Skinny Lister – Live at Cambridge Folk Festival, Friday 31st July 2015

You had me at The Pogues! Our intrepid live folk lover picks up the pen to report back on six piece group Skinny Lister’s performance at the Cambridge Folk Festival.

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“…….the world through the bottom of George’s glass”

Skinny Lister are that rare treat, a band you can see live repeatedly without tiring of them. This is true not least because they never seem to tire of seeing you. Whether feeding you rum from a giant flagon, or crowd surfing while playing the double bass, the Skinnies are here to entertain you.

“You must go and see them!” I tell Tony, my camping Neighbour at Cambridge Folk Festival. When he asks what they are like I hesitate, “think of The Pogues, but replace Shane McGowan with a pretty girl in a Laura Ashley dress.” Perhaps this is not entirely accurate but the comparisons are there to be made. Both bands are able to mix the undeniably raucous whilst being genuinely sensitive and lyrical. The band effortlessly shift between the machine gun delivery of Trouble on Oxford Street and the lilting Colours, a personal favourite of mine.

This contrast is best illustrated by Lorna (she of the flowery dress). When not belting out John Kanaka along with the others, she is variously dancing manically, crowd surfing – this time after borrowing Michael Camino’s double bass and flirting shamelessly with the crowd. “You look shocked” she says to a bemused folky, before promising him a change of tempo so that he’ll realise that “I’m a nice person really” a hush descends as she sings the gentle Bonny Away.

Perhaps this is their secret. They may look absolutely mad, “He’s going to have a bloody heart attack” somebody says of the free stomping Max, but there is none of the snarling disaffection of The Pogues. Sam “Mule” Brace may look like he could give you a hefty kick, but these people are your drunk best friends. That is you are lucky to have a group of brilliant folk musicians as your best friends and only then if they don’t mind you coming round all the time, drinking their rum and begging “Play Trawlerman again”

Review and live photos by Dominic Gillespie.


Skinny Lister
are still to be found at a live venue near you, whether that’s France, Germany, Reading/Leeds or a longer traipse around the US, all details to be found on their website.

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Felice Brothers – Live at SummerTyne Americana Festival at The Sage, Gateshead

The SummerTyne (nice play on words) Americana Festival is now in its 10th Year and with such a cornucopia of bands on show a new reviewer steps forth and gives their views on a live set by the Felice Brothers.

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” I’ll put some whiskey into my whiskey, I’ll put some heartbreak into my heart”

So the Felice Brothers delicately balance riotous pleasure with exquisite pain. Born in wild woods of the Catskills, Ian, James and Simone brought their boondock poetry to the subways of New York, recording albums in chicken coops during thunderstorms. When Simone left the group to strike out on his own I worried that they would lose much in terms of his sensitivity. While this may be true in the studio to some extent, it is hard imagine them giving a better live performance, even in the somewhat hushed and over refined atmosphere of The Sage as part of their popular Americana Festival.

The two remaining brothers neatly encapsulate the dual nature of the band. Ian on lead vocals and guitars, hunched at his microphone stand in twin ragged plaid shirts, has the presence of a modern day Townes Van Zandt. His brother James on keyboards and vocals is a great smiling bear of a man. At first glance he looks like should be felling trees, but his appearance belies great sensitivity and musicianship.

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Early on in the set they launch into a joyously raucous version of Cumberland Gap, at once true to the original Appalachian spirit of the song and bang up to date. They followed this with Wonderful Life and The Big Surprise classics for anybody looking for an introduction to their sound. Even the reserved Sage crowd were stung into action by Whiskey in My Whiskey an up tempo little number about a man who shoots his unfaithful girlfriend before killing himself on the railroad track.

Many fabulous songs later, “We’ll do a couple more songs for you”, mumbles Ian. They do just that and are gone, no encore and a somehow fittingly anti climactic end to an emotionally charged evening. My last wish would have been to have left and stumbled into a steamy, seedy back alley. I imagine being approached by a wild eyed bearded Vietnam vet who asks me “Buddy can you spare a dime?” It may not always be pleasant, but it certainly is a wonderful life.

