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.
Well, we’ve almost reached two weeks of High Fives and the juggernaut’s still rolling, although it was only a cinquecento when it started on this road trip. Joe Francis (Winter Mountain) has opted for the highways and the byways with his exploration of his favourite tour van music.
It’s more than just a car journey from A to B. Your vehicle is imbibed with a multiplicity of purposes, like the Tardis with a personality disorder. It becomes a diesel-powered bedroom on wheels, a dressing room, a hotel, a guesthouse, a calm port, a storage facility, a temple and a garbage bin. Its significance greater to a touring musician than any average road user may ever understand.
And so too are the songs you listen to on the road.
Free from distractions of everyday life, you’ve no option but to really listen. And because of this your choices matter. Selecting songs for a tour is not a casual thing. The tracks you listen to will help shape your experience and will take you back to there each time you hear them in the future. Here’s 5 songs that mean a lot to me…
“Solsbury Hill” – Peter Gabriel
You begin your tour full of optimism and hope, feeling vitalised by the promise of the dawning of a new musical era. Fewer songs capture the spirit and the sparkling, spiritual blue sky soul that surrounds this moment than PGs extraordinary 1977 classic ‘Solsbury Hill’. An exquisite riff that sounds like morning.
Best listened to when – The vans loaded? Gear, guys and girls all present and correct? Then start the engine and hit ‘play’.
“Thunder Road” – Bruce Springsteen
Too obvious? Yeah, totally. But for good reason. As a kid from a small village where nothing much seemed to be happening Springsteen’s 1975 track showed me there was real magic to be found in the mundane. It’s romantic and rocking and a poetically pure promise to aim for glory no matter the consequences. And ain’t that just like a musical life? ‘Have a little faith, there’s magic in the night…’
Best listened to when – The first few shows are under your belt and you’re loving it. The journey is well underway, the roads are clear…NOW!
“Highway to Hell” – AC/DC
Heavy, primitive, menacing, soulful and sexy. Sometimes basic is best. AC/DC’s behemoth will help you through the longest of journeys, through the worst of driving rain, damaged tyres and badly worn tarmac, when the van is straining under the weight of you and your gear. It’s devilish and dirty and after 3 weeks on the road you will be too.
Best listened to when – You’re two thirds of they way through the tour. The fatigue’s setting in and you need an injection of pure Taurine rock and roll to keep your stamina up and an anthemic sing along chorus to unify the weary musos.
Any track from “Blue” – Joni Mitchell
Transport yourself to a place of warmer climes, pretty people and free love. Check out any song from Joni’s beautiful folksy masterpiece and you’ll be smiling like a Californian under the summer stars within seconds.
Best listened to when – Traffic is at a standstill, the tour is nearly over, tension‘s a little high…
“Lost in the Dream” – The War On Drugs
Maybe the pace is going to get to you or the band need to get some shuteye to deal with the comedown before the next show and a little ethereal peace is in order? Stick on ‘Lost in the Dream’ by the War On Drugs and you’ll be floating through the early hours like a character from a stylish formulaic Netflix series about what it means to be young and on a comedown.
Best listened to when – It’s 3am on a post gig drive, through the French Alps, a silver cloak of moonlight laid over the mountains and lakes. The amber glow of a small village down in the valley below and way up ahead, a fire burns on a distant peak…
We’ve reached the point in the year where traditionally no-one releases serious music; it’s all about seasonal tunes and greatest hits for the dad market, so it’s really refreshing to hear another contender for High Fives 2016 (coming soon with even more guest contributions) released in November. Winter Mountain is the nom de guerre of Joe Francis and “I Swear I Flew” is his second album. Let’s get this out of the way right now, it’s a stunningly powerful and beautiful piece of work packed with ethereal and evocative songs, blowsy and blustering songs, and intricately woven arrangements mostly played by Joe, but helped out by Seth Lakeman and a few others. I think it might even be new genre; Kernowcana, anyone?
“I Swear I Flew” is a potent cocktail, mixing up influences from the great late twentieth century American songwriters with twists of Celtic and English folk styles. It’s all blended perfectly to create a confection that feels smooth on the surface but has plenty of bite underneath. Even the quiet, contemplative songs have a widescreen feel to them; the breathy vocal on “Dragonfly” is underpinned by delicately picked acoustic guitar, bass and cello, but the sound is full and resonant. By way of complete contrast, the next song, “Before the Flood” features a full band (and then some) with thudding bass and drums and then keys, harmonica, fiddle, tenor guitar, banjo and pedal steel. And it’s all topped with a great vocal performance that has a few hints of Don Henley at his very best; it’s a big, beautiful beast of a song.
No filler at all here, and definitely a couple more to single out for attention. “The Morning Bell”, which gives the album its title, is (almost) a solo acoustic lovelorn ballad packed with the natural imagery that permeates the album, contrasting starkly with the full band songs. “Fireworks Night” (Promises we Make) is an absolutely gorgeous five minutes that pulls off the spectacular trick of starting like Springsteen and morphing into what I can only describe as a stripped-down acoustic version of The Blue Nile. I defy you to remain unmoved.
This album is inspired by the greats of rock, roots and folk, twisted together until they form something shiny, beautiful and new. It’s a lovely piece of work.
“I Swear I Flew” is released on Friday November 18 on Astral Fox Records.