Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Norwich Sound and Vision 2015 - Get Ready for The Launch

That advertising campaign which proudly proclaimed that their product did 'exactly what it says on the tin' had a point. So. Norwich Sound and Vision? It's in Norwich, yes? Yes. It's a three day industry shindig for the music and film and multimedia peeps, yes? Well, yes and no.

 Certainly it attracts a lot of local, national and even international media types to attend the conference sessions, and to sniff around the local music scene, as well as the cool and up and coming bands brought into the city by the event's music programmers. But it does so much more than that. It creates a three night festival vibe in the city through a series of gigs and showcases, accessible either through individual ticketing, or via a three-day wristband. A bit like Brighton's Great Escape, but with a much more generous nod to the city's genuinely local artists.

I first attended NS&V two years ago, having previously been under the misapprehension that it was primarily an industry bash. I saw Claire Maguire and We Were Evergreen at Open, and Drenge and Superfood at Norwich Arts Centre. This year will be the sixth NS&V, and to launch the event, and to spread the word that this is not only an industry conference but also a three day music and film festival for the good people of Norwich, a launch party was held last night at Norwich Arts Centre. Featuring a preview of Richard Shashamané's splendid exhibition of photographs taken at Norwich gigs over recent years, and a taster lineup of three very different local bands, this was a chance for NS&V to really reach out and appeal to local music and film enthusiasts to support this year's event. After all, nothing helps promote a local band like an enthusiastic local audience.


First up was 'Vibe', a three piece vocal harmony group formed via Access to Music that have already been featured on Mustard TV. Performing not only their own compositions, but also a beautifully re-worked arrangement of Beyonce's 'Crazy in Love', this trio showcased their own singing talents, and also an ability to rotate the lineup, with each one of the three girls taking a turn on keyboards. It would have been so easy to fall back on backing tapes and drum machines, but Vibe also chose to be supported with a three piece band with guitar, bass, and drums. My only criticism would be that the guitarist, who I suspect also fronts his own band, did tend to muscle into the spotlight a little too much. A minor point, but it was supposed to be the girls' night. Also, whilst 'Vibe' is definitely one of those Ronseal names that perfectly reflects the band's positioning - a harmonious blend of urban and soul, it could easily become anonymous amongst the plethora of other Vibe brands out there.

Dum Dee & The Goons

Not that 'Dum Dee & The Goons' are likely to have that problem. Featuring the haunting vocals of Daisy Wilson, this indie-folk five piece mix electric and acoustic with beautifully crafted songs to sublime effect. The strongest song of their set was undoubtedly 'Golden Blue', but the whole performance demonstrated again what an array of diverse talent abounds within Norwich. Whether I would have had the courage to stick with that band name, though? But then I thought Arctic Monkeys was a stupid name, so ya-boo-sucks to me, too. What do I know?

Let's Eat Grandma

The anticipation about the final band tonight has been growing and gathering momentum over the last two years, resulting in festival appearances at Latitude, Camp Bestival, and Festival No6. They appeared at last year's NS&V, playing at The Birdcage and leaving a lasting impression on shell-shocked A&R peeps and scouts. They almost stole tUne-yArDs' thunder when they supported at The Waterfront earlier this year, and my gob was smacked sideways when I saw them for the first time at Norwich Arts Centre back in March this year. They have, quite simply, the best band name in the history of popular music, and their stage presence has an eclectic weirdness that is both mesmerising and slightly frightening. And, God help us, they are still only sixteen years old. They are 'Let's Eat Grandma'.

Rosa and Jenny have been friends for twelve years, and performing as 'Let's Eat Grandma' for the last two, but their minds now seem to function as one as they work their way through a set that is more than just multi-instrumental musicianship - it is spoken word, it is theatre, it is art. Dressed tonight like a pair of dysfunctional ballerinas from an antique musical box, yet maintaining the innocence of a pre-Raphaelite painting, they start with simple drum machine and synth chords  before layering overlapping vocals to sinister effect. Jerky head movements and sideways glances to each other complete the sense of detachment from reality, and they seem to purposefully avoid any form of eye contact with the audience. It is as if one look could turn us to stone, like a punishing contact with a mythical gorgon. Who knows from where their inspirations come. They are way too young to remember the 'Wuthering Heights' days of Kate Bush, yet there are parallels of idiosyncrasy that remain inescapable. This is truly raw talent but, like a fine Margaux wine, will certainly continue to become even more special with age.

