This evening was part of a series of concerts being held at LSO St. Luke’s London to showcase nominees for the British music industry’s most prestigious album award ceremony – The Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize. Hosted by Radio 1 presenter Nick Grimshaw the show was also filmed to be televised on Channel 4.
First up were Scottish art-school psych rockers Django Django. Their debut album of the same name, released earlier in the year, received acclaim from critics for their unique fusion of psych-pop, roots and electronica. The band (complete with matching shirts and giant tambourines) confidently worked their way through tracks including ‘Hail Bop’, ‘Waveforms’, ‘Default’ and ‘WOR’. They’re clearly excited to be part of this year’s event and put in a high energy performance, seamlessly mixing surf guitars with spacey effects, memorable vocal hooks and lush harmonies to great effect.
After a brief break folk-singer Sam Lee took to the stage with his band to perform tracks from his album ‘Ground of Its Own’. The album is a modern take on traditional gypsy songs from England, Ireland and Scotland. These songs were performed using sparse technical arrangements of trumpet, percussion, violin, cello and mouth harp. Lee’s rich voice (reminiscent of Nick Drake) is soothing and every note was expertly delivered.
Headlining the night was East-London born rapper Ben Drew aka Plan B. Drew has recently been cited as ‘The most influential voice in UK Hip Hop’. His second album ‘Ill Manors’ is the soundtrack to a feature film of the same name. Ill Manors, tackles social issues affecting people on the streets of east London. Written and directed by Drew, ‘Ill Manors’ was placed at number 9 at the UK box office in it’s opening weekend. The album debuted at number 1 in the UK album chart.
Warming up for Plan B was a beat-boxer performing an impressive medley of ‘Seven Nation Army’ into ‘Boom Boom Boom’ by The Outhere Brothers. After this the band then launch into ‘I Am The Narrator’, the second track from Ill Manors. The live line up of drums, guitar and bass definitely added energy that didn’t come across on the record. Drew worked the crowd with a strong set which included tracks titled; ‘Drug Dealer’ and ‘Deepest Shame’. The highlight of the set was the excellent ‘Playing With Fire’ , with it’s big rock guitar sound again giving an extra dimension to the restrained polished production of Ill Manors.
Ben Drew has definitely managed to craft an exceptional album full of relevant social commentary without sacrificing the pop sensibility that makes his music so widely appealing. He’s definitely up there in the running with the best of them to take this year’s prize.
The Africa Express train made its final stop at Granary Square In London. Aboard it was a cast made up of mostly musicians from Africa – backed by a select few from UK. The sole intent of Africa Express is to connect musicians from Africa with musicians from the western world.
The journey started from Kings Cross station visiting destinations including; Middlesbrough, Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff and Bristol. During most days, activities for the musicians included visiting local schools, hospitals as well as playing pop up gigs in random locations.
The finale was a star studded affair. Manchester United & England defender Rio Ferdinand even made a cameo stage appearance. A surprise guest appearance from Sir Paul McCartney dazzled the crowd & M1 (Dead Prez) enlisted an all star line up of Mc’s for a rendition of “It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop”
Guardian quotes Paul McCartney saying “he wishes he could have been on the train”. “I’ve loved African music for years,” he enthuses. “I went to Lagos in the 70s and came back friends with Fela Kuti, so I’ve always wanted to do an Africa Express show.”
During the evening, an amazing line up of artists graced the crowed with captivating performances. The wonderful Fatoumata Diawara, Malian guitarist Amadou and Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal were all in fine form.
Ghanaian rapper M.anifest Was made to feel at home as the crowd waved its hands in the air- chanting “You’ve never known joy if you never had to suffer”
The Africa Express train has come to a halt, but what a fantastic finale ride Saturday was.
Any regular attendee of Green Man will have seen some bad weather in the past, but 2012 takes things to a whole new level. Following a summer where even the low levels of British expectation have been drowned under feet of rain, the festival site finds it hard to cope with the combination of thousands of punters and some further apocalyptic downpours. By Friday morning, the place is a sea of mud.
But this is Britain, and a little bit of torrential rain isn’t going to dampen anyone’s spirits. Bringing the good vibes on the Mountain Stage, the irrepressible Dexys shrug off any weather-related malaise with a barnstorming set. Unsurprisingly, the highlight is ageless hit ‘Come On Eileen’, which has the soggy crowd bouncing as much as their mud-caked wellies will allow. A pleasingly raucous turn from Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks follows, with the ex-Pavement man in typically laconic form. Finally, Mogwai make the night their own with a set alternating effortlessly between shimmering prettiness and monolithic slabs of guitar noise.
Saturday sees Michael Kiwanuka, who made his Green Man debut last year, return to play to much bigger crowds on the Mountain Stage. Notorious curmudgeon Van Morrison confounds expectation by not only playing a set packed wall to wall with crowd pleasers like ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, but also being pretty cheery while he does it. But the day belongs to Metronomy who grab the headline spot as if it was made for them. Their sharp-edged 80s influenced pop temporarily allows us to believe that we are in a swanky seaside bar sipping martinis, rather than standing up our knees in brown sludge somewhere in the Brecon Beacons.
