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The Thursday night of SXSW 2015 turned out to be a mixed bag for me, as it was one of those evenings when things didn’t exactly go according to plan. In the end, all was well that ended well, and I came away feeling satisfied with the way the night played out.
After my jaunt over to the Driskill Hotel where I saw the enchanting singer/songwriter Josh Savage and caught up with him for a brief chat, I hurried back to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30, which was by now beginning to feel like a second home. I turned up there for the Ben Sherman / UKTI showcase just in time to see Dry the River begin their set, though the venue was so crowded that I had a hard time finding a good vantage point to watch them from.
Unlike their curtailed set at the Transgressive Records showcase on the Tuesday night, Dry the River played in their full band arrangement here, and their songs were well-received by the crowd. The plaintive tunes and delicate harmonies I had heard from the band at Buffalo Billiards were transformed here into dynamic, hard-edged rock anthems, though I was pleased to hear that their folk sensibilities weren’t entirely obliterated by the increased size of their sound. When the band reached the end of its allotted time, there were a few vain cries for more from the front of the stage, an outcome that brought a smile to my face and was surely more satisfactory for Dry the River as well.
Next on the set list at the British Music Embassy was a band who are of at least peripheral interest to us here at TGTF, namely Black Rivers. Principal Black Rivers members Jez and Andy Williams were (are?) part of Manchester trio Doves, whose track ‘There Goes the Fear’ gave this Web site its name. Appearing here with a full four-piece set up, Black Rivers appeared to have some problems in their brief soundcheck, in the end playing only four songs once their set actually started. Even so, we heard enough of their heavily rhythmic, guitar-laden sound to permanently distinguish the Williams’ new project from their former band.
At the end of Black Rivers’ set, I beelined out of Latitude 30 and made a mad dash to the Mohawk, hoping to catch American folk-soul singer Matthew E. White. I arrived at the venue with time to spare, but unfortunately for me, so had a long queue of other hopeful punters, and I was left to listen to the faraway strains of White’s recent single ‘Rock & Roll is Cold’ from the sidewalk outside.
At this point, I had a few backup options to consider. The Dodos at Cheer Up Charlie’s? Frank Turner at the Red 7 Patio? Both were tempting, but I’d just seen them the day before, and I was in the mood for something new. I consulted the handy SXSW GO app on my smartphone to see what else was going on around downtown and almost immediately hit on a winner. Natalie Prass, another American singer/songwriter and a Spacebomb Records labelmate of Matthew E. White, was playing in the cozy downstairs venue at Maggie Mae’s. As luck would have it, I had time for a leisurely walk to Maggie Mae’s before Prass was scheduled to begin at midnight, and I happened to walk past Cheer Up Charlie’s while The Dodos were playing ‘Competition’, sounding as fresh as when I’d heard them on Wednesday’s Dine Alone Records showcase.
I arrived early at Maggie Mae’s and found the downstairs venue nearly empty, though it filled in quickly after I had positioned myself in front of the stage. Starting her set from a seated position at the keyboard, Prass slowly drew in her audience with a sultry mix of torch-song romanticism and blues-rock grit. She kept her short set lively throughout, alternately flirting with her admiring crowd and showing off her admirable guitar chops. But I was most impressed with the clear tone and finely-tuned inflections of her singing voice, which reminded me very much of alt-country singer Caitlin Rose. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Prass’ left-handed bass player, pictured below, who plays his instrument upside down in the style of Jimi Hendrix. After my impromptu stop at Maggie Mae’s, I’ll be certain to arrive early to another gig later this month at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, where Prass is scheduled to open for Ryan Adams.
I said a quick hello to Prass as she packed up her gear from the stage, then I headed down 6th Street to Esther’s Follies, a familiar venue from last year where I’d caught Gabby Young and Cocos Lovers. This year I aimed to see an equally lively band that I’ve always liked on recording but had never seen live, Washington, DC trio Jukebox the Ghost. Their latest self-titled album is rife with the band’s signature upbeat melodious pop and simple lyrics that are by turns quirky and thought-provoking. Their set at Esther’s Follies was equally ebullient and idiosyncratic, featuring new songs ‘Sound of a Broken Heart and ‘The Great Unknown’ among older crowd favourites like ‘Oh, Emily’ from 2012 LP ‘Safe Travels’.
