|Live Reviews 2010:|
Live Reviews Summer 2010
Quick-links to sub-sections:
Jack McNeil and Charlie Heys - The Stables, Wavendon - 17th June 2010
Dr John and the Lower 911 - The Stables, Wavendon - 28th June 2010
Crosby Stills & Nash - Royal Albert Hall, London - 4th July 2010
Hope House Records Showcase - The Wilmington Arms, London - 1st July 2010
Roosevelt Bandwagon - The Maverick Festival, Easton Farm Park - 3rd July 2010
C.W. Stoneking - The Borderline, London - 3rd August 2010
Giant Sand - The Barbican, London - 22nd July 2010
Diana Jones – Cca, Glasgow - 27th July 2010
Summer Sundae Weekender - Leicester - 13th-15th August 2010
|New reviews for this season so far from Jack McNeil and Charlie Heys, Dr John and the Lower 911, Crosby Stills & Nash, Hope House Records Showcase, Roosevelt Bandwagon, C.W. Stoneking, Giant Sand and Diana Jones. Keep them coming in!|
|Jack McNeil and Charlie Heys - The Stables, Wavendon - 17th June 2010|
Review by Jonathan Aird
A sudden attack of nothing to do provoked a spur of the moment decision to head out for folk duo Jack McNeil (guitar and vocals) and Charlie Heys (violin, backing vocals and giggling) at the small second stage at The Stables. It was a first foray to Stage 2, which would be described as neither vast nor cavernous - it's about the size of a respectable pub back room, and this has very much the feel of an old style back room folk club gig, with only a couple of dozen in the audience.
Previously BBC young folk award nominees and with two albums to their name McNeil and Heys, despite their youth, are approaching the status of seasoned performers. Their selections tonight cover, about equally, both of their albums, opening with "Weatherman" from "Light up all the beacons", and it encapsulates all that is good about this duo - barking, gruff vocals, lyrics which surreally capture the ways in which we trap ourselves and mask indecision as waiting for the good moment, sung over rhythmic guitar and eerily precise violin. It's a stunning opener.
Jack McNeil does most of the duo's talking, and most of their tuning too as he fiddles between each song with his guitar - unwilling to trust the flashing lights of his electronic tuner. In between there are more excellent songs - "The Northern Road" (about driving home to family and old friends), "Leaves" ("who'd fancies a short song about death ?") - and some excellent tunes - the haunting "Cathedral" and the jaunty "The knots/Comets", both from the new album.
Their strand of folk music refreshingly does not require a prefix : it's not psych-folk, indie-folk, or any of the other plethora of folks. It's new songs and tunes firmly rooted in a recognisable English folk tradition. If there's one thing they need to work on a bit it's their stage craft - Jack's ramshackle song introductions retain a certain charm, but Charlie Heys' giggling just makes her appear nervous. And, although they probably made up half the audience, in-jokes for family and friends can wear thin after a while for everyone else. They should make the effort - if there's any justice they'll be playing to bigger crowds soon.
|Dr John and the Lower 911 - The Stables, Wavendon - 28th June 2010|
Review by Jonathan Aird
Fresh from appearing at the Glastonbury festival, this smallest venue appearance of his UK tour was also doubling as the album launch party for the latest disc - Tribal. Now, the word on da street was that the good doctor had gone right back and fully re-adopted his night tripper persona, after his more recent fine series of albums as jazz advocate for N'Awlinz. Well, the word ain't right, no way, no how. There is a mention or maybe there is two mention of gris-gris, there's the odd curse placed on the desrving of such cursing n'all. But dusted as Tribal is with low downess and hoodoo powder it also has a great dollop of the funk mixed into the pot. In short - it's as fine an album as Dr John has produced, but it's more like his late than his early '70's output. No problem less'un yo' be a ful, ya dig ? An' that's, sure enough, enough of some English white boy thinkin' he can talk that jive, he ain't no cat like that.
