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Header photo by Declan Gallen
Belfast-based Arborist is described as being “fueled by the lyrical and musical misadventures of Mark McCambridge and a cast of well-travelled musicians.” The Arborist moniker refers to McCambridge himself, who first performed under the name as a solo artist in the early part of 2013. The journeyman singer/songwriter has since gathered a bevy of band members including Richard Hill, James Heaney, Ben McAuley, Johnny Ashe and Luke Bannon, who accompanied him at the Great Escape 2015 back in May.
Arborist’s music is the kind of quiet, self-assured folk that steals your attention before you realize it, drawing you in with its thoughtful, evocative poetry and country-tinged instrumental charms. Behind McCambridge’s softly lilting lead vocals are slurred string melodies and lightly layered vocal harmonies, woven around gently rocking guitar and percussion rhythms. McCambridge’s singing voice has just a hint of roughness around the edges that strikes the balance between strength in the solo passages and a seamless blend with the backing harmonies.
In Arborist’s latest single ‘Twisted Arrow’, which was released on the 4th of May, backing harmonies are contributed by former Pixies bassist and Breeders lead singer Kim Deal, who agreed to the collaboration in an email exchange with McCambridge. The track was recently featured by BBC 6 Music, but if you missed it there, you can watch the accompanying video, directed by Stephen Agnew, just below.
‘Border Blood’ is even more unapologetically country-flavoured, with lyrics about guns and holsters, saddles and horses, and the striking chorus, “it’s either in your heart or in your belly / they’re gonna make it hard for you to choose / you didn’t come down here to lose.” But in this song, the country twang is mitigated by the addition of piano melodies and soaring jazz-tinged brass over the gently rocking rhythm and wailing steel guitar. The instrumental layers add depth and significance to the second verse lyrics, “revenge tastes bitter and strange / there’s something in the danger that keeps you on the dusty trail”, bringing the track to a bittersweet close, very much like a lonely cowboy riding off into the sunset.
Earlier single ‘Incalculable Things’ is Arborist’s most popular song on Spotify, with over 65,000 plays. It has a more immediately dramatic folk rock style, opening with a heartbeat-like drum rhythm and a haunting guitar melody as McCambridge intones the first vocal line, “well, I received nothing for putting nothing in / it seemed a just reward in truth, so you’d think I’d be content.” The instrumental outro hints at the country style of Arborist’s more recent songs, but it has a bit of a surprise ending in the piano part, perhaps illustrating McCambridge’s overarching lyrical idea that things are not as straightforward as they appear.
Though McCambridge’s sonic palette has clearly benefitted from the added talents of his bandmates and collaborators, the essence of Arborist’s music is in his deeply introspective songwriting and the stark melancholy of his vocal delivery. Those traits speak most effectively for themselves in the following live performance video of ‘The Force of Her Will’, recorded in January for Irish language television channel TG4.
Having been surrounded by music from an early age, Glasgow-born Christopher Duncan (better known by his alias C Duncan) is an up-and-coming singer/songwriter. With classical musicians for parents, C Duncan was encouraged to learn the viola and the piano as a child, before taking up guitar, bass guitar and the drums during his school days. He then went on to obtain a degree in composition from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, whose notable alumni include James McAvoy, Alison Brie and David Tennant.
In December 2014, C Duncan released his first single ‘For’, a slow-paced arrangement with hypnotic vocals. The track, along with his follow-up ‘Say’, received high praise from the likes of Lauren Laverne, Huw Stephens, Vic Galloway, Steve Lamacq, Ricky Ross and Clive Anderson (on Loose Ends). Other supporters of C Duncan include BBC 6Music, Radcliffe and Maconie, The Guardian, NME and Amazing Radio. His music has also been played on various television programmes, including BBC1’s Waterloo Road.
Not only is C Duncan a talented musician, but he is also an accomplished painter, having had his work exhibited at galleries throughout Scotland. Highly influenced by Grant Wood and Gerhard Richter, C Duncan provides the cover art for his own records, expressing the same musical ideas through painted image.
One of the cover arts he has painted himself was for his upcoming debut album ‘Architect’, which features a detailed and stylised aerial view of a Glasgow side street. The album was written and recorded in C Duncan’s Glasgow flat on a bedroom studio setup, gradually adding each layer and each instrument one at a time. Despite being a time-consuming process, this allowed him to lovingly assemble the intricacies and subtleties for his collection of music.
