Stuart Turner & The Flat Earth Society – The Gentlemen’s Club 10” EP

The Gentlemen’s Club by Stuart Turner & The Flat Earth Society
The Gentlemen’s Club by Stuart Turner & The Flat Earth Society

I first saw Stuart Turner perform a solo acoustic support to The Spitfire Three at The Command House in Chatham, one of the Medway Towns, some years ago now.  The night also included singer-songwriter Kris Dolomore, also playing solo and acoustic.  All three performances played homage to the blues; and what struck me then about Stuart Turner was his use of chord structures – not a straight, obvious and somewhat tedious appreciation of the blues, but one with a less common, interesting twist.

That night he stole my attention.  And if to compliment his chord structures, Stuart sang with the deepest, gravel-infested sore and jagged voice I had ever heard sung live.  Think Howlin’ Wolf and Brian Blessed in a meat raffle. Got it?  Then consider how the most mild-mannered, quietly spoken individual can perform with such a deep, powerful voice without the need for throat lozenge sponsorship.

Stuart Turner has continued to impress and grow his audience over the past few years with the charmingly titled Flat Earth Society.  They play a lo-fi garage folk blues with dirt on its wheels and a monkey or two on its back. Not for the clean shaven or pseudo-folk fans of Mumford & Sons, this is down and gritty music for real men who drink real ale.

The Gentlemen’s Club is a four track 10” vinyl only release, their second EP, that was originally planned as an accompaniment to their recently released third album, The Art and Science of Phrenology. But for one reason and another it was delayed and now finds itself getting an official standalone release.

Stuart conducts, growls and plays guitar on all songs but ‘Pier Road’, which is written and sung by Rob Shepherd, while he also picks a beautiful sounding banjo and strums the mandolin. Bob Collins adds gusto and electric guitar. While Nick Rice (bass) and Steven Moore (drums) create a tight rhythm section.

Midlife Catharsis carries a country rock vibe, more uptempo than the others; and has me thinking of Captain Beefheart in an ‘Ice Cream For Crows’ moment. There’s an offbeat, wackiness about this that I love. Brilliant!  I really love this song. It has a great catchy tune, lovely twanging banjo that work perfectly with the guitars; and Stuart’s vocals pull the whole thing together perfectly.

Stuart Turner & The Flat Earth Society perform blues drenched country folk songs with deep-crusted feeling with meaningful and heartfelt stories that have them shine brightly with a distinctive sound all of their own.

The Gentlemen’s Club by Stuart Turner & The Flat Earth Society is available as a 10” vinyl only release on Vacilando ’68 recordings and is available from www.stfes.com & www.vacilando68.org.

Side 1:
Midlife Catharsis
Odyssey

Side 2:
Pier Road
Migratory

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The Church of Louvin: The Louvin Brothers Sacred Songs, album review

The Church of Louvin: The Louvin Brothers Sacred Songs
The Church of Louvin: The Louvin Brothers Sacred Songs

I first heard of the Louvin Brothers while scanning the writing credits of the ByrdsSweethearts of the Rodeo album, the 1968 album that shocked the counter culture to its knees by embracing what seemed at the time to be outdated, anachronistic music associated with crushingly unfashionable conservative values. Yet the mastermind behind that album, Gram Parsons could credibly claim greater kinship with Keith Richard and Jim Morrison than with Barry Goldwater or Billy Graham.

So what gave? You need to listen, more than once, open mouthed, to Gram singing said Louvin Brothers song “The Christian Life” without a trace of irony to understand how for him the personal, the traditional, the importance of ‘roots’ transcended any perceived politics.

Ira and Charlie Louvin (nee Loudermilk) were born in the 1920s in poverty in the Appalachian Mountains in the Baptist tradition. Although they started out playing and singing gospel they found fame writing straight non-religious country pop had a string of top ten US hits in the 1950s, surviving the onslaught of rock n roll with ease.

This CD brings together two of their albums from the same era that were comprised entirely of religious songs. The style is predominantly country bluegrass as you might expect with vocals that hark back to their gospel origins. The vocals here aren’t particularly soulful but they are heartfelt and those close harmonies that, when delivered by brothers, as with the Everlys and the Wilsons, seem to have that extra bit of magic.

You certainly can’t ignore the lyrics and I guess you’re either going to be put off by them or not. Songs titles like “Nearer My God To Thee”. “Lord I’m Coming Home” and the surprisingly upbeat “Satan Lied To Me” give you all the clues you need. They certainly battled with their own personal Satans. Ira was a noted violent alcoholic, known to smash his mandolin during performances in genuine anger.

