Gig Review – Anna Calvi

Anna Calvi

St Luke’s, Glasgow, September 30

It had been a rather frantic dash along the Scottish Central Belt to be in time for this gig. When we arrived the nice people on the door told us there was about nine minutes until our heroine was due on stage. This turned out to be possibly the longest nine minutes ever, but when the warm-up DJ was giving the audience Janelle Monae, the Ohio Players and Kenrick Lamar, then who’s complaining?

Brilliant, if a little incongruous, unless we want to get into a discussion about the roots of r’n’b music. See, as Anna Calvi comes on solo and coaxes southern blues out of the swamps and bayou, it’s clear that her roots and inspirations show her to be so much more than just the vague notion of female-singer songwriters. Her live performance foils turn out to be just two, a drummer cum electronics expert and a multi-instrumentalist. Anna Calvi can pull guitar poses with the best of them, and when she seems to meet my eye (the venue is just small enough that it is possible for the whites of her eyes to be seen), it’s as if she manages to imply a wink without even blinking. Maybe it’s the headliner’s privilege, but she has all so completely in the palm of her hand that when she goes ‘shhh’ it really goes quiet. Never have the washing machines in the bars been so glared at.

Of course, the beguiling stage present wouldn’t mean a thing if she didn’t have the songs to go with it. As I’ve said before, there’s no question that Hunter, her most recent album, is the finest release of her career so far. The songs are fantastic, and whether it’s the menace of ‘Indies Or Paradise’ or the gentle title track or the urgency of ‘As A Man’, there is so much on offer here for folks.

For the encore she gives us a delightfully understated ‘Suzanne and I’ from her self-titled debut and finally, her take on Suicide’s ‘Ghostrider.’ She originally covered this on her 2014 EP Strange Weather, and in her hands it starts off in the wasteland of 1970s New York no-wave electronics and makes its way southwards to those bayou and swamps of time immemorial. That is how to tackle a cover version, folks.

At St. Luke’s customers are just around the corner from the legendary Barrowlands Ballroom. As Ms. Calvi notches up another hit album, and her best reviews yet, the thought occurs that selling out that venue the next time is completely within the bounds of possibility. She’s doing this all on her own terms, of course.

Here’s hoping that this is one hunter that never gets captured by the game.

Hunter is out now on Domino.

Interview – Richard Thompson

He’s a living legend, he’s in his sixth decade of music-making…and he’s answering 17 Seconds’ questions! Richard Thompson reflects on living in America, Fairport Convention and Nick Drake, and songwriting

17 Seconds: Hi Richard! How are you, where are you, and what’s the weather like?

Richard Thompson (RT): I am fine, I’m in New Jersey. The weather is changeable, to say the least.

17 Seconds: You’ve just released 13 Rivers, your new album. It’s the first one you’ve self-produced in a while, and the record burns with an intensity, lyrically and musically [i mean this as a compliment]. What can you tell us about the creative process of writing and recording the album?

RT: I wrote the songs in the space of about 4 months. I find it hard to describe the actual creative process, as it seems to be a semi-conscious thing. We recorded it analogue at Liberace’s old studio in Hollywood, in about 10 days.

17 Seconds:  You’re now based in the States. What prompted your move there, did it change how you made music and what do you miss about the U.K.?

RT: I’ve been based in the States for about 30 years. Basically I work here more than anywhere else, so it makes sense in terms of travel. Culturally I find it fairly neutral.

17 Seconds: In 1991, you released ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952,’ on the album Rumor And Sigh. Is it true you researched the song and how long did it take to write?

RT: When I was a kid, a neighbour had a Vincent Black Shadow, just a gorgeous bike, and I think that stayed with me. Before writing the song, I wanted to know everything about it, so I studied the history, got the workshop manual – then I could write with a bit of authenticity, and of course leave most of the stuff out. It took a couple of days to write, after a few false starts.

17 Seconds: You played on Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left. What are your memories of the sessions and the man himself?

