Wolf Alice – Interview – 2015

"We had a proper late night in the studio last night," says a sleepy Joff Oddie, lead guitarist with the band, "getting some tracking done. My girlfriend woke me up when she went to work at 7am, and I went back to bed. And you woke me up!" he laughs. "But, that's OK… I got in at 3am; we'd been going at it since nine in the morning. Pretty tiring. It's mix time at the moment, ready for release to the public. We recorded the album in just under two months, before Xmas, with a guy called Mike Crossley, in a studio in Wood Green.

Despite not having yet released an album, the London based four piece have already achieved a tremendous amount in their short time together. From playing the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury, to touring with Alt-J, and headlining various UK tours including easily selling out Concorde 2 recently ("Brighton is a beautiful place, we always have such a nice time in Brighton. It's got a Londony vibe, but just seems so much more relaxed."), they are eagerly riding this bull, and looking forward to another jam-packed year of touring and festivals, along with the release of the album, My Love is Cool, in June.

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Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie Lowell
Sufjan Stevens’ mother left his family when he was one, leaving his father to look after him and his three siblings. His father remarried, flirted with religious group Subud and various other faiths as the family moved around Michigan, living on the breadline under authoritarian rule and without any form of music in the household.
 
Stevens’ mother, Carrie, later got remarried to a man called Lowell Brams, who in time introduced Stevens to Zappa and Nick Drake, amongst many others, and supported his musical awakening with unrelenting generosity and unyielding support. Although Carrie and Lowell eventually divorced, Stevens is still close to Lowell – who runs his record label, Asthmatic Kitty.
 
He endured a strained relationship with his mother, who never fully re-integrated into his life, and found himself full of mixed emotions at her passing in 2012. Like many artists do, Stevens grieved through writing, and although he admits to gaining no catharsis from the process, he soon racked up 30 demos. He was lucky enough to have his friend, Thomas Bartlett (musician/producer) sift through his work and present him with what he thought his record should be. The result is arguably Stevens’ most fully formed and powerful work to date.
 
Carrie & Lowell could be described as a back to basics folk record, most easily aligned with 2004’s Seven Swans, with songs like Eugene and Should Have Known Better displaying wonderful storytelling qualities to back that description. However, the 11 years between the two records really does show – both songs mentioned are so beautifully honed and have such richness – that Stevens has drawn heavily on the skill he’s acquired in that time, with Should Have Known Better revealing layer upon layer of complexity. It manages to take the listener through 3 distinct cycles, bridging hopelessness to optimism both lyrically and musically, all under the guise of what appears as a simple song on first play.
I’ve been a huge fan ever since the release of Michigan in 2003. Stevens’ output has been creative, consistent and inspiring over the last 12 or so years, but never has it been so rounded as on Carrie & Lowell. The opening line of the first song, Death With Dignity, sets the bar so high that it is hard to know where the record can go from there:
“Spirit of my silence I can hear you, but I'm afraid to be near you / And I don't know where to begin.”
The words encapsulate the sense of confusion and fear that accompany grief so concisely to immediately place us directly in Stevens’ shoes in the first steps of the journey he is faced with. It’s as good an opening line as I can think of (with the exception of Van Morrison’s Gloria). Add to that the delicacy of the instrumentation and the underlying positivity of the lullaby-like melody, and you really do have a special piece of work.
 
Cradlesong melodies run throughout the album, coming across particularly well with Stevens’ double-tracked, half-sung, half-whispered delivery in tracks such as John, My Beloved and Fourth of July. Rather than being at odds with the subject matter, they serve to bring rays of optimism and colour.
 
Favourable comparisons to Elliot Smith are naturally drawn – crisp lyrics, stripped back arrangements and intimate vocals are all in evidence. The work on Carrie & Lowell is definitely up there with Smith, but it is unique to Stevens. No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross shows how willing he is to lay himself bare:
 
“There's blood on that blade, fuck me, I'm falling apart / My assassin like Casper the ghost. There's no shade in the shadow of the cross.” 
 
Like all of the elements of the record, there’s much more to the eye (or ear!) than the initial impression might present. Despite much of the lyrical content appearing as deeply personal (which it clearly is), this album contains themes we can all relate to: forgiveness; belonging; positive shoots to sprout from death and the circularity of life. These universal subjects slowly reveal themselves as the record gets more spins, as does the harmonic and melodic strength of the songs, and the arrangements. Songs that at first seem simple are anything but. However, the craft involved in getting them across so succinctly is rare and is a clear sign of where Stevens is now, as an artist.
 
Within the 11 tracks that populate the album, there is so much to get lost in, be it the stories, the imagery or the melodies. Underpinning it all is something not yet touched on – the sublime production. Fourth Of July has an ethereal sparseness at its core that is expertly created and offers level upon level of subtle detail. Album closer, Blue Bucket Of Gold employs a muted yet intimate piano treatment heard on older albums such as Chicago and Illinois; expertly engineered as to create a sonic bed for the fragile vocal to lay.
 
