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SXSW 2018: Friday afternoon at the Full Irish Breakfast and British Music Embassy – 16th March 2018 (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 4th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

During the week at SXSW, those of us who have day jobs outside of the music industry must check in on occasion on what pays the bills. While I was stuck in our hotel dealing with emails and loose ends, Carrie left early to make our now annual visit to the BMI brunch, so stay tuned for her coverage on the artists who played there at the Four Seasons this year. After getting things in order, I hopped over to B.D. Riley’s for the annual Full Irish Breakfast sponsored by Music From Ireland and First Music Connect, both great friends to TGTF. To my happiness, the place was already full up at noon, requiring quite a bit of jostling and patience to get a bartender’s attention and to find a spot where you could lay out your complimentary breakfast.

Accompanying the free food – with white pudding this year, yes! – were plenty of Irish-born talent raring to go, going nicely with the green décor B.D. Riley’s had already set out ahead of St. Patrick’s Day the next day. Joshua Burnside and his band, who wowed us on the Output Belfast boat ride Tuesday morning, began the day of festivities at the Irish pub. Looking tan in the face (or was that sunburn?), he looked relaxed performing his sixth and final performance in Austin in front of a room of Texan strangers.

Joshua Burnside Friday at SXSW 2018

It’s no wonder why his album ‘Ephrata’ won the Northern Ireland Music Prize in 2017. Burnside’s unique usage of world music influences while maintaining an inherent Irishness through the lilt of his gorgeous voice made the LP released last year unlike anything else. The crowd approved of Burnside and his band’s early yet wonderfully spirited set. A particularly lovely moment was when Burnside went part acoustic for his single from last year, the politically charged and very Northern Irish ‘Red and White Blues’. While its poignant meaning may have been lost on the audience he played it to, the combination of his strong voice accompanied only by acoustic guitar had a quiet beauty, before the rest of his band joined in for added oomph.

The Lost Brothers are Irish, yes. But if you looked at them on the street with their cowboy hats and acoustic guitars, you’d swear they were Americans born and raised in the Wild West. No strangers to SXSW, B.D. Riley’s or Austin for that matter, they took to the stage at the pub with their usual performance aplomb. Whether performing on a boat or in a venue on dry land, the Lost Brothers are the consummate professionals.

The Lost Brothers Friday at SXSW 2018

They arrived in Texas with their latest album effort ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’, recorded in Arizona, and the critical acclaim it has received so far, all deserved. (Read my glowing review of the LP through here.) ‘Echoes in the Wind’, the lead single from the album, came across as effortless, as did more recent single, the sweet, yet humourous ‘More Than I Can Comprehend’ (promo video here).

The third act at the Full Irish breakfast was also ready to put his last SXSW 2018 appearance in the can. Cork’s Talos, who closed out the Music From Ireland showcase at the Velveeta Room the evening previous, was back out with his band and alongside the blinding sunshine streaming in from 6th Street. It was a good thing for musicians from abroad and music fans alike to hide inside B.D. Riley’s for the afternoon: for the first time that week, the mercury reached over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 32 degrees Celsius plus). The sunny afternoon provided contrast to their performance Thursday night, though the sun or heat didn’t dampen their enthusiasm or Eoin French’s falsetto.

Talos Friday at SXSW 2018

Friday was the only afternoon at SXSW 2018 I had some free time to spend at the British Music Embassy. And it was a good day for it, as a slice of sticky toffee cheesecake and a bloody Mary awaited me at Latitude 30. I arrived just as most visitors were finishing up their lunch and ready for the first act, The RPMs. Brighton’s brightest prospect in the pop/rock stakes began the afternoon at the Embassy with gusto, blasting out their upbeat tunes with vigour.

The RPMs Friday 4 at SXSW 2018

Although he must have been boiling in his leopard print jacket, lead singer Jack Valero was a great frontman, flashing a winsome smile and showing a youthful exuberance. Under the better lighting of and with the better sound system of Latitude 30, they shone, and plenty of Americans who hadn’t heard of them until that moment started taking notes. I know, because a bunch of people came up to me and asked me to spell their name and for help finding their Facebook. Ha. I was glad to be of service.

