Si chats with Naomi Randall and Tom Gaskell.
There’s no mistaking the earthy, folky vibe from Naomi Randall and Tom Gaskell’s collaborative debut – with a description which advises the listener that the music is “best heard through brambles in the company of small birds”, a web-page with a backdrop of golden sunflowers, and an album cover which appears to suggest the duo were borne from the grass itself – or failing that, are a representation of Rapunzel as a Siamese twin. The problem is, of course, that the word “folk” has become over-used in recent times, blithely thrown at any Joe with an acoustic guitar and a daisy in their locks, and associated more amongst younger crowds with the sounds of the Ben Howard’s and Marcus Mumford’s.
Randall (who has toured as the vocalist of Cambridge crew Somewhen) and Gaskell (a producer and technician as well as a singer-songwriter) have collaborated in a project that is something different entirely. Recorded over a three-year period at Gaskell’s own Big G Studéos, the result is similar in concept – though not in style – to Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s excellent 2012 comeback album ‘Americana’, which collected and re-imagined some of America’s most beloved folk numbers, this effort sees the duo take on a selection of European folk songs and poems with outstanding aplomb.
Opener La Pernette (English translation, “The Lost One”) is an ethereal number – more a ‘ballad’ in the traditional sense of the word than the modern. Drawing influence from the medieval French chanson de toile, the narrative concerns a weeping young girl who begs to be hanged alongside her true love Pierre who has been sentenced to the gallows for reasons untold, rather than face betrothal to another rich lord. Somewhat disturbingly, this is apparently sometimes sung by French schoolchildren. While not a happy number to open with for sure, the musicianship keeps the tragedy in the tone without allowing it to set the album off with a mournful dirge – it’s like listening to the siren sounds of a band of renaissance bards.
The duo return to the other side of the Channel for the next track, a straightforward yet intricate rendition of Appalachian favourite Nottamum Town , another medieval number, previously covered by the likes of Jean Ritchie and Bob Dylan, with cryptic lyrics that have given rise to many an interpretation – the title is thought to be a corruption of Nottingham – which involve a naked drummer and a horse - some say its about the English Civil War, and the place where Charles I began to raise soldiers. In any case, the gently stirring acoustic backdrop and soft, lilting vocals make it so listenable that fans will be making up their own theories as to the meaning.
Sleepy Laddie Door, a Gaelic-sounding lullaby sees the album at its most relaxed – with a gentle blend of the two vocals over an acoustic meadow, producing an effect a little like musical Valium, before Bluesy number, The Granta, brings up the pace a little, mixing quintessentially ‘folky’ lyrics with some of the albums best guitar and harp playing.
The listener is treated to another quality acoustic interlude, entitled Nick’s Song before launching into Lord Gregory, another tragic ballad This time an excerpt from the renowned Child Ballads collected towards the end of the 19th century – this one concerns an ill-fated young Scottish mother, whose futile attempts to find her babe’s father see her “drowned in the deep”. Opening, as the other tracks have by placing Randall’s atmospheric narrative over a simple acoustic backdrop, the song takes an unexpected and utterly spine-chilling turn at the two minute mark, into a darker, slightly disjointed second act as the spurned protagonist addresses her former paramour in a ghostly whispered verse teeming with subtle menace, “deep it is you’ll find me in a deep and silent grave…”, before finishing the track with another simple verse – practically flawless and the stand-out on an excellent disc.
Fox’s Sunday Best provides a fast-paced, tap-along interlude which makes for a jolt in tone when placed before the album’s penultimate track, Bonnie Bunch of Roses, an old Irish pro-Napoleonic ditty. Randall’s weightless vocals almost single-handedly carry the track throughout, with only a very subtle, ominous backing on a few occasions, rendering the finished piece like a sung monologue, high in restrained emotion yet remarkably relaxed, especially for a song with a heavy measure of vengeance and regret.
