It’s nearly two years since Klare Stephens reviewed a Coco and the Butterfields gig at The Blind Tiger in Brighton for MusicRiot and it’s fair to say that the Canterbury band have grown (in more ways than one) since that gig, although they’ve managed to stay true to the busking ethos that underpins their music and has helped to create their truly dedicated fanbase. So now they’re headlining at The Jazz Café in Camden on a Friday night and it’s a good opportunity to see how far they’ve come in such a short time.
But before CATB take the stage, there’s a support set from singer-songwriter Mario Lottari who (despite a few technical glitches) wins over the mass of CATB fans crowding the front of the stage with his well-crafted songs and a versatile band backing him up with a huge variety of instrumental textures. That’s another one I’ll be watching out for this year.
CATB don’t so much hit the stage as engulf it; I have to do a headcount because there are so many of them. On top of the core line-up of double bass, banjo, fiddle, guitar and beatbox, there’s also trumpet, sax, a string section (two violins and a cello) and a drummer; I ran out of fingers and had to rely on a smartphone to keep count. By this time, the ground floor of the Jazz Café (and most of the staircases) is a seething mass of bodies and this isn’t a scenester crowd; these people are all here to see Coco and the Butterfields do their stuff. So what is it that inspires such fanaticism?
Well, the band has a pretty good repertoire of original songs now, including “King of the Corner”, “Astronaut”, “Scarecrow” and the anthemic “Warriors”, but they’re equally good knocking out their own take on a song that you might not expect, like “Hard Knock Life” tonight, for example. CATB is not about individual musicianship; it’s much more of an ensemble thing where everyone has their own part to play, but there’s another, more important, difference between this and any other ordinary gig. This isn’t a performance where the band play at the audience and the audience passively soak up the show; it works because the band and the audience enjoy a symbiotic experience. The band feed off the audience reaction and it pushes them on to an even higher level; if every gig was like this, we wouldn’t have any problem filling live venues and maybe more musicians could make a decent living.
This is the fourth time I’ve seen CATB and each time it’s been a step up the London gig ladder. I haven’t seen them play a bad gig, and this time they were superb. Their roots may be in busking and they look as if it’s all a bit of fun, but they take the music very seriously indeed. They seem to be moving at the moment towards a more conventional (by CATB standards) stage line-up, with the addition of a drummer to augment beatboxer Jamie’s percussion and the brief appearance of a couple of electric guitars during the set and it’s shaping up to be an interesting year for them; they seem to be at the point where they can break out from the Kent scene and build their following nationwide. The way their audiences are reacting at the moment, I think the band can still go a lot further (if they want to) without losing the fanatical following they have at the moment.
The bottom line is that you really should go and watch this band.
We promised to point you in the direction of some great music that we think will break through this year and I think it’s about time we started. A couple of these groups have been mentioned on MusicRiot in 2013, but we think they’re on the verge of national recognition this year, so I make no apologies for bringing them to your attention again.
Canterbury’s Coco and the Butterfields kept us entertained for a few nights last year in various venues across London and Brighton and were well worth seeing each time. The band came together on the busking scene in Canterbury and their live shows still have the feel of a very intimate interaction between audience and performers. The line-up is unusual (double bass, banjo, guitar, fiddle and human beatbox with two very strong lead vocals with occasional help from trombone and trumpet) and the band are tremendous in the live setting but they have a lot more going for them. They have some very innovative cover versions and some outstanding original material (the single “Warriors”, for example) and they win over audiences wherever they play.
Which brings me to my second tip: I saw Gentlemen of Few supporting Coco and the Butterfields upstairs at The Garage in Islington, and they were tremendous. They play country bluegrass, they’re young, they’re enthusiastic, they’re from south Kent and they’re a joy to see live. They play a wide variety of traditional instruments and they play them really well. The vocal harmonies are the icing on the cake; they have great voices and the four-part harmonies are superb. They might not break through this year, but it’s only a matter of time. Go out and see them in 2014 if you can.
Two of the Riot Squad have been following Black Casino and the Ghost very closely this year. I’ve reviewed a couple of singles (as well as their contribution to the “Radio (in my) Head” album) and Klare reviewed their debut album; we’re both very impressed. Fronted by the powerful and dynamic vocals of Elisa Zoot, BCATG are superb as a studio and live act with a bunch of powerful and original songs and varied live arrangements and visuals. They attracted some national attention towards the end of the 2013 in The Guardian and it’s only a matter of time before they break out from the London scene.
