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Drew Allen – Sydney Afternoon

As I sit down today to write a review of Drew Allen’s debut album ‘Sydney Afternoon’ I feel something of a sense of frustration.  I have had the album on constant play on my iPod for a few days now and it has been a constant companion in my car as well. I went up to Yeovil last night, with my son, to see Frank Turners gig and Drew’s album was played both there and back.  I asked my son what he thought and the thoughts that have been forming in my head for a few days were crystallised.  I had the framework of my review firmly in my mind and I was ready to write.  I then made an error.  I went to Drew’s website to check a few facts and found that someone had similar thoughts to me and that they were already on Drew’s website.  I was gutted as I thought my perspective was going to be a fresh, innovative and new one.  Drew Allen3

I was going to start out by saying that I didn’t know Drew Allen but that I could tell by listening to his disc that he had obviously had an impeccable musical education, doubtless steeped in early exposure to the greats of my era, Bob Dylan, Neil young and so on.  I was going to say that Drew was like a cross between a young Bob Dylan and Jake Bugg (who I saw live last month).  The Jake Bugg element was provided by my son who when asked his view replied “He sounds a bit like Jake Bugg without the arrogant tosser element”.  I couldn’t believe it when I went onto Drew’s website and saw that James Blunt had described him as “a sort of cross between Neil young and Jake Bugg”.  How dare he!  Reading Drew’s Biography I see that he “First picked up a guitar at the age eight and devoured  the tabs from Bob Dylan chord books”.  What!  Two sentences and my clever, insightful and unique perspective has already been said by someone else and by James Blunt, who Drew will be supporting at the Bournemouth International centre in November, at that.What therefore am I to do?  I know, I will give up trying to be clever and just talk about the album.  You know how some albums take a bit of time to creep up on you, to sink into your consciousness before you  ‘get them’, well this isn’t one of them.  The opening track ‘Whistling Tunes” is a cracker, the Dylanesque strumming pattern on the guitar combined with the little arpeggio’s give the song a really catchy feel and by the time the harmonica kicks in at the end you already know that Drew is heavily influenced by Bob Dylan.  By the end of Moonstone Romance, the second track you know that Drew Allen isn’t a song writer.  No, he is a story teller, a poet who, like Dylan, sings his work.

Drew_Allen_DSC3465When you get to the middle of the third track ‘3rd Time Prosperous’ you get hit by a sledgehammer of imagery as Drew paints a picture with his words:

Late one night standing in the road

Listening to the beauty bouncing through her lips

Trying to figure her out while staring at

the portrait of her black dress clinging to her hips

With that imagery I am transported to ‘Blonde on Blonde’ era Dylan, the sort of pictures Dylan produced with ‘Visions of Johanna’ and ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’.  So there we are 2 minutes into the third track and I am already totally hooked.  ‘Simply Riding the Storm’ takes me back to ‘Blood on the tracks’.  ‘Three Nights Between’ would fit beautifully on John Wesley Harding, it has a feel of ‘The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas priest’ about it.  The title track Sydney Morning has the feel of a Woody Guthrie influenced travelling tune.  Drew is blessed with a unique voice, he has the slightly husky gravelly sound and the timing and phrasing of a young Dylan combined with the slightly higher pitched sound of Neil Young.

Don’t make the mistakeDrew_Allen_GAV9005 of thinking that this is some kind of attempt to imitate the greats though.  That is far from the case, I highlight similarities to give you a flavour and lets be honest here, if you are going to be compared with anyone Bod Dylan and Neil young isn’t a bad starting point.  Allen is one of a kind, the story telling ability the imagery and the passion put over in this album surpasses anything I have heard from his contemporaries. You get the story telling prowess of Passenger (Mike Rosenberg), the passion of Ed Sheeran and the distinctive folk-blues vocal of Jake Bugg, mixed up with the rhythm and phrasing of a young Dylan all rolled into one package with a touch of Neil young adding the topping to the mix.  Seriously, that’s how good this album is.

The whole package is supported by beautifully sympathetic guitar and harmonica, almost exclusively provided by Allen himself.  Where additional instruments are added it is done sympathetically.  The album is very well mixed too, at no stage do the instruments overwhelm the vocal and for this kind of album that was absolutely the right approach.  Drew’s website suggests that his vocals, guitar and harmonica sound as if they are from another era, an impression that is added to by the fact that the album is exactly 40 minutes long, the length of a good old vinyl LP for those not old enough to remember.  That may be the case but this is a truly superb album, songwriting that is reminiscent of Dylan at his best, engaging, rewarding and timeless.

