Music Roundup: March/early April 2023

Thought I’d try a different approach to concert reviews and other musical reflections, having a round up from time to time rather than trying to write up each concert individually. I might make exceptions for some really big names – like Bruce in July this year – while the festivals are of course round ups in themselves. I’ve three festivals planned for this year at the moment: Wide Awake at the end of May, Latitude in July and End of the Road in August/September.

So let’s start with some of the things I’ve been listening to recently. It’s been a bit retro over the past month or so, with something of a U2 revival. That was sparked by the Murder Capital, who I saw in late February. I mentioned in my review of that concert that I heard a bit of U2 in their music – the best of U2. The period which encompassed The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and Zooropa. What great records they are: the peak of U2’s first cycle, culminating in the epic Joshua Tree, and then what I think of as the band’s Berlin period, although I’m not sure all that much of the music was actually recorded in Berlin in the end. It was probably when Eno’s influence was at its height, with more use of electronics and a darker, more alienated feel to many of the songs. In that respect there’s some connection with David Bowie’s Berlin period: Low and Heroes especially, though The Lodger has its moments, and you can also bring the earlier Station to Station into the equation. And for completeness, add a bit of Iggy Pop: the best tracks from The Idiot and Lust of Life. It makes for a great playlist: U2, Bowie, Iggy, a bit of Kraftwerk – a strong influence on them all – and for good measure some Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. That’s been my latest listening – called Berlin, of course. It’s a notion.

I also found myself wanting U2 on in the background as I read Bono’s autobiography Surrender. It’s a very good read, and I’ll return to it alongside a couple of other music bios I’ve read recently. Watch this space…

A lot of my other listening has been based around concerts I’ve been to, notably Biig Piig, Jadu Heart and the Orielles. I’ve been to seven in all since the beginning of March, so let’s move onto those.

In Her Words at the Barbican, 8 March

This was a celebration of International Women’s Day, with artists mainly from the jazz/ soul world. The headliner was Maddison Cunningham, whom I assumed was from that world too. The other artists were Rosie Frater-Taylor, Tara Lily, Tyson and Tawiah. I’d heard a bit of Tara Lily recently, and really liked her voice, while Tawiah took me back to a great song from 2010 called Watch Out, which I’d first heard on one of Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Bubblers compilations. It’s an anguished piece of jazzy soul, reflecting the anxiety of an affair that is getting too deep.

The evening was split into two, with the first four artists sharing the first half, and Maddison Cunningham taking over after the interval. Rosie Frater-Taylor was solo, just her and her guitar. She was good, but only had time for two songs. Tara Lily was next and she managed three! She played keys and was accompanied by a sitar player. Her music is rooted in jazz, but spans the globe. I loved her sung version of John Coltrane’s Naima, with the sitar gently propelling the song. That’s on her most recent EP, Last Flight Out. It includes a version of Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain, too. The highlight of the evening, for me.

Tyson followed – four songs for her! Accompanied by a console, she sang modern soul in the vein of Jorja Smith. I liked it. And then Tawiah, who performed a cycle of new songs, moving from birth to death, with key life events in between. It was powerful, if a little contrived. I preferred the stark simplicity of Watch Out, though in fairness that was a long time ago.

Maddison Cunningham walked on with a band and electric guitar, and proceeded to play a set of rock music with a hint of folk and a touch of jazziness in the guitar playing. In that respect I was reminded of Ryley Walker, who I’ve enjoyed a couple of times at End of the Road. I can’t say it was what I expected, but I hadn’t done my homework! It was entertaining and went down well with the audience, who were mostly there to see her, I suspect.

So, a bit of a mixed bag, but all enjoyable. Main follow-ups for me will be Tara Lily – who’s playing at the Boulevard in Soho on 3 May – and Rosie Frater-Taylor. I’d like to hear a bit more of that guitar.

Gwenifer Raymond at St John on Bethnal Green, 11 March

Gwenifer Raymond has a PhD in astro-physics, designs games by day, and plays American primitive guitar by night. It’s a percussive folk-blues, which has elements of flamenco and imparts a feel of the Welsh mountains. Gwenifor is from Wales, so that’s an easy inference, but there’s something in her playing that reminds me of side two of Led Zeppelin III, which was recorded in Bron-y-Aur. I saw her playing in the woods at End of the Road last year, and she was utterly captivating. She doesn’t say much – her guitar does the talking. She looked a bit lost in the space of the church, but the sound resonated. Check out her 2020 album Strange Lights over Garth Mountain if you’re curious.

