This is the Kit at the Royal Albert Hall, 8 March 2022

 

This is the Kit is a band that plays what you might call alternative folk. It’s the vehicle of the multi-talented Kate Stables, who sings and plays guitars and banjo, with core members Rozi Plain on bass, Neil Smith on lead guitar and Jamie Whitby-Coles on drums. Folk is certainly at the core of the sound, but there’s jazz, some world beats and lyrics that could be part of the psychedelic era.

Neil on left, Kate in black, Rozi in red

I first came across the band in 2015, courtesy of Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music. The song that caught my attention was All in Cahoots, which must have been a single at the time. It was off their album Bashed Out, which was their third, and their most polished by far (as I discovered when listening to its predecessors). Some big hitters connected with Aaron Dessner of The National were involved in the making. All in Cahoots summed up the appeal of This is the Kit to me: a wistful melody, beautifully sung, an insistent guitar strum, some gentle brass and lyrics that that did and didn’t make sense. Let’s call them abstract – you make of them what you will.

Bashed Out became one of my favourite albums of 2015. In fact, I made it No 3 in my Best Of that year. Here’s what I said in my review:

Fronted by singer, banjo player and guitarist Kate Stables, This Is The Kit play the most beautiful, wistful folk, with a modern and occasionally quirky touch. There are hints of John Martyn when they go electric – that really comes out live. Favourite tracks include “In Cahoots”, which is the one that introduced me to the band, and the lovely opener, “Misunderstanding”. That one echoed through my head during our summer holiday in Antibes. It felt right in a place I where had so much time to think and imagine, sitting on the balcony on balmy evenings. This is a wonderful, rather moving album from start to finish.

I’ll still go along with that, especially with the reference to Misunderstanding. I think that remains my favourite This is the Kit song, though there are plenty of contenders.

I first saw the band play at Latitude in 2015, on a stage called Other Voices, along the lake. It was a one-off for that year, Latitude’s tenth festival. The band had almost missed the gig because of a massive traffic jam along the A12 that year – Rozi Plain had a solo set that went by the wayside. They were still a bit flustered when they took to the stage, but soon settled to play a beautiful set of songs. It was then that I realised how powerful Misunderstanding was live, when Neil let rip on the echoey guitar at the end. Very much in the spirit of John Martyn.

Latitude July 2015

I’ve seen the band a few times since: at the Scala, King’s Cross in November 2015; at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in January 2018; and End of the Road in 2018 on the Garden Stage in the sunshine, straight after the metal/punk thrash of Amyl and the Sniffers! A wonderfully soothing comedown that one. All the shows were really satisfying. There was a real quality to the playing, exemplified by Kate Stables herself, switching between acoustic and electric guitar and the banjo.  A new album, 2017’s Moonshine Freeze, took centre stage in those 2018 concerts. It was a bit more upbeat musically and jazzier than Bashed Out, but the quirky lyrics hadn’t gone away – from Nits on Bashed Out to Riddled with Ticks and Solid Grease on Moonshine Freeze. What was Kate trying to say? The funny thing is that if you didn’t pay attention to the lyrics, all three of these songs were just lovely folk tunes.

And so to the Albert Hall, a couple of weeks ago. The concert was originally planned for 2021, as part of the Albert Hall’s 150 year celebrations. The pandemic knocked it back to 2022, and probably allowed for more ticket sales – I didn’t get mine until this year. On the night it was pretty full, if not sold out – it’s a big place for This is the Kit to headline. Kate made that point more than once – she was living the dream being there.

There was another album to accommodate in tonight’s show: 2020’s Off Off On. I must admit, that after a couple of initial listens, I rather dismissed it as more of the same, after the previous two. But I gave it more of a listen beforehand, and started to appreciate it more. And that applied especially to the closing track, Keep Going. It’s a long piece, with some lovely guitar. And a message that resonates in these troubled times. It had to play a part in the night’s proceedings…

We – my wife Kath and I – had great seats, right at the front at the first tier above the stalls. We got there in time for the support act, Jessca Hoop. I’d seen her at Latitude a few years ago on the Sunrise Arena. I like her recorded music, and tonight I thought she was very good, if a bit obsessed with her monitors and the sound. Some wry Californian humour thrown into the mix. She came back for a duet with Kate during This is the Kit’s set.

And then the main attraction. More musicians than ever, with a full brass section, who really did the business. But some lovely solo Kate too – just her and her banjo. Songs mostly from Off Off On and Moonshine Freeze, but Bashed Out still got a look in, with the title track (part of the encore), Silver John and, to my delight, Misunderstanding, as atmospheric as ever. Bullet Proof, from Moonshine Freeze is up there with Misunderstanding for that wistful beauty; and Moonshine Freeze, Hotter Colder (encore) and This is What You Did provided that more upbeat groove, incorporating sounds from around the world. And yes, Keep Going provided a fitting end to the main set.

As with previous concerts, it was a performance of the highest quality. Retaining that essence of folk, but exploring so many other genres, and doing everything just right. On top of that, Kate’s joy at being there was so palpable, and was clearly shared by her bandmates. For them it was a real celebration, and so it was for us, the audience, too.

A wonderful evening of music and celebration. This is the Kit always leave you feeling good about the world.

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Tony Visconti’s Holy Holy at the Barbican, 13 March 2022

Last night was a night of nostalgia, the best sort of nostalgia. A celebration of the music of David Bowie, performed by Holy Holy, a group put together by the great producer Tony Visconti, who worked with Bowie on many of his finest records, from the Man Who Sold the World in 1970, to Bowie’s final album before his death in 2016, Blackstar.

The concert, at the Barbican, was originally scheduled for 2020. Since then Woody Woodmansey, the drummer from the Spiders from Mars, Bowie’s legendary backing band in the early 70s, has dropped out – over covid vaccination issues, according to the press. Last night’s band comprised Visconti himself on bass, Steve “Smiley” Barnard on drums, guitarists James Stevenson and Paul Cuddeford, Janette Mason on keyboards, Visconti’s daughter Jessica Lee Morgan on acoustic guitar, sax and backing vocals, and finally Glenn Gregory on vocals. Glenn made his name as the vocalist for the brilliant 80s electro-pop band Heaven 17, whose hits included Temptation and (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing. Classics, both.

Holy Holy have been playing Bowie songs since 2014, though I must admit I hadn’t come across them until Dave asked if we fancied going to the Barbican show. Their website asserts, “We are not a tribute band; we are the real deal.” Well, maybe they are both: a really good tribute band, but with authentic Bowie connections, primarily through Visconti. And they are all very accomplished musicians – the quality of the performance last night was astounding.

The only thing more astounding was the setlist. It was unbelievably good! They have a fantastic back catalogue to draw upon of course, but this really was a dream. The best thing to do is just list it – any Bowie fan will immediately just go, wow!

The Width of a Circle – Lady Grinning Soul – Ziggy Stardust – Time – Quicksand – Changes – Ashes to Ashes – All the Madmen – a medley of: Wild Eyed Boy from Free Cloud/All the Young Dudes/Oh You Pretty Things – Boys Keep Swinging – Space Oddity – The Man Who Sold the World – Starman – Heroes – Rock’n’Roll Suicide – Life on Mars – Moonage Daydream – Encore: Where Are We Now? and Rebel Rebel – Second encore: Suffragette City.  

A strong emphasis, you can see, on the early 70s albums, and some good rocking too. Funnily enough, the only one of these that Visconti produced exclusively was The Man Who Sold the World. In previous incarnations Holy Holy have performed the whole of this album. We – Dave, Jon, Tony and me – were kind of expecting that to be the case last night. It would have been interesting, as long as there were a few hits afterwards. But when Glenn announced Lady Grinning Soul after the darkly rocking Width of a Circle, we knew we were in for a night of pure entertainment. I’ve loved Lady Grinning Soul from the moment I first heard it on Aladdin Sane when I was 14. It is such a beautiful, jazzy tune, with a typically strange Bowie twist. It spoke of things I knew nothing about, but I could imagine what they might be. That applies to a lot of Bowie’s great work in the 1970s. As a teenager living in Suffolk and then the East Midlands, I was so far removed from the world that Bowie inhabited. But I, and millions of others, could inhabit it through his songs.

The crowd, unsurprisingly, tended towards the fifty-pluses, but it wasn’t long before a decent number of people were up on their feet, encouraged by Glenn Gregory. So many anthems! I was interested to see how well Boys Keep Swinging went down. It has a great beat, if it isn’t one of Bowie’s best known. Naturally Ashes to Ashes was an early highlight; and All the Young Dudes has truly been reclaimed from Mott the Hoople. But for me, the very best of all was the sequence which began with an eerily beautiful Space Oddity, continued with The Man Who Sold Who Sold the World, with that wonderful guitar motif; took in a sublime Starman, the song that introduced so many of us properly to Bowie; and finished with Heroes, forever a song of hope as well as a moment of defiance and celebration. Like many in the audience, I’m sure, my thoughts turned to the people of Ukraine and what they are going through right now. I wanted the stage to be bathed in yellow and blue light at that moment. Heroes for a lot more than one day.

How could you top that? Well, the band certainly did their best to match it for the rest of the show. Glenn introduced Rock’n’Roll Suicide as the song he most likes to sing. He told us a story about how, when Tony Visconti invited him to join the band after an encounter at Abbey Road studios, he said that Glenn’s voice had a little bit of Bowie in it. Of course it did, Glenn said to us. Every pop singer in the early 80s, especially in a cutting edge band like Heaven 17, was going to have been hugely influenced by David Bowie. And that dramatic song was followed by another, perhaps the most dramatic, Life on Mars. Another one that stirs so many teenage memories! And then the guitars cranked up for the last song of the main set: an awesome Moonage Daydream. James Stevenson had Mick Ronson’s Gibson Les Paul sound off to a tee throughout. Wikipedia tells me he was in the London punk band Chelsea, then Generation X, then Kim Wilde’s band. He later became a member of Gene Loves Jezebel. Steeped in rock’n’roll.

