Sunday, 31 January 2016

Meet The Band: Fickle Friends

Fickle Friends aka Natti Shiner, Sam Morris, Jack Harry, Christopher Hall and Jack Wilson have been cutting their teeth the old fashioned way, with 2 years of solid touring, including sets at major festivals such as Bestival, BBC R1 Big Weekend and Secret Garden Party, not to mention a sold-out show at Dingwalls in London in November. All the long drives and late nights have paid off, forging Fickle Friends into a slick polished monster of a live band. This hard work also helped catch the attention of Polydor Records, who signed the band in January 2016.

Away from the stage the band has been whipping up a frenzy in the blogosphere and were the most written about unsigned artist of 2014 according to accumulator Hype Machine, and have even picked up over 5 million plays on Spotify across their debut singles - with Say No More even making it onto the BBC Radio 1 Introducing Playlist.

The band have announced a 28 date UK headline tour off the back of their shimmering single Say No More. Already a favourite at the band’s live shows, the track is a feel-good anthem combining 80s-flavoured synths and a glorious fresh indie-pop sound. The tour will also give fans an opportunity to hear new music from their forthcoming debut album. The band play Cardiff's Moon club on February 3.

Andy Howells put questions to vocalist Natti earlier this week.

Who are you and how did you come together?
We are Fickle Friends and the band formed a couple years back when we were a bunch of uni students who wanted to play indie pop music... so we did... and we did it badly for a while. Then we got a bit better Ha!

Where are you from?

How would you describe your music style?
Indie disco pop with an 80's tinge.

What’s been your best live experience?
Either playing in Holland at a festival/safari park. We played to 2500 amazing people and then went and hung out with giraffes. It was definitely memorable. Our last London headline at Dingwalls was a pretty incredible experience...mainly because it was the 'game changer' for us and certainly our best live performance to date. Just felt like everything we had worked so hard for over the past few years had led up to that moment. Was pretty emosh. Ha.

What are you working on at the moment?
We've just finished writing our album, and recorded our next single before heading out on our mammoth UK tour!

Where can people hear your music?
Spotify/Apple Music/Soundcloud... you name it... we're on it!

Where can we see you live?
We're playing sunny Cardiff next month! Feb 3rd...Moon Club...Come down for a boogie and some good vibes ;)
  • Andy Howells is a freelance writer. A version of this interview appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 29, 2016.
  • Check out Fickle Friends Bandcamp page

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Meet The Band: The Maine

THE Maine are an American rock band from Tempe, Arizona. In their eight years together, John O’Callaghan, Pat Kirch, Kennedy Brock, Garrett Nickelsen, and Jared Monaco have released five full-length albums, including their major label debut Black & White in 2010.

The band expanded their musical realm into production which resulted in their fourth EP – self-recorded and produced Imaginary Numbers (2013). Over the years, they have toured across the globe as well as extensively on home soil in the US, both as headliners and in support roles. The Maine have shared the stage with the likes of Taking Back Sunday, Anberlin, A Rocket To The Moon, Augustana, and many more.

The band have made numerous festival appearances including the Vans Warped Tour, Bamboozle, and South by Southwest. In the spring of 2015, The Maine released their highly anticipated fifth studio album, American Candy.

Andy Howells recently put questions to the band’s drummer Pat Kirch:

How did you get into playing music?
“I had a neighbour that played the drums I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. He showed me the movie That Thing You Do and I would just watch it over and over and try and play along!”

How would you describe your music style and what are the major influences on the band’s sound?
“I would say that we are a pop rock band. It is so hard to describe or put labels on music for me but we play rock and roll music and enjoy pop melody. We are influenced by anything and everything but I think artists like Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, and Wilco that have fought to be able to make music on their own terms really inspire us.”

You are about to embark on a UK tour – how are you preparing for that and what can people expect from your shows?
“This will be the first time we will have been to the UK since American Candy was released so we are excited to play those songs for people. We will start rehearsing soon and figure what we can do to put on a show that will excite us. I think fans can expect a good mix of all of our albums and a good time!”

Can you tell us a bit about your most recent album? How did it differ from the previous albums?
“This album is us finally settling into a sound and feel kind of like a combination of everything we have done and learned over the past eight years. We set out to make a fun record and something that would make you want to dance and I think we did that. We are really proud of the album and have been blown away by how much everyone has gotten behind it. It feels exciting going out every night and playing the songs.”

Beyond the January/February tour, what can we expect from you in 2016?
“Lots more touring trying to play these songs to as many people as possible. We just released part one of a two-part cover EP so we will be recording and releasing the second half in 2016!”

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Meet The Band: Nahko and Medicine For The People

American word-of-mouth sensations Nahko and Medicine For The People are currently making a brief tour of the UK with a series of shows which culminates with a gig at Bristol's Fleece on January 24.

Nahko and Medicine for the People already have a Top Ten hit to their name in both the Billboard Top Alternative Albums and Top Heatseekers charts. As well as garnering a rabid following across the globe, the band’s profile has also exploded online, amassing over 150,000 Facebook fans and millions of video views.
Nahko, an Oregon-born citizen in service to the planet, is descended from a mixture of Puerto Rican, Native American, and Filipino bloodlines.

Disillusioned by the world around him and inspired by vagabond, Americana musicians and storytellers like Conor Oberst and Bob Dylan, Nahko left home as a teenager in search of adventure and self-discovery. Armed with stories, a guitar, and a fierce set of ideals, he set out to bridge the cultural gaps dividing his own psyche. His self-branded ‘Real Talk Music’ is a tribal/folk take on rootsy American pop, serving as a beautiful and uplifting exercise in connecting the mind, body and soul. Lyrically exploring meditative, spiritual and political themes such as indigenous youth freedom, sustainability, healthy living and direct action, Nahko describes his music as a mix of hip‐hop and folk rock with a world message. Andy Howells recently put questions to Nahko

How did the band come together?
Each member of the band has come from a different time and encounter.  One was a bartender at our local tavern, one picked me up hitchhiking, another we met at a house jam rehearsal space in Bali, and yet others were met around community fires in Portland, Oregon.  The resounding wisdom here is that you just stay in your flow and the right people will show up at the right time!

How would you describe your style of music?
The roots are acoustic folk story telling.  sort of a throwback to a style of Americana that Rodriguez was playing.  political, spiritual, autobiographical, and simple.  Now, throw in some huge guitar licks, horn solos, electric violin, and a whole lot of rock and roll and you get us.  The songs I write have influences from reggae, rock, funk, even jazz and classical elements... There's something in there for everyone.

What has been your best live experience as a performer?
Too many to name, but the way I connect with my audience will always be my highlight.  The knowing I see in their eyes.  The language of no words.  It's so powerful.

Can you tell us about Dark As Night?
DAN is a record I know will have many more years/decades of life to it.  We released it three years ago and since then it has gradually picked up speed.  I marvel at witnessing its journey. The songs still teach me lessons on the daily within each chapter I journey through.  That is the power of music and poetry.  You're always learning new things from them.  The songs are personal accounts of life and lesson.  Love and heartache. Mantras and reminders.

Who are your music inspirations?
Back in the day, it was a spectrum from Neil Diamond to Third Eye Blind.  In my twenties, it was Bright Eyes to Broken Social Scene. These days it's Edward Sharpe to Drake.  How's that for juxtaposition?

What was the first record you bought?
It was probably The Green Album by Weezer, Ha Ha.

Are you looking forward to the UK tour?
In general, I'm really excited to come to the UK and spread some more good vibes and love.  We haven't been to Bristol before, but judging from our last visit, I can imagine it's going to be full power.  Ya'll are passionate about music as I am!
  • Visit Nahko's official website:
  • Andy Howells is a freelance writer. A version of this Q&A appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 22, 2015.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Meet The Band: Eliza And The Bear

‘It Gets Cold, in the night, I’m on my way, I’m on my way back home’ sings Eliza and the Bear front-man James Kellegher with a hopeful urgency on the band’s latest single. It Gets Cold.

Already a fan-favourite at the band’s jubilant live shows, It Gets Cold is a rousing demonstration of what they do best. The instantly recognisable guitar melody sets the scene before erupting into beautifully optimistic homecoming anthem.

It Gets Cold is taken from the bands forthcoming debut album, due for release on April 1 on Capitol Records. The album also includes the broody string-laden I’m On Your Side and the commanding force of Oxygen, plus fan favourites that have long been part of the band’s live set, among them Brother’s Boat, album opener Friends and Upon The North. Andy Howells recently put questions to James

How did you come together as a band?
We are all friends, all of our old bands used to play together at a local youth hall!

Where does the bands name come from?
When we first started out we had no intention of “Making it” so we just needed a name, Eliza and The Bear stood out to us when Paul found the book somewhere.

How would you describe your music?
We like to create music that is made to be enjoyed live, so its quite energetic and sing along heavy! We love a good sing along

Who are your musical inspirations?
We all differ, we come from different backgrounds and different styles of music. I believe that this makes our music what it is today, its the push and pull of punk and pop, metal and acoustic love songs.

Can you tell us about your forthcoming album?
We wanted to showcase what we can do on this album, this is our one chance to prove ourselves as more than a one trick pony. There are many tracks on the album that will surprise you. Its our lives work and we are incredibly proud of it.

Whats been your live show highlight so far?
Headlining Koko for me is the stand out point in our career, the night was perfect, I wish I could live it over again.

What can we expect from your forthcoming Cardiff Gig?
One big sweaty party with plenty of sing alongs!

What can we expect from you in the future?
Bigger shows, bigger music, bigger egos? Maybe not.

  • Catch Eliza and The Bear  live at Cardiff's Clwb Ifor Bach on February 3. Check out more information about the band on their website
  • Andy Howells is a freelance entertainment writer. a version of this Q&A was published in The Guide entertainment section of The South Wales Argus on January 15, 2015

Walking The Line With The Johnny Cash Roadshow - Clive John Q&A

EXPERIENCE the essence of the Man in Black’s legendary live sound when The Johnny Cash Roadshow rolls into St David’s Hall this Saturday January 23 at 7.30pm.

Expect all the hits from Ring of Fire to I Walk the Line with stunning attention to detail. Plus, this is the only tribute show that is officially endorsed by the Cash family. This show not only encapsulates all his solo classics, but also features his beautiful duets with his wife June (perfectly portrayed by Jill Schoonjans) plus a sprinkling of hidden gems. Johnny Cash left behind big shoes to fill, but award winning frontman Clive John always relishes the challenge and replicates every nuance of his character in uncanny style.

Andy Howells recently put questions to Clive John about the show.

The Johnny Cash Roadshow really recreates the Johnny Cash experience on stage. Is it a pressure to constantly get it right for the audience?
I love what we do and we have done it a thousand times or more but I still get butterflies now and then. Sometimes I get so tired I can hardly think straight but the buzz of a show gives the medicine to deliver.

One thing I noticed when attending one of your shows was how the audience really gelled in by joining in at key moments – just like on Cash’s live recordings – does that help you and your band along while performing?
Of course. The show is all about a roller-coaster of emotions that needs energy and enthusiasm from the audience to make it a better experience for everyone.

How do you keep the Johnny Cash shows interesting for yourself and the audience? Do you vary
the shows at all?
Myself and the band love the material – all the songs are very strong and it is a nightmare sometimes when we have to shorten the set. I never know what songs to leave out! Johnny Cash has a vast library of material to choose from so it never gets boring. We do vary the show sometimes.

Are there any particular Johnny Cash numbers that have proved a challenge to learn?
Yes. A lot of them are story songs and don’t have a chorus that keeps on repeating. This means that if I miss one sentence it completely throws the song off its thread. Sometimes Johnny Cash himself would make this mistake so at least I can say it’s authentic when I mess something up!

  • Andy Howells is a freelance entertainment writer. This feature was published in the South Wales Argus entertainment section The Guide on January 1, 2016.
  • For more on Clive John and The Johnny Cash Roadshow visit the official website.

Friday, 15 January 2016

David Bowie Remembered

Andy Howells recalls the work of David Bowie who died earlier this week.

Inspiring, innovative, extraordinary, genius, artist.

All words used to describe David Bowie in the endless tributes that were written about him as news of his death reached the internet and social media earlier this week.

The word artist, I feel, is very loosely used these days. Everyone can claim to excel at a particular art, but few can master many of them, and then go on to inspire and influence others. Bowie clearly did all this in the world of music, film, fashion and popular culture.

His rise to fame wasn’t overnight, like The Beatles before him; he was working as a musician for several years before he broke into the charts with his original rendition of Space Oddity in 1969.

As the 1970s beckoned, Bowie raised the bar in style, sound and vision.  He dared to be different in look and feel, generating many imitators while drawing many admirers.

There was something fresh, colourful and vibrant about his persona. Be it a colourful shimmering appearance on Top of the Pops, an eye catching poster or for those who were lucky enough to see him – a live show. But on any level, whether you were a die hard fan, or someone who simply let songs such as Starman, The Jean Genie, Heroes or Ashes to Ashes filter into life’s everyday soundtrack, Bowie was and continues to be accessible.

