Review: Fleet Foxes At Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion 28 November 2017

Following their last sold-out performance at Brighton Dome, Fleet Foxes returned to the south coast last night to perform at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. The venue is a Grade I listed Art Deco contemporary arts centre, containing a large gallery as well as the near-1000 capacity concert hall, complete with balcony, which is where I was watching the show from. The balcony provided a great view of the show, but if you’re over 6-foot tall, try to get in the front row as legroom is certainly not going spare in the other rows.

Considering the size of Bexhill, roughly 1/6th of the size of Brighton, it did seem an interesting choice of location for the band to visit – but perhaps Spotify’s data told them that there was a loyal pocket of supporters in the area because the show was close to capacity. The Pavilion provides an abundance of nearby parking (on-street and the DLWP Car Park, which is free after 8pm) and one of the cheapest bars I’ve ever seen at a gig. The venue also has a restaurant, which was offering pre-concert catering (however, I opted for a local pub just a few minutes away).

The show began with a support slot from Nick Hakim, fresh from performing live in session on Lauren Laverne’s show on BBC Radio 6 earlier that day. His songs were pleasant enough but seemed to lack direction, merging his half an hour set almost into one long sonorous blur. By the time Fleet Foxes took to the stage, the audience had doubled, possibly trebled.

As their intro music played, six dark and enigmatic figured took to the stage. The band opened with a couple of tracks from the new record, Crack-Up, before they started peppering the set with their well-known hits. Throughout the performance, a number of things struck me: the number of bottle of different drinks on the table next to singer Robin Pecknold, the number of instruments the man on the right side of the stage was playing throughout the set (percussion, horn, sax, flute and double bass), the number of guitar changes required by the band, often mid-song (making it near impossible to cover their tracks in a live setting), and finally the number of anthemic tracks the band has written.

If I were asked to describe Fleet Foxes songwriting style, I would say that their signature tracks all feature clear clean melodic vocal verses, underpinned by guitars, keys, drums and the like, building choruses with vocal harmonies and a bit more oomph, and then a ‘weird bit’ at the end, which could be instrumental, or with vocals but is taking the track somewhere different.  Whilst in their recordings, these parts really come into their own, however with their somewhat subdued live performance, unfortunately, a lot of their tracks sounded quite similar – and that is coming from somebody who is already quite familiar with their back-catalogue, so I wonder how any new Fleet Foxes fans might have felt about it.

Expectedly, the audience reacted strongly to anything from the first two albums, Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues, with a slightly dulled response to the more recent tracks from Crack-Up, with the exclusion of the track ‘Fool’s Errand’ which seems to be an instant hit too. It’s always a shame when a band’s latest album doesn’t represent their best work, and whilst Crack-Up is by no means a cop-out, I think it will take a while and a few more listens before it has a chance of joining its predecessors with an iconic status and getting the same reaction from the audience as the likes of ‘Mykanos’, ‘White Winter Hymnal‘, ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’ and ‘Helplessness Blues‘.

3.5/5 stars

Review: Time For T – Hoping Something Anything

It’s been nearly two months since Time for T’s official Brighton debut album launch at The Rialto Theatre. So why so long to get the review up I hear you ask? There are a number of reasons or excuses I could give, but the most obvious one is that it’s taken me this long to prize the album out of my car’s CD player! So without further delay, here is it!

Time for T - Hoping Something Anything
Time for T – Hoping Something Anything

Time For T – Hoping Something Anything Tracklisting

  1. Blue Train
  2. Ronda
  3. Back to School
  4. Wax
  5. Maria
  6. Galgo
  7. Rescue Plane
  8. Mary
  9. Olympics
  10. India
  11. Tom Tom
  12. Sleepwalk
  13. Hoping Something Anything

Hoping Something Anything – Album Review

Hoping Something Anything is a long overdue album from a band who in spite of spending significant time abroad over the last few years still know how to pack out a Brighton show in a heartbeat. Their close network of some of the city’s best upcoming bands and acoustic acts certainly doesn’t hurt this, but if Time For T was playing in a dark and mouldy basement, their fans would no doubt show up with candles and clothes pegs for their noses.

