Brewtown #25: Circularity Album Review

AUTHOR NOTE

OK, before I get started with this, yes I’ve been away for a VERY long time and been away for all of 2015! The scene was unfortunately dealt a serious blow with the now permenant closure of the renowned music venue The Wetmore Whistle and thus the gigs have been sparce and the apathy factor has been aplenty.

I look to remedy that for 2016 as I realise that while the gigs in Burton may not be so frequent and the amount of bands for articles may run out, the music itself certainly isn’t. That’s why Brewtown Music will be doing music/album reviews from bands who I may or may not have already covered on this blog.

Band articles are definitely still a possibility, but this will be a different direction I’m taking and isn’t necessarily what I started the site up for in the first place sue to music reviews being an overly saturated market compared to pieces on musicians themselves, but it’s a new year and it’s been a year since I’ve written anything, so let’s get to it!

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Circle Of Life

For the long, long, LONG-awaited milestone 25th piece on Brewtown Music, we take a new approach for a new year. Not writing about a new band, but reviewing an album of a band already written about on this site. Star From Ivy‘s newest online release which is so good you could play it loop, 2016’s Circularity.

Just to recap, Star From Ivy are a Burton-based rock four-piece (Chris Baldwin, Daniel Baker, Steve Gibbs, Mark Maczkowski) who have been performing all over the country since 2001. But over the last few years, they have been putting together a big online project/album that was released one track per day since Christmas Day of 2015.

With its own website and world-famous recording studio at the band’s disposal, they set out in creating an online, multimedia exploration of the concept of circularity through positive themes of peace, love, unity and even some darker themes of war and depression.

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Maybe not quite all, but it encompasses a lot in life.

The aforementioned world-famous recording studio was that of Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales which, since 1963, has recorded albums for the likes of Black Sabbath, Queen, Super Furry Animals and Turbowolf just to name four!

It also has another Burton-based alumni in Kitten Pyramid, the eccentric Midlands supergroup (of which SFI lead Chris Baldwin and guitarist Dan Baker were a part of) who recorded their album Uh Oh the studio once occupied by Freddie Mercury in 2013

Their labour of rock-based love was released Twelve Days of Christmas style from December 25th to January 7th (going one step beyond, Madness style) on their Circularity Facebook event page and Brewtown Music is here to see what our true band gave to us…

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Track #1: Call To Alms

We start the cycle with Call To Alms, an anti-war song that was released by SFI on Christmas Day. A Lennon-esque move if there ever was one! Containing themes of war, human rights and peaceful protest, the album starts off on a socio-political note and a clever pun on the phrase ‘call to arms’ signifying that we should trade our acts of violence for acts of charity. War and Peace pertains to the theme of Circularity with various acts of violence instigating war and ceasefires bringing about peace in a seemingly never ending cycle depending on what area of the world you live in. That of course is a simplified version of an incredibly complex issue so I will just stick to talking about the music now. The music is forceful to match the theme of violence, but the lyrics reflect the need for peace:

Put the fire down, look into the body.
A soul so beautiful just strewn around.
Like an edifice blackening us wholly.
There is new belonging wanting to be found!

The waste of life that comes from war is lamented here and the only solution seemingly available is “A Call To Alms, and it’s all we have now…”. A strong start to the album with the contrast of a loud declaration of peace and demand of human rights.

 

Track #2: A Reason

The Boxing Day track A Reason is a much more laid back track with its ambient electronics mixed with a gentle guitar riff. The lyrics explores reasons from something as complex as the meaning of life to being kind towards others. An appreciation for our own existence and the existence of those around us:

Hold up the Sun! Cos we’re all Alive!
Hold up both hands and say you survived.
It builds us. It calls us. It saves us.
But there must be A Reason to live.

I don’t suppose you’d lend me your fears, so I’m not bold?
I don’t suppose you’d lend me your years, so I’m not old?
I don’t suppose you’d lend me your coat, so I’m not cold?

The phrase “Hold up the Sun” from the Reason article on the Circularity website “is a celebration of life, and an appreciation of being here now!” Caring for yourself and those around you is a mindset that features heavily on circularity.org and this song sums it up very well.

 

Track #3: Sounds Like Crows

You know, for a song about death, this is pretty jaunty! Sounds Like Crows is a song that has been in SFI’s back catalogue for quite a while now like a few of the tracks on this album, as in back to their Prologue days. The song, as said before, tackles death but is also a continuation of the theme of appreciating the life you have from A Reason. It’s like the song said: “Hang on! Hang on! I haven’t finished helping you to make the most of your life yet!”

Preserve time, there’s no way to rewind.
Yeah, this instance will not occur again.

All this love that echoes out disguises rage and I believe that I,
In spite of all these years, am still a child and do not think that I will ever die.

It’s good to know that in this album with a running theme, that there are sub-themes that link together as well which is the sign of great consideration and thought in your work.

 

Track #4: I Can’t Breathe

Now, here’s a track that shows no dissonance between music and lyrics! A hard rock number gripping themes of depression, inner rage and the darkness that dwells within (hard rock, not prog metal!). I Can’t Breathe is on the surface and angry song, but it’s a frustrated and scared song when dug into it a little deeper knowing that mental health is looked at here and is further explained in the song’s sub-section on the Circularity website. But the lyrics make it plainer to see in the song itself:

I don’t see no light, I just feel the fire burning me inside.
Mercury is on the rise.
Broken rage of old, swallowing the white.
Balance overthrown, compromise a waste of time

I can’t see it, it’s out of my sight
I don’t need it, get out of my mind!
Don’t believe it?!? Just wait til I fly

The song is also a great showcase of Daniel Baker’s guitar work with a soaring solo before the final chorus. A very dark song that is as much a part of Circularity as a vicious cycle more than anything else. Definitely one for those who feel trapped and need to free some of that tension!

Track #5: Imago

Faith and religion has been able to unite millions of people to a common cause which fits under the banner of Circularity, though the song Imago does appear to look at a more humanistic and secular approach to world unity as well. Deriving from the phrase ‘Imago Dei’ (Image Of God), this acoustically-driven track (with an electric solo mind) ponders whether it is better to have belief in a deity or not:

Want to wish the world away?
To draw a line to Everest?
Rid the world of sin and saint?
Rid the world of all this love?

