Allo Darlin, Tigercats, Martha at Kings College London

Allo Darlin’ are starting to make waves in the small pond that is the UK twee indie revival

Allo Darlin @ Kings College London photo: Robin Halls
Allo Darlin @ Kings College London photo: Robin Halls

Allo Darlin’ are starting to make waves in the small pond that is the UK twee indie revival. This was the London date and final night of a two week autumn tour that had seen them play bigger venues than before as a headline act. I’d only caught them as a support band before, but, they had made an impact. Their first eponymous album was a delight; warm melodic beautiful songs played with verve, and in Elizabeth Morris they have an engaging and talented singer. With some anticipation I wondered how they would rise to the challenge of headlining.

But first the support bands; and first up Martha. Exhilarating stuff, p’raps a bit more muscular than one might expect in company with Allo Darlin but tuneful too – good songs attacked with gusto. Martha are well worth keeping an eye on. If your curious there are 5 tracks on Bandcamp and they are well worth a listen. Not sure when they will be playing in London again, but certainly a band to note.

And so to Tigercats. Tigercats are mind blowingly stupendously awesomely good. An indie band with a creative range which would suggest a rack of albums and singles behind them, but in fact there is just one;  Isle of Dogs, most of which gets an airing tonight. Comparisons are a bit misleading here – this is a band with a sound and attitude that is quite unique really – but how to describe them………… by turns they put me in mind of Tweecore royalty Los Campesinos, or Vampire Weekend’s african inflected guitars and even LCD Sound System on one of the standout tracks Limehouse Nights. Echoes of Jonathan Richman, or the melodies of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin but lyrically reference heavy in a way that clearly locates them in 2012, East London. Singer Duncan has a thousand yard stare; somewhere above the audiences head he gazes – enigmatic and watchable, his brother Giles on bass is a more affable presence chatting between songs. The rest of the band are crouched over their instruments like their lives depend on it. Duncan’s sometimes spoken sometimes barked delivery is augmented by sugar sweet female harmonies at times. The guitarist looks like he could be the next Governor of the Bank of England, but a more inventive catchy set of guitar driven pop I can scarcely recall.

Tigercats @ Kings College London photo: Robin Halls
Tigercats @ Kings College London photo: Robin Halls

Next gig is on 27/11/12 at the Lexington in Kings Cross. Its my mums seventieth birthday. But I cant miss it. I’m gonna taker her…..

So good were Tigercats, they almost spoilt Allo Darlin’ for me, I was done, spent! But we had come to see Allo Darlin’. To see them headline in a proper venue, with proper sound and lousy beer. They did not disappoint

Their Lineage is clear, a debt is owed to the Sarah records stable, but they are no mere revivalists. Two albums in they have a raft of warm intelligent pop songs and a singer of true talent and no little charm. Material from first album Allo Darlin’ and this years Europe was warmly received by a rapt audience familiar with the material. A new single from the album, Northern Lights is out next month, its a delightful jangle –  a stand out in a set  of gems. So did they rise to headlining? well yes and no. for me the ideal way to see this band  would be lying on the grass at a summer festival half cut. There is something life affirming and heart warming about that voice, backed by a band who know  every nuance of each song and play with care and precision. But the abiding memory of a great gig with three really good bands is Tigercats – the album is on as I write! Hope mum likes ’em…..


Shrag release new album “Canines”

Shrag release new album “Canines”

Shrag have been around a while now, since 2004 in fact, their second album Life! Death! Prizes!, released in 2010 was one of the indie albums of the year; infectious,urgent and immediate. Impossible to follow perhaps… what is third album Canines like?

Well, to their credit they have not attempted to remake or mimic Life! Death! Prizes!. Canines is a more mature record, a bit more lush in production and arrangement, and most certainly not as immediate as its predecessor.

Shrag have not thrown the baby out with the bathwater though; the trademark boy/girl vocals and distorted guitars remain, but now underpinned at times by lush strings.

I was a little underwhelmed on first listen to be honest, but that feeling quickly dissipated on repeated playing.

