Winter Mountain’s album “I Swear I Flew”, which was released in mid-November last year was one of those that worked perfectly as a coherent, self-contained project; you should really listen to it. It was also one of those that made you want to hear the songs played live. I got the chance to do that at 229 Venue 2 and I was absolutely right; it was exceptional, but not quite in the way I’d imagined. The album is mainly (but not completely) quiet and introspective but the live show was a very different beast.
Support on the night was Cornish singer-songwriter Josiah Mortimer, who warmed up a gradually-increasing crowd with a mix of the traditional (“Cadgwith Anthem”) and twenty-first century protest songs like “Build a Wall” – you can probably guess what that one’s about. With a decent voice, some interesting chat between songs and a playing style that uses a thumb instead of a pick (anyone remember Richie Havens?), Josiah got the audience onside and ready for the headliners.
Winter Mountain’s set opened with the wistful, impassioned romanticism of “Girl in the Coffee Shop”, a chance to set the tone for the evening, demonstrating Joe’s soulful voice and allowing the band to ease their way in before the Springsteenesque roar of “Sunlight, Good Roads”. Joe Francis has created a unique mixture with Winter Mountain, blending influences from the worlds of folk (mainly Gaelic), roots, country rock, southern boogie, straight ahead rock and many others. Springsteen aside, you can hear echoes of Hothouse Flowers, The Waterboys, Rob Thomas and Gin Blossoms (remember them?). The set had its quieter, more reflective, moments, particularly the (almost) solo interlude featuring “The Morning Bell”, the poignant “January Stars”, “Lucky Ones” and “Stronger When You Hold Me” but the set really caught fire when the band were playing full-tilt songs like “Things That I’ve Done Wrong” in balls-out Lynyrd Skynyrd mode as Joe started throwing lyrics from Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” into the mix. So hats off to Alik Peters-Deacon (guitar), Jake Galvin (bass) and Garry Kroll (drums) for a great, dynamic set and also to 229’s sound man, who did a lovely job in a venue that was barely half full.
Anything else you should know? The songs were split almost evenly between the first and second albums and the set ended with a Beatles cover, the early “Oh! Darling”. The audience was completely silent during the quiet songs and went bananas during the raucous ones. The band covered all the bases of the glorious musical mash-up perfectly, while Joe’s powerhouse voice left you in no doubt that he has a massive rock voice as well. It wasn’t quiet the night I‘d expected, but it was a belter; that’s the way to spend a Thursday night in London.
Coming to a festival near you soon, I imagine.
You can see some photos from the gig here.
It’s fair to say that it’s been a while since we featured an artist from Northern Ireland, but equally fair to say that Simon Murphy is one that’s worth waiting for. “Let it Be” is Simon’s debut featuring twelve songs that exude the assurance that comes when they’ve been well and truly tried out and developed in a live setting. Nothing feels out of place on the album, which has a wide variety of instrumental stylings to support songs that are sometimes heartfelt, sometimes witty, but always superbly crafted. The songs are good enough to work with only acoustic guitar as backing (as “The Idiot” does on the album), but contributions from Anthony Toner (slide, lap steel and electric guitars), Linley Hamilton (trumpet) and Kaz Hawkins (vocals) all help to create perfect backdrops for Simon’s songs.
The album’s opening song, the uptempo “Once Upon a Time”, grabs the attention immediately with an outrageously infectious chorus and catchy trumpet hooks and from there on it’s a bit like Thunderbirds: ‘anything can happen in the next half hour’. “Not in my Name”, “Here Goes Nothing”, “My Baby” and “2 Ghosts” are all built around acoustic guitar and either violin or cello while the beautiful “The Idiot” is stripped back to just guitar and vocal, the perfect backing for the song with no distractions, allowing lines like ‘Girls are from Venus, boys they’re from bars’ to stand out. “Evergreen” has similar instrumentation but the Nashville styling also brings in lap steel and some lovely harmonies from Charlene Law, who complements Simon’s voice perfectly adding honey to each song she appears on; you just have to love the irony of ‘Teach me patience, but do it fast’.
“The Life of Brian’s Son” and “I Smell a Rat” both have a much rockier feel (a hint of The Cars, maybe) and poke fun at the ‘all style, no substance’ pop culture and its adherents. “The Life…” upends positive clichés to create some of its impact while “I Smell a Rat” melodically sticks the knife in to a serial self-promoter. It’s a pretty effective way of dealing with the inevitable chancers you meet in the music business; don’t get mad, get melodic.
“Meet Me on the Other Side” and “Lone Star Heart” are delivered in a country rock style with chiming guitars and perfect backing vocals which evoke The Gin Blossoms’ “New Miserable Experience” (a classic of its time, or is that just me?) and the primal stomp of “I Have a Voice” benefits hugely from the voice of Kaz Hawkins. The album is twelve great songs played well and sung convincingly.
If you like a bit of melancholy in your music (me, how did you guess?), then this just might appeal to you. Simon has a voice which conveys emotion without using any of the diva tricks, evoking Gin Blossoms’ Robin Wilson, Rob Thomas and my old favourite Iain Matthews, and a bunch of great songs to play with; “Let it Be” certainly does it for me.