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Ian Todd supported by Paradise of the Titans

Review

Sadly, my live reviews for 2020 & 2021 have been disproportionately outnumbered by my reviews of releases (and let's not forget the last word of this magazine's title), but I'm pleased that of those I've managed, they have all been of the very highest quality, which is good to report to you but also very pleasant if not therapeutic for me to experience.

The latest one was last night at the Tin (and my repeated thanks to the venue for ensuring such a safe space for live music in these times) and featured Ian Todd supported by Paradise of the Titans.

The latter act was previously unknown to me so I thank Ian for introducing me to them.  I have always enjoyed checking out support acts & discovered so many artists who became personal favourites that way: I've never understood those audiences who only enter the auditorium for the headline act. I say "them" as it seemed the appropriate pronoun for what appears to be a band, but really it's just singer/songwriter Alice Weston and I was hooked. This is an artist whose work I need to explore & whom I'd be very happy to see again.

I guess if you had to sum up the night in one word, you might go for the "immersive" tag which Ian uses of his own work, or perhaps "transfixed" as that's what I, and what was a very substantial audience, the most I've seen at the venue for a long time, were. Both acts attracted full & rapt attention and again it says much about the venue that they can provide an environment where artists can perform without distraction and the audience that they gave their full attention & respect all night.

Alice probably gets a lot of space analogy reviews: her music & stage dress certainly steer one that way, though as one of her significant songs is called "Mermaid", there is a big aquatic trip going on, so maybe the best description is non terrestrial. At any rate, Alice takes you on voyages to strange new lands with a magical stage act involving synth-pop sounds (plus a real floor tom), ethereal (and treated) vocals and a great deal of interpretative movement á la Kate Bush. It looked as great as it sounded & she has a charismatic presence on stage which no doubt contributed to the concentration of those watching. You could well imagine this act going down well in all sorts of sympathetic spaces.. I recommend you check out Paradise of the Titans at your earliest opportunity.

In terms of Ian's set, it was the inaugural live performance of his latest album 'Seven Signs of a Soul' (reviewed in this magazine in August: check it out at http://www.hotmusiclive.co.uk/article?article=13046)

The idea of playing whole albums in sequence is one which seems to be quietly growing, though I haven't seen too many myself (I think the last one I attended was when Buzzcocks played ‘Another Music in a Different Kitchen' and  ‘Love Bites' back to back in what the internet suggests was 2010), but with thematic collections such as this one which concerns itself (at least on one level) with signs of life, it works nicely.

Although the gig was not particularly branded as a launch, given the time it's been out, it is the only time so far it's had its songs performed, and given the stellar lineup Ian assembled to play it (John Parker on double bass,  Kirk Hastings on saxophone (neither strangers to this magazine) & Matt Rheeston playing drums), the possibility of further gigs soon must be low: all of which of course adds to the special feel of the evening.  It also was an opportunity for Ian not only to sell a wondrous range of merch, including customised phone cases & his original artwork, but the night was designed to help crowdfund a vinyl edition.

Excitingly too, Matt Cotterill was present to record the evening, so the possibilities from the products of that exercise are tantalising.

A recurring problem I have with describing live performances as transcending their recorded form is that I always fear that this implies that the latter might in some way be of a lower quality… so once again I find myself emphasising that the album was great (I told you so at the time) but this performance took the songs into new & spectacular places. The band were really tight and clearly enjoying themselves tremendously (they can't have had much rehearsal time which makes t even more outstanding) and the interpretations of the tracks were to me revelatory. Fortunately I was able to run past fellow audience member & merch vendor Sophie Hadlum (who of course plays in Shanghai Hostage with Ian) my perception that tempos were subtly different from the originals and she seemed to support that. Faster passages bounced & sizzled and slower movements were more drawn out, making absolute added value of space.

Ian tends to self describe this music as "immersive experimental art-rock and Neo-psychedelia" and I respect that. However, as all my reviews of his work have said, this does not equate to "difficult to listen to avant garde". This is catchy, accessible music, albeit with unorthodox and imaginative elements (John was telling me how much he had enjoyed responding as a musician to the challenges of unusual song structures).

In my album review, I suggested some similarities between album opener "Movement Towards Motion" and the Velvet Underground's "The Black Angel's Death Song", a comparison I probably still stand by, though not one I would use in relation to what I heard last night. Perhaps understandably, given the band, the characteristic sound was much more towards jazz and this was another aspect of how the gig allowed the music to be reinterpreted anew.

