Remember the High Fives feature we run throughout December each year? Come on, it’s only a few weeks ago. Well, when we got in touch with Sound of the Sirens, they were really busy (as they were for most of the year) and promised to get back with something in the New Year, and they did. This came through in a series of messages yesterday and all we had to do was reconstruct it. Abbe and Hannah have had another great year and 2017’s looking pretty good as well. Got to say I love the way they seamlessly slipped in that plug for the new album in the second paragraph.
We are doing our top 5’s with pictures of our year. In March 2016 we were given the opportunity to go on tour with the nicest man in Pop. He and his team were so welcoming and friendly and we learnt so much on the road with them all. Every night we got to play to an audience of a 1000+ in some of the UK’s most beautiful and prestigious venues. Rick Astley’s crowd are super loyal and have followed him for decades and yet they welcomed us as his support. We sold tons of CDs every night and talked to the fans and met some lovely, lovely people. It was the perfect opportunity to try out new material to a friendly and big crowd every night for weeks. We loved every minute of it. We also met our new best mate Dave ….Rick Astley’s Stage Manager who adopted us and looked after us. Thanks Rick x
In June we set out to record our new album which is out on May 5th 2017. We are now under the watchful eye of DMF records and they put us in touch with a great producer called Mark Tucker. We’ve written many new songs but have taken 3 old songs and tweaked them with a bit of production. It’s been a brand new way of working for us and has really helped us to grow as artists. For one song we invited friends, students and general Siren support round to ours to create a choir. This has been included on the new album and we love that our friends are in on the act. Thank you to the Sirens choir!!!
In July we were asked to play at The House Festival in Twickenham. It was unbelievable to say the least. We were invited to play a small set in the Ebay corporation tent and when we had finished we were let loose into the most extravagant playground. We could help ourselves to cocktails, play on the carousel, eat olives and cheese until it was coming out your ears, have your hair done, glitter your face, make a music video and hang out with giant people on stilts …..and then Kylie arrived along with Tinie Tempah. It was a surreal day.
In August we were invited to play on the main stage at the very popular Cropredy Festival. We weren’t quite sure what to expect and whether we would be received well. Upon arrival we were given a dressing room, given drinks, they took our pictures, we did interviews, they wouldn’t let us carry a thing. The set went so well and we enjoyed every second. Afterwards we did our first signing in a tent and it was such a great experience. For an hour solidly we spoke to people, had pictures, heard stories and we laughed alot. We sold all of our merchandise (a first for us) and we felt euphoric. Cropredy …..pleeeease have us back . It was our first whole day of ‘working’ at a festival. If we can call this work then we are lucky girls.
In August we played at Carfest to another big and exciting crowd. It’s been an incredible year for us. We knew Bryan Adams was playing and we couldn’t wait to see his set. After our set we were asked if we would like to join our friend for a tequila in one the backstage rooms. Whilst we were sat about swapping stories and sharing drinks in walked the one and only Bryan Adams. Our jaws dropped and we both hugged him. This is definitely one for the album. 2016 you were a right cracker ……roll on 2017. Let’s fill the rest of our album x x x.
Molly Rose Reed is one third of Underhill Rose, who featured in an album review on MusicRiot this year, and also played one of the most amazing gigs we saw this year when they ignored a power cut in Camden and played a completely acoustic set in a candlelit Green Note; if you saw it, you’ll never forget it. Molly’s sharing her favourite gigs with us (plus a few near misses).
Malcolm Holcombe at the Sunflower Public House, Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Belfast, Ireland
It was a rainy and unseasonably cold day in May, and nearing the end of Underhill Rose’s first tour to the UK. The band had the afternoon off, so we put on our coats and drove to Belfast. While holding a cup of warm coffee, sitting on a small stool to the right of the stage, I was bathed in the richness of Malcolm’s songwriting. Jared Tyler perfectly accompanied Malcolm’s dynamic guitar playing on lap steel and backing vocals. Hearing Malcolm play on the small stage to a crowded bar of intent listeners brought me home to the Swannanoa Valley of North Carolina, where Malcolm is from and also where I went to college with my bandmate Eleanor. There is nothing like being reminded of home when you are on the road.
Lori McKenna at 12th and Porter, Americana Music Festival, Nashville, TN
Her album, The Bird and the Rifle, was my introduction to this wonderful songwriter. Mostly writing hits for pop country greats like Tim McGraw, Lori McKenna’s album touched me with it’s feeling of authenticity. I could tell from the record that she feels her songs, sings from her heart and ain’t got nothin’ to prove. Seeing her live was 10 times better than the record!
