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