BREVIEW: C Duncan @ The Sunflower Lounge 05.11.15

C Duncan / Courtesy of Fat Cat RecordsWords by Helen Knott / Pics courtesy of Fat Cat Records

The Mercury Music Award has a reputation for being a bit of a career killer. Past winners, including Talvin Singh, Badly Drawn Boy, Ms Dynamite and Gomez haven’t exactly gone on to set the world alight. Damon Albarn was so concerned about the award’s supposed curse he requested that Gorillaz’s 2002 nomination be withdrawn altogether.

Still, a mention in this year’s shortlist for his debut album Architect doesn’t seem to have done C Duncan’s career much harm so far, if a busy Sunflower Lounge is anything to go by.

Christopher Duncan, tonight backed by a live band of bass, keys and drums, is a classically trained The-Sunflower-Lounge---blackcomposer who recorded Architect on his own, in his bedroom. Apart from a few glitchy dance beats not really present in its live realisation, the album certainly doesn’t sound like it has been recorded in a bedroom – the songs are obsessively meticulous and have a warm autumnal glow.

Duncan’s classical background is apparent throughout his music, perhaps most notably in his thoughtful arrangements, with returning motifs played across all instruments and vocals, and in the way he plays electric guitar with more of a Classical than a Rock style. Duncan’s guitar playing is particularly interesting – he plays a lot of the notes using only two fingers. In fact, he plays guitar like someone who has a ton of innate musical ability but has never actually seen anyone else play one before.

Architect / C DuncanSingles ‘For’ and ‘Say’ are Duncan’s most catchy and immediate songs, capturing a similar whimsical beauty as bands like Fleet Foxes, Yeasayer and Grizzly Bear. Debut single, ‘For’, conjures up a wistful postcard of the British seaside, with pretty picked guitar chords interspersed with offbeat drum patterns that keep things interesting. In ‘Say’ the backing vocals, so effective throughout the set, are particularly beautiful, swelling in the chorus like a choral piece.

It doesn’t always work. When C Duncan moves into more cheerful subject matters things get rather cloying. ‘He Believes in Miracles’ (“Someone came and stole my heart – I don’t want it back”) and ‘Garden’ feature saccharine Beach Boy backing vocals and lyrics that err just too far on the side of Fat Cat Records - web colour RGBtwee. The slow and hypnotic ‘Novices’ gets things back on safer ground, the chorus shimmering with a celestial brilliance.

At his first headline gig in Birmingham, Duncan has the wide-eyed enthusiasm of someone who can’t quite yet believe that audiences are actually turning up to his shows – he thanks the crowd for being there so many times that he starts to get heckled by his own band.

But he’ll soon get used to it.  He has all the talent and flair to develop into a fascinating artist. And I for one will be hoping that on Friday 20 November, C Duncan does not win the Mercury Music Award.

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BREVIEW: Girlpool @ Hare & Hounds, 11.09.15

Girlpool / Courtesy of Wichita Recordings

Words by Helen Knott, pic courtesy of Wichita Recordings

Have you ever had a best friend? You spend all day together at school, but still need to chat on the phone all evening. You like the same music and films, you discuss boys or girls you fancy and your hopes for the future. You share everything.

This is Tmrw - logo transThis sort of friendship is the steady foundation that LA born band Girlpool is built on. These best friends formed a band a couple of years ago when teenagers Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad hit it off at a gig. Since then they have relocated to Philadelphia, released an album, and have received plenty of press for some rather explicit songs (sample lyric: “It’s not enough to watch a movie/Eat me out to American Beauty”).

As the duo amble on stage at the Hare & Hounds they don’t have the air of upstart teenage rock stars. They look like they might be in the middle of a country hike, or perhaps a clowning workshop; I’m talking dungarees, stripes, sensible shoes and cardigans. But this, along with an involved conversation with a girl in the audience about haircare, just serves to create a relaxed atmosphere. It’s like you’re hanging out with a couple of mates and they’re playing you a few songs that they’ve been working on.

