We like Stage Door Guy here at Riot Towers. We had a copy of his latest album in 2020 which arrived just before things got really hectic towards the end of the year and we didn’t have time to get a review out. It’s a cracking album; the production is as raw as it comes, working perfectly with the post-punk/post-blues poetry packed with American musical references and very British lyrical references, particularly to Manchester bands. It’s somewhere between bonkers and brilliant and it spent a long time on the office stereo in November. Stage Door Guy is two people, Adam Brody (performer, writer and singer) and CJ Williams (guitar player) and each of them has shared their High Fives with us.

Adam

Over the last 8 years we have been organising an event called ‘Cocaine for Christmas’ in little basement venues in South East London. Always supported by some of the finest musicians in London. The event is named after our Xmas song we released many years ago (can be found on all streaming sites as can our recently released 2nd album ‘Wroclaw’) and is actually a love song about a broken heart and spending Xmas alone. We always have a packed room full of people singing heir hearts out to this song. It’s sing-a-longa Stage Door Guy. Of course, this year was different. We didn’t believe it would happen and then we got contacted last minute by a local venue, the New Cross Inn. London was in Tier 2. The venue capacity was halved. People seated. Table service. Masks. The staff were amazing. At short notice we got The Nathan Osgood Trio and The Jujubes to play. Two wonderful, wonderful bands. We did our little set and, as ever, it finished with ‘Cocaine for Christmas’ It felt like the whole room needed this sing-song. It felt communal. Everyone in that room of course had taken some risk just by being there. We all had measured that risk but I have never heard the song with so much meaning and passion. I guess at some point during this pandemic all of us have felt alone and isolated. We have all been increasingly atomized and his felt like a communal howl.

CJ

Witnessing Biden win the US election, in the company of friends and an incontinent greyhound with a broken leg. The dog had the broken leg, not me. The dog was also doped up to the eyeballs on painkillers, whereas I was supping champagne.

Adam

 I was lucky enough to have a little break with my partner in Cornwall towards the start of winter. We travelled with our pandemic dog. A Greyhound that my partner had fostered and then adopted from Romford Greyhound kennels. Jackflash was a former racer retired last December 6 wins out of 22 (we found that out from the code tattooed inside his ear). Greyhounds often have difficult lives in the racing world. Jackflash was nervous and wary when we first made his aquaintance. But it was about 4pm, it was cold and we were on a completely deserted beach. Finally, we let Jackflash off the lead!! And the joy of watching that dog tear across the beach was something that will stay with me forever. Unrestrained and absolute in his happiness. After that we sat in an empty restaurant overlooking the beach and momentarily the world felt all right.

CJ

Recording whoops and hollers for a song using a Tascam recorder ‘in the field’. Bunch of us stood in a small park in Forest Hill, safely spaced, and made it sound like a beach party.

Adam

Two albums I have enjoyed over the last year, one of which has made a lot of lists and the other less so (although it was well-received) are Fontaines DC’s, ‘A Hero’s Death’ and Jim Bob’s ‘Pop Up Jim Bob’

I like the vocal delivery and articulation in the Fontaines DC album (odd I know to mention articulation but so many vocalists eat up the lyrics they have spent so long working on) and the Jim Bob album I just find tremendous fun. Looking at the world and reflecting on the fact we might be fucked. It’s political in a world where artists are a little afraid of the political and prefer the personal.

CJ

Being dressed as a tree for the “Stop Your Whining” video. I got many compliments for my portrayal. (See video below)

Adam

For the last 12 months when you leave my partner’s flat you have to slam the door. There seemed to be nothing else that could be done. Sometimes it took 2 or 3 slams. She lives on the 2nd floor of a 3 storey building.and the slamming must have been infuriating for the neighbours. I am not known for my DIY. My brain doesn’t do logic or detail. However, a week or so ago I noticed a little latch on the lock which you have to press in every time you close the door. The slamming stopped. The door closes smoothly. This has been one of my greatest triumphs in life, never mind just this year.

CJ

The annual SDG ‘Cocaine for Christmas’ gig at the New Cross Inn, with everybody singing the lyrics to the song and everybody really feeling it: “It’s cocaine for Christmas, how hard can it be, to find me some solace, and good company…”

Adam

In the first lockdown, in the summer heat, I started reading again in the front yard. I absolutely appreciate the context. Compared with many people who had families to worry about, difficult relationships to deal with, idiot landlords or letting agents (idiot letting agents I have plenty of experience with) and deep financial worries. Within that context I was lucky enough to sit in my front yard, leave the phone switched off and read ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy. What an absolute joy – a beautiful and heartfelt tale of the Windrush generation. Sadly, all so relevant in the last few years. Not only was the book a highlight of the year but my concentration began to return. As a child I used to read for hours on end but that had reduced year on year until I was only really capable of reading for 15 minutes in between train and tube journeys in London but now I was reading again for hours. My attention once more returning to a tie before the phone became a master and I became an algorithmic consumer.

