all could be there for the sessions which I attended. However I was intrigued as to their role: with their vastly greater experience than the other group members, did the latter feel inhibited? Did the songs tend to go the way the professionals shaped them?

Naturally, knowing them, the experienced musicians would not wish such a dynamic to evolve, but it is hard to see how it might not unless handled with insight & sensitivity. Over the two sessions I witnessed, it certainly did not due to those attributes being central to what was going on. Even more so, I was taken with the overall ethos: this was totally democratic and I've never seen such mutual respect in a group situation: I wish I'd managed to encourage it in some of the classes I have taught. Everyone listened to each other without any interruption whatsoever. (It is illuminating that project co-founder Doug Armstrong told me that key aspects of the environment they fostered included "respect , honesty and we never judge. We are all equal in that room"). In addition, group members encouraged & drew each other out & praised each other's contributions.

The role of the facilitators was largely that of amanuensis: Wes in particular acted as scribe to free people to come up with ideas. Their contribution was described to me as "putting pieces of a jigsaw together" and I can agree that's what I saw. They also tended to keep the tune going while the ideas were coming in: this allowed members of the group to fit lyrical ideas into the music easily and to join in on their own instruments when they felt confident they knew the structure. (I'd also add that while I was there, Geoff was providing one to one instrumental tuition too).

What wasn't particularly expected was the speed at which songs came together: seeing as I'd only ever experienced them finished, I had no idea how long they had taken to refine: I rather assumed quite a long time. However on both of my visits, songs came together jaw droppingly fast: and I'm talking good quality ones on a par with those on the released albums. Obviously full arrangements & totally completed lyrics weren't there yet, but the essence was.

Generally the group focuses on matters personal to themselves & their lives in their writing: the process clearly helps them articulate themselves (though as I've commented on in the album reviews, the tone is always optimistic despite the very considerable challenges they have faced & continue to face in their lives: so it's hard not to see this process as offering them forms of esteem raising & empowerment). So on my first visit, I heard a song which may end up being titled "In the Future" coming together and this week one ("It's All Going On") documented their own writing sessions. Other subjects which you may get to hear on album number four include "Lifestyle Choices", "New Horizons" and "You in My Bed (Happiness is a Hot Water Bottle)": the latter of which only contains the words "hot water bottle" in the title: it's not in the lyrics, so listeners will need to figure that one out. The songs you see may touch on the simpler joys of life but are not necessarily simplistic in their composition. I also got to hear group member Craig's solo song "Falling" which the group worked on. Members variously added guitar, harmonica and ukulele to the arrangement as they felt appropriate.

Though I was aware of the workshops as an activity & the three albums to date, I hadn't fully grasped the complete range of what the Street Arts Project have done: they've now held over a hundred separate workshop sessions but there have also been eight concerts plus two plays and poetry days too.

In fact we are coming up to the fifth birthday of the project (which I hadn't realised) so what a great chance to wish them a happy birthday. Once this current round of workshops & subsequent recordings is complete, the resultant tracks will again be released on Spotify & Bandcamp and there will be another concert.

I'm obliged to project founders Doug Armstrong & Jackie Lines for filling me in on some of the facts I didn't know. Like an iceberg, much of their work is not fully visible: which of course is why I was keen to explore the process as well as the outcomes, but there are also aspects around supporting the wellbeing of group members including provision of sleeping bags, clothing etc which must necessarily remain more discreet in its delivery & publicity.

Equally my little episodes at peeping behind the curtain to see how the songs come together cannot compete with the insights of those who are part of the group & so I am appreciative of some of them for sharing their testimony here:

Craig Giles "It's a life saver really for some of us. If gives people a bit of a focus to do on a Thursday and through the music and learning to play it brings you together as a community. People have made friendships here and you can't fault it"

Wes Finch: "The Street Arts Project creates a regular, relaxed and welcoming space for people to connect and be musically creative. We provide songwriting workshops and guitar lessons and then encourage people to record the songs we make together and then perform at our concerts. We have a lot of fun and a great sense of camaraderie and achievement from it."

Katherine Abbott: "The thing I love about Street Arts is that everybody feels entirely equal and on a level as soon as we sit down in that room. It's a space where everybody can express themselves freely without fear of being judged. We laugh a lot together.

Jack Blackman: "The Street Arts Project is a truly wonderful thing to be part of. To be able to meet once a week and be creative with the participants is a joy and a privilege. It's so special and lifelong friendships have blossomed. Big love and appreciation must go to Doug Armstrong whose enthusiasm and support keeps the Street Arts Project rolling and long may it roll!"

Jono Wright: "I have been involved with Street Arts for about 2 years. It is such a wonderful project that brings together extraordinary people to do amazing things. Doug and Jackie have created such a wonderful environment and I love being part of it."

Though I haven't a date yet for the next Street Arts Project concert, there is one significant date for your diaries. Several of the facilitating musicians have banded together as WLDFLWRS and are playing at Stratford United Reformed Church on 30th March (matinee & evening performances) in aid of the project. The theme is the Martin Scorsese/The Band movie/gig "The Last Waltz" and so they and some of their friends will be looking to emulate the setlist of that concert.

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Reviewing a band's live performance when you saw them only a fortnight earlier presents its problems of finding what new to say, but given the special nature of the event, the launch gig for Septic and the Tanks' debut album, it would have not been possible to do otherwise: so I'll do my best.

First of all, credit to Joe Colombi whose Sink or Swim Promotions put on the night & Just Dropped In Records for hosting it. The venue was packed to capacity but it wasn't just the numbers which attracted my attention but the sense of community & love shown to the bands. A delightful environment to be within and one which reflects so highly on the values of the promoter, artists & their audiences. This is how it should be at all gigs.

I knew very little about first support band Hedcheese except that Septic and the Tanks really rate them and I believe that they are based in Leamington. As they don't appear to have released any music yet, I've neither been able to review them or even get far beyond Septic and the Tanks describing them as "post punk": which turned out to be wholly accurate now that I've heard them.

