You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Benjamin Francis Leftwich

It’s almost 18 months since Benjamin Francis Leftwich released his debut album, but last night (17 October) he brought a fresh Snowstorm to Birmingham’s Irish Centre.

For whatever reason, some music just works better in the cold, grey months of the British autumn and winter. And, as his album’s wintery title may suggest, Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm benefitted from being performed on a dark and chilly October evening.

Like the precipitation he so often writes of, Ben is a magnetic figure on stage, easily creating a palpable atmosphere with his warm guitar sounds and breathy, enduring vocals. His presence draws a hushed response during songs and rapturous applause in between, with cries of love and lust from the audience a regular occurrence.

Playing the entire album, the gig had a great balance between the stripped down sound of Ben playing solo, and the fuller sound that his band created around him.

Highlights included a full-band version of Stole You Away, featuring moody slide guitar and a bluesy solo, an extended version of Don’t Go Slow, which built from quiet into a rousing crescendo, and closer Atlas Hands, which was played completely unplugged and drew one of the softest and sweetest singalongs of any gig I’ve been to.

Alongside the songs from his long player, Ben also played Hole in My Hand and Maps from the A Million Miles Out EP, previewed two new songs from the forthcoming In The Open EP, and even found time for a slow and delicate cover of Arcade Fire’s Rebellion (Lies).

The new songs - the EP’s title track In The Open and Manchester Snow, which Ben reveals has a rather risqué story behind its title, involving 23 rendezvous’ with a Manchester girl in the space of one week - sound great live and point towards a fuller sound Ben is creating.

As he is on Twitter, Ben appears a very down to earth guy on stage, constantly thanking fans for coming out and the venue for having him. Following him on Twitter is a must if you want to learn more about modern life on the road, he is often found asking after a spare washing machine or shower, and personally thanking fans – myself included – that have tweeted about buying tickets or enjoying the album.

And as Ben mentions some of his recent tours, it seems he has been on tour constantly for a long time now. But still filling venues after several lengthy tours with the album is an indicator of its lingering impact, and his fans appear as dedicated as he is.

With the new EP - to be released next month - offering a glimpse into what is next, this talented young Yorkshireman is continuing to brew up a storm.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Tame Impala - Elephant

Tame Impala are a band I’ve heard mentioned a lot over the last couple of years, and heard songs by, but never really nailed down much about them, until recently. It may just be a coincidence, but their new Beatles-esque album Lonerism has coincided with my own in-depth discovery of the fab four. Obviously I knew who The Beatles were and knew their singles, but only recently have I taken the time to discover their albums, and I’m glad I did.

Anyway, every review of Lonerism can’t help but make comparisons with The Beatles because singer Kevin Parker’s voice is so similar to that of John Lennon, admittedly not a bad person to sound like. Add  that to the psychedelic rock sound that he has developed with the band, and the video, and you may just forget just who you’re listening to. This song was the first single from the album released back in July. Enjoy.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


It’s safe to say these are exciting times for Radiohead fans. Beginning with The King of Limbs, their eighth studio album nonchalantly announced and released in the space of a week in February 2011, the band are currently enjoying a productive purple patch, culminating last night in their first proper UK show for four years.

After casting off the shackles of traditional releases from 2007’s ground-breaking In Rainbows onwards, the band seem to have found a new lease of life, using their independence to release a string of material in the wake of the brilliant but somewhat brief TKOL album, as well as debuting a number of new songs live.

This influx of new material, including the double singles Supercollider/The Butcher and Staircase/The Daily Mail, and the unreleased Identikit, Cut A Hole and Skirting The Surface, has shown the UK’s passion for one of its most influential bands is a fervent as ever, with fever pitch reached this week with their first full UK tour since 2008.

While there may have been some grumblings about the fleeting length of the tour and the venues chosen, the tour’s first show last night at Manchester’s MEN Arena was everything the fans wanted, and more.

Those who were lucky enough to catch their secret gig at 2011’s Glastonbury aside, it was the first live outing for many TKOL songs in the UK, and they proved a revelation, finding their perfect home in the vast arena. Opener Lotus Flower effortlessly filled the open space, with punchy bass and entrancing drumming at its heart, it sounded truly anthemic and immediately set the tone for the whole evening.

Soon followed by Bloom, the swirling and offbeat album opener, the sweet and soaring Separator, and the frantic and intense Feral and Morning Mr Magpie, each demonstrated the extreme opposites that the album is made of and made for an exciting live show.

But, for me, the TKOL song that most demonstrated the perfect shift to the live arena was Give Up the Ghost, which was truly remarkable in the flesh. Coming as part of the second encore, with only Thom and Johnny onstage, loops of Thom’s vocals were built up, layering a rich, mesmerising sound that rang out and lingered long in the memory.

Other new material also included The Daily Mail, another high point, always surprising with its shift from falsetto ballad into rocking anthem, and brand new song Full Stop, which was musically similar to Jigsaw Falling into Place from In Rainbows, but a bit more distorted and synthy.

Radiohead’s epic Manchester gig on the In Rainbows tour of 2008 was probably the closest to a perfect gig I’ve ever seen, thanks to a perfectly balanced set list. Often painted as a difficult band who shun their biggest songs live, they did quite the opposite, playing a diverse and exciting set.

This was again the case last night, as the aforementioned new songs were surrounded and separated by an eclectic collection from their back catalogue. Airbag’s famous chords ripped through the room in only the second song, soon followed by the poles apart Myxomatosis and The Gloaming.

After These Are My Twisted Words, a free download from 2009, the mood was lulled with the hypnotic Pyramid Song and Nude, the beginning of a very well-received In Rainbows section also featuring a furious version of Weird Fishes/Arpeggi and wonderful percussion on Reckoner.

As the first set drew to a close, the big guns were brought out, with There There, The National Anthem and Paranoid Android all increasing the volume and intensity, sending the crowd into rapture.

The first encore began with You and Whose Army?, before an ‘old, really old’ one according to Thom, Planet Telex being the only song from their first two albums to be played. The first encore ended with an atmospheric version of the always devastating How to Disappear Completely – the high point of the entire gig for me.

The second encore continued the brooding sound, with Give up the Ghost followed by a long and haunting version of Everything in its Right Place, which saw the band depart the stage at various stages, each receiving a standing ovation as they did. But that wasn’t it, and they all returned for a final fraught burst of Idioteque, leaving the crowd truly stunned as the house lights came on.

On top of the near perfect set list, the physical set was also outstanding, with a dozen screens that shifted, rotated, rose and lowered above the band to provide a glimpse at each member, while huge walls of LED lighting morphed from one colour to another, reflecting and adding to the moody, smoky atmosphere.

As for the band themselves, they are completely at ease on stage. The day before his 44th birthday – for which he was sung Happy Birthday by the audience - Thom was in a playful mood, joking around, introducing himself as Lady Gaga, and dancing like no one was watching.

The rest of the band, featuring touring second drummer Clive Deamer, were effortless. Coming and going when necessary, switching between instruments seamlessly, enjoying themselves immensely - they are all great to watch.

As the band approach the 20th anniversary of their debut album in February 2013, they remain, in many eyes, the UK’s most innovative and important band. On recent evidence, last night included, that shows no sign of changing.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Lucy Rose - Like I Used To

I first heard Lucy Rose on the title track of Bombay Bicycle Club’s sophomore, acoustic-folk album Flaws. Her delicate backing vocal, and how perfectly it intertwined with that of Bombay’s Jack Steadman, made it the album’s standout song, and I immediately wanted to know who this lingering and evocative voice belonged to.

Two years later, Lucy Rose has come a long way. The release and success of debut album Like I Used To last week is another landmark for her, and a testament to patience and hard work.

At a young age she moved to London from my own Warwickshire, a brave first step in making a name for herself. And, while others may have rushed into releasing something based on the exposure her part-time role as a part of Bombay has brought over the last two years, Lucy has taken it one song at a time, maturing and honing her solo craft at intimate venues across the country whilst also gracing arena and festival stages with the band. All the while building her back catalogue and growing, both lyrically and musically.

This measured approach has given the album an accessibility, with five singles already released and two early tracks included. Middle of The Bed, Night Bus and Bikes were three of the first songs of hers I loved back in 2010, and they are here pretty much as they were, avoiding the fate of so many demos that are tampered with too much by the time they make it onto an album.

But alongside the familiar, there are also nine new songs to make up a thorough and confident debut. Other singles Scar, Red Face and Lines are joined by standout tracks Shiver, Don’t You Worry and Be Alright.

Across the album, her guitar work is delightful, with intricate and delicate picking mixed with bigger and bolder sounds. And her songs aren’t restricted by typically acoustic structures, with tempo and volume changes throughout giving her room to manoeuvre and keeping things lively and stimulating.

It is her vocals however that are the heart and soul of the record, with her tender voice bringing the stories she sings to life. She tells tales of broken relationships and dark souls, but her voice is uplifting enough to ensure they never become too heavy or difficult.

While many reviews of Lucy focus on the tea and the jam – which no doubt add to the charm factor - this is an album worthy of attention for the music alone. Appropriately released in autumn, this lovely album will no doubt warm and soothe during the winter months ahead.