Let's Eat Grandma will be appearing again as part of Norwich Sound & Vision, opening at The Mash Tun on Friday night.

The full programme can be found on NS&V's website at .

Check out the line-up (it is TRULY awesome) and get yourselves a wristband. This is YOUR festival, Norwich. Make some noise!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Surfer Blood and Eternal Summers - (and the sun still shines brightly at Norwich Arts Centre)

My criteria for picking gigs is similar to my rule for settling festival clashes - acts from across the pond have to take priority. Whilst British bands will tour each successive album release with each visit sliding up or down the venue scale depending on their trajectory, American acts may not return to Europe, let alone Norwich, and so each opportunity to see a new transatlantic act should be grasped with both ears. And so, tonight, I am going to make sure I catch Eternal Summers and Surfer Blood when they play Norwich Arts Centre.

It may be a Monday night, and I realise that the Wombats played the UEA the previous night, and that a lot of sad-acts stayed up until four in the morning to watch the lunar eclipse, but that's no excuse. The Arts Centre should be rammed tonight, whereas it is roughly half-full. But with audiences it is quality that counts, and this crowd obviously share my passion for experiencing something new.

Eternal Summers

Eternal Summers have been together since 2009, starting as a two piece but fleshing out with the addition of Jonathan Woods on bass three years later. 'Gold and Stone', their fourth album, has just been released, and obviously features in tonight's setlist. Vocalist Nicole Yun has one of those voices that lulls you with feathery sweetness before switching to raw aggression without so much as a flick of the hair. Her guitar work is drenched in feedback and effects, and the general effect is likened to Best Coast being hit by a tidal wave, although in 'Gold and Stone' she manages to sound almost Cranberries-like. The drums and bass have that steady drive that fill all the gaps avoiding the lo-fi categorisation, yet the songs deliver a textbook example of punk-rock concision and pertinence. Yun admits to being slightly spooked by performing in the 14th century church, and is worried by us 'standing on dead people', but their set surely exorcises any doubts we may have about Eternal Summers. Long may their sun shine.

Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood hail from Florida, a state that is better known over here for its Everglades and Disney-style theme parks than for its Atlantic surfing beaches, but that doesn't stop a distinctly west coast sound, blending Beach Boy elements with Vampire Weekend poppiness and Pearl Jam grunginess. The result, though, seems a little predictable and clinical, despite the excursion into the audience by vocalist John Paul Pitts, and the extended guitar effects at the end of 'I Can't Explain'.

 I appreciate that the band is emotionally in a difficult place at the moment with original guitarist Thomas Fekete's illness, and touring Europe must have been a tough decision to make, but somehow I got the feeling that Surfer Blood were under-performing tonight. They just needed a little more energy to make the whole thing work. Or perhaps they, too, were disappointed by not selling out Norwich on a Monday night, or were spooked by the thought of standing on dead people.

Eternal Summers' page on their label Kanine Records' website is at together with plenty of videos to watch. The new album 'Gold and Stone' is available now.

Surfer Blood's website is at The new album '1000 Palms' is now available.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Anna Pancaldi at The Bicycle Shop

It is an excited Anna Pancaldi that takes to the tiny stage at Norwich's Bicycle Shop in St.Benedicts Street. Not only is she surprised by the number of people that have packed into the small downstairs bar on a Monday evening, but it is the first night of her first headlining tour.

We have been warmed up by local (via Cornwall) singer songwriter Samuel Leonard Keith Leonard, who has one of the strangest names ever and so performs under the moniker of True Adventures, which he freely admits is easier to find on Google once you get past all the outdoor activity sites. Sam, for that is how he introduced himself, performed a set of self-penned songs as well as a cover of  Chris Staples' 'Dark Side of The Moon' (no, not that one). Playing electric guitar, but singing in a distinctly folk style, the highlight of the set is his single 'North Atlantic Ocean', which was recorded with an orchestrated contribution from local band Wooden Arms.