You can listen to C Duncan’s debut album, Architect, when it is released on Friday, the 17th of July on FatCat Records. A day later, C Duncan will be the support act for Belle and Sebastian’s huge, outdoor concert at London Somerset House.
American folk singer/songwriter Samantha Crain studied English literature at Oklahoma Baptist University before embarking on her songwriting career, so it should come as no surprise that her songs reveal a particular talent for interweaving sound and story. Crain’s Oklahoma roots are evident both in her musical style, which is firmly rooted in classic Americana, and in her lyrical references to character and place. Her third album and UK debut release ‘Kid Face’ opens with the striking lyric “This horse kicked me in the heart then asked me if I want another start” before taking off into the galloping rhythm of ‘Never Going Back’. Throughout the album, Crain’s singing voice is rich and intense, with just a hint of grit sneaking into its timbre here and there, and her delivery has a very natural rhythmic tendency, as evidenced in the sultry swing of ‘Taught to Lie’, and the slow shuffle of the album’s title track, featured in the live performance video below.
Crain has recently followed up on ‘Kid Face’ with a new track called ‘Outside the Pale’. Immediately distinctive with a prominent bowed string instrumentation over the usual percussion and guitar, the song is equally striking in the defiant perspective of its lyrics: “the underdogs of human thought within the infrared / you and I, we tell the stories the TV won’t release / they keep us in the wild, under branch and thorn and tree / outside the pale”. While Crain doesn’t specifically intend to write protest songs, she says that her stories “are told from the perspective of the underdog, the 99% of us that are working people. They might not be literal protest songs, but the lives of the people within these songs speak at the same volume if you listen.”
The aforementioned ‘Outside the Pale’ lyric also contains the title to Crain’s upcoming fourth album ‘Under Branch & Thorn & Tree’. The new album continues in the vein of ‘Kid Face’, with Crain once again enlisting John Vanderslice for production duties, but it takes a more dramatic musical tone, often diverging into jazz territory with its expansive instrumental arrangements and subtly nuanced rhythmic ideas. Standout track ‘Kathleen’ showcases the full expressive range of Crain’s singing voice, from her blissfully light upper register tones down to the velvety texture of her lower notes. By contrast, the steady chugging tempo of ‘Big Rock’ is rough around the edges, gaining traction in the rhythm section as Crain sings through the single-mindedly determined chorus. The full album ‘Under Branch & Thorn & Tree’ is due for release on the 17th of July via indie label Full Time Hobby, but you can stream ‘Outside the Pale’ just below, courtesy of Full Time Hobby’s Soundcloud.
Have you ever been sat at work daydreaming about what life would be like in a band? We’ve all been there. However, this dream became a reality for Clay, a four-piece band from Yorkshire. By day, they are your everyday builders and supermarket workers. By night, they tear up the stage with their unique sound that spans multiple genres.
Formed in October 2014, Clay is made up of four lads aged between 17 and 20: two brothers, Joe and Jack, and two friends, Rob and Danny. Heavily influenced by the likes of Jungle, The Charlatans and Primal Scream, the group brings together synths, guitars and drums to form an exuberant, indie funk mix.
Their debut single ‘Sun Dance’ received huge support from radio stations, including airplay from the likes of Zane Lowe and Huw Stephens on BBC Radio 1, as well as XFM. Since then, they have embarked on their first nationwide tour, which included a sold-out headline show at Oporto in Leeds, and appeared at The Great Escape and Dot to Dot Festival; quite the achievement for a band that have been together for less than nine months.
Riding off the success of their debut single, Clay have unveiled ‘Oxygen’, a highly infectious track that features crisp vocals and a throbbing beat. It’s the type of track that will make you want to turn the volume up loud and belt the chorus out at the top of your lungs. To coincide with the launch of the single, the four-piece are performing at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on Monday 22 June.
Having got off to a flying start, there’s certainly a bright future for Clay. If they can keep the momentum going, they could very easily follow in the footsteps of fellow Yorkshire talent such as Kaiser Chiefs and The Pigeon Detectives. And, if it doesn’t work out, they always have their day jobs to fall back on.
