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57311697_10156480013124387_9210045779832471552_nThere is no shortage of bands who deserve the moniker “funky.” Equally, blues bands are in no short supply, slide players are still easy to find and infectious music is two-a-penny. And you can’t throw a mandolin these days without it hitting a band revelling in descriptions such as roots or Americana. What is harder to find these days is a band which is able to mix all those qualities into one hypnotic, happening and hip (‘scuse the pun)  tune. Hard, but not impossible, as the latest sonic slice from Hip Route deftly shows.

The band have made quite a name for themselves by cleverly blending these often mutually exclusive musical traits into wonderfully energetic, easily accessible, sassy and sultry tunes. It is also a testament to their treatment of the subject matter that when you break the music down it seems built up of pieces of long lost classic blues but the end result is something new, shiny and perfectly packaged for the modern pop picker, better still, it arrives without anything in the way of compromise or cash in, or any deference made to fad or fashion. 

Rather than try to repackage the past they just act to remind us that such fervently funky grooves, such deft delta vibes, gorgeously growled vocals, pulsing bass lines and sumptuous sonics have never gone away, they just need a bit of a polish from time to time. Sinking Down is the sound of those past sounds being polished to a point of perfection

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cdreviewsIt’s funny how, once again, I find myself having to defend something that shouldn’t really need defending. The fact that I write positive and constructive music reviews (mainly these days over on Dancing About Architecture) that champion rather than criticise, seems to be an issue for some and it seems a bit strange that people feel the need to gird their literary loins and vent their spleen in the form of comments to that end. Or occasionally shout across the bar that my writing is “a joke” whilst I’m having a quiet post-gig pint.

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37782747_1883184831702720_7235865247637045248_nIt seems only a few weeks ago that the heating was on full blast, we were eating our tea in the dark and there was still a few of the Christmas Quality Street rattling about in the bottom of the tin. And in the blink of the eye here we are the other side of the bi-annual chronological re-alignments, summer is girding its loins and there’s more music to be had than unexpectedly heightened but tenuous analogy. Let’s do this….

A frequent visitor to the parish returns to The Victoria on 2nd May. Lewis Clark and The Essentials lace together deft acoustic threads, bluesy grooves and jazz jauntiness to create accessible tunes that link timeless singer songwriter sounds with European folk traditions. 

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56157865_261311031482248_7217821986947334144_nBefore you even find yourself engaging with the song itself, what really grabs you about Brainshake is the over arching sound that the band cloak themselves in. There is something wonderfully ethereal and slightly hazy woven into the sonic DNA, something that you expect from explorers of a more dream-pop or cosmic Americana sound but which is wholly unexpected considering the confident strides and punchy attack at the core of the song are essentially a young, British, indie-pop sound.

But pop, rock, indie…call it what you will, genres are largely a thing of the past any way…has to evolve to stay relevant and this is the sound of that process in action. The clever thing is that Stay Lunar have remained true to all the essential pop ingredients, infectiousness and accessibility, as well as rocks groove and drive, all the while hopping generic demarcations to plunder from other genres to build this new take.

And it is that blend of the familiar and the forward-thinking, of short, sharp and to the point songwriting mixed with an expansion of what mainstream music can be that enables them to play both cultish and commercial cards. The underground tastemakers and scene setters will be all over this but so too will the massed ranks of pop-pickers and indie kids. The best of both worlds! How cool is that?

313683As every discerning music fan is acutely aware, the ultimate irony of musical biographies is that whilst you will find the relevant section of the chain bookstores bribing with bands following throw away pop templates and seeking to appeal to the mainstream’s creatively low benchmarks, those who actually leave a more profound mark on the course of musical history are less well represented. The fact that it wasn’t until Anthony Reynolds 2015 book A Foreign Place that the first serious book about iconic British new wave innovators Japan saw the light of day, underlines the point perfectly.

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759489From Mark Fisher, the editor of ‘The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls’comes a new musical exploration of one of the most essential pop groups of the 20th century. ‘What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book‘ is a compelling 228-page book involving some of the world’s leading musicians and keenest XTC fans to discuss what makes this Swindon band so very special and the extent of their impact of their music worldwi

Every member of XTC also makes an appearance. Andy Partridge speaks about mixing, Dave Gregory on arranging and Barry Andrews on the piano. The book also includes interviews with XTC drummers Pete Phipps, Pat Mastelotto, Ian Gregory, Prairie Prince, Dave Mattacks and Chuck Sabo. This publication features cover artwork by renowned illustrator Mark Thomas.

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maxresdefault.jpgT. S. Eliot wanted us to believe that April is the cruelest month but then he was never spotted down the front of a gig, lost in the rapture that only comes from experiencing a good live band. Had he done so he might have cheered up a bit and written naughty limericks rather than long, epic poems about cultural depression. Anyway, enough about him and on with the recommendations…

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55908395_10157181921067930_1721754210308980736_nMost of the gigs that happen at The Tuppenny tend to be artists and bands that I am already familiar with. It is to be expected being that these shows are put on by Ed Dyer, my long term musical partner in crime in Songs of Praise, and so leans to a certain degree on many of the contacts we made together over the years. But the one band who played there in recent times that was new to me was Messrs. Lawton and Howlett, Will and Weasel to their friends, who joined by their good buddy…er Buddy represented something totally new to feast me ears on.

I did play some small part in the guys getting the gig and also pointed them in the direction of Steve Cox’s wonderful Lazy Sunday Afternoon sessions. When they set up they appear to be some sort of jazz trio, piano, drums and bass being the component instruments, but what they produce is a far more complex sound one that takes in classical charm, sweeping cinematics, proggy structures, samples, intricate timings and indie cool. They are an interesting bunch to look at to. Will playing the role of normality, Weasel looking like some sort of Edwardian inventor and Buddy’s mix of sartorial uniqueness and wry asides giving the impression of a world weary children’s TV presenter!

It was nice, therefore, to be invited to a small, live recording session set in the gorgeous environments of the library of Abbey House, set in the historic part of Malmesbury in the shadow of the titular Abbey itself. And so me and my good friend Tom (Grasslands)  found ourselves watching an augmented version of the band in these plush surroundings with the great and good of the region, including rustic poet laureate, radio host and festival organiser. Brian Reid. The band were joined by Amy on guitar and some brilliantly ethereal vocals and Harki Popli on tabla drums, a musician I have known for years through a number of Swindon based bands.

In this environment and armed with a grand piano rather than the usual electronic keyboard, the set took on a more classical/jazz edge but in either format the music is a gloriously unique and brilliantly exploratory, not to mention dextrously delivered experience. A set of nine songs graced the evening…well nine and half really after a false start with one of the newer numbers but it was this informality, as well as wandering children, chats with the audience and general band banter that made the night feel even more special and intimate. A fabulous evening all round and I look forward to seeing them back in Swindon sometime soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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