True Adventures

Once Pancaldi has gotten over the fact that we have turned out to see her commence her tour we learn the other reason for her excitement, one which she literally has to keep under her hat until Wednesday. She is to be one of the faces for the launch of the new campaign for Levi 700 jeans, and one of her tracks is to be used for the advertisements. Presumably this is why she is obliged to wear the jeans, boots and hat that she sports in the teaser ads on social media.

Other than her impending fame as a denim-sporting ambassador for the American fashion brand, I knew very little about this Essex born singer songwriter, other than her parents now live in the Orkneys, and that she spent three years of her teens in South Africa before returning with her family to Chappel (home to the famously huge brick viaduct). Now London based, she has attracted attention of Huw Stephens, Tom Robinson and Gaby Roslin at the BBC, has supported the likes of Rita Ora and Rudimental, and has released one EP 'Black Tears', and has another all set to leave the nest. Perhaps this is the last chance to see and hear her perform in such intimate surroundings.

After being complimented for being so quiet and attentive (the famous Bicycle Shop fish tank is apparently making more noise than we are), she takes us through a set that includes tracks from both EP's, as well as a beautiful cover of Bob Marley's 'Waiting in Vain'. Her vocal range is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, although her style is not dissimilar from fellow Essex performer, and frequent visitor to Norwich, Leddra Chapman. Comparisons to the late, great Eva Cassidy would also not be a million miles off the mark. Standout moments for me were the acapella delivery of 'Nightingale' (off Black Tears), and the totally unplugged version of the lead track 'Out Ahead' with which she ended the set. No disrespect to the Bicycle Shop's sound system, but the room simply took on a new dimension when she played that song without any amplification. Spine tingling.

And so we await the release of the new EP, and also that mystery Levi track, which she hints is much more up-tempo than the rest of her material. Perhaps I should have hung around and bought a signed copy of 'Black Tears' after all.

Anna Pancaldi's website gives full details of her music, and links to the relevant i-Tunes pages, at . No doubt we'll see the Levi advert all over the web from Wednesday.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Never Too Old to Rock - Reload Festival at The Royal Norfolk Showground

When I was a child The Royal Norfolk Showground only meant one thing - motorcycle display teams, parachutes, and police dogs jumping through hoops of fire. Yes, the Royal Norfolk Show - an annual day trip with the school with packed lunches being fed to sheep and coming home with bagfuls of freebies and brochures. Oh yes, and it supposed to be educational.

 Nowadays the showground at Costessey is used all year round for everything from antiques fairs to classic car shows. And, for the last few years, it has also hosted a couple of two day music festivals. Last year I attended the second day of the Sundown Festival - very much a weekend for the youngsters with acts like Ellie Goulding, Clean Bandit, Ella Eyre and Jess Glynne appearing. The sun shone, the lineup was terrific, and I thoroughly enjoyed my day. This year I decided to give the Reload Festival a try out. Same idea as Sundown but for a, how shall I say, more mature audience.

To be honest, my decision was very much a last minute one. Having already managed to go to Radio 1's Big Weekend earlier this year at Earlham Park, followed by Latitude at Henham Park, I had felt that I had already achieved my fill of standing up all day in a field for one year. However, when I saw a friend's photographs from the Saturday at Reload I decided to check out the lineup and prices for the Sunday. Not only did the day ticket prices not seem too bad at £39 for adults, but the weather forecast for Sunday seemed to be better than had been predicted earlier in the week. And seeing that the Sunday lineup included two of my favourite 80's bands - 'Altered Images' and 'Red Box', I decided to book a ticket there and then. Rather than risk booking online and having to wait for a confirmation e-mail and barcoded e-ticket, I immediately jumped onto my Piaggio and headed off round the Southern By-Pass to the Costessey showground.

I arrived at the car park and was let in by the very helpful staff, who not only waived the £10 parking charge as I was on a motorcycle, but also let me leave the bike on hard standing really close to the exit. Last year I had to park amongst the cars on grass, and had worries about the bike being knocked over in the dark as the cars jostled to leave at the end of the day. I bought my day ticket from the box office, but found that I had to pay £45, six pounds more than the pre-sale price. Note to self - remember to make a decision a bit quicker next year, and book online.

