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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Lembit Opik is interested in managing The Portraits

This was among the weirder evenings I've spent.

Some background. Around four months ago The Portraits played the Half Moon in Putney. I'd been ambling around, blinking at the beautiful art nouveau lamps on Putney Bridge and wishing that I lived in the area, then wandered into the venue feeling like a ghost from east London.

The Portraits made an impact even though their songwriting was a bit unambiguously political for my usual taste (which I guess means that I didn't necessarily agree with their views), as did a female singer/guitarist who plays with a band called The Paper Aeroplanes. The Portraits stayed in touch.

So when they invited me to Nambucca on Holloway Road to see them yesterday, I went.

They told me an interesting thing about how they're gigging these days: they've been doing concerts in people's homes. Jeremy, who plays keyboards, said: "I read about the idea on the net - it's bigger in the States than here. The reasons we do it are a lot to do with having an appreciative audience. We can come to central London and play a venue like this..."

We looked around. It had big screens showing The Fresh Prince of Bel Air mutely on the wall on some nameless cable channel, loud, unrelated rock music roaring over the top and a room where the bands played at the back. It was not without its charms - the logo is quite cool - but the toilet rolls in the ladies are chained up and it doesn't serve food...

"... where we earn pretty much nothing. Or we can go to someone's home, where we've been invited, and play to an attentive audience of 50 or so. The only things we ask are that if there's a party organised around the gig we're invited to share food and drink and that we can pass a hat around afterwards. So far it's worked out much better financially and is a lot more fun. We've done two and there are three more lined up. There's a page where you can invite us on our website.

"The first one we did was in Southend at the home of someone called Steve Ramm. And it was the oddest thing. We were watching TV a few days earlier and there was a programme about pest control on and it turned out that Steve was the pest controller the programme makers were following around! We didn't bring it up when we saw him... But the gig was great and as a result it looks like we've been booked to play Leigh folk club."

The Portraits are a geographically disparate lot. One of them is from France, the others from Cardiff, Bristol, Galway and Hertfordshire. But it looks as if they may be seeing more of each other quite soon. Warning: this is where the weirdness starts.

After their slot there was a bit of faffing and then Jeremy re-emerged. "The oddest thing's happened," he said, looking a bit agitated. "I don't know whether you noticed, but one of the guys in the gig was Lembit Opik - the former Lib Dem MP." (It was a bit dark but, looking back on it, I have a suspicion that I asked him whether he could step to one side so I could take a pic of the band that turned out not to be good enough to publish.) "Apparently he really likes the band and says he's interested in managing us."

Er. Righto. What? Really? There was a disorientated pause before we were ready for our first Cheeky Girls gag. Well, to be fair, that was me.

But it really was Lembit Opik - there was no mistaking him - and he really does like The Portraits enough to want to manage them, so I guess that being obviously political is probably a good thing when there's an unemployed politician in the audience. It turns out that he already has a couple of bands under his wing, including one called The Electric Flowers and possibly this one as well and, let's face it, he has a gift for publicity that can only serve him well in this particular field.

Shazam! Dick Whittington etc.

I heard from the band again today and it turns out that Opik is "very interested" and that there will now be a hiatus while all concerned consider their positions.

Watch this space.

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Sunday, 20 May 2012

A gallery of folk musicians lying in foliage

It all started at the Bristol folk festival when a leaflet with this image of Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston was thrust into my hands.

I puzzled over it for a while because it was just so bizarre - are they dead? - before deciding that it looks like the aftermath of a mid-air collision between a double bass and a mandolin with the two musicians as collateral damage.

It also reminded me of something else and it didn't take long to figure out that it was this...

... in which a slightly vampiric Jim Moray - red lips, red lips! - appears to be sleeping in a wood, hoping to be crept up on by the Big Bad Wolf, or having had a spell cast over him by somebody's wicked stepmother.

Or it could have been this one by Jackie Oates

which was probably consciously conceived of as having overtones of Waterhouse's Ophelia

but which was almost certainly taken by someone who had also seen this Eliza Carthy shot (hat-tip Leslie aka @EnglishFolkfan on Twitter).

This bizarre meme has a venerable history. I love this picture of Sandy Denny

in which The Lady clearly has a raging hangover. And this one of Lisa Knapp

which looks to be a haunting study of what happens to you when you're overcome by hayfever (thanks to Alex @FRUK).

I also very much like this of up-and-coming fiddler and photographer Elly Lucas, which makes me wonder whether she took it herself with one extraordinarily spindly, pale and prehensile arm that bends around the back of the shot?

And then there's this prize by the late, lamented Uiscedwr, suggested by @ruth_angell

in which the grass and foliage have been cunningly replaced by rose petals to create an entirely different feel.

Which was probably admired by The Devil's Interval, who'd given the same concept a more orgiastic slant by staring in glassy confrontation at the camera from underneath a pile of fruit and veg a year previously.

And if that qualifies then so does this contribution to the genre from Fay Hield, in which I think she looks, frankly, a bit chilly.

I also wish she'd wiped out that tub a bit before climbing in in her nice frock. I'm thinking frog spawn, cow poo...

