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"The Fear" by The Session

Review

This is in many ways an unusual review but definitely one I have very much looked forwards to writing for some time.

Normally, my reviews fall into a few distinct categories: music I've managed to catch around its release time, some songs & releases I've been fortunate enough to hear prior to release & can therefore preview & occasionally (too often?) material whose release I missed & for which I have to offer a belated account plus apologies.

In this case, the awaited new single by The Session, that is to say "The Fear", is actually scheduled to come out tomorrow: I knew this & so probably did you. However in this instance, the band incredibly kindly allowed its inclusion on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Four' more than a month before bringing it out themselves & so for that reason (and increasing pre-release radio play), not only do I know the track really well already, but so I imagine do many of you reading this. It does however give me another chance to thank the band for such a generous gesture of support for our project.

Remarkably the band  (Sheryl McClean (vocals & percussion), Dean MacDonald (vocals & guitar), Dave Chambers (bass guitar), Fred 'Frederson' Waite (lead guitar) and Ciaran Corkery (drums)) have managed to create three singles during the current circumstances (the preceding ones being "Denver Hill" and "Ravages of Time" which appeared on the "Front Room Sessions" project): generally solo artists & smaller lineups especially those with access to home studios have been the ones to find recording easiest. However this is a band who not only rolls up their sleeves in the face of adversity & confront it but who wear their hearts on those sleeves in many differing ways & their frustration at not being able to do more, especially the live work they excel at, is both palpable & explicit in what they have been saying in public, both on social media & the radio interviews Sheryl & Dean have been able to take part in.

Dean is equally candidly on record on calling "The Fear" their best work to date.  Quite an assessment given their impressive back catalogue & I'd say that taking into account recent singles such as the ones released this year & the preceding "BLIND", they are in general rare form at taking their music into constantly interesting new areas & never resting on their considerable laurels as they move forwards.

Produced by Matt Waddell at 14 Records, Leamington, "The Fear" is in fact (as I'm sure you already know) as good as Dean suggests. Powerful as anything you'd expect from this band, it is an intriguing song to dissect (not something I much want to do normally but it's required as a reviewer) and I keep hearing lots of different elements in there. Ostensibly a rock song, delivered with Sheryl's customary panache & skill, I hear folk echoes in her vocal line, though disguised to some degree by the way she carries them over: not least the feeling of unease bordering on panic. The music too has an insistent post-punk guitar nagging away in the apparent rock sound & this too adds considerable edge to the paranoia which pervades the song as does the deep & ominous bass.

The band have a justifiable reputation for entertainment but maybe their capacity to tell an interesting & unusual story with their considerable skills & experience deployed to tell such with subtlety & effect is not as appreciated. It should be. In this case (and with the sort of topicality which adds extra resonance to songs), the theme seems to be around how fear itself damages us, on top of whatever the cause of the fear does (think of FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" from his 1932 inauguration). Especially now, the Session are urging us to fight the feeling before it engulfs us. I'm sure the song's creation predates the current neuroses and didn't originally  apply to them, but like any great song it has the capacity to allow us to apply it to anything of our choice & the sense of "going nowhere fast & running on the spot" certainly hits the bullseye for the past months & the ones ahead we are all contemplating. Being The Session though, they are careful too not to remain wholly pessimistic: the song offers hope too.

If you are a Session fan, you may, thanks to their generosity, have a copy of "The Fear" already. Please consider buying one though: they deserve our support. Have a look at the video they managed to shoot in Leamington the other week too: it can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1BZvNusxCY&fbclid=IwAR2OWaeGN3LGsYiNpNIWsV7_jw_R8Ux9YdCHQ5px8HJClHQTl8EFR3dX5eY

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"Denver Hill" by The Session

Review

It was a pleasant surprise to learn that one of our area's most dynamic & exciting bands The Session have managed to unleash a new single called "Denver Hill" (recorded at 14 Records) for us during the current situation.

Whereas we are currently going through a curious period wherein what records are being released (and we are talking either tracks already recorded before the lockdown or solo ones released online) may well have resonances of what we are going through (or people like me feel we can detect such resonances) and no doubt many people are currently writing songs which definitely address their present experiences, The Session have clearly decided on blasting us out of any doldrums with a no holds barred explosion of high energy rock & roll. Bearing in mind how frustrated the band, whose trademark is their blistering live sets, must be, this is a very good approximation of what we are missing.

Introspective this is not: it's a punk style assault on a resident of Denver whom Dean MacDonald met in a Canadian bar. "He was horrible and racist and very big Trump fan" as Dean tells me.

Very deliberately channelling the sound & energy of bands like Dr Feelgood, "Denver Hill" is a conscious step back from their  recent more produced songs and The Session (Sheryl McClean (vocals & percussion), Dean MacDonald (vocals & guitar), bassist Dave Chambers, lead guitarist & purveyor of "General Insanity" "Fred Frederson" and drummer Ciaran Corkery) sound like they are having a great time just playing the song at full tilt. Never a group who give the impression that they are on much of a leash, on "Denver Hill" they slip whatever one they may have been on.

