Let’s be honest about this, I’m just using this to buy time until a few more guest contributions start to come in and I’m seriously hoping that’s going to happen some time soon. What we have in this selection is some shots that managed to be left out of the original selections for various reasons that I’ll explain as we go along. Anyway, I like them and they’re pretty much all we’ve got for today, so let’s just run with it, shall we?

 

Basia (Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band) @The Vaults, Leake Street

The only reason this one didn’t make the cut for the original monochrome set is that it was only shot on Saturday December 10th.I don’t know what it would have displaced, but it would have been there. I’m a huge fan of this band; musically they’re superb, they’re great fun and there’s always something very visual going on. There aren’t many bands with five visually striking characters, but these guys are always great to photograph and they always throw some interesting shapes. The biggest problem is knowing where to look; there’s always so much going on. This is Barbara, or Basia, whichever you prefer.

Sound of the Sirens and Samantics at The Slaughtered Lamb

Did I ever mention that I love Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood, or Sound of the Sirens, as they’re better known? Yep, thought so. The Holy Grail of Sirens photography is to get a shot with Hannah and Abba facing you, but without microphones in front of their mouths. Sounds easy, yeah? I beg to differ. Myself and fellow gig photographer Richard Bolwell have been trying for years without success. I’m still not sure that this qualifies, because it’s between songs during the encore, but it captures the spirit of a great night and the dynamic between the three people on stage.

Red Berryn (Dominic Cooper) at Leek Blues & Americana Festival

I decided to escape from London for a few days to head Up North to Leek in Staffordshire, where I worked for a while in an earlier incarnation. I was heading for a Graham Parker gig in Holmfirth on a Sunday, but it coincided with the festival. In for a penny then. The format of the Festival is lots of pubs putting on gigs of various sizes over three days and you never quite know what you’re going to get. What we got early doors on Friday was Red Berryn who did Chuck Berry. So, all the usual duck walk shots, but then I got that brief moment of complicity between performer and photographer that just worked.

Julian Eccleston (Houndstooth)

The band formerly known as Coffeepot Drive; are you still with me? OK. Whichever name they go by, this band is hot, hot, hot. I took Mrs M along to see them and told her that if she didn’t love them, I would sell all my guitars. Well, the Les Paul and its poor relations are still with me and Houndstooth are still the funkiest rock (or rockiest funk) band I know. And they are lovely people. One of the many times I saw them play this year was in the Caffe Nero tent at Cornbury Festival. The lighting was, well, daylight filtered through canvas basically, so the challenge was to find some visual interest. Julian saved the day by wearing mirrored shades that nicely reflected the framework of the tent. I owe you one Julian.

Kathryn Williams (supporting Stone Foundation at Islington Assembly Hall)

Time to ‘fess up. When I picked the original High Five black and whites, I completely forgot about this one, which is pretty dim given that Kathryn really liked it. As always at The Assembly Hall, the lighting was variable but OK if you picked your moments. If you’ve seen more than half a dozen of my photos you probably realise that I tend to get in quite close and crop quite tight. This one needed the space isolating Kathryn and emphasising the apparently pensive mood of her stance. I was really happy with this one, even on a night when I shot Paul Weller and Graham Parker, as well as Stone Foundation.

 

This has been incredibly difficult to narrow down; these are all albums I’ve reviewed here this year. I got down to nine and then it started to get tough (and I started to worry about offending friends). So there are no apologies for having a few honourable mentions at the end of this piece. As always, in no particular order:

For All Our Sins” – Sound of the Sirens – I’ve been a fan since the first time I saw them. They’ve been building a reputation and a fanbase for a few years now, self-releasing a couple of EPs and an album but this one was backed by a recording deal which meant that Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood were able to move beyond their classic live sound of guitars (and mandolin), foot percussion and stunning harmonies to introduce keyboards, choirs and even a bit of psychedelia. At the album launch party, Jeremy Vine tweeted live footage of Abbe and Hannah and even played the lead track “Smokescreen” on his Radio 2 show the next day. Give it a listen here.

Street Rituals” – Stone Foundation – This is another band that I’ve been following for a few years now and marvelling at the way their talent and work ethic has taken them to the top of the vinyl charts in 2017. This album is the best so far (although “To Find the Spirit” and “A Life Unlimited” are bloody good as well) and having Paul Weller as producer and contributor didn’t do any harm either. The album harks back to the socially-conscious soul albums of the early seventies turned out by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield and has the band pinning their political hearts firmly to their sleeves. And I may have mentioned that they are an absolutely lovely bunch of people.

