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Live Review: Banners with Ellevator at Jammin’ Java, Vienna, VA – 19th April 2018

 
By on Monday, 23rd April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

Nothing beats the special satisfaction I get when one of the acts I tipped makes it, and I was lucky to see one of my tips ahead of SXSW 2016 and near home. While Liverpudlian Banners (real name Mike Nelson) might not be a household name, he’s getting pretty damn close: in addition to some high-profile American tv syncs, he recently starred as a guest mentor for aspiring pop upstarts on American Idol, a show seen by millions in our country. For an indie artist, that’s massive. Thursday night, he came back to earth to perform at the intimate Jammin’ Java in Northern Virginia.

Joining him on the evening were Hamilton, Ontario’s Ellevator, who had just arrived in Virginia after a half-day’s drive from home. Despite the long journey, they were buoyed by the mere fact that they were performing in a town that wasn’t covered in snow. They were also eager to show off their songs, namely those on a brand new, self-titled EP to be released the next day. They were performing a stripped-back set, as their usual keyboardist Elliott was sadly at home and in hospital. Drummer Mike was then tasked to play drums and synth with his right hand. If you’re like me and have enough trouble with patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, you can imagine how difficult this may have been.

Ellevator Washington 3

Despite frontwoman Nabi Sue Bersche’s admittance that their barer setup was less muscular than they normally sound, it provided the unique opportunity for a more intimate performance that saw her chatting with Banners’ fans down the front. Their set included EP track ‘St. Cecilia’, the engaging ‘Easy’ and a surprisingly good cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’. They finished on a high note with another one from the EP, the feel good track ‘New Survival’.

Banners and his band came prepared with an exciting, strobe-filled light show that would have felt right at home at any established electronic artist’s gig. To start, Nelson gave a nod to his Scouse roots with a clip of the Beatles’ schmaltzy ‘All You Need is Love’ as his walk-on music. There was loads of self-deprecating banter between songs, the kind that made the audience laugh (“I swam all the way here from Liverpool, that was quite tiring!”) or audibly “aww” (Nelson admitting he’d drop everything if his beloved Liverpool Football Club came calling for him to report to Anfield as a striker). You can take the boy out of Liverpool, but you can’t take Liverpool out of the boy. ‘Back When We Had Nothing’, from the first and eponymous ‘Banners’ EP, seems like another love letter to his days back in the Pool. The song is a sweeping, upbeat number much like the rest of Banners’ catalogue with Island Records so far: positive, based and love and inspiring.

Banners Washington 2

We’re still waiting for a Banners album, but Nelson has released a series of singles and EPs for music fans to sink their teeth into in the meantime. His most recent EP, ‘Empires on Fire’ released last autumn, is full of catchy melodies. From verse to chorus, the title track smoulders and morphs from tentative pop to full-bodied pop/rock. Uplifting EP opener ‘Someone to You’ has thrust him into the national spotlight, being used by ABC in their advertising campaign for American Idol. (Read my review of the single through this link.) Instead of performing it in its normal guise, Nelson and band huddled at the front of the stage to perform it stripped back: only accompanied by Nelson’s acoustic guitar, the result was a harmonious beauty.

While the gig started slow, with the first two of three songs unknown to the audience, the three-song punch of stadium rockers ‘Start a Riot’, ‘Gold Dust’ and ‘Shine a Light’ was epic. Blowing the audience away with his memorable melodies and his band’s bombast, this was a performance the DC crowd would not soon forget.

Banners Washington 3

For more photos from this show, visit my Flickr. After the cut: Banners’ set list for the evening.
Continue reading Live Review: Banners with Ellevator at Jammin’ Java, Vienna, VA – 19th April 2018

 

Single Review: BANNERS – Someone to You

 
By on Tuesday, 7th November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

BANNERS – known to his mum back in Liverpool as Mike Nelson – has had a busy 2017. Building on the momentum of last year’s self-titled EP, he’s released a slew of singles this year, including ‘Firefly’ (which I reviewed back here) and ‘Someone to You’, a recent mainstay at SiriusXM’s Alt Nation. ‘Someone to You’ has some interesting lyrical choices, as it is alternately self-deprecating and inspiring. It comes across as genuine as the figurative ticker tape that runs in all of our hearts: feeling a host of emotions all at once, and not a singular one, is as normal and human as it gets. The song is a wonderful foot-stomper, with an incessant, irrepressible beat, and lyrics that beg to be sung along to.

