TRUST-THE-DOC: MUSICAL MUSINGS
by Neil March (Edition 14, 15th November 2018)
TRB ROCK WEST LONDON & OTHER STORIES !!!
Welcome to Edition 14 of Trust The Doc. Today’s main story (which you will find at the top of the regular Pop Scene section) is the electrifying performance by Tom Robinson Band at the Shepherds Bush O2 Empire on 27th October; the final date of their UK tour based around the classic album Power in the Darkness and certain classic single and EP tracks. It’s also been a strong period again for new music so I have made my usual modest attempt to capture and condense some of it here.
✦ EXILE FM: An independent radio station built from a love of cool music
✦ VANISHING POINT: Update on the album and both regular live events
✦ SLOW SUNDAY: BBC 6 Music’s day of dreamy soundscapes & textures
✦ STARS OF THE LID: Slow-Burning Ambience on a Sunday Morning
✦ ERIC WHITACRE’S VIRTUAL CHOIR: Voices from across the globe online
✦ THOM YORKE: His Slow Sunday playlist and his own ambient works
✦ EMILY HALL: Another good excuse to hear the incredible Mantra
✦ KIRA KIRA: Elizabeth Alker shines the light on an innovative work
✦ SOUL JAZZ ORCHESTRA: Now Playing provides excuse for another plug!
✦ ANGELIQUE KIDJO: Talking Heads covers as you have never imagined them
✦ ADJOA: Twi-Tribe Soul Artist brings her Ghanaian roots to laid back Afrobeat
✦ SARAH McQUAID: TTD featured Singer/Songwriter heads out on UK tour
✦ RUNABAY: Enigmatic Folk & Rich Harmonies inspired by the Irish Coastline
✦ TOM ROBINSON BAND: 68 and still able to storm Shepherds Bush O2!
✦ SALLIEFOYEH: Soulful striking sensual new contender for Queen of UK Soul
✦ THE COMPLETE SET: Hamburg via Brighton with more new tracks to share
✦ BACKSPACE: West Yorkshire’s Teenage Treasures return with new EP
✦ JULIA HOLTER: US Singer-Composer back with another unique album
✦ SIMON D JAMES: UK Singer-Songwriter back with impressive new single
EXILE FM: A RADIO STATION FOR REAL MUSIC LOVERS
I thought I should kick off Edition 14 of Trust The Doc by talking about a cool new radio station broadcasting online. Exile FM is the brainchild of Ming Nagel and Jon Read, both members of Melton Mowbray’s finest sophisticated Pop wonders Project Blackbird whose new album Endurance was reviewed in full in Edition 13.
Exile has a number of shows playing an eclectic mix of genres which clearly demonstrate the breadth of knowledge of music the station’s presenters have. Ming and Jon themselves present The Monday Night Ride-Out which epitomises this open-minded approach. A look at the below tracklist for the edition that was broadcast on 29th October confirms this. You can listen to any of their shows live or by podcast at http://www.exilefm.com/programs
Tracklist of The Monday Night Ride-Out (29th October 2018):
1. Carmina Burana: O Fortuna - Carl Orff (London Philharmonic Orchestra, David
Parry, London Philharmonic Choir and The London Chorus)
2. Forever - The Dandy Warhols
3. Die da?! - Die Fantastischen Vier
4. Oublier pour un jour - The Souljazz Orchestra
5. My Shot - Hamilton Original Broadway Cast (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr,
Anthony Ranos, David Diggs, and Okieriete Onaodowan) (TRANSATLANTIC
6. Cradle - The Bright Expression
7. Woman - Angel Olsen
8. Down By the Water - PJ Harvey
9. Dontri Phuea Muang: Spirit Dance - North Thailand Musicians
10. Will I? - Cholly
11. 4.48 Psychosis - Tindersticks (SPEED TRIPLE)
12. Picture on the Wall - Natural-Ites (SPEED TRIPLE)
13. Hey Now - London Grammar (SPEED TRIPLE)
14. Bats in the Attic - King Creosote and Jon Hopkins
15. Molly - Palehound
16. Walk On By - The Stranglers (Billy Brown's CHOOOOON of the Week)
17. The Girl I Left Behind Me (with the Avett Brothers) - Bob Wills and the Texas
18. Mainframe - Me for Queen
19. Born to Be Brave - Pyramid Park
20. Bactrian - Precocious Mouse
CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL & LEFTFIELD
Sunday 28th October saw BBC Radio 6 Music deliver its version of the Corporation’s Slow Sunday; a response to the clocks having gone back the previous night. I listened to Mary Anne Hobbs who has always championed elements of contemporary classical and electronic music (albeit the less challenging material) and she picked out some real gems including Stars of the Lid’s slow-burning ambient track Articulate Silences Pt. 1 and Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir (in which Whitacre brought together voices from all over the world via video link to record his extraordinary work) Lux Aurumque. There was also a fascinating interview with and live session tracks by Thom Yorke who provided his own playlist. You know what to expect with Mary Anne’s show. It is not going to be challenging or risk-taking but her selections were a good mix.
