All posts by tonyrounce

KEEL HER – WITH KINDNESS: LP REVIEW by TONY ROUNCE

Keel Her is Winchester’s Rose Keeler-Schaffeler, and “With Kindness” is a long overdue, full follow-up to her eponymously titled debut album.  She hasn’t been inactive since then, with releases of collections of demos finding their way from her London home base to Bandcamp on a fairly regular basis. But with the assistance of former Charlatan Tim Burgess’ O Genesis label, this is her first proper album in over four years and very nice (and more than welcome) it is too.

Rose’s voice is pure and clear, and recalls the wistful melancholy of some of the UK’s better singers of the past half century, including two former front women of Fairport Convention in Judy Dyble and the late Sandy Denny.  I might be on my own with this, but I can also hear some vocal similarity with a less likely kindred DIY spirit in the wonderful Lorraine Bowen, particularly on some of the more romantic and melodic offerings like ‘Aloof’ and the opening ‘No Control’.

There are 17 tracks on “With Kindness”, many of them clocking in at little more than a minute to 90 seconds which is a guarantee that none outstays its welcome.  Nothing here really gets much above midtempo, and that works very much in its favour as a complete concept. It’s pretty much all Rose’s own work, apart from the drumming, and was over a year in the writing and recording. There are a few strategically placed, lightly psychedelic instrumentals such as ‘The Astral Plane’ and ‘Life Admin’, but it’s the vocal tracks that immediately beg for and receive your attention – pretty and frequently poignant little glimpses into Keel Her’s persona, performed in a way that makes the listener feel as though she or he is eavesdropping on a private and personal musical moment in the singer-songwriter’s life.  As a late great Small Face precisely put it more than half a century ago, it’s all too beautiful…

Another commendably warm and wonderful listening experience, “With Kindness” is the kind of album you can plop in your CD player on a hot day, open your windows and allow to envelop your neighbourhood with its warmth and intimacy.  If you get a knock on your door from a neighbour, it’s more likely to be to ask what you’re playing than to request that you turn it down or off… 

Although there’s a physical release in the works, you can currently hear the whole thing up on Bandcamp (and of course buy it as a download if you’re not a CD person).  And if you can make it, there’s a gig celebrating the official launch for the album on Saturday July 6th at  New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, N4 (nearest trains either Harringay or Stamford Hill)


Find Keel Her on Bandcamp

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MAVIS STAPLES: WE GET BY – LP REVIEW

Review by Tony Rounce

We’re a little late in bringing this to your attention, as it’s been out since the end of May – but it would be a shame not to highlight one of the best female-fronted albums of 2019.

Mavis Staples made her first recordings in 1953 with the Staple Singers. She was 13 years old, and had already been fronting her family group for two years by that time. Although not a Loud Woman in the ‘current’ sense, Mavis’ was always a voice that spoke up – and spoke out – for equality among humanity, and that’s surely a message for the ages if ever there was one.

The Staple Singers were at the peak of their commercial popularity in the first half of the 1970s. It would be a lie to say that Mavis’ voice has not lost a little of its power in recent years.  Heck, she’s 80 years old. Nobody in the world sounds as good at 80 as they did at 35.  She’s still unmistakably Mavis. That is what matters above all and if you can’t deal with that, you’re probably not reading this anyway.

‘We Get By’ is Mavis’ 14th solo album since 1969. Produced by the estimable Ben Harper (who joins her in duet on the title track) it’s her best so far of the 21st century. The 11 tracks, all written or co-written by Harper, suit Mavis’ octogenarian voice to a T, and sensibly allow her to exhibit maximum soulfulness without taxing her upper range unduly.

Mavis and producer-writer Ben Harper

Her three accompanists are also outstanding, particularly Rick Holmstrom whose heavily reverb’ed guitar work is modelled on that of Mavis’ late father Pops, and is never less than outstanding – particularly on the album’s most gospelly track ‘Sometime’ which also highlights the excellent backing vocals of C C White, Laura Mace and Donny Gerard, a super set of substitutes for Mavis’ now sadly deceased father and sisters.  Holmstrom also excels on the slower, reflective ‘Never Needed Anyone’ and ‘Heavy On My Mind’, on which he is Mavis’ sole accompanist.