I don’t need Imago, I just need to come back down.
For all my life I’ve waited for Him.

This could be seen as quite damning of religion, but the Imago page does include a quote from Article 14 of the UN convention on the rights of the child saying: “You have the right to choose your own religion and beliefs. Your parents should help you decide what is right and wrong, and what is best for you.” It definitely takes a more balanced approach knowing that while there are great reasons for a more secular society, it is up to the individual about their religious alignment and how it affects them personally.

Track #6: Slumberland

Sleep is a natural recurrence, unless you’re an insomniac, so of course it would be #Circularity. Sleep is needed to replenish your body and mind, but when you’re sleeping, you can be at your most imaginative, intentionally or not given the freedom you have to think of whatever you like during them. When you’re sleep-deprived, the need for rest and the avoidance of any social activity even with your partner is usually evident and is noted in this song:

I crave for a sight, and a sound, and a drink.
My decency rules in the land of OK. It’s a shame that that place isn’t here.

This time I am sleeping my dear. Do not try to wake me.
This time I am breathing my dear. Do not suffocate me.

Though this song is by no means a lullaby with its heavy chorus so it’s hard to feel sleepy (which is a good thing since you don’t want a song putting you to sleep when it’s trying to entertain you!), but the lyrics do convey the need for sleep in terms of escaping from the real world, being one with your thoughts and having the need to keep coming back which, quite frankly, is a good thing both physically and mentally.

Track #7: Wall Of Sound

Now this is a track you would have thought would have had a musical fit for Slumberland, but here is a light, solo acoustic song from Baldwin that is a song…about songs! Well maybe not quite that simplistic, but music is definitely the focus here, in a literal and metaphorical sense. With the purpose of Circularity here to be a call for unity through music, this is very much a symbol of that notion. Whether through teaching children to learn music or weaving a poetic image of love:

I’ve got a brain and I know how to use it; I’ll teach them to sing and I’ll teach them to play,
and then we can make sound til the day that we die and harmony echoes around, my love.

You’ve got a heart and I know that it’s broken; the pulse is arranged in the strangest of ways.
But we can unite and make regular tempo, and create the rhythm of life, my love.

The Wall of Sound recording technique as popularised by Phil Spector could be an ironic reference here given that the recording technique itself was meant to give free range for artists to include large orchestral accompaniments in their music. That is not the case here with just one man singing and playing his acoustic guitar being as far removed from that vision as you can get. Still, well worth a listen to for appreciating the power of music in a stripped-down fashion.

Track #8: Soul

A hard and heavy song in the same vein stylistically as I Can’t Breathe, but thematically is much more defiant and empowering. We all need to find ourselves and our own identity at some point in our lives and be true to ourselves in the face of adversity. Now whether you want to interpret ‘soul’ as being a religious connotation or a personal connotation would probably depend on which side you took on Imago, but either way, the song fits both sides well.

I am a liar and you are on fire yet all I inquire is ‘I got Soul’.
I am the wire and you are on fire and all that I know is you’re my heart’s desire.
I’m raising the ocean. I’ll cause a commotion and all that I know is that ‘I got Soul’.

This is more of the Circularity of oneself and feeling whole in oneself rather than a collective unity. Play this one when you’re feeling doubt in yourself.

Track #9: Blood

Don’t worry, this isn’t a gothic vampiric anthem dropped into your album about unity and togetherness! It’s a song that fits right in with the theme of charity and good deeds with the image of blood flowing without a heart and that’s just a mess right? A call for empathy and compassion reigns true in this number. Blood without the heart has no use and therefore, poetically speaking, has no real feeling behind it.

What is Blood, an emptiness of heart?
What is Hope, I need it from the start.
We wait in line for security but we are one and all eternally.
Cos I can feel it in my heart.

And oh, my, we went too far.
We didn’t know to be with it.
And I know that you pray to God cos you don’t wanna deal with it!

That last line, while continuing the religious undertones set by Imago and Soul, is not necessarily a jab at religious thought processes, but more of a way of saying that people must show that they care about those in need rather than just saying they do because they don’t feel that they can themselves. Another track that calls for more care for others.

Track #10: The Only One

Now here’s one that will be very familiar to people who have seen SFI perform live for the past ten years! The Only One has been the opening song for their live sets for quite a while now, but is track ten of fourteen here. Regardless, it’s great to hear it get an album release! While there have been religious-themed songs on this album, there hasn’t been one that has looked at the concept of there being an afterlife for us when we die specifically. The idea of an afterlife is a source of comfort for many who fear death so it’s nice to have a comforting and melodic song giving that notion some thought.

And we wait for love, and we break for love and find the only one is opening a door.
As we fake for love, we erase the loving of the only one who’ll catch us where we fall.

Cos we won’t be around forever, and we won’t be around til Kingdom Come.
So we live here in this moment – The Only One.

And when we understand this notion that everything that’s ever been will go.
Our impermanence is only. The Only One.

A subtext of true love could be found in these lyrics with not realising that as we wait for love, someone has always been there to catch us when we fall and that we should cherish the moments that we have with the ‘Only One’ and the use of the word ‘impermenance’ shows the idea of wanting to stay in that moment because it won’t get better than right now. It’s a multi-layered song in lyrical content and musical production with the ‘REV phrase’ (reverse sound engineering) created by bassist Gibbs that produces a backwards instrumentation that can be heard at around 2:30. It’s trippy and provides a celestial and astral feel to the song that’s already existential enough as it is! Definitely recommended to hear a long-standing SFI song given the full Rockfield recording treatment!

Track #11: Proud

Pride in your own or someone else’s accomplishments and creativity is great feeling especially if you are a parent trying to encourage the potential that your child has or if you yourself need to find a way to unlock your own potential on your own whether it be through practice of a certain skill or inner/outer exploration.

