Welcome back. Or watch this space. Or best laid plans ganging agley.

Hullo. With a U. The only way to begin.

A quick update for my billions of baying fans who I have no doubt disappointed with my lack of guest appearances on here recently. That update is, oopsy. My plans have gang a bit agley. In short, I’ve had a bit of an unfortunate time of late. It happens occasionally. Just life things. Just getting in the way of work things, like writing and ting. But, I’ll prevail, eventually. We’re getting there. I’m taking life one sock at a time.

Please, watch this space, he suggests, suggestively. For how long exactly? as you would have every right to wonder quietly to yourself. Not too long I hope, a similar length of time that it would take to plait a cobweb. Or a trifle and two mos, whichever happens sooner. But seriously, it’s about time I put the guitar down and began what I meant to start a good two months ago. See, I had this odd idea to get some words up on here that are actually worth reading. Crazy, I know.

Indeed, stranger things have happened, like that horse who accidentally became Pope for a few weeks in the sixteenth century, which is a fact, alternative reality fact fans. Or Razorlight recording a tune that isn’t a crossbow bolt insult to the very heart of music. This just about happened with Golden Touch if you were about to wander down a dark, dark alleyway of musical memory, but only as you can sing Maneater by Hall and Oates over the top and drown out Burrell’s over-confident almost vocal impersonation. I’ve a feeling that my latter example of stranger things happening may be a one in a million fluke.

Ah, I feel better already. There’s nothing better than inadvertantly upsetting over sensitive Catholics with a flippant horse gag. Blame Baldrick for that one, plagiarism at its best.

But then I remembered something I enjoy more than a stolen horse gag, and that was getting a few words off my sternum about how dreadful Johnny Borrell’s bunch of anti-musicians are. The qwertyuiop keyboard is indeed mightier than the sword people, and more effective than citalopram hydrobromide. Phew.

So, in order to hurry my quest along, I’ve just turned an egg timer the right way up, and I’ll endeavour to get something new, something worth reading up on here before the sands fall and as soon as my thyroid glands allow. Promise.

Thank you to folk and people who have liked and commented on my first few words on here. I’m hoping that was just the forlorn looking polar bear on the iceberg’s tip.

Write soon, world.

Um, love and hugs and big mwhaas. New spelling alert, emphasis on the aa please, as in aardvark, obviously.


Post Ramble. I attach a whelk macro for no other reason than I took a picture by the sea today, though they’re mostly barnacles I think. Whelk macro just sounds better, and is a name that should really have been picked up by 70’s prog rockers for a moniker for their passionless and predominantly pointless meanderings into goblins arriving via chimneys and the like. Tut tut 70’s prog rockers, tut tut.

Post post ramble. It was my own silly mistake I suppose. I feel a little grubby to admit it, but listened to and stared inanely at a BBC4 documentary on progressive rock the other evening. I don’t watch T.V. often, and when I do, I like things to not suddenly explode on me in a sickening custard of consumerist colour and over-compressed sound (or adverts as they are also known), so it’s usually BBC, and usually something really unsurprising.

Imagine my delight three hours in, to find myself concluding what I already knew, that I just don’t get prog rock. If there’s any emotion in there, then it’s either too cunningly secreted for me or hiding behind a pyramid of emotionally repressed stunt musicians who liked fiddling and goblins a smidge too much for their own good. Warning. Prog may make you go blind, or at least suggest that poking one’s eyes out may be the less painful option. Take heed.

Anyhoo, the karmic punchline to the throat was that after I’d idly mentioned to my prog rock fan friend that the documentary had taught me that I didn’t totally dislike either Caravan or King Crimson, I was treated to an entire Caravan album on the car stereo on a medium sized trip. No escape. Prog karma, as instant as continents colliding. Don’t get me wrong, I like a goblin as much as the next man, but I’m less keen on having it rammed down my throat.

And now, I will lie down and dream of fantastical worlds made up from things that aren’t shape-shifting beasts who live in a magical taiga. Hopefully I’ll dream about something more mundane, like a sieve or a limpet.

By the way, I wondered this evening whether Tom Waits has ever released an album entitled For No Man. And if not, why not?


Barnacles, I think. Could be wrong. Or a whelk macro if you're in to prog.

