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By Luke Morton
on Wednesday, 8th February 2012 at 2:00 pm
Letter B is Beth Jeans Houghton‘s latest project…
Outside it feels like even a penguin would catch a chill, but inside the Garage the temperature is rising from the early arrivals to HMV’s Next Big Thing gig at one of London’s best-loved venues. Downstairs Reckless Love are no doubt giving the city’s rock contingent a bloody good seeing to, but upstairs it’s time for the indie fans to witness some of the finest new music on offer in 2012.
Opening this Thursday night showcase are the London indie-folk duo Olfar. The sombre, dual vocals float over the gradually growing crowd who unfortunately don’t appear as receptive as the boy/girl combo hoped. ‘Sailing the Wreck’ wins over a few down the front but the obvious passion emanating from the stage simply doesn’t resonate with those in attendance. The powerful vocal harmonies sadly aren’t harnessed to full effect as frontman Oli Deakin takes over voice duties for the majority of the set. Closing on the title track from their latest album (available for just £1 on Bandcamp) the mood shifts and Olfar suddenly seem at home onstage playing their blend of bass-y acoustic dream pop. Just as quickly as Olfar find their feet, the proverbial rug is pulled from under them by the truly wonderful Kyla La Grange.
The tremendously big-sounding quintet – fronted by the petite, yet powerful Kyla – produce a beautifully melodic, dancey beat to the delight of London. They mix slower, emotional numbers with an array of up-beat, post-rock influenced soundscapes. With a vocal range akin to Régine Chassange of Arcade Fire, the three-quarters full venue have almost forgotten about Olfar after this incredible display. Next single ‘Vampire Smile’ gets all five band members playing their hearts out in an amalgamation of big instrumentals, heavy bass and a soaring voice. Rounding their slot off on the flawless ‘Catalyst’, a huge heartfelt ballad filled with whimsy and emotion that’s in grave danger of stealing the night. But not if Beth Jeans Houghton has anything to do about it.
Known for being both eccentric and quirky, Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny give a somewhat toned down performance. Starting with a colourful display of power-pop and indie rhythms, the momentum slows and stutters as the young Houghton seems overcome with the abundance of industry bods judging her every move. Despite crowd-interaction not being her strong point (excluding the comment about that funny eels picture which earned a titter from rampant internet users), Houghton’s voice strings create a harmonious warble that fills the room a la Zola Jesus. The operatic overtones give the music an anthemic twist with an almost 80s soft rock feel. Smashing their way through ‘Lilliput’ and ‘Telephone’, the highlight comes from ‘I Will Return I Promise’. A certain Irish knees-up vibe blasts out of the PA system as Beth and her Hooves manage to get the so-far immovable objects down front dancing.
It might not have been her best performance but with a new album out in a few days (6 February), expect to see more of this group of synthesised minstrels throughout the year. Surely the best is yet to come.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 26th January 2012 at 2:00 pm
Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny recently performed ‘Sweet Tooth Bird’, their new single out in February, for the Lightship Session series filmed by famed artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. Normally I’d call these one-room affairs “intimate” because the bands are forced into a small space to perform, but this version really rocks out. Watch it below and see for yourself what I mean. This version is really energetic.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 19th December 2011 at 8:00 am
Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny will be touring the UK in February and March. Tickets are available now.
Watch the video that Houghton directed herself, for the song ‘Sweet Tooth Bird’, below.
Friday 17th February 2012 – Glasgow Captain’s Rest
Saturday 18th February 2012 – St. Andrews University
Sunday 19th February 2012 – Middlesbrough Westgarth SC
Tuesday 21st February 2012 – Liverpool Eric’s
Wednesday 22nd February 2012 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Thursday 23th February 2012 – Manchester Deaf Institute
Saturday 25th February 2012 – Newcastle Gateshead Old Town Hall
Sunday 26th February 2012 – Leicester Musician
Monday 27th Febrruary 2012 – Cardiff Buffalo
Tuesday 28th Febuary 2012 – Bristol Louisiana
Wednesday 29th February 2012 – Birmingham Hare and Hounds
Thursday 1st March 2012 – London Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 12th October 2011 at 6:00 pm
Beth Jeans Houghton‘s next release is ‘Liliput’, presumably of Gulliver’s Travels fame. It will be released on Mute on the 14th of November. Ahead of it being released to the wild, she’s let the promo video out of the bag. It features a dizzingly selection of Victorian era historic paintings and what looks like Beth running from an unseen pursuer, down a dark tunnel. It’s a wee bit claustrophobic (just saying, in case you suffer from that phobia like I do).
