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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.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2017: Brighton artists showcasing at this year’s SXSW

 
By on Monday, 6th March 2017 at 11:00 am
 

Please note: all information we bring you about SXSW 2017 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts and artists and bands scheduled to appear may be subject to change. To learn when your favourite artist is playing in Austin, we recommend you first consult the official SXSW schedule, then stop by the artist’s Facebook and official Web site for details of any non-official SXSW appearances.

Every autumn for the last 5 SXSWs, I draft a game plan on how TGTF is going to tackle coverage of the world’s biggest music festival. This year, with a bigger team more eager than ever to help me with our coverage, we were able to take on even more bands and across more countries. As most of you know, a big part of our preview focus is on UK bands and to help promote them ahead of what is for many of them their first big exposure to industry and fans in America. For SXSW 2017, we’re continuing that commitment. In this post, the emphasis will be on the acts from the seaside town of Brighton, which surprisingly have seven artists slated to appear at SXSW. The band summaries below were written by David Wriglesworth, except where noted.

Dream Wife – punk / pop
Edgy rock band Dream Wife (pictured at top) comprises Alice Go (guitar, vocals), Bella Podpadec (bass, vocals) and Icelandic singer Rakel Mjöll. The now London-based group’s success came as somewhat of an accident. The three girls met in 2015 while studying fine art and visual art at college in Brighton. For a school project, they had been tasked with forming a ‘fake girl band’ for a gallery exhibition.

After recording a few songs, creating a mockumentary inspired by the cult film classic Spinal Tap and performing live at the exhibition, Dream Wife gained a following and the formerly fake outfit became a reality. Named after the 1953 romantic comedy starring Cary Grant, Dream Wife cite Grimes, Spice Girls and Sleater-Kinney as their influences. This clearly shows within their music, made up of simple pop hooks and cutting riffs.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t1xoSXVOiE[/youtube]

Fickle Friends – pop
Hailing from Brighton, Fickle Friends is made up of Natti Shiner (vocals, keyboard), Jack Wilson (keyboard, backing vocals), Harry Herrington (bass guitar, backing vocals, Sam Morris (drums, percussion) and Chris Hall (guitar). The indie pop group with ’80s-flavoured synths spent 2 years touring, including sets at major festivals such as Bestival, BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend and Secret Garden Party. This caught the attention of Polydor Records, to which the band signed to in January 2016.

The label signing proved to be the start of a fantastic year for Fickle Friends, with singles ‘Swim’, ‘Cry Baby’, ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Say No More’, amassing over 8 million plays on Spotify throughout 2016. The latter of those singles made it to the BBC Radio 1 Introducing Playlist. Fickle Friends rounded off their year with a sell-out crowd at Dingwalls in London. We’ve covered Fickle Friends on TGTF before, as they appeared last year at SXSW 2016.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwG7f_oTLJY[/youtube]

Gang – psych rock
Fun fact about Gang: Not only are two of the band, Eric (guitar) and Jimi (drums), brothers, but they are also the sons of the former Ozzy Osbourne and Gillian guitarist Bernite Torme. Since forming in 2014 with Joseph Hunt (bassist), the trio has relentlessly toured the UK and with the likes of Wand and So Pitted.

Gang’s music merges elements of ‘70s stoner/metal, ‘80s American underground and the psychedelic fancies of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, accompanied by lyrics that reflect the times we live in. Their recent single releases and reputation for energetic live shows has not gone unrecognised, as they have been heavily championed by BBC 6 Music’s Marc Riley and Tom Ravenscroft, as well as BBC Introducing’s Phil Taggart and Abbie McCarthy. Gang are expected to release their debut LP later this year.

Holly Macve singer/songwriter / country/western
Despite only being 21 years of age, Holly Macve has already experienced enough strife to last a lifetime. Born in Galway in western Ireland, Macve and her sister were whisked away in the night by her mother from their errant father to live with their grandparents in Yorkshire. It was during this time that she discovered her love of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Gillian Welch.

At the age of 18, Macve moved down south, where she worked in a café while appearing at open mic nights. Her spellbinding country and western ballads, accompanied by her heavenly voice, didn’t go unnoticed: Simon Raymonde caught wind of her talent and signed her to his Bella Union label.

Since then, Macve has supported the likes of John Grant, Villagers, Ryley Walker and Benjamin Clementine, as well as making festival appearances at Glastonbury and Latitude. Looking ahead, Holly Macve is putting the finishing touches to her debut album that will be released on the 3rd of March before SXSW, which will be followed by UK dates in April. Macve appeared last year at SXSW 2016, so you can read more on her through here.

