TGTF will be on semi-hiatus from 1-18 May while our editor is on holiday in England and Ireland.
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British Summer Time is here! And naturally one’s mind wanders to the sunlit uplands of the heady festival days just around the corner. You can almost smell them. One of TGTF’s favourite summer shindigs is Deer Shed Festival (24-26 July at Baldersby Park, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire), a parent-and-kid-friendly affair held in a beautiful corner of North Yorkshire. 2015 sees their 6th birthday; every year so far has seen a bigger and bolder event, and this one promises to be no different.
Let’s dispense with Friday first. The main stage on Friday night is the traditional slot where the organisers put their musical heroes (last year it was British Sea Power) and the trend continues in 2015 with Billy Bragg topping the bill. Whilst perhaps not quite the booty-shaking climax to the opening night that some might want, his latest studio collection ‘Tooth & Nail’ is an agreeable Americana-tinged affair that goes a bit easier than usual on his trademark socialist rhetoric, so he might manage to unite rather than divide the crowd. Stranger things have happened. For those who want a bit of genuine Americana rather than the lefty Cockney version, the Felice Brothers are up before Bragg, transforming North Yorkshire into a temporary outpost of the Catskills with their Dylan-esque ramshackle blues folk.
Elsewhere on Friday, sandwiching precocious obscurantist Kiran Leonard are two luminaries of the North-East scene. SLUG, aka sometime Field Music bassist Ian Black, brings his impossible-to-pigeonhole noise to the Lodge stage, backed by his old band. Headlining said stage is Du Blonde, the new project from Deer Shed alumnus Beth Jeans Houghton. Shooting for the same spiky-guitar-femme niche as PJ Harvey, Du Blonde’s début single ‘Black Flag’ is a riot of aggressively-picked bass guitar, mentalist drumming and Houghton’s seductive, teasing vocals. Regular readers will know how highly we rate the clever pop of Diagrams, and how much this blog owes to Doves, two of whom pop up on the In The Dock stage in their new incarnation Black Rivers… not to mention the wonderfully catchy Dan Croll. In summary, the lineup of Friday at Deer Shed looks like a very fine thing indeed.
Saturday is the busy day at Deer Shed. We’ll get to the music in due course, but let’s take a minute to have a look at what else is on offer. The singular genius of Deer Shed is that the grown-ups have plenty of time to take in some quality music because there’s so much going on to keep the kids amused in the meantime. For instance, the Science tent goes from strength to strength, its offerings best summed up in tantalising one-word titbits: Wrekshop, Robogals, Madlab, Meccano, CHaOS, soldering, Ableton, Starlab, forensics, Mindflex, rockets, cannon, helicopters, circuits, stargazing, trebuchet, Minecraft. Plenty of opportunities for one’s offspring to shoot themselves off into the perhaps-not-quite-metaphorical stratosphere of practical science.
The workshop offerings are also expanded further from last year. Little ones can make a plethora of cute and surprisingly durable novelties – pet clouds, bird puppets, juggling balls, flying finger puppets, pipe-cleaner insects, balloon bassoons (whatever they are?!), air guitars, shakers (I can personally vouch for the utility and longevity of Deer Shed shakers, particularly in the hands of 1-year-olds), and the perennial favourite of clay modelling. Kids looking for more of a thrill aren’t left out – they can try their hand at That Game On Broomsticks (you know the one!), magic, den building, bushcraft, DJing, ukulele, punk poetry, capoeira, both Bollywood and street dance, hula, circus, slacklining, yoga, and finally, musical tots. Phew. Without exaggeration, Saturday’s activities for kids are worth the price of admission by themselves.