Time For T’s self-titled 6-track EP was released in 2015 and is arguably only 4 tracks short of what would have been a perfectly formed debut album. However, by releasing it as an EP, Time For T gave themselves more time to tour, write new songs and gain valuable life experience. The release of their first single from the record, ‘Rescue Plane’, back in 2016 saw Time For T being atop the Spotify Viral Charts. This was followed up by ‘Wax’, with its psychedelic and wonderful video (which you can watch below).

The album features a fantastic collection of stories covering everything from long-distant relationships, tales about what we assume to be ex-girlfriends, school, personal philosophies and much more. Each song is filled with a rich narrative, like a sandwich bulging with filling making it all the more delicious, and has a top quality production to match. You can be assured that the album was not a rushed job, and now that it has been released, it will be just as slow-burning as it was to create.

If you’re into clever lyrics, delightfully twisting melodies and slick grooves, look no further. It would make a great Christmas present for the whole family, so why not get a copy for your nan, mother or that girl that you fancy at work but haven’t had the courage to ask out. Things can only go one way really. Good luck!

Hoping Something Anything Videography

Ronda

Wax

Rescue Plane

Mary

Time For T Links

Facebook

Listen on Bandcamp

Buy on iTunes

Stream on Spotify

How To Approach Music Journalists (And Get Online Coverage For Free)

All unsigned artists are looking for the same thing from music journalists – more coverage online. Whether that be to help drive ticket sales for their shows, sell albums and EPs or just gain more streams of their music online, a few lines from an influential publication or blogger can help send them in the right direction.

With the printed music press being somewhat dwarfed by online publications, bloggers and even social media, the days of sending off demos to record labels and music magazines and waiting to be signed or covered are long gone (and many would say that they never even really existed).

Artists in 2017 need to utilise a whole different skill set to get coverage for their musical projects online. Whilst larger sites undoubtedly carry a lot more Klout online and a link from their site to yours can do great things for your search visibility in Google and the like, it is important to build yourself from the ground up. In truth, a lot of popular publications will look at your social following and if they don’t think you already have an audience, they may not even consider mentioning you, even if you are the next Hendrix or The Beatles.

This post won’t deal with building an audience, as that is a massive project and even the basics would take a great many posts to get to grips with. Instead, it will give you 6 simple questions to ask yourself before sending out that email to music journalists to help you get in the writers’ good books and maximise your chance of gaining coverage.

What To Ask Before Approaching Music Journalists

Do they cover your genre?

The first thing to ask yourself before sending an email to anybody is “does the writer or publication cover my genre?” If the answer is no, find somebody who does. There is nothing more frustrating to music journalists than receiving unsolicited emails from bands that you have never heard of and whose genre that doesn’t fit in with your publication or website. If you only write about metal bands, you will likely not be interested in the next Johnny Cash. A little bit of research will save you a lot of time and give you a higher success rate.

Summary: Only contact writers who are likely to cover the type of music that you make.

Where are they based?

A lot of publications such as MOJO, Q Magazine and NME cover national music news, including festivals, album releases and other wider musical news. There are also national publications that only focus on a particular genre, such as Kerrang!. You will then get location-based publications, such as BN1 Magazine and Brighton’s Finest, which tend to only cover news in the local and surrounding areas.

A lot of local music bloggers also tend to cover artists who are performing in their local area and who are from their local/surrounding area. I fall into this category myself, and whilst I do some work reviewing festivals and artists nationally – e.g. Bill Laurence at The Glee Club, Birmingham – I generally spend about 90% of my time covering artists who are performing in and around Brighton.

Summary: Only contact publications that cover the geographical area that you want to target.

What do they do best?

Just like dating, wooing the press to cover your band or act is a game that requires patience, practice and a reasonable amount of online stalking. When approaching a music journalist, make sure that you know a bit about them, rather than giving a generic ‘we love your blog’ and hoping that their ego will persuade them to give you the time of day. Find out what types of content they do and see how that can help you. Do they specialise in reviews, interviews, gig previews or album reviews. Each website has its place in promoting your music, with its audience that you hope will take an interest in you. Most publications will probably only cover you once, unless they become real fans, so timing is key. Don’t approach a reputable live reviewer if you only have 3 tracks and no shows lined up. It’s a good idea to keep a spreadsheet with all of the local publications, their specialisms and contact details of the writers.

