[Live Review] Courtney Barnett + Big Scary @ The Forum, London 25.11.15

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CourtneyBarnett_Forum (7 of 13)

It’s a Melbourne rock ‘n’ roll residency as Courtney Barnett brings her local pals Big Scary with her. Kicking off the first of two nights at London’s Forum.

Definitely worth arriving early for, Big Scary are fitting opener for this sell out show. Officially they’re a duo comprised of Tom Isanek and singing-drummer Jo Symes, but their touring band also consists keyboards, bass and a saxophonist. Their sound conjures a vibe that I would best describe as a moody party. It is droney funk with infectious choruses. Recent single Organism is a blend of dirty bass and sax and smoky vocals that recalls Morphine and Jimi Tenor.

Another song sounds a bit like the Rapture, and they put one shouty audience member in their place after they inanely request ‘something happier. “What’s happier than a disco song?” quips Jo Symes in reply. What indeed, defiantly, they follow up with a moodier, piano number to end their set.
Courtney Barnett and her band emerge a short while later, playing a grungey set, largely comprised of her excellent debut album Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just Sit. The band generate a glorious racket for just three people, but there are times when the distortion obscures Barnett’s vocals, which is a shame as her lyrics are razor sharp and deserve to ring out loud and clear. When they can be heard though, they resonate deeply within me, particularly on the telling Are You Looking After Yourself  “Have you got some money saved up for those rainy days? / You should start some sort of trust fund, just incase you fail” she sings, wistfully.

She is a shy performer, not engaging much with the crowd, but when your songs are stories, perhaps it’s enough to let them do the talking. Barnett is a real shredder too, a passionate guitarist, tearing up the stage with riffs and solos in amped up renditions of Dead Fox, Nobody Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party, Elevator Operator, Pedestrian At Best while psyched-out animations provide a suitably trippy backdrop behind her.

There are quieter moments too, she tries to hush a boisterous shouting contingent with “I’m going to play a quiet song called Depreston”, which is a more polite shushing than they deserve. The real standout for me is Kim’s Caravan, the band are bathed in half light, perfectly framed in a David Lynch haze as the guitar drone takes hold of me and carries me away for a while.

Playing larger venues is clearly something that she is taking time in getting used to, and she may have to navigate some even bigger stages yet. But, I’m glad I’m watching her at this stage, on the rise but not yet fully swallowed whole by mainstream rock.

The encore is buoyant cover of Know Your Product by The Saints, joined by Big Scary and she ends on the song that got me into her, the pun-loving Avant Gardener.  And with that, she waves and wanders off, in the same unassuming manner in which she arrived.

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[Album Review] – Mikael Tariverdiev – Film Music

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Mikael Tariverdiev – Film Music

It is something of a dream for many music enthusiasts to discover something special and unknown, and to be able to bring it to a new audience. Last Friday saw the release on Earth Recordings, co-ordinated by Stephen Coates of The Real Tuesday Weld, of the first compilation of Mikael Tariverdiev’s film scores available in the west. Coates was apparently sheltering from the cold in a Moscow and became intrigued about the music that was playing. On asking a waitress, he learned it was ‘something from the old times’. The journey that followed led to the release of this 3CD or 3LP retrospective, curated with the assistance of Tariverdiev’s widow, Vera.

Working in the Soviet Union from the 1960s, Tariverdiev scored over 130 films in his lifetime. His was an eclectic style, incorporating classical, folk, pop and jazz elements as well as found sounds and own gruff vocals, somewhere between Tom Waits and Serge Gainsbourg, but in Russian. This is an evocative record, and although the full tow hour plus experience of playing all three discs end to end is quite overwhelming, it does give you the great feeling of having a soundtrack to your day. There is such a wide array of styles here that comparisons are difficult, perhaps some of the piano and accordion music could be compared to Yann Tiersen’s soundtrack work, some of the poppier moments to the 1960s pop of Gainsbourg and Leonard Cohen. This is a fabulous collection, meticulously assembled, and very deserving of investigation.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Various Artists – From Sacred to Secular: a soul awakening

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Ray Charles performs ‘I Believe to my Soul’ at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival

On the 27th November, History of Soul Records release an 8CD compilation exploring the transition from the 1920s onwards from sacred music to the soul music of the late 50s and 60s. Kid Vinyl had the chance to listen to a 28-track sampler of the album, taking in predominantly 50s and 60s tracks. Sam Cooke, before he started to make secular music, is represented by 1955’s Be With Me Jesus and The Staple Singers by 1954’s Since He Lightened My Heavy Load. Early transitions into secular subjects are heard in the gospel themes of Ray Charles’s 1959 track I Believe to My Soul, and legends such as Ike & Tina Turner, James Brown and Sister Rosetta Tharpe are represented. The real treasure here though are songs by artists who have largely faded from wider consciousness. 1949’s Heaven Bound Train by the Jackson Gospel Singers is a compelling gospel number that features an onomatopoeic vocal style such as later used by the backing singers on Sam Cooke’s early secular hit Chain Gang. 1962’s No Headstone on My Grave by Esther Phillips, a rerecording of a Charlie Rich number, is lyrically reminiscent of blues, but delivered in a gospel style with honky tonk piano and horns; and Little Miss Cornshucks’s (1951) version of Try A Little Tenderness is both powerful and beautiful. Overall, this is an important exploration of a musical archive and a trajectory that lead to some of the most important music of the twentieth century.

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[Video] Big Scary ‘Organism’

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Melbourne Duo Big Scary release their debut single Organism on One Little Indian, on 27th November.


The pair will bringing their twisted pop and (hopefully) interesting dance moves to the UK this Autumn. They will be supporting Courtney Barnett on tour, and have just announced two headline shows in London.

25 Wed LONDON The Forum  [Sold Out]
26 Thu LONDON The Forum 
27 Fri WOLVERHAMPTON Wulfrun Hall
30 Mon MANCHESTER The Ritz 

1 Tue LIVERPOOL O2 Academy
4 Fri BRISTOL O2 Academy 
7 Mon LONDON Hoxton Bar & Kitchen (HEADLINE)
8 Tue LONDON The Lexington (HEADLINE)



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KV looks back: Blur at Mile End, 20 years on

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17th July 1995 was a special day in my young life, not only would it be my first ever gig, but it would be to see my favourite band, Blur.

The build up was quite unlike any other I’ve experienced, even though they would go on to do much bigger gigs, this felt very special, era defining. The support line-up was teased out in the pages of the Melody Maker and NME in the months leading up to the show and it was to be their biggest headline outdoor show to date at the 27,000 capacity venue.

Blur were at the peak of their popularity, having won four awards at the Brits earlier in the year. I had bought tickets as soon as they went on sale, having convinced my parents that my friend’s older sister and her boyfriend would look after us both. The countdown was on: six months, which is teen years might as well be six years. Important planning with other more gig-experienced friends was afoot during school breaks “have you planned what you’re going to wear?” “Addidas or Puma?…yeah I think Damon wears Puma.”

Finally, the day of the gig rolled around. In typical fashion, after a beautiful run of sunshine, the rain came, but we were not to be deterred. It had been a dramatic week, Natalie’s sister was recovering from having her appendix out recently  and my Mum called me from hospital where she was also recovering from surgery to tell me to be careful. Dad sent me off with two bacon rolls and banana in my rucksack. I rationed the banana, a mistake I would discover about mid way through Blur’s set, gross!

The band were guest editors of the NME that week, such was the significance of this show. I bought it on the way to the gig, immediately scrawling the date and where I’d bought it across the top corner (WHSmith, Liverpool St Station, 12:15pm) ok so perhaps not the time, but this copy became known as my ‘sacred NME’ for a good many years after.

A lot of valuable lessons were learned that day, including, in no particular order:

1. It’s not cool to wear the t shirt of the band you’re seeing the day you see them (especially if it’s a crappy knock-off from Camden Market that is too big for you, dweeb)
2. Portaloos are gross at any time of day
3. People can be rude dicks (Specifically men in sheepskin coats who loudly bang on about how sad people in raincoats are)
4. Bananas are not good gig snacks
After standing through drizzly but great sets by Sparks, The Boo Radleys and Dodgy, the crowd was soggy but wild for the main event and the rain even let up as the intro music (The theme tune to The Great Escape, appropriately).

The elaborate stage set included a big platform for the brass section and huge colourful burgers suspended from the ceiling. I was 14, surrounded by a huge number of similarly excitable teens. Listening back to the Radio 1 coverage, the screams from the crowd were off the scale, it was Britpop’s answer to Beatlemania, Damon even told people to be careful between songs.
They tore through songs like Tracy Jacks, Girls & Boys and Popscene and it was the first time the crowd had heard Country House , two months before the infamous (though now rather daft) chart battle with Oasis. Blur had apparently offered money to local residents so they could go out for the day and escape the noise, but one of the most beautiful sights of the night was people watching from their windows as dusk fell over the east end. We sang until our throats hurt and our feet blistered, but This is a Low was the perfect closer.

