MollieThis review’s going to be different from most of the things you’ll read about Mollie Marriott’s album “Truth is a Wolf” in one important way; I won’t be saying anything about Mollie’s musical heritage. You can read about that elsewhere, and I want to focus on Mollie and the superb team she’s created to deliver her musical vision. As a songwriter and singer she deserves to be judged on her own merits (and on the merits of her writing and performing partners) as she releases her debut solo album. The band deserves a special mention here as well. This isn’t an album put together by a bunch of studio hacks; Johnson-Jay Medwik-Daley (guitar), Sam Tanner (keyboards), Henrik Irgens (bass), Alex Reeves (drums) and Izzy Chase-Phillmore (backing vocals) are Mollie’s live band (in various acoustic and electric permutations)and Sam and Johnson collaborate on songwriting as well. In a live setting, it’s obvious that they’re all great players, but equally obvious that they love working together and they’re good mates.

The other songwriting collaborators include Judie Tzuke, Graham Kearns and Jim Stapley (one of the best voices in rock at the moment) and to add little spice, there are a couple of non-originals; a storming version of World Party’s “Ship of Fools” (Mollie’s first single, released last year) and the title track, written by Gary Nicholson and Bonnie Hayes. Mollie’s channelled a lot of heartbreak through these songs, including the opener “Broken” which deals with a failing relationship, and “Love your Bones” about the death of a good friend, but it’s ultimately a hugely uplifting album, despite the serious themes. So, how does that happen?

There are a couple of reasons; one is Mollie’s huge voice and the other is the incredibly good band. Let’s start with the band. The rhythm section does exactly what it says on the tin (there’s even a few melodic bass riffs thrown in)and creates a platform for the interwoven guitar and keyboard arrangements, which are all beautifully played without ever straying into muso ‘look at me’ territory. The second single, “Transformer” is driven along by Johnson’s infuriatingly catchy, over-driven earworm of a guitar riff while Sam’s smoky keyboard riff is the impetus behind “Truth is a Wolf”. And then there’s Izzy, also a great singer, whose voice works perfectly alongside the lead vocal.

And Mollie’s voice? Well, what can I say? She can do the pop singer thing, hitting all the right notes and sounding crystal clear and that might be enough for a lot of people, but there’s another dimension. When she goes up through the gears, she finds a raw emotional edge that only the best soul and rock singers have, and she can move seamlessly between these styles.

In putting the album together, Mollie’s written about a lot of painful episodes, but she’s managed to create a superb, powerful album from those episodes. This is an incredibly assured debut album packed with personal, well-crafted songs and technically perfect but often under-stated instrumental performances. This sounds like Mollie’s breakthrough.

Oh, and just one more thing, go and see the band live if you get the chance; you won’t regret it.

“Truth is A Wolf” is out in February 2016 on MITA Records.

So how about five great gigs this year? Well, I’ve had plenty to choose from and I can’t say that I’ve seen a bad one, so it hasn’t been an easy choice to whittle it down to the top five (and no cheating this time either). These are all gigs that I walked away from feeling elated, feeling that I’d seen something special that I wanted to tell the world about. So I did, and here’s a reminder of how good these gigs were.

01) High Fives John FairhurstJohn Fairhurst @Rich Mix

On a freezing February Friday night in Shoreditch, Rich Mix was a welcome respite from bars full of bankers and ‘exclusive’ lap-dancing joints. The venue is a social enterprise where the motivation isn’t purely profit and programming of events is always interesting. On this particular night, John Fairhurst, along with Pete Episcopo (bass) and Toby Murray (drums) played a raw and raucous set of blues focussing on the 2014 album “Saltwater”. Some of the album versions of the songs were fairly big production numbers but the live performance was strictly a power trio affair with John’s blistering guitar topping off the mixture. The journey back through Shoreditch didn’t seem quite so bad after a night of proper blues with electric guitars playing way up loud. You can see some photos from the gig here.

Mollie and Izzy

Mollie and Izzy

Mollie Marriott @The Half Moon

This one was firmly in the eagerly-anticipated category. Mollie’s been working quietly for some time putting together a great band for live and studio work featuring her Jim Stapley bandmates Izzy Chase-Phillmore, Sam Tanner and Johnson-Jay Medwik-Daley. After an interesting acoustic support set from her nephew, Mo Evans, Mollie’s full band made their first live appearance in a Half Moon packed with fans and a few well-known faces as well. It was obvious from the start that this isn’t just a bunch of hired hands; this is a bunch of really good mates as well. None of their playing is showy or attention-seeking; everything serves the songs and underpins Mollie’s phenomenal voice, and it all works perfectly. The audience were onside anyway, but Mollie and the band gave a great performance of material from the upcoming debut album and a couple of covers as well. Here are some photos of this one.

