I went to see the wonderful Gruff Rhys in concert at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham recently and wrote a review for the For Folk’s Sake website. You can read it here
I went to see the wonderful Gruff Rhys in concert at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham recently and wrote a review for the For Folk’s Sake website. You can read it here
To my ears at least, 2013 has been the best year in ages album-wise. I can’t count on two hands how many records I’ve bought and thoroughly enjoyed over the past 12 months. Here are ten of them, in alphabetical order no less!
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Ah, how we’d missed those men in motorbike helmets. Their most accomplished and infectious record to date, and the soundtrack of many a summer social gathering. Best tracks: Get Lucky, Doing It Right
Disclosure – Settle
I had the good fortune of seeing the Lawrence-brothers live, supporting Hot Chip, last year and could never have guessed what a massive act they’d become in 2013. Mixing 90’s grooves with garage beats and inspired guest vocalists, I didn’t take much persuasion from my 14-year-old son to buy this. Best tracks: When A Fire Starts To Burn, White Noise.
Dutch Uncles – XO
A band I saw live twice in 2013, this album sinks its angular hooks in deeper every time I listen. It’s arty, it’s melodic and there’s nothing quite else like it. Best tracks: Bellio, Flexxin.
Lord Huron – Lord Huron
Uncut magazine turned me onto LA-based songwriter Ben Schneider aka Lord Huron. A hint of Springsteen, this is epic string-swept folk with widescreen scope. Best tracks: Time To Run, She Lit A Fire.
Mogwai – Les Revenants Soundtrack
Those who watched Channel 4’s return-of-the-dead French drama The Returned (Les Revenants) will have noticed the eery soundtrack provided by Scots noiseniks Mogwai. There’s beauty and menace in these, mostly, instrumental tracks and a beautiful cover of gospel standard What Are They Doing In Heaven Today? Best tracks: Special N, What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
I approached this album by Brooklyn’s finest with slight trepidation after disappointment with previous LP High Violet. I shouldn’t have worried, this is The National at their broken, majestic best. Best tracks: Heavenfaced, Graceless.
Rue Royale – Remedies Ahead
On their third album, Rue Royale made definite steps forward, sonically and lyrically, helped by producer Paul Pilot. 2013 felt like a watermark year for the duo, no more so than their triumphant opening slot for Volcano Choir (more of below) in Amsterdam. Who knows what 2014 could bring? Best tracks: Pull Me Like A String, Try As They Might.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
Album number three is Vampire Weekend’s coming of age. Mature lyrics about death and religion bolted to bouncing melodies. Consistently excellent. Best tracks: Diane Young, Everlasting Arms.
Volcano Choir – Repave
A record that crept under the radar when released in September, but a grower with every listen. Fronted by Justin Vernon, Volcano Choir expand where Bon Iver left off, both subtle and majestic. And they blew me away live. Best tracks: Tiderays, Alaskans.
Matthew E White – Big Inner
I’ve been living with this debut by Virginia songwriter and producer White for the past 12 months, and it’s still probably my favourite LP of the year. Layers of gospel, jazz and funk gently build as tracks veer off in wonderful directions. Soul-food with a serious shuffle. Best tracks: Big Love, Gone Away.
Last week I went on a run and passed three other houses where I’d lived within a few miles of my current home – and a fourth was only a few hundred yards away. Geographically at least, I’ve not made a lot of progress since the 1970s.
So, every now and then it’s great to get the chance to spread my wings and taste a different culture, even if, as was my experience last weekend, it was only for 36 hours. In that jam-packed day-and-a half I joined my sister Ruth and brother-in-law Brookln’s band Rue Royale on a road trip to Amsterdam.
Ruth and Brookln have been touring Europe as a duo for years, initially based in the front bedroom of our current home in Burntwood, but this opportunity was something special. A week or so before they’d got the nod at short notice to open up for Volcano Choir at the prestigious Paradiso hall in Amsterdam. Volcano Choir are a US band fronted by Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver and Kanye-collaborating fame) whose second album Repave is bound to sit atop many critics’ best of 2013 list.