The album is exciting in so many ways – its purity of writing, the way it shows us how much Stevens has grown as a writer; how much of an antithesis it is to its immediate predecessor; Age of Adz – the list goes on. It is the combination of these things that excites me the most – no-one really knows what Sufjan Stevens will do next (his history shows this), but we do know that his powers are growing and if he continues on this arc, his next project will be spectacular, whatever it is.
Adam Atkins
 


 

 

The Go! Team – The Scene Between

Opening with the sound of a ring pull on a can of fizz, The Go! Team aim to paint a picture of those hazy, thirst-quenching, summer days. And, like their previous three albums, they’ve succeeded. Parton follows up the ring pull fizz with the classic introductory drumsticks beating together to get the band in gear, before we are greeted with the agreeable adrenaline rush of My Bloody Valentine style dirty grooves and the exuberance of early Beach Boys on lead track What D’You Say?

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Nadine Shah – Fast Food

Produced and co-written by Ben Hillier, who was at the helm for her debut album, the Nick Cave influenced Love Yer Dum and Mad, Tyneside lass Nadine Shah has decided to ditch the piano in favour of the guitar as her favoured writing tool, in fashioning an album that, while displaying the same dark muscularity and disarming honesty of its predecessor, is a dirtier, rawer, and yet more musical beast. Recorded mostly live in the studio (you can hear the hum of the amps, here and there), bar the vocals, the minimalist set up of guitar (Nick Webb and Shah), bass (courtesy of I Am Kloot's Pete Jobson) and drums is all that is needed to service the wonderfully rich and soulful voice of Shah, who's shares a few similarities with that other modern day indie-siren, Anna Calvi.

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Sam Lee + Friends – The Fade In Time

Sam Lee & Friends - The Fade In Time
This intrepid field recordist and folk archivist, has, over the last few years, been seeking out and recording ancient songs from the dying embers of the Gypsy and Irish traveller communities. And with The Fade In Time, Lee further explores the potential of traditional British music by encompassing world-wide musical traditions as well as native folk.
 
Nominated for the 2012 Mercury Music Prize for his debut album, Ground of its Own, Lee is also the driving force behind the Nest Collective, which brings traditional and contemporary folk music to unusual venues, mainly in London. He is, it appears, a veritable force of nature, not only keenly driven to keep the folk traditions alive (and not to end up in a museum), but also to make vibrant and interesting music that marries these ancient songs and poems with an experimental and ambitious edge.
 
With a band that features, at its core, Francesca Ter-Berg (cello), trumpeter Steve Chadwick, violinist Flora Curzon, percussionist Josh Green, and koto/pianist Jonah Brody, along with contributions from a number of other musicians, the fact that the artists are namechecked as Sam Lee & Friends emphasises the hugely important contribution these players have made in shaping Lee's words, and expressive singing style, to a music that is expansive and, in the main, highly sympathetic to the emotions expressed. Using Imogen Heap's studio in Essex, The Fade in Time was co-produced by Penguin Cafe's Arthur Jeffes and Jamie Orchard-Lisle, who do a superlative job in recording the rich textures and unusual combination of instrumentation.
 
It is such a richly educational album – thanks to the extensive liner notes that Lee provides – that a substantial book could be written about the history of these songs, all of them traditional, and all coming from the aforementioned travellers communities, some first-hand, and some handed down to traveller Stanley Robertson, with whom Lee built a deep teacher-student relationship over a number of years. Songs such as lead track Jonny O'Brine, as Lee recalls the tale, a deeply mythological one revolving around ancient folklore, feuds, bloodlines, and mystical old traditions. It's an extraordinary song, as ukulele, percussion and tubes provide a naturalistic and brisk tribal rhythm – kind of acoustic house music – with the trumpets, horns and conch – courtesy of Steve Chadwick – riffing, calling and wailing. It beats along a dramatic rhythmic path, while Moorlough Maggie, a song that Stanley Robertson learnt from his aunt Maggie Stewart, is dreamily cacophonous fusion of stings, brass and percussion, and the Koto, a Japanese stringed instrument, underpinning this song of appreciation that lovers have between themselves and the land upon which they live. And there's Lord Gregory, a very old song, a lover's lament, the first part of the song a recording from 1956 of Charlotte Higgins expressive recitation of the poetic words, to song collector Hamish Henderson, before it segues into Lee's version, which itself is based on Robertson's highly abbreviated version; just four verses, with the Roundhouse Choir joining at the end. And fittingly, Lee sings The Moon Shone On My Bed Last Night, apparently the last song that Stanley's aunt Jeannie Robertson taught him, and, as fate would have it, the last song that he in turn taught Lee, a song about love, and which has subsequently taken on a profound bearing for this student-cum-teacher.
 