There was a lovely touch in the encore, when we fast-forwarded to Bowie’s penultimate album, The Next Day (2013) for a rendition of the lead song from that album, Where Are We Now? At the time it came out I found it a bit depressing – it might have been the video, as well as my resistance to songs about growing old (I’ve got over that!). Now I find it a beautiful, wistful tune, which, of course, now has an extra touch of the elegiac. And all those Berlin references strike a chord too. There was a lot of love for Bowie in the audience at that moment.

It wasn’t going to end with that though. The band changed gear and we had a rousing version of Rebel Rebel. Just fantastic. A timeless song, but one that also takes me back to hitching lifts home from school in Oakham on Saturday afternoons in 1974. Yes, we did that sort of thing in those days.

And that, we thought, was it. But no, Tony took centre stage to tell us a couple of Bowie stories, the first about his time in Berlin with Iggy Pop, the second about a time in Switzerland. At that point Glenn whispered in his ear that if they wanted to do another song he’d better get on with it. Good call! The story was wrapped up and the band reassembled for another punch-the-air rock’n’roll celebration, Suffragette City. Truly, the band that keeps on giving!

Tony tells a story

Like their website says, Holy Holy are the real deal. Catch them if you can.

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Concert catch up: Wolf Alice, Big Thief, Butch Kassidy/Legss, Echo and the Bunnymen

Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice

With the senseless, barbaric invasion of Ukraine by Russia dominating our thoughts, one sometimes wonders what the point of writing about pop music is. But I guess that while we are lucky and privileged enough to do so, it remains worth doing. It remains a brightness amid the surrounding gloom.

I’ve been surprisingly busy on what can only be described as work over the past month, and haven’t managed to get around to writing about the concerts I have been to. So this is a bumper edition of four such outings. It started small with Butch Kassidy and Legss at the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, went retro with Echo and the Bunnymen at the Roundhouse, was triumphant with Wolf Alice at the Hammersmith Apollo, and finished magnificently if slightly perplexingly with Big Thief at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. A fifth concert which I was really looking forward to was Good Sad Happy Bad at Corsica Studios near Elephant Castle, but one of the band members contracted covid, and the rescheduled date clashes with another event. Such is the nature of these things.

I’ll take them in turn.

Butch Kassidy and Legss at the Old Blue Last, 5 February

I wouldn’t normally venture out to Shoreditch on a Saturday evening – it’s the preserve of the youngsters, the party people. But I made an exception to see Butch Kassidy, who were second on a three band bill, upstairs at the Old Blue Last, a pub on Great Eastern Street, on the edge of the City.

Why? I hear you ask. Well, it just so happens that I know a couple of the band, singer/guitarist Ffion and bassist Tom. They are good friends from schooldays of Jon’s son Louis. They were with us at Green Man festival last year, and Tom has been to End of the Road with us too. I saw the band in a previous incarnation at the Hanwell Hootie in 2018, when they were called My First Moustache. They put on an excellent show then and looked like a band who could go places. That applies equally to Butch Kassidy, and they are getting plenty of gigs on the London indie circuit now. I’d not been able to get to any of their recent shows, but was keen to see how they were doing, so dragged myself out of the armchair and headed for Liverpool Street station on a drizzly, rather chilly evening. Ten minutes or so to the Old Blue Last from there.

I was greeted with an ironic smile from the security man at the entrance to the pub, and I soon knew why. The ground floor pub was heaving – full of twenty-somethings, wielding cocktails and dancing to Abba’s Dancing Queen at 8.30 in the evening. For me – once I’d wiped the steam from my glasses – it was a vision of hell. Let me out of here! I looked around and saw a doorway leading upstairs, where the concert was happening. I pushed my way through the dancing, chanting throng and headed up to the music room. Relief! A decent space, good ventilation, a bar. Half full at that point – filled out later. People of similar age to downstairs, but totally different. I joked to my son Kieran later that all the misfits, the punks, the students were upstairs – my sort of people! A forty year age gap, but no matter. I got myself a beer and found a good viewing spot near the back. Louis and his friend Gab arrived soon after; Jon would have been there I’m sure, but was on his way home from France. We chatted a bit to Ffion and Tom before the show started – they watched the first band with us.

I’ve forgotten the first band’s name and they weren’t that good, so let’s move on to Butch Kassidy. I really enjoyed the show – a brisk half hour. They have just the one song on Spotify at the moment, which is called Heath. It’s ten minutes long, goes through various phases, and I said to Ffion at Green Man that I could hear a bit of classic Black Sabbath in there. They didn’t play it! I daresay that some observers would say they are in a similar mould to Black Midi, but I was most reminded of Mogwai. Except, in amongst the washes of doomy guitar there are bursts of punk riffing, which got the moshers going. In that respect they got the best reception of the night. Fingers crossed, it won’t be too long before they get a slot or two opening at the summer festivals. I think they would go down well.

Butch Kassidy – Ffion left, Tom centre

The headliners were Legss. They’re from South London, and were described by Loud and Quiet magazine as an experimental London band in conflict with the capital. I didn’t get the experimental bit of that from the performance tonight, but I did enjoy it. A lot of new indie bands at the moment draw on the sounds of post punk – particularly Gang of Four – as well as XTC. I’d put Legss in that category, and they do have a good angry persona, which inevitably conjures up Clash references for me. Singer Ned Green dresses stylishly and wields his guitar a bit like Wilko Johnson of the Feelgoods. Give him a bigger stage and I’m sure he’d be doing a full Chuck Berry duck walk!

Legss

So yes, it was a good evening. Always good to see the next generation of bands – drawing on past sounds, but re-inventing them.

The evening wasn’t quite over. On the way home on the tube, I sat next to a bunch of young folk, being quite lively, who turned out to be French. I sat there, listening to some music and reading The Economist. One of the group, a woman, leaned over and asked, what’s the news? I was reading a leader on President Macron’s chances of re-election at the time. We ended up having a ten minute conversation about French politics before they all got off!

 Echo and the Bunnymen at the Roundhouse, 7 February

A blast from the past, this one. Echo and the Bunnymen’s heyday was the 1980s, particularly the first half. They had a grandiose, almost goth sound, and were inevitably compared with the likes of U2 and Simple Minds. They weren’t quite as successful as those two, but, perhaps for that reason, were afforded more credibility by the music critics. Being from Liverpool didn’t do them any harm, either. For me, they were one of those bands that I thought I ought to like, but never really got into. I bought the key albums, played them a couple of times, and filed them away. Meanwhile I loved U2, and still do. That may be deemed less cool, but it is where I stand.

This was one of those concerts that was originally scheduled for either 2020 or 2021, but got put back because of the pandemic. My friend Dave organised the tickets, but at the last minute had to pull out. Still, Jon G, Tony and Shane were able to make it. Jon G is the biggest fan amongst us – and no fan of U2. We agree to disagree!

One of the highlights of the evening was the return to our favourite pre-Roundhouse restaurant, Sushi Salsa, by Camden Lock. Jon E joined us for that. Two years since the last visit due to lockdowns – that’s still hard to comprehend, looking back – but as good as ever, I’m glad to say, though we missed the old manager, Andy. He was a real ball of energy – and gave us sake on the house from time to time! Hope he’s doing alright wherever he is.

As for the concert, it was ok. Until near the end it felt bereft of familiar songs, though Jon said afterwards that he did know most of them. I’ve probably got a lot of them sitting in my vinyl collection, long-forgotten. I found it all a bit gloomy. The lighting was deliberately low, singer Ian McCulloch prowled around in a dark overcoat, when he wasn’t winding up the London crowd, and most of the songs were pretty dirge-like. All very well played though – and well-received by the capacity crowd. It brightened up for me briefly when they played Seven Seas and then The Cutter at the end of the set. Killing Moon was a suitable anthem with which to end the whole show. They did know how to write a good anthem in their heyday, I have to say. No Back of Love, which was a shame, especially when the vast majority of people there would have come to celebrate the Bunnymen’s moments of glory in the 80s. A cover of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side was a low, especially when McCulloch changed wild side to Merseyside.

Bunny gloom

In fairness, I should say that my friends all thought it was an excellent show. It was just one that didn’t quite do it for me. I’ll stick to U2 and Simple Minds when I want 80s grandiose!

Wolf Alice at Hammersmith Apollo, 19 February

This concert was postponed from 19 January, because of the band’s concern about continuing covid risks. It was a bit of a bonus when it turned out to be delayed by only a month – I was expecting a summer or even autumn date, given the band’s US commitments. It has been eight months since Wolf Alice’s third album Blue Weekend was released, and this is the first time they have been able to take it on tour, though they did play a few festivals last year, including Latitude.

I first saw Wolf Alice at Latitude in July 2015, soon after the release of their debut album My Love is Cool. They played in the 6 Music Tent, as it was then called. I was impressed. This is what I wrote in my review of Latitude that year:

They’ve got a bit of everything that makes a great indie band: screeching riffs, pounding beats, catchy melodies and choruses, rocking rhythms for the mosh – and a striking singer. Ellie Rowsell. It’s pop music. You can’t deny the importance of an iconic singer. Ellie Rowsell has that something. My notes say Siouxsie Sue meets Debbie Harry. And the sound: Horrors meet Blondie. Melodies and big riffs, which come across especially well live. This is a seriously good band.

