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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 29th November 2012 at 2:00 pm
Words and photos by guest reviewer Joe Coleman
Having listened to Ben Howard for numerous years now, I finally got the chance to see him live on Tuesday evening at the Engine Shed in Lincoln and It wasn’t what I was expecting. The venue itself isn’t a huge arena, accommodating to only about 1,500 people, but on the night you couldn’t move for love nor money.
But while the arena was a commotion, the audience were not. There was an odd feeling of almost lulled excitement; people just didn’t seem as excited as they should have been about arguably one of the biggest performers this year. As Ben took to the stage, the crowd finally erupted into life, empty beer cups were thrown and elbows were dug in. But Ben then started with two new tracks, both as dark and mellow as many of the tracks on the album, but almost with a little more zip. If it was supposed to build anticipation, it certainly achieved it. People were clapping and singing along to every word, albeit a second after they had heard it.
With the new tracks done, Ben cracked on with what everyone wanted to hear. With Ben’s debut album ‘Every Kingdom’ now having sold over 160,000 copies, people were anticipating everything off the album to be as clear cut and as on the nose as the album versions. But what followed were a cacophony of extended versions and re-jigged performances of everyone’s favourites, but boy did he nail it.
‘Diamonds’ turned into a crescendo of bass, electric guitar and drums with Ben standing proudly at the front of his fellow band-mates, but it still retained the essence of the original that everyone loved. ‘Only Love’ followed and again, everyone was in harmony singing and Ben even remarked after that the crowd were the best he had heard at clapping along. In between songs, Ben was conversational with the crowd, something I hadn’t expected having heard he was a bit of an introvert, especially to the press. But his anecdotes about playing in Lincoln’s under construction club last year were genuinely funny and had people laughing along.
As the stories slowed up, as did the songs; ‘Oats in the Water’ was followed by two new songs from his latest EP ‘Burgh Island’, due out on the 10th of December on Island. Both followed the same trend as the previous new tracks; melodic, foot tapping, and shoulder swaying folk songs. But then Ben upped the tempo again, coming back with ’Everything’ followed by ’Black Flies’ and ’Old Pine’. And then the summer classic ‘The Wolves’ had everyone oohing along and drowning out Ben.
At times, Ben just stood for a few moments before a song and just interacted with the crowd, telling jokes and thanking everyone for their support this year. As everyone stood back and listened, you could tell Ben was enjoying the night, a cute smile kept appearing across his face á la the ‘Call Me Maybe’ video. The two songs that topped off what was an incredible night for Lincoln, were the two easiest songs to sing along to, ’Promise’ and ’Keep Your Head Up’. As the crowd fell silent, Ben sat down on a chair for the first time of the night and let his unorthodox way of playing the guitar do the talking.
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hadn’t at least heard of Ben Howard, but many people wouldn’t recognise him if they saw him walking down the street. His exponential rise to fame this year and his sold out tour will only see him gain more and more popularity, and all credit to him.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 2nd November 2012 at 6:00 pm
Ben Howard has revealed details of a new album. Or least an EP. The ‘Burgh Island’ EP will be released on the 10th of December on Island, and the release will feature this song, ‘Esmerelda’. Watch the promo below.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 18th September 2012 at 11:00 am
So it’s been about a week since the nominees for the 2012 Mercury Prize were announced. We here at TGTF have been mulling over the options, and here are our early thoughts on who will win this year’s gong.
Mary Chang, Editor (current location: Washington, DC, USA)
With the exception of Leeds band Roller Trio, all of the acts nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize are no stranger are known acts. A large proportion of the 12 nominees are those with high profile debut albums. The releases by alt-J, Ben Howard, Django Django, Jessie Ware, Lianne La Havas, Michael Kiwanuka, the Roller Trio blokes and Sam Lee being considered this year all fall into that category.
Wait a minute, count those up again. That’s eight. You read that right. EIGHT. That’s means without even counting bookies’ odds, there’s a two out of three chance a debut album will be picked. Was this shortlist borne out of the fact that legend PJ Harvey‘s album ‘Let England Shake’ won the honour last year (and it was her second time winning), so the powers that be decided the list should be more heavily weighted to favour newcomers? The nominees should reflect the best of the best, and not because a band has suddenly leaped onto the scene on the strength of on media buzz. Let us not forget Speech Debelle’s win in 2009. Where is that follow-up album, eh, Debelle?