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

Marika Hackman – folk / singer/songwriter
It isn’t easy being a woman in this business, and I don’t need to list for you the many examples of popsters who have chosen the path of least resistance and towards maximum opportunity for commercialism. However, something darker than you would ever imagine lurks in the eyes of rocker Marika Hackman. She’s thrown aside any sense of convention for even the folky singer/songwriter genre, using “vague impressionistic images rather than concrete graphic shapes” to “leave a distinct and haunting emotional imprint” with her music. With the courage to do something very different, she’s an unlikely vanguard, yet amazing role model for young, aspiring female musicians. (Mary Chang)

To read TGTF’s past coverage on Marika Hackman, go here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8l8CZSByC4[/youtube]

Phoria – electronic
Phoria are a five-piece alt-electronic band headed up by Trewin Howard, a deeply sensitive yet mysterious character. He is joined by childhood friend Ed Sanderson (piano/synths), James Cheeseman (guitarist/synths), Seryn Burden (drummer) and Tim Douglas (guitar/bass/synths). Influenced by the likes of Radiohead and Elbow, Phoria produce sensually evocative soundscapes, which they have showcased on their ‘Bloodworks’ and ‘Display’ EPs, both having gained support from BBC Radio 1 and 6 Music.

Following several delays, Phoria released their debut album in June 2016, which was greeted to high praise from fans and critics alike. The album was supported by festival appearances that included Latitude and Dot to Dot, as well as a UK and European tour. Looking ahead to 2017, in addition to their appearance at SXSW, Phoria look set to crack America, having being granted BPI funding as part of the Music Export Growth Scheme.

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

Yonaka – punk
Within a year of forming, Brighton-based punk-rock group Yonaka (Japanese for “the dead of night”) signed to BBC Radio 1 Phil Taggart’s Hometown Records label (RHODES, Rat Boy). They got plenty of gig practise, having played over 30 shows up and down the country, including a number of dates as the support act for Killing Joke and Demob Happy.

The band comprises Theresa Jarvis (vocals), George Edwards (guitar), Alex Crosby (bass/keys) and Robert Mason (drums). The group quickly became renowned for their catchy riffs and captivating vocals, as evident on their early singles ‘Run’ and ‘Ignorance’.

2017 is already looking extremely positive for Yonaka, having signed a record deal with Asylum Records in January. The band are set to appear at SXSW, followed by this year’s Great Escape back home in Brighton in May.

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

 

(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Album Review: Holly Macve – Golden Eagle

 
By on Friday, 3rd March 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Golden Eagle cover artOne of the most unique new voices I heard at SXSW 2016 was youthful country folk artist Holly Macve. Last year’s SXSW was a bit of a coming out party for Macve, who made a strong impression not only on myself, but on better-known music critics throughout Austin, including NPR’s Bob Boilen. Now, a year on from her American debut, Macve is finally set to release her long-anticipated LP ‘Golden Eagle’, which contains several of the songs we swooned over in Texas last spring.

Macve’s presence in Austin last year was unassuming and even shy, but there’s none of that in the recording of ‘Golden Eagle’. She sounds confident and sure of her rather unusual yodeling vocal technique, which is immediately reminiscent of Patsy Cline. But Macve takes the sound even a step further, often using it in conjunction with dramatic minor key harmonies to create a striking, almost operatic effect.

Those stunning harmonies appear straightaway in album opener ‘White Bridge’, under the melancholic lyrics “walking down this road I know so well / makes me feel like a child / living young and wild” and the repeating lines “Oh I remember well / that night we laughed and we fell / and I’ll never be the same again”. The song’s simple guitar and vocal arrangement expands to include just enough piano and backing vocals to convey the longing in Macve’s lyrics, without threatening to overtake her lead vocal line, which is the main focus throughout the album.

Early single ‘The Corner of My Mind’ is dark and instantly dramatic, and it showcases Macve’s precocious lyrical prowess. Though only in her early 20s, Macve conveys subtleties of emotion that would seem to be well beyond her years. Here, the brittle delicacy of her singing voice combines with an ominous and rather chilling narrative: “I called by my father’s house and he closed the door on me / he said ‘you’re no daughter of mine, and you never will be’ / the birds all flew away from the echo of the gun / come to me my dear, for you’re the only one”.

The entire album has a stark, stylistically vintage feel about it, like a faded black-and-white photograph from days long before digital photography was a thing. What’s most surprising is Macve’s ability to maintain the authenticity of that feeling, despite her relative youth and inexperience. Expansive songs ‘Shell’ and ‘All Its Glory’ are long, but never overwrought, and both could be easily imagined as part of a film soundtrack. Macve’s narrative songwriting stands out as something really special in ‘All Its Glory’, with evocative poetic imagery such as “I cast my eyes over blood red fields and I sink into my grave” and “the amber glow of the burning sky leaves a sinister beauty behind”.