Note – Other musical opinions are available from all good bookshops. Any offence to any Catholics, horses, or disturbingly unenlightened and outmoded doctrines of fear, greed and hypocrisy, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


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Filed under Freelance, Getting back on the horse, Moaning about Razorlight = better mood, Music, Prog Rock

Laura Marling. For Whom the Bell Tolls preview piece. I got a bit excited when I heard that Laura Marling was kicking off her cathedral tour in little old Exeter. I wrote for this for a publication not known for its music. After the event, the publication realised that it was actually a big deal, thanks to a Times review. Bless.

Laura Marling at Exeter Cathedral. Pictures by a keen amateur.

Exeter Cathedral. 14/10/11

Every now and again, an artist will emerge who really makes you sit up and listen to every syllable, each note, every breath. Laura Marling is such a musician.

For anyone who is lucky enough to have a ticket for Laura’s opening date at Exeter Cathedral, the first of her For Whom the Bell Tolls tour of English Cathedrals, they can expect to witness something which will make an indelible mark on the senses.

And what a venue. Exeter’s most beloved building will reverberate to the sound of a lady with one of the most beautifully multi-textural voices out there, who just happens to be an acoustic guitarist of remarkable touch and a songwriter of rare, heart-felt honesty. Songs of praise indeed.

So, on that coffee induced morning I first heard on 6 Music radio that Miss Marling was beginning an eleven date tour of some of the most acoustically sweet buildings in the land, I distinctly remember thinking, hold on, I must be between snooze buttons here. Since when does a musician of such note ever play little old Exeter first up?

Such is the lure of Exeter’s best building I guess. Sorry former Debenhams building. You only just missed out on top spot in a recent poll of one, shortly behind every structure built in the city before or since, still standing or otherwise.

You can expect new tunes from her gorgeous third album released last month, A Creature I Don’t Know, as well as songs from her début Alas I Cannot Swim from 2008 and last year’s I Speak Because I Can.

Judging from the clutch of awards nominations festooned upon her first two outings, by the time she brought home the gongs for Best Female Artist at this year’s Brits and Best Solo Artist at the NME, the poor girl must have been utterly jiggered with carrying all the trophies home, and ever so slightly embarrassed by the trail of plaudits.

Most telling perhaps were the Mercury Music Prize nominations she received for her first two records. Though a while till the next Mercury, it would be a fool who would bet against a third nomination. As far as winning the whole caboodle, well, it proved third time lucky for PJ Harvey this year, and yes, stranger things have happened. Though two solo female artists winning in adjacent years doesn’t sound very Mercury to me.

So, not bad at all for a lass who can honestly claim to be 21 years of age still, safe in the knowledge of her birth certificate. Similarly, as young pup Willy Mason shouldn’t theoretically be able to sound so world-weary and wise beyond his years with his sonic social sageness, it isn’t easy to fully take in just how a songwriter with as much youth on her side as Laura can express an emotional intelligence quite so well. A reminder, if it were needed, that wisdom does not lie solely in the realm of the aged.

For evidence, listen in depth to such as Night Terror, My Manic and I or The Captain and the Hourglass from her début album and consider she was seventeen or younger as she wrote them, the album released only three days after her turning eighteen. Her musical education grew out of the folk revival with guidance from her studio sound engineer father and a guitar in her lap from the age of 6. She is actually a near-veteran guitarist of fifteen years.

With a childhood soundtrack that probably involved formative memories of Neil Young’s Needle and the Damage Done, a song she covered wonderfully well on a single alongside the perpetual folk standard Blues Run the Game, then it all starts to makes sense. She is both before and after her time. If her time was not now, but 1968, it follows that Joe Boyd would have signed her to Witchseason records in an instant.

And to those lucky people who are within touching distance of a Laura Marling ticket, then get ready for the that tickling sensation of neck hairs lifting to meet the first fragile bars of new song Night After Night. As a timeless voice of 21 years reverberates around stone first laid 897 years ago, it will be another sound-wave to savour in Exeter Cathedral’s epic musical history.


As ceilings go, it's one of the better ones. I accidentally fired one frame off during a quiet bit. Oopsy. One of my louder shutter releases, relatively.