RTI knew Nick because we had the same management and record label, so I’d see him around and about, but he didn’t say much – neither did I at the time. I always overdubbed on his records, when he wasn’t in the studio.

17 Seconds: 1969 must have been a busy and intense year for you and Fairport Convention. What are your recollections of the year?

RTThe album What We Did On Our Holidays came out in January, but we had finished it a few months earlier. We released Unhalfbricking in May, after a traumatic van crash that liked our drummer [Martin Lamble, who was only nineteen].  We spent the Summer working on changing our repertoire to embrace more British traditional music. We played our new songs at the Festival Hall in September, and released Liege And Lief in November. It was busy…

17 Seconds: What, if anything, does the term ‘folk music’ mean in 2018?

RTTo some, folk means traditional, to others, it just means acoustic – so I avoid using the word. I’m glad that more rootsy music is closer to the mainstream these days. It used to be tucked away in a very separate world, Now people are more aware of Eliza Carthy or Kate Rusby, for instance. 

17 Seconds: Who, if anyone, do you consider your musical contemporaries?

RT: The survivors of Fairport, Steeleye, the Albion Band…and singer-songwriters like Loudon Wainwright and John Prine.

17 Seconds: You celebrate a, um, significant birthday next year. How will you mark it?

RTI shall hide in a cave.

17 Seconds: Finally, what music are you listening to at the moment?

RTWildwood Kin, Offa Rex, The Rails, Lots of dead people.

13 Rivers is out now on Proper. Richard Thompson’s UK tour starts on October 11 (see here for details).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The return of Dead Can Dance

November 2 will see the release of Dionysus by Dead Can Dance. It’s their first album for six years, following on from 2012’s Anastasis – and their ninth studio album in total.

Dionysus was the Ancient Greek God of wine (also known as Bacchus by the Romans). Taking its lead from the myth of Dionysus, the new album consists of two acts across seven movements that represent the various parts of the legend. Conveyed by an array of folk instrumentation, field recordings and chants, in true Dead Can Dance style.

The first track to be unveiled from the album is ‘The Mountain,’ the first part of Act II. In the words of Brendan Perry, “the listener will find themselves visiting Mount Nysa.
This mountain was Dionysus’ place of birth, where he was raised by the centaur Chiron, from whom he learned chants and dances together with Bacchic rites and initiations.”

According to the press release: Driven by Perry’s exploration of religious rites and rituals, ‘Dionysus’ nevertheless sees ally-in-arms Lisa Gerrard convey the feminine aspect of Dionysus’s dual nature through song in both solo and mantric choral forms and ultimately to play the role of Psychopomp, signifying Dionysus’s role as an agrarian deity returning to winter’s underworld to reassume the role of guide to dead souls.

The tracklisting for Dionysus is as follows:

ACT I : Sea Borne – Liberator of Minds – Dance of the Bacchantes
ACT II : The Mountain – The Invocation – The Forest – Psychopomp
By following this link, you can stream ‘The Mountain’ and pre-order Dionysus. You can also get details of the group’s world tour in 2019, which includes two dates at London’s Hammersmith Apollo.

 

 

Album Review – Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson- ‘13 Rivers.’ (Proper)

Round our house, a new album from Richard Thompson remains An. Event. This is his first album in over a decade that’s self-produced, and after three albums of his material that were re-recorded acoustically (and well-put together, rather than being stop gaps), this is a new collection of songs featuring him playing electric guitar again. There should be much rejoicing. Richard Thompson is one of the finest electric guitarists this country has ever produced, and as he continues into his sixth decade as a professional musician, he is still offering fresh ideas with the instrument.

There’s a dark and bluesy feel to the record, particularly to the first half of the album. Whilst it’s not as dark as the divorce album with his ex-wife, Linda, 1982’s Shoot Out The Lights, it seems to be a rather difficult time chez Thompson.

