Live Review: Gordon Giltrap and Oliver Wakeman in Maltby, 05/04/14

Venue: The Wesley Centre, Maltby
Date: 05/04/14

Hosted by the Classic Rock Society, The Wesley Centre in Maltby had drawn in an enthusiastic crowd of appreciative music fans for the South Yorkshire tour date of guitar legend Gordon Giltrap, virtuoso musician and writer Oliver Wakeman and the accompanying Ravens & Lullabies band.

In true CRS style, the opening support act of the night was local group, Guy Manning & Friends; a three piece, featuring Guy Manning on guitar and vocals with both male and female backing vocals and accompanying guitar. Playing a set of folk/ prog rock, self penned numbers they tentatively warmed up the night, with a short set featuring everything from an unaccompanied vocal piece to a full band contribution with percussion and intertwined guitar melodies. A daunting task no doubt opening up for what was anticipated as a night for serious music lovers.

Six members of the Ravens & Lullabies band took to the stage, introducing the main instigators of the project, Giltrap and Wakeman.

A huge sound ensued from the stage as they opened their set with tracks from their recent collaborative album. At first glimpse you may think Giltrap and Wakeman are an unusual pairing, but as they reminisce about their shared history and Giltrap’s time spent making music with Oliver Wakeman’s father (Rick Wakeman), it is clear that the pairing of these two musical giants is a complimentary combination.

The powerful and emotive vocals of lead singer, Paul Manzi opened up the band’s set with Moneyfacturing and Maybe Tomorrow, before moving on to a lighter acoustic section of the evening featuring an acoustic set, where Giltrap took centre stage with his impressive rendition of most notably A Perfect Day and Fiona’s Smile.

Wakeman had the chance to dust off a few of his own compositions, some from his former albums Jabberwocky and Hound of the Baskervilles, but it was the touching LJW written for his wife that stood out as a song which made the set so very versatile.

Accompanied by the story and gratitude Wakeman feels for his wife, being at home with their children whilst he’s out working on tour. He explained that unusually she isn’t a fan of music and will point out only a few short melodies he’s written that she likes when he writes and plays at home. With each positive comment she made, he remembered and transcribed the melodies, piecing them together almost like a series of short movements from a symphony, dedicated to her.

The personal anecdotes and banter with the band and audience was in fact what took the night to another level and it was clear that these guys weren’t just some of the most accomplished musicians in their field, they were all round performers who kept the crowd entertained throughout the evening.

Joking about how warm it was on stage, Wakeman relented that his Dad’s cape from his years in prog rock band ‘Yes’, may be a good alternative to his leather jacket, he preceded to re-enact this with the stage curtain, much to the delight of the audience.

The full band took to the stage once again for the second half of the night, where they continued with the prog rock epic Is This The Last Song I Write? one of Wakeman’s personal favourites about the writer’s never ending worry that the ‘well of creativity’ may dry up. Featuring a mammoth solo from lead guitarist Nick Kendall on his cherry red, Fender Stratocaster he owned the stage.

They rounded up the evening with a triumphant, full band performance of Giltrap’s most notable song. Joking that it was his ‘Streets of London’, comparing it to folk singer-guitarist Ralf McTell’s famous, career-making track and the only one people ever want to hear (which I can assure you it isn’t).

The night ended on a rare, full band arrangement of Heartsong, which he commented was only the third time he’d played this version since the 1980s. A great, privilege to hear it live as it was intended when it was written all those years ago.

What an evening it had been. The audience had been treated to a plethora of Giltrap and Wakeman’s collaborative work and separate solo projects. It was a musical journey taking you through the years, staying true to their roots and bringing you up to the present day with their complimentary styles.

– Charlie Barker

View full set of live gig images: click here.

