Yola – Rough Trade, Bristol

Wednesday 27th February, 2019

Rough Trade has been such a bonus to Bristol, both as a record shop, and as a live venue that I keep an eye on their listings keenly. It is perfect for events like tonight, record launches and intimate shows. It was the first time I’d been seated there, I’d like more of that please Rough Trade.

I got the ticket for this quite a while back, based solely on the description on Rough Trade’s website.  Then the more I read about Yola, the more I knew I would like her. A local lass, from Portishead, and with a fairly interesting life behind her, I was expecting songs full of heart and soul. I got them.

Soulful, country tinged and BIG is all I can say about Yola’s voice. You just believe her. When she sings about walking through fire you know, just know, feel in your bones, that she really has. Even without her telling the story of actually being on fire and watching her home burning, the power, control and storytelling of her voice carries you on the journey with her. Allegedly tonight she was tired, having flown in from Nashville on Monday, but if this was Yola half asleep I’m kinda scared as to what she would be like fully awake! I’m not sure the microphone was entirely needed, I’m pretty sure we would have heard her without it. From next door.

Powerful of voice and personality she deserves all the plaudits being thrown at her. I can imagine hearing most of these songs on radio in 20 years and singing along, the way I do now to Aretha or Dusty or Loretta Lynn. Anyone who can marry perfect technique with emotional clout is a superb singer. Anyone who can sing country and soul with a tinge of blues at the same time is a superb singer. Anyone who can take their story and make is universal is a superb singer. Anyone who can sound fresh and timeless all at once is a superb singer.  Yola is all that.

She tours towards the end of May, hitting Bristol again on June 1st. Sadly I won’t be able to get to that show, as I would love to hear Yola with full band. If you can, you should. You should also buy the album.

I love country music and I love soul music. Yola is both in the most beautiful blend. The sort of great pop tunes I thought no one made anymore. The ones that make you sing, dance and feel things. Proper, well crafted pop songs with stories, heart and great production. You should hear them, you’ll love them.

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Daylight Music – Union Chapel, London

Saturday 23rd February, 2019

My second trip to Daylight Music this year, another early coach on a Saturday morning. What could tempt me out? Could it be the cake, the music, the beautiful venue or the lovely people who run Daylight Music? Perhaps all of the above. If you are ever at a loose end in London of a Saturday lunchtime when Daylight Music is on, just pop in. It’s ever so friendly and there is always someone on the bill worth listening to.

Today I treated myself to lunch as well as cake (I do hope you’ve been practicing how to say Quesidillas, Ben!) and an excellent decaf tea (rarer than you’d think) and took in the atmosphere of the stunning Union Chapel on a sunny day. Light streamed through the windows and it was lovely.

First up today was Victoria Hume on piano, with support on guitar and viola. A perfect way to start, lovely and gentle, just what a Saturday lunchtime needed.

The inbetween act (whose names I’ve forgotten, sorry) popped up playing sax in the gallery and double bass in the pulpit, which is typical of DM’s humour and relaxed style.

Robert Stillman was next out, playing tape loops and saxophone. This was more experimental and jazzy and I liked it. It got quite weird and dark at points, which I also liked.

Andrew Wasylyk had travelled all the way from Aberdeen to perform for us and played stripped back versions of The Paralian, his latest work. Just him on piano and Robbie on trumpet. It was lush. The last track, sparse piano and recorded speaking voice, had me moist of eye. Beautiful. Haunting. I bought the CD on the way out.

All of today’s acts were worth showing up for, DM is an ace idea and if I lived in London I’d be there every Saturday that it’s on.

 

 

Lau – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 21st February, 2019

Again, the intention wasn’t for this to take so long to write, sorry Lau. Migraines suck is all I can say by way of explanation.

How many more times can I tell you how beautiful and lovely St George’s is? How good it’s acoustics are? Every time I go perhaps! This was another flash sale purchase, making the ticket £11.25. Making music accessible, financially, is vital and I am really grateful to St George’s for understanding that.

I walked in, having worked all day in the NHS, to a banner at the back of the stage declaring “WE LOVE THE NHS” so I already had a soft spot for Lau. The stage was bedecked with interesting looking lighting and props that hinted that this wasn’t to be a  traditional folk gig. Lau were billed as experimental folk, hence why I bought a ticket, as I like both folk and experimental music. I stayed in my 3rd row side balcony seat for the first half and couldn’t see Aidan on the fiddle at all, but I could hear him and he sounded ace. As did Kris and Martin. And Agnes, who you really need to see to appreciate in full I think! (Agnes is not human is all I’m saying). This first half was pretty good, with songs from their previous albums.