The literal translation of the song’s title is the want to be important to someone else, as in the shoulder to cry on and the rock when things get tough. In conventional, straight relationships, the man is supposed to be in the role of provider and protector, the strong one. With the words in the chorus “and if the sun’s upset and the sky goes cold / then if the clouds get heavy and start to fall / I really need somebody to call my own”, he is stepping up to the plate to be that protector. However, Nelson also recognises that in a relationship, there should be reciprocal give and take. He’s ready to be vulnerable, to be led to a better place by a strong partner: “And if you feel the great dividing / I wanna be the one you’re guiding / ‘Cause I believe that you could lead the way”.

I’d like to highlight Nelson’s reliquishing of the lead role in a relationship, because it seems to be in recognition of something much bigger than the two people in a committed relationship in this song. He’s acknowledging that we’re here on this green earth not to be self-centred, selfish and completely absorbed in material things and in our own lives. We’re here to be kind, to do for others, for a greater purpose and to affect positive change even when the times get rough and to make a difference to others. Have you sensed a recent shift in how you’re feeling lately? Some of us are already actively working on this. I don’t think I need to convince you with the refugee crisis, the election of President Trump, the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the armed response to the Catalonia referendum, the numerous senseless acts of violence that have killed so many people, the list goes on and on…there are a lot of angry people and people hurting in this world right now. You need to decide if you’re going to join the movement to make this a better place or if you’re going to sit back and do nothing.

For the promo video, Nelson goes to a school and decides to engage with its misfits, guys you might not have given a second thought to before they’re too nerdy and keep only to themselves. Nelson makes it his personal mission to psych these guys up, spending time with them to boost their confidence, to get them away from behind their desks and into shape, radically changing their outlook. As someone who was painfully shy and had pretty much nonexistent self-esteem in high school due to medical problems that made me different from everyone else, I could have really used someone like BANNERS cheering me on in my corner back then. If you don’t relate at all to this, if you were hated on at school, I guess…congratulations? You’ve missed something important, because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

And the ending of this video! You’ll never guess what happens at the end, so make sure you watch it all the way through. Please share it: it’s a video that is sure to raise a smile and hopefully make a difference in someone’s life.

8/10

‘Someone to You’ and the EP that it’s on, ‘Empires on Fire’, are out now on Island Records. For more on BANNERS here on TGTF, check out all of our coverage on him through here.

 

Single Review: BANNERS – Firefly

 
By on Wednesday, 11th October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Mike Nelson records under the name BANNERS. He was one of my favourite pop discoveries during the SXSW 2016 preview season, putting on a fantastic appearance Wednesday afternoon at the British Music Embassy that was one to remember. (Full disclosure: We are both Liverpool supporters, but this mere fact will not affect my ability to judge his music objectively.) From his humble beginnings in Liverpool, BANNERS is now based in Toronto, a place from which it should make it easier for him as an artist to gain a foothold here in North America.

Following the release of his self-titled EP and a series of blinding singles including the SiriusXM Alt Nation-friendly ‘Someone to You’, he’s recently unveiled the acoustic version of his latest single, self-described as “less aggressive”. It’s interesting that he mentions the word ‘aggressive’, as I wouldn’t describe the original, full-bodied version of ‘Firefly’ as aggressive only in the context of being a track that might cause one to aggressively stamp your feet. And who doesn’t enjoy that? ‘Firefly’ seems also perfectly timed to the end of summer and the entry point into autumn. As days grow shorter, fireflies, a marker of carefree childhoods and having fun in the great outdoors, disappear almost as swiftly as another season rushes in.

In ‘Firefly’, Nelson fancies himself as one of these summer night-glowing creatures of the sky. Here’s the rub: he can’t glow without the presence of his best friend, his lover, his confidante. In times of pining and yearning, he sings wistfully of their “worlds apart, it went dark / you were always on my mind” until they can be together again. The guitars and drums are never heavy-handed here, as if tapping into Nelson’s private, introspective thoughts. The only point of possible annoyance in this song is a repeated guitar note (?) in the chorus that sounds like a bird call being put through a synth effect. If that was absent, ‘Firefly’ would be pretty much perfect.

Like all good tales where lovers are separated by distance, when they are reunited, the sparks fly and that inner light that otherwise has been dampened by loneliness can shine again. Bolstered by honest lyrics sung in Nelson’s rich voice, it’s a sweet, innocent charmer sure to stay in BANNERS’ set list for years to come.