Supple at times, angular at others and with a deep vein of funk into which they tapped regularly, one could hear echoes of Talking Heads, Gang of Four or Wire in some songs and the drumming had that virtue of combining the tight with the unexpected (in fact it was a grand night for connoisseurs of punk drumming with three superb & totally different players). Like the other two bands, the wit & humour was important but should not distract from the playing skills which provide the platform. I look forwards to reviewing a Hedcheese release: and if they've not planned one, then I urge them to consider it.

We've reviewed Stegosaurus Sex Party before in terms of releases (and their "Snazzy Mollusc" was featured on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Ten') but this is our first live one. It was worth waiting for: they are a most exciting phenomenon, a band who hurl themselves totally into what they do. Credit to Septic and the Tanks and Joe for offering them the slot as they seem to find offers locally a bit sparse: given the surge in great, idiosyncratic original music currently, I'm surprised at that & hopefully more gigs in the area will happen.

You really do get to experience songs differently live & pick up on new aspects: for example the interplay between the three musicians in terms of vocals is pretty impossible to appreciate just listening to the tracks: you have to see them live: and it's as tight as their playing. One's attention bounces from player to player like trying to follow a triangular tennis match.

They offer good value for money too: I can't state authoritatively whether they played their entire repertoire (and in a support sized slot to boot) but they must have come very close. Sex Party songs last as long as they need to in order to say what the band have to tell us: and not a moment longer. "Wanking to Natural Disasters", one of the set highlights, lays into passive consumers of other people's misery deriving vicarious kicks in a minute and three quarters and that's all they needed.

Headliners Septic and the Tanks go from triumph to triumph. In the hours before the gig, they had carried out an interview for a US based podcast (Tankmania is going international) and when the audience arrived, not only were they greeted with their first sight of the hard copies of the album, but a merch table of a whole range of associated artefacts as beautifully designed as the parent record. (Check out their website for details).

In comparison with my previous gig of theirs, by promotion from a festival slot to their own show enabled the inclusion of songs they had had to omit before: a highlight for me being the delightfully surreal (or "ridiculous" the band say) "Sky Snakes" which granted Robin the opportunity to express their inner shaman.

As readers of my (now many) articles on this uplifting band (I do hope their example can encourage others to express themselves as freely and not have any fear of being able to do so due to relative lack of experience) have shown, their ambitions have moved steadily forward with each step of the road. I think proving to themselves that they could do it was the start and then playing others and latterly recording their songs for posterity. Continuing further never seemed something they originally dared express, but as the success indicators grow  both in terms of the feedback and audience size and spread increases, talking to various members of the band, exciting possibilities are under consideration (this is not a band to embrace complacency: the road lies ever before them) including new recordings but also other things which it's probably a little too early yet to share: please do watch this space.

Above all I saw a band enjoying themselves playing together and as one with everyone there: what more could you ask for as a musician aside from cold commercial considerations? I rejoice for them in the journey they have ben on & remain on.

This may be a band now selling out quantitively but never ethically: the word is spreading fast and if you haven't experienced them yet then don't let chances pass you by.

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One of the things I do like about the musicians we feature is their sense of community and personally a fair percentage of artists whom I review and feature on the "Hot Music Live Presents" compilations only appear on my radar thanks to tip offs from members of this community.

Few people are as au fait with the esoteric & underground as Joe Wilson and without his suggestion, you'd not be reading this Keltik Fish review: thank you Joe.

Their just released album ‘Jarków' was recorded in 2015 in "rural" Poland (I'm guessing in the village of the same name) and how it's taken the best part of nine years to reach our ears is fascinating: so many of the factors bands experience appear in the story, but seldom so many & few then end with the album appearing after so long. We normally just have a footnote in the glorious history of popular music to mark what might have been.

I'll try & be as succinct as possible, but leaving too much out would probably spoil the article & mar your understanding.

Keltik Fish came together at school In Rugby in 2010 and released their debut album, the appropriately named ‘Self Titled' four years later. This led to career momentum, plenty of gigging and the songs for ‘Jarków'.

At which critical point their bass player left.

Fortunately, they were able to recruit a guitarist from another band their drummer had by that time joined, to play bass.

The band who cut  ‘Jarków'  were therefore: Sara Jennings-Bates (vocals), Dani Nightingale  (bass, vocals (they/them pronouns)) Jan Krause (drums, programming, keyboards) and Tommy Jennings-Bates  (guitar, vocals, programming)

Their good luck ran on further in the family home of relatives of their singer & drummer (who are siblings) where they laid down the bulk of the album. The remaining overdubs were completed back in the UK and ‘Jarków' was on the verge of being ready.

Except that the other band (Conjurer) that their rhythm section was in, really took off at this moment. Understandably they had to give that band priority & so both Keltik Fish and their album had to more or less be put on hold.

The good news is that Tommy (to whom I'm indebted for all this background), and Sara got married in this interim period and so they too were content to put the recordings aside.

Eventually, Jan retired from Conjurer and as the band member whom the others felt had "by far the best ear and talent for that side of things", was free to lead the mixing process: which leads us to where we are today.

Fairly obviously the career impetus from 2015 has dissipated and all that might have derived from a release then when things were hot, has not happened. I'm under no illusions that however well received ‘Jarków' might be, Keltik Fish will not (cannot) reform off the back of it, as all members have moved on. However, as Tommy tells me "I honestly think this album perfectly encapsulates what we were trying to do in Keltik Fish" and so it must serve instead as a final career statement with strong hints of what might have been.

If you are expecting me to write "better late than never" at some point, I'll do it now.

As noted above, tapes of never released albums sit on shelves around the world and only occasionally do they see the light of day, so we should be grateful that the right stars aligned in this case.

Yes, I do think that it's sad that their promise never got fulfilled in the traditional sense and I can only hope that the talented former embers can express themselves in other ways (certainly it looks like Jan can already claim a successful career via Conjurer).