The Guardian dismissed them as bubblegrunge at the time. Witty, but wrong, as the band have shown since then. Parts of that first album took a little while to grow on me – tracks like You’re a Germ and Bros were immediate – but then the riffs and the melodies really hooked me, and I still love it. 2017’s Vision of a Life veered towards 70s rock, but still had catchy tunes like Don’t Delete the Kisses and a scathing rocker in Yuk Foo. And then came Blue Weekend, a polished pop production, with big choruses and less of the riffing, though Smile and Play the Greatest Hits carried the flag for rock’n’roll.

And so to Hammersmith Apollo on a Saturday evening, with Jon G and Louis and Gab. Standing, but this turned out well – I’ve had some frustrating experiences at the Apollo in the past when standing, but it felt like maybe they don’t pack people in to quite the same extent these days. We had an excellent view, to the left about ten rows back. Shame I forgot my digital camera!

I make this my seventh Wolf Alice concert. Three Latitudes – 2015, 2018 and 2021. Kentish Town Forum in 2016, Ally Pally in 2017 and the Roundhouse 2018 (part of the Q awards). They’ve been consistently excellent – Latitude 2018 on the main stage perhaps the best before tonight. Because tonight, despite the high bar set by its predecessors, has to have been the best. There was a real sense of triumph tonight, of homecoming, and the realisation that Wolf Alice are now a seriously big rock band. Or should that be pop band? One of the things that became clear to me tonight was that so many songs from Blue Weekend, while still relatively new, have become real anthems for their fans. And there is probably now a younger cohort of fans than the indie crowd of 2015. The Last Man on Earth is the most obvious anthem – destined to be played on TV programmes for years to come. But songs like Lipstick on the Glass, Safe from Heartbreak and How Can I Make it OK? run it close. These, combined with a great selection of favourites from the first two albums, including You’re a Germ and Bros, and the evergreen Moaning Lisa Smile from early days, made it a set that pleased everybody.

Lead guitarist Joff Oddie

The band played with a confidence and swagger – without arrogance – that comes from knowing they have nailed it. They have just won a Brit for best rock band, beating perennial winners Coldplay. My slight reservations about the shift popwards and the fact that they seemed a bit tame at Latitude last year – admittedly after having had our senses assaulted by Chubby and the Gang! – melted away. I loved seeing the way the crowd sang along to so many of the choruses, and the screeching riffs and pounding beats I wrote about in 2015 were still plentiful. I guess it helped being in the crowd not too far from the front, rather than observing from the seats with beer in hand. That remains my preferred mode these days, but this was a refreshing change.

So yes, a glorious set, with the perfect encore of Last Man on Earth – lighters out time – and a rousing Don’t Delete the Kisses. I hadn’t realised how iconic that song has become for Wolf Alice fans.

This is a seriously good band, I wrote in 2015. Make that seriously brilliant in 2022.

Big Thief at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 2 March

Big Thief are, like Wolf Alice, one of my favourite indie bands of the past few years. Indie in the sense of not being full-on rock, nor pure pop. They are from New York, and have some of the edginess you expect of New York bands, but they are as grounded in Americana and folk as they are in Radiohead.  You could say they are New York state as well as New York City. They have an off-kilter quality, which is personified in singer Adrienne Lenker. She has a beautiful, rather fragile voice, and her onstage persona is rather nervy at times. She’s frequently tuning her guitar – the most excessive being the solo show I saw her play back in January 2019 at the Union Chapel in Islington. Didn’t stop it being great concert, but at times you couldn’t help feeling, get on with it!

I was quite late in discovering Big Thief. They were at End of the Road in 2018, and I’d heard good things about them, so checked out their first two albums, Masterpiece (2016) and Capacity (2017). I really liked both, with standout tracks for me being Masterpiece, Real Love and Parallels from the first, Shark Smile, Mythological Beauty and Mary from the second. One of the things I liked was that a song could combine a tender melody with an outburst of guitars – Real Love being the best example. Shark Smile started wild then settled into a mid-tempo rock’n’roll groove – their most danceable song. Parallels rapidly became the song I played most – a slow build to an anthemic chorus, which went on for some time, somehow getting bigger and bigger. Weird lyrics: could be a song about love or the metamorphosis of a butterfly – or indeed both, one a metaphor for the other. Classic Big Thief: nothing is ever quite what it seems.

As it happens, I missed the End of the Road performance because of line-up clashes; but I rectified that with a trip to SWX in Bristol in May 2019. That coincided with the release of a new album, UFOF. Now, this one really did sound like Radiohead in places; but then it also had an enjoyable hoe-down called Cattails, which was already a crowd favourite by the time of the Bristol show. They played Green Man in 2019 and released a second 2019 album, Two Hands, in October. And that was followed by another tour in early 2020. I saw them at Hammersmith Apollo in February. Busy times… and then there was lockdown.

The band remained productive during the hiatus in live shows. Both Adrienne Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek released solo albums – Songs and Two Saviors respectively – and work began on another Big Thief album. That came out early this year – it’s called Dragon New Warm Album I Believe in You, a Big Thief title if there ever was one! It’s long – 20 songs – a double album in old language. The emphasis is on the more pastoral, folky side of their music, and is rather beautiful, with Change and Sparrow my two favourites so far. How lucky then, that Change opened the show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Sparrow was the encore. Spud Infinity is the new Cattails and went down well with the crowd. They played Cattails towards the end, after Adrienne abandoned the previous song Red Moon. That edginess again. Overall the emphasis was on the acoustic side, though the title song of Dragon was rocked up a bit and there was a blistering rendition of Not, which has become a staple of the set. There weren’t many of the older favourites, though Masterpiece got an outing, to great approval. I’m surprised Shark Smile didn’t make it, but I see from Setlist FM that it was played at the second and fourth of the four nights. An impressive run that – shows that they have a strong following these days. The emphasis on the new was such that they played a song that Adrienne had just written on the ferry over from Ireland! Would have preferred Parallels

So yes, it would have been nice to have a few more of the established songs, but that’s how it is with Big Thief – they like to mix things up. And why not? Makes life interesting. A great show; and I’ll be there for the next tour, wondering what they have in store for us.

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Walking the Wandle

The start of the Wandle Trail at Waddon Ponds

The River Wandle is one of those well-kept London secrets – unless, of course, you happen to live close by. For me, until recently, it was simply a river that flowed into the Thames in Wandsworth, in south-west London. And I was a fan of Samsbrook beers, including one called Wandle; I knew the brewery was situated by the river in Wandsworth. That was the sum of my knowledge about the river until the autumn of last year – after more than forty years in London!

Over the past couple of years I’ve been walking with my old uni friends Jon, Dave and Tony around various parts of London and environs. We always end with a nice meal somewhere and usual self-cater for lunch. Delicious pork pies, quality cheeses and a bottle of Malbec often feature. Fortunately steep hills rarely do, though we did clamber up Box Hill in Surrey on one occasion – before lunch, though after a brief stop at the excellent Denbies vineyard to sample a glass of fresh English white wine. One of the most interesting walks was along the River Lea – or more precisely, the Lea Navigation channel – from Waltham Cross down to Limehouse Basin, which adjoins the Thames in East London. The success of that walk made me think that the Wandle might be a candidate for a future walk. So I researched a little and found that the river appeared to have two sources: one at Waddon Ponds, near Croydon and the other at Carshalton Ponds, south-west of Waddon. Not a part of the world with which I am very familiar, though I have been down to Croydon for a few work conferences in the past. So, walking the Wandle – or at least the first section – was a journey into the unknown.

From the two sources the river heads north-west, between Mitcham and Morden, before curving northwards, where it takes in Merton and Earlsfield – Wimbledon is not far away – before arriving in Wandsworth and eventually the Thames. Estimates of the length of the walk vary, and depend on whether you visit both sources, but I’d say it’s about 12 miles from start(s) to finish. A nice length, though I haven’t yet done it all at once.

I didn’t know whether all of the river could be walked along, so in early October last year, I went on an exploratory mission to the mysterious world of South London. I took a train to East Croydon and then a tram – my first time on that line! – two stops to Wandle Park. I found a really helpful map of the Wandle Trail online. It dates way back to 2003, but is pretty accurate; and in combination with maps on the iPhone, helped me navigate the whole route successfully. It was a short walk to Waddon Ponds from Wandle Park; and so the journey downstream to the Thames began.

I’ll describe various features of the river later, with the photos. Just to say at this point that on that first trip, having started a little later than planned and reaching Wandle Meadow Nature Park (near Colliers Wood tube station) in fading light, only to find the meadow was flooded, I gave up and headed west to Wimbledon for a pint before I went home. I returned in early November on a lovely sunny day to complete the walk, and found that it was possible to skirt the flooded area and stay on track, as the photos will show.

Returning with my friends, we split the walk into roughly the same two sections. The first, longer stretch we covered in late October; the remaining five miles we did in late January this year. We’ve had very little rain in 2022, but even so, I was surprised to see that Wandle Meadow Nature Park was completely dry. I have to say it looked much better flooded!

Most of the photos are from the two solo walks, but there are one or two from Dave, which I will acknowledge as we go along.

So let’s start at Waddon Ponds, the first of those two sources. Photos two and three from Dave.

After passing through an industrial estate, the river flows by some suburban estates, narrowing almost to a ditch at one point.