By the time the gates opened at midday a reasonable, but not extensive, queue had formed and many seemed to have come well prepared with folding chairs as well as umbrellas. I had neither. I guess it goes with the demograph of the Reload audience. Whilst Latitude has a healthy mix of teenagers, families and aging rockers, the showground audiences are definitely more polarised. The youngsters come to Sundown, largely leaving Reload the following weekend to their mums and dads. Other than that the setup is remarkably similar - the stage gets a second weekend of use before being dismantled and shipped off elsewhere, the campsite takes in a slightly less rowdy crowd, and there are a considerable number of touring and motor caravans present.

The first act is due on stage at 1.00pm, and the rush is not to stand at the front, right up against the stage, but to claim pole position behind the track that forms a semi-circle about 100 metres back. Folding chairs are being erected in little clusters until all the spaces have been filled. From here there is an uninterrupted view of the stage, safe in the knowledge that no-one is going to pitch up immediately in front of you and spoil your view. Personally, old habits die hard. I position myself directly underneath the stage for an eight-hour marathon of craning upwards, but preferring to get up-close and personal, and able to see the whites of the eyes.

I have not paid out for a lanyard with laminated running times, so have to depend on the stage announcements to confirm the order of bands, although there is only the one stage so I am unlikely to miss anything unless I nod off. Besides, I know that Boomtown Rats are headlining, and the rest I can find out from the punters next to me.

First band up is to be Altered Images, who released three amazing albums in the eighties, and were one of John Peel's favourite artists. I am a little disappointed to find that this is not the original band line up, but merely the lead singer Clare Grogan accompanied by two female backing vocalists and performing to a backing track. Still, having missed the chance to see Kylie Minogue perform earlier this year at Newmarket Racecourse, I take consolation from getting to see my other fantasy female from the 80's, star of Gregory's Girl and Kristine Kochanski from the cult comedy 'Red Dwarf''. She has also appeared in Eastenders, and became one of the first 'video-DJs' on the satellite channel VH1.

Grogan's vocals are not always spot-on, some of the choreography gets hopelessly out of synch at one point, and she forgets the words to one of the band's greatest hits, but everything is forgiven when she is obviously having so much fun, engaging with the crowd, and winning everybody over with the same pop-pixie charm that made her everybody's sweetheart over thirty years ago. Married to former band member Stephen Lironi for twenty years, and now mother to adopted daughter Elle, Clare Grogan resolutely refuses to accept getting old, and tells the audience to do the same. She performs all the bands former hits, and also delivers a cover version of Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Up'. As she explained, "You have to keep things up to date". She brings Elle onto stage for the final number, 'Happy Birthday'. A lovely mother-and-daughter moment.

I knew that Katrina Leskanich used to be the Katrina of Katrina and the Waves, runaway winners of the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest with 'Love Shine a Light', written by the band's guitarist Kimberley Rew. He also wrote the 1985 million seller 'Walking On Sunshine'. What I did not know is that Katrina's father had been in the US Air Force based in Norfolk, and that they had lived in Feltwell before moving to Mildenhall. Her sister still lives in Nacton.

Katrina now performs with her own band rather than with 'The Waves', so although we got to see her perform 'those' two songs as well as the one which later became a hit for The Bangles (Going Down to Liverpool), we are not getting any of the original band members. I guess that is going to be the case for most of this Reload Festival, and most other 'reunion' or 'retro' pop events. Very few bands will stay with the same lineup for 30 years, any more than a football club will field the same team for that length of time. It is commonplace for bands from the 60's, 70's and 80's to continue performing with few, if any, of the original members. I guess I am just going to have to accept that.

To Katrina's credit she still has a belting good voice, and plays a mean guitar. She is not afraid to give us the new songs from her recent album 'Blisland', and I have to say the tracks are very good. 'Sun Coming Upper' is introduced as an updated 'Walking On Sunshine', and 'Texas Cloud' is a nod to her American roots. Think back to a mixture of Pat Benatar and Chrissie Hynde and you will get an idea of what to expect.

Next up are another previous UK Eurovision Song Contest winner, or three quarters of one anyway. There are currently two versions of Bucks Fizz touring and performing. One is still fronted by original band member Bobby G, whilst the other now features the other three original members finally back together again. It is this version featuring Cheryl Baker, Jay Aston and Mike Nolan, together with Bobby McVay (previously of 80's band Sweet Dreams) that is performing at Reload.

