The High Fives feature just wouldn’t be the same without a contribution from Our Friend in the North. Steve J has been a very busy man this year, reviewing loads of gigs for us while working as a radio presenter in the Peak District and somehow manging to publish a couple of books as well, “On the Radio” with his brother Paul and a solo effort, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight”. They’re both cracking reads (subtle stocking-filler hint here) and our totally unbiased view is that you should get hold of a copy of each for your nearest and dearest. In the meantime, here’s Steve’s reaction to hearing some of his classic 45s (ask your nan) performed live.

High Fives. This year has been the year of classic singles – LIVE!! So I’ve picked my fave live performances of five classic singles that I’ve experienced this year, bookending from ‘I’m Not In Love’ to ‘Is This Love?’ See what he did there? Certainty into uncertainty. Metaphor for the year, n’est-ce pas?

 

“I’m Not in Love” – 10CC

A beige, plastic-labelled 45 on Mercury Records. A night out at The Opera House in Buxton. Nearing the end of a storming set and the lighting changes. Suddenly, I become aware of an effect which has been more or less redundant all night…a cutaway mirrorball, throwing darts of seventiesesque silver light in elderly lovers’ eyes and randomly piercing the sudden dark blue wash which had swallowed the stage. And with stunning clarity and instant recognition, the keyboard strikes up for one of the most perfect, flawless and in a way, perplexing lurv songs of all time. And it’s all there. The ambiguity in the title, suggesting despair or disdain or something in between (Disappointment? Disenchantment? Take a look into this lovely audio mirror; see what bounces back) and all wrapped up in that rich electric keyboard swirl which at times sounds like it is emerging, dripping, from between the trees. And can the CCs pull off the stunning build up of layer upon layer of vocal harmonics before it all dissipates in a crystalline sprinkle of sparkly synth? Sure can. Sure do. Four or so minutes of suspended animation. Perfect.

 

Travellin’ Band – John Fogerty / Creedence Clearwater Revival

Ain’t nothing fancy about this; a UK-release blue-labelled Liberty Records mono 45 cut like the San Andreas Fault and heavily worn with spiral striations due to jukebox wear (the arm skims the toast rack of records, reaches down, grabs, makes a wear imprint and over time, your 45 will fade from shiny black to shimmering grey) with a stomped-out middle and a triangular black centre piece. And a night out in the former Millennium Dome in London. But what a way to start a set. This ain’t no polite calling card; this is a ‘blow the doors off’ statement of intent. John Fogerty rips into the opening tune with the ferocity of a storm-force wind. Rasping and what even for then was uncompromisingly ‘dated’ sax gives way to the foghorn honk of Fogerty’s amazing vocal. You can read millions of pages about what it was like to live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle; or you can listen to this for about two minutes twenty seconds and get the whole story. You’ve paid for it. And you’re having it.

 

2-4-6-8 Motorway” – Tom Robinson Band

Red and salmon pink-labelled EMI demo 45 stamped ‘Factory Copy; For Demonstration Use Only’. And as tended to happen with the ‘airplay’ samples, it’s a Porky Prime Cut alright, tyre-wall black and uncompromisingly deep. Wherever it plays, it cuts the air like a knife. Pop tune meets rock anthem meets The New Wave (sort of). Probably the most out of context of all TRB’s output (with the exception of a few plain duffers on the second album) it is the Show Closer all century long, ensuring an enthusiastic crowd stick around for the encore and are Up For It. As a song it just screams to be hit hard, and sung with lust for life and played with drive and passion. And at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, that’s what it gets as the Tom Robinson Band roll back the years and suddenly we’re all somewhere else, sometime else.