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Pasta, Performing & Perfect Producers: In Conversation with Lucy Ward

Typical of Lucy Ward’s down-to-earth nature, I grab her for questioning around at her Mum’s house following her fifteen minute demolition of a plate of homemade pasta. Agenda Magazine writer, Danny Stockdale talks to Derby’s own star of Brit-Folk, Lucy Ward as she is about to embark on the first tour with her new band line-up; stopping by in Derbyshire’s Matlock Bath Grand Pavilion on 25th April 2014.

by Elly Lucas

by Elly Lucas

Danny: You seem to be really excited about Friday and the start of the tour…
Lucy: Yes, it’s really good! I’ve been kind of nervous about it for a long time, with it being just a step in a different direction, would the audience like that? Also you’re taking five other musicians on tour with you; you want them to have a good and exciting experience. It felt like a lot of pressure. I really , really wanted it to succeed, but it’s all going well, everybody’s working hard and all of the musicians are working hard to make the music sounds awesome.

D: With your success as a solo artist, what made you decide to form a band?
(The Lucy Ward Band consists of Belinda O’Hooley (Rachel Unthank and the Winterset), Heidi Tidow (O’Hooley & Tidow), Stephen MacLachland (The Willows), Joy Gravestock and Sam Pegg)
L: A first record for any solo artist I think is really important for it to be a calling card for the sound that you can produce live. I think particularly when you’re a folk artist and you’re going to be going up and down the country to folk clubs and venues. If they [the audience] come and see you live and you sell them a record where it’s you and a fifty-two piece band it’s just so incongruous. It didn’t feel right. I think a second album is an opportunity to lay down a lot of the things you hear as a songwriter and put them on the album. People took to it [the current album Single Flame] really well, it was successful and had good reviews and so at the launch we decided it would be fun to get together some of the musicians who had performed on it to do a band gig and it just felt awesome! For me it was such a different experience to be sharing the stage and the energy with different people who were bringing their own awesomeness to the table. I think I got the impression from speaking to the audience afterwards that they felt we were able to walk that fine line of connection, which I feel is one of the most important parts about what I do and what I offer as a musician, that audience banter and togetherness but all this music didn’t take away from the intimacy.

So then I went off on my solo tour and I was just missing the sounds and ended up talking to the musicians who now form The Lucy Ward Band, saying “I really enjoyed it! What do you think? Do you think it (a band) is feasible? Would you like to do it?”.

Everyone said yes and it’s happening! It’s not the end of folk clubs and solo performances, but it’s really exciting to be able to realize all of those sounds live and the harmony. It’s so hard to sing harmony as a solo performer…but I’ve already got four great singers up on the stage so we go for it like that!

D: How much of the idea to form a band was influenced by the ‘Mills & Chimneys’ project?
(The 2010 ‘Mills & Chimneys’ project was a collaboration between Derbyshire folk musicians (Lucy Ward, David Gibb, Elly Lucas, Sarah Matthews, Julian Butt and Mike Smith) who worked with together with schools to create an album of songs which represent Derbyshire.)
L: I would say that Mills & Chimneys has been the most consistent experience I’ve had collaborating with other musicians and it’s different in the respect that it’s solo people contributing equally to a band, whereas obviously this band is my music and the musicians put their own spin on top of that. I would certainly say that it has been my main experience of touring with other people and if The Lucy Ward Band can have half as much fun as Mills & Chimneys managed to have then we’ll have a really great tour and a really great time!

D: I was thinking as a solo artist it is essentially the relationship between you and the audience which determines the gigs success and if that’s not quite there on the night it’s pretty difficult. Whereas if you have other people on stage you can make your own fun and that feeds through to the audience, would you say that’s fair?
L: Yeah, I think there’s something in that certainly. I hope that bad nights are a thing of the past, but rather you have good nights and really good nights. That can be for all sorts of reasons including the mood of the audience. I think when I’ve been in those situations where perhaps I feel like I’m trying to gain the audience’s approval, having these musicians around me in the few gigs we’ve done together as a trial has given me the confidence that the music can speak for itself. I don’t need to be nattering away for them to get the point which is a lovely position to be in and I hope that it will make for a different experience to my solo shows.

