To me they are certainly one of the most exciting mixed duos around: The Black Feathers. The great thing about seeing them live is that they are courageous enough to sing their harmonies so close or so apart to each other’s notes that it could easily go wrong, yet it never does. I saw them play live in a row of three nights on their European “New Roots” tour and each night was another outstanding experience of exquisite songwriting, daring harmonies and varied guitar accompaniments. The audiences loved them. On Feb 7th at the Destille in Dollerup near Flensburg, Ray Hughes and Sian Chandler didn’t have to win the audience of 120 people, because everyone was receptive and listening spot on. It seemd as if they had all checked this duo out before and sort of new what to expect and then were overwhelmed by the quality of their performance. They played songs from their critically acclaimed EP “Strangers we Meet”, several new songs that they hadn’t played in the UK before like the wonderfully dark “Blind” and some carefully chosen covers. The most enthusiastically received one probably being their fantastic delivery of “Spirit in the Sky” that they had done a great little video of just before they had started off their tour. They ended their night with the amazingly touching “You will be mine” which they played unplugged, again, a sign of taking any risk to entertain their audience to the utmost. No problem at all for those two accomplished and versatile singers with their incredibly well matching voices. Breathtaking: the a capella parts of their songs. One really can’t ask for more on a folk night out.
March 5th 2014 Ezio at Knust, Hamburg
The number of Ezio gigs that I attended isn’t countless but it’s high. And the effort that it usually takes to get to one is high, too – either flying over to England or travelling by train for many hours. Not once I regretted going. The kick off gig for their German tour in Hamburg on March 5th makes no exception. Ezio gigs are always different – repetition is not a characteristic of Ezio’s shows.
Ezio Lunedei is always different, too and he is always himself. He isn’t embarrassed to discuss what’s next – neither with Booga nor with his drummer, Lars Plogschties. He doesn’t like set lists, he said in Hamburg, simply because he wouldn’t be able to read them: “So what’s the point?” Indeed indeed. Isn’t it much better to let the audience participate in his choice of what’s next? Let them participate by letting them choose as well as by sharing his way of decision making with them like “after a sad song I always feel I should play something to make you all feel happy again”?
This particular show in Hamburg was a special one too because it wasn’t only the kick off gig for the current tour but also the album launch of “Adam and the Snake”. It was a very special one also because it had to do without their absolutely irreplaceable guitarist Booga. Ezio and Booga have been performing together for about 20 years – they are like one on stage, completely understanding each other without any words.
Ezio still didn’t have to manage all on his own because he is lucky enough to have the most incredible drummer play for him like he did on their last three albums (including the new one) and on several gigs in Germany and England: Lars Plogschties. Lars is an amazingly intuitive musician. And that’s probably why those two do so incredibly well together. Both feel nothing but disgrace for rehearsing – it gives them a headache. So Lars often had to guess, or rather sense what to play – and he did that brilliantly. Rehearsing wouldn’t make much sense without a set list anyway nor with Ezio’s choice to spontaneously play old songs (30 and confused, Deeper), song requests during the 2nd encore (Agony, Cinderella) or brand new songs that have never been performed before. One of the two in Texas newly written songs had a fantastically fresh and wide ranging melody and moody lyrics asking something like “you say I always think of myself first – so why do I always end up worst?” – who wouldn’t know how that feels… This song will hopefully make it onto the next album that Ezio is already having on his mind. (Another song written in Texas last year, “Hey little Girl” didn’t make it onto the new album – but was however played on the night with obvious enjoyment.)
The majority of songs on the brand new album “Adam and the Snake” was presented on this night and the audience loved all of them. There is a new roughness, naturalness and darkness about them that suits Ezio very well. It’s just great when an artist’s music grows with his own age. The fans seemed to fully agree. Some Ezio audiences keep wanting all the old nearly hits and don’t seem to move forward in their musical taste like Ezio has moved forward in his musical productivity. The audience in Hamburg, although not as big as Ezio’s audiences in the South West of Germany, was fully prepared to move onwards together with a musical mind that one dares to call a genuine songwriting genius.
