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Folk-pop duo Lewis & Leigh combine the musical heritage of their two geographically divergent backgrounds to create a sound that is broadly accessible, yet still somehow feels personal and intimate. Vivid lyrical portraits and widely varying musical influences ranging from Americana to Motown, from traditional British folk to edgy London pop, blend effortlessly in the angelic singing voices of Alva Leigh and Al Lewis, who are well-respected songwriters individually, but who have found a sweetly sensitive fusion in their collaboration with one another.
The pair’s illustrative track ‘Rubble’, from their EP ‘Missing Years’, draws comparisons between the American Deep South where Leigh was born, and the Welsh countryside that Lewis calls home. First depicted is the coastal town of Gulfport, MS, which has been levelled by several hurricanes in recorded history, most recently Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (It’s hard to tell which hurricane is referenced in the video below, possibly 1979 Hurricane Frederic or 1985 Hurricane Elena). The song’s second verse refers to the struggles surrounding the Welsh Mining Strike of 1984, with the chorus making the connection between the two seemingly disparate locations, observing how each was reduced to rubble in the aftermath of those disastrous events. The final verse talks about having roots in those places, and being drawn to them, each sympathizing with the other’s toil and trouble. It’s a haunting and thought-provoking song whose musical setting is elegantly sensitive to the musical style and cultural spirit of each region.
Lewis & Leigh’s debut EP ‘Night Drives’ won attention from BBC Radio 2, with lead single ‘What Is There To Do’ spending four weeks on that station’s playlist back in 2014. The duo subsequently performed live sessions with Dermot O’Leary and BBC Radio Scotland’s Ricky Ross. Their latest single, a soulful jazz pop tune called ‘Heart Don’t Want’, has already received well-deserved attention in America from the likes of Rolling Stone and NPR, as well as a Twitter endorsement from veteran singer/songwriter Ryan Adams. The song was recorded as part of their latest EP ‘Hidden Truths’ and produced at Urchin Studios by Matt Ingram and Dan Cox, who also helmed Laura Marling‘s latest album ‘Short Movie’.
Lewis & Leigh’s current EP ‘Hidden Truths’ is available now. The pair are currently touring the new EP throughout the UK. Their final live dates for the season are listed below.
Thursday 12th November 2015 – Sheffield Cafe No. 9
Friday 13th November 2015 – Kirton-in-Lindsey Town Hall
Saturday 14th November 2015 – Leeds High & Lonesome Festival
Friday 11th December 2015 – Cardiff St. John the Evangelist’s Church, Canton
Editor’s note: we’re trying a new experiment with a premiere of a different kind of Bands to Watch feature, specific to a region. Our Nick lives in West London and was itching to write about the bands he finds inspiring just on his doorstep. Do you feel the same way about the bands in your area? If yes, get in touch with us on Twitter at @tgtf and we can chat about highlighting your local favourites in a future edition!
West London has always had a rich musical scene. Back in the 1960s, it was where Alexis Korner established his rhythm and blues network in Ealing that would see bands like the Rolling Stones and The Who meet up and get their first breaks. Then came Jim Marshall, who decided to build amplifiers for this burgeoning scene, and Led Zeppelin used to rehearse in a school hall in Hanwell.
But that was the past. I hear you ask, what is the scene like now? Here are the six most exciting and intoxicating bands that the West London boroughs have to offer.
Ella and the Blisters
Filled with the Romany spirit, this bunch of gypsy punks turn every venue they play into a celebration of life and music, and they’ve been entertaining audiences up and down the country since 2013. After a blistering set at this year’s Green Belt Festival and Secret Garden Party, there is a rumour of a second album next year. This septet mixes traditional folk, gypsy jazz, rockabilly, country, New Orleans soul and punk ideology to create something that sounds fresh and vibrant, but also feels familiar due to having one foot in the past.
This trio’s brand of heavy rhythmic rock gives you faith in the genre’s future. Instead of trying to pander to the get rich quick band of pop stars and flavour of the month genres, Two Hands have delivered one exceptional EP this year and there is a rumour of another. Their live sets are enthused with songs that put an etch in your sketch. Mixing Queens of the Stone Age, Interpol, Arctic Monkeys, but with the vocal intensity of Texas is the Reason, Glassjaw and Rival Schools, their sound is big riffs, catchy shouty choruses and ultimately a good time.
