Hiawatha Telephone Company plays Passengers Greatest Hits

‘Passengers Greatest Hits’. You might think this was a collection of songs by Mike Rosenberg but its title comes from the series of photographs of forlorn commuters which feature in the lyric book that accompanies this new CD by our occasional Brighton Music Blog contributor and photographer in his alternative moniker of Hiawatha Telephone Company. We spoke to Jon about what he thought he was up to.   BMB: How was this album made? JON: The whole thing was written in two parts – half of the songs in February 2013, the other half in February 2014 and then it was recorded a couple of days later pretty much in single takes by Martyn Lewis Moss (Butterfly House) in his Kemp Town attic on a Tascam cassette recorder. No computers or wizzardry involved. Then Martyn added some bass and keyboards, Maria Marzaioli (Slum of Legs, Reds) came along the following day and played some violin on some tracks she’d never heard before and there you have it. Wham bam, it’s an album, man! It sounds primitive. Do you wish you’d spent more time on it? Passengers Greatest Hits Probably. It’s a hard album to get into because there is no compromise with modern technology or much in the way of professionalism to be honest. But that also means it doesn’t sound like anything else. It won’t age because it already sounds old. We just wanted to get it down really quickly. And Martyn has this thing about never trying more than three takes of anything. If it isn’t working you should just move on, is his recording motto. In most cases we left it at just the one take. The flaws are so obvious that to get into the album you have to overlook them and treat it differently from the things you’d normally listen to. I think listening to it should feel more like a stroll around a small art gallery, rather than putting on a CD. Did it have any particular influences? I’ve always loved those old crackly blues and country recordings from the 1930s and so on [Ed: the first Hiawatha Telephone Company album was named after folklorist Harry Smith who specialised in collecting such 78s] and some of the songs take that approach. There’s the early primitive pop songs of Daniel Johnston, also recorded onto tape and those sound even more flaky than these do. And I was listening to a fair bit of Bill Callahan this winter, so some of these songs sounds a bit like Smog to me. But who knows? We’re just a mess of all the things we absorb over time, aren’t we? Tell us about the songs. I’m really proud of the opening song ‘If I didn’t love you’. I thought I was going to write a love song. Turned out it was a splitting up or a morbid death song. It was the first one we recorded and I told Martyn his piano should sound like the cold desolate Nordic sound of Sibelius, which it kind-of does. The shortest song is ‘keep it simple’ which started out as a bit of a joke that I wrote in 5 minutes playing around in the chord of D. It’s not really recorded right but we just left it and I think it’s cute. Oddly the next two shortest songs are the ones with the most words in them, both songs I’m really proud of. ‘Song about time’ has some great poetry in it, about needing to live life for the moment. Because you cannot battle time? Yep. The other one is ‘The Cost of Going To Work By Train’ which is an epic by my standards, full of words and stories. I intended it to be a bit of a mythical song, in the form of a traditional folk song, but one firmly rooted in modern lived experience. It’s clearly not about any one real person but it tries to represent the common man. At least I think it tries. There are some proper country songs in this collection aren’t there? Yes, two at least. ‘Ain’t no rainbow’ is a lovely song I think, soft, simple with the same four chords throughout but I like the clichés it uses which still manage to sound surprising to me. And I like how I just told Maria to play something sad and rural, and she came up with this wonderful violin line that’s totally infused with straw and cow-shit. And then there’s Woody’s Song, which I’m really proud of. It’s based on the New Year’s Rulin’s that Woody Guthrie wrote and I have as a poster in my kitchen but he never turned them into a song so far as I know. So I did. I think it could sound better of course, much as I love Maria’s beautiful country-fried violin. But I still hope someone else records it. I think it could be a big hit in Nashville! Passengers Greatest hitsDo you see all of these as songs other people might record? For sure. I think they’re good enough and ought to exist in other versions. They’re all pretty simple, but pretty little tunes. I ought to record other versions myself! What about Dave? A lot of people will think that’s about one person [our present Prime Minister].  That wasn’t really the intention, although I can see why people think it might be. It’s not how I see him – if anything it’s more about the sorts of people he probably thinks he’s against. It’s a song I really like playing live. It gets a reaction. It isn’t the only political song on the album by any means, although none of them are very obviously political I suppose. Do you have a favourite song?  I’m fond of Waking Up With You, more for the verses as I still don’t feel like I’ve finished the chorus. I might rewrite it, but I just wanted to record it for my wife. I didn’t really expect to include it in the album but it turned out OK so I did. And I really like the last song ‘I’ll never Leave you Baby’ which is another simple love song, but one with a twist. It’s a fun song to play live and I also really like Martyn’s bass line on it. A stupidly simple song, but it works. The CD’s only available in physical copy at the moment. Is that right? Yes it is. It’s a proper CD with a nice little printed photo-lyric book in a numbered edition, and it’s dead cheap. You can buy it or just listen on bandcamp, download a couple of tracks for free via Soundcloud or I’d send the mp3s (and the lyrics and chords) to anyone who asks nicely. I’ll probably make the thing available for download but only when most of the CDs have gone. Any plans for more recording? Well it took me five years to get around to recording my first album and another five years for this one. That said, I have plenty of other songs in a big book which never get played so maybe I should record some of them. So many songs, so little time. And we managed to go the whole interview without asking about your band name. Yep. Well done for that. Thanks. {smiles} ‘Passengers Greatest Hits’ is available now in a limited numbered 1st edition of 100 from the Hiawatha Telephone Company bandcamp site Hiawatha Telephone Company