What came as a true and complete surprise was when Ezio handed a guitar over to Lars and made him play the chords for a couple of wonderful and rarely played songs from the first Ezio album: Just to talk to you again and Tuesday Night. Wait a minute, Lars Plogschties on guitar? Yes indeed and it worked very well, even in addition to some simultaneous bass drumming. And, what is more, it gave Ezio the opportunity to play some lovely guitar solos on his acoustic guitar that are not so often heard either.
Another unique Ezio gig – special, authentic and unforgettable – that’s what they all have in common.
Gig review John Smith at the Musician Pub in Leicester Nov 17th 2013
After quite a long row of support acts as Steve Parker, Samuel Idwal and Martin from the Lake Poets, John Smith finally came on stage to play. I’ve been fond of his music ever since I have heard him play a cover on a John Martyn tribute album. And his set in Leicester convinced me of it: He seems a worthy successor of the great singer songwriter genius who died in 2009. This is not only due to his soft and a bit rough voice, his exciting guitar playing and the elegant simplicity of many of his melodies but also due to his captivating stage appearance. John Smith’s amazing guitar playing, his heartfelt vocals, beautiful lyrics and his own enthusiasm for music seem to melt into one engaging unity of musical performance. This is so convincing also because he is amazingly self confident and takes every song in its very own time but he also radiates such appreciation for his audience and manages to communicate easily and warm with them.
John Smith gives every song the space to enfold. Often he steps back in singing and just lets his guitar speak. Sometimes, like in “Freezing Winds of Change”, he just stamps with his feet and sometimes he just sings without any accompaniment like in “Great Lakes”. His audience was very appreciative and followed him in everything he did.
John Smith has a great variety of playing his guitar as became especially evident while performing “From Town to Town” where he also used a slide at times. While performing this song it suddenly occurred to me that a band backing him up would really spoil the whole thing.
Most highly expected by myself was John’s astonishing song “Axe Mountain”. Its lyrics are the most cruel ones I have ever heard. Sung by John Smith with such devotion they mirror the despair of the people involved so convincingly that it’s hard not to be completely drawn into it. Speaking to a listener who felt similarly intrigued by the song I learned that this song also holds an underlying meaning beneath the story told: The despair and sadness over the experience not to be able to protect your partner appropriately.
Most of the songs performed on this night were from John’s wonderful new album “Great Lakes”, less were played from earlier albums like “Axe Mountain” of the album “One Direction” or his rather well-known “Winter” of his first album “Fox and the Monk”. In all, seeing John Smith play life is something definitely worth doing, you will miss something out if you don’t. Check upcoming tourdates here: http://johnsmithjohnsmith.com/
Venue: Tonder Festival
To be honest – John Fullbright was the reason for me to buy a Saturday ticket for the Tønder Festival’s 40th anniversary. I knew he is good and I had heard he is amazing live and I was still overwhelmed by the intensity and musicality of his performance. He seems to live in every single note that he plays and seems to breathe every single word that he sings. It’s as if the music uses him as a medium to incarnate. He started with „Satan and St Paul“ and ended with „Forgotten Flowers“ as a second encore. Afterwards people thanked him with standing ovations. Everybody in the room was moved and touched and followed his performance with concentration and devotion, including the staff.
When it started raining heavily outside the cosy tent that kept roughly 500 people, he decided to play us a rain song and played the set’s only cover, „Rain just falls“ – a wonderful song by David Halley that obviously suited the situation perfectly. After half an hour he changed over to the piano and when you think him great on the guitar you are lost for words when he starts playing the piano. Songs like“Highroad“ or „When you’re here“ are the finest pieces of songwriting ever and truly, the world would be poorer without them. Played on the piano those songs unfailingly move you to tears – and, honestly, I wasn’t the only one. When Fullbright was playing the more upbeat and somewhat angry „Gawd above“ his piano and harmonica were like the thunder and the lightning for the song.
John Fullbright from Okema, Oklahoma, is one of the most promising and most exciting artists you will find in the singer-songwriter genre these days. And simply unbelievable – he’s only 26. I wish him all the luck in the world and as much success as he can bear.
