Thursday, 29 December 2011

Manchester's Music at Xmas: Festive Freebies

The advent of the internet has paved the way to uncertain times for recording artists but, amidst the bad news and knee-jerk headlines, many musicians are taking advantage of the relative ease of access to listeners’ ears. Combine that with the perceived spirit of unselfish giving associated with this time of the year and you find yourself with an abundance of festive freebies. ‘Tis the season to give away free music, be it compilation albums or individual tracks; cover versions or selected album tracks.

But with so many floating freely across the ethereal www – and with a limited space on your hard-drive – how are you to know which samplers to stream or sample? Fortunately, our round-up is here to help you filter through the downloads of Manchester’s 2011 Yuletide.

We’ll start with a regular in the compilation game, Red Deer Club Recordings. Their fourth selection predictably comprises ditties from the folk pigeonhole in which they’ve built a strong reputation for picking winners (Stealing Sheep, Awesome Wells, Sophies Pigeons), but less predictably also includes many a nod to the post-Animal Collective ‘chillwave’ genre so prevalent on the palate of 2011’s tastemakers (Jewellers, O>L>A, Sun Drums). The seaside field recording seeing in the first 90 seconds of Chewy Benson’s opener ‘To Fallow, To Fall’ isn’t in the traditionalist’s model of folk music either, particularly when it kicks into sample-heavy electronic glitches. Elsewhere, Jonnie Common weighs in with a reworking of his own ‘Summer Is For Going Places’ and one of the standouts is Jess Bryant’s version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Games’; an indicator of the reason why RDC has signed her to the label for 2012.

Also on the compilation theme, Little Red Rabbit have a varied record available on their website, lumping together album tracks, B-sides, exclusives and covers. Some are noticeably festive; Crazy Man Michael’s sombre but catchy copy of Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ obviously so, Last Harbour’s ‘Alone For The Winter’ more tenuously. As a collection, it’s an eerie, acid folk haunt through wintry isolation that sometimes steps inside to the warmth of a crackling open fire and knitted jumpers. The odd one out is Kalbakken’s ‘Ulversdale’ with its spiky, icily disjointed strings and avant-garde rhythms. Support act at the first Now Then Manchester gig of 2012 Samson & Delilah feature with a rejigged ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’, while the headliners for that show, Dan Haywood’s New Hawks, have also recorded a separate Christmas special, ‘My Heart Was Set On Christmas Eve’.

Debt Records provide the most appropriate set for the season; their amply talented roster chipping into an album concentrating solely on covers. Certainly there are improvements on originals – Rioghnach Connolly’s voice on Honeyfeet’s ‘The Wexford Carol’ is a delight, Louis Barabbas is his usual exuberant self with The Bedlam Six on ‘Do-Wap In A Manger’ and Alabaster DePlume’s eclectic a capella riffs around ‘Away In A Manger’. The worry with an album of Xmas covers is that tedium might set in, but with such an array of characters and styles within the label, tedium is never really an issue; Biff Roxby’s curtain closing Wonky Disco mash-up ‘All I Want For Xmas Is Spoo’ means you wouldn’t have chance to nod off with your belly full of turkey. The compilation’s title is a cracker: Debt It Snow! Debt It Snow! Debt It Snow!

Shifting genres, From The Kites Of San Quentin have grouped together their 2011 remixes under one bandcamp page; as ever with these aural inventors, there’s a fair range between the four, from the dubby, atmospheric Badly Drawn Boy number to a remix of 808 State’s ‘In Yer Face’ for BBC Radio Manchester, neatly supplanting its Haç pulse races with Alison Carney's calming vocal pining, via a more deadpan, mellow Dresden mix.

Vocal sculptor, beatboxer and electronic music whizz Jason Singh has produced an ambient plateau 'Christmas Thanks' worthy of a listen on soundcloud. Finally, take the time to add Air Cav’s cover of Kraftwerk’s krautrock classic ‘The Model’ to your download queue; adding Sophie Parkes’ violin to the mix in place of the high pitched synths makes it an inspired choice for the band.

Words: Ian Pennington
Dan Haywood's New Hawks gig poster art: Craig Brown (Beards Club Illustration)
Rioghnach Connolly Photo: Ged Camera
Jason Singh Photo: Courtesy of Jason Singh

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Punkin’ Xmas! Stuart Taylor Promotions presents: Leather Zoo, Kingcrows & Culprits @ Star & Garter, Sunday 18th December 2011

Eighteen holes are on show and it isn’t a golf course or an orgy; instead it’s the DMs that are on display, alongside labels affixed to parkas acknowledging the likes of bands such as The Vibrators and The Misfits. Welcome to the Star & Garter, where there’s one of its regular glam rock/punk afternoons and it’s been set up by Stuart Taylor Promotions (STP).

The sense of rebellion and anarchy that was proudly advocated in the past can seem old hat, with the short time span that the punk ethic flourished in now being looked upon with a whiff of nostalgia; a romantic yearning for the purity of the spirit. All that seems to have happened is that one of the alleged leaders of the uprising now appears in an advert for butter. What a rebellion eh, Lurpack or Kerry Gold? Choose your weapons of mass slippery.

So within the confined spaces of the S&G, here’s an event that allows an opportunity to celebrate some of the original vitality and energy from the period. With the majority of those present appearing to be on the wrong side of 30, the energy levels may be rationed just a little bit although the performances themselves are impressive. The Culprits are just completing their raucous set as I ascend the stairs. This band seems to belong to the ‘anyone can do it so let’s have some fun’ view of things and those present do seem to enjoy them.

