16 September 2014

New Music // Girl Friend – Stop

This song from (the not quite as you’d imagine them to be by their name) band Girl Friend is a dark slice of synth infused pop that casts a shadow in the most ear catching way:

15 September 2014

Midnight Music // Neil Cowley Trio – Sparkling (Live on the green)

Picture the scene: a cricket green, should you be in the habit of frequenting one, and there’s some damn fine Jazz coming from it. We’re not talking the music of nature here; we’re talking the latest video from Neil Cowley Trio.

Sparkling moves along at a nice pace, a yearning underscore of bittersweet pathos inbuing the scene of cricket on a carefree English afternoon with more than a hint of sadness. But forward a few bars and a certain joy comes through that is truly intoxicating. If you meet any one who says jazz is merely for wine bars, feel free to ignore them! Playing like this shows that instrumental Jazz can be as moving as any other form of music. 

14 September 2014

#SRCZ Album Review // Ani Di Franco – Allergic To Water

It goes without saying that a new album from Ani Di Franco is well worth hearing. In the course of a career that spans nearly 25 years she has released a near perfect cycle of albums on a roughly yearly basis full of essential music that shoots happily under the radar of most listeners.

Released, as ever, via her own independent label Righteous Babe Records, Allergic To Water is her twentieth studio album and it shows no sign of the pool of inspiration running dry. As with her later albums, the music on Allergic To Water is a more subtle show of strength than on her more consciously guerrilla folk styled early albums. Such subtleties have been developing since her albums of the early nougties (or, whatever you call that decade!) and with each passing album there is a certain refinement.

Allergic To Water is, accordingly, an album that will tail your thoughts subconsciously rather than hit you with razor edged guitar solos. Of course, Ani Di Franco is no stranger to a guitar and the sensitive playing here is that of a musician with enough mastery of her instrument that there is no need to show off. As has been said often, the words and emotions are what make an album from Di Franco truly worth the journey.

Simply put, the listening experience of any record the lil’ folk singer is one that is always better accompanied by the always elegant booklet. The digital revolution may well be in full swing, but it’s the physical version of her album that you’ll want. Not only that, you’re supporting an independent artist in the days when looking after the independent’s is more essential than it’s ever been.

But in terms of songs, the twelve here are subtle yet bewitchingly intimate. The sound is rarely frenetic yet the wise intimacy of songs as title track Allergic To Water are undeniably ear catching. Opener Dithering yields the memorable line ‘I got a database behind my face…’ and is another great opening track from the artist. Woe Be Gone is another highlight, some light orchestration adding immensely to its power. It’s one of those songs that Di Franco should trademark the very ethos of, intimate in delivery yet pregnant in messages vital to life.

The song asks at one point for you to ‘raise your hand if you’re at peace’ and although the singer herself was no doubt busy with her guitar at the time, it’s certainly something she should have done herself. It draws comparison with previous album track If Yr Not, and almost seems to answer it as a rhetorical companion piece in many ways. It makes you realise that there is indeed a lot of wisdom to yield from listening to an Ani D record.

It’s hard to fault an album that sounds so off the cuff yet perfectly formed. It’s probably one of her best… but that’s what we say every album. Instead we’ll just say this:


Check Out: ‘Genie’, ‘Woe Be Gone’, ‘Rainy Parade’

Allergic To Water is released via Righteous Babe on November 4th 2014.

(Reviewed by Sebastian Gahan)

13 September 2014

TV Catch Up // Doctor Who, Series 8, Episode 4: 'Listen'

Warning: contains spoilers!

Cast: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson, Remi Gooding

Written by: Steven Moffat

Directed by: Douglas MacKinnon

The Story: We see what worries the Doctor when he’s all alone. And a small boy in a children’s home is afraid of what’s under the bed.

Every now and then Doctor Who throws us an episode unlike most others. When we looked at our Essential Doctor Who episodes in the lead up to the 50th Anniversary special last year, one of our ‘must see’ episodes was David Tennant episode Midnight. Midnight is unusual even in the world of Doctor Who. It is seriously terrifying, especially as you never actually get to see the monster, and you never feel that the Doctor has any serious control over events as they unfold in an increasingly claustrophobic setting. And it’s Midnight that springs to mind when watching the latest Peter Capaldi episode.