DOWNLOAD My Music PR Database TEMPLATE

Summary: Find out what type of content websites like to produce and tailor your request to meet this.

Do you know them?

As you can imagine, even smaller blogs and websites are inundated with bands and solo artists who think that they deserve the audience of the press. The best thing you can do is find a way to bridge the gap between yourself and them – and a good way to do that is through your network of other local bands. If you know somebody that has recently been covered by a publication that you are looking into, ask them how they got coverage from them.

If nothing else, don’t be afraid to name-drop in an email. Whether it’s a local act that you often play alongside,  plays the same genre as your music, or your friend’s band that you know they’ve written about, the writer is going to be much more interested in you if they feel like they know you (even through a friend of a friend) so make it a bit more personal.

Summary: Find a link to the writer, ideally in their previous work, to get them interested in you.


Do I Need A Press Release?

I don’t know how other music journos feel about press releases, but personally, I hate them. While some larger publications may copy and paste them into their news section, from an SEO point of view this is bad news for the website and the artist, so it is something that I don’t do. The problem that I have with most press releases is that they are written like a new story and it takes a lot more work to turn them into something original than something a lot more stripped back.

The bare bones of a what you should send a music journalist are;

Band name, genre, line-up and home-town/based in

Latest release – release date, title, bit about the release, where available, link to video/audio

Next gig/tour – link to full tour dates on website, mention local dates and link to Facebook event for local date if available

Social Media Links – only up-to-date profiles please

Link to high-quality images to use (do not attach to the email)

EXAMPLE INFO:

Tom Sayer (singer-songwriter) from Brighton

Latest release: Remember Us (July 2017), written about the characters from The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Listen on Soundcloud

Next gig: Open Mic at The Greyhound on Thursday 17th August 2017

Social media: Twitter: @tomsayeruk SoundCloud: @tomsayeruk Facebook: @tomsayersingersongwriter 

Images available on tomsayer.co.uk/blog

Summary: Don’t feel like you need a lengthy press release. Keep things simple, intriguing and easy for the writers.

What makes it news?

The problem that I have with most press releases is that they are written like a news story and it takes a lot more work to turn them into something original than something a lot more stripped back. By their nature, press releases are blanket statements written to give the facts to multiple writers in hope that they will cover the story, but in general because they are so broad, they cannot cover the local details that might make the story interesting for you and your website.

For example, a band performing a UK tour and having a show in Brighton might not be a real scoop to your publication, but if the band haven’t played in Brighton in 10 years and the venue has just been refurbished following a council grant, then that is something newsworthy. It’s all about how you present that information to the writer.

Try to think of it from the other side. How is a press release stating that “BAND NAME is performing at VENUE NAME on DATE” or “SINGER NAME releases NEW ALBUM NAME” interesting?

Summary: Turn what you’ve done into a unique story and it will be much easier to gain coverage.

Approaching Music Journalists: A Summary

Save yourself a lot of time and effort by only approaching the writers and publications that are likely to have an interest in what you have to offer. The scatter gun approach will only end up in you being blacklisted by the press. Remember that writers are human too so be polite, make it easy for them by giving them a good story and then hopefully you’ll make some good contacts to help your band on their way to stardom.

RELATED READ – HOW TO WRITE A MUSIC BLOG

Jon and Roy Interview – Brighton UK Hope And Ruin 11th August 2017

Just before they take to the stage for the final UK date of their European Tour, I spoke to Canadian folk band Jon and Roy about their latest record The Road Ahead Is Golden, life on the road and new music coming out of Canada.

