Saturday, 9 July 2016

The Murderers Host Host (and Epia, and Soyuz Rats)

Oh, how I would love it if Norwich post-rock experimentalists Host were ever to play Burnham Market. Then I could headline my blog entry with Hoste Arms Host Host, ore even better, Hoste Arms Host Leg of Host Tour. But I am being silly, and I digress.

I have arrived at The Murderers in Timber Hill in good time for tonight's Odd Box live music night. The first bands tend to start around nine o'clock, but promoter Georgie is busying herself whilst soundchecks are finalised. Grabbing myself a pint of Woodfordes Wherry as I pass the bar, I take up position near the corner stage ready for the first act.

Soyuz Rats

The evening opens with Soyuz Rats, a band I haven't seen since they supported Eagulls at the Arts Centre earlier this year. Live it consists of Rob Burton and Chris Richford channelling live energy from electric guitar and bass into a soundcape of drumloops, samples and growling vocals that veers from punk to metal to rock like a weather vane spinning on a blustery day. There's so many influences in the mix that it is hard to keep up, but Rob and Chris have it all under control, with much hitting of effects pedals and turning of knobs. A quite awesome set, and a polished blend of live instrument and pre-recorded sound. There's stuff to listen to and download at


I believe that I saw Epia play their very first set here at The Murderers earlier in the year, and I am pleased to report that tonight's gig was no less chaotic, with a vintage synthesiser crashing to the floor during the soundcheck, and the set being halted mid-way in order to find a longer cable for the drummer's headphones. Even Mark Jennings apology to the audience comes through a distorted microphone making his voice sound like Mickie Mouse on helium. But when it all comes together, and all that electronic energy is harnessed, and Andrew and Christian are on board, the effect is mesmerising and a satisfying moment to savour. A bit like in the old days of the circus, when the lion tamer finally has all the giant cats sitting on the right platforms. It is a rich mix of live guitars and drums weaving a path alongside Jennings' keys and all melting into the collection of samples and programmed rhythms emerging via the circuit boards and laptop memories. There's a brilliant album of their music, Local Closures, featuring tracks from both Epia and Mark Jennings' other band Broads. Download at


Last, and certainly not least, come tonight's headliners Host, a band that I last saw at another Odd Box night earlier this year at The Murderers after having finished my volunteer box office shift at Norwich Arts Centre. I arrived that night having sadly missed Mari Joyce and Hot Raisin, and I was actually lucky to see as much of Host's set as I did, but I loved the way that Lorna's vocals carried, and how the combination of Jack on guitar, Steve on synths and Dan on drums seemed to be each bringing something special to the sound.

Tonight's set starts slowly, and it is a couple of songs in before Lorna's voice has really loosened up. She is sipping from a bottle that she claims contains a mixture of camomile tea and honey, but looks more like the kind of fluid that gets lobbed towards the stage at Download when audience are getting restless. Each song is counted in on the sticks by Dan, who then keeps the rhythm hot whilst Steve adds in the synths and Jack plays with the kind of electric guitar work that at any moment threatens to spin off into a classic old-fashioned rock solo.

But Host are a band that are a great example of that clichĂ© the 'sum of the individual parts', and it is when all four are in full flow together that the ethereal beauty and driving rhythm of their music truly shines. They get better and better as the set progresses. By the time we get to the last song the audience have really got behind them, and an encore is inevitable. They do not get to play live that often, and the next performance is not until September at The Owl Sanctuary, so make a note to check that date. In the meantime, there's music to download at

Soyuz Rats Facebook :

Epia Facebook :

Host Facebook :

Odd Box Promotions Facebook :

The Murderers Facebook :

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Rise of Morganway - EP Launch at Norwich Arts Centre

It doesn't seem possible that over 18 months have passed since I first saw Morganway play at Norwich Arts Centre. Even back then the Rumours (ha, ha, please excuse the pun) were that these guys would be Norfolk's answer to Fleetwood Mac. I didn't like the comparison then, and I don't like it now, but I can kind of see where folks were coming from. What I did realise back then was that vocalist Yve Mary B had a cracking voice, and that the songs were all strong and came with great arrangements.

Fast forward to 2016 and Morganway are back at Norwich Arts Centre, headlining a Tilting Sky event that also sees possibly one of the last live appearances by other local favourites Addison's Uncle, Cambridge country star SJ Mortimer, and Norwich singer Liberty Popey.

