Cara Dillon — The Platform

Cara Dillon at The Platform in Morecambe, Friday 26th June 2009
Reviewed by Colin Bertram
There was a bigger crowd at the Platform than the last time Cara played here three years ago. So she brought us all up to date with news of her and Sam Lakeman’s twins, how piper and fiddle player James O’Grady has a couple of kids and guitarist Ed Boyd has found true love! She had been worried about whether the gig would go ahead at all as Ed was driving up in the van from Somerset with all the gear that afternoon. He had to cope with thunder storms near Glastonbury, traffic jams on the M6 and only arrived in Morecambe just after 7:30pm.

The support act was a singer with an acoustic guitar whose name I didn’t catch. He played a 30 minute set which included a song by Colin Hay of Men At Work fame, Davey Graham’s Angie and the Fairport song The Hiring Fair.

Sam, Ed and James then came on to do the roadie bit of tuning guitars etc before leaving the stage (quick shirt change for Sam) and they returned with Cara looking very smart in a white outfit. Later on during the set she looked at her hubby and asked “Did you iron that shirt?”

They started with ‘Jimmy Mó Mhíle Stór’ and played five more tracks from the new album ‘Hill Of Thieves’ including a beautiful rendition of ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ and a lively version of ‘P Stands For Paddy’. Early on was a set of 3 tunes which included ‘The Knotted Hankie’ and the encore was another set of tunes both featuring some excellent Uilleann pipe playing from James. The set included a few numbers from her previous solo albums including ‘Black is the Colour’, ‘Garden Valley’ and ‘I Wish You Well’. Mid-way through the set Sam and James left the stage leaving Cara and Ed to play the Van Morrison song ‘Crazy Love’.

The title track from ‘Hill Of Thieves’ was dedicated to Cara’s uncle and aunt who were in the audience and there was a nice story from James about buying painkillers in Northern Ireland with him finding the accent a bit difficult to decipher. When asked if he had a Boots card he thought he was being asked if he was a bit scared! Cara also told us about how the twins, aged 2 and a half, are obviously determined to follow ma and pa onto stage as one is already playing air guitar and getting his brother to play drums.

The audience certainly enjoyed the show joining in with some singing on ‘Crazy Love’, clapping along to numbers as the night went on and there were even 2 or 3 folk up dancing at the end. The acoustics aren’t great at the Platform so sound-wise it wasn’t as good as the last tour when they played at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal but that aside it was a great night’s music.

Electric Free Time Machine -‘Mystery with Hermit Foil’ – CD review and Album Launch

Review by Wes Martin

eftmpic1

Electric Free Time Machine is a group of musicians with a truly eclectic sound. If we talk about genre defying, then this is the CD. Its a collection of stunning, inventive and captivating pieces. An album with a troubled dual identity, but that troublesome relationship, like all creative partnerships, produces things far beyond the sum of its parts.

The opener ‘blue box’ stamps a beautifully taut acoustic riff against an ambient backdrop, communicating somewhat, the content of the album. The tension builds as the bass begins to mirror the main riff eventually fading to an echoing black. Track two, ‘Heroin Pie’, signals the trademark bass guitar inflexions, the Primus chug, the sparse, post-funk flunkery. Dirty Waits like vocals rip a ragged path through the undergrowth, wicked. Its one side of the discourse that EFTM have established here and in their live shows. Heavy, hard assed sub metal blues/jazz/krautrock madness mixing it, face on, with stripped down acoustic wizardry .’Optimus Prime‘ takes up similar sonic threads, with a mellower, more psyched out edge. Sandwiched between these two, ’30 Days’ is a real, gorgeous gem. Naked, bone crunching acoustic guitar, banjo and percussion thunder an authentic delta blues stomper straight down the aural highway man. ‘Dog in the Wood’ is an unlikely companion piece to this. A repetitive mantra, griot style musing on a singularly fevered theme. W.Y.M.P.H sets up harsh, esoteric musical themes punctuated with awesome, creative percussion, pinned down with the accuracy of the atomic clock….fabulous. ‘Bite the hand’ strips the prettiness from such tracks and presents a tune of such offensive joy its hard not to imagine the glee one could derive from casually playing it say, to the in-laws. One could offer ‘Big Think’ as an antidote however. Acoustic guitar arpeggios crawl through a torrent of white noise to dance exotically with a joyous bass and a tableaux of enticing, spatial guitar riffs. Wondrous, quite unsettling and more than a nod to the source and great provider that is the ‘big think’…..Pancosmic !!