I’m not saying that there is no danger of having sentimental favourites nominated because there can be the thinking that although a band has been around forever and they never have won anything, let’s give them a go this time around, shall we? I am saying that given the importance and weight of a Mercury Prize nomination, let alone actually winning the prize, the winner shouldn’t be the band that has the largest promotional effort. Which, let’s face it, tends to happen with the Next Big Thing band, because thanks to the cynicism of labels, bands are pushed hardest when they are signed and put out their first releases. When the list was released last Wednesday, I groaned inwardly because there is one band on this list whose lead singer’s voice I cannot stand, but I expect to hear him and his band constantly on BBC Radio in the next 2 months without fail, all thanks to their Mercury nomination…
So my vote is for Field Music‘s ‘Plumb’. This is pop, but not in the way you used to view pop. It’s interesting and intricate, with piano and guitar lines that sound like no-one else’s. And more importantly, what they come up with is entirely unexpected. Brothers David and Peter Brewis trade off on lead vocal and drumming duties, adding two additional variables into the mix. They’ve made it okay not just to like but embrace the art rock genre, with its atypical time signatures, flying directly in the face of that urban pop piffle that’s become all too commonplace on radio. And this album has the word “smart” written all over it. Seriously, when was the last time you heard transitional bits in an album that were purposely made into tracks, and they worked? Should they win, I’m expecting naysayers to complain that they’ve been around too long and ‘Plumb’ isn’t as fresh as some of the debut albums that were nominated. Just because something’s new doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, or the best. ‘Plumb’ is an intelligently written, intelligently made album that deserves this praise.
John Fernandez (current location: Lincoln, UK)
The question on most people’s lips: “where’s the crazy curveball they normally throw at you?” I, for once, found myself knowing all the acts nominated, something almost unheard of over the last few years! When looking at the list the name that jumps out is an obvious one: alt-J have been gathering plaudits far and wide and feel almost as certain to win as the xx did in 2010. You really would be a fool to bet against them, but I never said I was anything but a fool.
My money is going slap bang on Plan B, an artist who over a short career has reinvented himself so successfully. ‘The Ballad of Strickland Banks’ introduced a character and backed him up with some of the most soulful tunes of the past decade, thoroughly thrusting Ben Drew into the mainstream. Now his new album ‘Ill Manors’ is out and he is firmly back to his roots, rapping about financial hardship on council estates and the plight of “Broken Britain”. Plan B says he wants to have the same impact by winning this that Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Boy in Da Corner’ did, and why not? He’s the outspoken voice of his generation.
alt-J are cool and have some killer tunes, but Plan B is representing the underrepresented and should win the Mercury Prize.
Luke Morton (current location: London, UK)
alt-J must be the favourites to win the Mercury Prize this year, and for good reason. Since their inception in 2011 with the ‘∆’ EP, the Cambridge four-piece have been spreading their melancholy, indie pop across Britain to the delight of the mainstream music press including BBC Music and NME.
Debut LP ‘An Awesome Wave’ is a supreme example of the evolution of indie in the UK in recent years, as it flirts with ideas of folk, electronica, art rock and straight-up pop music. It’s been accused of being too pretentious but it’s in fact a perfectly-crafted, 44-minute odyssey into experimental playfulness that has produced the enchanting singles ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Tessellate’. There’s a reason the internet exploded at the release of this album, and hopefully it will receive the recognition it deserves.
Martin Sharman (current location: Gateshead, UK)
This year, the Mercury judges have the opportunity to comment on not just music, but society itself. For they have nominated Ill Manors, Plan B‘s uncompromising soundtrack to his eponymous feature film, a collection of grim stories set on a London council estate. This is the real deal: Ben Drew has the requisite first-hand knowledge to make a story of council estate debauchery and violence spring to life, and is reinforced here by collaborators of impeccable credentials. Never before has there been such a vivid piece of work documenting council estate life, and the moral- and morale-crushing struggle for survival which such an environment engenders.