Each festival is defined by its terroir: the land on which it takes place that gives it its atmosphere and reason for being. Where would Glastonbury be without its mythical rumours of ley lines and King Arthur, for instance? At first glance, the city centre of Sunderland wouldn’t be considered prime real estate by festival goers. But Split Festival have found a very accommodating venue in Ashbrooke Sports Club, a cricket and rugby venue with a proud tradition of sport, and a rather fine clubhouse, which is given over for a weekend a year to all manner of musical, comedic and gourmet endeavours. Some of the rugby team even double up as security.
Inevitably a festival on a tiny scale, there’s one large tent, a ‘fringe’ tent, and a food tent, laden with all sorts of edible goodies. The clubhouse is off-limits for regular punters, being reserved for staff, performers and press – and the regular sporting participants and their families, who continue to absorb their rugby league and Premiership football in the bar, even as the racket emanates from the tent below, whilst many a music fan’s Adidas wreak their havoc on the previously hallowed cricket outfield.
Sunderland clearly deserves its own festival; even though there are big national and international names on the bill, the roll-call of local talent is rather impressive, with Saturday’s Vinyl Jacket, B>E>A>K, Beth Jeans Houghton and Little Comets holding up the North-East corner. Beth Orton played a superb, brave solo set in the fringe tent, proving that even shorn of instrumentation, her songs still hold the power to captivate. The Rifles somehow manage to sound like an indie Madness, which is no bad thing when you get your head round it.
The Mystery Jets’ epic, thoughtful set is well-received, Blaine Harrison managing to deliver plenty of excitement despite being sat down throughout the set. The Drums bring a touch of flouncy transatlantic glamour to the affair – sticking to their new material, the set is tense, sparsely arranged, aloof. Something of an acquired taste, and not the most likely choice to bring a crowd to an excited climax on the end of day one, but certainly a class act. (Further, I got a chance to chat with them; you can read my interview with them here.)
On Sunday (day two), Hyde and Beast continue their meteoric ascent with a note-perfect rendition of the best bits of recent album ‘Slow Down’ (review here). Unsurprisingly popular, with the sprinkling of Futureheads in the line-up, the crowd give a justified warm welcome to the downtempo, subtle psychedelia. The only festival I can remember that actually runs ahead of time, Ganglians are off almost as soon as they are supposed to have begun, looking nonplussed about the whole affair.
Dinosaur Pile-Up’s stripped-down, Ash-on-steroids set is slightly incongruous in the late summer sunshine, and there’s a feeling of killing time until the utterly wonderful Frankie and the Heartstrings take the stage.
Arguably the biggest band in Sunderland at present, a truly deserved accolade, practically every song sounds like a hit single, with plenty of that jerky, assertive rhythm that distinguishes a Sunderland band. Frankie himself is a classic frontman, throwing shapes with abandon, the crowd enthralled. An apparently unplanned power cut in the last song couldn’t have been better timed, Frankie whipping the audience into a frenzied chant of “Sunderland!” in the darkness, until persuaded to leave the stage minutes later by a bouncer who himself couldn’t help but hold his fist aloft, proud as punch. Every festival has its ecstatic moment which sums up all that is special about the weekend. This was Split’s.
After such a strong set, the Charlatans had a tough job, and they sort of got away with it by dint of being a professional, well-rehearsed unit, with a popular body of work behind them. Great for fans, but missing something of the connection of the previous act. And after all that, it’s a short hop home. Festivals in cities are something of a rarity, but there’s something to be said for good transport links, and being in bed in time for getting up for work on Monday morning. On this showing, Split 2012 should be an unmissable event.
The sunshine liked Friday at End of the Road so much it showed up for the Saturday too. Geordie songstress Beth Jeans Houghton doesn’t really need the sun, having instead an impressively large band, but at least it helps remind everyone that they’re not back in rainy Newcastle. Superb recent release ‘Dodecahedrons’ makes a welcome appearance with its glockenspiel and airy, Kate Bush-inspired vocal present and correct. Epic Danes Treefight for Sunlight take their ’70s soft rock influences to the logical conclusion: rather than being simply influenced by Kate Bush, they go one better and perform a cover of ‘Wuthering Heights’, with an astonishing note-perfect falsetto vocal from their male singer. Like a magic trick in slow motion, it seems so simple when performed before your very eyes, but the senses still reel from the magnificence of it all. The song of the weekend, no question.