The other tracks were of course (assuming you have the album or read my review) the two taster singles "Don't Forget To Breathe"  and "What Goes In Is What Goes Out" plus "Sense of Sensitivity", "Grow", "Made Yourself To Be" and "Feed the Good Self", the last of which I think would make a really strong single.

If all this praise makes you want to see Ian & his band live yourselves, don't worry. He assures me that this is not a one off performance & that they hope to play together for you in the new year.

The deeper themes of "Seven Signs of a Soul" include "mental wellbeing, stoicism and anti-consumerism' and I think I'm confident that the experience of the album contributed to the first of these for those present: which is also a good opportunity to credit Ian Whitehead for the excellent sound all evening which helped such a process & facilitated the immersive aspect.

Many thanks too to Emilié Cotterill of Transluceo photography whose many great shots of Ian can be found on his Facebook page for her permission to use some of her stunning photos from last night for this review: they do the evening & music  justice  in ways anything I might have tried could not have.

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‘Seven Signs of a Soul' by Ian Todd

Review

As prophesised in our recent reviews of his singles "Don't Forget To Breathe" (in June) and "What Goes In Is What Goes Out" (last month), the third solo album by Ian Todd, namely ‘Seven Signs of a Soul' is released today: following its predecessors 'Groaning Up' and 'Bohemian Hymns'.

In addition to those two tracks, the set contains another five which you will not have heard previously: "Movement Towards Motion", "Sense of Sensitivity", "Grow", "Made Yourself To Be" and "Feed the Good Self".Written by Ian, he also produced the album and performs the vocals plus most of the instruments, save the saxophone which is courtesy of Kirk Hastings (check out Kirk on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Three' with his own "Withering") and double bass which is played  by John Parker (most recently on HMLP with The Mechanicals Band & their adaption of Phillip Larkin's "Trees" on Volume Five).

You might perhaps, if that is your inclination, think of the album as conceptual inasmuch as the seven tracks each relate to a sign of life (mostly overtly referenced in the titles), though these are merely the surface concerns of the matryoshka songs, the unpacking of which reveals further and deeper engagements with both abstract & introspective topics such mental health, stoicism and consumerism.

However as I have said in reviews of Ian's work before, high concepts and a general refusal to sit inside someone else's arbitrary box of expectations does not, by any means necessarily equate to a lack of accessibility. There is on every track an open musicality: Ian's mission statement remains the creation of "immersive songs to soothe the soul" and unless the listener is admitted to his sonic world in the first place and not discouraged at its borders then it's hard to see how that immersion can take place. On the other hand please don't take this as an indication that what you get is not so some degree challenging nor that it could be middle of the musical road. There is a great wit and imagination in the composition and virtuosity in the performance with a myriad of details to eventually pick out & enjoy throughout the collection.

It's probably preferable, for your ease of reading, that I steer you towards my previous reviews of the two tracks already released: I stand by my individual comments upon them as stand alone items, though I must say that they acquire an extra layer of meaning when heard in context & sequence.

Of the new five, album opener "Movement Towards Motion" is a bold yet decisive choice. A long song, it has the time to be many things during its duration, but starting a collection with something vaguely redolent at times of the Velvet Underground at their most avant garde (think maybe of "The Black Angel's Death Song") conveys much trust in your audience: though this curious track does oscillate back & forth between such a sound and more melodic elements. It made me think of movement across the sea: a voyage of differing experiences, some queasy and generating mal de mer, other moments more tranquil in nature……

This song is followed by "Don't Forget To Breathe" (qv) and subsequently "Sense of Sensitivity":  a track which lives up to its title. Initially agonisingly slow (you occasionally wonder if the next note is coming or not), it builds into a cool, spacey jazz vibe, sustained by one of John's most dreamy bass parts augmented periodically by stabbing guitar chords, pattering percussion and classy little sax interventions, not necessarily when you most expect them. Among a set of songs which reward listening beyond often "difficult" passages, this is one which definitely can capture more broad attention.

"Grow" follows: by now something of a pattern for this album is emerging. Again the song begins in icy tranquillity with instruments managing to add as much as possible through the least playing possible. If the first song brought to my mind possible parallels with the Velvet Underground's first two albums, "Grow" maybe has its VU reference in the limpid beauties of their third one. However, the start is not the whole song and this one suddenly explodes into something pretty groovy & driving in its middle section before relaxing back into where it came from.

"Made Yourself To Be" varies the offering, beginning straight away with an upbeat approach: almost marching band in the drumming particularly. This makes sense given the lyric and sentiment and is another of the most radio friendly on the album, though I hope that most first time listeners are as taken by surprise as I was by the sudden interpolation of electronica part way through an otherwise fairly jazzy song (albeit one where the sax sound is processed) and towards the conclusion, we get instrumental squalling of quite a disturbing form to keep us safe from complacency.