The tracks on the album ("Fourteen Years", "Islands", "Insomnia One", "The Ballad of…", "Pixels Fading", "Free Falling", "Awake", "Insomnia Two", (which came out as a single a month or so ago) "Escape", "Render Me Delicate", "Rot into The Ground" "Inside My Eyes" and "Amaze") are significant evidence of why Tommy and his colleagues are able to process the material as representing what they were capable of but also why Joe contacted me in the first place: Deathsex Bloodbath played a gig with them "a billion years ago", which while not wholly consistent with the official timeline, is an author's way of expressing the feeling of subsequent time elapsed.

Not that Keltik Fish share many (if any) of DSB's singular lyrical interests (who could?) but they certainly are in sympathy as regards musical curiosity and refusal to be confined by the expectations of any particular genre.

‘Jarków'  is a real smorgasbord of your favourite types of music and most songs are fascinating hybrids of often many accepted forms: this band can whip you from heavy rock (you can see why an extreme metal band recruited their drummer) via ska to what may well be traditional Polish folk styles. You can see why "Insomnia Two" was a teaser for the album (though how any track could in itself prepare you for the diversity you find within is questionable) as it's a beautiful folk rock/indie ballad composition that hopefully will delight existing fans & speak to you too (as the band have kindly made  ‘Jarków' available via Bandcamp on a "pay what you feel right" basis, checking it out is simple). Given "Insomnia One" and "Awake" also being on the album, one might reasonably guess that at least one of the band was plagued by sleepless nights (hopefully that's improved in the subsequent decade) and all three in their unique ways at least start off gently (the Keltik Fish trademark is definitely to provide variety (to the point of extremes in some cases) within individual tracks so a quiet start is no guarantee that that's what you'll get all song: in fact you can pretty much assume that it'll start roaring at some point later. For example, another standout track, "Render Me Delicate" goes on delicately for most of its duration but it does build impressively towards its end: just when you might have been forgiven for thinking they weren't going to do it this time. In "Rot into the Ground" we even experience transitions from classical music to hip hop via full on rock. You really do have to have a listen for yourselves as I could spend hours trying to list all the details of all the songs.

With that level of fine detailing, it's all the more gratifying that ‘Jarków' has emerged at last: what a waste all that vision & hard work would have been otherwise . Recapturing it live must have demonstrated a really high proficiency level.

Conceived as a labour of love, judging by what one hears, one can only speculate at the angst felt by its creators during the years when others could not hear it and their subsequent feelings now they can. But at least we are in a position to be able to do so.

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It's always great to catch up with John Rivers about what he's been up to at Woodbine Street Studio in Leamington: though he's been so busy that finding an opportunity has taken quite a while.

He managed thankfully to spare me time this afternoon to fill me in on some recent highlights which might be of special interest to "Hot Music Live" readers.

Satsangi and the Eyes of Isabel are two bands we regularly feature who he's looking forward to recording very soon, along with completing the debut album for the Dirt Road Band: all musicians he enjoys working with &  taking on new challenges (he has particularly enjoyed working with Steve Walwyn on developing a new guitar sound using a Leslie speaker).

He also highlighted working with Daniel Barrie (and the streaming numbers of tracks they've previously recorded together have been huge) and Chilean band The Cruel Visions (and if you are wondering why a band would travel that far to record, it apparently was his productions for Love & Rockets which attracted them).

Most poignantly, John played me two unreleased Cakehole Presley tracks: obviously they cannot be shared currently but they are stunning & I hope that John's attempts to get hem released bear fruit so you get to hear them too.

We don't often get to report on the film soundtrack side of music, but it's great to report that  "All Roads Lead To Home" whose music was produced & mixed by John, won the Audience Award at the 2023 Birmingham Film Festival (and former Woodbine Street team member Eddy Hewitt even has a small part in the movie as well as performing on the soundtrack).

I asked John for his tips on artists to look out for, as I usually do, and this time he suggested Alex Norris with whom he's recorded five tracks to date & this may grow into a full album. Alex has only been playing guitar for a little over a year but has greatly impressed John: you can check out his track "Nothing At All" via this page, https://woodbinestreet.com/solo-artists pending its release.

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Thankfully, reactions to all forms of art are by their nature subjective. That is very liberating for me as I can concentrate my reviewing enthusiasm upon what excites & moves me & pass over what doesn't with a clear conscience.

Occasionally though, we get close to consensus and over the past year or so, praise for Duke Keats has come flying in from all directions. As you know from my previous articles & can imply from the fact that I'm writing this one, I am fully in tune with that.

I have written at extensive & probably by now tedious length over how I perceive a generational renewal of local music to have occurred recently, raising the artistic bar and redefining what it means to be making original music. Duke Keats has been at the heart of this.

My main concern though is while I know that he is encouraged by this feedback, piling heavy weights of expectation upon him may not be terribly fair. Against this, I do see evidence though that he is taking it all in his stride & keeping quality control up to his normal standards by not responding to demand with a deluge of rushed releases.

We have therefore had to wait until Valentine's Day for his latest single "Heavy Heartbreak" (following the hugely successful ‘Dirty Glamour' EP of last June.

This song in turn is the trailblazer for his next EP entitled (appropriately you might well think) ‘Bornstar' which he promises us will be a further evolution of his music.

Produced again by longer term collaborator Mason Le Long, "Heavy Heartbreak" has multiple levels you can select to explore at your convenience and pleasure. This is a Valentine's Day release so you can take it as a reflection of a bilateral romantic connection if you like. But you know in your heart of hearts this is Duke Keats and he means more than that.

His abiding passion in his songs is much cinematic and he channels movie inspiration just as much as he does musical.

The narrative is complex: a bit sort of David Lynch, with an apparent Los Angeles setting, possibly in a dystopian future (though he could simply be pessimistic about the actual present). Like the central couple in ‘1984', the protagonists may have been torn apart by heavy manners and the oppression of the state… Have a look at the single artwork: those swords piercing the heart are pretty military issue.