‘Heartbreak Blues’ and ‘No One Has the Answers’ provide a couple of brief moments of respite from the otherwise dark tone of the album. These are not “happy” songs, per se, but they are a bit more upbeat, adding a quicker, shuffling tempo and maybe a just a hint of sass. In the undeniably catchy ‘Heartbreak Blues’, Macve cheekily warns a lover, “I’ll never take you to heaven without leaving you in hell”. ‘No One Has the Answers’ is remarkably self-aware in its philosophical lyrical tone, but its musical setting is lighter and brighter, even leaning toward the optimistic.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/wHjsiJKbD2o[/youtube]

Eponymous piano ballad ‘Golden Eagle’ is symmetrically bookended by the line “fly away, golden eagle, before you feel the pain”. It’s perhaps a predictable metaphor, but Macve’s vocals, and not her lyrics, are the real substance of this track. There are moments when her singing technique sounds unrefined, but the rawness is certainly part of its charm, and her producers have wisely left it in rather than polishing off the edge.

The album ends with the exquisite ‘Sycamore Tree’, which captivated my attention at last year’s SXSW. A bit sunnier, but still melancholic, this coming-of-age narrative makes use of broad metaphor and subtly shifting harmonies to reveal layer-upon-layer of underlying emotion. Macve’s exquisite delivery of the song’s final lines, “one day when I’m old / with a past behind me / I wanna lay down in the shade / of the same old sycamore tree”, draws the album to a close with a reminder to her listeners of what brought us here in the first place.

In the lengthy writing and recording process of ‘Golden Eagle’, Holly Macve has resisted the industry pressure to put out an album too quickly, instead allowing herself enough time and space to put together solid set of songs that accurately display her high level of talent. Emotionally genuine and technically precise, this is the kind of quality record that young artists dream of making. It’s been a long wait for ‘Golden Eagle’, but Macve’s patience has paid off in spades.

8.5/10

‘Golden Eagle’ is due for release on Friday the 3rd of March on Bella Union. Holly Macve is scheduled to appear in Austin again this year at SXSW 2017. After SXSW, she will play a list of live shows in England; you can find the details for that tour here. TGTF’s full previous coverage of Holly Macve is right back here.

 

Holly Macve / April 2017 English Tour

 
By on Thursday, 8th December 2016 at 9:00 am
 

Up-and-coming folk singer/songwriter Holly Macve has announced a brief run of English tour dates for early next year, following her scheduled trip to America for SXSW 2017.* The newly announced live dates will support the release of Macve’s debut LP ‘Golden Eagle’, which is due out on the 3rd of March via Bella Union. Editor Mary has already featured the album’s first single ‘No One Has the Answers’ as our Video of the Moment #2203.

Tickets for the following shows are available now. TGTF’s previous reporting on Holly Macve, including live coverage from SXSW 2016, is collected right back here.

Tuesday 4th April 2017 – Bristol Wardrobe
Wednesday 5th April 2017 – Brighton Komedia
Thursday 6th April 2017 – London St. John on Bethnal Green
Friday 7th April 2017 – Manchester Sacred Trinity
Sunday 9th April 2017 – Newcastle Cluny 2

* As always, any information we bring you about SXSW 2017 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts, and the artist lineup is subject to change. For news and updates on SXSW 2017, please consult the festival’s official schedule here.

 

Video of the Moment #2203: Holly Macve

 
By on Tuesday, 18th October 2016 at 6:00 pm
 

Back in the summer, we were celebrating her first-ever promo video, for ‘The Corner of My Mind’. Now we’ve got something even bigger to celebrate with young singer/songwriter Holly Macve. She’s announced she’ll be releasing her debut album next year on Bella Union Records. She’s previewing that long player with another music video, this time for ‘No One Has the Answers’.

It premiered last week on NPR, whose music champion Bob Boilen has said of the new song that it “hints at why I think 2017 will be the year the world falls in love with the voice [of Macve]”, and now we’re sharing it with you. Looking right at home with a country lifestyle on this side of the pond, with a straw hat, heart-shaped shades and ruby red lips, you’ll get drawn into Holly Macve’s world in this video dead easy. Watch it below. We covered Macve at SXSW 2016, Carrie interviewing her and the two of us caught her live at an afternoon performance at Liberty Tavern Saturday night. Catch her live on the 21st of November at London Oslo Hackney alongside Jens Lekman; she will also appear at London’s Mirrors Festival ahead of that on the 29th of October. For all of our coverage on the lovely Ms. Macve, use this link.

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

 

Video of the Moment #2141: Holly Macve

 
By on Monday, 18th July 2016 at 6:00 pm
 

Huzzah! Young singer/songwriter Holly Macve finally has a music video to call her very own. It’s for ‘Corner of My Mind’, a preview of Macve’s first album, which we’ve heard is now in the can. Let’s hope it sees the light of day sooner than later. This single is a slow burner, and the black and white music video is minimalist, showing Macve placed into various beautiful landscapes. Watch the video for ‘Corner of My Mind’ below. For more on Holly Macve on TGTF, including Carrie’s interview with her at SXSW 2016, go here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjqpuOAc1xM[/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 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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