One could pontificate about the meaning of it all. What is the symbolism of such passivity in the face of nature? Does it indicate a one-ness with beloved Albion or a languid, come-hither sexuality that invites the viewer even as it somehow implies victimhood? Or perhaps they each had one too many pints of Hobgoblin and didn't make it all the way home from the pub?

I'm pretty sure that's what happened to this lot. They're in there, in the undergrowth if you look. Honest. (Non folkies click here for a clue of what I'm on about.)

Hat-tip Phil Widdows @FolkCast for that. The dog's a genius touch. Apparently the pic was originally taken for this and the pooch's name is Holly :-)

* If you have a contribution to make to this sub-genre of the music snap please send them to me on Twitter @emma1hartley Coming soon... Ten things you never imagined Seth Lakeman could do with a glitterball.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Bev Lee Harling wants you to buy her

Bev Lee Harling's cheeky, cabaret-style show has had me transfixed twice now.

First of all she supported The Destroyers at Wilton's marvellous Music Hall before Christmas, where she wandered into the middle of the auditorium playing a fiddle before clambering on stage to chop vegetables suggestively and treat a number of kitchen implements, a power drill and a typewriter as if they had been designed with percussion in mind. I couldn't help noticing that on stage with her as one of her Kitchen Sink Band was Frank Moon, who's also in one of my favourite outfits, The Urban Folk Quartet.

It turned out that Bev is Frank's missus, loosely speaking, which was interesting in a kind of Do all the good bands know each other? kind of a way. (I'd also discovered that evening that Frank's played with The Destroyers.)

Then, a few days later with a sense of growing disorientation that partly abated when I remembered that I'd been invited to The Mediaeval Baebes' gig at The Destroyers one by a PR, it materialised that Bev was also in The Mediaeval Baebes. She also began that show, walking down the aisle of a beautiful Christmassy church in the City wearing flowers in her hair and playing She Moved Through the Fair on her fiddle.

What these two performances had in common was certain kittenish theatricality.

So when she launched her first album, Barefoot in your Kitchen, slightly over a week ago in a noisy Friday-evening restaurant in Shoreditch I went along, mainly to see what would happen next? Would it turn out that Bev was also the long lost, non-identical twin sister of Josienne Clarke or that her album was being produced by someone from Smooth Operations, in which case I might be able to sell the rights to my blog as a kind of long-running soap opera for daytime TV.

In the event, nothing more improbable than a rather fine gig occurred, although it seemed a minor miracle that the incredibly noisy restaurant simmered down nearly entirely during the course of the set until by the end every head seemed to be turned Bev's way.

For the album is sheer delight.

I mean how could you not fall head over heels for musician who's written a song called Buy Me, to avoid having to point to the table with the CDs on it at gigs?

The songs are light, well-crafted, teasing fun that wouldn't be out of place in a burlesque environment. Bev's fine taste has been turned to producing something highly distinctive, beautifully musical and sexily theatrical. Buy Me is hilariously knowing and I also particularly enjoy Robots and Angels for it "zip boom" chorus, Tired of the City for the cameo of the child's voice and the wonderful stripped down cover of The Police's  Every little thing she does (is magic) on which Bev accompanies herself solo and pizzicato on the fiddle.

I can imagine seeing her on the telly and would love to see her festival gig list fill up for this summer because live she's enchanting, something that could only improve in the sunshine with a glass of cider. I hope you get a chance to see what I mean.

Love, love, love this album. It's just so much fun.

* Listen, buy, embed or download it here.

* Read another Bev Lee Harling related post here.

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Monday, 14 May 2012

The Delarre brothers' audience survives Folk on the Pier this time

As well as hovering over several hundred feet of choppy water, Cromer's Folk on the Pier festival had a marquee this year that was not on the pier. This was *a good thing* because sitting in a darkened auditorium when the weather was as fine as it was on Saturday would have been against nature's order.

One of the best things about it all was that as you sat inside, sunlight streaming through the tent flaps and a gentle breeze playing on the side of your face, listening perhaps to Katriona Gilmour and Jamie Roberts, or Harvey Andrews (who sings a song about driving in the middle lane that didn't seem to be a metaphor for anything), you would occasionally see the silhouettes of birds - swifts and the like - flying lengthways along the tent towards the cliff, like a particularly summery lantern show. I like Cromer.

One of the many reasons for this is that at the moment a friend of mine is its mayor (though only for two more weeks). His name is Greg Hayman and he recently "came out" in a radio interview as a Marxist. I assumed at first that he was messing around - I was in a Marxist politics department at Leeds University a long time ago and take everything to do with Marxism with a fistful of salt - but it turns out no... And this in turn endeared him to John Tams on Sunday evening when he greeted the People's Republic of Cromer from the stage during the Home Service set, asked whether its Marxist mayor was in the audience - he was - and then approved of the fact that he refuses to wear a chain of office, unless you include the one that Greg has fashioned from plastic crabs for special occasions. As I say, I like Cromer.

The Delarre Brothers, David and James, appeared in the marquee on Saturday, without a set list and slightly frayed after a long drive from Liverpool, where they'd played with Mawkin the night before.

