30 Sep 2013

ÁSGEIR - In The Silence




In the country that gave us Bjork and Sigur Ros the debut album from Asgeir, released in September 2012 is the fastest and biggest ever selling debut album by a home grown artist, where more than 10% of the Icelandic population now own the record. 'In The Silence' is the English language version of Ásgeir's breakthrough debut album 'Dyrd í Dauðathogn', translated from Icelandic by John Grant. 
The landscape that so permeates the work of his better known countrymen can be felt in the epic nature of some of these songs, most notably ‘In Harmony’ but the songs also have a delicate and personal quality too and this has much to do with Asgeir’s falsetto vocal style which is very reminiscent of Bon Iver in places. The comparison to Bon Iver can be extended to the songs themselves which have a slow burn attraction, beginning their life as pleasant but melancholic background music before systematically demanding your attention and declaring themselves special and worthy of an investment of time and consideration. 
Debut single ‘King and Cross’ demonstrates Asgeir’s vocal quality but it’s a song which attracts attention more for its effective blend of a folk style with an upbeat electronic rhythm. ‘On That Day’ is a more straightforward wistful folk song but with a gorgeous melody that you want to lodge in your memory so that you can call upon it to relax you when needed. 
This is a truly wonderful album proving that Icelandics are a tasteful bunch. It’s released on One Little Indian on 28th October. 

Words: Russell Poad 

29 Sep 2013

SOMETHING - The Head of Steam, Newcastle - 27th September 2013




Last Friday, myself and fellow NE:MM writer, Leo Lumley, paid a visit to the Head of Steam in Newcastle City Centre to see some of the best Lo-Fi music the North East has to offer. The venue itself recently has had a fresh lick of paint and is now kitted out with a new PA and lights, thus is no longer a dark, dungeon-like space but instead a great sounding venue with delightful ambiance. At a measly £3 entry, this was one of the best value gigs I've been to, and that's before we even get started on how incredible the bands were.

Proceedings kicked off with noisy guitar pop duo, Rice Milk. The band create short, catchy pop songs backed with jangly guitar chords and driving drumbeats that allow the light, melodic vocals to shine through perfectly. The performance switched to and fro between tame and energetic which at points had members of the audience subtly headbanging along.

Next to the stage were Apache Viking, an energetic four piece with all the riffs and grooves you could possibly want. The band combines elements of Indie rock, post-punk and funk, reminiscent of the late Dananananaykroyd with an added Lo-Fi flare. In addition to this, angular rhythms, hooky guitar lines and witty charms made the group a pleasure to watch.

Brighton's finest melodic noise pop band, Tyrannosaurus Dead, was next to grace the stage. Using the venue's new PA system to its limits, the band created an intense wall of sound out of distortion, fuzz and crashing cymbals. The music was a pleasant assault on the ears, rendering me near deaf within five minutes of the set with tones ranging from a shoegaze style cacophony to gloomy, downtempo lullabies.

Headlining the event was Newcastle based Noise Folk duo, Something. Usually performing with a third member on guitar/keys, the band played a somewhat warped collection of their songs due to being one man down and also being very, very drunk. The first song saw singer/guitarist Oliver Catt venturing into the audience and at one point ramming his head into my torso before returning to the stage to proclaim how intoxicated he was. The performance was energetic and filled with moments of drunken hilarity along with raw emotional bouts of shouting. For the second to last song, the band invited the audience to come on stage to play with them, with drummer David now standing where the audience once was, I found myself and the majority of the audience hitting drums with sticks on the command of Oliver. The set ended with a climax of feedback and percussion, leaving many questioning what they had just witnessed as they stare at Oliver collapsed next to the drum kit as David packs up around him. Something are definitely one of the best live bands in Newcastle, if you see these guys perform I can assure you that you're in for a treat.

Words: Alex Greenup
Picture: David Wala

23 Sep 2013

PINS - Girls Like Us





I approached this review with some fear. As a huge fan of PINS’ live sound I was concerned that the reverb drenched guitar noise that dominates many of the bands’ songs would not translate so well recorded; that discovering the hooks and melodies beneath the fuzz would demand too much effort on the part of the listener. At first I was not dissuaded from my initial concern. This is an uncompromising record with a production style to match. If like me you are a fan of a clean production sound then you’ll either fail to get to grips with ‘Girls Like Us’ or you’ll have to work hard to appreciate it. 

The Manchester based all-girl four piece have a sound reminiscent of a 1970’s Detroit garage rock band. Think The Stooges, Patti Smith or Vivian Girls and you’re not far off. 

There’s some great songs packed into 35 minutes. The title track is a perfect example of what you can expect from the album as a whole - a thumping drum and bass usher in a howling chorus accompanied by frenetic guitar. ‘Lost Lost Lost’ sounds a little like early Joy Division with a Banshees-esque vocal (and in doing so draws comparisons to peers Savages). A little light relief is found in ‘Velvet Morning’ with its psychedelic opening and spoken-word vocal. It’s the track that least epitomizes the record as a whole but it’s provides a necessary and welcome pause to the aural assault that begins again in earnest on ‘Stay True’ which is the musical equivalent of being trapped in a house blaze. 

The album was recorded and mixed in a week. You can hear the urgency in every note. The music may be somewhat derivative (what isn’t?) but it sounds completely authentic. 

So after several weeks and many listens I am pleased to say that I like the album almost as much as I love PINS’ live performances. Thankfully I won’t have long to wait to see the band again as they play Cluny, Newcastle on 11th October. The album is released on Bella Union on 30th September. Buy it then catch them live.

Words: Russell Poad

CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe






For some reason, I am unaccountably annoyed by the v in Chvrches.  In all honesty, mostly by the fact it is there to avoid confusion with actual churches in internet searches.  Their first gig as unsigned artists sold out and was jam packed with A&R men.  They featured in the Guardian’s New Bands of the Day before they had even officially released a single.   So far, so hype.  However, you only have to listen to a couple of songs to realise that Chvrches aren’t the emperor’s new clothes after all and that there is an abundance of substance to back up the hype. 

