Album Review :: Tim Barry – 40 Miler

“Is Tim Barry the Larry David of the punk scene?”

When the punks go ‘acoustic’, it seems they head down one pre-defined path – they play punk music with an acoustic guitar. Now I’ve no problem with that, but they really stand out when they do something a little more unexpected. For me, Tim Barry is one of the few that veered off the beaten track. The former Avail frontman, swapped the harshness of punk for a, more mellow, country sound. Though he’s certainly not ‘gone soft’.

Well known for his story-telling style, Barry enchants the listener with tales of small towns, friends and adventure. Some of these you might have heard of – references to a couple of characters named Frank and Brian make up the opening to the title track, and there’s even a whole song about, Lucero’s, Todd Beene – and others you won’t. Still, he makes you feel like you’re right there alongside him throughout and you experience a lot and run the emotional gamut when you’re riding with Tim. Driver Pull’ – a song about dealing with life and all its inherent problems – showcases a much sombre side of the Virginia native, whereas ‘Amen’ will have you singing along in no time.

Similarly, ‘Fine Foods Market’ shows Barry at his most satirical. The entire song is a comment on the current ‘scene’, with a particular focus on the falseness of hipsters. It worked as a perfect palette cleanser for all of the more downbeat tracks on the album, and might actually be my favourite. Again it draws on Barry’s own experiences, as he looks back on his life and compares it to what he sees in the youth of today. Though it could come across as slightly curmudgeonly, it is delivered with such style and humor that you can’t help but love it. Is Tim Barry the Larry David of the punk scene?

Such quick changes in tone did tend to stop the record from flowing quite as well as it could have, but this is a minor gripe when you take the quality of the songs into account. The switch from acoustic to electric and back again had a similar effect, but the changes in instrumentation certainly make for a more interesting sonic experience.

Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that 40 Miler is Tim Barry’s best release to date. As with everything he’s put out, the songs are steeped in truth and adventure and provide a fantastic look into the world of a very interesting man. Not only that, but songs like ‘Hobo Lullaby’ have helped establish, in my mind at least, that Barry is one of the best songwriters around today. Though there’s a little bit of filler here and there, on the whole, it’s a pretty fantastic record. It can bring you down, but never fails to pull you back up again. If you like sober thoughts and singalongs, this is the record for you.

Gig Review :: Frank Turner – Wembley Arena – 13/04/12

© Ben Morse 2012

“Even with the size of the place and all the pomp and circumstance, one thing remained the same. It still felt like a Frank Turner show.”

When I saw Frank play the Manchester Apollo last year I wondered how much bigger he could possibly get. The first time I saw the guy play was in front of 800 people, so to see him play to a crowd the size of the Apollo’s was a little mental. So you can imagine how it was seeing him on stage at Wembley arena. This wasn’t just Wembley Arena either, it was a sold out Wembley Arena. Crazy.

Just walking into that behemoth of an arena was insane. This place would soon have eleven-thousand people in it in a few hours and, honestly, that’s a pretty scary thought. Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before we had our first act on stage – Beans On Toast. For those who don’t know, Beans On Toast is a folk singer from Essex. His voice is really fucked up and all his songs are really simple (but in a good way). The fact he was performing at Wembley had to be some kind of awesome in-joke, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t brilliant. After opening with a brand new song, he brought on Bobby Banjo – his banjo player, would you believe? – and they blasted out a few of Beans’ more well known tunes. Well, when I say “blasted out”, I mean they just about got through them.

As is a custom at a Beans On Toast gig, the songs aren’t always played in full and, on occasion, aren’t even played correctly. This is exactly what we were treated to, with Beans even asking the crowd to stop clapping along with songs because he couldn’t concentrate. In between songs he told stories and chatted about what certain songs meant, whilst checking his watch to make sure he didn’t over run the twenty minutes he’d been allocated. Having closed his set, Beans was met with an amazing response from the ever expanding crowd. This prompted him to crowd surf to the back of the arena. It was a great way to open the show and an even better way for Beans to close his set. Though finding later out he’d been chucked out for crowd surfing was the icing on the cake.

Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius pip continued the show and, whilst they’re good performers, I don’t think they really fit in with the rest of the Wembley experience. Granted, this was my first exposure to the hip-hop duo, but I found it really hard to get into. With that said, I seemed to be in the minority as they went down really well. Perhaps I should have swotted up beforehand?

That headline slot was edging ever closer and now the crowd seemed to have all packed into the arena. Unlike the night before, people weren’t about to walk out on Billy Bragg here. For those who were at the previous night’s gig, the set will have sounded a little familiar. With that said, Bragg was blasting out the hits on both nights with only a few new ones thrown into the set. Again he played ‘Scousers Never Buy The Sun’, which was especially poignant given how close the show was to the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. The rest was dedicated to a few of his more seasoned songs and, again, he closed with ‘A New England’. This time, with eleven-thousand other voices singing the chorus and a chill descending down my spine. Even this wasn’t enough to top what was about to happen.

Though it had been billed by the man himself as a ‘greatest hits’ kind of set, it opened with ‘Eulogy’ – the opening track from, latest album, England Keep My Bones – and the beginning of Frank’s performance at Wembley did feel a little top heavy with EKMB tracks. However, once it got going the hits kept coming and we all kept singing. Audience participation is a big thing at Frank Turner shows, so if you’re not singing you’re not doing it right! Speaking of participation, before launching into ‘Dan’s Song’, Frank brought his mum up on stage in the hope she would play the harmonica on the track. After a little coaxing from her son and the eleven-thousand that came to see him do what he does best, she gave in and maybe even got the biggest cheer of the night. This was swiftly followed by ‘Father’s Day’, which seemed like a nice bit of set arrangement on Turner’s part given the song’s subject matter. Other surprise inclusions included ‘Nashville Tennessee’. First featured on Campfire Punkrock, the song is a fan favourite that seems to have withstood the test of time unlike others from that stage of Frank’s career.

Amongst all of the hits and surprises, a new song was thrown into the mix. ‘Four Simple Words’ – a track from Frank’s forthcoming fifth solo album – went down really well with the Wembley crowd. Though we didn’t know the words, we danced along regardless. The soft sweet acoustic opening feeling like a ruse, as the body of the song is unleashed. There are very few times I’ve thought about ‘pitting’ to Frank’s music. This was one such time. This song already felt like a hit, and it’s no where near ready for release yet.

When it came time to close the set, Frank went with a little Queen. More recently, the Winchestrian has closed his sets with a rendition of the classic rock band’s ‘Somebody To Love’ and it’s inclusion here was received with aplomb. After bidding us ‘goodnight’, attentions were turned to the big screens hanging above the stage. There was Frank, sitting in a chair, waving back at us. What was he doing? Well, he was waiting to get tattooed. Rather than that rockstar pre-encore walkoff being shrouded in secrecy, Turner decided to let everyone get a peek as a second date was added to his pre-existing Wembley tattoo (done when he supported Green Day at Wembley stadium). With that finished, Turner returned to the stage with Billy Bragg following shortly after. Just like the night before, the pair played Dylan’s ‘The Time’s They Are A Changing’, this time, with a few additional hiccups. There were singalongs aplenty, though the cynic in me wondered how many watching had only heard this song because it was featured in Watchmen. Regardless, it went down a storm. Now was time for the biggest shock of the evening.

Now alone, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Frank set about playing ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’. Though he announced this time “might” be the song’s last outing in a live venue. Emotions ran high and there were even some audible groans from the crowd, but Turner delivered the fan favourite expertly and, in the end, it felt kind of fitting to retire that song at such a poignant time. After such a somber second song, the encore was concluded (as always) with ‘Photosynthesis’. Again the audience played their part, sitting down towards the end of the song before leaping up into the air as Nigel kicks the song back into gear and confetti and streamers fly into the air. It was a showy finish, but it feels like something Frank can pull off at this stage.

