Thursday, 22 April 2010

GIG REVIEW: Foy Vance, Bracknell Wilde Theatre, 21/04/10.

Foy Vance's own website says the following:

"His music is an evolving journey, a constant search for artistic expression captured in the moment, operating well away from industry standards.  Surely you’ll hear echoes of Otis Redding, Richie Havens, Tom Waits and Van Morrison in Foy’s music, legends he’s already being compared to and definite influences. An ever so modest Foy will laugh at these comparisons, but then again that’s what makes him so special." 

This was the second time I had seen Foy Vance in the last few months, having caught him at The Jericho Tavern, Oxford in December. Once again I paid about ten quid to see a performance that was truly priceless. He played for a good two hours and I was totally captivated from start to finish. I don't know how to even start to describe what a fantastic songwriter, musician and performer Foy is. He delivered a hugely diverse set and produced an amazing range of sounds with his great guitar playing, some skilfully used electronic loopy gadgetry and his gritty, soulful voice. The audience rocked along to his bluesy riffs and listened in pin-drop silence to his jaw-droppingly beautiful ballads. His final song, "Guiding Light" carried a particulary powerful emotional impact. If he were allowed, Foy would have played all night, and I for one would have happily listened all night. I have just ordered everything he has ever recorded from my local HMV and I can't wait to see him again.

This is the best recording of this song I could find, from a gig in Switzerland. His use of the loop recording technology is brilliant:

Foy Vance's incredible cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean":

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

LUKE HAINES: The anti-Britpop anti-hero.

Luke Haines is an English singer / songwriter / musician who has recorded music under various names and with different groups, including The Servant, The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder. Haines was born during the "Summer Of Love", in 1967, learned guitar in the red light district of Portsmouth and then formally studied music at the London College of Music.

His band The Auteurs began their careers while the heady daze of Britpop was still a dream and opened their account with the glorious "Showgirl", which had the gall to end itself for a period of two seconds before announcing itself officially to the pop landscape. Shortly afterwards, in 1992, he signed to Hut Recordings. The Auteurs first album, New Wave, was selected for the prestigious ("yeah, right", Haines once remarked,  “25K, guys have you not heard of inflation?“), Mercury Music Prize. However, just as the band looked like 'breaking through' to the mainstream Haines broke both of his ankles, resulting in the cancellation of much of their 1994 European tour. At the time he claimed "I jumped off a fifteen-foot wall while touring, ... to finish the tour and get the insurance" but later he denied that it was deliberate, writing "I merely drank too much wine and fell over. It happens." He spent most of the next year in a wheelchair, unable to gig.

Haines rejects the "Britpop" label as well as most of the bands that formed it. In fact he rejects pretty much everything apart from his own music, but he does it with wit, if not charm.

Haines is a brilliant songwriter, and also a pretty good book writer. His autobigraphical "Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall" is an acerbic and entertaining read. His current and infrequent shows are part acoustic, part electric and in the form of a retrospective. Catch one if you can.

The Auteurs perform "Lenny Valentino" on "Later With Jools Holland":

Luke Haines performs "Bad Reputation" at The Borderline, London, 2009:

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

INTERVIEW: Holly Kirby

Isle of Wight based singer / songwriter Holly Kirby's repertoire includes an impressive selection of original songs and covers. Many have a strong traditional folky feel but her influences are fairly diverse. Her original songs reveal that she is highly talented as a lyricist, a writer of subtle melodies and as a player of a wide range of instruments. She has released a number of singles, and her new album 'A Woman You Don't Know' is imminent. Holly is currently touring the IoW, and is listed (along with Paul McCartney and others!) as appearing at the 'Bestival' in September. Her previous live appearances include a collaboration with Amy MacDonald. Holly has been kind enough to reply to some questions that I put to her recently:

Nick: Hi Holly.
Holly: Hi Nick :)

Nick: Can you remind me when your album is due for release? Did you enjoy working on it?

Holly: I don't have a set release date yet, but it should be sometime this month. It's currently at the printers. All being well, I should receive the copies in about two weeks, which is when I'll release it.Working on the album was such a fantastic experience. I loved being in the studio. I actually compose all my music at home (in the kitchen!) and produce it on the computer, so when I went to the studio I took all the files with me and they tidied them up, and we decided to add and remove bits whilst I was over there. And of course I got to record my voice and guitar using their professional gear, which was great. I was very lucky to be able to work with some lovely people.

Nick: Would you like to be a full-time musician?

Holly: I'd love to be able to make a living doing what I love. Singing and songwriting is my passion and it would be like a dream to do what I love everyday. - But I imagine being a full-time musician is a bit like being unemployed. :-S I've had a little taste of it this year, and it's so hard to get people to give you a chance. You have to build up a name for yourself.

Nick: Do you think the ‘folk’ label makes it harder at all to draw in a wide audience? 

Holly: I've never really labelled myself, so I don't know…I've always said 'celtic/pop/folk' - so it's kind of ambiguous. I think just 'folk' suggests that you only sing 'folk songs' - and I couldn't commit myself to that. I love trying lots of different styles, I think I'd get bored if I plonked myself in just one genre. I do enjoy singing folk songs, but I also enjoy pop, electronic etc….on my websites I've got the little tagline 'A combination of Joni Mitchell and Enya with a quirky twist' to give visitors an idea of my style.

