Tuesday 27 January 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey and Pink - Caravan at Norwich Arts Centre

The trouble with getting old is that it happens to rock stars too. Their compositions may have been immortalised and manipulated via remastering and digitalisation, vinyl re-issues may even recreate the sounds as authentically, if not better, than the original release, but will the passage of time still see justice being done when the band are still performing live many decades later? Who are these grand old men on the stage performing those iconic sounds of my youth? The music is familiar, yet the faces, whilst looking authentic, seem much more 'lived in' than I remember from last time around.

The reunion produces a stark reminder of the passage of time, like being re-introduced to those distant uncles and half-cousins that you only meet intermittently at weddings and funerals. But in the case of classic bands on tour, one or more of those 'uncles' have themselves moved on, replaced by credible, but nonetheless substitute 'family'. They may still look familiar, with that tell tale visage of a career spent in bars, studios and auditoria, but any hint of  recognition is by then just a coincidental resemblance to that aging uncle or battered album sleeve.

But does it really matter? If the music is authentically re-created or re-interpreted before an appreciative live audience does it make an iota of difference if the stage is fronted by all, some, or none of the original band members? Hence the popularity of tribute bands. Whilst there is still no 'Trip Advisor' style star-rating system for tribute bands (and I have seen some pretty scary versions over the years) there are a credible number that have taken 'resurrection' to a higher art form, usually where there is still a) a huge public demand to see a legendary act perform, and b) no realistic chance of  the original band members reforming to tour under their original name.

Caravan were never my favourite band ever, or even of the Seventies, but I will always hold them in a special affection. I discovered their music almost by accident, introduced it to two of my friends who in turn, were awakened by the Caterbury Rock and made the pivotal decision to go off to study at the University of Kent after A-Levels. That is some responsibility that I to have to bear.

Like I say, I wasn't a huge fan. Apart from the one album, I never bought any more of their releases. I found the schoolboy humour in titles like 'Cunning Stunts', 'Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night' and 'If I Could Do it All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You' slightly incredulous, and as an aspiring  serious prog-rocker I was duty-bound to be awe-inspired by a bare-chested Keith Emerson drilling knives into a Moog synthesiser live on stage, or Peter Gabriel wearing silly hats and singing about lawn-mowers. But 'The Land of Grey and Pink', released in 1971, was, and still is, one of my favourite albums of all time, and one which has never left my collection since.

I bought my first copy in a secondhand record store in Lowestoft whilst still at sixth-form. It became a defining album of my teens, something that I was proud to put on in the sixth-form common room, knowing that someone cool would always come up and ask me what it was. When I tragically sold off  my vinyl collection in the mid-eighties, having been hyped by the Tomorrows World team into buying a compact disc player, I was relieved to find that Decca had given it an early transfer to digital. I rushed to buy what I hoped would be a sharper, clearer, cleaner version. Like a lot of old analogue recordings this one, too, illustrates why audiophiles have remained so loyal to vinyl. Whilst it was gratifying to lose the multitude of crackles and pops from years of careless handling, and the incessant background rumble from not having changed my stylus regularly enough, my digitally transferred replacement copy did not hit me in the nuts with anything like the same power and force that the worn and scratched vinyl copy was capable of.

Caravan took to the Norwich Arts Centre stage last night to a 'mature' audience, in which I include myself, forty two years after I last saw them play at the University of East Anglia. That night was supposed to also feature prog-folk group Renaissance, and I was gutted when we arrived at the Lower Common Room to be told that, unfortunately, the road crews could not fit both bands' equipment onto the stage. Renaissance would, therefore, not play, but Caravan would step up and perform a double set.

Norwich Arts Centre stage is probably about one tenth of the size of the UEA stage. Thanks to forty years of advances in microprocessors and the advent of solid-state hard-drives, what would have half- filled an articulated lorry in 1973 will now fit into a keyboard that one person can carry. Accordingly there is no problem with the support act not being able to play tonight.

Matt Woosey is one of those musicians that has built up a reputation and following by hard work and gigging. Since 2008 he has released seven albums of his own songs, has toured the UK and Europe (including in 2009 a tour of 100 gigs in 100 days), has played at Ronnie Scotts in London and has received praise from the BBC's Paul Jones and Tom Robinson. Whilst having fingers in both the acoustic and folk pies, he is primarily a bluesman. For some unknown reason blues artists find it more difficult than most to break out of their genre and become mainstream. Perhaps blues fans are too possessive and unwilling to share their shining stars with the rest of us? Or is it that devotees of the blues consider themselves a higher lifeform, and their musical taste is not for sharing or consumption by the hoi-polloi or commercially successful?