Whilst they all look a bit older than they did when they won Eurovision in 1981 (and who doesn't), they have all been performing the hits long enough to know them back to front and standing on their heads. And so it is that we get to hear the likes of 'When We Were Young', 'The Land of Make Believe' and 'My Camera Never Lies', before finishing with the inevitable 'Making Your Mind Up'. And yes, they do still rip the skirts off at the end. Brave girl, Cheryl, who by now is almost qualified  to take over from Barbara Windsor as a 'National Treasure'.


Still no sign or mention of Red Box (remember 'Lean on Me' and 'For America' ?). Instead we next get 'The Beat', or a version of the 80's 2-tone ska revival band from Birmingham. Again there are two versions in existence - one led by original vocalist and guitarist Dave Wakeling, and the other led by original singer Ranking Roger and featuring his son Ranking Junior. The other band members have all gone their merry ways, so whichever version you see will consist of just one original. The rest will effectively be new recruits.

We get the version led by dreadlocked Ranking Roger, and you have to admit he is probably the coolest guy at the whole of Reload. Dressed in a long black frock coat and bondage trousers he runs effortlessly through the setlist, and runs energetically across stage, criss crossing with son Ranking Junior in a rather natty suit. There is a wonderful cover of The Clash's 'Rock The Casbah' before ending with probably The Beat's greatest hit, 'Mirror In The Bathroom'.

Jimmy Somerville brings on an amazing array of musicians to back his set, and the result is awesome. The former Bronski Beat and Communards singer still has the most incredible falsetto voice, and certainly shows the current crop of bands like Wild Beasts, Everything Everything and Alt J how to do it properly. With a back catalogue of hits to draw from that includes his own 'Small Town Boy'  as well as covers of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes' 'Don't Leave Me This Way' and Sylvester James' 'You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)', his performance is a real high-energy barnstormer that leaves the crowd baying for more. A total and absolute pleasure and triumph.

Making a return visit to Reload after his appearance last year Mr Rick Astley is met with a (choreographed?) shower of women's lingerie thrown from the audience. He not surprisingly milks the female adulation for all that it is worth, but even he seems strangely bemused by some of the animated attention from elements within the audience, even pausing mid-song to jokingly remonstrate with one fan, " I am trying to do a gig here!". He still looks good as he admits to us that he will be fifty years old next year, and the voice still has the power and strength that it did when 80's hitmakers Stock Aitken Waterman took him from studio tea-boy to recording 'Never Gonna Give You Up'. Not my cup of tea, but then I don't throw bras on stage either.

Once Level 42 take the stage I know the game is up as far as Red Box are concerned. Perhaps I misread the lineup before I left home this morning. Perhaps they were actually on yesterday? All I know is that there is no way that Simon Toulson-Clarke's band were going to play above Mark King's thumb-drumming bass guitar work on any bill this side of Uranus.

Still featuring original keyboards player Mike Lindup alongside the legendary bass guitarist Mark King, the current line up of jazz-funk legends Level 42 is still pretty impressive, not least because of the immense back catalogue of hits. So many in fact that it is necessary to squeeze some of them into medleys just to make it onto the setlist. King's bass playing is mesmerising to watch up close, although I'm not quite sure why his custom-made guitar actually needs eight knobs, as well as an array of LED lights along the neck. I guess nobody is going to argue that he shouldn't be allowed as many knobs and lights as he wants. There is one slight hiccough when one of Lindup's keyboards fails to work, causing a number to be curtailed early. King's retort that he was "pleased it wasn't me that screwed up this time" wasn't convincing if intended as a jest. At the end of the day, though, how often do you get to see a guitar legend in Norwich?

And so we came to the headlining act. I missed Boomtown Rats at Latitude this summer, preferring instead to go and watch Kwabs and Young Fathers in the big-top BBC Radio 6 Stage. However, my admiration for Geldof goes way back to my first year at university in London when his arrogant arrival on the punk scene with the Rats and 'Lookin' After No1' made us all sit up and take notice of the Dublin upstarts. This was a good eight years before his famous "Give us yer fuckin' money" rants on LiveAid and his public profile being raised almost to that of deity. I still remember him as a loud-mouthed Irish pretender to Johnny Rotten's gnarled and venomous crown. His idea that we were all caught in a 'Rat Trap' is as valid now as it was then. It is just unfortunate that his beliefs and immeasurable good work with LiveAid have been overshadowed with so much personal tragedy.