Because this is a person whose integrity matches his ability, Duke describes his sound as "sophisticated lo fi" which may have commendable amounts of modesty & self-deprecation within it, but that's far from the full picture. Much of it is presumably a nod towards his appreciation of music history and a desire to match the immediacy of recordings of heroes: other elements may include values such as a desire to erect no barriers between his music and his audience and a dislike of pretension. Mason of course has a very distinguished reputation for both working with "minimal bullshit" artists and with highly experimental ones who know the danger of tipping over into self-indulgence.

Thus we get an unusual mixture of virtuosity tempered by simplicity, innovation rooted in heritage and creativity reined in by taste. No wonder he is so regarded.

He aims to "seamlessly blend and reshape genres, crafting a sonic world uniquely his own" and he's got that down for sure.

I appreciate that some reviewers attempt to break down songs (I probably do this myself from time to time), but I wonder if deconstructing ones which artists had take great pains to blend together is fair on them?

There's a lot in there too: over eight minutes' worth of music so you get plenty of value for money and again it's not indulgence: he could see interestingly places to take the track, took it to them and didn't wish to deprive you of a moment. It would take a lot to convince me to not shy at something that long but my interest was held throughout & I kept wanting to know where it was going next.

In the heady gumbo which constitutes prime Duke Keats music, individuals pick out all sorts of tasty ingredients: even the artist himself includes a few in his public pronouncements. It's not wholly what he puts in however which produces the effects: it's how he uses them and how he surprises us with transitions. All I would say is that of the elements which surprised & delighted me with this one, it was a cheeky bit of old-time saloon piano played on a modern keyboard (and which eventually itself morphs into a very electronic part) which I can't get out of my head. And that's just one cherry in the pie.

I have literally no idea what the rest of his EP will sound like and that's part of the beauty of following Duke Keats' creativity. It'll be unexpected, challenging & stimulating for sure. Oh, and we'll all love it.

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It's been much more than a year (nearly two in fact) since our last Kenzie Webley review: it was in fact for her debut album ‘All of the Fallen Stars' which she made at 14 Records.

This went down really well & was the culmination of several years' worth of steadily rising esteem: Kenzie was very highly regarded on the local scene & many were looking to see her break out into a wider context.

Momentum is key is such dynamics and in a perfect world we'd have heard more from her in the interim, but this period coincided with her university studies and I'm sure you'll all join me in supporting her decision to dedicate her priorities in that direction for the well-defined time span in question. She is a person of many talents and balancing them all without acting to the detriment of any aspect of her activities must be critical.

In the current music business, the gap is in fact pretty insignificant compared with those between releases of many prominent professionals & now the wait is over with today's sharing of her new single "February".

I don't use the term "new" lightly: this is literally the most recent of her compositions & has blithely skipped over all the ones she has written since the album to force its way to the head of the queue. Such spontaneity and desire to "seize the day" says a lot about her relationship with it, as well as her capacity to communicate her enthusiasm as much by how she does something as what she does.

Consequently she made the song in such a way that she describes it more as a demo. Certainly it hasn't the layered instrumental arrangements of her studio recordings with Matt Waddell, but what it lacks in that aspect is more than made up for in terms of immediacy, intimacy & breaking down of barriers between her & her listeners.

There are increasingly numbers of artists releasing high quality bedroom recordings (Euan Blackman is another) presumably because they share Kenzie's desire not just for a swift turnaround (and a cheaper one) but for the artistic reason outlined above. In comparison to highly polished productions where the sheen can distract you from a moral & emotional deficit in the actual song, wearing one's heart on one's sleeve & demonstrating one's courage in expressing complex & delicate feelings is to me a huge positive.

Kenzie's trademark always has been shining a spotlight on "difficult" subjects: complex emotions, issues without obvious solutions and life situations with paradoxes. She explores these in her songs frequently and isn't afraid to air her own insecurities nor end them without neat, false resolutions.

"February" picks right back up in this respect where we left her & so in one song demonstrates that the pause was just that: in years to come we'll probably not notice it much in hindsight.

Unsurprisingly, Kenzie makes you unpack her deeper meanings for yourself: she feels, it would seem, that being handed the song on a plate will deprive you of the true qualities of engagement.

Though shaped in "heartbreaker" mode, beneath the surface the story is around issues of body shape, people's attitudes to this in themselves & others and consequent eating disorders when the attitudes in regard to oneself become negative.

And that's just the next couple of layers immediately below the surface. As I much prefer using the artist's own words where possible, here is Kenzie's own description of the trip into the heart of "February: "at first delving into getting sucked into unhealthy habits through the belief that it will make you happier and the types of negative things that your mind can convince you of but disguise as being 'good for you'. The song then progresses into realising the toxicity and the pain this way of being causes (much like an unhealthy relationship) but feeling trapped, and how the cycle continues even when you've been trying to get better".

Which certainly lets me off the hook of trying to fully capture the great deal she's trying to say in the song.

Kenzie suggests that she might re-record "February" at a later date but not only am I not too sure what needs adding to the song, I think a more polished studio version might lose some of the organic qualities of this one. I appreciate that at nearly five minutes long, a radio edit might be required, but the essential elements of what she is trying to say are encapsulated in the mood of the recording as well as the overt lyrics. This is a brooding performance in keeping with the season and the sentiments and her instinctive recording nails that. Could it be bettered?

At the moment, I gather from Kenzie that her motivation is to get her music out there again & metrics like airplay and streams do not concern her at this point. This is commendable & understandable, though the velocity involved in the creation & sharing of "February" suggests that making this intense & presumably personal track was a catalyst.

It's great to have her "back" and with such a great track: I certainly do not wish to pile unhelpful expectations upon her while she has other commitments, but I equally definitely welcome each & every new release.

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There are (I'm glad to say), many great original musicians around currently in our locale & one characteristic they share is producing a distinctive style which accurately reflects who they each are. No one could dispute I am sure that this applies to Septic and the Tanks whose long awaited debut album is out online today and which will appear in solid form on the 17th to coincide with their launch (at Just Dropped In Records in Coventry's Fargo Village supported by Stegosaurus Sex Party & Hedcheese (tickets are £5 from https://www.wegottickets.com/event/603161 or £7 on the door)). The band have worked as hard on the artwork as on the music & are keen to keep as much as possible under wraps until the launch as possible: so all I'll say at this point is how appreciative I am at the mention of "Hot Music Live" amongst the "thanks" credits.