However the songs essentially deal with the same range of topics on the human condition that most modern music has done since, only that it’s done through the prism that they know, the one of their religion. What really comes across is that these songs are intensely personal. There is no tubthumping aggressive religious morality here, just humble, modest expressions of personal joy and pain.

The Church of Louvin: The Louvin Brothers Sacred Songs is available on the Righteous record label and is distributed and marketed by Cherry Red.

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Robert Plant – Band Of Joy Album & European Tour

Robert Plant releases his ninth solo album, Band Of Joy
Robert Plant releases his ninth solo album, Band Of Joy

This month Robert Plant releases his ninth solo album, Band Of Joy.  The title taken from the name of a group he was in with John Bonham before both joined John Paul Jones & Jimmy Pages to tour the USA as the New Yardbirds, subsequently renaming the band Led Zeppelin. The rest is history!

Led Zeppelin became the biggest rock, loudest, heaviest heavy rock group in the world and Robert Plant had a voice to match.  The band continued their phenomenal global success until the untimely death of John Bonham in 1980.  Since then Robert Plant has refused to tour as Led Zeppelin and only played a handful of one-off gigs for charity and friends.  Instead he has continued to broaden his music horizons releasing both solo albums and collaborating with artists from many music genres.

In 1994 he recorded and toured the critically-acclaimed No Quarter with Jimmy Page.  The album was mainly acoustic and influenced by folk rather than blues rock, and included a great version of Led Zeppelin’s Gallows Pole.

In 2007 Robert Plant collaborated with bluegrass-country singer Alison Krauss to release the Grammy Award-winning Raising Sands, bizarrely voted Best Album of 2009.

On his official Robert Plant website, he explains why he named the latest album after one of his first groups:

“In the Band of Joy, when I was seventeen, I was playing everybody else’s stuff and moving it around, and it’s kind of…time to reinvoke that attitude and sentiment.”

Band Of Joy is similar in parts to the acoustic-led No Quarter and sees Robert Plant return to his musical roots.  Accompanied by guitars both acoustic and electric, as well as mandolin and banjo, the Band Of Joy themselves produce a perfect traditional, organic folk music; and the steel-guitar on tracks like Harm Swift Way & Falling In Love Again give the album an authentic country ingredient.

But the album twists and turns from folk and country-inspired blues to the dark & moody Monkey, with its controlled feedback and distorted electric guitar, reminiscent of Bauhaus and guitarist Daniel Ash; and then there’s Silver Rider with its verses like a calm ocean before a distorted guitar comes crashing like stormy waves on jagged rocks.

Praise must be given to Robert Plant as he still looks to widen his musical output rather than succumb to reforming Led Zeppelin and playing for easy money.

Robert PlantBand Of Joy Track listing:
1.    Angel Dance
2.    House of Cards
3.    Central Two-0-Nine
4.    Silver Rider
5.    You Can’t Buy My Love
6.    Falling In Love Again
7.    The Only Sound That Matters
8.    Monkey
9.    Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday
10.    Harm’s Swift Way
11.    Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down
12.    Even This Shall Pass Away

Robert Plant European Tour 2010

In October Robert Plant and his Band Of Joy embark on an eleven date tour of Europe.
Robert Plant European Tour dates include UK concerts in Edinburgh, Gateshead, Liverpool, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester & Belfast.

14th October
Annext, Stockholm, Sweden

16th October
Sentrum Scene, Oslo, Norway

18th October
Edinburgh, Usher Hall

20th October
Gateshead, The Sage

21st October
Liverpool, The Olympia

24th October
Paris– Palais De Sports, France

26th October
St David’s Hall, Cardiff

27th October
Symphony Hall, Birmingham

31st October
Palace Theatre, Manchester

1st November
Olympia, Dublin, Ireland

2nd November
Waterfront Hall, Belfast

Robert Plant Tickets

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Latitude Festival 2010

Florence & The Machine @ Latitude Festival 2010
Florence & The Machine @ Latitude Festival 2010 photo: ryanmasonimaging.com

The Latitude Festival is much more than a music festival with a broad range of arenas, stages and tents offering theatre, poetry, film, dance, literature and music.  But for this review I will concentrate on my Latitude Festival 2010 music highlights.