Gold Rush” – Hannah Aldridge – This is Hannah’s second album; crowd-funded and featuring songs she’s been working and collaborating on with various writers for a few years. How do you categorise Hannah’s music? Well, the easy answer is Americana, but that’s just a marketing tool these days (same as ‘blues’ really, with or without an upper-case B). The last time I interviewed Hannah, she was favouring ‘Southern rock’, hinting at Tom Petty, although this album has a distinct feel of the Stones “Sticky Fingers” on the rock songs. But put the rockers to one side and you have two absolutely beautiful melancholy slow songs, the title track and “Living on Lonely”. Both of those songs are lyrically intense and melodically gorgeous and that’s a combination I can never resist. Hannah’s going to be back in the UK next year; you really should make the effort to go out and see her.

A Girl in Teen City” – Oh Susanna – I loved this album from the very first listen; it’s built around the theme of growing up in Vancouver in the eighties. It’s poetic, it’s melodic and it’s humorous, but most of all it’s human. It’s the story of a real person, Suzie Ungerleider, and her adolescence, with references to the music of the era and so much more; the “American Graffiti” style of “Thunderbird” and the Springsteenesque widescreen of “My Old Vancouver”. Honestly, my words can’t do it justice, you should really listen to it for yourself.

Unfinished Business” – Paul Brady – If you survive as a musician for over fifty years, you’re doing something right. In Paul Brady’s case, he’s doing a lot of things right. He’s still writing superb songs, still picking good covers and he’s still surrounding himself with top-flight musicians who know how to sell a song without overdoing it. This is an album that says ‘if you’re good enough, you’re young enough’. All the experience is there and it all sounds so deceptively effortless. Make some time to listen to it over the holiday.

And those honourable mentions? How about “The Penny Collector” – Carrie Elkin, “Mockingbird Soul” – Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough, “Static in the Wires” – Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro and “Tennessee Night” – Ed Dupas.

 

If you want to treat yourself or someone close to you to who’s a music fan to something interesting for Christmas, then we’ve got a few ideas for you. There are books, an album and a very interesting merchandising idea.

Sound of the Sirens merchandising – I love Sound of the Sirens. Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood are incredibly talented writers and performers, but there’s a lot more to it than that. They attract like-minded people into their orbit and create friendships between fans from all over the country. They also have some interesting ideas about merchandising. Selling mugs is fairly standard, but why not take it a stage further and sell tea towels with a picture of the band. And what a great strapline: “Wipe your mugs with our mugs”.

 

“Don’t You Leave Me Here: My Life” (book) – Wilko Johnson – Wilko has put together a memoir/autobiography that covers more than forty years in the music business, success, failure, cancer diagnosis and recovery, and coming to terms with his status as a legend. It’s a great fly-on-the-wall insight into the workings of bands and the music business and it’s well worth reading. I had a bit of a shock when I realised that the Solid Senders bass player who I had photographed in 1977 in Dundee was the same person I photographed playing bass in Phil Burdett’s band in  Southend last year. Small world.

“I Knew You When” (album) – Bob Seger – Another one of my teenage heroes who’s still around and still relevant. This album came out of the blue; his 2014 album “Ride Out” had the feel of an album that was closing out a career and it might have been his swansong but for a tragic event. His old friend from Detroit, Glenn Frey, died earlier this year and this album is largely inspired by their friendship. Sometimes it’s right in your face (the album cover, for example) and sometimes it’s a bit more subtle – the title track is classic mid-tempo Seger with no names mentioned, but it’s obviously about Glenn Frey. It’s sad that it took such a tragic event to kickstart the album, but wonderful to hear a hero still so fired up about social issues.

“Going on the Turn” (book) – Danny Baker – It’s the third volume of Danny Baker’s memoirs, covering events to the present day, including his battle with head and neck cancer and high profile local radio sacking. He’s a natural writer who always manages to find a unique twist on even the most difficult subjects. It’s a life-affirming book and it’s all based in the area I’m working in at the moment, which gives it a nice personal touch. It’s a great read.

“Some Fantastic Place” (book) – Chris Difford – There’s a link to the previous book; Danny Baker went to the same school as Chris and their careers have touched at many points. I’ve always been a massive fan of Squeeze and this is a fascinating insight into the fraught relationship between Chris and Glenn Tilbrook. He doesn’t try to pretend that he’s perfect (far from it) and the book’s all the better for that. The only criticism (if you’re a geek like me) is that it would have benefited from some more rigorous fact-checking. It’s still a fascinating read.

 

musicriot 2017How’s everyone doing? We’re almost a third of the way through the year now and it’s about time to look at how things are shaping up and to give you some news about the direction we’re taking here at MusicRiot. Over the years we’ve evolved from reviewing everything that popped through the letterbox (and now it pops in to the inbox) to our current approach of only reviewing things that we really believe in and want you to hear (and there’s plenty of that to keep everyone busy at Riot Towers). And we don’t like negativity; you can get enough of that in the NME or letters/comments pages of the specialist music magazines and websites. So, if you think there aren’t many one or two star reviews, that’s the reason. There’s so much good music out there that we want to focus on, whatever the genre.