While the kids are off enjoying themselves, the serious business of musical appreciation will be happening at the other end of the field. The Lodge Stage goes Celtic for the day – Scotland is represented by The Pictish Trail and enduring nu-folk collaborator James Yorkston, and Ireland’s luminaries are songbird Lisa O’Neill, electronic duo All Tvvins and the intriguing Damien Dempsey. Apparently a household name in his native land, political singer/songwriter Dempsey has been musically active for 15 years and his recent “Best Of…” collection spans over 40 tracks: impressive for a man largely unheard of in the UK. Ireland likes their earnest troubadours (remember David Gray’s early days?), and Dempsey is cut from that very cloth. A casual rifle through his back catalogue reveals nothing that stands out from the morass apart from an unusual vocal delivery and the odd moment of fiddle-di-dee, but perhaps his live show will reveal his Celtic charms to a wider audience.
The bill-topping Main Stage trifecta are TGTF stalwarts Dutch Uncles, Villagers with their second appearance at Deer Shed, and John Grant (pictured at top) and his painfully elegant confessionals. Again, hardly the discotastic climax one may have wished for (TGTF’s prayers for Jarvis Cocker remain unanswered), and Grant has a hard task to follow given Johnny Marr’s rip-roaring set in 2014, but he’s a genuine talent, if not yet a household name. Best of luck, John. Perhaps the Obelisk stage might serve up some hoe-down goodness – and with Holy Moly and the Crackers, Buffalo Skinners, The Hummingbirds and the brilliant Teessiders Cattle and Cane on hand, that’s more than likely.
Sunday is traditionally wind-down day, but this is the first year that Sunday night camping is available, which I must confess feels a little against the relaxed Deer Shed ethos. However, surely those that stay will be treated to a handful of very exclusive sets in the evening. The highlight of Sunday afternoon afternoon headliners The Unthanks, who have revealed themselves to be amongst the country’s finest folk practitioners with their latest collection ‘Mount the Air’. Their last appearance at Deer Shed was a triumph and they’re sure to repeat that feat in 2015.
If there’s any event that proves having kids means having even more fun at festivals than you did before, then it’s this. They’ve not put a foot wrong in the last 5 years, and there’s every reason that 2015 should be bigger and better than ever. Tickets are selling fast, so get your skates on, and see you in Baldersby!
My final day at SXSW 2015 was truly a mixed bag of shows as I tried to squeeze in every last opportunity before my long drive back home the next day. In the course of the day, I stumbled upon a few exciting new artists before rounding off the festival back at the British Music Embassy.
I started with a planned visit to the free showcase at Waterloo Records, which featured English electro-dance group Clean Bandit. In spite of the uncooperative weather, punters donned ponchos and popped up umbrellas in the courtyard to catch the danceable grooves of recent single ‘Stronger’ before lining up inside for the band’s CD signing session. Fellow English vocalist Jess Glynne made her anticipated cameo appearance near the end of the set for Clean Bandit’s previous single ‘Real Love’ and breakout hit ‘Rather Be’.
After a stop inside the record store for some souvenir shopping, I headed downtown to meet up with Mary, who was in the middle of a busy Saturday schedule of her own. She suggested that I stop in at B.D. Riley’s to catch Aussie blues singer/songwriter Hamish Anderson.
I was warmly greeted by the staff at the door of B.D. Riley’s, where I had spent most of the previous day at the full Irish breakfast. On Saturday I was surrounded by Australian accents rather than lilting Irish ones, as the Sound Gallery showcase hosted by Sounds Australia took over the venue. Anderson clearly had more than a few fans in attendance, and I had to squeeze around fellow punters to get a good view of his guitar chops on the small stage at B.D. Riley’s. Anderson’s opened with a cover of Them Two’s ‘Am I a Good Man’ before he turned the focus to his new ‘Restless’ EP, starting with the aptly titled ‘Burn’ and ending with another scorcher, ‘Howl’. Anderson’s heavily blues influenced guitar style was matched only by his heavily blues influenced keyboard player.
Finding myself at a bit of a loose end after Anderson’s set, I checked my Twitter feed to find an online acquaintance urging me to catch local Austin band O Conqueror’s final SXSW 2015 set, at a venue called The Tiniest Bar in Texas. It was a bit of a walk, especially given the continuing rain, but I decided to take a chance. As it turned out, the bar itself might actually be the tiniest one in the state, and I almost walked past it before I realized that the showcase was just outside in the awning-covered courtyard area.
