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A Magazine for Sheffield

Ian Siegal / Solanas' Sons / Trembling Bells

25 November
The Greystones

As Ian Siegal walks on stage and removes his hat and coat with all the road-weary gravitas of a travelling bluesman, a good-natured voice pipes up from the audience: “I like your shirt!” It’s a flowery denim number and, as Siegal explains, it’s just about the only clean shirt he has left at the end of his long tour.

The British Blues Award-winning songwriter and guitarist plays his first song solo, a blistering piece of fingerwork called ‘The Silver Spurs’. The audience are immediately captivated, and amid the whoops and cheers that follow, Siegal introduces his partner in crime, Mississippi-born Jimbo Mathus.

Both men are excellent guitarists, with Siegal switching between acoustic and resonator and Mathus keeping the sound varied with his mandolin and harmonica. His ability to play two melodies simultaneously on the two instruments is striking, and gives a remarkable breadth of sound for two performers.

From the very start their relationship with the audience is intimate but irreverent, and between songs there’s some great banter from the two musicians. Siegal talks with a twinkle in his eye about the time he was staying in the Deep South and his fellow musicians nicknamed him ‘Overseas’ – because, as far as they were concerned, that’s where he came from.

Siegal’s voice is a fantastic blend of Tom Waits and Howlin’ Wolf, full of gravel at the bottom end with a taut roughness on the top notes. The pair sing together with strong, earthy harmonies on the choruses and an effortless awareness of each other’s taste for vocal improvisation. They clearly know these songs inside out, but they maintain that authentic, campfire feel that the more polished blues performers sometimes lack.

It’s a varied set list, with Mathus and Siegal taking turns to lead on their own songs, interspersed with country covers from the likes of Steve Earle and Townes van Zandt. There are also some traditional folk and gospel tunes, including ‘Goodnight Irene’ and ‘I’ll Fly Away’, and the pair finish with a gutsy and sentimental rendition of ‘Dirty Old Town’.

The range of songs is a nostalgic treat for folk and blues fans, with the original numbers sounding just as unapologetically rustic as the traditional favourites. Siegal and Mathus are both gifted performers in their own right, but together they form a fantastically talented transatlantic duo.

Edward Russell-Johnson


12 December
The Washington

As one of Sheffield’s staple musical haunts, it’s always exciting to see a familiar name pop up at the Washington. The stage may be a bit tight, but the sound in there is second to none for such a small venue, the perfect choice for the release of Solanas’ Son’s debut single, ‘Rolling Around’. Having seen this four-piece a couple of months back in Broomhill, I was eager to see how they had been getting on, and of course pick up a promo CD that I’d heard were being given away. Everybody loves a freebie.

The first support act were a local two-piece called Household Villains. Regardless of being the smallest, youngest and newest of all three bands, Household Villains had some really heavy numbers which demanded attention. The boys only started playing together in September and already have a handful of gigs and a couple of radio plays under their belt, so I’m keen to see what 2015 brings them.

Next up was Dead English Gentlemen, Solanas’ brother-band. If you haven’t heard this name by now, I have no idea where you’ve been hiding. They’ve had a whirlwind of a year, releasing their EP We Don’t Tell Lies… We Just Keep Secrets in the summer and being selected as Huw Stephen’s track of the week on BBC Radio 1 at the end of August. As great as listening to a band born and bred in our lovely city is, I insist you see them live and loud for the full experience.

Crowd pleasers included the new version of their track ‘Alan Arthur’, including full band drum solo, and finale ‘Black Pudding’, which has probably the best final minute of any song that has ever been written. The new track went a bit haywire, but I’ve heard it before and it’s a new favourite. Fingers crossed we might be seeing that one recorded at some point next year.

And finally, the headliners. With the front of the stage packed out with friends, fans and Friday night frequenters, they received the perfect reception for a fantastic show. Solanas’ have that incredible Northern attitude that we all love to see in an indie band. Their tracks range from the alt/art-rock spectrum, weaving in and out of bluesy riffs, to more of a punk flavour. They closed their set with ‘Rolling Around’, the debut single. Pounding drum beats, a catchy melody and chanting harmonies – it’s a real anthem and one you’re going to want to hear again and again.

Tasha Franek


16 December
Victoria Hall

Two major influences from the past and present of experimental British psych-folk joined forces tonight to help raise funds for Sheffield Food Collective. Victoria Hall Methodist Church is the exquisite setting for this evening of beautiful music in collaboration with I Thought I Heard A Sound.

It's a venue which feels almost cavernous in design, which suits the support act, Big Eyes Family Players, to a tee. This talented local collective of artists and musicians have previously collaborated with James Yorkston and several other well-known folk names. They're currently recording a new album and tonight we're treated to a peek at several new songs. Big Eyes Family Players are impossible to pin down musically, but under the loose heading of chamber pop they span aspects of folk, jazz, cabaret, wistful 60s pop and Balkan beats. They are brilliant tonight, their performance an equal for the beautiful harmonics of Victoria Hall.

The Incredible String Band were pioneers of the experimental British psych-folk movement in the 60s, and Mike Heron a founder member. One of the most notable bands associated with the hippy movement, they were visionaries who have influenced countless musicians since (including Alex from Trembling Bells, it turns out). Tonight is a combination of much-loved ISB material from their earlier studio albums along with original Trembling Bells songs, performed, for the most part, together.

Their set opens with ‘Maya’ from ISB's fourth album, and closes with ‘A Very Cellular Song’ from their third. The latter is accompanied by a Pagan ritual of sorts. I'm not familiar with the work of ISB, but together they brought the songs to life. It's always a pleasure to watch Trembling Bells. There's no group of musicians quite as accomplished, innovative and talented as they are. Saying that, the highlight of the night was a beautiful unaccompanied duet by Alex and Lavinia on ‘Seven Years A Teardrop’. A truly moving moment in the middle of a night of wonderful music.

Rob Aldam


Next article in issue 82

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