Tag Archive: grasslands


November’s Musical Musings

Lucy SpragganNow that the seasonal chill is setting in, the big coat has been taken out of mothballs and evenings no longer lend themselves to outdoor entertainment, thoughts naturally turn back to live gigs taking place in the warmth and hospitality of the proper music venues. And for those looking to reap the obvious rewards which come from checking out the original portion of the sonic menu, there is plenty to choose from this month.

Kicking off at The Tuppenny on the 7th, The Astral Ponies bring together a wonderful blend of Victorian music hall, Americana, psychedelia and folky tunes. But it is their quintessentially English eccentricities which mark them out from the crowd, their strange sartorial choices and their biscuit fixations. Come for the music, stay for the Viennese Whirls….and possibly cravats. And in the “if you like that you’ll love this” department ,on the 9th, The Rolleston will play host to blues, bluegrass and country infused roots delights of Lost Eleven.

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a1637603134_16One of the great things about Grasslands’ broad sonic scope is that the music seems to genre-hop brilliantly, ignoring the rules and regulations, fads and fashions of any particular style and yet tipping a hat, in this case a wolf-themed one, naturally, to many. It’s a trick he is able to pull off live, though then his wonderfully chaotic manipulations of the massed technology he has assembled around him tend to send him down some very improvised routes. This EP is, as expected, a more disciplined, but no less mercurial, affair.

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51682737_2331387376912848_8750105669203394560_nThe curse of original music, in Swindon at least, means that most gigs I want to check out generally happen only on a Thursday. So with two gigs scheduled I headed out into the bracing night air. A quick pint at Baila provided a gentle start to the night before heading to The Tuppenny and my mate Tom doing a last minute acoustic slot in place of the unwell Emily Jane Shepherd.

Grasslands is often a sprawling musical affair involving guitars, synths and effects pedals   all being operated by our musical hero and always teetering on the edge of chaos. That’s half the fun. The acoustic sets are normally more focused and the quality of the songs is allowed to shine through. The charm of Grasslands is that between songs, Tom, who during the day works in environmental surveying, engages the audience in conversations in all things green with a particular relish for mosses. Somehow the banter turned darkly in the direction of Croatian attitudes towards badger culling, I may have been responsible for that but by and large it was a set of wonderfully affected, textured acoustic with sonic hints of early post-gabriel Genesis, surprisingly.

A wander down the hill to The Beehive and Matt Boulter has already on and for the next 40 minutes he delighted the modest crowd with his spacious and delicate songs. Aided and abetted by a fellow Lucky Strike on upright base the songs were as impressive as ever and I detected a lovely Paul Simon lilt in his voice that I hadn’t noticed before. The night rounded off with a nice chat before he had to pack the car up for the journey home.

Matt was playing as part of Tim Manning‘s Acoustic Buzz night, a monthly spot he has at this compact and bijou boozer. Always good to catch up with him too and before long I was wandering back through the night to a warm bed.

members_sheffieldTonight, The Beehive will be offering you something a bit different, Gratuitous sax in the shape of The Delta West Sax Quartet. (You will have to wait until next week for the follow-up pun, senseless violins, or at least The Model Folk’s epic man-sized violin as they would have it.) Classical, jazz and all sorts of popular reinterpretations rendered unto 4 saxophones. That should make an interesting change of pace.

On Friday The Castle is the location for a bit of a celebration as Swindon Viewpoint throws a party to celebrate its 45th Anniversary. This ever growing media archive and the UK’s longest running community TV service invites you to groove, drink and be merry with them to some typically left-field musical selections. Grasslands brings a bag of green fingered folktronica, Flour Babies an intricate weave of mercurial art-indie-prog-alternative-avant garde and Raze*Rebuild offer a raft of sky-scraping Americana. The night is rounded off with Sex Jazz and their groove heavy alternative vibes and general madness.

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22814063_367569767018693_8620686301216884608_nMusical pairings often seem like odd partnerships when you look at them a bit more closely. Take Days of Thunder, a green-fingered, eco-academic and musical avant-gardener and a creature of the night, rock and roller don’t seem to be the obvious collaborators but music is all about celebrating the common ground rather than worrying about the bits that fall outside the central part of the collective Venn Diagram.

If anything is being celebrated here, it is certainly the post-punk pioneering ethic, that adventurous and questing spirit that saw ex-punks and Blitz Kids ditch the trusty guitar and rewire keyboards to their will to create a new sound, a new style and new genre. But it is no mere pastiche of the past, no nostalgic, rose tinted spectacle moment, because it sounds very much of the here and now and also looks to the future.

Most interestingly though, is given the rock drama that often swirls around Billy Jon Bingham’s Ghosts of Machines and the experimentalism of Thomas Haynes’ Grasslands(though this is a lot closer to his work with No Side Effects) there is a real understatement at work here, a grandeur built from the atmosphere and anticipation which comes from allowing space to be one of the key components. As debut singles go….okay, you have definitely got my attention.