Hi Jon and Roy (and Lou). First off, can you tell us what are the main differences between your audiences in Canada, mainland Europe and UK?
We love playing in new places and seeing how people react. Mainland Europe tends to be a singing crowd and we get more dancing in the U.K./ North America. We get people of all ages from the 50th wedding anniversary celebrated at our show in Hamburg to the dancing 2-year-olds in the beach in the Netherlands.
Are you going to anywhere on this tour that you’ve never been before?
We are very excited for our first trip to Hungary playing Sziget Festival and Budapest!
Your latest album is called The Road Ahead Is Golden. Who is the most optimistic in the band?
Our drummer Roy is always keeping us laughing on the road. Also our European tour manager JP brings the love wherever we are.
What is the new record about? Is it concept-driven or more of a collection of songs?
More of a collection of songs that fit together for an album.
What food do you miss the most from back home when you’re on tour?
Home cooked meals are rare on the road. We miss cooking up our own feasts.
You’ve just come from Boardmasters Festival in Cornwall. How was it? Did you get to see any other acts performing there?
We had the most inspiring couple of days of music in Cornwall warming up the stage for 2 amazing concerts. Toots and the Maytals are such an influential part of our musical upbringings and Slightly Stoopid put on an unbelievable show.
Your latest single is called ‘Runner’. Do any of you like running and if so what music do you listen to whilst you run?
Jon likes to listen to Fela Kuti while running, Roy likes more electronic beats like LCD Soundsystem and Lou listens to audiobooks while running. We all try to stay active on the road but can be tough.
What is the strangest thing that you’ve ever had to do for a music video?
For a video a long time ago we had to pretend to be playing the song but twice as fast. Felt weird but looked cool when slowed down. For the runner video we had to stand still while playing on the back of a moving truck and try not fall off.

Who are your favourite bands in Canada that might not be known in the UK?
Our Victoria pals Current Swell and our trombone player’s band Dope Soda!
Where do you hope your music will take you in the next 5 years?
We just want to keep traveling and spreading our music to new people. Hoping to get to Italy, South Africa and Brazil in the next couple of years!
Finally, if you wanted to show somebody your music but could only play them one song, which one would it be and why?
‘The Road Ahead Is Golden’ is one of our favorites to play right now and it showcases our style well. We’ve incorporated some trombone into it when we play live too.
You can find out more about Jon and Roy on http://jonandroy.ca/
Related Read
 Find out more about the music scene in Canada with my interview with Madison Violet

Review: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Zombies On Broadway

With an instantly recognisable voice, Andrew McMahon is perhaps not known as well by his name but more as the vocalist and songwriter behind piano pop-rock outfits Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. With 20 years of performance experience under his belt, it’s no surprise that McMahon has gone through many guises, from his first college band Left Here to Something Corporate to Jack’s Mannequin to Andrew McMahon and now to the latest iteration, Andrew McMachon in the Wilderness. Following on from his 2014 self-titled album which included the Gold-selling, cross-genre, US hit ‘Cecilia in the Satellite‘, McMahon’s latest album Zombies On Broadway was released earlier this year in February 2017. Here’s what I thought:

Zombies on Broadway Review

 

Opening with 30 seconds of city sounds from New York, this intro track sets the scene for a metropolitan record, which is soon followed up with the first track proper, ‘Brooklyn You’re Killing Me’. This fast-paced lo-fi industrial sounding track leaves behind the sounds of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, with an almost +44 level of intensity in the driving drum rhythms and punchy powerful choruses. I can see this being a real summer festival anthem.

‘So Close‘ sounds a bit more like an early SC track, with its unashamed pop/synth vibe, which is contrasted with the 2000’s r’n’b feel of ‘Don’t Speak For Me (True)‘.  ‘Fire Escape’ sounds quite like the DIY sound of London singer-songwriter Frank Hamilton whereas ‘Dead Man’s Dollar’ has an almost Bastille feeling in the euphoric big beat chorus. Are you noticing a theme here?

The album could be seen in two ways: confused or diverse. I lean toward the latter. Despite moving from genre to genre quicker than a monkey changing branches on the treetops, the consistency of the songwriting and the wealth of McMahon’s musical experience unite the record. The tracks are all piano/keyboard-centred with plenty of hooks, big choruses and lyrics steeped in imagery and metaphor – ‘My heart is an apartment building oin the verge/ A testament to days more optimistic.’ – Love And Great Buildings.

If you’re a fan of the old-school tracks by Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin and can handle your pop-rock leaning more to the pop side of the spectrum and without the overdriven guitars of McMahon’s former bands, then this new album will no doubt be a delight to listen to, with his familiar voice guideing you through his new experiences and music. For first time listeners of McMahon, the album is a real mix bag so there’s sure to be something in there that you like, and I’m sure that it won’t take too much rummaging around to find it.