I dipped in and out of Slow Sunday thereafter until it came to my two favourite Sunday evening staples Tom Robinson’s Now Playing and Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone. Now I did enjoy it but Now Playing was arguably hampered just a little by its dependence upon popular requests which meant most choices tended towards the middle of the contemporary classical road. Sorry if this is not a popular thing to say but there is only so much I can take of the saccharine sweetness of Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds and Max Richter. Equally too much credibility gets given to ultra-conservative Minimalists like Philip Glass. On the other hand, as I have mentioned in a recent edition of this blog, it is always great to hear Emily Hall’s Mantra and Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Perpetuum Mobile. I have said previously that I believe Emily is currently Britain’s [and possibly the world’s] finest living composer of music for human voices and Mantra is a stunning example of why I think this. There was also an excellent choice suggested by none other than TTD favourite and Unclassified presenter Elizabeth Alker in the form of Kira Kira’s Forsaela. Incidentally it was Elizabeth playing Mantra during the last series of Unclassified which gave me an excuse to bang on about it here previously!
Obviously we were never going to get Gyorgy Ligeti, Anna-Maria Avram or even Karl-Heinz Stöckhausen on BBC 6 Music(!) but I was disappointed not to hear any Mark Anthony Turnage or Sofia Gubaidulina. I absolutely applaud Tom for having the courage to make a two hour show dedicated to contemporary classical music which once again speaks volumes for his open-minded and all-encompassing approach to music generally. But I am a tad frustrated that once again it gets portrayed as an area of music consisting entirely of gentle tonal soundscapes which is not a representative picture of our art in 2018. Not Tom’s fault though and it was still a fantastic and enjoyable show.
Freak Zone was surprisingly a slight disappointment. This is a show whose audience is not only used to but actually expects more avantgarde and experimental sounds. So why did a Slow Motion soundtrack have to mean lots of gentle tonal dreaminess? As modern tracks go we did get Sarah Davachi’s (https://soundcloud.com/sarahdavachi) superb piece For Organ. We were treated to the dreamy otherworldliness and swirling chords of Laraaji’s 1980 ambient (https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Laraaji+Meditation&rlz=1CAASUF_enGB753GB753&oq=Laraaji+Meditation+&aqs=chrome..69i57.4180j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8) Meditation #1 which is a strikingly beautiful and original piece. We did also get some Tangerine Dream from Phaedra but that is well over four decades old and Laraaji’s is nearly that too. Where was the contemporary music? This was surely a chance to bring some cutting edge and alternative inventiveness to an otherwise rather safe Slow Sunday.
Besides the above, it was the Jazz zone of the show’s spectrum that gave us a bit more of interest thanks to the likes of Joe Zawinul’s own version of In a Silent Way (which he composed for Miles Davis’s album of the same name) and Alice Coltrane’s Yamuna Tira Vihari. Again though, not contemporary. It is very rare for me to criticise this excellent show and my respect and affection for Stuart Maconie are immeasurable. But I have to call it as I hear it and this edition was the unfreakiest Freak Zone I have heard.
Thankfully Stuart was back on fine form the following Sunday with a much more satisfying Psychedelic and post-Metal edition that featured, among others, an influential album by Family and an early British Psych classic by Tomorrow alongside contemporary tracks by Elektro-Guzzi, Anne Briggs and others.