On Sunday we are greeted by an unfamiliar object in the sky which, on closer examination, turns out to be the sun. Everyone immediately peels off their wet weather gear in an effort to get some colour into their pale and sodden flesh. Alt-J draw the biggest crowds of the weekend to the Far Out Stage. With people spilling out of the tent in order to get a taste of their spectral pop, they make a good case for a spot much higher up the bill. The festival is closed out by Feist, playing a set largely drawn from her latest album Metals. She raises the spirits of a tiring crowd with plenty of audience participation and prompts some impressive mass singalongs. Ultimately, it’s those communal Green Man moments that will stick in the memory long after we’ve hosed the last of the mud off our camping gear.
With all the excitement that surrounds EDM you could be forgiven for thinking that electronic music is just about topping the Billboard charts or celebrity DJ’s. It’s easily forgotten that while the mainstream-side of dance music is garnering unprecedented attention, experimental and boundary pushing elements of the scene also continue to flourish.
Just one artist who’s been exploring the more obtuse and less danceable side of dance music is Bugge Wesseltoft. A Norwegian pianist schooled in the likes of Coltrane and Sun Ra, Bugge’s music mixes elements of house and techno with loose improvised jazz. His recent collaboration with Berlin DJ Henrik Schwarz, which meshed machine music with free-flow piano impprov, saw him gain critical claim from across the board and has won him fans the like of Giles Peterson and X-Press 2’s Ashley Beedle.
Bugge’s latest project is his most ambitious yet. Forming a band full of crack session musicians, the aim was to create a live show with dance beats and spontaneous musical flourishes. Generally, throughout his hour long performance in London, this goal was achieved in some style. Piano noodling was centred on electronic beats provided by Joe Claussell, a highly influential DJ in his own right who’s party Body & Soul would likely gain a nod of recognition from house-music nerds. This meant the show still had the grove to keep people moving but the musicality to keep the jazz fans stroking their metaphorical beards. At times the music teetered towards a cacophony of random noise, but any roughness around the edges only added to the feeling that this show was entirely of the moment.
When even some of the biggest acts in EDM admit that the music’s simplistically easy to play live, Deadmau5 we’re looking at you here, it’s important that there are still electronic acts that value musicianship and experimentation. Even though mainstream dance music continues to enjoy a moment in the sun, it’s likely the next big trend will start with guys like Wesseltoft who try to do something different.
Now into its 10th year, Green Man has evolved from a folk festival attended by just a few hundred people into a major event that welcomes more than 10,000 punters. While it still features plenty of acts from the more pastoral end of the spectrum, the musical policy has widened significantly to encompass everything from rock to electronica. Previous festivals have featured a roll call of disparate names including Fleet Foxes, Jarvis Cocker, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Mumford & Sons and Bon Iver.
They may have dropped the ‘Midnight Runners’, but today’s Dexys are still possessed of the energy that made songs like ‘Geno’ such irrepressible and timeless hits. Recent shows have received ecstatic reviews and it’s a certainty that the inevitable live rendition of ‘Come On Eileen’ will provoke one of those ‘festival moments’ that we hear so much about these days.
Mogwai are a very different prospect. For more than 15 years the band have been mining their own particular sonic furrow, becoming one of the cornerstones of the horribly named ‘post-rock’ scene in the process. They play the Friday night headline spot occupied by the similarly epic Explosions In The Sky at last year’s festival.
The latest additions round out a bill already packed with big names. Feist may be best known for her iPod commercial soundtracking ‘1234’, but her work as a solo artists and a member of Broken Social Scene mark her out as one of the most distinctive voices in modern music. Van Morrison has made a decades long journey from young soul rebel to elder statesman of sounds. He’ll be drawing on a back catalogue of truly titanic scope.
Alongside the more established acts the festival will be packed with up and coming artists, including the Mercury Music Prize-winning Ghostpoet, hotly-tipped singer songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich and nu-dubstep luminary James Blake.
Green Man takes place in the appropriately lush Usk Valley in South Wales between 17-19 August. Check the website for further details.
With a growing in popularity brand of Soul, Hip Hop, Afrobeat & R&B, Nneka graced the stage at London’s Scala and echoed the reasons why she is mentioned in the same breath as Lauren Hill & Erykah Badu. With power collaborations from the likes of Nas, The Roots & Talib Kweli under her belt, it is now harder than ever hard to escape Nneka mania, especially as her record ‘Heartbeat’, is sampled on Rita Ora’s ‘R.I.P’ which is currently blasting out of every car and radio station in ear shot.
In 2005 Nneka released an EP titled ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’, which contained politically challenging & self-seeking lyrics as she aimed to connect & become one with the higher powers within her beliefs. Speaking in Pidgin English – a broken down form of English which was famously used by Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti – she introduced ‘V.I.P (Vagabond In Power)’ from her latest album ‘Soul Is Heavy’. V.I.P is a song that highlights the misleading of people by political leaders. With a Tony Allen style beat on the grove, it was pretty hard to resist shaking a leg, but it was impossible to do so as Scala was at its maximum capacity.
With her voice on form and rap delivery recalling the likes of Talib Kweli, Nneka got her guitar and strummed the chords to ‘Do You Love Me’. During this very powerful rendition, a rather unusual pause occurred for around 20 seconds. A split second longer and the crowd would have been left confused, but she belted out a note at the top of her voice in a captivating manner that recaptured the attention of everybody before steering the song home.
Sly & Robbie blueprints could be heard in the passing grooves as Nneka & band played numbers from ‘Soul Is Heavy’ of which (Metro) states “Soul Is Heavy, feels like her most mainstream production yet. That doesn’t mean she’s changed her characteristically serious tone; Nneka has tended towards weighty themes that sometimes jar with her sweet-and-light melodies”.
Nneka’s performance during the night was brilliant and as she left the stage, chants of her name reverberated through the venue. She graced the stage one more time to perform ‘Lucifer (No Doubt)’, the leading track which kicks of her album. The crowd which was made up of all creeds and demographics is a testament to Nneka’s message and how wide spread her quest for truth & self had reached.
While the UK basks in unseasonable March heat, thoughts automatically turn to the forthcoming festival season. Bestival has come out of the blocks already with a strong lineup, without initially revealing the headliners on their first announcement. Over the last couple of weeks, curator Rob Da Bank teased us with the likes of The xx, Friendly Fire, Justice, Hot Chip and Bat For Lashes; none of whom will in fact take any of the three headline spots.
While it has been revealed that New Order, revitalised despite not reuniting with original member Peter Hook, will be taking Saturday; that still left a couple of headline-act shaped holes in the line up.
Now they have revealed the living legend Stevie Wonder will be closing this year’s event, taking the Sunday night headliner spot. This is a fantastic coup for not only Bestival, but for all of those who missed his – now legendary – Glastonbury set in 2010. In what will undoubtedly be a hit-laden performance, Stevie Wonder will ensure this year’s Bestival will go out with a bang.
A touch of Motown backed with a scouse chaser came together to make the Theatre Royal shake as 2010 UK X Factor runner up Rebecca Ferguson came to town.
Backed by one Afro wearing and another tambourine shaking backing vocalists- who during the night gave nothing less than their all-You could feel once Rebecca Ferguson took to the stage, she was not going to be outdone by anyone.
The pretty in Pink scouse kicked the night off with “Run Free”. Like a dictator ruling with an iron fist, Rebecca delivered a finely controlled performance in an effortless manner. The voice that has made Rebecca’s album a different type of offering from other X factor contestants, was sounding as powerful as ever-a year later to her X factor audition.
Powering through ‘Glitter & Gold’, ‘Shoulder To Shoulder’ & ‘Fairytale’, all from ‘Heaven’ her debut album, Rebecca then turned things up a notch with the performance of ‘Too Good To Lose’. The up-tempo number had the crowd on its feet singing, dancing as well as clapping. This was a good ‘In your face’ moment for the net trolls who say Rebecca’s music is not fast enough to dance to.
Taking the crowd back to where it all began, Rebecca played a fine rendition of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. This was the song that she sang in her audition for the X Factor. The Times have described Rebecca’s performance as “Husky powerhouse vocal…she earned her standing ovation…Superb”.After this version of an all time classic, it was easy to see why.
A well deserved standing ovation came at the end of the night after she performed her debut single ‘Nothing’s Real But Love’ rounding off a “well worth checking out gig”
Rebecca Ferguson will be releasing the single “Glitter & Gold” from her debut album “Heaven” on 29th April.
Last week we caught the first of a three-day sold out stints at London’s Alexandra Palace for Florence + The Machine. The group, led by Florence Welch, are currently in the middle of a packed touring schedule which sees them play across Europe, America & Australia over the next few months. However, any signs of fatigue are certainly not evident in the lead singer, who spent most of tonight’s show bounding across the vast Ally Pally stage; whilst delivering a faultless vocal performance. It’s rather unfortunate that the same, can’t be said about Flo’s devoted fans, who, with varying degrees of quality, sang along religiously with every word.
Obviously the flame haired singer is the star of the show, while her band (boosted with the addition of an orchestra and choir section) show that they are undoubtedly competent musicians, they are ultimately interchangeable here;at all stages Florence, and of course her voice, commands the attention of everyone present. While some artists struggle to top a successful debut album, it’s been a relatively easy transition from the 4 million + selling ‘Lungs’ to last year’s UK #1 ‘Ceremonials’, with the album drawing wide critical plaudits.
Looking truly blown away by the crowd size, between songs Florence resembles a giddy school girl at a One Direction show; even at one stage pausing to say hi to her Mum in the crowd. However, her internal ‘diva’ switch always pulls her back for each track. Whether it’s the ethereal ‘What The Water Gave Me’ or the rousing ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It up), Florence ensures any emotions are kept in check throughout the set.
Florence + The Machine continue their UK tour until 16th March, for more information head here.
We recently checked out Canadian electro pop duo New Look, who played a handful of UK dates this month. The band, signed to K7, battled through some sound issues to play to a sold out crowd. Their eponymous debut album has been a regular fixture in our office for months, with album opener ‘Nap On The Bow’ proving to be one of the standout moments.