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Music Like Dirt/Live music

Live music

Three reasons to help Sky Valley Mistress play the Download Festival

Ski Valley MistressLast month, those Blackburn based purveyors of Bluesy Rock N Roll, Sky Valley Mistress almost made it to Glastonbury and now they have until April the 26th to take a step towards Donnington’s Download festival.

With days to go, the threesome of Maxwell Harvey William Newsome III, Squire and vocalist  Kayley “Hell Kitten” Davies are hovering precariously at number 85 in the online vote, with only the top 100 making it through to the judged stage.

Can you spare one click to keep them in the hot 100, and give them a chance to showcase their debut EP “The Best Thing You’ve Never Heard“?


Need more convincing..? Here are three good reasons to click once and send Sky Valley Mistress to Donnington Park.

MØ, Sin Cos Tan & Highasakite @ Ja Ja Ja Third birthday

MØ @ Ja Ja Ja Third birthday

To mark their third birthday, Ja Ja Ja, purveyors of the finest music from Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Denmark brought one of this years most tipped acts from Copenhagen to their adopted home, The Lexington.
Karen Marie Ørsted, better known as MØ was hailed as the new Grimes by The Guardian, Grimes having previously been fated as “the new Bjork”, who in turn was “the new Kate Bush”. If you follow the hype trail back far enough there was probably a virtuoso Lute player in a 17th century English hamlet heralded as “the new Tobias the troubadour”.

MØ has a relaxed but focused look about her as she stands at the centre of a very stark stage, DJ on one side, Guitarist the other, a solitary burst of colour offered by her bumblebee striped top and blonde locks. There’s a slight pause before the surprisingly full sounding music kicks in, including a whole lot of MØ’s vocals…a thought briefly crosses my mind. Could someone raved about as much for her voice as her songs be about to mime? The answer thankfully is, if you make music consisting of artfully slicing up vocal samples and multi layered harmonies, then unless you were fortunate enough to be born with four larynxes, you’re gonna need a little backing.
Ørsted treats the beat like a sprinter does a gun and immediately throws her body and long legs into a dance thats half B-Boy and half Babushka era Kate Bush. If you’ve ever seen a breakdancer building momentum before launching into a windmill, thats what it reminds me of, the only shame being she didn’t end the show with a headspin.

The staccato rhythmed “Pilgrim” (video below) is MØ’s best known tune to date and it doesn’t disappoint, getting the crowd holla holla hollaring with its slow hand claps and those infectious bursts of filtered horns. Floating above the slick production is a fine voice, Ørsted occasionally stands still long enough to deliver a nuanced vocal, at times soft and gentle but properly letting rip at others.

Pronto Mama @ King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut

If you’re in Glasgow for a couple of nights it’d be churlish not to pay a visit to one of the iconic music venues, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. Walking up the steps from the main bar your feet pass over the printed names of some of the big name acts who’ve graced it’s stage. From the Manic’s and Blur in ’91, it’s a veritable who’s who of Indie… Oasis, Pulp, Radiohead and erm.. Natalie Imbruglia.
King Tut’s even has its own lager, the whiff of which sent my nostrils spinning back a few days to the distilleries and wash backs of Islay & Oban. Mind you after 10 distilleries, and countless drams it doesn’t take much to trigger a whisky flashback.

Glasgow’s Pronto Mama topped a four band, all Scottish lineup, and by the time they took to the stage the place was rammed with half cut punters ready to jump around. The band arrive bedecked in slightly questionable hand printed t-shirts emblazoned with messages like “Check Me Out” and “Ego Friendly” as if they’d mistaken an EP launch for a stag-do. What they lacked in sartorial elegance they more than made up for in raucous fun, and an ability to simultaneously charm and rock the crowd.