The album opens with the stunning ‘The Storm Won’t Come.’ A six-minutes long, cinematic song, the music reflects the anticipation of a storm that never seems to arrive. ‘I am longing for a storm to blow through town/Blow all these sad old buildings down.’ It’s one of the finest songs this year, and possibly the album’s highlight. It’s followed by ‘The Rattle Within’ is a percussive-lead song, which is reminiscent of Tom Waits. Interestingly, for someone whose heritage is very much English folk, this album sounds very much influenced by American blues and rock. The six songs that make up the first part of the record – two other notable highlights being ‘Her Love Was Meant For Me’ and ‘The Bones Of Gilead’ form a distinct whole.

The second half of the record, which starts round about the second half of the album with the seventh track ‘Do All These Tears Belong To You?’ also seems to be a distinct half.  While this half doesn’t sound as angry -it’s certainly less intense – but still finds our hero questioning the world he finds himself in. ‘You can’t reach me/I’m out in the cold’ he sings on ‘You Can’t Reach Me.’ There’s always been room for humour in Thompson’s work and on ‘O Cinderella’ as he ponders settling down he acknowledges ‘I’m not very housetrained it’s true/but I want to make cupcakes with you.’ Even on record, he can deliver a sly wink. The album draws to a close with the country-tinged ‘Shaking The Gates’ with its poignant line ‘If echoes and dreams are my world/all I’ve done is lead myself astray.’

Richard Thompson will be 70 years old next April. While some artists half his age trade on past glories, clutching at straws, he demonstrates here – yet again – that his voice strong, his guitar playing is phenomenal and his songwriting is blessed with genius.

****1/2

13 Rivers is out now on Proper

Album Review – Pale Waves

Pale Waves -‘My Mind Makes Noises.’ (Dirty Hit/Interscope)

It seems as though this album has been a long time coming. Over the course of the last two years, a number of tracks have been released by Pale Waves, indicating that something special might be afoot. Of course there are those who like to argue that the album as a concept is no longer relevant – but what a long-player from the quartet reveals is that they are capable of producing a comprehensive and cohesive work. Six tracks have been released from this album but in the age of streaming it feels like a gradual unveiling, rather than a whole lot of tracks you’ve already heard.

Formed by singer-guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran at university in Manchester, the quartet are completed by guitarist-keyboardist Hugh Silvani and bassist Charlie Wood. So where do Pale Waves fit in to the music scene of 2018? After all, guitar music is supposed to be in the doldrums. (Have we heard this before? Maybe it’s because I’m in my forties – but experience has shown these things to be cyclical rather than linear). Thing is, Pale Waves aren’t bothered about fitting in – and that’s one of their(many) strengths. They combine elements of alternative music (we’ll have to debate what that means another time, there’s only so many hundred words I’ll be writing for this review) going back several decades. Two months ago I saw them on a bill in London’s Hyde Park, headlined by The Cure, but also featuring Slowdive, Interpol, Goldfrapp And Editors. Pale Waves are younger than all those bands, but their appearance made – and makes – perfect sense, not only with their image but also with their sound.

The album opens with ‘Eighteen’ and ‘There’s A Honey.’ Whether you’ve heard these tracks before or not, these are perfect for kicking off proceedings, setting out the stall for what it is that Pale Waves are all about. That’s not to say that the rest of the album is simply carbon copies – for example, the wistful ‘Loveless Girl’ is followed by the rocky, and tempo-changing ‘Drive.’ 

The songs run the breadth of emotions- ‘She’ in particular is particularly charged and sees Baron-Gracie question whether her lover is cheating on her. It’s possibly a little clumsy lyrically, yet unquestionably heartfelt. Tracks like ‘Red’ and ‘Television Romance’ provide a counterpoint to this, yet the album finishes with ‘Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)’ which is beautiful, and chilling in its acoustic simplicity.

So, file them under electropop, alternative, shoegaze…whatever. The half a dozen tracks we’ve been treated to were a true indication of how good this album is, and these are songs to be sung along to, moshed to, danced to. This is an album that could bring Britain’s divides musical tribes together. It’s not a leap of faith to imagine this band lighting up festivals themselves over the years to come. Sure, the lyrics might need a bit of polishing, but this is a strong debut from a band who understood the beauty of a POP song.