Liberty Popey

The event kicks off promptly after the doors open at 7.30, even though rumour has it that thousands are still attending a pro-EU rally outside Norwich's City Hall. You will remember that 56 % of Norwich voted to Remain, and whilst the meeting is unlikely to change the result, the gesture of solidarity has done the city and its people proud. Liberty Popey is therefore possibly not playing to as many people as a slightly later slot would have allowed. She plays acoustic guitar and performs mostly covers of contemporary songs by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Rihanna, and it is the latter whose voice is most suited to, not just through gender, but also because of the throaty soulful quality of her singing, and the interesting acoustic treatment. In fact, if she sang nothing but Rihanna and BeyoncĂ© covers all evening I would have been quite happy. Perhaps it was nerves, but it was a shame that she chose not to engage with the audience at all, or introduce her choice of songs. Check out her videos on YouTube.

SJ Mortimer and 'The Band'

SJ Mortimer is a young country singer from Cambridge, a graduate of Southampton University, and already has a Nashville-recorded album under her belt. "Nashville Sessions" was recorded in 2014 through a combination of hard work, self-funding, and of course, some great songs. She plays Cambridge Folk Festival later this month, but tonight is the first time I have had the chance to hear her sing in Norwich.


She appears tonight with a really tight five-piece band that lines up on electric guitar, bass, fiddle, banjo and drums and is really well rehearsed - not at all like a  'backing band', yet that is how they are introduced. SJ (I know it sounds more American, but it would be nicer to be able to refer to her by her full name) certainly has one of the best country voices that I have heard in a long time, and belts out the words to songs about whiskey ('Fireball'), Tennessee ('Smoky Mountains'), and even bad Tinder experiences ('Play The Game') with the heart and soul of Dolly Parton and Joss Stone rolled into one smiling package. 'American Dream' sums up well the aspirations of this rising star.

Addison's Uncle

I've lost count of the number of times that I have seen Addison's Uncle play over the last few years, but I never tire of hearing Philip Pearson's songs of Norfolk tales and traditions, and of course the legendary route from Great Yarmouth to Cromer. I obviously blame the start of work on Norwich's own road to nowhere, our hugely expensive Northern Distributor Route, for Pearson and the band's recent announcement to part company at the end of the summer.

I know that many of the members of Addison's Uncle are already active with other projects - James Maas' new band Mammal Not Fish is getting rave reviews, and Georgia Shackleton is heading up her own trio together with Aaren Bennett and Nic Zuppardi. I would like to thank all seven of them for some wonderful memories, and some great songs. Somehow 'I drove my old Sierra, round the Norwich NDR' will just never sound the same, or give as much pleasure. Thank you.

So, as one local band prepares to bow out another is definitely waiting in the wings to seize the crown. Morganway have almost filled the Arts Centre tonight with an enthusiastic crowd who are baying with anticipation by the time the band come on stage just before 10 o'clock. With their name emblazoned upon their drumskin, a member of SJ's band sporting the T-shirt, and their name projected in five foot high lettering onto the stage backdrop, this is one hell of an EP launch. This band really mean business. Yve Mary B (yet another singer shrouded in abbreviations) is dressed for the occasion in summery dress and flowing purple scarf, and is flanked by the brothers Morgan, whilst bass player, keyboards and drums take up positions further back.

The set is filled with songs from the new EP as well as other favourites, and whilst the sound is strongly influenced by the music of West Coast America, this is a band that is clearly proud of their North Norfolk roots, and rightly so. Even the CD cover artwork, which sports a silhouetted photograph of the band on the back of what looks like a Californian surfer van is, as anyone who has seen the video knows, in reality an agricultural dropside farm truck. The video for 'It Ain't Just' is filled with Norfolk green and yellow, and I'm talking rapeseed fields, not football.

The set is an absolute triumph, and the band are clearly taken aback by the reaction and the size of the crowd here tonight. It is hard to pick out one favourite track, but for me it has to be the rousing 'Hurricane', a maelstrom of a song that whirls and climbs into a frenzied climax. They are off to play the Secret Garden Party and the Reepham Festival before returning to The Plasterers in Norwich on August 14th, and I understand that Yve is playing a solo set at my local, The Royal Oak in Poringland, on September 11th.