I arrived early enough to grab a bite to eat from one of the food trucks in the courtyard, and while I was noshing, I used Twitter to arrange a quick meet up with O Conqueror’s keyboard player Alex Hartley before the start of their set. Alex and I shared a laugh when he mentioned that O Conqueror had been confused several times with Northern Irish band More Than Conquerors, whom I had covered earlier in the week. O Conqueror’s set included edgy recent single ‘Lost Your Mind’ whose video was filmed, appropriately enough, in downtown Austin. Their engaging stage presence, led by frontman Dustin Doering, and melodious guitar-driven rock have clearly already won the hearts of Austin locals, and they gained at least one new fan at SXSW 2015 as well.
Feeling quite satisfied with my new musical discovery, I headed back to Latitude 30 to hear the final evening showcase of the year at the British Music Embassy. The first featured band was Scottish duo Honeyblood, who have had a change in lineup since I saw them last at SXSW 2014. New drummer Cat Myers appeared not only at ease with the situation, but well and truly in control of it, showing off her chops at the drum kit on more than one occasion. Singer Stina Tweeddale appeared equally confident, singing with greater intensity and conviction on last year’s hit ‘Bud’, which features on Honeyblood’s self-titled debut album from last summer.
As the side project of Mazes’ Jack Cooper and Veronica Falls’ James Hoare, London guitar duo Ultimate Painting are another in a long string of artists playing the rock ‘n’ roll version of musical chairs. Their hazy psych rock left a vague impression on me, but the impression was deliberately indistinct and broadly atmospheric rather than sharply focused on specific guitar melodies or vocal lines. Their songs might not have been not my cup of tea, but they surely a represent a notable stylistic expansion for both band members.
Spanish sensations Hinds, formerly known as Deers, were next on the lineup, but they were plagued by sound issues and ultimately had to cut their set short, much to the disappointment of the fans who had crowded in to see them. (Our own editor Mary was unfortunately among those stuck in the lengthy queue outside Latitude 30, but she had managed to see this band Wednesday at the daytime Sounds From Spain showcase.) Despite the difficulties, Hinds were engaging and energetic on stage, smiling bravely as they played through a handful of songs. Their uneven rhythms and stark tempo changes would likely have worked better had it not been for the sound problems, but in context it was difficult to tell when their stops and starts were deliberate. Nevertheless, there was a group of determined Hinds fans at the front of the stage who danced, cheered and sang along as best they could.
Among Hinds’ fans in the audience was Carl Barat, who had appeared in Austin with his new band the Jackals. From my vantage point at the front of the stage, I turned around to see if Mary had gotten inside and instead found Barat standing just over my right shoulder. In the intermission after Hinds’ set, I introduced myself to the former Libertine, saying that I’d gotten some photos of him earlier in the week. He pulled a genuinely shocked expression and asked, “on stage, though, right?” I laughed and assured him that they were stage photos from Wednesday’s FLOODfest and not paparazzi-style snaps. Hearing this news, he gave me a hug and a kiss and thanked me for being there to promote the band. I slipped a TGTF card and badge into his black leather jacket pocket and set my sights back on the stage.
Another psych-rock band, Happyness, was up after Hinds, and they appeared to have a much easier time of it on stage at Latitude 30. Admittedly, their music is so aloof and deliberately low-key that it might be difficult to know if they were having a problem. But their extended guitar jams built in intensity throughout the set, leading to a massive coda at the end which found guitarist Benji Compston flat on the floor by the time it finished.
The final act on the schedule for the night was Irish punk quartet Girl Band, who I had caught briefly the day before at the full Irish breakfast. After having to fight her way through the queue and the crowd, Mary and I decided to call it a night. Frankly, I was feeling a bit “flat on the floor” myself after the long and exciting SXSW week. I left town the next morning with a myriad of new sounds and new faces permanently etched into my memory, and naturally I made them each a part of my eclectic road trip playlist on the drive home.