The closer, St Johns Raga, is a final instrumental number, finishing the album with a final dose of acid-folk that’s closer to pure 60’s psychedelic than the more traditional numbers, but no less proficient.
Randall and Gaskell’s effort is a truly rare find. Combining a wide range of instruments with a fascinating selection of source material and vocals like molten silk, the slow-burn production process was worth every second. Offered as digital download and CD for only £5 and £7 respectively (though those are only a suggested bottom line, the album is worth a lot more), those looking for either an album to share with friends over a cup of strawberry wine and a herbal cigarette, a soundtrack to their forays into medieval literature or simply something to fall asleep to will find much to appreciate here.
In our first ever video interview, Liam chats with local good-times indie-rock legends, The Varsity.
Review of “Get Down, Get Loud!” by Jack Gunner
Its hard to know what to expect from Cambridge alt-rock up and comers The Varsity. Claiming a vast array of influences, their early work has a melting-pot feel that could easily have sounded like a musical power-tussle, but instead carves them out as one of the city’s most intriguing unsigned acts.
The four-piece, consisting of vocalist Nigel Mpakti , guitarist Oscar Corney, bassist Matt Barkway and drummer Sean Clayton have spent the last few years spreading their fun-driven sound around the loosely-worn Cambridge circuit, with sets at venues including the Portland Arms (A great venue, by the by, that doesn’t seem to get enough support), and the Cambridge 105 tent at the Strawberry Fair, before February saw the release of their debut EP, ‘Get Down, Get Loud’.
The album kicks off with, Tomorrow Never Comes, an infectiously catchy anthem of vitality that thankfully sounds nothing like the Garth Brooks dirge it shares its title with. With a great bass lick intro from Barkway, elements of Arctic Monkeys to the vocals, and some memorably off-the-wall lines, such as - “I’ll do some crazy shit/I’ll set my hair on fire just to prove a point” – something which you hope for health and safety reasons isn’t a regular feature of their gigs. Fire safety is, after all, what rock is all about.
Jake’s Song keeps up the tempo nicely, blending a nicely shoegazy indie-rock backdrop with a hint of melodic hardcore vocals and a short, slightly prog-esque guitar solo. It would be comparable to some of the mid-era Lostprophets numbers if recent events hadn’t made that just about the worst comparison a music journalist could make. Nonetheless, it’s an instant repeat-track, and unquestionably the highlight of the EP.
Red Light sees the discs emotive core, the lyrics turn a little angsty,but they’re matched with an upbeat rapid-fire verse which melts slickly into a more melodic chorus, before an effectively layered ending act.
Titular number, Get Down, is a left-fielder, pairing the hazy indie backdrop with unexpected rap vocals and a slight ska-feel to the chorus. If there’s a criticism to be made, its that the sound quality seems to waver a little on this track, the punchy style maybe requires a little more volume and clarity – but this is something that can easily be ironed out in recording or concert.
Righteous Eyes brings the disc to a satisfying close with a more Britpop style, adopting an ever-so-slightly Albarn-esque spoken word pentameter in the early portion before sliding into a more organic chorus, bringing back the light-hearted vibe as the listener is given a catchy first-person narrative of an unconvincingly repentant love-rat.
As the festive season draws to a close, anyone feeling like they may claw their eardrums out if they hear, Driving Home for Christmas one more time could find some nice appeasement with The Varisty – their début shows an outstanding diversity in sound for a five-track – and with their sideline in acoustic numbers, a full length will likely have even more reach - and a real commitment to fun and energy in the performance style.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and keep supporting Cambridge music!
Today we present to you the good-times funk-rock-psychedelic stylings of DAFM. Si enjoys a beer with vocalist Tom and bassist Sam.