The quiet came to aid our thought, we focused on the emptiness.
And you came like you had no choice, and you screamed til you had no voice.

So release the fire, betray the night – come on we’re trying to save your life in the fire.

You wonder why you’re changing.
And you wonder why we’re changing.
You wonder why it’s changing.

A slow, yet joyous and passionate song that will be sure to fan the flames lit after that first creative spark. Welp, this is sounding more like an advertisement than a review isn’t it?

Track #12: Circularity

And so we come to the title track! A title track should be seen as the representation of the album, a condensed and abridged version of the album. The track Circularity does this very well, featuring a change in musical style from verses to chorus to reflect varying styles (the lighter style of Slumberland to the harder style of Soul) to the lyrical content which looks to call for unity amongst our fellow man out of personal belief of a better tomorrow and the fear of global disharmony.

I believe in clarity, a simple singularity engaging.
Where everyone believes that everything perceives all.
A radiance outside of me, a chance to see that all of this inflaming is borne of all a blurred and discontented soul.

But there’s a kind of elation that’s transcending us to perfect bliss.
Yet there’s a sense of frustration that’s corroding everything!
Yeah, I know that I’m ‘only’, but I just can’t perceive myself.
There’s a sense of a longing; that we need circularity.
Yeah, we know that we’re lonely, but we’re losing our sense of ‘self’.
There’s a sense of foreboding that we need circularity.

The screamed lyrics of the second paragraph contrast with the softly sang lyrics of the first paragraph and create a piece that summarises just how close, yet so far away we are from creating a better world. #Circularity indeed!

Track #13: Lifelines

The penultimate track on this cycle talks/sings about how we could always use a little help despite knowing how much we already know currently in our life. Even if we’ve decided we don’t need our Imago or we have each declared “I GOT SOUL!”, there’s still uncertainty felt in our lives so just in case, give us a lifeline to fall back on just in case it all goes tits up, to put it a bit more bluntly than usual in this article!

I commit to a lifestyle, a creed and a brand of submission.
There’s a paradox somewhere that I will believe.

Now it’s time for us to get higher. Yet I do not know if I can see it, but I will in time.
In this life, yeah we’ll be all right – just as long as there’s Lifelines.

Heavy, but with a calmer pace than tracks like Sounds Like Crows, this track provides a good final release of energy before our finale, which is…

Track #14: Answers

Who can provide the answers that we need? Though they vary greatly from person to person, the need for answers and guidance is a universal need whether spiritual or physical. This slow, piano-driven final track shows us that we can either wait for answers or we can find them ourselves through individual journeys or journeys with others that we take.

And I’ll wait ‘til Heaven’s stars can tell me where you are.
And I’ll wait ‘til all the skies point to where you lie.
And the oceans drift apart to lead me to your heart.
And golden autumn leaves fall into our dreams.


Yeah, I wish to see you grow into fire, into soul!
Yet I’m standing in these shoes just to warm them up for you.
Because you can see it real, and you can see it clear.
And I can hold my heart on offer from my palm.


Can you give me Answers, please?

“We’ll get some answers…soon.”

Whether you see this as a hopeful or a somber note to end the album on, it’ll definitely leave an impression with what songs have preceded it. Like the title track, there are also combinations of themes from other tracks such as the consideration between humanism and religion “Faith and Science fused” (Imago) which seems to bring Circularity, shall we say, full circle.

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Well that killed the mood!

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

To conclude, SFI have produced an excellent album in Circularity. Each song is well-performed, well-recorded and written with a lot of care and precision as to really give the project a sense of focus on the one true goal which is the one true goal that they wish everyone from all walks of life to get on board with, you guessed it, Circularity! Personal recommendations would be I Can’t Breathe, The Only One and the title track but that is just me. You will find what you’re looking for I’m sure!

Be sure also to check the feed of SFI’s Facebook page as their posts since each track has been posted have article links to world events that match the theme of a song name with a hashtag of said song name, like an article on Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s battle with depression is followed by #ICantBreathe. It’s a good way to promote the album and start a productive discussion.

Anyway, that is all from this landmark first of a piece on Brewtown Music! Let us know whether you enjoyed the review, if you enjoyed any of the tracks you may have listened to and we will see you next time for another hearty review brew of Midlands tunes.

 

LINKS

Circularity Website: http://www.circularity.org/

Star From Ivy Official Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/starfromivy/

VultureHound interview on Circularity by Thomas Miller: http://vulturehound.co.uk/2016/01/star-from-ivy-circularity-the-interview/

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CREDIT FOR PHOTO: KIMBERLY BAYLISS

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Brewtown #15: Riding the Low

Paddy and 4 non-famous people from left to right: Baker, Chambers, Considine, Eaton, Baldwin

Paddy and 4 of his mates from left to right: Baker, Chambers, Considine, Eaton, Baldwin

To mark the recent DVD release of the brilliant sci-fi comedy The World’s End and to mark the 15th milestone on Brewtown Music (WAY more important!), I thought I’d give you a chance to see into the musical side of one of the stars of that film. Paddy Considine’s own Riding the Low!

Considine (lead vocals), Chris Baldwin (guitar, backing vocals), Daniel Baker (lead guitar(Yes, THOSE two again!!)), Richard Eaton (bass) and Justin Chambers (drums) make up this quintet that on the surface seems like another celebrity vanity project, but when you take into account that these are talented musicians being fronted by a man who doesn’t even like being labelled as a celebrity, you may just eat those words.

It's odd how vanity has become synonymous with humiliation.

It’s odd how vanity has become synonymous with humiliation.

Obviously, with Paddy being kind of a big deal in terms of being an actor and film maker, starring in films like The Bourne Ultimatum and Hot Fuzz , a lot of people don’t know of his musical exploits which spread back just as far, if not further than his interests in acting. A lot of Brewtown residents will know this, but anyone out there who isn’t in the know of this, allow me to clue you in.

Patrick George Considine was born in 1973 in Winshill where he still resides to this day. It was in his teens when he met two people in the space of three years who would set him on the road to a multi-media career.