Another band I saw as a support in 2013 was Bird to Beast (supporting Black Casino and the Ghost at The Finsbury) in November. The core of the band is Sam and Hannah Hird from Colne in Lancashire and their own description of the band’s sound is psych-folk although there’s an awful lot more going on there. The songs are very good (certainly strong enough to stand up to a stripped-down live performance) and the vocal harmonies give them a huge lift. Their new single “Elephant” is released officially on Monday 13th January and has already had plays on 6 Music and Radio 2. I think we’re going to hear a lot more from Bird to Beast in 2014.
The final tip for 2014 is an artist that I listened to for the first time today and had to listen a few more times because he was so good. Noel Cowley is a London-born singer-songwriter with very pronounced Celtic influences and inspiration. His songs are introspective and sometimes nostalgic and he knows how to write a good melody and a very good chorus. His second EP, “Home is Everywhere” is released on Tuesday January 14th and the title track caught my attention immediately because the vocal had a very strong feel of one of my favourite singers, Iain Matthews and that has to be a good thing.
We’ll be publishing more detailed reviews of the Bird and the Beast single and the Noel Cowley EP in the next few days, so keep an eye out for those.
So, how was 2013 for you? The Riot Squad have had a brilliant year bringing you the best in contemporary music wherever we find it. Allan, John, Klare and Louie have reviewed some exceptional live and recorded music throughout the year and we all thank you for reading our reviews and looking at our photos. We couldn’t resist this opportunity to remind you of some of the artists we reviewed for the first time in 2013.
We saw live performances by the Emile Gerber Band (which became Stoneface Travellers), Henrik Freischlader, Josephine, Marcus Bonfanti (solo and with his band), The Kennedys, Federal Charm (twice), Black Casino & The Ghost, Coco and the Butterfields (several times), The Dirt Tracks, Carrie Rodriguez, Aynsley Lister, Civil Protection, Wheatus, Dean Owens and Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion. Quite a selection, really.
We reviewed albums and singles by Henrik Freischlader, Marcus Bonfanti, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Black Casino & The Ghost, Jimmy Livingstone, Austra, Tess of the Circle, Aynsley Lister, The Nyco Project, The Dirt Tracks, Nadine Shah, Sullivn, Radio (in my) Head, Tal National, Layla Zoe, Kinver, Au Revoir Simone, DENA, Hartebeest, Polly Scattergood, Glasser, Annie, Emika and John Grant and probably a few others as well. Along the way we had some great fun and met some lovely people; you all know who you are, and we’re hoping to meet most of you again this year.
Looking forward to 2014, we’re hoping for more of the same. The review copies are already coming in and it’s starting to look pretty good already. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our predictions for 2014 from the Riot Squad and possibly from a few guest contributors as well. And, while we’re on the subject of guest contributions, many thanks to Aynsley Lister, Steve Jenner, Marcus Bonfanti and Billie Ray Martin for their contributions to our High Fives feature last year.
It’s been an exciting year, particularly for live music, so my high 5 features 4 live acts, 2 of which I’ve previously reviewed for Music Riot, apologies for any repetition. Here goes (in no particular order):
Angelique Kidjo has taken over the mantle of Queen of African music, from the late, great Miriam Makeba and with today’s media has probably spread her reach further, having collaborated with dozens of Western bands and musicians. The festival concert at The Dome was the first time I have seen her in an indoor venue and the containment worked very well for the atmosphere. Kidjo criss-crossed between traditional forms and pop styles to great effect singing in four of her fluent languages, with an easy wit and story-telling in English. As well as her extensive back-catalogue, she covered Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and Santana among others, but it was Makeba’s “Pata Pata” that got the crowd to their feet and she had them dancing for the rest of the show; everyone left with a smile on their face.
Lucinda Williams at the Brighton Dome was a very different proposition, intimate and largely downbeat. She took to the stage with her ballad book from over the years and largely stuck to it. With a backing band of just two, her guitar playing was a feature as well as her husky voice. Although, she somehow managed to avoid playing my favourite tracks I was introduced to others from her catalogue and it was a great show for the festival goers, many of whom were not long-term fans. Those expecting the most recent album ‘Blessed’ were disappointed however as she skipped it completely, this was a festival set, but one that left you with the sense of what a fantastic veteran singer-song writer Lucinda is.