Even with the size of the place and all the pomp and circumstance, one thing remained the same. It still felt like a Frank Turner show. It still felt intimate, and Frank never appeared to be out of his depth. It’ll always feel better to see him in a smaller venue – I mean, when doesn’t a small venue feel better? -, but this show was one to remember, and one I’ll be talking about for some time to come.

Gig Review :: ‘Twas The Night Before Wembley – Camden Barfly – 12/04/12

© Katie Gedling 2012

“This is the place that was going to hold five awesome acts and two-hundred Xtra Mile loyalists?”

Twas the night before Wembley and…something, something, something. I was going to try and be really clever and come up with alternative words to that classic poem to introduce this review, but I tried and it really wasn’t good. On the contrary, Twas The Night Before Wembley was pretty awesome, and a perfect way to pre-empt what is bound to go down as one of the best gigs of the year.

This was my first Barfly experience, so to say I was surprised to see the size of the place is an understatement. I mean I didn’t expect it to be huge, but this place looked like any other pub. This is the place that was going to hold five awesome acts and two-hundred Xtra Mile loyalists? We were certainly in for an intimate show then! Doors opened and the crowd flooded in, the room a’buzz with talk of who the special guest might be.

Shortly after, Ben Marwood kicked the night off and was met with a rapturous applause. Having toured with Frank Turner last year, the crowd certainly knew who Ben was, and the singalongs began immediately. Fan favourite, ‘Singalong’ seemed to go down the best, with the entire room in fine voice for Marwood’s irony-filled anthem. ‘Tell Avril Lavigne I Never Wanted To Be Her Stupid Boyfriend Anyway’ was also met with a brilliant response, but maybe that’s what you get when you throw the chorus to ‘Sk8r Boi’ into the middle of your song? He said that’d be the last time he did that…somehow I don’t think it will be.

Marwood left the stage and the crowd was suitably warmed up when Jamie Lenman announced that Dave Hause would be up next. The former Reuben frontman was a perfect master of ceremonies, cracking jokes and seemingly having a good time. Though I couldn’t help wonder how many of those crammed into the Barfly even knew who he was besides “that bloke with the tache who’s got a suit on” (yes, that’s a direct quote).

Having flown into London just a few hours before, a jetlagged-looking Dave Hause was up next. The Loved Ones frontman played a blinder, though it felt like many in the room didn’t know who he was. The majority of his set was taken from Resolutions and the crowd seemed into it, with a fair few singing along. He even threw a ‘Pretty Good Year’ – a Loved Ones song – into the mix, but even those who were singing along before didn’t seem to know what it was. So that was a shame, but Dave himself was awesome as always and in good spirits. He took time out to joke with one member of the audience, though I don’t know if they quite got it.

Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun soon followed. Hot on the heels of their new record, it seemed like the crowd was a little more into it. Hearing songs from Death in a live environment was amazing, and really helped to solidify how far that band has come since their last release. A few songs from Atlases made it into the set, and it was great to hear how well they worked in conjunction with those new tracks. They played hard and may have even won over the few that had not yet been subjected to the Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun experience.

Like I said, there was all this talk of a special guest playing the Barfly that night, and it seemed many had decided that this guest would be Frank Turner. Granted, that’s a valid assumption to make. After all, he is Xtra Mile’s biggest act. However, when you look at it logically, Turner playing a set at The Barfly was pretty unlikely given the importance of what he was due to undertake in less than twenty-four hours time. So when it was revealed that Billy Bragg was the special guest, more than a few in attendance headed for the door.

Even with a drop in attendees the room was still packed when ‘Uncle Bill’ started playing. The set was comprised mostly of hits, with ‘Scousers Never Buy The Sun’ being the only new track played the whole set. This is what people want though, and Billy knows that. ‘To Have And To Have Not’ was a definite highlight of the set, but you can’t beat ‘A New England’ when it comes to awesome set closers. The crowd shouted for an encore, and an encore we got. Bragg returned to the stage with a guest of his own. Unsurprisingly Mr Turner was in attendance, so the two of them belted out a cover of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A Changing’, something that sent those who’d headed elsewhere in disappointment charging into the room.