The inevitable shopping trolley shot

The Wandle flows through, or alongside a lot of parks. The first is Beddington Park. On its edge is Carew Manor. From 1381 to some time in the 1850s, the manor was the home of the Carew family, who had close connections with royalty, particularly in Tudor times. Henry VIII used to visit the manor to spend time with Anne Boleyn, when still married to Catherine of Aragon. Later he used it for “secret assignations” with Jane Seymour. Unsurprisingly, Sir Nicholas Carew was one of the King’s favourites – until he wasn’t. He was executed for treason in 1539! The manor was popular with Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh too – they used to walk together in the grounds. Sir Walter also married one of Elizabeth’s maids of honour, Elizabeth Throckmorton, who was from the manor. He did so without the Queen’s permission, for which he spent time in the Tower of London. The marriage survived the imprisonment; and when he was beheaded by James I in 1618, wife Elizabeth claimed his embalmed head and kept it in a bag for the rest of her life. The head was reunited with the body in St Margaret’s Church in Westminster after Elizabeth’s death 29 years later, although local mythology has it that the head remains somewhere in Beddington Park.

The manor was lost to the Carew family in the 1850s due to bad debts. From 1866 to 1968 it housed the Royal Female Orphanage. It is now a school for children with special educational needs.

Carew Manor

Parts of Beddington Park can become flooded after heavy rain; and on both occasions I’ve done the walk the ground has been fairly heavy, so walking boots are recommended. Much of the rest of the Wandle Trail is paved or quite firm, other than the couple of places which actually become impassable as the result of flooding, requiring minor diversions.

On leaving Beddington Park, you walk along the London Road briefly, en route to the second source, Carshalton Ponds. The first branch of the river flows around the wonderfully-named Wilderness Island at this point. I think it’s inaccessible; it is certainly not part of the trail. You turn into a park called The Grove to get to the ponds, if you are walking. If you’re in a hurry you can take a short cut along Butter Hill to join the second branch of the Wandle further downstream, shortly before the two branches merge. But it’s worth seeing the source and then walking along the second branch to the confluence at the tip of Wilderness Island.

The main part of Carshalton Ponds

The river sets out from the ponds down this waterfall.

Some scenes around Wilderness Island, when the second branch flows by it, to where it comes together with its sibling. The Wandle meets the Wandle!

Confluence

The next stretch of the river is perhaps the loveliest and feels quite remote, even if at first there’s an industrial estate nearby. Thereafter, it runs along Poulter Park – not named after the Arsenal-loving golfer, as far as I am aware.

For the first half of Poulter Park you can’t see it, as you are below it, with trees and undergrowth covering the slope. Then a sign points you leftwards up the slope, away from the river. There is a path continuing along the river, which I tried briefly out of interest. it was very muddy with tangles of roots and branches to be navigated. I decided to stick to the official trail, which takes you past Tooting and Mitcham football ground. It’s a bit of a diversion, with a couple of roads involved, but doesn’t take too long.

Can’t quite remember now, but the first of these two shots was probably taken from the non-trail path before I turned back.

You return to the river at the start of the attractive Ravensbury Park. It’s a good place to stop for a lunch break, where the river briefly turns into a lake: man-made, I assume. On the first visit, on my own, I had tuna and cucumber rolls and a flask of tea. Second time, with the boys it was full pies, cheese and a tasty Catalan red wine! Photos 2 and 4 of this group are from Dave.

Not quite sure what the purpose of this was

This, however, was once a snuff grinder – there were snuff mills in the area

From Ravensbury Park, it’s over the road and into Morden Hall Park. It’s now National Trust property; but Morden Hall itself dates back to the 1770s. The Wandle trail veers from the river and heads north-west through parkland, past the wetlands and towards Deen City Farm on the other side of the tram tracks. At this point you are back along the river. However, if you take a diversion to the hall and the garden centre, with all the usual amenities, you can stay with the river. The wetlands – an area of marshland, teeming with hard-to-see wildlife – are well worth taking time to explore. There’s a board walk that takes you around the area.

Second wetlands photo courtesy of Dave.

When I first walked the trail, I was able to cross the tram tracks and head past Deen City Farm to Merton Abbey Mills. Second time around the path beyond the tram was flooded. It may have been passable with wellies, but not walking boots. So we had to walk along a path by the tram track until we reached Morden Road, and then cut back through an industrial estate, until we reached the river again, near Merton Abbey Mills. There was a nice pub there – the William Morris – with plenty of seating outdoors, so you can watch the fish rising to the surface of the river as you sup your pint. In medieval times, this area was the site of Merton Priory. Later it was a place of textile factories; today there is a craft market, with cafes and two pubs.

Merton Abbey Mills

Just beyond Merton Abbey Mills, the walking trail takes you a short distance east to an offshoot of the Wandle which is called the Pickle. It runs past a shopping centre and rejoins the main river at the beginning of Wandle Park (not to be confused with Wandle Park in Croydon!). We are close to Colliers Wood tube station (Northern Line) at this point. The park is mostly manicured, but if you enter it diagonally opposite the tube station, by a pub called the Charles Holden, there’s a path through some attractive woodland. I did this when I began the second half of the walk in early November. On the the two walks covering the first half we finished in Wandle Park. Over to Wimbledon after that – a walk of around twenty minutes to the station. Ten to fifteen more if you walk up the hill to Wimbledon Village, which we did on the group walk in late October. We went to a very good restaurant called the White Onion – highly recommended. Great food and wine, and friendly, well-informed service.

This one is taken from a bridge just as you leave Wandle Park

After Wandle Park, just before you come to Wandle Meadow Nature Park, you can walk along the river on the edge of a housing estate. I think it’s called Bewley Street. Nearby are the imaginatively named East, South and North roads. North Road gives you access to Wandle Meadow Nature Park. There is a wooden walkway over the river just below North Road, which takes you down to a meadow from where you can take a track through some bushes under North Road bridge into the nature park. In January it was closed – a paved path is being constructed, which will make the route easier.

The short walk along Bewley Street is notable for a blue plaque – not one of the official series – which commemorates the the day when Wimbledon footballer (now actor), the notorious Vinnie Jones, threw his almost as notorious colleague Dennis Wise into the River Wandle. No doubt a jape which occurred after a few pints. Both were members of the 1980s Wimbledon team which was known as the Crazy Gang. They won the FA Cup in 1988, beating Liverpool in the final. The club was only elected to the Football League in 1977, and rose to what was then called the First Division in 1986. They stayed in the top division until 2000, and after that things really started to go wrong. They’d moved out of their Plough Lane home in 1991, after the Taylor report recommended all-seater grounds for premier clubs, following the Hillsborough disaster. They shared Crystal Palace’s ground, Selhurst Park for a decade, but then the club’s owners announced a decision to leave South London and relocate to Milton Keynes. This was, unsurprisingly, deeply unpopular with the fans. By 2004 the club had been renamed Milton Keynes Dons. MK Dons play on, mostly in League One, the third tier of English football. Meanwhile, a new club, AFC Wimbledon, was formed by Wimbledon supporters. From lowly beginnings it has risen to the Football League and is now also in League One! In 2020 the club moved back into Plough Lane, completing the circle.

In October and November Wandle Meadow Nature Park was largely flooded, and impassable. It looks like a natural floodplain. However, you only have to walk briefly along North Road and then turn into Chaucer Way, which runs along the east side of the park. The views of the flooded meadows were rather lovely, and a variety of birds appeared to have made a home there. It seemed like the park’s natural state.

At the end of the park you come to a tunnel under a railway bridge, with signs pointing to Plough Lane, the home of AFC Wimbledon as described just now. Plough Lane is in an industrial area – from the river you can’t see the football ground. You’d need to take a short diversion if you wanted to see it. It’s not an opportunity I pursued!

Before you reach Plough Lane, there is a pleasant walk along a tributary of the Wandle, the River Graveney. After they come together, you are back on the Wandle again. There’s a handy viewing platform which overlooks the confluence.

The Graveney lies below the trees

Confluence – Graveney to the right

Back on the Wandle, heading towards Plough Lane

Things stay industrial for a while, and then the river flows through Garratt Park. I can’t say I really noticed this. Soon after, you are in Earlsfield, briefly coming off the river. A short distance along from Earlsfield railway station is the Wandle pub. We stopped for a drink there in January. The pub serves Samsbrook’s Wandle ale. So we were sitting in the Wandle, drinking Wandle by the Wandle!

This may be by Garratt Park!

From the pub, you walk along Penwith Road, over the river, before turning right/north into St George’s Park. This is the last of the parks on the river’s journey. It’s a long, thin park, carved by Kimber Road into two sections. It’s quite functional, but a pleasant open space. In the southern half there’s a school – Southfields Academy – on the west side. This may be why the river is fenced off – you wouldn’t want children falling in, or losing their bags on the way home. From here, as you move into Wandsworth, the river becomes rather overwhelmed by its surroundings, until a last flourish before entering the Thames. It suffers the indignity of disappearing underground for a while, as a shopping and entertainment centre have been built over it. It’s not the only waterway to suffer this fate in London. It happens to the Regent’s Canal, in Islington (shopping centre) and Maida Vale (housing); and of course the River Fleet was built over a long time ago. Only Fleet Street preserves its memory.

On leaving St George’s Park

Going underground

Re-emerging

After escaping the concrete jungle, the Wandle makes the final push towards its destination, the Thames. A short stretch skirts the Ram Quarter, once the home of Young’s Brewery and still the location for Samsbrook’s. The river then splits, divided by a causeway and industrial area. The causeway takes you to a bridge which all walkers along the Thames will be familiar with, and beyond that, a viewing point. The views out to the Thames are striking, especially as the sun sets. Downstream lies Wandsworth Bridge, and beyond that, Battersea on one side, Chelsea the other. Upstream lies Putney Bridge and just before it a railway bridge. The grounds of the Hurlingham Club hog the river bank on the north side of the Thames for a while. When the tide is low, small islands host an array of birdlife, including herons and cormorants. It’s a tranquil and inspiring scene to end the journey of this humble but fascinating river.

