Roxanne de Bastion, Bar Pandora & Zoe Konez at The Tin
As I've got out more in recent weeks to see live music again, I've been most fortunate to catch some artists whose reputations were made in the late 1970s such as The Monochrome Set, The Undertones & Hugh Cornwell. I enjoyed their gigs enormously, as I wrote in the magazine, though I suspect my reviews won't have much impact on their public profiles.
Last night I was most fortunate however to witness musicians whose reputations are being made right before our eyes (and ears) and whose profiles will definitely be much higher by the year's end: how exciting to be a witness at this stage.
I've written here of both Roxanne de Bastion (who already has a nationally known name) and Bar Pandora, a name which is increasingly on the lips of the most discerning Coventry & Warwickshire music lovers and I was fortunate indeed to catch them last night at The Tin.
First up actually was Zoe Konez who is touring with Roxanne as part of her band, playing guitar, but who also writes & releases her own material & so played a short opening set as a solo artists. An engaging & warm performer, the highlight was her skills on acoustic guitar, deploying a wide range of tricky techniques to tastefully underpin her original songs, several of which were created during lockdown by asking her Patreon followers (some of whom were present) to suggest ideas. My only disappointment was that her very quiet singing voice (no fault to the sound at The Tin which was superb again all evening despite the challenges of some unusual instrumentation) meant that the lyrics, on which she had presumably spent time & effort, were not easy to decipher.
As I've said, Bar Pandora are the name to watch for 2022 locally: there is a huge buzz about Charlie Tophill's project & people (including other renowned local musicians) were in the audience yesterday primarily for their set. I have been beating myself up a little over not having seen them live yet, as a big fan of the singles, but since I gather this was only their third gig, maybe my considerable enthusiasm was making me unreasonably frustrated in this respect.
On this occasion, despite normally being a trio, Charlie played as duo alongside drummer Matt Rheeston. The absence of a bass player (in fact none of the acts featured one which is unusual) didn't seem to adversely affect their performance: in fact talking with Charlie afterwards, it seemed that it gave them the chance to explore the songs in new ways compared with the recorded versions & they relished that.
In fact they seemed to relish playing full stop. Here's some advice for you: if you enjoyed the singles (and I gave them very positive reviews) then Bar Pandora's mesmerising live incarnation is going to knock your socks off. Charlie has an immense charisma & stage presence and the way they played off each other to realise her unusual & haunting compositions was breath taking. The confidence & love with which they approached material they clearly inhabited fully & were able to interpret it in new ways are hallmarks of the finest musical hearts & minds. No wonder they are the talk of the town & if you've not seen them yet: please do.
Normally artists can be a little wary of following support acts that good, but not only was Roxanne very complimentary about Bar Pandora but she clearly had no sense of competition, but respect and the confidence in her own considerable skills not to feel threatened (if you have not yet had the chance to read my interview with her, please do: there is a passionate articulation in there of her sense of community in music).
In fact Roxanne is also a highly charismatic performer, but appropriately with her own style which she is clearly totally comfortable with & is completely different to Charlie's.
I could be crude here in my classification, but to me musicians might be placed in one of two categories: those desperate to emulate others & hence meet the expectations of the mainstream industry, media & audiences compared to those with the confidence, courage & values to dare to be different, to be themselves & rejoice in that. Anyone who has read my writing will know my preference in this respect and if the mainstream managed to pull in thousands to Coventry last weekend to wallow in the former, The Tin by offering artists like these the chance to play locally is making a stand for the latter.
Accompanied by a flexible & versatile band which in addition to Zoe featured Maddy Hamilton on ‘cello (which was a pleasing surprise) and Jay Chakravorty on keyboards, guitar & percussion, Roxanne switched between her beautiful Rickenbacker and keyboards with a few numbers at the microphone sans instrument.
There is so much one could say about her set. Starting with one of her strongest & best known songs "Erase" was a bold statement of intent & one I raise my hat to. Drawing on both her debut ‘Heirlooms & Hearsay' and her current ‘You & Me, We are the Same' and encompassing tracks such as "Ordinary Love", "Molecules", "Heavy Lifting", "I Remember Everything" and "London I Miss You" which you might know already, the range of instruments & combinations available made for a set as big on variety as it was quality.
I read a rather mediocre "Guardian" review of the new album: too brief to carry much weight, it was not terribly polite about her debut though accurately reported the range of styles on this one (produced by Bernard Butler). Of course artists develop (and I'm sure the producer had some effect) but I think they missed the point that each album to some degree is the story of a separate family member now gone which accounts for why they might sound different to each other as they sought to capture the essence of those invoked: both in highly moving ways it must be said. So you do get songs in contrasting styles with very distinct arrangements immaculately delivered, including the very raw & basic main set closer "Red & White Blood Cells". Each one seemed appropriate for its subject and not some sort of exercise in demonstrating how sophisticated & diverse the writer's vision was. You could write a list of the styles deployed (and The Guardian did) but ultimately the arrangements were there to realise the songs & if that made for a most stimulating and varied set, then that's both our fortune and part of Roxanne's appeal.
