Articles featuring photography by Russell Whitehead

About Russell Whitehead

Russell Whitehead has contributed 7 photographs to Hot Music Live.

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"Wes Finch: A Life in Music" by Russell Whitehead

Review

If you are an admirer of the visual artistry of Russell Whitehead or the musical artistry of Wes Finch, or indeed of both as I am, then I'm sure you'll be delighted by the release of the "Wes Finch: A Life In Music" film by the former.

Originally begun several months ago, Russell has brought his customary skill & taste to editing it into a work of art in its own right. If you are a Wes fan (why on earth would you not be?) then this is an illuminating set of insights into his career but also his creative processes & philosophies, set against examples of his work. For those interested in the wider aspects of what it means to be a musician in these times, especially one who is more focused on the craft and art of creating & performing music than "being in Bon Jovi", yet still needs to earn a living, then the film should be equally fascinating.

Based around a candid and articulate interview wherein Russell probes deep into Wes to extract the insights at the heart of the film, he manages to keep the approach fresh & contextualised through cuts to other footage (including performance) which he had shot of Wes and his associates over a period of about nine years, without breaking the thread of the core discussion. Overall, the film is as visually attractive as you'd expect from Russell.

Interestingly, he also mainly removes himself from the finished film, substituting his oral questions with captions so that the totality of the piece is about Wes & it is his voice we hear.

What is also very interesting is the tone of the whole film is very positive (there is laughter in the mix): this is all about a musician who has been plying his craft for long enough to become cynical under the challenges of the economics of trying to be an independent artist & the film was shot during a period when not only were things especially difficult for musicians but they'd been bad for twelve months with no clear route back towards even the status ante quo. Nevertheless Wes comes across as still enjoying what he does and very open to reflect upon where he has been & where he is going next.

It's a good blend of philosophy & finer practical details which could directly inspire artists to consider what he is doing and thinking himself: at the very least is a sense of "you are not alone" in such a world.

Having whetted your appetite (I hope), here's where you need to go to see & hear it:

https://www.facebook.com/russellwhiteheadphotography/videos/213855500821891

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"Live 2020" (edited selection) by Wes Finch

Review

Very slightly more than twelve months ago I reported to you on Wes Finch's Leap Year gig: a special event to mark the four yearly occasion & to provide the opportunity to record a career spanning set featuring many musicians he has worked with (to refresh your memory, please see http://www.hotmusiclive.co.uk/article?article=12567)

Fairly shortly after that, circumstances hurled a giant spanner into the works of Wes' and everyone else's plans & so the release of that recording necessarily took longer than originally anticipated, though back in August I was privileged to be able to listen to (as indeed I had been privileged to attend the recording) the tracks being considered for the album & share my impressions with you (please turn to http://www.hotmusiclive.co.uk/article?article=12746 for this).

Things have progressed steadily if a little slowly since then with vinyl pressings & crowdfunding aspects needing arranging & although a release of some of the rehearsals for this gig came out in September (as noted in http://www.hotmusiclive.co.uk/article?article=12763) , it has taken until now for a formal release of the gig itself to take place.

Anticipating the vinyl release, Wes has taken advantage of Bandcamp Friday to unveil an "edited selection" of nine of the songs played last year: "Keep Fishing", "Jack To Do", "Air, Land & Sea", "Fully Grown", "Bowl of Stars", "Southern Cross", "Jackie's Stone", "The Pact" and 'Riverbed': most if not all of which will be very familiar to aficionados.

It must have been agonising to choose which tracks to include (any more would have necessitated a double album, the economics of which must be difficult especially in current times). As my August review hopefully made clear, there were no quality issues in recording (courtesy of Ian Whitehead) nor performance and I'm sure each song if put to a popular vote would have had its champion.

It was interesting in August, after four or five months without live music to be reminded of the evening. March brings further & more acute perspectives: now nearly a year since my most recent gig experience, the evening now possesses almost Proustian power & looms large in my memory of better times (and let's not forget the equally magical opening set by Ellie Gowers which preceded Wes').

To that end, I certainly stand by my thoughts of last August, magnified as they now are by the effects I just mentioned. However subjective my own memory & reaction to the evening may be, it is clear from my contemporary piece that the music was as sublime at the time as remembrance now suggests. Listening to these nine tracks confirms this.

You can't hear music this good being played with this much skill & crucially love and commitment right now alas: but I think we should all look very much forwards to being able to do so in the months ahead: I'm sure the participants and every other musician out there is aching to share their music with us: and I'm sure none of their skills will have left them in the interim (though I foresee a great deal of intense rehearsing ahead for sundered groups). In the meantime you can't beat an album this good to remind you of what we're missing.