It was in the second half where it all really came to life for me, however. I had snuck across the aisle to an empty front row seat in the balcony so that I could see as well as hear everything (this is one of the things I love about St George’s – they never tell you off for this, as long as the seat was empty they don’t mind). We were treated to the whole of Midnight and Closedown, their newest release. An album all about isolation in all its forms. It was beautiful in its melancholy and I was weeping at points. There were raw nerves touched with music, emotions not named but explored and I loved it. The genteel lighting and stagecraft added and enhanced, a touch of theatricality helped expose the truth of the music.

Someone asked me on twitter what experimental folk was, buy Lau’s album and hear it, is what I want to say. It is the marriage of traditional instruments like the fiddle, guitar and accordion with electronics and keyboards to produce harmonies of acoustic/electronic music as well as voice. It is ensuring the traditions of folk are not lost, but that they speak of today, as well as yesterday. It is Lau and their wonderful album, which I feel very lucky to have heard live in full.

I promised good words, I hope these suffice.

 

Ohmme – The Louisina, Bristol

Wednesday 20th February, 2019

I wasn’t planning on this taking nearly a week to write, but there was work, other gigs, a daytrip to London and a migraine that all got in the way.

The Louie is a much-loved Bristol venue but one I swore off after an uncomfortable evening there when it was crowded. It’s the upstairs room of a pub, nothing grand or glamorous, but they do make the most of the sound and they have a wide range of acts playing on a very regular basis. The pub downstairs also does a pretty good Sunday lunch I’m told and the location, right on the edge of the harbour, lends it some history. I have felt uncomfortable in there due to the low ceiling and shape of the room. Being that the only way in or out is a narrow staircase and you can see why I’m not the happiest in there.

Yet I found myself willing to give it another try. The fault lies with Colston Hall, who put this gig on and that Ohmme sounded too good a prospect to miss. That plus the ticket, thanks to the culture flash sale, being only £5.72. I knew it wouldn’t be a sold out, crowded gig and that therefore I could feel safe(r). After realising just how few women I saw in either of the past 2 years of gigging, I am making concerted efforts to see female bands, Ohmme included.

I arrived just after the support band, local outfit Malarkey, had taken to the stage. They were young and pretty good. Aptly named, their look was pretty strong too. The coolest member by far was the bass player (obviously). If you like lads bashing out noisy guitar tunes then have a listen. It was nothing original, but they played well and sounded like a decent live outfit.

The small crowd all disappeared down to the bar, leaving me alone to perch on a speaker waiting for Ohmme. They came on earlier than billed, so the crowd was reasonably sparse, but that suited me. More people did join, including one annoying dude who kept being slightly too close behind me.

Here is a little tip for blokes; when a woman moves away from you and deliberately angles her body so that she is no longer stood directly in front of you, then you need to back away as you have made her uncomfortable. Quite possibly she has had this happen before at a gig, on the tube, bus, anywhere else and been groped. Happens all the fucking time in crowded environments and us gals have no way to tell if you are a decent bloke who just  wants to be close to the stage or is going to put his hands all over us ok? So, please and especially when the venue is not sold out, give women a little more room. I was on my own, making me feel that little bit more vulnerable. That’s also why I didn’t say something to him at the time, I’m five foot nothing and he wasn’t. I was alone. He wasn’t.

Him aside (and thankfully he went off to the bar a couple of times) I was a lot more comfortable at the Louie this evening. It wasn’t busy and I had clear line of sight to the door, as well as the stage.

Ohmme helped this enormously. They can both play the shit out of a guitar and their voices, one jazz low and full of smoke, the other higher in register, complimented perfectly. The songs were long, experimental in places and constantly went off in directions I wasn’t expecting. When they announced they were to play a Bowie cover, I thought, that takes some balls, then when they said it was from Black Star I was seriously impressed. They did it well. In the encore they did a B52’s number I’m not familiar with and that sounded pretty awesome too. As did all of their original stuff. If you like edgy rock music then I think you would like Ohmme.

Seeing two talented women wig out on the guitar was such a pleasure. I enjoyed the gig and had a good time. I shall happily venture back to The Louisiana again, just as long as it’s not for a sold out gig.