As much as phenomenon as a band, the local music scene has taken them to their hearts. This in part is probably due to their quirky, distinctive style, but music history is full of examples of artists like that (especially in the punk realm) where affection for the eccentricities made up for shortfalls in musical quality. This certainly does not apply to Septic and the Tanks who have clearly worked very hard as a band both individually (bassist Sarah, drummer Sophie and banjo player Lucy are relative novices to their instruments in terms of years played) and in welding their playing together into a watertight and very powerful unified sound.

This general newness to being in a band (guitarist James is the one veteran) almost certainly contributes to their evident glee & enthusiasm on stage & record: which is a lot of their appeal. However that is merely the starting point I think: they bring a great deal more to the table, including love of music from long before they started playing, their personal values & a wit to put across both established ideas in new ways and even to invent ones (e.g. debut single "Dog's Birthday Party") which no other songwriter had previously conceived of.

Dualities, ironies, paradoxes and serendipities in fact abound once one has had the opportunity to listen to a collection of their songs one after another & I'll try to capture those for you.

We have reviewed "Dog's Birthday Party" and subsequent singles "Be My Feet", "Spiders" and "Seven" for you as standalones & I should hope that you are familiar with album closer "Get In Line" which has featured on ‘Hot Music Live presents Volume Ten'. However I let you down a bit with regards to "Degenerate Generous" which was featured on the Dammit Records compilation ‘Dam-Nation 238' and which I didn't review as it wasn't a direct release by the band as such, but which I now regret.

The other ones (which we've yet to review) you will get to hear when you acquire the eponymous album are "Hot!!", "Sky Snakes", "Cheeseboard Monologue" (a staple of their live sets as well as presumably their dinner tables) and "Continental Breakfast".

This is where the first dichotomy kicks in with relation to their complete body of work (and they do have other tracks like "Sympathy for the Cat" which have appeared in concert but not on record). Listening to their initial singles & reading their lighthearted social posts, one might be forgiven for focusing solely on their humour: well that's obviously a big part of who they are, but this is not a comedy band and as my review of "Seven" with its existential angst showed, they have a broader range and ‘Septic and the Tanks' does capture this well.

The next aspect which the broad picture review reveals is that musicality: one would forgive a band with so little experience for finding a simple template and sticking to it once they'd mastered it: at least for the moment. ‘Septic and the Tanks' shows however just how different the songs are. James does a lot of work not just riffing & providing the chordal structures but adding tasteful little licks & solos to give each song its own character (some have extended intros, others codas: there is no sense of "one size fits all").

I've written about how Sophie & Sarah anchor the band in other reviews & much of the profound thunder comes from their direction. However to leave it there is unfair on them as both are actual restless & imaginative players in their own right, weaving far more interesting parts than their limited experience would suggest to any observer with a limited faith & imagination. I personally wonder how much they might consider adding dub style into their songs in future: they certainly have the capability.

The instrumental wild card in this "DIY Banjo Punk Band" is of course the banjo and the band work this element into tracks in creative and different ways: often subversively: little riffs here & there, the odd bespoke solo (listen out for the intro to "Cheeseboard Monologue") and otherwise adding counterpoint parts to James'. Producer Jon Webb does a grand job with the whole sound, but getting the banjo right must be the hardest (as my recent live review stated, switching to a direct injection method has solved audibility issues onstage); the solo parts work fine but it must have taken plenty of mixing skills when the banjo was playing against the other stringed instruments.

One of my major reflective points in writing this was around Robin's vocals. There are probably what listeners will find hard not to focus on as concert goings do. The final element in understanding her method only fell into place after speaking with her.

Again, past reviews have highlighted her "I'm so sick of the subject I'm singing about that I'm having trouble not puking my guts up right here & now" which early singles showcased. "Seven" offered her ability to convey dep existential despair, yet on most tracks what is also there is a highly percussive style ("Get in Line" is a masterpiece) where, although the words are great, her singing goes beyond literal meaning as the sounds themselves are punched out to create new layers of communication: very much like Iggy Pop does. It also reminds me of how, for example, Lenny Bruce minutely calibrated his use of expletives in his act to finesse the rhythm he felt fitted his routine. Just like Robin does. I checked with her on this point & she confirmed that while being a singer in a band was new to her, in her teenage years she was a drummer: and suddenly it made sense. Part of her genius is to sing parts like a drummer would play them: and that, I want to be very clear about, is intended as praise. Beyond that her strength of voice & force of nature take her singing even further, which are other stories.

Interestingly, of the tracks I hadn't reviewed before, "Cheeseboard Monologue" and "Continental Breakfast" share not only a comestible theme but also turn the guns on bourgeois conventionality: imagine something along the lines of a twisted "Abigail's Party" with Beverley possessed by Pazuzu for the latter particularly. Pure evil is lurking in suburbia & Septic and the Tanks have identified and taken it on. With relish (there's that food reference again). It certainly sounds like a potential single too.

"Hot!!" is (I assume) something like a companion piece to "Seven" given that its plea for warmer weather sits well with the lament about the possibility of endless winter in the latter, though complementing it by approaching the subject from a different emotional angle: the pragmatic & prosaic rather than the metaphysical and so spat out vocals are appropriate this time rather than keening wailing.

"Sky Snakes" is so bizarre even by the standards of this band that it may test my powers of reviewing beyond their natural limits. The subject matter would seem to be mythical or apocryphal yet Robin throws herself into a song about these creatures with such commitment that I personally wouldn't dare to question their existence to her face. She credits them with such qualities as possessing eternal life & of saving the world and since the band back her up fully with one of their most extreme wall of noise/apocalyptic performances, they clearly are fully invested in them too. Quite remarkable. People will probably describe Robin as shamanistic and I'll second that.