Drew_Allen_DSC5845The album can be bought from iTunes or Amazon and I would highly recommend that you buy it.  In years to come you will be able to look smugly at your friends and say “Drew Allen” well of course I was into him from when he released his first album.  Drew is gaining a reputation as a superb and engaging live performer.  Unfortunately circumstances over the summer have combined to deny me the opportunity to see him live, a situation I intend to put right when he plays locally in early October.

Watch this space for a review, until then both you an I will just have to enjoy ‘Sydney Afternoon’.

Check out ‘The Deal’ from the album.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIjHnHQjqh0

I have shamelessly borrowed the images in this article from Drews Allens website.  If you are the copyright owner and want them removed the please let me know.

If you have read this review and like it the please leave a comment on my website, hit the like button below.  It helps to know that my writing is appreciated.  Thanks :)

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Frank Turner – Westlands, Yeovil, Somerset

As the UK summer draws to an end and the festival season is almost over my mind has turned to booking indoor gigs to ensure that I get my regular fix of musical delight.  As I browsed the local gig listings I felt depression set in.  Dorset you see is something of a musical black hole.  There is a very lively ‘local’ music scene but there seems to be a reluctance from anyone of any note to visit our lovely County.  You get the odd decent band at the Electric Palace in Bridport but it seems that no-one wants to play in Poole and very few play Bournemouth.0006 Frank Turner_wm

As I looked a little further afield I happened upon a listing for Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls at Westlands in Yeovil.  I was surprised to see that 2 weeks before the gig there were still tickets available.  I sent a quick text to my son to see if he wanted to go and duly booked the tickets.  So late Saturday afternoon saw us jump in the car for the 60 minute drive to Yeovil.

We arrived at Westlands in plenty of time as we had to collect our tickets from the venue.  I was less that impressed with the building which looked like a 1970’s built sports centre and in my experience that normally equates to poor acoustics and dreadful sound, an impression that was thankfully dispelled later.  After picking up our tickets we jumped back in the car and headed to a nearby pub for some food and drink.0004 Frank Turner_wm

We headed back to Westlands arriving to find the venue still fairly quiet so we wandered in finding a place centre stage just a couple of rows back from the barrier.  I had anticipated the support, ‘Koo Koo Kangaroo’ starting at 7.30 but had a 40 minute wait to the 8pm start.  What can you say about the support well they are different that is for sure.  They are a bit like a cross between Jane Fonda and Ice -T.  They use a rap style backing track to sing silly songs and get the crowd dancing in an exercise video style.  Sounds hideous right?  I must admit when they started my son and I just looked at each other in disbelief and said OMFG!!  After a song or two though I couldn’t help smiling and after about 15 minutes we were joining in, laughing and smiling.  Ok lets be honest the musical credibility (in my book) was at best questionable but these guys were tremendous fun and they certainly warmed the crowd up.

One of the things I really like about Frank Turner is that he is very supportive in giving other acts a break on his tours.  He was at the side of the stage watching Koo Koo Kangeroo, smiling, laughing and singing along as he drank his pre-show tea.0005 Frank Turner_wm

It has been interesting to note how Franks fan base has developed over the last few years.  The crowd at a FT & the Sleeping Souls gig is far removed from what you would see at a Million Dead or Mongol Horde Gig.  At least 50% of the crowd are teenage girls but to be fair they are clearly into the music, there is none of the shouting and screaming that you might see at a ‘boy band’ concert.  Well almost none, there was one twenty something who insisted on shouting “We love you Frank”, and “We’ve got your hat Frank” throughout the show.  Sad really.

Turner and his band took to the stage at exactly 9pm and opened with ‘Try this at home’ from 2009’s ‘Poetry of the deed’.  The band worked through ten songs from across Turners back catalogue before Frank played three songs solo.  One of these was a new song ‘little Aphrodite’ written for a girl Frank said he was in love with but who didn’t love him back.  The second solo song for me provided one of the highlights of the night with ‘Must try harder’ from ‘sleep is for the week’.  Turner said he thinks he had only played it live once before and he did struggle with it a little at times.  He missed the chords on one occasion and forgot the words during the second verse.  I like this approach though, how much better is it for fans to hear a rarely played song than to hear exactly the same list of songs at every show on a tour, an approach taken far too often by far too many artists.  I would much rather see an artist stretching themselves and getting it wrong than playing by numbers.  In my book yet another reason to admire Turners approach to the music business.0003 Frank Turner_wm

Turner is an artist who really respects his fans.  He always tries to find time for them and has built a great relationship with them.  This is based on mutual trust.  Last night he played four new songs during the set.  He asked people not to video them as they were still a work in progress but he went on to say that he did not want security to interfere if people were taking pictures or videoing anything else.  It seemed to me that taking this approach meant that most people respected his wishes.