At 15, he met Nick Hemming (the leader of The Leisure Society) through Richard Eaton and built up a friendship between them that helped him (as well as local youth theatre) to find his calling in life: in the performing arts. Inspired by bands like Guns N’ Roses and Spinal Tap, they created comedy rock albums that taught them each that they could have fun being creative and not end up pushing the self-destruct button.

The second key person he met at 18 years of age in 1990 was Shane Meadows, whom he met at Burton college whilst on a performing arts course. It was here that he became a part of a short-lived virtual comedy thrash group (a genre combination for the ages!) called Grunt.

This 1983 film called Grunt was used in Troll 2, which came out in 1990, which was the same year Paddy went to college and became a part of the comedy thrash group of the same name! Coincidence? I think so! Sorry for wasting your time!

Paddy also got together with Meadows, Hemming and Eaton to form She Talks to Angels, an Indie band named after the Black Crowes’ song of the same name. Paddy went under the pseudonym of ‘Bam-Bam’ as the drummer (cute!) with Meadows on lead vocals, Hemming on guitar and Eaton on bass.

But because of incompletion of college courses, Paddy going away in 1994 to Brighton University to study for and eventually gain a first-class degree in Photography and other commitments, STTA called it a day in 1993 but not without their fair share of requests to be on a record label along the way. This time in the Midlands music scene would go on to inspire their 2009 This is Spinal Tap-inspired mockumentary Le Donk and Scor-zay-Zee.

Oh, how the scene has changed!

She Talks to Angels reunion tour!

But you’re probably wondering: “How far are we till we get to Riding the Low?” Well, over a decade by this point but seeing how a lot of you know about Paddy’s acting chops during this period like A Room for Romeo Brass, 24 Hour Party People and the cult horror classic Dead Man’s Shoes, I’ll skip ahead to 2007 where the story of RTL begins.

Still wanting to perform in a rock band, what with it being of one of his first passions and all, Paddy looked to form a band that was as ‘kitchen sink’ and no-bullshit as Meadows’ directorial efforts combining American alternative rock with a no-nonsense British sensibility.

As well as being inspired by Guided by Voices (his favourite band, check out Le Donk’s shirt!), the name came from a book about Lee Marvin. Paddy himself quoted:

“When Lee came off films, he would still have the character residing in him and he’d find it hard to shake psychologically and be in a bit of a depression. His psychologist said to him that’s the time when you need to keep yourself active with the things you liked doing and they call that period after the movie ‘riding the low.’”

Was this Marvin’s ‘low’ he was on about? PS. Just kidding, I actually love this song!

He of course needed other musicians for this to be a band after all, so he enlisted the help of four guys who would help his band come to be. Eaton on bass (of course) introduced him to Star From Ivy leader Baldwin which led to the inclusion of Baker (they need their own site with how many acts they’re in!) and Dan Thompson became their drummer in the first year or so later replaced by Hero2Zero (whom Baldwin was also in. See? He does need his own site!) drummer Justin Chambers.

He saw the band as a way to get back to reality after he finished acting for the day and just so what he had always wanted to do and loved to do. In their first year as a band, they immediately took off as a local favourite act, not just due to the initial draw that someone as well-known as Paddy had, but with the raw, lo-fi sound that gripped people’s ears whenever they performed.

This draw rippled not only in the Midlands, but also in places like Stockport, Manchester and London, where RTL have been frequent to revisit when given the opportunity. Americans and New Zealanders also became fans of the band thanks to an active and dedicated forum that Paddy himself was a part of that was dedicated to his film-making works.

The earliest available recording of a RTL gig from November 2007

With this new-found medium fanbase, demand for their music in mind and interviews with BBC Radio 6 in mind, the band set out to record their first EP They Will Rob You Of Your Gifts in 2009 on Clinical Finish Records, the label owned by Paddy and Baldwin themselves and in the same year as Le Donk would become a cult hit. The finished product contained four songs, one of which was fan-favourite Easy On Your Own. Towards the end of the year, the band performed a live set on Janice Long’s Radio 2 show to promote the EP.

Of course with Paddy being a busy guy what with his day job and all, RTL gig and record on and off depending on the demand for his acting talents. The late 2000s/early 2010’s were particularly busy for him and so it was rare to see him perform with his band, not surprisingly. But in 2012, he looked to be getting more gigs than usual, especially in his hometown. Yay!

Starting off the year, headlining a show at the Wetmore Whistle alongside Raptorial and Phoenix Salvation may have been a sign of what was to come because they would be frequently returning to the Whistle over the next year. The first occasion being in June with their headlining of the Arch Creations stage at Burtfest. Their reception was so positive that they performed a six song encore!

One of those encore songs, about being metaphorically pissed on!

After the financial failure of Burtfest, a fund-raising campaign known as ‘Save the Whistle’ was underway and one of those fund-raising efforts to save the place came at the end of June when RTL headlined a show supported by Kitten Pyramid and Black Wolf Catch. They would be back to the Whistle again at the end of the year for a Christmas party featuring acts like Great Scott, Exile84 and Star From Ivy.

To get 2013 going, they released a Soundcloud demo reel in February called Riding The Low Are The Part-time Rockstars, an apt description of their run in the music scene featuring early cuts of songs like By-Product of the Last Flats and Meet Skanker.

In April, they hyped up the release of their first full-length album What Happened to the Get to Know Ya? by releasing a single Rocky 99 which was met with a lot of positive feedback including a #56 spot on the iTunes Rock Chart!

#56! Time to Party!!

#56! Time to Party!!

In May he was interviewed by the Independent about an ailment that he had been suffering from for over two decades called Irlen Syndrome, a rare condition which makes you “unable to process full spectral light…exacerbated by environmental factors such as lighting, brightness, glare, high contrast, patterns and colours.” This meant he has to wear special lenses to help filter out the light which I’m sure come in handy even for his music what with spotlights shining down on the stage he performs on.

Later in the month, RTL headlined the Sunni Mae Festival in Willington which helped raise money for a young girl diagnosed with Neuroblastoma.

