"It's all about community," Will Newsome remarks as he opens proceedings at The Lamplight Club. Supporting Rachael Dadd, longtime friend, collaborator and active member of the Bristol scene, he should know. They fit perfectly into the ethos and atmosphere of Regather, a great small venue with an emphasis on cooperation, community and supporting the local economy. It's another respectful and relaxing night at this friendly locale.
Newsome is a kora player, but he doesn't approach the West African harp in the traditional way. While his playing style still retains the instrument's distinctive sound and resonance, there's a uniquely Western feel to his songs. 'Not A Dead Bird' and the instrumental 'Pebbles' eddy around the hushed room, while it's the livelier 'Frost', based on a Russian fairytale, which wakes the audience from their reverie.
Rachael Dadd has collaborated with her sister Betsy, a Royal College of Art graduate, on several projects. In the first half of her set tonight she's playing a selection of songs from her last two albums, We Resonate and Bite The Mountain, set to the backdrop of Betsy's animation. While these kind of enterprises can be hit and miss, tonight it works perfectly. The visuals enhance her beautiful vocals while never acting as a distraction.
Dadd's songs translate perfectly to piano, adding something exciting and undiscovered to the delicate and intricate compositions. After an almost mesmeric performance, she reverts to the more familiar strings. Adjoining her own brand of percussion, 'Bounce The Ball' and 'Strike Our Scythes' stand out. We're also treated to an increasingly rare new tune. The night ends with both Will and Rachael, accompanied by her sleeping baby, taking the stage to perform a song they wrote together while working on the Bristol ferries. The duo send us gently sailing off into the night.
On one of the first days of a brisk Sheffield autumn, The Harley served up a bountiful portion of Pearson Sound alongside its usual late night menu. The pre-Pearson warm up from Pretty Pretty Good’s wonky techno resident, Alief, was the perfect starter to David Kennedy’s three-hour banquet. The raft of sun-kissed students were clearly hungry for some tasty techno after a long summer of musical fasting.
Prolific in the underground dance scene, Kennedy has even DJed on the London Eye. The Harley’s views of Glossop Road traffic are a little less spectacular, but when darkness falls and the curtains are drawn, the venue lends itself to Kennedy’s body-rattling bass, as well as his myriad of clashing sound samples against minimal melodies. Experimental techno can often feel dark, heavy and even gloomy, but Kennedy established a positive but hypnotic ambience. Opalescent visuals by VJ Zaron Mizmeras dazzled the crowd further.
Unlike many underground artists, who often don’t play their own tracks, Pearson generously span some of his most popular tunes. Being submerged in a cosmic crowd listening to ‘XLB’ gave the sensation of being underwater. Given that Kennedy co-runs Hessle Audio, he has free rein to explore and create original sounds which are entirely to his own taste, and fortunately ours as well. Perhaps next time we could encourage him to bring along labelmates Ben UFO and Pangaea for a complete Hessle experience.
On the third night of both university’s freshers weeks, I hope that the city’s newbies enjoyed the dishes on Sheffield’s diverse musical menu and that their hunger subsided, at least until night number four.
Picture House Social
Cool Ghouls was a fun night of slacker surf grunge in the inornate backroom of the Picture House Social, with music that was loud, artful and fresh. It wasn’t the jangly guitars and heartbreak bores of current indie boppers but something richer, with the sonic ingenuity of My Bloody Valentine and the melodic sense of The Byrds. Notable mentions go to Katie Pham and The Orielles, both very distinctive and original acts worth checking out.
Cool Ghouls (I can’t work out if it’s meant to be a pun or not) were set up as a three-person harmony like a 60s beat band, and part of me was wishing they’d hover over one microphone and shake their heads in a Beatles homage. The three lead singers have an egalitarian approach which feeds into music that is democratic in style, each instrument weaving into each other to create a pleasant tapestry of sound. I would have liked them to sing together more. When they did it gave a Fleet Foxes vibe which undoubtedly resonates somewhere deep within - maybe not quite the soul, but definitely one of the vital organs.
It was an insouciant performance, at times too relaxed. I would have liked a little more engagement. They were a bit short on the charisma chart, but maybe the novelty of being American in Sheffield is enough. When they did hit the spot though they really nailed it and I happily swayed to their enjoyable Americana grooves. This wasn’t a headbanger or a flail your limbs band, but definitely musically thoughtful, with the promise of something more interesting on the horizon.
Horse Meat Disco
Good gay clubbing will be the dance music story of the decade thanks to two groups: San Francisco’s Honey Soundsystem and London’s equally pioneering Horse Meat Disco, whose usual Sunday night slot at Vauxhall's Eagle Club leaves Fridays free for provincial excursions.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more suitable venue than the Festival of the Mind’s Spiegeltent. Ones just like it hosted bawdy cabaret and vaudeville acts in the newly permissive climate of 1920s Europe. Similarly, the Vauxhall outfit echo the halcyon days of the 1970s, when clubs like The Loft in New York ushered in a brief new era of hedonism and sexual experimentation.
After a groovy warm-up from Lunar's Leroy, two of the HMD crew took over for a three-hour set, the taller of the pair surveying the crowd in a sandy coloured Harrington and looking impossibly sexy. Lots of so-called disco nights end up being wall-to-wall edits, which ultimately leave a crowd cold. HMD get the balance right, jumping between original 70s records, selected modern reworks and disco-indebted house, such as Midland's 'Final Credits', all without dropping the energy levels.
As we entered peak time, the group peppered their disco selections with one or two heavy-hitting house numbers, including Space Echo's outrageously funky 'Soul Power' and the downright dirty 'Crystal Lover' by Doug Willis. Dance purists may turn their noses up at Empire Of The Sun's 'We Are The People', but the pair got away with it, just about.
Disco is synonymous with the 70s, but the best received songs of the night were a pair of 80s tunes. First, a joyous singalong to Paul Simon’s perennial ‘You Can Call Me Al’ and, in a nice nod to the city, a rapturously received ‘Don’t You Want Me’.