RELEASE: ‘Gown – Special Edition’ / Jo Hamilton

Words by Ceri Black

Despite over 50,000 Facebook fans, and supporting the likes of Damien Rice and Michelle Shocked, Jo Hamilton is still relatively unknown.

Born in Scotland, now based in Moseley, her first official album – Gown, was originally released in 2009 to pundit acclaim. Now, in the absence of any further album releases, Gown has been remastered into a Special Edition, including bonus tracks and artwork.

After researching Jo Hamilton, I was excited to sit down with a cuppa and listen to her work. Classically trained, and often compared to the likes of Bjork and Sigur Ros, I had rather high expectations of Gown – Special Edition.

Plus Hamilton was the first artist to professionally use an ‘air piano’ (a non-contact electronic instrument), and after hearing her describe playing it as ‘almost dance-like’ my curiosity grew.

So, were my assumptions of something amazing met? Almost.

As a debut album, Gown is far from routine. Inspiration from world cultures (Hamilton recorded parts of Gown in Cambodia and Jamaica) flow through the tracks effortlessly, as Hamilton’s flirtatious vocals unite the use of unusual instruments and beats.

‘Paradise’ is an excellent example of the quirky use of sound – from a man speaking a language I wouldn’t hazard a guess at, to the clean clash of finger cymbals, this track creates a perfect sense of warmth.

‘Liathach’ is something far simpler. Starting with only Hamilton’s voice accompanied by piano, the track ascends into a beautifully powerful ballad, flaunting the talent she so clearly possesses.

But in spite of all of this, some tracks left me a little irritated, confused even. There is so much going on in ‘Pick Me Up’, for example, I found it difficult to grasp the idea of the song.

Also the use of too many instruments, alongside Hamilton’s sometimes strangely nasal vocals, produced a musical mêlée I occasionally couldn’t get my head round.

But this is a minor criticism, Gown – Special Edition is definitely worth a listen.

And after attracting a second round of UK attention, alongside impressing audiences stateside, Jo Hamilton’s profile looks sure to increase. And about time, you’ll no doubt hear Facebook say.

For more information on Jo Hamilton, and to listen to and purchase Gown – Special Edition, visit www.johamilton.com

REVIEW: The Twilight Sad @ Hare & Hounds, Feb 12th

The Twilight Sad @ Hare & Hounds, Feb 12th

Words & pics by Ed King

Clasping a cold Guinness; shaking and angry from the absence of gloves, I turned to watch The Twilight Sad’s support – a suitably ‘wall of sound’ four piece called Let’s Wrestle.

‘You know you’re a prima donna when the dry ice hurts your throat’, quips the bass player (a deadpan mix between David Walliams and my friend’s brother Mike) before launching into another well meaning guitar thrash.

It’s a Sunday. Upstairs at the Hare & Hounds is freezing, and one hour ago I was warm, cozy and digesting a pie. Whilst I bless the joys of music journalism, The Twilight Sad’s gruff and rotund roadies install massive monitors where simply big had just been. I stamp my feet and look up. Tonight’s going to be loud.

Coming on stage under the searing guitar intro of ‘Kill It in the Morning’, The Twilight Sad didn’t pause before melting into their second track of the night – an unrecognisable six string barrage the set list called ‘Elfant’.

As the crowd edged towards the front half of the room, allowing strobe lights and the echo of tinnitus to fill the rest, a brief but endearing ‘hello, thanks for coming out’ escaped from front man James Graham, before closing his eyes on tiptoes to sing ‘That Summer, At Home I had Become The Invisible Boy’, The Twilight Sad’s first ever single.

Sporadic key melodies brought some lighter notes, literally, whilst the wall of sound continued to encase us. Graham continued to bounce, twirl and lose himself in his earphone monitors, whilst guitarist Andy McFarlane marched the rest of the stage through a proficient 12 track set; incorporating songs from all three studio albums.