****

My Mind Makes Noises is out now on Dirty Hit/Interscope.

New from Lana Del Rey

At the age of forty-one, I guess I’m probably too old in many people’s eyes to care about the fact that Lana Del Rey’s brilliant song ‘LOVE’ which came out last year, wasn’t a proper hit. Sure there are other things to get worked up about – and I do – but it was brilliant. It was no.2 on the 17 Seconds Festive Fifty, which is what matters, right? 😉

This evening she has unveiled the first of two new tracks she will release this month; ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ (another track, ‘Venice Bitch’ will be released next Tuesday). She is due to release a new album, and a book of poetry, in early 2019.

This is another brilliant example of Del Rey’s beguiling songwriting and voice. Take the time to listen…

 

 

Forthcoming from Miles Hunt

Thirty years ago this year, a band called The Wonderstuff made inroads across my eleven year old radar when they appeared in Smash Hits. They were uniquely witty and acerbic, and when I finally heard their music they were even better.

In 1994, they called it a day…before reforming several years later. On one occasion my brother was privileged to have frontman, the legendary Miles Hunt, perform ‘Size Of A Cow’ for him in his hotel room. Which is pretty darn special, really. The band still evoke so many happy memories for so many people. A few months ago friends were round for dinner, and I put on their third album Never Loved Elvis. Within seconds of the needle hitting the vinyl my friends responded ‘Love this album.’ So do I, still.

Mr. Hunt (we’re friends on facebook, and he seems much less frightening than I thought he might be), is shortly to release an album called The Custodian, on October 5.This features him doing acoustic versions of the songs he has written over thirty years or more. The version of ‘On The Ropes’, a top ten hit from 1993 is just amazing.

Oh, and I am getting to interview Miles Hunt this week. My week quite probably beats your year!

The tracklisting for the album is as follows:

Disc One:

01. Speakeasy 02. It’s Not True… 03. Unbearable 04. Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More 05. Can’t Shape Up 06. Them, Big Oak Trees 07. The Size Of A Cow 08. Caught In My Shadow 09. Maybe 10. On The Ropes 11. Sing The Absurd 12. I Think I Must’ve Had Something Really Useful To Say 13. Room 512, All The News That’s Fit To Print 14. Fixer 15. Fits & Starts

Disc Two:

01. Everything Is Not Okay 02. Flapping On The Pier 03. Escape From Rubbish Island 04. Was I Meant To Be Sorry? 05. Tricks Of The Trade 06. We Hold Each Other Up 07. Falsified 08. Were You There? 09. Steady As You Go 10. Right Side Of The Turf 11. You Can’t Go Back (To Once Upon A Time) 12. Don’t You Ever 13. Good Deeds & Highs 14. The Sweetest Of Bitterest Ends 15. Custodian

The tour dates are as follows:

October
1st – Southampton, The 1865
2nd – Indie Daze, London
11th – Liverpool, Music Room
12th – Selby, Town Hall
25th – Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
26th – Leicester, The Y Theatre
27th – Sheffield, Greystones

November
5th – Hastings, Black Market VIP
6th – Swindon, Vic
9th – Stowmarket, John Peel Centre
10th Harpenden, Public Halls
17th – Barnstaple, Pilton Village Hall
18th – Shiiine On Weekender, Minehead
21st – Leeds Brundenell
22nd – Bury, The Met
23rd – Biddulph, Town Hall
24th – Bristol, Thunderbolt
27th – Carlisle, Old Fire Station
29th – Dumfries, CatStrand
30th – Irvine, Harbour Art Centre

December
1st – Newcastle, Cluny 2

Presenting…Frontperson

Ever played six degrees of Kevin Bacon? The aim of the parlour game is to see how many degrees you are removed from the legendary actor. My claim to fame (well, I have a couple) is that I used to work in Fopp in Edinburgh with Mark Hamilton of Woodpigeon fame. The latest news from Mr. Hamilton (who is lovely, by the way) is that he has collaborated with the New Pornographers’ Kathryn Calder on a new act called Frontperson. They’ll be releasing their first album together, entitled Frontrunner, on September 21. This is gorgeous indie-folk meets chamber pop music.