After "What Goes in is What Goes Out" the album concludes with "Feed The Good Self", a gentle summation of the whole and potentially the collection's very own synecdoche. For let's not lose sight of the overall theme as we look at the components. Ian is urging many different but complementary modes of living our lives better upon us. It's a sort of musical handbook for improving our physical, mental and emotional selves & I thank him for this. This one is a cool jazz style again, but with the trademark insertions of the unexpected.

So is ‘Seven Signs of a Soul' Art? Well yes it is. Ian Todd is an artist and works across several media including very creative collaborations with others. Check out the sleeve art on the singles & album (the latter being originally one of Ian's own pieces which Emilié Cotterill of Transluceo, who takes all his promo pictures, then transformed into what you see next to these words) plus the recently released video for "Don't Forget To Breathe" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrW7sIzDvpY)  courtesy of Diana Stefanescu  (Dikira Art)

Yet it is also a sort of self help manual in two ways: you can listen to what Ian's singing & follow his advice and you can just immerse yourself in the album and allow it to act as an aid to mindfulness. It works: I've tried it. You can almost certainly dance to it too, though I've not tried that myself. I'll leave that to you.

These are exciting times to be Ian Todd: not only is he letting us hear this new solo album but the band he is best known for being a member of, Shanghai Hostage, are re-emerging onto the live scene again (check them out "Beneath The Trees' on Saturday 28th August in Naul's Mill Park, Coventry) , he has joined another of the hottest local bands around, The Upsiders, on a formal basis & as for his Sacred Toffee project with fellow Hostage Sophie Hadlum, well you'll just have to await their debut in this magazine.

If you'd like to hear Ian's own perspective on the songs on the album, he has made this video to that end for us:  https://www.facebook.com/mriantodd/videos/387545022904035

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"What Goes in is What Goes Out" by Ian Todd

Review

The time is rapidly approaching (16th of July to be precise) when "What Goes in is What Goes Out", the sophomore single from his ‘Seven Signs of a Soul' album  (itself out on 6th August) by Ian Todd is released.

Following the really well received "Don't Forget To Breathe" from last month, it shares in some ways the theme of cognition but in this case moves from the idea of mindfulness to a rumination upon the processing of information & imagery and hence is concerned mainly with tracking down the roots of creative inspiration. To that end, we might well wonder whether Ian is carrying out this particular exercise on his own behalf initially & then sharing the results of his introspection with his audience.

"Immersive songs to soothe the soul" is his mission statement and this sort of contemplative experience is pretty central to what he is trying to enable with his music. To this end, he tries hard to distinguish his solo music from his work with say Shanghai Hostage where the accent is on provoking dancing and to not have it categorised as "pop". However, as my review for the earlier single pointed out, Ian has innate popular sensibilities which he cannot eradicate from his creation & these are present in "What Goes in is What Goes Out". Indeed when I first heard the introductory chord, I was struck by its similarity to "The Kids Are Alright". Admittedly it's just one chord & the rest of the song shares no great kinship with The Who, yet it's interesting how he still reaches out to grab our attention in a way which pulls us into the song.

Thankfully, once he's hooked us, he keeps us within it too. The song switches into a vibe not wholly unlike The Doors at their most laid back, with an incessant shuffling beat punctuated by an almost bewildering number of instrumental interventions: I'm guessing originating on guitars & various percussional items. The lyrics are a good match in terms of quality & this really is a song you need to play & replay in order to appreciate all the details and derive the full meaning of the words. It's a handy thing to be able to write a song which makes you want to go back and rerun it. Listen out too for the contributions of John Parker (double bass) and Kirk Hastings (saxophone) both of whom also played on the previous single & like Ian are "Hot Music Live Presents" alumni.

Please do not consider Ian's solo work as some sort of avant garde alternative to his more mainstream collaborative efforts: this is simply not true (though possibly "Hour Glass" might be of that ilk). If you enjoyed his "Citizens of Nowhere" on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Three‘ then I think you'd be at that realisation already. However, although I said last time that "Don't Forget To Breathe" was "accessible and memorable", I feel that "What Goes in is What Goes Out" is even more so: there is no barriers that I can think of as to why this cannot gain appropriate & broad airplay nor to move on from there to capture some part of the public imagination. It makes you tap your toes & think at the same time.

Since we are still a fortnight away from release, I'm more aware of the music than all the accompanying visuals, but judging from the "Don't Forget To Breathe" experience, I'm anticipating similar input from the likes of Diana Stefanescu aka Dikira Art & Emilié Cotterill of Transluceo.