Killing Joke at the Royal Albert Hall, 12 March

The day after Gwenifer Raymond – talk about contrasts! Killing Joke were – are – a post punk/goth band whose heyday was in the early 80s. They passed me by at the time, but Dave and Tony were keen to go along. Jon and I were tempted by the pre-concert meal at Polish restaurant Ognisko as much as the music. But it was good – very loud, relentlessly rocking, verging on metal. There was a dramatic video backdrop – all fire, wars, marching. A bit obvious, but a good match for the music. They played most of their key songs – Requiem and Follow the Leaders stood out for me, probably because I’d liked them when I mugged up before the show. Singer Jaz Coleman looked a bit like Ozzy Osbourne from our seats high up in the Raising Circle. Plenty of aging goths were present in the audience. A fun, if ear-bashing evening.

Biig Piig at the Electric Brixton, 23 March

Biig Piig is the stage name for West London-based Irish singer Jessica Smyth. Her concert at Hoxton Hall last November was one of the most enjoyable of the year, combining an irresistible dance energy with jazzy soul, some of which is sung in Spanish, Jessica having lived there as a youngster. Tonight was a repeat of the Hoxton Hall formula, with a bigger audience at the sold out Electric. The crowd seemed more youthful too – I think her popularity is growing, and deservedly so. Once again she got the mix of her older, mellower tunes like Shh, Perdida and Roses and Gold and the more recent bangers just right. And that full-on, engaging energy was never more apparent than when she and the band ramped it up for the mighty Switch. It was the first Biig Piig song I heard, back in 2020; and while it isn’t typical of her sound, it is awesome live. I loved the celebratory sense of Feels Right at the end of the set too. Jessica is having the time of her life and she wants to share it with us. Onward and upward!

A word for support act Yune Pinku. She plays electronic dance, which combines modern beats with an occasional burst of house music. She sings too, though her vocals, which sound good on her recorded output, were rather drowned out by the beats on the night. One to watch.

Jadu Heart at Islington Assembly, 30 March

I’m a bit late to Jadu Heart. They’ve been going since 2016 and last year’s album Derealised was their third. I heard them for the first time last year when 6 Music played the single I Shimmer a fair amount. It’s a classic bit of melodic 90s shoegaze, complete with anthemic guitars, and I’m a sucker for that sound! So when I saw they were playing Islington Assembly, which is a great venue – really well turned out compared with most – I thought I’d give it a go. Wise move, because it sold out pretty quickly. They’re a duo – Diva Jeffrey and Alex Headford – with backing band. They’re not all shoegaze – there is a variety of indie rock sounds. Most of the set was from Derealised and 2020’s Hyper Romance, which are both worth a listen. I enjoyed the set, though the sound was a bit murky, and Diva’s keyboards broke down about two thirds of the way through, which naturally disturbed the momentum. Good show, good band though.

Support act gglum, who I saw with Gretel Hänlyn at Bermondsey Social Club last year, played an enjoyable set of indie-pop and got things off to a good start.

Lee Ritenour at Ronnie Scott’s, 3 April

Lee Ritenour is a jazz guitarist, who has been playing professionally since the late 60s. He’s worked with the likes of Dave Grusin and Larry Carlton, and played on Tom Browne’s Funkin’ for Jamaica and even on Pink Floyd’s The Wall! I’d not come across him until a friend, Colin, who is a fan, suggested the gig, and a few of us agreed to go along. Like quite a few artists at Ronnie’s he played two sets that evening and we went along to the 6.30 show. That gave us a chance for a nice dinner afterwards at an excellent tapas place in Soho called Maresco. Rock’n’roll, eh? This was top quality jazz music – mellow for the most part, but hitting a jazz rock vein towards the end, which provided a showcase for his excellent young band, which included his son Wesley on drums. I was particularly impressed by the bassist, Serbian Pera Krstajic: driving the beat, but capable of real intricacy. There’s a nice story attached to this: Lee started a competition called Six String Theory back in 2010 for young guitar players from across the world. It was extended to bass, drums and piano and is now biennial. Pera Krstajic won the bass competition in 2018, and joined Lee’s band soon after. Lee is now 71, and it was great to see him playing with a group of talented young artists, who clearly held him in great regard. United by the love of jazz music.