8/10

Single ‘Firefly’ by BANNERS is out now on Island Records. To read my past coverage on BANNERS here on TGTF, follow this link. While a support slot with Echosmith has been pushed off until 2018, shows in Los Angeles and New York with Sydneysider Dean Lewis are planned in November.

 

SXSW 2016: more from the British Music Embassy, plus Roo Panes Wednesday afternoon (part 2) – 16th March 2016

 
By on Wednesday, 30th March 2016 at 4:00 pm
 

Catch up on part 1 of our Wednesday afternoon coverage of SXSW 2016 here.

Wednesday at SXSW 2016 was an unusual day for us in Austin, so let me (Mary) explain the reason for the tag-teaming on this post. Carrie and I headed to FLOODfest early to catch Everything Everything, and I hung around to interview their guitarist Alex Robertshaw after they played there, also managing to catch a bit of next act Haelos, but Carrie had already left to see the start of at the British Music Embassy. I turned up later to rejoin Carrie and cover the rest of the British Music Embassy showcase, as well as wait for some additional interviews, and she went off to meet Roo Panes south of the river for an interview of her own. Got all that? Good. Carrie’s contributions to this piece are marked below.

Switching gears from a seasoned pro in the business showing the youngsters how it’s done (Jane Weaver), the bill then turned to two much younger acts. Banners, aka Liverpool singer/songwriter Mike Nelson and band, was clearly the standout performance of the afternoon. The lanky Northerner brought swagger and energy into the British Music Embassy with his well-crafted pop melodies.

Banners British Music Embassy Wednesday SXSW 2016Single ‘Start a Riot’ caused hearts to swell with its gentle yet powerful message, while the driving tribal beats of and the singalong qualities of ‘Shine a Light’ were reminiscent of Bastille’s successful maiden SXSW appearance at the very same venue 3 years before. Both songs appear on Banners’ self-titled EP released in January, an admirable musical appetizer of pop hits ahead of his debut album that he told me in a chat after his performance will hopefully see the light of day this summer. Fingers crossed!

Blaenavon are an indie rock trio with ties to the town of Liss in Hampshire. Yet confusingly, their band name is identical to a Welsh town and World Heritage Site in southeastern Wales. While we didn’t get a chance to ask the Transgressive signees about this disconnect while they were in Austin, the “three boys with a story” have that air of mystery and intrigue mixed with darkness, which explains NME drawing comparisons between them and Wild Beasts and WU LYF. By 5 in the afternoon after my two interviews outside, the venue was packed out and I could not get back in. However, two girls stood at the doorway, singing along to every word to songs I assume appeared on the band’s 2013 ‘Koso’ EP, now imprinted forever in these girls’ brains.

Of what I did hear, I was sufficiently impressed with singer Ben Gregory’s guitar chops live, which I found an interesting contrast to his playing of an acoustic guitar as the band filmed ‘Dragon’ recently for Burberry Acoustic. One wonders if Gregory ever considered going in a direction more like their fellow Transgressive act and folk singer Johnny Flynn, as the deep timbre of their voices are similar. Food for thought.

Carrie: While Mary was busy at the British Music Embassy, I headed south across the Colorado River to the Hyatt Regency Austin to interview folk singer/songwriter Roo Panes. The rather dashing Mr. Panes and I had a nice chat on the hotel patio, which you can listen to right back here, even witnessing a riverboat show passing us by in the course of the conversation. We then headed inside to the lobby, where he played a charming solo acoustic showcase to a mellow but very attentive audience. I was glad to hear him mix in a few of his older songs with the ones I already knew from his recent album ‘Paperweights’, even including an off-the-cuff performance of a track from his 2012 EP ‘Once’ called ‘I’ll Move Mountains.’

Roo Panes at the Hyatt Regency Wednesday at SXSW 2016

Our busy Wednesday afternoon was punctuated by only a brief stop for dinner ahead of an equally action-packed Wednesday night schedule. Stay tuned to TGTF for more of our SXSW 2016 coverage in the coming days.

 

SXSW 2016: early bits of FLOODfest and the British Music Embassy Wednesday afternoon (part 1) – 16th March 2016

 
By on Wednesday, 30th March 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

Wednesday at SXSW 2016 was an unusual day for us in Austin, so let me (Mary) explain the reason for the tag-teaming of Wednesday afternoon’s coverage. With First Lady Michelle Obama throwing Music conference panel schedules off at the convention center and not knowing when the panels I had penciled in for the afternoon would actually start, I cut my losses and met Carrie for the start of the afternoon at FLOODfest at Cedar Street Courtyard. I hung around to interview Alex Robertshaw of Everything Everything after they played there and also managed to catch a bit of the next act, but Carrie had already left to see The People The Poet at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 for the first time, as she’d missed them last year. Interview done and dusted, I turned up to rejoin Carrie and cover the rest of the British Music Embassy showcase, as well as wait for some additional interviews, and she went off to meet Roo Panes south of the river for an interview of her own. ::heavy breaths, cough, wheeze:: Our individual contributions to this piece are marked below.