And we’re having a pretty good year so far. Of the 2017 predictions, Ags Connolly has released a very good and critically-acclaimed second album, Stone Foundation signed to 100 Per Cent records and charted nationally at 25 with their “Street Rituals” album, Sound Of The Sirens have their album “For All Our Sins” released at the end of May on DMF Records and they’re playing the Fields of Avalon stage at Glastonbury. Hannah Aldridge’s stunning second album “Gold Rush” is out on June 16, and Dean Owens has delayed the release of his latest album “Southern Wind” until (probably) early 2018 to focus on yet another side project named Redwood Mountain with traditional fiddle player Amy Geddes. Watch this space for more on that one.

As for MusicRiot, we’re going to launch a new review feature very soon called “Sound Bites”, where we take a brief look at albums and singles that are interesting and worth listening to but don’t quite get the full review treatment. No star ratings, no judgements, just a recommendation to give it a listen.

That’s about it for now. Keep your eyes, ears and mind open and check out our Facebook page to find out what we’re up to.

Sound-of-the-Sirens-FOR-ALL-OUR-SINS-packshot-300x300[1]The last two years have been a bit of a whirlwind for Sound of The Sirens. Over that period, Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood have risen irresistibly out of the local and support slot circuit to playing major festivals and headlining their own tours. They’ve won many supporters along the way with their superbly-crafted songs, beautiful harmonies and exhilarating live performances. All that’s missing so far is the chance to convert that to national airplay. “For All Our Sins” should be the chance to put that right.

The opening of the first song, the lead track “Smokescreen” is a good indicator of the new approach with the addition of bass and drums and some Spanish style nylon-strung guitar and percussion giving the song an added dimension. It’s not so much a move away from their live sound as a subtle augmentation. The arrangement reminds me of the way Al Stewart was produced in the mid-seventies, an he’s still being played on commercial radio forty years later. Hannah and Abbe’s voices and instruments are still right up there in the mix, but the addition of some more daytime radio-friendly instruments and a few hooks have certainly worked. Jeremy Vine thinks so; he was at the album launch a couple of weeks ago and played the song on his Radio 2 show the following day. That’s a pretty impressive flash-to-bang time.

There are a couple of songs that have been reworked for the album, and it’s interesting to compare the originals with the new versions. Both “Together Alone” and “In This Time” have been smoothed out a little, with the vocals coming down a couple of notches to blend better with the other instruments, and some slight structural changes. Using a drummer has made the transitions between sections smoother, particularly when the tempo changes, and the production team has introduced some studio effects (some dub echo in “Together Alone”) and even created a psychedelic vibe with the ambient sounds, echo, and reverb of “The Circus”.

But all of the studio wizardry’s just window dressing if the raw material isn’t right. Abbe and Hannah’s songwriting is a huge part of their appeal. They write with a darkly poetic romanticism about subjects that are important; mental health in “The Voices”, the impermanence of relationships in “In This Time” and maybe even embittered journalists (amongst other things) in “Smokescreen”. They often explore the elemental side of human experience (“Chaos”) but there’s usually a message of empowerment in there as well. They care passionately about what they do.

With “For All Our Sins”, Sound of the Sirens have succeeded in creating studio versions of their powerful and dynamic songs for mainstream consumption without losing the creative fire in the process. The songs will be there on their upcoming tour and during the festival season in all their dynamic and noisy glory but, for now, this sounds like the next step up the ladder.

“For All Our Sins” is released on DMF on 26 May 2017.

Meanwhile, you can have a look at this:

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.

2016 brought more than its fair share of challenges but also a respectable amount of great music, live and recorded. With 2017 knocking on the door, this is probably a good time to start looking forward again. I’m not making any rash predictions this year; I’m just going to highlight a few things that you should look out for.

ags-scrollerAgs Connolly

 Ags Connolly has his second album, “Nothin’ Unexpected”, out in February and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. It’s produced once again by Riot Towers favourite Dean Owens (more about him later) and it should capture Ags in fine form, delivering his fine Ameripolitan songs in his rich, smooth baritone voice. Since his debut “How About Now”, Ags has been touring extensively in the UK and across the pond, including a high profile support slot for Rosanne Cash in 2014 and he’s never been on better form. We should be reviewing this one very soon.

09) Stone Foundation Stone Foundation

 These guys have been working their butts off for years now pursuing their new soul vision with a combination of hard work on the gig circuit to build up a devoted following and release some quality albums. They’ve raised their profile year on year and been rewarded with a record deal for their upcoming album. Each of their albums has been a progression from the previous one, so this one should be a bit special. They also have a reputation for attracting some interesting special guests, so we’re eagerly anticipating this one.