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"Don't Forget To Breathe" by Ian Todd

Review

Having reviewed "Hour Glass" (an hour long ambient piece ) by Ian Todd last summer, I am now pleased to say that I can return to his work again, this time to tell you about a shorter release, "Don't Forget To Breathe" which comes out on 4th June (you can presave it via this link: https://ditto.fm/dont-forget-to-breathe)

The single is a first glimpse of his third solo album ‘Seven Signs of a Soul' (out on 6th August) which will also be reviewed in this magazine in due course, but in a conceptual manner is not totally dissimilar to "Hour Glass" as the themes of good mental health and the benefits of mindfulness underpin this exhortation for inhalation: a reminder to take pause, slow down, draw a deep breath of air and take "….a moment to appreciate life, everything and the universe in amongst the day in/day out tasks of living"I rather assumed, especially given its subject matter and the current circumstances, that the song would be a child of the pandemic and so would its parent album. But apparently this is not entirely the case. Ian advises me that although the recordings are of recent date, the ideas have deeper roots, earlier than his previous album (‘Bohemian Hymns') and in some cases even than his debut (‘Groaning Up'). He keeps a lot of ideas (not just for music but also for prose, films etc) in his head and deploys them when he feels a potential audience might be ready for them.

The original plan for the new album to have everyone together in the studio fairly obviously has been postponed until the next one as clearly that was not yet an option, so Ian plays most of the instruments himself apart from marvellous inputs from two fellow "Hot Music Live Presents" artists, Kirk Hastings on saxophones & John Parker (of Nizlopi, Ward ‘n' Parker, The Mechanicals etc etc) on double bass. A word too for Tom Gittins of Monochrome Productions who mastered the album.

In his own words "..I feel the music I'm making now is far more chilled out. This is most likely because I've had more time to be true to myself during the pandemic. I've thrown out the idea of a 3min pop song, I'm letting the music breathe. Generally speaking I want this music to chill everyone out. It's meditative music to contemplate life, the universe and everything. Arguably a stark contrast to ‘Bohemian Hymns' but more in keeping with …."Hour Glass"……I imagine people can enjoy this album with a pair of headphones on, or maybe while unwinding with a hot drink".

The track certainly exceeds the three minute mark I'll grant you that but I think I'd not completely abandon the "pop" tag: there is a sense of the accessible and memorable in "Don't Forget To Breathe" which ensures that people will engage with it & play it more than once. Too many chill out tracks can be self indulgent but this one is tautly constructed whatever the final vibe may feel like. John & Kirk's classy contributions raise it too above the homogenous soup which again characterises some of this genre, but most of all I applaud Ian's own guitar riffing & drumming which so strongly contribute to the quality of the track as a genuine "song" and frankly are more prominent & incisive than again is too often the case in the format. It's a most strange track with constant shifts in sound: one minute it's as angular as say a Talking Heads track & then via a Pink Floyd like bridge we end up in a jazz cellar. "Avant garde" can have a multitude of implications but this isn't pretentious nor inaccessible: what it is is unusual, thought provoking & something definitely external to the box. You may well be following Ian's guidance and using headphones and/or a cup of tea, but you certainly will not be disengaging your critical nor emotional faculties as you listen to this.

While in touch with Ian regarding "Don't Forget To Breathe", I took advantage of the opportunity to pick his brain about the local music scene as it is during these unusual times so I could share his wisdom & insights with you.

I particularly wanted to explore with him the difference between solo work of his like this and the work he does with bands, most notable Shanghai Hostage: so here is his distinction. "The solo works are my baby, a piece of me. They are like diary entries for me but I hope others get enjoyment out of them too. The purpose is quite different to Shanghai Hostage, the depping I've recently started doing with The Upsiders or quite a lot of the clients I mix for. A lot of these projects want to get people up and dancing and having a good time, I want to get people relaxed and immersed. These songs are for people who feel the need to belong somewhere".

In my personal need to conceive what our local music scene will look and feel like as the pandemic relaxes its icy grip on its throat, I find it difficult to make predictions I feel very confident about, so as I have been recently with other people whose perceptions I respect, I posed the question to Ian, whose take on it was thus: "I've heard a few people say it will be like the roaring 20s. I very much hope so. I look forward to taking it all in, the sights, sounds and smells, the fashions and trends, the fascinating things people do on a stage. I look forward to performing this album live too. I've definitely missed paying a visit to a local venue to see someone put on a show, being blown over, until that happens, it won't feel like the pandemic is over".

