Lynched – The Convent – 27th August 2016

‘Lynched’ are a four piece Irish traditional folk band from Dublin but this is folk with an edge, drawing on an established tradition whilst adding contemporary detail.  Listening to this fascinating band and their music (a  combination of  uilleann pipes, a Russian accordion, concertina, fiddle and guitar amongst others, all overlaid with superlative four part harmonies), they produce an eclectic mix of music hall singalong, anti war anthems, murder ballad ,traditional and original songs, that resonate in the soul. The harmonies are both delicate and muscular and where the music speaks for itself, the effects range from melancholic to jaunty to downright eerie and hypnotic. The chilling ‘The Old Man from over the Sea,’ contrasts with the gaiety of ‘Daffodil Mulligan,’ and we are drawn into ‘Billy O Shea’, a lively sea shanty, all the while being given snippets of information and background to each song, although there may not be many takers for a drink involving red wine mixed with meths!The band’s first album ‘Cold Old Fire’ was released in May and there are hints of another album to be released early next year.

LaVendore Rogue – The Convent – 13th August 2016

LaVendore Rogue

This is a band of two halves. In one camp is JoJo Burgess ,the very charismatic and roguish lead singer of LaVendore Rogue and Joel Fisk who I reviewed years ago in Colchester.In the other, is Rob ‘Tank’ Barry on bass and Warren Lynn on keyboards. The bridge between is provided by Stephen “Cupsey’ Cutmore on drums. ‘Easter Day’ kicks off proceedings and the band sets a benchmark. Burgess is theatrical,a showman,an expressive and choreographed  lead singer who deserved a much larger audience to hold in the palm of his hand.He dresses the part; a top featuring a sparkly cross to compliment the venue was a nice touch and his energy is overpowering. However, it was difficult to decipher the lyrics for those of us sitting at the back of the venue.Fisk is stunning; effortless,nuanced and spell binding, making his guitar sing, taking it to the limits but the danger is that they are almost a separate unit within the band. Rob Barry seems to be overshadowed, a cool and calm presence  to offset Burgess’ powerful presence and when Warren Lynn played on keys,I wanted to hear more.He appears to be an exceptional musician yet his strengths are in danger of being subsumed. Cutmore holds the two camps together, an award winning drummer who understands and reacts to the complexity of both sides and manages to support both. A mix of covers and original songs gave us an idea of the band’s range, showcasing their mix of Roots and Rock and I’m sure that their next album will be as warmly received as their recently released debut album ‘Light Up With LaVendore Rogue.’ I believe that it is available for ‘ten of your English pounds’ if you attend one of their gigs'(the band is currently on tour)and slightly more online. See their website for more details.

The Black Feathers – The Convent- 29th July 2016

Sian and Ray Hughes, aka The Black Feathers, are a duo from Cirencester who held a hugely appreciative audience spellbound at The Convent last night.Taking us through a range of narratives including  the first song they ever wrote together and one based on a dream, the chemistry between this couple is unmistakeable and soaks into their work.The vocals are sublime, utilising delicate ,sophisticated pauses and phrasing, notes left hanging in the air to shimmer and dissolve , nuanced guitar work that supports without ever overshadowing and harmonies that depend on perfect timing. The whole effect that this duo create is breathtaking. They are currently on tour,see their website for details.

Mark Radcliffe and Galleon Blast- The Convent -18th June 2016

Mark Radcliffe and the 6 musicians who make up Galleon Blast had  invited the audience to dress as pirates for this gig and a  good percentage of the audience joined the staff in wearing amazing costumes. The Convent itself had been appropriately decorated and although it was the first time that I’ve seen  pirate rigging on an altar it seemed appropriate. The middle section of The Convent had been cleared to allow for potentially drunken dancing to sea shanties and it simply remained for Galleon Blast to get the party started. The whole experience was pure and simple fun,singing and dancing took place and the music was suitably raucous.Sea shanties,the trials and tribulations of being at sea and the fun of outwitting authority worked well alongside cover versions of The Pogues and Waterboys and who cares if Christmas is sung about in June? Radcliffe is a well known presenter, an expert in dry humour  and within seconds had the audience in the palm of his hand where we willingly stayed.The Convent is the first music venue I’ve been to that gave away free shots of rum which simply added to a real sense of celebration.This took on another dimension when Matt, the owner of The Convent, took to the stage at the end of the gig, to  tell us how he regarded Radcliffe as a hero and then revealed how  his own wife was a hero too, supporting him through a recent illness where he almost died.Personally,I would nominate Matt for hero status for what he and his wife Charlotte, together with their team, are doing at The Convent. This is a music venue that is becoming a byword for excellence. Take a look at their website for details of gigs for the rest of the year.