So, stir into this mix one of the hottest days of the year and a sell out crowd and you're looking at a steamy stagger through the swamps as Dr John takes the stage with his band - bass, drums and 'lectric guitar courtesy of New Orleans and trombone courtesy of Chris Barber. Yeah, Chris Barber, and I was less than sure about too, but - you know what ? - he hit some pretty good notes. The band, in fact, made a huge sound, a super funky rhythm section and guitar duties were superbly undertaken, and with each band member getting their solos it had a real Rhythm and Blues revue feel and seing Chris Barber blowing his horn until it looked as if his head might explode rightly garnered rounds of appluase.
And here's the straight up truth about Dr John - dapper in his light blue suit and dark shades - he's still got it, got it all. The chops - on piano and organ and even guitar for one number. And that sly lip smacking voice. And he dances around the stage a bit, a bit like Dylan does these days, but that's cool. And if you had seen the Glastonbury set from the day before and thought you knew what was coming then, like with Dylan, you were going to be in for a surprise as this was a fundamentally different set. So, no room for Iko-Iko, Jump Sturdy or any number of other obvious choices tonight, but there were some really fine compensations.
Kicking off with a bluesy slice of sleazy jazz got the evening off to a great start with a typical Dr John play on words, and it carried on good including Feel Good Music from the new album. Introduced as "an oldy but a mouldy", "walk on guilded splinters" was a radical reworking of that classic night tripper moment, and it's primal graveyard shuffle and underlying air of menace was an early peak in the set. Given that a verse from "Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya" was blended seamlessly in it was a double hit of classic Dr John. Following up with another of the Doctor's sly numbers - Right Place Wrong Time - was a smooth move.
If The Last Waltz featured in any way in the development of your musical tastes then the opening piano chords of "Such a night" were going to do nothing less than thrill, and if this one won't do it for ya' then nothin' will. But Dr John hasn't lost his edge either - as "Only in Amerika" made clear - questioning why the poor and least educated had the hardest time, and is poverty really just the fault of lack of family values, and if America really becomes freer as it becomes easier to lock people up in for profit prisons ?
Over almost two hours well Dr John, he nails it down and it stays put, ya dig ? He's one smooth cat. I ain't jiving you - this was the best set I'd seen in months, and the most fun band I'd seen in even longer.
One 2AM too many
Feel Good Music
Walk on Guilded Splinters / Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
Right Place Wrong Time
One Dirty Woman
Keep on Goin'
Change of heart
Blues in E
Such a night
Only in Amerika
Ain't my Fault
|Crosby Stills & Nash - Royal Albert Hall, London - 4th July 2010|
Review by Jonathan Aird
How quickly we get used to the unusual - five years ago the reappearance of CSN on these shores was a reason to celebrate, their return in 2009 to play, amongst other venues, Glastonbury and the Royal Albert Hall was an event. Now, following what was by all accounts an excellent double header in Hyde Park with Paul McCartney, their two nights at the RAH seem almost like their regular residency.
Amazingly there were a few blocks of unsold seats up at the back, but I was glad of my side stalls seat - surely a late return. As the band came on stage there was a slight shock. Yes, here's aging lion Crosby, and there is that shoeless sprite Nash, but who is the elfin figure at the end ? Can that really be Stills ? And the great joy is that not only is Stills looking healthier than for a long time, but his voice was much improved. The trio launch straight away in to Woodstock - fabulous, although the sound was a little off but that seemed to get sorted out as the set progressed. The first set, in fact, was virtually a greatest hits (with the exception of Nash's thoughtful "In your name"), to the point where I was wondering what they had left for the second set. Uniformly excellent, in this opening set it did seem at times that Crosby was a little detached, not giving his all even on "Long Time Gone", but I guess he was just pacing himself because "Deja Vu" was a triumph that could only be topped by a superb "Wooden Ships".
Restarting after the interval with "Helplessly Hoping", and I'll be damned if it wasn't as fine a harmony from the trio that you could hope for. The second set also featured several cover versions which, after two attempts, David Crosby got to explain were potentials for the upcoming cover album. I still am of the opinion that I'd rather have a new LP of CSN originals, and live I would swap any of these songs for "Wasted on the Way", "Cowboy Movie", or anything off either Manassas outing. Given that, "Norwegian Wood" was a high and sweet treat, "Ruby Tuesday" somewhat pedestrian, the take on Dylan's "North Country" was pretty much as Stills has been doing in his live shows, and "Midnight Rider" and "Behind Blue Eyes" were saved from mediocrity only by Stills' guitar.