Listen begins with the Doctor alone in the TARDIS. Or is he? Haunted by the thought that we may never really be alone; that there may be a creature that lives to hide. Just outside the corner of the eye. Or under your bed at night. This is one that could seriously scare the kids.

But it’s not all scares. There’s plenty of humour in writer Steven Moffat’s script. This is the man, remember, who wrote comedy drama Coupling, and the date and the scenes showing Clara’s much-anticipated and excruciatingly awkward date with new boy Danny Pink are are particular delight. There’s also the frequent and very amusing casual insults flung at Clara by the Doctor. “What’s going on with your face? It’s all eyes.”

Once again, we have the increasingly common sight of Clara playing the grown-up and taking control and Jenna Coleman continues to completely sell Clara to us as a companion worth watching. Clara even takes control of the TARDIS as it zips back and forward along her timeline to key events that show us a young, scared Rupert Pink in a very creepy children’s home and another young, scared boy in a familiar barn on Gallifrey.

Moffat has frequently given us Clara popping up in the Doctor’s timeline and here she does it again, giving him the very words he himself will use to sooth the night time fears of another young boy. Which brings us on to Rupert Pink (a brilliant turn by Remi Gooding), the boy  who, because of the Doctor, grows up to be Dan the Soldier Man. In an especially unnerving scene, an unseen creature appears in Rupert’s lonely room and the Doctor urges Rupert not to look at it.

But the creature is far from the scariest thing in young Rupert’s room as the mad-eyed Time Lord tries to reassure the boy with his ‘dad skills’.

In Listen Samuel Anderson not only gets a chance to show us more of the increasingly interesting Mr Pink, he also gets double acting duties as he also plays Orson Pink, a pioneering time traveller (and the great-grandson of Danny Pink) who’s lost in the silence at the end of the Universe.

Listen is an episode that works really well as a standalone episode, regardless of its references to barns and Time Lords and War Doctors. Even with more than one unseen terror to have you heading behind the couch, the most chilling thing in Listen is the Doctor and what happens when he’s alone with himself. Directed in a wonderfully considered style by Douglas MacKinnon and underscored by Murray Gold’s excellent score, Listen also feels like the first episode where Capaldi truly inhabits the role of everyone’s favourite Gallifreyan.

Did you know? ‘The Sontarans! Perverting the course of human history!’ were among the first words spoken by Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor.

Best line #1: Scared is a superpower

Best line #2: I’m against the hugging

Trope of the Week:  A soldier so brave, he doesn’t need a gun

Fan-pleasing moments: The orange space suit, the cloister bell, the barn, John Hurt. Well, possibly not those last two.

Next Time: Time Heist!

(Reviewed by Andrea McGuire) 

06 September 2014

TV Catch Up // Doctor Who: Series 8, Episode 3 : 'Robot of Sherwood'

Warning: contains spoilers!

Cast: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Tom Riley, Ben Miller

Written by: Mark Gatiss

Directed by: Paul Murphy

The Story: The Doctor and Clara discover an extra-terrestrial menace and a hero who can’t be real in Sherwood Forest. After all, Robin Hood is a fictional character. Isn’t he?

Writer Mark Gatiss is something like Marmite in the world of Doctor Who. You either love his stories or you don’t and Robot of Sherwood is sure to divide fandom as much as, say, Victory of the Daleks, which introduced us to a set of faintly ludicrous M&Ms style pepperpots. 

Watched as a stand-alone episode, Robot of Sherwood is a fantastically camp and very rompy thigh-slapper of an adventure that gives more than a knowing wink to old Hollywood. Tom Riley as Robin Hood is all teeth and twinkle and his band of merry men tick every cliché box as they gambol around an extraordinarily sunny Sherwood Forest robbing the rich and giving to the poor.

As a Matt Smith vehicle, this episode would have had quite another feel, but put a man who the Doctor can’t believe is real against our new, very frowny Peter Capaldi Doctor Who and we’re looking at a very different beastie indeed. Capaldi’s always been a great comic actor and here we’re treated to some very well done (metaphorical) pecker jousting as the Doctor and Robin Hood work out how to escape and save the day while trapped in a dungeon with a wonderfully gruesome goaler.