14) MichaelMad Dog Mcrea and Sound of the Sirens @The Half Moon

This was a very special gig. I’d been invited along to see Mad Dog Mcrea and I had no idea about the support on the night, Sound of the Sirens. It’s such a great feeling when you see an artist for the first time and you know instantly that they’re something special. And it’s not just me; apparently Chris Evans was quite impressed with them as well. Anyway, they played a storming set completely winning over the audience with their powerful songs, dynamics, and harmonies. If the night had stopped at that point, I would have been perfectly happy, but we still had Mad Dog Mcrea to come, with an energetic run through material from their album “Almost Home” plus a few old favourites and crowd pleasers. Two great bands with enough in common to appeal to the whole audience but with enough differences to create a very varied night. And there are some photos here.

10) Chris DiffordSqueeze and Dr John Cooper Clarke @Indigo2

Another interesting double bill, this time with two very different artists, linked by the era which saw the start of their careers. John Cooper Clarke (now making the most of his honorary doctorate) has been doing poetry and comedy events for a few years but the tour with Squeeze put him back in front of big audiences filled with people who remembered him from the first time round. He throws more one-liners and gags into his routine now but a lot of the old favourite poems are still there, although some of them, particularly “Twat”, have evolved over time. On this night he was a barnstorming crowd-pleaser, building up the audience nicely for the headline act.

This year Squeeze had a new album to promote so the setlist was varied, to say the least, with material covering almost forty years from “Take Me I’m Yours” to new songs like “Cradle to the grave” with the usual smattering of different interpretations of Squeeze classics. What made this performance so special was the group of musicians (mainly Glenn Tilbrook’s Fluffers) now making up the rest of Squeeze who add upright bass, melodica and other esoteric instruments to the mix as well as adding rich vocal harmonies. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have never sounded better and what an incredible set of songs. Guess what, some photos here.

Union Chapel 050515

Union Chapel 050515

Graham Parker and Brinsley Schwarz & The Union Chapel

And finally. One of the greatest talents never to break through in the seventies and eighties, Graham Parker, who toured twice this year; once with The Rumour and once with Brinsley Schwarz. With a songbook which again covers almost forty years and a new album to promote as well, Graham Parker mixed up some established classics, some surprises and some new songs to delight an audience which might have been a little biased anyway. His voice is still remarkable and the songs are all strong enough to work in stripped-back arrangements. This wasn’t just a nostalgia thing; there were new songs to promote and they all sounded as good as anything he’s done before. He’s a remarkable man and it was a real pleasure to hear these songs in such a beautiful venue. How about a look at GP in the seventies and now?

 

 

Mollie TitleIt’s about a year since we first picked up on Mollie Marriot, when she popped up doing backing vocals (with Izzy Chase-Phillmore) for Jim Stapley on his debut album and at a London gig last year. It was obvious to anyone who didn’t have tin ears that she had an outstanding voice. What we didn’t know at the time, but discovered after a few gigs, was that she also has at least an album’s worth of great songs which she’s worked on with a bunch of co-writers that includes Jim Stapley, Sam Tanner of Brother Strut and Judie Tzuke. Lyrically, it’s not always comfortable because it deals with some troubled times in Mollie’s life, but the arrangements and performances create positive feelings from negative experiences. And she’s put a phenomenal live band together as well.

“A Million Miles” is her third solo single (following “Ship of Fools” and “Transformer”) and it might just be the one to make the breakthrough, ahead of her debut album “The Truth is a Wolf” which is due for release in early 2016. The song opens with Johnson-Jay’s shimmering guitar weaving in and out of Sam Tanner’s trickling keyboards evoking a seventies Californian drivetime feel before Mollie’s voice comes in, gently at first, with just a suggestion of Stevie Nicks and the story of an unravelling relationship. As the instrumental intensity builds, the vocal goes up through the gears from pure and clear to powerful and emotional, building to a climax before fading to a gentle finish. It’s a song that takes you on an emotional journey, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Mollie Marriott’s made a lot of great decisions in the last couple of years; she’s surrounded herself with superb musicians and collaborators who happen to be lovely people, and she’s created a very tight little family that just happens to be a musical powerhouse. If anyone can achieve popular success while pursuing their own artistic vision in today’s music business, my money’s on Mollie.

“A Million Miles” is out on MITA Records on October 23rd.