Reviews and live photos by Dominic Gillespie.

To catch The Felice Brothers live, quickly head over to their website where tickets are still available for their remaining UK dates.

Jack Savoretti and the Dirty Romantics – Live at The Scala, London

Like many who don’t listen to Radio 2, my path to Jack Savoretti has been a slightly obscure one. Last summer, wandering round the Wilderness Festival in the dark after putting the entire family to sleep under canvas, I heard what sounded like a great Eagles cover band. Ambling over I found some sweaty short bloke playing a fantastic fusion of poppy folk with some thinly veiled country influences in there.

With no idea who he was (and nobody else present did either, like me most of the audience had been drawn by the music) it took a bit of google-fu on a couple of lines of lyrics -“when the sun came up and the shit went down” – to find out who the Dickens this was.

From reading a few reviews of the album Before the Storm that Savoretti is currently touring, it becomes apparent that most of the uninitiated reviewers have variations on the theme of how have I never heard his music up to this point? It’s fair comment because unless you’re a Radio 2 aficionado, Savoretti hasn’t had tremendous exposure. If you’ve never heard of Savoretti but watch a lot of American telly, you may find yourself surprised to recognise a few tracks; he’s been featured on shows as diverse as One Tree Hill, Greys Anatomy and the Vampire Diaries but he has largely slipped under the radar.

Savoretti has said in interviews that he was a poetry nut from an early age, and this certainly comes across in his lyrics. They’re well thought out, evocative and quite clever in places. It’s probably this love of poetry that’s brought about the Simon & Garfunkel comparisons – we can all just about forgive what Paul Simon did to Carrie Fisher because he is a lyrical genius.

On tour, Savoretti is joined by the most cosmopolitan band you’re ever likely to see. A Croatian Michael Elphick look a like on double base, a Russian keyboard player, an Irish drummer and a Brazilian electric guitarist who gives a real Latino vibe to a lot of the tracks. It’s an eclectic mix but it works very well.

The Scala is a small, intimate venue, in the environs of Kings Cross in central London. This made it easy enough for the Radio 2 brigade to find and for the most part they seem to make up the more fanatical side of Savoretti’s following. This meant the crowd was exceptionally well behaved: one chap who elbowed his way to the front two minutes before the main act came on was moved on by a group of 40 something ladies and a gang of youngsters who were talking during the middle acoustic set were roundly shushed by almost everyone. It was a wonder that the crowd didn’t tidy up before they left. That’s not to say they didn’t enjoy themselves; they did but in a self aware and jolly proper

Savoretti’s music works exceptionally well live and the band hit the ground running with some popular favourites from his new album like Vagabond and Before the Storm. With the audience whipped up into a middle aged tizzy, Savoretti slowed things down by dispatching his band and performing a slower acoustic set, starting with Crazy Fool and ending with a strangely apt cover of Ring of Fire. Savoretti has a gritty big voice, that comes as a surprise from such a slight frame but it’s as at home with a bit of classic country and western as it is with some of his more rambunctious numbers. When the Dirty Romantics re-appeared (presumably they’d decided to watch Only Connect or something to pass the time; the crowd had probably Sky Plus’d it), the pace upped a notch from the opening session. Not Worthy which got the second full on part of the gig going was definitely a crowd favourite. It was followed by The Proposal, which pays homage to the Eagles’ Take it Easy. Savoretti said he was intentionally aiming for a 60’s Californian vibe, and it could pretty much slip on to any of the Eagles early 70’s albums. It got the crowd bouncing and singing along nicely.

Savoretti has an easy going stage manner, he is comfortably riffing with the audience and attune to its mood- from the odd quick chat with the drummer, it was obvious that the set list was altered on the fly on more than one occasion. The band was tight enough to take this in their stride and it kept the audience bouncing right up until the final encore.

