joeldurston

Posts Tagged ‘Lianne La Havas’

Mercury Prize 2012 – Runners & Riders

In Culture on September 12, 2012 at 6:47 PM

So, it’s that time of year again which brings out the inner muso in all of us – the announcement of the Mercury Prize shortlist. And as much as it may be decried it as worthless when the choices are ‘crap’, it’s rarely so when the choices are ‘right’. Never one to miss out throwing around my two cents’ worth on music, despite having nowhere near the requisite talent to make it, here’s my take on this year’s cast of nominees and the likely successes…

 First in the list alphabetically, and in the bookies’ books, is Alt-J (∆), with their album An Awesome Wave. The recently-graduated Leeds Uni students created a storm in critics’ circles in May with this debut – an idiosyncratic mix of indie by way of psychadelica and electronica described by some as “folk-wave” – and have been quickly gaining commercial awareness since. It’s certainly a very accomplished, and gently foot-tapping, but there’s something about it that prevents me loving it; from completely warming to it. Maybe it’s just a little too clever, too abstruse and studenty, as shown by the strange triangle in their name. And Joe Newman’s twee vocals can grate. But nonetheless, it’s an impressive album, which I’d tip for the big gong.

The consensus (judging from unscientific canvassing on Twitter and NME) seems to be that fellow bookish indie stars, The Maccabees, are the other frontrunners. And one can see why, as Given To The Wild is a bold leap from their nice but fairly unremarkable and twee indie to a bigger ‘stadium’ sound, while retaining some of their more personal appeal.

Ben Howard is another strong contender with his debut, Every Kingdom – a brilliant collection of indie folk that’s managed to sound distinct in the hardly sparse genre of sensitive-bloke-with-a-guitar, and succeeded in the even trickier task of sounding both intimate and universal. Poppy enough for Radio 1, yet (evidently) folky enough for the type of person who pays heed to the Mercury. Probably my favourite of the bunch, though not necessarily the one I think should win.

Jessie Ware’s Devotion is another debut gracing the shortlist. Making the strange move from journalism to singing (rather than the other way round, settling for merely writing about one’s passion), she earnt her chops touring with electronic producer, SBTRKT, whose influence is evident on this collection of nu-soul, along with echoes of Adele and Sade (intended as a compliment).

Plan B is an altogether angrier presence on the shortlist, having, since his soul-boy Strickland Banks crooning, been soured by the riots, recession and (supposedly) regressive Coalition politics. But no less worthy of being there for this fine, sign-of-the-times, snapshot of so-called ‘Broken Britain’ (just don’t say that to him). In fact, amidst all the anger, there is also a lot of soul too, just not in the frankly awful lead single and title track, which seems confused as to whether the ‘yobs on a council estate’ is a unfair stereotype or a rightful truth.

Michael Kiwanuka’s and Lianne La Havas’ respective oeuvres are somewhat less state-of-the-nation, despite the former being the son of Ugandan parents who came to London after escaping the brutal Idi Amin regime. No, Michael seems far more at home with his geographical surroundings than Ben Drew; it’s his emotional ones that cause more soul-searching. Similarly, Greek/Jamaican/British Lianne La Havas – the latest in the seemingly endless line of Adele-a-likes, though with more soul, even in places funk, and better songs than many of her peers. While they both possess great voices – La Havas’ a proper belter in the classic soul mould and Kiwanuka’s a rich sound that (to the generous observer) recalls the likes of Bill Withers, Randy Newman and Otis Redding – they should be a tad beige, too coffee table to win the Mercury outright.

Of the other contenders, Richard Hawley is a strong contender to win with his rocky, atmospheric (though arguably ponderous) Standing at the Sky’s Edge; Sam Lee’s some folkie who seems quite interesting; Django Django’s self-titled debut is a typically ‘Mercury’, left-field indie offering that’s easy to like, hard to love; Roller Trio are the obligatory jazz entry; and Field Music are nominated because they’ve made a hummable, pretty creative album (or because they’re, it seems, nice lads, who only earn about £5,000 a year so could do with the sales boost).

The sign of a decent Mercury selection is one that avoids people staring in disbelief at the NME website and thinking ‘how is [certain piece/s of supposed shit] in above [certain supposed musical god/s]?!’ The main offenders in the former category in last year’s selection being Katy B (deservingly, I think) and Tinie Tempah and Adele (undeservingly, I think). Of course, there are still notable absentees this year, notably the xx’s Coexist (a sublime collection of electro-soul), Bombay Bicycle Club’s A Different Kind of Fix (soulful, feel-good indie), and I’d add to the list of unlucky losers Florence & The Machine’s Ceremonials (no need for description) and Hot Chip’s In Our Heads (a glorious electronic/pop ode to staying young while growing up).

Maybe this is due to a tendency of the Mercury Prize to favour breakthrough albums, typically debuts from up-and-coming artists (eight of this year’s shortlist) but often ones that have maybe just taken a significant new direction (Plan B) or could do with a commercial leg-up (Field Music). Broadly speaking, this is a noble aim, as I’m sure the Florence Welchs and Romy Madley-Crofts (of the xx) of this world are happy enough basking in their relatively large sales and love from the fans/critics. But it can have the side effect of leaving out some very good albums, as I feel has happened here.

But this is a minor quibble, for this is a strong line-up in an often much-maligned prize. In a world, where pop music is often said to have lost in soul, with many music collections containing next to nothing actually physical, the Mercury is to be praised for honouring the form of the album and artists who put the effort into creating them, as opposed to mere collections of songs.

Joel Durston

Check out War Child’s site for details of forthcoming charity gigs from the nominees.