Four down and one to go. So far the night had been a massive success, now it was time for Crazy Arm. As a massive fan of these guys I know they can tear the roof off a venue like The Barfly with ease. And they did. But like Dave Hause’s set, it seemed the crowd really wasn’t into it. After a night of folk punk and acoustic tunes, many seemed to think Crazy Arm were a little too much. The atmosphere was less intense, but the band were not. They were as tight as ever and absolutely killed it. It was nice to hear ‘Little Boats’ being thrown into the set again after a long absence and some of their older songs sound amazing with the additional instrumentation. The band closed the set with a cover of Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’. And though it seemed to get the crowd going a bit, the intensity of a Crazy Arm headline show just wasn’t there.

With that I headed back downstairs, unable to speak having completely blown my voice out shouting along with Crazy Arm. All in all it was a great night, and a fantastic way for Xtra Mile to showcase the talent they have on their label. I couldn’t think of a better way to prepare for Wembley either.

Album Review :: Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun – Death

“It takes what was there and improves on it but, at the same time, it doesn’t lose any of what made you fall in love with the band in the first place.”

I was first introduced to Jim Lockey & The Solemn sun a few years back at Lexapalooza, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Their, self proclaimed, “country without the ‘O'” tunes have been a constant for me since that fateful day, so I was pretty excited to finally get my hands on the lads’ latest effort. And I was right to be excited, because Death is absolutely awesome (wow, that was a weird sentence to write), albeit a bit of a departure from what they’ve done before.

Granted, it starts off pretty similar, the soft strumming of an acoustic guitar and Jim’s soothing vocals opening up the album on ‘England’s Dead’. This softness last’s about a minute before being pushed aside by the wail of an electric guitar and the crash of cymbals, a force that continues throughout. It’s a more powerful record that’s for sure, with the boys edging towards quite a punk sound on occasion. Shit, they’ve even got a twenty-second song in ‘Sail Me Down The River’ – it doesn’t get much more punk than that!

This new found power has made The Solemn Sun even more integral when it comes to how this record sounds. I’m not saying they didn’t play a key role on Atlases, but those songs always felt lead by Jim’s acoustic and that the band were there just to provide subtle backing. On Death the band is vital. Without the band (in one form or another) some of these songs just wouldn’t be the same. In a way it reminds me of, label mate, Frank Turner’s Poetry Of The Deed: There are still tracks like those found on the last record – ‘Our Fathers’ stands out as the perfect example of Jim really carrying a song (and doing it well, I might add) – but for the most part, the band is really an integral part of the listening experience. That comes as no surprise, when you find out who was sat behind the desk.

Producer extraordinaire, Pete Miles really knows how to bring the best out of an already great band. The man has produced some of the best records in ‘alternative’ music (to use a catch all term) in recent years – including, my favourite record of last year, Great Cynics’ Don’t Need Much and, the absolutely amazing, Born To Ruin by Crazy Arm – so having him work with guys as talented as this feels like a match made in musical heaven. It’s really paid off too as, not only does it sound powerful, it sounds slick too. That’s not to say that it doesn’t get a little rough in spots, but it’s easy to give those a pass when the record is so good overall.

Death does everything a good second album should. It takes what was there and improves on it but, at the same time, it doesn’t lose any of what made you fall in love with the band in the first place. It still feels like a folk record, albeit one that comes out and hits you in the face, the lyrics are still poignant and the songs are as good as, if not better than, those that came before.

Trust me, you can expect big things from these guys in the future.

EP Review :: Fitz. – Bare Bones

“…there is a definite “home-made” feel, a raw quality, which gives the songs a more touching edge.”

Fitz. is the pseudonym used by West-Midlands based musician Sam Fitzpatrick and his accompanying band, who, together, take modern-folk songs filled with pounding percussion and lace them with powerful vocals to deliver an impressively diverse and exciting debut E.P.

Upon graduating from University with a degree in Music Technology, Fitz. resigned himself to a 16th century stone barn in the Black Mountains of South Wales to wholeheartedly concentrate on his music, passionately working on tracks for his debut album ‘Patchwork’. Following the two-month recording of ‘Patchwork’ with the help of talented friends and musicians, Fitz. started working to assemble a live band to accompany him on stage.

