Depending on who you listen to, it’s the posh festival or the older person’s festival. I was in the unusual position of trying to balance taking a few pictures and writing a bit as well; I got to see the first three songs of each performer’s set from the pit before being shuffled on to the next stage. Thankfully, there was an exception to this routine; the Caffe Nero stage opened at 9:00am and featured unsigned artists throughout the day. It’s a great way to kick off the day; live music from about 9:30 and great coffee as well. Before most festival-goers are out of bed, you could hear the twenty-first century folk of Lucy Mair, Megan O’Neill’s take on contemporary country and Key West’s raucous and irresistible rock/Gaelic/Americana hybrid.

Anavae; that’s a name you need to remember. Playing a lunchtime slot on the Caffe Nero stage, their blend of tribal rhythms, Jamie Finch’s fat guitar and keyboard sounds and stunningly powerful vocals from Rebecca Need-Menear generated a buzz that went way beyond caffeine. And then it was time to watch Danny and the Champions of the World do their wide-screen Americana thing. The songs were strong, the playing was superb and Danny Wilson looked totally relaxed on the big stage in the mid-afternoon sunshine.

In the evening, Stereo MCs absolutely owned the Songbird stage; it was tight, it was energetic and Rob Birch was as wired and compelling as ever. UB40; well, Brian Travers worked really hard to sell it, but it’s not the real thing (and I’m sure the Ali Campbell version isn’t either). It made me wish I’d been able to see Jimmy Cliff earlier in the day.

The reason I missed that set was that Caffe Nero had managed to grab Albert Lee and Peter Asher for a set at 5:30. You can google both of those guys, but I can tell you they have an astonishing pedigree with over a century in the music business between them. Sixty minutes passed in the blink of an eye as these legends entertained a packed Caffe Nero stage with songs and anecdotes; it was the first standing ovation I saw over the weekend but certainly not the last.

You can see the pictures from the day here.

There are a lot of things that go a long way to making a great record, in my humble, and a couple of them are great musicianship (controversial, but I include singing in that) and a sense of joy; this album has both of those in abundance. Track Dogs (the name’s taken from the denizens of the deeps of the New York subway) is Garrett Wall, Dave Mooney, Howard Brown and Robbie K Jones (two Irishmen, an Englishman and an American) who met up in Madrid. You might expect a mashing of influences, but “Kansas City Out Groove” goes way further than that. It fuses reggae, string band arrangements, Spaghetti Western and jazz and even hints of pop.

There’s a rare combination of four great players who also have superb voices, creating stunning individual vocal performances and the almost inevitable perfect harmonies. So where do you even begin to start picking out favourites? The Latin trumpet and rhythms and the nailed-on harmonies of the opener, “The Deep End” set the scene nicely, the lead vocal having more than a suggestion of our great British blues and soul hero, Aynsley Lister, and the hundreds and thousands come with the trumpet solo doubling up to two horns as the song plays out.

And from there on in, anything can happen. My personal highlights are the midtempo “Find Me a Rose”, blending folk song themes of life coming from death with Latin rhythms and constant tempo changes. “I Don’t Want to Ruin It” combines clipped funk guitar parts, a powerful trumpet solo and hints of David Gray’s “Babylon” to question where a relationship should go next and “Born in Love” has a chorus that is pure Steely Dan circa “Can’t Buy a Thrill”. Last, and definitely not least, is “My Big Payday” packed with tempo changes, Chicago/Asbury Jukes horns, a classic swing feel and a whole bundle of fun.

The playing is outstanding, the harmonies are superb and it’s joyful throughout; just give it a listen.

“Kansas City Out Groove” is out now on Mondegreen Records.

Exactly a year ago we published an interview with Gilson Lavis about his second career as an artist, running parallel with his day job as drummer with the Jools Holland Rhythm & Blues Orchestra (and let’s not forget Squeeze, where he got his first taste of fame). The interview concentrated on the upcoming exhibition of his artwork at the Salomon Arts Gallery in New York; a year later it’s time for London to play host to his evocative images. If you missed the interview, here’s a quick recap (with a few examples of Gilson’s work).

As Gilson’s musical career developed, he made use of his leisure time on tour in a constructive way; instead of the usual rock ‘n’ roll recreations, he went back to drawing and painting using the material closest to him; musicians. The day job (particularly with Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra) gave him the opportunity to see of the world’s greatest musicians at close quarters and he’s made the most of it, creating some fabulous works of art that he’s now exhibiting and selling. In addition to the personally-observed pieces, there are also pieces created from photographs of performers as diverse as Ray Charles, Tony Hancock and Jimi Hendrix.

So, back to 2018 and Gilson has a London exhibition, Gilson Lavis: From Drums to Canvas”, at the Karma Sanctum Soho Hotel from July 5th to August 12th. It’s a must-see event, but don’t take my word for it, here’s Gilson’s take on the exhibition: “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to show some of my artwork at the Karma Sanctum Hotel in Soho. The ethos of the venue and the subject matter I focus on in my paintings combine superbly well. A great venue and a great privilege. I can’t wait !”

My advice is to get down to the Karma Sanctum to see this exhibition; apart from the unbelievable quality of Gilson’s work, you never know who you might bump in to admiring their likeness. And if you bump in to Gilson, say hello to him; he’s a lovely guy and he has a huge store of music business anecdotes.

 

During the weekend of The Great Escape Festival virtually the whole of the UK music business moves to Brighton for a few days; the streets are full of musicians hauling gear round on various wheeled appliances and every pub and club has a live music line-up. With all of those musicians around, why not put together a daytime event with musicians in Brighton for TGE and a few others shipped in for the occasion. Well, that’s exactly what happened in Caffe Nero (huge supporters of unsigned talent) with the help of Talentbanq (also huge supporters of unsigned talent). The concept’s really simple; two days of live music with two artists appearing every hour between 10:00am and 7:00pm for two days. That’s 36 artists over two days. I only did the Thursday but saw a mind-blowing array of talent.

The fun kicked off at an unearthly hour; singers generally don’t like morning gigs but Cloudy Galvez and Penny Riviera totally owned the first hour of the day. Cloudy’s improvisational style followed by Penny’s raw, smoky torch songs started the day off perfectly and set the tone for what was to come. As the day unfolded there were superb performances across a wide range of musical styles from the delicate whimsy of Jasmine Rogers to the looping wizardry and powerhouse vocals of Lawrence Hill and Mark Sullivan. Zoe Wren combined folk and jazz, Louise Golbey and Ky Lewis added a bit of soul while Nuala and Lots Holloway powered through their respective sets in the usual barnstorming style.

Bringing events to a perfect close, Joe Slater gave his usual passionate performance of his own beautiful and spiritual songs and a cover of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” before Natalie Shay ended the day with her own powerhouse performance. My only regret was that I had to miss day two; the idea of loads of hungover music biz types being assailed by caffeine and the phenomenon that is Hollie Rogers. I think that might actually wake the dead. Anyway, I think we’ll be doing it all over again at the Caffe Nero stage at Cornbury Festival in July.

We try to do one festival a year here at Music Riot. Last year it was iconic Isle of Wight Festival; this year we’re staying a bit closer to home with a visit to Cornbury Festival in Oxfordshire. We took several factors into account before making the scientific decision to opt for Cornbury this year despite the stiff competition from the plethora of festivals across the UK, from the boutique to the behemoth. So, what do you think swayed us in the direction of Chipping Norton for this year’s summer outing?

Well, let’s start with the headliners; UB40, Alanis Morissette and Squeeze. They’ve all enjoyed single chart success and critical acclaim and each of them has survived through several decades in the music business; four decades each in the case of Squeeze and UB40, and Squeeze are still knocking out great new tunes as if the last forty years never happened. Look a bit lower down the bill and you have all the reasons why anyone who loves music should be going to Cornbury.

There’s great music to appeal to all ages and tastes, from the reinvented P.P. Arnold and the evergreen Mavis Staples and Jimmy Cliff, through the nineties dance of Stereo MCs right up to the London Americana of the superb Danny and the Champions of the World. And, if that wasn’t enough, don’t forget that Cornbury has the poshest loos on the festival circuit; when you reach a certain age, that’s really important.

If all of that hasn’t convinced you, Caffe Nero have a stage at the event where you can get great coffee and see absolutely loads of upcoming talent. We’ve already heard many of the artists playing on the Caffe Nero stage over the last couple of years; you could spend the entire festival there and hear nothing but fabulous music. See you down the front.

Cornbury Festival takes place between Friday July 13 and Sunday July 15.

OK, I’ll give you this one for free because you’ll never work it out from listening to the album. I don’t think Gerry Spehar likes Donald Trump very much. I’ve heard a few American albums this year that have railed against the state of affairs in America generally and POTUS in particular, but none that have so consistently sustained the attack across a whole album of thirteen songs or, more accurately, twelve songs and a prelude. Gerry’s solo album last year, “I Hold Gravity”, hinted at the power and breadth of “Anger Management” but the actuality is so much more brutal and brilliant.

The album is crammed with compassion, anger, pacifism and scathing attacks on the hypocrisy espoused by America’s current elected elite; 2018 is the year that the protest album finally resurfaced and the timing is perfect.

The album opens with the skewed logic of “Thank You Donald”, set in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election victory, where a suicidal impulse is overturned by a desire to save family and friends from the impending Trumpquake. It’s set against a traditional string band arrangement featuring banjo and fiddle that creates a comfortable American feel the remainder of the album systematically demolishes.

The arrangements on the album cover a wide variety of musical styles from a wide variety of countries, underlining the impact that outside influences, and immigration, have had on American popular music and society. The impact is underlined in the album’s second song “Son of an Immigrant”, where the occupation of the central character (a policeman) isn’t revealed until more than halfway through the song. The central message of the song is that almost all Americans are immigrants; it just depends how far back you go.

The album seethes with anger at the ills of modern America, the bitter lyrics underpinned by some incredible musical settings. “Carnival” is a perfect example, equating Trump with Lyndon Baines Johnson against a musical setting that evokes cabaret arrangements from 1930s Germany with sour horn fills and wah-wah guitar. It’s a perfect combination, all of the elements emphasising the madness of the present-day USA; laughing at the freakshow as a distraction from the state of the nation. It’s all perfectly summed up by the advice; ‘Just keep on sayin’ the same damn thing and don’t fuck it up.’

Bitch Heaven” is beautifully constructed, contrasting Trump with Woody Guthrie via Trump senior and his property development Beach Haven. Not only does Gerry stand the president nose-to-nose with an almost unimpeachable American musical icon, he also manages to morph the song into the Woody classic “This Land is Your Land”; it’s powerful stuff. And don’t forget the powerful, sarcastic closer “What Would Jesus Do?”, pointing the finger at the double standards and hypocrisy currently infesting Trumpton. In another penetrating insight, the title song nails the distraction technique of medicalising a perfectly natural reaction to events in today’s America.

I’d like you to do two things for me. Listen to this album on this link, and then buy a copy here. We all need to encourage people like Gerry Spehar to create masterpieces like this.

“Anger Management” is released in the UK on Friday 25 May.