The Ram Quarter is to the right, beyond the housing

Causeway

A glance back upstream

First heron shot, this one on the Wandle

The Thames walkers’ route over the Wandle

The Thames comes into view

Thames, looking upstream, early October

Downstream – Wandsworth Bridge is being refurbished at the moment

Thanks to Dave for this one, from January

There is just one thing to do at the end of the journey – head through the rather soulless Riverside Quarter to the Cat’s Back pub. This pub has the distinction of being one of few in London which serve Harvey’s ales – another favourite of ours is the Royal Oak in Borough. Harvey’s is brewed in Lewes, Sussex. There are plenty of other decent pubs in Wandsworth, but this is our choice. If you are walking the Thames and heading west, next up is Wandsworth Park, followed by Putney. When I finally get back to writing up my Thames journey series, these will both feature in the next instalment.

The Cat’s Back

Harvey’s Best bitter

Cheers!

 

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Turnstile and Chubby and the Gang at the Roundhouse, 1 February 2022

Straight up: this was one of the greatest nights of live rock’n’roll I have ever had the pleasure to witness.

And I very nearly didn’t go. No-one else I usually go to concerts with wanted to go. There was an element of thinking this was going to be too loud and too wild at our age (and in this age). Some people just don’t like metal that much, and Turnstile definitely fit that category, as well as hardcore/punk.

But the more I listened to Turnstile’s 2021 album Glow On, and especially the songs Blackout and Don’t Play, I knew I had to be there if there were still tickets in London. The O2 Forum in Kentish Town was sold out, but the Roundhouse had a few seats left. No standing – that was all gone. Usually at the Roundhouse it’s the other way round: the seats are snapped up quickly. That told you something – people were there to rock! A seat suited me just fine – I was there to observe, tap a foot, relish the riffs, with beer in hand and camera at the ready.

I had never heard of Turnstile until last December, when the end of year Best Of lists started coming out. They featured in a few, and I liked the way they were being described. So I checked out Glow On, and thought, wow, there’s some good stuff on this. I then got hooked on two tunes, Blackout and Don’t Play, put them on my best of 2021 playlist and rather neglected the rest. Until the last couple of days when I decided to mug up on the collective works. There was a helpful set list for the recent Nottingham Rock City gig on Setlist FM which I thought would give me a good idea of what they were about to play (in fact it was the same set). And the more I listened, the more I thought, this is going to be awesome.

But there was a bonus in prospect – Chubby and the Gang were opening for them. Another great no-nonsense rock’n’roll band. They were terrific at Latitude last year, when they came on after the brilliant Wet Leg in the Alcove tent, and played forty minutes of high speed rock’n’roll – a cross between Dr Feelgood, early Clash and Motorhead. Jon G and I were blown away – we struggled to enjoy Wolf Alice afterwards on the main stage, because it seemed so tame in comparison, much as we both love them.

So, at 6.30, I headed out to Camden. Get there just after 7.30, have a beer, take my seat for Chubby at 8.15. Didn’t figure with London Underground. Piccadilly Line was suspended, Northern Line had severe delays. Both legs of the usual route gone. So bus to Ealing Broadway, Central Line to Bond Street, Jubilee line to Swiss Cottage. Twenty minute walk over to Chalk Farm, the Roundhouse’s location. Got there just before eight. Two hundred metre queue down the road. Aaaaagh! Covid pass checks slowing things down of course, though it was efficiently organised. London life…

I made it to my seat by 8.25, so got to see two thirds of Chubby’s show. Just as I sat down, one song ended and they started up on Lightning Don’t Strike Twice, one of my two favourites. Warmed the heart it did. Hundred-mile-an-hour rock’n’roll, with Chubby (who isn’t at all chubby) strutting around, bawling out the lyrics. Occasionally he gets the harmonica out – just like Lee Brilleaux did for the Feelgoods – but it’s hardly audible in the barrage of sound. The usual moshing going on just back from the front of the stage. Best avoided if you are over thirty, though there is always the odd old geezer trying to re-live his youth. And fair enough – I just do it more sedately.

The set rushed by entertainingly, and finished with their great anthem to West London, All Along the Uxbridge Road. Set us up very nicely for the headliners…

Bought a couple of beers at the interval, drank one, took the other back to the seat, and got ready to rock – in a manner of speaking. Lights dimmed, a bit of doodling, a blaze of light, and then the band piled into Mystery from the new album. Plenty of Nirvana in this one. Greeted by the crowd in the only way possible – fists in the air, chanting, and a lot of jumping around. Stayed like that for most of the show. It was fascinating to watch from above, as well as completely joyous to behold the antics of the band. This is music that makes you smile – it is just so exhilarating, so much fun. I haven’t studied the lyrics, they could be about anything. You can’t discern them much above the beats and the relentless power chords anyway – other than the signature chants, of which there are quite a few. But even if they are about lost love, or the end of the world – you know, your standard pop themes – it doesn’t really matter, because the whole show is a celebration of everything that makes rock’n’roll as essential today as it was when Elvis was driving teenagers mad in the fifties.

They played 21 songs in just over an hour – no messing around here. That’s very much the punk ethos. Not much opportunity for solos. But Turnstile are an accomplished band and demonstrated that throughout the set. They have been around since 2010, with their first album/EP Step 2 Rhythm released in 2013. There are all sorts of musical twists on the latest album, even a slow song! Alien Love Call was the lighters out moment in a sea of pounding beats, pile-driving riffs and lots of shouting. And while Glow On provided half the set, all their albums got a look in. I liked that – if you have crowd favourites from past albums, why not play them? A live gig is a time to entertain and celebrate, as well as showcase new material. Turnstile got the balance just right.

If I had to describe the music with reference to other bands, I’d say Turnstile combine the best of Metallica, Nirvana and the Beastie Boys. The latter is important: there are no rap tunes as such, but there is a feel and attitude about the band that relates to that music. No great surprise when they hail from Baltimore in the US.

Blackout and Don’t Play were highlights of course, but really, I loved the whole show. And what a great way to end, with TLC (Turnstile Love Connection) – a super-fast bit and then the power chords kick in and the chant begins: I want to thank you for letting me see myself. (See myself alternated with be myself.) A chant for the times, and a fitting end to an amazing show.

A bit of a photo dump follows. Some are a little blurry – it’s hard to capture people on the move as the lights blaze. But I hope they’ll give you some sense of the dynamics on an exceptional night of rock’n’roll.

Starting with Chubby and the Gang.

And then my new favourite band, Turnstile!

 

 

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Goat Girl at the Roundhouse, 18 January 2022

Last week I went up to the Roundhouse with friends Shane and Tony to see Goat Girl play in the round, one of a short programme of concerts which are all-seated, forming the best part of a circle around the stage. It makes for an intimate setting, with good views, though perhaps with a less raucous atmosphere than when you have a thousand plus people standing.

It was good to see Goat Girl headlining the Roundhouse. They have come a long way since I first saw them in April 2017, supporting Moonlandingz at the Village Underground in Shoreditch. I really enjoyed them that night, much more than the headliners, and I’ve been following them with interest ever since. Tonight’s show was the sixth or seventh time I’ve seen them – mostly at festivals, though there was also an excellent show at Koko in Camden in November 2018. That show mostly featured music from their debut album, Goat Girl; tonight the set was heavily based on their 2021 album On All Fours, just as it was at Green Man last year. (I missed them at Latitude as they clashed with Chubby and the Gang!) Both albums are well worth getting to know. You have to listen to them a few times to get the full benefit. Then the melodies lodge, snatches of the lyrics burrow their way in, you appreciate the whole. The first album was punkier, with a hint of rockabilly in the way the songs twanged. Reggae and even country were in there too. On All Fours had a more rounded, produced sound, but the quirks and the biting lyrics were still there. And leading track Sad Cowboy took the band firmly into dance music territory. It’s no surprise that it is now the set closer.

Goat Girl were an all-woman band with four members when I first saw them; tonight there were six of them, with three men. The usual drummer, Rosy Bones, was absent – I don’t think it’s permanent, but it wasn’t referred to on the night (unless I missed it). The band don’t talk a lot to the audience anyway, though singer Lottie Pendlebury (previously known as Clottie Cream) did actually say a few words at the start of the show. She said that the gig was a kind of homecoming, as they used to practise at the Roundhouse when they were fifteen. They came across as relaxed and very pleased to be there. The sound was good and the lighting subtly enhanced the show. There was a dreaminess to the harmonies, and the music generally, that reminded me quite a lot of American band Warpaint. I do miss some of the more raw sounds of their earlier songs, when the guitars let rip and you were never quite sure where the sound was heading next. Two tunes from the first album did make it into the set – Viper Fish and Cracker Drool – but they’d had the edges smoothed off, in keeping with the rest of the music.

The performance lasted for an hour and livened up towards the end, especially when the played Pest, the opener from On All Fours. And Sad Cowboy was greeted enthusiastically as the set drew to an end. Some people even stood up and danced! It was 10.15 when that ended, and momentarily there was hope they might come back for an encore. I would have loved to see them rock out to The Man and Country Sleaze. But it was not to be. I’m not sure why they have abandoned so many of their best songs so soon – they could play a really good hour and a half set with a mix from their two albums and some of the early singles. Maybe they just feel that that earlier sound doesn’t represent where they are now – a lot has changed for everyone over the last couple of years after all.