I’ll level with you, the last synth-pop album I bought was probably by Depeche Mode in the last 1980s and nothing in between has made me feel I’m missing out.  The singles you’ve probably already heard are great but the rest of the album is anything but filler.  Mayberry’s vocals which might sound too “sweet” over more fey tracks, provide the perfect foil for the synth beats.   Tracks such as 'We Sink' and 'Tether' simply sparkle with electro-melody (I don’t think that’s a thing.  I just made it up.  Sorry.) 'Lungs' is absolutely perfect pop. 

Possibly because I was so taken with Mayberry’s vocals, the only low point of the album for me was 'You Caught the Light' where Doherty takes lead vocals.  The tempo is slower on this track and it simply lacks the crackle of the rest of the album. 

Regardless of genre, the thing which elevates songs to greatness which will stand the test of time, is the quality of the songwriting.  Mayberry, Cook and Doherty spent 8 months in a basement crafting these tunes and every minute of it shows. This album is genuinely so good that I’m going to buy it rather than just stream it on Spotify and praise doesn’t come much higher than that.   


Words: Gail Richardson
  

STEVE MASON - Fire! (Video)







Ahead of his upcoming gig at Newcastle's Warehouse 34 on 9th November we spoke to Steve Mason. The interview will be included in issue 5 of NE:MM that is distributed across Newcastle/Gateshead 16th October 2013. We're big fans of Steve's music and don't need any more of an excuse to post a link to the video for his latest release (out 4th November on Domino Recording Co) 'Fire!' Enjoy. 

Words: Russell Poad
Picture: Kevin Morosky


20 Sep 2013

TROUMACA - The Grace




As the summer fades away into a new autumn, it is only natural that we desperately try to cling on to the sounds that take us back to the cider-fueled and reveller fields of a British summer festival. Anybody who went to any festival this summer will be sure to tell you that an almost garagey bassline and the relentless tchk tchk tchk of a snare fused with euphoric synth beats were the soundtracks to their hedonism this summer and Troumaca’s new release clings to the remnants of summer 2013.

After signing to legendary Radio 6 DJ Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings label at the end of last year, Troumaca have slowly and steadily built up there fanbase through an ep release (February’s Virgin Island EP), psychedelic Animal Collective-esque music videos for their track 'Lady Colour' and 'My Love' and a sporadic stream of live performances across the country. The release of Troumaca’s debut album and the upcoming Autumn tour accompanying it must seem like the perfect climax for the band and their dedicated fanbase after a year spent inserting themselves into the echelons of some of Britain’s most inventive and interesting bands of this year.

Encompassing an eclectic mix of dub reggae, synthpop, R&B, garage, dream pop, and alt rock, 'The Grace' does that thing which good albums do in which they seem almost familiar to you but at the same time sound like something produced in another galaxy. 'Trees' sounds like something from a rave you went to maybe a few summers back but it also sounds like it could be from the sundrenched soundtrack of some LA set, 80s crime drama. 'Lady Colour' espouses the nouveau psychedelia we’ve seen a renaissance of over the past 5 years while title track 'The Grace' seems to borrow from the synth-soul heavy bassline you’d find in a Miike Snow track.

While certainly a fun record to listen to, there is no doubt in mind that there is a serious vision behind it as the technical sheen that emanates from the production of this album suggests a greater ambition than just to slide into the background haze of other bands of this ilk. 'The Grace' may very well serve as the soundtrack for the rest of this year and perhaps even the summer of 2014. The Grace is released on 23rd September on Brownswood Recordings and Troumaca play Think Tank, Newcastle on Thursday 10th October.

Words: Jamie Shepherd

19 Sep 2013

TUSK FESTIVAL PREVIEW - The Star & Shadow, Newcastle - 11th–13th October




Now in its third year, the contemporary music festival returns with screenings, workshops, installations, talks and live performances. Featuring a rare solo set by Oren Ambarchi, legendary skronk pioneers Smegma (now in their 40th year), Endless Boogie, Mark Fell (of electronic duo snd), Basic House (aka Stephen Bishop, head honcho of the superb Opal Tapes record label), Tokyo noise quintet ENDON (in their first ever show outside of Japan), the sublime Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang, Jar Moff, DIY noise makers Hacker Farm, Astral Social Club, The Pheromoans, cartoonist Malcy Duff, filmmaker Hugh Metcalfe (performing a live soundtrack to a collection of his films), Mind Over Mirrors, Drummer's Corpse, Control Unit, Tokyo noise fiend Blackphone666, Dawson-Davies:Hen Ogledd and many more artists.

The festival features a full film programme, talks hosted by Derek Walmsley of The Wire, an after-party (with Ruf Dug), lots of mouth-wateringly rare merch, plus exhibitions and installations by Karen Constance, Malcy Duff, Richard Dawson and Mark Fell.

Tickets are available in the form of weekend passes (£45) and are available from wegottickets.com and tuskmusic.co.uk. An enhanced version of the weekend pass is also available for an extra £10, which entitles you to a copy of the first TUSK Festival release, a vinyl LP of The Unit Ama’s set from last year.

Check out Tusk’s promo video below, or visit the website for more information http://tuskfestival.com/


Words: Tim Smith

16 Sep 2013

THE GILDED THIEVES - Think Tank (The Other Rooms), Newcastle - 12th September 2013



Originally scheduled to happen at Think Tank in Hoults Yard, a last minute change of venue found them at The Other Rooms (subsequently confirmed as the new home of Think Tank). A PA system was sourced. A sound engineer located. Audience informed. The first adversity is overcome.

For those who have not been to The Other Rooms, it’s a room with a bar attached to Digital. It’s smaller than the old Think Tank and although it has an antler chandelier  (which felt appropriate) it doesn’t have the same charm as Think Tank for live music (probably because it’s attached to a trendy club). That said, I'm reliably informed that the new residents plan to spruce the place up a bit. 

This is the 3rd gig of The Gilded Thieves EP tour, consisting of Nottingham, York and Leeds (on Monday 16th September). Coming along for the ride is a plethora of local talent; Joey Campbell, Meghann Clancy and Savannah Betts. Joey has a great voice and very distinctive stage presence. Meghann had the crowd singing along with her saucy lyrics. Savannah Betts set the mood for the main act dueting with Johnny Walker on banjo.