I wrote a review too, but I’ve decided to not put it up. To be a little too honest perhaps, I didn’t like my own review enough to want to put it up. It’s ok, but the preview is better I suspect. It was rushed. I was tempted to re-write it, but move on huh? I’ll pretend that knowing that I didn’t do my best on this occasion doesn’t rankle. (Scorpio trait, apparently)

Still, it was only my third job after becoming an amateur. Croatia travel feature, followed by Joss Stone and Dave Stewart (I didn’t stay long) and this. None for financial gain. All for the love of it, well, apart from Joss Stone. I still don’t know why I photographed her, other than to help out a mate who was writing it and to get out the house. Her voice leaves me colder than an Arctic tern. Soul? Where? I realised shortly afterwards that I should stop doing work for free out of habit.

As for this gig, well, Night After Night was more beautiful than I could ably describe above. It makes me wonder if there’s much point, much valid reason to write about music, as I could never find words to describe what hearing such a tune in Exeter Cathedral did to my central nervous system. She played My Manic and I, which I was pleased about in a funny kind of way, the same funny kind of way as salt on a mouth ulcer. Painful yet exquisite. Delivered with a delicious venom. Woo.

“And since last that we parted, since last that I saw him,
Down by a river silent and hardened.
Morning was mocking us, blood hit the sky,
I was just happy my manic and I.
He couldn’t see me the sun was in his eyes.
And birds were singing, to calm us down.
And birds were singing, to calm us down.

And I’m sorry young man I cannot be your friend,
I don’t believe in a fairy tale end.
I don’t keep my head up all of the time,
I find it dull when my heart meets my mind.
And I hardly know you I think I can tell,
These are the reasons I think that we’re ill.
I hardly know you I think I can tell,
These are the reasons I think that I’m ill.
And the gods that he believes never fail to disappoint me,
The gods that he believes never fail to disappoint me.
My nihilist, my happy man, my manic and I,
Have no plans to move on.
The birds are singing, to calm us down,
And birds are singing, to calm us down,”

Lyrics from My Manic and I, printed with no permission, I hope it’s ok to do so. Some lyrics deserve to be read. Ever heard of the Decemberists? Really?

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Martha Wainwright – Live Review. I went along as I liked Factory when 6 Music played it. I came away enjoying this gig as much as any, ever. Naughty word warning, all in context. Just reported speech.

Martha. Always been a favourite name of mine, but you can blame a harbour for that.

Martha Wainwright. Lemon Grove, Exeter University. 17/11/05

“I live in a great big shadow. If I was a kids cartoon character, I’d be The Shadow.” says a chatty Martha Wainwright to her new best friends, the Lemon Grove audience.

She is casually exploring the problems of making your own musical mark if you happen to be born in to one of the most impossibly talented families around. There’s just no escaping it I’m afraid. It isn’t something that is easily ignored when your dad is Loudon Wainwright III, your mum is Kate McGarrigle and your brother Rufus suddenly arrives on the scene to be greeted with a bewildering amount of critical acclaim.

It’s enough to make you scream. So, she did. There are many things that can motivate an individual to pick up a guitar and make a mark on the world, irritating your own family isn’t normally one of them.

Another motivation must have emphatically been the need to unleash one of the most beguiling, astounding and utterly unique voices around. It has so many extraordinary tones to it that it sometimes seems that you are hearing three singers mashed up in to one huge voice. After a fairly large think, I cannot recall another voice like it, which is always a good sign. If you were to blend the delivery of Kristen Hirsh with the intensity of Sinead O’Connor and the raw umph and gusto of a 747 clearing the runway, then you are nearly there.

This is not to say that she can’t handle the more subtle stuff. She delivers tracks such as Who Was I Kidding? or These Flowers with a rare fragility that makes a fascinated Lemmy crowd concentrate with reverence until a full second after the last note drops out of the air.

And if that were not enough, one could argue that a lot of the best bits actually happened between the songs. Don’t remind her, but she probably picked up her ability for comic meanderings from her dad. An on form Martha Wainwright is as amusing as a cat doing something unexpectedly clumsy.

In one general chat with the audience, she wryly states. “I’m in a good mood. It takes me back.” Or after knocking seven bells out of The Stones Street Fighting Man, she muses “That’s the plight of the folk musician. You stand here banging the shit out of an instrument and no-one moves.”

She ploughs through her lengthy set list, changing the tone with each song. She even found time to share a comedy cigarette with a fragrant bystander, before remembering quite why she was there and getting back to the music.

Sometimes fiery, sometimes whimsical, her songs are always defiant and at times, almost too honest. Take her last tune before the encore for example. She delivers Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole with a seething vitriol not normally heard in a song penned about one’s own father.

Set highlights included Factory, a cover of Cole Porter’s Allez Vous En and the haunting Don’t Forget played in an encore moment. And as she apologetically thanks the audience for indulging her by listening to her remarkable rendition of Baby, you realise that you are in the company of someone a little special. And even though she’ll occasionally change the lyrics to one of her songs to “I’ll play these notes until I remember what happens.” she is forgiven as it all augments the Martha experience.

And even though I came to the gig having heard only a couple of her songs before, I’ll admit to leaving as a bit of a fan. I like it when that happens.


A few examples of how I write music.

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I Am Kloot – Live Review. The Kloot play a horizontal gig at the Lemmy. I’m pleased the world has heard of them a little more after their Mercury nomination. Top bloke, John. A wry and dry lyricist of much talent.

John from I Am Kloot. A very nice man, despite some of the lyrics. It's ok though, he has this thing called an imagination.


I Am Kloot. Lemon Grove, Exeter University. 5/10/03

“We have never played a gig with everyone sat down before.” says I Am Kloot front man John Harold Arnold Bramwell as he greets a smallish, mostly horizontal Lemon Grove audience.

Still, this is Exeter, and anyway, why do anything standing up when you can do it just as well sitting down? A cursory comment about the lack of full pint pots in the crowd, and the band are off, easing into new song, Here for the World.

This is I Am Kloot’s third time in Exeter. After support slots with the truly woeful Webb Brothers and the truly lovely Turin Brakes, they are down Devon way to promote their new, eponymously titled LP.

And what’s in a name? It is a question which must be asked I’m afraid. It’s the wrong spelling of Klute to be mash up of Kirk Douglas and Donald Sutherland films. A Dutchman would tell you that a kloot is a colloquialism for a scrotum if you were to ask, so it can’t be that…

Any first timers in the audience heard fey, thoughtful songs about the usual – vicious love, beer fuelled despair and dead television executives. Enough to put anyone off you would think.

But no. These dark, occasionally disturbing songs are lovingly wrapped up in lush, elegiac melodies. Then you have the band’s trademark, the killer couplet to leave you thinking did John just sing what I thought he did?

Highlights may well have been Stop, Not a Reasonable Man and the ever-so-menacing Twist with the “There’s blood on your legs, I love you.” line bubbling up out of nowhere, but a favourite flavour isn’t easy to choose from this particular pick and mix. Fact is, I Am Kloot don’t know how to write a bad song. Perhaps they may do one day.

You never know, they may go on to be quietly huge. And as John sings “Let ‘em all in, don’t you know that I love a crowd.” you are left to ponder on the irony that I Am Kloot deserve to be playing to numbers far in excess of the lucky few who braved the northern style southern weather tonight.

And afterwards, on the damp wander home, the tunes keep you company with a liquorice after-taste as the odd twang of lyric returns to your senses with a new twist and snap. It is at this precise moment that everything about I Am Kloot makes sense, apart from the name.


A few examples of how I write music.

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Red Snapper – Live Review. I’ll apologise beforehand about the following fish-based punnery. You have my sincere anchovies. The gig was brill though. Great bass. I’ll stop carping on now, no ifs or halibuts.

Dum - dum dee dum duh duh duuuhmm. Hot Flush. You know the one that they wrote after an episode of Dr Who

Red Snapper. The Phoenix, Exeter. 05/03/08

I’m not normally one for fish. Apart from a bit of accidental trout, Red Snapper (the band) was about as close as I’d been to a fish since, let me see, Norway.

You could even call me a piscophobe. I wouldn’t take offence.

To the best of my knowledge, Red Snapper had split five years ago, leaving the legendary Warp records a back catalogue of warm, wobbly bass and breaks made from real, actual instruments. Actual instruments? On Warp records?

How very strange, given the label’s electronic heritage. Listening to their Warp début Reeled and Skinned EP back in the day was a bit like opening a pot of digital yoghurt only to discover full fat analogue custard.

So, imagine my surprise during a random encounter in a pub with a chap named Spider did I find that not only had the Snapper reformed, they were playing the Phoenix as part of the Vibraphonic festivities.

After finding myself banging on about the band’s links to Beth Orton and Heather Nova, and how Red Snapper was the only artist in my CD collection that my dad liked on account of big, dirty saxophone, I decided to leave these people alone and go catch the band for myself.