"Degenerate Generous" is another track wherein the banjo is more prominent and as a popular live piece I really shouldn't have missed that earlier chance to tell you about it. In terms of that diversity of sound I mentioned at the beginning, this one goes to the trebly end of what they do & thrashes away rather than stamps heavily upon your senses. Variety doesn't half make albums that more easy to listen to. The duality is present here too: at one level possibly the most obviously political of their set, on the other hand evoking cold 6am feelings is pretty personal. Disgust as well as venom aimed at various targets cascades from Robin's mouth. No wonder Dammit Records rated it so much.

Amongst the many admirable qualities I detect in Septic and the Tanks is their careful development, setting themselves a series of attainable goals. Formation, instrument learning and band cohesion lie well in their rear-view mirror by now. Initial nerves over gigging must be disappearing as they are now positively in so much demand (look out for them if you are in the Weymouth area on March 30th. Their appeal is now much wider than just our local scene). I gather that recording the songs they had written was not something they necessarily had in mind when they wrote them, but getting them down for posterity had its appeal and so that came next, followed by singles, a video & now the album.

I don't know where they really want to go next, but I believe that they've banked up so much achievement & momentum by now that they've not only justified what they intended originally but built substantial audience expectations. I cannot see why more songs (and hence releases) should not flow out of them now they've got the hang of it and they are all articulate people with things which they need to say.

I hope a ‘Septic and the Tanks 2' will appear in time: I think the odds are shorter now and the band are kind people who'll want to assuage the demands of their growing public.

In the meantime, you have one of the most dynamic, witty, life affirming, confident and in many places downright terrifying debuts to enjoy. If you play it in your car, you'll look down at your speedo & notice you are well over the limit. I know: I was that driver.

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A few weeks after dedicating ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Eleven' to "Gus" Chambers, I'm able to review a release by one of his comrades in original Coventry punk band Squad: Sam Mcnulty (check out Sam's tribute to Gus in the album credits).

Gus moved onto other loud and transgressive types of music, culminating in Mantra Sect whose "Mercytron" is also on HMLP 11, but Sam's musical journey moved in a different direction, pretty much straight into classy indie pop-rock via another iconic local band The Giraffes (whose classic "Lazy Hazel Heart" can be found on HMLP 7) which then reduced to Two Giraffes  ("Clifftop Dreaming" is on HMLP 1). For the last few years he has been writing & performing as a solo act, latterly under the moniker of The Boy Who Invented Everything (check out "Angel of Anarchy" on HMLP 6).

Sam's constant collaborator through the Giraffes was the late Steve Edgson and he has kept the connection going as his current one is Steve's colleague from the Reluctant Stereotypes and the Pink Umbrellas (this piece is certainly namechecking some superb bands isn't it?), Paul Sampson (whom you'll also know from all his work with The Primitives amongst huge numbers of other artists).

Between them, I gather they've now got enough songs for three albums (or a triple) and in terms of what you hear, Sam wrote them & sings while production & all instruments (apart from the Sekine Strings) are courtesy of Paul.

First out of the gate from this impressive collection are three tracks which are on an EP.

The title track "Maybe With You" must be Sam's best known song (I suggested to him that it was his signature piece) as I can't remember ever hearing him not play it at any gig. Obviously very personal & dear to his heart, I already possess an earlier recording which was earmarked for a putative ‘From the Land of the Broken Hearts' album, but between them Sam & Paul demonstrate that relentless perfectionism which brings artists like them back to songs repeatedly to find the "right" way of presenting it on record.

"Coal Black Morning Light" and "Come In Out of the Rain" were not on the collection of earlier recordings I have, but I know them from live events (the latter as much as "Maybe With You") and I think it's fair to suggest that there has been a general process underway wherein hitherto guitar based songs have evolved into the sort of arrangements of which the likes of Burt Bacharach have been renowned.

Is this a bad thing? Of course not. For those of us used to other arrangements, some adjustment is in order but frankly if Sam is capable of assenting to the development of his compositions then we should too.

After my personal adjustment, I've actually come to the conclusion that maybe Sam & Paul are taking them home to where they belong. It's not particularly surprising that in their original incarnations, they veered towards both The Giraffes and Sam's beloved Bunnymen: in any case as Sam performed them solo on his guitar most of the time, being guitar based was the only show in town.

The fact is however that Sam's writing since the punk days owes more to traditional schools & approaches like the Gershwins, Cole Porter or indeed Burt Bacharach than it does to rock… Paul, with both his encyclopaedic knowledge of music & preference for the tasteful, presumably spotted that the best fit was this one.

We like celebrating diversity in the magazine and via "Hot Music Live Presents" and that means taking on prejudice in all its small minded forms. I think that assumptions that ways of working and playing become so established that they "stick" are unhelpful (music should be judged surely on merits rather than ANY preconceptions) and if you require three tracks which are hard empirical evidence of artists who have been highly regarded for fifty years & released music throughout that period yet can participate in a paradigm shift in relation not even to creating new tracks but n regarding existing composition, here it is.

It finally I think makes it clear to anyone that a writer known for kick-starting the local punk scene is really the area's top romantic.  However, to balance that, I must emphasise that for donkey's years, musicians, especially those coming from rock directions (The Beatles included) have been mighty wary of putting strings on records for fear of being seen as veering towards the schmaltzy and hence wiping out their credibility. I think the answer is that that's fair enough but if you work with the likes of Paul, the danger is prevented. (It's worth noting too that through his collaboration with Pandora (who supported him at his recent record launch at The Arches), the 'Who's Blue' project on their Love and Madness label, artists of the calibre of Dean MacDonald & Jack Blackman also worked with Paul and the Sekine Strings to similar effect).

Given that the songs have emerged like this at the end of a process, it's hardly surprising that amongst the tenderness there are lyrical nods to bands such as the Velvet Underground, early Roxy Music & Bowie and that the title track has also been likened to "..a modern take on the mod-driven '60's, with a distinct northern soul feel.." (which makes sense as that style also often melded rock instrumentation with tasteful strings).