The first highlight of the second set was the mini-Crosby/Nash set in the middle, with Crosby bashing out pure gold one after the other from an unaccompanied "What are their names?" through an hypnotic "Guinevere" with that slightly changed phrase in the final verse - "such a short day" - and the loss the song documents and the memorial it has become on each singing really hits home. Crosby paused to tell the now familiar anecdote about Jackson Brown dragging him in a dazed and confused state to Warren Zevon's house in order to complete a song, then launched into it - "Delta", of course. And for all the familiarity and ritual of the introduction, again "Delta" enchants, beautifully sung by these old friends and with time and chance seemingly dancing on the stage in the forms of David Crosby and Graham Nash. Then it's Nash's turn and he turns in the drug craziness and random clarity of "Cathedral" followed up with one of those missing hits from the first set - "Our House".
The second highlight of the set is the final combination - is there actually a better rock song than "Rock'n'roll woman" ? I don't believe I've heard it. Stills is on fire with his playing, Nash and Crosby can only enhance the high lifting verse endings. Admittedly it still fails to get the audience on their feet, but it tried. How do you top that ? "Almost cut my hair" - it's Crosby's anthem, and it's "don't sell out" message never fails to uplift and encourage. And the power of the delivery fundamentally acknowledges the sense of any earlier underplaying of his vocals. He needs to hit this one hard, and he does.
The laughable moral stance of "Love the one you're with" opens up the encore, and of course the laudable moral stance of "Teach your children" closes it. And at last the hall is on it's feet and jigging around as only CSN fans can.
Long time Gone
In your name
Long May you run
Girl from the North Country
What are their names ?
Critical Mass / Cathedral
Behind Blue Eyes
Almost cut my hair
Love the one you're with
Teach your children
|Hope House Records Showcase - The Wilmington Arms, London - 1st July 2010|
Review by Jonathan Aird
It's a hot day and it's physically no cooler going into the venue room of The Wilmington Arms, although this is a neat little (capacity 100) venue space and a great location for the first "Foxes and Convicts" night organised outside of Leeds by Hope House Records. Tonight is a showcase for the four artists/bands on this Independent label - Nick John Henry, Samuel Foxton Welles, Mach of Dimes and Louis Le Prince & The Projectors. Four very different bands it transpires.
Nick John Henry produces a big noise from one guitar and had something of Syd Barrett around his songs. Dramatic slashes of guitar cutting through lyrics which seemed to be studded with surrealism. Interesting stuff.
Samuel Foxton Welles slipped away from a table by the stage, to return in white coveralls and wearing a fox head hat. I'd heard a couple of his tunes online and some featured a lot of looped tracks - a personal bête noire of mine live, but I needn't have worried as various members of the other bands filled in the sounds. The songs stray from regular pop considerations and dwell more on being on a tractor, growing vegetables, and wondering what the man in the space suit is wearing under the spacesuit (it's a cowboy suit). Add in a decent dollop of kazoos and like it or not you are going to bring to mind The Bonzo's. If you're looking for off kilter pop eccentricity then look no further than Samuel Foxton Welles. There were several songs off his new mini-LP (vinyl only), including The Earthquake, I'm on my tractor and Spinning Like a whirlwind. And the outright triumph of Ray Of The Arctic - with the sing-a-long chorus "Ray, Ray, Ray of the arctic" that you feel you've known for years. Having a real band as well lifted the set amazingly.
Observant readers of Americana-uk may recall me drooling over March of Dimes' recent EP - "For those who were there". It's a great CD with multi-layered instruments, intelligent lyrics, passion and that spark that when you hear it you know straight away "that's it - that's what I want to hear". So, no pressure to recreate that experience live.
Taking the stage they picked up the gauntlet with a perfect Seasons Change - what an opener and what a superb song. There's the moment of euphoria when Jonathan Moss' and Cat Firman's voices intermingle - this alone was worth the journey down. It continues with powerful bass lines, drumming like thunder and precision guitar work as the band drives along carrying the crystal clear vocal harmonies. Melodic, literate, a powerhouse rhythm section and soaring guitar - is there anything here not to like ? Either I'm deluded, or March of Dimes are a truly great band.