According to double bassist Ali Friend, they had spent the previous five years “mostly cooking”. Reformed, five year old fish. It could get smelly.

So. The question was, would they flounder? In a word, no. This was apparent from the very first bass stab of opener Keeping Pigs Together. Their sound is a brooding mixture of breaks, jazz and rockabilly, their heartbeat provided by Ali’s dexterous double bass. Poor old Rich Thair on drums certainly earns his money. He plays more paradiddles per minute than is probably safe.

Add some quality guitar licks courtesy of one David Ayres, the pile-driving sax of new-boy Tom Challenger and some serious boogying down the front from the audience, and I’m guessing that it’s fresh fish all round.

They blister through a set including old favourites like Four Dead Monks and the majestic Snapper. New tunes are thrown our way, the crunchy riffs of Wanga Doll and the delicate clarinet led Brick Red impress.

Highlight of the night has to be Hot Flush. Think of a slightly frazzled Dr Who theme played over machine gun drums and a bass line so good it’s practically edible. On this evidence, I’m beginning to think that fish aren’t all bad after all. A good source of essential fatty acids, apparently.


A few examples of how I write music.

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Alabama 3 – Live Review. Albama 3 stripped down at the Lemmy. Instrumentally, not sartorially. In fact, the pic is from a Beautiful Days gig with his huge great hat on.

Robert Love. An Alabaman man. Namnam abalana.

Alabama 3. Lemon Grove, Exeter University.

Acoustic and Unplugged. Who needs a Moog when you’ve got a harmonica?

Welcome to the Delta Blues, stripped down and Brixton fashion. The Outlaws were back in town, though someone had nicked their power cables.

Since their early 1990’s inception, they have been dismissed by some as novelty. Country, gospel, blues and, er, acid house is a hybrid not touched by many.

But on they ploughed, toiling away in a field of electric blue grass. So, how would they fair live without their bubbling electro bass lines?

Front-man Robert Love is no more an Alabaman man than I, and try saying that after a hoedown. But you wouldn’t know. His pebble-dashed larynx gives him a suitable drawl to befit any country-blues vibe. Meanwhile, guitarist Rock Freebase slides around his fretboard with the enigmatic accompaniment of Harpo Strangelove on mouth organ.

Vocalist Devlin Love possesses a rare beauty, both in appearance and voice. Her solo rendition of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit provided the evening’s hairs on end moment. To hear such an epoch making song delivered with that much grace was an uncomfortable joy. You could almost smell the stench of magnolia, rather than the ubiquitous whiff of spilled lager.

Just in case you are wondering about geography and arithmetic, they aren’t from Alabama and there are more than three of them. A bit like Spaceman 3, Mega City Four and Heaven 17 in that respect.

Woke Up This Morning, or their famous one as it is otherwise known, was rolled out nice and early. If there has ever been anything written about Alabama 3 without the Sopranos theme tune being mentioned, then I’ve yet to read it.

Doh! Disaster struck three songs in, as Rock’s acoustic string went snap, twang. From the face of adversity emerged a raucous singalong of country standards with the audience, who needed little encouragement. Recent single Hello, I’m Johnny Cash received a rousing reception, with their version of Folsom Prison Blues paying further homage to the great man.

Their gift of blending the lighthearted and the daft with the coldly ironic was evident in set high-point, U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno Anymore. (sic) A markedly different performance from the fully staffed set I witnessed at Beautiful Days festival a couple of years ago. But did they lose anything other than a couple of personnel and a rack of synths?

Well, gone were the preachings of their stage alter-egos, replaced with four stools and a more laid back and laid bare approach. With only two voices and two instruments at their disposal, their success was in letting the songs speak for themselves.


A few examples of how I write music.

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Four Tet – Live Review. My only negative review. If you have a mo, click the pic to Parks on You Tube, put it it your list of sublime electronica, then go stick your head in a metal bin and get someone to lump it with a stick. It was like that.

When I start doing slow exposure things with the lighting rig, chances are I'm a bit bored

Four Tet. The Cavern, Exeter. 14/10/2004

This is where it starts to get confusing.

Despite the name, Four Tet isn’t some crazy free-form jazz quartet. It is Kieran Hebden. He makes music on computers. He is also in a band called Fridge, who are allegedly something called ‘Post Rock’. Whatever that is nowadays, though I don’t recall anyone having the courtesy to tell me that rock had finished.

