A bitterly cold weekend with intermittent snow – actual proper snow that we’re not used in the soft south – in a city that, if judged purely aesthetically, is always going to struggle to fight off being described as ‘brutal’ may not be considered a classic way to mark a significant birthday (as I have been repeatedly told this year apparently is) but it proved, in all ways, just about a perfect way to do just that.
I can only imagine what motivates the fine folk such as Pop South to organise events like these – it certainly won’t be the money. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of looking round a packed hall where people are obviously having a massively good time while the finest bands around churn out fab tune after fab tune, knowing that they made it happen. Whatever it is, long may it continue, as it allows those of us lucky enough to be able to get along to escape from reality for a few days. I don’t know about you but I need things like this to sustain me through the grind of everyday life.
Friday night’s openers were Joyce Delaney, a three-piece with bags of energy and enthusiasm, who made an early claim for the coveted ‘best looking bass of the weekend’ award. Chuck in a mass of enthusiasm, confidence, audience interaction and clap-a-long songs and we were definitely on to an early winner. In my excitement to capture my thoughts, my rapidly scrawled notes from their set included what appear to be the words “familiar pluty rap ham”, for no obvious reason. It was a only slightly gloomy in there and I was only on my first pint at this stage so I have no idea what I was moved to write down or why it ended up as it did. Perhaps they could write a song with that title and I’ll look like I was just ahead of the game, rather than a bit of an arse?
Jutland Songs took over and their fuller and more powerful sound kept the mood of optimism sustained. However, they lacked the confidence and attitude of the openers and were subsequently more of a slow burner than their short set really allowed for.
The splendidly named Breakfast Muff gave us masses of chorusy-fuzz, played for periods with their backs to the audience and swapped instruments at the drop of a plectrum. Two chorded noisy pop songs delivered with a sledgehammer force are pretty much irresistible and I lapped them up.
I’d seen The Tuts before and been underwhelmed by them, although that was a few years ago. Times move on and they blew me away here, though. Singer/guitarist Nadia led them through their excellent Clash-esque set with barely time to draw breath. I’m sure there couldn’t have been a toe in the room that remained untapped as they put every ounce of their heart and soul into the performance.
They are recording their debut album at the moment and need your help to pay for it. They have a Pledge website where you can choose just how far you’re prepared to go to support their efforts. I’ve chipped in and look forward to hearing the album: I recommend you do the same. We really do need to cherish and support bands like them, as we do for all the acts that played this weekend and other events like it, whenever and wherever they are.
I haven’t been to Camden Town on a Saturday afternoon for many years. But I assume nothing has changed in that, the bars, shops and market stalls attract a cosmopolitan mix of bohemians, wannabies, has-beens and tourists looking for fake Michael Jackson Thriller leather jackets and bootlegged music. I love Camden for all of the above reasons. Well, maybe not the leather jackets!
But on Saturday 30th May, for one day only, Camden Town is congested with more music fans than tourists looking to buy an alternative look. The pavements are not only full of overspill from the pubs and bars but music lovers wearing Camden Rocks wristbands.
Camden Rocks Festival is a one day festival without fields, mud, enormous traffic jams down small country lanes, or the need to sleep rough (though this is optional). One wrist band allows entry to a 20 venues in Camden where no less than 200 bands play from midday to midnight followed by an after show party.
The venues range from small bars hastily rearranged to accommodate bands and small intimate crowds to the 1,000 capacity Electric Ballroom where the main headline is Bullet For My Valentine, who some have no doubt paid the £30 wristband entry price for alone.
Throughout the day there was a plethora of performances for a wide spectrum of rock fans. Whether revisiting your youth with the likes of old-time punks Anti-Nowhere League, loving the big hair of Michael Monroe & Gun, reliving the sound of The Ramones 1-2-3-4 thrash with the Richie Ramone band, chicken-dancing along to the recently reformed New Model Army or looking out for something new that may just kick on to bigger things, so if nothing else you can tell everyone you saw them when they were playing a gig to a handful of punters, one in a deep sea diver outfit in a Cuban cocktail bar!
