Have You Heard? – (89) “The Third Degree” by Honeyblood

This is the first new music by Honeyblood in quite a while, and is a taster for the forthcoming third album “In Plain Sight”. We have to wait until 24 May for that. Anyone who reads the musical reviews in this blog will know that I love this band. I first heard the band around the turn of 2016 and 17, after the second album “Babes Never Die, released in November 2016) made it into a few end of year lists. The punky “Ready for the Magic” was the first song I ever heard, and wow, what a good start! One of the best rock’n’roll songs EVER! I played the album to death in 2017 and made it my album of the year. I still listen to it frequently to this day. It is endlessly uplifting, even when it is miserable! My favourite songs, “Cruel” and “Hey, Stellar”, are both break-up songs (either in prospect or the aftermath), but they have a Springsteen-esque resonance. Songwriter and band mainstay Stina Tweeddale has a real celtic soul running through her compositions. A sense of melancholy, but also a defiance, a sense of fighting back.

The NME, writing about “The Third Degree”, announced that Honeyblood was now just Stina, although she will have a backing band when she goes on tour in May. Filling out the band’s sound live makes a lot of sense. While Stina on guitar and Cat Deeley on pounding drums made a great sound on stage, it did feel that Stina needed a bit more back-up than just a drummer could provide. A bassist, for example, would give her the scope to branch out on the guitar, maybe even play acoustic at times. There’s some keyboard programming happening already, so having someone twiddling the knobs on stage wouldn’t do any harm either.

I saw Stina perform twice last year, first with Cat at Bush Hall in January. That was a slightly shambolic though energetic show, fuelled a bit by excessive lagers it seemed. Afterwards, on Twitter, Stina was very self-critical – and anxious about her songwriting muse. She got a lot of support from fans (Twitter can be good, you know!) and seemed to appreciate it. The second time I saw her was at a solo performance at the Leith Theatre, on the Edinburgh shoreline, on a bill with Gwenno and Dream Wife. It was part of the Hidden Doors arts festival in May. Stina played a great selection from both her albums, including “Hey, Stellar” and a rousing version of “Babes Never Die”. It felt to me that things were changing: going solo, if only as one-off; time to write a new album, and think about where the music was heading.

And now we start to see and hear the fruits of that period, with “The Third Degree.” It’s another break-up song, apparently about a friend. The theme is about resisting letting the ex back into your life, especially when the temptation is there, and you’ve had a bit to drink – the accompanying video plays on that. There’s a catchy refrain of No, no drama drama baby, which could have been a great singalong chant in my playground in the early 70s. Musically, the melody does take me back to that era, and the 60s. The song that really comes to mind is “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-La’s. And lyrically, “Walk on By” might have been an inspiration. Who knows?

It’s a great song and sets things up nicely for the new album. It’s quite a short piece, and I was left wanting more as it ended – a guitar solo or even some sax. That’s my Bruce influence I guess. But you know, I think they may have something in common – that rock’n’roll sensibility, the gift of melancholy melody and a belief in the redeeming power of music. Which is why they are two of my favourite artists of all time. One stretching back to my late 70s youth, the other all the way back to 2016! Both the Honeyblood albums, despite their recent vintage, have broken into my all time top twenty (and “Babes Never Die” the top five) where they nestle with the likes of Bruce, The Clash, Elvis Costello, U2, Bowie, Bobs Marley and Dylan, Radiohead, Talking Heads, Van the Man and Television. Let’s hope “In Plain Sight” makes it a hat trick!

 

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Rival Sons at the Roundhouse, 6 February 2019

Last Wednesday, I went along with my friends Dave and Tony to the Roundhouse to witness some ROCK! The band were Rival Sons, who I’d never heard of, until Dave suggested them. Apparently Jimmy Page rates them, and that’s no surprise, because Zep are one of the bands that have clearly influenced them. I’d add Free and Bad Company, the Black Crowes, Guns’n’Roses and AC/DC to the mix. They are not bad influences! I don’t go to a lot of straight rock concerts these days, but all that 70s rock, especially Free and Bad Co, Robin Trower, Zep, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Nazareth, Uriah Heep and Budgie (yes, Budgie) has a special place in my heart. The 15 year old, pre-punk me loved that sound more than any other.