The band finally released their debut album from Genepool Records on June 10th which gained a positive review from Drowned In Sound and positive live reception at venues like the Victoria Inn in Derby on June 7th and the O2 Academy in Islington on June 28th, a day after The World’s End was released in theatres nationwide.

Jacket, T-shirt, trousers and trainers. Most dapper red carpet attire ever!

Jacket, T-shirt, trousers and trainers. Most dapper red carpet attire ever!

The band was given another public profile boost with their performance in August in Newcastle with The Wonder Stuff as well as a recommendation from Miles Hunt to his followers to give RTL’s album a listen. The album has since September become available in digital download, CDs AND vinyl record! So three generations of sound storage media for those preferring a bit of a retro experience from new music! The band are also working on their second album with the working title Riding The Low Are Here To Help The Neighbourhood! Yay for more long names!

But now, let’s look at said new music! It should be said again that out of the many celebrities who’ve recorded albums and tried to come across as sincere and not just vain, Paddy is someone who gets it, bang on the money!

RTL describes their music on their Facebook page as “Lo-fi, raw guitar rock with the fat cut out.” As modest and down-to-Earth as that statement is, I think it’s underselling their ability to produce some nuanced, complex and very accessible music and performance. You can tell Paddy means every word he is singing and this have been thoughts building up in his mind for years to the point where he had to write them down and put them to music.

The music itself instrumentally is great too. Chambers is an energetic percussionist, Eaton is great on the bass (Paddy should know knowing him most of his life!) and Baldwin and Baker continue to shine as dual guitarists/backing vocalists. The production value is also of note, with What Happened… being produced by Oregon-based musician Chris Slusarenko of Boston Spaceships (both of them met at a Rob Pollard show! Fanboys working with fanboys for the win!) with additional instrumentals from the likes of the Decemberists and Dharma Burns!

While the band has many great tunes with ranging sounds and emotions from the acoustic vs electric battle in Catch Me When You Go or the happy anthemic harmonies from vocals and guitars on Great Day Out For The Boys, I have taken quite a particular fancy to their debut album’s single Rocky 99.

There’s something about this song that even though there is an air of drama and conflict in this song, the music sounds so hopeful and happy like there will be a silver lining to what is happening. I can take from the title that it’s referring to the year 1999 (Room for Romeo Brass came out then which was had ‘rocky’ characters to say the least!) and not a parallel universe when Hollywood just wouldn’t give Sylvester Stallone a break with the sequels!

Jokes aside, all the instruments sound great together, including a piano that’s been added to the mix and Paddy sings with a higher pitch than usual but is still sounds as heartfelt as ever recounting what must have been a stressful time in his life but had someone by his side to keep him sane through it all:

So what was the goal? And is there a God? And am I alone?
I’m her clown and she’s my guide
Along the way
The lessons I’ve learned
Rocky 99
We trade in love
Well she’s my guide
And our best dramas are on the way down there

But then again, I’m not the best at lyrical analysis so let us know in the comments what you think the song means or is about and let us know what you think of the music in general.

Even if Paddy doesn’t like to be referred to as a celebrity, I personally think he is the essence of the word. Not just in terms of fame but the fact he should be celebrated, as a role model for anyone in media whether it be in acting or music. He may be more well-known for the former but the latter should not be ignored either. Riding the Low is the genuine article behind all the glossy headlines and gives the town of Burton on Trent something to be immensely proud of. This has been Brewtown Music serving you another fine brew of Midlands tunes.

Riding the Low’s stuff

Official Website:

Official Website: http://www.ridingthelow.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Riding-the-Low

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/ridingthelow

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ridingthelow

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/ridingthelow

Paddy’s website: http://paddyconsidine.co.uk/(old)index.htm

Paddy’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/PaddyConsidine

Chris Baldwin Music Website: http://www.cjbmusic.co.uk/

Album on iTunes

RTL

Riding the Low

BREWTOWN 10th POST: KITTEN PYRAMID

Old Spice Joke from left to right - Horse 1 Marson, Hamon, Baker, Baldwin, Redfern, Horse 7

Old Spice Joke from left to right – Animal 1, Milligan, Hamon, Baker, Baldwin, Redfern, Animal 7

Well, I’ve finally got a milestone here on Brewtown Music! For the tenth post, I’ll be looking at a band that I will shamelessly fangasm over for an unspecified number of paragraphs! It’s time to get the big gun, it’s Kitten Pyramid!

Scott Milligan (lead vocals/guitar/piano), Chris Baldwin (vocals/guitar/piano), Daniel Baker (lead guitar), Mark Hamon (bass) and Rob Redfern (drums) make up this weird and wondrous quintet who despite having a repertoire that defies genre, class themselves as prog rock (or neoclassical punk zydeco rockabilly if you want it in Lehmann’s terms).

Let Mr Black decide where they go because I don't want to do that again!

Let Mr Black decide where they go because I don’t want to do that again!

Kitten Pyramid are a band that have gone through many stages since their creation in 2010 and with high ambitions that, for the most part, have been met with crazy results! Line-up changes, line-up additions, mainstream media exposure and the chance to record at the same studio Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded! But this couldn’t have come from nowhere so let us fill you in.

Since the age of 12, Milligan had been playing the guitar, pottered around various bands and kept aspirations of becoming a film-maker close to keep his options open. At first, he wasn’t too confident in his song writing abilities and always finding himself trying to find comparisons with other artists like Syd Barrett instead of doing his own thing.

However, an experimental rock band from the Welsh Valleys was soon to be discovered by Milligan that inspired him to go in the direction that he wanted for what would become his own music. The band in question are the Super Furry Animals.

What? Gangster wookies never inspired you?

What? Gangster wookies never inspired you?

But it did take a while for the Furries’ influence to set in as the first band experiences were considered as ‘frustrating, misguided and nerve wracking’ by Milligan to such a degree if shelved any music ambition for almost a decade for him.

As a way to get out of this funk, he wrote a quick little number called “W.H.A.L.E” . Within a few day of the resulting recording being uploaded to Soundcloud, it was starting to get noticed from all over the world with very positive feedback. This would soon spur him on to get back in the game. It would also become the most popular song that he wrote. It would also spur him to forming a band that encapsulated the fun sound that his little ditty, that involved the audience and was more than just people in a room staring at people on a stage.