As with previous years, many festival goers and keen campers began to arrive on the Thursday, but more so this year, possibly caused by the late additions of Nigel Kennedy and Tom Jones opening the Latitude Festival with Thursday performances.  Unable to attend I can only go on what I heard.  The festival was noticeably busy and Nigel Kennedy’s set on the Lake Stage was well received whereas many were disappointed as they couldn’t get near the small Sunrise Stage, set in the middle of the woods for Tom Jones’ midnight performance; and furthermore were bemused when the set introduced songs from his new album and did not include any of his classic hits.

With seventeen stages, tents, arenas and other impromptu performances over four days it was always going to be difficult to timetable seeing everything we wanted to, even for two reviewers; and some attractions were so popular, such as the Inbetweeners press conference and screening of Four Lions followed by a Q&A with writer, director and comic genius Chris Morris that we couldn’t even get into the Film & Music Arena to review!

Of the music stages I mainly frequented just three: the Obelisk or Main Arena, the Word Arena and deep in the woods, the Sunrise Arena.

The Obelisk Stage is big and open and on Friday night was headlined by Florence & the Machine.  It was their first major festival headliner and Florence’s performance, voice and stage presence was very warmly received.  At the same time The National headlined the Word Arena.  Set under canvas, in a more confined space the music was darker, deeper and altogether more compelling.  The audience was clearly divided between pop mistress and the broody baritone vocals of Matt Berninger and the post-gothic but surprisingly upbeat sound of The National.  For me, The National won the day with a great set including songs from their new album, High Violet.

One of the highlights of the whole festival was witnessing The National perform of their current single, Bloodbuzz Ohio.  More than merely watching or listening, this was all about ‘being there’. The sound, performance and atmosphere were perfect.

Before Florence & the Machine, Empire of the Sun gave a larger than life performance on the main stage complete with dance routines and various costume changes. While the Sunrise Arena hosted a lively performance from the wonderful Tokyo Police Club who were well received by a large crowd, many of which were familiar with songs from their 2008 debut Elephant Shell and the new album, Champ. They finished the set with a seismic version of Your English Is Good.  At times Tokyo Police Club remind me of Luna, The Pixies and The Strokes.  And yes, they are that good!

On Saturday the main stage played host to the return of Belle & Sebastian, though The Word Arena won the battle of the stages with performances from Noah & The Whale, The Horrors and The XX.  I was looking forward to seeing The Horrors after missing a low key show in June.  But I have to say the sound let them down; an engineer who had too much bass vibration and not enough vocal or noisy guitar in the mix.  That said The Horrors still put in a good performance.

The problem with the full-on bass was accentuated with The XX.  One of my sons decided not to stay for The XX.  He explained afterwards that he had left early because the bass was so loud it was stopping him from breathing!

The Word Arena was too small for The XX and the crowd was heaving and not helped by a constant stream of drunken teenagers constantly pushing through and treading on my toes.  As far as I saw, The XX played to the largest crowd in the Word Arena, while the biggest crowd for the main stage goes to Mumford & Sons for their massive performance on Sunday afternoon.

The Gentleman’s Dub Club played a late midnight set on the Sunrise Stage in the woods with a great energetic dub reggae set with some good time ska pick-me-ups.  It drew a large crowd of all ages. Teenagers’ pogoing to the up-tempo ska beats while middle-aged men reminded themselves of the skinhead moonstomp, from back in the day.  A great performance, coupled with a perfect sound.  Pockets of strange smelling cigarettes kept people smiling and dancing well into the wee small hours.  Loving dub reggae as I do, Gentleman’s Dub Club was a real highlight for me and a band I must go and see again, soon.

By Sunday I was becoming weary and needed something light and easy listening.  For that, Midlake performing their 1970s flavoured laid back country rock was a perfect anecdote; and was a pleasant surprise as this was an introduction to their music.  But before them were Mumford & Sons followed by Dirty Projectors.

I can only assume Mumford & Sons were booked to play Sunday afternoon way before their success blossomed.  I knew they would attract a crowd but the main arena was solid. They played songs from their Sigh No More album and the crowd jigged and sang along.  Their contemporary brand of English folk music was appreciated as much as the cider and was loved by pretty much everyone present.

Always looking like drawing the short straw, The Big Pink played the Word Arena while all but a handful of people crammed in to watch Mumford & Sons.  They were plagued by sound and technical problems and though they were making an impressive noise, the songs appeared lifeless and empty of quality.  Something was missing, and it wasn’t just an audience!