As to the other acts I was able to see on this one festival day, The Lone Bellow (US) was certainly my highlight. They had something fresh and new about them as well as a wild and beautiful female mandolin player (Karene Pipkin) that danced along like she was in a heavy metal band. That was wonderful. Also, Zach Williams Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin sang the most beautiful harmonies you can think of. Thiis was being done in a new, daring way, not as dusty or old fashioned as I sometimes perceive it elsewhere. Their songs have an exciting expressiveness about them I thought extraordinary, especially for a folk band. I also thought their stage show absolutely awesome and especially admired lead singer Zach Williams‘ energy, liveliness and also his loveliness in addressing the audience. They were being supported by two excellent musicians on bass (Jason Pipkin) and drums. Drummer Brian Griffin impressed me especially because of his powerful but at the same time amazingly laid back, really cool way to play. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHrvVd4sq90
Seth Lakeman was in great shape and seemed a bit confused that the audience wasn’t as excited and dancing and everything like he is used to from his audiences in the UK where he headlines whole festivals like the Ely Folk Festival last year. But he did a good job convincing them and had brought his excellent band that helped himhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_yd1DSBHxk
A completely new discovery for me was a Danish Band called Folkeklubben. They were extraordinary. They mix elements of folk, rock and psychedelic in such an innovative way that it seems hard to think of anything similar – maybe Elbow comes to mind, if anything. They are also a trio and basically rely on two guitars and a bit of drumming and their fantastic unconventional harmonies as well as some keyboard here and there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBudp0EmbDM
Benjamin Folke Thomas
Once I’ve come across Benjamin Folke Thomas‘ music by reviewing his first full length studio album for this website I’ve been intrigued by the diversity and genuineness of his song-writing. Only 26-year-old, he has developed a stunning repertoire of original songs – most of them recorded on one self-titled studio EP (2011), one live album „Equinox“ (2012) and the most recent „Too close to here“ (2013).
On June 27th I had the pleasure of hearing him and his guitarist Henning Sernhede play live at one of his first German shows. It took place in a bookstore on a North Sea island called Sylt as part of a concert series that happens once a year. Benjamin Folke Thomas captured the audience’s attention at once and played an unforgettable 1.5 hours set followed by several encores. His stage presence and intensity of performance adds to my conviction of him being a huge talent in the alternative music scene. He played his songs with spontaneous variations – none of his songs is ever performed in the same way. This makes it obviously hard for anyone to sing backing vocals on his shows. However, his fellow musician Henning Sernhede, a successful singer and guitarist in his home country Sweden, managed well – intuitively as well as on grounds of experience and knowing his friend well enough.
The two Swedes met at a Danish Rock Festival when they were 16 and started to make music together five years ago, during Benjamin’s seven London years. Henning Sernhede is an outstanding musician in all sorts of styles and instruments (e-guitar, mandolin, lap steel guitar) and he is the perfect musical match for Benjamin’s rough and powerful way of singing and playing guitar. When I say rough I refer to his style, not to his skills. Benjamin Folke Thomas plays his acoustic guitar with virtuosity and ecstatic speed and in a fascinating variety of techniques. It’s performed with a lively naturalness that makes the songs sound a bit rough at the edges which is exciting. The same applies to his vocals – but then they never lose their warm baritone timbre. He radiates endless energy and such a connectedness to music that makes you wonder. It seems as he had not only listened to his musical predecessors like Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon or Hank Williams but actually inhaled and digested their music. So when he played the Warren Zevon song „Play it all night long“ it sounded even more intense, more forceful and, though really contradictory, somehow just as genuine as its original.
Over a hundred listeners followed their performance in a concentrated and moved manner – they were touched by the poetic lyrics, entertained by the diversity of styles and varying instrumentations and amazed by the musicianship of the two Swedes. Songs from the new album like „Let her down“, „Postcard from Cazal“ or the upbeat „Fire“ seemed to resonate in them – these songs don’t tell stories as much as they evoke some kind of reminiscence or emotional awareness in those listening. „Someday“, also from the new album, played around with musical quotations of Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing and then there were songs like „Nothing next to you“ that have a country vibe around them which made people tap their toes and nod their heads. Three new songs were on the setlist that sounded great and so right that each of them tempted me to wonder whether it might be an unfamiliar cover, yet they were nothing but new brilliant material from a truly talented songsmith.