McMahon is currently on tour in the US with Atlas Genius and Night Riots, playing many sold out shows along the way. He will be over in the UK performing shows at London’s Bush Hall, Manchester’s Deaf Institute, Glasgow’s King Tuts and three UK dates of Slam Dunk Festival. See his tour dates and book tickets here – www.andrewmcmahon.com/tour

 

Introducing AfterDark Rewards

As if going to gigs already wasn’t enough of a reward already, online event listings site, ticket seller and music blog AfterDark has just launched its brand new loyalty scheme called AfterDark Rewards. Not only do you collect reward coins for buying tickets for shows through the AfterDark App, you also receive coins for sharing upcoming events and artists featured on AfterDark with your friends and family on social media. Here’s what they have to say about it:

AfterDark Rewards enables the app user to earn coins through a simple share process to their friends and family. They can build on their coins daily of which they can then use to redeem fantastic merchandise, gig tickets, music, electronics and tech. This image will give you the idea of how easy and effective it will be to get more exposure to artists and events whilst giving something back to our users.”

AfterDark-Rewards-App
AfterDark Rewards – Launched April 2017

As a long-term gig addict and live music fan, I think the app is great for everybody involved: It gives artists more exposure by incentivising their fans to share their shows or artist profile on their social media; it gives venues and promoters a free promotional tool for their shows; and it gives the dedicated music fans something back for their time and money invested in going to gigs and supporting the local music scene.

AfterDark Rewards is in its infancy at the moment, but they already have listed some great rewards including Kindle Fires, gig tickets and iTunes vouchers, with new rewards coming soon to include some of the latest tech, merchandise (t-shirts, CDs, vinyl etc) and much more.

AfterDark App
Download the AfterDark App

The app is super easy to use and features comprehensive gig listings, artist profiles and a ticket shop to buy tickets directly through the app. All you need to do is download the app, sign in (which can be done using your Facebook login) and start collecting your reward coins today. If you’re a live music lover and love checking out the latest gigs and artists in your city then AfterDark is for you.

You can download AfterDark for iPhone on https://goo.gl/N2bBNO or for Android on https://goo.gl/nuxSCi

Review: Kandace Springs – ACCA Brighton – 2nd May 2017

Last night I went back to my old university campus, the University of Sussex, to see American jazz pianist and singer-songwriter Kandace Springs and her trio performing at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA), formerly the Gardner Arts Centre. The place had definitely changed since I left in 2009 but I must say that the new and improved ACCA is a stunning new venue. As I felt when I visited the Ropetackle Centre to see Courtney Pine last weekend, I was amazed that there was another great venue within close proximity of Brighton that I’d not visited, and again this is another venue that is really worth the effort to visit.

The Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts

Located near the sports centre and facing Falmer Bar on the University of Sussex campus, there is ample free parking in the evenings near to the centre and a cafe/bar just outside the auditorium for you to get a pre-concert beverage. Inside, the venue is a modern theatre space with tiered seating and a stage big enough for any sized ensemble. The building itself is Grade II listed, but inside you would not tell as it looks like something that was made for this purpose very recently. The performance space is used for everything from dance and theatre to debates and live music, making it a very diverse venue indeed and a real asset to University of Sussex.

Kandace Springs at ACCA Brighton - 2nd May 2017. Photo by Nicola Jackson.
Kandace Springs at ACCA Brighton – 2nd May 2017. Photo by Nicola Jackson.

Kandace Springs

Following on from her bassist and drummer who led the way onto the dimly-lit stage, Kandace Springs bounced onto the stage with a broad smile from ear to ear and buckets of enthusiasm as she greeted the audience before taking her position behind the Steinway & Sons grand piano which occupied the left side of the stage. Her performance was confident and assured, not something that you would necessarily expect from an artist who is just 27 years old and on their first UK headline tour. It was clear from the start that Springs was a very accomplished jazz pianist and that the Steinway was not there for decoration whilst she plodded along through the set – she gave elaborate and technical jazz piano solos and extended introductions throughout the set without the tendency to overdo it or show off., as can be easy to do.

Springs’ trio played a solid 90-minute set, including tracks from her debut album Soul Eyes,  her previous EP,  some new and unheard tracks from their forthcoming album and some classic contemporary jazz standards including ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face‘ by Roberta Flack and Etta James’ big crowd-pleaser ‘At Last‘.  The musicianship of all three musicians was top-notch, with the drums and bass playing intricate parts to underpin the piano/vocal lead throughout. With her original tracks varying from upbeat grooves to down-tempo ballads, Springs is by no means a one trick pony, and with songs written for her by the likes of Grammy-award winning songwriter Jesse Harris (amongst many credits, Harris wrote Norah Jones’ hit ‘Don’t Know Why’), you know that you are in safe hands when you go to see Kandace perform live.