With just two of them in the band, Girlpool keep themselves musically straightforward, utilising just a bass, guitar and vocals. Embracing the Punk spirit, simple single note guitar lines are replicated in the bass, with rarely more than three chords in a song. But despite the simplicity, the music isn’t unrefined; each word and note is thoughtful and considered. With such limited musical accompaniment,the lyrics and melodies are foregrounded. The songs explore all the big themes: love, gender, aging, racism… There’s a melancholy throughout, for example, in ‘Cherry Picking’, “Cos lovers turn to strangers/ Everyone always has to go”.

hare-and-hounds-logo - transOne of the most interesting songs is their album’s title track, ‘Before the World was Big’. As usual, most of the guitar part is played one note at a time, and it’s quietly hypnotic. The words explore the unsettling transition from childhood to adulthood; the streets in your neighbourhood you’ve walked, “one hundred, one million, billion, trillion times…” are haunted with memories, and they seem different now, because you are different. The song thoughtfully captures a wistful mourning for the routine and safety of childhood, mixed with excitement for what’s ahead.

The strength of Girlpool lies in the friendship between Tucker and Tividad. This is a best friend relationship externalised and channeled into a band. The result is a complete clarity of vision; they sing and play in unison because they have the same experiences and the same things to say.

Alas, all of us who have had a childhood best friend know that these relationships are too intense to last. They gradually become less important as real life – jobs, university, relationships – kicks in. Hopefully, for Girlpool, embarking on tours around the world and making records, real life isn’t going to kick in for another few albums at least.

For more on Girlpool, visit

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REVIEW: Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ The Glee Club, 10th June ‘15

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ The Glee Club, 10th June '15 / By Ella Carman - Birmingham Review

Words by Helen Knott / Pics by Ella Carman

From the days of the Salvation Army street bands, to David Byrne, St Vincent and Taylor Swift, brass has become a lot cooler in recent years.Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ The Glee Club, 10th June '15 / By Ella Carman - Birmingham Review

Raised in Chicago, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (HBE) was taught music from a young age by their father, Phil Cohran, himself a well respected jazz musician. The story goes that Cohran instilled a sense of discipline in the eight brothers, waking them at 6am every morning so that they could practice before school.

After leaving education they earned a living busking, eventually self-releasing their first album Flipside in 2004. Since then Hypnotic Brass Ensemble has performed with MosDef, Wu Tang Clan, De La Soul and Prince, and even supported Blur on a number of dates.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ The Glee Club, 10th June '15 / By Ella Carman - Birmingham ReviewTonight they join a warm and appreciative audience at The Glee Club for the first night of a five-date UK tour, having spent most of the last two months on the road in America, Europe & South America. Since the days of 6am rehearsals the HBE boys have always been a hardworking bunch – apparent in the tightness of their performance tonight, both in the music and choreography.

However tonight’s gig takes a while to get going. There are a few too many new songs in the first half of the set and a little too much smooth jazz – chugging and funking away nicely enough, but without really setting the pulse racing.

One of the most intriguing things about Hypnotic Brass Ensemble is their ability to incorporate a wide range of influences: Balkan, Spanish, even traditional Colliery brass band music – but again, this doesn’t really happen enough in the first half to keep things interesting.Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ The Glee Club, 10th June '15 / By Ella Carman - Birmingham Review

Things kick off after the interval, when HBE’s most famous (and probably best) song ‘War’ definitely gets the crowd going. ‘War’, which you may have heard in the Hunger Games movies, showcases the band at its best, getting the brass interplay between bass, rhythm and melody exactly right.

Indeed, HBE are most fun when they go a little darker. ‘Delta’ sleazes around with a killer riff and ‘Kryptonite’ is a downright nasty Hip-Hop track. These boys honed their skills on the streets of Chicago and things still work best when we’re reminded of that.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble @ The Glee Club, 10th June '15 / By Ella Carman - Birmingham ReviewHypnotic Brass Ensemble certainly looks the part, all tattoos, muscles and posturing. And despite their cool street style they are endearingly eager to please, obsessing about how to say ‘Birmingham’ the English way, “Burmingam. Burmingam. Am I saying it right? No vowels or consonants.”