Following the folk and cider sing-a-long of the Mumford & Sons set was never going to be easy, but could not have been more of a polar opposite than the challenging anti-pop music of Dirty Projectors.  I have to be honest the album didn’t do much for me at all on first listen and so was not given a second; and I was only here as I was at a loose end and a friend was keen to see if they could pull it off live.  And they did.  The crowd may have dwindled to about a third of Mumford & Sons but that was to be expected.  They gave a stunning performance, considering.

Dirty Projectors are an experimental rock band from based in New York and led by Dave Longstreth. The music is best described as Captain Beefheart in its complexity and multi-faceted cacophony of simultaneous rhythms.  While the guitarist and main singer Dave Longstreth showed nervous twitching mannerisms of Tom Verlaine and the deranged stares of a young David Byrne, vocals also come from the three female voices of Amber Coffman (vocals, guitar), Angel Deradoorian (vocals, keyboard, samples, guitar, bass) and Haley Dekle (vocals).  The Dirty Projectors line-up is completed by bass and drums. Looking back on the weekend this performance, along with Midlake was two of the best for me as I had no expectations.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart didn’t disappoint.  I love this band.  Four young kids from New York who admit to have listened to jangly 1980’s British indie pop until they were able to perfect the sound of the debut My Bloody Valentine album.  Their set at the Sunrise Arena was another lesson in perfect pop. Three minute bubblegum pop led by thrashing buzzsaw guitars, manic drumming and sugar-coated twee vocals with boy- girl harmonies.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart mixed a couple of new tracks in with songs from their much-acclaimed self-titled debut album which appeared in many end of year ‘best albums of 2009’ lists.

They were my music highlights from the fifth Latitude Festival. I don’t have much to say about the other main stage headline acts Belle & Sebastian or Vampire Weekend.  I’ll leave that for someone else.

On reflection the festival was as good as ever if not at times too busy and soured by the constant stream of pissed teenagers that appear to have come with mummy and daddy, only to be left to wander round the music stages treading on toes and pushing through attentive crowds while their parents were probably in the literary or poetry tents sipping wine.  It was also shocking to hear while driving away from the festival that the police were investigating two charges of rape on 17 and 19 year old girls, felt not to be connected.

Each year Latitude is a success it becomes more popular.  But personally I believe the festival organisers, Festival Republic, should consider what will be lost if the best small festival in the UK outgrows that category.

Hey Negrita release unplugged fourth album

Hey Negrita fourth album, 'Burn The Whole Place Down'
Hey Negrita fourth album, 'Burn The Whole Place Down'

Hey Negrita release unplugged fourth album, Burn The Whole Place DownA Real Live Acoustic Smoke Out.

Transatlantic country folk band Hey Negrita release their fourth studio album; a stripped-down, unplugged, melody-enriched twelve track acoustic album.

To record Burn The Whole Place Down, Hey Negrita purposely decided to switch off their amps, pair down the drums and step away from their raucous live sound.  The idea behind the album was to see how many songs they could record in one five hour session, without overdubs or edits.  The result is a beautiful country folk album akin to the very best Mtv ‘unplugged’ performances.

Singer-songwriter Felix Bechtolsheimer explains: “We put down our electric guitars, turned off the amps and stripped back the drums.  We just sat, in a circle, and put some microphones up. We didn’t even bother with headphones.  We wanted to capture the raw energy of one of our live performances while preserving the intimacy of how we sound when we’re jamming in the kitchen.”

But anyone who has recently witnessed a Hey Negrita live performance should be aware this album may be their most diverse to date, but it is also sees Hey Negrita in a much more relaxed, quieter mood; a sound that allows the melody and lyrical content to filter through in a stronger way than during their powerful live shows.

The Burn The Whole Place Down album sound is somewhere between the sound of Gaslight Anthem and Bob Dylan and includes the singles One Mississippi and the title track, Burn The Whole Place Down.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeCqIU520us&feature=PlayList&p=75FA2DC935A2831A&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=5

Hey Negrita Burn The Whole Place DownA Real Live Acoustic Smoke Out is now available on Fat Fox Records.

1. Burn The Whole Place Down
2. Room Service
3. One Mississippi
4. Rope
5. Here I Come
6. Cold
7. Nine To Five
8. Can’t Walk Away
9. Devil In My Shoes
10. Kathmandu
11. Lay Me Down
12. Fishin’

For more information visit www.myspace.com/heynegrita