After the madcap hustle and bustle of the full Irish breakfast at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub, I was ready for something a little more relaxing to finish my Friday night at SXSW 2015. And since it was still raining, I was happy to settle in for the night in the warmth of St. David’s Episcopal Church for the Communion Music showcase. I had attended the 2014 Communion showcase at St. David’s and was amazed by the talent on display there, including Bear’s Den and Hozier, so though I wasn’t familiar with all of the artists on the 2015 lineup, I eagerly anticipated another night of incredible music. Let’s just say that I wasn’t disappointed.
The night’s first artist was Swedish songwriter Tove Styrke, whose spunky, hook-heavy pop style came as a bit of a surprise in the context of the St. David’s chancel. She was energetic and engaging, and her songs would surely have had her audience dancing if we hadn’t been respectfully seated in pews. I recently heard her single ‘Borderline’ playing on the radio here in America, which leads me to assume that she had a positive SXSW experience in terms of gaining exposure, and I will happily count myself among her new fans.
In a bit of fortuitous timing, I had caught Laura Marling’s set at the BBC Barbecue on Thursday, and after that brief taste of songs from her new album ‘Short Movie’, I was interested to see her play again at St. David’s. Her set at the Communion showcase was a bit rough around the edges, with a notable lyric flub during (of course) ‘David’ that sent her into a fit of giggles, but I was mainly impressed with her storytelling on stage, both in her incredibly sharp new songs and her mild-mannered banter in between them. Balancing her powerful lyrics with music that was by turns delicately pensive and fiercely emotional, Marling proved once again that she is a force to be reckoned with on the singer/songwriter scene.
Next on the docket was a band I hadn’t heard of before, but who will definitely be on my radar from this point forward. Nashville duo Foreign Fields were perhaps an obvious choice for the Communion showcase, with sumptuously orchestrated melodies and lush vocal harmonies, but in this case the obvious choice was also a wise one. Foreign Fields’ music was both as complex and as pastoral as their name would imply, particularly current single ‘I Have Your Weapons’.
I was also unfamiliar with the next artist, American soul singer Leon Bridges, but judging from the number of people who streamed into the sanctuary before and during his set, his reputation had preceded him to Austin. Accompanied by a full band including brass and a pair of female backup singers, Bridges treated us to a gospel-tinged sermon on the retro artistry of Motown, starting with a track called ‘Better Man’ before touching on popular single ‘Coming Home’. Bridges was suave on-stage, and his songs were laced with a smooth r&b style that swiftly warmed the room on this cold and rainy evening.
If you’ve been reading TGTF regularly in the past few months, you’ll already be acquainted with Hitchin’s hatted prodigy James Bay. I had seen Bay on tour with Hozier here in America last autumn, and I remarked on the similar career trajectory the two songwriters have taken in my recent review of Bay’s album ‘Chaos and the Calm’. Bay took the opportunity here at the Communion showcase to whet our appetites for the new album, which was released the following Monday, and to further fan the flames sparked by his soaring hit single ‘Hold Back The River’.
As I’ve remarked previously in my SXSW 2015 coverage, the last artist on a showcase is often left to perform for a dwindling audience, especially at night shows where the final slot actually begins in the wee hours of the following morning. Such was the case for Jack Garratt, and once again it was a shame that so many people left without hearing him play. I had thought that his electronic style might be an oddity for the Communion show, but as he progressed through his set, it became very clear that Garratt is, at heart, a singer/songwriter who happens to base his music on electronic instrumentation rather than the typical acoustic foundation. He deftly played keyboard, guitar and percussion to accompany his own singing, and I left at the end of his set feeling both delightfully impressed by his skill and sad for the people who had missed out. You can find previous TGTF coverage of Jack Garratt, including his upcoming UK tour dates, right here.
Communion Music continues to highlight a fine array of up and coming artists, and their showcase at St. David’s once again proved to be a popular Friday night choice. In the past, the show has been open to the public, but this year the audience was restricted to official SXSW badges and wristbands. That decision was most likely prompted by increased attendance, and though many disappointed punters were turned away this year, it’s nice to see Communion artists receiving such well-deserved attention.