Now it was time for the big finale; the main act; The Gilded Thieves. The crowd surge forward making the room seem very packed. Here’s where The Thieves faced their second adversity; technical issues.  After jiggling, switching and juggling guitars and cables they get stuck in. As always with The Gilded Thieves, the harmonies are lush, the guitars are complimentary creating a rich sound (which always reminds me of Steve Earle ‘Copperhead Road’) and the arrangements are spot on, pulling the listener into their world of alt folk, appalachian mountain music and blues.  

I think the stand out moment for me was when they invited Meghann and Savannah back on stage to join in a version of ‘Down to the River to Pray’ (from O’ Brother Where Art Thou (possibly my favourite film)). The crowd was silenced as we were all bathed in the beautiful harmonies.

There will be a review of the EP in the coming weeks but for now ‘Old Devil’ is my favourite original from their current set.

Words: Chris Whiting
Picture: Jay Dawson


15 Sep 2013

JANELLE MONAE - The Electric Lady



Back in 2011, I bought a copy of Janelle Monáe's debut album The ArchAndroid after catching some of her attention-grabbing, limb-shaking Glastonbury set on the TV. A 19-track sci-fi concept album, it took a full year of listening to truly appreciate the full extent of the genius that lay within - namely, some of the most inventive, genre-defining yet also genre-defying pop / R'n'B / soul / jazz / whatever, music ever written. As a multitude of sounds and musical themes and interludes and refrains flowed from the speakers, there was one comparison in both sound and tone that really stuck with me: "This sounds like an album inspired by 'Pure Imagination' from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

For anyone who grew up watching that film (and who didn't at least once in their childhood?) it's a remarkable song - not only beautiful, drenched in luscious strings with a soaring melody, but a musical accompaniment to the moment in which you see Wonka's Chocolate Room for the first time - an array of sweet treats, every single one of them edible. Giant gummy bears, candy canes growing on trees, flowering tea cups... And there, right in the middle, a gushing waterfall of warm, velvety chocolate. The Electric Lady, like The ArchAndroid before it, is an album which not only occasionally sounds like 'Pure Imagination', but truly feels like it. It's a veritable candyland, a grand, vibrant, epic, expansive body of work overflowing with a range of flavours and sweet, inventive delights. On first listen, all I could think was: this is audio magic, it's a Wonka invention, it's chocolate you can listen to, so rich and smooth and moreish. Like the Chocolate Room, The Electric Lady is sweet and clever and daring and mad and somewhere you want to spend hours of your life at a time. It's an album to live and breathe in, one that makes you want to taste and try and see and do.

Monáe's music works on a series of levels. Much is made of her sci-fi concepts, her alter-egos, the tuxedos she wears on stage every night, her choices of collaborators and her lack of media sexualisation. And rightly so - first up, her long-running concept both references and places itself amongst classic and contemporary science fiction (Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Blade Runner, The Matrix), encompassing notions of time travel, robotic organisms and dystopian societies. There's a story in there somewhere regarding an android named Cindi Mayweather who has fallen in love with a human and is being hunted by the powers that be, but really these are a cipher for tackling a whole range of contemporary issues and classic science fiction themes. In Monáe's fantasy, Cindi is pop star, artist, lover and agent of freedom, a loose cannon in the system inspiring change in a futuristic society. She may also be The ArchAndroid, a fabled entity destined to free the people from shadowy string-pulling secret society the Great Divide. Monáe is the same thing to popular culture, a rogue entity taking in regimented genres, mediums and notions, chewing them up and spitting them back out as her own beautiful, modern works of art. Her music preaches notions of love, acceptance and equality with themes that have contemporary relevance (the question of what makes android love so different from 'normal' human love, isn't the trickiest metaphor to untangle) but also traditional ties - struggles of race, social stratification and forbidden romance.

These notions don't just emerge in the lyrical content but the music itself, and the genres that Monáe deftly weaves. Soul and R'n'B originated in the slave tradition, an outlet to help deal with the trauma of societal injustice, and were later re-imagined in '60s and '70s Motown records. Monáe recalls The Supremes and Stevie Wonder, singing soulful tales of Cyndi's heartbreak and struggles against a restrictive, destructive system. There are orchestral strings and jazzy horns which bring to mind Gottfried Huppertz's score for Fritz Lang's Metropolis, a major influence on the concept of a literal stratified futuristic dystopian society and a mythical redemptive female android. Synthy funk brings to mind '80s Prince and all the sass and snaking hips that conjures. There are hints of doo-wop and rock'n'roll, conjuring the deification of Elvis in the depiction of Cindi Mayweather as a controversial pop icon. It's all here, combined with '00s sub-bass and contemporary R'n'B production. The album's opening 'Suite IV Electric Overture' even recalls the spaghetti western twangs immortalised by Ennio Morricone.

The Electric Lady is Suites IV and V of Monae's sci-fi opus, which began in her Metropolis EP and continued in 2010's masterpiece The ArchAndroid. The story itself is difficult to follow, continuing the star-crossed romance of Cyndi Mayweather and Anthony Greendown, but also charting Mayweather's rise to prominence as a revolutionary figure. It's decidedly more explicit in certain songs, however much more consistent is the ongoing narrative of female self-empowerment. Monae's music celebrates strong, groundbreaking women such as humanitarian Harriet Tubman, celebrated actress Dorothy Dandridge, and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. On 'Ghetto Woman' Monáe's own mother is given her own ode, a woman who "even when she thought she couldn't, she carried on". Lead single 'Q.U.E.E.N.' is a mission statement for Monáe's female listeners: "Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep? Or will you preach?" And she does practice what she preaches - she's never scantily clad ("there's danger when you take off your clothes, all your dreams go down the drain girl", she once sang on 'Sincerely, Jane'), supportive of fellow female artists and intent on continuing to spread messages of strong female figures and gender equality. There are even frequent references to same-sex relationships, the album featuring more mentions of a mysterious 'Mary' than your average Bruce Springsteen song. With the same-sex marriage bill making progress across America, it doesn't seem like a stretch too far to see allusions in 'Sally Ride's refrain: "Wake up, Mary / Have you heard the news? / You've got to wake up, Mary / You've got the right to choose".