As the album thunders into its second half the tone and colour both musically and lyrically begin to evolve into an altogether different animal. The peaking rush and glare of this trip begins to mellow into a forest of whaa funked bass, joyous percussion and surreal lyrical banter of ‘Serotonin’ through to the hilarious, dissonant and quite brilliant ‘Onion’ a finer set of lyrics you will find nowhere. Just as you thought it was safe to emerge bleary eyed into the morning sun, ‘meet your eyes’ fittingly drags you back into the troubled fringes of a troubled mind with mashed up bass riffs and percussive chatter designed to subtly remind you that this is an album crafted to challenge you, to keep you on the edge. Its a good job too, as ‘for free’ is a song of such melancholic beauty, its hard to imagine a finer song. Its faltering vocal delivering heartbreaking lines that play against the simple acoustic and distant mournful electric guitars. The lyrics are acutely northern and deadpan, or maybe that’s the way I like to hear things. This song is set cleverly at the penultimate moment, the comedown before the troubled auf wiedersehen of ‘teethmarks’, a song that releases us from the sometimes teeth grinding and sometimes sublimely beautiful ride that is ‘Mystery with Hermit Foil’. Its an album of complexity and simplicity, of light and (very) dark. Its utterly engaging and takes you on a ride through a rich and diverse landscape. If you have an ounce of musical integrity go and buy this. Go and buy this and listen, loud, without fear.

BANNERLAUNCH

Friday 3rd July ’09 sees a full, live ‘Album Launch’ set at the Yorkshire House Lancaster from Electric Free Time Machine, support from Sam and the Plants, Dan Haywood and Voytek the Bear. I’m told that a special embossed digipack edition of the album will be available at ultra discounted, ‘on the night’ prices….Its gonna be awesome, look here for full details http://www.myspace.com/eftm or facebook http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/event.php?eid=95418091451&ref=nf

Ponies – Ponies

Reviewed by Reza Mills

According to the sleeve notes, this 11 track CD-R I have in my possession is one of 44 compiled in October 2008. The tracks have been recorded in a variety of locations from Lancaster to Leeds as well as Ponies’ hometown of Blackpool. Ponies for those of you not in the know, is Tom Bramhall. Having been suitably impressed by his performance at The Britannia in late January, I decided to purchase a copy of the album from Tom on the night and boy was that a good decision!

The album starts off with a track called Doin’ Lord (Way beyond the blues). The gospel influence on the track reminded me somewhat of Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming and Saved albums following his conversion to Christianity. Thankfully Tom is a lot more subtle with his beliefs, but there is a definite spiritual feel to the album, which is continued with the tracks Go down Moses, Tuck Jump the Devil and Some o’ these days. The good thing about what Tom does is he never lets the message dominate at the expense of the music. So what you do get is very uplifting soulful music that stirs the spirit without the preaching.

Tom’s vocal style is beautifully balanced between affecting and at times howls from the very depths of hell. Tom sounds like a man looking for redemption who maybe is trying to reconcile himself with his faith. Not unlike what Cat Stevens was going for with his last album under that name Back to Earth. The music is in the indie folk tradition with mostly acoustic guitar and harmonica. As touched upon earlier, there is a heavy Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens influence, but there is also a lo-fi quality as well. The songs are certainly recorded in that style; not too dissimilar to bands like early Sebadoh and Guided by Voices, or even Daniel Johnson and Jad Fair where the songs are recorded as their laid down. They haven’t been continually fussed over and polished till there’s little of the original character left. This is especially refreshing in an age where most bands are sounding increasingly bland, diluted and overproduced. There is a down-to-earth and organic feel about the album that is missing from much of today’s highly polished and trendy so-called alternative acts. Indeed this might have something to do with Tom’s D.I.Y. ethics not only influenced from the likes of Ian Mackaye and Dischord Records but also Mackaye’s most recent project to date The Evens.