Once I’d sorted out the babysitting logistics (my wife Lisa was away at the same time helping run a youth weekend so her parents came to the rescue), I was thrilled to accept Brookln and Ruth’s invitation, along with my brother Jon, to join them for the ride.
The pretext was that we were to help with driving, lugging gear and selling merchandise. But, playing to a sell-out 1,500 crowd, this was arguably the biggest gig of Rue Royale’s lives and Jon and I were getting a wonderful opportunity to soak this up at close quarters.
However, it didn’t feel that glamorous getting up at 4.30 on the day of the show to hit the road. Ruth and Brookln had only got in at 2 that morning from playing a gig in Manchester and, after two-and-a half hours sleep, understandably snoozed the first couple of hours in the back of their people carrier while we headed down the motorway, awaiting sunrise.
After negotiating the Eurotunnel we drove through France, Belgium and arrived in Amsterdam at around 3pm. I’d never been to the Dutch capital before and was surprised at how spacious, refined and clean it was – and how many cyclists were whizzing past the wing mirrors.
I went with Ruth to find somewhere to park (50 quid for one day – strewth!) as two hefty ‘night-liner’ tour buses were blocking the spaces outside the Paradiso. Unloading complete, we watched a bit of Volcano Choir’s sound-check from the top balcony of the hall, a converted church which sounded and looked great, light years from your average sticky-floored UK concert venues.
While Ruth and Brookln sound-checked upstairs, Jon and myself, by now slightly delirious from tiredness, heard a knock at Rue Royale’s dressing room door. It was Justin Vernon wanting to say “hi”. After explaining we were just there “for the ride” and not actually in the band (something I eventually gave up doing as the evening went on), we had a brief chat. What a thoroughly decent bloke.
This conversation only fueled our waves of schoolboy excitement which we continued to surf well into the evening. I’d brought some mince pies along for the journey, and added these to the fruit, wine and whiskey rider that greeted us when we arrived. We persuaded the show’s promoter Bas to try one, but didn’t get to pass one off to any of the Volcano Choir, who popped in and out of the dressing room to wish ‘us’ well before the show.
By now, things were getting a bit bizarre – but in a good way. Manhattan gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello – who I’d last seen with Brookln play at the Metro in Chicago in 2006 – were also backstage, ahead of their Paradiso gig the next day. Their Mohican-haired drummer popped into our dressing room a couple of times for a whiskey re-fill and I kept bumping into their frontman Eugene Hutz, who’s handlebar moustache put my lame Movember effort to shame.
There was no time for dinner as Rue Royale’s performance approached and Jon and I were given a whistle-stop lesson in staffing the merch stand by Ruth. Thank goodness Dutch people speak such good English.
We sneaked off from our positions to the balcony to watch Ruth and Brookln play. Wow. Even though I’m biaised, they were spine-tinglingly amazing. Their short set was the best I’ve ever seen them perform, and the crowd loved it as well. It was truly exhilarating.
Their last song was the cue for me to head back to sell merch while Jon helped Brookln get their gear off-stage. Several of the Volcano Choir had also watched from the balcony and heaped praise on Rue Royale as they walked back to the dressing room.
After listening to Vernon warming up his vocals in the corridor a few yards away, we all went to watch the headliners play their set, which was magical. The crowd were rapturous and the groups’ enthusiastic response about as unpretentious as you can get. What sealed the deal was guitarist Chris Rosenau pausing between songs to rave about Ruth and Brookln’s appearance and urge people to buy their records. This felt like one of those rare moments of vindication for Rue Royale after years of putting in the hard yards across Europe.
Jon and myself, kept awake on a cocktail of red wine and adrenalin, returned to the merch stand to shift CDs, t-shirts and vinyl (“which one has the greatest hits on?” inquired one fresh-faced punter) while Ruth and Brookln chatted backstage with Volcano Choir and others. After shutting up shop and lugging merch downstairs, we left them to it and headed into Amsterdam for some food. The night’s surreal feeling continued as we downed a midnight Burger King surrounded by dozens of young teenagers and watched as a man, worse for wear, repeatedly walked up and down the stairs, again and again. Outside, the stream of cyclists continued.