No doubt many were hoping Glen Matlock would offer up a rousing set of Sex Pistols favourites. After all, he was responsible for writing the music for the best of Pistols songs. But like all of us, he is much older now; and stepped onto the stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar.
As with all festivals, choosing what to see and what to miss out on, is the most difficult part of the day. That, and attempting to stick to a plan. My plan was to get to Camden as early as possible and take in all 20 venues while undertaking short snippets of as many performances as I could and ending the day watching unsigned band The Parade @ Belushi’s and a few other headline acts. Unfortunately I failed miserably.
I was fortunate enough to be given a heads up by a PR company that Asylums would be playing The Cuban @ 4pm and that maybe I should check them out. I did, and definitely wasn’t disappointed. It was unfortunate for them and the punters that were unaware of just how exciting they were, that they played to only a handful of people. Their enthusiastic ‘ants-in-yer-pants’, pro-active and powerful performance was both exciting and mesmerising. Michael Webster (bass) and Henry Tyler (drums) keep things tight while Luke Branch (Vocals and guitar), Jazz Miell (guitar) jump about the small stage like two rabid psychiatric patients. At one point Luke jumps off stage and on to an innocent photographer, while Jazz throws himself around, pulling contorted faces akin to Stephen Merchant being consumed by Alien.
The songs are fast and furious. Think Weezer meets Lemonheads. Bubblegum punk pop at its very best. This performance deserves a much bigger crowd today. But I have no doubt Asylums will be playing much bigger venues and sold out shows once word gets out. Their set includes their current single, ‘Wet Dream Fanzine‘ and the familiar sounding, toe-tapping, sing-a-long ‘Joy In A Small Wage‘.
One of the best names in rock is without doubt …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. With the release of last year’s ninth album, simply titles ‘IX’ they have a large and devoted following. They had already started by the time I had finished talking to Asylums and walked down to an almost full Electric Ballroom. I’m not too familiar with their hardcore American rock. But judging by the size and participation of the audience, they still rock… hard!
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead were tight, heavy, loud and very professional. This is not the kind of music I would normally listen to and certainly not see live; and that’s the beauty of an event like the Camden Rocks Festival. It allows someone like me to walk in off the street and take it all in without prejudice to witness music and see bands performing I would otherwise not get to experience.
Headliners across 19 of the 20 venues were as followers: No Sugar @ The Enterprise, Turbowolf (upstairs) & The Hyena Kill (downstairs) @ Barfly, Skarlett Riot @ The Stillery, Jettblack (Monarch), Michael Monroe @ Proud, Menswear @ The Cuban, Red House Glory @ Hawley Arms, Funeral For A Friend (main) & IC1’s (canal side bar) @ Dingwalls, Masakichi @ Fifty-Five, B-Movie Thieves @ Good Mixer, Black Moth @ Black Heart, Skindred @ Underworld, Rob Lynch @ Brewdog, Buffalo Summer @ Purple Turtle, New Model Army @ Jazz Cafe, The Parade @ Belushi’s and Bullet For My Valentine @ Electric Ballroom.
To end the day, my original plan was to take in several headlining shows by making a quick dash between around Camden Town taking advantage of the fact that most punters would choose one or another and the route between each one would be fairly quiet. I was keen to hear a song or two from the likes of The Parade, New Model Army, Funeral For A Friend and Bullet for My Valentine. But this is where the plan fell down. Blame solely rests with The Parade for playing such an amazing set!
The Parade are an unsigned band I have seen live before. They play powerful pop ballads, full of dark storytelling tales that, like their live performances are full of grit, intensity, and edginess. There’s a feeling anything can happen about their edgy shows. The band includes a backdrop of bass, drums and keyboards to the sexual chemistry between Matt Pritchard (aka Lupen Crook) and Jemimah Dean. They share vocal duties while Pritchard plays guitar and Dean, percussion. They command the stage and play the songs with sexual tension that has the audience transfixed. Their set includes last year’s single ‘Connector‘ and songs from a forthcoming debut album.
