Music related postings

Filming “A Certain Kind”

One of the nice things about being retired is that, to a certain extent, I can pick and choose what I do. And I can respond readily to requests such as “Dad, are you free on Sunday to manhandle the GoPro?”

The brief was to spend two minutes filming Isaac and his pal Andy walking along a path miming to the new single off their latest Cats and Crows album, Winter.

“We can do it in one take,” he said.  Yea, right!

The song, A Certain Kind” is actually four minutes long. The idea was to film him miming at double speed to impart a nice flow to the footage.

So it would involve walking quite fast but that was okay because the GoPro was to be mounted on a Gimble, effectively turning it into a SteadyCam which would iron out the bumps.

Ah… hang on… all this would need to be done walking backwards down a winding, uneven path littered with obstacles such as signs and fence posts. And all whilst Andy clowns around (literally) with water pistols, balloons and exploding Coke cans. Not quite so simple as the initial brief suggested but a lot more interesting nevertheless.

Isaac had made a detailed script for Steph to stage-manage and shout out the carefully timed cues. We had a couple of dry runs to rehearse, whilst Jayne broke out the face paints to complete Andy’s transformation.

When it came to the actual shoot, Jayne walked alongside me with a hand on my shoulder. She had to be the eyes in the back of my head, guiding me around corners and past the obstacles so I could concentrate on the framing, whilst Steph kept out of shot, timing everything, shouting prompts and handing the various props to Andy the clown.

We did it in four takes and I had the good grace to avoid falling arse-over-tit until right at the end of the last segment, much to the delight of the onlookers gathered at the windows of the nearby houses.

Then it was off to Isaac’s man cave where he carefully edited the footage. It was good to see his vision of the video come to fruition. And over 7,000 FaceBook views over the first three days was a great way to launch the single.

Video directed by Isaac Birchall, Filmed by The Hairy Photographer, Edited & Produced by Well Street Records.

A Certain Kind is the first single from the Cats and Crows album, ‘Winter’

Cats and Crows are Isaac Birchall & Andy Cooper.
(C) Cats and Crows 2019

Buy it here: https://bit.ly/2MjYaaZ
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2Hnxfwc

By |January 23rd, 2019|0 Comments

Read More

There’s Something About Simon

Photo by Mark McNulty

There is something about the music of Paul Simon.  It was the sound of my generation. When I hung up the bass guitar that had accompanied my teenage journey through the clubs and pubs of the north-west, I bought myself a vintage EKO and a couple of songbooks. After six or seven years of thumbing out basslines to the  sound of the Mersey beat, I was ready for something a little more folkie and so it was the Paul Simon Song Book and later, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, that helped me realise that one man’s ceiling really can be another man’s floor.

I didn’t get very far off that floor though, my efforts to learn fingerstyle guitar were thwarted by day-job, marriage and family, but I always loved those Paul Simon songs and am still crazy about them after all these years.

Gary, Skeet and Christian at Ruthin AllStyles

Fast forward several decades to the Spring of 2014 when a Liverpool lad, by the name of Gary Edward Jones, came to perform a showcase at my local folk club. I was knocked out by his music and we became good friends.

Soon after we met, I told him how much he looked, and sounded, like Paul Simon.  It appears I wasn’t the first, and in fact, it had become something of an annoyance to Gary that people kept pointing out these similarities. He was and still is, a brilliant songwriter in his own right, so why would he be interested in going down the route of covering another artists songs?

Photo by Victor Pennington

The Cabinet Maker
Gary’s first album “The Cabinet Maker” is a testament to just how good this man is. The album launch at Liverpool’s magnificent St George’s Hall that November was hands down one of the most beautiful musical events I have had the honour of being present at. The album was met with a huge amount of critical acclaim and enjoyed 17 weeks in the upper reaches of the Radio Caroline charts.

But as pretty much any unsigned musician will tell you, such success may well spawn recognition, CD sales and a lot more gigs but rarely does it go far enough to be able to give up the day job.

The Journey Begins
Then in the latter part of 2016, Gary sent me this clip of him singing Kathy’s Song. Testing the water maybe, and whether he really wanted encouragement or not, encouragement he got, from me and from most of his close musical contemporaries.

Having succumbed to all the encouragement, Gary was not going to “just sing and play Paul Simon songs”, he spent hours every day living and breathing Paul Simon. Formerly a “thumb and one finger” Travis-picker, he studied the unique style of the man himself, perfecting every sound and nuance. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it properly.