The enthusiastic crowd gathered at Esther’s Follies on the night were clearly fans of the band, engaging them with shouted requests and one-liners and laughing at a few inside jokes that I must admit I didn’t understand. But the punters around me didn’t seem to mind my unfamiliarity; in fact, they encouraged me to put down my camera and dance. I happily obliged and was soon grinning from ear-to-ear at Jukebox the Ghost’s zany stage antics and their infectiously peppy performance. Unfortunately they ended their set without playing my personal favourite of their tracks, ‘Adulthood’, because co-lead singer Ben Thornewill was losing his voice. But fear not, I won’t disappoint my readers the same way; you can stream the audio for ‘Adulthood’ just below.
The festivities at Friday’s full Irish breakfast began with pop songstress Orla Gartland, whose sunny and energetic tunes gave a jumpstart to the grey and dreary morning outside. Gartland agreed to sit down for a chat with me after her set, and we took advantage of a dry moment before the rain begain in earnest to step outside BD Riley’s Irish pub for the interview streaming below.
Gartland was warm and enthusiastic throughout our interview, and it quickly became clear to me that the infectious charm of her music is part of her natural personality as well. Her genuine charisma and her self-professed “love (of) a good pop song” have already taken her a long way from the singularly millennial beginning of her music career. Gartland started out as a teenager by playing pop covers and posting her videos on YouTube, and she discussed with me how the very public evolution of her musicianship naturally and spontaneously grew into the collaborative nature of her current songwriting and music making.
Having stopped in Austin in the middle of her American tour, Gartland also talked about her plans for after SXSW 2015, which include live dates in California and a stopover in the sunny climate of Los Angeles for songwriting work on a potential new EP. When I asked about the possibility of a full album, Gartland deferred, saying that while the shorter EP medium is a safer way for her to experiment with her songwriting style at this point in time, an LP might be on the distant horizon. Either way, we at TGTF will look forward to hearing the outcome of her endeavours. In the meantime, you can find Gartland’s current self-released EP ‘Lonely People’ on iTunes or Spotify, or you can check out her YouTube channel right here.
Keep an eye on TGTF in the coming days for my recap of the full Irish breakfast, which will of course include coverage of Orla Gartland’s opening set.
Thanks especially to Regina for helping us organize this interview.
After the delightful Lost in Austin brunch on Thursday morning, I made my way back across the Colorado River and into downtown Austin. I had just enough time to grab a cup of coffee and jot down my thoughts before I received a text message from editor Mary, who wanted me to stop in and join her at the Old School Bar and Grill for the BBC barbecue. Mary has already covered the event in full, but I was lucky enough during my brief stop to catch a set by Laura Marling, including songs from her newest album release ‘Short Movie’, which TGTF previewed back in December.
While Marling did her preliminary soundcheck on the Old School Bar and Grill stage, I took the opportunity to scout out the room for good photo angles. I was testing the settings on my camera when another photographer made a comment to me about how beautiful Marling’s guitar collection was. I agreed, and thus found myself in an informative conversation with SXSW 2015 staff photographer Ziv Kruger about shooting effective photos at SXSW shows. Kruger took a quick look at my camera and gave me a few useful tips, which I immediately put to use in photographing Marling and her band. (If you’re interested in seeing more of my photos of the set, check them out on my Flickr.)
After Marling played, the BBC barbecue started to wind down, and I headed over to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 to catch The Twilight Sad, with whom I’d had a nice chat earlier in the week. I arrived at Latitude 30 in time to hear the end of a set by fellow Scottish band Roddy Hart and the Lonesome Fire, whose six-piece band set up was a tight fit for the British Music Embassy stage.
Despite the close quarters, Roddy Hart and the Lonesome Fire impressed me with the size of their anthemic rock melodies, and I made a mental note to listen to them again after returning home from my trip to Austin. Their single ‘Bright Light Fever’ earned the band a week-long residency on Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show in America early last year, and it was a hit at the British Music Embassy in Austin as well.