Rival Sons are from California, and have been around since 2009. Which shows how much I’m tuned in to the rock scene these days! Three members of the band have been there since the start: vocalist and occasional guitarist Jay Buchanan, guitarist Scott Holiday and drummer Mike Miley. They are a slick, hard rocking band. I loved Jay’s riffs and solos. He looked more like a guy who should be in a rock’n’roll or even punk band, but he had all the tricks. I didn’t really know what to expect before it kicked off, but I was soon won over by the guitar and the beats. Classic stuff, and a lot of fun.

Their latest album is “Feral Roots”, released in 2018. When I listened to it on Spotify before the gig, I was kind of 6-7/10 about it. I liked the sound, but I thought Jay’s vocals could have come down a notch – get a bit closer to Paul Rodgers. Same with the guitars – they could have been a bit dirtier. But it’s 2019 now, not 1974, so I understand why everything’s a bit higher and more produced.  Live, of course, you get the distortion and volume, and this time that was good. The sound, for me, really rocked in the right way. And there is no doubt the crowd agreed with that. An interesting crowd. I’d expected it to be quite old, given the nature of the music; but in fact, there weren’t that many people from our generation. More the late 20s and 30s, I’d say. There was some good head banging at the front, which we had a good view of, from our comfortable sideways-on seats.

So, the riffing was good throughout. But I did like the slow section – every rock band has one. Two songs: “Jordan” and “Feral Roots”. This is where I did really get my Bad Co vibes, which is a good thing for me. My favourite band for a while in the 70s. They brought on a choir for the first song of the encore too. A little bit of almost-gospel. Called “Shooting Stars”. Bad Co had a song called “Shooting Star”. Well, why not?

So, a concert I only really went along to out of solidarity, but one I really enjoyed. You never lose the desire to ROCK!

 

 

 

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Chvrches at Alexandra Palace, 7 February 2019

Chvrches played at Alexandra Palace last Thursday, the first leg of their UK tour, promoting last year’s album – their third – “Love is Dead”. “Ally Pally” is up in North London, perched on a hill which affords amazing views of London below, especially the City. The palace is a cavernous place, holding up to 10,000 people in the main hall. Chvrches are big enough to fill that these days. It’s good to see a band that you’ve followed pretty much since the start breaking into the big time, though the downside is that unless you are really dedicated (and probably quite young) you find yourself watching the big screens as much as the specks on the stage. The fate of the ageing concert-goer!

I first saw Chvrches at Latitude in 2013, in what was then called the i-Arena, in the Woods. The place was packed – there was a real buzz about the band. At the time I likened them to Human League and Erasure. They released their debut album “The Bones of What You Believe” in September that year, and I caught them at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in October. By then I’d grown to love the album, and it was great to see all my favourites, like “Lies”, “Tether”, “The Mother We Share” and “We Sink” being played. Those easy comparisons with 80s electropop were valid, but there was more to Chvrches, and that came with the voice, the look and the personality of Lauren Mayberry. She had a cold that night, but she battled through. After the gig, the album just sounded better and better, and I made it my album of 2013 in December.

Shepherd’s Bush Empire, October 2013

It wasn’t until March 2016 that I saw Chvrches live again. In between, I think their focus was America, and the relentless touring most bands need to do to crack the market. Their second album, “Every Open Eye”, was released in September 2015. It was bolder, dancier than the first album. It took me a little longer to get into it, but it came in at No 4 in my 2015 top ten. My favourite tune was “Keep You On My Side”, which felt like a real dance floor banger. At the Albert Hall they were a revelation. Presentationally they had really stepped up a gear, and Lauren was moving around the stage a lot more. It was a show. The pounding beats of “Clearest Blue” from the new album ended the main concert with style, before a wonderful encore of “Afterglow” – Lauren’s voice at its most tender as the ceiling was lit with stars – and a celebratory “The Mother We Share”.

Royal Albert Hall, March 2016

So that was good, but Latitude the same year was something else. They had second billing to the National on the main stage on Saturday night. It was a sultry evening, and I watched them about eight rows back from the stage – just on the edge of the moshers. And Chvrches absolutely bossed it. The bass lines coming out of the speakers were incredible. They thumped you in the chest at high intensity. It was exhilarating. Lauren was a ball of energy. This was the moment that confirmed for me that Chvrches were a truly great live band. Lauren reappeared during the National’s set, to sing a duet with Matt Berninger on “I Need My Girl.” The compliment was to be returned on the third album, “Love is Dead”, when Matt sang on the wistful “My Enemy”.