It is therefore a rumbustious snarling snakeskin-suited Geldof that takes to the stage, a 63 year old elder statesman forced to maintain the stage persona of a reactionary 25 year old punk. Lead guitarist Garry Roberts, bassist Pete Briquette and original drummer Simon Crowe remain. Only guitarist Gerry Coot and keyboards player Johnnie Fingers (the one who always wore pyjamas onstage) are missing. The young woman next to me seems quite concerned by Geldof's antics and seems convinced that he must be stoned. 'Nah, it's all part of the act, just snarl back at him', I reply.

The set contains all of the hits, but Geldof's interludes and messianic rants do seem a tad odd, and I can see why the performance divides opinion amongst the audience. Personally, I viewed it all as the mark of a showman, a bit like the old Alice Cooper 'murdering' babies on stage, or Ozzy Osborne biting the head off a 'live' chicken. Rock and Roll is supposed to shock, as well as entertain. Once you are too old to do that, then you are too old to 'Reload'.

PS - Does anybody know what happened to Red Box?

Friday, 11 September 2015

Rainbow Girls at Norwich Arts Centre

I admit I was a little sceptical and unsure what to make of Rainbow Girls, a female five piece formed in California five years ago. I immediately thought of sunshine, beaches, surf, then San Francisco and the Summer of Love, and finally Hollywood, Los Angeles and all those manufactured bands like Josie and The Pussycats. Was this going to be merely a pre-packaged surfing/hippy/high school prom band sent over to Europe to sell a few records and posters?

Well, first lets correct a few things. Firstly, they are not the product of a large studio or record label. Although they are from California and began by busking around Santa Barbara, they crossed the pond, sofa-surfed their way around Europe writing songs and playing wherever they could. They signed to a specialist agency in the UK called Blue House Music, home to amongst others Marty O'Reilly, Raevennan Husbandes, Lewis and Leigh, and The Black Feathers (all of whom have played the Norwich Arts Centre) as well as Norfolk's own The Vagaband. They have released two albums, both crowd-funded, and although not yet world famous they have headlined their own show at San Francisco's famous Fillmore. Now down to four members after Cheyenne Methmann left for pastures new, they are back in the UK touring before returning to California in October.

Any band that gets to return to Norwich Arts Centre must have made a good impression first time around, and judging by the number of repeat ticket sales they must have made an impressive debut here last year. They are no showbiz divas either, and can be seen mixing with the audience during the support act's set and whilst setting up the stage. They greet photographer Richard Sashamane like an old friend, and he gets a special shout-out later on in their set.

Local favourites 'Feral Mouth' kick off the evening, well four of them anyway. Dobro player Noel is missing, and frontman Jape is sporting a baseball cap and leaving his familiar vaping trail. Banjo player Gareth appears to have lost his trademark John Deere cap. Maybe it is being used elsewhere in the county by a hard-working combine harvester driver. Amazing set as ever, and their last appearance in Norwich this year, apparently.

Rainbow Girls receive a big welcome on stage, and within a few minutes I realise why so many have returned to see them a second time. Their stampy style of folk rock, infused with elements of gypsy, americana, funk, soul and good old rock and roll are just the sort of thing a Norwich audience loves. Great playing, beautiful vocal harmonies, and a ramshackle stage banter and a succession of line-up changes that may not always be slick but is always endearing. These are obviously not just great musicians, but great friends also. 'Yuba', from the new album 'Perceptronium' was written on hearing the news that Cheyenne was leaving the band, and displays the bond that clearly still exists between them all. Yes, they are all good looking girls, but it is the musicality and 'joie de vie' that they exude that impresses the most. The track 'No Girls Allowed', again from 'Perceptronium', reinforces the message that all the years of talented female musicians struggling to be taken seriously is now hopefully now a phenomenon of the past.