Inevitably, given the developments, Sam has put together a band (it played at the event noted above) featuring Paul Quinn, Neil Ingram, Mark Russell and MamaJay to deliver a bigger sound onstage. Look out for more gigs from them & for releases of more of the songs which have been recorded.

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It seems high time that we say a little about the newish band Everything We Do since it features Joe Dolman whom we have written about so often.

Joe has teamed up with writer & producer Kaity Rae whom he met some six years ago while he was playing for The Adelaides and she was working with UK Country artists including Lisa Wright and The Shires. Becoming friends and collaborators, Kaity has co-writer credits on some of Joe's singles such as "Drag You Down", "Happy For You", "If You Were Mine" and "The Lucky One" as well as them writing together and playing live together for other artists.

Eventually they had built up a collection of collaborative compositions which didn't have specific artists in mind and in terms of pitching them to publishers they were not sure whether to record the demos with a female or male vocal: which would then possibly limit the potential end users. So they tried duetting and that led them to become Everything We Do.

First public fruits of their writing in the context of this new setting was November's release of their "Real Love To Roommates" single. At this point, honesty & a sense of critical integrity obliges me to raise my hands: I missed it folks & I am sorry to Joe, Kaity and you for not reviewing it. That's a huge shame because not only is a witty and very original song rooted firmly in experience but it's a great showcase not only for how their voices do work well together but for the methodology of their writing. They could I imagine have composed a song with a single lead line with them harmonising, but instead they took advantage of the opportunities of a duet to intertwine dual lines in a conversation: a shared & agreed line for sure but you get to hear both voices clearly and on a basis of equality…. I applaud them for that.

Joe tells me that they are hoping to get the follow-up out in March so that's something for you to look forwards to & I know that I'll be keen not to miss this next one.

On behalf of all you Joe Dolman fans, I put to him the obvious question of what Everything We Do means for his own burgeoning career: and don't be alarmed. Even if the new group is getting his priority for the time being as they get going, he has no intention of dropping his solo artistry: he is writing new material, uploading demos monthly on Patreon and is looking forward already to his 2024 Christmas show in Leamington

You can catch Everything We Do headline shows at:

 The Louisiana Bristol on April 23rd

The Lodge at the Deaf Institute, Manchester on April 24th

The Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham, on April 25th

and before that, they play their first gig in our area on March 28th at The Kasbah in Coventry in support of Lottery Winners.

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Among the various categories of concerts one can go to, there exists the one where the artist can not just slip one new song into their setlist without triggering blank stares, phone checks or toilet/bar breaks, but test out significant numbers of them.

I guess that the key criterion is trust: the artist has built an audience who can cope with the trauma of the previously unheard and who positively embrace what their favoured artist is up to now.

Ellie Gowers has got that fanbase & has long had it. Not only was her lunchtime showcase at Warwick Arts Centre (where she was Artist in Residence last year) of fresh material devoid of covers, it did not include any of her songs from before her ‘Dwelling by the Weir' album and lord knows there are plenty of fan favourites from then.

In fact, after the opening warm-up of "Ribbon Weaver", there wasn't a single piece which I'd ever heard before until she ended the set with her most current single "The Stars Are Ours" and then "Dwelling by the Weir" itself (though she did share "Woman of the Waterways" as an encore due to audience demand for "just one more please").

And the reaction was totally positive: her new songs actually fed a desire from those present for her next moves & believe me, when you hear them too, you'll be as moved & impressed as we all were. At this point I'd also say how great it was to see so many musicians whom we've featured in "Hot Music Live" including Lauren South, Keith Donnelly, Rebecca Mileham, Ali Hutton & Jacob Palmer.

After the passionate songs of the period before the album, which tended to be arranged for a full band sound & were mainly angry laments at how the world was going, I think some people were a bit thrown by ‘Dwelling by the Weir' with its reversion in style to a purer folk one.

I am surprised by this: lockdown circumstances dictated that Ellie would need to simplify her range of instruments for a while and limited for a time to Warwickshire, her project of writing about local subjects, lives & social history was a marvellously creative use of her time rather than sitting idle waiting for better times.

That period came & went and as Ellie herself said, those songs were the stories of other people: it was time to write about herself.

At the moment, these tracks are works in progress. Talking to her, she has yet to commit in her own mind over arrangements beyond the acoustic guitar versions she played today & even the song titles are not set in stone.

What is clear though is that she is exploring structures & forms including but far from limited to what might be called "folk". One (currently referred to as "I Could Be Right") is  a beautiful ballad on a very personal note and beyond being sung with that acoustic guitar, owed very little obvious to traditional forms.

Another ("Love in a Park on a Sunday Afternoon") was unlike anything else she has ever written and if she's not considering it as a possible single, then I hope she might. It really does have substantial crossover appeal. (I ran this theory past several others & they did seem to agree with me…..)

Some of the new material was inspired by her 2023 tour of Canada with The Magpies and one ("Sorrow" I think it's called) came from her experience running songwriting workshops at the Arts Centre with Lauren South and Steve "Stylusboy" Jones (she realised that if she was asking others to be honest in their writing, she needed to be a strong role model).

Songs like "A Moment" or "Testing the Water" (both Canadian inspirations) are quintessential Ellie Gowers: rooted in personal experience (the former is her telling herself that when she finds herself in a new place, loving it, that she need not feel guilty about not being homesick; the latter came from swimming on both sides of the cold Atlantic: off Scotland and then very appropriately off Nova Scotia), yet from those foundations fashioning songs which seem to be about so much more: piling abstract meanings upon the concrete.

While these new pieces are being tested in performance and honed before Ellie can decide how to fill the sound out (if it needs it), we get to hear her considerable guitar playing. How she manages the complexities while simultaneously singing so passionately is beyond me: pretty much every song required a new tuning and/or capo shift. Her fingers flew through patterns unknown to me and at one point she was casually dropping single note harmonics into her lines.