The Twilight Sad were the final act on the afternoon’s British Music at SXSW showcase, and as frontman James Graham had promised in our earlier interview, their set was heavy on tracks from the band’s latest LP ‘Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave’. They opened with two tracks featured previously here on TGTF, ‘There’s a Girl in the Corner’ and ‘Last January’ before touching on ‘I Became a Prostitute’ from 2009 album ‘Forget the Night Ahead’ and closing their set with the epic sound of ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’ from their 2007 debut ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’. Though their set here was effective, it did feel quite short and left me wishing for more. Fans of The Twilight Sad will no doubt relish the opportunity to hear longer and more expansive set lists on the band’s upcoming UK tour; find those live dates here.
The British Music Embassy cleared out after The Twilight Sad finished playing, and I had enough time between engagements to meet Mary for a quick dinner before I headed to the historic Driskill Hotel to see singer/songwriter Josh Savage. Mary had recommended Savage to me after seeing him herself at a Sofar Sounds show in Manchester last year, and I’d had his latest EP ‘Spaces’ on repeat in my car during the long road trip to Austin, so I was especially excited to see his only official SXSW showcase on this night.
The Victorian Room at the Driskill was a perfect venue to showcase Savage’s elegant and refined songwriting. While the space might have been intended for standing room only, we in the audience chose to seat ourselves either in the few available chairs or on the floor in front of the stage. The room was very comfortable with good viewpoints all around, and Savage took advantage of the intimate space by telling a few sentimental stories to go along with his tunes and even stepping down off the stage to be closer to his audience.
He further drew us under his spell by asking for our harmonic participation in the chorus of his enchanting ballad ‘Lost in Paris’, and by the end of the set I found myself completely smitten by his graceful songcraft. I was able to sit down with Savage for a brief interview outside the Victorian Room after his show; you can listen to his soft-spoken commentary right here.
I had to cut my conversation with Savage shorter than I would have liked so that I could rush back to Latitude 30 to follow up on Dry the River, with whom I had become become acquainted earlier in the week. Stay tuned to TGTF for more coverage of my Thursday night adventures, including Dry the River’s showcase at the British Music Embassy.
As a card-carrying member of Frank Turner‘s large and loyal fan base, I was intrigued last month when we at TGTF posted about the release of his new book ‘The Road Beneath My Feet’, along with the news that he would be appearing as a panelist at the SXSW 2015 Music Conference. Of course, given Turner’s relentless work ethic, it shouldn’t have surprised me that he would be playing a handful of live shows around SXSW as well, including the live set I reviewed at FLOODfest on the Wednesday afternoon and an appearance at the BBC barbecue that Mary covered on Thursday.
Between Turner’s Thursday night shows and his scheduled Friday afternoon speaking engagement at Austin Convention Center, where he appeared with rapper and producer Chuck D of Public Enemy on the ‘Books Are the New Vinyl’ panel discussion, I was very fortunate indeed to schedule a last minute interview with Turner on Friday morning. He graciously agreed to meet with me in downtown Austin just before my own prior engagement at BD Riley’s Irish Pub, and while he may not have been at his best so early in the day, he spoke very candidly with me about his new book, which he hesitates to call a “memoir”, and his new album, which is expected for release later this summer.
At his live shows around Austin during the week, Turner had played several new songs from the upcoming album, including its defiant lead single ‘Get Better’. In fact, the lyric video for ‘Get Better’ was unveiled on the internet on the very morning of our interview, which was an exciting bit of news to hear in the course of the conversation. Turner also explained the interesting but divergent inspirations behind two other new album tracks, Space Shuttle Challenger tribute ‘Silent Key’ and tennis-themed tune ‘Love Forty Down’.
Frank Turner has just finished a book tour in support of ‘The Road Beneath My Feet’ and will soon head to the southern hemisphere for an April tour of Australia and New Zealand before returning to America in May. Keep an eye on TGTF for coverage of Turner’s upcoming album release and live shows, including scheduled summer appearances at Reading and Leeds in August. For past TGTF coverage on Turner, go here.
Thanks especially to John and Cahir for their help arranging this interview.
Thursday night at SXSW 2015 took me to a venue I hadn’t visited before, the Victorian Room at the historic Driskill Hotel, where I saw singer/songwriter Josh Savage after editor Mary’s enthusiastic recommendation from seeing him at a Sofar Sounds Manchester show in April 2014. Once again, Mary’s instinct was spot on, as Savage’s subtle and intricate songwriting style was perfectly suited both to my musical taste and to the delicate, intimate space of the room he played that evening.