As an ensemble, the members of Fitz. worked tirelessly to create a well-rounded debut EP, full of ‘a-la-mode’ folk instrumentals, layered vocals and intricate acoustic guitars. ‘Bare Bones’ is a 4 track masterpiece, filled with heartfelt and passionate songs; a tasty canapé, if you like, allowing a dalliance, a dabble in the delights that Fitz. has to offer and patently leaving you salivating for the full-length album, expected in May 2012.

After listening to the tracks (details of where to find them below), I am compelled to avoid any obvious comparisons (the likes of Mumford and Sons, Ben Howard, Frank Turner would be stereotypically linked to Fitz’s style) I would, however,prefer to place them on a pedestal of their own. Whilst the tracks have been mastered and well-recorded, there is a definite “home-made” feel, a raw quality, which gives the songs a more touching edge. There are no electronic effects, tweaking or over-production; every song is simple yet incredibly effective. Each track has a strong back-bone, a robust guitar riff or set of chords that provides a stable base for the linked instrumentals. The lyrics melt over the guitars, telling tangible and relatable stories whilst the interesting array of instruments and quirky interpretations of “modern-folk” allow the tracks to be unique and stand-out in an ever-growing market.

Whilst the E.P. flows well, each track fusing effortlessly into the next, the tracks all offer their own take on Fitz’s style. There are intense crescendos and quiet interludes. Two favourite tracks on the E.P. include ‘Firelight’ and ‘Maps’ which both contain the aforementioned ingredients that make this E.P. such a success.

As well as an impressive debut E.P., Fitz. has built an equally inspiring repertoire of live gigs, including performances at a ‘Unicef’ concert and entertaining sell out crowds of over a thousand. The band’s versatility and diverse range of talents allows them to offer exciting and powerful performances, whilst also being gifted with the ability to strip their eclectic supply of tracks down to their bare bones to allow for a more intimate and mellow set. This year, Fitz. is due to visit every corner of the UK promoting the release of his debut single ‘Maps’ and his first album ‘Patchwork’ (out May 2012) through independent record label ‘Us Is The New Them’. ‘Patchwork’ will be a developed progression from the debut E.P., maintaining the initial values and musicality present on ‘Bare Bones’ whilst offering a more substantial sound.

Fitz. are: Sam Fitzpatrick on Acoustic Guitars and Vocals, Joel Careless on Bass, Percussion and Electric Guitar, Benjamin Maines-Blatherwick on Percussion and Drums, and Richard Potts on Banjo, Percussion and an eclectic array of acoustic instrumentation.

The band can be found at: http://www.facebook.com/FitzOfficialUK and their music is available from: iTunes/Amazon.com/Play.com/Spotify

http://www.fitzofficial.co.uk

http://www.soundcloud.com/fitzofficial

http://www.youtube.com/fitzofficialuk

[J]

Moon & Back Session :: Beans On Toast

“I’m gonna change the name of that song to ‘Egg Free Mayonnaise'” – Beans On Toast

If you’re not familiar already, Beans On Toast is a folk singer/songwriter from Essex, and he might be one of the only artists in recent memory worthy of the ‘folk’ label. His songs are filled with comedy, tales of woe and are as ‘true to life’ as I’ve ever heard come out of any singer/songwriters mouth. Beans was in Manchester for a show, so we decided to record a little session. A session featuring two brand new songs, no less!

The session was recorded at V Revolution – a newly opened punk/hardcore record/vegan lifestyle shop on Oldham Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter – a place that every music in Manchester should get behind. It’s not often you get someone trying something like this and, they’ll tell you themselves, it’s a bit of risk. Massive thanks to those dudes for helping us out with this one. It’s really hard to record sessions in bad light!

As always, enjoy the session and if you’ve got anyone you’d like to see performing for Moon & Back drop us a comment.

