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"Together At Christmas" by Chasing Deer

Review

As a Christmas treat for us, Chasing Deer have decided to re-release their 2015 festive single, "Together At Christmas".

In case you missed it half a dozen years ago, this ballad is a duet between the voices of Rob Hodkinson & special guest Sophia Vassalos.

Thankfully, rather than one of those desperately attempts at jollity bedecked with Yuletide clichés of music and lyrics (can you really imagine Chasing Deer doing that?), what we get is a plaintive piano centred song around the theme of separation and yearning for reunion: much more the band's trademark.

Naturally this sort of narrative could apply at any time of the year, but their point here is that at a time of year traditional for people getting together, being apart feels that much more raw and set against the winter weather, it can make it seem even worse. It's a heartbreaker & Sophie's vocals blend really well with what the band's fans will be very familiar with in terms of Rob's emotive & passionate singing: it's a shame they haven't done more like this, but of course it would be very difficult to include duets in a live set on a regular basis. As it is, "Together At Christmas" serves as an interesting contrast with the group's male led songs & illustrates the breadth of what they can create.

And I think, quite apart from the point about a COVID19 centred Christmas making this sort of story all too likely & hence the single particularly evocative this year, the value of re-releasing the single is that Chasing Deer have actually come a long way in the last six years. Without carrying out an in depth statistical research project, I suspect that the majority of their very many admirers will have come across the band since this single was first out, & therefore dipping into the back catalogue to introduce them to gems from earlier days is no bad thing.

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"Pray With Me" by Chasing Deer

Review

I have not had a chance to review a Chasing Deer release for you since "Scared" came out in December, so I'm pleased to do so now in reaction to the new single called "Pray With Me".

During that time, Rob Hodkinson has however certainly been very busy: I am not sure he has missed a single weekly livestream since the pandemic began and he has also taken the first steps back into live performance: the rock upon which the Chasing Deer reputation was built. In fact he is playing at the Botanist in Coventry as I write this.

I'm sometimes not quite sure anymore whether to use the singular or plural about the band since circumstances seem to have (for the time being at least) to have reduced them down to just Rob plus his guests for gigs and recordings: that is how "Scared" had to be created. However in this particular instance, the recording is a full band effort as it dates back to their Siena sojourn of 2019 when they recorded four tracks at Virus Recording Studio in Monteriggioni with Alessandro Guasconi and with Oliver Basi as their producer..

The story therefore of this single in some ways encapsulates the effect the pandemic has had on artists. This was intended as a very special session, to build on their rapidly growing profile and fanbase, to create some top notch tracks to release in 2020, kicking them into the next level of their career. That sensibly was put on hold (promotional activity opportunities being so limited in scope almost certainly would have reduced the impact of the singles) and it is greatly to Rob's credit that he has played much more than a holding game in keeping the name in our minds until the time to start sharing the fruits of the Sienna sessions has arrived.

The plan I understand is to start with whetting our appetites for their originals with a cover version they recorded at the same time: originally of course by Rick Astley and a song they were originally asked to play at a wedding on the grounds that the person requesting thought that it would suit Rob's voice. It turned out that it did suit them so much that they not only played it then but enjoyed it so much that it stayed in the set to the extent that it was frequently assumed to be one of their own compositions.

The key I think is to focus on the notion that "it would suit Rob's voice" and not that Rob sounds like Rick Astley as he really does not: this is a really great example of how great covers can be, yet often are not. I personally have never seen a lot of point in an artist attempting to imitate another (and let's face it, so many songs which are popular as covers were originally by artists with sufficiently distinctive a style that a pure impression is pretty much doomed to relative failure), but with a bit of imagination & the right choice of song (credit to whoever suggested it in the first place), good artists can take a song, appreciate its qualities and essence and pay a respectful tribute to the original while playing it in their own way: as Chasing Deer do here. Not only does Rob not feel obliged to do a Rick Astley impersonation, but the band go at the song in a pretty hard rocking way, certainly surpassing the template in terms of dynamics and power: credit too to Rosanne Duckworth who provides trumpet as she will on their next three singles. You can readily understand not only why they like performing it but why they opted to make a professional recording of it as such prestigious a session.

2020 was definitely planned to be a huge year for Chasing Deer: they had been going from strength to strength in terms of gig profile as well as popular and critical response to their material. That didn't happen, but I'm pleased to hear that they have decided the time is right to revert to the original plan. They simply could not have done anything more to maintain a profile in the intervening months and I'm not sure their fanbase will have been eroded over that time: if anything I'd like to think that there are many Chasing Deer fans desperate to see them play again (though of course reconvening as a full live band will require putting into action). They've been sitting on music which Rob described to me as the best they've ever done and starting gently with this cover to ease us in, they could take the music scene by storm in 2021 rather than 2020 by the gems they clearly have been holding back. Judging by the panache and performance commitment on "Pray With Me", there are some very special singles going to be coming our way over the next few months.