After Savage captivated the small but attentive audience inside the Victorian Room with his understated songs and charismatically modest stage demeanour, he and I stepped outside for a very brief interview, which you can find streaming below. We chatted about his current EP ‘Spaces’, in particular the enchanting track ‘Lost In Paris’ that has quickly become a favourite of mine. During the show Savage had further charmed me by deftly persuading his listeners, who had been respectfully silent up to that point, to sing a lovely harmonisation of the song’s “ooh la la” chorus, demonstrating a level of skill and stage experience belied by his self-effacing manner.
Savage is currently honing that experience on his entirely self-reliant North American tour, which will include shows along the East Coast and in Canada through the first week in May. After his trip across the pond, Savage will play summer festivals in the UK before looking ahead to more potential live dates this autumn.
I was delighted to hear that Savage’s musical ties to French chanson and his thematic ties to French literature will continue later this year in the form of a French language EP titled ‘Quatre Épines’, which will feature songs inspired by the classic Antoine de Saint-Exupéry story ‘The Little Prince’. If you’re interested in a sneak preview, the exquisite title track from ‘Quatre Épines’ is streaming on Savage’s Soundcloud, along with all five tracks from ‘Spaces’. Previous TGTF coverage of Josh Savage is right this way.
On the Tuesday morning of SXSW 2015, Mary and I attended a lovely St. Patrick’s Day brunch on a boat, hosted by Generator NI and Invest Northern Ireland. The following Thursday morning, I made my way once again to the Hyatt Regency Austin boat dock to attend another riverboat brunch showcase, this one curated by none other than Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland, also known as TGTF favourites The Lost Brothers. The lineup for the Thursday morning show, hosted by Honeycomb Creative Works and Generator NI, included several of the artists we’d seen on Tuesday morning but also had a few surprise twists to match the curves and turns along our meandering path down the Colorado River.
After a brief introduction by Honeycomb Creative Works’ Fiona McElroy, The Lost Brothers played the morning’s opening set, including their own folk duets and some particularly well-considered covers, chosen to feature the guest musicians appearing on the brunch showcase. The first addition to the program was Irish violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire, who added his lovely and expressive instrumental timbre to The Lost Brothers’ warm acoustic sound.
Leech then introduced another special guest, whose presence was designed to energise the easygoing brunch crowd gathered on the riverboat. Austin-based songwriter and producer Will Sexton, with whom Leech and McCausland had become acquainted on a previous trip to SXSW, joined the group for a delightfully improvisatory set of songs with a very definite blues vibe, including a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love’.
The mood on the boat then changed once again with a solo performance from Colm Mac Con Iomaire, who treated us to some of the exquisite violin melodies from his new album ‘And Now the Weather’, due out on the 17th of April. Mac Con Iomaire displayed his range and versatility in two contrasting pieces, the broad and soaring ‘Eimar’s Dream’ from his first album ‘The Hare’s Corner’ and the poignantly sad ‘Sappho’s Daughter’, inspired by Irish poet Theo Dorgan. I was able to catch Mac Con Iomaire for a quick chat on Friday during the Full Irish Breakfast at BD Riley’s; the audio for that interview will be posted here on TGTF in the coming days.
We took a collective intermission after Mac Con Iomaire’s set, and I headed to the boat’s upper deck to take in the scenery. When I came back down, I found the audience already regrouped for Northern Irish pop quartet GO WOLF and alt-rockers-turned-acoustic-crooners More Than Conquerors. I caught their performances from a slightly different angle than I had on Tuesday morning, while the casual Thursday brunch crowd in the main cabin enjoyed hearing the bands in this unusually quaint setting.
As the riverboat headed back to the Hyatt Regency dock, The Lost Brothers took the stage area once more, this time accompanied by a new acquaintance, Austin’s own Will Webster, better known locally as Ragtime Willie. Webster had the opportunity to regale us with his skills on both banjo and fiddle during this final spontaneous set of tunes with Leech, McCausland and Mac Con Iomaire.
Ever the gracious hosts, The Lost Brothers finished out the morning by accepting a request for an encore performance of their charming version of ‘Moon River’. Those of you reading along in the UK might have a chance to hear this lovely cover yourselves, as The Lost Brothers are set to begin a run of April tour dates supporting fellow TGTF friends Stornoway on select dates.