Thursday, 5 November 2015

Doozer McDooze Live @ Vigilstock

This is normally a blog about festivals I've been to but how about a review of a live recording from a festival for a change?

Well our friends Paul Short (aka Doozer McDooze) and Briady (aka Birdy) Rose are currently touring the states of Indiana, New York and Vermont following in the footsteps of a trip Birdy made some years ago. This seems to have been a quest to bring a love of tea and cider to the US while playing as many gigs as possible and hanging out with some, by all accounts awesome, people.

It all stems from a love of the US, alt-psychedelic rock band Blind Melon and their late singer Shannon Hoon, in whose memory a festival is held every autumn (or fall I guess I should say :) ). You can read Birdy's account of the festival here and it was at this festival that Doozer played a set which was recorded by Roo Ford and released as a live album available for download here.

Doozer gives his all to every performance whether he is playing to a few folk in a pub or a huge festival audience and this was no different. This is warts-and-all recording of a raw live performance and is all the better for it. You really feel like you are there with the Vigilstock crowd catching onto the infectious hooks in Doozer's songs. One Brit, one guitar, one stomp box and one bewildered audience of Americans who didn't know quite what had hit them.

The show opens with 'Searching', a number that sets the scene with typical fast guitar, strong beat and personal lyrics. 'I just wanna live a life that is always interesting and I don't wanna be bored anymore'. He follows this with another individual muse on life: 'Dreams' ('are only what you make it'). This comes complete with unscheduled mid-song tuning correction handled with consummate ease - I said this was raw!

Both of the first two tracks will be well known to Doozer fans but the next is new. Written the day before, 'Let's Not Forget' is a carpe diem song imploring us to make the most of the time we have together while remembering everyone we have lost along life's road. It neatly sets up the next number, dedicated to a very good friend of many in the UK alternative festival community who died at the beginning of the year. I never got to know Crispian but I know enough people who were close to him to understand the enormity of this loss and 'Pirate Captain' is a fitting and moving tribute.

'Not Going Back To That' is a return to autobiographical reflection. Birdy and Dooze have turned their back on crappy conventional work,+--- become a full-time musician and artist and are living in a van, living the dream. The song is about the fragility of that way of life but a determination to make it work. And if the next number is anything to go by it will. 'Bimbling Man' shows off Doozer's talent for engaging audiences. Even the most reticent of crowds will be joining in as he pulls them along with this catchiest of choruses. This is immediately followed by another sing-along classic. 'I Don't Wanna Go Home' is his theme tune. It is the sound track to many a festival and is emblazoned on a hundred t-shirts and hoodies up and down the UK.

As a man who has reportedly offered to play for cheese, penultimate track 'Worst Business Man' is an interpretation of his endearingly pants approach to the financial side of being a professional musician. The album winds up with a rough and ready thrash of 'It's Nice Down Here' neatly blended with a cover of Gaz Brookfield's 'Solo Acoustic Guy'.

This is a great Doozer performance delivered with confidence despite a crowd completely unfamiliar with his style or music. This is not a slick, auto-tuned, over-produced album but a taste of real music and real passion in a real grass-roots setting and I love it. Keep it real! 'I wanna stay like this for ever, and ever, and ever...'

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West

This is another brilliantly well-organised festival, now in its second year and going from strength to strength. Morph, Flounder and their team put on an amazing little festival for a sell-out crowd of 500. This was so good it's difficult to know where to start. Right from booking at the amazing value early bird price of £45 (and very reasonable £15 for live-in vehicle pass) it has been rather impressive. Parking up was trouble free and, as is often the case with smaller festivals, very close to arena for both tents and live-in vehicles. It was the same last year, which is why we booked again straight away, and we weren't disappointed.

The arena itself had two main stages in marquees, a bar tent with another stage for walk-up acts, a good choice of catering from tea and coffee and vegan to burgers and ice cream from the likes of Nana's Kitchen and The Greatest Little Coffee Box On Earth. The Hotel Bastardos had the brilliant popup bar, and disco venue, there was a healing area, a few clothes stalls and a children's activity tent. Add in some brilliant walk-about acts and this is by far the most impressive set up of any 500 person festival I've seen.

Things kicked off on the Thursday evening with just three acts playing on the Out West Stage. We arrived in time to see Gaz Brookfield, who I've waxed lyrical about before and will do again. Such a great performer and this time joined by Billy Shinbone on banjo for the song Mud and Rainbows which they wrote in under 2 hours during a radio show at last year's Glastonbury. The rest of his set was the now familiar high energy solo acoustic guy we know and love.

The Jack Ratts finished the day with an outrageous orgy of punky hoedowns and shanties. Guitar, banjo, fiddle, accordion and Bouzouki all played with attitude at breakneck speed. What a start and it really set the music scene for the weekend. There was very little let up in the pace as band after band kicked out a range of jump-around dance tunes.