The poetic surrealism of his 1971 hit Life on Mars spoke to you if you were five or forty five. Mickey Mouse and John Lennon went hand in hand with Ibiza and the Norfolk Broads and immediately sent your imagination on a journey somewhere else. Ironically, over three decades after its release, Life on Mars gave its name to a cult TV series in which it took its central character back in time to a surreal life and death experience in 1973. The passage of time ultimately revealed that Life on Mars clearly had the ability to take us away from life in the 70s as well as back to it.

Bowie’s music has continued to break boundaries, because like him, it was real and indefinable. No other artist could reach generations of music lovers by recording with acts as diverse as Bing Crosby, John Lennon, Queen and Iggy Pop.

He released his final album, Black Star only two days before his death. Now it is there to be enjoyed alongside the sagas of Ziggy Stardust and Major Tom on countless classic albums available on whatever format we choose.

One thing remains certain amongst those of us who feel any measure of grief at Bowie’s loss, like the world, his music will continue to spin and inspire generations to come, itself a real legacy to be proud of.

  • Andy Howells is a freelance writer. This personal tribute to David Bowie was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on January 16, 2015.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Albums By Martyn Joseph, Jon Langford and Jools Holland & Ruby Turner Reviewed

Martyn Joseph – Sanctuary (Pipe Records)
Sanctuary is Welsh singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph's twenty-first studio release in a prolific career spanning four decades. Here Joseph is reunited with Ben Wisch, the three time Grammy Award-winning producer who helmed 1992’s Being There. When the two originally got together, Joseph had signed to Sony Records and Wisch had masterminded Marc Cohn’s smash hit single, Walking in Memphis.

Although Joseph always delivers something fresh and exciting with every new release, clearly he has benefited with returning to work with Wisch, with some well rounded, polished recordings starting with I Searched for You and When Will We Find.

Sanctuary is much more than another Martyn Joseph album. Among the highlights are the summery Cherry Blossom Girl and the title track Sanctuary showcasing Martyn’s instrumental side.

Jon Langford & Men of Gwent – The Legend of LL (Country Mile Records)
Interweaving Americana influences, rock and performance poetry with bare faced honesty The Legend of LL is a long overdue soundtrack album for modern day living in Newport, the valleys and beyond.

If Canned Heat had gained some of Bob Dylan’s spirit and reworked The Beatles Sergeant Pepper in the 1970s it wouldn’t be that far away from The Legend of LL which features a Glam Rock style tribute to Wrestler Adrian Street.

The outright bluegrass flare of Dirty Grey River. Rebecca Been In A Riot, Pill Sailor and Old Wet Argus all add to the albums make up, giving it a sense of depth and energy.

Jools Holland & Ruby Turner - Jools & Ruby (East West Records)
Anyone who witnessed Jools Holland and Ruby Turner’s performance on tour recently need no confirmation on how wild and wonderful these performers are.

Here we have a 22 track compilation of performances encompassing rock, spiritual, jazz and rhythm and blues. There’s a lot to enjoy from originals penned by both Holland and Turner along with Chris Difford When I Get Home to Ray Charles’ Jumpin in the Morning and Billy Preston & Bruce Fisher’s You Are So Beautiful.

With the fabulous backing of The Rhythm & Blues Orchestra Jools & Ruby is upbeat, irresistible and unmissable.

  • Andy Howells is a freelance writer. Versions of these reviews were published in The South Wales Argus on January 1, 2015.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Laughter Lines: Mark Thomas

Fondly referred to by the Metropolitan Police as ’general rabble-rouser’ and ‘alleged comedian’, the very same Mark Thomas has found time over the last twelve months (in between his endless touring in both the UK and New Zealand) to create yet another masterpiece of a show entitled Trespass.

Mark’s previous solo shows have all gone on to have sell-out runs, garnering the highest of critical acclaim, snapping up awards and nominations and earning commissions to become their very own BBC Radio 4 series.

Andy Howells recently put questions to the stand-up comedian.

What made you decide you were going to become a comedian?
I am genuinely terrified of the prospect of having a proper job of any kind, especially physical labour and I will do nearly anything to avoid that fate. I think that was the motivation to being a performer.

If you hadn’t become a comedian what would you be doing?
The bloke who turns the go/stop signs on building site entrances.

Who are your comedy heroes?
Dave Allen, by far the most undervalued genius of comedy. Totally original, free thinker, radical and unafraid of his own beliefs. It is only because the family have not released DVD's of his work that he is not wider known and recognised as the real godfather of alternative comedy.

What’s the funniest experience you’ve had while touring? 
I was mailing a friend this morning who used to be my tour manager, she is 5ft tall and used to work part time in London Zoo.