Plan B pulls no punches; there are stories about drugs, violence, prostitution, drugs, gangs, and more drugs, leavened with heavy doses of swearing. No doubt there will be some who dismiss this as nothing more than a tabloid-style “demonisation” of the working class, exaggerating and exploiting their woes for cynical financial gain. Which is nonsense. Everything here has the ring of truth about it: Drew grew up on the eponymous estate; John Cooper Clarke is on board, and he, of anyone, knows his subject; take a wander through the syringes and discarded aluminium spoons of any run-down corner of London’s concrete chaos and then reasses those opinions. This is a more important piece of work than any dry government report on “Broken Britain” – its task is to seep into the consciousness of those lucky enough to have grown up on a manor not quite so ill, and make them aware of what’s going on, often just a mile or two down the road. In comparison, every other nominee appears twee and enfeebled – pretty music, but nothing with the relevance and gravitas of this collection. Richard Hawley fares particularly badly when listened side-by-side, smothering any relevance of intent with several decades’ worth of electric guitar. Ill Manors is the sound of today – however ugly the truth might be. Let’s hope the judges can find the bravery to reward fact over artifice.
The winner of the 2012 Mercury Prize will be announced on Thursday, the 1st of November. For an overview of all the nominees, read this post.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 12th September 2012 at 6:23 pm
The shortlist for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2012 Albums of the Year were announced this evening by 6music presenter Lauren Laverne in a special ceremony at London’s Hospital Club. While some of the names on here are no surprise, with bookies predicting their odds for weeks, others seem to be a who’s who of the knife edge between mainstream and indie. And it just wouldn’t be the Mercury Prize nominations without a random jazz album mentioned. Let’s have a look at the nominees…
Not surprisingly to those in the indie blogosphere, Django Django‘s rhythmically dynamic self-titled debut received a nod. The band scored an American label contract this summer. Count on ‘Default’ and ‘Storm’ to get continued airplay all the way up to the night the winner is announced. (Read our coverage on the Djangos here.) So was alt-J‘s debut ‘An Awesome Wave’. I’m sure they expected it; why else would they have booked a tour for *next* May if they weren’t? If the sweaty club atmosphere I experienced on night 2 of the Great Escape this year seeing them (who were then followed by Django Django, I might add) is any indication, their album will be a frontrunner on many indie music fans’ lists.
Continuing with the debuts nominated, the singer/songwriter genre is well represented with entries from the female squeal-eliciting Ben Howard (‘Every Kingdom’), folk newcomer Sam Lee (‘Ground of Its Own’) and Michael Kiwanuka (‘Home Again’). Electro urban newcomer Jessie Ware, who Martin caught at Evolution, appears on the shortlist with her debut ‘Devotion’ released in mid-August. BBC Sound of 2012 nominee and Warner Brothers signee Lianne La Havas, who wowed crowds at the Great Escape and beyond, also received a nod for ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ If she wins the gong in November, expect cheesy headlines using the album title for full effect.
Stalwarts of the Northern music scene have been rewarded with nominations as well. The forward thinking of Sunderland indie heroes Field Music‘s ‘Plumb’ released in February 2012 and Sheffield’s bequiffed guitar bandolero Richard Hawley‘s new psychedelic direction for ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ were both recognised on the shortlist this year. The honour of this year’s wild card also goes to the North, via Leeds jazz rock band Roller Trio. Their self-titled album looks, from a distance, exactly like that of Stornoway‘s ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’. (Not kidding. Have a look here and compare.)
The Maccabees, having returned after 3 years with new album, ‘Given to the Wild’, also appear on the list, making us seriously wonder how groundbreaking this list can be, with so many ‘safe contenders’. Plan B‘s nomination for third album ‘Ill Manors’ is less dubious, especially in light of Ben Drew’s shedding some much needed light on human trafficking in his video for ‘Deepest Shame’. Good save, committee folks.
The winner of the 2012 Mercury Prize will be announced on Thursday, the 1st of November. In addition to the ceremony itself, there will be a unique ‘Albums of the Year Live’ gig series leading up to the big event. The series will see the shortlisted artists play very intimate gigs. Access to apply for tickets to these gigs will be extremely limited and only through signing up a special mailing list for alerts on these very gigs. Each successful applicant will have access to two tickets; a £5 donation to War Child is required at the time to secure each ticket, with Barclaycard matching every donation pound for pound for their cardholders who use their card when purchasing. Go here for more information.