Review by Wesley Freeman-Smith
The somewhat enigmatically named DAFM, (“what does it mean?” I hear you think ferociously), are hardly billing themselves as a ‘serious’ band. If anyone saw Man of Steel recently, and wondered where it’s sense of humour was, it’s possible these guys stole it. Describing themselves as ‘music to barbecue to’, and with a penchant for beer, (including novelty outfits), these guys seem to present themselves as the antithesis of anything too hip, self-serious, or po-faced. They are the anti-Radiohead, the anti-Joy Division. They’ve never even heard of Wild Beasts, and probably don’t know how to make Macs do that hip triangle symbol either.
The fairly self-explanatory ‘Promo EP’ fills it’s 4 tracks with the kind of soulful 70’s homage that in anyone else’s meaty hands would feel regressive and neanderthal. In DAFM, the riffs, solos, the harmonica and the cowbell work as a reminder that music can just be fun, and it doesn’t have to be making some statement bigger than itself. Channelling a range of influences from both older and newer acts, (think the kind of music Mike Patton might still be making if he wasn’t so busy pushing boundaries and making zombie noises), it’s almost impossible to feel down while this is playing. When you can sound this energetic on record it’s a hard to imagine them playing to anything but pubs full of sweaty, dancing people. You’d have to be pure killjoy not to appreciate the energy here.
In terms of songs and musicianship, it’s all fairly solid stuff. Even on first listen, there are enough obvious hooks to trip your brain up head first into the songs. It’s practically overflowing with inventive flamboyance and clever noodling which, true to the press release, boasts a tightness that only comes from playing together for years. ‘Magnify Infinity’ launches with the kind of fast-talking, better-than-a-roomful-synths riffage, driving home a distortion and funk that wouldn’t feel too out of place on a Primus record. ‘Pussyfootin’ is pretty damn soul-funk, again not breaking any new ground but still managing to be tight as hell and insanely competent. Laden with funk bass noodling (and, actually, noodling on all the strings) it’s near impossible to dislike. Contemporaries in the hard rock scene would be people like the Chilli’s, albeit leaning more to the Frusciante side. Despite these American touchstones, there’s something quintessentially English about these songs. It’s a reminder that once upon a time, we had a pop / rock scene that wasn’t afraid to take risks, and music charts that didn’t feel so uniform and homogeneous.
Just four tracks is a fairly concise musical statement, and I suppose from a critical point of view, if this was to work as an album there’d need to be a little variation. The songs are all excitable and eager, and perfectly built for a live stage. There’s a sense all this came out of jamming, out of playing live, and as a flyer for a show it works perfectly. As to where it’s ultimately going, who knows? And frankly, who cares? It’s doubtful it’s going to knock the latest minimalist or miserablist trend off the top of the alternate rock charts, but that doesn’t mean it bloody well shouldn’t. The argument was recently put to me that if it’s not doing something new, why bother? Well, sometimes when you mine the past, you end up sounding like this; that’s why.
This month we interview Chris and Leigh of local hardcore metal band The Projectionist. We discuss their influences, how they formed, and get a sneak-peak at their new EP!
Blunderbuss- noun. An archaic flintlock firearm, most commonly used by gangsters in the near future to execute illegal time travellers. Because in the future, we’re weird.
The other day, I became a proud owner of a shiny new E.P from Stafford based quintet ‘Blunderbuster’. First of all, I shall endeavour to enlighten you about them. Because I’m nice like that.
We’ll look at the members to begin with, because it’s best to know who I’m talking about, when I mention them by name later on, sparing you all the shame of your own ignorance. On the back of their professional looking E.P cover, it shows them leaning up against the wall of a brick building, neatly arranged from left to right for your ease, (also pictured below). Starting at the left, we have Hywel Evans, fiddle-master, followed by Loz Shaw who deals with shouts, mandolin, and bass, with Ben Burns, vocalist, electric guitarist and banjo player next in line. Fourth figure along is Sam Johnson, drummer, cajonist and fellow shouter to Mr. Shaw, and finally on our line-up we cannot forget the other vocalist and acoustic guitarist, Jules Davies. So there we are, a rogue’s gallery of a sort.