Next up on the bill was Natalie Findlay, the Manchester songstress who scorched former writer Martin’s eyes and ears at Liverpool Sound City 2013. Since those days, she’s morphed like a chameleon many times, never staying put in one specific genre. In an otherwise all-male lineup, it was nice to introduce some good ol’ fashioned girl power into the mix and remind the Americans in attendance that there’s great female talent coming out of Britain, too.

Findlay Friday at SXSW 2018

Flyte’s closeup has been a long time coming. We’ve been writing about them for quite a long time; they nabbed the #5 spot in a reader’s poll here at TGTF at the end of 2013. Last year, they released their long-awaited debut album ‘The Loved Ones’, the culmination of years of hard graft. Performing songs from it live in Austin must have tasted so sweet.

Flyte Friday 2 at SXSW 2018

The group from London sounded decidedly different from the acts before them, with a Beatles-esque indie rock edge. While I thought it was unnecessary for them to do a cover (Alvvays’ ‘Marry Me, Archie’), Americans next to me swayed their head to Flyte’s version, stoked in their unexpected selection. Unexpectedly, I found myself at the bar and next to an unlikely fan, or so I thought: folk pop singer/songwriter Lucy Rose stood spellbound watching them play, only stopping to occasionally note to her drinking companion how great Flyte were. Couldn’t have had a nice endorsement, eh?

Dance funk purveyors Le Galaxie were the perfect choice to close out the Full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s. Led by well-bearded frontman Michael Pope and performing with ex-Fight Like Apes MayKay on occasional vocals, they turned the Irish pub in the late afternoon into an enthralling disco, the thumping of their catchiest tunes reverberating in every molecule in the place.

Le Galaxie Friday at SXSW 2018

I last saw them in the basement of Audio in Brighton (now Patterns) at The Great Escape 2015. Times may have changed but some things stay the same, and thankfully, Le Galaxie is in the latter. It may not have been 5 o’clock yet in Austin, but it was 5 o’clock somewhere, and punters had no problem shaking a tail feather to their songs.

 

SXSW 2017: Thursday night ups and downs at the British Music Embassy, Elysium and St. David’s Bethell Hall – 16th March 2017

 
By on Thursday, 13th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

I’ve often said that you can’t go wrong in Austin during SXSW, because there’s good music going on literally everywhere you turn. On the Thursday night of SXSW 2017, however, my general enthusiasm was dampened ever so slightly. I saw some amazing performances that night, mind you, but I also saw, for the first time in my SXSW experience, some performances that fell below my expectations.

Happily, the first performance of the evening wasn’t one of those. I started off at Latitude 30, where Holly Macve played the British Music Embassy stage with a full band in attendance and a subtle air of self-assurance about her. Like Northern Irish act Silences, who I covered earlier in the week, Macve’s previous experience at SXSW 2016 was clearly a valuable one for her in terms of confidence and exposure. (If you missed out on our earlier coverage of Holly Macve, you can catch up right back here.) She had clearly built a reputation that preceded her, as her set at Latitude 30 drew a full crowd on the Thursday night, and the lovelorn songs from her excellent debut LP ‘Golden Eagle’ made a strong impact, especially the uptempo ‘Heartbreak Blues’.

Holly Macve internal

You might recall from our earlier review that Macve’s album was released on indie label Bella Union, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Label boss Simon Raymonde was in attendance at Macve’s show on Thursday evening, but it’s his commentary at Friday afternoon’s panel session Bella Union at 20 that comes back to my mind as I write this review. In choosing acts to sign to his label, Raymonde’s guiding motto has been, in his own words, “Don’t be a dick.” In other words, there’s no need to go out of your way to harshly criticise or publicly disparage music you don’t like; just politely decline and move on.

How does Raymonde’s comment relate to my Thursday evening review, you ask? Well, several of the acts I saw later in the evening were . . . less than stellar, in my opinion. While I don’t necessarily feel the need to insult these artists by writing scathing recaps of their performances, I will give my honest opinions, as gently and genuinely as I can.