CJ

The nicest couple ever who let us rehearse in the basement of their coffee shop, and even let Adam lock up. Amazing kindness.

Here’s Allan’s final set of photos for this restricted year. He’s saved the monochromes until the end this time and we think we can see why.

All but one of these photos were taken before the first lockdown (incidentally, using bodies and lenses that have all been replaced now, if anyone’s interested) and they’re examples of the different reasons for using monochrome processing. I started taking family snaps in the sixties using black and white 120 roll film and I’ve had a bit of a nostalgic soft spot for it ever since (I was way too young to know anything about the culture wars over monochrome/colour played out by the pros – there was just no way I could afford colour film at that time). Moving forward nearly sixty years, I’m enjoying monochrome photography again, this time as an option.

Will Sexton @AMAUK Showcase January 2020

Will Sexton is the musical and marital partner of Amy LaVere and they played as a duo at AMAUK in Hackney this year. One of my usual reasons for monochrome processing is bland stage lighting and that was the case here as well. However, as soon as I flipped from colour, the shot took on a whole new meaning. Will’s stage image took the shot back about sixty years and evoked Ronnie Hawkins and maybe Duane Eddy. From Hackney to Memphis with one toggle:

Roseanne Reid @AMAUK Showcase January 2020

Yep, that Roseanne Reid; daughter of Craig of The Proclaimers and a cracking writer and performer. This wasn’t a question of the monochrome processing as an option, it was a necessity because the lighting was horrendous. It took a bit of time to find the angle where the lighting worked, but it was worth it:

Hope Winter @The Bedford

Oh those happy days at The Bedford when you could wander round the entire venue without a mask and get up really close to the artists with a 35mm lens. There’s a lot of luck involved in this because I happened to be right in front of Hope when she dropped really briefly into this pensive mood with her long hair highlighted and the embroidered jacket picked out perfectly:

Nicole Terry @The Essex Arms Brentwood

This was only a few weeks before lockdown. I was with my mate, fiddle and mandolin player Steve Stott who was seeing Morganway for the first time. I love Morganway; I love the quality of the playing, the songs and the energy. Nicole is a ball of fire on stage so this shot is a bit uncharacteristic, but it shows a contrast with her usual frantic bowing and backing vocals in one of those serene and focussed moments:

Iago Banet @Luna Lounge, Leytonstone

Just a few weeks ago, but it seems much longer now. This was an Acoustic Sanctuary livestream with Foxpalmer from the basement of Luna Lounge (which is a great venue) that I was invited to shoot some stills for. If you get a chance to see Iago solo or with ColorColour, I recommend you take it; you won’t be disappointed. This was one of those gigs that had monochrome stamped all over it from the start. Iago’s fairly mobile on stage and it’s usually just a question of catching the right moment:

When you think that this is the year music went over the cliff (well, live music certainly) we’ve been pretty busy with album reviews as artists faced difficult choices about whether to release their material in a time when they couldn’t tour to promote it. Despite those difficult decisions, we still reviewed over thirty albums this year and we asked Allan to pick out five of his personal favourites.

I’ve always loved the MusicRiot ethos of reviewing; it’s not about trashing albums that we aren’t keen on, it’s about highlighting the albums that we really like and telling the world why we like them. We don’t review high profile albums, nothing we say will help Springsteen, Dylan or Young sell half a dozen more units, but we might actually help someone self-releasing their work, even if it’s only with a quote to use on their next press release. Now I’ve got that out of my system, I’ll tell you about five albums that I’ve had on high rotation this year. As always, in no particular order:

“What in the World” – Michael McDermott

Michael McDermott keeps cropping up in these year end lists, with good reason. He’s a great songwriter and he knows how to present his songs on record and live. “What in the World” was a bit of a departure for Michael; his focus has shifted towards protest songs. When Michael takes a pathway, he commits to it completely. The title song is “Subterranean Homesick Blues” for 2020; it’s a headlong rush through the final year of Trump’s presidency and pulls no punches – ‘It’s not hard to see The President’s a criminal’. While “What in the World” is one of only two protest songs on the album (the other is “Mother Emanuel”), its power and ferocity mean that it defines the album, although there are plenty more songs from Michael’s post-addiction and recovery space to make a great and varied album.

