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Surviving Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia!

26 Oct
Jane Weaver

Jane Weaver at Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia.

A busy month away from this blog, and a few things to tell, but I’ll start with a follow up to the last post. Yes, just incase you were in any doubt, I survived the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. I’m pretty sure I can’t remember half of it and not because I was drunk, or otherwise. It all blended into one glorious noise and social whirl, although I do vividly remember live sets from JC Satan and Jane Weaver, who were exceptionally good. So, for all round good times and a real feeling of musical camaraderie, I heartily recommend checking out next year’s event (obviously if psychedelic music is your thing). Taking place in the city’s off beat Camp and Furnace district (think renovated warehouses), it was one of the best urban festivals I’ve been to! As well as the various stages, they even have numerous food stalls in operation, an upstairs dance floor and a vinyl shop (courtesy of Manchester’s Piccadilly Records).

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Anyway, enough from me, I clearly haven’t retained enough information! Here is some dynamic footage instead:

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Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia.

25 Sep

One of the discouraging aspects of teaching English (of which there are many positives) is that when I get home of a night, writing on my blog isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. Getting my tea is the first thing that springs to mind. Hopefully I will have the energy to write more very soon! In the meantime, here’s a plug for an event I’m attending tonight and tomorrow. Four of us have tickets and I believe some are still available. Liverpool’s annual psychedelic festival is playing host to a roll call of far out musical talent, with acts playing live at various locations. Plus, yes, I’m in Liverpool again! I just can’t keep away. I’m particularly keen to see the North-West’s very own Jane Weaver, whose The Silver Globe album has become a personal favourite. Also French outfit JC Satan promise sounds of a more abrasive but no less captivating nature. But, what am I saying…there are so many acts on offer, it’d be foolish to pick any out (which I just have).

So if psychedelic music is your thing, get down there this weekend. I’ve heard very good things about this festival, and will be sure to feed back to you on my experience very shortly.

http://www.liverpoolpsychfest.com/

Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia is on from Friday 25th to Saturday 26th September, at the Camp and Furnace, Blade Factory and District venues.

Ex-Hex at Soup Kitchen, Manchester, 12th February 2015.

16 Feb

Ex-hexEx-Hex are the sound of pop and rock’s rich electric guitar wielding past, full of emotive memories, combined with something new. I’m not actually sure what that ‘something’ is, but Ex-Hex do not sound like an uninspired retread of former glories. Their strong resemblance to the sound of early to mid ’70s glam and punk make it easy to imagine them on the stage at CBGBs, but their Runaways-esque sound and image is backed up by their own identity, at the same time assured, deft, merrily irreverent and genuinely fun. All the tunes have been lovingly crafted within an inch of their lives, which also means any live diversions improve rather than destroy their brilliant punk-pop racket. Also, despite their more mature age, Ex-Hex can make you feel like a teenager again, and in this context, that’s a marvellous thing (even the songs concern themselves with such teen girl tribulations as bad boyfriends, nights out and getting even).

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In the scruffy bowels of the Soup Kitchen bar in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Ex-Hex continue the UK leg of their current tour. It’s the kind of venue their infectious noise suits down to the ground. After the polite but competent indie pop of support band Princess (who caused some very amusing audience communication confusion: “What’s that last one called?”…”What’s your name?”…”What’s my name?”…”No, that’s the name of the track”).  I liked them, but I can’t say too much more as I only saw the end of their set. Following Princess, there’s a bit of wait for Ex-Hex to take to the stage. Despite Timony graciously mentioning that so many bands have come from Manchester, I’m not sure this will go down as their personal favourite venue in the tour. I’ve heard they love them up in Glasgow, and to be fair, this crowd are a bit subdued on a Thursday night (the weekend hasn’t really started yet). Actually, while we’re on the subject of geography, the band have got me re-thinking what I thought I knew about the DC music scene, which admittedly wasn’t much. On their own merit Ex-Hex are a fairly tight and capable outfit, with a classic sound, notable stage presence and an obvious musical talent.

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Lead vocalist and guitarist Mary Timony is a veteran of previous bands such as Helium and the more recent White Flag, and with new recruits Betsy Wright (bass) and Laura Harris (drums) has formed a trio that know the power of a good riff and a decent chorus. Songs like “Don’t Wanna Lose”, “Waterfall” and “The Beast” echo with the spirit of a glam disco circa 1973 (and a cover of The Sweet’s “Fox on the run” just enhances this), but these ladies are not slaves to the history book, with something fresh and cheerfully brash being wrung from these well established instruments, which feature less and less on our current top ten singles, unless from worthy but dull behemoths like Coldplay. But with Ex-Hex the fun is back in rock n’ roll and they might well be my favourite new band. This is classic garage pop rock that occasionally knows how to rock hard without losing its tune, and while this might have originally been Timony’s baby, Wright certainly cuts a captivating figure, full of sass and confidence. But let’s be clear, Ex-Hex really come across as a trio democracy, all for one and one for all.
A guitar versus bass face-off adds to the excitement with Timony and Wright like pigs in muck. They don’t just do this for a living; they love the bones of it. To make such a rock n’ roll cliché look fresh and riveting is a secret they’d best keep. Whatever it is, they keep you glued, even when in moments of raucous improvisation to their chord driven punk sound. The last gasps of the ’90s Riot Grrrl movement? Maybe, but most definitely an exciting all girl band. Out dated labels aren’t needed here.