The more glam rock end of the punk spectrum is represented by Leeds outfit, The Kingcrows. “It’s our 5th anniversary gig and nobody knows who the F^^^ we are,” announces Phil E Stine, their vocalist. Cheers and jovial jeers are returned. With Stine’s bottle blonde hair and black eye shades, allied to the white, tight pants with their thin, black vertical stripes on, which belong to bassist Rocco, they do make a striking impression, one that’s not easy to forget.

“Anyone here like Country and Western?” Stine asks – knowing full well what the answer is. “Good, ‘cause we don’t do it,” is the next line that serves as the introduction to start their aural onslaught. Backed up by Rocco on bass and Lee on guitar, it’s a loud and intense affair, even at the back alongside the mixing desk. Yet there are faithful followers stood next to the stage savouring the performance, especially when the lyrics include the refrain: “Shit shit shit”.

Gradually the crowd builds up and when Leather Zoo announce that they are ready to go, the sub zero temperature has almost, not quite, left the venue. In frontperson Mel-ski they have someone who can banter with the crowd in a relaxed manner and discuss the finer detail of dealing with customers in the Meadowhall shopping centre then turn into a whirling dervish the moment the guitars kick in.

The Zoo take a more controlled, less intense, road on the punk highway. It may not be a case of toning down the sound levels, possibly more a case of the fact that the increased number of bodies in the place has absorbed some of the sound, but they do come across in a more controlled and restrained fashion but no less potent for that.

Eagerly received and warmly applauded, all the bands are keeping the spirits, if not the flag, flying.

Words & photography: Ged Camera

Friday, 16 December 2011

Stroke Club Presents: The Pigs & Onions @ Gulliver’s, Thursday 15th December 2011

In the manner that a fishmonger might chalk up the best deals of the day on a board outside a shop, at about 9.30pm the list of bands appears inside Gulliver’s, the scribbled white chalk just about visible above the remnants of the last Stroke event. Initially it states only two bands, but after Onions have played their set, a brief addendum is added, just about fitting into the residual space, almost as an afterthought. This late addition is listed as The Pigs, although they appear to also go under the moniker Rapid Pig. To add to the ad hoc nature of things, their front man also appears as a solo artist under the guise of SpaceGhost.

This may be very confusing, but the performance is one that will stick in the memory bank. Before they have started, attention is diverted to the stack of A3 sized sheets of paper that contain the hand written – or scrawled – lyrics to the set. Kneeling over these, staring at them intensely is Eoin O’Connor, aka SpaceGhost.

Before the band is halfway through the first number, O’Connor is crawling off the front of the stage, his legs flailing in the air as if he is trying to swim across the floor. Even in this twisted position, the microphone is still held to his mouth, the vocals flowing. The band looks on this with a knowing amusement, even flicking out the odd playful kick to O’Connor’s torso.

The control exerted by the other four band members as they lay down the musical background for O’Connor’s nasal chants is more restrained and suitably dense – and loud. A keyboardist produces psychedelic sounds whilst the overall experience resembles the results of too much inbreeding between Fraser King and Jim Morrison.

It’s a magnetic performance from O’Connor that does tail off towards the end as he dips into the all too easy refrain of “F*** you,” but, for a band that has not played a live set in a considerable amount of time, still impressive.

Pop permeates the set by Onions. Within 10 minutes of the trio approaching the stage with their equipment they are starting their first number. With an equally impressive speed, the seemingly empty venue now has a decent sized crowd.

Whether or not their content takes a nod to the infectious nature of songs such as Norman Gimbel’s theme tune to Happy Days, there is a contagious vibrancy to their set. So much so that a fair proportion of the crowd are now twisting in a positive way. It’s not quite approaching dancing but it’s a move in the right direction.

They have enough time changes in each song to create the illusion that three are segued together and the pace is unrelenting, ideal for a cold winter’s night.

Their tongue is not so much planted in the side of their collective cheek; it’s more like it’s against the wall of the bar. “I’ll keep taking my vitamins / So I can live with you,” they jest and at one point I’m sure they refer to one of the lesser know areas of Manchester called Belle Vue with the refrain of, “Nobody ever comes here.” Well, not unless you are a speedway enthusiast.

Taking place on the first and third Thursdays of the month, the free entry event that is the Stroke Club still throws up a fascinating array of entertainment.

Words & Photography: Ged Camera

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Narrows with Swansong & Flashing Astraptes @ Night & Day Café, Tuesday 13th December 2011

Manchester has battened down the hatches in readiness for the forthcoming storm. The chill wind is blowing along the deserted streets. Yes coming up is Black Friday, i.e. the one where every office Christmas party descends upon the bars and eateries in the centre, purportedly in support of a good time. Yes, I will indeed be somewhere in the mêlée the evening, but the consequence is a bleak Tuesday night. The paucity of numbers tends to indicate that I may be the only paying customer in the Night & Day, or at least one of the first.

Sat to one side of the stage, facing the side wall, the solo performer that goes under the name Flashing Astraptes is creating weird though not always wonderful sounds with his guitars and foot pedals. At times there is a comforting rhythm to the output, but with the amplifier ramped up to max, the distortion kicks in and self control seems to wane as the noises start to override any ambience.