Over the course of the evening we were treated to a very strong set with 5 or 6 songs from each of ‘Tape Deck heart’, ‘England keep my bones’ and ‘Love, Ire & Song’.    There were many highlights and songs like ‘Prufrock’, Losing Days’, ‘Long live the queen’ & ‘Plain Sailing weather’ are now staples in the set.   ‘St Christopher is coming home’, ‘Wessex Boy’ and ‘Peggy sang the Blues’ were personal highlights but I think the audience enjoyed every song and they sang and danced their way through the whole set.  I love it when artists I love cover songs by other artists I love.   Tonight Frank did a brilliant version of Springsteens ‘Thunder Road’ as the first of four encore songs.  Sadly most of the audience were probably not even born when ‘Born to run’ was released and didn’t know the song.  Franks younger fans should download ‘Born to run’ and ‘Born in the USA’.  They are timeless albums, groundbreaking and as relevant today as they were on their release.  It must also be said that a Springsteen gig is a never to be forgotten experience, he is a peerless live performer and even though he is now over 60 years old he was still doing 4 hour shows in 2012.0002 Frank Turner_wm

All great shows leave the audience wanting more and after Thunder Road we were treated to a trio of anthemic songs in ‘Prufrock’, ‘I still believe’ and of course ‘Four simple words’.  In all we were treated to a total of 24 songs and at the close I was drenched in sweat from head to toe.  I was exhausted, elated and extremely grateful that I had been able to attend a superb gig by an artist who is right at the top of his game.  I look forward to the new album and the tour that will inevitably follow.

Nb.  The photos used to illustrate this article are from Franks Larmer Tree festival Show in July.  I didn’t take my camera last night as I wasn’t sure on the venues policy and I just wanted to enjoy the show ;)

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Joely & Wilmor – Acoustic Movement September 2014

Joely Powell and Wilmor Lott met just a few months ago in their home town of Swindon.  Initially they were looking to form a band but when that didn’t work out they felt that they could work together as a duo and set about making that happen.  6 months of rehearsing together has allowed them to build a dynamic, work out a set of songs and begin th0001Joely & Wilmor_wmeir journey as performing musicians.  It is early days of course but a saturday afternoon slot at the inaugural ‘Acoustic Movement’ festival in Dorset gave them the opportunity to show how far they have come in a short time.

Wilmor learnt his musical craft playing clarinet in a South African military band.  He plays keyboards and has been playing guitar for around ten years.  His background as a multi instrumentalist lays a very solid foundation for his rhythm playing as part of this duo.  Wilmor lays down a very relaxed groove and there is a sense of african rhythm in his playing.  His playing is very sympathetic to Joely’s vocals and perfect for the style of music the pair perform.

Where Wilmor plays a supporting role it is Joely’s vocals that take centre stage.  Make no mistake this girl can sing.  Her voice is incredibly powerful, strong and deep with a three octave range.  At present the pair are covering classic soul and blues songs, a style that seems to suit them both perfectly.  Their set ranged from the contemporary with Amy Winehouse’s ‘Valerie’ to the classic with Frankie Valli’s “Cant take my eyes off you”.  The highlight of the set, at least to th0004Joely & Wilmor_wmis listeners ears, was a fantastic version of Etta James’ “I would rather go blind”.  This really allowed Joely to showcase the amazing power of her voice though to be fair she did put every song over very well.  It is clear that all of the songs are well chosen and well loved.  In many ways Joely reminds me of Alison Moyet, she has a similar look and she certainly has a similar power and range to her voice.  If Wilmor went back to playing keyboards they could be a modern day Yazoo.

I really liked this pair both onstage and off.  They were very good onstage and very friendly and open when I grabbed a few minutes with them after their set.  At present they are honing their craft and building their understanding by performing at open mic’s, weddings and in the pubs and clubs.  This will obviously stand them in good stead as they progress.  Artists like this thou0005Joely & Wilmor_wmgh have a very difficult paradox to overcome.  It is increasingly difficult to get gigs unless you are playing covers but if you want to progress beyond the pub and club circuit and ultimately to make a living from your music you do need to be playing good quality original material.  Joely and Wilmor are in the process of putting some of their own material together and I look forward to hearing it in due course.  I sense that they are enthusiastic and ambitious enough to make the step up to the next level but they will need the material if they are to break out of the cover and tribute scene.  I would love to see them do so and wish them every success.

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Scotland the Meek – Writing 101

As I walked through the early morning rain todays news ringing in my ear, I bend and pick up an open letter urging the people of Scotland to say yes to Independence.  The reply shoots into my brain:

When we needed our courage

We chose to be weak

No more Scotland the Brave

Now it’s Scotland the Meek