 

“Rock ‘n’ Me” – Steve Miller Band

Another beige plastic-labelled Mercury Records 45. Another drivetime classic meets live anthem. But this one is very ‘American’ as we return to the Drearydomeydrome, London, once more. This just ‘drives’ along on vinyl, with the singer’s voice sounding as artificial and as ethereal as Fogerty’s is to sound ‘real’ and very much Of This World about half an hour later, same place, same night. This is as much a tribute to the fine art of producing recorded sound as it is to it being a mighty fine, well-arranged song. And after an early evening where the sound sold Steve Miller and the Millermen seriously short, it was good to hear the whole thing come together and produce three minutes of unadulterated joy, which evoked top-down, hedonistic, Californian sunshine of various kinds just as vivaciously as the little unassuming vinyl disc did when it first lit up my grim Scottish tenement flat as I first played a demo copy to myself on a horrible little autochange record player way back in (I think!) 1976. Keep On Rockin’ Me, Baby.

 

“Is This Love” – The Wailers / Bob Marley and the Wailers

Island records multi-coloured label 45 with the lurid green palm tree in the foreground, and with the centre knocked out for use as a Jukebox copy, my “Is This Love?” is a well-travelled audio file. I’ve taken it out on more gigs than The Beatles, The Stones and The Who have played put together and sure enough it bears all the scars of wear, tear, spilt beer, exposure to sunshine on outdoor gigs, grit in between the single sleeve sides, greasy buffet fingers and sub-zero storage. Old-school DJ abuse, in short. As do The Wailers, who continue unsteadily but utterly charmingly into the future, carrying Bob Marley’s live legacy with them. Both on the 45 and in the Manchester Academy, the song and the way it is delivered contains enough space to walk around in. Space. Clarity. No clutter. And those chord progressions and the odd squirt of squealing lead guitar every now and then. And that drummer. Live, just as on the record, strolling, loping along as if it’s the easiest, most natural thing on earth. (Try it some time! I stand in awe of most musicians due to my own limited abilities but reggae drummers….well.) On stage as on vinyl, sunshine, but more than that, a hope bordering on a belief that love can indeed triumph over all, and that peace will be the outcome and unity will be the end result; which lasted about as long as it took for me to walk outside into the typecast Manchester rain and for some bloke half my age and twice my size to attempt to kick me swede in whilst waiting for a taxi. And the compliments of the High Fives to you, too.

I know, I know; we’ve said this before. The Riot Squad loves the way that artists taking part in this piece stamp their individuality on their contributions – you never know what you’re going to get. We’ve had a huge variety already this year including Dean Owens’ American tour highlights and Track Dogs’ UK tour discoveries and we’re just over halfway through December. In this particular piece, Gerry Spehar, whose “Anger Management” album blew Allan away this year, has taken the opportunity to say thank you to some of the people that have made a difference for him in 2018. Gerry’s kept this very simple, so we’re going to respect that by not including any distracting visual images. And thank you Gerry.

 

Thank You High Fives  2018

 

Robert Mueller and the American justice system for giving me hope.

My kids, grandkids and other family for giving me roots.

Ellen for mending my broken wings.

Paul, Tommy and the other fine musicians for polishing my soul.

Geraint, Allan, Bill, Kim, Mike and other promoters, reviewers and stations for making it smile.

 

Allan’s had the brace of Nikons at quite a few gigs this year and he modestly says that he’s produced some cracking shots. Don’t say this too loudly, but the rest of the Riot Squad think that he’s probably right. However, he doesn’t get so much of the photographic spotlight this year as we’ve invited a few more gig photographers to showcase their own images and they’ll be appearing throughout December in the spirit of giving a bit of exposure to some extraordinary photographic talent. We thought it was only fair that Allan got first shot. So, in no particular order and with a running commentary from the man that reviewer Steve Jenner calls the Dapper Snapper are Allan’s favourite five monochromes.

Hannah Rose Platt @St Pancras Old Church

I’d seen Hannah around at a few gigs over the years but it was only about a year ago that we met after I heard her gorgeous single “1954”. She was one of those people that I wanted to photograph straight away. With long blonde hair and a very fair complexion, I could see some great opportunities under strongly-coloured lighting. Guess what? The only paces I’ve seen her perform have been very atmospheric but very dimly lit and only really suitable for monochrome.

