Joan Baez.

9th March.
City Hall.

Reviewer - Tasha Franek.

Think Woodstock '69. The rain begins to fall as it hits midnight, and onto the stage trails a heavily pregnant and glowing Joan Baez. She wishes the crowd good morning, before beginning her beautiful, awe-inspiring set. By this point in her career she has already established herself as a key player in both the folk revival and civil rights movements across the globe. The perfect candidate to round up day one of what she, as well as many others, still consider one of her greatest performances and the epitome of the era.

Fast forward over four decades and here we find ourselves. After an eight-year absence from Sheffield, Baez returned to the City Hall. With ticket prices substantially higher than many of the other wonderful venues Sheffield has to offer, it was going to take somebody really special for me to fork out the extra cash. And my goodness, did I choose wisely.

The set began with just her and a guitar, but she was soon joined by Dirk Powell, a multi-instrumentalist who showcased his remarkable talents on guitar, accordion, piano and violin, to name a few. Alongside the two of them was the very bump that caused such a reaction at Woodstock, Joan's son Gabe Harris. Another man of impeccable talent, his soft and understated percussion added another layer of beauty and intimacy. Together, they brought the audience to their feet on a number of occasions - a lively crowd considering many were of a similar age to Baez herself, who believe it or not is dipping her toes into her seventies.

Though age may have slightly softened her ferocious vibrato voice, it has in no way damaged it. Every aspect of her performance had a beautiful raw energy to it; stronger than any I'd ever witnessed before. Everybody was able to feel the incredibly real connection she had to the music and lyrics of each song, especially the more topical numbers, of which she has become so well known for. Particular favourites of mine included 'House of the Rising Sun' and 'Farewell, Angelina', written by a man who Baez has described as one of the best songwriters she has known, Bob Dylan. A three-song encore tied up the evening perfectly with some fantastic sing-a-longs which sent shivers down each and every spine. Finishing on another Dylan favourite, 'Blowin' in the Wind', Baez waved a final goodbye to an awestruck audience.

We were also treated to stories of Joan's past and present throughout the performance. One minute announcing the birthday of her tour assistant and conducting us all in song, the next hinting at dropping acid with Janis Joplin back in the seventies - her colourful life was exposed for all of us to share. These little touches only further added to the personal atmosphere of the night and it was great to hear that she hung about afterwards to meet and greet some of her biggest British fans.

Club60 Presents.

29th February.
Greystones.

Reviewer - laurence piercy.

Pip Mountjoy is a singer-songwriter with an excellent voice and no modest guitar skill. Her songwork is pleasant, but often marred, like so much music, by distractingly blunt lyrics. Here, either real tutelage should be sought, or the job should be handed over to a consumptive librettist, whose desperate scribblings might persuade those barnacled sea-gods to leave off the musico-poetic coracle and allow it float safely, instead of filling it with brine in a fit of pique.

One morning, Robespierre sat down to breakfast. His house-guest, a German, was already at the table wearing a white terry-cloth dressing gown. They were served boiled eggs. When those eggs in their egg cups were placed on table by the liveried waiting staff, they were served in the style anglais, which is to say, with the small end pointing up and the large end glued to the magnetic south. Without hesitation (in the throes of habit) the sturdy Teuton spun his quarry and dug in his spoon in at the opposite extremity. At that moment, reality dawned. The fog of greed evaporated. The roman blind of eagerness was raised and secured against the cleat of truth to let in the harsh light of good conduct. He covered his neck in a protective gesture, but the kindly republican on the other side of the table contorted his face into a smile and bellowed: vive la difference!

This is how I felt when Sieben shuffled onto the stage, and my stirrings were confirmed when he started to lay the groundwork for the first song. He drums and plucks on his violin, records loops and layers them, roughs his stubble against the bridge, makes whale noises into the fs, and climaxes in broad, swaying bow strokes and fidgety vocals, sometimes tremulous, sometimes sturdy, which, with everything put through a machine, are slightly, pleasingly, electronic and not entirely shredless. The cumulative drive of the songs makes the set absorbing, though the structure gets slightly repetitive at times. Overall, though, excellent.