 

To give full credit to all those who contributed to the album:

 

Engineered and recorded by Ian Whitehead
Mixed by Ian Whitehead with G Vaughan

Wes Finch (vocals & guitars)
Liz Crowley  (vocals)
Paul Hartry (vocals)
G Vaughan  (drums & vocals)
Ben Haines (drums)
Bradley Blackwell (bass)
John Parker (upright bass )
Jools Street (violin)
Matt Lakey (banjo)
Hugh Rashleigh (keyboards, trumpet & flugel horn)
John Lambdon (tuba )
James Hopkin (trumpet & flugel horn)
Evan Hopkin (trombone)

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"Getting Place" by The Silver Wye

Review

The Silver Wye, like any great river, rolls majestically on, picking up speed in the release of its songs.

Today, they release their third single, entitled "Getting Place" to celebrate the rising of this month's Full Moon.

(Check out "Hot Music Live" archives for reviews of their previous singles:  "You Are Light" was reviewed on both  October 3rd & December 22nd  2019 and "Pick Me Up" on November 14th 2018).

What an interesting & thoughtful project this is to be sure: there are so many layers to the creative onion: and that's not even taking into account the actual songs.

The first of these I loosely describe to myself as one of transcendence, bordering on the spiritual.

This manifests itself in several ways. It starts with the release of records on days which can either be associated with celestial phenomena, such as today's lunar one or the winter solstice on which "You Are Light" appeared,  or with ancient calendars & cultural celebrations: quite probably both. Next, the artwork, whether the photos or videos, which reinforce this aspect, and lastly of course the themes & feels of the tracks.

The second theme, certainly most pronounced with this single, is a crossover with the focus of another band of The Silver Wye originator Wes Finch, namely The Mechanicals. This latter group set poetic texts from Shakespeare to Larkin and many others, to music & continue to collaborate in a range of literary projects. "Getting Place" in fact contains another complex & dense mesh of allusions: the title coming from Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men" but the lyrics owing much to the work of Shirley Jackson & of Stephen King. This gives the transcendence aspect a much darker twist with the more chilling & sombre side of the supernatural coming to the fore (I wonder if Wes conceived this song as a counterpoint to "You Are Light"?) and of course the full moon has a great beauty but it also has lycanthropic properties. Even Lucifer's original name conveys the idea of light & here the Devil stalks the woods & makes Faustian pacts at the titular location.

Which brings us via a strange path to the song itself, wrought again by Wes at Crooked Room studio in Yorkshire with producer Isaac McInnes and bassist Bradley Blackwell. I hope no Faustian pacts were involved in its making.

No surprises at all in the quality of the writing, performance nor production: just as one would expect. However the track takes another giant step along the path Wes is leading his fans on this project, away from our expectations of the music he does & hence our complacencies within it. The Silver Wye was conceived in order to explore musical styles away from the folk & he has been gentle with us, each release taking us further on that journey. This song certainly has Wes features: his distinctive delivery & inability to escape writing beautiful tunes whatever the context. However the form, though shimmering, is highly rhythmic & this is greatly reinforced with constant repetition of lines & phrases, mantra-like, creating a groove centred track.

This  is far from your standard dance song though: the imagery is to say the least compelling & frequently startling to the point of disturbing. If Wes wishes to shake us up musically, he matches that with the lyrics, twisted pictures being painted over a disarming melody for extra effect. To return to the "No Country for Old Men" theme, the track is almost Coen Brothers in (musical) style for this approach. Who else would write of a "Lyle Lovett smile"? (And let's not forget that in addition to his often sinister smile, Lyle is both another musician & an actor in the sort of films Wes is evoking: layers & layers of meaning just pile up here). A sinister willow, possibly that from Tolkien, also plays a significant & signifying part...

As the track progresses, it twists further: more unsettling chords & small dissonances are added & the vocal delivery gets more terse & anguished. By the end it is a howl of pain & warning: the cheroot smoking  blue suited figure is a real danger that may have been recognised too late. Watch out for him in the wild wood by the light of the full moon my friends..... Whatever deal you make with him, believe me it's not worth it.

 

This is a stunningly effective song on so many levels & it certainly has the potential to be seen as a significant landmark in Wes' musical career. I'd also really like to hear it used on a movie soundtrack where surely its natural home must be.  Quite possibly with Lyle Lovett playing Mephistopheles.  And as I said last time out, look out for Silver Wye live dates in 2020.....

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"You Are Light" by The Silver Wye (Slight Return)

Review

I'm sorry but I'm afraid I'm going to have to instil a touch of déjà vu in you.

You are probably thinking to yourselves, "didn't he review this song on October 3rd? Have his thoughts on it changed since then?"

Well I did, and no I like it just as much: perhaps even more so as in October, it was a glint in Wes' eye as a single and today it is actually released in conjunction with the Winter Solstice which gives it extra meaning & resonance to me.