D: I think it probably would do. It’s been lovely to see you so many times over what seems to be a couple of years and to see you confidently taking hold of the stage. Now from my point of view because I know your set list I’m able to see it from an objective point of view, looking at how engaged the audience is and how lovely it is to see the audience really taking to you…
L: That’s really cool! That’s really nice! It has been a mad few years and I have spent a lot time honing my craft, going up and down the country, speaking to all kinds of people and I hope that means that there is very little that can phase me in that live experience now. It’s all the better when people shout out and sing and we have this amazing communal space. I’m hoping that the others musicians will just add to that.

D: You mentioned about the public response in those two shows already, what has been the general public response to the Lucy Ward Band project?
L: I think people seem excited by it, like you said at the beginning, I’m excited and I think that has been a bit contagious for some people which is lovely that people are getting on board. I think a lot of my reviews have mentioned what a surprise Single Flame was and in a positive way. Making comments like “How can the person who wrote Adelphi have written this record?”, which I reveled in because I thought that’s what you want as a musician.

I’m 24 and I hope that experience of experimenting with new sounds and songwriting styles isn’t over and that I can write albums that sound like different people. I think people who perhaps had their view of my style and performance perhaps saw me as someone quite lightweight because of how fun I like the “in-between death songs” moments to be. This record maybe said to some of my critics “oh no, she’s singing and these are songs about big topics, environmental change and politics”.

D: I suppose seeing your music as being minimalist, sparse and your voice being your main instrument, this is different. This is more about the tapestry that comes out of this project and your songs…
Yes! That’s a good word to use. The bit I’m most excited about is that it’s going to give me the freedom to sing more. There are times when I’m handing over the guitar to the fabulous Heidi Tidow and it gives me the space and the freedom to really stretch my voice. I’m hoping that in having more instruments it gives me the opportunity to get down to the barebones of what I love, which is passionate singing and I really hope that comes across.

D: I suppose not having to concentrate on playing the guitar helps that.
L: Yes, things can happen around me and I can focus on the songs and stories as well as I possibly can.

D: Have you had the opportunity to write together as a six-piece?
L: So far we haven’t tried to write together, we have so few moments with everyone’s schedule. The focus has been on getting the material for the tour really tight. In terms of what we create together, I’m not a dictator! If you’re going to enjoy playing the music and express that passion and enjoyment when you play then I want you to claim it for your own! If you’ve got an idea, then try it! If I don’t like it, or if it doesn’t work we can move forward and work on something else. We’ve tried to create music which is collaborative within the confines of the songs that stand. There are arrangements of songs which I’ve never performed live but are on the record which will be heading out on the tour so people can expect things they’ve certainly not heard me perform before with this line-up.

D: What can people expect from spending an evening with the Lucy Ward Band?
L: Well, I’m putting on songs from Single Flame and indulging the songs I have refrained from performing live on tour. We’ve also got a few cheeky covers up our sleeve for you! Lots of passion and excitement. I hope something we can achieve is a really electric atmosphere because that’s how it feels when we play together!

D: You mentioned about the covers, are you allowed to reveal any of those or are you keeping those a secret?
L: We have already put online our cover of Come on Eileen but everything else is a secret. You’ll have to come along to hear it!

D: I was wondering, could there be an album of ‘pop-songs-done-in-a-folk-style’, inspired by the Sidmouth Cabaret in the offing? Is that a possibility?
L: I don’t know about an album! I think by the time I’ve finished this tour I’ll have enough to do an album but I think it’s kind of fun at the moment to just have them up your sleeve ready to whip out on an unsuspecting audience. You don’t want to give it all away!

D: Common People has always gone down a treat particularly when I’ve seen you performing around Sheffield…
L: (Laughs) I don’t sing that as much anymore, I didn’t sing that much on the last tour, but if I’m going to get requests for anything then it’ll be that.

D: You’ll have to bring it out as a single.
L: Well that one has been recorded but many moons ago so we’ll have to see if there’s room in the calendar to bring it out sometime.

D: What’s it like going from being just you and Rob, to being one of six others at a gig?
L: It’s certainly a different dynamic. I get really nervous before I go on stage and I think it’s just me working myself up, but if I didn’t feel that way I’d worry that I didn’t care enough about how the gig went. Within the band there are five other people who are dealing with the things they do before they go on stage, some are just totally chilled out and they’re looking at me thinking “is she ok?” when really it’s just what I’m going to go through with every gig and it’s not a problem.

Then there are people who like to eat early and others who like to eat late and that’s another interesting aspect. I think musicians are very ritualistic and we like to do things in our orders to know that we’re going on stage as prepared as we possibly can be. The problem being when there are six sets of rituals pushing against each other! But I think when we’re on tour we’ll probably get in sync!

D: I have visions of you being like one of those tourist guides with the umbrellas, telling everyone where they need to be…
L: That would suggest I’m organized! That’s another thing, you have to turn up a lot earlier to gigs when you have drums, that’s the only thing that’s changed for me!

Chesterfield’s Tallbird Records Celebrate International Record Store Day, 19/04/14

How do you listen to music? Over the past couple of years music streaming has become normal. It is hard to believe that MP3s have been around since 1995, even harder to think that CDs have been with us commercially since the early 1980s. So why are we finding that more and more people are turning to a media that many declared to be dead and obsolete to sell, buy and store their music collections?

That media is vinyl and by the looks of it, we love it. According to most statistics sales of vinyl increased by about 30% last year while sales of CDs declined by about between 10-14%. Surely this is nonsensical? Is this the last stand of a technology that people are hanging onto for nostalgic reasons? With these questions in mind and that fact that this year’s Record Store Day is upon us, I spoke to one person who thinks it’s more than that. Maria Harris is the owner of Chesterfield’s newest (and only) record store. Her shop Tallbird Records (yes, the name is in reference to Maria’s vertical advantage) has opened on Soresby Street, with the aim of filling the yawning gap in Chesterfield’s music retailing.

by Matt Churchard

by Matt Churchard

Since moving to Chesterfield 8 years ago Maria’s seen long term independent store Hudson’s fall on it’s sword and HMV have pulled out of the town out after their financial issues. So why does she think she can succeed where larger and more established names have failed?

“I like to think I’ve tapped into a market that neither HMV nor Hudson’s capitalised on. Namely the resurgence of interest in vinyl“, says Maria.

She does have a point. The vinyl counter in HMV Chesterfield was almost non-existent and Hudson’s during my not so distant past (honest) doesn’t stand out in my memory. I have to admit, it is a comfort to know that my hometown has a music shop again.

Its hardly like Chesterfield is struggling to bring a bit of culture to it‘s inhabitants, its a stop off for many a comedy and theatrical tour, it has a vibrant night life and coffee shop scene but not having a record shop is an all together different problem.

“The shop provides a focal point for people in town who are interested in music and I like to think it’s helping, in some small way, to bring together a little community of like minded souls. One of the things I’m regularly told by my customers is that the shop is just what the town needed”, Maria continues.

That couldn’t be more right. In a time when music has become almost a commodity where we sell our old CDs to nameless, faceless websites like a stockbroker dumping a bad deal its good to know that the rise in popularity of this old technology is bringing back the connection between the artist, the retailer, the listener and the locality.

Maria adds, “I guess being an independent shop in the centre of town adds a bit of variety to the retail on offer, which is largely made up of chain shops. It’s also the only shop in town that you can go to too get some decent sounds.”

It is also nice to see some variety in the frontage of the premises as you walk around Chesterfield’s centre. Like many towns, Chesterfield has had it’s invasion of look-a-like shops that all follow the standardised lay out and approach of focus group lead marketing. Tallbird Records’ simple logo has reflections of the mod scene with it’s heavy contrast black and white motif and the colour scheme of the shop follows suit with red walls and cosy but not cramped layout.

Maria’s musical addiction began early, “I was always completely fascinated by music and especially at an early age by vinyl and turntables.” This is confirmed by her parents who claim her first words were “lecord-plalla”. To be so obsessed at such an early age must’ve been a sign that Maria is now following her calling?

tallbirdmariaoutside

by Matt Churchard

Maria stills owns her first record, complete with modifications by her younger sister.