Unsung National Heroes peddle enforced jollity by way of big band skiffle. Not to my taste. As the keyboard struck up another little ditty, my mood darkened and my eyebrows knitted into an expression so baleful that it could curdle mouthwash. From that purgatory, I managed to peep out at the other audience members. Lo, my mood was not entirely shared. To my right, a hoary travelling man was banging his staff in time to the music. Beyond him, a lovesick youth plucked the petals from a daisy in a brisk 4/4. By the stage, a stern Jesuit spanked himself with a ruler in a rhythmic frenzy of self-mortification. As the song reached its end, a woman emerged from the bar and, putting a hanky to her cold-worn nose, blew with the final strains of the joyful dénouement.

A Hawk and A Hacksaw.

3rd March.
St George's Church.

Reviewer - Pete Martin.

A Hawk and A Hacksaw formed in New Mexico a decade ago and have since toured regularly, immersing themselves in the folk music of whichever country they've pitched up in. They have lived and worked in Hungary and Romania and their music reflects this with such disparate styles as Mariachi, Klezmer and Balkan.

This latest tour sees them playing a live rescore of Sergei Paradjanov's 1964 film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. The film is a tale of the pre-industrial struggles of Ivan and his fellow peasants in the Ukraine and their loves, losses and violent deaths. Village life is hard and Ivan toils to provide for his family. The line between reality and magic is blurred and Ivan's thoughts and dreams become increasingly hallucinogenic. Paradjanov's work was viewed with great suspicion by the Soviet authorities and he was arrested on more than one occasion, spending time in the notorious gulags.

The setting of St George's Church is perfect and, though it has been converted into a University lecture theatre, it retains much of the original stonework and facades. AHAAH's main instrumentation of Jeremy Barnes' accordion and Heather Trost's violin mesh together to provide a sweeping, soaring symphony that complements the often brutal story that unfolds on screen. Barnes and Trost sit in darkness at either side of the large screen and unobtrusively add musical texture and nuance to the visuals.

The idea of the performance is "not to accompany a silent film, but to work with the existing dialogue and score to create a new blend of live music and pre-recorded sound that accompanies, comments on, and sometimes overtakes the original soundtrack and dialogue". AHAAH do this with consummate ease. Both Barnes and Trost add subtle elements that beautifully enhance and act as a counterpoint to Paradjanov's folkloric mysticism.

Both musicians occasionally interject with urgent bursts of violin and accordion as the story turns violent, then just as suddenly Trost plays a haunting piano passage as the mood mellows. Barnes' cimbalom and mouth harp are also used to reflect these different themes. Perhaps this is how all cinema should be viewed. It is as far from Hollywood-by-numbers as you can get, because everyone involved imbues this performance with intelligence, passion and subtlety. An unforgettable evening.

Read an interview with A Hawk and A Hacksaw here.

Peace / Post War Years.

24th February
Bowery.

Reviewer - Franz Boas.

The Bowery has been turning out good crowds for all the time I've been living in Sheffield and true to form, this event was no different. Proof is the Bowery's latest endeavour into regular live music, and February 24th saw the first in this series of gigs taking place on the last Friday of every month.

Post War Years set up as three multi-talented frontmen, each working through an arsenal of instruments and occasionally exploding into well-rehearsed harmonies. Behind them sat the drummer, the least static of the four-piece, whose eccentric movements thumped out steady rhythms, making him easily the most watchable member throughout. There were moments comparable to a futuristic Arcade Fire with the occasional Beirut warble and moments that I could have sworn sounded like the latter half of 'Wish You Were Here', as well as those contemporary influences comparable to most large sounding synth-influenced bands like Battles and Wild Beasts.

Throughout the entirety of the Post War Years set, the front row was almost entirely comprised of me, dazedly jotting down notes that eventually proved unintelligible, and the members of Peace, who took to the stage clad in black with the confidence of a band that has been together much longer than the mere year they have been formed. They tuned and opened with a set miles away from their regular crowd favourites.

In fact, the whole first half of their set was a gruff-voiced, rhythm-led, post-punk cacophony culminating in catchy choruses that sounded like a Vaccines album produced and overseen by Ian Curtis. Peace have a rock and roll feel to them in the original sense of the term. Their setup, the structure of their songs, their dress and attitude after the gig, were reminiscent of whatever bands used to be before indie reinvented pretentious.

Closing number 'Bblood' is their crowning jewel and currently the only song posted on their website. Combining crisp, tight verses and a loud reverberating chorus, it is not difficult to see why they have been compared by the Guardian to the likes of Foals and Wu Lyf. Though this comparison may be a little premature, their upcoming EP launch and UK tour will be far more telling of the kind of music we can expect to hear from them in the future.