So, yes, I really enjoyed the show, and will continue to watch out for them. And just maybe hope that they rediscover the urge to rock and roll.

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A 2021 musical sampler: 20 + 40

I published a piece on my top twenty albums of 2021 just before Christmas. I said then that a lot of the songs that I’ve enjoyed most this year aren’t from albums. Some are on EPs, some are just singles; all are available on Spotify.

So, I’ve put together this playlist, which has one tune from each of the top twenty albums, plus another forty tracks. And, let me tell you, it was hard to narrow it down to that! There is such a lot of great new music out there – as there always is. I rely a lot on BBC 6 Music to get wind of new music these days. I still read reviews, of course; and the festivals always direct you towards some new favourites. But a lot of the singles and EPs I’ve first heard on 6 Music, especially the four weekly episodes on BBC Sounds which are called New Music Mix these days. The DJs responsible for them most of the time are Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne, Mary Anne Hobbs and Tom Ravenscroft. Between them they cover the musical waterfront, other than the pop mainstream – though Lauren Laverne touches on that. So I’m afraid there is no Adele or Ed Sheeran on this list, but there is a lot of great music, including some pretty hardcore rock’n’roll or punk – call it what you will. Has it been a good year for that, or am I just more receptive, reaching back to my youth? A bit of both probably. There are some beautiful songs, a fair number of swirling guitars and a bit of jazz and R&B. There’s a small amount of electro – probably not as much as there should be, if the list reflected what I have been listening to over the year. But the tunes are often quite long and repetitive, and I’ve tried to keep most of the songs on this list reasonably short. My Electro playlist, which is updated quite often, is publicly available at my Spotify address – johnsills.

Best track of the year? Hard, really, to single anything out; but if I had to it would be one of  Chaise Longue by Wet Leg (the festival rock’n’roll highlight), The Right Thing is Hard to Do by Lightning Bug (pure shoegaze bliss), or Her by Logic1000 (joyous techno from a Berlin-based Aussie). Best ballad probably Bedroom Walls by Etaoin, though right now I’m really loving Going Where the Lonely Go by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (Alison lead singer on this one). Best noise is Sibensko Powerhouse by JOHN (good name!), though I’m enjoying some of the metal riffing on Turnstile’s album Glow On at the moment, notably Don’t Play and Blackout. Metallica collides with the Beastie Boys.

It’s all good! Check out the list on Spotify: 20 + 40 from 2021. There’s also a longer version of my 2021 favourites, running to around 160 tracks, simply called Best of 2021. The Director’s Cut…

And while we celebrate the passing year’s music – if not the passing year! – here’s to all those new sounds that await us 2022…

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My Top Twenty Albums of 2021

It has been another great year for music. We didn’t get live music back until the second half of the year, but a lot of artists had clearly been using their time productively during the lockdowns in 2020 and the first half of this year, and we’ve seen that come through in the number of excellent albums, EPs and singles. This review focuses on albums, which I’ve acknowledged previously doesn’t tell half the story these days; but they still lend themselves to a good list!

1 – Promises by Floating Points, Pharaoh Saunders and the London Symphony Orchestra

My top choice, no contest this year. A glorious electronic jazz symphony. A thing of great beauty, atmospheric and dramatic in equal parts. Composed by Sam Shepherd, who records under the name of Floating Points, in collaboration with jazz icon Pharoah Saunders and the LSO. Pharoah Saunders’ sax playing is a thing of wonder, while the gradual emergence of the LSO’s strings halfway through the piece, rising to an unnerving crescendo, never fails to enthral. The first thing you hear is a simple seven note motif played on some kind of keyboard. It is ever-present through the album, a point of stability that is soothing and haunting at the same time. Around it the sounds ebb and flow, erupt and subside. It is an epic journey – to appreciate it fully you have to listen to it from start to finish. An astonishing piece of music, a true work of art, which took five years to bring to fruition. It was worth the wait.

2 – Echo by Indigo Sparke

I stumbled upon Indigo Sparke’s music through Spotify’s algorithm. I’d been playing some Julia Jacklin and when that ended, a song called The Day I Drove the Car Around the Block came on. I liked it so checked out the artist – and made my acquaintance with Echo. It’s a beautiful, sparse record – no surprise that the album cover features Indigo in what I take to be the Australian desert. File under folk, I guess, but there’s an echo and space in this music reminds me a little of a favourite from a few years ago: Light on Our Limbs by Daisy Vaughan. Songs like Carnival and Colourblind are amongst my most played of the year, but the whole album is completely captivating.

3 – Man Made by Greentea Peng

Greentea Peng is the stage name for singer and songwriter Aria Wells. I first heard her when she released a song called Used To, back in 2018. It was jazzy and soulful and sultry – Erykah Badu came to mind, maybe even Grace Jones. Since then, and before the album, she’s released some great singles like Ghost Town, Soulboy, Mr Sun and HuMan, which draw on reggae and dub and hip hop as well as jazz and soul. A potpourri of the sounds of the London streets. Man Made builds on these foundations. It has an audacity and a swing about it that really comes through on the stage. There’s a strong reggae vibe to it again, with some wonderful dub sounds. The bass lines have a groove that make it impossible not to want to dance – or sway. It’s a celebration, but also a protest against the oppressors. Aria Wells is not the first person to sing fight for our right to party, but when she did during Jimtastic Blues in the closing show on the Sunrise Arena at Latitude, it felt like a call to arms. Militant dubwise dance music – maybe that’s a good summary of Green Tea Peng and Man Made.

4 – Bring Backs by Alfa Mist

Alfa Mist, as a teenager in east London, cut his musical teeth as a producer in hip hop and grime. But he loved the jazz music he was hearing and taught himself piano and has become a master of his craft. This is his fourth album. It’s cool, cool jazz, infused with hip hop and soul – those sounds of London again. His keyboards lay the base for his fellow musicians to flourish – guitar, trumpet, sax, with guest vocalists Lex Amor and Kaya Thomas-Dyke (who plays bass too). A poem about roots and the sense of belonging in a new city weaves its way through the album, adding to the sense of contemplation. His recent concert at the Barbican revolved around this album and is possibly the best I’ve seen this year.

5 – Visions of Light by Ishmael Ensemble

Ishmael Ensemble are a collective from Bristol, led by saxophonist and producer Pete Cunningham. You may have read my review of their brilliant gig at the Jazz Café in November, part of the London Jazz Festival. It’s jazz but not just jazz – there is a strong element of that great Bristol sound of the 1990s, the sound we call trip hop. When Holysseus Fly is singing on songs like Feather and Empty Hands you are transported back to Elizabeth Fraser on Teardrop. This album is in a place where jazz, dance and electronica intersect – fusion at its best.

6 – Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks

2021 has been an incredible year for Arlo Parks. She released this album in January, having already built up a strong following through a series of mellow, catchy singles with heartfelt sentiments. Some of those songs, like Black Dog and Eugene, made it onto the album; the newer tunes continued to address the challenges faced by her generation in today’s harsh world. There’s a disarming openness about her lyrics, aligned to soulful, jazzy beats with an indie streak – she has covered Radiohead’s Creep. She has become something of a voice for her generation – the super sad generation in one of her signature tunes. It was recognised when Collapsed in Sunbeams won this year’s Mercury Music Prize.

7 – Californian Soil by London Grammar

When this album came out in April, I listened to it a couple of times, concluded it was more of the same with a few more dance beats than before. Nothing as memorable as Strong or Rooting for You from the first two albums. But before I went to see the band at Alexandra Palace in November I put it back on a few times and I realised what a good album it was. Yes, the beats are a little more uptempo than usual, but what still gets you is Hannah’s voice. A thing of great beauty, tinged with sadness, even when she is singing against a dance rhythm. London Grammar albums don’t come round very often – this is the third in eight years – so Californian Soil is something to treasure.

8 – For the First Time by Black Country, New Road

How to describe Black Country, New Road? Avant-garde post-punk? Jazz-prog rock? All of this and more. For the First Time seemed like a bit of a placeholder at first, as it has only has six songs, two of which, Athens, France and Sunglasses, had been around for a while. However, both have been significantly re-worked. I particularly like the new, fuzzy guitar intro to Sunglasses. And it’s still as bonkers as ever. What’s so good about this album is that there is so much going on that every listen reveals something new. Singer Isaac Wood sounds like he’s on the verge of some kind of breakdown. Georgia Ellery’s violin and Lewis Evans’ sax contribute hugely to the richness and unpredictability of the sounds. This was shortlisted for the Mercury Music, and if the judges had been feeling adventurous they would have won it.

9 – Blue Weekend by Wolf Alice

This one was shortlisted too, but they won it for their last album, so it was not that likely they could do it again. Blue Weekend sees Wolf Alice take another step towards polished pop, though they haven’t embraced dance beats yet as so many do. It was another album that grew on me, after an inconclusive initial reaction. I missed the guitar riffs that were such a great part of My Love is Cool and, in a different, 70s rock way, Visions of a Life (the Mercury winner). Smile is the standout rocker; Play the Greatest Hits is a bit weak. But as the essence of the songs emerged I began to appreciate a grandiose beauty in many of them, and none better than the solicitous How Can I Make it OK? and the anthemic The Last Man on Earth. The latter will be Wolf Alice’s lighters out moment for years to come.