“I went out with my father when we were on holiday in 1973. I had intended to get Lynsey De Paul’s single ‘Wont Somebody Dance With Me?’ but Woolworths had sold out, so I plumped for a copy of ‘My Friend Stan’ by Slade instead” she recalls.

That’s a pretty decent start on anyone’s record buying carer, especially when most kids of this generation have stated out knowing nothing better than the bland, liquidised splurge of today’s charts.

Here comes the bad news, “Shortly afterwards my younger sister got her sticky mitts on it and used it as a teething ring! I still have the record, complete with her teeth marks!”

With parents hailing from Kent, being born in Singapore and growing up in Malaysia you could say that Maria’s early life was fairly eclectic and looking through the stock in the shop you can see that reflected in the albums on offer.

“We do stock a diverse range. Everything from country and folk to northern soul and metal”, says Maria.

Every record collector needs a sound base to their collection though? Surely there has to be certain albums that every music fan has got to have?

“It’s all a matter of taste isn’t it? Personally I’d say no collection is complete without a copy of Parallel Lines by Blondie. The back catalogues of the Smiths, the Beatles, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell but I doubt someone into metal or prog rock would agree!” she exclaims.

With such a diverse range on offer there’s always going to be the reliable sellers.

“There are certain titles that despite being fairly common place always sell within a few hours of putting them out. Things like Dark Side of the Moon, any Smiths albums, Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, The Who’s Quadrophenia”, Maria says.

Don’t be tricked into thinking that this is a retro only shop though; the ethos of variety extends to new releases as well. There are plans to see if a new CD section is to be added stocking releases that the supermarkets won’t have on the shelf.

Maria comments, “It is difficult for a little shop to complete with Tesco, Asda and the online businesses like Amazon on chart products.”

We all know that bulk buying of things like vegetables, shampoo and butter can be a good thing but surely not music? Music is more than food, it’s an art form and I think a lot of people have forgotten that lately.

This brings us on to sleeve art. When I was a kid I can remember looking through my Dad’s LPs and being amazed at the covers of albums like ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by Elton John for example. The time and effort that went into designing, drawing and the colourisation in that sleeve was incredible! That’s something lacking of late but that’s another area that vinyl is dragging back into the minds of the collector.

“It think it was going that way when CDs were at their height but with the resurgence of vinyl there has been some really amazing sleeves designed recently”, says Maria.

It can only be a good thing that bringing back an album as something tangible, something that should be held and treasured and looked after, it’s important that music isn’t seen as something disposable.

“The [sleeve of] latest Wooden Shjips album springs to mind. The new St Vincent album sleeve is a work of art too. There’s great attention to detail on most new vinyl releases now”.

With this in mind, does Maria think that CD’s will become as collectable and desirable in the future?

“Anything’s possible I guess!” was her reply. Probably not then…

When I asked Maria about her own collection, I asked if there was an album that she didn’t own but would love to have?

“My long term goal is to own a Beatles album signed by the Fab Four; I doubt I’ll ever be that rich though! I’d like to get back all the records I owned before I decided to sell them in the 80’s to get the CD versions instead! All the really collectable ones and the memorabilia that I’d amassed…” she reminisces, but there’s a reason for the Maria selling her old treasures.

“I’d just had my first child and I thought motherhood was more important than records. Which it is, but only just…”

– Matt Churchard

Contact Maria at:

Tallbird Records
10 Soresby Street
Chesterfield
S40 1JN

Tel: (01246) 234548
Email: Tallbirdrecords@gmail.com
Web: www.facebook.com/TallbirdRecordShop

Live Review: The Stranglers in Sheffield, 15/03/14

Venue: o2 Academy
Date: 15/03/14

The Stranglers. How many bands can claim to be as influential, as long standing and as comfortable in their own niche as them? Not very many, I promise you that.