20 years on, and two days before I see them at Hyde Park (for the 3rd time) I still get a shiver down my spine during For Tomorrow. They have had their ups and downs, but I will always have Mile End.



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[Interview] Kristin Hersh

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Kristin BW

The rather brilliant, and long-term KV favourite, Kristin Hersh granted me some of her time for an email interview. I could play it cool, but I’m not so I’ll just go ahead and state that it was a big deal for me, even though we didn’t actually meet.  As I had hoped, she was  engaging and candid, someone who is incredibly prolific, and principled with a close-knit group of friends in her musical family. But enough of the fannish introductions, here is my wee interview.


KV: First of all, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us via the internet. How was the UK tour this Autumn? (I can attest to the London show being great)

KH: The UK tour was absolutely perfect. And nutty. Which is perfect.

KV: You have a very open online presence, (I’m thinking of your essays and Twitter, in particular) that is as much about your daily life as your musical projects. Do you have a lot of dialogue with fans?

KH:  The open dialogue I strive for with listeners is due in part to my  philosophy that the cult of the rock star should never have been. As a shy  person, I loved letting record companies stand between me and well,  everybody; but as a musician, I know that we have to engage with each other. Because music is something that happens *between* us. Letting listeners into my life +is really just saying thank you for letting me into theirs.

KV: You have taken progressively more autonomy over your own music over the years, but if you could impart some pieces of advice or share some things that you have learned with artists who may be daunted by all the different ways to distribute their music, what would they be?

KH: First, don’t suck. Then, don’t suck  Really. I’m not being snotty. It may be that no one ever hears what you do. If that’s the case, then why bother to kiss up to style when you could have substance serving you? And then if anybody does catch wind of what you’re playing, it will serve them, too.

KV: Purgatory Paradise still has the familiar Throwing Muses storytelling and quiet/loud dynamic that will spark something in long time fans (I’m thinking of Morning Birds 2 and Sunray Venus in particular). It’s a record I want to lock myself away with, the same way I did with University in my teens.  I know it was listener-supported, what kind of reactions did you get from fans when you first released it, compared with say, press reviews?

People, both journalists and listeners, tend to be very nice to us. Pity maybe because we never “made it” or a kind of “aw, look at ’em plowin’ away for 20-odd years” but as important as we believe listeners are, we are truly lost on our little island. We think we work in a vacuum and that suits us.  If we thought anyone was actually gonna hear what we played, I think we’d get self-conscious.

KV: This time around, you have produced something that goes beyond the boundaries of a traditional album in the sense it’s that it incorporates a 64 page book of essays, lyrics and pictures. I know you had taken a similar approach on Crooked too. What made you want to approach things this way and Is this the kind of thing you wanted to do before you put music out independently of labels?

Publishing records as books was our manager, Billy O’Connell’s, idea. CD’s are not inherently valuable, but books are beautiful objects that don’t hurt, people’s feelings when you push them on them 😉

Music is like religion or politics: nobody wants to adopt your belief system, but they still like getting presents.

KV: When you tour with band mates you have been around for a long time, does it feel like a bit like travelling with family, at times? And if so, what are the best and worst aspects of that kind of dynamic?

KH: My bandmates are definitely my family. They’ve helped me raise my children. Same goes for our management team and engineers…everyone we work with, really. And honestly? There is nothing bad about this dynamic, I swear to God. Every morning I wake up honoured to spend another day with my best friends.

KV: I am interested in your free, creative commons license model for selected works-in-progress, demos etc. Do you get a lot of indie filmmakers and students approaching you for this? What have been the most unusual projects you have had music requests for?

KH: Creative Commons is an important step forward for us, as it implies an openness that serves music. Historically, songs have been a spontaneous, shared impulse; the recording industry is a fairly new invention that was created to make money. Seeing people do their work and being able to play a part is moving and necessary. I get all ‘Power to the People’ just talking about it but it’s true.