Swansong consists of another solo artist, who has been playing the local venues, honing his keyboard skills and sounds, in a similar manner to xxxy. He is even wearing a t-shirt advertising another promising Manchester act, From the Kites of San Quentin.

Hunched over the synths, the icy rhythms dispensed are wrapped in a deliberately created warmth, just like an Arctic roll (ask yer mum!). It’s crisply dispensed and his lyrics roll freely from the stage. For all his body twisting and efforts though, on a night like this it’s going to be difficult to get anyone up and moving as the music deserves. Rather, it forms a pleasing backdrop for the evening’s conversations. When he finishes, the silence is quickly filled with genuine applause.

A night billed as an electronic extravaganza continues with The Narrows. The emphasis this time is more a case of the keyboardist (Phil Drinkwater) supporting the raucous energy of the two guitarists, Dave Battle and Adam Hynes. From the start there’s a frenetic energy flowing through the trio, as exemplified when the keyboard is almost knocked from its stand by Drinkwater.

The band forces their performance onto the listeners, attempting to dispel any pre-Christmas lethargy with vibrant, effective songs that certainly require a second listen. The unwanted technical “hitch” – a stray, repetitive burst of noise plaguing a song – fails to detract from an impressive performance.

Words & Photography: Ged Camera

Monday, 5 December 2011

Interview: thebrokendoor

Pantomime is reasonably considered to be the all-singing, all-dancing staple of the festive season. Its aesthetic and auditory enterprise appeals to both the coach-loads of school children high on Christmas spirit and the TV soap thespians who line their pockets with a Christmas bonus. But what if the icy chill of winter lessens your appetite for overly jovial slapstick and rhetorical audience interaction isn’t a prerequisite for an evening’s entertainment?

Experimental drum’n’bass specialists thebrokendoor think they have the answer. Using their knack for forward-thinking and unbounded creativity, they have adapted musically memorable films, reincarnating the originals’ tunes as technologically tweaked tangents using samplers and well-trained musical ears. The Lancashire quartet have hosted two previous annual audio-visual adventures in their native Bolton and the third will focus on the classic film Singing In The Rain.

They embark on a mini-tour, calling in the south Manchester area this Sunday (11th December) at Dulcimer bar in Chorlton, where they’ll be joined on the line-up by two of Manchester’s finest exports in electronica, Jason Singh and Veí, who’ll re-score the Quay Brothers’ Streets of Crocodiles and a walk-through of the computer game Limbo, respectively.

Now Then Manchester spoke to thebrokendoor’s vibraphonist and vocalist Emma Welsby ahead of the Manchester leg of the show.

Now Then: You performed an improvised set to Charlie & The Chocolate Factory last year. What made you decide to take this step?

thebrokendoor: We have been doing an alternate soundtrack to a film every year for the last three years. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory was a film which was a big part of our childhood memories and the original soundtrack lent itself well to being re-sampled so we could add our own twist on the songs. We were really pleased with the outcome of this and decided to try Singing In The Rain this year.

NT: How did it compare with your usual performances?

tbd: What we enjoy about our band is we can step out of the live improvised drum n bass we normally do and have side projects such as this to challenge us musically. In our normal set-up we pick a key and improvise around that, whereas working around the structure of a film makes us have more discipline. It changes how we work together as a team and we learn more about each other as a result. Instead of playing to people to make them dance this is much more a ‘sit down and watch’ affair, which is different for us.

NT: How did you select the film to use?

tbd: The film has strong songs which occur regularly throughout so it lent itself to us having quite a lot to perform. When we originally watched the film we had strong ideas for each song so it made sense to give this one a go!

NT: Are there any other musicians who’ve influenced this direction for the band?

tbd: This particular direction probably took influence from bands such as The Cinematic Orchestra who have written for film before. We also really vibe off musicians who push the boundaries of live technology such as Amon Tobin who have a great live show which is highly visual. One thing we wanted to do differently is to not just be a band playing in front of a film taking no inspiration from the original soundtrack. We stay true to the songs and take influence from them – hence why you can hear samples from the original songs as we play with them.

NT: Who inspires you in the world of film?

tbd: We all have different tastes in film in the band but we like the darkness of the soundtracks written by Danny Elfman and the abstract musical writings of Maurice Binder (James Bond). We also like Sofia Coppola for her selection of soundtracks for film. And writer Frank Darabond, producer Ridley Scott and director Ron Fricke because he creates tone without the need for a narrative. We like the French animator Moebius who creates fantastic other worlds.

NT: This year will be Singing In The Rain; what can we expect from that?

tbd: If you want to hear the original soundtrack re-sampled and reworked to incorporate big beats, bass, vibraphone and electronics, taking influence from drum n bass, dubstep, electronica and post rock then this might be the show for you!