All of the above makes Janelle Monáe an exciting, diverse, skilful, clever, well-versed, forward-thinking, visionary artist. But what makes her truly great is that none of that is essential. They're extended footnotes, an expositionary appendix to what's simply an incredible sounding record.  Her sci-fi leanings and themes of female empowerment add a huge amount of depth to her music, but strip that all away and you've still got a bunch of the best recorded songs of recent years. The Prince-featuring 'Givin' 'Em What They Love' is the best album opener of 2013 with a killer first line: "I am sharper than a razor, eyes made of lasers, bolder than the truth". It's a supremely confident, smoky strut of a song, primed with mystique, blasting horns and squealing guitars hiding in the wings ready to pounce. Then it's on to 'Q.U.E.E.N.', odd and funky as hell with squawking, shimmering synths, booming bass and a drop-dead amazing rap finale. And just when you think the level of quality can't be sustained, in strides the euphoric 'Electric Lady' with a humongous chorus, gigantic pop hooks ("ooh, shock it, break it, baby, electric lady, electric lady!"), clanging percussion and parping horns that dare you not to throw your arms in the air. And on it continues to Pixies-sampling ballad 'Primetime', then to soul banger 'We Were Rock & Roll', then... It just keeps coming, hit after hit after hit. Even slightly underwhelming second single 'Dance Apocalyptic' shines in context.

Suite V is more mid-tempo, but no less immediately brilliant. In fact, these are some of the least drippy ballads you'll hear all year, ones which will have you reaching for the repeat button rather than fast-forward. 'It's Code' slinks in as this album's equivalent to The ArchAndroid's 'Neon Valley Street', all wah-wah guitars and dreamy backing vocals. 'Victory' and 'Sally Ride' eschew straight-forward melodies for much more interesting ones that surprise anew with every listen, both proving that as well as amazing moves (her legs appear to have a life of their own in live performances), Monáe's got a huge set of pipes. And there in the middle of the mid-tempo soul swooners and blistering ballads is 'Ghetto Woman', a footloose freakout that's a modern re-imagining of '9 to 5' with dazzling, dizzying synths and a bassline that's less walking, more on the constant verge of a kicking all the doors down. When Monáe's rap bursts out of the speakers at the three minute mark, a pure streak of burning fire, it's a standout moment on an album that never lets up - and that is saying something.

The only thing that can even be vaguely considered a shame with The Electric Lady is the lack of a 'BaBopByeYa'-esque closer. The ArchAndroid's epic 10-minute last track saw Monáe break out into full-on cinematic orchestral scores and silky smooth diva jazz, yet another sign that she's destined to do an incredible Bond theme one day. It was a tough nut to crack into, being at the end of a 70-minute double album, but once it clicked it proved an astonishing musical feat that stands as the album's crowning glory. That there isn't a comparative track on The Electric Lady is less a failing of the album than another reminder of just how special The ArchAndroid really is.

Has The Electric Lady taken the crown of Album of the Year? The truth is, it feels like an album that exists outside of 2013, like it's always been there. It's that brilliant. Unlike Lady Gaga, Janelle Monáe doesn't have to spell it out in capital letters that she's written an artistic pop album. She's the antidote to the meaningless word-vomit void of Nicki Minaj, both a throwback and utterly of the here and now, an inspirational, aspirational pop star with something true and creative to say. It feels so rare that an album this visionary, this well-formed, this full of ideas and thoughts and feelings, something so special, comes along. As I reach to give it yet another play, I highly recommend you do the same. Come with me, and you'll see in a world of pure imagination.

Words: Ben Travis


12 Sep 2013

THE ROYAL NORTHERN SINFONIA - Season Preview



The Royal Northern Sinfonia have another exciting season coming up which will feature both a world premiere  and the return of many well-loved classics. Stephen Oliver reviews  the 2013/14 season which has just gone on general sale and talks to Musical Director Thomas Zehetmair.

The forthcoming season will see Musical Director Thomas Zehetmair say “Auf Wiedersehen” for the final time, bringing the end to a relationship that started in 2002. Back then The Guardian reported Zehetmair’s appointment as “the best signing since Alan Shearer”.  A lot has changed for Britain’s only full-time chamber orchestra in that time – the most notable being the move across the River Tyne from Newcastle City Hall to Sage Gateshead. A number of recordings have been made which show the virtuosity and range of the music that Royal Northern Sinfonia play. The programme for the new season mirrors this range and does not shy away from including new work too. In June 2013 it was announced that the Queen has bestowed the title "Royal" on Northern Sinfonia, the first such title to be awarded in more than 20 years. Thomas Zehetmair remarked that “It is a wonderful title! I am very grateful to Her Majesty for rewarding these outstanding musicians. I feel very honoured too! The North East has become an important mark on the cultural map, and it makes me proud to be a part of it.”

The seven movements of Johannes Brahms' A German Requiem kicks the season off on Sunday 29th September. This was Brahms' longest work and represents a major large scale work for Zehetmair to lead both the Sinfonia and the Sinfonia Chorus, which was formed 40 years ago.  Soprano Elizabeth Atherton, who was described by Rupert Christiansen of The Daily Telegraph as someone who “sings with consummate intelligence”, completes the line up. Unusual for a Requiem, Brahms chose to produce the libretto in German rather than in Latin. Thomas notes that a large scale production has its challenges: “We have developed a very distinct language for Brahms during our enthusiastically received Brahms - Schumann Cycle, and to perform Brahms' most important choral work now is the logical consequence. I look forward to working again with the excellent Northern Sinfonia Chorus in this piece as well as in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and in Bach's St. Matthew's Passion.”

Whilst Christmas is still a fair way off it is worth noting that the Royal Northern Sinfonia will be performing a number of events which have a tendency to sell very well and hence early booking is recommended. The Christmas concerts starts on Sunday 1st December with Handel’s Messiah. On the weekend of the 14th and 15th December Angela Rippon will be the guest presenter for “Rejoice!” which is the annual festive concert with Royal Northern Sinfonia and Chorus led by the wonderful Simon Halsey. Expect seasonal music, readings and carols to join in with.  The New Year begins with 2 performances of a stunning array of traditional Viennese waltzes, polkas and marches from the wonderful Johann Strauss. The Conductor for this New Years Day event is the well travelled Joseph Swensen.