And they followed up with a set that didn't put a foot wrong. For Seasons Change 3 they were joined by Samuel Foxton Welles who took over guitar duties, allowing the bass to be passed to Gordon McKiernan freeing up Sean Murricane to play ukulele. As well as an excellent Try Never Knowing also from the Seasons Change EP, there was a good selection of songs from their debut album including Not Bad, Just Different, Foxes And Convicts, and The Cracks In The Floor. The band philosophy may well be summed up by "If I have to die and everyone does / let me know life and let me know love" from the god denying The Great Illustrator. New songs all to me, but they drag the listener straight in.
Louis Le Prince and the Projectors were the final band of the evening. A three piece line-up they are less classic power trio and more The Jam. In fact, powered along on heavy riffage, and driving bass lines they brought to mind early Kinks. So, think Jam, think Kinks, think Mod. A high energy set, couldn't get a lot from the vocals unfortunately. As the set progressed there were flashes of "heavy bands" - Cream, for example, and also flashes of garage rock, and about halfway through like a lightning bolt a great flash of Gravenhurst. Not a bad mix at all - apparently they are currently recording and the output should be well worth hearing.
Despite loud calls for more the stage went silent promptly at 11PM - which I'm guessing is a condition of The Wilmington’s music licence. Nonetheless, a great night, with great bands that anyone in the Leeds area would be well advised to search out.
|Roosevelt Bandwagon - The Maverick Festival, Easton Farm Park - 3rd July 2010|
Review by Joe Rivera
I’ll be controversial here – but, in my humble opinion at least, festivals are not always the best place to catch great new music. Too often in the past my hopes have been dampened by poor sound quality, impossible schedules or – if all else fails – the British summer rain.
It was with these preconceptions in mind that I descended on the third annual Maverick Festival at Easton Farm Park, Suffolk. Claimed to be the ‘UK's foremost home to the best and brightest in American roots music,’ I was interested to see whether it would live up to this billing. In short, the answer was a resounding yes. A varied bill, including such Americana luminaries as Kim Richey, Chris Scruggs and Rayburn Anthony as well as home-grown talent like Danny & the Champions of the World, worked extremely well. This, combined with wonderful weather, an extremely friendly atmosphere and cheap local ale made for an excellent day out all round.
My unreserved highlight were London-based Americana collective Roosevelt Bandwagon. According to festival promoter Paul Spencer the band were his only real gamble in the booking of this year’s event. However, he trusted his gut-feeling about the couple of rough tracks on their myspace and had faith in their promises about being able to play a full set that would deliver exactly what The Maverick was after. I attended both their electric and acoustic performance and each was a joy to behold.
Roosevelt Bandwagon, it transpires, are not without past glories, including extensive US and European recording and touring experience. Nowadays however, they strictly adhere to a ‘no-names’ policy and are committed to the ideals of a collective. On this occasion they appeared as a five-piece; the inclusion of a cellist bringing a subtlety and distinctness that set them well apart from the competition.
As each set played out festival goers were drawn in by the group’s soaring harmonies, intricate instrumental interplay and, moreover, the superior quality of their songs. It was (as a fellow audience member confided) as if ‘they get it.’ Americana/ Roots/ Country can be a phenomenally broad church and, too often within the UK, it falls into pastiche. Roosevelt Bandwagon though, are the real deal. This assertion was evidenced time and again by the genuine originality of their material.
Set highlights included Shiloh Rain, a military-themed song that gallops, by way of Omaha Beach and Vietnam, all the way from the Civil War to the present day and Crooked Scars - a spell-bindingly beautiful country waltz co-written with Nashville song writing great Buddy Mondlock. The Tennessee connection was further apparent in South Nashville; the creation of which included Knoxville song smith Josh Scutella. Their performances had a gloriously paced ebb and flow about them; the songs were at once fragile and anthemic and so memorable I found myself humming them days afterwards.
|C.W. Stoneking - The Borderline, London - 3rd August 2010|
Review by Jonathan Aird
The unexpected pleasure of going to a gig you thought (for a long time) you couldn't make, and a gig that had been on my wish list for about 18months - Australia's C.W. Stoneking purveyor of the finest and purest hokum blues and jungle rhythms. But first, the supports. Stephen Smyth, another Australian, cut a messianic Jim Morrison figure with his biblical prophet's beard and moustaches. This was perfect for his roared blues over a raucous electric guitar and thunder crack foot stomping. He wasn't aping Morrison but he had that feel about him - wild powerful primal singing but fortunately without the drunken bozo aspects between songs. I was impressed; with a suitable band he would be devastating.