Words: Ian Pennington
Poster #1: Craig Brown (Beards Club Illustration)
Poster #2: Courtesy of thebrokendoor
thebrokendoor photo: Courtesy of thebrokendoor
Jason Singh photo: Courtesy of Jason Singh

thebrokendoor headline an early evening of electronic music performed to specially selected films at Dulcimer in Chorlton on Sunday 11th December. Jason Singh (performing to Streets of Crocodiles by the Quay Brothers) and Veí (performing to a reworked walkthrough of the Limbo computer game) will also perform. Doors at 5pm; entry policy is pay-what-you-like, £3 suggested.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Interview: D'lyfa Reilly

Other than being a dab hand at picking a pun ridden alias, D’lyfa Reilly has been perfecting his art of relaying tales untainted by sugar-coated commercialism. A comradeship with fellow Red IQ lyricists Bo’Nidle and C Aye Monk is partly to thank for his progress, but the pivotal point in his short history as a solo musician arrived earlier this year on the digital release of the Sewing Seeds EP. Adopting the stylistic immediacy of hip hop, the record is unafraid to confront the insecurity of youth. Reilly writes about himself and those around him by putting his soul on show through lyrical delivery ranging from laid back and thoughtful moodiness to sharp-tongued scythes.

Even as a solo artist, D’lyfa’s path isn’t totally lonesome. The credits for his EP nod towards Riddle, who mixed and mastered the tracks as well as co-producing the artwork with Bo’Nidle; his video library is slowly swelling thanks to collaborations with northwest filmmakers Chris Wrench and Daniel Entwistle (Shtuffs Productions); he’s shared bills with musicians both local and beyond from The Natural Curriculum and Sparkz to Ghostface Killah and Jehst.

D’lyfa fills in the gaps by answering Now Then Manchester’s questions ahead of this Thursday 8th December's show at Dulcimer in Chorlton.

Now Then: What does hip hop mean to you?

D’lyfa Reilly: A narrative of the emotions felt at one particular time, then captured once recorded.

NT: Who inspires you lyrically?

DR: Lyrically, I’m inspired by Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Jim Morrison (The Doors) and from an early age SkinnyMan, after I heard Council Estate of Mind when I was about 12. Just because I make hip hop right now, it doesn't mean I’m completely inspired solely by hip hop artists. But if anyone really inspires my writing daily with their presence it would be Bo'Nidle & C Aye Monk, my Red iQ amigos.

NT: ‘Moment of Soul’ dabbles briefly with the big questions of life and death – are these questions important to you or is it all about the here and now?

DR: ‘Moment of Soul’ and the rest of the Sewing Seeds EP were written around the end of 2009 to early 2010 when my mind frame was in a different place, as 2011 went on I was learning more and more about myself and for the time being my thoughts are definitely on the here and now.

NT: You say you want to carve your name in the tree of life; when will you feel you’ve accomplished this?

DR: Truthfully I don’t know how to answer that, I guess I will know when I know. I hope I never stop carving to be honest!

NT: Do you change your approach when writing music with Red IQ? If so, how?

DR: When we write together, we just jam; on-the-spot tracks, etc. At most times with a lot of inspiration from Riddle when he’s churning out them badman beats in studio and more recently I’m getting so much energy from the beats I’m hearing from Bo'Nidle!

NT: Do you prefer performing with others or as a solo artist?

DR: Definitely better performing alongside my brothers - I couldn't hack standing alone! And it’s always a big boost when Konny Kon is behind the decks; Manchester legend and all round don.

NT: Who has done your EP artwork for Sewing Seeds and what are your impressions of that?

DR: Bo'Nidle & Riddle actually threw that together for me, immediately after I mentioned the EP title. And I thought it captured the image in my head perfectly.

NT: Your videos for ‘Concrete Safari’ and NT: ‘The Path (Walk On)’ have a distinctive, stop-start animation style – who have you been working with on those, how much input do you have and what do you think about the results?

DR: ‘The Path’ was filmed and directed by Chris Wrench and co-directed by myself, and ‘Concrete Safari’ was filmed and edited by Daniel Entwistle. Both are immense and I wouldn't really want to have worked with anyone else on them, both are actually top geezers – look out for more of my work very soon with them both!

NT: Who are you listening to at the moment and which of your peers would you recommend?

DR: Right this second I’m listening to Lauryn Hill - I find it hard to say! Tune! But my favourite tape at the moment is 'Ab-Soul - Longterm 2: Lifestyles Of The Broke & Almost Famous'. The guy is absolutely gripping my attention right now. But as far as my peers are concerned I recommend you all go out and listen to and download anything from Bo'Nidle, C Aye Monk and Riddle (goes without saying really!) and Dirty North (the best band doing it right now in Manchester!), TNC (killing every show I see from 'em!) and outside of Manchester go listen to R kid More 1 (West London) and BLG (a cold collective in Leicester).

Words: Ian Pennington
Video: Daniel Entwistle (Shtuffs Productions)
Posters design: Max Peake (Hurtdeer)
Album art: Bo’Nidle & Riddle

D’lyfa Reilly headlines the next Now Then Manchester show on Thursday 8th December at Dulcimer bar in Chorlton. TNC regular Bill Sykes is lined up to support while Mind On Fire DJs fill in the gaps with their usual taste-making tune selection. Will Not Be Televised co-promote. Entry policy is pay-what-you-like; £3 suggested.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Now Then Imploding Inevitable: Event Photography (Thursday 10th November 2011 @ Dulcimer, Chorlton)

The first of two November Now Then Manchester shows launched Najia Bagi's new album, Six Months. The ever-reliable folk-tinged taste-makers Imploding Inevitable (who have announce the dates for their third summer festival at Fell Foot as Friday 29th and Saturday 30th June) stepped up to co-promote, with Avital Raz performing her last show in the UK before a stint travelling to Israel and USA and ex-Witness guitarist Gerard Starkie performing with his rhythm section.