Jim Causley The Convent Woodchester 9th June 2016

Jim Causley and his band, Becki and Nick played to a small audience on Thursday evening.Perhaps the finale of ‘Peaky Blinders’ was the root cause of this but for those of us who went to The Convent and then caught up with Tommy Shelby on iPlayer we got the best of both worlds. The Convent is a small venue and at first it seemed that Causley might have to work extra hard to increase the ambience and energy that would have occurred naturally if the venue had been full. However,with practised ease, he used the venue to his advantage by chatting to the audience about each song and giving just enough detail to keep us interested and alert to the interpretation of each song whether it was one he had modified,one he had made up or one that he had taken from his Great Uncle , the poet Charles Causley and set to music.

It worked brilliantly.The audience also learnt about different times of history concerning the people of Devon and Cornwall.Who knew that tin squeaks when it is bent into shape?A song dedicated to asking permission of the tin to be mined might sound mawkish but wasn’t. Nostalgia seeped into narrative in a song about Rosie, a childhood sweetheart, in ‘Back in the Day’. The defensive and heartbreaking ‘Who?’ made a massive impact on my husband Ray and although not Hallowe’en it seemed appropriate to sing a song about a woman entering a ghostly church having seen all the corpses enter- which proved to be far more fun than the title might suggest .The excellent use of piano,guitar,fiddle and accordion simply added to the sense of authenticity from a trio that genuinely love celebrating a much loved part of the country and for a far too brief period of time shared that affection with us.

‘Anachronicle’- Big Mountain County – 23rd May 2016

‘Anachronicle’ is the second LP of this four- piece Italian band and was released in April 2016. Their genre is wild and dirty psych rock and roll and they have had a lot of success touring Eastern and Central  Europe in November 2013 and April /May 2014.  Second albums are always tricky and this nine track album is no exception.

The music is dense and muscular,fusing psychedelia with rock that swirls in repetitive loops of sound  controlled  perfectly and I think it would have been a good idea to have focused on including a couple of tracks that were just of their music, as there’s a lot going on and it’s worth showcasing.The downside is that the vocals  don’t yet match the strength of the music, lyrics are difficult to hear and for me the vocals aren’t coming across as a defined and important part of each song. This LP also contains two tracks from a previous EP plus one previously unreleased .  ‘MyTime’ sounds bluesy and might have been better omitted from this album. Second albums can present problems but Big Mountain County have a made a very creditable attempt with ‘Anachronicle’ and I look forward to their development in their next album.

Orange Violet (PS 022) / Twelve – Xela Zaid 18th April 2016

Alex Diaz (Xela Zaid) has been on the Miami music scene for more than three decades. The album Orange Violet was self released digitally  back in 2013 and I reviewed it at the time. The vinyl version was  recorded live and released in February 2016.

The feel of this ‘new’ old album is intriguing.Whooshes of sound could be heartbeats or an ultra scan, albeit with Moroccan overtones.Rain Dance could be a form of sympathetic magic and Ghost Ride just that and just as chilling. Experimental  tracks lend themselves to the world of psychedelia, where repetitive,orderly sounds move along side gentle, electronic, rhythmic insistence, what my husband describes  as an audio equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting.He’s right, these tracks could well be the soundtrack to abstract expressionism. The video Twelve  released in February 2016 encapsulates all these impressions and adds dance and movement to the mix. It is also an example of a new and exciting development in Zaid’s work which can only leave us wondering what comes next?