Sunday at Beach Break Live 2012 provided solace from the rain at last, the sun reared its beautiful/overdue shining face midway through the morning and immediately it was time to hit the beach, for the first time.
The stage situated on the beach was a simple one, playing host to a variety of acoustic acts who all believed that they we going to all do an Ed Sheeran and become immensely popular. Sadly, the talent on show meant that if they were to do a Sheeran, it would take 100x as much luck as the ginger-haired ‘Lego House’ maker had.
The first highlight on the main stage were another TGTF favourite, Dry the River. While the audience may have just been using them as a bridging act before 90% of the crowds crush for Ben Howard, the Dry the River boys still knocked out a fantastic set, with astounding depth, especially from a band only 1 album old. ‘New Ceremony’ is an anthem soaring wildly above Pembrey, and on that track alone, it is easy to see why there is such a buzz about them in 2012. ‘No Rest’ was a joy to behold, and the boys left the stage with their heads held high. They’d won this fight. Onto bigger things, methinks!
One of the acts which everyone had been waiting in earnest for was up next. That “beautiful blonde man”, Ben Howard. Now, while I was told before how he had bullied a member of the crowd back at school for not paying attention, I watched on in amazement as from the first strum of his acoustic guitar he held crowds gaze with seemingly no effort.
Now while his set may have been cut short, meaning that the audience were starved of hit ‘Keep Your Head Up’ and popular fan favourite cover track ‘Call Me Maybe’, in the short set he was allowed, he pulled out all the stops to an audience who obviously held him in an extremely high regard. Track ‘The Wolves’ closed the set and with a casual howl, he left. I can’t say he won over anybody that day though, mainly because everyone around me knew every word and seemingly worshipped him. Screaming girls and all. Hardly Beatlemania, but Benmania seems like it’s taking off.
To help close the weekend, the English indie heavyweights the Maccabees strutted onstage. Now while their songs are brilliant, after the excitement and sense of unpredictability that Ben Howard created in his earlier set, the larger and more established Maccabees struggled to mirror it. Sure, the diehards at the front clung to every word, but by and large the audience were largely unreceptive to the band.
Friendly Fires were the final act of the weekend and with weights of expectations high, they delivered, with a cracking set covering both ‘Pala’ and their self-titled debut. ‘Hawaiian Air’ soared through the muggy Welsh breeze and their stylish, indie beats were the perfect end to a weekend of beer, dancing and fantastic music.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 17th May 2012 at 6:00 pm
Fancy taking a ride round the city with Ben Howard, then catching some exclusive footage of him performing with his band at Shepherds Bush? You can both with his new video for ‘Only Love’, which you can watch below.
Howard has an extensive UK/Irish tour lined up for November, kicking off at the Brighton Dome on the 2nd of November; see the dates below. Support for the tour will be Willy Mason, who played alongside Howard at Communion’s SXSW showcase in Austin at the St. David’s Historic Sanctuary church in March.
Saturday 2nd November 2012 – Brighton Dome
Sunday 3rd November 2012 – Plymouth Pavilions
Monday 4th November 2012 – Cardiff University (Great Hall)
Tuesday 5th November 2012 – Bristol Colston Hall
Thursday 7th November 2012 – Dublin Olympia
Saturday 9th November 2012 – Belfast Mandela Hall
Sunday 10th November 2012 – Glasgow O2 Academy
Monday 12th November 2012 – Manchester Apollo
Wednesday 14th November 2012 – Leeds O2 Academy
Friday 16th November 2012 – Newcastle O2 Academy
Saturday 17th November 2012 – Aberdeen Music Hall
Monday 19th November 2012 – Cambridge Corn Exchange
Tuesday 20th November 2012 – Lincoln Engine Shed
Wednesday 21th November 2012 – Leicester O2 Academy
Thursday 22nd November 2012 – Nottingham Rock City
Saturday 24th November 2012 – Birmingham O2 Academy
Sunday 25th November 2012 – Bournemouth O2 Academy
Monday 26th November 2012 – Southampton Guild Hall
Wednesday 28th November 2012 – London O2 Brixton Academy