First on, Gerard Starkie:

Followed by Avital Raz:

And finally, Najia Bagi, airing her solo compositions fr the first time, ably aided by a string trio:

All photos: Ged Camera
Words: Ian Pennington

Friday, 25 November 2011

Preview: Nexus Night Café

Two years ago a friend and I found ourselves stumbling out of a bar in the Northern Quarter not wishing to go home but no longer able to find an open bar or particularly interested in walking about looking for a taxi and avoiding fights and vomit.

We were handed a flyer for a place down the road. Normally I'll take a flyer and then throw it away but I liked the vibe coming from this person and the flyer had a pretty picture. I’m very easily persuaded.

That place was Nexus Art Café which runs a Night Café on Saturdays, open from 2am to 6am. We were welcomed into the warm space, where we bought hot chocolate and delicious cake. We had a few slices of cake.

There were industrial sized rolls of paper on the floor and plenty of crayons and here we all were; adults, merry and playing like kids. 4am Scrabble, art installations on the wall and good music.

The Café has also been open weekdays from 2008 and holds regular community and arts events. The food is great. You can bring your own mix tapes and put them in the jukebox. There are books and games, regular art exhibitions, music and theatre.

All of this is run not-for-profit. It is one of the friendliest and most important venues in the city but funding cuts mean the Night Café has been running at a loss for over a year.

Please help Nexus Night Café to stay open beyond December by making a donation to the charity, either using the box at the counter or by contacting for further information.

They are also holding a fundraiser on Saturday 3rd December from 8pm 'til 6am. Tickets are £7 and available from in advance.

The event will see performances from PYJAMA PARTY, sublime songtresses HAT + EL, young whippersnappers BROUHAHA and late night DJ sets from FAUST, RK and GREENY.

They'll also be holding a raffle with some cool prizes, including a whole year of life drawing classes, tickets to Bright Club Manchester, a brew a day 'til 2013, a year’s membership with our jazzy neighbours Matt and Phred’s and vouchers for other NQ businesses, as well as cakes and boxes of delicious Teapigs tea.

If you care about Manchester and you care about interesting and exciting things happening where you live or if you just care about having somewhere to play board games and eat really good chocolate cake at four in the morning then go along or donate.

Words: Sean Mason
Image: Nexus poster

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Carefully Planned Festival 2011

The aptly named Carefully Planned All-Dayer has been a fairly regular occurrence over the past couple of years. Handpicking a variety of acts to take the stage, the brains behind Everything You Need first took up a whole chunk of Manchester’s daylight hours back in 2009 – and before that entertained Huddersfield. The modus operandi is merely ‘alternative’, which remains pleasingly vague and probably translates as: ‘a bunch of stuff you haven’t yet heard of’. This time around that equates to 66 acts scheduled across two days and four Northern Quarter venues.

My route through the above format isn’t the most extensive – in fact it’s a particularly small percentage of the total music on offer – but it gives a taster; a few bites from the festival buffet, bouncing between platters with an open mind and receptive palate.

For starters, I’m jumping in on day two; Sunday. Shen is downstairs at Centro, retuning his guitar as a mid-set adjustment on his debut show. The hawkeyed amongst a modest early audience have identified his cohort for the slot as the Dr Mahogany’s Goat Circus guitarist. He watches as intently as everyone else during Shen’s intricate acoustic picking combined with heartfelt lyrics partly aided by echo, before adding beats to a Bill Callaghan cover and incongruous bleeps to an anomalous set closer, which could be likened to Thom Yorke’s electronic tendency in the same way as Shen’s deep, straining vocal emotion to simple yet loquacious lines.

Sitting around for Mount Fabric entails a bout of high pitched Matt Bellamy-isms and a wilful reliance on effects pedals to add flesh to bone-shaking rhythmic skeletons. Following that, an exploration is in order. Inter-music prep at The Castle Hotel leads to a brief dalliance with the post-post-post-noise guitar-string mistreatment advocates Crash Of Rhinos; a popular choice whose curtain soon closes to herald a stroll to calmer climes down the Bay Horse’s stairs.

The Gardenelles’ classical folky vibe recaptures Sandy Denny and Vashti Bunyan through finger-picked tales related to Whitehaven’s episode of ‘Coast’ and its tinted specs of invasion reminisce. What is striking is the almost immaculate behaviour of an audience who receive songs with the respect the duo’s delivery deserves.

And that attitude remains (barring the occasional twitter or phone chirp) through Greta Santagata’s sparse yet involving compositions. The harpist sings in the languages of English, music, wonder, lust and her own personal diction as delicate chimes resonate, sandwiched between the face of anticipant stillness reflected back out by the mirror behind her.

With a fleeting glance back into Centro, where Decadence In Berlin are bashing out high octane thrashy punk numbers about the recession with a pleasing insistence on cowbell for percussion, my not-so carefully planned path through Carefully Planned comes to a close. An enjoyable path, although maybe next time I’ll take the event moniker’s advice and better prepare.

Words: Ian Pennington

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Liz Green Album Launch @ Kings Arms, Salford, Saturday 12th November 2011

“Welcome to Liz Green’s album launch party – I put the emphasis on party rather than slick gig...” These are the opening and warmly appropriate sentiments of George Thomas from support band on the night The Thomas Brothers. This is more of a celebration of the four years it’s taken for Green to release her debut LP, O, Devotion (through Play It Again Sam).