Sheryl turns her remarkable vocal talents upon the aforementioned Trump fan (and as I have said before, this is one singer who barely needs a microphone such is her power, so you can imagine what she sounds like going through one) and Fred snarls through a suitably skewer of a solo to ram the point of the lyrics further home. Behind them the rest of the band seem to have decided that if today they are going to be Dr Feelgood, they are going to be Dr Feelgood  recording at McLemore Avenue Studios in Memphis.

 

There is a great video of the song shot at the 2019 Godiva Festival Main stage at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7R5tQUSxou8&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3H00qS0_EIiep5dRmW1zmiL5c5unmtbDE4ZJlE0EgQG6rhZa0faca3Ps4

presumably by someone standing next to me. Mind you I wouldn't have noticed since The Session in full flight are not a band to turn your head from.

This record is a shot of fresh air for all of us trapped inside in beautiful weather through no fault of our own. Your neighbours may or may not appreciate your playing "Denver Hill" at high volume, but there's only one way to find out....

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Godiva Festival 2019: a personal reflection

Review

I could, I suppose, run through every act I saw & enjoyed at the 2019 Godiva Festival in detail which would give them the credit they thoroughly deserve, but I fear that no one could be asked to try to read through anything that long. There were many you see.

So I'll go for broader brush strokes & themes if you don't mind. My first & over riding theme is how powerful the Festival is for local music. Yes I do understand the pulling power of the Big Names from elsewhere, many of whom I like too, but whom I tend not to have the time to catch given my focus on local musicians. There were around 80 acts on across the three days & the vast majority were from our own scenes. I'm afraid several of our more mainstream media colleagues tend to skate over this in favour of covering the Big Names, which is a shame as exposure which so helps our artists thanks to the Festival could easily & helpfully be reported more widely. I think the true glory & certainly the legacy of the Festival is its boosting of artists on the practice slopes of their careers. In perhaps a testament to the growing influence of "Hot Music Live" I was, while writing this, asked to participate in a BBC Coventry & Warwickshire discussion on Justine Greene's show & I certainly emphasised that belief to her.

You can't I think underestimate the impact of various things the Festival can do for artists. For some, to be invited to play is a huge step forwards & an honour: their words not mine. To be asked to return in subsequent years : similarly. For others, the elevation to a slot on the Main Stage is equally an honour: how great to see those marvellous talents Caleb Murray & Calton Kelly who are part of our "Hot Music Live Presents" project up there. An honour, but a deserved one in each case. In fact in a rare direct quote for me, I received Calton Kelly's permission to cite him as saying "awesome" about the sheer numbers of local acts & the quality of them this year. And he was far far from the only one to say that from so many musicians whom I spoke with to former Lord Mayor of Coventry Tony Skipper who is another person one encounters repeatedly around the stages with local acts on them and who is a passionate advocate for exactly what I'm talking about..

I am fully aware from the disappointments of artists who don't get invited that the mechanisms for the Festival participation can't include all the fantastic acts & I do feel sorry about that. But when the "Godiva Calling" process gets bands as great as Brass Hip Flask & Evergreen onto the Main Stage, then it is working well.

In fact two of my delights were that sixteen year old Abz Winter & Stratford based Evergreen who have barely been in existence six months were both spotted: it would be easy to imagine how they might be off the necessary radar for the time being. In fact these two acts plus BBC Coventry & Warwickshire Introducing Artists of the Month (well last month) The Rising were probably the three acts with the most buzz: when people were comparing notes ("have you seen?") these were the ones (outside the big established ones naturally) which came up time & again. Expect to hear lots more about them all.

I should say too that we may look back on the 2019 version of the Festival as the year a breath of mighty air blew through & reinvigorated the local scene as so many people were talking about the healthiness, diversity and quality of what we now have, plus I spoke with several musicians visiting from further afield who not only cited these aspects but were also impressed with how musicians support each other in Coventry & Warwickshire: it is far from necessarily so elsewhere. I lost count of how many other musicians I saw seeking out others' acts & cheering them on. You even had Lynval of the Specials touring the site for two days evangelising & the Levellers turned up to dance to Kiaya Lyons on the BBC Stage.

I had several  chats with Dean MacDonald whose band the Session opened the Festival from the Main Stage & a number of themes emerged: several I've just covered but let's not underestimate the feeling a band like his with five albums already released can feel to be asked to open the festival in their home city: and boy did they give it their all: yet interestingly afterwards, two members spoke forcibly about how they really like smaller gigs for audience contact just as much, and that was borne out also by artists of the magnitude of Joe Dolman & Roddy Byers who played on the smaller stages & generated incredible passion & audience reaction. Indeed Joe was one of those musicians I saw all over the festival seeking out new music & supporting his friends. And one could say the same about this magazine's HotMusicAl. (Check out his article in the magazine please).

So I suppose you'd like a few more specifics? Especially about names I've not yet mentioned? Well in keeping with what I have been saying, there was a noticeable correlation between the acts we cover in this magazine & the acts performing. Many appear on "Hot Music Live Presents". Very many have been involved in BBC Introducing for Coventry & Warwickshire, featured on the ‘Coventry Culture Show' on Touch FM and many on the HillzFM Local Charts. These are the local media who are getting behind local talent & it's interesting the names who repeatedly crop up in common.