Header photo from the BBC’s Jack Garratt archive at Reading and Leeds 2014
Amongst the British Music Embassy SXSW 2015 showcases in Austin, BBC Introducing and the PRS Foundation will be hosting a 22-year old already creating some serious waves.
In a previous life, Jack Garratt might have been considered a ‘one-man band’. The term following him around at the moment tends to be ‘multi-instrumentalist’ or ‘bedroom producer’ however; both terms which go far beyond underselling him. With James Blake and The xx comparisons already being drawn, his electronic influences have gathered many new fans since he served up an impressive debut EP, ‘Remnants’, and a breathtaking Reading and Leeds set, during 2014.
The bearded songsmith has been hitting all the aural sweet spots on this rise. Take the soft backbeats of his early track ‘Worry’; 9 months on since its Soundcloud debut and the slick beats, bluesy vocals and angular synths have been streamed over 1 million times. On his other early material (try ‘Water’), his ambitious use of sound and texture is also evident, the shimmering electro-bass hooks justifiably seizing your attention, along with the sharp chimes of jazz keys.
Garratt has already spent his time refining and developing this sound mind you, and is just as capable at experimenting away from these catchier, radio-friendly moments. He meshes his soulfulness with a chilling atmosphere on ‘The Love You’re Given’, as warm r&b influences and his mesmerising vocals come together with refreshing ease on the slow-burning ballad. For all the heartfelt beauty this produces, his production skills come to the fore with the howling energy that the closing chorus hits you with, as a colourful and contrasting blur of synths dramatically engulfing you.
On what will be one of his first trips to America, Garratt is likely be humbled by any crowd who turn out for him at SXSW. The truth is that really, if you miss him and his talented live expose in building up songs from single beats to the potent waves of energy that his music culminates in, you’ll be missing a truly game-changing young artist who’s headed for stages in front of thousands in the very near future.
Jack Garratt appears as part of the BBC Introducing and PRS Showcase on Wednesday the 18th of March at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30; read more about the night in Mary’s preview here. Catch him at the following appearances:
Wednesday 18/3 – British Music Embassy / BBC Introducing and PRS for Music Foundation @ Latitude 30, 11 PM
Thursday 19/3 – New Shapes @ Red Eyed Fly, 4:45 PM
Friday 20/3 – Communion @ St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, 12:45 AM
Folk / punk / rock outfit Skinny Lister surely rank as one of the must-see bands at SXSW 2015. Their songs are the populist, crowd-pleasing singalong type that you might expect to hear from their Xtra Mile label mate Frank Turner, but with six members in the band, they are able to create an even bolder and more expansive sonic ethos. As with so many bands these days, they break through genre barriers to combine the traditional instrumentation of folk music with the spirit and energy of rock and roll, and they throw a hint of punk attitude into the mix for added flair.
Band members Daniel Heptinstall, siblings Lorna and Maxwell Thomas, Michael Camino, Thom Mills and Sam Brace hail from different parts of England, but they share a common background in folk music that remains at the heart of their sound. Skinny Lister’s first album ‘Forge & Flagon’ was unmistakably rooted in that tradition, drawing the inevitable comparison to Mumford and Sons when it was released in the summer of 2012. But with their upcoming album ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’, they have expanded their stylistic repertoire beyond waltzes and sea shantys, at least as far as the first teaser tracks are concerned.
Current single ‘Cathy’ is described on Skinny Lister’s Web page as “one of several songs about a scarlet lady, someone that you’ve fallen for that you shouldn’t have fallen for”. The accompanying video includes a presumably metaphorical biology lesson about jellied eels; read into that what you will as you watch below.
Judging from the two live gig videos we’ve previously featured (‘This Is War’ and ‘Trouble on Oxford Street’), Skinny Lister’s raucous energy and infectious vocal harmonies are enough to steal the spotlight at any showcase they might play. And, as an added bonus, they feature an accordion and an upright bass in their guitar-driven instrumental arrangements. Who doesn’t love a well-played accordion?
If you aren’t making the trek to Austin this year, you can get your Skinny Lister fix later this spring. The band’s new album ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’ is due for release on the 20th of April via Xtra Mile Recordings. Just following the release, Skinny Lister will play a run of live dates back in the UK. Previous TGTF coverage of Skinny Lister can be found here.
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