At times listening to the album you would be mistaken for thinking that the album was recorded in the 1920’s or 1930’s and not the 2000’s. The recording does sound like it comes from that era, which is no bad thing. Indeed it has that early scratchy vinyl feel to it, as if you were listening to Robert Johnson. The music is upbeat and you find yourself singing along at times, as indeed I was the other day to ‘There is a house’, the best song on the album in my opinion. Unlike a lot of indie-folk groups doing the rounds these days that are weighed down with their own self-importance as well as trying far too hard to sound as beautiful as possible, Tom’s music sounds naturally emotive and genuine. This is indie-folk ladies and gents but not as you know it. For more .information on Ponies you can visit their webpage on http://www.myspace.com/poniesetc

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Opposite Of Robot: Suicidal Birds + Pony pack + Uncle jeff + Niamh Starkey

Opposite of Robot presents

Suicidal Birds + Support – The Yorkshire House – 18/06/09

 

By Reza Mills

 

Accompanying me on this particular night was Totally Wired co-founder Richard Davis and Lunecy Review head honcho Kev Mcveigh. The night’s musical smorgasbord came courtesy of Opposite of Robot and sadly will be the last gig until October. After a somewhat lively discussion as to who provides the best music London and the south or the North, we all settled in for Niamh Starky.

 

Niamh usually has a full band accompanying her; so it came as something of a surprise when she appeared solo. With a band she comes across like Mogwai covering Joy Division with some ‘ambient loop things’ to quote one reviewer. However tonight was a relatively simple affair, with just an acoustic guitar, a microphone and a stool. Stripped down to the very basics, Niamh plays very twee indie-folk not too dissimilar to Jo Gillot. Gentle acoustic pluckings and a sweet saccharine voice make for a very pleasant sound. She wears her influences on her sleeve, comparisons could be drawn to Camera Obscura (who she covers), Belle & Sebastian and much lamented late Swedish Indie-pop heroes The Wannadies. If there is one criticism to be offered then it is that Niamh seemed rather nervous on the night, some of the guitar licks didn’t quite come off how they should of and she seemed quite eager to get off the stage as soon as possible. An unresponsive audience didn’t really do much to help quell those nerves either. An off-night then for an otherwise very capable performer.

 

Having seen front man Stephen Hudson perform a brilliant solo set at The Totally Wired re-launch a couple of months ago, I was intrigued to hear what the much talked about Uncle Jeff could offer.  What impressed me was the high level of professionalism present amongst the band members – they were extraordinarily tight yet they managed to make it seem so effortless. It became immediately clear during their set that these guys are serious about reaching the big time and if that is indeed their goal then their certainly heading in the right direction. The band has a wide range of influences from melodic indie pop by way of The Lemonheads and The Eels to a slight Americana influence from Yo La Tengo.  There is also a psychedelic sheen to their songs, particularly the closing track which climaxed with a veritable tidal wave of feedback and distortion which brought to mind avant-garde experimental artists such as …And you know us by the trail of the dead and to a lesser extent Mercury Rev and Early Flaming Lips. What was most impressive was how they managed to combine and focus such disparate influences into one unique sound. It is a rare thing for me to be so blown away by new bands; however Uncle Jeff managed to do so in spades. Alongside 3d Tanx, Ponies, The Lovely Eggs and Joyeux, Uncle Jeff are in very fine company. I for one will certainly be attending their EP release party on the 31st July. Venue to be confirmed.

