Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Curse of the Blues Guitarist's Face

Angels have been killing themselves
In one of the early scenes of Kevin Smith’s fantastic film Dogma the heroine Bethany asks the voice of God “What's he like?” The Melatron replies “God? Lonely. But funny. He's got a great sense of humour. Take sex for example. There's nothing funnier than the ridiculous faces you people make mid-coitus.” “Sex is a joke in heaven?” enquires Bethany.The way I understand it, it's mostly a joke down here, too” replies the voice of God!!

During Dan Patlansky’s brilliant set, a real master class in blues-rock guitar playing, the angels must have been killing themselves laughing, as with each bent note he contorted his face! Perhaps the blues guitarist mid-chord was God’s prototype for the lover mid-coitus! Maybe this explains why even the ugliest guitar player gets the girl before the rest of the male population – or probably closer to the truth why so many of us (the male population) attempt to master the instrument!!!! 

But what is it about blues guitarists that makes them so prone to such weird facial expressions during a solo? Let’s be clear Dan Patlansky is not the worst offender – will anyone ever beat Robin Trower, who is still delighting and slightly disturbing blues audiences at 70 with his strange pouting!! 

The grotesque macho stance of the longhaired Heavy Metal Axeman complete with outstretched arm raised high in clenched fist and tongue wagging does not come close. The seated balladeer’s closed eyes and slowly swaying head is not half as stupid! The pogoing Punk is perfectly palatable, even the arched back or bent low guitarist is acceptable, but the distorted face of the blues guitarist unnerves me!

Check it out….

Don’t let this put you off. If you get the chance go and see Dan Patlansky – GO. The angels maybe laughing but this was a seriously good gig. Master of instrument and genre, he quite simply silenced the mainly middle aged male audience (who must have seen every blues guitarist to emerge in the last 30 years) as suddenly from a room full of sound he continued the solo at a whisper; not a voice was heard, so enthralled were this experienced audience. 

He is a lion-tamer who has a roaring, ferocious and vicious beast which he holds on the edge until the song demands acquiescence, and the animal is submissive at a simple slide of his fingers.

He let his guitar do most of the talking but any introduction to a song was concluded with the phrase ‘Check it out’.

The week before I had listened to the band that won best Welsh Album of 2014 and the only conclusion I could come to was that there couldn’t have been much competition. So I was a little apprehensive when this gig was advertised as ‘Dan Patlansky – Winner of World’s Best Blues-Rock Album 2014’! He promised to play it all and I’m glad he did and I’m glad I checked it out.

Who needs a right hand anyway….

As the set came to an end – Patlansky casually wandered over to his amp and turned it up as a roadie removed his mic and stand and we were treated to an instrumental virtuoso Voodoo Child cover – a large majority of which was played one-handed. It was an amazing performance – at times you had to remind yourself to breathe as you hung on every note. Not too far from me one member of the audience fainted.  I knew it had been good, but at least I had remembered to breathe!

Patlansky finished with his tamed lion of a Strat dangling from the bottom e-string under his complete control and the crowd screaming for more…

…and in heaven the angels stopped laughing and joined with the crowd to demand an encore…

Gig: 6 of 50

Date of Gig: Mon 27th April 2015


Borderline, London


Tristan Mackay

Dan Patlansky

Running total of artists seen 19

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

I Ain't Ever Heard No Horse Sing.....

Who the folk said that...
And just who was it who said that? Perhaps it's appropriate that a quote about folk music (all music is folk music - I ain't ever heard no horse sing) in the best tradition of the genre has no certainty about who was the original author!

So if all music is folk music - then what are the Radio 2 Folk Awards about? 

But we all know folk is a definable genre - any music you play on the weirdest stringed instrument you can find with a chin full of hair and your finger in your ear (adding in a bit of halitosis) and you have an authentic folk act!

Seriously if not all music is folk music - then what is folk music?

Folk music by definition is the music of the people - traditions honed through the years - yet I'm sat in the grand Millennium Centre in Cardiff (apparently totally authentic as it is made from purely welsh materials - there is a lot of slate - can't see much wool) and this appears a million miles away from seedy back rooms of pubs across the country where in weekly Folk Clubs folk songs are played and replayed.

If the folk fits - wear it....
Here in a stunning building with a set that is 'simply divine love', amongst the Champaign bottles and high heels and 'I'm sorry no alcohol and glass allowed in the auditorium'- is not where folk fits.

I'm failing to feel the authenticity of the Radio 2 Folk Awards - why are we awarding individuals in something that is the tradition of the people? How can you award the best traditional song of 2015? 

Mark Radcliffe in one of his introductions, with no irony intended and certainly missed by most, said 'Perhaps the ultimate compliment or greatest achievement for a folk songwriter is to have your songs absorbed into the folk canon so they are sung, often uncredited, by singers around the world' so why are we gathering to hand out weird looking trophies - why don't we all just get down to the local pub on their Open Mic nights and see if we can remember who did write that song?!

And really should any genre of music have awards? Do people really pour their heart and soul into the composition of a song so they can clutter up their mantelpieces with trophies - or to connect with others, with life, to express what others can't, and in doing so produce something greater than its musical parts?
Learning how the folk to dismount....   
In reality these awards are for Roots and Acoustic Music and for a certain group of artists within that genre - there are plenty of folk acts doing the circuit of the Village Halls and Folk Clubs who are not represented here tonight!

But I'm with great friends, on a night out and hearing some fantastic live music so once I get off my high horse (that no one ain't ever heard sing) I can start to enjoy the evening....