I don’t own all my recordings, of course, but I’ve used Creative Commons  licenses since becoming listener-supported. These two changes were also implemented by Billy, who had his work cut out for him as a manager working with principled people who play idiosyncratic music. Most managers don’t
have to problem solve in exactly this way, but our issues are now shared by many
people in this industry.

KV: I know you’re obviously touring off the back of a new Throwing Muses record, but does going on the road after a long time away give the older stuff a renewed energy?

KH: Throwing Muses never really stopped working during that “hiatus,” we just didn’t release any of our new material until we knew we could do it the right way. We released an anthology and did a world tour, I wrote and recorded  music
for the band and we played live whenever we got the chance (sometimes with 50FootWave opening). But you’re right, it *is* interesting to watch the – good , older material develop over time. Like watching your kids go out into the  world and have an impact, changing, and coming home with more depth of experience, greater dimension. The lousy songs don’t do this, of course, but we avoid playing those anyway ;

KV: What other projects are you working on at the moment?

KH: 50Footwave’s new record is currently being mixed by our producer, Mudrock,  in LA. I have 2 solo records (by accident…I recorded too many songs for justone record) that I’ll wrap up in December. And I just finished a book about Vic Chesnutt which was commissioned as part of a musicians on musicians series. Rob Ahlers, 50FootWave’s drummer, and I also started a new band called Outros with Portland’s Chris Brady from Pond. We’ll record our first stuff this January. I’ll let you know how it goes. Unless we blow. Then I won’t bring it up again.

Purgatory/Paradise by The Throwing Muses (The Friday Project, £11.99)  out now (consider it a Christmas purchase recommendation)


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[Album Review] James: La Petite Mort

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James - La Petite Mort

James – La Petite Mort

La Petite Mort is James 14th album, and the 4th since reforming in 2007 following Tim Booth’s temporary departure. It’s part of a second era for James, distinguished by a change from songs that emerged through lengthy jam sessions to a more standard song-writing method. And so these later albums have a different feel to the chaotic early years, but all the lyrics are still the sole work of Booth, and themes and feelings are shared with all points in their career.

The phase documented on the album is front and centre: both Booth’s mother and his best friend passed away in the last few years, as did Doris Lessing, the third woman he credits here for his inspiration. The album deals with the pain felt both during and after such partings. It also ponders what comes after life, and even beyond that.

The phrase ‘la petite mort’ also means a release (of, ahem, all kinds) and a part of us ‘dying inside’ after a particularly moving event. So the album could be viewed also as a psychological marker in James’s life, a document of where they are today. Indeed, on six minute pounding opener ‘Walk Like You’, Booth threatens “Welcome to our coming of age, to embrace all that we’ve become”. But then again every James album feels like a coming of age, a document of the band’s (or at least the singer’s) growth and development as human beings.

If Walk Like Me is a reminder of who you really are (‘We’re made of stars//we’re made of dirt) second track Curse Curse is a nightclub-anthemic abandonment of responsibility (‘Two shots more tequila//Raise the flames to fever’). Combine these two tracks and you lay out all of James’s approaches to life and death: it’s earthly, it’s magical, but just get on with it.

Moving On is the stand-out track of the album, and the second single from it. It’s a lesson in, well, precisely that. The Jamesian twist here is the point of view: we’re being simultaneously reassured and implored by the soon-to-be-deceased himself – ‘I’m on my way, leave a light on’. The narrator questions what’s to come (‘Will this cycle start again//will we recognise old friends?’), and lays bare their hopes and fears (‘When my pulse beats slow//hope to have you close at hand’). Musically it’s a euphoric statement, a heartbreaking moment soundtracked by signature James trumpets, reminiscent more than any other recent offerings of 1992’s soaring, religion-musing album Seven. It feels appropriate.

Frozen Britain was the first single, and fits the category of ‘live for today, for tomorrow we…?’ Through dance, and possibly other strenuous activity (this is James, after all), Booth hopes to ‘wake the dead’, ‘escape the coffin’. Again the spirit is uplifting, a drum-and-guitar-driven pop affirmation in the face of the inevitable.

Frozen Britain is followed by the start of the come-down. The second half of La Petite Mort is in parts angry, bitter, resentful, remorseful. Interrogation is self-blame, a thudding, panicked cry over rasping sinister electronic noise. The jury retire mid-song, only to return a dramatic and cymbal-laden verdict of guilt based on the singer’s own testimony. It’s the indictment of a singer forever blaming others in his lyrics, only to find the crimes closer to home. Life’s too short for this nailing of others, he rues, and the following track, Bitter Virtue, is the slower, sadder elegy for a misspent (or unspent) life. It’s not anger but incredulity: ‘compress a life til life expires//I’d rather live in sin… how can you sit on everything?’.