The Thomas Brothers open the evening’s proceedings with their upbeat 60s rockabilly with wonky edges courtesy of “astronaut sound effects” and occasional use of an old Ace Tone organ. The duo charm the room and have them in stitches between songs – “If you like watching rehearsals, you must be loving this.”

But the night isn’t about trying to win over a hostile crowd; it is a gathering of friends and well wishers all set on helping Liz Green celebrate her first full length release. And as such when Green does take to the stage she begins by downing a glass of rum to a chorus of “down it!” from the room.

However, for all the banter and general frivolity in the packed room, when Green opens with the a capella ‘Grinnin’ In Your Face’ it shows why everyone is here. Her idiosyncratic songbird warble causes the crowd to become listening statues before joining in to clap and stamp along bringing the song to a close.

Two songs in, Green’s band (who she affectionately names 'Team Me') join her on stage to begin a whole host of bouncy double bass driven songs with a slow 1920s sounding brass section that is always present but never overpowering. The only thing missing from the swirling jazzy sound is a stereotypical overabundance of finger clicking and toe-tapping.

Despite being a night full of warmth, rambling stories between songs and hand drawn storyboard explanations of songs, Green always brings it back to her record’s more sombre feel. “Enough of the hilarity; here’s a song about death,” is her way of introducing 'Hey Joe', a song about her half-man, half-bird imaginary friend.

Green is clearly in great spirits about finally releasing O, Devotion on a night which shows just how much affection and devotion there is towards her, both in the room and surely soon from a much wider audience.

The Set List

Grinnin’ In Your Face [Son House cover]
Dying Crapshooter’s Blues [Blind Willie McTell cover]
Ostrich Song
Midnight Blues
Displacement Song
Rag and Bone
Hey Joe
The Ballad of Joe and Oko
The Quiet
Bad Medicine
French Singer
Bei Mir Bis du Shoen

Words: Ben Robinson
Set list courtesy of Folly of Youth.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Interview: Air Cav

So far Air Cav have resisted the temptation to cash in on acclaim afforded them since emerging in 2008, choosing instead to hone their skill for heart-poundingly epic shoegaze compositions. The ‘Alliance / Branches’ single was tagged by Steve Lamacq as one of his five picks for ‘Hottest Records in the World Right Now’ and various analyses have alluded to Arcade Fire when searching for an appropriate simile for uplifting violin embedded within the alt-rock line-up. Unhurried and unfazed, the quartet have been biding their time, adding to that an armoury of tunes all tried and tested as part of an oft-applauded live show. Everything is now picking up pace – a new single ‘A Call To Arms’ was released earlier this month and the debut album entitled Don’t Look Indoors is set to follow on 5th December.

The album in question meanders from alt-rock’s choppy staccato to the engulfing reverberations of shoegaze which, with the presence of the undeniably soothing violin lines, embraces both the classical and contemporary. Serene yet stirring instrumental breaks belie the urgency of motorik marching beats and Chris Nield’s Brian Molko-esque vocal charges; it is a collection of contrasts cohesively soldered into shape. The band’s name (Air Cav is the name for an air-mobile division of the US Army) isn’t where army influence ends; from ‘A Call to Arms’ to ‘Alliance’, ‘So Others May Live’ to ‘Here Be Dragons’, there are military references aplenty, which violinist Sophie Parkes defines as “metaphor and a combined respect for war films – from the males in the band at least!” The record could be interpreted as a concept album; in the same breath, the architects could be interpreted as a concept band.

Released on the band’s own label, Crystalline Recordings, Don’t Look Indoors realises that promise with all the grandiose aplomb that you’d expect. Still the standout track, ‘Alliance’ is that rare musical adhesive that’ll stick to your inner playlist long after listening and it is accompanied by an often fearsome arsenal of fellow euphoric climbs. But the highlights aren’t necessarily always the besieging; ‘Exile’ and album closer ‘Glossary’ retreat to forge a fortress of melancholy, captivating those who enter its melodic gates.

Ahead of a headlining slot at Now Then Manchester’s first Antwerp Mansion showcase on 24th November, violinist Sophie Parkes spared some time to answer our questions.

Now Then: You were initially victims of the journo shorthand for melodic indie: ‘sounds like Arcade Fire’. Did you welcome this? What did you think about the reaction to your recording emergence back then?

Sophie Parkes: Well, as much as I love Arcade Fire, it seemed very simple to be able to equate ‘girl on violin’ with ‘sounds like Arcade Fire’ – I don’t think we would have had those comparisons had we not the line-up we do, because I’m not sure there is all that much in common. It’s one of those journalistic timeframes where everyone is caught up with the ‘big sound’; a decade ago, everyone sounded like The Strokes. Otherwise, I think we were really pleased with the reaction to our first singles: we had some really nice airplay, including Radio 1 and being made ‘Single of the Week’ on XFM. It’s always heartening to have that kind of reaction when you’re essentially doing this yourself; no manager, no agent, no label, no PR specialist and so on.

NT: It’s been a long time in the making since the first singles released back in 2008. What has been the hold up?

SP: We’ve spent a long time scrapping, rewriting... We weren’t going to hurry, as there seemed nothing to hurry for! It’s not like we’ve ever been involved in the hype machine or anything. We thought we’d take our time, get together a collection that we were pleased with and see what happened...

NT: Did you hesitate before including the early singles on the album, given the length of time since they were originally recorded, or were they too significant to omit?