Silje Nergaard – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 14th February, 2019

I should have written this sooner. Partly I forgot, partly I wasn’t sure what to say and partly it’s half term and I’ve been with my boy. I am finding it increasingly difficult to write this blog, something I didn’t think would happen. When I have incredible, amazing experiences at gigs it is easier, but when I have a perfectly nice time I am not sure what to say. I have become self conscious of having an audience and self censoring about what I say. When this was an exercise in documenting things for myself and 3 people read it, it was easy. Now that I know venues and artists read as well as total strangers I get nervous.

I had seen Silje in the listings and went back and forth about going. I like jazz, I am making a point of seeing more female artists, I had nothing else to do on Valentine’s night, yet my instinct was that I should sit this one out. Yet. St George’s is beautiful with wonderful acoustics and have been enormously supportive of me. So I went. Any concerns about it being a romantic evening were unfounded and the warm and welcoming atmosphere of St George’s and its patrons helped a great deal.

Silje has been around 25 years, spending time in London in the 90’s trying to be a pop star (with some success) before settling back in her native Norway where she has enjoyed a very successful jazz career. I’ve come to like jazz (I’ve 6 tickets booked for the Bristol Jazz Festival for starters) but as with most other genres of music the kind of jazz I like is a little less mainstream than Silje’s. This was smooth, dinner party jazz, perfectly palatable and pleasant but not really for me. She has a wonderful voice, which did sound utterly lovely in the gorgeous acoustics of St George’s, but it was a touch too controlled and perfect. I know that sounds silly, but the emotion in a voice is what connects and you don’t have to be a technically perfect singer to reach another’s soul. Silje is clearly an experienced and excellent performer and singer, but that magic something that made me fall in love was missing. It was too polished and rehearsed a performance for me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Silje’s music, the reaction of the rest of the audience showed that, I’m just more at home with less commercial music.

Of the songs I can remember, the ones about her children, stood out for me. There was a naturalness and emotion to them that I could connect with more easily. I also liked the track she sang in Norwegian as well as the Norwegian harp she played towards the end and I would have liked to have heard more of both.

Overall I am glad I ventured out. Silje does have an amazing voice, and there is nothing wrong with having a perfectly pleasant time. I guess it is about what music means to and for you. If, like many, it is for relaxing, passing time, having an evening out, then Silje would have been perfect. For me, where music is life force, essential and an emotional release valve, it wasn’t.

 

 

 

 

Poppy Ackroyd – Colston Hall Foyer, Bristol

Wednesday 13th February, 2019

When this one came up in the listings I was excited, Poppy is a composer whose work I admire and to get to see her live was something I was very much looking forward to.

The first person I saw when I got into Colston Hall was Jeff, so I knew I would feel comfortable and enjoy myself. There aren’t many people who understand just what music means to me, but he is one of them. He shares the enthusiasm and passion for live music.We bump into each other at gigs, but also at bus stops and in Tesco’s as we are neighbours!

The stage was a lot lower this evening and the seats were further back (thank you for listening CH) which also helped, it felt a lot more relaxed and intimate to not be staring straight up.

Support came from Ocean Floor, playing modulated synths (thanks Jeff, I’ve never known what to call the boxes with wires on before!). A shy performer who just wanted to present his music. Which was a little dark and slightly disturbing. If it sounded like a dream, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant one. There were sounds reminiscent of car alarms or street bustle, as if they were interrupting the flow of the dream.

Poppy. What do I say about Poppy. Sometimes I need to write these blog posts quickly, near the time of the gig, to help me process and sometimes I need to take a step back to think, to ponder, to allow words to accumulate in my brain. I felt torn as whether to write this last night or today. Ideally I would be waiting even longer I think, but I have another gig tonight and the memory gets muddled nowadays.

A piano, a very cool looking violin and loop pedal are all Poppy needs to create stunning aural landscapes. She plays along to dreamlike background visuals, which perfectly compliment each piece. All acoustic sounds, with some technology helping, but the rich, warm textures you can only get from real instruments spill out into your ears, overlaid and dubbed, yes, but all from original source. It’s fabulous. Gentle, delicate, gliding sounds that imbibed me with a deep sense of calm. Towards the end I felt like I was gently floating, suspended in warmth, as if in some sort of beautiful state of musical stasis.

Timeless, Feathers, Luna, Trains, Rain – all titles of the tracks Poppy played and yes each piece was as evocative as you would want it to be. Rising up, flowing down, ebbing and waning like lunar tides.