Blame The Parade for playing such a wonderfully tight and exciting set that I didn’t get to headliner hop round the venues at this year’s Camden Rock Festival. But I’m glad I saw them, as like Asylums I won’t be expecting to see them play such small venues for long.
On Saturday 31st January, I attended my first music festival of the year. The Shhh London Festival has been going for several years now and is a celebration of “Quiet Music” kicking against the noise-mongers and chattering gig-goers alike.
The Shhh Festival has been staged in London, Glasgow and Leeds, and this year returns to the idyllic, quaint and perfect setting of Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead north London. The church doors opened at midday with the music starting at 1pm. If I’m being honest, a whole day of so-called “Quiet Music” amongst an audience of chin-stroking Jazz Club-esque purveyors of all things Folk, would I thought, have me rushing home to play Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine at full blast. But then again, I don’t know what constitutes “quiet music”. The first impression is of acoustics only, beards, folk music, beards, acoustic guitars, beards and songs of drinking around a campfire protesting about nuclear power and capitalism; and as it happened, as far as this celebration of Quiet Music goes, I was wrong.
The day was well organised alternately using two stages which helped the continuity of the event. No long intermissions waiting for the drummer to put his 32-piece kit together and individually gets each drum to sound ‘just right’ through a mixing desk the size of a small caravan. Upstairs, artists adorned a small stage while the audience sat on uncomfortable pews. While downstairs, a small stage was set in front of clusters of chairs around candlelit tables, giving the appearance of a coffee shop or folk club, while food and drink was served from a small kitchen to the rear. However, I unfortunately missed Pip Mountjoy who, I learned later, performed on a different stage to the one advertised to accommodate for an artist turning up without a piano. As running orders were freely available I think more could have been done to notify the audience of the changes.
There were plenty of beards and acoustic guitars. But it wasn’t long before the first electric guitars and drums stretched the boundaries of singer-songwriter folk ‘quiet music’ to include a much darker, moodier sound; and it’s here where I learn the ‘Quiet Music’ label is a state of mind and rather less restrictive than I had otherwise anticipated. “Quiet Music is music you need to listen to” someone told me “something that because of its very nature needs to be listened to.”
Whereas I understand that explanation, I’m not sure it’s a strong enough concept to create a genre defining ground rule. Especially as the music gathered together for this year’s Shhh Festival could at best, very loosely fit under a folk umbrella.
Of the performances I managed to catch, three stood out as pretty much perfect in every way. Aaron Fyfe performed naked but for some clothes, a hat, full beard, a beautiful sounding, well travelled acoustic guitar and his powerful, gritty voice. Fyfe’s songs tell stories of hardship, pain and lost loves in such a poetic way for such a young man. Stripped to the bone, Fyfe played and sung his heart out; and in doing so, gave a very powerful and somewhat emotional performance to the very appreciative audience that had gathered especially.
The penultimate act of the day was Lowpines, a solo project of Oli Deakin. With a distinct lack of acoustic guitars and beards, Oli Deakin took to the stage with his fender guitar, amp and array of effects pedals to play lo-fi alt country songs with Englishness all of its own. The songs are gentle while Deakin’s voice is whispered and fragile. Acoustic harmonies between guitar reverb and church organ give the songs a haunting, peaceful beauty. Deakin invites fellow musician Lyla Foy to join him on stage for a few songs, and a great set just gets better. Their voices perfectly entwine, as do two effect-saturated guitars, but not so much when Lyla switched to bass. Lowpines are making waves and no doubt after this performance managed to sell out of the self-produced orange-coloured cassette tapes they were selling along with other artists CDs and vinyl.
The headline act for this year’s Shhh Festival was Wooden Arms. A piano is pushed towards centre-stage and makes room for a cellist and violinist to hug one side of the stage. While on the other, a drummer is accompanied by vocalist and part-time bass player who also plays an occasional small keyboard of sorts. Centre-stage stands a guitarist with a trumpet at his feet and a microphone stand. With the pianist, there are three vocalists. Their harmonies are angelic and to die for, the songs exquisite and their performance totally mesmerising.
Wooden Arms fuse chamber music with a contemporary folk-edged freshness. Nothing of the like, of which I have heard before. I am left dazed with their performance like a rabbit in headlights. It is a fitting way to be left as I file out of the Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead into the bitterly cold winters night. For me, the Shhh Festival celebrating Quiet Music was very much a success and well worth every minute.
Aaron Fyfe is a 26 year old multi-talented Glaswegian. His many talents include being a folk music singer, songwriter, skateboarder and surfer. Fortunately his music cannot be described as folk meets surf!
On 23 February he follows his recent double a-sided single ‘Campfires’ / ‘Love That’s Lost’ with his debut album simply entitled 10 Songs on the Glasgow start up label Tentman.
Like the album title, much of Aaron Fyfe’s music is stripped down, bare and honest. His voice transparent and warm is full of emotion. The songs tell of loneliness, loss, a few highs but mainly lows and despair. Aaron Fyfe has the ability to draw you in with his ability to write a great tune and tell an absorbing tale, especially on a cold winter’s night.
Listening to the sadness of ‘Love That’s Lost’ I get the sense he is sharing intimate feelings as we hold on to the bar, sipping whisky and forgetting, rather than performing for the madding crowd. In amongst a healthy revival of folk music, Fyfe stands out. Sincerity and good songs, like cream, will always rise to the top.
10 Songs is going to be one of the Best Albums of the Year 2015.
The album starts with both single tracks ‘Campfires’ and a personal favourite, ‘Love That’s Lost’. The other 8 songs include ‘All These Days of Changing’, a song co-written with Echo & The Bunnymen guitarist Gordy Goudie and co-produced by Gordy Goudie, David Thomas and Teenage Fanclub’s Francis Macdonald. The song is more upbeat, backed with a full band, given a commercial production; and if any is the track that could propel Fyfe into the big top stage of commercial folk pop with the likes of The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons; while the tracks ‘Something Real’ and ‘Dirty Glass’ err towards a hazy, warmer alt country sound akin to Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams. These songs don’t lose any integrity or passion, but gain from growing a solo performance to a fuller, more expansive sound.
On the forthcoming single ‘Rocking Chair’, the sound is stripped right back once more. Fyfe plays a simple yet catchy tune while his voice leads the listener through gentle and powerful waves of emotion. Simple, effective, absorbing and intense, in poetically beautiful equal measures.
10 Songs isn’t just one man and his guitar, though the emphasis is on one young man’s voice, his acoustic guitar and the way in which he lays bare his life and soul.
Listening to 10 Songs, it’s somewhat difficult to appreciate that Aaron Fyfe is only 26. He performs and writes with such character and experience. But this is a man whose life is all to do with performing music. Having lived in York, Manchester, Edinburgh and Newquay as well as spending a year in a shed, Aaron travels to play music and plays music to travel, as he continually tours the UK in a beat up customized camper van playing, he suggests, wherever there is an audience.
Folk music is no longer a dirty word, something to be ignored. In fact it’s cool! You don’t have to grow a beard to appreciate it, but it helps!
10 songs by Aaron Fyfe is a cracking uber cool debut album that should be the start of a great 2015 for one of the UK’s most talented new folk music artists.
Aaron Fyfe will be performing at Shhh Festival at Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead, London on Saturday 31st January, 2015.
Aaron Fyfe releases debut album 10 Songs on 23 February 2015 via the Tentman label.
SHHHLondon is the celebration of quiet music in Hampstead‘s picturesque Heath Street Baptist Church. Be welcomed to a contemplative day dedicated to some of the best new music around. It was developed by London music hub The Local and visual artist Luke Drodz.
Already in it’s eighth year, this year’s line-up includes a wide spectrum of beautiful music and very interesting ideas. SHHH London opens at midday on Saturday 31st January.
SHHH London 2015 Line-up:
SHHH London 2015
Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampsted, NW3