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The diverse crowd (old metal fans packed in with indie kids and hipsters and the odd folky looking stray) offered a lot of wolf whistles and loud applause in response to the music, and nobody looked unimpressed. Sure, we’d heard it done a million times before, but with a band like Ex-Hex taking a few notes from that aforementioned history book of rock riffs, I feel sure that they’ll be substantially adding to that book themselves soon. Plus I left the gig with a big smile on my face and a new record under my arm, and you can’t argue with that sort of evidence.

(As a postscript I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to the really nice merchandising girl, who had put a new copy of ‘Rips’ to one side for me. She even asked if I had enough time to catch my train. I never know if Americans have an idea of distance and time on our island nation, but if you’re reading this, it was only a twelve minute sprint, and yes, I made it!)

Ex-Hex’s debut album ‘Rips’ is out now on Merge records.

Links below to some great Youtube clips from Stepunker:

Beth Orton review: distinctive and emotive.

4 Jul

Beth Orton 2

In the reverent and historical womb of Manchester Cathedral, Beth Orton’s irrelevant in-between banter gave a grounded and personable quality to her overall performance; displaying the kind of bittersweet songs that made her a success in the mid-nineties. A recognition of an album anniversary- 1999’s Central Reservation– this middle gig of three sees Beth playing the album in its (almost) entirety. After a six year gap between 2006’s Comfort of Strangers and 2012’s Sugaring Season, it did seem as if Beth had quit music for good, or the music had quit her. Raising a child and getting married apparently took precedence, but now, in 2014, it’s so good to have her back.

After a rather shocking conversation with a media type lady outside the Mitre pub (Rolf Harris potentially won’t be the most shocking celebrity revelation you’ll hear this year), I adjourned to the cool interior of the cathedral. A wonderful venue, and one Orton herself seemed to appreciate; “this is my favourite venue on the tour”. She was backed by her band, which also includes husband Sam Amidon (much stripped down from the one I saw at Glastonbury in ’99, when Central Reservation was new),

The set started with no fuss or fanfare; straight into the familiar sound of ‘Stolen Car’. Although Beth’s vocals sound slightly more strained than in past years, the slightly ragged quality suits the songs of love and loss and her overall voice is as distinctive and warm as ever. It’s also clear that her guitar playing, which was never anything but good, has now developed into a more fluid and natural engagement with her instrument; it’s as unique and personal as her voice. Although the remit to play all of Central Reservation isn’t exactly abandoned (practically all the tracks are there), Beth decided to mix up the running order with performances of other songs, old and new. The appearance of ‘She cries your name’ and ‘Galaxy of emptiness’ in the set is therefore not surprising, and very welcome, but far more of interest were newer tracks like ‘Mystery’, which I’d never heard live before. Her pedestrian version of the album’s title track quickly gives way to a loop-enhanced rendition which calls to mind the many remixes of the track, and her early recordings with The Chemical Brothers. It was one of my gig highlights and one of the few times the band really go up-tempo and almost rock out. Not that rocking out is why I’ve come here. For the most part I get exactly what I wanted, which is some beautifully observed and fractured lyrics delivered emotively by the woman who wrote them, with a slower, engaging melancholy sound. Added to the fact that we were all in such a gorgeous venue, with such infectious atmosphere, this concert really delivered, Even Beth seemed genuinely pleased and happy with the results. Her encore, including ‘Feel to Believe’ is worth a mention, but it was her earlier rendition of ‘Pass in Time’, the album’s centrepiece, which struck me in the heart with bittersweet yearning. Even without the late Terry Callier sharing vocals, Beth’s solo version still brought a lump to my throat. Some music can take life’s pain and give it back to you; seemingly filling a hole you didn’t realise was there. It was the emotive highlight of a special evening.

Awkward, scatty, irreverent and slightly goofy: if I was a female folk singer I would probably be Beth Orton, and that’d be enough reason for me to like her, but on the music alone it’s not difficult to feel something extremely positive. It had been a while, but on the strength of tonight I can’t wait to see Beth again. Let’s hope it’s not as long until the next time.