Jeff was sketching during the gig and we talked about how art, drawing and photography are ways of seeing, ways of connecting. We also talked about art as a response to and a way of healing from trauma. This whole ridiculous musical adventure began as that and has grown into the most beautiful and wonderful thing. I would never have found myself sitting at Poppy’s feet as it were 3 years ago and my life would be all the poorer for it. Music takes you to places nothing else can. Poppy’s music is among the finest at becalming my overactive mind, taking me to a place of incandescent joy.

Thank you, Poppy and do please come back and play in Bristol again soon.

 

Daylight Music – Union Chapel, London

Saturday 9th February, 2019

I’ve been to Daylight Music a few times and always enjoyed myself. So whenever I have a free Saturday and it is on I book a cheap coach up to London and treat myself to a day out. This was to be one of those Saturday’s. It coincided nicely with being near Ian’s birthday (6 Music chum) so I suggested we meet up, have some cake and enjoy the music together. When I sorted out the travel I had no idea who would be playing (mystery gig, added excitement!) and turns out today was to be a little different to the usual Daylight Music. Ordinarily the format is 3 acts with breaks for tea and cake. Inside the very beautiful and acoustically gorgeous Union Chapel. Today was the launch of the Age Of Not Believing’s new work, a loose collective of musicians, bringing original music and storytelling to the Chapel.

It was the busiest I’ve ever seen Daylight Music, how lovely. The relaxed atmosphere was retained despite the queues, lots of families and children sharing music together helped that.

What was very nice for me was that my chum Piney Gir was one of the guest singers and she has exactly the sort of voice you want to hear singing Moon River and Rainbow Collective in Union Chapel. A rotating cast of string quartet, brass band, piano, organ, guitar, vibraphone and other players played the lovely music (I’m listening to it now, here) with a choir, Piney Gir or Emily Barker or another singer whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry!). There was even some Clanger style whistling at one point. You can’t say this wasn’t a varied programme. It was great to hear Emily again, another voice perfectly suited to the venue. The only regret was not hearing Emily and Piney sing together. Now what a treat that would have been.

It is the 10th birthday of Daylight Music this month, and the 300th show next Saturday. Ben Eshmade deserves so much credit and thanks for the hard work he puts in to making Daylight Music happen. An absolute labour of love. You superstar.

If you can go along to support Daylight Music you should. It is a lovely concept, pulled off with aplomb. Tea, cake, friends and music. What more could you possibly ask for on a Saturday lunchtime?

Paul Lewis Piano – St George’s, Bristol

Friday 8th February, 2019

My second concert of the day! This was another ticket picked up in the flash sale, so for the grand price of £11.25 I got to see one of the finest pianists of his generation.

Paul Lewis has played a series of concerts at St George’s and on the strength of tonight’s programme I wish I had seen them all and I hope he is able to come back and play more. I’m not sure how I missed the others. Perhaps I didn’t believe the St George’s write up’s, dismissing them as hyperbole. I was wrong to do so.

Paul Lewis is an outstanding pianist and I doubt I will see a classical player better. There is something very special about the piano, it is an instrument that is used in almost every genre of music. It can be found in grand concert halls as well as in front rooms and pubs. It cuts across class boundaries too, you were as likely to find an old joanna in the front parlour of my Nan’s house as you were a posh lady in a grand house. It is also one of the rare instruments that you go to see played alone. In the right hands it is a magnificent beast. Paul Lewis is absolutely the right hands. Powerful, emotional playing with guts and heart.

The Hayden piece was perfectly lovely, but the Brahms. Oh the Brahms. Even without the programme notes I could feel that Three Inrermezzi were dark lullabies. Gentle, yet sorrowful. Written, I felt, by a man nearing the end of his life, reflecting on beautiful days gone and thinking that there were fewer ahead than behind. There was an aching, melancholic beauty to it that left me weeping. I cannot remember the last time I had such a powerful and strong reaction to a piece of classical music.

Beethoven’s 33 Variations on a Waltz. I mean, I know we all know, but fucking hell Beethoven was brilliant wasn’t he? A genius. I wouldn’t want to try to dance a waltz to most of these variations, but bloody hell they were good. Some gentle and sweeping, others comical, others yet more powerful and brooding. Any music that can make you smile, laugh and then cry with the sheer joy of hearing it is a tiny bit special. Paul is a very physical player, muscular, moving his whole body, straining and stretching for every perfect note with the emotions evident in his face. This suite of variations takes about an hour to play, yet it felt like a quarter of that. This cannot be the final note I thought, yet it was.