Matt Woosey

Either way, it seems strange that an artist that was apparently voted 'Solo Artist of the Year 2014' by 'Blues Matters' magazine, and 'Acoustic Artist of the Year 2014' by 'Blues & Soul' magazine, is booked to play support to a 70's psychedelic prog-rock combo, and then the following lunchtime playing a Norwich pub. It's a strange world, but if you want to widen your appeal, introducing yourself and your cajon player as 'bringing the average age of the room down a bit' seems a risky tactic, one which is repeated later in his set when he quips, "I bet you lot are now taking a lot of different drugs from when you first saw Caravan".

You can probably tell that I was not particularly won over by Mr Woosey, but I have seen and heard a lot, lot worse. His voice was clear, but not particularly distinctive. The guitar playing was heavily blues driven yet reluctant to surrender to the folky vibe more appropriate to an acoustic performance in that time and place. Dave Small on his drumbox seemed more willing to accommodate us, with the result that I now want a Cajon drumbox to add to the collection of musical instruments that I cannot and do not play.

The sight of the members of Caravan shuffling onto the stage reminded me that it is no longer just the stars of the 1960's that are performing whilst drawing their pensions, but now also the prog-rockers of the 1970's, and even some of the punk-rockers that followed them. An introductory anecdote about Pye Hastings and Co's previous night's appearance at  'The Great British Rock & Blues Festival' at Butlin's in Skegness, involved electronic keycards and getting locked out of their chalet. It had an unmistakable whiff of 'Last of the Summer Wine' in its delivery. We knew then that there would be no tales to regale us with tonight of smashed television sets or Grimsby Groupies.

Pye Hastings

The lineup of Caravan has changed many times since Pye Hastings, cousins Dave and Richard Sinclair and drummer Richard Coughlan conceived the band back in 1968. Hastings has been a constant presence ever since, as was Coughlin until his death in 2013. The Sinclairs individually dipped in and out over the years, although Richard has not appeared with them since 1992, and Dave not since 2002. In their place now are Jim Leverton who has played bass since 1995, and keyboardist Jan Schelhaas, a member since 2002. The new boy on drums is Mark Walker, but the fifth member, a long-term addition back in 1972 on guitars, violin, flute, spoons and mandolin, is Geoffrey Richardson. So that means two out of the four that I saw back in 1973 are back here tonight.

My pleasure from their set came from hearing again the three tracks from the iconic 'In the Land of Grey and Pink' album. Even without Richard Sinclair there to sing his own composition the memories came flooding back with 'Golf Girl'. A faithful rendition of the title track reinforces just how much music technology has progressed, not just electronically, but in being able to recreate sounds clawed out of those giant analogue synthesizers all those years ago. A shame that we couldn't manage the same in replicating Sinclairs's gargling vocal refrain. Instead we are goaded into contributing crass finger-to-lip noises, a bit like a cheeky grandparent encouraging the baby to blow raspberries. Regressive, not progressive. Luckily we get a glorious version of 'Nine Feet Underground' later in the evening, and the previous tomfoolery is instantly forgiven.

Apart from one track from 'For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night' the rest of the set is made up with songs from the latest album 'Paradise Filter', from 2013. Which is absolutely right and normal for any touring band to do. The trouble is, I didn't particularly rate any of the new songs as being much better than mediocre, which is a view that loyal fans of the band will probably want to take issue with. I, after all, only ever bought the one album, although the last one I listened to properly, 1976's 'Blind Dog at St.Dunstans', still had plenty of new ideas to contribute. 'Paradise Filter' seems to add further evidence to Galenson's theory that artists are either experimenters or conceptualists. Experimenters build their skills over the course of their careers, whilst conceptualists will lose creativity once they have adequately expressed their ideas. I felt that, whilst the songs of 'Paradise Filter' were pleasant enough and inoffensive, nobody appears to have anything to say. Certainly not enough to make it worth saving one of them for an encore.

A bit harsh, perhaps, but to listen to the classic old tracks, where else am I going to find a Caravan tribute band? And don't say Haven Holidays. Or Butlins.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Old Souls Return to Norfolk - James Veck-Gilodi at Norwich Arts Centre

The first solo tour is always a landmark for any frontman. Fielding the inevitable questions about splitting up. The expectations of the loyal fans. And ripping away the safety net that the band had usually been there to provide.