CP Stelling internal

Leaving the British Music Embassy, I headed to Elysium, which was hosting the Anti- Records showcase. In sharp contrast to the full-capacity Wednesday night crowd, Elysium was nearly empty at 9 PM on Thursday. This was unfortunate for Brooklyn folk singer Christopher Paul Stelling. He’s a songwriter I’ve enjoyed on record in the past, and I was eager to see him play live. However, his demeanour on stage was an immediate indication that this might not be his best night. I honestly think he might have been drunk, which I realise wouldn’t be unusual at SXSW. But if he was, it didn’t seem to enhance his performance. His comments to the small audience were a bit snide, and he apparently had some kind of disagreement with his bass player. It must be said here, though, that the bassist and the violinist accompanying Stelling provided some lovely tone color behind Stelling’s aggressive guitar playing and intensely passionate vocals. Expect to hear more of that savage sound on Stelling’s forthcoming LP ‘Itinerant Arias’, which is due for release on the 5th of May. Check out the video for the latest album track ‘The Cost of Doing Business’ just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/OMTdQVK7Jzk[/youtube]

The crowd at Elysium grew exponentially between sets in anticipation of New Jersey native and guitar virtuoso Delicate Steve. We featured his delightful album ‘This is Steve’ just before SXSW, and I was very happy indeed that his live show leaned heavily on songs from that LP. However, Delicate Steve did have a fair number of dedicated, longtime fans in the audience that night, and they were equally pleased when he threw in a couple of older favourites. His set was a visual and sonic spectacle, truly a joy to behold, and though I’m not always much of an instrumental music fan, I left Elysium with a grin on my face after seeing Delicate Steve play.

Delicate Steve internal

I debated about leaving Elysium, as Australian songwriter Cameron Avery was next on the bill. But I made the fateful decision to take a chance instead on a handful of Los Angeles area songwriters, in an effort to follow up the preview of L.A. artists I’d written just before SXSW.

Mark Eitzel internal

One of the songwriters mentioned in that very brief preview was Mark Eitzel. I walked into St. David’s Bethell Hall as Eitzel was preparing to play, and it quickly became clear that he didn’t particularly want to be there. In fact, he flatly said as much at one point during the set. His continued grousing during the set was off-putting, and I found it rather hard to believe his defensive statement “I’m usually very funny”. However, his songs did have a certain wit about them. Their lyrics were actually quite charming, in a French art song kind of way: elegant and romantic, understated and delicate, plainly sentimental. If you’re on the fence about giving Eitzel a listen, I’d still recommend him, in spite of his rough showing here. His new album ‘Hey Mr Ferryman” is out now on Merge Records (U.S.) / Decor records (UK/EU), and he’s just wrapping up a tour in North America.

Karen Elson internal

British ex-pat Karen Elson, who now calls Nashville home, was next on at Bethell Hall, and I was intrigued straightaway when her stage setup included a harp alongside the acoustic and electric guitars. She played stripped back versions of songs from her new album ‘Double Roses’, including recent single ‘Call My Name’, and for my money, the gentle sound of the harp was just the right accompaniment for her delicate singing voice. It was a bit unfortunate that Elson played for such a small gathering here, but the audience did include her friend and fellow songstress Allison Pierce, whom I’d covered at Lambert’s the night before. (Small world.) ICYMI, Elson very graciously answered TGTF’s Quickfire Questions in the days leading up to the festival; you can read her responses right here.

Alex Izenberg internal

Even from the vantage point of 4 weeks’ distance, I’m still not sure what to make of the final performer I saw on Thursday night, chamber pop songwriter Alex Izenberg. Though he is based in Los Angeles, the songs Izenberg played from his 2016 album ‘Harlequin’ were very 1970s’ New York-sounding to me: jazzy, sophisticated, vaguely cinematic. The potential was evident in tracks like ‘To Move On’, but Izenberg’s performance on the night fell completely flat. Like Eitzel, he wasn’t very personable, barely looking up from the keyboard to make a connection with his audience, and his between-songs banter was mumbled and perfunctory. Technically the performance was a bit stilted, possibly due to the stark solo keyboard arrangement of the songs, but Izenberg seemed almost like a child in a piano recital who has to pause between chords to remember where to put his hands. I’m sure this wasn’t the case — it couldn’t have been, right? — but it was impossible not to notice it. In his situation, I might have been tempted to improvise, to take advantage of Bethell Hall’s lovely grand piano for a virtuosic flourish or two, but Izenberg kept his head down and stuck to the figurative script. Then again, he was playing to a mostly empty room in the dreaded 1 AM time slot, which I’ve already mentioned many times as a difficult one.