Second up was Nigel Burch on banjolele with violinist Dylan Bates, with a set of Bohemian music hall songs crossed with a ranting poet. The kind of thing that you either love or don't. Dylan Bates was an excellent improviser and had excellent little hippy dances.
C.W. Stoneking and his four piece band took the stage about 9:30. Stoneking resplendent in an all white outfit and a red bow tie, slicked back hair and bearing a tenor banjo and a metal bodied national guitar. I have strong feelings about the tenor banjo, but Stoneking more than any other performer is breaking these down.
There followed an authentic hokum jazz blues calypso experience. And not authentic in some overly precise and overly reverential way. Stoneking and his band play the music as if it's brand new, hot off the street. Of course they love this style of music - but not in the way that want to recreate it - this is a newly created music and therefore vibrant and powerful. Uplifting, amusing, unlikely and stomping the way it should be. And then there's Stoneking's voice - the thickest mumbliest voice you are ever likely to encounter, as he regales us with unlikely tales of his adventures on the highs seas, or duets with himself. Add on top of this the stare - the disconnected 1,000 yard unblinking stare and the off mike mumbling as he manoeuvres himself through the instrumental breaks. It's magical.
A set almost an hour and half long, devoid of weak songs, and with some real standouts like Dodo Blues, The Love Me And Die and Don't Go Dancin' Down The Dark Town Strutters Ball. This last is introduced over eerie banjo before the band joins in with a strident New Orleans' jazz band funeral march. And although it's all wrapped up in pure hokum there's still the thrill of the melancholy menace in the opening chorus - "you gotta laugh, you gonna laugh real hard when she takes her love away / you gonna cry, take a look at yourself, there ain't nothin' you can say".
It's hard to believe that Dodo Blues isn't actually a cover with it's wonderful lilting lyric as sung (perhaps !) by the last ever Dodo bird - "Nothing, nothing can be right, when everything is wrong. Nothing can be wrong when I'm walking with my baby - I wish that I was". That Dodo sure has got the blues, but it's a pure sing-along joy.
And it was during one number, without the band, just Stoneking picking raw blues on the resonator guitar that it struck home that this was nearer to Robert Johnson than Eric Clapton has ever been - it's not just about technical mastery, it's about the feeling. And that's what C.W. Stoneking has, in bucket loads.
|Giant Sand - The Barbican, London - 22nd July 2010|
Review by Jonathan Aird
To The Barbican for a celebration of twenty five sprawling years of Giant Sand, twenty five years since the release of "Valley of rain". And, not to spoil the end or rip away the mystery, but there was not a note of that album in the concert. And that's both unsurprising and probably as it should be.
One thing I love about The Barbican is that putting together a fantastic line-up just isn't enough, and generally there's a pre-gig set in the foyer. Oh Ruin are the Freestage band this evening, and they present melodic folky pop, with the odd "darker" number mixed in. Think The Thrills but without a banjo. Enjoyable enough.
First on in the Main Hall is tonight's main guest - Kristin Hersh. Amongst all the clutter of instruments and cables she stands centre stage, all alone but a confident presence. Stern and unblinking in the face of camera flashlights she stares rigidly ahead, except for during a few of the more complicated chord changes. It is impossible to tear yourself away from concentrating on her as she lays out a set full of drama, and incredible intensity. It's a bit of surprise, in fact, when she occasionally smiles.
There were a couple of stand out songs for me in the set. "City of the Dead" was a piece of quiet-loud perfection, moving from a gentle opening to a raucous conclusion. An almost endless "Mississippi Kite" rolled hypnotically along full of rhythmic menace, ripped from a one woman garage band.