From the taster track from her next album, Black Orchid, it looks like the new record might be a bit more sombre than the first, but perhaps that track is just a curveball to catch the audience unawares. Whatever it may be, Kandace Springs is certainly one to watch out for in the future and I hope that her visits to the UK become far more frequent.

http://www.kandacesprings.com/

Review: Courtney Pine – Ropetackle Centre Shoreham

Courtney Pine Review: Saturday 29th April 2017

Last night I took my first visit to Shoreham’s resident arts centre, The Ropetackle Centre, to see jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine and his troupe of accomplished musicians redefine my understanding of instrumental jazz. The Ropetackle Centre is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary and is in the home stretch of raising the £20k required to help keep the centre up the times and developing great programmes and events for the locals to enjoy. This is the second time that Courtney Pine has played at this venue, and he was quick to tell the audience that he’d had a great time on his last visit and that is why he came back.

“My name is Courtney Pine and I love jazz!”

After an initial technical hiccup, the band left the stage and re-entered creating a polytextural multi-rhythmic collage of sound. Pine introduced himself by saying “My name is Courtney Pine and I love jazz!”, which met with great applause from the audience.  The crowd was a mixed one, generally of a certain age, but all with a lot of enthusiasm for the music, which is really what fuels the fire in shows like this. Pine engaged with the audience between songs, creating a real dialogue between himself and everybody else in the room, making each person there feel a part of something bigger – the benefit of intimate shows in comparison to arena tours.

The venue itself is in very good condition and everything seemed how it should be in an arts centre – well-stocked bars, a tidy box office and helpful staff on hand to lead you in the right direction. The performance space is quite modestly sized, but there is still plenty of room for several hundred people standing, and the sound throughout the performance was great, barring the opening mishap.

Pine’s set consisted of a few extended pieces, or perhaps jams/experimentations might be better terminology here. Within the first few minutes, Pine showed the audience the breadth of sounds that could be produced by an expert experimental saxophonist, many of which were a million miles away from what you might be used to hearing in typical jazz venues. Producing a mix of clicks, breaths, high and low sound, wails, toots and far more besides, his performance was captivating from start to finish, with his larger-than-life personality beaming from the stage all night long.

Pine – A Master of Musical Juxtaposition

One thing that really stood out about Pine and his band, aside from their energy and technical abilities (which goes without saying), was their humour and their enjoyment of what they were doing. Pine, in particular, made a lot of musical jokes throughout the set, by playing extracts of everything from well-known songs, jazz classics like ‘Take Five’ and even snippets of nursery rhymes, albeit disguised as a series of tapping/clicking sounds. You could see that there was nowhere else they would have rather been than on stage at The Ropetackle last night, and I am sure that it will not be very long before Courtney Pine will be back again – and I’m confident that most of the audience would return to see it too.

Find out more about upcoming events at The Ropetackle on:

ropetacklecentre.co.uk 

www.facebook.com/ropetackleart

www.twitter.com/ropetackleart

Review: Bill Laurence At Glee Club Birmingham 7th March 2017

After some slight difficulty finding the venue’s entrance off a side street (no thanks to Google Maps),  I found my way inside The Glee Club, a very clean and classy looking venue which regularly hosts comedy nights and music gigs. It’s always interesting to see how different venues use their space and the Glee Club used theirs very well, with a stage area set up along the side of the venue, rather than at the back as is common, with seats laid out in rows to give the most people the best view and sound of the show. The live sound was incredible, unusually not too loud even when sitting right near to the front and considering the mix of instruments being played by the quartet, including drums, percussion, synths and acoustic and electric bass, this was no mean feat.

The quartet played without a support, instead opting for the more traditional jazz format of performing two sets with a short interval between. With songs often lingering between the 7 and 10-minute mark, this seems like a good way for the musicians to pace themselves and for the audience to have some time to digest what is going on – and make no mistake, this is no walk in the park. The music that the Bill Laurence Group produce is highly technical, polyrhythmic, deeply layered and without a vocal in sight. Each track seems to take you somewhere far deeper than its duration should allow and the context in which most of the songs were created (a lot of the material was written by Laurence and the others whilst on tour as members of Grammy-winning group Snarky Puppy) seems difficult to believe given the complexity of the sounds that they achieve.