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Which leads us neatly on to our next artist on this mammoth bill; Pony Pack who are a trio hailing from Amsterdam, Holland.  On bass and vocals you had Jane Mack, on guitar Orang Goreng and new drummer Nora Uitterlinden who has been with the band for roughly a year. The band was pretty much no-holds barred from the first song. Battering their way through a collection of riot girl inspired 3 chord hardcore punk. Vocally Jane Mack resembles Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. So much so that at any point during the performance I was half-expecting a call for Revolution Girl style now! The gloriously sloppy performance betrayed a garage rock influence of the more updated kind in the style of The Pandoras and The Donnas.  Although hardly the most earth shatteringly original band I’ve ever heard, they certainly made up for it with sheer enthusiasm and passion. Our very own Kev for example was certainly enraptured by the performance and was head banging down the front like he did back in the early 80’s to Saxon and Iron Maiden. I on the other hand was quietly impressed if not overawed. It did make a nice break to the very subtle and beautiful music being offered by the first 2 acts. Sometimes you just wanna rock and Pony Pack fulfilled that role perfectly.

 

Into every reviewer’s life a little rain must fall, however even with that thought in mind nothing could have prepared me for the sheer barrage of awfulness that was The Suicidal Birds. The Suicidal Birds are also from Holland, but this time the northern province of Friesland.  They consist of a drum machine and two girls; Jessie on vocals/guitar and Chay on bass/vocals. They have managed to create quite a stir and have received rave reviews both in Holland and The UK. They even managed to get invited to tour with Dinosaur Jr. twice for various festivals in 2006. The band is currently promoting a new CD titled Spend your life in serious misery.  From the off it became clear to me that this was not going to be my cup of tea. Every song started with the same irritating drum machine programmed to sound like Public Image Limited and Joy Division, with that heavy tribal influence. The girls then proceeded to slash away at their collective instruments like their lives depended on it, screaming and howling into the microphones like they were possessed, indeed it was difficult to distinguish what they were quite so worked up about. The band is frequently compared to Dinosaur Jr and The Pixies though how those comparisons came to be in the first place is a mystery to me. The band is much more akin to 80’s Anarcho-punk outfits like Flux of Pink Indians and Crass, without the humour of either.  In fact the uniformity of the songs was wearying and the only positive thing that could be garnered from the performance was its’ conclusion. The audience seemed to be in agreement as they had all dispersed by the second song, maybe something I should have done.

 

A bit of a shame really as the evening as a whole was quite enjoyable with some varied and interesting acts. So thanks to Richard Turner and let’s hope that Opposite of Robot gigs are better attended in the future.

Draw The Line ’09 Lancaster University

Reviewed by Kev McVeigh

Draw The Line ’09 is the Lancaster University Fine Art Degree Show held over two venues on campus.  Each artist displaying work in both venues creates an odd contrast for some between the formal presentation of the Peter Scott Gallery and the more varied use of the Studios.

One of the functions of art might be considered provocateur, and in this show one artist in particular takes that line.  Equally art frequently reveals as much of its creator as of its subject, inevitably so when they are one and the same.  So two quite similar pieces by Katrina Laskowski show video of her naked body covered in food.  Is it art or porn, some might ask?  Certainly not the latter as there is none of porn’s luxuriating in the sexual detail.  Indeed the second piece is barely erotic at all, being too self-conscious or knowing for that.  In the former, the brief stills of Laskowski pouring custard over her breasts and down her back in the shower offer something, though curiously the pattern of bright yellow on her skin matches the flow of paint over light boxes in Harriet Bulch’s work across the room.  Is it art then?  Yes, I think so, but perhaps not as the artist claims in the catalogue.  For me the art comes in the creation of a dichotomy of coyness (there’s not even a hint of a nipple in one piece) and flagrant exhibitionism, rather than in an erotic association of food and sexuality which after all was done so much more intimately in films such as Last Tango In Paris or Tampopo.