04) Hannah Aldridge Hannah Aldridge

 I know, this starting to sound like a broken record (whatever that is), but you really should be listening to Hannah Aldridge. Like many artists, she’s gone down the crowdfunding route to get her new album made. It’s her second, following her superb debut “Razor Wire” and Hannah tells me that the style has shifted towards a more rock sound (she did a lot of the writing using a Telecaster rather than an acoustic) and from the songs she’s played live already, it sounds like another outstanding album’s on the way, with an eta of June 2017.

 01) DeanDean Owens – “Southern Wind”

 Another example of 2016 crowdfunding; Dean Owens wrote most of the album before raising the money to record it in Nashville with his dream team, including producer and guitar player extraordinaire Will Kimbrough. Dean’s been working incredibly hard, over the last couple of years particularly, to get some attention for his songs and he’s been rewarded by national exposure from Bob Harris and a support slot for Rosanne Cash. Here’s hoping “Southern Wind” pushes him into the mainstream.

07) Abbe & HannahSound of the Sirens second album

 Oh god, he’s not still going on about Sound of the Sirens, is he? I am, and like everyone else featured here, the reason is that they’re very good. Despite playing just about every festival in the UK this summer, Abbe and Hannah still found time to record an album. I’ve tried to get some details, but the Sirens are staying schtum, apart from the fact that it’s a bit different. If the new songs I’ve heard live are any indication, it’s going to be very good. Onwards and upwards. 2017 here we come.

 

Even when a gig’s going really well, there’s sometimes a very special moment when all the stars align to produce a musical epiphany (as the NME described Thin Lizzy’s seamless shift into “The Boys are Back in Town” on “Live and Dangerous”). These perfect moments can have many forms and they aren’t always strictly about the music. Let me explain.

Wade Bowen and Willy Braun @The Borderline

wade-scrollerTowards the end of a great set where Wade and Willy took turns to perform their own songs and a few covers, Wade started to play the audience a little by asking who had travelled furthest to see the gig. The audience managed to cover a fair chunk of England, but then Wade stopped in his tracks and repeated the question to someone right at the front of the stage who confirmed that, yes, he did say Spain. Luis, and his son (also Luis) had flown from Spain that day and were flying back straight after the gig. Wade made sure that they got a huge ovation and, judging by the beaming grins, topped off a perfect night for father and son. Next time I think that I can’t be bothered to go all the way to Camden or Shepherds Bush for a gig, I’ll remember Luis and what dedication to live music really means.

Hannah Aldridge @The AMA UK Showcase, Hackney

04) Hannah AldridgeThe acoustic room at this showcase was truly acoustic; no amplification at all for vocals or instruments. All the artists, including Dean Owens and Danni Nicholls rose to the occasion, and Hannah Aldridge played a flawless set to a spellbound and appreciative audience. The night peaked when Hannah introduced a new song from her upcoming second album. The song was “Gold Rush”, a haunting tale of growing up and growing old in small-town America that transfixed the audience from start to finish; not a whisper and barely a breath until the song was over. Hannah’s the real deal: singer, player and superb songwriter.

Sound of the Sirens@ Bush Hall

09-abbeThis was a big deal for Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood, headlining their own show at the prestigious Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush. Following great performances from Sadie Horler and Wildflowers, Abbe and Hannah soon hit their stride and demonstrated their dynamic range and exquisite harmonies. They featured a cover that I’ve heard them play before, the Simon and Garfunkel song “Sound of Silence”. Something about the ambience of the room, the pure and perfect harmonies and the way song highlights Abbe and Hannah’s vocal and instrumental power created a moment of magic in west London on an October night.

The Mighty Wah! @Water Rats

pete-wylieStart to finish, all killer no filler. Pete Wylie still has it and his fans still adore him. The band didn’t need to win over the crowd but they still gave it the beans. Pete joked about hoping that musicians would stop dying soon, because Wah! were constantly adding songs to the set as tributes. All of the anthems appeared in all the right places, but just as “Sinful” was simmering away nicely something almost mystical happened; fans looked at each other in disbelief as the song morphed seamlessly into “Heroes” as a tribute to the Thin White Duke. No big fanfare, just an effortless transition from one anthem to another.

Underhill Rose @Green Note

03-salleyThis was already a memorable occasion. A local power cut in Camden, the room lit by candles and tea lights and a completely unplugged set by Eleanor Underhill, Molly Rose Reed and Salley Williamson meant that no-one would forget this gig in a hurry, but the most surreal part was still to come, with a cover of “These Boots Were Made for Walking” featuring a lead vocal from bass player Salley Williamson and a spontaneous eruption of clapping, singing and whooping all through the room. This was a band and a crowd that were determined to have a good time whatever it took.