Benjamin and Henning worked fantastic as a duo but then Benjamin Folke Thomas would always be able to captivate his audience within minutes. He will play his only solo UK show in the Green Note in London on July 23rd and will then have some gigs with the full band in August. One of them will be at the Cropredy Festival on August 8th which will secure him the size of an audience that he deserves. Go and catch him if you can, well recommended.
28th Ely Folk Festival
Date: 12-14th July
Website: http://www.elyfolkfestival.co.ukAs Adrian Nation, singer-songwriter from Essex put it – the best thing about Ely Folk Festival is that there are no hierarchies. „There is no them and us, it doesn’t make a difference whether you are an artist or a guest or a member of staff, everybody treats everybody in the same respectful way.“ Adrian Nation has been one of the many artists that stayed longer than just for his own two gigs. He enjoyed being part of the whole thing, meeting people that had listened to him and meeting artists backstage that he had been listening to. Because Ely Folk Festival is a rather small festival (1500 sold tickets), there is an intimacy, a feeling of closeness to each other that has been remarkable indeed. Everyone literally talked to everyone.
It was a family friendly festival with good access for people in wheelchairs, kids were very welcome and had lovely playing facilities and well behaved dogs were also allowed. There were tents with very good food, a beer tent with very good beer, there was plenty of water for little money and an excellent and well frequented coffee to go shop. And there was the most wonderful weather, the only thing that Terry Walden, as one of 5 directors, couldn’t take care of during the months of preparation from October 2012. When asked what kept him going in difficult times during the many years of his entirely voluntary work he didn’t have to think about the answer: „The love for the music“. When dancing backstage during Ely’s own Boo Hewerdine’s and Brooks Williams‘ brilliant performance you could see this love, this passion for the music. You could also see relief and and pure joy about a festival that has been going so fantastically well.
It’s impossible to give an overview of what happened in three marquees (and a beer tent). So let me just mention a few as representatives for the amazing quality and musicianship that Ely had to offer. The headliner Seth Lakeman was but impressive. He was in charge of the audience. He made them dance and kept them going, he radiated and transferred pure enthusiasm to his listeners. His violin playing when playing without his excellent band was especially fascinating. Just one man and a violin – in complete control of over 700 people!
Elbow Jane and Other Roads were convincing because of their stage appearance, their harmonies and their engaging songs. Their songs are about emotions and experiences that everybody can relate to. This applies to most of this weekend’s music and might be one of the charms of music on the whole: Listeners recognize and rediscover what they have felt themselves and connect to it. It definitely also applied to the songs of two outstanding songwriters: Dave Gerard and Ezio Lunedei. Dave Gerard performed as singer and drummer in his band Gerard and the Watchmen. Sue Marchant (BBC) who was comparing announced him as one of the upcoming folk artists that will be big in the UK – and overseas, too, one would like to add. He played songs from the EP „Climb the tree“ and we can really look forward to the debut album coming out on Oct 13th. In two fantastic sets Ezio amazed their audience with playing lots of new, unreleased songs that went down extremely well and for the first time long-time listeners didn’t keep asking for well-known songs from years ago but were keen on listening to all the new stuff.
Talking to Ezio Lunedei about their new material he said: „The new songs are about things that are in my mind now, according to my age, my situation in life. It’s probably the same things that have been on my father’s mind when he was my age and it will probably be the same things that will be on my son’s mind when he is my age.“ Describing over all feelings that have been felt for generations might be what music and especially folk music is all about and it’s what Ely has been about: We are touched and captivated by songs that tell us our own stories or the stories of our fathers. And we enjoy these songs as a crowd rather than on our own and together with the people that perform them for us. It’s been magic. Thank you, Ely.
Pictures: David Streatfield.