During the last few days, the news that Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" has become a hit again has certainly been food for my thoughts. Comparisons can be odious: I have no idea how Charlie nor Roxanne would take being compared to her & in truth at best their music can only be regarded as being a bit like some of hers in terms of sound etc (though some musing about God is in common).. However it makes you think how terribly difficult it is for truly original women writer/performers to combine creating challenging & profound music with commercial success: Kate Bush frankly is a colossal exception (and one who has attracted some unflattering epithets down the years from those who've felt threatened by her talent): others are obliged to perform the work of others or cram themselves into restrictive templates of the business' making or operate on the fringes within narrow genres. She managed to create a body of stunning work which can be difficult to follow sonically at times let alone lyrically & still have hits. Both Charlie & Roxanne are devising, in their own highly individual ways, work of comparable originality and integrity without compromise: I wonder how far they can go towards broader success? Roxanne is of course further down the road than Charlie at the moment & Kate shows that such success is not entirely unprecedented: though sadly extremely rare. It would be uplifting to think they both could: they deserve to.
A catch up with Roxanne de Bastion
As reported in the magazine way back in February, acclaimed singer-songwriter Roxanne de Bastion will be playing at The Tin on June 7th as part of a national tour celebrating the release of her latest album ‘You & Me, We Are the Same': the follow up to her big breakthrough debut ‘Heirlooms & Hearsay' from 2017. I was fortunate enough to catch up with her to discuss various musical matters ahead of that gig.
My first concern was for her health: the original tour dates having been rescheduled for such a reason. You'll be glad to know that those issues are behind her & she's really looking forwards to playing the tour.
More generally the last two years have "been eventful… a steep learning curve". Roxanne had literally just finished recording the album (with Bernard Butler in his home studio "which was fun") when COVID19 struck. So busy has she always been as a performer that it was "quite a shock to the system" not just to be unable to play live but it had literally been the first time since she left school that she'd spent more than a couple of months in a single location. However she seems to have turned the necessity into a positivity and now feels "grateful for the break": no doubt this relates to some degree to the processing of emotions and grieving as her Dad passed away just before the pandemic struck & the album reflects the period when they were clearly losing him.
She feels "heartbroken" for artists with less an established fanbase whose plans were scuppered & momentum lost & is grateful that she'd already built one up and was able to livestream to them: something she enjoyed even though it was so different performing to a laptop rather than to "a room full of energy & people's immediate reactions". She is therefore looking forwards to finally playing these songs in such a space "and seeing what life they take on out in the world".
We spoke too a little about how so many artists swiftly upskilled in learning how to livestream & this drew some interesting observations from Roxanne along the lines of "independent artists are used to develop very quickly & you have to acquire such a weird wide range of skills that I think independent & smaller artists are almost better at being able to do that than acts who have teams and big budgets..we can react much quicker".
It was helpful to ensure that she wasn't just sitting on this new album & so she went on a virtual tour of the country, teaming up with different groups for livestreaming including The Big Comfy Bookshop.
Come the Tin gig, Roxanne reports that her setlist will be drawing on both albums & since they both centre on family members with roots in the West Midlands, she is looking forwards to playing them in their home region. Support for all gigs on the tour will be Zoe Konez but Roxanne was able to reveal to me that a special guest for this date would be Bar Pandora whom of course we have featured in the magazine.
I especially wanted to talk too with Roxanne about her work with the Featured Artist Coalition. She told me that joining this "lovely community" who support artists' rights was a good progression for her. As someone who "learns by doing", she "kind of made it work" touring & recording completely independently to begin with & this drew the FAC to approach her to bring her expertise & experience to one of their panels, which led to being invited to join the Board to represent "a younger generation of artists who are used to building their career outside of the traditional music industry" As a "strong believer in community and in music" she feels that she could challenge the old industry which "pitted artists against each other, using smoke & mirrors, was very intransparent.." and allow artists to learn from one another. (Which is really redolent of what Paul McLoone said to me only the previous day about how he sees the current Irish music scene compared with the "bitchiness" of his earlier years in the business). She is really happy to have found an organisation "which has those core values and is fighting for a more transparent industry… make sure artists are heard & represented".
Looking specifically at current & frankly existential issues for musicians such as streaming & COVID19, Roxanne assures me that they are very much on the FAC's agenda & they've been contributing to the Government's examination of the effects of streaming. She finds the systems involved to be highly complex & technical but also outdated and unfair to artists. With regards to COVID19, she was "happy to see the industry pull together: all the major companies & organisations came up with some form of relief fund" for all those left high & dry: crew, promoters & venues as well as performers. "If you come into something as a little bit of an outsider…..as an independent musician you just discover things .. you learn about royalties….you discover how these things work or don't work bit by bit. A lot of it is "Emperor's Clothing".. lots of music fans don't understand: lots of musicians don't understand what a standard musical deal looks like. That can sometimes be really unjust towards artists…. What I'm trying to say tactfully is that there's a lot to improve upon and luckily there are such organisations like the FAC and like Help Musicians and through technology artists are empowered to have more choice over how they want to conduct their careers. It's great that signing to a major label isn't the only route towards becoming a full time musician".