Elsewhere, Bonny Bunch of Roses is a Napoleanic ballad, that in Lee's interpretation, is prescient via the ongoing issues of unity between Scotland and England, and the 'war in Russia'. Tracing an imaginary conversation between Napolean's son and his mother, it was learnt from an octogenarian Romany Gypsy, Freda Black, whom Lee tracked down and eventually persuaded to commit some of her huge repertoire to tape. Lee has Russian roots, and here he converges British folk song with Eastern European cantorial singing, an old recording providing the intro of an unknown singer delivering a wonderfully deep vibrato. Freda Black is also featured at the close of Over Yonders Hill, via Lee's own field recording, reciting the song's verses, with the sound of a ticking clock in the background, an obvious reference to the title of the album. Here, Lee's sprightly and melancholic voice is also elegant, with ukulele and percussion providing an African lilt to the tune, and strings and double bass adding depth and texture. It's heady and inventive, as is everything else here.
Throughout the album, the themes of love, lust, courtship, tradition, respect for the land, and tragedy abound, culled from a variety of sources such as Blackbird, which was learned from Romany Gypsy May Bradley via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, and Phoenix Island, sourced from a cousin of 'Blind' Mary Delaney, who reared 13 children whilst living on a site under the Shepherds Bush flyover in central London, a tale that speaks of a yearning to lead an independent, non-subjugated life, as many travellers continue to strive for, and which Lee is wholly sympathetic to.
 
The album finishes with the sparse pairing of the spirited and hopeful accapella Lovely Molly – featuring just Lee and the Roundhouse Choir – and Moss House, an ode to singing, with just Lee and Arthur jeffes piano.
 
Although the The Fade is Time is very long (60 + minutes), and a little judicious trimming could have been applied here and there, it's to Sam Lee's great credit that he has brought these traditional songs back to life, using them as a basis on which to create a new, and contemporary interpretations via the often inventive, skilful and restless adventurousness of the music throughout, including many sounds and styles of African and Asian music, and ultimately delivering a work that is respectful. The Fade in Time may denote the fading of memory, the impermanence of peoples and geographies, but it also denotes re-affirmation, and resurrection.
Jeff Hemmings
 
 
 
 
 

Julian Caddy – Managing Director – Brighton Fringe

It’s been a long and winding road.  From an unartistic upbringing and, at the behest of my father, a short career as a marketing and advertising executive, I pursued acting and directing as a part-time guilty pleasure.  The transformative moment came in 1996 at Edinburgh Festival Fringe when I performed in and co-produced a three-hander play.  I went to drama school the following year, becoming a professional actor and starting an Edinburgh Fringe venue and production company.  The company grew over the years but became a needy (and costly) child, which, when competing with my by then three real children and very much a real wife, I decided to progressively pull back from Edinburgh.  The opportunity in Brighton first came up late in 2010 and I got the job a year later at the second attempt.

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The Unthanks – Interview 2015

“We always enjoy coming to Brighton so much, the audiences are so warm and supportive, and also because there are such great shops! We need time to go shopping between soundchecks!” laughs Rachel Unthank, who along with her younger sister Becky, have been enjoying the fruits of a tremendous surge in interest in recent years for all things folk; for the unadorned, unadulterated pure essence of music that these two singers impart, who along with Rachel’s husband, Adrian McNally, the sister’s producer, arranger and composer, are the core of the band. Their music is released on a label Adrian set up, Rabblerouser.

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Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett had never set foot outside her native Australia before 2014, but since then it's been a bit of a whirlwind for this singer songwriter, one of those nice surprises that crops every now and then, when the alignment of the planets (or something or other) conjures up that little bit of musical magic. Aussies in the know, already knew this, and via her second EP, How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose, the word was spreading beyond her shores. In particular, it was the track Avante Gardener, a one-off type of autobiographical song about how she endured an anxiety/asthma attack whilst gardening and had to be carted off to hospital, that caught the ear of reviewers beyond Australia. Barnett has said she can't quite believe that song – 'very long, no chorus, lots of words' – should generate so much attention. But it did. It's her powerful combination of musicianship, voice and song that has seen this outsider run right through the pack in the most surprising fashion, her unique ability to paint a novelistic picture with just a few lines – which she says are little photographs of a moment in time – allied to some raw and unfiltered rock'nroll.

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Melita Dennett – Director – Radio Reverb

I’m Hastings born and fled, so not from too far afield, but I was always drawn to Brighton. I used to come over for punk gigs, skipping off school to get the train to see the likes of the Slits, Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Damned at the Top Rank and other places, then you used to be able to get a train back at 1.30am for school the next day! Then I accidentally got a job in the Civil Service in Worthing, which was the worst job I’ve ever had, but it provided a ticket to move to Brighton.