Finally, as again I often do in order to broaden the sweep of my own radar of local music as well as offering the readers of the magazine fresh insights, I asked Ian who we might keep an eye and ear open for. He cited quite a lot I'm pleased to say of artists whose work is currently exciting him including Shanghai Hostage colleague Sophie Hadlum, (whose piano compositions he likens to those of Ludovico Einaudi),  Taylor-Louise Thomas  (.."a great voice! Great song writer, her new stuff is going in a different direction too), The Upsiders who ".. are taking a funkier direction and lately have been acquiring my 6-string services"), Ward 'n' Parker (whose excellent podcast he praises), Solars from Birmingham, "..if you like post-rock, you'll love them. They've just brought out their new EP ‘ Negative Apex'.." and he also praises their "Reflections"), Batsch, Wolf Suit, The Mourning Suns (also from Birmingham  who  have just released an album called ‘Can't Seem to Move On'), Luke "Mintakaa" Weaver,  Nicholas Peters ("…the Shamanic ambient Magician, I recommend ‘Golden Sunset, Blue Rain'), jazz composer Thomas Haines "..who has also recently started some impressionist piano compositions under the name Tomas Wilhelm.."), Robin Plays Chords and "I've just heard Ace Ambrose's Coming of Age which is the coolest 80s synth pop track".


The second single from the album, namely  "What Goes In is What Goes Out" is released on the second of July and do check out also the video for "Don't Forget To Breathe"  with hand painted stop motion  input from Diana Stefanescu aka Dikira Art (who was also involved in  the "Hour Glass" video). Ian also expresses his appreciation to Emilié Cotterill of Transluceo for the photos & artwork

You can find out more about Ian & the many aspects of his artistry via these links:

www.mriantodd.com

www.instagram.com/mriantodd/

www.facebook.com/mriantodd  

www.youtube.com/c/MrIantodd

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"Hour Glass" by Ian Todd

Review

Keen readers of this magazine will recollect the February feature  of Ian Todd & even keener ones will have spotted his name amongst the details of reviews of releases by Shanghai Hostage, of which band he is a member. You can also find their track "Nomad" on "Hot Music Live Presents Volume Two" & a solo track of Ian's, "Citizens of Nowhere" on Volume Three.

This prolific musician has not been letting lockdown clip his wings and apart from some live streamed performances (to be found on the Facebook pages of "Hot Music Live Presents" and the Coventry Culture Show), he's been creating his latest solo album, being one of those artists fortunate enough to be trapped with recording equipment, being able to use it & not being overly reliant on fellow musicians (though of course Shanghai Hostage recordings have been less easy to do, with the magnificent exception of May's "Mr Motivator" single, created with the participation of just Ian & fellow internee Sophie Hadlum).

These sessions are now on hold awaiting the overdubs by others he needs to finish the album, so he has created an hour long ambient piece, entitled, appropriately "Hour Glass" whose accompanying video (by Fred Cox and Diana Stefanescu of Videoblocks) can be accessed at: 

https://www.facebook.com/mriantodd/videos/267849924463980/

 

Reviewing ambient music is not something I do often (my last effort in this direction was a live review of Toby Marks & Andrew Heath last April) and whether I have the right vocabulary to approach "Hour Glass" is debateable: Ian deserves better than my throwing clichés about the genre at it. I should imagine that the theme is Ian musing upon the possibly differing perspectives of the passing of time during current circumstances (the video features a titular hour glass as a prominent motif & time lapse shooting is another key feature). Other hints as to his thinking include his tagging the piece as for meditation and his suggestion being "I recommend putting on some headphones or proper speakers and sit back in a relaxing place." I should infer from this that the track is intended to impact upon us: it is not an exercise in composition but an interactive tool to aid our well being & benefit us. With that in mind, I first listened to it as he advised and on a purely subjective level I can report that it certainly worked for me. May it do so also for you. I should be failing as a reviewer if I didn't report too that his other tag is "#hippymusic": which it certainly consistent with the Shanghai Hostage approach where humour & serious points intertwine closely: to particularly humane effect, as we have with "Hour Glass". Moving onto the objective, the track is full of variety & frankly surprises. I imagine it is intended to be a succession of movements reflecting differing periods of time & emotions within the larger framework. Hence musical differences are actually quite dramatic: one of Ian's skills is managing the transitions between them so seamlessly. Traditional more laid back sounds, which is what I was expecting to be honest, sit in there with jazzier episodes & rather to my delight, dubbier sections. It will keep your attention throughout the hour, so don't automatically assume it will send you off into a state of mindless bliss (let alone sleep). This is mindfulness music when we need it most.

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