West London isn’t just known for its rock, jazz is in the fabric of the boroughs. The Rolling Stones met and formed at the Ealing Jazz Club. One local musician carrying the jazz spirit is Jon Mapp. While technically he is not 100% jazz, he does use certain techniques and devices that lend themselves to jazz readily. Mapp plays certain patterns of bass notes, which he then records and loops. Then he plays new bass parts over this, along with percussive beats and rhythms. Easy, eh? But the real cleverness is the intricacies and interplay of the old and new bass runs. It’s melodic, hypnotic and strangely beautiful.
Originally from Richmond, Lorca now spends his time between his West London hub, Brighton and DJing breath taking sets around the world. His style is refreshing and inventive. This was showcased on the ‘Forgive Me Love’ / ‘Naoko’ single last year. Now he has started to infuse his output with tribal vocals and rhythms, however it still remains true to Lorca’s bass heavy ethos. Due to countless DJ sets around the world, Lorca’s tracks have a dance floor sensibility that matches his creative vision.
What’s not to like about Odd Rival? They’re young, play loud and fast and write brilliant songs. Live, they’re incendiary and blow away any other band on the line-up due to their frenetic playing and a hunger to make it. Their brand of math-punk sets them aside from their peers, as not only can they play – and how can they play – but they have an uncanny understanding of melody that means their songs don’t get lost in weighty ideas and unnecessary solos. Stand out track ‘Slave’ sounds like Longcut meets Foals, but with the riffs of Swervedriver at their heaviest.
Du Bellows (pictured at top)
The jewel in West London’s musical crown is Du Bellows. Musically. They sound like a mix of Fleetwood Mac and John McLaughlin at their acoustic, folky peaks. There are elements of the blues in there too, but it’s their vibe that conjures up images of musical past more as much as the present. I could add even more lazy journalism to this and say they remind me of a more stripped down Big Brother & the Holding Company with a certain female vocalist. I won’t, but you get the gist. But it’s the clarity and range of singer Jade Williams’ vocals that are the real hook. She can go from husky whispers to maelstroms of volume and passion in seconds. Also it helps that she’s backed by one of the tightest rhythm sections this side of Nashville, and in TJ Shipton Williams, this band have a guitarist who can not only match her note for note, but predict where she’ll go next.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 11th November 2015 at 6:00 pm
Tweedy history buffs Public Service Broadcasting have a unique video out this week for ‘Sputnik’, known to folks like me who saw them on their spring tour / festival campaign as their tour ‘pet’.
In the new promo, the band were given the incredible opportunity to perform and film at the famed Jodrell Bank Observatory, and 58 years to the day when the Lovell telescope there picked up the Russians’ Sputnik satellite on the 4th of October 1957. The new visuals celebrate the accomplishments of the then-new space age and also bring to mind the question, just *when* will Public Service Broadcasting headline a show at Jodrell Bank? (They supported Manchester synth legends New Order there in 2013.) To tide us over until then, on the 20th of November, the band will be releasing a new ‘EP’ with this title track ‘Sputnik’ and the previously revealed ‘Korolev’. The EP will also include brand new remixes of ‘Sputnik’ by Blond:ish, Petar Dundov, Eagles & Butterflies and Plugger.
The band have three live shows this month in Cardiff, Southampton and London as previously scheduled. Other dates previously announced for this month have been moved to February 2016 due to medical issues in the PSB family (for more on this, read the band’s official statement on their Web site). For all the gig details this year and next, go here. For all of TGTF’s coverage on the always nattily dressed Public Service Broadcasting, including my review of their ace second long-player ‘The Race for Space’, head this way.
Last Wednesday night, I trekked once again to downtown Phoenix for a gig at the intimate and all-but-hidden Valley Bar, which is quite literally nestled in a back alley between a couple of sandwich shops. The rainy weather didn’t stop a steady crowd from trickling into the venue, and before the gig started, I heard several punters chatting about the headliner, Texas alt-country songwriter David Ramirez, having obviously heard him or seen him live before. I, myself, was less familiar, having been turned on to Ramirez’s music after seeing a Tweeted recommendation of his latest single from none other than Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody. I spent the two-hour drive to Phoenix from Tucson listening to Ramirez’s latest album ‘Fables’ via Apple Music, and it was just the thing to whet my appetite for the evening’s headliner at the Valley Bar.