What was a bit different in terms of her stagecraft though was a stillness I've never seen from her before. I can only conclude that her trademark dancing as she plays comes from an instinctive reaction to songs she is wholly inside: newer songs may demand more of a conscious concentration before she has fully inhabited them: it was noticeable that she was back to her normal style for the concluding, better known tunes.

Some years ago I wrote in a review how grateful I was that Ellie didn't sound like anyone else: whatever her influences were, she synthesised them into a unique personal style. I'm pretty sure that at the time, I was referring specifically to her voice, but the same applies to her writing.

Some aspects of her craft are permanent: her values and ideals among them. More specific manifestations though evolve. Ellie cannot tread water: her songwriting moves constantly on, always true to who she is but changing as she explores herself and the world around her. This I think is a large part of her appeal to her audience & why they are as happy with unknown songs as her "greatest hits".

I don't know in what forms you may hear the songs we heard today: they probably will have developed by the time she records them, but don't bet against changes in her live performances in the meantime. What I can say is that you'll be moved by the sublimity of what you hear. I was.

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I can't imagine that any regular reader of my reviews could doubt my enthusiasm for the music of Septic and the Tanks, so after a lengthy fallow period in terms of getting to gigs, seeing them live at the "No Peace" punk event at Leamington's Fusilier (their debut gig in the town) yesterday  was particularly uplifting: though they seemed to have a similar effect on what was an excellent crowd especially for a late afternoon slot.

It was also pleasing to see a pub venue with a bespoke stage in a space with adequate sightlines: this is such a rarity these days.

This great band, having accelerated from zero in terms of existence, body of work and even instrumental skills as far as most of its member go in such a short time, are forever developing & getting better and better. Despite the relative lack of stage time together, this is a really tight unit: the hard work rehearsing is paying off and given also the relentless heaviness of their powerful sound (built on their rock solid rhythm section of Sophie Williams and Sarah Croom), the Black Sabbath T shirt worn by guitarist James Croom (the most experienced member) casts light on their approach and adds another presumed influence to their otherwise predominantly punk template.

Equally they are also picking up detailed nuances to enhance what they do: I'm pleased to report that Lucy Kenny's banjo, always the trickiest element to mix into such a loud sound, came through clearer than ever: direct injection is the key it would seem. So if you are an aspirant "DIY Banjo Punk" band yourself, take note.

After a run of delightful & applauded single releases (they have been getting great reviews from a range of sources), their eponymous debut album is nearly at its release point: you can catch it online from February 9th & then get the beautifully self illustrated hard copy from the 17th, which is also the date of the launch at Just Dropped In Records in Coventry's Fargo Village supported by another "Hot Music Live Presents" featured band in Stegosaurus Sex Party & Hedcheese (tickets are £5 from https://www.wegottickets.com/event/603161 or £7 on the door, though I imagine their selling out is likely).

Unsurprisingly, the album dominated their set, though fascinatingly, although they didn't play the whole album, and they played one track not on it, the eight ones from ‘Septic and the Tanks' were played in the exact order they appear on the album. A piece of conceptualism I've never before seen outside of bands deliberately playing classic albums in their original running order.

And that's another part of what you get with this band: a fierce intelligence to go with the passion and of course the humour.

In fact the more you explore their music, the more it's not just like finding new layers, but dualities & apparent paradoxes abound. Humour is the first thing one sees, but then as my review of their most recent single "Seven" indicated, there are other, profound sides to them, and they can do melancholia too. A very inexperienced band who play like they've been doing it for years. You have a highly charismatic frontperson to whom eyes are drawn while she sings yet is the epitome of nonchalance between numbers (in fact recent events drew me into a mental comparison: like the late Shane MacGowan, Robin Synnott gives everything to the performance but exhibits a wholly contrasting insouciance in the gaps: which just highlights the passion of the singing).

It's these elements of nuance & interest which mark out music worth paying close attention to (and in all honesty keeps the reviewer on their toes), but while watching yesterday, it occurred to me how lucky we are to have artists with the will, desire & ability to write original material at all. The view from "Hot Music Live" is in some ways distorted as we focus on those who create new songs more than cover artists, but the reality of course is that the majority of live music especially at a local level consists of covers: that's the economics of the business. This puts money not the pockets of many to whom I don't begrudge it in the slightest, but in the process a pretty restricted selection of songs is slowly being ground down by overplaying & over exposure, damaging them for me. We really need to encourage & support artists like Septic and the Tanks and all the others we write about who add to what is out there & freshen the scene up.

The album will certainly make a sizeable contribution to that & I can barely wait to describe it to you. Having proved to themselves that they can do it and subsequently made the same breakthrough in the eyes and ears of so many others, 2024 could be a stellar year for this band to kick on and upwards. Many people will be backing them to do so.

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Some good news just in from Brudez (hopefully you remember his "Cold Strange World" which we featured on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Six ‘).

In one of those rare positive moments in life, he has been invited to host his own evenings at Guapa (formerly Tig Oldbits) in Leamington's High Street.

In a world where for the most part, venue owners take the safe & soft option & book musicians to provide inoffensive backdrops to their customers' other pursuits, insisting on covers of songs they already know, in this case he has been given full artistic autonomy to devise his own programme, wholly of original music and definitely not an open mic or jam night. To start with I think the owner (Chris) needs saluting for his vision & commitment to original music, going where most don't venture. (Apparently he connected with Brudez by watching him busk & liked what he saw).

Brudez will therefore be offering purveyors of original music not just the opportunity to play before an audience tuned into such an approach in what is now a 120 capacity space, but he'll also be personally recording sets & working with local videographer Jake Moore to use the results to create videos for the artist's benefit.

Obviously this sounds a wonderful opportunity for local originals artists & I'm sure plenty of people reading this will be interested. There will be an events page up by the end of the week but I thought you'd like to hear about it as soon as I did.

The opening event is on February 29th featuring artists from music platform Fyah Kamp & will run on Thursdays at 1900 with a door charge of £4 to help cover the costs (they are also actively looking for sponsorship too).

I hope that this will be a most successful night: it certainly fills a huge need and Brudez deserves as much support as possible for his commitment, hard work & innovation.

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