‘Looking Back In Blue’ – Scott Yoder 12th April 2016

Seattle born Scott Yoder released this debut album in March 2016.   Reaching a low point in his musical career, he decided to work out how he really felt about music and how to write songs in a way that he describes as ‘a person to person perspective’.

This resulted in songs that feel stripped back to the bone and have an honesty at the heart of each track because he hasn’t been tempted to give way to what he describes as the commodification of music – a bold and a brave move. These songs don’t have to be anything but what they are.The overall feeling of the album is that each track contains just the right notes,just the right words and that even these have been carefully chosen piece by piece,word by word, note by note to support his decisions on the authenticity and truth that he wants to shine out in his work.

He has forged tracks that are an exploration of emotional pain in varying forms .Striking  descriptions,especially the extraordinary images of ‘Silver Boy’ are all  supported by music which is pertinent and evocative, particularly in ‘Songs to Strangers,’  the haunting blues effect in  ‘ Where She Goes’, and the delicacy of ‘Looking Back in Blue.’ Having got the words and music in place Yodel now needs to work on his voice. There are too many slips,he needs to work on phrasing and emphasis and make a  decision as to whether he wants to speak or sing the words and the delivery has got to reflect the authenticity  and truth of his songs. A tall order and a big ask but the result would be something extraordinary.

He plays The Lexington in London on 17th April. See his website for more details of the European Tour.

‘No Peace For The Wicked’ by James McKean and the Blueberry Moon- 10th April 2016

This ten song CD is the Blueberry Moon’s first album and was released on 25th March. Soaked in  country  music which laps soothingly at the edge of the lyrics,the album is heartrending and melancholic,tugging at the listener’s musical heartstrings. McKean’s voice is clear to the point of allowing the listener to hear every word  and carefully judged to project just the  right amount of pathos and emotion ,heartbreak and regret so that the  album doesn’t  slip into sentimentality. With a depth of detailed social observation and perception, Blueberry Moon reflect influences such as Johnny Cash or in  the lyrics to ‘The Redeemer’, Leonard Cohen as well as Dylan in his country phase. A great debut album which they will be promoting at the Monarch in Camden on 21st April.See their Facebook page for more details.

John McCullagh The Convent Woodchester 25th Feb 2016

The Convent in Woodchester is one of the most amazing music venues I’ve reviewed from in the last seven or so years that the lpproject has been running. John McCullagh from Doncaster played there on a bleak Thursday evening to a very small ,live audience but also to a massive worldwide audience on Netgig. McCullagh has split from his band and so the audience were expecting a young man,a guitar or two and some good tunes. However, this turned out to be a gig with a difference.At the the very beginning we were asked not to applaud.Apparently this was due to contractual agreements,everything was designed to fit in with filming and so to an extent,the live audience didn’t exist. We all obeyed and sat quietly and gradually it dawned on all of us that this was going to be a very strange gig to watch. Firstly, it is very difficult not to applaud. McCullagh simply said ‘Cheers’ or ‘Thank you for coming out,” to a silent audience. By the end, none of us really knew what to do.Would he come back for an encore? Would it then be ok to applaud and show our appreciation? How were we to know when it was ok to do something to let him know how good he was because he turned out to be very good indeed.

He is influenced by Bob Dylan and Nick Drake amongst others. He also has the same passion allied to a brilliant voice,a flair for interpretation and the quiet confidence of someone who knows his worth. He chose to deliver a few covers of Dylan and Drake and also his own material and he didn’t put a foot wrong.When he described himself as clumsy for dropping an item on stage,it simply endeared the audience to him; brilliant musicians rarely have a reputation for perfection. He simply owned the stage, played a strong, sustained performance for an hour, shared some intelligent and thoughtful lyrics on love and loss and did it all with a maturity beyond his years by harnessing a seamless whole of musical influence to his own talent. When I spoke to him at the end, he told me that he hadn’t known that the audience wouldn’t be applauding so add flexibility and resilience to the mix. In a world where it seems that plastic pop rules, McCullagh is not just an antidote but also an inspiration and the best thing of all is that this is just the beginning.