High Fives 2109 – Michael Butterworth

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We think this one deserves a bit of explanation. Mike Butterworth, good friend of the Riot Squad and  bloody good bloke, was recovering from a very serious illness when we launched 2019’s High Fives in December last year. He still managed to write about a compilation of his favourite live performances of 2019 and give us some cracking images from each gig, just a little bit late. Then things started to get a bit complicated as we had problems with file compatibility and junk folders. Anyway, we decided last week to have one final attempt to get it all sorted out; it seemed appropriate to be celebrating live music at a moment in time when we hadn’t had any for nearly two months and no prospects of any in the immediate future. Over to Michael:

In spite of a forced three-month absence from the music scene, it has been another great year of music. Following the independent music scene again this year has bought me to explore more new venues and artists, as well as catching up with some I’ve known for a while.

Louise Marshall and the Brethren @ PizzaExpress Live, Holborn

The year started with another new venue for me, PizzaExpress Live in Holborn. We celebrated 10 years of Success Express Music and the first Birthday of Talentbanq.

 

 

Louise, who I’ve known for a number of years thanks to the diversity of The Cornbury Music Festival, I saw was also playing in a couple of weeks. Most of the performances I’ve seen, were as part of other artists’ bands, but this time I had the privilege of seeing her perform with her own band. 

Louise has a smoky voice, the by-product of fiery passion, that lilts between octaves, smouldering in the embers of truth’s tinderbox.

The evening covered both of her own albums which included lots of daring ideas that are perfectly executed, especially a new twist to The Bee Gees classic – Chain Reaction – 2 up-tempo tunes showing her mainstream Soul/Pop skills, mixed in with a collection of gems that shows her soft side, written especially for her daughter Alicia, ‘First thing in the morning’ & ‘You’re my Princess’. The Album name, Beautiful, is dedicated to Louise’s husband Danny, who also plays sterlingly in both the brass ensemble and solo performances.

“Valentine Moon”, a track written by Jools Holland and Sam Brown, adds the icing to this varied performance, with Marshall showing her true northern roots.

The Brethren, that night, consisted of a group of talented musicians who deliver sheer perfection every single time they perform, without fail. Carlos Hercules on Drums, Mike Brown on Lead Guitar, Luke Smith on Keyboards, Orefo Orakwue on Bass, and Karl Vanden Bossche on Percussion.

These guys have toured with George Michael, Belinda Carlisle, Marti Pellow, Jimmy Cliffe, The Eurythmics & Lulu. Karl is one of the leading percussionists in Europe, and has played for the likes of Robert Palmer, Simply Red, Joss Stone, Sade, Blur, Natasha Bedingfield, Steve Winwood, Gorillaz, Mark Ronson, Nigel Kennedy and many more. In the summer Karl appeared at Glastonbury as part of Damon Albarn’s super group ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’ Including Paul Simonon, Simon Tong and Tony Allen.

Louise herself, also tours extensively with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and has worked with Beverley Knight, David Gilmour, Michael Ball, Robbie Williams, Bryan Ferry, Ronnie Wood, Sam Brown, Russell Watson, Steve Winwood, and Paul Young, to name a few.

Grace Petrie @ SJE Art, Oxford

Grace began performing in 2006 as a solo vocalist and acoustic guitarist, and self-released an eponymous album that year, followed in 2007 by second album “Feeling Better”. In 2010, the advent of the Conservative-led coalition government following the (UK) general election influenced Petrie, who is a socialist, feminist, and lesbian, towards an increasing emphasis on politically focused songwriting, from a left-wing perspective. She made her debut appearance on Glastonbury‘s Leftfield stage at the invitation of Billy Bragg in summer 2010, and widely praised third album “Tell Me A Story” followed, including signature song “Farewell to Welfare”.

It was interesting to see her performing her, two-part set, in a church. However, the sellout crowd really appreciated her perspective on the world and the irony of the venue given her outlook on life. What I found particularly interesting was the contrast in pace and delivery between her fierce, punchy and fast paced protest song which were very reminiscent of her mentor Billy Bragg and her light and beautiful singing voice she has during her more personal songs.

In spite of performing a solo acoustic set in a big venue, she captivated the audience and got them to join in the chant of “You Pay Nothing You Get Nowt” from “You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys”.

Katey Brooks @ St Pancras Old Church

For better or worse, it’s hard to imagine a songwriter with a deeper well of life experience to spill onto her lyric-sheet. Katey’s troubled childhood in a religious cult, her debilitating illness in her twenties and the shattering loss of her mother and her best friend: all were blows that might have swallowed up a lesser character. But music was the balm, and it was always made on her terms – evidenced by Katey’s early decision to reject a place at the star-making BRIT School and walk her own path.

Katey performed her new album in the amazing setting of St Pancras Old Church. With her full band, the incredible acoustics really suited her beautiful, clear and powerful voice.