Coco & The Butterfields are a newish delightfully up-beat, festival-ready band of real musicians from Canterbury. They feature a unique blend of instruments including banjo and violin; percussion and drums are played entirely by vocal beat-box. They played a lively and eclectic set, featuring tweaked covers from Dolly Parton and Supertramp to Flo Rida & T-Pain. But it was their set of original material, such as ‘Astronaut’ and ‘Warriors’ that got the locals dancing. The energy was huge for a small band in a small venue with, sadly, a small audience. Let’s hope C&TB reach further in 2014…
The Lily was the first material I had heard from Canadian Blues trooper Layla Zoe and what an introduction to her 7-album catalogue. This album is a collaboration with Henrik Freischlader, a German multi-instrumentalist and guitar trail-blazer, whose searing blues is the perfect accompaniment to Layla’s original voice. Although it is very positive and reflective blues, an interesting development for the genre, this album is very deeply felt. Tracks include those about ex-lovers and her Father as well as a couple of cover versions. Layla is planning to gig here in the UK in 2014 and I’m planning to see her beautiful blues live then.
Boy George has certainly lived the life, from drug-use to DJ to internment and it shows in his husky voice, which surprised me by sounding stronger live than it sounds on “This Is What I Do”, the new album he was promoting in this compact but versatile venue. He and his band, including brass, played the entirety of that album of country-tinged, low-slung reggae as well as most of the Culture Club hits that made him famous in the 80’s. A very tender version of ‘Victims’ was almost sabotaged by the noisy crowd and I’ve seen George in a better mood, but overall this was a concert offering variety and depth. It was great to see George out from behind the decks and back in the limelight.
I love this; it’s time for the High Fives again and it’s a very different challenge this year with my live selections. I had to work really hard to bring this down to just five gigs, but I think this just about sums it up. In no particular order, here they are.
The Kennedys @Kings Place
This was one of the many venues I visited for the first time this year and it was a perfect place to see Pete and Maura Kennedy live proving that you can create musical perfection with just two guitars and two voices. As well as having a stack of their own songs to create a set from (with plenty of input from the audience) they very generously feature songs by other writers and give the audience plenty of background about the songs and writers as well. I know you’ll find this difficult to believe, but they also did something that left me speechless; Pete played a ukulele version of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” which was stunning. And I got to hear a live version of “Big Star Song” which had been impossible to get out of my head after reviewing the album. And they are two genuinely lovely people.
Predictable, me? The truth is, I’ve seen Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes dozens of times and I’ve never seen a bad gig. I’ve also never seen anything resembling the same set twice. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We got to the venue just as the support band, Federal Charm, were starting their set and the impact was instant; frontmen Nick Bowden and Paul Bowe trading riffs and solos under Nick’s incredibly powerful lead vocal. They’ve got self-assurance by the bucketload and a bunch of great songs as well. And that was just the support act. Southside Johnny, surrounded by a bunch of Jukes that have been playing as a unit for a few years now, looked more relaxed than I’ve seen him in years and sounded better than ever. They played a set that wasn’t too reliant on the old classics, but was still appreciated by the old fans. As always, the audience (and most of the band) had no idea where the set was going next and we loved it.
Dean Owens @The Cabbage Patch, Twickenham
You might have noticed that the Riot Squad are big fans of Dean Owens. We’ve been telling you about his albums for a couple of years now but, living in London, it’s a bit of a challenge seeing a live show; luckily we like a challenge and the first one was getting the squad from various parts of London and the south-east to Twickenham on a Friday evening. When we finally made it, the venue was perfect; intimate with a nice sound system and a very appreciative audience. Ags Connolly (whose debut album on Drumfire Records was produced by Dean) opened the show with a strong bunch of songs before Dean delivered a great set built around the “Cash Back” album with loads of songs from earlier albums and audience requests thrown in. It’s worth adding that Dean has a very dry sense of humour and the audience interaction between songs was great fun as well. Top night and many thanks to Phil Penman and Drumfire for keeping the faith.