Once again the Sinfonia will be performing The Snowman (23-27th December) which is always extremely popular and is an ideal introduction to live music for the younger members of the family. There are 6 opportunities to hear the orchestra perform Howard Blake’s score live whilst watching the film on the big screen.

Another highlight will be to see the charismatic Leader, Bradley Creswick bringing the stunning and ever popular The Lark Ascending to life. Ralph Vaughan Williams piece continues to feature in all time lists around the world. The subtle elegance of the piece is in start contrast the Great War which was starting around the time that it was composed.  It is still possible to buy the EMI recording of this piece with former Artistic Director Richard Hickox conducting and Bradley Creswick with the Royal Northern Sinfonia in full flow. The performance on the 21st February also features work from Mozart (Overture: Cosi fan Tutte & Piano Concerto No. 21) and Beethoven’s second symphony.

June brings the classical season at the Sage to the close with 2 magnificent shows. Zehetmair’s finale as Musical Director is on the 11th June with four well chosen pieces. The show will include Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture and one of Bartok’s final works - his powerful Viola Concerto featuring Ruth Killius on the viola. Killius founded the Zehetmair Quartet with Thomas Zehetmair in 1994 and has performed numerous times with him. Royal Northern Sinfonia has a reputation for showcasing new music and there will be the world premiere of Bradford born John Casken’s That Subtle Knot.  Thomas Zehetmair believes that this represents a significant new work: “Every violin-viola duo will be grateful to The Sage Gateshead and to Ruth and me for having co-commissioned a new double concerto! The great composer John Casken has been very close to the Northern Sinfonia and the Sage for several years, Ruth and I can't wait to premiere That Subtle Knot! New good music is an important sign that our music scene is alive and blossoming.” Representing the popular end of the classical spectrum, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, featuring possibly the most famous classical introductions of them all, closes the historic evening.

A number of other orchestras will also feature at the Sage including Manchester’s Halle. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Opera North will perform the final chapter of Wagner’s Ring Cycle with the Huddersfield Chorus on the 28th June. Gotterdammerung is a powerful opera and the production will reach new levels of intimacy and spectacle.

Royal Northern Sinfonia, who celebrated their 50th Anniversary in the 2008/09 season continue to go from strength to strength. The new programme is varied and will be challenging for the highly skilled performers. It will be a privilege to hear them in the season ahead.  The Sinfonia also takes an active role in the Young Musicians Programme at the Sage and this encourages the next generation of performers to train. Multibuy discounts are offered on 4 or more concerts bought at the same time. The fabulous acoustics of the Sage mean that even the cheaper seats present an opportunity to hear great live music by an orchestra at the top of their game.

So how long will it be before we see Thomas performing at the Sage again once the season finishes? He replied “The orchestra and I have created a very strong relationship; it will be my pleasure to return regularly!”

Words: Stephen Oliver
Picture: Mark Savage

10 Sep 2013

GREEN DAY - ¡Cuatro!




Green Day’s recent trilogy of albums have received something of a mixed reception with some critics slamming the band for what they see as a lack of development and a treading of old musical ground. My guess is that fans of Green Day are quite happy to hear the trademark riffs and chord changes, the same old energy and angst.
In the same way I anticipate that fans of the band will love the new dvd ¡Cuatro! which was released on September 9th in a set with the cd album ¡Tre! that was first released earlier this year. Green Day completists and hardcore fans will love seeing the band in the recording studio and / or goofing around in hotel rooms. But I’m less convinced that it’ll win any new fans, or to that matter any film awards. It’s a fairly standard film that cuts from performance video to private moment and back again, with no particular new insight to offer into the band’s aims or motivations, and no real educative value. It’s a straight-up entertainment piece, the highlights of which are the extended musical scenes where the band excel in ‘live’ performance mode.
I have always liked Green Day but would not count myself a huge fan. I happily watched the 1hr 15 minute dvd and enjoyed it for the most part but it won’t stay with me for long and I’m not sure I’d put it in the dvd player or pc very often. For me Green Day are a band best enjoyed live so here’s to the next tour or festival appearance. Let that be ¡Cinco!

Russell Poad

9 Sep 2013

MUSICPORT - an Out Of Town Preview



Musicport bringing the World to Whitby!

Not many miles away from our part of the world in the picturesque town of Whitby, a very nice neat package is getting ready to be unwrapped. Inside that package are musical delights from around are planet. The package, this year’s Musicport Festival (18-20/10),now in its fourteenth year  h, will see over 50 acts in one indoor venue and over 5 stages take you to countries as diverse as Tuva, Denmark, Peru, Zimbabwe, Bosnia, USA, Tanzania, Mali, Iran & Egypt and Turkey.

The festival builds towards a climax on the Sunday night when Bosnian singer Amira brings the music of Sevdah, a complex music of multiple layers of meaning to the festival. I have fallen under the spell that Amira’s reverential care brings to this powerful music. Having read that she went from being a 16 year old hiding in the burnt out basements of Sarajevo  to being recognised as one of the great voices of her generation, and almost certainly the finest from eastern Europe" it is evident she brings the emotional impact of  her life’s to the music in a way Musicport attenders will find utterly entrancing.

Another eye catcher  is the delicious near Eastern musical flavours of Amsterdam based Turkish band Arifa. Their music is deeply evocative of the near east with its such that I am he heavily scented aroma. Songlines Magazine, a leader in spreading World Music awareness described them as combining the “musical heritage of Babylon, Istanbul, Bucharest and Amsterdam with electronics and contemporary improvisations. The result transcends the sum of its parts and is a journey far into the realm of imagination”' Can’t disagree with that.

There is plenty more within what is already a heady  to delight either the world music devotee or just the lover of music and the curious. Amongst the acts catching my eye are the gritty Malian Touareg desert rockers Tamikrest, who convey the signature earthiness of a music that has been described as “desert blues”, with powerful intensity; the cheeky infectious “chicha” music of Peru from London based Peruvian/U.K. combo “Los Chinches”, the deep growls of Tuvan throat singing from Radik Tulush  which if you have never heard this music will be a “where were you when you heard “ moment it is so distinctive, whilst Tantz bringing “hard hitting” hip swaying klezmer to the party.