“Can You See Me” – Maya Rae

This one was very different from the MusicRiot staples. Maya Rae isn’t the kind of artist we usually hear about from our sources. She sent a demo tape to producer Steve Dawson (Black Hen Records) and he hastily put a band together to record the album in three days. Maya wasn’t even eighteen at the time and she had already been singing professionally for six years. The album’s fresh and zingy and full of the insights about young people’s lives that you can only get from a young person. The musicianship on the album is superb as the band step effortlessly from pop to sinuous funk. Try it, you’ll love it.

“Iago Banet” – Iago Banet

I don’t think I’ve ever featured an entirely instrumental album before in my High Fives, but I’d never heard “Iago Banet” before this year. Iago plays in a style that he describes as Galician finger-style from south, south, south, south London. If you haven’t seen Iago play live you would think that each song features at least two guitarists (a bit like Martin Harley’s Weissenborn playing), but only one track on the album features a second guitar and that’s the fun blues hybrid ”Octopus One”. Iago’s playing evokes pictures ranging from Greater London scenes (“Morning at Greenwich Park”) to more prosaic domestic scenes (“There’s a Mouse In my Kitchen”). And there’s also a wonderful swing arrangement of Van Morrison’s “Moondance”. What more could you want?

“Tangle of Souls” – Scott Cook

To paraphrase the Marks & Spencer advertising strapline, this isn’t just music. “Tangle of Souls” as a standalone album is a superb piece of work, but it comes packaged with a hefty booklet containing Scott’s writings, printed on had-crafted paper. It all adds to the experience, but the album stands on its own musical and lyrical merits. The album’s centrepiece “Say Can You See” is a political statement that isn’t partisan; it’s about not trusting anyone from the DC elite. The album has more of a political edge than some of Scott Cook’s earlier work, including an update of Dick Blakeslee’s “Passin’ Through”, which includes a reference to 1970s Chilean martyr Victor Jara. It’s an album that will make you listen and make you think.

“The Sleepless Kind” – Andy Fleet

This was another one that came out of left field. Andy is a musician who makes a living in the same way as a lot of musicians these days; a bit of performance, a bit of recording, a bit of teaching and a bit of anything else that comes along. “The Sleepless Kind” tells the stories of the musicians who entertain us in our clubs and bars every night (or did before the onset of this plague) and gives us a unique perspective on Soho through the eyes of an owl. It’s an album that rewards repeated plays and has an end of the day feel to it. You should probably listen while nestling a single malt in one hand.

And here’s a little bonus ball for you. I wouldn’t normally include a compilation in this selection, but this one merits a mention.

“The Man from Leith” – Dean Owens

This is a seventeen-song Dean Owens retrospective. I’ve followed Dean’s work for nearly ten years now and he’s a songwriter who writes beautifully about Scottish and global themes. There are songs about family, songs about friends, songs about events and even a sing inspired by Ronnie Lane. If you want an introduction to Dean’s body of work, then this is the perfect place to start. And whether he’s playing solo or with a band you should try to see him live as well.

Here at Riot Towers, we’re big fans of Suzie Ungerleider, better known as Oh Susanna. She’s a superb songwriter who also knows how to pitch the delivery of her songs. In 2019, she celebrated the twentieth birthday of her “Johnstown” album with a remaster and rerelease and it sounds fabulous. For various reasons, we’ve missed her recent UK appearances, but we’ll be making up for that on the next tour, especially if she’s mixing the drinks. Here’s Suzie’s contribution to this year’s High Fives. Cheers!

 

Top 5 Cocktails you can make very easily at home to impress your friends and get quite drunk.  Beware!

 

Paper Plane

1 1/2 ounces amaro (preferably Nonino)

1 1/2 ounces Aperol

1 1/2 ounces bourbon

1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice, strained

 

Whiskey Sour

2 oz Bourbon

3⁄4 oz Fresh lemon juice

1⁄2 oz Simple syrup

1⁄2 oz Egg white (optional)  

 

Pancho Villa

2½ oz blanco tequila

½ oz Royal Rose Three Chile Simple Syrup

¼ oz Agave Syrup

½ Fresh Lime Juice

2 Dashes of Orange Bitters

 

Egg Nog

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 shot rum or bourbon (optional)

 

Old Fashioned

1 1/2 oz Bourbon or Rye whiskey

2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 Sugar cube

 

You can make large batches of these for your holiday parties.

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