Pick tracks? Besides those already mentioned, if you are not profoundly moved by the quiet intensity of ‘Hard To Leave’ – quite one of the saddest and loveliest songs I’ve heard in a long time – I politely suggest that you may need a personal emotional review. But really, it’s one of those albums that you’ll be able to listen to from start to finish without reaching for the ‘skip’ button. It’s  on Bandcamp anyway, so why not taste and try before you “Get By”?…

Mavis just appeared at Glastonbury. She’s also playing the Roundhouse in London on July 4th as part of the Innervisions Festival and is in Bath on July 2nd, Paris at La Cigale on July 5th and in Lyon on July 6th.  “We Get By” is available digitally via Bandcamp or as a physical CD or vinyl LP from all the usual online sources.

HELEN McCOOKERYBOOK – LIVE AND (ALMOST) UNPLUGGED… The Betsey Trotwood – 20/6/19.

Live review by Tony Rounce

If you have never been to a gig upstairs at central London’s Betsey Trotwood pub, nothing will prepare you for what greets you on your first visit.  With a capacity of 40 – and that’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder – it has to be one of the smallest venues anywhere in the UK.  A tiny bar and an even tinier stage (holds exactly 1) on opposite corners of the room, no stage lighting at all, and bags of atmosphere as a result.

It was the perfect venue for a double-header featuring two women, two guitars and a sackful of super songs and performances. The evening was promoted by former Chefs and Helen and the Horns front woman, Helen McCookerybook.  She and headliner Pauline Murray are old friends, and thus Helen was able to coax a rare solo show out of Pauline prior to the string of dates she’s playing in the next couple of weeks with her long time band, punk icons Penetration.

Of course, when you are the promoter it makes it easier to sort out support of the calibre of, well, yourself.  Thus we got to enjoy not one, but two of the best singer-songwriters of the past 30-odd years.

Helen is a friendly, giggly woman with a way of making everyone in the crowd feel like she’s been our mate for years. Her melodic, commercial songs address a variety of topics, always in an upbeat way but sometimes with darkness at their heart. Among her ‘protest songs’, the attractive tune of ‘21st Century Blues’ embraced a pithy lyric about liars (and was inevitably dedicated to ‘Boris…and Donald…and…’). ‘So Long, Elon’ offered a blatant dig-in-the-ribs to the Space Race and the money wasted thereupon while homelessness is at its highest-ever peak.

Other highlights of her 11 song, 40 minute set included ‘Heaven Avenue’, a song about Helen’s first and only acid trip and the closer ‘Daisies’, which below its message that ‘no matter how often you pull them up, they always grow back’ hinted at an altogether deeper and more sinister outcome.  She reached back to her days as a Chef to resurrect the witty “cosmetics advice for teenagers” of ‘Let’s Make Up’, and probably got her best response of the set for ‘London Saturday Night’, a song for all of us who have been drawn back to regular gig attendance in this new Golden Age for great bands, after sitting out a decade or two for any number of reasons.

The majority of those in attendance may have been there primarily to see a solo Pauline, but Helen will, I hope, have been pleased with the genuinely warm and enthusiastic way in which each song in her 40-minute song was acknowledged. She was charming, and we were charmed…

Helen is playing ‘Loud Women Unplugged’ in a couple of weeks from now.  Get there early, get yourself a good seat on a comfy sofa, and c with what you see and hear from Mademoiselle McCookerybook.

Loud Women Unplugged is happening at the Old Queens Head in London’s Essex Road on Wednesday July 10. Pauline and Penetration have a number of shows all over the country in June and July – follow them on Facebook, and find out where.

ARXX : IRON LUNG – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Review by Tony Rounce

In the year-and-a-bit that the current line-up of Brighton duo ARXX has been together, Hannah Pidduck and Clara Townsend have forged a unit of two that plays with the impact of ten, and evolved from highly impressive to completely unassailable as a musical force. There are few bands out there to match them at the moment and – with apologies to all other groups whose work I admire – none to beat them.