First and foremost they are entertainers and they want the audience to enjoy their “real good, feel good, music”. And we do. Hypnotic Brass Ensemble doesn’t just make brass cool, they make it relevant and sexy – and that is more than you can say either Taylor Swift or the Sally Ann.

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REVIEW: Föllakzoid + The Hungry Ghosts, Sky Children @ The Sunflower Lounge, Sun 7th June


Words by James Gardener

Chilean psych band Föllakzoid weren’t content with playing one gig of blissed out cosmic music in the Midlands, so they decided to make a surprise lunch time appearance at Lunar Festival – before heading to The Sunflower Lounge for their eagerly awaited Birmingham Promoters show.

Birmingham-Promoters---web-coloursOpening for them were Birmingham new boys Sky Children, giving a solid if not spectacular start to proceedings – albeit leaning on the much popular and over saturated BTown sound. There were moments of promise and with a few more gigs, and time to develop their own style, we may see brighter and better things to come.Sky-Children

Next to play in front of the packed out crowd were The Hungry Ghosts. With influences from the dark side and the other side of the pond, and with nods to The Velvet Underground and Dylan, this is a band happy to wear those influences on their leather clad sleeves.

The Hungry Ghost’s latest single ‘Hares on The Mountain’ comes halfway through a fast and ferocious set; this moment sees the band at their lyrically brutal and musical peak. The Hungry Ghosts, make a note – these are one to keep an eye on for sure.

The-Hungry-GhostsFöllakzoid are in the UK as part of a European tour to plug their new album, Föllakzoid lll – out now on Sacred Bones Records. Tonight they are the puppet masters over a mesmerising crowd; with deep grooves and dark vibes they have the whole room in awe

Songs like ‘Electric’ are a master class in the interplay between drums, guitar and synth – drawing you in and toying with you; this is what the band have built a reputation on and tonight sees them execute it to perfection.The-Sunflower-Lounge

Föllakzoid’s set is a real treat for this Sunday evening Birmingham crowd, who stick with them through the ambient parts, the long drawn out songs, and revel in the ultimate highs.

Between a field in Tanworth-in-Arden to a basement in Birmingham city centre, if you caught one of Föllakzoid’s gigs today you should consider yourself lucky.

For more on Föllakzoid, visit

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REVIEW: Boat to Row @ The Rainbow, 22nd May ‘15

Boat to Row

Words by Ceri Black / Images courtesy of Boat to Row & Birmingham Promoters

Initially founded in 2009 as a solo project, Boat to Row have evolved into a band with an impressive live reputation – bringing this evening’s harmonious tones to the The Rainbow in Digbeth.

Tonight’s venue, one of the few to be found under The Rainbow, is fairly low key. Tucked away behind the main bar, the room itself is simple and small with a humble stage. Almost the opposite of the sort of music Boat to Row produce. Surmised as ‘simply wonderful’ by Janice Long, who’s Boat to Row logo - croppedlistened to a few bands in her time, I have high expectations for the Birmingham based quintet this evening.

With all five members each playing multiple instruments throughout the set, Boat to Row create intricate songs. Combining strings with near to perfect vocal harmonies, many of their songs are epic and energetic tales that lead singer, Michael King, faultlessly reveals to the audience.

Songs such as ‘A Boat to Row, To Row to You’ and ‘Grassmarket’ use guitar riffs and simple drum beats to construct strong and emotive sounds – captivating tonight’s small yet intimate audience. The introduction of a violin into many of their songs also helps to tie up the complexity of their Birmingham Promoterssound.

But it is clear by watching Boat to Row that they are more than just a Folk band. They are, over and above, a group of friends that play with undeniably chemistry; an element of which is also reflected in tonight’s crowd. As the set continues it becomes clear that many of the fans are friends, and as words get exchanged between the stage and audience the atmosphere further relaxes.

Boat to Row round off their set with a beautifully simple version of ‘Heavy Was the Night.’ Here the audience see each member around a microphone, executing an almost hypnotic, definitely passionate song – perfectly ending tonight’s poetic and laid back performance.

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