Thursday, July 06, 2017

Norah Jones supported by The Candles

6th July 2017, Somerset House, London, UK

Kicking off the 2017 Summer Series Gigs at Somerset House sponsored by American Express was Norah Jones supported by The Candles. Norah is one of the more established, and familiar names, performing this year during the 11 nights of the series of outdoor music events in the splendour of the open courtyard at Somerset House.

Opening for Norah were The Candles – the band appeared to grow with each of the early songs in their set. First a soloist, then a trio, then they where joined by a drummer and pianist, and finally by a bassist. It became apparent later – that most of the members of The Candles where members of Norah’s band. While I understand that having your backing band open for you, under another name, does keep the costs down and keep things simple while touring – but it really is a shame the opportunity wasn’t take for an up and coming London band to be given the opportunity to win more fans from amongst Norah’s adoring fans.

Beginning her European tour at Somerset House, the set began in a jazz mood, which would have graced Ronnie Scott’s, if you could take the roof off that venue.

A subtle touch on the ivories of the grand piano, which dominated the stage, during instrumental interludes in “I’ve got to see you again” proved Norah is more than just a great vocalist.

As the set progress the jazz mood was replace by a more electric sound – with the pedal steel contributing much to that.

Norah herself commented that she’d not been expecting hot and humid weather, which she likened to that in Texas where she’d grown up. Then she noted that having played at a number of outside venues recently – she always seam time one song on in the set to match the sunset – that being “Sunrise”.

After the gentle breeze, keeping the audience from over heating, caused the smells from the food stands to drift on to the stage Norah was prompted to comment “I smell sausages”, and then realise – “that will be the quote of the night”, the set the took a more melancholy turn with song like “She’s 22”.

“Night and day” moved the set back to a warmer sound and feeling, returning to the grand piano and the jazz vibe returns. The “Peace” brings the set to a crescendo, and then “The Long Day is Over”  was a very appropriate way to approach the pre-encore pause.

The real end of the set was “Come away with me” – she couldn’t have left here fans without that hit.

The whole evening illustrates that a carefully constructed set list or album is why listening to music via a streaming service in a random order which hasn’t been curated in anyway, just isn’t the same as experiencing the music in the order the artist behind it intended . A live performance allows the artist to add careful transitions in mood, taking the listener on a musical journey.  The other artists performing this year have a lot to follow to keep the standard up.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rhiannon Giddens supported by Bhi Bhiman

21st May 2015, The Rio Theatre, Vancouver, Canada

Continuing my aim to find some live music to sample in every new city I visit, I added a new City and Country to the list where I’ve done so. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a local artist to listen to. Rhiannon Gibbens was on tour in Vancouver while I was there, and her music and the prospect of a gig in a working Cinema both intrigued me.

Bhi Bhinman with Rhiannon Giddens
Having managed to over come my lack of knowledge of Vancouver's transit system I was pleased to have made for the beginning of Bhi Bhiman’s set.

I’m not sure if Bhi usually plays with the support of a band – but to begin with he seams a little lost on stage – he soon overcame that – his witty lyrics and topics bring the best out of a growing audience. The highlight of the set was certainly when he was joined by Rhiannon on her fiddle.

Rhiannon, not to be confused for the more famous artist Rihanna, who may sell out stadiums, but has no more talent than the multi-instrumentalist on stage tonight, was given a rapturous welcome by an audience clearly aware of the treat they were in for.

The show included a few original numbers – but the highlights where the multitude of carefully and lovingly chosen covers of classic banjo numbers from the great history of American banjo playing – all given a modern Giddens’ twist.

One surprise was the almost entirely white audience – yet Rhiannon’s politics went down a storm – not surprising given Canada’s liberal reputation – but I’d have expected a more multi-cultural group– in London I’m sure the crowd will be much more diverse.
Rhiannon Giddens

Unfortunately working Cinemas, complete with seats, get my thumbs down for this type of gig – I’m sure there would have been more energy coming from the audience had we been standing, and personally it would have helped me fight off the effects of jet lag to be standing – a confortable cinema seat was a little too conducive to the sleep trying to take me over – I only nodded off briefly but the music soon revived me. Rhiannon’s music urged you to get up and move – but the seating discourage it…
I will be making every effort to catch Rhiannon when she plays at the Islington Assembly Hall in London on June 30th. I can highly recommend her to anyone who enjoys traditional banjo music with a modern twist – together with her band she brings out all that is good about the instrument.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Ultraista @ Birthdays

Playing their first London gig – the recently formed Ultraista brought the vocals and electronic sound of Laura Bettinson, former driving force of Dimbleby & Capper (D&C) and new incarnation Femme, together with Nigel Godrich, producer of Radiohead and Joey Waronker adding percussion and all manner of other sounds to the mix, to Birthsdays in Dalston – ending the UK leg of a short world tour having crossed the USA and circled Europe.

From Ultraista (Birthdays) 2012

Opening the evening in Dalston was Crewdson. He initially had the quickly filling venues a little confused as his musical instruments included the contents of a rather battered Tesco’s plastic bag – but soon had them enthralled as he turned sound samples from the empty can, paper and other assorted items it contained into a glorious electronic sound.