Over the years, I have seen and heard hundreds of people covering those same songs. Most far better than my own early strumbling efforts, but none who could actually play them in exactly the same style as the songwriter himself.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

The Epstein Concert
And because Gary’s voice has a similar dynamic range and tone, he made a conscious decision not to attempt to copy Paul Simon’s accent, phrasing and diction. He would just sing the songs naturally in his own voice. The result is amazing. I have found it very easy to close my eyes and convince myself I was actually listening to the man himself.

The success of a ‘tester’ gig in July 2017 in front of 100 people was the thruster rocket that spurred him on and led up to this week’s concerts at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre. Sitting in the auditorium on the first night, listening to the faultless performance, watching the audience’s reaction and joining them, every single one of them, in the enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, I knew It was the end of the first part of his journey and the beginning of what will surely be a much bigger one.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

Something About Simon is absolutely not a tribute act. It is so much more. It is a show combining the music with a narrative that takes the audience on a journey tracing Paul Simon’s footsteps, from his first visit to Britain, playing folk clubs for beers, through his return to his homeland and subsequent rise to fame.

It is no accident that Gary’s repertoire leans heavily on Simons’ early songs, as many of them were written in England, some on Merseyside’s very doorstep.

A nice touch was the way he weaved into the show, during a narrative on how songwriters get their inspiration, two of his own songs. “Oceans” and “Walk You Home” were written way before Gary began flirting with the Paul Simon Songbook. Yet the similarities in the writing style are very apparent.

If like me, you never got to see Paul Simon perform live, you really have got to look out for the “Something About Simon” tour that will inevitably follow.

Gary Edward Jones is an endearing performer, an immaculate guitarist, and a beautiful singer. And the only other person who sounds more like Paul Simon is Paul Simon himself.

Photos are respectively ©Chris Birchall, Victor Pennington, Mark McNulty and Anthony Robling

By |November 13th, 2018|0 Comments

Read More

Amy Wadge at The Clwyd Room


D’you know what… You can keep your stadium gigs.

Last night we just enjoyed the most fantastic night’s entertainment at Theatr Clwyd in the company of just a couple of hundred or so other lovers of live music.

First up was Martyn Peters who, since he played a belting floor spot for us at our local club, Ruthin AllStyles, has spent the last year or so making a name for himself in That London.

And wow, how he’s developed into an accomplished and professional performer, with a whole ruck of fabulous songs from his album “Veins” plus some new ones yet to be released. He played a flawless and polished set last night with fellow Denbighite Chris Walker riding shotgun on guitar and backing vocals.

Then came a solo set to knock your socks off from Kent musician Luke Jackson, before headliner Amy Wadge just totally blew us all away. In fact the two sets melded into one, with each providing backing vocals for the other, during many of their respective songs.

What a song-writer this diminutive little lady from Pontypridd is, and a fabulous performer too. Why is she not a superstar? As good as ‘That Song’ is (featured here in the video filmed by the venue’s event organiser Nathan Stewart), I find it sad that it takes the fact that you wrote a song for Ed Sheeran to shoot someone into the limelight, when their brilliant talent might otherwise well have remained undiscovered.

Congratulations to Nathan and the team at Theatr Clwyd for putting on such a terrific evening, where the atmosphere in the Clwyd Room, the lighting and, in particular the sound, were spot on, admirably showcasing these four talented musicians.

By |November 11th, 2017|0 Comments

Read More

The Lighting was Hell, the band were Merry

Listen while you read

It’s no secret that one of my favourite folk rock bands in the Wigan based Merry Hell.

They are lively, uplifting, and highly entertaining. They write songs in the modern folk ethos, with keen, wry, often humorous, observations of life and love. And when touched by discrimination, injustice and political malfeasance, they protesteth well through the medium of song.

We’ve had them perform at our own folk and acoustic club on a number of occasions, and indeed they will be back again in November [Link].

They are a great band to photograph too. The three Kettle bothers; gravelly voiced Andrew in his dapper suits, the plectrum chewing John with his animated guitar style, and the hirsute and behatted Bob with a face full of character that randomly breaks into the widest of smiles. And of course there’s the lovely Virginia, who is great to photograph because of her nimble and gesticulous performances, and just because she’s the lovely Virginia.

As this particular gig was at a club in a neighbouring town, I’d awarded myself a night off and left my camera at home, only to find on arrival, an SLR being pressed into my hand. I agreed to the request, quietly self-imposing a “three songs and out” rule so I could relax and enjoy the show.