Bill Laurence Group - Glee Club Birmingham March 2017
Bill Laurence Group – Glee Club Birmingham March 2017. Photo by Nicola Jackson.

Laurence fronted the group from the left-side of the stage with various keyboards, synthesisers and his brand new ROLI Seaboard (fresh out of the box that day) at his disposal. His three-piece rhythm section included percussion, bass and drums, all of which seemed to be playing to their own rhythms, yet somehow it all worked together. Snarky Puppy drummer Robert ‘Sput’ Searight is one of the best drummers that I have seen perform live, effortlessly adjusting and modifying his kit mid-song to get the sounds out of it that he required. Far from the standard role of merely supporting the down-beats, the bass was played as a melodic instrument in its own right, with stunning lines, rhythms and interplay with the rest of the group. Finally, the mixture of percussion threw a real spanner in the rhythmic works of the group, often playing against the beat or groove laid down by the others, albeit clearly intentionally, but definitely making the music more challenging to listen to overall.

The advantage of no vocals on the tracks is that the music can ebb and flow as it sees fit, rather than conforming to a strophic formula that dominates popular music today. Following this show, the band has played a number of sell-out dates around Europe and it’s clear to see why they are so popular on the scene. Anybody who is able to make jazz more accessible and instrumental music more melodic and interesting is somebody with as skill that will always be in demand. It looks like the future will be very bright from the Bill Laurence Group.

Review: Alexis Taylor – Komedia Brighton 12 March 2017

What looked like it was going to be a slow Sunday night at the Studio Theatre in Brighton Komedia quickly turned into one of the busiest shows that I had seen at this little venue in a long time. The lightning rod drawing people in? A piano solo set from Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor. The stage was set up sparsely, with a black upright piano on the right-hand side of the stage, leaving a small sampler and plenty of space on the left. As the audience meandered in before the show started, it all looked set for a lovely evening..until the support band started playing.

The opening act was a duo who played long reverb-laden dirges for around 30 minutes. The piano was pleasant at times but the electronic backdrop from the sampler of sweeping noises, drum machines and vocal samples did not seem to fit with the piano and vocals. The levels were way too loud, so even sitting at the back of the room with earplugs in, the noise was still quite overpowering. Playing in a venue with 50-100 people does not call for the level of reverb that you would expect in an arena show. The effect was a cacophony of sound that detracted away from any merits that their songwriting may have deserved. Possibly their recordings are much better, but as a live act, unfortunately, they were one of the worst that I have seen in a very long time.

Following the intermission, Alexis Taylor took to the stage to win over the somewhat perplexed crowd. From his first track, it was clear why the audience had come, although the levels were once again a bit on the loud side, which is totally unnecessary for a venue of that size. His first song was quite drab and drawn out but did seem to gain some momentum by the end, however, the la la la’s in the refrain seemed more like forgotten lyrics than meaningful musings.

Alexis Taylor Brighton Komedia March 2017
Alexis Taylor at Brighton Komedia March 2017. Image by Nicola Jackson.

As the set continued, I warmed up to his style of playing; his rendition of the Hot Chip track ‘White Wine & Fried Chicken’ was great, really catchy and lyrically intriguing, and his Win Win song ‘Interleave’ was quite heartfelt and warm with sweeping synth sounds emerging from his sampler. As the show continued, it felt very much like theme and variation on the same song, with all of the tracks following a down-tempo melancholic pattern that didn’t seem to have an awful lot of substance to it. His vocals were quite fragile in places, which may be his style, but they came across as a little pitchy in places and felt a little on the weak side.

All that said, it is an incredibly brave thing to do to play a solo piano show, particularly in a time when even superstar singer-songwriters like Ed Sheeran can sound pretty amateurish during their live performances without the studio wizardry to back him up.

However, I don’t think that Alexis Taylor will go down in history with Elton John, Chris Martin or Billy Joel as being one of the great piano balladeers of our time.

2.5/5

Official blog of Brighton-based freelance music journalist Tom Sayer