The Jack Ratts

I'm not going to go through all the bands playing this weekend. It would just take too long. The theme of the festival is 'western' or 'once upon a time' and there was certainly an emphasis on rockabilly, bluegrass, psychobilly, americana and blues but with plenty of folk with more than a tinge of balkan, gypsy and punk injected. However I've got to mention a fair few of the musical highlights so here goes.

Screamin' Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya Mama Big Band are a 7 piece country blues skiffle outfit with the best band name in the world. They are fronted by the charismatic April Jackson, Becca Philip and Marc Griffiths, produce a great skiffle/blues sound and are highly recommended.
Screamin' Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya Mama Big Band
April Jackson
Becca Philip
Buffo's Wake
Buffo's Wake
Buffo's Wake were superb, and all the more impressive as they had virtually no audience for much of the set. Wow, did people miss out there. No doubt a later slot would help here as it's a pretty unique, madcap folk sound infused with East European melodies and a touch of the macabre, evoking feelings of a subversive circus-style cabaret.

The Rythmites
The Boot Hill All Stars
A nice roots reggae set from The Rythmites, again with a smaller crowd than they deserved and another cracking performance from The Boot Hill All Stars. If you didn't know it this already the core of this band is the duo responsible for the whole festival, Flounder & Morph Murray. Murdering a whole load of covers from Rasputin and Smoke On The Water to Jolene in the nicest way possible. Nothing is safe from their rocked up country-style treatment and it's all wrapped up with a wonderful dose of burlesque, feather duster fun.

The Cat Ratchers
The Zen Hussies
The last three acts on the Friday were all outstanding. The Cat Ratchers, The Zen Hussies and my favourites, The Meow Meows; sublime female fronted ska. "Tits & Hatred" is a work of genius. Would love to see these guys at far more festivals.

The Meow Meows
The Showhawk Duo
A late booking that we were particularly keen to catch up with was the Showhawk Duo. Two years
ago they took the Edinburgh Fringe by storm with their unique take on dance and trance classics played on acoustic guitars. The video taken there went viral and they've been enjoying a fair bit of success since. They're back at the fringe again this year (17th-23rd August). We were suitably impressed and they went down very well managing to draw a crowd into the tent despite the difficult early slot.

JC & The Hopeless Sinners
Shootin' The Crow
The Tatsmiths

Araceli Cabrera Caceres
Ursula Billington
Next came the highlight of the weekend for me. Ushti Baba come from the prolific and highly creative power-house of talent that is the Gypsy Disco collective in Bristol. The full 8 piece band was joined today by their fabulous Chilean dancer, Araceli Cabrera Caceres, and despite some technical sound issues they pulled off a stunning performance. Simon Alexander's trumpet is outstanding but it is the sheer joyous energy and skill of violinist Ursula Billington that really stands out. You will see them both play in other bands but never to quite the same effect as they achieve together here. If you like your folk laced with fast balkan and gypsy rhythms that have you whirling to exhaustion then these guys are for you.

Here are a few more of the great acts from the Saturday:

Carny Villans
Railroad Bill
Curtis Eller
Poor Old Dogs
Johnny Cage and the Voodoo Groove
Cut Capers
Los Albertos
Hot Tin Roofs
The Swingabouts
An improvement from last year was the number of top quality walk-about acts. Just to mention a few we had The Swingabouts entertaining across the whole field with some great jiving. Then there were the synchronised swimmers. Great bunch of guys who've worked the Edinburgh Fringe among other places with their hilarious routine. A New Orleans style 'funeral' band complete with coffin and a scythe-wielding Death drew a great crowd and had plenty dancing around.

Once Upon A Time In The West is a little different in style from our normal festivals and all the better for it. It's a tiny, old-school event with a strong theme and an excellent crowd who leave the site immaculate. Just how festivals should be. The only way I'd improve things is to have a fire pit for night owls to gather around. I don't doubt this one will sell out year after year. Check it out early if you want to give it go.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Wistful 2015

Wistful Festival

Raising money for the Lee Bonsall Memorial Fund.

In May last year I first encountered the phenomenon that is Ferocious Dog. It was only a few songs into their set before I was in the mosh pit having the time of my life with people who, although I didn't know at the time, would soon become friends. And it was one of the fans (the Hell Hounds) who was responsible for organising this cracking little one day festival to raise money for a cause close to our hearts, the Lee Bonsall Memorial Fund. The fund supports local charities while raising awareness of the dangers of PTSD in ex service personnel, all in memory of Lee; son of lead singer Ken and brother of fiddle player Dan.