I think we sometimes forget, as fans and listeners, and even as music journalists, that festivals like SXSW can be incredibly stressful for musicians. Rushing from gig to gig, handling press commitments, and the constant pressure to put on a good show despite less than ideal conditions is undoubtedly exhausting. A few of the musicians I saw on the Thursday night of SXSW might have been a little worse for the wear, and I hope their experience improved from that point forward. My lasting impressions of the night, though, were of brilliant performances from Holly Macve, Delicate Steve and Karen Elson, who definitively stood out among the evening’s offerings.

 

SXSW 2017: Thursday afternoon at Music From Ireland’s Full Irish Breakfast – 16th March 2017

 
By on Tuesday, 11th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Thursday at SXSW 2017 was another full day, but my tired feet did get a bit of a reprieve after the lengths I walked on Wednesday night. I started the day at the Austin Convention Center for Zane Lowe’s keynote session, then spent the remainder of the afternoon at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub, which hosted Music for Ireland’s day show, the Full Irish Breakfast. (Editor Mary caught the opening acts on the Irish Breakfast bill, New Portals and Ciaran Lavery while I was listening to Zane Lowe; you can read about them in her Thursday afternoon review.)

AS Fanning IB

I arrived at B.D. Riley’s with just enough time for a plate of breakfast before “dark folk” singer/songwriter A.S. Fanning began to play. I’d seen Fanning earlier in the week at the Convention Center Next Stage, but as I’ve noted in the past, B.D. Riley’s has a very different ambiance from other SXSW venues, especially the sterile Convention Center stages. Fanning’s sharp lyrics and dramatic rock-tinged musical style skillfully elicited a mood of brooding melancholy in both environments. I caught him later in the afternoon for this quick interview, where we talked about the different venue atmospheres and his upcoming album ‘Second Life’.

"Loah

One of the afternoon’s pleasant surprises was soulful singer/songwriter Loah, whose West African musical influences were delightfully unexpected in the context of the Irish showcase. Her silky vocals and exotic stage presence were nothing short of stunning, bringing the bustling pub to a momentary standstill. Take a listen to my interview with Loah right back here, and watch this video for her full band performance of ‘Cross’, courtesy of Press Record.

Cloud Castle Lake IB

Next on the bill were electronic act Cloud Castle Lake, whose cool detachment and distinct avant-garde tendency took a decidedly different tone. Brendan Jenkinson’s ethereal falsetto was almost lost in the shuffle of background noise at B.D. Riley’s, but the band’s heavily rhythmic musical arrangements made a strong impression nonetheless.

"JOB

Northern Irish alt-rocker Jealous of the Birds (aka Naomi Hamilton) played a full band show at B.D. Riley’s, as opposed to the stripped back set I saw her play on the Output Belfast boat earlier in the week. Her erudite lyrics and eclectic mix of musical styles took on a much more vibrant cast in the fully-arranged versions of her songs, especially the popular ‘Goji Berry Sunset’. Hamilton and her bandmates fully embraced their punk-rock undertones in this pub setting, exponentially raising the energy level on the stage as well as among the punters in the growing crowd.

That newly-generated energy was immediately picked up by fellow Northern Irish band Silences, (pictured in the header photo above) who took the B.D. Riley’s stage with a decided air of confidence, quite different from frontman Conchúr White’s demeanor in his solo appearance last year. White and his bandmates didn’t waste a lot of time on chatter, preferring instead to impress the crowd with their massive, soaring five-piece sound. I was literally stunned to silence (pun intended) by the goose bump-inducing arrangement of their single ‘Breathless’, and I bubbled over with excitement for the up-and-coming Silences in this post-set interview with White and guitarist Chris Harbinson.

Taking full advantage of the momentum built by their Northern Irish compatriots, avant/experimental group Robocobra Quartet brought a surprisingly brash punk attitude to their jazz-tinged classical aesthetic. Based on our Adam’s description of them in his preview of NI artists, I probably should have expected punk, but I didn’t realise the extent of that influence until I heard lead singer/drummer Chris Ryan do his frenetic routine. The jazz side of things came through in the unique combination of saxophone sounds provided by Tom Tabori and Thibault Barilon. It’s an odd but intriguing mélange of sounds, and my immediate post-set commentary probably sums it up best: “I’m not sure what I just listened to, but I think I liked it.”

Birds of Olympus IB

I was equally intrigued by Dublin psych-rock act Birds of Olympus, especially after their frontman Spud Murphy described their sound to me as “Talking Heads mixed with Ennio Morricone”. Their songs were broadly expansive and strangely hypnotic, with smooth vocal melodies and edgy rhythmic grooves evolving in vivid kaleidoscopic fashion. Check it out for yourself in this live video performance of ‘Cinder to the Sun’ on the band’s official Facebook.

The Academic IB

Mary and I had been waiting over a year to see young Dublin rockers The Academic, and they took the Irish showcase by storm at SXSW 2017, with a set that was by turns wildly energetic and broodingly sullen. Frontman Craig Fitzgerald has cultivated a certain bad-boy mystique that feeds into the band’s more introspective songs, like ‘Thought I Told You’ and ‘Small Town Lovers’, while the driving momentum of songs like ‘Different’ is clearly the band’s strongest suit.

Picture This IB

The final act on the Full Irish Breakfast was another up-and-coming mainstream pop band, the swaggering Dublin rock duo Picture This. I’d taken the opportunity to sit down with band members Jimmy Rainsford and Ryan Hennessy earlier in the week, and their unabashedly cocky demeanor in that Tuesday afternoon interview had piqued my interest for seeing them live. As it turned out, they had every reason to be confident. The anthemic rock-leaning pop of tracks like ‘You & I’ was enthusiastically received at B.D. Riley’s, ending the day on an ecstatic high. Also, for the record, Hennessy fulfilled his earlier promise to play topless, which I hadn’t taken seriously until he actually did it.

Picture This 2 IB

All in all, the Full Irish Breakfast once again lived up to its reputation as one of the best shows in town during SXSW, and the bands on the showcase fully exceeded even my high expectations. For more on the fine Irish acts at SXSW 2017, you can read back through Mary’s coverage of the official Music From Ireland showcase at the Velveeta Room on St. Patrick’s Day.

 

SXSW 2017: Thursday afternoon at the Full Irish Breakfast and the Radio Day Stage – 16th March 2017

 
By on Thursday, 30th March 2017 at 4:00 pm
 

It’s become a yearly tradition for TGTF to cover the Full Irish Breakfast, a daytime showcase put on by Music from Ireland at B.D. Riley’s Irish pub on 6th Street. Carrie generally does the honours while I usually take five, tucking into my complimentary breakfast, avoiding the pub’s Lipton tea and bemoaning the absent black pudding and mushrooms. This year for SXSW 2017, however, I stood in for Carrie at the start of the showcase, as she was down at the convention center, listening to Zane Lowe.

This was all fine by me, as the first band on were Belfast’s New Portals specialising in synthpop, therefore squarely in my wheelhouse. We had featured the act’s single ‘Winter Skin’ before Christmas last year and prior to our Derry correspondent Adam’s preview of the Northern Irish acts coming out to SXSW 2017. I should probably read our previews one more time before we go out to Austin because I evidently forgot that Mike and Ruth Aicken are married. They’re way too young and cool to be married! Ruth was wearing a baseball cap and her voice is sultry and poppish, leading me to compare her to Lorde and BANKS, both who young girls seek to emulate.

New Portals, full Irish breakfast, B.D. Riley's, Thursday 16 March 2017

I would think B.D. Riley’s is an unusual place for Irish artists to perform because on most days, it’s sunny in Austin and the windows out to 6th Street are thrown wide open. With New Portals’ music, it’s a bit odd to be hearing electronic music in a sunny environment and not in a club. However, Ruth let herself be totally drawn into the moment, singing with her eyes closed, grooving to the music as if she was in her own little world. But we were welcomed into that world, the buzz of the synths and the catchiness of the beats pulling us into the music despite it being eye-blinkingly 11 in the morning. As I looked around the room, I saw quite a few Guinness and gin and tonics being drunk, so it wasn’t too far from what it’s like being in a club…

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTIWWPB6mOw[/youtube]

The great thing about a man and his guitar: he takes next to no time to set up. For a completely different change of pace, fellow Northern Irish artist Ciaran Lavery was next up on the bill. We’ve been fans of Lavery for quite a while, and we covered him when he came out to Austin last year. The popular ‘Shame’, with Lavery’s plaintive vocals and simple yet effective guitar chord progressions, proved so disarming, I was nearly in tears.


Ciaran Lavery, full Irish breakfast, B.D. Riley's, Thursday 16 March 2017

Lavery clearly impressed the crowd, as several people asked me for his name and I recommended his live album ‘Live at the Mac’ that Adam reviewed for us at the end of 2016. I find his droll hand at stage patter hilarious, though I do wonder if it goes over better in front of Irish fans, several of whom had come all the way over from Belfast that I met at the breakfast. In any event, a job well done.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHd4x9K2-X0[/youtube]

After sitting in on the enlightening and moving talk by Russell “DMC” McDaniels back at the convention center, I was able to catch most of Middle Kids’ performance on the Radio Day Stage early Thursday afternoon as part of the KCSN afternoon showcase there. I included the female-fronted Aussie band in my best bets of acts from Oz showcasing this year in Austin.

Middle Kids, Radio Day Stage, Thursday 16 March 2017

By the time they arrived at SXSW 2017, they had under their belt an appearance on American alt late night tv programme Conan, so they’d already had their American close-up with thousands of armchair viewers. The brashness of their hit ‘Edge of Town’ hit the spot with Radio Day onlookers. For an indie band on one of their first-ever trips to America, you really can’t do much better than having such a great reception on the biggest stage in the convention center.

Middle Kids, Radio Day Stage, Thursday 16 March 2017, 2

 

SXSW 2017 Interview: Loah

 
By on Tuesday, 28th March 2017 at 11:00 am
 

Every year at SXSW, I hear at least one musician who takes me completely by surprise. One of the most intriguing artists I saw on the Thursday afternoon of SXSW 2017 was Irish/Sierra Leonean soul singer Loah, (known offstage as Sallay Matu Garnett) who performed on the Full Irish Breakfast showcase hosted by Music from Ireland at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub. Currently based in Dublin, Loah cites time spent in Sierra Leone during her teenage years as a major influence on her music, as well as the more expected Irish music tradition, which she developed in her classical training at Trinity College. She melds aspects of classical Western and West African style together seamlessly, with hints of jazz and a strong soul foundation, to create a sound that is refreshingly different and stood out to me as quite unique among the other Irish artists on Thursday’s showcase. [Loah also appeared last autumn in Dublin at Hard Working Class Heroes 2016. – Ed.]

As mentioned in TGTF’s preview of Irish artists at SXSW 2017, Loah previously collaborated with 2017 RTÉ Choice Music Prize nominee and well-known fellow Irish musician Bantum on his single ‘Take It’, as well as receiving a co-writing credit on Hozier‘s hit track ‘Someone New’. Her own debut EP, titled ‘This Heart’, has been a long time in the making and is due for release at the end of April via Irish label Ensemble Music. The EP will include Loah’s first single ‘The Bailey’, streaming just below.

SXSW 2017 marked Loah’s first appearance in Austin, and she mentioned in our interview that she was eager to take in some of the city’s sights and sounds in her spare time during the week. Following her visit to Texas, Loah played a show at New York’s Irish Arts Center on the 22nd of March, which was previewed here in the Village Voice. Take a listen below to my interview with Loah, and keep an eye on TGTF for more about Loah in our upcoming review of the Full Irish Breakfast.

 
 
 

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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 is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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