Nick: Do you listen to folk music mainly, or are your tastes more varied?

Holly: My tastes are extremely varied. At my gigs I cover songs by artists such as Sam Sparro, The Rolling Stones, The Cranberries, Amy MacDonald, Blondie, Eurythmics, Dido, Suzanne Vega…and I also love Ultravox, Nena, The Supremes, Loreena McKennitt, The Carpenters, Jeff Buckley, ATB, ELO, Mozart, Verdi, Grieg…I love music that makes you feel something and takes you away from the real world for a time…

Nick: What is it that you like about Joni Mitchell’s music in particular? Is she your major influence?

Holly: I love Joni because she's so unique. She has a certain way of putting things that really gets to me. I think it's a combination of her clever lyrics and complex melodies. And of course her voice is wonderful too. I'm generally influenced more by songs rather than individuals. But there are a few artists whose style I love, so you could say that they are my influences. Joni Mitchell is definitely one. - More on the lyrical side than anything. Joni's first album is dedicated to "Mr. Kratzman, who taught me to love words." - I think my next album should be dedicated to Joni Mitchell, who taught me to love words! Another great influence is Enya. I've been in love with her music since I was very little.

Nick: What was the video competition that you won? Which of your videos was the winner?

Holly: There was a competition on Amy Macdonald's website to win a chance to perform with Amy on stage. You had to upload a video of yourself singing her song 'Poison Prince' to her website and she chose her favourite one - and she picked mine! I was so happy. :) I uploaded the video and then forgot about it, thinking that I didn't stand a chance, but then I got a phone call saying that Amy had chosen my video as the winner! Which was really really cool.

Nick: What was it like appearing with Amy MacDonald? Did you actually perform with her?

Holly: It was so exciting! Yes, I went on and performed the song with her. She played and sang the first verse and chorus, and then I played and sang the next verse and chorus and then we both played and sang together. It was a brilliant experience and one that I'll never forget. :) Here's a link to the video

Nick: Is there a good music ‘scene’ on the Isle of Wight?

Holly: Yes! I think so - there are lots of up and coming bands, and lots of highly respected older music people. Then of course we've got the Isle of Wight Festival, Bestival, and the Summer Concert at Osborne House. There's always something musical going on.

Nick: Are there other local musicians that have impressed you at all?

Holly: Certainly, I love watching experienced performers and there are very talented ones on the Island. When I played at the Isle of Wight Festival last year I met some great local performers. It's always interesting watching people perform their original songs. Sometimes it feels like you've looked into their mind before you've had a chance to say 'hello'! :)

Nick: Your gig list looks impressive, how are your live appearances going? Do you perform solo, or with other musicians?

Holly: I mainly perform on my own, but I've done a couple of gigs as part of an acoustic duo which was fun. But all my gigs from now on are solo gigs. - I'm really enjoying them and learning something new every time!

Nick: You play an impressive array of instruments...what led you to the Appalachian dulcimer?

Holly: Joni did. :) I perform 'Carey' at gigs, which seems to go down well. I have to learn some more songs on it though...

Nick: Tea Leaves and Old Magazines is a beautiful song...was there any particular inspiration for it?

Holly: Thankyou very much. :) - I think it's just a little microcosm of everything that was going on in my life at the time. I wrote it on a 'miserable' day in February, and I suddenly thought - "why am I saying it's a 'miserable' day - OK, so it's not as bright as it could be, but they're the same trees outside that looked beautiful in the sun, so why should I stick my own negative label on them when it's me with the problem?" At school we were learning about War Literature, so that's where the inspiration for verse two came from. As a whole, the song is about always searching, but never finding. In life we look for answers that we know we'll never find.

Nick: Do you have songs that you particularly enjoy performing?

Holly: I love performing my originals because I can put the most expression into them. - I understand them fully because they came from inside me. A cover song is just my interpretation of the song put forward in my own way…it can never be as complete as an original.

Nick: Your latest videos are very impressive; did you have professional help with them?

Holly: Haha, thankyou. :) No I didn't have help. I do all my videos myself. - Film them, edit them etc. I'm too precise about what I want to do to get someone else to do it.

Nick: Would you recommend a musical gap year to others juggling with the music / university dilemma?

Holly: Hmmm…that's a tricky one. I think I'd say yes to that. When I was applying for Uni I applied for deferred entry, so I knew I had my place guaranteed for 2010. When school ended I didn't feel ready for Uni - like I'd guessed, so I took a 'break' to focus on my music. In this year I've been doing gigs, running a school choir, and produced my own CD…as well as learning how to drive and taking up acting again. It's been a great year for being independent and gaining more experience of the big wide world, and now I do feel a lot more ready for University.

Nick: What was the TV show that you performed on, or is that a well-guarded secret?