Almost as notorious, having made the Lancaster Guardian, was Caroline Horton’s ‘desperategirl@hotmail.co.uk’ persona.  You may have encountered her vivid, intriguing pop-art styled posters around town supposedly seeking and arranging a liaison.  Collected as a whole they offer a thoughtful yet exuberant meditation on the prevalent vogue of detached communication (e-mails, texts, etc) whilst maintaining a coded narrative in the manner of the recent BT ads.  Finally there is a hint that the story continues (assuming it was ever real… and not more artifice.)

At first glance Jo Gillot’s work might also reflect a TV ad series: the stuffed toys of the Corsa ads.  There is more though, a different, darker narrative emerges as a series of these handmade ‘toys’ are made solid from cut-out bedsheet.  The traditional women’s crafts are here co-opted into an artistic context.  Several of the figures appear drowned in jars of coloured jam, jelly or liquid topped with traditional muslin.  In the catalogue Jo admits to the obvious influences of Tracey Emin and especially Mike Kelley but in her combinations of the childlike and the sinister I see Paula Rego’s twisted take on fairytales and child and adult roles.

If it seems unfair that I am comparing some of these talented young artists to their influential predecessors let me point out the inevitability of such connections.  Throughout history much art has been involved in a dialogue with what went before.  Furthermore this is work specifically compiled to obtain an academic qualification, under tutelage and the rarefied influences that implies.  Of course these pieces reflect canon, and the academy, but what is striking is how so many of them wear their influences lightly and are by no means shackled to them.

So, for example, one of my favourite pieces here was Robin Spalding’s ‘Deliverance’ part of an ongoing sequence that reminds me at first of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster sequence in its hybrid form and its re-mythologizing ‘story.’  Spalding’s work is though quite different to Barney’s in its eschewing of surrealism and concentration on function.

Spalding brings a contemporary slant to myth, but Lucy Frost brings the contemporary world right in our faces.  Quite literally with ‘car windscreen’ with its detached and isolated missile throwing figure painted in photorealist fashion onto the shattered glass windshield.  As a commentary on our exposure to conflict through the distorted eye of the media it is quite obvious but at the same time carefully adopted angles force an abstraction on our view that adds a challenge: is this real?

I’ve talked about some of my favourites here, but the whole show is worth seeing.  Art only fails if it leaves the viewer indifferent and unchanged.  That cannot be said for most of the work on show here.  Perhaps Clare Jones’ blotchy abstract paintings were for me just ‘nice.’  Sarah Rhead’s skilful cut-out and pop-up cardboard cities were just that: skilful.  Yet in the catalogue they are shown illuminated and dramatic where on display they lack that character and seem more of a technical exercise.

courtesy Sian Phillips

If Rhead has simply failed to fully exploit her space then other site=specific work was more effective.  Sian Phillips hanging pods of burnt melted sugar offer a frightening implication as you realise the floor beneath is covered not only in dark liquid but in broken shells.  Something mysterious has hatched here (or have I just watched the wrong movies?)   As a constantly flowing organic sculpture there is a sensual beauty and terror present in taut harmony.

What next for these ex-students though?  Some are off to further studies, others into the world of work.  Jo Gillot we expect to achieve major pop success.  And there are at least two artists in this show whose work offers a chance of mainstream commercial success.  Ellen Swingler’s brooding charcoal drawings of archways, passages and what lies beyond, in the shadows are richly detailed but carefully framed to limit perception to one direction.  Melissa Laishley has used rapid movement in a specially designed ‘lightsuit’ and long exposure photography to produce images of landscapes (a twisted branch, an iron staircase) entwined with mysterious veils of red light. I could easily see both these artists work marketed as popular prints.

With as much work again that I haven’t discussed, Draw The Line ‘09 is a magnificent show offering incredible technical ability, imaginative diversity and above all, passion.

Local Talent Supported!

Following early controversy I should in fairness report that HMV has five copies of The Lovely Eggs rather fine CD on sale at a very reasonable tenner.  Go buy one (two, three, all five) soon.

Next: Hows My Otters Time Machine Jeff?  get their CDs launched…