Good luck to Rainbow Girls. I arrived without high expectations, but left suitably impressed. Catch them if you can before they return Stateside. For a list of upcoming gigs, or to buy the albums, check out their website at

Likewise, for information and music from Feral Mouth, go to or

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Bendrix - The Hendrix Project by Benji Kirkpatrick (Performed at Norwich Arts Centre)

There is nothing new or unusual about an album of cover versions. In my own collection I immediately think of 'Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel' and Elaine Paige's 'The Queen Album'. In addition, a plethora of albums have been released giving the orchestral treatment to contemporary songs in a 'Classic Rock' style. Entire albums have been re-worked, often as projects commissioned by music magazines like Mojo using lesser known recording artists to re-interpret works by legendary artists like The Beatles or Pink Floyd. What makes 'Hendrix Songs' different from most of these is the methodology which Benji Kirkpatrick, a respected singer songwriter and member of folk supergroup Bellowhead, has adopted in producing an album of Jimi Hendrix songs.

Kirkpatrick acknowledges Hendrix as his first musical icon, and for some time has included Hendrix material in his live sets. What he wanted to do next was strip away the showmanship and the virtuoso guitar work and expose the sensitive songwriting that lay beneath. Mostly using the bazouki, a long-necked Greek mandolin with a sharp metallic tone, as his instrument of choice, Kirkpatrick has taken twelve classic Hendrix songs and re-arranged them as acoustic versions in a folk style that highlights the lyrical beauty of the work. Aided with a grant from Arts Council England, the project has resulted in an album, 'Hendrix Songs', to be released on September 18th. Kirkpatrick is currently touring a show to promote the album, as well as to give some insight into the project. The first night of the tour was at Norwich Arts Centre.

Benji Kirkpatrick performs a show of two halves, firstly a set drawn largely from his own material, followed by the second set consisting wholly of the Hendrix material. Whilst he is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, switching easily from guitar to bazouki, to mandolin, to banjo, then back again to guitar, his own songs are probably average at best, and this is an audience that is here primarily to hear Hendrix. The applause is therefore polite rather than ovational, which probably does not help to settle an already nervous performer. The delays in tuning each instrument, an irritating (nervous?) cough, and an unrelaxed introduction to each song makes for a difficult first half. 'Flyover' from the album 'Boomerang' is probably his most interesting song, although a bazouki version of the Hendrix instrumental 'Third Stone From The Sun' and a rendition of the Billy Roberts folk song 'Hey Joe' on mandolin manage to keep the audience's attention. (The latter two numbers were excluded from the scope of the Bendrix set by virtue of being an instrumental and a song originally covered by Hendrix.)

The second half of the show consists entirely of Hendrix material, and included all twelve of the songs featured on the album, largely on bazouki, switching just the once to mandolin for 'Hey Joe' and later, in the encore, to banjo for 'Voodoo Child (Slight Return)'. Interestingly, the set includes some lesser known Hendrix songs, including 'Stone Free' (the original B-side to 'Purple Haze'), and 'Burning of the Midnight Lamp' (the less successful than expected fourth single). The highlight for me is a beautiful version of the love song 'The Wind Cries Mary'. One of Hendrix's most famous recordings, 'All Along the Watchtower' is omitted by virtue of it being a Bob Dylan song. To perform it within the project parameters would therefore have been an example of re-inventing the wheel.

Mention should also be made of the projected artwork commissioned from, and created by, Shropshire artist Esther Thorpe. There was a tendency to over-use the kaleidoscopic treatment of her gentle and interesting designs, presumably to suggest a 'psychedelic' feel to the evening. Personally, I would have preferred to have seen the imagery faded in and out in its entirety more often. The pastel imagery of Hendrix's face was beautifully done, but much of the rest seemed unfairly hidden from us.

Once again in the second half, Kirkpatrick's nerves seemed to be a problem, which is a shame because the fascinating biographical information he delivers between songs comes over as 'stilted factual' rather than 'relaxed conversational'. Put it down to the first night. The playing, though, is impressively virtuosic, and the voice is strong and confident throughout. All in all, an impressive and interesting evening for any fan of either Jimi Hendrix or folk music in general.

The tour continues throughout the UK, and full details can be found at , together with more information about Benji Kirkpatrick and his music.

'Hendrix Songs' is released on September 18th, and can be pre-ordered from Amazon at