I felt that Roxanne's outlook seemed on balance to be optimistic and she confirmed that. "If you don't see the potential and have the hope that that we can all make a choice every day to make our environments better.. I don't think being optimistic negates how difficult some things are: I just think that's the only way to make progress".
We then moved onto the issue of the mental health of musicians post COVID19 particularly. Roxanne paid tribute to her Dad at this point, crediting him with being "the eternal optimist"
"I know it can be so tough after two years of not making music but I'd like all musicians to know that what they do regardless of how big their audience is really important and matters. Making music is good for your mental health…. Singing is therapeutic, dancing to music is therapeutic, playing music is therapeutic and I think once live music was taken away, if we didn't know it before, we all realised what a powerful force that can be, when people come together in a room to experience music."
My final enquiries were around which other musicians Roxanne is currently listening to & which emerging artists she'd like to recommend to "Hot Music Live" readers.In terms of the former, she cited The Beatles, Ezra Furman and Anaïs Mitchell and for the latter I was delighted that she suggested two Coventry & Warwickshire artists: the afore-mentioned Bar Pandora plus Emma McGann whom she finds "inspirational.. always embracing new technologies"
So there you have it: a musician with a very thoughtful & self aware understanding not only of her own craft but also to the wider musical community
ROXANNE DE BASTION - 'You & Me, We Are The Same' UK Tour
ROXANNE DE BASTION SHARES RESCHEDULED DATES AHEAD OF 'YOU & ME, WE ARE THE SAME' UK TOUR
+ WATCH BERNARD BUTLER & ROXANNE DE BASTION DISCUSS ‘YOU & ME, WE ARE THE SAME' VIA YOUTUBE
+ STREAM ALBUM VIA SPOTIFY
"Roxanne de Bastion works with a rare degree of assurance. The songwriter has a potent and refined aesthetic, matching slight gothic tinges to some late 60s flourishes." - Clash
"I've been listening with a great deal of interest to Roxanne de Bastion...Beautiful. There's quite a few good things on this record." – Iggy Pop (BBC 6 Music)
Roxanne de Bastion has postponed her UK-wide ‘You & Me, We Are The Same' Tour due to ill-health. The tour, consisting of 10 dates including a hometown show at London's The Lexington, will now take place in early June 2022.
Celebrating her critically acclaimed album ‘You & Me, We Are The Same' released last year, Roxanne de Bastion will be joined by Zoe Konez and special guests.
Speaking of the decision to postpone the tour, Roxanne says:
"Due to ill health I've had to make the very difficult decision to move my upcoming tour dates. I am devastated to have to do this but luckily we were able to move the bulk of the shows to early June and if you have purchased tickets these will of course remain valid for the new date (please note some of the venues have changed due to availability). Unfortunately, we weren't able to reschedule the shows in Leicester, Newcastle, Hull, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Exeter for June. If you have tickets for those shows, you will of course be able to get a refund at point of purchase. I will do my very best to make up for those shows later in the year. I'm resting up and cannot tell you how much I'm looking forward to seeing you all soon - I promise to make the shows worth the wait!"
ROXANNE DE BASTION – ‘YOU & ME, WE ARE THE SAME' TOUR 2022:
- 4th June: Tiny Rebel, Cardiff
- 6th June: Blue Moon, Cambridge
- 7th June: Tin Music & Arts, Coventry
- 8th June: The Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
- 9th June: Leaf, Liverpool
- 10th June: The Castle, Manchester
- 11th June: Crofters Rights, Bristol
- 12th June: The Brook, Southampton
- 14th June: The Horn, St Albans
- 15th June: The Lexington, London
Tickets available from Roxanne de Bastion's website
The tour follows an exceptional year for the rising artist, which saw Roxanne de Bastion's second album ‘You & Me, We Are The Same' garner huge radio support from the likes of Iggy Pop, Steve Lamacq and Chris Hawkins (BBC 6 Music), Tom Robinson (BBC Introducing), Gary Crowley (BBC London) and the late Janice Long who interviewed de Bastion for BBC Wales. At press The Observer compared her album to the late Beatles, with the likes of Clash describing de Bastion as processing "A rare degree of assurance."
In what felt like a befitting end to 2021, Roxanne de Bastion was invited in November to support Bernard Butler on his UK dates, preceded by her mini tour of legendary record stores across the UK, for intimate album showcases and vinyl signing for fans.
‘You & Me, We Are The Same' is out now and available digitally + on vinyl via Nomad Songs (RoM).
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