10 – Sera Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos by Mabe Fratti

Mabe Fratti is a Guatemalan cellist and composer, based in Mexico. The album title in English is Will We Be able to Understand Each Other Now? That sense of unease permeates the album as Mabe Fratti’s wistful vocals float over a soundscape of juddering and looped cellos, synths, discordant guitars – and a bit of birdsong! There’s a strange beauty to it, which occasionally brings to mind Kate Bush or even the Cocteau Twins, but really I haven’t heard anything like it before. Another discovery courtesy of 6 Music.

11 – On All Fours by Goat Girl

More skewed rock’n’roll from the south London post-punks, with less rock and more roll than before. In lockdown Goat Girl have embraced electronics and dance sounds, never more so than in the lead single Sad Cowboy, which shifts gear near the end and goes all techno. The trenchant views on life and politics remain, but Goat Girl are a very different band to the one I first saw supporting Moonlandingz (A Fat White Family offshoot) at Village Underground in Shoreditch in 2017. Slicker, less punky, more mature. And just as intriguing.

12 – As the Love Continues by Mogwai

I only really got Mogwai in 2019, after seeing them play at Latitude. Those slow-building sweeps of guitar transformed from dirges to epics in the live arena. They were even better this year at Green Man, under the night sky, with the Black Mountain in the background. As the Love Continues probably isn’t that different from most of its predecessors, though it almost goes pop with Ritchie Sacramento – which has singing on it! It reminds me of Slowdive. Ceiling Granny rocks like Smashing Pumpkins; but really there’s no-one else like Mogwai. Just let the waves of sound wash over you.

13 – Good Woman by The Staves

It’s six years since the Staves’ last album, If I Was, which was produced by Justin Vernon. In that time there have been break ups, their mother died, and one of the sisters, Emily, had a baby. On the recent tour it was just Jessica and Camilla, with a backing band. Good Woman is a reflection on all those experiences: quite subdued lyrically, but defiant with it. The trademark harmonies are more restrained, but as lovely as ever. This is a mature, melancholy album that soothes you as it moves you.

14 – A Color of the Sky by Lightning Bug

Lightning Bug are a New York band, led by singer Audrey Kang. I’d not come across them until I heard the single The Right Thing is Hard to Do on 6 Music. I loved it: a slice of dreamy guitar-laden pop, with a lovely melody and Audrey’s delicate vocals floating on the breeze. In fact I liked it so much that it turned out to be my most-played song on Spotify this year. The band’s sound has been described as shoegaze, and I suppose it is, but there’s a stronger folk element in it than most of the music in that category. It’s simply gorgeous, from start to finish: music to wallow in.

15 – In Your Hands/ In This House (2020) by Lewsberg

Lewsberg were another 6 Music discovery this year. The first song I heard was Through the Garden, off In This House. It was the most Velvet Underground-like sound I’d heard since what? The Strokes? Jonathan Richman? The Feelies? And there was a guitar solo at the end that had me thinking of Television. They must be from New York, I thought. And then a couple of months ago, I heard an even better tune, Cold Light of Day, with some brilliant guitar again. I looked up the album, to find it was from 2020. And yes, listening right through it was like listening to the Velvets (especially the 1969 live album); but it wasn’t parody, it was clearly love. I noticed that there was a 2021 album too, In Your Hands. It had less of the guitar, but more violin. Dreamier – Pale Blue Eyes rather than Waiting for the Man or White Light White Heat. Put them together and you have a great double album. Oh, and they’re not from New York, they’re from Rotterdam in Holland!

16 – You Signed Up For This by Maisie Peters

I’ve been listening to Maisie Peters’ music for two or three years now, ever since I read an article in Line of Best Fit declaring that she was making the best observational pop of 2019. I’m not sure I’m an expert on observational pop, but I liked what I heard, principally the songs on a 2018 EP called Too Nice for a Jacket. That included a lovely ballad called Feels Like This, which still features in her live show. Since then she has released a string of singles and EPs, with unfailingly catchy melodies and yes, those acute, often wistful observations. She has built up a loyal following and made a triumphant appearance on the main stage at Latitude this year. You Signed Up For This feels like the culmination of this stage of her musical journey. It’s very polished, with the inevitable dance beats lurking in the background. There’s surprisingly little from the back catalogue, and for me, it doesn’t have quite the same depth or quality as some of her earlier songs. But it’s still a very good pop album, with the singles John Hughes Movie and Pyscho the highlights. The latter is a dead ringer for Carly Ray Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe. A pointer for things to come?

17 – I Know I’m Funny Ha Ha by Faye Webster

I first saw Faye Webster supporting Julia Jacklin at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in November 2017. I liked what I heard and loved her self-titled album of that year, her second. It was country-pop with a nod to Rumours era Fleetwood Mac. Alone Again was a real heartbreaker. The next album Atlanta Millionaire’s Club was lush, but didn’t have quite as memorable songs, apart from the lovely Kingston. This latest album is even more sumptuous, has better songs and… she seems happy. I think she has found love, and this is captured wonderfully in the song In A Good Way. When I first heard that in 2020 it was on repeat for a while – it was so beautiful! You make me wanna cry, in a good way… The steel guitar is as mellifluous as ever, the violins sigh, the piano swoons. There is variety in the album – Cheers is almost rocky, Both All the Time has a hint of Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door. But mostly you get to wallow – in a good way.

18 – How Long do You Think it’s Gonna Last? by Big Red Machine

Big Red Machine is a collaboration between Aaron Dessner of The National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. They started working together in 2016 and released a debut album in 2018. With the pedigree of those two, you know what you are going to get. I’ve not heard the first album yet, but this one is a journey through Americana, with some modern production touches. The opening song sets the tone. A lovely vocal from guest Anais Mitchell, a chorus with a touch of Springsteen and Justin Vernon’s falsetto taking it higher. There are guests galore on this album, including Taylor Swift on two songs, Birch and Renegade. No surprise there, as Aaron Dessner was instrumental in the making of Folklore and Evermore. It’s a long album, at over an hour, but it maintains a coherence despite all the different participants – even Ben Howard and This is the Kit get a look-in. I’m still quite new to this one, and suspect it will be getting a lot more airplay.

19 – Colourgrade by Tirzah

I’d always thought of Tirzah as a soul/R&B singer, albeit a leftfield one. With Colourgrade the soul gets twisted and turned and the leftfield emerges victorious. It’s no surprise that one of her collaborators is Mica Levi, whose band Good Sad Happy Bad made one of the best albums of 2020, Shades. Singer and DJ Coby Sey is in the mix too. There’s a lot going on throughout this album, and sometimes very little at all. There’s a lot of space in the sound; the beats are insistent but often quite ponderous. It has an eerie, dream-like quality. I can hear a bit of the Bristol sound in there – Tricky perhaps – but if you speeded it up I suspect you might be moving into grime territory. I’m all over the place on this one, which I imagine is the intention. Its closest relation on this list is probably Mabe Fratti. Weird, for sure, but fascinating.

20 – I Don’t Live Here Anymore by The War on Drugs

I’ve loved the last two War on Drugs albums, particularly 2014’s Lost in the Dream, which remains one of my favourite albums of the 2010s. And Thinking of a Place, from 2017’s A Deeper Understanding, has some of the finest searing guitar you could hope to hear. Singer and guitarist Adam Granduciel is not one to look on the bright side of life, but he shares his pain in an affecting and uplifting way. The latest offering, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, might suggest a moving away from old habits, but musically it’s largely more of the same. From the first, gentle bars of Living Proof you are Lost in the Dream (the song) territory, with a delicate guitar solo at the end that adds to the poignancy. Next up is Harmonia’s Dream, which chugs along in the manner of Red Eyes and Burning. And so it continues, in an ultimately very satisfying way. Americana at its most epic.

Honourable mentions

There are many of course. Often because I haven’t quite got listening to them properly yet. Or perhaps they aren’t quite good as I would have expected – see Kacey Musgraves, Snail Mail, Chvrches. Or maybe they are just really good in parts, but don’t sustain over a whole album.

So, in no particular order, album name first:

Beta – Beige Banquet; Going to Hell – Lande Hekt (singer with Muncie Girls); Cheater – Pom Poko; Bright Green Field – Squid; Alternate Endings – Snowy Band; Going Going Gone – Mild High Club; Uneasy – Vijay Iyer; Screen Violence – Chvrches; Star-Crossed – Kacey Musgraves; Valentine – Snail Mail; Flora Fauna – Billie Marten; A Common Turn – Anna B Savage; Behave Myself – She Drew the Gun; Raise the Roof – Robert Plant & Alison Krauss; Jubilee – Japanese Breakfast; Monument – Portico Quartet; Rare, Forever – Leon Vynehall; Yellow – Emma Jean Thackray; Glow On – Turnstile;  Comfort to Me – Amyl and the Sniffers; The Mutt’s Nuts – Chubby and the Gang.  

EPs, singles, tracks

As I noted at the beginning, albums only tell half the story these days, if that. There are so many good EPs, singles and tracks off albums that don’t make the selection that have been real favourites this year. I’ll return to this subject after Christmas.

In the meantime, I hope your circumstances allow you to enjoy the festive period. There is always music to help you through.

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Alfa Mist at the Barbican, 4 December 2021

Last Saturday Kath and I went to see Alfa Mist and his band play a sold-out concert at the Barbican. Based in the City, near Moorgate, the Barbican Centre is not so far away from where Alfa Mist grew up, in Newham, east London. He began, as a teenager, in hip hop and grime, but discovered jazz and taught himself piano. He is now firmly established as a jazz pianist, but remains a musician who draws on those musical roots in his compositions.