If you feel that you need to reduce your sensory carbon footprint, help is at hand from the very funny and very talented vocal trio from Teesside The Young ‘Uns who might even have a lusty sea shanty in French up their sleeve if you ask them nicely, the complex mullti-layered folk of Southampton’s Moulettes or the “lyric driven dirt-swing” of Louis Barrasbas and the Bedlam Six. A familiar voice and face to many of you NE:MM readers will be Neville Staple the voice behind the Specials who will be there with his band and that strutting ska that makes the most music resistant melancholy go away. Finally, there probably won’t be a dry eye in the house as veteran reggae DJ Derek makes Musicport his final bow to an adoring following.

As always so you are fully informed:  musicport.com and look out on Twitter for tweets from me with an “NE:MM” mention, with links to Musicport listening! 

Roots of the World



8 Sep 2013

LONDON GRAMMAR - If You Wait




Did Florence Welch die recently? Because it sounds like her voice has possessed Hannah Reid, vocalist of this London based (who would have guessed) slightly experimental indie-pop trio. They first started to spark interest in February of 2013 with their debut EP ‘Metal and Dust’, followed not long after in June by their biggest single ‘Wasting My Young Years’. Through this, and some other online releases, they have quickly garnered a mass of YouTube views, and quite a loyal following; and one can see why, because they definitely have the ingredients.
Although Reid’s vocal is exceptionally evocative of Welch, she doesn’t occasionally stray into a grating shout the same way in which Welch does. Instead it is a much more controlled vocal, which delivers all the raw power of a Welch note, but is altogether more listenable. She speaks in interviews about how people in her life influence her lyrics. She must keep terrible company, as her deeply personal poetics are painfully wailed on every track, leaving a big impression.
Multi-instrumentalist Dot Major seems to be the glue of the band, tying everything together with subdued keyboard hums and sparsely placed percussion. The ethereal electronic, soundscapes that Major conjures are nice, however you start to get the feeling you’re listening to similar recycled sounds on every single track. After not long, the pleasant sounds become dull, and you wish that Major would change it up a little to revitalise the album. 
Guitarist Dan Rothman’s contributions to the album are barely worth talking about. He plucks away nice and delicately, but is frequently over-shadowed by Major’s muddy drones. Muddy because it occasionally feels like you should be getting more melody out of it, but the production isn’t allowing you to enjoy it. With some more intricacy there would be are more to listen into. Tracks like ‘Hey Now’ and ‘Interlude’ have some beautiful keyboard melodies; the same treatment, with extra electronic elements, needs to be given to every song.
The cover of French House artist Kavinsky’s stunning synthpop throwback ‘Nightcall’ is one of the best efforts on the album. When I first looked at the tracklist I didn’t expect it to be a cover, especially not a respectful and wonderfully executed one. Major pulls off an exquisite, almost chilling, rendition of the main melody, before bringing in a huge drum beat towards the end to ignite an amazing lift. On the penultimate track ‘Flickers’ drums save the day once again with an almost tribal African Djembe beat running from the beginning of the track; which really perks your interest after listening to an album full of repetitive wailing and droning. When London Grammar introduce interesting beats are where their grand sound fleetingly begins to take shape, a sound which could be the shape of a soaring electronic pop juggernaut.
Some nice sounds to be found on the album, however relentlessly repetitive they may be. There is a better band in amongst this, they just need to grow, develop their sound, and correct their mistakes like an English teacher would correct gra…

Leo Lumley

7 Sep 2013

ELIZA AND THE BEAR - Cluny 2, Newcastle - 6th September 2013





Expectation is my musical mistress who gives with one hand and takes with another. She had nothing to say to me about Sam Fender though and so I was keen to form a new opinion on the acoustic guitarist/singer from ‘Shields’ (presumably South). The opinion that I formed was very positive. Here is a young guy with bags of charisma (good banter included), who can play a bit and who has a voice to die for that belies his age. He reminded me (and others I overheard) of James Morrison vocally though his songs were more earthy and bluesy which suits my taste better than the schmaltzy stuff served up by his more famous counterpart. That said, the song quality was not very consistent and here’s where he has most room for development.
I love Tissue Culture. I like each of the members of the band on a personal level and love the noise and energy they bring to live performance. However, I did not think they would work as main supports for Eliza And The Bear who trade in tuneful guitar driven pop of an altogether less chaotic type. Well how wrong could I be because in the six months or so since I last saw Tissue Culture play live they seem to have found a way of tempering the noise with a more melodic quality and it really does pay dividends allowing them to demonstrate far more light and shade than previously I’d witnessed from them. Every six months or so I catch up with them and am always impressed with how they have developed. In six months time I doubt I will be saying the same because, to me they are now the finished article.
  I first saw Eliza And The Bear at Sage Gateshead in February and absolutely loved them. They brought such energy and enthusiasm to their performance which perfectly complimented the exuberance of their songs. They were so good that night that they eclipsed some other wonderful talent sharing the same ‘Tipping Point’ stage - Mausi, Death At Sea and Amy Holford. Maybe expectation is to blame but tonight’s performance didn’t quite match up. There wasn’t anything wrong with it; all the best songs were aired and the lads gave it their all. The sound was, as usual for the Cluny 2, very good indeed and there was a good and positive crowd in the venue to add atmosphere. So why then did it feel slightly flat compared to the previous occasion when I saw them? I think it’s because this is a band who suit a bigger stage. At Sage they moved around a lot, darting backwards and forwards to the mic and this seemed to add a frenetic pace to the delivery of their songs. Also they actually fitted on that bigger stage; at Cluny 2 one member of the group had to stand off-stage due to space constraints. Maybe that was the reason. More likely expectation had got the better of me. 

Words: Russell Poad
Picture: Daniel Robson

6 Sep 2013

COMMUNITY CHOIRS - an introduction





Do you feel like there’s an irresistible urge for your voice to come out of your body, releasing your mind and letting out emotions you cannot even imagine yet? Or in other words, are you just tired of singing in the shower? And you probably think it’s such a pity that nobody is enjoying your vocal qualities… You could then consider joining a choir. There’re lots in the North East area catering for every type of singer.