James have always been about life lessons, reminding you that they’ve been there too, and first (‘those who find themselves ridiculous, sit down next to me’). This feeling pervades La Petite Mort. But in contrast to older albums content to whisper such reassurances in your ear, this latest offering feels compelled to pound it into you via the drums and piano which underlie everything. Perhaps the singer is simply overcome with the need to let you know what’s going on; there’s rarely much of a let-up between the albums opening bars and Interrogation half way through. The aforementioned Bitter Virtue brings the tempo down for the first time.

Of the final tracks, All in My Mind admits that the dead don’t stay down – they’re here with us all the time, for good or ill. On Quicken the Dead, with it’s piano arpeggio and insistent vocals, we’re reminded that life is not a choice, and neither is death (‘Breathing’s so crude… press-ganged to get here’). We’re living life on borrowed time.

We’re brought to the end by All I’m Saying, which in its very title suggests that we’ve been listening to a lecture on the topic of death, but finally we’re going to get the bare facts. It’s a simple song, starting off with guitar strums and spare piano notes before raising the tempo in one final push. Here, at last, the singer is straight-talking with the deceased, a son at a graveside. But this isn’t a moment for saying what should have been said before. This is a confession of the here and now: ‘missing you… meeting you in a dream tonight’. It’s mourning, laying to rest, a counter-viewpoint to ‘Moving On’ and an open question about what happens afterwards, the ghostly, vocodered ‘all I’m saying, I love you, see you next time.’

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[Live Review] Devendra Banhart / Rokia Traoré , Barbican, London, 2nd May 2014

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Tonight’s double-header kicks off a month long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Nonesuch Records at the Barbican. This is a fitting place for a label with such a rich and varied cultural history – it has been home to the likes of John Zorn, Caetano Veloso, The Black Keys and of course tonight’s performers.

Devendra Banhart ambles on to kick things off. He is back to his solo roots this evening, and appears full of nervous energy. Ever the dapper and entertaining raconteur, Banhart begins with a endearingly rambling tale about pre show nerves and the pitfalls of expressing joy when dealing with the UK Border Control.

The solo performance means tonight’s set delves into the more mellow, dreamy songs from his back catalogue.

He lulls us in with Quedate Luna, and the whispery Golden GirlsCarmensita sounds super-seductive with just vocals and guitar, under the smoky lights (even if it is punctuated with the odd mid-song giggle). His deft guitar picking comes to the fore this evening and serves as a reminder of his instrumental skills as well has his distinctive vocals.

The latter half of the set become a chaotic call and response affair, with people shouting out requests. “I don’t know how to play any of this shit…I normally have a band” he quips, fielding one of many shout outs.

I didn’t shout out, but I did think to myself “I wish he’d play Little Yellow Spider”, and he did.

He tells more stories, including a brief history of Nonesuch, and one about visiting labels in NYC to put ‘Mala’ out on which became reminiscent of the Coen Brother’s titular character Llewyn Davies as it went on.

The Body Breaks is rare moment of stillness and (relative) seriousness, it’s nice to hear the old songs, intimately played. He meanders off, as chaotically as he came, he’s unlikely to ever be a slick showman, and I hope that never changes.

I have to confess to knowing nothing about  Malian singer and guitarist Rokia Traoré prior to tonight’s gig.  In contrast to Mr Banhart, she is flanked by an impressive array of backing singers and musicians. She is a small woman with a big guitar and an even bigger voice. She is elegantly spoken when she addresses the audience, thanking them for enabling her to exist as an artist. Rokia Traoré is paradoxical performer: simultaneously powerful and delicate.

She is joined by Devendra Banhart for Saram, one of the only English language songs and a beautiful tribute to African women. Whether you understand the lyrics or not, it’s clear from her recent album’s title ‘Beautiful Africa’, she is a storyteller with a very definite sense of place and given Mali’s very recent troubles, being a musician is certainly not an easy occupation in her homeland. However, the mood is a celebratory as it is reflective. Kouma builds to a heavy crescendo, and Traoré’s enthusiastic dancing and her beaming smile are both infectious. I’ll consider the second half of tonight’s gig an interesting chapter in my continuing musical education.

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