Our Demerara Records experimental and eclectic alternative music compilation album Vanishing Point (Vol. 1) was officially released on 1st November. A big big thank you to all of you who supported our crowdfunding campaign by purchasing the pre-release download from Bandcamp. Your money helped fund the CD pressing, mastering and other costs. If you bought the pre-release download, you should shortly receive a CD copy as a thank you but due to some issues with the pressing plant, the physical release has been delayed. Once we have them, the CDs will be on sale at Vanishing Point and Vanishing Point Solo gigs. It is available from all digital download and streaming platforms in the meantime.
Airplay for the album has been fantastic. The amazing Elizabeth Alker played Paul F Cook’s Mater Gloria on her Unclassified show on BBC Radio 3. Cornwall’s Source FM played Rookery courtesy of the inimitable Barry Gribble. The awesome Ming Nagel and Jon Read played a number of tracks (Cholly, Environmental Sound Foundation ft Dilara, Precocious Mouse, PaulFCook etc.) on separate editions of their show The Monday Night Ride-Out on Radio Exile FM. My long-time friend and presenter Graham Belchamber of Conquest FM’s Paradise by the Sea featured the album and played tracks. Another stalwart and friend Gatsby (aka Marc Ainscough) had me as his special guest for the entire three hours of his Friday Night Show on Radio Dacorum playing tracks by artists with a geographical (or biographical) link to the West Herts area so Rothko, Cholly, Jon Samsworth, Brent Jackson, Paul F Cook, Environmental Sound Foundation ft. Dilara and some geezer called Neil March. All in all a great range of radio support and it is still ongoing.
No distinct Jazz Journeys section in this edition but plenty of Jazz connections in the one below.
WORLD IN MOTION
Tom Robinson’s marvellous Now Playing Show was the vehicle for two hours of Afrobeat tracks chosen by the listeners (as always). I was delighted that he played my suggested modern track. Namely Canadian collective the SoulJazz Orchestra’s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeIT1NYy4wg) Greet the Dawn which I raved about in Edition 13 of Trust The Doc. Indeed it was good to hear a good ratio of current tracks. Among them was Angelique Kidjo’s Talking Heads cover (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR8jgFGmqvU) Born under punches from the Remain in Light album which is all covers of the original Talking Heads album tracks but in a lilting earthy style that takes them a long way from the Punk-Funk experimental Pop of the TH classic set [which, by the way, is one of my favourite albums].
There was also a welcome play for the excellent Amercian band Butcher Brown (https://butcherbrownmusic.bandcamp.com/album/afrokuti-a-tribute-to-fela) from their Fea Kuti tribue album AfroKuti with the excellent Tales from the shrine showcasing some mouth-watering instrumental play, a lilting groove and a cocktail of cool influences; Fela Kuti obviously chief among them.
Equally there were some fantastic classics from the likes of Bhundu Boys, Hugh Masekela, Ebo Taylor and even Leftfield plus the more recent Ibibio Sound Machine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3FGNjUq7bw) classic The Chant and, my giddy wotsits, what a track that is. The show fittingly and respectfully opened and closed with the godfather of Afrobeat himself; the aforementioned Fela Kuti.
There was also a track with an Afrobeat vibe high up in the Fresh Faves at the start of November. Adjoa (https://soundcloud.com/adjoaakoma) is a Londoner and self-styled Twi Tribal Soul artist whose music is rooted in her Ghanaian heritage. Her track Damé Damé (Playing your game) is laid back, hypnotic and flows on a dreamwave of understated playing and loosely funky undercurrent; topped off by her ‘all the time in the world’ vocal delivery. Resistance, my friends, is useless!