Jonas & Jane, opening for Underhill Rose at the Stables, Milton Keynes, England
I admit to my bias on this Top 5 pick, but Katherine Marsh (aka Jane) and Charlie Jonas are the real deal. They sing into one microphone, and Charlie’s picking on mandolin/guitar and singing beautifully compliments Katherine’s pure voice. Their harmonies are tenderly worked and perfectly executed, and their songs will take you on a journey back in time.
Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, Asheville, NC
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and worth every penny (and it was a lot of them)! I can’t even remember how many harmony parts I heard in one song. It was truly a magical night to hear the full orchestration of a work of genius.
Chantae Cann at my wedding, Black Mountain, NC
I had to put this one on the list, because this is one of the most memorable days of my life! Chantae is an amazing jazz singer from my hometown of Atlanta, GA. She performs her original tunes but learned “At Last” for our first dance. My family and friends danced and danced to her amazing quartet. You can see her singing with grammy-award-winning Snarky Puppy here .
John Paul White at the Grey Eagle, Asheville, NC
Dylan LeBlanc at the Mothlight, Asheville, NC
The Broadcast at Rockwood Music Hall, New York, NY
Christa Couture’s album “Long Time Leaving” was another of our favourites at Riot Towers earlier this year. It should have been a fraught listen, as a breakup album at the end of a long relationship, but the lively, sometimes jaunty, musical arrangements and Christa’s lovely voice lightened the overall mood, while the lyrics explored the empowerment of being newly single. So we’re really pleased that Christa has agreed to contribute to this year’s High Fives, and even more pleased that she’s highlighted her own personal positives from a difficult year.
What a year. There are so many things, people, and places, that I could high five, also many that I would hug. There’s even a few I would hold tight in my arms and not want to let go of. But these are the days of letting go of 2016, and looking back on a year in which I released my fourth album, toured the length of Canada, had two surgeries on my neck, had a bicycle accident, changed jobs, and moved house, I’m ready to say, “thank you and good night!” These are the top 5 things that saved my life, in big and small ways:
Headphones and music
I moved to The Junction, in Toronto, Ontario, and to escape the (seeming) unending instability of unpacked boxes and unsettled space, I’d put on my headphones and walk through my new neighborhood, always trying to find something I hadn’t seen yet. The soundtrack for these walks blared powerfully in my ears “For Evelyn,” by Hannah Georgas.
A week in the Cascade Mountains in Vancouver, British Columbia in April and a week in the Rocky Mountains in Banff, Alberta in November were the stuff of deep breaths and restoration. I was once told by an elder in my community that mountains are our oldest healers. I’m so grateful that I was surrounded by their peaks this year and that I set my eyes upon their stunning beauty.
Seriously. Who needs a Billy bookshelf when there are the best potato chips, er, crisps, on the planet available? These are my favourite snack of the year. The trick is to buy as many as you can carry – my best is 14 bags (and a few months’ supply. Don’t worry – I pace myself and I share a lot). They are the tastiest. But don’t get the sour cream and onion crisps, no no: stick to the classic “potatischips saltade” and enjoy.
This high five is personal and specific, and I could say high fives to all my friendships this year as I leaned on pretty much everyone in my life to get through it, but this friendship in particular is getting a shout out. She is my oldest and dearest friend; we first met when we lived across the street from each other 34 years ago, when I was 4. She has made this year possible on all those major life events by listening to tour planning over the phone, waiting at the hospital, and helping hang pictures on blank walls.
Ears and hearts
High fives, hugs, and warmest love and gratitude to the ears and hearts that came to my shows on the album release tour. It was quite possibly the best tour of my 10-year touring life and I couldn’t pick out a favourite city or town if I had to, it was simply a run of incredible, open-hearted people. Thank you for listening, thank you for singing along, thank you for showing up! Singing for people is a weird and wonderful job and I love doing it with you.
When you ask creatives to contribute to a publishing feature, you never know what you’ll get but it’s almost guaranteed to be interesting. High Fives has had its fair share of hilarity in its five year history, but we’ve never had a contribution from someone who wanted to thank people for their kindness over the year. Sofia Talvik has done just that and we salute her.
In these times, I feel like it’s extra important to be kind to the people around you. So I want to high five these awesome people who made my life a little easier this year.
