Album Launch: The Electric Free Time Machine + Voytek the Bear + Sam and the Plants + Dan Haywood (solo)

The Yorkshire House – 03/07/09

Written by Reza Mills

First to kick off the night’s proceedings was Dan Haywood formerly of alternative-rockers The Puma-sutras, Dutch Desert and his most recent incarnation The New Hawks. He had initially been recommended to me by my good friend Tom Bramhall of the indie-folk outfit Ponies. I had even played one of his tracks’ entitled ‘John’s Shoes’ (included on his debut self-titled EP released in 2007) on my radio show The Real Alternative. However I had never had the opportunity to witness him in a live setting.

Tonight saw Dan perform on his own without any help from his cohorts in The New Hawks. Opening up a huge bill like this is never an easy task, but Dan’s easy going nature soon had the audience eating out the palm of his hand. He comes from a fine tradition of eccentric and quirky English singer-songwriters such as Robyn Hitchcock and Syd Barrett. In fact it is the former of which Dan reminds me the most. Like Hitchcock he does not take himself too seriously. His playing technique could be described as deliberately shambolic and at times I wasn’t sure where one song ended and another one started. It is clear that he is not interested in traditional verse-chorus-verse style structures and instead prefers it go wherever his whim takes him. This gave us an exciting improvised set full of surprises and twists. He has a very unusual vocal style which might grate with some people the same way Bob Dylan and Neil Young does with others. Although he doesn’t possess the best set of pipes, what he lacks in range, he more than makes up for in charisma and character. This is indie folk-rock with a hint of alternative country thrown in for good measure. He has opened for the likes of The Handsome Family, Diane Cluck and Mary Hampton, the latter two he played with at the last ever LAWM gig a few weeks ago. Apart from being a brilliant songwriter, Dan also has a fantastic sense of humour and frequently cracked jokes with the audience. This helped to relax everyone for what promised to be an exciting and diverse night of music.

Next on the bill we had Rochdale duo Sam and The Plants who are currently signed to Twisted Nerve Records, the label co-founded by Badly Drawn Boy’s Damon Gough. The band plays pastoral acid-folk that brings to mind various modern day outfits such as Feathers, Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens. The experimental nature of these aforementioned artists have clearly rubbed off on the duo and saw them utilizing harmoniums, strange synth noises, a flute and an acoustic guitar at various points in the performance. The band’s sound also harks back to traditional folk groups such as The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention. Vocally Sam borrows from the late Elliot Smith. He has a voice tinged with melancholy and regret, yet there is also beauty and hope. Like Dan Haywood, the songs have a tendency to meld together so that you are not always sure when one song ends and another begins. In fact the audience at times were unsure at what point to applaud particularly as the songs had a tendency to end rather abruptly. However this is a relatively minor quibble for what was  overall a very accomplished and intriguing set. The band has a lot of potential and I for one was impressed enough to investigate their music further, which you can do as well by visiting www.myspace.com/samandtheplants.

After the experimental genteel folk styling’s of Sam and the Plants, it was time for some serious booty shaking courtesy of sleazy dub funk outfit Voytek the bear. Voytek are a 4-piece outfit from Manchester consisting of John Callaghan on drums, Dave Leonard on Trumpet/guitar, Dan Merryweather on vocals/guitar and Pete Robinson on Bass/vocals. The band plays a mixture of ska, funk, punk and dub. Comparisons could be made to Primus, Sublime, Happy Mondays and on occasion A Certain Ratio. There is also a slight jazz influence present as well which should be no surprise as one of the influences listed on their MySpace page was Art Blakey. All these influences combined make for some exceptionally abrasive grooves. The band certainly got the audience moving, especially our very own Kev Mcveigh who feeling the phunky vibes, took off his shoes, got down to the front of the room and started shakin’ and grooving in time to the seriously funky tunes being laid down. Who said white guys had no rhythm? There was also a stoner aesthetic inherent to the music as well, with the more laid back tunes taking you to a higher state of consciousness. The band was hugely entertaining and a lot of fun. Highly recommended viewing if you ever get a chance.

There seems to be something in the air at the moment in Lancaster and its’ not just swine flu. Quite a few bands of late have been hosting album launches. Quite recently we had a triple whammy from Homemade Lemonade, Ponies and The existence of Harvey Lord. In a couple of weeks’ it will be the turn of Uncle Jeff. You can now add to that list Electric Free Time Machine who tonight was promoting their debut album Mystery with Hermit Foil recently reviewed by Wes Martin on The Lunecy Review.

Electric Free Time Machine is a four piece outfit featuring the talents of Harvey Lord, David George, Simon Fletcher and Robert Daniels. Although truth be told I was unfamiliar with the band, I did know Simon having worked with him before at Lancaster Library (soon to be on a more permanent basis). Indeed there were more library colleagues than you could shake a stick at who had showed up to lend support. Usually when I review a band, I can often hear the influences loud and clear and am thus able to compare and contrast. This time however proved a lot trickier. The Electric Free Time Machine to their credit sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before. From folk to Krautrock, funk and metal, right through to psychedelic punk and blues the sheer spectrum of genres covered is both mind-blowing and staggering. If I were attempting to draw comparisons then I would say that there are hints of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Faust and Can (In fact they backed Damo Suzuki quite recently at The Fell foot festival), but this wouldn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Part of this is down to the bands’ experimental, anything goes mentality which makes them so hard to categorize. In fact the band has been known to constantly change set lists, balanced between the carefully constructed tracks and the completely improvised. Tonight it would seem the band were in a funky mood. This unpredictability comes as a breath of fresh air in a music world saturated by trendy nu-rave and retro 80’s synth-pop with Kate Bush copyists on vocals. The band deservedly received a standing ovation and was called upon to do an encore. I for one was blown away and am looking forward to listening to a copy of their album which I managed to purchase on the night. 4 bands for a quid? Bargain mate.

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6 Responses

  1. Brilliant Reza, if it hadn’t been for my Manc gig, I would have been shoelessly dancing the night away. I really rate all these acts, it was difficult not being here. Sam has been enthralling me since ’03 when I booked him for an art event over in Preston. Its genuine what you get from him…lovely. Dan is near genius sometimes, the full band being a wonder to behold, even Dave Wright admits to this one, hahah….
    EFTM, yeah, they demand your attention, and repay in full. Wicked, Nice one mr Mills….made me rather sad to have missed it.

  2. Yeah twas a great night Wes. Thanks for your kind words squire.

    All the bands were top notch. Particulary impressed with Dan Haywood and Sam and The Plants. Voytek the Bear whilst not necessarily the type of music I’d listen to at home were great fun and did a cracking set.

    EFTM a whole other level. Incredibly original. Good to know that new music can still cut it and that there are musicians wanting to create something genuinely original and creative. Talking of which I’m listening to The Minutemen at the moment…Double Nickels on the dime, one of the finest albums of all time imo.

  3. Dan Haywood like a mothertrucker!

    Amongst the finest stuff I’ve seen or heard.

    Feel lucky to have it on the doorstep.

    Cannea wait for the triple disc. Mammoth achievements.

    Wait for next year!

    (loved up)

    🙂

  4. good review. Except Sam’s vocals sound nothing like Elliott Smith

  5. I’ll say Nel! That had me baffled too! Sam = genius though….

  6. Well not note for note obviously, but it has that certain resigned, introspective feel about it imo.

    Great group tho’ nonetheless.

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