‘Protest Song’

‘Beer & A Burger’

Album Of The Year 2011 :: Frank Turner’s Top 5

The idea that there’s a one true ‘album of the year’ is a pretty misguided one. With that in mind, we’ve tried to offer up a series of recommendations from both the Moon & Back Music staff, and from a few notable names from the world of music.
Today it’s the turn of a man who’s constantly on the road, who’s played the main stage at countless festivals this past year, and who released one of 2011’s finest albums. World-renowned Wessex boy, Frank Turner gives us his ‘Top 5 of 2011’.

5. Josh T Pearson – Last Of The country Gentlemen

Easily the most viscerally dark album about love I’ve ever heard. I still have trouble listening to this from time to time, it’s too intense.

4. Chris T-T – Disobedience

A lovely idea executed with love and care by a good friend.

3. Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo – Almanac

Emily and the girls hit the perfect tone on this record, poised, gentle and sad.

2. Jen Buxton – Don’t Change Your Plans

Jen is an old friend from Australia who’s taken her time to make her first record, and it’s stunning. Lyrics to die for.

1. Glossary – Long Live All Of Us

My favourite rock’n’roll record of the year by miles.

Album Of The Year 2011 :: Into It. Over It.’s Top 5

The idea that there’s a one true ‘album of the year’ is a pretty misguided one. With that in mind, we’ve tried to offer up a series of recommendations from both the Moon & Back Music staff, and from a few notable names from the world of music.

“Hi, my name is Evan and this is Into It. Over It.” is how each of  Evan Weiss’ sets begins (well, every one I’ve seen). The New Jersey native has had a fantastic year, releasing a critically acclaimed record, in the form of Proper, and touring with the likes of Frank Turner and The Swellers. With Evan being so celebrated this year, we thought we’d have him dole out the praise to his favorite records/artists of the year.


5. Former Thieves – The Language That We Speak

Smart, well written heavy hardcore. every time i listen to this record i find something new that i love about it. it’s brilliant.

4. By Surprise – Mountain Smashers

Such a fun record, calling heavily on all of my favorite 90’s emo / indie influences. however, they give the style such a great facelift and breathe new life into it instead of just becoming another imitator. this record was a sleeper. don’t sleep on it.

3. Pianos Become The Teeth – The Lack Long After

Emotionally punishing songs. the only record that i heard this hear that generated pure human emotional response. even the layout leaves you with a heavy heart once you find out what it’s referencing. when was the last time a band could do that to you?

2. Cloud Mouth – Keep Well

Great friends making a record to bid everyone farewell. cloud mouth is fucking dead, but not before leaving us with this well recorded and near flawless batch of 4 songs. their best to date. they will be missed.

1. Iron Chic / Pacer – Split

Perfect songs. perfect songs. perfect perfect perfect songs.

Moon & Back Session :: Franz Nicolay

“I like to stay one step ahead” – Franz Nicolay

Franz Nicolay might be the most talented person I’ve ever met. Not only is he a multi-instrumentalist (he plays guitar, accordion, banjo, keys and probably a few more), but he’s got a fantastic voice too. Having previously played in The Hold Steady and The World Inferno Friendship Society (and collaborated with Against Me!, Frank Turner, The Bouncing Souls and The Loved Ones, amongst others) Franz now takes to the stage as a solo artist and his live show is absolutely amazing.

On his recent tour with Chris T-T he was gracious enough to record a Moon & Back Session, playing two songs from his forthcoming 3rd solo album Do The Struggle. If you’re not a Franz fan yet, these next couple of tracks might just change your mind. He plays both songs on the banjo too which, at the very least, is something different. Check them out below, and look for a session from Chris T-T before the end of the year.

‘You Don’t Know I’m Here’

‘Live Free’

Interview :: Andrew Seward (Against Me!)

“…This band has been criticised for everything” – Andrew Seward (Against Me!)

Against Me! have been one of the most successful and revered punk bands in recent years. Having just come off a UK headline tour, the band took to the road with Frank Turner. Before the show we chatted to, bass player, Andrew Seward about the band’s transition from major label to self distribution, how the band had taken to Turner’s crowds and the possibility of re-recording Vivida Vis.