This shot was at St Pancras Old Church, a fabulous intimate venue where the stage is lit by a couple of bedside lamps. Here’s the result:

Genia @Soho Music Festival

Genia’s a pianist from Russia, playing in the classical idiom and she featured at the inaugural Soho Music Festival earlier this year. Have you ever tried to photograph a pianist? There are only so many angles to use and it can easily get clichéd.

Genia was the opening artist in one of the festival’s three rooms in L’Escargot, starting her set at the unearthly time of 11:00 am. After grabbing a few usable shots, I sat down to review the selection and when I looked up from the viewfinder I saw that Genia’s shades had created the perfect shot with piano keyboard reflecting in the shades. It took two attempts to get it right, but the result was dramatic. The only problem was that with eleven hours ahead of me, chances were that I’d peaked a bit early. I had.

Lynne Hanson @Green Note

Gig photographers are a dedicated bunch; it’s not just swanning around in the sun at Cornbury and the Isle of Wight, oh no. I went out to see The LYNN(e)S at Green Note at the height of the Beast from the East (remember that?). Lynne Hanson and Lynn Miles collaborated on the album “Heartbreak Songs for the Radio” and were touring the UK to promote it. Loved the album and couldn’t resist going to see it live.

It was a superb night. I may have mentioned before that the light in Green Note’s challenging for photographers, which is why I roundly applaud any good image coming from that particular venue. The other challenge is respect for the audience; don’t block people’s sightlines and don’t have the shutter on burst mode during the quiet songs. So from my little perch by the door and using a longish zoom, I grabbed this shot of Lynne Hanson on the far side of the stage. Lynne likes it.

Hollie Rogers @The Jazz Café

You couldn’t move in the Jazz Café on this night without falling over a photographer; no unhealthy rivalries, just lots of mutual respect. Two Talentbanq artists were supporting blues guitar virtuoso Dan Owen (more about him later) and Hollie was the first of those to take the stage.

If you’ve seen Hollie perform (and you really should) then you’ll know that when the voice goes into overdrive, she’s incredibly powerful and all of this shows in her face. I’ve got loads of shots of Hollie looking incredibly intense. I won’t say I was looking for something a bit more contemplative, but when I saw the opportunity I was ready for it. The lights on the night were actually pretty colourful, but, with light and shade, I could only ever see this working in black and white.

Dan Owen @The Jazz Café

Later the same night. Now we all know that lead guitarists like to throw a few shapes, don’t we? Which is great because otherwise all of our pictures would look the same. Dan’s no exception and he’s also a bundle of raw energy, the archetypal livewire. It’s great fun with these guys, following them around the stage, trying to capture the perfect combination of light and shape. I wish I could say that this shot was all perfectly planned, but it wasn’t.

The camera settings were right for the conditions and then Dan stuck the acoustic out at arm’s length. I like the shot because of the calm intensity in Dan’s face and the fact that it’s not a Strat or a Les Paul he’s throwing around, it’s an acoustic. I looked at the shot in colour but the lighting was a bit meh, so I tried monochrome – bingo.

 

 So, there you go, my favourite five monochromes of the year

 

When panic sets in during the last week in November at Riot Towers as we realise that High Fives has crept up unnoticed once again, the first person we contact is Neil Sheasby, bass player and co-songwriter with the brilliant Stone Foundation. He’s always happy to contribute, he’s passionate about music (his own and other people’s) and he’s a bloody good bloke. And his contributions are always worth reading and following up, so here’s the 2017 line-up. And, by the way , Neil, congratulations on a brilliant year.

 

1 – Mr Jukes “God First”

I don’t think I could have imagined in my wildest dreams that an album created by the guy from Bombay Bicycle Club would have ended up being my favourite and most played record of the year.

I’m always wary of side projects too (see Tin Machine) but this really is a complete piece of work from beginning to end. It actually got better and better the more I played it.

I caught them on their tour too at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and they were fantastic live too, a real modern soul vibe.

2- Teenage Cancer Trust gig Royal Albert Hall

We we’re fortunate enough to find ourselves performing on some prestigious platforms this year, none more so than the Royal Albert Hall back at the start of March.