The remainder of the first half of the gig was a first serving of Giant Sand - Howe Gelb and his 5 strong cohort of Danish musicians. There's was a perfect set of Americana, and isn't that ironic for a band predominantly not American ? Yet they conjured up the ramshackle beauty of "The Basement Tapes" era Band, they laid down gorgeous runs of slide guitar. Songs emerged as if from an ancient leather almanac - "Fields of Green" tapped the feelings of loss as friends disappear around you as life's journey unfolds, the pace of loss accelerating with age.
There are songs which belie Giant Sand's sometime reputation of being difficult on the ear, for there is melody and some of the songs - notably one which is an ode of praise to the redemption to be found when you love a woman - are downright pretty. Gelb introduces a song as "clarified serendipity" - which opens incredibly loud but meanders into funky little keyboard runs. The band is stripped back to a three piece, Gelb on piano accompanied by bass and drums for a jazzy blues stomp which inhabited that smooth space where it's way past closing time but there's still one drunk left in the bar.
A musing introduction dwelling on absent friends such as Mark Linkous and "& good ol' Vic Chesnutt" leads into a gorgeous "Expiration Day", surely one of the few songs to contain words of praise for a man's lathe. Through their set pictures of Gelb and Giant Sands of years gone by are projected onto screens at the side of the stage. Twenty five years, we were all a lot younger when Valley Of Rain was released. Gelb himself stops to remark on these pictures from time to time "young one !" being a typical comment.
After the interval Hersh gave a series of readings from her book titled "Paradoxical Undressing" in Europe and "Rat Girl" in the USA. Giant Sand were on stage to add a backing track to her spoken voice, and it's an eerie enough soundtrack, like the score of a black and white movie with Vincent Price in a starring role. So as the music blisters and pops behind her Hersh turns a gig into a happening as she presents excerpts of her childhood diary - there are encounters with friendly gerbils that inevitably bite her, and with ghostly sounds that maybe are made by supernatural means - or perhaps a racoon. In all honesty after a while I did feel that I'd heard enough of the book - not that it wasn't good, but I'd like some bits left to read for myself. The reading ended with some songs including a slow and moody "Sno Cat".
The closing out set of the night was Gelb's latest musical collaboration - Howe Gelb and a band of gypsies. A band of gypsies is a Spanish flamenco band, with the added fire of electric guitar played in a wild fluid style : there's a hint Of Jerry Garcia about both the playing and the player. I have to admit unfamiliarity with the new album (it had rapidly sold out at the merchandise table), but the combination of Gelb's cowboy boots clicking on cobbled streets, wild and free electric guitar and thrumming flamenco guitar and percussion was something to observe. What better way to celebrate 25 years than with something new and incredibly exciting ? If only they'd had time for a longer set. And Howe Gelb demonstrates has such a fine turn of phrase as he croons - "the larceny of sleep steals the day away". Resplendent as he is in grey pin stripe suit and white wide brimmed hat, Gelb has the look and the sound of an elder statesman of rock in the making.
When Kristin Hersh and the rest of Giant Sand came out on stage for a tremendous closer of "Wayfaring Stranger" there were 6 guitars, keyboards, 3 percussionists and a slap bass. Imagine the sound.
The requisite ovation secured a two song Giant Sand encore which demonstrated both their ability to rock and out and to play quiet and tender. More than just a stunning concert - it was an evening of mood swings, musical versatility, and pure genius.
|Diana Jones – Cca, Glasgow - 27th July 2010|
Review by Mike Ritchie
Neil Young brawls with Old Black, Willie Nelson totes Trigger and Diana Jones almost cradles Little Sparrow, a tenor guitar she bought instead of paying a lumberjack to knock down an overhanging tree that threatened her shotgun shack home.
Both Jones and Sparrow made a lovely, joyous pairing in this captivating and flawless performance where sad songs and more downbeat tales prevailed. None of us complained. Solo, singer/songwriters likes Jones – Mary Gauthier is in this category, too – major in misery, troubles, sadness, regret. Relentless the gloom might be but it is never less than a pleasure to share.