I first saw him in 2018, when he played the Sunrise Arena at Latitude. It just before six o’clock on the Friday, and I’d just had my ears pummelled by a very angry band on the Lake Stage called Lower Slaughter! I thought a bit of cool jazz would be just the thing to chill out to after that. And so it was. The music flowed. The piano was central but not dominating. There was space in the music, room for virtuosity, underpinned by a solid groove. The beats felt fresh, attuned to the sounds of modern London, while nodding to the 90s acid jazz movement. The set was based, I think, around his 2017 album Antiphon. It’s a fine album, featuring songs like Keep On, Kyoki and Breathe. Kyoki was the first song of his that I’d heard – on 6 Music, of course. I loved the combination of the mellow piano motifs, which could have come from Steely Dan’s classic album Aja, a burst of guitar out of the jazz rock songbook, and a drum sound that reflected his hip hop roots. Music to sit back and relax to, with a cold drink in your hand… but music that also commanded your attention, as it flowed in unexpected directions.

Latitude 2018

Fast forward to 2021, via 2019’s Structuralism – another excellent collection – and a new album Bring Backs, which again fused jazz, hip hop and soul, but perhaps with more of the hip hop than previously.  I saw it described somewhere as a love letter to London, and the District Line even features in Mind the Gap! That song also features the voice of Lex Amor, singing in a style that reminded me a little of Martina Topley-Bird in Tricky’s 90s masterpiece Maxinquaye. What is not to like?

2021 has also allowed artists to start touring again. (Let’s not even think about the prospects of going back into lockdown, even if it is beginning to feel like it is around the corner as I write.) Alfa Mist began a UK and Ireland tour in November, with the Barbican show his biggest – as well as an extraordinary homecoming. Apparently he does all this without a conventional promoter too. The continent beckons in the New Year, regulations allowing. I can imagine him going down a storm in places like Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague and Paris.

And he went down a storm at the Barbican. I have had the good fortune to see some excellent concerts recently, Nubya Garcia, Vijay Iyer, Ishmael Ensemble and Kelly Lee Owens amongst them. This was up there with all of those, and may have been the best of all. The quality of all the playing was astonishing. Alfa Mist’s keyboards suffuses the music with an understated mellow vibe which gives the other musicians the opportunity to show what they can do. The beats were perfection – from drummer Jas Kayser and bassist and occasional singer Kaya Thomas-Dyke. A rhythm section that always had you wanting to move – even as you sat in your comfortable Barbican seat! Trumpeter Johnny Woodham, saxophonist Sam Rapley and guitarist Jamie Leeming took their turns to solo, and were clearly taking inspiration from each other. I loved the tunes that began with one of them improvising, often using echo to enhance the atmosphere, before the rest of the band came in. Bass, drums, Alfa Mist himself on a conventional piano, also had their turns. And that wasn’t all: a lot of the songs were further embellished by the wondrous sounds of the Amika String Quartet. Taking things to another level. It was such a good demonstration of the collective. No-one stole the show, not even Alfa Mist himself. He strikes me a determined but very grounded musician. Self-effacing even. His playing complements the whole, and that sets an example to everybody. They all shine, but they shine together. You could feel the respect. I really liked that.

There were thirteen songs – to use the term loosely – spread over two sets. Nine were tracks from Bring Backs – in fact the whole album was played over the evening. Keep On and Breathe made it into the set, as did a song called Door, from Structuralism, with Jordan Rakei on vocals. He was one of three guests. Before him we had, I think, Lex Amor for Mind the Gap (minus the District Line announcement!) and Barney Artist on a tune called Where’s Your Soul At? As ever, it’s thanks to Setlist FM for that information. It comes from a Barney Artist album from 2014 called Bespoke. Guest keys from… Alfa Mist.

Lex Amor guesting on Mind the Gap

Jordan Rakei on “Door” near the end

This was my last gig of 2021. It’s been good to get a few in in the last couple of months. I’ve got a few lined up in the first few months of 2022 too, lockdowns permitting. But Alfa Mist was a great way to see out this year. Music of the highest quality, music to luxuriate in. Beats that work their way into you. Solos that evoke a sense of wonder. Sounds that flow – and all you have to do is release yourself into the current.

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Kelly Lee Owens at EartH, Hackney, 2 December 2021

I first came across Kelly Lee Owens at End of the Road in 2019. A late night show in the Big Top, which I got to about half way through. All was darkness, except for the glow of the stage. A silhouetted figure danced by a couple of keyboards, with a swirl of images and light behind her. The beats boomed out of the speakers, deep bass lines challenging you not to move your feet. And a dreamy voice drifted across the sonic blast. Let it go…

Let it Go was Kelly Lee Owens’ latest single at the time, backed by another piece of infectious electro called Omen. I discovered that and her back catalogue when I got home after EOTR. The centrepiece was an album, Kelly Lee Owens, from 2017, which combined the dreamy soundscapes with all sorts of punchy bass-laden beats. I loved it, though I didn’t play it enough to get to know the names of the individual tunes. It was a journey in sound, like the landscape rushing by when you are on an inter-city train. You didn’t need names, you just took it all in.

I was looking forward to another album, but first, in December 2019, we had the treat of a collaboration with the brilliant Jon Hopkins called Luminous Spaces. An appropriate title, given the shared spaces they occupy on the musical spectrum. Then covid struck and we went into lockdown, but Kelly’s new album, Inner Song, emerged in August. And what a great album it was, from the moment that Arpeggi revealed itself to be a cover of Radiohead’s Weird Fishes/Arpeggi. Deconstructed, but still reverential. It was an album I listened to a lot – and still do. I made it No2 in my top twenty of 2020, pipped only by Taylor Swift’s Folklore. Both albums reflected the times: they were introspective, but uplifting with it. Very different sounds, but not so different origins. Kelly’s publicity suggested that the album was written at a time when she was recovering from a break-up; it was also deeply concerned with climate change. Not a mass of words decrying environmental catastrophe, but sounds that evoked her despair, and maybe her hope too. Abstract expressionism, you could say. Again those dreamy soundscapes mingled with bursts of heavy bass rhythms – the drop on the dancefloor. And there was interesting guest spot for fellow Welsh artist, John Cale – he of Velvet Underground fame amongst many other accomplishments. He sang, or more accurately intoned, to a piece called Corner of my Sky.

The rain, the rain, thank God, the rain…

Now all we needed was some live shows, to experience this amazing music in three dimensions, to feel those bass lines rumble against our ribcages!  A tour was announced, around the same time as the album was released. I bought a couple of tickets for the show at EartH, in Hackney. Scheduled for April 2021.

You know what happened to that. At least the tour wasn’t abandoned, just postponed. The new EartH date was 2 December. A long way off and who knew what regime we’d be under by then.

Of course things here started to relax soon after April, and some of the summer festivals were able to go ahead. Kelly Lee Owens was on the bill for Green Man, in her home country, in August. Another late night show, in the Far Out tent. I was there, eagerly awaiting. It turned out to be even later than planned, as she hit a technical hitch after the first couple of numbers, which led to a half hour break. She resumed and gave us a spirited performance, with all the usual elements; but the edge had been taken off it – and the festival crowd does like a good natter during songs, especially after a few beers.

I was looking forward to the December show to provide the real thing. Slightly worried that it might be hit by another sudden lockdown, especially when the new variant emerged, but it went ahead. Back to EartH, with my friend Jon G again. I was hoping it would be in the upstairs hall, a spacious theatre space, with the wooden steps used as benches. I could see the sound and the lights working really well in there. The April show had been planned for there; but it was not to be – we were in the basement. Quite a big basement, a decent concert venue, though the ceilings are quite low, and it is all standing. The latter exposes you to two obsatcles to enjoying the show fully: the tall blokes standing in your sightline at the last minute and, of course, the chatting. Both were present for much of the evening…

But despite those impediments, what a show it was. About an hour and ten minutes. Paced very nicely, opening with some of the slower pieces, and slowly building to an absolutely thumping climax over the last half hour or so. The show opened with Arpeggi – what else? – and flowed into the lovely Re-Wild, the most explicitly environmental piece on Inner Song. Through the show, we had a nice mix of the two albums, with occasional bursts of those techno beats to keep people on their toes before we went into full overdrive at the end. I guess On marked the point where the beats became relentless. That song is in two parts: a gently anthemic melody at first and then a lurch into jagged electro. The pulsating Night followed that and we were off. Through Jeanette – a tribute to her mother, and a crowd favourite – Evolution* from the first album and then the mighty Melt!, which shook the place to the core, while the flashing lights compounded the assault on our senses. Kelly rocked as she manipulated her keyboards, hair flying around her. The final tune was Kingsize*, which followed Melt! in bludgeoning us into submission – in a good way!

And you know, in that last half hour, people stopped talking to each other and actually watched the show – and danced. Kelly Lee Owens had taken back control!

The lights stayed dimmed and it felt like there was going to be an encore. Kelly came out again, to acknowledge the applause and express her gratitude. No music – she explained essentially that it was pre-programmed. But her emotions were real. Again and again she had to stop and wipe away the tears. It clearly meant a huge amount to her – a common theme in the shows I’ve seen in the last month or so. All that creativity, all that emotion suppressed as the world of the arts was shut down. And now back to life, sharing their creations – and their feelings. Catharsis.

Kelly Lee Owens’ music – and especially the live experience – does catharsis very well.

*As so often, I have to thank Setlist FM for allowing me to piece together the sequence of songs, especially those from the first album. The train was rolling…

A few more photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both my little digital camera and iPhone were rather discombobulated by the lighting and ever-morphing images. Still, I did mention abstract expressionism earlier! And I didn’t even have a drink while I was there…

 

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