He started chatting and jamming with his long time friend Tom Goodwin about “how if you attached lobster claws to even the cutest of animals they would look terrifying such as a kitten or even a pyramid of kittens.” You can’t make it up! They somehow did!

I can haz band name?

I can haz band name?

Thus, from this disturbing little convo, the Kitten Pyramid was being built. Milligan gathered his original band mates, brothers Matt and Rob Redfern on bass and drums respectively in 2010 and saw to it that they would be more focused to perform and record the music that had been in their heads for so long as they gigged across Burton like never before. After a while, they decided they were at the stage of recording their first EP It’s Time to get the Big Gun which was recorded and produced by Matt Redfern and released in 2011.

This EP contained the songs Marmalade, Spongebob, Emily the Mermaids and W.H.A.L.E which, as said before has proved to be one of their most popular songs, almost an anthem of sorts with a simple arrangement of pounding percussion, catchy chord riff and a bellowed chorus which proves to be the best stomper in Brewtown!

And the most mayhem on stage in Brewtown!

And the most mayhem on stage in Brewtown!

As well as a band to babysit, Milligan has also aspired to be a film maker and has looked to mix his talents in musical and visual media with an expected result of this being short film Uh Oh (the original working title being Elephants and Cars) that has been around in Milligan’s head for as long as Kitten Pyramid has been a band, with over a decade’s worth of thought and development.

I don’t know what’s going on but I’m intrigued! The best kind of independent film reaction.

The man playing the bewildered screamer is Richard Williams (in cahoots with the Indie folk band Leisure Society). The character he plays called Jarek and the film itself is inspired by his late uncle, Jarek Baczyk, a Polish immigrant who came to the UK with Milligan’s mother and grandmother and died of a heart attack at the age of 40 after a battle with paranoid schizophrenia. Go here for the rest of the details on this crazy project!

After the completion of It’s Time to get the Big Gun, the band set their sights on recording their next EP which would not only be a development in the band’s sound but would also continue to tell the epic tale of Uh Oh with three more songs.

During this time, the band went through some major changes, one change being Matt Redfern amicably leaving the band to pursue his own projects and another being changing from a trio to a Burton-based Polyphonic Spree!

Except not this many and not this cultish. Still weird though!

Except not this many and not this cultish. Still weird though!

I’d say that articles #5-9 on here have been a build up to this piece since a veritable Who’s Who of Midlands musicians were in tow like Gemma Bower from Lady and the Tramp (saxophones, flute and vocals), Max Kendall of The Vibe (bass and vocals), Thomas Miller of Exile 84 and the owner of Burton-based recording studio and promotions outfit, ARCH Creations (drums; with Rob Redfern moving to guitar) session musician Brendan O’Neill (trumpet), Jon Brindley from The Distancing and Josh McCarthy from The Myways.

This was also the time when Chris Baldwin and Dan Baker (yes, THOSE two again!) of Star From Ivy entered the band, on piano and guitar respectively who have remained part of the band to this day alongside Mark Hamon of These Things Exist.

So many people, so many egos going at it right? Wrong! Milligan’s leadership and the individual talents of each member came through, both live and when recording with a sense of community and camaraderie amongst each other, like any sort of scene should! But enough of my idealistic bollocks! Let’s move on!

The Kitty collective set out to record the second EP Crazy Diamonds. This is of course a reference to Syd Barrett, the former front man of Pink Floyd who Milligan also draws a great deal of inspiration from.

A sense of disorientation and WTF to awesome music? Yep, that’s inspiration!

To record the EP, the band looked to find a pro studio to make a more lush and complex production.  Enter Sheffield music producer Alan Smyth of 2Fly Studios that has been the recording ground of bands such as Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and Reverend and the Makers (also for Riding the Low and Star From Ivy so Burtonia is clearly very cosy there!)

Along with a brass section and grand piano to help the band with their sound, the final song Stripey Jumper features a solo from aforementioned former Procol Harum guitarist Dave Ball.

Ball has proclaimed his support for them and being the ‘ring-leader’ of the Kitten Pyramid Circus variety event that took place at the Brewers Bar in Burton in September 2012 which not only featured the band but comedian/hapless magician Tom Fermor, belly dancing troupe Pedralta Fusion and former X Factor contestant Jade Richards…Yeah!

I think this look from the Ring Master himself sums it up.

Summed up in a look from the Ring Master

Not only did this new EP get a release in 2012, towards the end of the year, KP released a CD called Bedroom Demos: Part 1 which was a collection of various demos and remixes. These songs feature performances from Milligan, the Redfern Bros and Thomas Goodwin. A big highlight from this CD is a remix of W.H.A.L.E produced by DJ Joe Bird of Rap-Torial and performed with new lyrics by provided by Great ScottThere, that’s all of the previous five acts covered on here, so let’s carry on!

The cover for the CD featured artwork was done by P.I.N.T Arts festival mastermind Alastair Kennedy  whose other works were promoted on the walls of local brewery/entertainment venue Tower Brewery where the band performed a set of their new material and launched the album in November.

But this had nothing, NOTHING on what was to come the next year! The chance of a lifetime was secured when they got the opportunity to record their long-awaited full length album Uh Oh at the world-famous Rockfield Studios!

Rockfield has been the studio for bands like Super Furry Animals, Oasis, Stone Roses and Queen where they wrote and recorded an underrated cult hit called Bohemian Rhapsody!

I think it's gonna be big one day. Watch this space!

I think it’s gonna be big one day. Watch this space!

This momentous occasion was marked when Milligan was trying to find a studio that would be able to match his high ambitions. One of these studios was Rockfield which is home to producer Nick Brine who was interested in the ‘atmospheric and hard-edged’ instrumentals and ‘expressive lyrics’ from their Soundcloud demos. That was enough to get them on board!