The Full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub on the Friday of SXSW 2015 drew a full crowd throughout the day, probably in part due to the rainy weather outside, but in greater part because of the talented and widely varied lineup of musicians on the docket. After a last minute interview with Frank Turner, and by the time I found Mary sat at a table enjoying her full Irish, the pub was already starting to fill in. Mary had to leave early for her other engagements while I stayed to navigate the fun, hectic madness that would ensue throughout the day.
First on the day’s lineup were two very different female singer/songwriters, Dublin’s Orla Gartland and Derry native SOAK. Gartland’s bright and catchy brand of pop was just the burst of energy we needed to get the grey and drizzly morning off to a good start, and her onstage charm matched her offstage persona when I interviewed her a bit later in the morning. SOAK, otherwise known as Bridie Monds-Watson, captured our attention with a very different mood. Her delicately poignant songs might not have translated as well to the pub atmosphere at B.D. Riley’s as well as they had to Latitude 30 earlier in the week, but her name was certainly on everyone’s lips after her set was finished.
After taking advantage of a break in the rain to step outside for interviews with both Gartland and SOAK, I ducked back into B.D. Riley’s to catch the end of Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s solo violin set. I had heard him play the previous day on the Lost In Austin boat ride, and I was pleased to see that his music wasn’t completely overwhelmed by the somewhat more disorderly audience in the pub. I almost missed the following act, Dublin punk act Girl Band (pictured in the header above), while interviewing Mac Con Iomaire, but I saw enough of their set and the crowd’s enthusiastic response to get the feeling that these four guys are well and truly on their way up.
Next I had an encore performance from Walking On Cars, whom I’d seen at their sparsely attended Wednesday night set at the Music From Ireland showcase. While their performance that night hadn’t been lacking in any way, they were more energetic at B.D. Riley’s on Friday morning, feeding off of the more enthusiastic crowd. They elected not to perform their medley of pop hits here, wisely allowing their own energetic pop tracks to make an impression on our ears instead.
I was scheduled to interview self-described “cosmic reverb rock band” Buffalo Sunn ahead of their afternoon set, but they arrived to the venue later than they had planned due to the uncooperative weather outside. They did turn up in time to play, and their vibrant guitars and rich vocal harmonies were a perfect accompaniment for the mellowing ambience of the late afternoon. Luckily, the band were available to do the interview after their set; you can listen back to it here.
Unfortunately, rescheduling the Buffalo Sunn interview meant that I once again missed out on Dott, who played the Irish breakfast showcase at SXSW 2014 as well. Again, I heard just the end of their set, but it was enough to confirm that the band have refined both their sound and stage presence in the past year, as well as working up some new material for their upcoming studio album.
By this point in the afternoon, B.D. Riley’s was fairly packed in with people escaping the rain outside. Despite the tight fit throughout the venue, it was a favorable situation for experimental five-piece band Meltybrains?, who channeled the room’s restless energy into an ambitious and dynamic set including their by-now-famous face masks, which were floating around in the audience as well as on the stage. Their quirky stage antics and infectiously danceable rhythms made them instant crowd favourites, and their natural enthusiasm translated from the stage into my lively interview with them.
Hard rock duo All Tvvins followed Meltybrains? with an equally energetic set of their own, gearing up the crowd for the unabashed joviality of the final two acts, Fight Like Apes and Le Galaxie. Fight Like Apes lead singer MayKay was in particularly fine form and fine voice, engaging the audience both with her vocals and her seductive stagecraft. She was called back to the stage to join in on Le Galaxie’s recent single ‘Carmen’, adding even more fuel to their already pulse-racing electronic dance set and bringing the afternoon’s festivities to a sensational finale.