Jones has a glorious alto voice, clear and pure with a welcome husky undertow that takes the listener by surprise at times. Confessional songs – the scary If I Had A Gun (also recorded by Gretchen Peters) – aimed metaphorically at someone who done her wrong blend in with true love stories like the doomed miner in Henry Russell's Last Words, which has been covered by Joan Baez. The gorgeous Cracked and Broken is delivered with heartache tenderness and warmth. Indeed, all her songs come with lashings of sensitivity and caring.
It’s little wonder the likes of Steve Earle and Baez, no less, rate her so highly. Her stage craft is simple but totally engaging and it was no wonder the Fallen Angels Club, promoting her for the second time in the city, booked a larger space in this venue than on her opening visit over a year ago.
Jones’ current CD “Better Times Will Come” is confirming her place as a hard-to-ignore talent. For her, better times will get worse but only in song, thankfully. A new CD is due for release next year and more fans than ever will be ready to welcome it with open arms.
|Summer Sundae Weekender - Leicester - 13th-15th August 2010|
Review by Mark Whitfield
Now in its tenth year, Summer Sundae has become an important date in the UK’s annual festival diary, and for Leicester itself is a great advert for the city, drawing in as it does several thousand people every summer to the place. Set in the De Montford Hall gardens, the setting is ideal for a festival – surrounded by trees, some of it on a slope (which not only helps visibility but stops it getting waterlogged) and with permanent facilities onsite including an indoor stage for when the weather makes even tents inaccessible. And the weather was probably the story for this year’s, the name Summer Sundae belying the fact that for two out of the three days, lashing rain and even thunderstorms were the setting for the music. Which was a shame because in terms of Americana at least, this year’s Summer Sundae was by far the best for years, recalling the early days of the festival where artists like Lambchop and Emmylou Harris used to headline, before things took a (not bad, just not the same) turn towards the more dance/indie side of things. Friday night was particularly impressive with a soulful set from Danny and the Champions of the World coming across as together as the band have ever sounded which was followed (on the Musician Stage at least) with a storming set from Jason and the Scorchers which left some of the crowd who’d not seen Jason at least in this guise before genuinely open-mouthed. Teenage Fanclub played the main stage in between and rattled through a steady if unsurprising set which if nothing else proved just what an amazing song “Baby Blue,” is, even if nothing else from the new record particularly sunk in. Seasick Steve completing the main stage for Friday night proved what a character the man is, making blues rock sound interesting and engaging, which is a feat in itself.
Saturday’s line-up once again battled the elements with a variety of names, some (Laura Veirs, the Fall) better known than others (Dog is Dead?) but there were some genuinely lovely surprises including a beautiful set from Belgian outfit the Isbells (chosen as part of the European Talent Exchange Program (ETEP) which aims to circulate European talent outside of national borders) and Harper Simon, who despite having the weight of the world in expectation on his shoulders thanks to a certain father, appeared to have a real connection with the crowd. The Go! Team later on proved just what a great live band they are, straddling multiple genres but never in a way that appears contrived. Sunday’s line-up was probably the strongest of the three days, and the gods obviously thought so too given that the weather finally cleared up. Scottish band Frightened Rabbit provided a belting set which was both hair-raising and euphoric at one and the same time (and had one of the biggest age ranges of any audience at the weekend), and the Low Anthem were as exemplary as ever, even if a technical hitch meant that two songs of the performance were essentially played to the first two rows of the main stage audience. But it was the climax, Mumford and Sons on the main stage, that for this reviewer provided not just the best Summer Sundae headliner ever, even including the Concert for a Landmine Free World heights of 7 years ago, but perhaps one of the best headline sets at a festival ever. Regardless of the pedantics of what counts as folk and what doesn’t, seeing people of all ages jumping up and down to instruments usually barred from mainstream daytime radio in the UK was a real joy to see. Having only one album of songs so far made them, as they pointed out themselves, a peculiar headline act but the odd new song to be fair sounded even better than anything from their better known output. Concluding with “White Blank Page,” as uncommercial a song as you could imagine a festival ending with, they sealed the deal and confirmed Leicester’s tenth Summer Sundae as among the best yet – an essential date for lovers of real music, not tied down to one genre, and regardless of it having the tag “populist” slammed on to it. Summer Sundae is in as rude health as its ever been. Let’s hope for the “summer” bit of it next year.