Lest I get too far ahead of myself, let’s start not with Ramirez, but with his guest on the night, Atlanta native singer/songwriter Liza Anne. Her tunes are the kind of starkly melancholic neo-folk I might have predicted, but with the added twist of prominent vocal harmonies provided by backing vocalists Sam Pinkerton and Molly Parden. Liza Anne’s opening set, which included haunting echoes of melody from her recent LP ‘Two’, had a cool, aloof edge despite its emotional lyrics that would prove to be in sharp contrast to Ramirez’s viscerally organic Americana style.
Because I was fairly unfamiliar with Ramirez, I decided to stick to the standard policy of shooting photos only during the first three songs of the set, leaving myself free to enjoy the latter part of the show uninterrupted. And though I missed a few classic photo opportunities later on when Ramirez’s band was in full swing, I’m convinced that I made the right decision. Ramirez’s intensity on stage was hypnotic, and his band played with the kind of paradoxically effortless energy that can only happen when you’re playing with your “best friend(s) in the world”, as Ramirez would preface his introduction of each band member.
To my surprise (and mild dismay), Ramirez started his lengthy headline set with two of the songs I knew best from ‘Fables’, namely ‘New Way of Living’ and ‘Harder to Lie’, the latter of which has been firmly planted in my head ever since the night of the show. He scattered songs from ‘Fables’ throughout the set, interspersing them with several older tracks that caught my attention, especially ‘The Bad Days’ from 2013 EP ‘The Rooster’. Not knowing the songs well enough to sing along, I was nonetheless delighted to be in the front row, alternately tapping my toes and swaying my hips to the band’s infectious rhythmic momentum. Ramirez’s alt-country style has perhaps a bit more country twang than I usually like, but the rough honesty of his singing voice and the integrity of his stylistic devotion to foundational country rock were quite simply captivating.
The crowd were quiet at the beginning of the set, but slowly warmed up as Ramirez and his band went to work under the hot stage lights. Interaction was stilted at first, but the punters gradually got brave enough to respond to Ramirez’s banter. At one point, a cheeky request was made for a song called ‘Wandering Man’, and while Ramirez didn’t commit to it in the moment, he did play the song at the very end of his set, and it was clearly a longtime live favourite, featuring not only a rousing verse-chorus-verse, but also an extended bridge section where each of the instrumentalists on stage had a chance to show off his chops. Ramirez himself actually took this opportunity to exit the stage and head to the bar for a shot, with which he toasted the crowd before tossing it back and finishing the song with a blinding flourish.
Breathless from the frenzy of the final tune, I headed out to the lobby where the merch table was located. There I picked up a proper physical copy of ‘Fables’ and had the opportunity for quick hellos and handshakes with the band members before I headed out in the rain to drive back east to Tucson, while they headed west for the next stops on their current U.S. tour. Before I drove away, I took a moment to Tweet my own ringing recommendation to a friend in California, who would see Ramirez play a solo show on the following Sunday night.
The previous Gary Lightbody endorsement had been graciously received and reciprocated by Ramirez on Twitter, where he surely found a small legion of Snow Patrol fans (including myself!) among his new listeners, though Ramirez’s musical style is clearly more on the Americana-leaning Tired Pony end of the Lightbody spectrum. Ramirez might gain even more traction from Lightbody’s recommendation after the start of the new year, when he is scheduled to play a single live date on the 28th of January at Hoxton Square in London. A full listing of Ramirez’s upcoming live dates, including more U.S. shows with Liza Anne, can be found on his official Web site.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 11th November 2015 at 12:00 pm
We are now deep into autumn, pretty soon enough to enter into the cold days of winter. It’ll all too easy to fall into the trap of lethargy, to hibernate, to hide away from everyone else because we can’t be bothered to get out of bed. While it may seem that Fictonian, known to his mum as Glen Roberts, did exactly this when he escaped the urban sprawl of London in favour of rural Herefordshire and solitude, the creative juices that flowed when he was left to his own devices in the countryside have culminated in a truly beautiful collection of songs, in the form of his debut album ‘Desire Lines’, which will be released this Friday.