Many professional coaches and singing theorists advocate the idea that EVERYONE can sing, so if the thought of doing so has been niggling at you for a while but you’re scared, joining a choir could be a risk free opportunity to try and see what happens.

You don’t need to be great to join in, everyone is welcome, no matter what your experience or background, there’s only one requirement that’s essential: the love of singing.

Many choirs have close links to churches but that doesn’t mean it’s always about classical and religious music. Benton Community Choir, for instance, meets every Friday evening at 7 pm in St. Andrews Church to sing many different kinds of music including Folk, Abba Songs, African Freedom Songs etc.

Heaton Voices, is a secular choir with 70 members that started 13 years ago to offer the local community a chance to be in a singing group. They sing a variety of musical styles from Classical to Rock. You can contact them via their website for more information.

One of the oldest singing groups in the area is Newcastle Choral Society, with nearly 60 years of history the choir currently boasts 110 regular singers. They perform three concerts every year.

Maybe you can picture yourself singing with that energy and enthusiasm that Gospel choirs usually emanate, in that case, your place is the Northeast Gospel Choir. A group that came from the 20.000 Voices Singing Project and that is directed by Sharon Durant, who’s got an endless experience working with choirs and is a member of the learning and participation team of The Sage Gateshead. They meet monthly in the Trinity Christian Community Centre.

The little ones are also welcome in choirs such as Ousburn Young Voices. This choir has around 60 members and it’s open to anyone from year 4 to year 10 at the beginning of every school term. They meet every Thursday at Hotspur Primary School in Heaton.

If you are a woman in search of a choir and you live by the sea then you could try joining Whitley Women Community Choir. It formed in 2009 becoming the first community choir in Whitley Bay and it’s open to any woman (with experience or not) over the age of 16 who wants to share her voice in a female choir. Gilly Love is in charge of the group, as well as the head of the Adult Programme at The Sage Gateshead. They meet weekly and their next event is a Christmas Choir rehearsal on 13th of October.

Last but not least there’s Tynemouth Choral Society. It was founded in 1964 and they meet every Monday at the Chapel in King’s School in Tynemouth. Their next forthcoming event will be a ‘Classical Masters’ concert, including Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart. Will take place Saturday the 16th of November at Augustine’s Church in North Shields.

No need for auditions so no possibility of rejection. The options are out there so have a think to choose which suits you best and see how it goes. And well, if in the end you seem to don’t be enjoying it, don’t worry, you can always go back to your shower but please, don’t ever stop singing.



Words: Berta Manau
Picture: Chris Crowder

5 Sep 2013

FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE - Labyrinth




Fleshgod Apocalypse's third studio effort, Labyrinth, is based upon the myth of the Labyrinth of Knossos (Greek Mythology) and its analogies in modern times. Subject matter aside, this is an incredible album, one which forces us to look at the metaphors it presents – the maze itself, for example, seen as a representation of mankind’s endless search to define itself. Not, sadly, anything to do with David Bowie’s Labyrinth.
We’re presented with the best death metal the Italian group has to offer, but much more besides, as this album truly breaks down the boundaries of Modern Music and introduces elements of classical orchestration and moving piano recital into sweeping majestic guitar work and thunderous rudimentary beating of drum/bass. The songs are linked together, fused into a musical barrage, there’s not much time to catch your breath between the melody of ‘Elegy’  and the guitar driven “war cry” of ‘Under the Black Sails’
If I have one criticism of this album, it’s the monotony, in the sense that guitar and orchestra is kept on equal footing – neither is allowed to outgrow or expand relative to the other –  when such chances would be welcomed as rich explosions of creativity. That being said, this album is far from disappointing, its exhausting melodies and haunting intro’s almost inspire you to rise against and invade a neighboring country!
Symphonic people becoming metal and metal people becoming symphonic is not an easy process, Fleshgod have managed it in this release and credit must be given where due.

Wayne Madden

4 Sep 2013

RIVALS - Brewdog, Newcastle - 22nd August 2013


This was a free gig, sponsored by NARC, but even a free gig can be hard to fill of a Thursday night when the students are away and people are on their holidays. So it was great to see a healthy sized crowd. Brewdog pub, at the bottom of Dean Street provided ideal lubrication.
  
Cauls created varying rock soundscapes, with slightly awkward lack of spacing between songs, maybe they were rushed. I felt we would enjoy the sound more if there were more engagement with the audience. The music was complex and had a depth that I could appreciate although whether this is something I could play in my car on a long journey, I'm not sure.

Die Die Die! from New Zealand, brought the room to life and vocalist Andrew Wilson clearly felt that the little corner of the room was insufficient space for him to express himself. He took many trips out into the audience and entertained them with creative uses of the mic’ stand to play the guitar and climbed on furniture to get a better rock and roll position over the crowd at one point. The music was infectious. Foot-tapping, head-nodding rock-punk.

Rivals frontman Ross Millard 

Rivals have a sound I associate both with The Clash and with Therapy?. A small number of loyal fans claimed the front of the crowded stage area and, as the gig progressed people lined the balcony area clearly enjoying the spectacle and the music. Whilst Rivals are fairly loud and fond of distortion, they have a great ear for a tune. They are definitely a band to look out for.

Words and Photo - Jo Oliver
Jo is the founder of Jowheretogo PR and a regular contributor to NE:MM 

3 Sep 2013

JOHN WIZARDS - John Wizards




John Wizards – John Wizards 

Bounce around the room. Bounce around the house. Bounce around the world. This is all I want to do when listening to the debut album from this Cape Town based African-pop, electronic, funk, meld-of-all-sorts band. Main man John Withers, who is at the helm of this project, creates a wonderfully joyous and original sound which ricochets excitedly throughout, almost, the entire album.
When opening track ‘Tet Lek Schrempf’ begins to unfold, you instantaneously get the feeling that you’re being enveloped in someone’s world, no, universe of sounds. It starts with some pleasant piano and friendly blips acting like creatures flying around in a colourful jungle. It quickly transforms into something more electronic, bringing in synthpop influences on the arpeggiated rhythms. This is swiftly moved on and replaced yet again, this time with metallic Rock N Roll guitars, raising the song to raucous levels. And then all of these sounds are brought together in an excitable medley, evocative of walking through a dream-like fantasy of colours and nature. And that’s just the first track.
Near every track on the album brings in something new, a new sound or instrument which keeps the album fresh and poignant throughout. Even with all of the electronic elements, the songs all have a natural feeling to them. This is mainly down to the frivolous use of African percussion instruments in almost every track, some of which sound distinctly handmade on tracks such as ‘Lushoto’, giving that touch of honesty. The percussion sometimes delves in to the electronic realm, on ‘Limpop’ especially, which boasts extremely hectic synthetic beats which rattle through the track giving an intensely hyper feel.
Nostalgic vibes are brought into play on tracks such as ‘iYongwe’ and ‘Jamieo’. ‘iYongwe’ has a quintessentially 80s feel+. It has that trademark 80s funk to it, but with additional sounds from several different arenas of music too. It sounds as if it’s their experimental African-pop tribute to Chic. ‘Jamieo’ on the other hand is like a soul song revived from the 70s, complete with smooth piano chord progression and endlessly positive finger clicking, and remixed in this odd ‘John Wizards cauldron of sounds’. Whilst it displays these soul elements, it also has an electro bass-wobble accompanying it, which sounds like it’s been taken straight out of a Mr Oizo song; another of the genius mixtures on this album that works so staggeringly well.
Unfortunately there are some songs on the album which are a tad pedestrian, such as ‘Finally/Jet Up’, ‘Maria’, and ‘Hogsback’. Tracks like these, while relatively pleasant, just don’t throw around an interesting variety of sounds in the same way as other tracks on the album. However even some of the more subdued efforts still pay-off; ‘Muizenberg’ begins with a jangly, affected guitar riff, before introducing some surprisingly deep bass sounds and a blissfully soft melodic vocal. It comes across like a less constructed Alt-J song, but with a vocal that doesn’t sound like someone mimicking their mother.
Similarly, the reserved ‘Durvs’ is nice and subtle, and plays out like a calm dance-pop tune. The song ‘LEUK’ also has a slight dance vibe, and sounds like it could have been played on children’s toy instruments. The happy, childlike composition is led by a high-pitched squeal, acting like a cute, pleasant vocal for the song to trundle along with.
Subtlety can be pleasant; however it is most definitely the more up-beat tracks in which John Wizards truly shine. The medley of sounds on ‘Tet Lek Schrempf’, the eclectic percussion on ‘Limpop’, the reggae-style guitar upstrokes on ‘I’m Still a Serious Guy’; all of these intriguing and ultimately enjoyable segments come together to create the feeling of waltzing merrily through a safari park of sounds. Generally, the vibe of the album as a whole is most reminiscent of Battles’ masterful album Gloss Drop: so much intricacy and depth to the whizzing sounds, and yet they come together in a cacophonic symphony of sunny beauty.
If some of the weaker links had been dropped from this lengthy album, it could have been closer to perfect. But nevertheless it is a wonderful trip into a fantasyland of colours, characters, and all sorts of mind-sparking wonderment. If Nintendo decided to make an exceptionally colourful Mario game about partying in the Caribbean, it’s difficult to imagine anything but this being the soundtrack.

Leo Lumley

GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT - Origins



I acknowledge from the outset that this is a slightly odd review. For a drum and bass enthusiast to write about a new and hotly anticipated post-rock LP is a bit like having a Vietnamese food vendor review your local Michelin starred restaurant. He’s going to be out of his depth; a touch befuddled; and he is in no way going to possess the adequate vocabulary needed to describe what he is experiencing. But he is going to like it. Such was my feeling when I first listened to the clips of God is an Astronaut’s new LP, entitled Origins, a few weeks ago. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was listening to, what genre of what I normally refer to as ‘band’ music I was coming into contact with, but I knew instantly that I liked it. Later, I learned that it was being pressed on a clear translucent vinyl, of which only 500 copies were going to be produced. Being an apprentice vinyl hoarder, this was all the persuasion I needed to stick an order in. I then promptly forgot I had even made said order, and therefore got a pleasant surprise when it turned up on my doorstep a couple of weeks later.
The sounds made by this lucent piece of wax are fantastic. Pleasant piano melodies intertwine gorgeously with slow, deliberative guitar riffs, while those orchestral walls of noise rise up in almost every track to engulf you within a cocoon of warmth and calm. There is a fuzzy, analogue feel to the whole thing, almost as if the album is being transmitted to you underwater: it conjures up ripples and distortions in the sound which provide a wonderful contrast to the mechanical, laser guided productions we tend to hear more and more of these days. Personal favourites off the LP include 'Weightless', a euphoric, almost messianic track that summons up an effortless atmosphere of bliss, and 'Autumn Song', which features a spiralling lead piano melody and an echoing vocal that soars and recedes in the background of the song. Also notable are 'Strange Steps', with its slow, thoughtful riff and that fleeting, ghostly vocal, and 'Spiral Code', which screams of Gotham Town and Jukebox on a Friday night in Newcastle. We are treated to peaks and troughs, sorrows and intensities, all before the outro track 'Light Years from Home' bids us farewell with a twinkling, electronically garbled chorus. 
I found myself enjoying this LP more and more, and in hindsight I think I know why. As I listened to it, I kept comparing it to the sort of ambient music I am used to, the sort of stuff made by the likes of ASC and Sam KDC, wondering how they had managed to capture the same sort of essence using instruments and not a computer with loads of hardware plugged in. And that's precisely it I feel. With Origins, God is an Astronaut have taken the abstract, downtempo electronica that I know and love and then fused it wonderfully with the very same contemporary 'band' music that I sometimes struggle to understand. The result is enchanting. And for that, not only have they taken my money for this stunning piece of work, but they have also taken my endorsement, my sincere approval, and my utmost respect. One of the only bands, it should be noted, to ever do so. It is out now, and I therefore strongly suggest that you pick it up, whatever your normal musical inclinations may be. 

Matthew Scott