As a preview of this new point in the KP sound evolution , they were set to release the first single which was originally going to be Traffic, but a meeting with a fan prompted them to change it to Uh Oh (Both songs’ demos were featured on the Bedroom Demos album) what with single potential and all!

Re-mastering of previous material is also featured in this album such as the Big Gun tracks Marmalade and W.H.A.L.E and another old track Chester which has bestiality undertones or something (don’t ask!), it’s kinda freaky but incredibly catchy and listenable!

Soooooo catchy!!

On July 18th, a single launch for Uh Oh was put on at the Brewhouse which not only featured the band, but were supported by Derby-based duo Crushing Blows and backed up by a horn and string section, three backing singers and featured guest appearances from Dave Ball, Jonathan Brindley and Great Scott.

The single itself has received a lot of positive reviews online including this from The Metaphorical Boat comparing the song to everything from David Bowie to Queen (Fate?) to Green Day to Aphrodite’s Child. It was also featured on Channel 4 as part of the Tim Lovejoy’s Sunday Brunch Tune of the week. Lovejoy himself praised the song saying he liked it and had reminded him of Super Furry Animals. Won’t they ever leave KP’s influence alone?!

It was also featured multiple times on BBC Radio 6 Introducing with Chris Hawkins and the legendary Tom Robinson (the 2-4-6-8 Motorway guy). BBC Introducing is a card I’m playing a lot on here isn’t it?

I don’t think there’s any reason to delay the inevitable here. I love this band and it’s music, plain and simple! Kitten Pyramid are a super group in a lot of aspects. A large collective of local musicians from different bands and acts coming together to create unique, enjoyable and striking music.

Unlike super groups such as The Power Station, KP do stand on their own merits as a legit band with their own style rather than knowing you’re just seeing a bunch of musicians from other bands being part of this collective for money, attention or both.

To summarise the band’s music is difficult and trying to decipher the lyrics is even more of a challenge, but even if the bizarre, cryptic nature of the words is not possible to you, the way they’re sung and the tune it’s backed up should be enough to look past passages such as this from Crazy Diamonds:

She smelled of almonds, yellow with long fur

She sort of growled, but gently like a purr

There was a rider, skinny with a beak

Who asked politely, everyone say cheese!

What-is-going-on-in-the-SERPS

In a way though, there’s an appeal to that kind of surrealist song writing which comes across as a hybrid of Frank Zappa, Hunter S. Thompson and a student poet who’s watched Monty Python too many times! Oh, silly me, you can never watch Monty Python TOO many times!

Out of the many songs in their back catalogue that I love, I will dare to only pick two that I think stand out above the rest. Give me a minute.

……………….

OK, OK, I’ve got two. These two favourites of mine are Uh Oh and Seahouses . Whoo! That took a lot out of me to do!

The first of these two (the video of which is above) was a fitting way to give a taste for the upcoming album of the same name! It seeks to combine the wacky and catchy aspects that the band always had with the more complex and detailed approach that the band has acquired over time.

It makes for an enjoyable and diverse listen, starting with a Starman/Beetlebum-esque opening, rapid tempo changes, an amalgamation of rock styles which almost feels like a disconnected evolution of the genre and brass backing towards the end gives the reason why KP put the ‘mental’ in experimental! It sums them up very well and is a good place to start if you want to get into their stuff.

Seahouses though, is a kitten of another colour! It’s a much calmer and soothing song that doesn’t feature much in terms of crazy lyrics or jarring tempo changes. It’s like Star From Ivy’s slower and more relaxed Kizuna next to their much faster and more belligerent Perfection. But it still retains the unique KP flavour with a soothing brass backing and some softly sung vocals from Milligan and Baldwin, painting the picture of how to sit beside the seaside (and being much less cryptic than some of the previous songs):

Open space

And the sea to keep you small

They could pull you in

You could sink in sand

And the sky

It’s so black and filled with stars

You blend in so well

You can’t see your hands.

That feeling of seeing yourself as so insignificant when it’s just you, the vast sea and the even larger sky is captured very well even as the instrumental builds towards the end as if the waves are rushing up to the shore in full force as you run into it’s cold embrace. See, THIS is why I shouldn’t be a songwriter!

On top of that, it’s all built on that one E chord that Milligan plucks from beginning to end. Sure the other instruments have much more than one chord in mind, it’s that simplicity that makes this song work and how emotionally captivating they can be as well as fun.

The music video isn’t much to write home about since, like the Crazy Diamonds video, is a montage of random clips from various films, cartoons, anime and whatever public domain clips there are out there to throw in. But it’s mainly just a bizarre backdrop to go along with the music so it’s not much to harp on really! Again don’t take my word for it, even though I’d prefer you did in this case, check the songs out with the weird images for yourself and let me know what you make of it in the comments.

If there was an example of how much I love the Burton and Midlands music scene, it would be Kitten Pyramid. A group of musicians all from different backgrounds and genres coming together to create something fresh, tight and musically fascinating while still remaining an enjoyable and infectious energy to them. I know I explained why I love this scene in my Awkward Introductions post, but this is a band that verifies that thought for me. It seemed appropriate that I’d dedicate my landmark 10th post to them, so come on everyone, HEAR THEM W.H.A.L.E!! Also, hear me sign off saying this has been Brewtown Music serving you another fine brew of Midlands tunes!

Kitten Pyramid’s stuff

Official Website: http://flavors.me/kittenpyramid

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kittenpyramid

Bandcamp: https://kittenpyramid.bandcamp.com

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/kittenpyramid

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kittenpyramid

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/kittenpyramid

KP Cover

KP guys

Brewtown #7: Star From Ivy

Working those stools from left to right - Baldwin, Gibbs, Maczkowski and Baker

Working those stools from left to right – Baldwin, Gibbs, Maczkowski and Baker

A talented band is not hard to come by if you look in the right places. But not only is this band talented, it’s also incredibly busy, with two members who will get further mentions here later down the line. For now though, here’s Star From Ivy.

Chris Baldwin (lead vocals/guitar), Daniel Baker (lead guitar), Steve Gibbs (bass) and Mark Maczkowski (drums) form the rock outfit that have been around since 2001 but needed to take a while to mature into the well-respected band of musical teachers they are today. Well, one of them is a teacher but their live performances and musicianship is well worth learning from.