Marcus Bonfanti is the British blues equivalent of the Duracell bunny; he never stops working. During 2013, he released an album and did a solo acoustic tour and a full band tour to promote the album. I was lucky enough to see an acoustic show (in the unlikely environment of a casino in the West End) and a full band show in The Borderline. Both gigs were excellent and Marcus is a superb blues player and singer with a great line in self-deprecatory chat and humour between songs. The highlight of each set was the wonderful “The Bittersweet”, one of the best new songs from any genre I’ve heard this year. All of the songs are so strong that they worked perfectly in a solo setting and with the full band; spot on musically and great fun as well.
Carrie Rodriguez @The Old Queen’s Head, Islington
Yet another venue that I haven’t visited before; this is a room above a pub with a capacity of about eighty. Yet again, the sound system was spot-on and the audience were very appreciative as Carrie, accompanied by Luke Jacobs (and playing between them fiddle, tenor guitar, acoustic and electric guitars and lap steel) rattled through two sets of songs taken mainly from her current album, “Give Me All You Got”, with some old favourites thrown in as well. The songs were very high quality, the playing and vocals were superb, and Carrie and Luke’s easy relationship with the audience made this a superb night.
It wasn’t easy picking just five great live shows from the many I’ve seen this year and I should really give a mention to some of the others who didn’t quite make the list. I saw great sets this year from Coco and the Butterfields, Henrik Freischlader, Billy Walton (four times), Paul Rose, Aynsley Lister, Elvis Costello, Civil Protection and Bruce Springsteen, but the five I’ve chosen here are the ones which surprised and delighted me.
This exciting five-piece band from Canterbury headlined the Africana fundraiser tonight, raising money for projects in Kenya. They formed in 2011 and only a year later, won the accolade of the UK’s best unsigned act. They describe their music as ‘Fip Fok’ (the title of their first EP), a bouncing hybrid of folk, pop and hip-hop; even checking them out on You Tube before the gig, I was excited about the evening’s entertainment. They feature a unique set-up of guitar, banjo, double bass, violin and beat-boxing so the sound is unlike anyone else I’ve heard.
The support acts: Brighton’s The Beatnik Horrors and singer songwriter, George Olgivie were good too making the long wait for the headliners a real warm up. The Beatnik Horrors are a post-Chilli Peppers rock act with 3 guitars and helium vocals from their tom-boy lead singer, Ari playing memorable and distinctive songs. George Olgivie is an acoustic singer-song-writer with a nice vibrato, playing covers and original material who will release a self-penned EP in July.
It was late in the evening when the Butterfields started their set; C&TB are used to playing a variety of arenas from busking, which they still do, to thousand-seater theatres, but they seemed particularly at home in this large music pub, having brought some of their loyal tribe with them. The audience are mainly students who gave them a warm welcome, but the venue is sadly not packed, probably due to the cool, wet weather. They kick off slowly with Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”, but turn up the tempo half way through with some impressive beat-boxing. Then it’s swiftly into Supertramp’s “Breakfast In America”, or their unique twist on it. The crowd are on their feet and stay there for all of the hour long set but the fun really began when they launched into seven original songs, starting with “Scarecrow”, apparently a tribute to the band’s variety of long or be-dreadlocked hair. I was glad I had worn my dancing shoes as I was soon jigging around too, as were, I noticed, the support acts. The last couple of times I have been at such a lively feel-good gig were Basement Jaxx in Brixton and going back further still, The Pogues in Kilburn on St Patrick’s night in ’87! It was almost as if C&TB were playing a unique hybrid of both in this festival atmosphere.
Fan favourite “Astronaut” was next, utilising the strong musicianship of each member of the band, including Dulcima the female lead’s vocals. Percussion duties were entirely the domain of the beat-boxer of the group, who had astounding energy, variety and talent, later soloing in a most entertaining way, but each band member, like in a jazz quintet, got to show their impressive individual skills in a short spot-light. The next highlight, and there were many, was the new single “Warriors” which went down very well with the crowd and is released this week. All this and a radio presenter I chatted to, who had interviewed them earlier in the day, confirmed what a nice bunch Coco & The Butterfields are, and they look the part too.
The evening of exuberance concluded with “The Hip Hop Song” and Flo Rida/T-Pain’s “Low”. I hope the band get the wider audience they deserve; in an era of karaoke pop and synthesised dance, this band are the real thing constructing an original sound with great musicality and a very infectious energy.