This album fizzes with new ideas. opening with Tears of a Landlord, trademark lyrical opacity and fuzz and feedback underpinned by a portentous dirty bassline – this is one of the stand-out tracks on the album. It announces itself quietly before rumbling into life. God knows what it’s about? The tragedy of pubs closing in their thousands?

Helen King intones, “I think about death when you genuflect” I havent a clue what she’s on about but her voice is a distinctive and engaging indie pop yelp.

Chasing consummations is the first hint that Shrag have evolved, dominated by a string arrangement and, previously aired single, Tendons in the Night returns to Shrag’s strength; signature nagging guitars and shouty boy/girl vocals.

Other highlights include Devasating Bones” which opens like T-Rex and is built around the memorable line, ” I think you might need those knees for kneeling” An ode to lust i think…”you’ve got devastating bones and i’d like to come home!”

Flinching at Forever provides a welcome change of pace, a nice understated guitar intro yields to three voices sparring to good effect, a light  and infectious pop song.

Canines is a fitting follow-up to Life!Death Prizes!. It shows Shrag growing in the range and maturity of their music without losing any of that attack which sets them apart from the present indie-pop mainstream.

Posterity though, might see Life!Death!Prizes! regarded as their masterpiece?

Canines is out on Fortuna POP  soon. The single Show us your Canines is out now.


Herman Dune and Allo’ Darlin at Heaven

French Indie-folk duo Herman Dune returned to London to play at iconic nightclub and occasional gig venue Heaven

 French Indie-folk duo Herman Dune returned to London to play at iconic nightclub and occasional gig venue Heaven. Regular gig goers will know that choosing a nightclub as a venue often means an early start and an early finish in order to accommodate the club’s main clientele for the night later on (on this occasion it was G-A-Y Porn Idol; on which I cannot report as I had to catch the last train.) So it was a 730pm start for support Act Allo Darlin’(of whom more later) and everything was done and dusted by just after 10.

Last time they were in town Herman Dune played the hallowed turf of the Union Chapel. As I recalled these hushed ecclesiastical environs rather suited them and their mournful folk-pop. They went down well with an attentive audience, packing the serried ranks of pews.

This time out it didn’t gel so well. Heaven is a dank succession of railway arches, perfect for a sweaty club but draughty and chilly and a bit lacking in atmosphere for an early evening gig. A somewhat restive audience seemed to never quite get into it although each song was greeted with warm if a bit unenthusiastic applause.

Latest album Strange Moosic is their most accessible and it was songs from this which provided the set’s highlights; the upbeat “Be a doll and take my heart”, “The rock”, and “Tell me something I don’t know” stood out for me”.

Everything was played with precision, in particular Nemon Herman Dune’s subtle and rhythmic drumming is ear catching and there is an obvious chemistry with the guitar of David-Ivar Herman Dune, tonight augmented by bass guitar. 

An interesting, if not exhilarating set. 

Earlier, Allo Darlin’ generated rather more excitement. Looking around, audience reaction suggested many people had showed up for the Anglo-Australian quartet and  were evidently familiar with their eponymous debut album. If you haven’t heard it, it is well worth a listen – very much a cut above the indie tweecore run of the mill. Immediate and catchy, its highlights stood out tonight; “My heart is a drummer”, “Dreaming”, “The Polaroid song” and the brilliant “Silver dollars”. 

Their set was built around showcasing new songs from soon to be released 2nd album “Europe” On first hearing, these seemed to lack the immediate infectious pop of the older material, but it sounded good and will I am sure repay repeated listening when the album comes out. 

In singer Elizabeth Morris they have a songwriter and performer of genuine warmth and talent. She paid her respects to main act Herman Dune of whom she is clearly a fan. For me though, tonight Allo Darlin’” rather stole the show from the more established headliners. 

They seem to be on the up, and, are headlining established indie festival Indietracks this summer. 

“Europe” is out on  Fortuna Pop now

Butcher Boy at English Folk Dance and Song Society,Camden 21/1/12

Butcher Boy graced the hushed environs of the English Folk Dance and Song Society in Camden

Butcher Boy graced the hushed environs of the English Folk Dance and Song Society for a rare London performance. This was no ordinary gig. For some the smell of beeswax, herringbone wooden floors and serried ranks of plastic chairs would be just too reminiscent of the misery of school……and Butcher Boy have all the stage presence of sixth formers playing to their peers.