In terms of the artwork, you might like to compare it with that of the cover for "Beautiful Life" by Rick Astley. Can you see what they have done there?

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"Scared" by Chasing Deer

Review

Unsurprisingly, I've not had the chance to review a new Chasing Deer release since their "Bad Decisions" way back in February. Fortunately I can address this deficiency right now as "Scared" comes out on 2nd December (on W5 Records).

The current perennial question for artists must be "how do you record new material" especially if you are a multi member band. In this case, the issue for Chasing Deer is somewhat simplified as the band have experienced some lineup contractions and consists now in the main of keyboard player/vocalist & band founder Rob Hodkinson with the support of Rory Evans on guitar: this presumably aided the creation of "Scared" and indeed I was heartened to hear that  they have been  playing live on the streets of Britain for 120 consecutive days  (if you read to the end of my review of "Bad Decisions", you'll have noticed the gigs they had lined up for a national tour named after that single: it must have been a low blow to have lost all those gigs & of course Chasing Deer have built their very strong identity by their hard work on the live circuit leading to several very prestigious appearances: let's hope they can pick that momentum back up swiftly in the new year). However the good news is that even if you can't catch one of their daily outside performances, Rob has been offering an "On Demand" weekly livestream on a Wednesday evening throughout the emergency on their Facebook page.

The new song (recorded at Tileyard Studios & produced by Paul Whalley) is interesting in that it neatly combines precisely the sort of passionate & emotionally charged approach which the band have always brought to their music with a specific pandemic inspired focus: in fact in hindsight one might almost say that the band's creativity was ideally made for this moment & it not only applies perfectly but also sums up their values concisely in three minutes & fifty seconds. Written by Rob with Nick Bradley, the key lyric is "everybody gets a little bit scared": and compassion & empathy are what they are urging upon us: realise how others are struggling as you may be & reach out to them…..

This is one of the gentlest of their songs, stripped right back to make the message the centre of the song & exposing the emotional heart. Led by Rory's warm acoustic playing, Rob deploys his characteristic powerful vocals, but in a very restrained & frankly vulnerable way, not reaching for some of the levels he deploys on their more dance orientated numbers & this tasteful approach certainly helps enhance the sincerity of what he is trying to say to us.

No Chasing Deer song is ever less than perfectly crafted (and all work really well live: I gather their current informal performances have featured "Scared" & it's going down really nicely), yet even so, I think this one will continue to have a special place in their repertoire once we hopefully have moved on from current circumstances. COVID19 has been appalling on so many levels, yet paradoxically, as with other tragedies throughout history, it is starting to inspire excellent art in response. This is one really strong example.

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"Bad Decisions" by Chasing Deer

Review

It's really good to return to "Hot Music Live" regulars Chasing Deer after a while. Most artists tend to be covered in the magazine by a particular writer with an interest in their work but this band have been featured by a range of contributors which must mirror several things: the breadth of their appeal & the general respect for their craft & approach among them.

Many acts we cover work extremely hard to develop & share their skills, even though many have significant other commitments which can limit their musical activity often for quite long times. However it is difficult to think of too many who work harder than Chasing Deer at developing material, playing live & building their audiences.  To be honest it's sometimes difficult keeping up with their many activities on stage & on the radio in particular, but overall it has long been clear that this is a band moving steadily upwards, gaining new fans all the time and all without losing the slightest connection with those they have previously made. And let's not forget their support for our "Hot Music Live Presents" project: check out their "Colour My World" on Volume One.

Relatively recent highlights have included playing venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Houses of Parliament, the NME Awards and performing before President Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya.  They wrote the Pride in London single "Unstoppable", which they launched to 10,000 people in Trafalgar Square and which was chosen for the 'Out Now' Spotify playlist and broadcast multiple times on the BBC.  As for their unique role in promoting Sign Language accessibility in music, I refer you to my thoughts as expressed in my 2018 review of their album ‘Hands On'....

Which brings me fairly neatly onto today's single release of "Bad Decisions"

Chasing Deer are nothing if not bubbling with a positive (high) energy onstage & on record which sits so well with all aspects of their career: making sure people really enjoy themselves at their gigs yet amid all the exuberance, writing about & supporting very serious issues of equality, diversity & access. Their songs pretty much reflect that, or have so to date since "Bad Decisions" while no sense whatsoever being a negative song, furthers their palette of emotions & takes their writing to a new level with its exploration of darker themes than previously visited: issues which need overcoming if the better world they advocate is to come to pass.

They sing here of regret of actions towards another, of guilt & of taking ownership of behaviours. Absolution is requested but with the understanding that the wronged party is under no obligation to provide it. Redemption is deeply desired but without a sense of entitlement & some compelling imagery to help get the message across.