26170782_914630398738455_5843566105616402098_o 2Sadly it is time to morn the passing of another musical great. Mark E. Smith, the glorious leader of The Fall may not have had the mainstream success that other recently departed icons were known for, but he was an icon nonetheless. An icon of otherness, of belligerence, of the anti and the other, of subversion, things which are by and large missing from todays music. He walked a line between the brilliant and the bizarre, shows were as likely to be terrible as transcendental, lyrics were confrontational and strangely poetic and gigs were your own little secret. He could have steered the band towards stadium success but instead preferred to play above pubs in Bethnal Green or decrepit ex-discotheques in Wythenshawe! Wether you got him or not, loved him or loathed him we can all guarantee that the world will be a less interesting and more conformist place without him. Anyway…to horse, well, musically speaking.

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a4021061656_16Mercurial, that’s the word! Well, that’s one word at least. It seems that many words and descriptions come and go through the listeners, and indeed the reviewers, mind as Grasslands’ music slips through the brain. The same thing happens if you try to pigeon-hole it, depending on which thread you pull at different genres spill out of the musical mass. Tug at the underlying acoustic guitarwork and you find folk textures, but as you pull they slowly reveal themselves to be cacooned in warped industrial grit. Similarly harmless pop melodies are found to be swathed in angular edges and smooth synths warp out to spacey ambience or turn in on themselves to become intense and claustraphobic bundles of pent up energy. I don’t know where you begin, I really don’t. The only guidelines I have from the main man himself is that he was aiming for “digitally corrupted folk music through a broken radio” I reckon that is a fair description.

But let’s at least start on the safer ground of some indesputable facts. The album apparently began as a series of sound experiments used as incidental effects and a score to a production of 1984, many were initiated quickly and some are fully live recordings. So I guess this album is less about writing songs with the main consideration being the live show, this is sound statements taken to their logical, and sometimes illogical, conclusions through studio playfulness and experimentation, a sonically suck it and see scenario, worry about how you re-produce them live later. Just how it should be.

The result is a manic, genre-bluring collection of retro-futuristic songs, in that it sounds like what the 21st centuary might sound like in the imagination of an early eighties post-punker, one who had grown bored with blues-based, three chord guitar possibilities and had rewired some broken keyboards and bent them to their will.

I’m not really helping paint a clear picture, but the album is such a collection of sonic wonderment and strange folktronic experimentation, blending progressive structures with brilliant pop aware melodies and some wonderful avant-gardening, that it is difficult to put into words, ones which I haven’t made up for vague dramatic affect anyway.

At this point I would normally resort to lazy journalism and throw in a few comparisons, such as…..errr, no…sorry, nothing. I guess Flames, Doorways, Grass and Time is just impervious to journalistic disection. Still the man behind it can’t really complain, people who live in grass houses and all that….

So my advice to you is, just buy it, buy it today, after all there is no thyme like the present and it is always good to end on a couple of puns.

Pre-order and further info HERE

To see the live version, head along to The Victoria Swindon this Thursday

23915811_1391658700943276_7420597230954476500_nWe live in polarising times, the world seems a very divided place, walls are replacing bridges and there seems to be an increasingly entrenched view of creed and culture moving across the world. Thankfully music has always had the ability to cross borders, whether real or metaphorical, to cross-pollinate with existing forms and to evolve into new ones. Tonight you will find two acts that are the perfect example of this global village creativity.

Firstly at The Victoria tonight you will find local stalwarts Mr Love and Justice who have a wonderful way of weaving timeless folk music and regional narratives together with a more acid laced 60’s pop vibe. Songs of love and Haight in a musical landscape  that stretches from West Kennett to the West Coast of California.

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2016_chuck_mosley_picWe seem to have witnessed a steady trickle of bigger names and more intriguing live bookings heading in to town over the last few weeks and there are plenty more to come in the shape of various blasts from the past, happening acts, festival favourites and other unexpected additions to the circuit regulars. And this week offers three more acts that fall squarely into that exclusive bracket. One of which can be found tonight at The Victoria.

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rollyAfter a few years of residency at Old Towns Roaring Donkey pub, our regular Wednesday night acoustic session (now under the stewardship of Jamie Hawkins) is on the move. 

Following a sudden decision by the venues landlord to cancel all live music with immediate effect the sessions have all moved to their new home with just the one booking becoming a casualty. So, starting next Wednesday with Drew Bryant you can now get your fix of acoustic song-smithery down on Commercial Road at The Rolleston Arms. We would like to extend a huge amount of thanks to landlord Paul and his team for stepping up so quickly and getting it all sorted so swiftly.

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