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Pass The Parcel (2013) | Richard Allan II | MP3 Downloads 7digital United Kingdom

Pass The Parcel (2013) | Richard Allan II | MP3 Downloads 7digital United Kingdom.

A new EP from this local nu-folk performer, sounding like a local Mumfords and recreating his band’s impressive live sound.

The Self Help Group: the new Fleetwood Mac?

The Self Help Group launched their album ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’ at the Prince Albert pub last night, ably supported by Fiona Sally Miller.

Fiona Sally Miller 20130207 Prince Albert 02

Fiona Sally Miller hasn’t been seen out and about much over the last year which is a shame as she’s one of the most engaging singer-songwriters around town. Simple little riffs set the scene for her personal songs sung in a warm voice that engrosses you like a hug. If you see her on a support bill, make sure you get there early. At this gig she was accompanied on some songs by a cellist, and gave an outing to her old goldie ‘I’m Going to miss you smiling at me like that’.

Mark Bruce

Mark Bruce

The Self Help Group album launch was a bit of a party for family and friends friends, starting off with them getting the whole audience to turn around to watch their video Needles played on the back wall. The launch got even more shambolic, with the band talking as much between themselves as to the audience, losing the banjo on one song and limiting their nervous wit to a strange bit of banter about their song about Birds. Not women, the ones with wings. Odd thing to say to any audience, let alone a Brighton one.Self Help Group 20130207 Prince Albert 03 Mark Bruce, Ian Bliszczak and Sarah Wood

But we needn’t have worried. The thing about Self Help Group is the music, beautifully played, and Mark Bruce’s excellent songs, and the gorgeous twin vocals of sisters Sarah and Clara Wood. The thing is, this is just a truly great band and once they get going you forget about the fluff and hesitation and just get swallowed up by this wave of really wonderful fol rock Americana.

The album is very good indeed. Reviews refer to that Laurel Canyon soft-rock early-70s sensibility but if there’s one band they remind me most of it’s possibly Fleetwood Mac, with the charming female vocals, some sweet guitar and meaty rhythm section but mainly that wonderful mix of west coast Americana with English self-aware folk-blues.

Mark Bruce joked about the lack of happy songs last night – the album is full of songs about death and murder and stories of grim times – but the thing is they don’t sound depressing these songs, they are heart-warming and rich stories that bear repeating. And they have a song about murmuration. What’s not to love?

The final song Sand was a perfect ending, with its closing refrain of

  “You must take the steps towards what you want and make things better

sending us home with a lovely inner-glow.

Clara Wood-Keeley

Clara Wood-Keeley

You  can order the album via the Union Music Store here or any good record shop (it’s one of Resident’s picks of the week this week).

Oh, and our interview with lead Groupie Mark Bruce is here https://brightonmusicblog.co.uk/2013/01/28/interview-with-the-self-help-group

 

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Review and Photographs by Jon Southcoasting

Emma Gatrill album release

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Emma Gatrill (of Laish, Sons of Noel and Adrian etc) launched her first solo album ‘Chapter One’ in the beautiful environment of the Church of Annunciation last Friday night. The quirky but holy surroundings perfectly suited Emma’s hushed yet accessibly moving harp-based songs. The album is really lovely and well worth checking out – available now from the Willkommen label http://www.willkommenrecords.co.uk/shop/releases/emma-gatrill-chapter-i

Support acts on Friday came from two local acts I had not seen before –  the Steve Aston Trio who played some beautiful jazz-based guitar in the style of Django Reinhardt (whose name I surprisingly spelled correctly at the first attempt!), and the opener who was the amazing Nick Edward Harris, who managed to play some extrordinary songs on the guitar using some impressive slapping and tapping and quite original ways of playing that instrument. Both supports are also well worth catching if you get the chance.