Everything Everything FLOODfest Cedar Street Courtyard WednesdayCarrie: Mary and I missed opening act Deap Vally but we arrived at FLOODfest in plenty of time to see a band we were both interested in, Manchester’s Everything Everything. Having never seen the band play live myself, I wasn’t sure what to expect from their performance. They turned out to be a great choice for our first band of the day, upbeat and energetic despite the pesky technical issues that would plague them for the rest of the week. The Austin heat didn’t deter the Mancunian art-rockers from wearing their flambuoyant matching jackets, but the bright Texas sun did force them to perform in what might be called “accidentally stylish” sunglasses through most of the set. They leaned hard on their current album ‘Get to Heaven’, sandwiching old favourites ‘Kemosabe’ and ‘Don’t Try’ in between the newer numbers.

Mary: If seeing Everything Everything in the blinding sun and blistering heat felt incongruous, can you imagine how out of place Hælos‘ performance must have looked? The act signed to Matador Records have a little bit of everything in their sound: a little pop, a little soul, a little trip-hop, a little experimental. This kind of music demands a darkened club atmosphere. Comparisons to the xx because they utilise harmonising male and female vocals well further bolster this argument for a shadowy, mysterious stage setup.

Haelos FLOODfest Cedar Street Courtyard WednesdayLucky for them, they didn’t suffer from the same technical issues as Everything Everything did, which probably explains why they looked completely poised and on their game when their set began. On paper, this is the kind of band I should like, so I guess you should blame the oppressive heat beating down from above that I really had trouble getting into the mood for their music. Expect a better review of them very soon, as I had an opportunity to see them again at the nighttime (the right time!) Friday Clash Magazine / PPL showcase at the British Music Embassy, where they were truly in their element.

The People the Poet at the British Music Embassy Wednesday at SXSW 2016

Carrie: After Everything Everything’s set, I hurried to the British Music Embassy to catch The People The Poet on Mary’s recommendation. As usual, her suggestion that I’d like the Welsh rockers was right on target. Their full-bodied rock sound and Leon Stanford’s rough-around-the-edges lead vocals were just to my taste, and I couldn’t resist introducing myself to full-bearded guitarist Tyla Campbell after their set to tell him so. The People The Poet’s latest single ‘Club 27’ was due for its first play on BBC Radio 1 only hours after this performance, but technically, we heard it first!

Jane Weaver at British Music Embassy Wednesday at SXSW 2016

Following The People The Poet on the BME stage was electro-pop artist Jane Weaver, who we initially previewed in a Bands to Watch feature right back here. I knew I might not get to stay for Weaver’s entire set, as I was due to switch places with Mary at that point in the day, but after learning the history of Weaver’s career in the course of writing the aforementioned preview, I was intrigued, especially by her recent album release ‘The Silver Globe’. I was gratified to hear the hypnotic psych-pop of current single ‘I Need a Connection’ before I had to dash off across the river to the Hyatt Regency Austin, and Mary was lucky enough to get this interview with the magical Ms. Weaver later in the afternoon.

Keep an eye on TGTF for part 2 of our tag-team coverage of Wednesday afternoon’s activities, coming soon to a computer screen or mobile device near you!

 

SXSW 2016 Interview: Banners

 
By on Monday, 28th March 2016 at 1:00 pm
 

Liverpudlian Mike Nelson, aka pop singer/songwriter Banners, made his Austin debut last week, playing a series of shows at SXSW 2016. Wowing crowds with his engaging pop songs, the Northerner signed to Island Records’ American stable was a hit across the board.

I feel incredibly lucky to have grabbed him for a chat after a particularly memorable appearance Wednesday afternoon, playing with his band on what ended up being a very crowded stage at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30. Since getting signed to Island, he’s moved to our side of the pond to Toronto to concentrate on his career and we discuss his move, along with what it’s like to play in a band with his friends. Have a listen below.

For more coverage on TGTF on Banners, including the wonderful self-titled EP he released earlier this year, go here. You can watch the promo video for his song ‘Ghosts’ below.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5wjOYg3SJQ[/youtube]

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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