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Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Hat Club: December 2: Roots in the Round

The final Hat Club of 2017 is a special one.
We're presenting our first songwriter's special:
'Roots in the Round'.
Hat Club favorite Dean Owens returns in good company, with duo Worry Dolls and Americana troubadour Robert Vincent. An exhilarating Nashville style Songwriters Circle, with some of UK’s most exciting singer song-writers. Upliftingly melancholic songs, laced with rootsy Americana, country, blues and harmonies that will raise the hairs on your arms and warm the coals in your gut.

Robert Vincent
An award winning singer/songwriter from Liverpool, continuing that city’s notable reputation for producing great songwriters and performers. Robert was voted one the top 20 acts at the 2016 Americanafest Nashville, courtesy of Rolling Stone. He was also the recipient of the inaugural 'Emerging Artist' UK Americana Music Award - personally selected by legendary BBC Radio DJ Bob Harris.
Robert's recent album I'll Make The Most Of My Sins (At The Helm Records) is a record that totally embraces the varied influences that make up the 'Americana' genre, from Emmylou to Waylon Jennings to Pink Floyd.

“The real deal”  Bob Harris
“Live, he is a colossus” Liverpool Sound and Vision




Dean Owens is one Scotland’s finest singer/songwriters. Armed with a searingly soulful voice, skillfully crafted stories and earworm inducing melodies, he is a compelling and engaging live performer, with an emotional hurricane of stories and songs. He can rock up a storm, with subtle flashes of roots and twang, and break your heart with the next inflection.
In September 2017 he became the first Scottish musician to be officially invited to showcase at the prestigious Americanafest in Nashville.
Southern Wind - his 7th solo album – is scheduled for release in Feb 2018, on At The Helm Records.

"Scotland's most engaging and haunting singer songwriter"  Irvine Welsh
“One of Scotland’s best troubadours… fabulous” Bob Harris


Worry Dolls are an up and coming London based indie-folk female duo, their debut album Go Get Gone was recorded in Nashville (with Dean's producer Neilson Hubbard) and released in 2017. Sublime harmonies and great songs.

“Brilliantly quirky”  The Huffington Post“Really, really, really stunning. Without doubt, ones to watch in 2017” Paul Sexton, BBC 


The Hat Club: December 2nd: Roots in the Round

The final Hat Club of 2017 is a special one.
We're presenting our first songwriter's special:
'Roots in the Round'.
Hat Club favorite Dean Owens returns in good company, with duo Worry Dolls and Americana troubadour Robert Vincent. An exhilarating Nashville style Songwriters Circle, with some of UK’s most exciting singer song-writers. Upliftingly melancholic songs, laced with rootsy Americana, country, blues and harmonies that will raise the hairs on your arms and warm the coals in your gut.

Robert Vincent
An award winning singer/songwriter from Liverpool, continuing that city’s notable reputation for producing great songwriters and performers. Robert was voted one the top 20 acts at the 2016 Americanafest Nashville, courtesy of Rolling Stone. He was also the recipient of the inaugural 'Emerging Artist' UK Americana Music Award - personally selected by legendary BBC Radio DJ Bob Harris.
Robert's recent album I'll Make The Most Of My Sins (At The Helm Records) is a record that totally embraces the varied influences that make up the 'Americana' genre, from Emmylou to Waylon Jennings to Pink Floyd.

“The real deal”  Bob Harris
“Live, he is a colossus” Liverpool Sound and Vision




Dean Owens is one Scotland’s finest singer/songwriters. Armed with a searingly soulful voice, skillfully crafted stories and earworm inducing melodies, he is a compelling and engaging live performer, with an emotional hurricane of stories and songs. He can rock up a storm, with subtle flashes of roots and twang, and break your heart with the next inflection.
In September 2017 he became the first Scottish musician to be officially invited to showcase at the prestigious Americanafest in Nashville.
Southern Wind - his 7th solo album – is scheduled for release in Feb 2018, on At The Helm Records.

"Scotland's most engaging and haunting singer songwriter"  Irvine Welsh
“One of Scotland’s best troubadours… fabulous” Bob Harris


Worry Dolls are an up and coming London based indie-folk female duo, their debut album Go Get Gone was recorded in Nashville (with Dean's producer Neilson Hubbard) and released in 2017. Sublime harmonies and great songs.

“Brilliantly quirky”  The Huffington Post“Really, really, really stunning. Without doubt, ones to watch in 2017” Paul Sexton, BBC 





Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Beach Songs and Covered Tracks

Interesting how the muddled mind works.
I'm lonesome in a converted fisherman's netting shack in Walberswick (on the Suffolk coast), with a cruel dose of the flu so extreme that I've taken to bed. Refusing to get up more accurately. The squawking gulls are starting to irritate, so I put on Spotify: A playlist of new albums from 2017 that I need to catch up on. I'm dozing that doze that only a cocktail of 'Night Nurse', Manuka honey and whisky can inspire: half Coleridge, half Withnail. Then 'Cover My Tracks' by Charlie Fink (ex Noah and the Whales) comes on. In my medicine induced stupor, the songs start to reveal themselves as a weird kind of dramatic musical: almost like a pastoral 'Grease'. A succession of interlinked 3 minute, honeyed, sentimental sketches, each one setting up the next.
And I was directing the film.
And it was a saccahrine success.
The kind of film that makes cynical middle aged men cry.
The kind of film that Paul Buchanan would sing the soundtrack to.


I'm up now, sitting in my huge bay window, facing the sea; listening to Paul Buchanan's 'Mid Air' and waving to film director Richard Curtis (really) as he passes on his bike, back from the village's only shop, with bread and eggs. Richard waves back. We're not mates (yet) but Richard waves back...
Curtis owns the designer beach 'shack' (above, middle right) next to the one hire (above, left of centre). Talk about shabby v chic. And then I realise that he's the man who placed the song 'Mid Air' as theme song to his lovely/sappy film 'About Time'. Serendipity eh? And that got me thinking about other Richard Curtis films. Four Weddings ('Love is all Around'). Love Actually, with this wrenching Emma Thompson/Joni Mitchell moment:


Richard Curtis films: They're not so much narratives, more a collection of 3 minute sketches that are lovingly crafted into 'movies'. Quilted movies that we learn to admire for their 'best bits' rather than for their entirety. Movies that make cynical, middle aged men cry. 
I reckon Richard Curtis is a Blue Nile fan.
If ever a man were to make this album into a film, then Richard Curtis would be that man. 
Not me. 
I have hope and Manuka but not the required amount of wide-eyed optimism and saccharine.
I might knock him up and work on a finders' fee...
And then I googled Charlie Fink's 'Cover My Tracks' and, lo and behold, the job's already done. 
The album forms a theatrical production. One that's recently presented at The Old Vic. The expanded narrative is described thus: 
"A downbeat, faintly autobiographical, not-quite-love story that takes our hero on a journey of self-discovery, from the brink of suicide in a grubby hotel room to the shores of a remote Scottish loch, via a whirlwind, whistle stop band tour of the UK."
It sounds a little like my current predicament... if you substituted the suicide with man flu... 
In fact it sounds like a Richard Curtis movie... if you put the suicide back in but made the corpse Knightley beautiful.
Take a listen; it really does.
Oh!
There he goes again.
This time Richard waves first.
I better put some pants on...


Have a listen to Charlie Fink's 'Cover My Tracks' here:
https://open.spotify.com/album/33n2cbJSaP1LCYhMMmKTjQ

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Heroes and Villains: Influence and Serendipity: And Pencils...

"That I know nothing, that the world I live in will go on escaping me forever."
Paul Auster

How we miss our lives is life enough for most of us.
Opportunities abound but we're mostly looking the other way.
Sometimes we need other folk to point out what we are missing.
Some things are worth sharing, if only for the civility of sharing.
Sometimes we reach out to connect.
Sometimes we reach out to see if others are feeling as disconnected as we are.
Sometime we are disappointed not to make an expected connection.
Sometimes unexpected connections can amaze and astound.
Hazard.
Chance.
Serendipity.
Different names for the same hat.

This morning I was lying in the bath, with Spotify playing randomly from the world's vast library of music, reading Paul Auster. Auster is one of my favorite writers. Besides his novels he also writes beautifully about his life: the things that have led him to where he now abides. 'The Red Notebook' is a slight thing, chock full of anecdotes, small moments, minutiae that most of us would pass over, let alone write about. His non fiction hints at what inspires the writer: in Auster's case primarily memory, identity and chance. They say that stories cannot exist without storytellers and that stories will not endure unless they are well told. Auster is a fine story teller whose elegant prose can make the most mundane moments resonate. Auster's words will endure. 

"I learned that books are never finished, that it is possible for stories to go on writing themselves without an author.” 

Anyway... back in the bath:
Much of 'The Red Notebook' recognizes the potency of coincidence. There are moments of serendipity, missed chances and close shaves. All cleverly catalogued without any conclusions drawn other than a 'what are the chances?' shrug. Auster tells of how during all four flat tires of his life he had the same passenger in the car with him. He tells of Ralph, the boy who got struck and killed by a lightning bolt that was surely destined for Auster. I got to the last chapter of the book entitled 'Why I Write'. It concludes with this story: An 8 year old Paul Auster met his hero, baseball player Willie Mays. The young Auster shyly asked Mays for his autograph. Mays replied "Sure kid, sure. You got a pencil?" Auster continues:

"The great Willie Mays stood there watching in silence. When it became clear that no one in the group had anything to write with, he turned to me and shrugged. “Sorry, kid,” he said. “Ain’t got no pencil, can’t give no autograph.” And then he walked out of the ballpark into the night.
After that night, I started carrying a pencil with me wherever I went. It became a habit of mine never to leave the house without making sure I had a pencil in my pocket. It’s not that I had any particular plans for that pencil, but I didn’t want to be unprepared. I had been caught empty-handed once, and I wasn’t about to let it happen again.
If nothing else, the years have taught me this: if there’s a pencil in your pocket, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll feel tempted to start using it.
As I like to tell my children, that’s how I became a writer."

As I read this story Spotify played Joe Henry's 'Our Song'. 
It tells of the narrator coming across... you guessed it: Willie Mays.
What are the chances?

“I saw Willie Mays
In a Scottsdale Home Depot
Looking at garage door springs
At the far end of the fourteenth row.”

Rather than asking for an autograph he listens in to Mays talking despondantly to his wife:

This was my country
This was my song
Somewhere in the middle there
It started badly and it’s ending wrong

This was my country
This frightful and this angry land
But it’s my right if the worst of it
Might somehow make me a better man.

Another story of disappointment then, this time from the mouth of the All American Hero himself. 
Interestingly the reason I was in the bath was to get away from the radio: specifically the clatter and clutter of the news: more graceless guff from anti-hero Trump, Stateside. So, not just the coincidence of two disparate stories colliding, with the same baseball hero (and featuring similar subject matter), but also... those lines written in 2007, pre-echoing the current disappointment, embarrassment, shame and fear at the face on the American coin: something articulated everyday by so many of my American friends: they surely deserve a better man...
As 'Our Song' concludes, the narrator casts doubt on himself.

That was him,
I’m almost sure,
The greatest centerfielder
Of all time.

He’s just like us,
I want to tell him,
Stooped by the burden of endless dreams,
His, and yours, and mine
.

"Stooped by the burden of endless dreams, his and yours and mine"
Now there's a sagely inclusive line: a timely reminder to our leaders that they shoulder our hopes.
It made me jump out of the bath and reach for this virtual pencil.
If you can, get hold of a copy of 'The Red Notebook', and then run yourself a bath.
Then put Spotify on 'random' and, you never know, as you get to the last chapter, you might just get struck by lightning, or... if you're lucky 'Our Song' might come on. 
It really is Our song: his and yours and mine.
May that moment come to you in brighter times: a time when the most powerful man in the world is not a narcissistic surface feeder, but a deep thinker with broad shoulders, emotional intelligence and a social conscience: A compassionate leader with a plan and a pencil in his hand.
Hopefully a hero: or at least a better man.
What are the chances?






Friday, 3 November 2017

Lovesong: Talk-Show: Permanent Honeymoon


I love this. Talk-Show is songwriter Lawrence O'Shea. The offerings are a fascinating melange of troubadour song-smithery and 70's influenced pop. I hear T. Rex sipping (slightly out of date) cocktails with James Taylor and Macca. It's a heady, tasty, out of time capsule that is oddly compelling. Melody is the master but there's a vibrant buoyancy that reminds me of Boo Hewerdine's latest offering 'Swimming in Mercury'. No surprise then to see that Boo is listed as 'Executive Producer' and appears on one of the tracks. The sonics are dynamic and compelling: kudos to the recording and mixing talents of Chris Pepper who also twiddled Boo's knobs on the aforementioned... Another star of the Talk-Show is Danish multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Llunggren whose wonderful woozy woodwind offers Nordic warmth to the affair. Nordic warmth? Yup, it's a transcendent conundrum of an album: one that's a pleasure to puzzle over. Regardless of the stellar support, O'Shea is very much the star of his own show: his voice both doleful and hopeful. It's that strident vocal performance that holds the 10 songs in such ear catching, fuzzy focus. He might have his back to us but Lawrence is surely stage centre. 'Permanent Honeymoon' is perfectly displaced and our hero displaces us perfectly: disorienting, knowing, wry, sanguine, yet with a melancholic underbelly that you want to tickle and cuddle at the same time.
These are songs to ponder and prance too.
Why were they not on the radio yesterday?


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Lovesong: Joe Henry: Thrum


The new Joe Henry album 'Thrum' is a beguiling mixture of obtuse lyricism and sombre, sonic beauty. T'aint 'whistle test' catchy but, boy, does its timbre get under your skin.
The vinyl version is spread over 4 luxuriant, syrupy sides: noiseless and quite startling in clarity.
Joe's son Levon is the prime accompanist, offering wonderfully wheezy woodwind, whilst the long
standing rhythm section of bassist David Piltch and drummer Jay Bellerose stitch everything together with a gloriously funereal clatter and... thrum. There's some fine guest guitar from John Smith too.
Thus far it's hard to pick a favorite, although 'The Glorious Dead' and 'River Floor' (see the video below) are just lovely, whilst the subtle orchestrations of 'Keep Us in Song' shuffle and slide, broken backed, yet somehow standing tall.


When I've worked out what Joe's banging on about (“The bride throws off her veil onto the groom. Salvation’ meaning nothing but ‘consumed’”?) this might just rank as my 'Album of the Year' alongside Neil Finn's wondrous 'Out of Silence'. It's certainly my most silent vinyl purchase of 2107.
Instinctive, live and perfectly imperfect is the new black and it suits me just fine.
I like Joe Henry...