From the start of the band in 1974 they’ve been pushing what punk rock can and should do with a song writing ethos that says “if it’s right, then it’s right” regardless of what pigeon hole people want to place them in. The followers they have here in the O2 are a good mix of ages and styles that proves the band’s appeal to just about anybody so this gig at the O2 Sheffield should be a decent night.

The support comes from south London blues/ R&B band Nine Below Zero. I was loving the first three or four songs of a set full of grimy guitars, grooves and nicely placed harmonica but after a while I found myself feeling it was all getting a bit samey.

Yes, they were raucous, yes they had stage presence and yes they could all definitely play their instruments with ease and style. The members of this band are all long standing pros, each with a history that most musicians can only dream of, but after a while I found the set had a lack of variety.

If they were playing their own show with more time and a chance to put more songs in the set, I bet this band can offer more than they gave on this occasion.

The set from the headliners should be a warning to others. A warning; because even after 40 years they can still out-class a lot of the younger bands that think the right poses and haircut is all that’s needed.

Some of the big songs were pelted out early on with No More Heroes surprisingly the second song in and Peaches played halfway through. A lot of the songs had a video or a set of images that played along with it that had been thoughtfully made to compliment each track. It added the impression that its much more than the music that the band want you to consider. It felt like the band were the almost asking you questions with each song and video played but the answers being left up to each individual to judge if they were right or wrong.

The bass and guitar onslaught from Jean-Jacques Burnel and Baz Warne were occasionally given a chance to rest when a song like Golden Brown was played with it’s waltzing lilt allowing the crowd a rest and a chance to breathe and for the keys of Dave Greenfield to be allowed to come forward and fill the room before the next aggressive melody was ripped into.

The only downsides to tonight’s performance was a problem with the guitar amps and the obvious absence of original drummer Jet Black who was meant to be playing some songs on the encore but was too ill to perform. Touring drummer Jim MacAulay played the whole set.

When you next go to see a band. Any band. Ask yourself this… was this as good as The Stranglers?

– Matt Churchard

View full set of live gig images: click here.

Film Review: Captain America, The Winter Soldier

The first of two films from Marvel this year, the second being Guardians of the Galaxy due in August, is the return of star-spangled shield bearer, Steve Rogers, to the big screen. The really big screen in this case since there’s the option of IMAX.

After the events of Marvel Avengers Assemble, it’s set after Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World but you don’t need to have seen either, Steve Rogers is attempting to adjust to life in the 21st century. While catching up on 70 years of culture he’s also got a day job, leading covert teams of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on black ops missions – we all need something to pay the bills, right? Unfortunately for Steve, spies aren’t as trustworthy as the men he used to work with in the army and alternate agendas start to come to a head, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Now let me be succinct, for those of you who really want to know, it’s fine. It’s a better than your standard popcorn action flick. There’s fight scenes, explosions, tense scenarios and epics showdowns, everything you’d want from an entertaining evening at the moving picture house. If all you wanted was that confirming, off you go to the cinema.

Now for those of you that are still with me, the major problem is the film has an incredible amount of potential, which it then avoids as if it had an infectious disease. A film about domestic espionage and double-crossing, even in a world of superheroes, really needed a ratings increase to pull off what it was aiming at. Spending the first half of the film exploring different moral approaches to bad guys just to abandon it in the second half so Cap and his crew can bludgeon endless people about the head because they just happen to on the other side is the mark of sacrificing plot in the name of another action sequence.

Merchandising also rears its ugly head in the form of a new character who brings nothing to the film other than lengthening the action-y bits, and Cap seems to change his outfit every 21 minutes in order to sell a differently painted action figure. When the Black Widow, a mistress of disguise, has less costume changes than your musclebound hero you begin to wonder if you’re watching one of those awful reality shows that feature the wilfully ignorant sponsored by Top Shop.

You will see it if you’ve seen the other Marvel movies, and if you like a good action flick, but I’d recommend against IMAX. The size of the screen and the 3D cause a lot of motion blur during action sequences and there aren’t enough expansive shots to warrant the uplift. See it in normal 2D as a temporary fix until Avengers: Age of Ultron hits screens next year.

– Taylor Iscariot