Of course, you can’t have Robin Hood without the Sheriff of Nottingham and Ben Miller gives us the old rotter with a score of 7 of the Alan Rickman scale. And of course, you can’t have a Doctor Who without something un-Earthly going on and the dastardly, eponymous robot (robots?) of the title do this in style as they evaporate useless peasants while plotting their escape from the castle/dominion over the world.

One of the great joys of this new series has been Clara’s evolution as a companion and in Robot of Sherwood, she seems very much in charge, whether she’s choosing where in time and space to go or outwitting the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. 

Robot of Sherwood will probably never make any serious Doctor Who fan’s Top 10 list, but there are so many enjoyable scenes in this episode that it’s worth watching again just to enjoy the showmanship of Paul Murphy’s direction and Gatiss’s mostly lovely, partly daft script. Talking of action scenes (we were, weren’t we?) Capaldi may be the oldest actor to play Doctor Who to date, but whether he’s taking on Robin Hood in a sword fight with a spoon or being clobbered round the head by a giant robot, there’s no sign that he’s doing anything but having a ball in the role.

Following all of the fun and action, there’s a rather lovely and particularly poignant exchange between the Doctor and Robin Hood as they ponder on what it means to be a hero. A legend. A story told in history. It’s enough to make you want to scream at the Doctor to take Robin with him, so we don’t have to leave him in his sun-dappled forest to become a tale told down the ages.

There were some small references to the “Promised Land”/Missy story arc that seems to be building in this series, but Robot of Sherwood is a good enough episode even for the most casual of viewers. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, they’d probably enjoy it a lot more than hardcore fandom. All-in-all, it’s a leave-your-brain-in-a-jar, sit-back-and-enjoy-the-fun romp.

Best dialogue #1: 
Robin Hood “Robin Hood laughs in the face of all! HA HA HAAA!!”
The Doctor “And do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?”

Best dialogue #2: 
Doctor: “Yes, I have a plan.”
Clara: “Can you explain your plan without using the words ‘sonic screwdriver’?”

Best dialogue #3:
Sheriff: “Shortly I shall be the most powerful man in all the realm. King in all but name. For Nottingham is not enough.”
Clara: “It isn’t?”
Sheriff: “After this….Derby!”

Questions of the Week: Where did Clara get all that hair from? And how was it so immaculate after a dip in a moat?

Music of the Week: Murray Gold’s camp, Errol Flynn score during Robin Hood’s fight scene with the Sheriff of Nottingham

Fan-pleasing moments: An arrow in the TARDIS, Richard the Lionheart, Patrick Troughton, a miniscope, the Doctor with a spoon, a self-healing TARDIS.

Review by Andrea McGuire. Image (c) BBC Worldwide

04 September 2014

Preview // 'Midgard' at Wirral Earth Fest 2014, West Kirby, September 12th

Midgard, a multi media performance combining music and visuals will open this year’s Wirral Earth Fest on the evening of Friday September 12th. Inspired by the Hogback stone, an ancient Viking burial stone, on display inside St Bridget’s Church, West Kirby the specially commissioned performance by Operation Lightfoot will be a must see for all those who enjoy music, local history and, of course, Wirral Earth Fest. 

The performance will feature special guest vocalist Kaya Herstad Carney, the much loved and very unique singer and guitarist Silent Cities and more. “I am very excited to be composing a new musical work especially for the launch of Earth Fest this year.  As a composer, it’s always an exciting challenge to produce something original that really connects with an event’s theme, location and audience.” said Luke Moore, instigator of the Operation Lightfoot project.  

“When I initially visited St Bridget’s church, I was fascinated by the story behind the Hogback burial stone on display there and it became a jumping off point for the rest of the process.  The piece’s title is ‘Midgard’, which was one of nine worlds in Viking mythology and the only one in which humans lived.  I researched West Kirby’s Viking settlers and have written a section that will be sung in Old Norse.  It felt right to approach Liverpool-based Norwegian singer-songwriter Kaya to feature as a soloist for the first movement of the piece, and she has helped with translating some of the text”

The performance will also feature projected video footage that has been filmed and edited to accompany the music.  “I can’t give too much away, but the piece will use the space within the church in a particularly interesting way.  In addition to this, there are some amazing guest musicians and some unusual instruments involved as well as part of the Operation Lightfoot line-up.”