Once she was supposed to drive me to a gig in Bath and then back home. She managed to arrive late in an old Triumph car, the only way the speakers worked was if I physically held the wires together. She took us on a wrong turn, down a narrow country lane, where we find a sow and her piglets running around in the middle of the road. My tour manager does a screeching handbrake stop. All 5 foot of her jumps out and starts trying to herd a large pig and her offspring, while I sit in the car with the Dead Kennedy's cutting in and out on the stereo.

We arrive at the gig late. My dressing room is the same room as the pole dancing studio, so students of dance cavort up and down a pole while I try and write out a set list and get ready to go on. On leaving the venue I say to my tour manager 'mind the car keys as you open the boot'  'why?' she says just before she dropped them down a drain. We had to lift up the manhole, borrow a ladle from restaurant, a broom handle and some gaffer tape from the venue and dig out the mud  to find them. She now runs the Mangabey Monkey conservation programme in Ghana.

What can you tell us about your new show?
It is about public space and private companies taking it over, it is the normal mix of stand up, stories, activism, journalism and a dash of performance art. it is marvellous.

What makes you laugh? 
Anything bad that happens to Piers Morgan and Donald Trump.

  • Catch Mark Thomas at The Sherman Theatre, Cardiff on February 2. Call 029 2064 6900 for ticket details.
  • Andy Howells is a freelance writer. A version of this Q&A appeared in The South Wales Argus on January 1, 2016.
  • For more information on Mark Thomas, visit his official website.

Jamie Lawson Discusses Touring and His New Album

On the back of the release of his self-titled album, British singer-songwriter Jamie Lawson is begins touring the UK this week and will play a date at Bristol Academy on January 16.

Last year, Jamie was unveiled as the first ever signing to multi-platinum, international superstar Ed Sheeran’s own label Gingerbread Man Records. Enigmatic and soulful, Jamie first drew Ed’s attention with an early version of his international juggernaut hit Wasn’t Expecting That, which drew the ginger-haired superstar to tears.  Andy Howells recently put questions to Jamie.

How did you start out in the music industry?
That's a tough one, I guess I'd been trying to break into the industry for years, making enough money to live on, playing shows and cover gigs but only recently would I consider myself part of the industry, since signing to Gingerbread Man Records.

What made you want to become a musician?
I have absolutely no idea. I asked for a guitar when I was 8 years old but I never had any guitar heroes. I think I wanted to be a singer and thought by playing guitar I'd have something to sing along with and there was no way we'd have been able to afford a piano! I realised I wanted to take it seriously when I was about 21. I was at art college doing a photography course, and I love photography, but I was pretty miserable, half way through I left it and 6 months later moved to London to chase the dream.

How would you describe your style of music?
Gentle, heartfelt, acoustic, folk/pop. Something like that anyway.

What's your best live experience?
I was lucky enough to open for Ed Sheeran in Dublin this summer at Croke Park which holds 82,000 people, I'm assuming that was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Can you tell us about your current album and upcoming tour?
The new album is self titled, I decided to self title it because I'm very happy with where I am right now and happy with how the album came out. It truly is the record I wanted to make so in that way it's sort of a statement of intent. I aimed to make a really open, warm, loving record and from the response I've been getting that seems to be what people are taking from it. The tour is almost sold out which is very exciting. I'm playing Shepherds Bush Empire which is a dream come true, I've seen a lot of my favourite bands there, I can't quite believe I've sold it out.

Who are your music inspirations?
R.E.M., The Jackson 5, Radiohead, Ron Sexsmith, American Music Club, Natalie Merchant, Kate Rusby, Crowded House, Iron & Wine...

What was the first record you bought?
I think it was Bad by Michael Jackson, my brother had the Thriller record and a Best Of Jackson 5 album that I loved. I still think Bad is a great record, apart from the song Speed Demon, which is rubbish!

Where are you playing in Bristol and what are your thoughts on the city from previous tours?
Bristol was one of the first to sell out which is great, that might be because it's the closest show to home I'll be doing, I'm originally from Plymouth, but there's no where really this size to play there. I think all my family are coming so I'll be the most nervous doing this one. I think I've only played in Bristol a couple times before, neither of which were well attended so I reckon this one will make up for it. I like the city, it seems well steeped in culture, music and art and that tends to pull in the sort of people I call on as friends, so I like it there.

  • Andy Howells is a freelance writer. A version of this article appeared in The South Wales Argus during December 2015.
  • For more details on Jamie Lawson visit his official website.