The annual full Irish breakfast event at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub has gained a not-to-be-missed reputation, which is well-deserved both for the high quality of the musicians on the showcase and its ever-present atmosphere of warm hospitality. This was my second time attending the event, and I must say that while this year’s showcase was a bit more eclectic than what Mary and I saw in 2014, Music From Ireland once again hosted a spectacular and memorable show. Cheers!
My final interview at SXSW 2015 was with five-piece avant/experimental group Meltybrains?, and it turned out to be a lively one, with the focus of the conversation bouncing around like a pinball among the four band members who came out to chat with me: Tadhg Byrne, Micheál Quinn, Donnacha O’Malley and Brian Dillon (bassist Ben McKenna was busy packing up the band’s gear). Meltybrains? were eager to talk about the unique aspects of their music, which are many and varied but combine on stage to create an impressive and memorable effect. Their performance style incorporates an entire gestalt, often including visual aspects such as their all-white attire and signature face masks, which you can see in the above photo and hear discussed in the interview streaming below.
All five members of Meltybrains? have background experience as classical musicians, and they integrate the discipline of classical musicianship into their practice and performance routines, though they describe their style of music as experimental pop rather than avant or classical. Each of the band members brings his own unique set of musical influences to the sound, including pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, acoustic folk and classical violin.
The band have combined electronic sound production expertise with technical instrumental skill, including the use of “unapologetic auto-tune” as a deliberate effect. We also talked about the use of unusual instruments, including a fiberglass violin, and they named Los Angeles composer Miguel Atwood Ferguson as an influence on that aspect of their sound.
For better or for worse, all five members have equal input on the band’s decision-making and composition processes. Unlike solo artists or bands with an established leader, Meltybrains? have to make a concerted effort to get themselves on the same page, and they admit that even the smallest decisions often take a lot of time, though the end result is worth the occasional strife.
Meltybrains? played two official SXSW shows, including the Music From Ireland showcase on the Wednesday night and the full Irish breakfast on Friday, and they took plenty of time to enjoy Austin in the surrounding week. Be sure to listen all the way to the end of the interview stream to catch the funniest story I heard all week at SXSW 2015, regarding the Meltybrains? set at the full Irish breakfast.
Meltybrains? are scheduled to play live shows in Belfast and London later this month, as well as possible festival dates. We at TGTF have already featured their video for ‘Donegal’, but we look forward to another single due later this spring and a possible EP release in the autumn. All of our previous coverage of Meltybrains? can be found here.
As the rain came down in earnest outside BD Riley’s Irish Pub and throngs of people found their way inside for a pint at full Irish breakfast, I was faced with the difficulty of finding a quiet spot for an interview with Irish rock band Buffalo Sunn. We did eventually scout out a location and I had a quick chat with three of the band’s members, as you can hear in the interview streaming below.
I couldn’t resist asking the stereotypical interview question about the band’s rather unique moniker, and in the course of the response, I also picked up an interesting bit of trivia about Ireland. (Did anyone else know that there is a buffalo farm at Tayto Park in County Meath?) It turns out that Buffalo Sunn created their name out of an interest in Native American symbolism and 1970s-style Sunn amplifiers, which were known for the quality of their low-end sound.
Buffalo Sunn have been together as a band since late 2013, after two of their members moved on from a previous project called Sweet Jane. Their sunny melodicism and reverberant guitar sound might call to mind the West Coast style usually associated with Californian rock bands, but as we discussed in the interview, their lush three-part vocal harmonies are a trait often linked to Irish bands as well. Buffalo Sunn’s current album ‘By the Ocean, By the Sea’ was released in Ireland last October and saw releases in Germany, Austria and Switzerland earlier this year. Before SXSW 2015, they played live dates on the A+R Worldwide Passport Approved tour earlier this spring, including a notable show in Portland, Oregon. With wider release of the album planned for later this year, the band will follow their visit to Austin with planned appearances at the Musexpo industy event in Los Angeles and Canadian Music Week in Toronto.
Stay tuned to TGTF for my upcoming coverage of the full Irish breakfast showcase at BD Riley’s.
Many thanks to Elvera for her help with this interview.
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