Latitude, July 2016

“Love is Dead” was released in May 2018. My first reaction was that it was more of the same as “Every Open Eye”, with added Taylor Swift in the production and some of the choruses. An obvious bid for the pop market. I liked it enough to make it No 9 in my 2018 top ten, but other things were getting more of my attention. Picking out some best songs for my 2018 Best Of complication got me listening again, and “Get Out”, “Miracle” and “Heaven/Hell” got my vote, along with “ My Enemy”. And before that, I’d got tickets for Ally Pally pretty much as soon as they were announced. After the triumphs in 2016, how could I not?

And so to Thursday’s show, with Jon G, also an admirer. In support were Let’s Eat Grandma – quite a step up for them. Their 2018 album “I’m All Ears” lacked the quirkiness of the debut, and was less interesting, on first listening. With more conventional dance beats the sound filled the hall well enough, but with both Jenny and Rosa mostly stuck behind their keyboards, the half of the show I saw wasn’t that amazing. They lost me a bit after their insouciant show at End of the Road in 2017; but there was a first tonight – they spoke to the audience! I need to give their new album a proper listen before this year’s End of the Road. I’m still interested to see how they develop in future, having first seen them play at Electrowerkz in Islington in 2016.

Chvrches came on in a blaze of lights and piled into “Get Out” from the new album and “Bury It” from the second. Lauren was resplendent in translucent yellow gown over her black top and shorts. Finished off with some heavy platform boots. Yes, the music is the thing; but Lauren’s outfits – and eye make up – are always interesting. Over the course of the evening, songs from “Love is Dead” dominated, but there was a substantial selection from the first album, including “Gun” and “We Sink” after the two openers. My two favourites, “Lies” and “Tether”, didn’t get a look-in, inevitably. Nor did “Keep You on My Side” – times move on. But “Every Open Eye” came into its own at the end of the main set, with rousing versions of “Leave a Trace” and “Clearest Blue”. Naturally “The Mother We Share” featured in the encore. There was no “Afterglow”, but “Really Gone” from “Love is Dead” was a lovely alternative during the set. That’s a song I hadn’t really fixed on before the concert, but I’ve been listening to it a lot since. As is often the case, I find myself giving new albums more airtime after than before the show. Possibly the wrong way round, but a good concert puts you in the mood for more.

So, yes, I really enjoyed the concert. It didn’t have the same impact as the Albert Hall or Latitude shows, but they were still at a time of development. Now it was consolidation. And there were one or two reservations. Being a long way from the stage was a choice, so can’t complain about that. But the sound wasn’t the crispest, and those bass lines only occasionally reverberated. In fact there was something a little bit rocky about it all, with a conventional drummer, and Martin Doherty playing guitar/bass quite a lot. He also did a bit too much singing and awkward dancing – it’s the moment to go and get another beer. Fair play – he writes a lot of the music, so deserves a bit of the limelight; and it gives Lauren a chance to have a rest. But there is the band’s image to think about.

What comes next for Chvrches I wonder, when the time comes to record again? They could do roughly the same for a while yet, especially when they are so good live. Or might they aim for the American rock arena? Then again,  maybe Lauren will be tempted by a solo album. A return to their indie-electro roots seems unlikely. I think there could be a crossroads approaching. Whatever, I hope we find out sooner than 2021!

Meanwhile, a few more photos, starting with a cropped version of the one at the beginning.

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lovelondonscenes 157 – Under the Bridge, the City

Just walking up to the Tate Modern, to do a bit of writing, I stopped under the Blackfriars railway bridge and took a few shots. I liked the way the underside of the bridge framed St Paul’s and the City beyond.

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lovelondonscenes 156 – A walk from Greenwich to London Bridge

Over the past three years, Kath and I and our friends Jon and Maggie have been walking the length of the Thames. Today, in glorious winter sunshine, we filled a little London gap, which just leaves a stretch in Oxfordshire to complete some time this Spring. As the crow flies Greenwich to London Bridge is 4 miles. Once you take the bends of the Thames into account it is 6-7. Canary Wharf and then Tower Bridge and the City are inevitably the photographic highlights, but from different perspectives than usual. Here are a few shots, starting with a view of the Shard from platform 1 of London Bridge railway station, waiting for the train to Greenwich.

Leaving Greenwich.

Canary Wharf.

Assuming this church is called St Mary’s as it’s on Saint Marychurch Street, in Rotherhithe.

This statue, in Bermondsey, is of Alfred Salter. He and his wife Ada were pioneering socialists around the turn of of the 19th/20th centuries, politically and in the field of medicine, in south-east London. The cat, above, belonged to them, I think. There is a statue of Ada too, but I took this shot thinking it was David Hockney!

