Brass Hip Flask

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Brass Hip Flask live


It is always a challenge finding the right words for any review: trying to describe one medium in another is itself tricky & then if you review certain much admired artists regularly, then it can be hard finding new ways to capture, or try to capture, their essential qualities each time.

 That however becomes even more of an issue with artists like Brass Hip Flask whose essence is elusive. I don't particularly mean their style nor core qualities: as readers of my previous reviews will know, they have great integrity to the truth of authentic blues & don't swerve from that aspect of their mission.

However beyond that, the bare facts of the band change with every review: they don't necessarily sound & play the same nor does the live or studio lineup seem identical two reviews running.

I got excited on the 7th of this month by their latest single "Head Under Water" (which I was really pleased that I heard live for the first time at Leif in Leamington last evening) and that track featured core BHF members Stuart Mckissock and Callum Mckissock collaborating with Juan Novella of White Rat Cult. Previous single & live reviews mentioned drummer Anna Harris.

Now, Brass Hip Flask consist (or rather they did last night) of Stuart still playing guitar & singing and Callum but now with added George Asquith. However that is far from the whole story. Callum was playing bass last time I saw them live. Though I have also seen him play guitar. Last night he was on drums & George played bass, apart from one number when George played drums & Callum bass. Or the ones George played solo on acoustic guitar. Sorry if this is confusing but I am trying to keep it simple.

The next factor is that Callum will not be playing with the band again due to a most unfortunate health issue which I am sure everyone at "Hot Music Live" wishes him the best with, apart from the launch of the Brass Hip Flask album in April which will be his final live gig with them. I look forward to both reviewing the album & gig. After that, BHF will be George & Stuart and will have a substantial new repertoire of songs written by them, so expect more reviews detailing yet more changes & evolutions.

The gig itself was played at substantially lower a decibel rating than the band normally adopt and accordingly the setlist while remaining familiar (I'm told the fingers also hit the same notes as usual too) was different as they took the opportunity to adopt a very groove centred approach to excellent effect, bringing out new aspects of the songs & in many cases wringing even more emotion out of them by so doing. Several numbers were explored in greater detail through extended jam sections & with a few exceptions, the guitar sound was a rather Chris Isaak one rather than say the Ernie Isley effects loaded one of "Head Under Water".

I have noticed (but probably not noted in writing) a strength in the band of writing rather doom laden blues in the Nick Cave tradition & several of these were played very successfully, although interestingly a number of older BHF songs whose lyrics were as dark as the music have departed the set for the psychological well being of band members: in fact if I were attempting to describe a timeline of how the group's songs are evolving from their start into the new era, it might be represented by a lightening of lyrical tone but not necessarily musical.

George as noted played three of his own songs solo at the start of the second set: the first being a startling a cappella one with plenty of howls & boot stamping. It certainly caught my attention & I think traumatised a few others in the bar.... His bass playing certainly contributed much to the groove approach on the night & I was interested how his dynamic, low slung style incorporated a lot of Lemmy type chorded playing which gave a hard rock element: the two sitting together well.

I'm looking forward, as I say, to the culmination of "Callum era" Brass Hip Flask in April with his swansong & the release of the material he has written. Look out too, even in the interim, for new look BHF playing live as I think I can confidently predict surprises every time.

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"Head Under Water" by Brass Hip Flask x White Rat Cult


There have been more "blues revivals" than there are blues standards (possibly. I may exaggerate) so it's not a term I'd use lightly. Nevertheless, there are currently a few bands around who are obviously taking inspiration from the blues (and by this I refer to early, raw, pre-war authentic blues) and channelling their contemporary perspectives on life through the intense & powerful lens of this form. One such, covered regularly in "Hot Music Live" are Stone Bear, and another are Brass Hip Flask. I reviewed the latter's "The Mountain" in April ("Do you like your blues authentic & raw? I do") & as a measure of the regard in which they are held, they were also invited to play on the Main Stage at the 2019 Godiva Festival.

They are  shortly to release a new single which is a bit different to that last one & equally a bit special as it is a collaboration with White Rat Cult & was created in the latter's native Spain, namely "Head Under Water".

For this track, Brass Hip Flask's Stuart Mckissock plays his customary guitar & sings lead, Callum Mckissock is on drums & bass synth & Juan Novella performs on dobro & harmonica with all three providing the backing vocals.

The result is most impressive. The basis of the song remains within the afore mentioned early blues & so it doesn't lose the essence of the band's appeal nor integrity, yet it joins hands harmoniously with a much more contemporary styling: this sounds risky & potentially contrived in theory but they really pull it off to their great credit. Like all else I've heard from the band, it just comes across as natural & unforced. The icing on the cake may be that Stuart's guitar sound seems to meet the two chronologically separated eras in the stylings half way with a possible homage to what Ernie Isley played like in the early 1970s.

The song sets its stall out straight away, beginning in pure acoustic dobro style before the above more recent textures suddenly enter the picture & startlingly we are confronted with what might plausibly be Howlin' Wolf sitting in with the Isley Brothers. Later on we just as unexpectedly get a vocal interlude which is back to the "traditional" approach, sounding like a spiritual, sung on a work gang rather than in church.

The second paradox is that the beats are certainly very heavy & the lyrics downright ominous yet while in other hands it could easily have gone down a road signposted "Sabbath this way", these musicians have a lightness of touch which acts as an effective counterpoint.

I'm not sure how much in their own minds the musicians were taking risks with this approach: possibly it came straight out of the stimulus of the collaborative process & as I say, the end result is a real , cohesive song which sounds great, memorable & most importantly, true. Probably it was just their innate good taste & instincts at work which makes this work so very well.

To be honest, one might expect with a tradition this venerable that there was little left to say in the blues. Thank goodness songs like this prove that fear wrong.

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"The Mountain" by Brass Hip Flask


Do you like your blues authentic & raw? I do. That's why I've been enjoying the new single "The Mountain" (available on all the usual major platforms) by Coventry's Brass Hip Flask.  Comprising Stuart Mckissock on guitar & vocals with  Callum Mckissock playing bass guitar & vocals and  Anna Harris drumming, Brass Hip Flask seem to share an approach & philosophy with Stone Bear who have featured regularly in the magazine. It can be no coincidence that many of Brass Hip Flask were present at a recent Stone Bear gig I attended. Building a solid reputation through the time honoured means of playing a lot live, the band have been on many local bills, most notably with the similarly well regarded Duck Thieves & Shanghai Hostage at the latter's March EP launch at the Tin and last night's Cov Rocks event.

The single lives up to their self description of "beefy blues" with an attention grabbing & holding distorted guitar stopping & starting repeatedly over a solid rhythm section and echoing vocals above all that.

It reminded me in addition to its obvious roots in earlier blues to some of the west coast US blues bands of the late 60s: especially the guitar sound. That's intended as a compliment by the way.

I hope you enjoy the song as much as I am. There is little doubt I hope that you won't hear more of the band: their stock & profile are rising with increased media attention. I'm looking forward to also hearing a more stripped down set from them at the Magic Lantern on Saturday 26th October

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