Of course from their initial run as teenagers (with Luke Edgington on bass instead of Gibbs), they what any other band would do by doing the pubs, the clubs, Battle of the Band competitions and any festivals that would have them on their bill.

A big opportunity was in reach though in 2004, when they along with a Church Gresley based band called Slave were accepted into the annual music business showcase for the Emergenza festival following talks with Sony/Columbia Records. The fact that they didn’t win was unfortunate since the round of the competition took place in Manchester whilst up against beloved Manchester bands was a factor in their defeat. Still, if Sony were involved, I’d hate to think what Simon Cowell would have done if he somehow got a hold of them!

They WERE described as an emo band back then!

They WERE described as an emo band back then!

The group decided to go on a hiatus in 2006 during which time Baldwin was in his second year at Derby University later graduating in 2007 with a BSc in Multimedia Technology & Music Production.

This hiatus lasted until 2010 when the old crew (with Gibbs now joining the fray) steadily redeveloped their sound from an emo band to a more gritty but still heartfelt rock band. Gibbs came into SFI having been a member of the hip hop/alternative group The Sixth Letter (mentioned in my Great Scott article) Learning Support Assistant in Music Technology at Burton College which helped him fit right in with the musical education leanings of Baldwin.

Throughout 2011, SFI were either recording new material or doing gigs left and right as Arch Creations mainstays performing said new material. That new material would combine with their previous work to create their first LP Prologue (A sign of things to come, ironic that it took so long to get to the beginning!) which was released in January 2012 that had been ten years in the making, with Edgington on the LP as the bass player.

Music video for their song Everest filmed by Liz Coleman of Night Owl Productions

The LP was mixed and mastered at 2fly Studios in Sheffield under the watchful eyes and ears of Alan Smyth who has produced albums for bands such as Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and Reverend and The Makers.

The only piece of radio exposure they got in that time was on Ashby and Coalville’s station, 99.2 Hermitage FM, but was enough to spur more people into buying Prologue and allowed a few of the members more time to focus on each of their respective side projects.

Baldwin and Baker spent time out of SFI with Paddy Considine’s band Riding The Low and scoring the soundtrack to Considine’s BAFTA winning film Tyrannosaur. No sweeping orchestral movements, mostly ambient guitar sounds that helped add to the movie’s cold and rough atmosphere (The film’s the best cure for happiness I’ve ever known!)

Jurassic Park - the gritty adaptation!

Jurassic Park – the gritty adaptation!

Gibbs on the other hand has been working on and has recently released a classical EP In Passing which he worked on with American composer Cyrus Reynolds. The compositional opposite of Tyrannosaur’s score, this lush, beautiful orchestral journey which features electronic elements was well received by music reviewers across the Internet, has been the soundtrack to a short film Where Am I? and being praised and promoted by the well-renowned Icelandic multi-instrumentalist and metal drummer Ólafur Arnalds.

Those feels are coming on again!

OK, now that my emotions are back in check, let’s take a look at the band’s work. I can certainly say that they’ve shaken away the ’emo’ stigma they once had to become the professional and mature rock band they are today.

The musicianship has always been tight in SFI with either Edgington or Gibbs on bass and their work on Prologue is a prime example. The songs can be gentle and heartfelt or angry and loud.

Baldwin’s vocal range is particularly impressive going from soft baritone (Kizuna), to soaring tenor (Everest) and even getting into falsetto territory with notes even women can’t reach! (As I Wait) Baker’s guitar work is fantastic and his keen eye for riffs and progressions is reflective of how he (plus Baldwin) are in multiple bands. Maczkowski’s drum work is also of note, particularly on As I Wait where he has to drum through at least four time signatures in that song alone!

 Two songs that strike me the most from this lot couldn’t be any more different from each other, these being Kizuna and Perfection.

The first song being a song that the band does not perform anymore due to it being a more timely song released on the eve of 2011 to mark Japan naming Kizuna as it’s ‘kanji’ (special word) of that year. The meaning of the word is ‘bond’ and Baldwin calls for this bond to be made:

“Take this fear of education

Take this fear of everything.

Make it bloom by finding solace

In the knowledge of this dream.”

This kind of message could very well have come across as cheesy or insincere if delivered in a half-assed way, but it is delivered with sincerity and hope in the voice of Baldwin and leaves you with a very happy and accomplished feeling.

The second song though is a much more fiery song, dealing with a common theme which is the concept of ‘What truly is perfection?’ But just because it’s a common topic doesn’t mean it can’t be made fresh and interesting, especially with these lyrics being belted out:

“We, as a race, cannot deal with perfect.

We’d much rather wade in shit!

Whereas I’d rather be somewhere close to the skin.

Where I feel my lungs ‘cos I can hardly breath!”

The frustration that the world cannot deal with certain ideas of how perfection is perceived to be and to instead dwell in conflict and negativity is felt here as Baldwin sees perfection as more of an inner idea but is smothered by those telling him otherwise. The instrumentation is incredible here with a flamenco-like rhythm to start that develops into a haunting bolero after the second chorus and ending on a ear-rupturing cacophony that is bound to leave an impression, especially when performed live!

However, I could be talking a pretentious load of old bollocks at this point so I urge you to check them out or yourself. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.

With the release of their upcoming second album Circularity, it seems that SFI could very well go for a few more decades, give or take another hiatus along the way. If I am proven wrong, their mark on the Burton music scene is potent and their place as teachers of both their class students and their rock band peers is unmistakable. But for now, class dismissed. This has been Brew Town Music serving you another fine brew of Midlands tunes.

Star From Ivy’s stuff and other tidbits

Offical website: http://www.starfromivy.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/starfromivy

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/starfromivy

Bandcamp: http://starfromivy.bandcamp.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/starfromivy

Steve Gibbs and Cyrus Reynolds’ In Passing EP: http://stevegibbs.bandcamp.com/album/in-passing-ep

Star From Ivy 2

Image copyright of OW Media