Hatful of Rain – Way up on the Hill

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Lewes is not too far, is it?

Anyone who follows the Brighton folk scene will probably have come across the excellent Hatful of Rain. This great local folk band have now recorded an album which is coming out via the Union Music Store in Lewes, and if this first song is anything to go by it will be a fabulous thing. The album is out at the end of May.

Album Review : Thomas White / Yalla!

It’s easy to get bored on holiday. You don’t have all your daily routine to keep you preoccupied. But when most of us get a bit bored when we’re away, we reach for a paperback, or head to the bar. Not Thomas White though. When he was bored on holiday in Egypt (before last year’s Arab Spring), he knocked up a whole new album, just using his guitar, his laptop and the the microphone of his pocket videocamera. He wasn’t even going to release it until he was persuaded by friends that he’d be a fool if he didn’t.

Thomas White - Yalla!

Yalla! is Thomas White’s third solo album, on top of those he’s made with Electric Soft Parade and Brakes (and numerous guest spots with others), and it quite possibly his most personal and accomplished work to date.

The album fades in quietly, opening with All The Fallen Leaves. Nearly a minute passes before the first chord is played. The lyrics tell of a aching for home – Brighton – despite the fact that “the sun beats down on desert ground”, and that home is “cold, wet and brown”. An acoustic guitar plucks away at simple chords, and a haunting close harmony joins in for some of the repeated lyrics which aren’t quite a chorus.

I’ll See Her Again and That Heavy Sunshine Sound are a bit more upbeat, but the undercurrent of yearning is still there – not for Brighton this time, but for a woman. The latter is definitely one of my highlights of the album, with the near perfect stanza “I am a boy / with a crush on a girl / who is out of my league / and is certainly out of this world”, which encapsulates exactly how I felt far too often in my early twenties.

The album continues in it’s psychedelic folk theme – Nick Drake with harmonies by the Beach Boys, with Norwegian Wood by the Beatles playing on the radio in the next room. For a more recent comparison, it occupies the same musical space as Balcony Times, the album put out at the end of last year by Milk & Biscuits (which incidentally, Thomas played on).

The best is saved until last. Album closer The English Sargasso lasts for nearly six and a half minutes, and by this point, Thomas is homesick for his friends and the pubs of Brighton – “We’ll hit the Dorset, and maybe The Hand, and down to Fitzherberts and the Globe after that”. While the last piece clocks in over five minutes, it doesn’t drag, but feels unhurried, moving along at a different, slower pace. The kind of pace that things move at when you’re on holiday with absolutely nothing to do – an incredibly clever trick to nail.

If this is what happens when Mr White goes on holiday, I can’t wait to hear the results of his next trip.

Thomas White playing with Brakes at the Green Door Store 23/1/11

Yalla! by Thomas White is released on Bleeding Heart Recordings on 19th March 2012. The first 50 copies – available through Resident Records in Brighton and Rough Trade in London – come with a bonus five track cd, and there will be a free instore gig at Resident at 6pm on 19th March, where the album will be available for £6.99.

Tim Hardin Memorial Folk Fest

Tim Hardin memorial night in Brighton

Tomorrow (Thursday) in that pleasantly quiet gap between Xmas excess and New Year exuberance there will be a little local celebration of the brilliant singer-songwriter Tim Hardin.

Tim Hardin was born 70 years ago on 23 December, and died on this day (29th Dec) at the age of 39, having written such classics as If I were a Carpenter, Reason to Believe, Black Sheep Boy etc. Local acts Hiawatha Telephone Company, Antony Hodgson and Simon Drinkwater plus friends will be playing their own songs, select covers and an assortment of Tim Hardin tunes at the small but perfectly formed Horse and Groom Pub in Islingword Road. Should make for a very pleasant evening, and if you haven’t heard any Hardin songs before then you’ll be in for a treat.

It all starts around 8:30pm and entry is free.

Facebook event is here