SP: I don’t think we hesitated as such, just as we’re really proud of ‘Alliance’ and ‘Picking At The Bones’ and wanted to include them, but we did want to record them differently, with a different slant. So ‘Alliance’ is calmer, fuller, whilst ‘Picking At The Bones’ includes different backing vocals and more noise.

NT: What has the response been to the album so far and how do you feel about it?

SP: The reviews have started filtering in and they’ve all been really positive and enthusiastic so far – and some of our nearest and dearest are very impressed, and that’s what matters. We’ve also had some great airplay: Steve Lamacq has played ‘A Call To Arms’ to end one of his shows on 6Music and John Kennedy gave us a whirl on XFM, so it’s looking good.

NT: You’ve recently been taking support slots on Now Wave and WotGodForgot promoted shows... How have they gone for you?

SP: It’s really great to be able to support interesting, well-received bands from outside the UK and see what all the fuss is about. And, of course, they’re experienced promoters who choose great venues and really think about which support bands will complement their headliners, meaning that fans might well have an ear out for us, too.

NT: Which has been your most memorable live show and why?

SP: Well, there’s been several really. We were really lucky to head to Holland with our friends, Daniel Land And The Modern Painters, for a couple of shows and meet some really lovely people who we’ve stayed in touch with. We also put on our own Christmas gig a couple of years ago at the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel which was amazing; mulled wine, mince pies and music in a very ambient setting always goes down well! Then this year, Dave Haslam invited us down to play at the Manchester International Festival, which was really great, and we also loved supporting Ringo Deathstarr at the Ruby Lounge, just because they’re fantastic.

NT: Which records are you playing the grooves off at the moment and which of your peers would you recommend?

SP: I’m a big folk fan and I’m currently enthralled by a new female English folk singing collective called Lady Maisery who specialise in ‘diddling’, singing instrumental tunes rather than singing words. Chris is desperately awaiting the new Spiritualized album, following their performance at the Albert Hall last month.

As for other bands at the moment, we’re big fans of Driver Drive Faster, who we asked to support us at our Christmas gig a couple of years ago, and I love Caulbearers, too.

NT: Where will Air Cav go from here?

SP: Well, we’ve already got a clutch of new songs that we’re really chuffed with, songs that are sounding a little different to what we’ve done before, so we’ll be looking forward to playing those live and seeing how they go down.

Words: Ian Pennington
Photographs: Courtesy of Air Cav
Logos: Courtesy of Air Cav / Crystalline Recordings
Promo design: Craig Brown Beards Club Illustration

Air Cav headline the Now Then Crystalline Records show at Antwerp Mansion on Thursday 24th November. Foreign Hands and Ivan Campo will also perform; entry policy is pay-what-you-like, £3 suggested.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Denis Jones: Then & Now

Years ago, neatly tucked in alongside Humble Soul’s other local traditional folkies including Liz Green and John Fairhurst, Denis Jones was merely one part ‘electronic’ dabbler, while remaining for the most part safely concurrent with 21st Century folk & blues.

Ever since then, he has slowly but surely drifted out into a sea of spliced soundwaves and, in pairing with multi-instrumental beats merchant David Schlechtriemen (also of The Pickpocket Network, HoneyFeet and Driver Drive Faster), his soulful side is being rejected for something altogether more immediate. The quaint (if wrongly attributed) folk-tronica tag has long since been shed. Tracking his progress as a musician very much open to experimenting with his art, you can still sense the early learning in folk and blues, notably in tonight’s recognisable tracks ‘Beginning’ and ‘Clap Hands’, but Denis has used his accumulated coats of technological paint to embrace something far more hard-hitting, raw, visceral and primordial: dance music.

If you were to see him tonight for the first time, his abundance of facial follicles would seem more sonically apt alongside pre-shave Beardyman or moustachioed Andrew Weatherall than folk’s William Fitzsimmons or Iron & Wine. The audience are still heckling for the standouts of his first two LPs: “‘Elvis’! ‘Sometimes’!” they plead; “Judas!” you can almost hear them thinking. From David’s arrival partway through opener ‘Clap Hands’ until he departs again for ever-beguiling curtain closer ‘Beginning’, it is a deluge of electronic indulgence. During that time, some shuffle uncomfortably and reminisce about more intimate climes of days gone by, sat cross-legged in crammed south Manchester bars, but in realising his own musical present and future, he is steadily leaving that audience in the past.

Or is he?

Denis’ ever-developing brand of dance noise would most cohesively fall into the IDM category alongside the likes of Walls, Fuck Buttons and Ghosting Season. But Denis and David (or Tatetitotu, as they're tentatively calling the project) are unchained by genre and also retain a certain organic feel that some peers cannot boast. Their compositions are untethered to the workings of a macbook, generating a production less disguised than the others. Looped sample pads and a mesmerising array of gadgets seem over-complicated, but groundings are often laid by the more human elements. Denis’s acoustic guitar plucked with intricate precision; his vocal howls and hollers adding an entombing atmospheric intensity. In this sense it could be interpreted as in keeping with the bluesy roots.

And does a dance music orientation necessarily leave folk and blues behind? If the folk and blues leviathans of days gone by had access to the sound warping equipment that today’s sonic sculptors readily employ, would they too reshape and adapt? Indeed, they did adapt. John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters trailblazed with electric blues; John Martyn championed alternate guitar tunings; Don Van Vliet rewrote the recording rulebook in his secluded forest cabin (albeit a rulebook that few would willingly follow).