We eventually packed up to leave the Paradiso just after 1am and headed to our hotel, an hour away, driven by Ruth. A brief stop-off saw a chip shop owner engage us in broken English about the pitfalls of Margaret Thatcher after Brookln accidentally gave him a ten pound note. We’d been up at 4.30am and hit the sack at 2am. Rock and roll.
Replenished by a hearty breakfast, we headed for Calais at 10am and got home at 6pm, still buzzing from the night before.
What an awesome day and a half. And what a privilege to go along for the ride.
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I recently (re) wrote the biography for Rue Royale. They’re currently gearing up to enter the studio to record their third album.
Having heard some of the new material at a packed gig in Birmingham’s Ort Gallery last week, it’s destined to be their best yet.
Click here to see how fans are funding the record through Kickstarter and to read the biography.
Just had a review of the first concert I took Dan to published on US website goodmenproject.com
You can view it here – A Hot Chip off the Old Block — The Good Men Project
Or, see the words below with some extra photos.
This wasn’t how I imagined the first time would be. Shouldn’t we be staring at Chris Martin with binoculars from a cricket-ground corner or craning our necks to see the latest dub-step heroes in a sweaty club?
I was hoping my 13-year-old son’s opening concert would be a memorable experience for both of us. A watershed, rite of passage—call it what you want.
My gig-going debut with my parents was a bizarre trip to watch Cliff Richard on a gospel tour in some Midlands nightspot back in the 80s. A Big Country show was my first teenage mosh-pit encounter, but even then my mate’s dad was at the back of Wolverhampton Civic Hall with cotton wool in his ears.
So when my brother had to pull out of going to see Hot Chip in Birmingham, and I couldn’t find a speedy replacement, I was in two minds about asking Dan along. Not only was it a school night, but did I really want his debut to be to see one of his dad’s favourite bands who, despite their electronic innovation, aren’t exactly teen-cool staples?
He was up for it so off we went, arriving a bit early to a fairly empty Academy. After a wander around the dark venue—and a failed attempt to gatecrash the stalls—we settled down to support act Disclosure. A pair of track-suited siblings with baby faces and lap tops, influenced by acid house and R&B, they’d also been getting some Radio One airplay, and weren’t half-bad.
By the time Hot Chip arrived, we were still only a few rows from the front, but now surrounded by a couple of thousand eager fans. There were quite a few students intermingled with the IT engineers but Dan appeared easily the youngest—and smallest—there. Flanked by myself and my math teacher mate Paul, I braced myself to resist the first beat-induced dance-wave which might knock Dan off his feet.
The London group are definitely more muscular live—as opener Shake A Fist’s tribal beats displayed—but this was a pretty restrained crowd for starters, until the tallest bloke in the venue pushed in front of us and proceeded to dance all over Dan, elbowing him in the head. I tapped his back and asked him to be careful, and all was well when he wandered of for a pee/pint shortly afterwards.
At least, Hot Chip’s middle-aged appearance augured well for me and Paul. Not even trying to look hip (bassist Grosvenor – not pictured above – was a startling double of our old church treasurer), the group took me aback with their tightness and force. It’s sadly rare to see a band so clearly enjoying themselves, bringing out the on-record essence of songs like Boy From School and How Do You Do? but also transforming them into brighter, bigger pieces live. And keyboardist Owen Clarke’s dancing was almost as embarrassing as mine. At least Dan couldn’t see me getting down behind him.
The crowd revved up for best-known track Over And Over which was unexpectedly dropped right in the middle of the set. I managed to barricade Dan from the first crowd surge but we were caught off guard a couple of times with incoming body charges from the flanks. By now the generation gap seemed irrelevant and, if it did exist, was stretched to the limits when Ready For The Floor triumphantly segued into 80s Fleetwood Mac hit Everywhere, a Top 10 tune when I was Dan’s age.
The cold rain came as a relief when we eventually left the humid venue, hoodies up (we were accidentally wearing near-identical brown tops which didn’t bother Dan because none of his mates were there to see it). It wasn’t long before my son was dozing in the back seat.