26 year old Mr Hebden has a respectable CV. Five Fridge albums, three as Four Tet and masterful remixes of artists such as Kings of Convenience and Beth Orton. A Radiohead remix is around the corner. So impressed were Thom and co, they gave him free reign over their new album.

So what about the gig, all three of you cry. Well. Um. Instruments are two linked laptops and a mixer. The music is so strangely-made, it is a hopeless task to try and categorise. Let’s call it Post something or other. It’ll come to me later.

The Four Tet manual often reads – take some acoustic samples, say a kyoto or a mandolin and blend in a melody so elegant you could take it out for a posh chip supper. Then add an ambling drum line and suck it all backwards through a pipe. Anyone who has ever heard his masterpieces Parks or Tangle will know the effect.

The results are often enchanting and always beguiling. But, there is always a but. The live Tet experience quite often included the added ingredient of Mr Hebden trying to give an entire room the same headache at the same time.

If you take a sound-wave and hit it with a big enough stick, when does it go past art for art’s sake, or noise for fu©ks sakes? It took a while for things to things to become less of a barrage, but when a packed Cavern greeted new album track She Moves She with a roar, I had the distinct impression that it may have been an incredibly loud sigh of relief.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of experimentation as much as the next folktronica fan. I like custard too, which is up there with cheese and a good lie in as far as great things in life go. As custardy as I am, I still wouldn’t fancy a jacuzzi in the stuff. Not dissimilarly to the jacuzzi scenario, I found Four Tet live to be a cold, damp and slightly uncomfortable experience, and it took me a couple of days to unclog my ears.

I don’t know if the man behind some of the most gorgeous electronica of the past decade gets a kick out of passing off unfathomable, atonal and deeply dull dirge for a live show. Sometimes, it all gets a little too confusing.

I’ve figured out that new genre I was musing on earlier. On the evidence of tonight, let us call it Post-Melody. Given the sheer tuneful inventiveness of his studio work, you may have gathered that I found the live incarnation of Four Tet a tad disappointing. And that’s a tad disappointing in the same way that Joe Stalin was a tad naughty.


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The Delays – Live Review. Brighton’s indie-pop falsetto foursome play the Lemon Grove. The Cancellations, heh. Such shining wit. And no, that’s not a spoonerism.

Greg Gilbert of the Delays

The Delays. Lemon Grove, Exeter. 28/04/06

Finally, the rescheduled Lemon Grove appearance for the harmonious Southampton four-piece. The Delays, delayed.

Fortunately, they didn’t call themselves the Cancellations. Who wants to see such shimmering pop tunes in the depths of winter anyway? On tonight’s evidence with the live incarnation of their new album You See Colours, the boys have shaped themselves for the summer with an instant and incessant new repertoire. They will move a few feet over the festival season.

I was curious to see how the Delays would fare in the live arena, as some have accused them of being over produced. Front-man Greg Gilbert soon negated worries of studio trickery as he unleashed his grit lined mezzo falsetto to launch into opener You and Me.

And some voice he has, soaring above a backdrop of indie guitar riffs and the odd pulse of arpeggiated electronica. The falsetto is an easy one to get irritatingly wrong (see Justin Hawkins or David McAlmont), but his is pitch perfect and gnarled.

Their set comprised of mostly new, mostly up beat songs such as the beautifully bouncy Lillian or the ode to chavs, This Town’s Religion. Set highlights were frequent, but it had to be a solo rendering of Bedroom Scene, stripping down a top moment from their excellent debut LP, Faded Seaside Glamour.

And as the syrupy strains of last tune Valentine ebbed away, I was already enjoying the aftertaste. But, alas, as good as the gig was, I couldn’t help feeling that they had left a few of their best songs at home.


A few examples of how I write music.

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Katherine Williams – Live Review. Well done, have a biscuit. In the interests of accuracy, I can’t remember when this gig was, but it was before that TV show pulled Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to bits with its rancorous claw. I used to love that song.

Katherine Williams. The Phoenix, Exeter.

I had quite forgotten how good a voice Kathryn Williams owns. It is like realising how good chocolate digestives are again after a while in the company of other, flashier biscuits with their new-fangled foil wrappers and honeycombe cremes.

It didn’t take long for me to remember though, approximately 14 seconds in to set opener Soul to Feet, as she delivers the frank first line “You only stop talking when you’re sleeping.”