Larry and Michael in Greenville, TX, US
When I was on my last U.S tour my little tour RV Lil’Chief broke down in Greenville, TX. It didn’t take more than a few minutes before the first car pulled over and just a few more until another guy showed up offering his help. Larry and Michael, the guys that pulled over for us, helped us push Lil’Chief into a parking lot and did their best to help my husband Jonas try to find out what was wrong. After a while they came to the conclusion that it was the ignition coil. A quick search on google showed that the closest store that carried the part was 40 miles away. Larry offered to drive the 40 miles there and back to get the part, and not only that, he also paid for it. With the new part Lil’Chief started right up and we could make it to our concert that evening. What an amazing person!
Kent in Dallas, TX
This summer I was playing an outdoors concert in Sweden in full storm. My beloved acoustic guitar fell over from the wind and smacked into the concrete, giving it some ugly cracks in the body. So after that I was on the lookout for a new Guild D25. I found one on Ebay but it was a bit too expensive for me. I thought I’d be a little bit cheeky so I posted the ad on my artist page on Facebook with the caption, “who wants to buy me this guitar?”. Kent commented on the post and said he had a similar guitar, a Guild D35, that he could gift me if I wanted it. Needless to say I was overwhelmed by gratitude. He sent it to me and I have just installed a new pickup, planning to use it live as soon as possible!
Malcolm and Terry, DE
When we end our U.S tours we have to find somewhere to park Lil’Chief until the next time we come over. We had arrangements to park him in Pennsylvania at the end of the last tour, but the plans fell through. I was looking online for a cheap and safe parking but couldn’t find anything suitable. So then I joined the network boondockers welcome. (Boondocking is the word for camping somewhere without hook-ups, ie not in a campground.) The site is basically like air b’n’b but for RV:ers that need a place to park for a night or two. I checked out the hosts in the Philly area and sent out a few emails hoping that someone would have space for Lil’Chief for a few months. Malcolm instantly got back to me and offered us to leave Lil’Chief in their barn for free until spring. We were thrilled, because that meant that he would be under a roof and protected from the snow. We had imagined an old barn, but when we got there it was a really nice big garage. Malcolm and Terry were so nice and even treated us to pizza.
Frau Tropoja, Berlin Germany
This is my neighbour. She lives on the floor above me and always takes cares of packages that are being delivered when I’m not at home. She is always so sweet and has a big smile on her face whenever I see her.
Nathan Reich and David Duchovny, USA
Nathan is a good friend of mine and has been since we ended up sharing a bill in Birmingham, AL many years ago. He now plays guitar in David Duchovny’s backing band and when they came to Europe for a tour he asked me if I wanted to open for them in Munich. It was an amazing night, and very cool to meet David Duchovny, since I’m both an X-files fan and a Californication fan. Along with Nathan I want to give a shout out to all my other artist friends that have helped me along the way, with concert venue recommendations, hosting house concerts at their home and being generally wonderful. I’m really lucky to have so many great and talented friends.
And, as an added bonus, Sofia has a Christmas single out which you can download here on a ‘name your price’ basis. Here’s the video:
Phil Penman is the MD of the independent label, Drumfire Records, and all-round good bloke with years of experience in the music business. We were really pleased that he was able to contribute to this year’s High Fives and we’re happy to say that he’s going to double Drumfire’s 2015 output very early in 2016; we’ll be bringing you some news about that in the very near future. It’s just possible that Phil Burdett could be involved.
In the literal sense Dean Owens’ “Into the Sea” was my album of the year because it was the one and only release on my label Drumfire Records. It occupied my time, endeavour and thoughts for much of the time, but most importantly of all, it is indeed a great album – Dean’s best to date – and due to his indefatigable manager Morag Neil and my own efforts as well as Dean’s, he’s had a really good year, including supporting Rosanne Cash at London’s Union Chapel, a Bob Harris Country session, 3 consecutive BBC Radio Scotland playlists, and now deserved appearances in a slew of end-of-year best-of lists.
Last year in this category I talked about how proud I was of my work on the first box set by The Sound. Volume 2 followed and was equally brilliant. I worked on a number of special projects, but the one I would call a labour of love is the 6 CD boxset “The Complete Collection” by my wonderful friends Darts. I managed to bring together all their released recordings for Magnet Records, alongside their self-released Choice Cuts records, and dozens of unreleased studio recordings. Huge Fun.