The Shard, imprisoned.

Walkie-Talkie.

Gherkin.

This one taken from London Bridge waiting for a No17 bus, to take us to King’s Cross.

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Line of Best Fit’s “Five Day Forecast” and Adrianne Lenker at the Union Chapel, 14-16 January 2019

Last week I found myself in North London on three successive nights for my first concerts of 2019. Monday and Wednesday were both at the Lexington in Pentonville aRoad and were part of the Line of Best Fit’s (link) “Five Day Forecast” – a show case for up-and-coming artists. Tuesday was Adrianne Lenker, singer with a Big Thief, at Union Chapel, in Islington.

Five Day Forecast featuring Emily Burns, Lexington, Monday 14 January

I took a bit of a punt on this show, not knowing any of the artists beforehand, save for a quick run through on Spotify on the day. There were four bands, all with women in the lead. First up was Deyyess. She only had one track on Spotify – her recent single “Escher Heart”. That’s a lively piece, with a dance beat and a dramatic melody. That was a feature of most of her songs, though she came on and played with just an electric guitar for the first song, “Detail”. I rather liked that song, though it wasn’t typical. A strong theme in Deyyess’s songs was independence and empowerment, as it was throughout the evening. An interesting detail about Deyyess is that she used to play football for the Arsenal women’s youth team, but decided to concentrate on her music.

Next on was Millie Turner. She’s quite well-established – one of her tunes, “Eyes on You”, has more than 3.8 million streams on Spotify. Her music was pre-programmed on what looked like an old ghetto blaster or radio. She had an engaging style and the songs reminded me a little bit of Lorde. For a couple of the more introspective tunes she brought on a guitarist to play along with her. On the night, I particularly liked “She was a Dancer”. On listening again to her music, there are some good sounds, including “Underwater” as well as the two already mentioned. No album yet, but I could see her being pretty successful.

Call Me Loop followed Millie. They feature singer (and dancer!) Georgia Buchanan. Her songs were the most dance-orientated of the evening, and that comes across even more on her recorded output. I think she will benefit from being on a bigger stage, as she likes to move, and the Lexington is not that big. I particularly liked a song towards the end called “Business”, which is a catchy bit of R&B.

Finally, Emily Burns. She’s a bit more well-established, and by now the place was packed. There were also a lot of young women in the audience, many of whom seemed to know all the words. Earlier the place had been a bit blokey, as you get at most indie events (even if the cast list tonight was pretty pure pop). I’m one of the old geezers so I’m not making any judgements! Emily played acoustic guitar and her songs, accompanied by some bouncy pop keyboards, were catchy and likeable in that modern style. Men didn’t come out too well in the lyrics – even the one who was just too nice! “Friends don’t kiss Friends” was one of the standouts. I liked “Girlfriend at the Time” too. She came back for an encore, which she didn’t seem to be expecting, and played “Cheat” to much acclaim.

So, an enjoyable evening. Not much of it was the sort of music I generally listen to – though Emily Burns and Catherine McGrath aren’t miles apart – but it’s good to try different things. And it was only £9. Great value.

Adrianne Lenker, Union Chapel, Tuesday 15 January

I have End of the Road 2018 to thank for my getting to know the music of Big Thief, a New York indie/Americana band, with alternative twist. I didn’t actually get to see them at EOTR, as they clashed with Fat White Family and the Orielles, but my preparatory listening introduced me to great songs like “Masterpiece”, “Shark Smile”, “Paul” and “Parallels”. Adrienne Lenker sings and plays guitar. She has a beautiful, quite fragile voice, which was perfectly suited to the echoey spaces of Union Chapel. She released a solo album called “abysskiss” in October 2018, and tonight’s show was based on that. She came across as being quite nervous, and tuned (or retuned?) her guitar endlessly between songs. It was worth it though, as she had a lovely, mellifluous finger-picking style, which was a perfect accompaniment to her beautiful, dare I say it, ethereal vocals. I was thinking of Nick Drake and early Bob Dylan at times. She opened up to the audience as time went on, and was clearly in awe of the setting and number of people who had come to see her. An absolute delight.

The support act, Squirrel Flower, was pretty good too. Just one woman and her electric guitar. I saw about half her set. The sound was mellow and atmospheric. No engagement with the audience. After her set she raced down to the Lexington and played in the Five Day Forecast.