It really felt like a turning point for us, there we were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Roger Daltrey, Ronnie Wood, Paul Weller, Kelly Jones etc…..and it just seemed a natural step up, we didn’t get over awed by the occasion or even nervous, it just felt like an opportunity that we were fully prepared for. It was a real thrill to play in such a setting, the gig itself was organised by and in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust, prior to our slot just after we’d soundchecked we were invited to attend a music workshop where teenagers whose daily lives are affected directly by the threat of Cancer were gathering in a hall creating and producing a joyous sound, it reminded me that even in the face of such adversity and testing moments that music and that outlet of creativity is such a positive force. Young kids whose everyday lives are compromised by the risk of cancer united in a celebration of sound.

I found it incredibly inspiring and moving. Certainly one of the most memorable performances I witnessed all year.

3- Curtis Harding “Face your Fear”

Second album from Curtis Harding and since it came into my orbit I’ve played it endlessly. Once again I think it’s a very complete piece, the songs and sound of the record really hang together well. It’s not really a straight ahead Soul album, it reminds me slightly of Terence Trent D’arby at his creative peak although it’s probably unfair of me to draw comparisons as this is very much it’s own thing.

Real strong collection of tunes that sound kind of timeless.

4- Festival Fever.

One of the main reasons I enjoy playing at festivals is that it affords the chance to catch other artists.

Two real highlights of my summer were Cornbury festival in Oxfordshire, which was a rather upmarket affair (they even had a Waitrose on site!), there was a real good vibe around the whole place, I had preconceptions of it being a bunch of toffs sipping spritzers just there for the ticket and jolly up but it was quite the opposite, you could tell people were really into the music, it was definitely our best gig of the festival circuit.

I enjoyed it so much that I went back the next day where I caught The Pretenders who just tore through a greatest hits set, I’d kind of forgotten how fantastic they were/are….

Seeing Solange at Glastonbury was fairly mega too.

5- David Bowie book / A Life by Dylan Jones

My son bought me it for my birthday back in October, for some reason I thought I was going to hate it, not sure why because obviously I love the subject matter and I quite like Dylan Jones as a journalist, maybe I was thinking it would be a bit kiss and tell, gossipy kind of affair but it turned out to be one of the most fascinating, revealing documents that I’ve read on Bowie.

It’s drawn from hundreds of interviews with close associates, friends, lovers, rivals, musicians….

It gets close to the core of the real Bowie.

Hannah & Abbe Scroller

 

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.

 

1) Rick Astley ed

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

 

2) Choir

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!!!

 

3) Stilt men

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.

 

4) Cropredy

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.

 

5) Bryan and Woody

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-holcombeMalcolm 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-mckennaLori 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-and-janeJonas & 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.

BW ScrollerBrian 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-cannChantae 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 .

 

Honorable Mentions:

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:

headphonesHeadphones 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.

 

the-cascade-mountainsMountains

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.

ikea-chipsIKEA chips

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.

Susan

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.

hearts-and-earsEars 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

breakdownWhen 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

newguitarThis 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

malcolmWhen 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

meanddaviddNathan 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 PenmanPhil 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.

 

 

Into the SeaAlbum of the Year (aka I Love My Label)

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.

 DartsI Love My Job Sometimes

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.

Sleaford ModsKeeping The Fires Burning (aka One That Nearly Got Away)

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.

 Hannah Rose PlattBright Young Thing

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.

 

Death Cab for CutieReturn to Form

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’sKintsugi”.

 

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.

A Life Unlimited Title“A Life Unlimited” – Stone Foundation

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.

Soultime Title“Soultime!” – Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

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.

Pete_Kennedy_4PAN1TAPK_FINAL_outlined.indd“Heart of Gotham” – Pete Kennedy

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.

Hannah Aldridge Title“Razor Wire” – Hannah Aldridge

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 Scroller“Until the Water Runs Clear” – Black Casino and the Ghost

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.