Every year I trawl around trying to hear something new; something different; something exciting; something challenging. I am always dismayed by the endless stream of predictability and mediocrity in so-called ‘new’ music. I had resisted listening to this band, convinced by their name, image, and hype, that I wouldn’t like them. Controversial choice I’m sure, but when I finally stopped to listen to Sleaford Mods, I was hit in the face with the stark aggression, simplistic beats and total listenability. Honourable mention here also to the folk band Stick in the Wheel for doing it their way.
One nomination for this category of mine this year. I met the lovely Hannah Rose Platt in 2014, and in 2015 she released her debut album “Portraits” and we were delighted to welcome her in Twickenham as support for a show we hosted with Martin Stephenson. Her album is well worth getting a copy of. Oh yes, and she also got married this year.
Several albums that I enjoyed this year were I thought not quite as good as previous releases: John Grant, Jason Isbell, Ron Sexsmith, Patty Griffin – all very good but just a little disappointing. The one I saw as a return to form was Death Cab for Cutie’s “Kintsugi”.
Every year we seem have another ‘death of the album’ story as the established music business struggles to keep up with (or buy in to) services trying to maximise profit for the industry at the expense of the artist. But this year something strange has happened; sales of vinyl and record decks have risen dramatically. OK, the baseline’s still low but as CD sales plummet, it’s a good sign that people are investing in the hardware to play an analogue album format. Meanwhile, thousands of artists and bands are ignoring the established music business, funding their own recordings and using whatever methods they can to get their music out there. All of my High Five albums this year have been self-funded by artists who are making music because they believe in what they do and hoping that they can find an audience. I had seven albums on the shortlist for this selection, so there are a couple of honourable mentions as well.
It’s been another good year for Stone Foundation. They’ve signed up to a couple of overseas labels, toured Japan again and released “A Life Unlimited”, an album that moves their search for the new soul vision onward and upward with hints of jazz, house and Latin disco (and even guest vocal performances from Graham Parker and Doctor Robert). Songwriters Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby have produced another set of classic songs while the band line-up has evolved with the permanent addition of congas and baritone sax replacing trombone in the horn section to give a slightly harder sound. This album (like its predecessor “To Find the Spirit”) is all about a group of musicians working together to create a very British soul sound; no egos, no big solos, just a bunch of guys pumping out perfect grooves. You can read the original review here.
You have to admire someone who’s been singing for over forty years, come through some difficult times and still gets fired up about recording and performing songs. Since cutting his ties with the corporate music business, and setting up his own label around fifteen years ago, Southside Johnny has undergone a creative renaissance, becoming more involved in songwriting (with co-writer Jeff Kazee) and exploring new musical areas (including Americana with his second band The Poor Fools). “Soultime!” is the work of an artist who isn’t bound by a release schedule and a cycle of album and tour. This album is inspired by some of the soul and rhythm and blues greats of the sixties and seventies, and evokes the era joyously without ever becoming a pastiche. It’s an album that’s great fun to listen to and sounds like it was fun to make. It’s essential listening and you can read the original review here.
This is an album that had a long gestation period. Pete has been working on it for about ten years and there are a couple of reasons why the album took so long to make. Pete and Maura Kennedy have a very busy schedule with their other projects but, more importantly, this album could only be released when everything was absolutely perfect. “Heart of Gotham” is a song cycle about Pete’s love for New York City, delving into the city’s history, geography and ambience against a backdrop of Pete’s outstanding musicianship (playing all the instruments on the album) and some beautifully-realised arrangements. Pete’s multi-layered guitars and gravelly vocal delivery create an atmosphere that’s unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. You can read the original review here and you should also read Pete’s contribution to this year’s High Fives, which links in to the album.
This was a debut album with instant impact. Hannah puts together all of the classic singer-songwriter elements perfectly; she has a powerful, clear voice and she sings intensely personal songs with conviction and emotion. Everything on the album is inspired by life events, apart from “Parchman”, the story of a woman on death row, who has no regrets about the crime which put her there. There are songs about jealousy, revenge, addiction and inappropriate relationships, but there’s also a counterbalance, particularly with the nostalgia of “Black and White”. The album visits some very dark places but there are enough positive moments to create balance between the dark and the light. Hannah’s always been inspired by Jackson Browne; I’m sure he’d be pleased to hear the fruits of his influence. You can read a live review from Hannah’s Green Note gig in July here.