Five Day Forecast featuring Faye Webster, Lexington, Wednesday 16 January

I had to go to this one. Any excuse to see Faye Webster perform her beautiful songs. I lurrvve her recent single “Kingston”. It is so sumptuous. There were a couple of other acts first. Ohtis was one man and his acoustic guitar, though he usually has a band. He had a couple of catchy country-ish tunes on Spotify. At the Lexington he played some quirky, rather macabre songs, about things like heroin addiction and psychiatric wards. Mmm, nice.

After Ohtis, it was the turn of Gia Margaret. She has an album out called “There’s Always Glimmer”. I rather like it – it’s a wistful, dreamy collection of songs. Her most streamed song is “Birthday”, which has a lovely, upbeat feel to it. It was mainly her and her electric guitar, with some subtle accompaniment from drums and keyboards. It was the first concert she’d played outside her native US – she is from Chicago. She was very modest about things, but played a lovely set with some fine guitar.

Gia’s unassuming style was replicated by Faye Webster. She sat down too and was more subdued than she has been in the past. She did say she’d felt light-headed, so maybe that was the reason. She played mostly new songs (unless they were from her first album “Run and Tell”) but, surprisingly, not “Kingston”, even though she had her pedal steel man, Kippy, with her to provide those sumptuous swirls and twangs. The new songs were lovely, and instantly likeable. Must be a new album soon, so I’m really looking forward to that. The first song was called “I Should Get Out More”, which is a classic Faye Webster title! There were only two songs from the wonderful “Faye Webster” album: “Alone Again” (hooray!) and the closing song of the set, “Is it too much to ask?” No “She Won’t go Away” or “I Know”, which was disappointing, especially when the set was quite short. Maybe it was because she wasn’t well, or maybe it was just because she does things her own way, and doesn’t like to conform to expectations. Which is fair enough. Like I said earlier, the new songs were great. Just surprising, when you are still making your way, and heading up a prestigious gig in a foreign country, that you don’t play your best hand. Here’s to the next time…

 

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Suffolk walks – photos from late December

My wife Kath and I spent a few days, up to and including the New Year, with our friends Jon and Maggie in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. It’s not the best known part of England – East Anglia generally has been neglected in many ways – but it is rather beautiful, in its understated way. We went walking on each of the three full days we had there, probably about 8-10 miles each day. Walking off a bit of the Christmas excess hopefully! In my last blog, “The Beauty of Small Things“, I published a few of the close-up photos I took. This time just some wider scenes, but with a homage to a favourite place included. Read on to find out…

29 January

We walked from Aldeburgh, through the Black Heath woods and past the Snape Warren, to Snape Maltings, which is famous for its cultural gatherings: music, drama, art.  Whether the surname of some of the baddies in “Harry Potter” was inspired by the place I have no idea. I particularly loved the scenes of the mudflats bordering the Alde river estuary, with all the straw-coloured reeds. I have a memory that they are bright green in the summer, from a visit a long time ago. Whatever: there’s a real serenity about the place, as you gaze over the reeds, swaying in the breeze.

We walked back along the same route in reverse, which gives you new perspectives of the same thing. And the sun began to set. The woods blocked the view to the west for much of the time, but I managed a few shots. The first isn’t so much sunset as just an interesting sky. It swirled above us.

30 January

Today, a circular walk, in which the Sizewell nuclear power station was never far away. The aliens have landed!

Minsmere nature reserve. Featured on a BBC Springwatch in the past, apparently.

The ruins in this one are the original site of Leiston Abbey.

Not sure how reassuring this public notice is!

Where the warm water from the power station flows into the sea, the fish gather. So, therefore, do the fishermen and the seagulls.

31 January

We began with a trip to Henham Park, not far from Southwold. The home of Latitude. Something of a spiritual home for me and Jon. It wasn’t open to the public, but there were no barriers and no-one around, so we ventured in for a bit, and bored our wives with lots of this is where the BBC tent tent is, this is where the new food village is, over there in the Woods is where the Sunrise Arena is, etc, etc. If you wish, compare and contrast with the festival, when there are 30,000 people there. My blog on Latitude 2018 has some scenery shots at the end. It was a dustbowl in July 2018; now it is recovered and green, ready for the next assault!

Southwold is the home of Adams beer and, intermittently, George Orwell. It’s a classic English seaside town too.

This is an old docks area on the estuary of the River Blyth. Black and white suits it, I think.

Back to Latitude. On the bridge, which each year is our re-entry into dreamland for four days.

 

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