Liberty Popey Facebook :
Liberty Popey YouTube videos

SJ Mortimer Facebook
SJ Mortimer website

Addison' Uncle website

Morganway Facebook
Morganway website

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Hip, hip. Hurray for the Rif Raff

Riffraff. A term that goes back to the 15th century, derived from the Anglo-French expression rif e raf, and meaning altogether or every single one. Now commonly used to refer to a group of undesirable persons or a rabble.

Well, just to reassure you, Tuesday night at Norwich Arts Centre was far from a rabble, and whilst Louisiana based folk-blues musician Alynda Segarra may have had a difficult childhood and spent a rebellious phase as a teenager, her message these days is certainly that of equality and togetherness. So it was a real pleasure to see her and her band arrive in Norwich. The visit could not have come at a better time. It definitely was a case of Hurray For The Riff Raff.

Support for the evening came from a nomadic duo, originally from Philadelphia, but nowadays more likely to be found touring the Americas in their beautiful 1961 Airstream trailer, which has also doubled up as mobile recording studio. They go by the name of Hymn for Her, and their set has just started as I walk into the crowded auditorium space of the Arts Centre. Already folks are dancing, and, behind a kickdrum emblazoned with the band's motif sits Wayne Waxing (love the name), thrashing the hi-hat, harmonica in mouth and furiously strumming at a beautifully decorated acoustic guitar. Oh, and he sings as well.

To the left struts Lucy Tight (again, great name), belting out the vocals and playing what looks like a three-stringed guitar made out of a broom handle and a cigar box. And, guess what? It is a guitar fashioned from a broom handle, three strings and an empty wooden cigar box. Apparently there's this guy called John Lowe in Memphis who makes them, and this one was a gift from him.

Whilst they initially look like renegades from The Dukes of Hazzard, together they create a sound that takes country music and rams down its throat the raw power of punk, the scuzz of grunge, and the trippy excesses of Led Zeppelin. It is hard to believe that two musicians can produce so much noise without backing tracks or a band. This is Southern Comfort infused with hot pepper sauce and mood-altering drugs to produce an infectious cocktail that will not let you go.  The mood lightens up slightly when nine year old daughter, Diver, is welcomed up on stage to provide vocals on a cute Willie Nelson cover, but otherwise their performance is a full-on 'Amish meets Hells Angels' mash-up. I buy a CD off the merch stand, and pick the excellent Smokin Flames as being the one that comes closest to re-creating that live sound.

Hymn for Her continue their tour of the UK and Ireland until July 26th (with a closing gig at London's troubadour), then head off for nine dates in Germany before returning 'home' to that gorgeous Airstream trailer.

Hurray For The Riff Raff get a huge welcome onto the stage, and immediately you realise quite what a following this band has. On the stage backdrop hang side-by-side the flag of Segarra's spiritual home, Puerto Rico, and the rainbow 'freedom' flag of love and diversity. The band lineup is quite rocky for those familiar with the earlier albums, and features electric guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. However, it is Alynda Segarra's vocals that dominate the sound, her voice twisting and worming its way right into the auditory cortex, lyrics that convey beauty and a whole lot more.

Ode to John and Yoko hints at Segarra's own musical influences, but it is the mournful tribute to similarly dark events in New Orleans that are poignently brought home in St Roch Blues.  And, of course, the recent horrors in Orlando are referred to in the introduction to another song from Small Town Heroes, the sadly too-late gun-control anthem The Body Electric. There are other, more upbeat, songs like the reflective Living in the City, about growing up in the Bronx, and the bluegrass-infused Blue Ridge Mountain, but these are always balanced by the reminders of social injustice. Daniella, for example movingly tells the tale of a girl subjected to domestic abuse, but then, in the encore, our spirits are raised by a cover of The Ronettes' Be My Baby, and a lovely happy-clappy Little Black Star.

It is four years since we last saw Hurray for the Riff Raff play Norwich, and it was certainly worth the wait. Hopefully we will not have to hang on so long for the next time around. From July 9th the band are back touring in the United States, with no further European dates currently scheduled.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Don't Lose Heart - There's Live Music at The Royal Oak

I hate to admit it, but pubs have been a big part of my life since long before I turned 18. So has live music. Call it a dangerous mixture, but in the words of Sir Elton, I'm Still Standing. Just.

I spent my teenage years in a bygone era, when 'photo-ID' was not automatically demanded each and every time I entered licensed premises. No, I grew up in a time when publicans made an unwritten contract with young drinkers - behave like an adult and I am happy to serve you. But, behave like an idiot and you will never darken my door again. By and large, I behaved, and grew up loving the conversation, the darts, the pool table and the bar billiards, and, above all, the live music that was served up alongside my gratefully received pints of ale.