That progressive dynamism is as fundamental to the synthetic as it is to the natural. Indeed, the open-minded are shifting their feet to the Denis/David duo’s block rockin’ beats. The only sticking point would be that it’s not Denis Jones as advertised; it’s a wholly different racket. nods to John Fairhurst, Adrian Crowley and Alin Coen Band as reference points, but those are inaccurate and inadequate to his direction; every step he’s taken has been away from those peers. Which means that local promoters Mind On Fire are way ahead of Tuneglue. They saw the sonic signs more than 18 months ago by pitting him alongside the likes of From the Kites of San Quentin and xxxy on a bill topped by Mount Kimbie; next week (Thursday 17th November) they’re taking that a stage further by seamlessly coalescing him (plus David) with the supports for IDM electronic glitch tweaker Shigeto at Islington Mill.

And so to the future, which for Denis should include many more of the kaleidoscopic frames distributed on entry to this gig – albeit with more of a light show to hammer home his realignment in techno-musical technicolour. The specs, incidentally, are an apt side-story and one that lends credence to Denis’s strides into dancefloor-filling territory. Distributed on entry to the Deaf Institute, they build a hallucinatory experience with minimal effort, cost and after-effects; the silver screen is dabbling with 1980s 3D comebacks, so why not independent music? Many seem sceptical, but taking on the paraphernalia of Biff’s infamous Back to the Future crony means you’re only a short leap into the surreal away from a psychedelic Chemical Brothers or Orbital spectacle. Not often will this be used as a simile, but then it hasn’t been often that Denis has provided an encore with the ballistics of a D’n’B beats bombardment.

Words: Ian Pennington
Photography: Stephen Hicks
Poster: Mind On Fire

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Interview: Ghost Outfit

You may have heard Manchester buzz band Ghost Outfit causing a clamour on Wilmslow Road buses, in art galleries or on record; all very lo-fi, guerrilla, DIY so far. When Now Then’s Ben Robinson decided to investigate further, frontman Jack Hardman told him about the ghosts of the band’s past, present and future.

Hallowe’en was the perfect time for the aptly named Ghost Outfit to release their new single Tuesday through Sways Records – hand knitted ghosts and all. Early in its musical life, the duo comprising Jack Hardman and Mike Benson has been branded with the currently trendy ‘lo-fi’ and ‘DIY’ tags, but the poltergeist-loving pair is now trying to move away from such labels by setting sights on taking the distorted shoegaze noise-pop further afield.

“I understand why we’re called [lo-fi], you can’t exactly call the earlier recordings anything but lo-fi; it was kind of lo-fi by necessity rather than associating it with the genre. It wasn’t really an attempt to recreate that genre it was more making what we could with the equipment that we had.”

Ghost Outfit are part of the Salford-based Sways Records and have also been championed by local promoters Underachievers Please Try Harder and MCR Scenewipe. They have been associated with the lo-fi re-emergence in Manchester of late along with countless other distortion loving, budget-sounding bands, such as Sex Hands, Former Bullies and Milk Maid; a trend owing a debt to love of nineties American indie.

“I’d have to say it’s all stemmed from the re-emergence of that scene of bringing back nineties American indie rock. And I like the fact that a lot of Manchester bands are putting a completely unique spin on it – they’re not trying to recreate the sounds of these American lo-fi bands.”

Ghost Outfit fell into this ramshackle DIY scene through a combination of need and bad experiences in the recording studio as they were starting out. After that experience, Jack says the band are heading to the studio for a lengthier process with their sights on moving away from previous lo-fi efforts.

“We want to get stuck into something a bit lengthier because we’ve not done that before, the two EPs we put out before this single are online. They were all sort of compilations we did over the space of nine months, so we want to do a long EP; that’s our next call.”

“We’re actually talking about polishing off a couple of songs and then going down in a couple of weeks to start recording at the Sways studio in Salford. Because it’s their studio we can kind of do what we’ve wanted to do for ages which is move in and stay there for like three or four days while we live there and do all the recording then fall asleep and stuff.”

“With the old EP we had no interest in going into a studio because we went into a studio early on as a band – one of those pay-per-day studios – and we just had a horrible experience of it. So we thought everyone’s doing it DIY at the moment so we’ll give that a go. We took that and sort of pushed that as far as we could go whilst still trying to be pop and yeah it was great, we had a great time doing it, but because the scene at the moment is very heavily lo-fi sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the people who’ve worked really hard to get it to sound interesting and lo-fi.”

Jack insists though that the band is wary of finding themselves as part of a ‘trend’ for the sake of sounding a particular way. For their future planned recording sessions they’ll be aiming for a sound that’s “nice and live”. So expect to hear a slightly different Ghost Outfit sound in their next releases.

“People like Chad VanGaalen have really tried to use lo-fidelity to their advantage, but then you get people who are the other way around. Like bands who stick a microphone as low as the reverb and distortion in the room and play into their microphone and they’re done in an hour or something.”

“And there’s merit to that but at the same time it allows bands to sound really trendy at very little effort on their own part. I think we’re looking at disassociating ourselves from lo-fi completely, we don’t want go for a really slick sound just nice and live in the studio.”

Words: Ben Robinson
Images: Simon Bray (Music photography)