Singer-guitarist Hannah has written several fine songs recently that have quickly and comfortably integrated into the ARXX setlist. They haven’t actually released any new music since their superb 2018 ‘Daughters Of Daughters’ EP, however, so any new recording activity is more than welcome. The current ARXX set closer ‘Iron Lung’ is the first of two brand new singles that the duo plans to unleash over the next few months.  It’s one of Hannah’s strongest lyrical offerings to date, a song of relationship disintegration built on a monumentally tough stop-time funk-rock riff that will stay in your mind long after the song’s 3 minutes and 1 second are up.  Slightly slower on record than it is when played live, but still full of the unbridled aggression that has quickly made it a new favourite among us ARXX devotees. 

The singular use of the ‘F’ word may unfortunately work against it at radio, but all grown up people will recognise it as being a crucial part of Hannah’s by turns simmering and scalding performance.  While her writing is often downbeat, her passionate, committed vocals are fully accessible and make hers one of the finest rock voices since Ann Wilson of the group Heart first came to prominence in the 70s.  Of course ARXX is not a one-woman show, and drummer Clara is, for my money, the best kit basher out there today, bar none.  There isn’t anyone better equipped to drive Hannah’s words and music. Any and every band would be thrilled to have Clara Townsend anchoring their sound.

There will be more ARXX gigs coming up soon, including The Engine Rooms in London on July 27th and  a most welcome appearance at this September’s LOUD WOMEN Fest. If you have not seen Hannah and Clara before, theirs is a set you will not want to miss. And if you have – well,  you won’t need me to tell you that, will you?

‘Iron Lung’ is available now, via all your favourite streaming sources.

All ARXX info on their website

kate nash – live review: banquet records, kingston 21/5/19

Seen and heard by Tony Rounce

Twelve years ago Kate Nash almost topped the UK charts with ‘Foundations’, and served notice that she was a songwriter of maturity and perception.  It didn’t really work out for her as a top-of-the-popette, but Kate’s audio rebirth in 2013 with “Girl Talk” put her on an independent road she is still travelling. The inspiration Kate has provided for many of those whose work this group embraces confirms that she is at home here among all Loud Women.

Kate releases far too few records, so each release is an event. And this May in-store suburban showcase tied in with the first ever vinyl issue for Kate’s 2010 “My Best Friend Is You” album.  Accompanied only by the estimable Linda Buratto from her regular touring band, Kate did indeed start off with ‘Paris’ from said album, as well as singing four more songs from it (including great versions of  ‘Kiss That Grrrl’ and ‘Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt’).

A vibrant hour-long, 10-song set covered all 12 years of the discography of Kate Marie Nash – from ‘Birds’ and a particularly compelling ‘Foundations’ off her “Made Of Bricks” debut, to ‘Hate You’ and ‘My Little Alien’ from 2018’s “Yesterday Was Forever”.  Only “Girl Talk” went unrepresented, with a planned rendition of ‘Sister’ being spontaneously replaced by an unplanned performance of her ‘Free My Pussy’ single – prefaced by a lengthy, highly cogent speech that started off as a diatribe against the recent shocking Alabama abortion ruling, and ended up in praise of strong empowered women and men who support and empathise.

Kate has come a long way from the nervous young piano-playing teenager whose first major gig I witnessed at London’s now demolished Astoria Theatre in 2007.  The 2019 Kate is friendly and fearless, whether she is performing for a small record shop full of ecstatically-devoted fans who were happy to sing along every time she asked (and frequently even when she didn’t) or encouraging the mass invasion of a stage designed to hold a maximum of nine people, as I saw her do in Austin, Texas in 2017 – five of whom were Kate and her band.  She interacts with her audience like we are her closest BFFs, thinks nothing of jumping down from the stage and having a singsong with us, and on this occasion ended her set near the front door singing with the latecomers as everyone joined in on Kate’s charming song about her dog, ‘My Little Alien’.