The system worked well. It encouraged us, as teenagers, to behave like adults. Rather than getting pissed in the woods on cheap cider purchased from dodgy off-licences, we grew up learning how to drink sensibly, in comfortable surroundings and engaging in mature conversation and lively debate. And, if we were lucky, enjoying the live music as well.

That love of a pub atmosphere, and of live music, has stayed with me my entire adult life. The one thing that has changed my drinking habits has been the rightful and correct toughening up of the laws concerning drinking and driving. Nowadays, trips into the excellent live music venues within the city of Norwich and its vibrant pub music scene have to be moderated with a solitary pint before clambering on to my Piaggio for the drive home.

Imagine, therefore, my delight and pleasure upon finding that my local hostelry, The Royal Oak in Poringland, has decided to mimic some of my favourite Norwich haunts and lay on on a season of weekend live music during the summer. Just a couple of minutes walk from my house, a great range of beers, and only the crossing of the main road to negotiate after sampling a number of different ales.

First up on their programme last Sunday lunchtime was renowned local act Don't Lose Heart. Describing themselves as an 'acoustic-ish duo', they consist of songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Louisa Sadler, together with well-known local 'muso' Dickie Hartt, who for this performance played electric guitar (hence the tag 'acoustic-ish'). Well known on the Norwich folk and blues scene, and soon to be appearing at the Dereham Blues Festival, Don't Lose Heart play mostly original songs, but with a couple of respectful covers thrown in.

 There is a beautiful rendition of John Martyn's classic 'Going Home', and a lesser known version of Vintage Trouble's 'Nobody Told Me', showing where the influences and inspiration for Louisa Sadler's own songwriting is based. Her songs are rooted in the traditions of folk music, but introduce lyrical content based on contemporary experience. Personal favourites of mine were 'Calling Card', 'Just The Singer', 'Dragons', and finally the sad but true story of the Elvis impersonator in 'He Makes Her Feel'. She sings in a style that melds Americana to her natural, slightly husky tones, and as she strums her acoustic guitar Dickie Hartt overlays gentle electric flourishes. Together, it is a rewarding and beautiful accompaniment to a pint or three of Adnams bitter.

On a day when the legendary singer songwriter Carole King was wowing the Hyde Park crowds with a concert that saw her perform the 'Tapestry' album in its entirity, it would be easy to think that Poringland, six miles south east of Norwich, would not be in a position to compete. Maybe not, but Don't Lose Heart gave it their best shot. Even the table of locals, in for their regular Sunday lunchtime session, were engaged by Louisa's willingness to banter on almost any subject, and seemed suitably impressed. 

Thanks are indeed due to landlady Delia Perry for this push to bring quality live entertainment to the good folk of Poringland, and hopefully word will soon spread further afield as well. Having seen the acts already booked to appear later in the Summer, I can vouch for the quality of the upcoming line up - this is proper live entertainment, rather than karaoke singers performing to backing tracks, or third-rate tribute acts.

Get yourselves down to The Royal Oak sometime soon. If you live in Poringland or Framingham Earl this could be the best thing that has happened here in years. And if you live in the city and fancy a change of scenery, this could be a rewarding run out for you as well.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Electric Guitars, Broken Legs and Wooden Arms

It is eighteen months since someone tipped me the wink about an amazing local band called Wooden Arms, who were launching their new album at the Octagon Chapel during Norwich Sound and Vision 2014. It was a Friday night, as I recall, and I had been volunteering at the associated beer festival being held in St Margarets Church (if there's one thing better than a piss up in a brewery then it has to be a piss up in a deconsecrated church) just up the road from Norwich Arts Centre. By the time it got to nine o'clock I was certainly feeling thirsty (having watched large quantities of lovely real ales being quaffed all day within sight of my position), but opted instead to run over to Colegate to see what this band was all about.

By the time I got there the set was all but over, but I entered the Octagon Chapel just as Jeff Smith was starting the trumpet solo to 'December'. It was one of those defining 'goosebump' moments that stays with you for ever. Ironically, I believe that the only other track I got to hear that night was the album closer 'False Start', but I have had the pleasure to hear the band on several occasions since, and of course bought the album.