 

To round off the mid-term report for 2015, we thought it would be good to have a look at some of the people we’ve discovered this year. Some of them are relatively new and some have been around for a while but they have one thing in common; they’re all very good.

05) MollieWe heard about Mollie Marriott last year when she did backing vocals (along with Izzy Chase-Phillmore) on Jim Stapley’s debut album “Long Time Coming”. She’s had a couple of singles out (“Ship of Fools” and “Transformer”) and the first album’s just about ready to go. She’s been collaborating with some exceptional songwriters and her live band (Johnson-Jay Medwik-Daley, Sam Tanner, Alex Reeves and Henrik Irgens) sounds stunning. Top that off with a voice which can do the pure pop, but has a raw, soulful edge as well and you’ve got something a little bit special. The only way is up.

Abbe and Hannah

Abbe and Hannah

Discovering Sound of the Sirens earlier this year was proof that turning up for the support band can pay off. They supported Mad Dog Mcrea on a few dates earlier this year, including The Half Moon in Putney and they were superb. Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood create a huge sound with two voices, two guitars (or guitar and mandolin) and two stompboxes. If you insist on attaching a genre tag to Sound of the Sirens, ‘twenty-first century acoustic anthems’, is pretty close to the mark; it works for us anyway. But don’t just take our word for it, in the last couple of months, Abbe and Hannah have played at Glastonbury, have secured a BBC Introducing slot and are appearing at Carfest. And they’ve got a new EP out.

10) JupeThe guys in Jupe are Dublin-based and they’ve been together for a while, but now that their line-up has settled they’re just starting to get the attention that their anthemic soul/pop/rock really deserves. The Riot Squad saw Jupe at a showcase gig at The Garage in Islington a few weeks ago and they were the band that got the entire audience on their side. The sound is contemporary and commercial but it’s backed up with rock-solid musicianship and a charismatic singer who knows how to work a live crowd. The single “Rocket” is out on August 3.

03) 3300-0028Hannah Aldridge released her jaw-droppingly good debut album, “Razor Wire” in 2014; it’s a collection of intensely personal songs written from the perspective of a writer who has walked the darker side of the street. She toured the UK recently in support of the album and won over audiences with her stripped-down solo versions of the album material, including a storming version of “Howlin’ Bones”. The album and the live performances of the “Razor Wire” material alone would secure Hannah’s inclusion in this feature, but there’s even more. During the show at Green Note, Hannah played a new song called “Gold Rush” which held the audience in hushed awe. If the rest of the next album is even close to the standard of “Gold Rush” it’s going to be an album to grace anyone’s collection.

Natalie TitleThree years ago, we were seriously impressed by Natalie Duncan’s debut album “Devil in Me” and her stunning live performances. Things went a bit quiet following the initial promotion for the album and the major label deal didn’t really work out, but Natalie’s a strong character and a formidable talent; she’s been working on new material and, over the last year or so, she’s been playing to a mixture of album material and new songs to appreciative audiences all over London. The new songs from her “Black and White” EP are much more edgy than her earlier material, using vocal loops and samples as part of the backing tracks and they seem to be attracting a new audience to augment her original following. Anyway, she’s sounding better than ever and you should give her a listen.

And, if that’s not enough to be going on with, there are a few other bands that you should keep an eye on. Black Casino and the Ghost release their second album later this year, Space Elevator’s brand of theatrical melodic rock is attracting wider attention, The Jar Family are reaching wider live audiences with their well-crafted songs and energetic gigs and Jim Stapley (Mollie Marriott collaborator and astonishingly powerful rock singer) is working in New Orleans on new material for that difficult second album. By the time you’ve checked out all of those, we’ll be doing the year-end review.

Mollie TitleAs ways to start the night go, having a chinwag with Joe Brown in the toilets at The Half Moon is a pretty good, if slightly surreal, one. So what’s he doing there on a Monday night? Perfectly obvious really; both Mollie Marriott and her support act Mo Evans are family and Joe’s there to support them. And he’s not the only one. Judie Tzuke (one of Mollie’s writing partners) has shown up as well. There’s a bit of a buzz around this show because it’s the debut for Mollie’s full band, and most of the audience is anticipating some new material as well.

But before we get to that, there’s a short set from Mollie’s nephew, Mo Evans, who’s a singer-songwriter in the confessional mould. Armed with only an acoustic guitar, a capo and some interesting tunings, he manages to grab the audience from the start. It’s a difficult job at the best of times, particularly when your songs don’t have too many happy moments, but they’re a pretty good crowd and he gets them onside. There’s a particularly nice moment at the end of the set when his guitar amp gives up and he reacts by jumping down from the stage and gathering the audience around him to finish the set completely unplugged.