Kate promised at the end of this terrific Kingston show that were would be a full tour later in the year when, presumably, she will have some new music to promote. More imminently she’s got a couple of gigs coming up in the summer, at Guildford’s Boilerhouse on June 9th and Brighton’s Concorde II July 31st.

I’d go to both if I were you…

Scrounge: live review

Review by Tony Rounce – Scrounge @ The Windmill, London SW9 – 2/5/19

You may have seen their name cropping up here and there over the past couple of years, but you might not yet have heard South East London-based duo Scrounge.  If you haven’t, you really ought to remedy that immediately. Once you have seen them, I can promise that you will want to see them again. Their beguiling music is akin to a siren’s call, and once it has its hooks in you it will not leave you alone. 

Alumni of New Cross’ Goldsmiths College, Scrounge is comprised of local girl Lucy Alexander on guitar and most of the singing, and Luke Cartledge (who’s from Manchester, but we shouldn’t really hold that against him ‘cos he’s a nice guy…) on percussion and the rest of the singing. They merged musically a couple of years ago to create a sound that distills a number of subliminal influences to create something original and different. I can’t think of one band to directly compare them to, with the possible exception – musically, at least – of the early Cure (a comparison that they might actually neither see not agree with themselves!)

There is starkness about Scrounge’s music that makes it impossible to ignore. Their songs are not strong on melody, but the riffs that power them come in thick layers, pumped up by Lucy’s judicious use of assorted pedals and effects that make it sound like there are at least two other guitarists on stage with the duo. Her clear, honest voice maintains a healthy balance between plaintive and loud, as appropriate to any given song. And behind his kit, Luke keeps the whole thing going with some hard-driven drum work that never lets the pace drop. Their collaborative efforts are quite unique in the world of two-person bands, and what comes through the speakers is most definitely hypnotically compelling at all times.

Scrounge’s recent set in support of their pals Jemma Freeman and the Cosmic Something, at Brixton’s endearingly scuzzy dive the Windmill, was a typical night’s work for them. They set up, did what they do with minimum fuss and maximum passion, and melted away after maybe half a dozen songs and no more than 20 minutes leaving their audiences hoping for more, which sadly there usually isn’t. 

Not for Scrounge the luxury of excessive between-song frivolity and genial audience interaction. There are few-to-no song announcements, and it usually isn’t till the penultimate or even final number of the set that there’s any kind of acknowledgement that there’s an audience there at all.  I personally regard this as a logical extension to their intense approach to making music, so wrapped up are they in their performance. They are two decidedly sociable people offstage, and always happy to talk pre- or post-set to anyone who expresses admiration for what they are doing.

At present they are generating new material at a fairly rapid rate of knots, and the set they played at the Windmill was almost totally different to the one I saw when I caught them for the first time at the Finsbury in North London nine months to a year ago. They have been opening with the stark ‘Medicate’ from their “Brace” EP since then, but last night it was gone, along with the other songs from the EP, and replaced by a presumably new number that I couldn’t yet identify and that might best be described as a work in progress, before serving up a coruscating version of ‘Etch’, their first single for 2019.

Their latest single ‘Crimson’ came midway through the set, as any centrepiece should, and if you’ve heard the single it will barely prepare you for Scrounge’s adrenaline-heavy live treatment which, to quote the lyric, really HAS ‘gone ballistic’ since it entered the set.  Unfortunately because there are no song announcements and Lucy cunningly works without a printed setlist, the titles of the other numbers in their set must remain a mystery (to me, at least – sorry!) until they get round to recording them.

Which I, for one, hope will happen soon, as there’s some pretty fabulous stuff there.

Scrounge do not gig as regularly as some of their peers, so any opportunity to see them should be grasped with both hands (says a man who unfortunately will be up in Manchester when they next play at Hackney’s Paper Dress Vintage in just under two weeks time with HAVVK, those lovely Charmpit ladies and LW’s very own I, Doris). They are most definitely a band that is evolving quickly, and they are well worth getting to know now while they are still on the rise…