In an era where the imagination and genius of solo composer, one-man bands are flourishing and indeed, being applauded – if one needs convincing, have a look at the Mercury Prize recognizing C Duncan‘s ‘Architect’ and Ghostpoet‘s ‘Shedding Skin’ in the nominations for the 2015 gong and East India Youth‘s ‘Total Strife Forever’ in the year previous – Roberts’ talent should be closely examined and enjoyed through ‘Desire Lines’ as a potential contender for next year.
On ‘The Hat’, which features little other than the slow, gentle buzzing of an accordion (synths?) and piano, Roberts’ voice is husky and rough, recalling Bryan Adams in his early career, while also remaining wistful. With the warmth of its chords, ‘Make It Be Ours’ has a shuffling, sweeping chorus fitting for the most beautiful of torch songs: “see that star? / it isn’t too far / if it’s in your heart / let’s make it be ours.”
But the true standout of ‘Desire Lines’ is ‘I Remember’: majestic in its simplicity, the piano chords building up to Roberts’ words – “I believed in love / but it never comes / I wait” – sung with all the melancholy of love lost. Chris Martin wishes he could write something as emotional as this. This, however, is not to say Fictonian is a project stuck on slow, overly sad dirges. On the other side of the tempo spectrum, the jaunty melody and oom-pah rhythm of ‘Moira Junction’ mirrors “my heart is like a pendulum / swinging to and fro / don’t know which way to go” in the song’s story, giving you the feeling of a heart so badly broken, its owner can’t make a move in his confusion.
Then there are the little things that all added up make this an unusual, loveable album. With its unidentifiable plinks and plonks that Stornoway, Patrick Wolf and the recently returned Clock Opera would be proud to call their own, opening track ‘Anticipation’ is satisfyingly whimsical and a great beginning to the record. A similar whimsy appears again on ‘Mrs. Jones’, with an intro and outro having a delightful, wonky carnival-like quality.
Previously revealed single ‘Little Blue Book’, playful with tambourine jingles and whistled notes, is probably the most poppy and accessible track on the album. Its gentle, lumbering, yet uplifting melody is easy on the ears, while the lyrics tell of accepting that life goes on, but the most important part to making the most of yours is to go after your dreams, so you won’t have to live with regret when you’re old. Words of wisdom.
The folky, disheveled troubadour sensibility and deadpan lyrics of life observed on ‘Full Circle Influence’, plus the background metallic clanking and Eastern melody leading the track out might sound like a strange way to end this album. But it clearly shows that Roberts has a great many ideas and could go in just as many directions on his future releases. Listening to this one song, I am reminded of later Stephen Duffy / Lilac Time, a criminally underrated songwriter and artist. When I mention Duffy’s name, I generally get glazed eyes looking back at me, because no-one’s ever heard of him or his genius. This musn’t happen with Fictonian. I won’t let it.
Have you ever listened to an album and got the distinct feeling that you’ve heard it all before? That you once held it beloved and have listened to it on repeat again and again? ‘Desire Lines’ is that stunning kind of record. And you will want to play it again and again.
The debut album from Fictonian, ‘Desire Lines’, is out this Friday, the 13th of November, on Distiller Music.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 10th November 2015 at 6:00 pm
On a grey, rainy, miserable day like this in Washington, there can be nothing better than a new video from the Communion-related band who have cornered the market on relationship doom and gloom, Daughter. Following on from the uber haunting ‘Doing the Right Thing’ unveiled last month, Elena Tonra “feels numb in this kingdom” in ‘Numbers’.
The person who’s feeling most numb, it seems, is the story’s main character, a mysterious woman in red who can cause terrible suffering on what appears to be chosen victims, and just by her looking and thinking about these poor souls’ misfortune. Weird concept for a video, but considering how unearthly and sinister Daughter have managed to make the song feel, it works. The band make a quick cameo in the club scene near the end, but it’s pretty quick, as if you’d miss them if you blinked.
Daughter’s second album ‘Not to Disappear’, the hotly-anticipated follow-up to 2013’s ‘If You Leave’, is out the 15th of January 2016 on 4AD in the UK and Glassnote Records in North America.
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