Holly: :) Haha! Nooo…it's not a secret. - I was on Stars In Their Eyes Kids when I was 15. - I performed as Enya, which was a wonderful experience. I adore Enya as much as I do Joni, so it was a great privilege. I actually received a little present from Enya herself to say well done! That was incredible!

Nick: Are you looking forward to appearing at the Bestival? 

Holly: YES! Definitely. :) The fancy dress theme this year is 'Fantasy' so I'm trying to think of my costume. I've never been before, but I'm really really looking forward to it. Apparently there's always a great atmosphere.

Nick: Thanks very much Holly.
Holly: You're welcome.

Holly  performs 'Riddles And Rhymes', one of her latest original songs:

Holly's version of Snow Patrol's 'Run' from 2007:


Holly Kirby's YouTube channel.
Holly Kirby's website

Sunday, 11 April 2010

GIG REVIEW: Diana Vickers, The Cooler, Bristol, 20/03/10.

I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from this gig. I loved Diana on the X Factor live shows, but I was not sure about some of her song choices. Of course the majority of the songs weren’t her choice at all, but With Or Without You and White Flag were excellent, whereas Smile just did not suit her. When she sang Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter at her audition all the judges instantly recognised her potential, but she was later, at times, pushed away from the style of music she would be more comfortable performing. On the X Factor tour Diana gave outstanding performances despite the unnecessary showy props – the bed, the telephone, the wind machine etc. She turned out an excellent performance in Little Voice, but in terms of singing of course Diana had to perform impersonations (apart from Sunlight).
My hopes were raised when I saw and heard Diana at some of her post-tour gigs, when she sang great covers like Snow Patrol’s Run and an indie-sounding version of Beyonce’s Halo. Even better was the ‘leaked’ Jumping Into Rivers – catchy and unique – with a definite ‘Diana’ sound. Then...Once. I wasn’t hugely keen at first but it grew on me. Next the tracks from the album sampler were leaked. A few tracks sounded exceptional but Remake Me and You worried me a bit because it sounded to electronic and over-produced, but I liked the song. I particularly liked the Boy Who Murdered Love, and the title of the album...Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree...brilliant! So much better than just calling it ‘Diana’ or whatever.
So as I said I wasn’t sure what to expect on the first official gig of Diana’s pre-album tour. My doubts disappeared as soon as Diana and her band hit the stage and started to bash out The Boy Who Murdered Love. This was the REAL Diana at last, singing an edgy and original song, backed simply by guitar, keyboards, drums and bass. It rocked! The fact that the club was pretty tiny really, so the audience (myself included) had to play sardines at the front of the stage, just inches from Diana and her band...this all added to the atmosphere. ALL the songs now sounded like they should; those that stood out where The Boy..., My Hip (Diana on the trumpet!), Once, an intense version of Just Say Yes (written originally for Diana by Snow Patrol's Gazza B), the slow ballad Numb...agh...they ALL stood out.
Diana’s confidence on stage has grown immensely. She looked stunning, wearing a bright red dress with diamondy bits on it (sorry, I am not Gok Wan). She OWNED the stage and showed a real appreciation towards the audience. “You’re amazing!” shouted one fan...”YOU’RE amazing” Diana replied in an instant. After the gig Diana stopped outside the club, as friendly as usual, signing autographs and posing for pics before being whisked away with her band in the tour bus. This was a great gig. Don’t take my word for it, there are already videos appearing on YouTube. But, importantly, see Diana Vickers and her band live, now, in a small venue, while you still can...there’s tickets out there. I promise you that you will not regret it. I do believe that many X Factor sceptics, those who think this is all too commercial and ‘poppy’, or say they just don’t like Diana Vickers’ voice will be won over if they get to a gig soon.

Set List:
  1. The Boy Who Murdered Love
  2. Remake Me and You
  3. N.U.M.B
  4. Put It Back Together Again
  5. Four Leaf Clover
  6. Jumping Into Rivers
  7. Just Say Yes
  8. My Hip
  9. Once
  10. Notice

Thanks to Kasera for the youTube upload.
Photograph by NickOLarse.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

YOUTUBERS: A Few Favourites

There's plenty of hopefuls out there with a decent voice, an acoustic guitar or maybe a keyboard, a bedroom or bathroom for acoustic effect...and a webcam. True there is some pretty sophisticated recording equipment used on some of these uploads, but some of them have that special something (I avoided saying the X factor) that make them stand out from the cybercrowd. Here are a few of my favourites:







Danielle Todd

The Bathroom Girl

Monday, 5 April 2010

NEW MUSIC: ortoPilot

One of the most impressive YouTube channels around at this time belongs to Manchester-based musician ortoPilot. The range of talent on display here is truly stunning. His cover versions are flawless; a number of his original songs are hits waiting to happen, and the video production is flawless. 'what's the point...' and 'Stay One more Day' are soulful ballads; 'Jolly Good Fun' written with fellow YouTuberNSG (seperate entry to follow) carries a mental health warning: After one listen this song will be a permanent fixture in the song zone of your brain. I always thought the Stylophone was an underrated instrument. Allow yourself plenty of time to browse this channel - just about every song here warrants repeated playing. ortoPilot is without a doubt one of my tips for the top in 2010.