Some are totally established on top of their game like Wes Finch, Danny Ansell or  Shanade Morrow. Others are the hot names building very steady & swift recognition like Izzie Derry, Stone Bear, Chasing Deer  or Taylor-Louise: all have a sense of momentum in what they do and don't rest on any laurels. Increasingly their reputations in our area are being replicated across the country.  Others don't fit into any easy category: for example one of my favourite sets was by James Lapworth of Rosetta Fire playing a solo. Another would be the prodigious & utterly individual talents of Nicky Ager who left a lot of jaws dropped on the BBC Stage or the traditional Neapolitan songs of Angelo Cardone. Some, like Andy Beglin have obvious talent but are taking their first steps into new careers (in Andy's case a solo one after many years in great bands).

Given that I promised this would be a thematic review, I regret not being able to write more about performances I greatly enjoyed (though if you look back at past reviews I mostly have done for the artists involved  so & in other cases fully intend to). I also would not wish to finish without name checking other artists whose performances I enjoyed such as The Caprines, Levi Washington,  Loveday, Ace Ambrose or J.Kirsty.Clarke all of whom I should be delighted to see again & indeed am planning to set up gigs for so I can do so.

 

For my final section, I'd very much like to focus on various people who don't feature in many, if any, mainstream media accounts of the Festival. In fact, had it not been for the kind help & support (during a period when they were ultra busy & could very easily have been forgiven for not being able to) of Carl Bainbridge, Godiva Festival Marketing & Design Manager & a man very well known to readers of this magazine, Jon "Bungle" Blackford, Godiva Festival Technical Director, this article would have not been as it is: they and the production team were really helpful in facilitating it. Thank you.

In fact over the three days I met nothing but excellent support from production team members, the many security staff whom I encountered on gates internal & external and many other staff. There were issues needing sorting for artist access & parking (possibly due to new ticketing formulae) but the "behind the scenes" teams deserve a lot of praise & understanding for difficult, unsung & too frequently thankless efforts.

As do the technical crews who worked extremely hard especially over stage turnarounds, through periodic power losses, blown speakers etc. In particular I should like people to be aware of Chris Field & Ollie Bond on the Microacoustic Stage (which lost power several times) and Rich Keogh on the BBC Stage where he had the extra pressure of periodic live broadcasts...And Sam McNulty who oversaw both stages & devised the lineups on them.

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"BLIND" by The Session

Review

Another great upcoming release which I have had the pleasure to have been able to listen to for the last few weeks has been the new, Leamington recorded, single "BLIND" from top local band The Session

 

The Session describe themselves as a "band of post-modern chaotic minstrels who will take you on a journey through urban fables, mixing tales of hobos 'n' harlots, bigots 'n' sinners, and blokes they met in the woods....." which I find strong stuff but however is pretty accurate.

 

Big local live favourites (look out for upcoming gigs at the Earlsdon Festival, Coventry Motofest, Kineton Festival, Napton Festival, Overspload Festival and at the Tin), the band will probably be well known to many of you already, comprising Dean MacDonald (vocals & guitar), Sheryl McClean (vocals & percussion), Dave Chambers (bass), Fred Frederson (it is possible you know this musician under other names too) on lead guitar & Ciaran Corkerry on drums.

When I first played this compelling song, it seemed so immediate & confiding it almost seemed to me to be a solo recording: it is so well arranged & produced that the foregrounding of Dean's voice emphasises the essence of the song really well. A second listen revealed of course many other elements which complement what I first heard (& made me feel a bit foolish), offering texture & providing depth. Nevertheless when Dean told me that the track contained as many as seven musicians playing eleven instruments (including a mellotron) I was both shocked & impressed.  Cue a reviewer returning to listen & try to pick out the eleven: I can't but it was great fun trying & if you do, you have the pleasure of exploring the subtleties of the song & admiring the taste of said arrangement & production. In fact as soon as you hear it, you'll probably notice quicker than I did that it builds swiftly into a "big" sound which gives it great power, but you still have to work hard to deconstruct it & to discern how they did it.

"BLIND" is performed in Nashville tuning, which is appropriate given that the lyrics are quite "country": very personal & confessional, yearning even. However forget a Southern States musical setting: this comes, if it comes from any particular place, from England's North West.  Bits of Bunnymen drift through the soundscape until suddenly the clouds part for a while & we get a Beatley passage (I think we can work out that this is where the mellotron comes in). I also think of Ian Broudie in terms of the pop sensibility & layered sounds, of Richard Ashcroft too.... but all I am doing here is trying to offer the reader reference points. The Session are just too good to be anything other than their own people.

 

This is very much the most "pop" Session record & it does grab you: I'd hope it works its considerable charms on a great many other people too...

"BLIND" is available from May 1st   on I Tunes, Deezer & Spotify for a mere 79p

 

Look out too for the Session on "Hot Music Live Presents" later in 2019

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