But can they play. Third album Helping Hands exceeds even the expectations raised by critical acclaim for their first two albums and they effortlessly, beautifully evoke it, without fanfare. Cello, as a lead instrument is a rarity in indie circles but it just seems right and is beautifully underscored by Viola. A shifting backdrop of understated guitars, bass and keyboards creates mood and variety, whilst the beautiful voice of John Blain Hunt picks out the lyrics.

A more self effacing frontman I struggle to bring to mind. Shyness, painfully observed, for songs which cry out to be played live; on listening to the album again, it does not quite capture the beauty evoked by live performance, carefully orchestrated changes of tempo communicated by soundless counting in or a quiet nod, it all seems meticulously rehearsed. I was captivated but this is plainly not everybody’s cup of tea.

Highlights of the set included “The day our voices broke“- available as a free download at present, and, “I am the butcher”, a skiffle tinged country number , a lush sound created by six string instruments knitted together by deliberate drumming.

An hour or so and it was all over. This was powerful, yet subtle stuff. The sheer craft on display is awe inspiring, wonderful music in an idiosyncratic setting made for a very different live music experience.

Earlier, support was provided by Darren Hayman, playing songs from The Ship’s Piano on a baby grand, accompanied by only spare and plaintive trumpet. Perhaps hampered by my lack of  familiarity with the material this was interesting rather than compelling stuff. but delivered with commitment and wit. A fitting support to what was to come later.

All in all, an evening of intelligent, moving pop.

Field Music release new album ‘Plumb’

Field Music release new album “Plumb” on the 13th of February

Field Music release new album 'Plumb' on the 13th of February on Memphis Industries.
Field Music

It seems nobody is ever indifferent to Field Music. Fans of their distinctive albums and joyful yet precise live shows love their intricate melodies and unusual time signatures, but to others they are just pretentious pseuds. The way the brothers Brewis grin at each other as they roam a stage swapping instruments can be mistaken for them being too pleased with themselves – I think they just love what they do. Dismissing them, and leaving before the end, my friend quipped that they might write a musical next…..

Perhaps with Plumb they have:

From the opening bars of “Start the day right” there is a whiff of musical theatre about this album. Close your eyes and you can see the Brewis boys arms outstretched West End musical style. But this is not a big departure, if  you didnt like the 3 albums released since they formed in 2004, you wont  like this. It is unmistakeably, brilliantly Field Music.

2nd track “Its OK to change”(of course they havent) has a signature nagging baseline and fades to an eerie sound of running water at the end which bleeds into “Sorry again mate”, mournful tuba and the usual close harmonies. Church bells on “A new town” add to the  eerie mood but this track is just an interlude really. Such slivers of music are a feature of the record creating atmoosphere(and explaining why an album shy of 40 minutes has 15 tracks.

The middle stretches of the album are characterised by more prominent guitars, bigger chords and piano such as on “Choosing sides”


“Who’ll pay the bills” is classic Field Music reminiscent of XTC, an easy comparison but they are no mere copyists, lush strings and orchestration on “So long then” is inimitably them. as is the beautiful mournful vocal interlude of “How many more times” in which they enquire solemnly, how many more times will you see the moon?

This is expansive ambitious music which repays repeated listening, there are fewer obvious pop singles than on earlier albums but “A new thing”, available pre release as a free download on the website is a contender, closing the Album on an upbeat note. My favourite though is ” Just like everyone else”(one thing you cant say about Field Music who are  quite unique) a trademark nagging bassline and insistent drumbeat which put me in mind of Secret Machines masterpiece “What used to be French”

This is a wonderful record- Classic Field Music, the same but different to what they have done before. If you like it look out for Brewis solo efforts; David released “Sea from shore” under the name School of Language in 2008 and Peter released an album under the name “The week that was”  the same year

This year, a new Peter Brewis solo work “One copy” can only be heard at The Lauriston Gallery in Sale(until January 17th), because there is only one copy…………now maybe that is a little bit pretentious?

Field Music release new album ‘Plumb‘ on the 13th of February on Memphis Industries.