Hop Farm Festival

In Culture on July 1, 2012 at 4:39 PM

Hop Farm Festival has slowly but surely been gaining a reputation in the world of festivals for its lively, ethical, come-one-come-all ethos, which, stereotypically, attracts a mix of suburban hipsters and ageing rockers (and rockettes). In this, its fifth year, founder Vince Power, suitably attired in pink-hatted and Hawaiian shirt, has amassed probably the festival’s best line-up to date, with Peter Gabriel and The New Blood Orchestra, Bob Dylan, and Suede headlining (on Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively). And other highlights including Billy Ocean, Jose Gonzalez, Richard Ashcroft, Kool and the Gang, Lianne Li Havas and The Futureheads. TAY…ahem, hopped along on Friday to check it out.

90s band everybody has heard but not heard of, Mercury-winning Gomez, were second on the main stage. And, with their brand of eminently hummable, yet forgettable, indie rock were a unspectacular but perfectly welcoming band to soundtrack people wandering around, acquainting themselves with the Kent country park.

Jose Gonzalez was next on, following a rather awkward technical hitch which left the Swedish-Argentine songwriter just sitting there in front of hundreds; silent, offering the odd consolatory smile but little more (stage presence has never been one of his strong points). In fairness, the acoustics did – eventually –  work well, effectively conveying Gonzalez’s intensely lo-fi, acoustic sound to a main stage. But Gonzalez’s aesthetic – intricate, arty, personal, low-key; beautiful to some, mopey to others – was never really built for the big stage. And so it proved an odd decision to put him on in the middle of day in the (relative, British) sun, rather than in one of the slightly more intimate tented stages, in the dark or twilight more suited to his sincere (or ‘humourless’), sombre tones. As it was, with little effort to gee up the crowd, it proved very nice, but only mildly diverting – even on classics, Heartbeats and Crosses.

Billy Ocean on the other hand, on afterwards, truly was built for this occasion. With his repertoire of sexed-up soul and funk cheese, and energy of someone forty years his junior, there was basically no-one not dancing and smiling. His cover of The O’Jays’ Lovetrain even saw a 50(ish)-strong, conga-ing lovetrain snaking in and out of the crowd. And, in circumstances nearly too apt to be attributed to mere coincidence, his set also brought the sun out. As compere Vince Power said, doses of Billy Ocean should be made available free on prescription from the NHS to treat depression.

In the Big Tent, Lianne La Havas, a similarly earnest (or trying) artist to Jose Gonzalez, fared much better than the singer-songwriter. The 22-year-old South Londoner of Jamaican and Greek parents has been making waves in industry circles for a little while now for her brand of soul, having been nominated for the BBC’s Sound of 2012 and toured with Bon Iver, following her previous job doing backing vocals for Paloma Faith. So there was a definite air of anticipation to see whether she was the real deal or just another manufactured Adele. Thankfully, it turned out to be the former, Lianne’s variously soaring and honeyed vocals and the backing band’s impressive instrumentation adding depth and variety to what can appear a little ‘coffee table’ on record. And both parties seemed genuinely thrilled to be there; the crowd for seeing a rising talent and Lianne for finding the crowd’s love was indeed Big Enough just ahead of the release of her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough? (9th of July) – even taking a few pictures in a nice gesture to remember the occasion.

The Futureheads livened up proceedings in the Big Tent afterwards. The Sunderland band are probably on no-one’s list of top five bands/artists, but they certainly put the effort in, having quietly (unbeknownst to me at least) racked up four albums since their September 2004 debut – the Scott Parker of the indie music world. Alike the industrious Spurs centre-midfielder, they had the energy to get the crowd moving, even to numbers that it seemed most hadn’t heard (or, again, maybe I’ve just been particularly ignorant to their time in the indie music hinterlands…or not, as it were). Regardless, they played a few great joker cards to add variety to their usual slightly idioscyncratic indie schtick. The first was a couple of songs off their entirely acapella most recent album, Rant – a Northern version of Scrubs’ Ted’s barbershop band singing Kelis’ dance/R&B smash, Acapella; bizarre but somehow brilliant. The second was their segue into defining song, Hounds of Love, in which they had the two sides of the audience singing alternate harmonies, before launching into their frantic cover of the Kate Bush song – one of those very rare songs where no one really cares that people mistake it for the coverer’s own due to its quality. However, having almost undoubtedly one’s best song be a cover is a double-edged sword. (They cleverly left it to near the end of the set, after which a good many left).

The evening was a bit of a fallow period (sorry, had to get a farm reference in there somewhere), personally at least. Take a deep breath for I might be about to commit blasphemy to many… I’ve always considered the Kinks’ mediocre and overrated, and I found Ray Davies’ solo oeuvre to be even more insipidly ‘dad rock’. Also, I’m sure it would appeal to those who deify him, but to me his cocksure manner just rendered him an arrogant twat (“I’m now going play a song by a band called The Kinks…great band”). One benefit of the mediocre I Am Kloot, playing at the same time on the Bread & Roses stage, was that the lead singer pricked the ego of “fucking Ray Davies”, telling of how Davies had gone to a tribute show for a sadly passed musician where others were covering his songs, but Davies came and played three of his own. Others seemed to enjoy it, though.

Anyway, this was only a small blip on an otherwise great day, capped off by an incredible headline set by Peter Gabriel and The New Blood Orchestra, the latter a 60-strong outfit, which together create, I suppose, a pop-classical hybrid, here allied to an amazing visual show. Strangely enough given the stirring, soul-searching mood, it was sign of the only trouble (at least that I saw) at the festival – one hell of a punch up that took a good ten lads and one very brave female arbitrator to sort out… but then I don’t think Pete had yet played Book of Love, a song so beautiful even Voldemort would probably shed a tear.

Joel Durston