12 quid wont get you an enormous amount in terms of live music any more but that’s how much it cost to get in to see Savoretti at the Scala. There are still 6 gigs left on the UK leg of his tour, if you’re quick you’re going to have a great night out.

Guest Review by Alex.

You can read more of Alex’s musings over at his Daddacool blog.

The Wind-Up Birds – Live at Head of Steam, Newcastle

This is more of a meandering story than a proper music review, but in the absence of anything more concrete and as a tribute to the late Max Bygraves, “I wanna tell you a story” involving The Wind-up Birds, shopping trolleys and free soda water. The characters for this story are:-

Mikey: self confessed Newcastle fan, who has a musical knowledge that is impressively spiced by exotic gigs in various European places, based on a blasé comment that he once lived in Paris.

Kev: local school teacher and regular visitor to the Bay Horse in Heighington on a Tuesday evening, who offers political musings that are slightly different to the normal discussion of sheep and cattle prices.

Russell: childhood school friend of Mikey and season ticket holder at Newcastle, whom was an unknown quantity to Kev and myself.

The evening had started with a dashed tea and a trek up the A1(M) to collect Kev from a motorway slip road (located behind a Polish lorry), collecting Mikey with a short break whilst panic ensued about whether the agreed meeting point had been outside the pub in Newcastle. Some expert directions managed to engineer us a space to the rear of the Central Station in Newcastle, with necessary short cut under the railway line through a tunnel marked with a thin line for taxis – presumed initially to be either tuc-tuc or rickshaw sized – actually it turned out to be the edge of the taxi lane as they completely blocked the tunnel as the night drew on.

The Head of Steam in Newcastle is located opposite and to the right of Newcastle’s Central Station, but despite Kev’s myopic eyes and the liberal use of scaffolding it proved an easy place to locate. For those who haven’t frequented the place before it is a rather odd pub, nestled underneath offices with the bar on the first floor and the gig venue in the basement, ground level entry is therefore where the toilets are based. Ascending the stairs we were greeted with a decent array of beers – another good reason to visit when the music isn’t live – a debate took place on which beer sounded the most golden and three pints of Langdale were ordered and a very good pint it was too, although seeing that £10 wasn’t enough to pay for three pints was a little shock to the system.

The second round of drinks was somewhat disrupted by confusion as Mikey opted for Summer Lightening. This involved the ‘short-tight skirted barmaid’ muttering something, claiming it wasn’t on, being told it was on, rummaging around for a nozzle for the end of the tap, finally wandering off leaving the three of us bemused if the beer was on / off / in the process of coming on / just forgotten that we’d ordered three pints. Eventually Mikey was rewarded for his patience with a very golden pint of Summer Lightening being served and at that moment Russell arrived. In his eagerness to get in, Russell had already been downstairs where five people and a band seemed to be aimlessly making some attempts at music, but it was a little early for the first act so in retreating from the uninspiring music Russell had worked his way upstairs and opted for a soda water – which very pleasingly and considering the fact it had a lime in it, was free!

Have quaffed our pints we descended into the basement. The gig was organised by The Outsider, a Geordie based promotional company who enjoy giving new bands a stage on which to play. The basement was indeed a basement, slightly cooler than the bar, with another bar to the rear of the room, a couple of armchairs and a small stage where the bands performed. The only problem with the venue was the supporting beams, not something you could remove, but of sufficient height to restrict the upwards movement of any unwary guitarist…unless of Small Faces height.

So What Robot were the first act on, with the local paper describing them as the “Gentlemen of rock”, although this was possibly more due to their dress-style. The dark suit, white shirt and tie combo passed them off as gentlemen, although the guitarist seemed to have ditched the jacket and with rolled up sleeves looked uncannily like a barman. Being unaware of their music it was a somewhat un-engaging set, with the use of keyboard somewhat ill-fitting, but the locals who had come out to support the band were appreciative of their efforts and maybe I needed to have reviewed the music to have taken it in more.