A small lull between ‘Dead City’ and ‘Alphabet’, the first two tracks from their latest album – ‘No One Can Ever Know’, played in curious reverse order, allowed Graham’s vocals to become briefly more audible. Before the rock fromage descended in thick layers, bringing us mercilessly into ‘I Became a Prostitute’ – a melancholic stormer from their second album that sounded even better on stage.

Following with ‘Sick’, the latest single, The Twilight Sad then focused on new material, before closing with two tracks from previous albums; ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’ and ‘At the Burnside’. At points it was hard to tell where one ended and another began, a concurrent theme, and although an appreciated dénouement down the archives, it did take Graham three attempts to remember the lyrics to their final track.

The Twilight Sad’s sound is too big for a 200 capacity venue, but powerful to watch. Graham’s (cliché alert) raw energy and total belief floods off stage, supported by unobtrusive and well orchestrated musicians.

Carefully constructed, each track shows either personal pain or euphoria – a distinction perhaps only Graham and McFarlane can really know, and what I once wrote off as arrogance I now see as introverted sincerity.

Very loud. Very proud. Very polished. The Twilight Sad are what they are, and they are better heard live. Although that being said I’ve had them on Spotify since Sunday.

The Twilight Sad’s third album, ‘No One Can Ever Know’ is out now on Fat Cat Records. For more information visit  http://www.thetwilightsad.com/

For more info and gigs from Birmingham Promoters visit http://www.birminghampromoters.com/

PREVIEW: Fink @ The Glee Club, 19th February

(Fink – aka Fin Greenall)

Fink, aka Fin Greenall, has been knocking out music since the early nineties.

Originally part of the ambient techno gravy train, inspired by obvious luminaries – The Orb, Aphex Twin and Moby (in the days before advert based PRS cheques), Fink left behind his EVA moniker and started experimenting with live sounds over breaks on his 1997 Fink Funk album – released on Ninja Tune’s subsidiary label, N-Tones.

Two years later Fink released Front Side, a 4 track EP that continued to use live and laid back melodies, whilst this time tempering the fractured drum loops.

Then in 2006, he moved away from Electronica altogether with the release of ‘Biscuits for Breakfast’ – a 9 track collaboration with Guy Whittaker and Tim Thornton, making him Ninja Tune’s first singer/songwriter.

Three albums later, Fink is still a firm fixture on Ninja Tunes and still releasing acoustic guitar led melodies. Although his 2007 album, Distance and Time, incorporated production from Lamb’s Andy Barlow, whilst his subsequent 2009 album ‘Sort of Revolution’ saw collaborations with John Legend and Professor  Green.

Then, after a couple of years on tour and in studio, Fink released his 5th full length album – ‘Perfect Darkness’, a mature evolution of soulful vocals and acoustic music.

Produced by Billy Bush, Garbage’s longstanding knob twiddler, ‘Perfect Darknss’ was received as ‘a writhing, surprisingly meaty addition to the over-crowded singer-songwriter genre’ by the BBC’s Ian Wade, one with ‘enough individuality as not to get brushed aside with the prefix ‘just another’.

An warm review echoed by others in the UK’s music media, with Caroline Sullivan in The Guardian stating Fink’s ‘contemplative guitar/drum/string arrangements… often achieves such loveliness you don’t want it to end’.

Undoubtedly experienced, arguably accomplished, Fink has been grafting within the UK music scene for two decades. And with a wide portfolio of proficient releases, in genres that have seen high profile artist acclaim, it’s almost strange that Fink isn’t better known.

And whilst liking him is up to you (we’re all about free will at the Birmingham Review), he’s certainly earned 6min 39sec of your attention. I mean, what’s a boy got to do to get heard in this town..?

Fink plays The Glee Club on Sunday 19th February. For tickets and info visit http://www.glee.co.uk/birmingham-music

Ed King will be there for the Birmingham Review.

For Fink posts and comments, on the run up to Feb 19th Glee Club gig, check out our Facebook page– http://www.facebook.com/birminghamreview

PREVIEW: The Twilight Sad @ Hare & Hounds, Feb 12th

The Twilight Sad – l/r; Mark Devine, James Graham, Andy MacFarlane

 

Born in Scotland, signed in Brighton, The Twilight Sad are a (now) 3 piece Indie rock band from Kilsyeth – a small town halfway between Glasgow and Falkirk.