The Orielles at Electric Brixton, 4 March

The Orielles are sisters Esme Dee and Sidonie Hand-Halford and guitarist Henry Carlyle Wade, from Halifax. You’d classify them as indie rock and there was definitely some of that C86 indie sound in their music when they started, as well as the likes of Orange Juice and 90s indie-dance. But they were always a bit different, combining dreamy melodies with leftfield lyrics and unusual time changes. When I first heard them live, at Latitude in 2018, I was struck both by the elasticity of Esme’s bass playing and the crystalline quality of Henry’s guitar. And he solo’d a lot more than the average indie guitarist, the highlight being the epic guitar workout on early single Sugar Tastes Like Salt. That song has remained a highlight of their live set every time I’ve seen them – until now. They are moving on.

Their third album, Tableau, was released last year. It was a step on from the previous two, debut Silver Dollar Moment and follow up Disco Volador. It was more discursive, abstract even, especially on the first couple of listens. Less driven by the melodies, but with even more variation in sound. Every time I listened to it, more was revealed, and the more interesting it became. So how would it sound live? Well, the answer was brilliant. Most of the set was from Tableau. There was less for the crowd to move to, but I think they were engrossed. I certainly was. Henry really let go with his guitar. Sugar Tastes like Salt was no longer there, but there was plenty to make up for it. And two of the last three songs were genuine crowd-pleasers: Disco Volador and Sunflower Seeds. Everyone went away happy.

The Orielles are a really interesting band, challenging their own previous boundaries. In that respect they are like Radiohead – you never know what will come next, but you know it will be worth giving plenty of attention. Long may it continue!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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8 Responses to Music Roundup: March/early April 2023

  1. Dood says:

    Thanks, John. I took an unusually long time to read this: not because it’s especially long, but simply because the last week or so has been really full on. I wanted to take my time over it, and have done so this morning.

    I like the new approach, with a collection of diverse, bite-sized reviews which you can dip in and out of. (In some cases to explore the music on Spotty.) This batch also includes two gigs where I joined you – Killing Joke and Lee Ritenour – and where your impressions very much mirrored mine. KJ were raucous but fun, and Ritenour polished, amusing, generous, and superbly professional.

    Look forward to future editions of the music blog!

  2. Dood says:

    Forgot to mention that this blog has led me to explore more deeply The Orielles, Biig Piig – and even Yune Pinku!

    • John S says:

      And did you like any of them?

      • Dood says:

        Yes! Enjoyed Biig Piig a lot, especially the more mellow and slightly funky stuff. Less struck by some her more bubblegum vocals.

        I really liked Yune Pinku, for all my usual obvious reasons – driving beats, synths, collaboration with Logic1000….ticked all the boxes.

        I was all over the place with The Orielles. I didn’t much love the early stuff (Bobbi’s Second World, It Makes You Forget, Silver Dollar Moment). I always get a bit antsy about frequent time-signature changes – and yes, I know Radiohead love ’em! – and I thought some of the songs were a bit incoherent, and almost, dare I say it, proggy. But not in a good way.

        But then I did like Disco Volador, albeit in parts; and Tableau seemed a strong step further – a more coherent, assured work, and beautifully produced and executed. So I started a little indifferent to this band, but ended up liking them quite a lot.

      • John S says:

        I love that first album, Silver Dollar Moment. Second is more patchy, I feel. And agree with you on Tableau, which is outstanding. On a different tip, I highly recommend the Jockstrap album, I Love You Jennifer B.

  3. Dood says:

    Forgot to mention that this blog has also led me to explore more deeply The Orielles, Biig Piig – and even Yune Pinku!

  4. Dood says:

    Something a bit weird about WordPress, just very occasionally. The first reply didn’t seem to go through at all, so I repeated the message (not quite verbatim). Then they both went through…….

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