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8:58 – 8:58

House and dance music has been bedevilled by an extraordinary amount of blandness, mediocrity and unmusicality since it reared it's otherworldly head in the machine-obsessed 80s. Only a handful of acts have stood the test of time, mainly those who could combine a purposeful musicality with a higher grasp of production, and via words and/or imagery, propel the music beyond the bland 'raise your hands in the air' or the four-to-the-floor brain sapping monotony of your average meat and two veg dance. Orbital were one of those who took dance music to a higher realm; from the groundbreaking Chime to the epic to the poignant story-based Halcyon, the Hartnoll's music has always been much more than just about losing yourself on the dancefloor, although it does rather agreeably lend itself to that kind of behaviour, as the best rock'n'roll always does.
 
Hartnoll has claimed to be always interested in the concept and ideas of 'time', and his new solo project (essentially Orbital but without his brother Phil) is based on a doodle he first drew as a teenager, a clock face with the time frozen at 8:58. "8:58 am is that moment when you've got to make up your mind," he says about the day ahead. For Paul, it was decision time, to forge ahead with Orbital, or to strike out on his own, a decision that was only formally announced last autumn.
 
'How we live by time, how we live by the watch, the clock, brought up to respect the clock', intones the menacing voice of Irish actor Cillian Murphy (Inception, Peaky Blinders et al) before stabbing and symphonic synths and sound effects gradually build into an euphoric soundscape on the opening track, which also, rather confusingly, carries the name 8.58. It's classic Orbital, progressive EDM that is multifaceted, never predictable, clear as a bell, strong, rich and dynamic, and with several discernible melodies within.
 
An album highlight, Please, is a re-tread of the 2007 original, released on Hartnoll's one and only previous solo album, and is a more straightforward, albeit still out-there, banging house stomper, Lianne Hall's mangled voice and the four-to-the-floor beats a prelude to some more synth strings, before Robert Smith's distinctive and deceptively languid vocal adds a certain playfulness to the proceedings, with Lianne's yearning voice providing the neat female counterpoint. Although it is a bit cheeky to haul back an old song, it's a great tune, Hartnoll has given it a new mix, and the original was somewhat lost when originally released, the old school house flavours remaining timeless.
 
The Past Now is also a composite piece, beginning with the ethereal vocals of folk singer Lisa Knapp, complimenting the haunting ambient atmospherics, before a complex and inviting melody welds gothic 80s synth-dance with dark motorik rhythms, that are both propulsive and dreamy. Meanwhile singer songwriter Ed Harcourt delivers a powerful and passionate vocal performance on Villain, again a song that vaguely recalls the 80s thanks to the one note synth melodies and textures, and drum pad rhythms, within the generally foreboding atmosphere.
 
Cilian Murphy returns for The Clock, a reprise of lead track 8.58, but this time accompanied by some acid-inflected industrial hard house beats and bleeps, to be interrupted by the sound of a digital alarm going off as Murphy says: 'brace yourself for freedom.. now….', a call to let go as it were, in mind and in body, the deep and squelchy bass groove inviting you to resist if you can…
 
The Cure's A Forest then appears as a bit of a surprise, because we already know this song well, a tune that was in Hartnoll's head (and is part of his formative years) when he came up with the idea of approaching Northumbria's songbirds The Unthanks to lend their breathy and beguiling voices, which they obliged at their studio in their home. Building and building, The Unthanks repeating the songs 'again and again and again' refrain, as big Leftfield-type drums close it out.
 
Instrumental numbers Broken Up is a more ambient number, sparse old school hip hop drum machine beats underpinning the multilayered synths, swelling textures and techno bleeps, while Nearly There, appropriately enough the penultimate track, is propulsive, fast, and also technoesque, with echoes of Underworld's Cowgirl a signpost, as Hartnoll re-lives those early days of searching for the next rave; a soundtrack to nowhere, and yet everywhere, fast and furious.
 
Final track Cemetery features Fable, a relatively unknown singer, but with a bright future ahead, her powerful and soulful voice sounding well beyond her young years, lending this euphoric and melodic banger the required bite as the grooves ebb and flow in best dance floor action
 
Rewarding several listens, there is, as always with Hartnoll, loads going on, the very thoughtful melodies, textures, sounds and effects constructed with mechanical precision, but with a fluidity that transforms the outwardly digitalised soundscape into an organic and warm record. It's a difficult trick to pull off, but Hartnoll's liberal use of vocals, electronicalised real instrumentation, and field sound recordings have helped to transform 8.58 into something magical, and yet human, with the underlying theme a wake up call to shrug off a possible dystopian future.
Jeff Hemmings