Wirral Earth Fest’s Sebastian Gahan, music Co-Producer, said “It’s an honour to have Operation Lightfoot open this year’s Wirral Earth fest with this specially commissioned piece. I’ve always admired their collective work, as well as project instigator Luke Moore’s composition work for many other artists. The collaborative nature of the work works perfectly with the community and sustainability themes of the festival and the whole Wirral Earth Fest team is excited to welcome them.”

Operation Lightfoot’s debut single “Eighteen” was released 18th August by Ultimate Fake Records. Luke Moore’s previous work includes commissions to write music for Chester Christmas Light Parade since 2012, short film and theatre soundtracks and scoring arrangements for bands across the UK.

The exciting mix of musical styles, guest singers and the collaborative nature of the work everyone is putting into this ensures that the 12th September’s premiere will be very special indeed. 

Midgard will premiere inside the beautiful and evocative St Bridget’s Church, West Kirby from 18:30 on the Friday evening and will be seen once again on Saturday during the festival in the same venue.

Wirral Earth Fest takes place from the evening of Friday September 12th to the morning of Sunday 14th over St Bridget’s Church and its adjoining fields and church centre. It will feature sustainability, community and eco themed activities including workshops, music performances, kid’s activities and much more. 

#SRCZ - Culture is everywhere... 

02 September 2014

#SRCZ Comment // U2: Achtung Maybe!

Rumblings on the grapevine suggest that a new U2 album is likely to appear before the end of the year, in fact according to Rolling Stone magazine it could even be released this month. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s a significant moment as U2 have now been spent several decades amongst the very biggest bands.