Mollie’s been doing acoustic gigs and radio appearances recently with Johnson-Jay Medwik-Daley (guitar and backing vocals) and Izzy Chase-Phillmore (backing vocals) and this line-up is augmented for the album material by Sam Tanner, Alex Reeves and Henrik Irgens (keyboards, drums and bass). There’s an assurance about the band’s performance that only comes from putting in the hours in rehearsal; there should be some nerves showing on the first outing with new material but they’re well hidden. The band are all great individual musicians but this is about working together to showcase the songs and Mollie’s voice. Oh yes, that voice; it’s powerful and pure and strong (which you would expect from someone who’s worked extensively as a backing singer) but when she pushes it towards the limit, there’s a raw emotional edge there that you only find in the truly great blues and soul singers. On top of all that, she’s a genuinely engaging stage personality who has a great rapport with her band and the audience.

The set features the two singles “Ship of Fools” and “Transformer”, the Alanis Morissette cover “Mary Jane” and a selection of new material from the album, including “Give Me a Reason” which features some lovely harmonies from Izzy and Johnson-Jay; the audience loves it. There’s a huge amount of love and mutual respect on stage but also between the band and the audience, which all helps to create a perfect live music experience. The Half Moon isn’t full by any means, but anyone who was there will be spreading the word.

So, is 2015 the breakthrough year for Mollie Marriott? It certainly looks like this is the right time for the big push; she’s been around the music business for a few years now and she’s highly respected as a backing vocalist, but she now has an album’s worth of songs, a tremendous band behind her, a label and a good support team. And, in case I hadn’t mentioned this already, a phenomenal voice. “Transformer” is already generating media attention and picking up local radio playlistings, and with the album coming out later this year, this just might be Mollie’s time; I really hope so.

 

Mollie TitleWell, first gig of 2015 and it’s my first visit to The Hospital Club near Covent Garden to see Mollie Marriott play an acoustic set at ‘Vin’s Night In’. The former St Paul’s Hospital has an unassuming exterior on Endell Street which opens into an Aladdin’s Cave of bars, television and recording studios, an art gallery, a restaurant and a live music space, so guess where we’re heading (after the bar)? The Oak Room is a cosy 125-capacity space with a nice sound system and, more importantly, a good sound engineer. Musically, ‘Vin’s Night In’ is about giving a break to up-and-coming or undiscovered talent and we’re not about to argue with that.

So, first up musically was Louis Dunford and the impact was immediate. His highly distinctive deadpan vocal delivery works perfectly as a vehicle for his songs of adolescence and teenage years in London in the Lily Allen era mid-noughties. The lyrics are well-crafted and witty, and feel like a darker, grittier version of “Alright, Still”. It’s only a short set, but the audience love “When We Were Hooligans”, Saturday Night/Sunday Mourning” and “London’s Requiem”. Let’s hope his mum forgave him for “When We Were Hooligans”. Chaz Thorogood was next up, turning in an interesting set which relied on his loop pedal a little bit too much for my liking, but which finished on a spacy, psychedelic cover of “Toxic” with not even a hint of that annoyingly catchy hook; fair play to him for that.

After a quick interval and a one-song cameo appearance (sounding great without the benefit of a soundcheck) from singer-songwriter Bea Munro, it was time for Mollie Marriott.

It’s hard to believe that Mollie Marriott’s been involved in the music business for nearly twenty years now. She started at the age of twelve with her girl band D2M and has been involved in music ever since, racking up a very impressive list of backing vocal credits. After hearing her with the Jim Stapley Band, I’ve been looking out for a solo gig and this was it. Mollie was joined by Jim Stapley band members Johnson Jay Medwik-Daley (for the entire set) and Izzy Chase-Phillmore (for most of the set); you’d be surprised at how big one guitar and three voices can sound. Even within the limits of a short acoustic set which included the two singles “Ship of Fools” (a World Party cover) and “Transformer” (co-written with Judie Tzuke and Graham Kearns) and a cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Mary Jane”, Mollie displayed a very impressive dynamic range and the ability to engage effortlessly with the audience.

What sets Mollie Marriott apart from the thousands of performers who can sing well is that she has a lot more than the powerful pure pop voice of “Transformer”; she can push it to the limit to bring out the ragged emotional edges that work so well with blues and soul songs. As a singer, she’s the real deal and it’s looking like she can write as well. This should be a big year for Mollie, with a new album due out in 2015; let’s hope it gives her the breakthrough her talent deserves.

You can see Mollie playing with her band at The Half Moon in Putney on Monday 23 February.