So far, two tracks have been released from the record, with excellent videos to boot. First up (ok it’s been around for a bit, but I’ve been trying to get my writing head back on) is ‘Tick-Tock (Frontrunner).’ The video looks at a sports meet, but by showing it in reverse, it actually means that everyone ends equally, the same. This seems like a pretty good metaphor for life, if you ask me. The video was made by Rob Leickner and Ryan Sudds.

It’s a gorgeous song, and possibly even better is ‘Young Love’ (much newer, it’s only been out for five days). It’s about having a crush on someone (we’ve all been there, so it’s pretty universal). Directed by Lorenz Trobinger (you can read about it in more detail over on Stereogum), who also stars in it, it’s simple, straightforward, and yet surprisingly affective.

Frontrunner will be out on Ms. Calder’s own Oscar St. Records on September 21. Order it from their bandcamp here

The tracklisting is as follows:

1 “U.O.I”
2 “Long Night”
3 “Tick-Tock (Frontrunner)”
4 “He Follows Me”
5 “Young Love”
6 “Shorter Days”
7 “This City Is Mine”
8 “Postcards From A Posh Man”
9 “Insight”

 

 

Album Review – Anna Calvi

Anna Calvi -‘Hunter.’ (Domino)

…bloody hell, now that’s what I’m talking about.

There’s been a lot of gigs over the course of the summer, and I’ll be honest, a lot of the time it’s been great just to go and watch gigs without having to write up reviews. The inbox has looked ever more like a war zone and I’ve even wondered if I could carry on doing the blog, when the swamp of emails threatened to overwhelm me as much as I felt overwhelmed by more tourists than ever.

Then the new Anna Calvi album arrives, her third and her first for five years. Suddenly I remember why I fell in love with music in the first place. Even before I’ve finished listening to the album for the first time, I wonder: is this her best album? Because the first two are pretty damn good, but this is sorcery. See, after punk, for many years artists felt they had to hide their musical abilities. Calvi has a voice that absorbs opera, in her own distinctive way, and her guitar playing is virtuoso – yet neither ever feel over the top. That my friends, is some serious talent right there. Combined with the songwriting and it’s an utterly irresistible combination.

There’s scarcely a wrong move on the album – within a few notes my wife pricked up her ears and asked who it was – but the title track and ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy’ which did the rounds ahead of the album are a great place to start. The videos are worth seeing too; enough to give programmers of music TV nightmares but those who believe music videos can be art will love them.

So, with this release, Ms. Calvi has reached a new level, and it’s more sensual and passionate than ever. She’s talking more freely in interviews about sexuality and gender, and that shouldn’t frighten away anyone other than those who have no place here. As Brian Eno said, when she first appeared, she was the best thing since Patti Smith, but Anna Calvi has truly arrived as Anna Calvi with this release. An essential listen that reaches in, grabs you and won’t let go…

****1/2

Hunter is out now on Domino

Track of the day #58: Low

Low, photo credit Shelly Mosman.

As I hinted at in my last post, I’ve been exhausted by everything going on in Edinburgh during August. But it’s time to return to some kind of normality around here…

I mentioned a few months ago that Low are about to release a new album, entitled Double Negative. Coming out once again on the legendary Sub Pop, the tracks released so far to do the rounds are a sign that the band have taken a radical step and embraced electronics. Overwhelmed by submissions over here at 17 Seconds Towers, ‘Disarray,’ taken from the album, is simply stunning. As in: one of the best tracks I have heard this year.

At first, it might even seem like radio interference, and then the vocals kick in. It’s like hearing ELO over some of the noughties finest noise acts, something that sounds so wrong it can only possibly come together. It continues to bode well for the new album, and shows that twenty-five years in, the trio from Duluth, Minnesota are continuing to challenge listeners. Bring on the album!