Black Casino and the Ghost (can we just say BCATG from now on) are a four-piece based in London and Essex and “Until the Water Runs Clear” is their second album. They’ve been Riot Squad favourites since their first album was released over two years ago. It would be easy to focus on the stupendous voice of singer Elisa Zoot and the guitar virtuosity of Ariel Lerner, but bass player Gary Kilminster and drummer Paul Winter-Hart play their part as well, with Elisa’s keyboards adding even more possibilities. “Until the Water Runs Clear” has drawn in many influences from sixties pop to trip-hop, mutated them and thrown them in the blender to create something that alternately sounds familiar and completely original. There’s also a lyrical dark side that runs through the album, creating sinister undertones and a hint of paranoia; maybe you shouldn’t skin up before listening to this one. The end result is an album which keeps you guessing; you’re never quite sure where it’s going, but you don’t want to miss a second of it. You can read the review here and see a few photos of the band at The Finsbury here.
And there are a couple of honourable mentions for the Dean Owens album “Into the Sea”, which was recorded in Nashville and packed with memorable and very personal tunes, and Bob Malone’s “Mojo Deluxe” featuring some keyboard virtuosity and a bunch of great tunes across a wide range of musical styles.
2014 wasn’t a great gig year for me, so I decided to catch up in 2015 by getting my cameras along to every gig I could possibly get to. It obviously worked; when I had to pick my favourite five photos of the year, I had difficulty narrowing it down, so I decided to cheat. I’ve seen a lot of female singers this year, so I decided to create a High Five dedicated to them. As always, in no particular order.
Mollie Marriott at The Half Moon – By the time I saw this gig, it felt a bit like I was stalking Mollie. I’d seen her play live three times in three months. This gig was her second at The Half Moon with her full band and it wasn’t quite as busy as the first so there was a bit of space to pick some nice angles and just wait for Mollie to get completely absorbed in her songs and try to catch some special moments. She’s a singer who totally commits herself to the song and all you have to do is press the shutter release at the right time.
Elisa Zoot of Black Casino & the Ghost at The Finsbury – I’ve loved this band since I was introduced to them by John O’Sullivan of Red Adore Music. They’re totally original and Elisa has a phenomenal voice. It’s a little bit weird when you suddenly transform from two people talking in a pub beer garden to a photographer and a performer within fifteen minutes, but it’s always good to get a chance to get to know the artist. The lighting wasn’t great, but there was a lot of contrast, so black and white was the way to go. It’s good to know that Elisa likes this photo as well.
Rosanne Cash at The Union Chapel – I have to say I got a very lucky break here. When I discovered that Dean Owens was playing as support to Rosanne Cash, it was full-on grovel mode with Dean’s manager, Morag to try to get a photo pass but, as always, Morag came up with the goods. It’s always an interesting shot at this venue if you can get the stained glass window in, but Rosanne Cash happened to look heavenward at exactly the right time to make this work. Maybe I need to rethink the atheism thing.
Nova Twins at FTFH, Birthdays, Dalston – FTFH is a monthly event at Birthdays promoting female performers and Nova Twins were topping the bill with their intriguing and eclectic mash-up of rock, hip-hop and punk attitudes. The lighting was decent and Amy and Georgia’s style and stage presence made it pretty much impossible to take a bad shot. I finally settled on this picture of Amy because of the attitude and power and the nice mix of colours in the background, but I could have chosen any one of a dozen shots from this gig.
Hannah Aldridge at Green Note – Green Note’s a venue where you have to put in a bit of effort to get a good shot. I went along to this gig on the strength of Hannah’s stunning debut album, “Razor Wire” and I wasn’t disappointed. I had just moved around the stage to get a slightly different viewpoint when Hannah introduced a new song “Gold Rush” which was incredibly powerful and completely enthralled the audience. I think the shot just about captures the emotion she was pouring in to that song.
Just click on any of the thumbnails to see the picture at full size.
I know we don’t feature a lot of metal bands here, but we don’t mind making an exception occasionally: Witchingseason is a three-piece from Kent tipped to succeed this year by Quite Great when they contributed to our High Fives in December. The band is fronted by Tom Reyolds with James Willans (bass) and Wayne Summers (drums) providing a thunderous rhythm section. If you want a frame of reference, then you won’t go far wrong with Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Queens of the Stone Age. I’m not saying that their new single “The Healer” (to be released on April 27) is breathtakingly original, but from the opening over-driven riff it sounds like they mean business. The raw instrumentation backs a surprisingly melodic vocal (supplemented by backing vocals from Leogun’s Tommy Smith) and the whole package should be equally at home in the pit or on whatever device you use to listen to your music (or maybe even on the radio).
But don’t take my word for it, you can listen for yourself: