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.

Ok, has this happened to any of you recently?  You turn up to a gig to see a band that you really like.  You know that there’s a support band and you’ve checked them out online.  The videos on YouTube are dire but what do you expect? The lens on the cameraphone has been rubbed up against the greasy pocket lining of someone’s unwashed 501s for several months and the microphone’s about the size of a pinhead.  And they keep waving the damn thing around.  Come to think of it, it’s really annoying when you’re at a gig as well; why don’t you just put the camera away and enjoy the gig?

Where were we? Oh yeah, support bands.  So you get to the gig and find out that there’s an extra support band.  It’s great for the venue because the punter thinks they’re getting something extra.  The only thing Milton Friedman ever said that I agree with is “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”; it’s particularly true here.  You know why those extra bands are there, don’t you?  They’re either playing for nothing, or, even worse, they’re paying to get the gig. Why would they do that?  They do it because they’re desperate to be on stage; they’re the same kind of delusional wannabes that live music fans get so smug about when they talk about X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.  They do it for nothing because they aren’t good enough to get paid for it.

So why do venues put on crap bands; that doesn’t make any sense, does it?  Well, people don’t get that delusional without an extensive support network and all the family and friends who are bigging them up will go along to watch them.  Admit it, it sounds cool at work to say “I went to watch my mate’s band last night”, doesn’t it?  Next time someone says that to you make them squirm by asking if they were any good and watch them check who can hear before they answer. Anyway, to get back to the point, the venues get all of these hangers-on coming along to support their mates.  They make the gig look busy and, more importantly, they buy drinks at the bar; makes sense now doesn’t it?

And these bands come in different flavours as well.  I’ll give you two for starters.  How about a young, good-looking (male or female) leader who couldn’t carry a tune in a rucksack, surrounded by reasonably good musicians who should know better? They sound great until the lead vocal comes in with all the sonic beauty of polystyrene being scraped down a patio door.  It’s even more worrying when you know that you’re going to get a brave but foolhardy attempt at vocal harmonies from the rest of the band when you reach the chorus.  But at least they’re young and they’ll probably grow out of it.

What’s even worse is the band made up of middle-aged men who are lawyers or bankers or middle managers who have enough money to buy really good kit and enough time on their hands to meet up to practise blues standards once a month.  They wanted to be rock stars when they were young but they weren’t good enough.  Guess what guys; a Les Paul and a Marshall stack with a dozen stomp-boxes and a pair of tastefully ripped jeans doesn’t change that. But they bring the entourage along with them and they all get enthusiastic and cheer and whoop for their band.  And that’s another thing, this rent-a-mob only listen to their band.  As soon as their (hopefully short) set finishes they either ignore the rest of the bands or try to out-shout them.

And they get away with this because we’re all too polite.  We clap at the end of each song that they’ve ritually disembowelled instead of showing how we really feel.  That’s the mistake we make; these people have the hide of a titanium-plated rhinoceros and absolutely no self-awareness; the only way to make them stop is extensive and repeated humiliation.  Next time you see one of these bands and their posse of braying followers, boo them, hiss at them, wince visibly when they play or sing out of tune, turn your back on them, go to the toilet but, whatever you do, don’t encourage them.  Go on, you know you want to.

Stoneface TravellersStoneface Travellers are a three-piece outfit in the power trio tradition comprising Andrew Thornley (bass), Micah Woulfe (drums) and Emile Gerber (guitar and lead vocals).  Apart from a change of drummer, it’s the Emile Gerber Band as reviewed here 3 months ago live at The Finsbury.  The band have been spending some time in the studio with highly-respected producer Brad Kohn, who has produced a set of tracks which will form the basis of an EP to be released later in the year.  The lovely people at Bandhouse Promotions have given us an exclusive sneak preview of 1 track from the sessions, “I Don’t Really Love You”, which you can hear on Soundcloud .

The song opens with an overdriven slide riff and harmonica (played by the drummer even) before the rhythm section kicks in to drive the song along with a loping swamp-blues feel.  Emile is a very good blues guitar player (I think I might have just said that before) but what makes him such a unique performer is the quality of his voice.  It’s an unusual delivery in that he sings in the same sort of range as Neil Young with a little bit of vibrato at the top of the range, which emphasises the emotion of the vocal.  The solo towards the end sounded just like mid-70s vintage Rory Gallagher and I really don’t know if that makes me feel old or young; maybe both.

This is a great little sample of what Stoneface Travellers are capable of in the studio but, until they get the EP and then the album together, you really should try to get out and see them live; you won’t regret it.

Keep an eye out for exclusive news on this one coming very, very soon.

It’s hard to believe that this is the debut Lilygun album because it’s so self-assured. It stands up to repeated listening, and even rewards it.  The band has released 2 singles so far this year and both feature on this first album, but more about both of those later.  This is a set of songs written by the band’s dynamic and charismatic singer, Anna-Christina,  demonstrating  such variety that it’s difficult to pin the sound down to 1 genre; there are elements of punk, metal, riot grrrl, Goth and even hints of early English folk.  We’ve had it on constant repeat here at Riot Towers for a couple of weeks now and it still sounds great.

I love it when an album blows you away from the first notes of the first song and the Lilygun debut does exactly that.  “Sunlight Dream” (an “Inception” reference, perhaps) blasts in with drums, big grungy guitar chords and howling lead guitar slipping into nice clean, strummed chords underpinned by drums and a rhythmic bass figure before a multi-tracked vocal refrain leads up to the first verse; and that’s just the intro.

This is an album that rewards you for listening to the tracks in the right order.  The songs are all strong enough to stand alone, but hearing them in sequence creates a clear narrative flow.  The first pair of songs introduces us to the powerless outsider with “Peace of Mind” building from a tribal drum pattern through a couple of verses to a blazing chorus and a typically blistering guitar solo.

“My Ways” moves the narrative on to insight into the loner’s situation before “Moonlight” starts to reveal a glimmer of a positive outcome.  “Excuses” is the first sign of a reaction to the loner’s situation and a clear message about taking responsibility for our actions.  “Conversations” takes a step backwards into negative emotions before the 2 songs which bring the album and the narrative to a positive conclusion.

Scum” was the first song from the album to be released this year and it’s a huge anthem, playing to the group’s strengths with quiet verses interspersed with a huge chorus which is built around a massive descending guitar run and the song’s big message :”There’s no need to be a victim of negativity”.  The final song “Diamonds” brings the journey to its end with the beginning of a relationship and another very clear lyrical message:  “Don’t let your past decide who you are”.

It’s all very well telling a good story but the music has to enhance the story as well and this is where Lilygun have absolutely aced it.  You won’t find a one-dimensional or one-idea song here; they all fizz with musical ideas and great playing.  The arrangements squeeze every last drop out of a fairly traditional line-up of 2 guitars, bass and drums (with the odd touch of strings and multi-tracked vocals) and create a huge dynamic range across the album.  I know it’s unfair to single out any particular contribution but James Ford’s guitar work is really powerful and took me back to the early days of Skunk Anansie and the brilliant Ace.

This is a great first album from an original and inventive band and I haven’t heard anything else this year to surpass this in terms of raw power and dynamic range; they’ve been on the horizon for a while now and this should be the breakthrough.  This is a great album. Buy the CD and listen to all the tracks in the right order; I can’t wait to see them live.

Release date 10/09/12 on A Line Records/Cargo.

 

Product DetailsLet’s just start this with a little bit of background.  By the mid-70s Ian Matthews had been a member of Fairport Convention, had a UK number 1 with a Joni Mitchell cover and then disappeared from the UK mainstream scene.  The name, and the odd single, could still be heard occasionally in the background as punk and new wave barged and elbowed everything else out of the way but you had to be listening carefully.  So I listened carefully in 1979 and I heard “Gimme an Inch Girl”, an Ian Matthews cover of a Robert Palmer song which got a bit of radio play but did nothing chartwise.

During the summer of the following year I was visiting the first love of my life in that wicked London place and I had a bit of time to kill on the way home.  The first Virgin megastore had just opened at Marble Arch and that had to be worth a look; there were so many records I didn’t know where to start.

The only album I picked up that day was a cut-out import copy (on blue vinyl) of “Stealing Home” by Ian Matthews.  I recognised the single “Gimme an Inch Girl” and thought it was worth a couple of quid for that even if everything else was unlistenable, which was pretty unlikely.  I never thought for a second that it would be an album I would love instantly and forever; the first time I listened to “Stealing Home” from beginning to end was a musical epiphany.

The album was recorded in Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire but was aimed squarely at the American market; you can hear it in the lyrics and the arrangements and you can see it in the sleeve design.  There wasn’t a chance that it would sell significant amounts in the UK in the aftermath of punk, but that was never the objective.  An album with great session players, tasteful (bordering on minimal) FM radio-friendly arrangements and lyrics dealing with American themes was never a commercial proposition in post-punk UK; throw in a singer with a plaintive high tenor voice and, in 1978, USA becomes the target market.

Ian Matthews didn’t really have a reputation as a great songwriter at the time, but he was already known as an interesting interpreter of other people’s songs.  He had already scored a UK No.1 in 1970 with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and had a stab at Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” which, unbelievably, made no impact on the charts.  Nothing I’d heard before prepared me for the beauty of “Stealing Home”.

The album opens with the 1 track I’d already heard, “Gimme an Inch Girl”, which sounded better on my hi-fi than on the radio (no FM in 1979), so I knew I was on to a winner straight away.  There isn’t a track on the album that I don’t love, even now.  I have to be honest and admit that I’m fairly partial to a melancholy song and this album is full of them.

I admit that I didn’t realise in 1979 that the theme running through the album was the failure of the American dream (and it should have been obvious because I loved “American Graffiti” and “The Last Picture Show”).  Ian Matthews picked out songs about the party set, car fanatics and sports groupies to form the backbone of this album.  It’s a melancholy album because it looks back at the unfulfilled promise of American lives in the same way that Bob Seger did with songs like “Hollywood Nights” and “Night Moves” and Jackson Browne did with “The Pretender”.

Don’t Hang Up your Dancing Shoes” is a Terry Boylan song about an attempt to persuade the Homecoming Queen to take one last chance a former beau and sets the tone for the rest of the album, musically and lyrically.  “King of the Night” is a poignant ballad written by Jeffrey Comanor (a cult figure at the time who also collaborated with Shel Silverstein on the Dr Hook song “Makin’ it Natural”), which focuses on the plight of the forgotten former street racer and is followed by Matthews’ funky version of the great John Martyn song “Man in the Station”.  Side 1 of the album (I bought it on vinyl, so I’m sticking with that format) ends with a fairly rare (at that time) Matthews composition, “Let There be Blues” which keeps the melancholy mood nicely on track.

And then I turned over to Side 2 for the real revelations.  The first track, “Carefully Taught”, is a perfect example of Matthews’ ability to completely remake an existing song.  The original is a workmanlike Rogers & Hammerstein song from “South Pacific” with very good intentions, played as a fast show song, which Matthews strips back to a half-tempo a cappella version while editing the lyrics to fit everything in to an extraordinary 60 second masterpiece; if you don’t appreciate this, you have no soul.  Listen to the original “Carefully Taught” and decide for yourself.

This is followed by a strong Matthews original, the title song, “Stealing Home”, another melancholy song which deals with a disintegrating relationship.  The most commercially successful song on the album, “Shake It”, is next, moving the tempo up a few notches while keeping up the theme of nostalgia for a happier era.  It’s one of Terry Boylan’s finest moments and was a deserved American chart success.

Next up is another of the album’s revelations and a great example of Matthews’ ability to fit songs to his own mould. “Yank and Mary(Smile)” is a medley which combines the verses from a Richard Stekol song about two ingénues moving to California with the chorus from the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile”.  It’s a perfect mix because the two songs blend seamlessly into a beautiful whole.

The two songs which round off the album, “Slip Away” and “Sail my Soul” , are both co-written with Bill Lamb.  The first is a mid-tempo song aimed at the same market as “Shake It” and the second is a soulful ballad with some lovely slide guitar which finishes off the album with a positive message that relationships can work sometimes.

If you love great songs, great singers and great arrangements, you should listen to this album.  It may be really unfashionable in the current musical climate but this is a beautiful album and it’s one of my closet classics.   If you want to find out more about Iain Matthews (as he’s known again now) have a look on his website.

We always welcome feedback at Riot Towers so let us know if you listened to the album and liked (or hated) it.  Even better, send us your feelings about your own closet classic and there’s a good chance that we’ll use it on the site.

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If you’ve been checking out Music Riot for a while you’ll probably realise that we don’t just tell you about one type of music.  If it comes in for review we cover it, whichever genre it belongs to.  If you like that approach, then watch out for our new feature “Closet Classics”.

It’s all about those albums in our collections that we love but everyone else hates or no-one else has ever heard of.  The albums that we loved the first time we heard them, the albums that we play when we’re trying to impress with our musical eclecticism or just to show that we know more about music than everyone else.  Those albums usually have a story to accompany them and we’re going to reveal the innermost depths of our music collections to you; but it’s not just a one-way street.

As an added bonus, we’re also going interactive with this one.  First of all, we’re giving you links to the featured albums so that one click takes you to the featured songs.  We’re doing this through Spotify, which you can download free here:

https://www.spotify.com/uk/.

The second bit of interactivity is that we want you to tell us about your own closet classics.  Send us your thoughts about your guilty pleasure on CD or vinyl and we’ll publish as many of them as we can on MusicRiot with links to live streaming from Spotify.  We want to hear about the music, but it would be great to know about any personal associations that the album has for you as well.

Watch out for more details on how to tell the world about your closet classics.