Trust The Doc favourite Sarah McQuaid (https://soundcloud.com/sarah-mcquaid) has headed out on another UK tour which kicked off on 1st November and continues exhaustively through the remainder of the month and into the opening days of December. You can find out details of times and prices at her website http://www.sarahmcquaid.com/tour
Nov 1 Launceston: No. 8 Cafe & Deli
Nov 2 Trowbridge: The Village Pump @The Lamb
Nov 3 Stroud: Minchinhampton Market House
Nov 4 Barnstaple: ThePlough @StAnne’s
Nov 6 Northampton: Great kNight Folk Club
Nov 7 Pontyclun: Llantrisant Folk Club
Nov 8 Carmarthen: The Parrot
Nov 9 Shrewsbury: Snailbeach Village Hall
Nov 10 Doncaster: Cast
Nov 12 Surbiton: House Concert
Nov 13 Newport Harbour: Quay Arts – Anthony Minghella Theatre
Nov 14 Southampton: The Chapel Sessions
Nov 15 Redbourn Folk Club
Nov 16 Newbury: ACE Space
Nov 17 West Kirby Arts Centre
Nov 18 Southport: Bothy Folk Club
Nov 19 Barnoldswick Music & Arts Centre
Nov 22 St Margaret’s Hope: Cromarty Hall
Nov 23 Hoy: Gable End Theatre
Nov 25 Edinburgh: Assembly Roxy
Nov 28 Carlisle: Old Fire Station
Nov 29 Rothbury Roots
Nov 30 Tewkesbury: The Old Baptist Chapel
Dec 1 Bovey Tracey: South Devon Music
Dec 2 Truro: Old Bakery Studios
Sarah has also picked up some great media reaction to her Michael Chapman-produced fifth album If we did any deeper it could get dangerous and has been busy winning more hearts and minds in the USA. The new UK tour sees her playing venues from Cornwall to the Orkney Islands. Fans who are wondering about London dates could look at those in Redbourn (if you are at the North end) and Surbiton (if you are South). Neither are far from London. The tour takes in an amazing range of UK venues in a full-on month of gigs. Appropriately, given that Cornwall is Sarah’s home these days, the tour ends in Truro.
A new band [to me] who came to my attention via the Fresh on the Net Uploader are Northern Irish sextet Runabay (https://soundcloud.com/runabayband) who describe themselves as originally from rural villages in the Glens of Antrim and Belfast. Their track Symmetry is characterised by low-to-mid register male vocal harmonies, sparkling Guitars, robust Bass and Drums and beautifully understated Keyboard and Cello adding melody and colour. The song seems so obviously infused with the spirit of the sea and the Glens, conjuring up a powerful pen picture of a mystical magical place. This led me to check out more of their music including the free-flowing Too Soon, the unusual Blink of an eye with its striking vocal and clever contrasts and the infectious Lotus. Well I think you get the picture. Clearly no fluke. Runabay have tunes galore and a chemistry that drives them to great heights of creativity. Their ability to switch between acoustic and electric instruments and the attention to detail in their arrangements are particular assets too. Check them out.
Not exactly Folk and certainly not new but it was lovely to hear Cerys Matthews on her Sunday morning show on BBC 6 Music playing Vaughn Monroe’s classic Riders in the sky. It seems slightly ridiculous to describe a song about ghosts as haunting (!) but it really is and it’s a song my Dad used to regularly play when I was growing up so a surprise slice of nostalgia. Thought it was worth a mention!
I was privileged to be a guest at Tom Robinson Band’s end-of-tour show at the Shepherds Bush Empire in West London on 27th October. And a privilege it was too. I had some minor trepidation after seeing a few gigs where great bands have been performing their old classic tracks and albums and have turned out to be a mere shadow of their former selves. But there were no such issues with TRB. From the opening chords of Up against the wall they were on fire and I was immediately struck by how easily and with such power Tom was able to hit the soaring high notes.
The musicians he now has in the band were fantastic too. Guitarist Alan Phillips was in particular not only a perfect replacement for the great Danny Kustow but he was even able to mimic the sax lines when they played a breathtaking rendition of War Baby as the final encore (complete with fascinating back story). He also added a guitar solo that belonged on a Steely Dan album. And by the way, in case you were wondering whether that was a compliment or not, Steely Dan are my all-time favourite band.