The band came together (stop laughing), with a much larger collection of musicians, but as typically happens, life has a way of buggering with things whether you want it to or not, knocking out an accordion and tin whistle and changing a couple of members. This sudden absence of folk-instrument based players is one of the main reasons for their much punkier and heavier sound, which, for your interest, is classified by the band as Celtic Punk, though still retains a number of folk elements.
You now know enough to be considered a novice Blunderbuster enthusiast, which means you can engage in small talk with the more hardcore fans at their gigs and not feel like a complete tit. Congratulations.
Now, we can move onto the E.P, which is great, because I’ve been wanting to talk about it since I put the amusing cultural reference at the top of the article.
I’ll begin by saying how much I enjoyed this E.P. It’s rare that I hear music that makes me want to dance at nine in the morning when I wrote this, however, this band, and their delightful E.P did. I didn’t actually dance, because I actually have some dignity (usually runs out around lunchtime though).
It opens the proceedings with ‘Dani’s House Party’, which introduces itself through the medium of acoustic guitar, building up to add the electric, and the fiddle before bursting into what my head is adamant is called ‘piratey jig music’. It’s a fast paced start up to the whole CD, that I suspect would inspire people to shout along to the words, wave their hands in the air like they just don’t care (they should care, however, because they look like fools), and get obnoxiously drunk (which works as the perfect excuse for not caring about how much of a fool you look, waving your hands around above your head).
'Dani's House Party' is followed by the much softer acoustic and fiddle intro to 'Old Macquarie', joined with equally soft vocals before kicking off into a punkier, faster version of itself. Listeners may be tempted to compare this to something by the Dropkick Murphy's, but I wouldn't, because that would be lazy. Wait a minute… Anyway, you'll probably enjoy this as much as I did for it's masterful fiddle-work and melancholy, yet inspiring sound.
Third song on the E.P, ‘Picked up and Fucked up’, starts acoustic, but rapidly descends into a wonderful upbeat ‘jump-around’ track about women and being really drunk (not exactly a very in-depth lyrical break-down, but I am on a word limit here), with powerful foot-stomping drums and sing-along ‘woah’s for the simple folk who can’t be bothered, or are incapable of remembering the words.
'Kick Arse' or it's full title, according to their Facebook page, 'I Play in a Kick Arse Celtic Punk Rock Band' is a brilliant example of Hywel's fiddling skills, accompanied by shout-along lyrics. Listeners may want to learn how to jig, and down a lot of alcohol at the same time to fully appreciate the experience. I know how to do the second, and I'm sure many of you, dear readers do too. Regrettably, I'm sure there are many out there who can already do both, so we've got a lot of catching up to do.
Finally, and with much sorrow, (which can easily be remedied by simply playing the entire E.P on repeat) we come to the last song ‘The Crucible’. I’m sure it has a specific name, but it starts with military-style drums, and a simple electric guitar melody. It’s a much slower song to start than most of the others, but that’s not a down-side- far from it in fact. Once the vocals get going, it picks up the pace, moving from a gentler opening gambit into a faster rhythm, interspersed with slower parts, and much to my delighted surprise, fiddle-lead breakdowns.
I’m normally a little sceptical of folk-based music, but Blunderbuster has conveyed to me that it does have many admirable qualities, and can be blended masterfully with modern styles. It’s a rare thing these days to find something that opens up musical vistas, but I honestly reckon that people who feel the same was as I did about folk and variants thereof, will be thoroughly inspired to give it a go, thanks to Blunderbuster. Check them out, for shows and such on Facebook.com/Blunderbuster
I suppose that’s all from me this time around blessed readers, but before I go: if you want us to keep reviewing awesome underground bands, (which you do), we’d ask you to show your support by liking our Facebook Page. I promise it’s worth it. Peace out.
Reverend Mickey Kink.