You will have guessed by now that this is not so much a music review, being filed primarily under “Photography Talk”. Please go here for past Merry Hell reviews, and Here for Ron Lester’s review of the Rhyl gig.

The camera was a Fuji S5. My first digital SLR had been the Fuji S1 which I still have but rarely use. It was low on megapixels and lacked the ability to shoot raw, but I always loved the smooth skin tones produced by the unique pixel structure of  its ‘Super CCD’.

Being a Nikon user, the S5 felt comfortable, based as it was on the 2006 iteration of the Nikon D200. Because it was dark and there was a gig to enjoy, I didn’t have the time nor inclination to fully familiarise myself, so I went with the camera’s settings as they were. Luckily, I spotted the fact the auto-focus was set to dynamically focus using the centre spot, so not wanting to trawl through an unfamiliar menu, I utilised the focus lock button the ensure it didn’t keep drifting to focus on the background.

For this type of shoot, in the inevitable low level lighting, I tend to shoot on Shutter Prioriy at a 30th with auto ISO.

As well as the four main band members, there were the back line bass and fiddle players, Nick Davies  and Neil McCartney to consider. Getting all six in one shot was always going to be a challenge, so I altered my vantage point for each of the three songs. Whilst I was precariously perched  atop a rickety bar stool, Virginia announced she wanted everyone to sway along to “Bury Me Naked”. As infectious as the music was, I declined, not wanting to be buried just yet, naked or otherwise.

“I’ll send you the files”, he said, as I handed back the camera . What he meant was “will you process them for me too”. Anyway I didn’t really mind. Ron’s a mate, and he never objects when the tables are turned and I thrust a camera into his hands at our own club.

The following day, three dozen Jpegs appeared in my Dropbox, under-exposed (I knew they would be) and with the colour balance from hell (I knew this too).  What I hadn’t known was that the camera was set to shoot only Jpegs. Ah well. The Fuji’s firmware had done it’s best to cope with the mixture of low power tungsten, halogen and led spot/floods that illuminate the business end of Rhyl Folk & Acoustic’s clubroom, and in doing so had stripped out a hell of a lot of the digital ‘meat’ I am used to dealing with in my own NEF RAW files.

The sliders in Lightroom’s Develop Module looked like  something created by Salvador Dali, but we got there in the end and the images turned out quite reasonable considering the conditions.

I was satisfied with the images and had got to enjoy my first Merry Hell fix of the year.

By |February 14th, 2017|0 Comments

Read More

Musicians lost to 2016

Dear Grim Reaper.

You have been a greedy bastard. Now feck off, take a year’s sabbatical, and leave the world of music alone!

Yours sincerely
2016

The Grim Roll Call

  1. David Bowie
  2. Dale Griffin (Mott The Hoople)
  3. Glenn Frey (Eagles)
  4. Colin Vearncombe, (Black)
  5. Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)
  6. Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane)
  7. Maurice White (Earth Wind and Fire)
  8. Viola Beach (all four members)
  9. George Martin
  10. Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
  11. Andy Newman (Thunderclap Newman)
  12. Merle Haggard
  13. Jimmie Van Zant (American singer, songwriter)
  14. Prince
  15. Lonnie Mack (American rock, blues and country singer)
  16. Billy Paul (Me and Mrs Jones)
  17. Guy Clark (country and folk singer, songwriter)
  18. Dave Swarbrick
  19. Bernie Worrell (Parliament-Funkadelic / Talking Heads)
  20. Henry McCullough (Irish rock guitarist)
  21. Ralph Stanley (American bluegrass artist)
  22. Scotty Moore,(long time-guitarist with Elvis)
  23. Alan Vega (electronic protopunk duo Suicide)
  24. James Woolley (Nine Inch Nails)
  25. Matt Roberts (3 Doors Down)
  26. Rod Temperton (Heatwave)
  27. Pete Burns
  28. Bobby Vee
  29. Leonard Cohen
  30. Craig Gill, (Inspiral Carpets)
  31. Colonel Abrams (American singer/songwriter)
  32. Leon Russell
  33. Ray Columbus (and the Invaders)
  34. Bap Kennedy, (Belfast singer-songwriter)
  35. Sharon Jones (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings)
  36. Wayne Duncan (Daddy Cool)
  37. Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
  38. Rick Parfit (Status Quo)
  39. Joe Ligon (Mighty Clouds of Joy)
  40. George Michael

By |December 26th, 2016|0 Comments

Read More