While her voice is like a pair of favourite slippers, soft, understated and comforting, beneath the sweetness of her singing lies vivid imagery, a slightly sardonic wit and observations both acute and obtuse.

In her pre-song banter before set highlight Daydream and Saunter, she tells us how she was scared to be meeting the protagonist of the song, an old love, at a wedding. It wasn’t so bad though, “he just looked like a cheap magician.” she confided before giving her extraordinary rendition.

Building up chords by looping her own vocal, she takes a violin bow to the electro-acoustic guitar, making it do a decent cello impersonation. Impressive stuff.

Ably backed by classical guitarist and bassist David Scott, she progresses through her 22 song set with hushed gusto. At one point, she implores everyone in the auditorium to concentrate on making the Phoenix the stillest place in the city. “There needs to be quiet music. There’s too much big music in the world.” she says before she gently plucks at her song, Sustain Pedal.

Other highlights included Stevie, her ode to poet Stevie Smith, replete with the line “Walking to the shops, thinking of dead things that rhyme.” During the proceedings, she asks for requests from the audience. The result was the unexpected pleasure of hearing the lilting Flicker, an old favourite of mine.

Towards the end, she introduces a Leonard Cohen tune. A small gasp from a knowing few in the audience and a shiver down my back greeted the second best version of Hallelujah I’ve yet heard, after Jeff Buckley, obviously. Her voice hits the climax of the song with a shrill starkness rather than her trademark gentility, so providing a stunning musical moment.

So, let that be a lesson learned. The next time you become tempted in the supermarket’s naughty section by a peppermint-fudge creme or a fondue of opaque disappointment, just take a moment to recall the simple pleasures to be gained from your old familiar friend, the choccy bikky.


A few examples of how I write music.

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The Coral – Live Review. They came, they ambled, then they shuffled off again. Somewhere in between, they played a blistering set to a Great Hall crowd

The Coral Great Hall, Exeter University. 14/10/05

Autumn in Exeter is a wonderful thing. Unseasonably mild weather, the opportunity to kick around in fallen leaves and hunt for conkers in the park. Best of all, it is the time of year to get some quality gigs in to the city.

Promoters aren’t daft. Get the bands in before the students spend their loans on books about Russian formalism and quarks. Oh, and hooch of course.

And so The Coral roll up and amble on to stage. First up is Spanish Main which doesn’t last very long, and is a statement of intent for what is to follow. They don’t hang around this lot, straight in to it in an entertainingly business like fashion.

On tonight’s evidence, The Coral are the aural equivalent of Cuprinol, if they had a tin then they’d do exactly what was said on it in a head down, arse up kind of way.

It isn’t long before they swagger in to Bill McCai, a cautionary tale for anyone stuck in the rat race, with lovely lolloping bass lines and all. Pass It On emerges shortly afterwards to ecstatic whoops and hollers. No fuss, no hassle, just tight, taught tunesmithery. From out of nowhere, a song such as Goodbye will suddenly get up, change pace, shake itself down and decide to go down a completely new avenue. Which is nice.

They charge through their set to the delight of an impressed and impressive Great Hall audience. Of course, it is the more familiar tunes that get the arms waving and the crowd surfers surfing. Recent-ish single In the Morning rears its head to the punters delight, the pit bobbing along to its jaunty, almost folky charm. And as set highlight Don’t Think Your the First strikes up, you get to see first hand the beauty of The Coral. Tight three part harmonies and brooding guitars to reaffirm the strange wonder of all things dark.

It is their musical maturity that imposes. For a band who would probably all qualify for a young person’s rail card, they wear their influences on their sleeve, evoking a musical love tryst between Ennio Morricone and Dick Dale.

Frontman James Skelly delivers his vocal with tender ease, eyes shut, probably imagining a gunfight in a sleazy two-bit Arizonan pioneer town as a couple of vultures look on from their cactus perch. Or perhaps not.

Whatever he is thinking, one has to admire the effortless nature of it all. They seem to have rattled off three albums in no time at all, and they can back it up in the live arena with the rumbling ruggedness of a band full of confidence. And as the last few bars of final track Arabian Sand escape in to the evening air, a happy audience know that they have been entertained by one thing and one thing alone, the music.

Other bands may try to impress with gimmicks and cliché, but The Coral know their strengths. It isn’t rocket surgery, it’s just good old fashioned musical craft.


A few examples of how I write music.

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