The final act were Leeds based band Moody Gowns, again an unknown quantity, with an extremely energetic frontman, whose shirt changed colour as the sweat profusely fell during the set. The use of an iPad like instrument which was hit repeatedly by the frontman was interesting, although at times what it added couldn’t be picked out and possibly was something you’d appreciate more in a recorded version. The ‘dancing’ was somewhat groin thrustingly frenetic, with hints of punk and reggae, although the bassist did a decent job of keeping everything in control despite being the only one to attempt to concuss himself on the overhead beam. The Moody Gowns set ended rather badly with a blown amp, that was then replaced with a borrowed one, but it spoilt the set and by this stage a couple of people had left.

Sandwiched in between these two bands, were the band that I had convinced the rest to come and see, that being the Leeds based The Wind-up Birds, sold to Mikey on the basis of being influenced by The Fall and some early stuff he’d found online; and Kev as there was some quality lyric commentary on modern society. Russell had turned up based on Mikey’s recommendations. Kev claimed to have listened to the album, although post gig cross-examination elicited a confession he’d only heard Good Shop Shuts, this being the first track on their debut album The Land (see my earlier review).

Despite a post-gig comment online about needing to know the music, that isn’t necessary with The Wind-up Birds. After the first notes you knew that this was a band that was a step up in musical ability, the whole band feeling that much tighter. Yet it is Paul who steals the show, his lyrics alone are worth spending time pouring over, yet through his unique Yorkshire drawl Paul is captivating in his delivery with his utterances of “Ta” at the end of every track like a person grateful for the appreciative applause. Whether its the wry commentary on faceless high streets reflected in Good Shop Shuts, the black humour of There Won’t Always be an England or the chorus delights of Being Dramatic they all infectiously grab your attention. To say Mikey, Kev and Russell were impressed by The Wind-up Birds is an understatement and at least I’d managed to bring my musical kudos up a notch.

The Wind-up Birds even threw in a couple of new tracks including Two Ambulance Day and involving Paul stood with a sheet of lyrics so new was the song. If my memory hasn’t failed me, they ended on Tyre Fire (I knew I should have photo’d the set list or nicked one at the end!), with Paul ending the gig on his knees, before deciding to lay prostrate on the floor whilst throwing his lyrics out and asking if he could stay there for the rest of the night, leaving Ben and Mat to grin away at Paul’s antics.

Between the band finishing and the Moody Gowns coming on, there was sufficient time to embarrass myself with Paul, by praising the gig and getting There Won’t Always be an England and Nostalgic For… mixed up, although I did confess my memory for track names was pretty crap. It was interesting to hear that the band were working with Nathan (bassist from the Moody Gowns) and that Paul hadn’t really taken any notice of John Cooper-Clarke before people started making those comparisons. Quite rightly Paul mentioned Nostalgic For… wasn’t a track to drop into a set list for people who weren’t necessarily there for The Wind-up Birds, but hopefully at some point it’ll be a track I manage to catch live as it’s certainly up there for followers of the band.

In leaving the Head of Steam, shaking hands with a rather bemused Ben and Mat, who I hadn’t introduced myself to, there was still sufficient time to find Oli chewing his way through a conversation about Pavement and The Fall with Mikey and Russell before we pressed onwards home, via the Telegraph where a terraced area was appreciated next to the sadly non-revolving shopping trolley sculpture – rather too well appreciated when it turned out it had gone 12:30am!

All in all an excellent evening, some very good company and an enjoyable gig – for a band who forgot to bring copies of their album to Newcastle and have been quoted as saying they were embarrassed to announce its release, they should be less of a ‘shrinking violet’, this is an album to be proud of and in the live venue are grippingly excellent, go see them live, buy the album and indulge one of the few bands who capture the black-humour and grimness of modern life in equal measure.

Musings by Jimbo

Kev said I was being a bit harsh on So What Robot and wished to add that the So What Robot video for Work and Play showed said non-revolving trolley statue. There was something of a late 70s Chords resonance to the sound mixed with a touch of Blur’s revolving guitar riffs and light-touch social commentary.