One of the attractions of End of the Road is the compact site – no more than a few dozen steps from the main stage and you’re in a surprisingly full Big Top tent, sampling the Anglostralian delights of merry poppers Allo Darlin’. Her voice an exact cross between Beth Orton and Louise Wener, banjo-wielding frontwoman Elizabeth Morris’s naive, wide-eyed charms hold the audience in enthusiastic rapture. The songs need to be careful to avoid Kate Nash banality, but mostly fulfill the brief of jolly, domestic tales of a girl’s love and adventure. If the reception here is anything to go by, we’ll be hearing a lot more from Allo Darlin’.
A sandwich and a sit down sees Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Mangan and his string and horn backing band take the main stage. A modernist folkster in the Damien Rice vein, familiarity might lead to a greater appreciation of the material. Some impressive scratchy string action from the cellist, though. A premiere gig is a rare treat; Sam Genders admits to being more than a bit nervous on the occasion of Diagrams’ first live performance. He needn’t have worried. It’s difficult to imagine a more endearing, joyful and musically rewarding 45 minutes. Diagrams’ eclectic, back-of-the-cupboard sound is truly uplifting, and Genders’ understated command of his band and the audience shows a maturity and experience that he would undoubtedly modestly deny. From funky little riffs, a mixture of electric and acoustic drums, parping horns, and the noisy breakdown in ‘Hill’ which had the audience whooping in approval, there’s never a dull moment – what we all secretly wanted Tunng to be all along. By the time the famously cheapskate but wondrously effective audience-inflated balloon shower kicks off at the end of the set, it’s mission accomplished for Genders. And he got to drink his years-old emergency vodka.
There’s something to be said for the experienced frontman of a well-regarded band using downtime to put together his own desert-island backing group and slowly letting the world know he exists in his own right. Gruff Rhys has been quietly doing this for years, and on today’s evidence he’s got it down to a fine art. A masterclass of mature guitar pop, there’s classic after classic here, including the brilliantly catchy and uplifting ‘Ni Yw Y Byd’, its six key changes and unbelievably catchy melody getting everyone singing along. Ah yes, there’s loads of Welsh language stuff, but when they’re such powerful earworms as these, suddenly we’re all fluent in the dialects of the valleys.
ATP-endorsed Wooden Shjips come with a nailed-on buzz from the sub-zero areas of the blogosphere, and with frontman Ripley Johnson’s impressively-coiffed facial hair demanding so much attention, how can the music compete? Kicking off EOTR’s shoegaze strand, the Shjips manage to make that dullest of genres listenable, and at moments actually exciting. Yes, there’s just one chord for minutes on end a lot of the time, as the songs meander towards some sort of meaningful conclusion, but the arrangements do have lovely touches of ambience, noise, and backwards guitar that hold the interest and, I admit, sound really cool in a head-nodding, stoner kind of way, man. But we’re only into early evening, and too much off this will have everyone drifting off into a trance. For aficionados only.
At the other end of the populist scale, a band heading straight for the mainstream are Wild Beasts (pictured at top), whose cerebral, off-kilter, arty rock seems to be making an impression on everyone except the Mercury Prize judges. The acres of dimming, firelit sky framing the stage serves only to enhance the emotional impact of this masterful performance. Accessible yet intelligent, with multiple vocalists delivering catchy yet complex melodies, a season of festival performances have honed these Cumbrians’ set to a sharp, effective distillate of virtues. The Coldplay you’re allowed to like.
It would seem churlish to ask for any further excellence tonight, but next up are Leeds’s Spectrals, looking for all the world on day release from sixth-form college, almost stealing the “band of the day” prize from their more experienced peers. Quite how Louis Jones has had the time to ingest ’50s hula bop, ’60s Spectoresque epic pop, ’70s prog-psych, and 90s baggy, let alone learn how to meld it together in a set which would be impressive coming from someone twice his age, is quite beyond me. Some of the sounds here are simply glorious, exemplified by ‘I Ran with Love But I Couldn’t Keep Up’, with its langourous tone and regretful lyrics – truly a modern classic.
So it’s with light hearts and a spring in the step that we head to headliners Okkervil River. But only moments into their bong-eared desecration of ‘Sloop John B’, it’s apparent that something’s not quite right. Whether it’s the material not really being strong enough, or Will Sheff’s try-hard handclaps and incongruous shape throwing, something doesn’t quite ring true. Clearly aiming for a slice of Arcade Fire’s demographic, someone should whisper in their ear, bombast doth not a good song make. And goodness knows, one Arcade Fire is enough for any lifetime. A slight disappointment, but quickly forgotten with the discovery of the forest disco, logically enough housed in a wooden shjip, suspended within the boughs. Playing a selection of vintage rock, soul, and funk, for those who have the energy, and can avoid a poke in the eye from wayward tree branches, there’s no better way to spend the small hours of a September Saturday.