Musically, as if to echo this step change, the sound is unlike anything I can recall from the band previously. Rob's vocals are as passionate as ever, perhaps even more intense than before, and later they are intensified still further with massed backing. However the instrumentation starts sparse (appropriately) and, with their usual attention to detail, again the pressure is increased through layering & volume, and is the more powerful for it: a good coupling of sound & meaning. This ramping up drops & builds to reinforce tension.

I've never heard Chasing Deer create a song in the studio which didn't work really well live: however this one is a bit different: most of their songs prompt dancing really readily: I think "Bad Decisions" is much more of a lighter in the air track.

I am not aware of any actual bad decisions Chasing Deer have made: they seem to have a very clear set of short term & longer period goals and this one for sure propels them onto the next stage of their career.

They are currently on their national "Bad Decisions" tour and the next few legs include (spot the legendary venues from music history among them):

Drapers Arms, London on February 29th

The Bull on Bell Street, Henley On Thames on March 13th

Fizzy Moon, Leamington on March 27th

Bar 21, Manchester on April 26th

The Garage, Glasgow on April 30th

The Jacaranda, Liverpool on May 2nd

Hope and Anchor, London on May 7th

 

Check out more dates at: https://www.chasingdeer-official.com

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"Hands On" by Chasing Deer

Review

I do hope that you'll remember about two years ago Paul Englefield interviewed one of the most exciting local bands from our area Chasing Deer on these pages? At that time, the band, while still very much retaining their Warwickshire roots & identity, were following their dream & building a new additional base in West London & anticipating tours to Europe, the U.S. and Japan.

Well in the intervening months, they have continued to play to Warwickshire, London & international audiences gaining new fans. They have also, after several very well received singles and EPs, just released their debut full album, "Hands On", a review of which you are currently reading.

The hard work they have put in is definitely paying off with this set. After the hundreds of hours honing their techniques playing & busking a wide range of styles of covers, there seems no genre they do not have the confidence to explore in their own original material. What amazes me however is how they can deliver such variety with just three musicians (Rob (on vocals & keyboard), Peter (guitar) and drummer Adam). Rob described the styles on the record to me as containing "a 60s Beatles style track, an 80s ballad, an 80s pop song, a rock blues anthem, a 70s rock sing along, a 90s indie song, a Fleetwood Mac style song, a modern muse style electric track and a modern pop heavy bass song": which is quite some spectrum of sounds. I shan't spoil the fun for you of matching description to track name: you'll need to listen yourselves & have that pleasure.  In fact the Beatles reference is key: they remain one of the few bands to incorporate such a wide range of influences that a whole new identity emerges.

At this point it might also be worth remembering a central quotation from the band talking with Paul in 2016:  "We love what we do. We take pride in being well rehearsed and tight, harnessing the feeling that develops from working and writing as an acoustic trio."

Before moving onto the specific songs, it might be worth mentioning another notable feature of "Hands On" (and the singles) which is that the title of each song is rendered in British Sign Language and extended to the album cover which shows crossed fingers in a "universal sign of hope and luck".

The album includes remastered versions of every individual 2018 Chasing Deer single release ("Out of Time", "Calling for You", "Silence Hurts", "Against the Night", "Colour My World", "Placebo", "Another World", "Miracle", "Perfect Storm" & "Take Me Up A Level"  plus a couple more tracks) so it certainly is, as the band say "a representation of Chasing Deer at this very moment in time, both as people, and a group of musicians who are passionate about creating music. We hope it will give an insight into what Chasing Deer is about and the direction we are heading in for the future."

It is also a fantastic calling card for bringing new listeners up to speed with the band & to treat longer term fans.

Replete with be beautifully crafted songs, played with consummate musicianship, there is something here for most everybody, not least lovers of diversity. I had to select one track for a particular exercise & I found it impossible to identify a "favourite": I could have made a case for all of them. What I would say is that despite Rob's identification (from the band's perspective) of influencing starting points, none of the tracks actually sounds precisely like its template: Chasing Deer have long since evolved beyond pastiche & emulation.

 

It gives this writer a glow of pride to see another local act flying the flag for the high quality of music from Coventry & Warwickshire: Chasing Deer are fantastic ambassadors for us.

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We review Chasing Deer's new EP Moving On

Us lucky, lucky people at Hot Music Live got to check out the new Moving On EP from Chasing Deer.
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Hot Music Live talks to Chasing Deer

With a new home in West London and plans for tours in Europe, the U.
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Sharp Dressed Men

Well groomed and matching wall of sound Rob (keys & vocals), Alex (lead), Chris (acoustic) and Adam (cajon & percussion) collectively 4 parts of ...
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