In between those two amazing moments, we were treated to the entire Power in the Darkness album in faithful track order, Ain’t gonna take it and the title track being two particular highlights. In the latter Tom cleverley replaced the original rant (a parody of an old posh bigot) with his own rant about what the current government is doing to public services and values of decency and social justice. We then had two tracks from the Rising Free EP, the tongue-in-cheek Martin and a butterflies-inducing version of Glad to be Gay for which the band was augmented by support act Lee Forsyth-Griffiths complete with a new verse bringing the 1977 classic into a current context. 2 - 4 - 6 - 8 Motorway rocked the house and then, after much stamping of feet and clapping, we got War Baby which was goose-bumping. Throughout the gig Tom’s and the band’s energy had been electrifying. 68? Are you ‘avin’ a larf?!!
I should add that the gig was lifted all the more by Tom’s engaging personality, his sardonic and at times self-deprecating humour and his story-telling skills. All in all a great night and it was lovely to meet Tom in person (as opposed to emailing each other about Fresh on the Net) and have a brief chat after the show. A true night to remember.
Talking of Tom Robinson, we receive a lot of very good new tracks every week to the Fresh on the Net Listening Post so when I hear one that stands out from such a strong pack, I know it has to be pretty special. And that is how I feel about Salliefoyeh’s (https://soundcloud.com/salliefoyeh) Thick of it. From the moment the snazzy guitar chord figure kicked off the song with its funky edge and jazz-infused chords I was drawn to it and when her voice came in I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! Salliefoyeh is blessed with that rare gift that most of us can only dream about possessing, meaning that not only does she have an instinctively soulful, dexterous vocal ability but she also has the kind of voice where she just has to open her mouth and sing ‘la’ and it sends butterflies through my stomach. So when you have that level of talent combined with a cracking song and pristine effortlessly cool instrumental play, you really can’t go wrong.
Of course, this led me inevitably to check out more of Salliefoyeh’s music and I discovered an entire album of it on her Soundcloud page. So A Love Unseen turns out to be her 2018 album and it too is characterised by sweet Jazz-inflected chords, dreamy textures, layers of harmony and Salliefoyeh’s lovely voice (including the spoken word Intro) navigating melodies, flourishes and ad libs. The style is very contemporary and yet is rich in tradition bringing to mind all sorts of artists from Anita Baker to Angie Stone; Aaliyah to Solange; Erika Badu to Koffee Brown. Never Seen is quite magical and introduces some lovely surprises plus more fine musicianship.
As I work through the album I am also delighted to discover the breadth of influences and styles. Rockier on Untitled, semi-classical in the intro to Monsters, more minimal in Questions in Love. Outro, which follows the aforementioned Thick of it, is beautiful too, dreamy bendy synth floating above cool piano chords. No vocal but it’s not as if we need any further evidence of Salliefoyeh’s talents in that department. I hope this album gets some real exposure because it is an absolute gem.
It has been a little while since I have had a chance to blog about The Complete Set (https://soundcloud.com/user-585672148) so it was good to get a couple of emails from the band recently. And it turns out that they are still in Hamburg (as was the case at the start of 2018) and things are going so well that they have no current plans to return to Brighton. The band’s membership is fluid and they are all involved in other projects but the evidence suggests The Complete Set is a project worth persevering with.
Since I last blogged about them, this enigmatic eclectic and experimental Pop collective have added some new material to their Soundcloud page and, with the benefit of better recording facilities, these are arguably their best yet. Under Fire And Water sounds like the song the Beatles might have written if they had stayed together long enough to explore their psychedelic and experimental tendencies more fully [and if they had been around in 2018]. The fluid interwoven guitars and responsive bass and drums are really infectious and the vocal harmonies are delightful. Alternative versions of Wheels of Misfortune find the band in darker mood, again with rich harmonies and intricate instrumental play. There are so many familiar flavours in The Complete Set’s music that it is actually really hard to pinpoint who they remind me of! But their sense of popular music history is unquestionably one of their strengths as a writing collective.