I think it worth revisiting my original review (ok there is a fair amount of copy/pasting underneath) in order to (re)draw it to your attention. Plus it now has a stunning video by Russell Whitehead which you can access at:

 

https://youtu.be/wO74SAOfwOA

 

Here then is my (slightly amended) re-review:

The Silver Wye are back with a new single, namely "You Are Light". Wes sees the moniker as a chance to put a little distance between himself & the expectations of his long time fanbase who probably see him more within a folk tradition and thus to explore new approaches to writing, instrumentation & performance, principally (at least for now) in a more electronic style. This exploratory & emancipatory process of course allows for a more loose collaboration with a wider range & pool of musicians on a track by track basis. Thus while "Pick Me Up"  was crafted with Leo Steeds and Luke Dibbs at The Milking Parlour Studio in Warwickshire, "You Are Light" has been wrought at  a session at Crooked Room studio in Yorkshire with producer Isaac McInnes and Bradley Blackwell, the bassist in The Howl & The Hum.

So what about "You Are Light"? Well it is a bit of a jolt to hear a voice as well known as Wes' as processed as it is here: and what's wrong with being surprised after all? Surely that just increases the emotional impact of a song? The electronic sounds in fact to some extent again endow the track with the iciness I wrote of in regard to its predecessor, but unlike that song, I find no traces of detachment here let alone possible alienation. I'm not sure the singer is lost in the city any more: possibly he's escaped to the countryside?

Many classic Wes elements are present and correct: the sensibilities, poetic lyricism & the beauty of the melody. What is different is the soundscape. Working with a bass player inevitably means that that instrument is a very significant presence in the arrangement & it is a strong contrast in its heavily processed sound to that of the acoustic double bass Wes has been featuring on recent work with the Mechanicals Band courtesy of John Parker. The overall feel, though bass orientated is a long way from a dance track & in fact I rather liked the simplicity of the arrangement: the sounds are unusual & have impact because of the clarity of the production: you can hear all the elements & appreciate them. It's not a dance track, it's not really "dream pop" nor "electronic rock" (thank you Soundcloud) not to my ears, though I can accept "moody'. It in fact is informed by a folk sensibility yet by no means shackled to the traditional forms nor expectations of such a genre. It's just a beautiful & idiosyncratic song, which might even be a paean to someone or something...

 

And as I said back in October, look out for Silver Wye live dates in 2020.....

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The Mechanicals Band & Ellie Gowers

Review

One of the final formal gigs I shall attend in 2019 was also one of the best: the highest possible levels of musicianship but even more importantly played with love for the music & where performers & audience were locked into a symbiotic embrace by it.

From the first notes of Ellie's a cappella rendition of Mimi & Richard Farina's "Falcon" to the final ones of an unplugged version of "Sigh No More Ladies" by Wes Finch & John Parker which respectively opened & closed the evening at the Tin, we were transfixed by the beauty & truth of what we were hearing, made particularly effective by the marvellous acoustics & superb sound picture.

I make no apologies for reviewing either act yet again & once more urge you to catch them live: however great their recordings are (and they are), they reach yet new heights live: and both feature very significant songs in their repertoire which have yet to be recorded.

What a year for Ellie: having graduated with a First on her music degree, her name & reputation are soaring. I can't thank her enough for contributing to "Hot Music Live Presents Volume Two" where her "Against The Tide" is gaining multiple compliments. From her opening with "Falcon" (she seems to like a cappella songs about birds as she often opens, without fanfare, with her own "Robin") through magnificent compositions like "Against the Tide" and two you must look out for when she releases them, the unbelievably poignant "For a While" and the zeitgeisty "Sky is On Fire", her beautiful rendition of Richard Thompson's "Beeswing", in the words of Russell Whitehead (who has seen a few gigs in his time),"(her )....voice had everyone in reverie"

Check out all things Ellie at:

https://elliegowersmusic.com

https://www.facebook.com/EllieGowersMusic/

 

Headliners the Mechanicals (and let's not fail to mention band members Katrin Gilbert, Ben Haines & Jools Street as well as John & Wes) were back at the site of their triumphant performance of "The Righteous Jazz" on November & appropriately opened with a selection of pieces from it (more songs not yet released: I hope they will be soon) before moving onto their released albums with songs from the largely Shakespearean ‘Exit, Pursued by Bear' (which I believe has now sold out of hard copies) and then the most recent, ‘Miscellany #1'. The encore (in a rather Nizlopi type move) was, as mentioned, Wes & John unplugging, deserting the stage & playing the hit from "Much Ado About Nothing' among the audience,  with a waltz around each other to boot.

They also had a brand new limited edition cartoon of themselves as merchandise which I think I ought to bring to your attention.

Will 2020 be able to match or top nights like this? It'll be great seeing it try.

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From the back catalogue

"You Are Light" by The Silver Wye

Review

Last November, in "Hot Music Live", I reviewed a song called "Pick Me Up" by an entity calling itself The Silver Wye.
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