Although a one day affair, the clans started arriving at the campsite the day before and a pleasant jam around the fire went on until a bit of rain sent us off to bed. Saturday dawned fine revealing a campsite in a beautiful location overlooking the Derwent Valley with basic shower and toilet facilities plus the lovely Nana's Kitchen catering tent serving good food, teas, cakes and soft drinks and a huge barn furnished with a stage at one end and a bar selling ciders and meads along one side (more of that later). Just add a bunch of nutters and a frankly amazing lineup of bands and you have the recipe for the corking day this turned out to be.

Paige Seabridge
Ellie Keegan
The first two acts were both young female singer songwriters already establishing themselves in the local music scene with great original material and the odd well-judged cover. Ellie Keegan opened the festival with her astonishly powerful voice and a little stomp box to go with skillful guitar. Then Paige Seabridge followed with her slightly folkier sound and more great songs.

The first full band of the day were Black Thorn, another group of talented youngsters banging out some great folky rock and even braving a version of Ferocious Dog's own 'Hell Hounds' which got a few the dancers chancing an early mini-mosh. Their own material is superb with 'Psychic Sally' being one of my favourites and I liked the novel rhythm section with guitarist on kick drum and bassist on high hat. The smoke machine in the kick drum puffing smoke out of the top with every kick was a novel touch and it even managed a perfect smoke ring a couple of times.

Andrew 'El Barto' Hawkins
Andrew "El Barto" Hawkins is writer, singer and guitarist with The Star Botherers who I've covered before so won't trouble you again here. Suffice to say the songs went down well as always with the crowd filling in some of the lines normally delivered by absent bassist Dave Drury.

2nd Gear
Indie rock guitar 4 piece 2nd Gear picked up the pace with a heavier and rockier set of great, but not particularly memorable, tunes before making way for one of the highlights of the day.

New Groove Formation
It surprised me to learn how many people were seeing festival stalwarts New Groove Formation for the first time here and once again I was hearing people after the festival saying they were their favourites. This is certainly one of our favourite acts and we'd only seen them the week before at another charity do near Bedford playing to a rather reserved, image conscious audience in a pub with hardly any decent beer. Today's crowd couldn't have been more different and the place was soon a whirling mass of bodies. Singers Quinny and Karl both left the stage at times to join the dancers and added to the massive party atmosphere they generated. Another great performance from Nicky and Dawn on the brass section and a whole new bunch of fans for the band. Sorry about the photo but I was dancing too much to manage anything better.

Brad Dear Band
OK, so now the party was really getting warmed up and not only due to the great music. It's time to relate the effects of the evil mead being served up at the bar. As Brad Dear took to the stage with his band there was already at least one person sleeping off an all-to-easily-consumed excess of the fermented honey conconctions.

Karen had nipped off for a quick break after New Groove and came back to find a bunch of us whirling like mad things with beards dyed orange and a distinct lack of decorum. I've rarely got so wellied so quickly and it was only the timely intervention of my much better half and gallons of water that stopped me going the same way as Dean and sleeping the rest of the afternoon away. Thus I feel unable to comment with any authority on Brad's set but I know we were all having a bloody good time. The perveyors of the mead on the other hand have taken this reputation and run with it. They have now rebranded as MeadEvil and can be found at future festivals if you dare.

Doozer McDooze
Next up was our mate Doozer. What can I say? Another hard-working man and guitar battering audiences into submission up and down the country with strum and stomp. Infectious, good-time, sing-along songs delivered with punky attitude that you can't help loving. "I Don't Wanna Go Home" is one of the feel-good songs of the festival season.

The Fanzines
I really didn't see much of New Buffalo or Sam Jones I'm sorry to say but I was very keen to see The Fanzines as I knew they were doing one of the tracks on the Bostin' Days album raising money for the Devon Air Ambulance. Their interpretation of '100 Years of Solitude' is superb and went down very well as did the rest of their punk and ska covers. Personally I like more original material but this is great festival music and kept the assembled masses in a sweaty, moshy frenzy.

The penultimate band, local rockers Parasight, went by in a bit of a mead-induced dancing blur so once again I'm poorly qualified to comment. I recall extremely competent, heavyish rock with some excellent lead guitar soloing (which I'm very partial to). I promise to pay more attention next time. Honest!

Seven Little Sisters
Seven Little Sisters headlined the night with a mad mix of bluegrass, bluesy country and rocky nuttiness and, hang on, is that a punky feel as well?! A heady amalgam that took the dancing crowd on into the night in a brilliant finale to the music. The hoedown went on for as long as the licence would allow. When it was over and we started to file out sweatily into the night to find a bit of a downpour and I think most were happy to slink off to tents and vans and drift off to sleep chatting to friends or family about a truly superb day.

Sometimes it just takes someone pretty amazing to create something rather special and worthwhile all at the same time. These things don't happen by magic and I know Lisa and Paul went through a fair bit of stress to pull it off. All I can say is thanks. It was utterly gorgeous and apparently raised a respectable 640 quid or so for an excellent cause.

Please check out Alan's review and Snotface's photos: