Archive | May 2013

soundCHECK 202 – May 30th 2013

For normal humans – Felix Baumgartner being the most recent noteworthy exception – fear comes naturally. Our propensity for this icy chemical cocktail is stitched irrevocably into our DNA; a genetic hangover from primal ancestry. And you know what gets most people’s fear-tentacles quivering more than anything else? The paranormal. (I had to check thrice that didn’t say Panorama; Jeremy Vine’s gurning catwalk-stares to camera might put you off your pie and mash, but he just ain’t that frightening.)

I actually object to the recital of ghost stories on moral grounds. I’m scared of sharing paranormal anecdotes in case some ghoulish apparition overhears and takes umbrage. It might misinterpret my innocent conversation as a device I had employed to get a kick out of scaring someone – and then haunt me as penance. No thanks.

Yet some ghost stories are made to be shared. Like the one that gripped the US last week when Spectres (soundcloud.com/spectres) unexpectedly surfaced on the front page of iTunes America. It was a triumphant arrival to the digital ether for the rousing North Devon-born shoegazers, whose bludgeoning, feedback-drenched Hunger EP you can now download on said music service. Have a little rummage in your digital wallet and get your mitts on it. It’s compelling stuff from the winners of Artrocker Magazine’s New Blood contest.

Of course, the front page of iTunes is usually the esteemed clubhouse of more household names like Kings Of Leon, Laura Marling, The Vaccines, Paolo Nutini, Tom Jones and The Boxer Rebellion. And all of the above have released records either mixed or mastered by a forthcoming guest at Woolacombe Village Hall. Ill content with sitting behind the studio control panel while his subjects bask in the spotlight, Ethan Johns is currently focusing his attention on his career as a singer songwriter.

He’s good too. His bittersweet, grittily playful folk-pop is overtured by a wry, weathered voice occasionally redolent of Dylan – both lyrically and vocally. He performs in Woolacombe on July 5th. Worth catching but be prepared to stump up £11.50 for a ticket. Listen and buy tickets at ethanjohns.com.

And while we’re talking acoustic, visit The Thatch this evening from 9pm (Thursday 30th) to catch Steve Ley (soundcloud.com/steveley) enacting his stripped-back, soulful take on modern classics with smatterings of his own material. He’s been known to cover Champagne Supernova, so drunkenly nostalgic swaying at the ready please. You know the song. It’s utterly impossible to listen to it without recalling Liam Gallagher’s headiest days. Long before Beady Eye drank away his last dregs of artistic credibility and his career, well, Baumgartnered.

CONTACT: Local artist making music? Reveal thyself so I can write about you. Email jharper[at]northdevonjournal.co.uk or tweet @testforpulse.

soundCHECK 201 – May 23rd 2013

My brother and I once co-wrote a poem. It was about a species of very rare, very devious bears from Canada, whose bottoms turned blue when they looked at Facebook. I consider it a triumph of modern literature. But the fact that Maple Bear is the apogee of my poetic success casts a dazzling spotlight on my failures as a lyricist.

I can do rhymes, sure. But so can primary school children. Conjuring lyrics that are purposeful, moving or insightful requires hoisting my cognitive sails into an intellectual wind they are simply not designed for. I hate the wind. It’s just so darn invisible and ruffley.

Thank God, then, for North Devon folkists Woodford Green. When they write lyrics they think nothing of plunging a metaphysical carving knife into the juicy peach of modern living and exploring the existential kernel at its core. At the core of you and I and everyone else.

“Our new EP comes out on the 1st June and it’s called Vultures & Visionaries,” explains Woodford Green’s Matthew Street. “The themes are ‘contrasts’ and, as with our first EP, there is a strong underlying theme of hope. Also, we are asking the question ‘how much of thought is by default reality?’ and trying to explore how each person’s perception is different.”

Still with me? Good. Because you need to know how good this record is.

Woodford Green’s self-titled debut EP unveiled a band that delighted in folk fragility. It was all very cute and twee and pretty and sweet. Like a kitten with a toy trumpet. There is a slight hangover of that sound in Vultures & Visionaries. Listen to Fight for testimony. But the rest of this EP sits in stark antithesis to those fey meanderings and reveals a band growing darker, bolder and more nuanced.

That much is luminously clear from the yearning, aching vocal harmonies of Forecast; the arresting bleakness and desolate trumpet melody of Sycamore Seed. There’s a potent melancholy to the lyrics too. “Looking ahead another row of predators perched on a dried up tree waiting to feed on the dead,” muses the typically tight boy-girl harmony of Matthew Street and Zoe Curtis on Forecast.

The result? A record of goosebump-bringing emotional poignancy. It’s sombre and dark and wearied and miserable. But for all that it shimmers with a corporeal hope. There’s an economy of instrumentation and ideas – a balance – that gives the beguiling melodies on Vultures & Visionaries room to breathe and brood – and they’re more beautiful for it. It’s a stirring, confident record that stands up to the sternest criticism. And that makes it a compelling listen.

Woodford Green sound like they’re enjoying themselves too. “We are playing with a double-bass player now instead of a drummer,” Matthew explains. “And friends are dipping in and out of our sets sometimes too, which is a lot of fun.” You can take a look at that for yourself. The band have a string of upcoming gigs in North Devon, punctuated with trips to showcase their new sound in London.

First up is the launch party of Vultures & Visionaries, which will see the band performing at Pilton Hall in Barnstaple on Saturday 1st June. Tickets cost £4 on the door or £3 in advance and are available from Solo Music on Boutport Street, The Reform Inn, threesticks.co.uk or by emailing woodfordgreen@live.co.uk. (It’s a take your own booze kind of arrangement so visit the offy beforehand.) You can also catch Woodford Green – and you really, really should – at The Red Barn in Woolacombe on Friday 7th June and at GoldCoast Oceanfest in Croyde on Sunday 23rd June.

Here we have a band reinvented and primed to steal hearts.

CONTACT: If you have local music news I want to write about you. Grant me the pleasure by emailing jharper[at]northdevonjournal.co.uk or tweeting @testforpulse.