I didn’t want it to be over. I want to hear Paul Lewis play again. I want more Brahms and more Beethoven. This was a superb concert. Bravo.

 

Alberni Quartet – Victoria Rooms, University of Bristol

Friday 8th February, 2019

The University of Bristol Music Department, housed in the very grand Victoria Rooms, put on a range of concerts, including free lunchtime ones. As I now don’t work on a Friday and I had a bus pass anyway it seemed a perfect opportunity to explore some more classical music.

Today was the Alberni Quartet playing John Pickard and Dvorak. The Pickard Quartet was a sad affair, sombre and almost funereal in tone. This was serendipitously matched by the heavy rain pounding on the windows.

The Dvorak Quartet was a very different affair, jaunty and quite sunny of disposition. Seeing the violins and viola playing alongside, not competing, but responding to each other was delightful. There really is something about the resonance of strings live, it is such a beautiful sound.

Thank you UOB for hosting these concerts and opening them up to the general public, allowing me to learn a little more about classical music. I shall be back for more in a few weeks time.

Masayoshi Fujita – Colston Hall Foyer, Bristol

Wednesday 6th February, 2019

I had my eye on this one as soon as I started looking at 2019 listings. Something out of the ordinary, very much up my street. I waited, patiently, for the Culture Flash Sale and lo this gig was included, making a ticket less than £10.

While the main hall and the Lantern (oh how I miss you) are being refurbished Colston Hall are continuing to put on concerts around the City in partnership with other venues but they are also using their own foyer space. I’ve seen the foyer used a couple of times in daylight to good effect, so I knew that the sound would work, I just wasn’t sure about atmosphere or what it would be like at night. The sheer height and scale of the foyer might overwhelm and in that the intimacy of the music may be lost was my worry.

As this was to be a seated show I arrived early to claim a front row spot (being less than 5ft 1 means playing russian roulette with the view otherwise, all it takes is one tall person 3 rows in front of me and I’m spending the evening seeing nothing of the performer!) The front row was positioned very close to the stage, perhaps a little too close (move it a few inches back next time CH would be my advice) but cradling my decaff coffee (I am so rock n roll) I gulped and was brave.

Support came from Sean Addicott, Bristol based sound artist and composer, who ambled on quietly to play us his upcoming album Tapesleep. An extremely tall man, who looked slightly like he’d just been fishing (navy wool jumper with a sensible shirt underneath). I suppose, in a way, he fishes for music as this was a series of samples, loops and electronica played together through tape reels to make ambient sounds. Initially it felt like waking music, the gentle sounds of the day as you open your eyes in darkness and attempt to re-orientate yourself in space and time. Slowly it became faster and darker and I’m not sure emotionally where we were, but time floated past until the waves slowed back down and stopped. Sean set the scene nicely for what was to follow.

Masoyoshi plays the vibraphone. An instrument I’d never heard of, let alone seen played. Made of aluminium with large bars that are struck/beaten/caressed that hover above pipes were powered flaps open/close to create the vibrations that give it its name, it is certainly something different. If you played the chime bars at school (as I did a million years ago) and imagine them scaled up and hung over a metal organ frame you may have an idea of the sound. As Masoyoshi explained it is a fairly modern instrument and therefore one that gives him a great deal of creative freedom. A gentle, quiet soul, he painted little word pictures of each track to explain them and talked us through some of his playing techniques. Natural themes of wildlife and trees dominate his work, gentle ethereal sounds conjour up images of deer, mountains and beautiful landscapes in your mind as you listen. I found the music profoundly moving, almost haunting. With a mixture of beaters, cello bows, rows of beads and even tin foil, Masayoshi made the most sublime noises that filled the foyer with amazing sounds. Requiem was beautifully moving and Fog so evocative of gentle, rolling mist on a hillside that I felt utterly transported. It was lovely.

In the wrong hands I can imagine the vibraphone sounding clumsy and far too loud. In the controlled, dexterous hands of Masayoshi Fujita, it sounded vibrant, melodic and beautiful. The control he demonstrated, 2 beaters in each hand, each individually playing and caressing the bars at different rhythms and strengths was amazing. It was no surprise to read he trained as a percussionist first. Or that he is signed to Erased Tapes.

If you get the chance to experience seeing Masayoshi perform live, take it. If not, then buy his albums. They are lovely and listening to them now, while I write, I feel as relaxed and floaty as I did sat in Colston Hall foyer Wednesday night.