Half an hour later, off he trooped to bed. Teenagers aren’t always the most expressionate but I knew Hot Chip had left a mark when, the next night, I popped into his room. He was watching his favourite TV show Waterloo Road which had a familiar song as a soundtrack. “Dad,” exclaimed Dan, “It’s Hot Chip!”
Hooray. It’s that time of year when we get ready to disappear and come back twice as tired! We’re off to France again but there’s been no time for a play-list committee meeting this summer. In fact, I should probably be concerned that I’ve not seen some of the kids for several days…
So, it’s more of a dictatorship than a democracy, but when it comes to music choosing, that’s the way I like it. And, although I bypassed Lisa’s Wham! suggestion, Dan did throw a few in.
Here’s one of the best by Hot Chip, followed by the list in full.
Foux Du Fafa – Flight of the Conchords
Holiday – Vampire Weekend
Mama Do The Hump – Rizzle Kicks
I Want To Hold Your Hand – Al Green
Lights Out, Words Gone – Bombay Bicycle Club
Midnight City – M83
Simple Song – The Shins
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger – Daft Punk
Lizstomania (Holy Ghost! remix) – Phoenix
Bangarang – Skrillex
Handclapping Song – The Meters
Paradise – Coldplay
Don’t Deny Your Heart – Hot Chip
World In Motion – New Order
True Love – Friendly Fires
Acceptable In The 80s – Calvin Harris
In My Arms – Mylo
Givin’ It Up – Josh Rouse
Kissing My Love – Bill Withers
Obviously 5 Believers – Bob Dylan
I recently spent several hours sweating over the writing of the biog of new (with some familiar faces!) band Guidebooks, which you can read below while you listen to their intriguing debut EP…
The art of travel writing is not a novel approach for new pan-European project Guidebooks.
It makes perfect sense, of course. When Nottingham/Chicago acoustic duo Rue Royale and Northern Irish/Berlin producer Paul Pilot’s paths first crossed in 2009, their love for transportation-themed names wasn’t the only thing they shared. A combined creative restlessness meant collaboration was inevitable.
Paul prodded husband and wife outfit Ruth and Brookln Dekker into experimental waters during sessions for their second, current, LP ‘Guide To An Escape’ (which he also mixed).
When Paul bumped into Tele and Geschmeido drummer Stefan Wittich in Berlin, they discovered a shared enthusiasm in electronic music and classic song-crafting plus a desire to fuse the two. The lineup was completed and the four began to experiment in earnest.
Between East Midlands-based Rue Royale’s relentless European gigging, Paul’s producer/composer work in the UK and Germany and Stefan´s hectic diary of drumming duties in both Europe and Asia, Guidebooks’ content pages began to fall into place – one word at a time.
The sample-based songwriting involved a painstaking process of collecting sounds – often while on the road. Snippets of snatched sounds, music shop instruments and sub-bass burblings were all stitched into a warm sonic rug, cut with roomy live drums, freefalling Tremolo guitars and bold vocal melodies. Some (unnamed) band members were nearly arrested for loitering with a recording device outside a piano factory, but work continued unhindered.
Paul says: “We had the idea to create music based around tonal samples, with these sounds forming a structure for the band to inhabit. The samples were to carry the atmosphere, but not necessarily the groove, of hip hop and the structure, but not the limitations, of electronic music. We wanted to see how far from home our guys-with-guitars mindsets could travel. We’ve managed to get into an exciting, new place for our music but feel like we’ve only just begun an interesting journey.”
Guidebooks’ debut five-track ‘In The Future’ EP is released in June with plans for a follow-up already in the pipeline and, naturally, a tour scheduled for October.
“We can’t help but be in motion,” sing Ruth and Brookln on “Reach Out”. That’s the flip sides of glimpsing-but-not-quite-grasping balanced with the excitement of adventuring anew with like-minded companions.
You can hear Guidebooks shedding their wing mirrors as they launch into the unknown, heading for home.
Find out more at http://www.facebook.com/guidebooksband