They said that they're always pleasantly surprised when they get invited back to Cromer. "The first time we played here, about seven years ago, we killed one of the audience," said David.


"Someone unfortunately had a heart attack while we were playing and, um, they didn't survive," he elucidated.

"The paramedics cracked open his chest as I was packing away my fiddle," added James. "And a few weeks later we got a letter from his widow, saying that she'd been enjoying the gig until her husband died. It was good that she didn't blame us."

Why on earth would she have blamed you?

"We were playing a fast one."

Btw I know for a fact that the box office at Cromer's Pavilion Theatre, at the end of the pier, has been trying quite hard to get through to Bellowhead's booking agent recently without much success. If anyone knows them perhaps they could give them a nudge? The venue sold £14,000 worth of tickets for next year's folk festival on Sunday alone, so there's evidently an appetite for this kind of thing in North Norfolk.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Young'uns play the Olympics

Foremost for me among the pleasures of the Bristol folk festival last weekend was The Young'uns, who brought such attack to their set and such humour to the bits in between that it was possible to forget completely for the duration the terrible-ness of their band name. Like getting a tattoo somewhere where you're prone to put on weight, it's unlikely to weather the years well, is it?

Anyway, there were some fabulously politically incorrect jokes about the lady stage manager agreeing to stand behind David Eagle to hold his trousers up for him, another about what it was exactly that kept bashing into the waist-level accordian mike and a sea shanty in French sung with north-eastern accents that was unaccountably sexy.

And while it's still not clear whether there will be any morris dancing in the Olympic opening ceremony - though surely someone would have mentioned it by now if they'd been asked? - it turns out that there will definitely be some Young'uns in the cultural Olympiad. An Aardman animation called The Itch of the Golden Nit starring the voices of David Walliams, Vic Reeves, Miranda Hart and Catherine Tate and for which The Young'uns wrote a song will be showing across the country.

So *drum roll* here's The Smelly Pirate Song.

Sean Cooney explained: "We do a lot of work at The Sage in Gateshead. This was a collaborative piece involving lots of children. The kids came up with the character of a pirate called Captain Iron Ears and when they were looking for someone to do a pirate song they thought of us."

Cooney is also a freelance storyteller and told me a great tale called The Fisherman and the Toast, which had a punchline that ran "I've told you once, I've told you twice, I've wiped my arse on every slice." Ask him for it if you see him :-) But you can understand why kids love them, can't you?

They also mentioned that there's a counterculture "sea shanty mania" in Poland, a country that they recently visited, that it's "massive and really young", involves girls whooping and taking their clothes off (apparently - although by his own admission Eagle's sight is extremely poor) and which grew up partly because under Communism there were very few ways in which the young could get to travel. I didn't really understand this but am going to look into it because it's two of my favourite things rolled into one: folk and European quirkiness.

* The Young'uns will  be releasing their first album on Navigator this year and they do podcasts.

Also from Bristol, Show of Hands and ahab in (separate) extreme fandom incidents.

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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Show of Hands and ahab in (separate) extreme fandom incidents

"She lost her heart to the boys in the band" runs the opening line of Show of Hands' Stop Copying Me. On Saturday at Colston Hall in Bristol there were two manifestations of high octane fandom, each of which was charming in its own very special way.

First up, there was a twenty-something at Show of Hands' headlining gig (below, photo courtesy of Ian Wright) who was there for her hen night. You could tell this was the case because she was wearing one of those clip-on bride's veils that can so easily get dipped in your pint of beer if you're not careful.

Also she was carrying a big banner that read: "I'm getting married but I still love Phil and Steve!"

This led to prolonged banter between the stage and her, in which all acquitted themselves splendidly. She was, of course, three sheets to the wind - as is traditional on these occasions - and Beer and Knightley seemed caught somewhere between terror and fascination.

Best of all, she did this thing when the band exited the stage (twice), of shadowing their exit from directly in front of the stage with her banner - which had a stick at each end - arms in the air, and creeping along just slightly behind them, as if she was playing What's the time, Mr Wolf? She pursued them as far as she could go into the wings, then stood, banner still aloft for some time afterwards, and somehow, triumphantly, this seemed to give her the final word.

And while her hangover should clear in time for the wedding, my second super-fan has a more indelible badge of honour.

A young woman called Caroline V***, from Manchester, attended ahab's Songs from the Shed recording session at Bristol and while she was there, Jon Earl - Mr Shed - noticed her tattoo.

According to the arch-propagandist from the Shed, Luke Price (wearing the hat in the video below) had once obliged her by writing some lyrics on her arm and Caroline went out and got them tattooed into permanency before they could wash off.

It's not clear that this is entirely, one hundred per cent accurate. But Caroline told me in an email: "I have a pretty big scar on my arm, so I was looking for some lyrics for aaaaages to cover it up with, when I came across ahab's Songs from the Shed session (above). I checked out a bit more of their stuff and I think it was more the lyrics than their sound that grabbed me initially. As you probably noticed, I chose lines from three difference ahab songs and combined them. I don't know why, it just felt right... and still does obviously."

It's just as well that Luke's got such beautiful handwriting.

Also from Bristol, The Young'uns play the Olympics.

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