But, when is a solo tour not a solo tour? When you tour with another band member (obviously). And that is exactly what James Veck-Gilodi (frontman of West Norfolk rockers Deaf Havana) is doing, playing a series of dates, as a side project, to showcase new songs alongside keyboard player and guitarist Max Britton. Seven dates in, having started in Birmingham and arriving from Manchester after a sold-out night in Glasgow, Norwich Arts Centre is as close to a homecoming as these two boys are going to get, before setting off again for London, Bristol and Southampton. And it is an expectant full house that awaits them here tonight.

First up, though, is 18 year old YouTube sensation, and singer songwriter Harry Seaton from Kings Lynn, taking the stage to a hall that continues to fill as he starts his set - gentle honest songs of adolescent life and angst. 'A Song About My Life' is one of the most heartfelt of these, with just a tiny bit of anger and frustration in the delivery, bringing back memories for old 'uns like me of exactly what those teenage years were like. For a cover, we are treated to a lovely version of Paramore's 'The Only Exception'. Lots more cover videos online, but it's the original compositions that show his real promise.

Harry Seaton

Kate McGill is another singer songwriter using the internet to reach literally millions. Her cover of Adele's 'Someone Like You' has so far received over four million hits on YouTube, and writes her own songs as well. Now she has teamed up with Daniel Broadley and is performing as 'Meadowlark'. They were signed to the awesome Believe Recordings (James Vincent McMorrow, Breton, Public Service Broadcasting), and released their debut EP, 'Three Six Five', in May last year. Having toured with Coasts in the Autumn, they are now treading the boards as support to Veck-Gilodi. With a contemporary confidence, and even shades of The XX at times, Broadley has added another layer and dimension to Kate's voice and songs. If you haven't seen them together live then you are in for a treat. Norwich was treated to songs from the EP, as well as the next single 'Eyes Wide', due for release next month. Watch these fly.


Which brings us to Norfolk-boy-made-good Mr Veck-Gilodi himself. Lots of enthusiastic home support here tonight, obviously, and the evening is a triumphant departure, showcasing the new songs like 'Holes', 'Coffee' and 'Sleep', and introducing each one with garrulous confessional candour. James certainly wears his heart on his tattooed sleeve. Whilst we must all envy the life of a rock star at times, these are the flip-side accounts of loneliness, emptiness and self-doubt that accompany many a creative journey. Max Britton is an integral part of the show, and foregoes joint-billing with good-humoured banter. He does, after all, take songwriting credits on some of the songs. Deaf Havana fans are not denied their loyalty, and an acoustic version of 'Kings Road Ghosts' is a reminder of just how much the band had matured by the time 'Old Souls' was released in 2013. But it is the new songs that won over new fans like myself.

James Veck-Gilodi

The final song of the set, 'Seattle', summed up perfectly the promise and challenge of  replicating success Stateside whilst touring and supporting a big name. 'Seattle' paints a very different picture from getting your kicks on Route 66. Which only goes to show. However much you hate the town you grew up in, there's really never any place quite like home.

Saturday 17 January 2015

'I'd Like to Tell a Story' about Addison's Uncle Album Launch at Norwich Arts Centre

Philip Pearson is Addison's Uncle

Acoustic, folk, indie? The boundaries that once separated fans of different types of music have blurred considerably since I was a teenager. The success of acoustic bands like Mumford and Sons, and solo artists like Ben Howard and Lucy Rose, seem to have spread the appeal of acoustic right across the musical spectrum.Which is great. A distant cry from the time when folk bands of the day, like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, played only to real-ale drinking purists, the country and westerners stayed locked firmly within their hoedowns, and the rockers wore platform boots and sported makeup, and glitter in their hair.

Funnily enough it was punk rock that smashed the cosiness of musical tribalism, and not long after that rules were laid down which basically allowed anybody to have a go at anything, with or without musical experience. This redefining of the process of achieving fame, or notoriety, may have been a universal leveller, but it does not take long for the wheat to separate from the chaff, and for the quality to float to the surface. Since then, good music has been available and appreciated in a much more egalitarian manner, and it can now be cool to follow jazz, country, metal and rap all at the same time, without having to tie one's colours to just one mast.

One of the best things to come out of this new dawning of musical appreciation is that it is now definitely cool to enjoy acoustic music, regardless of whatever else you might have in your CD collection or on your iPod. And, as an added bonus, acoustic music sounds great in a pub, fantastic in a converted church like Norwich Arts Centre, and amazing on the main stage at a festival. In fact, anywhere.

One of the best of Norfolk's 'new wave' of acoustic bands is Addison's Uncle, whose debut album 'I'd Like to Tell a Story' was launched at Norwich Arts Centre last night.