With an unconventional set of electronics as your musical tool kit technical problems are likely – but I don’t think I’ll ever hear an electronic artist apologies for a glitch with “bear with me one sec – my motorbike ain’t working….” I’d suggest Crewdson sound could be described as "Electronic via Tesco’s and the Playstation”.

Creatively showing what can be accomplished live with a laptop, assorted shopping, saxophone and Playstation controller, Crewdson put to shame those that use pre-recorded samples.

As Ultraista opened their set, the comparisons to previous celebrated incarnations of members of the band were inevitable. The Radiohead fans in the audience here to hear how the Godrich sound was moving forward, heard an up tempo mix with more pop than in the past. A clear contribution from D&C/Femme.

The D&C fans in the basement would be please that the visuals impact of that group continued – but the frog and rabbit mask for the male members of the band had been left in the dressing up box…
From Ultraista (Birthdays) 2012
From Ultraista (Birthdays) 2012

Unfortunately Party Line wasn’t on the set list – so I’m still not sure if the opening backing vocals really are “northern line” or the slightly more likely “more than I” of the main lyrics… It’s very possible that the fact that the track first came on my iPhone while stuck on the listening to Northern Line announcements influenced what I think I heard – but if you list carefully I’m sure you can hear how the mix up could occur…

The evening and the tour where brought to a close with a long list of thanks to those that had assisted with getting them to the end of this first tour.

Surely if won’t be long before Nigel is moving his latest creation on to similar stages as his previous associates, Radiohead – playing the O2 the following two nights – their followers really missed out if they hadn’t had the foresight to come to town one night early for a Sunday evenings entertainment in Dalston  - if they could have got hold of a ticket!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jill Scott draws the VIPs to Somerset House

9th/10th July – Somerset House Summer Series presented by American Express: Jill Scott supported by Daley

For the first year two acts will play two nights each in the Somerset House Summer Series – Jill Scott’s two gigs where in the original schedule – Paloma Faith’s second gig was added shortly after the first one sold out so quickly. Judging by the fact that more than an hour before both nights of Jill’s shows a large proportion of the audience where queuing outside this was a good decision – those there on Monday night got treated to a prolonged sound check that almost sounded like a full rehearsal, rather than a simple check of the levels…

The first night also attracted the VIPs – with Lewis Hamilton tweeting a picture from the gig and Perez Hilton, Joss Stone and Misha B amongst the music glitterati in attendance

From Jill Scott 2012 (Monday) (Somerset House)
Opening for Jill on both nights was Daley – whom I’d last seen supporting Emeli Sande at the Borderline for HMV Next Big Thing – he certainly gets to precede some special acts on stage. On both night the audience warmed to his sound – his British take on soul was a great warm up for the Philly version that was the main act – he even made a cameo appearance on the second night during the commercial intermission for “Ball Fresh”.
From Jill Scott 2012 (Monday) (Somerset House)
Jill Scott brought on stage with here a very talented 10 piece band including amongst them “the pipes” – between them they gave her incredible voice the backing it deserved, At some points the performance became almost operatic - very appropriate for the surroundings.
As promised on the first night – if you wanted to see a costume change then you needed to come to another Jill Scott gig – not that her look didn’t change – including at times a wig and a variety gazelles (glasses) – one pair refused to play ball – steaming up on both nights in the damp conditions under the heat of the stage lights.

The performances on both nights brought the courtyard in Somerset House to life – mixing soul, poetry, and a sexy sense of humour.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sunday mini festival at Somerset House

8th July – Somerset House Summer Series presented by American Express with What Next Live: Katy B supported by Devlin, Ms Dynamite and P Money and What Next Live – including Kimmy Reader, Rhea Dean and Tom Prior

Regularly giving an opportunity on one of the Sunday’s of the series for up and coming acts to take to the stage is a great innovation that Somerset House continues to provide – this year three of the act from What Next Live shone out – Kimmy Reader, Rhea Dean or Tom Prior could easily have been “headline support acts” – maybe it is time for a slight change to the presentation of these acts and simply put them on as support acts for some of the nights of the series. I’ll be looking out for and looking forward to when these acts perform again.

Katy B brought the acts from her 2011 headline tour with her to Somerset House for her only headline show of the year. I’ve never been sure if a DJ based set works in the classical surroundings of Somerset House – and P Money definitely struggled to keep up the atmosphere that the What Next acts had built up – his act had worked in an enclosed space – but in the daylight, in an open space it seamed not to fill the space sufficiently.
From Katy B 2012 (Somerset House)
From Katy B 2012 (Somerset House)
When Ms Dynamite took to the stage the energy levels lifted – it was still rather strange to be experiencing this in the open air before the dark had fallen. The large separation between the audience and the stage also wasn’t helping
Devlin's addition of instruments in the form of a full band to the stage took the show up a further level. 
From Katy B 2012 (Somerset House)
From Katy B 2012 (Somerset House)
The sun had set by the time Katy B took to the stage, that allowed the light show on the stage to have a bigger impact, and with the venue now full the atmosphere was approaching a club – or as close as you can get surrounded by the 18th century architecture of Somerset House.

A cover of the Eurythmics Sweet Dreams stood out in a set that ranged from Katy’s better known dance tracks to slower ballads showing there is more to her than just dubstep.

The 11pm curfew came far too early – and closing with Lights On seamed very appropriate as the house lights shortly followed, but the audience didn’t want to leave.