And as their moniker suggests, TTS lean towards melancholic melodic rock; using wall-of-soundesque layers of thick guitar over strongly accented, often brooding, vocal laments. Orchestral, lo fi and distinctively Scottish. It’s like Mogwai found the third Proclaimer and fed him bucket loads of smack.

Formed in 2003, The Twilight Sad introduced themselves to the world via two ‘highly experimental’ shows at The 13th Note Café in Glasgow, where they spent 30mins ‘utilising guitars, bass, drums, tape loops from films and old folk and country songs, effects pedals, toy keyboards, thumb pianos, computer games and various other ephemera.’.

Then, after climbing off their musical pedestal and into the studio, TTS put together a 4 track demo which got them signed to Fat Cat Records in 2005 – label co-founder, Alex Knight, making an offer after seeing their 3rd ever gig.

An eponymous EP was released through Fat Cat US in November 2006, with TTS’s subsequent debut album, ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’, out globally in April 2007. The following four years, two EPs and one studio/one live album, saw TTS build a fanbase, lose a bassist (founding member Craig Orzel leaving in 2010 due to “changes I wanted to make to my life”), tour America – including a performance at the SXSW Festival 2007 and support; Mogwai, The Smashing Pumpkins, Snow Patrol and Idlewild.

Back on the road with their third studio album, ‘No One Can Ever Know’ – released Feb 6th 2012, The Twilight Sad play the Hare & Hounds on Feb 12th (presented by Birmingham Promoters).

Rebecca George will be there for the Birmingham Review.

For info on: The Twilight Sad visit http://www.thetwilightsad.com

For info on: The Twilight Sad at the Hare & Hounds – Feb 12th, along with further Birmingham Promoter gigs, visit http://www.birminghampromoters.com

Check out, and comment on, The Twilight Sad (in easy to chew bite sized chunks) during the run up to Feb 12th at http://www.facebook.com/birminghamreview

Ed’s… Highlights, Feb ’12

Having scoured the February listings, desperate to hook this feature on Valentine’s Day, I give up. Not a single gig of note on the big day itself. One of my most romantic evenings was at a Ned’s Atomic Dustbin concert, but now it’s all smooching over Chardonnay in gluten free gastro pub. What a load of old toss.

So, cracking off – no pun intended, is the glorious return of Shakatak (Jam House, 1st), the early 80’s Brit Funk four piece that shot to notoriety with ‘Night Birds’. A track you’ll recognize from its piano riff, and the demonstration song on many a Casio Keyboard.

Elsewhere is a veritable shout fest with; Biohazard (HMV, Feb 2nd), Rammstein (LG Arena, 25th), Napalm Death’s Homecoming Show (HMV, 25th) and the unnervingly titled – Sex Pistol’s Experience (HMV Institute, 25th). Not a gig to take your missus to.

There’s also a couple of more mainstream hitters in town; Kaiser Chiefs (O2 Academy, 3rd), Snow Patrol (LG Arena, 4th), the man who stole my hair – James Morrison (O2 Academy, 7th) and the most punchable face in pop – Olly Murs (LG Arena, 10th). Although unfortunately Jason Derulo has cancelled his World Tour (LG Arena, 24th) due to a neck injury, occurring ‘when the star was executing an acrobatic move and landed directly on his head.’ And off we go to YouTube.

But the undoubted, unparalleled, lithe and orgasmic (steady on) star attraction this month is… ‘An evening with David Hasselhoff’ (Symphony Hall, 23rd). A booking that totally overshadows; ‘Suggs: My life story in words & music’ (Town Hall, 4th), Big Country (O2 Academy, 17th) and Simple Minds (O2 Academy, 24th) in the anachronistic dollar race. Plus if he enters the stage on an airport buggy, I might wet myself.

So there you have it, a month of screaming, shouting and ghosts from the 80’s. A summary not far from Valentine’s Day after all.

Follow Ed King at www.twitter.com/edking2210