I remember when I first got into U2 as a kid in the early 80’s. I liked the imaginative guitar style, the tribal-influenced drumming and the fact that the singer bellowed those impassioned choruses like his life depended on it.
They weren’t megastars at this stage, just one of many great post-punk bands around at the time. Something that marked them out was their Irish background; along with other Celtic bands like Big Country and Simple Minds, their music had that bracing, romantic (in a misty-eyed sense) flavour – a sensibility, incidentally, that is incompatible with cool.
I bought their album War, which had an extraordinary cover. It featured a black and white photo of a boy about my age, staring into the camera with a serious expression (the same kid had also appeared on the cover of their debut album, Boy). I identified with him, whoever he was. I was young and indignant and I felt like standing up for something, or at least for myself.
The album seemed to come from a place of conviction – “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was about the troubles still kicking off in northern Ireland; Larry Mullen Jnr’s drums were mixed loud, evoking the rhythms of the marching season. The rest of the album was an object lesson in small-band dynamics, The Edge’s chiming guitar lines interlocking brilliantly with Clayton and Mullen’s driving rhythm section.
I remember Live Aid so well. I sat and watched the whole show in our kitchen from twelve noon until, well…it must have been about midnight when I finally sloped off to bed. One of the highlights of the event for me was U2’s performance when they extended the song ‘Bad’ to about nine minutes, Bono disappearing to the front of the stage, plucking a girl out of the front row and dancing with her. It was an outrageously confident performance from a band who most of the world didn’t even know about at that stage.
We all know what happened after that. In a short time U2 became globally massive, with the epic, mainstream album The Joshua Tree. It was satisfying to see them make it big but I was aware that amongst my friends, no-one seemed to like U2; in fact most of them seemed to hate them.
I couldn’t work it out. For us, originality was the key trait we valued in music. U2 were clearly one of the most original bands around, having invented their own sonic landscape, but something about them was turning off the ‘the cool people’. On the rare occasions I could get anyone to mull over the issue in their minds their complaint was usually with “that dickhead singer”.
Google “I hate Bono” and 2.5 million seperate pages appear. No other rock star has attracted so much bile. Can you imagine any other rock star inspiring a film with a title like “Killing Bono”?
If you examine some of the reasons on internet discussions, you will find people saying “He’s so egotistical” or “He wears sunglasses all the time” or “He loves himself” All of these may be true but are they not also amongst the main criteria for being a rock star? Was Jim Morrison not vain? is Axl Rose not arrogant?
A more compelling criticism relates to his charity work. Ever since live aid, Bono has had a parallel career as a campaigner, working for debt relief, human rights and AIDS projects, setting up charities and foundations, meeting world leaders. His efforts have undoubtedly raised the profile of many issues but they have also raised the profile of Bono.
And this is where the animosity comes in. Bono’s fame and fortune is intrinsically linked to his charity work; there is no way to disentangle the two. To his detractors, the vanity of his persona is all-pervading. He can’t hold a press conference about human rights without sounding smarmy and pleased with himself, or play a benefit concert without basking in the glory of his saintly mission. It all appears to be for the greater glory of Bono.
Then there is the fact that he has often seemed a little too pally with the likes of George W Bush and Tony Blair. To his radical critics, it is always going to look like he is ‘cosying up’ to the powerful rather than influencing them for the good. He should be smashing the system not flattering it.
For other people who have little interest in global politics, all the campaigns just feel like lecturing. For them rock’n’roll isn’t about being responsible, it’s supposed to be the exact opposite. Authentic rock heroes give themselves up to their spontaneous, debauched, animalistic side; and as a result their fans get a vicarious release from the tedium of their workaday lives. Real rockers don’t give a shit. It’s not cool to give a shit.
As someone on a Drowned In Sound discussion board says:
“If Bono had never done any charity work and just set himself up to be an abrasive cunt, we’d probably all think he was a bit of a legend.”
I get that Bono is quite annoying – ok very annoying – but it doesn’t put me off. Like Prince or Sting, he’s one of the artists I regard as a bit of a tit, but I still have affection for. When interviewed in music magazines, his humility and intellect are undeniable; and there are often self-mocking lines in his excellent lyrics.
In his defence, he is one of the few celebrities attempting to use his fame and influence for something useful. And is his approach to campaigning so misguided? Perhaps you have to get inside the powerful cliques to have any hope of changing the system. After all, a kid with AIDS hasn’t got the luxury to wait for a world revolution.
As for his band, I can’t think of another who had such an impact on the sound of music of rock music in the last thirty years, apart from Nirvana. That impact was not all for the good in my opinion; the big, widescreen production techniques of Brian Eno on U2 albums laid the foundation for the blandly-streamlined wash of sound favoured by Coldplay and many others.
The ace in the pack for me is The Edge, who back in the 80’s came at the guitar from a completely original angle, with a range of chiming, percussive, atmospheric techniques that he continues to develop.
Despite that, he’s always been somewhat low on the pecking order in guitar hero terms. It probably has something to do with that worthless currency of cool. Despite his name, Edge has never had any ‘edginess’ around him – he’s never looked particularly iconic, or had any reputation with drink or drugs; he just gets on with being a boundlessly inventive musician who wears a crap little beanie.
As for the new record, I’m not particularly eager to hear it. The last thing I liked by U2 was the single ”Electrical Storm” from 2002 and I think their best work is probably behind them. I’ll keep on listening to their best stuff like this, the title track of what I think is their best album, The Unforgettable Fire.
(Tom George) 
This a rticle also appears at Tom George Arts. 

01 September 2014

News // Threshhold V Submissions Window Opens for Performers!

With seven months to go until Threshold V, the fifth annual Festival of Music & Arts in Liverpool's Baltic Triangle, the organisers have officially opened the submission window for bands, artists, performers and promoters. The three day event, which takes place on 27-29th March 2015 will include; Music, Visual Art, Spoken Word, Theatre, Street Art, Comedy, Stalls, Workshops, Panels, Digital Technology, Science and Family Activities. Click here for the form! 

Regular readers of #SRCZ will know that it’s one of the festival calendar’s key events for us and that, as per recent years we will be delivering official coverage of the festival through the Official Threshold Blog produced by this very ‘Zine. Make sure to submit an application to get involved with what promises to be an excellent fifth year for the pioneering festival.