Monday, 18 January 2010

Denis Jones @ Band on the Wall, Saturday 16th January, 2010

If you can measure a musician’s progress by the equipment accrued, then tonight’s array of gadgetry marks a point on Denis Jones’ timeline that makes 2007 debut album Humdrum Virtue seem a distant memory. Denis Jones has at times in his musical metamorphosis been described as ‘folktronica’ by today’s genre-conscious music world, but ‘folk’ has been suppressed in favour of ‘-tronica’ in the intervening years. That said there’s still room for the older, tenderer, bare-bones blues of ‘Four Water’. But sandwich it between two improvised ear-grabbers that sound more Four Tet than Fairport Convention, and it’s easy to see why FutureEverything’s interest has resulted in Jones’ inclusion in their new artist development initiative, Future’s Family.

Although the ‘folk’ tag can be misleading, the first time Jones invites fellow Manchester musicians from Sirconical, Cinematic Orchestra and Glad Eyes to join him onstage, the mould cast is that of a bluesy rock 4-piece; some of the invention so prevalent in his solo guise is conceded due to the greater numbers. The initial warm-up is understandable though, given that it is the first time these musicians have performed together, and is one of very few times that Jones has shared his stage at all. In shedding the solo mantra, the intention was to fill out the sound and this works at the second attempt. After a short break during which Denis performs regular set-closer ‘Beginning’ alone, the others are welcomed back and settle into an edgy experimentation more aligned with the expectation that Denis has built for himself. Chris McGrath’s bass lines become bone-shaking, Luke Flowers’ drumming epitomises the free-form vibe and Tom Barnes’ electric guitar complements Denis Jones in his live production, as together they interpret songs recorded for the forthcoming second album Red + Yellow =.

Make no mistake about who leads the collective. Flowers’ eyes are trained past his drum kit to follow Jones’ every electronic manipulation as he expands his new material into part progressive electronica, part trippy jam. A further reworking of Tom Waits’ ‘Clap Hands’ belies the acoustic loops associated with the Denis Jones solo version to become a bass-heavy funky dirge, as large screens offer live visuals in the background. The cosy Band on the Wall, a venue still retaining a renascent freshness to go with its contemporary eclecticism since reopening last year, represents another step up for Denis Jones, particularly as a sizeable crowd is transfixed by his unique appeal. Although this gig was a worthwhile adventure into non-solo performance, the sheer intensity of his unaccompanied loop-pedal mastery remains the highlight.

Words: Ian Pennington

Friday, 8 January 2010

Top 5 Manchester (and Salford) gigs of 2009

Now then, happy New Year and a very warm welcome to this Now Then blog from the icy climes of Manchester. I’m not intending to go over the top with listing various annual favourites (and certainly think that doing so before the year in question ends is trigger happy at best), but here is my personal selection of live musical treats that stood out at the end of the decade. A ‘Top 5…’ anything is clearly highly subjective, but with gigs is even more so. It can depend on your mood at the time and your familiarity with the music, as well as the performance(s), stage presence, venue, sound level, etc. So my list may have been different for a plethora of reasons, but here’s a stab at it, in chronological order:

Tunng with Tinariwen @ Academy 2, 20/03 (TJ Events/Humble Soul)
- Up in my top 10 gigs ever, this was the brainchild of a BBC Radio 3 experiment that brought together musicians who would never usually rub shoulders. They overcame a language barrier by jamming with each other’s songs for the successful radio collaboration and booked a tour. The result was mesmerising to watch.

Paddy Steer @ Levenshulme Bowls Club, 27/03 (Red Deer Club)
- One of the most visually appealing gigs of the year. Colourful papier mache alien insect heads toyed with electronic wackiness, supported ably by a dancing golden cardboard robot.

Denis Jones @ Fuel, Withington, 04/04 (Cloud Sounds)
- The bearded vocal looper is perhaps most at home in smaller, more intimate surrounds, and the first floor at Fuel epitomised a venue that Denis Jones has often proven to captivate with his growing repertoire of ear-grabbing invention.

Homelife @ Salford Sacred Trinity Church, 02/10 (Humble Soul)
- Homelife’s album launch was one of those feel-good gigs that could bring an inner-smile to even the most reluctant of the audience (though I’m sure nobody there was in the slightest reluctant). Trimmed to the core musicians, Paddy Steer’s polyphonic drumming and Tony Burnside’s sliding guitar riffs was something to experience first hand.

Sleepy Sun @ Retro Bar, 08/12 (Wotgodforgot/Kissing the Lipless)
- Having missed Sleepy Sun’s psychedelic charms during their previous visit to this city in July, this one was a must. Expectation requires a performance to match, and witnessing the Californians’ blissed out arrangements come to life was worth the extra wait.

Close contenders:
- Magic Arm @ Deaf Institute, 23/05 (Switchflicker)
- Paul Green @ Nexus Café, 11/06 (Tactile Affection)
- Vuk + Denis Jones + Caro Snatch @ Kings Arms, Salford, 10/12 (Paul Green)

Words: Ian Pennington