Fronted by Nottingham-born Philip Pearson, who literally became Addison's uncle when his brother became a father, the band has grown out of a mutual love of folk music, and acts as a palette for a variety of accompanying instruments and voices to complement Pearson's songwriting, guitar playing and vocals. The result is a richness and depth that can instantly switch from the 'stampy' crowd-pleasing of 'B1159', describing the 'alternative' route out of Norfolk from Great Yarmouth, to the poignant reflection of 'Uncommon Ground', born out two brothers separated by vast distance, or 'Lost At Sea' which remembers the Horsey fisherman lost in the 1953 floods rescuing fellow villagers from the tidal surge.

Shaped and formed with the assistance and the musical input of violinist Georgia Shackleton and the arrangements of banjo player and fellow guitarist Aaren Bennett, all eleven songs on the album are crafted pearls that are unmistakably Norfolk, yet with universal appeal.

Understandably, the album launch night was completely sold out, but those who did get in were treated to a jubilant set that included all the favourites, followed by a rip-roaring collaboration as the excellent support band from Lincolnshire 'The BeauBowBelles' returned to the stage to join in a frenetic rendition of one of my favourite tunes of all time 'The Devil Goes Down to Georgia'. The unapologetic pop classic, the Mumfords 'Little Lion Man'  is chosen as an encore, 'just as an excuse to be able to swear on stage' and gave the crowded floor one last chance to get 'stampy', before Addison's Uncle left the stage to celebrate, and begin their own after-show party, courtesy of local favourites 'Feral Mouth' who kept the Arts Centre reeling until almost midnight.

Video for 'B1159'

The album is available on i-TTunes, although if you are lucky (and quick!) you may be able to get one of these limited edition CD/DVD versions with the 'Live at Festival Too' performance from Kings Lynn as a bonus disc.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Hattie Briggs - From The Shepherd's Hut to The Bicycle Shop

Once upon a time there was a bicycle shop in St Benedict's Street, the main thoroughfare of the Norwich Lanes district of independent shops, bars and eateries. It is still there today, and is still called The Bicycle Shop. Outside, between the planters, you will usually find a couple of bicycles. On one of them is written the message 'We Don't Sell Bicycles. Sorry'.

Today, The Bicycle Shop is one of Norwich's favourite drop-in bars for anything from a poached egg  brunch to an evening tapas and bottle of wine. I've been in several times, but until last night had never attended one of their musical events. It was nothing personal, but simply that I attend a lot of gigs on my own, and I was worried that the small intimate space downstairs might prove too awkward and difficult to blend into without appearing like a middle-aged Billy No-Mates.

I needn't have worried. The staff are all friendly and welcoming and, although the small amount of seating is taken up with couples and small groups, there are still enough people standing to not stand out like a sore thumb.

The artist that had finally broken down my reticence about showing my face was an upcoming singer-songwriter, originally from West Sussex, but now based in Gloucestershire - Hattie Briggs. Still only 21 years old and in her first year as a full-time musician since taking the decision to withdraw from her languages degree course at Oxford University, she is about to release 'Red and Gold', her debut album recorded at Monmow Valley Studios, and in March embarks on a national tour supporting Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman. But she has already made somewhat of an impression, not only in her native Cotswolds, but nationally by way of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards, in which she made the final four last year, prompting enthusiastic praise from Simon Mayo and Mark Radcliffe, amongst others.

Judging by her set last night, accompanied only by cellist Asha McCarthy, she is a name that we will hear a lot more of this year. She possesses a voice of purity reminiscent of the great, late Eva Cassidy, yet with the contemporary lushness of Norah Jones and Katie Melua. Most of her songs are self-written, although she also interspersed her set with 'Sacred Heart' (a Civil Wars song with lyrics in French), Sting's 'Fields of Gold' and encored with Jacque Brel's 'Ne me Quitte Pas' (but with English lyrics).

She starts the evening on guitar, and, begins with 'Tilly's Song', the opening track from her EP 'My Shepherd's Hut', before introducing us to 'A Beautiful Mind' from the new album (a tribute to Pete Seeger) and 'Old Eyes' inspired by her dog Panda but with a rueful reflection on relationships in general. After the wistful 'Happy in Your Arms' and a fond farewell to her brother in 'God's Speed', she switches to piano and another two tracks from the EP, 'Still With Hope I See' and 'Share Your Heart'. 'All About Love' is a much more uplifting and optimistic ballad, which is then followed by her concluding number 'Pull Me Down'.

Apart from the clinking of glasses and the occasional ping of the till from behind the bar there was not a sound from the audience from start to finish save enthusiastic applause at the end of each number. A true English rose with a gorgeous voice and a maturity of songwriting that belies her tender years.