Across the Sea starts with a Bunnymen-like intro of sort of drone bass and [dominant] seventh use on the guitar but when the harmony-soaked vocals come in, it sounds much more Sixties-influenced. The production is quite unusual and has a live in a big room feel about it. Shades of The Rain Parade and other Paisley Punk-Psychedelic bands, maybe a touch of Mighty Lemon Drops too. Some of the chord changes are quite magical. Clear Water has a similar production sound and an unusual riff that seems to come in and out of focus. The band themselves cite a fascinating list of inspirations, some of which (Stöckhausen, Bach) are probably more about mindset than tangible influence but which speak to their determination to put originality, musicianship and harmony at the top their agenda.
I would still like to hear their songs recorded with the right studio and producer who could capture the spontaneous organic aspects of their music but also give them a more expansive sound. But I nevertheless think these are great tracks by a truly inventive and defiantly original band. When the time is right I really have the feeling that they are going to deliver one of the classic albums of the era.
Another band I have written about in past editions of Trust The Doc is the teenage Alt Pop quintet Backspace (https://soundcloud.com/user-165564945) whose excellent Don’t stunt your growth and other tracks from their eponymously titled debut EP announced the band to the world as four 13 year olds and a 15 year old making energetic, feisty guitar-driven Pop. Now they are back with a new EP and the rate of their improvement and maturity is clear. Following on the back of an amazing live itinerary taking in festivals, events and gigs around their West Yorkshire area and further afield, the band’s confidence and chemistry is on full display.
The band from Guiseley in Leeds have recorded three new tracks in one day’s studio time. That is a risky strategy but they have pulled it off. So we have sparkling new songs, all of which have different strengths. Boys has a slightly funky beat and makes very effective use of a single upper register keyboard drone over switching guitar chords and busy bass and drums. Rosie’s vocal performance is confident and allows her to stretch out range-wise. There are strong harmonies in the chorus and lots of little nuances to lift the track. The drum sounds (as on all three tracks) are really resonant and powerful too which helps drive the music forward.
Sick and Tired introduces a mellow trumpet into their sound and kicks off with a cool keyboard intro. The track builds nicely and is topped off by an infectious hook. Winging It is marginally my favourite of the three. The jangly descending guitar and bass guitar figure has a classic eighties feel that recalls bands like Orange Juice and Close Lobsters but the sound is thoroughly contemporary and the melody is strong in every part of the track. There is some lovely harmonic interplay between the instrumentalists and the contrast between the more frantic verses and a half time chorus is clever and works well.
So three cracking new tunes that underline how far Backspace have travelled in the last year alone. Rosie’s distinct voice and engaging accent have never sounded better and the four boys have such a great chemistry and all make massive individual contributions to Backspace’s evolving sound and style. As I have mentioned previously it is heartening to see a young band benefiting from first class parental support which will be a major factor in protecting their best interests if they make the transition to becoming full-time professionals in the next few years.
The super-talented Los Angeles-based singer-composer and versatile artist Julia Holter (https://soundcloud.com/juliaholter) has retained her steady track record of consistently making ambitious cinematic Pop soundscapes and her new album is an impressive and adventurous set.
Aviary finds her in fine form. There are 15 new songs including the expansive Words I heard with its swirling strings, powerful piano chords and ethereal vocals, the evocative Another Dream with its enigmatic organ and pastoral atmosphere and the astonishing opening track Turn the light on with its mash-up of sounds and psychedelic aura.
These are just the tip of the iceberg and I recommend listening to the album uninterrupted from start to end for a full [ethereal] futuristic and life-affirming experience. All in all another characteristically individual and satisfying work.
Another TTD favourite Simon D James (https://soundcloud.com/simondjames) has a new single out which was released on the fiery 5th November. My Everything (https://open.spotify.com/album/2fpNue8YvyvE6IXOKxlPGG) finds SImon in more psychedelic mood, dark chords and breathy vocals kicking things off before the vocals (and everything else) increase the dynamics and legato synth notes contrast the offbeat piano chords. The production is superbly spacious, allowing plenty of scope for reverberant chords, ambient nuances and big vocal gestures. It’s a fine song too and deserves to be heard. Let’s hope radio programmers agree.
AND FINALLY ….
So that’s it for another edition of Trust The Doc. Thanks for reading and keep spreading the word. The new music keeps on coming so I hope to have my act together to publish Edition 15 on 30th November. Take it easy one and all. Neil xxxx