The game before the ceremony starts is spotting the muso, the artist, the wanna be, the music industry exec and the producers - solely by their dress and stance. It proves too easy!! Each category has very strict fashion rules!

So we listen to the free folk performances of local artists – nothing really grabs us (even the band - The Gentle Good [how apt a name] - who produced the best Welsh Album of 2014) – so its beer and weird flavoured ice-cream and then finding our authentic Welsh seats (ahh here's the wool!)…

Folk singer of the year: Nancy Kerr 
Best Duo: Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker 
Best Group: The Young 'Uns 
Best Album: Tincian – 9Bach 
Horizon Award: The Rails 
Musician of the year: Sam Sweeney 
Young Folk Award: Talisk 
Best Original Song: Swim To The Star - Peggy Seeger/Calum MacColl 
Best Traditional Track: Samhradh Samhradh - The Glaoming 
Lifetime achievement award: Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens and Loudon Wainwright III  
Good Tradition Award: Meredydd Evans 
Hall Of Fame: Ewan MacColl

My Own Awards from the Evening go to...
Best Line from an Acceptance Speech: The Young 'Uns - 'The whole reason we got into Folk Music in the first place was it so happened there was a Folk Club on in the only pub that would serve us underage'
Best New Genre: Folk Adjacent Music (Nancy Kerr)
Best Jobsworth: 'Sorry you bought those beers in our bar the other side of the foyer you can't sit this side even on this outside table'
Best Celebrity Moment: Mark Radcliffe at the beginning of the second half berating the audience for not being in their seats only to find it was Billy Bragg who was standing around chatting!
Best Moment: Seeing one of the loosing young artists heartily congratulate the winners
Best Music Moment: Guy Garvey and the MacColls - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Best Introduction: Nessa Jenkins
P.S. In the post this week my pre-order of Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies new album - if you want authentic folk - then catch them on their tour of Folk Clubs and Pubs across the country - just great songs and fantastic musicianship - no hype, no nominations and no awards unless you count the fact I've heard their songs played in local pubs...

Gig: 5 of 50
Date of Gig: Wed 22nd April 2015

Millennium Centre Cardiff

The Rails
Kate Rusby
Loudon Wainwright III
Ten in a Bus
Julie Fowlis
Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker
Guy Garvey & the MacColls
Yusef/Cat Stevens
9Bach with Penrhyn Male Voice Choir

Running total of artists seen 17

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Catfish lost his bottle man

The One Show
One Album - they have one album and they played it all and nothing else, 
One Light Show - for all but one song we were treated to the same red and swivelling white lights 
One Hour - well they played for less than an hour!

Did I want more? 

Yes not to feel short-changed...

...but then again no because Catfish lost his bottle man and played this so safe I lost interest by the end.

But there again they didn't have to do anything - they could have stuck the CD on shuffle and the crowd would have been happy - hang on that's basically what they did!!! 

This was a festival crowd - a drunk, as if they had been drinking all day in the sun, beer throwing crowd - greeting every song with a cheer so loud as to imply this was the band's masterpiece and every chorus sung at full volume and an excuse to bounce....

Beer-soaked and Bounced Upon
I should have taken the sign from the album title - The Balcony - and bought a ticket up there - yes I still would have left short-changed but not beer soaked and bounced upon as well! We had everything in the stalls - Girlfriends on shoulders - after loosing interest in the gig one of the highlights was watching for five minutes as one drunk boyfriend tried to manoeuvre his girlfriend onto his shoulders - we had good old fashioned crowd-surfers and the right of passage for the teenager with his dad at his first gig...

Poor lad couldn't see a thing on stage in amongst the bouncing six-footers and spent most of the gig with his phone, on video mode, held at arms length high in the air, bouncing up and down himself (wasn't sure if it was because he was really into the gig - or he was just trying to see!) - he will no doubt be watching snippets of the gig for many days and making himself - and all his mates who were so jealous 'cause they couldn't get a ticket' (thanks Dad!) - sea-sick!!!!!

That Difficult Second Album
Don't get me wrong Catfish and the Bottlemen powered through a precise set - but I wanted more than just the album played back to me - more than just complete strangers bouncing on me - more than showers of beer - am I getting old or just expect more from a gig than a human jukebox?

They said they had the second album written - why couldn't we have heard a couple of new songs to see what we can expect from that difficult second album. Or is that the reason - it's been so difficult they are not confident to air a song or two!

Why not throw in a couple of covers - songs that they are listening to on tour or have influenced them? 

And guys, this advice is free, go to see Ian Siegal and learn how to communicate with the audience - I know at the moment you don't need to because you are the band everyone wants to see and people love you and people know every lyric - but believe me there will be a time when you can't just power through a few songs and have the place bouncing - take the crowd with you now and you will build yourself a future - lazily rely on this wave of popularity and you'll be a catfish left floundering out of water - this years' washed up bottlemen on the violently shifting sands of popular music.

So will I buy the second album - I doubt it because on the evidence of this gig they will have played it safe and I don't want to be left hanging again!

Total Waste of an Evening then?
No evening of live music is a total waste of time and I'm glad I went - just disappointed in the head-line act - Little Comets supported, and their set was not that much shorter than Catfish and the Bottlemen, yet they left me wanting more not because I felt short-changed but because they didn't play it safe....

...and they didn't have red and swivelling white lights!!!

Gig: 4 of 50
Date of Gig: Tues 31st March 2015

Shepherds Bush Empire

Little Comets
Catfish and the Bottlemen

Running total of artists seen 8