Katey’s scars and redemptions are poured undiluted into the new material of REVOLUTE, inviting all who hear it to wear their pasts on their sleeves without shame. Written and self-produced by Katey herself – with a beautiful and intimate mix from Paul Quinn – these songs run the gamut of genre, but are bound together by their emotional honesty. The standard is set by “Never Gonna Let Her Go” haunted yet rousing, this gospel-soul single hums with defiance as Katey kicks out against past shamings for her sexuality.

“All Of Me” is a wrench of a breakup ballad, pairing sparse guitar with intimate vocals, and slow-burning to a gospel-flavoured conclusion. “We The People” offers a moody stomp and a salute to a lover who’s moved on, while “Golden Gun” is a glowering standout, with choppy guitars and a lyric full of emotional violence, Katey’s voice soaring as the song escapes its moorings.

Already released as a single to blanket acclaim, “In Your Arms” is an intimate moment, with Katey’s almost-operatic voice and shimmering guitar locked in unison. “The Sweetest Things” has folky fingerpicking and a nakedly honest vocal that reminds us that “sometimes the sweetest things were meant to pass you by”. And on an album of personal truths, Katey isn’t afraid to turn her observational powers on the social landscape, with the impassioned soul of “Burn It Down” reminding women in the #MeToo era that victimhood is not their fault.

“Jeremiah” is a beautiful piano-led ballad that sails to the stars, while “Call Out” is a stunning moment of quiet defiance (“Don’t let anybody take you down”). “In Light Of You” combines ethereal guitar with treasured memories of a departed loved one – then throws a curveball as it breaks into a double-time groove. Finally, there’s traditional standard Trouble So Hard, here utterly owned by Katey, with ghostly chords and a vocal that never stops building.

 

“REVOLUTE” isn’t just an album – it’s an awakening for both artist and listener.

KT Tunstall @ Cornbury Music Festival

I’ve been a long time fan of KT Tunstall and 2019 saw her return to The Cornbury Festival with her all female band; Mandy Clarke on bass and Cat Myers on drums.

Her first album “Eye to the Telescope” was released fifteen years ago and inspired by her late father. It was such a fresh new sound for me and I was so glad she still play songs from it in her set. With various events in her life she found her self on her own and moving to Tucson, Arizona. This is where wrote Invisible Empire/Crecent Moon a different album and perspective from her earlier work.

“There was literally a rebirth of me as a happier, more thoughtful, more self-aware person with different priorities in my life. Writing and recording ‘KIN’ was a real unexpected pleasure; it was a way back in, to rediscover that feeling of purpose in going out and playing a gig for people, and essentially being a purveyor of joy for the night, whilst managing to tap into that deep sense of personal fulfilment in the process. Playing live is definitely a kinetic meditation for me.”

What else did Tunstall know in that moment on the Tennessee grass (not that kind!)? That her new album would be her ‘body’ album. That it would be called ‘WAX’. The title a nod to the viscous pungency of one of the body’s natural substances. “Wax evokes colonies of bees, candlelight, the material that the first long-playing records were made of”, she explains, “but more than that, wax is produced inside your own head. You unconsciously create it, and then weirdly that same basic substance has been used for centuries to make the most lifelike replicas of human beings. It has a life glow to it. It sticks to you. We have these strange, ancient connections and relationships with wax. How odd is it that the body produces all these substances from all these holes!” laughs this stoutly down-to-earth singer, songwriter and guitarist.

Finally, KT Tunstall knew how “WAX” would sound. “I knew before I started writing that I wanted it to be an electric guitar record. It had to be visceral, about the physical, and the weight of that, and the obstacles of that. It’s a record about human-ness, which we so often just write off as ‘flaws’.

KT Tunstall and her band, motivated by ethos of the new album ‘WAX’, gave an energetic and joyful performance, with mixture of her classic songs and the new.

Lots Holloway @ Hard Rock Hotel, London

Lots Holloway, is a talented young singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Creating emotional and infectious music with a warm and vintage feel; Lots is inspired by the sounds of the 60’s and 70’s.

Holloway writes authentic and genuine music based around guitar and piano; with lyrics that immediately connect and strong melodies that stay with you long after you first hear them.

Lots has been independently releasing music throughout 2019 and along the way has been garnering support from music publications such as Clash and Wonderland Magazine, who have quoted Lots as ‘a true star in the making’ and ‘a vivid pop newcomer’. She has also seen strong support from BBC Introducing London’s Jess Iszatt, who described herself on air as a “big fan” of Holloway, with a love for Lots’ “raspy tone”.

Lots’ on stage presence is second to none; a compelling performer, with a silky voice. Holloway also plays with a full band but is an enchanting and captivating performer, even when stripped  down to a solo acoustic set, as she was at The Hard Rock Cafe.

As well as covering George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’, which was appropriate having just had a cameo appearance in Emma Thompson’s film of the same name, oh and it was Christmas too. She performed a couple of new songs including ‘Bones’ a reflection on the then cold weather.

Finishing the links with these artist, Lots has also worked with KT Tunstall, just a couple of days before, in a writing workshop led by KT.

These are just a few of the many amazing performance I’ve seen this year. Another great year of live music. Once again I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and discovering new and amazing artists.