Tonight at the Norwich Arts Centre I am here to see Wooden Arms perform a rather special set to kick off their latest mini-tour that takes in London and the south coast in support of new single 'Burial'. Special in so far that support is from two local singers, both with extraordinary voices, and both who I first saw performing on the same bill back in 2014 during the highly successful Norwich Oxjam event at Bedfords. Their names - Phoebe Robinson and Milly Hirst.

 Phoebe Robinson

Phoebe Robinson, originally from North Walsham but now studying at Goldsmiths in London, was at the time a shy teenager with an acoustic guitar, but she blew me away with her cover of Beyonce's 'If I Was A Boy', as well as a number of heartfelt self-penned numbers. Tonight she opens at Norwich Arts Centre with an assured collection of old and new songs, performed this time with electric guitar. She also makes an announcement that this would be the last solo performance before launching her new musical project. The voice is every bit as good as I remember, soft and almost husky at times, yet capable of soaring into mezzo-soprano territory for moments of dramatic effect. Her songs are personal, almost painful at times, yet beautifully honest. She tackles issues of tragedy, loss and equality, not without the occasional trace of anger as well as regret, in songs about issues as diverse as the Orlando shootings, walking home alone at night, and nocturnal panic attacks. These all appear surprising brave for a young woman who chose to study a degree in 'Pop Music'. One to watch.

Milly Hirst

I actually saw Milly Hirst perform live before I saw Wooden Arms for the first time. Again, it was in the crypt at Bedfords, and I remember Milly apologising in advance as she had not performed any of her own songs live for some time. Not that she needed to have worried. She had the whole audience spellbound for the entire set, and didn't miss a trick. Tonight she is playing electric guitar live for the first time, and reveals that she has been anxious in the lead up to this set. Not that she needed to worry. Her gorgeous, almost pastoral vocals are given a new, contemporary feel with the new sound that can only propel her to more success, now that she can concentrate on finishing that long-promised debut album. She switches back to acoustic for the moving story of 'Mary', the grandmother whose love life recently revealed a previously hidden twist, and finally invites Wooden Arms on stage to turn the tables and provide long overdue accompaniment to one of her songs. A real treat of a set, and we now have permission to stop her in the street and nudge or prod her about getting that debut album completed. Official.

Wooden Arms are actually performing for the second time in two nights in Norwich. The previous evening saw them set up in the front room of a house in the north of the city for the first of the city's Sofar Sessions, guerilla gigs set up and announced at the last minute via the internet. Those present were treated to an acoustic set, as well as performances from riot-girl punk band Peach Club, and teenage singer-songwriter Maya Law. A great idea, and one that I hope catches on.

The line-up of Wooden Arms has changed several times over the years, and tonight's performance is no different. After six months with the band violinist Phoebe Fulbrook unfortunately broke her leg two days ago, and is out of action for this tour. Her place is taken by Connie for whom this is only her second show following her Sofar debut last night.

There is a mix of familiar and new songs in tonight's set, including the meloncholic single 'Burial' and my first hearing of 'Cole Porter', another epic with plenty of ballroom grandeur and flourishes from Alex on keyboards. But it is the older tracks, from the album 'Tide', that provide the prompt for Milly Hirst to join the band on stage and provide those glorious vocal harmonies that, for me, will always define the Wooden Arms sound.

 Jeff Smith, who provides that haunting trumpet on 'False Start' and also plays guitar, provides a lot more of the vocals on the new songs, and it is his voice that provides the perfect foil to Alex Carson, who has the ability to sound at times like Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson whilst mimicing Coldplay's Chris Martin behind the piano. Not that Carson is not the showman in his own right. His renowned sense of humour is never far away, and the trademark painted toenails are saved until late in the set when he finally kicks off his boots and removes the socks. His nervous energy is a force to be reckoned with, even if he does have trouble remembering his own setlist. There are a series of 'musical chair' moments as the band juggle positions between songs, including one song where Jeff ends up on acoustic guitar behind the Nord whilst Alex is plugging in the electric guitar.

The evening is a triumph, a fine moment to wish them well with the remainder of the tour. But we are not done yet. The encore is a cover of The Cure's 'Lullaby', a slightly scary song when performed by Robert Smith, but turned into a thing of sensual beauty when given the full Wooden Arms treatment. You may call him Mr. Fancy Pants (for that is how Alex referred to himself when introducing this song) but 'Lullaby' impresses through the interpretive processes involved in this version as much as in the delivery. We love all the Wooden Arms songs to bits, but would so love to hear some more covers like this as well, please. Onwards and upwards.