Michael Griffin’s nominally the lead vocalist but Ciaran McEneny on keyboards has an equally fine voice, and thankfully neither bother to tone down their Glaswegian lilt. “Still Swimming” opens with a plaintive wail of what might be “I don’t want to fight anymore” but to my ears sounds like “I don’t want a shite anymore“. Thankfully the songs are as strong as the accents, with “Still Swimming” being the real standout and crowd pleaser. From its gentle piano intro, it swings from delicate declarations of love to crashing guitars, with a maddeningly catchy chorus to boot.

Pronto Mama – Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

The trumpet assisted Safety Net is another highlight, but the depth of material – like the online video gem “Gawn’ ae’ Uni (below) – bodes well for an album.

Kwesachu 2 Mixtape @ Queen Elizabeth Hall

The joys of spring. Its been pelting with rain for 36 hours straight and The Southbank Centre, London’s concrete edifice to art is looking fairly bleak.

At the Queen Elizabeth Hall there’s a loud clanking gear shift crowd wise, as the heavy coats and grey hair of a Beethoven Cello Sonata audience push up their umbrellas and scurry into the rain, an assortment of hairstyles and slightly hipper folk arrive for the launch of the Kwesachu 2 mixtape. The first 200 punters snaffle an upfront cassette of the mix to treasure, and quizzically ponder if they know anyone that still owns a tape deck (they could of course download it here).

Charming is the word I’d use to describe Kwes, declaring himself “chuffed” that people have braved the monsoon weather to come down. He’s said he doesn’t savour being the centre of attention but his music ensures he will be. In the last year he’s produced Speech Debelle’s new LP, worked with Damon Albarn in Africa, and braved the spotlight live with his solo material.

Picture by @deanbryce

Kwes clearly loves collaborating with like-minded people both on record and with one-off live events. After providing a deliciously sparse remix of The Invisible he’s now playing a one-off joint show with them and of course tonight marks the 2nd chapter of his 2009 collaboration with Micachu, “Kwesachu“.

Watching the video (below) about the recording of “Kwesachu 2” what comes across is the mutual admiration that Kwes and Micachu have for each other. It’s also a chance to rope in a load of talented friends, a steady stream of which pop on stage across the course of launch night (with the notable exception of Ghostpoet who’d just got off a plane and didn’t quite make it).

Kwes & Mica are joined by the phenomenal drummer Kwake Bass and Shabaka Hutchings who adds another layer to the sound with some incredible sax work. Kwake Bass and Mica have previously teamed up to create another mixtape last year (download).

At 7pm Speech Debelle was tweeting that she needed to learn her verse but by the time she joined Del for a Big Dada double-header on “Plastic Coins” she’s flawless. A fleeting appearance and a reminder that I really need to see her full live show.

Dels is the mainstay of the evening featuring on three tracks, including the excellent “Bird Milk“. He deadpans the line “Some say I’m just anxious, but I just think I need to eat cheese less” while Bella Wilde brings a touch of glam to the night rocking a pair of zippy PVC trousers and heels while delivering the song’s chorus.

Micachu herself takes main vocal duties on “Awol/Amen” which recalls the poppy accented swagger

Willis Earl Beal @ Notting Hill Arts Club

Back in early March when Willis Earl Beal played a few low-key, low down the bill gigs you had to feel a little sorry for those headlining.  Communion Music had a healthy line up at Notting Hill Arts Club but Willis’s appearance shortly after 7 will surely have left all those following with the sinking realisation that some are imbued with a natural charisma and stage presence that no amount of studio graft or studying your craft can ever hope to match.
Often belting out his songs accapella or with just a reel-to-reel tape machine as backing, its impossible to take your eyes off Willis Earl Beal.  His voice has a power that for all its plaudits failed to come across on his lo-fi debut LP. In fact the live Earl Beal feels like an entirely different artist.

Take “Away My Silent Lover” (below), the version on “Acoustmatic Sorcery” was recorded when he was homeless and leaving demo cd’s around with his phone number inked on.  It has a charm but his voice is thin and the audio quality sounds like someone unearthed a dust covered Robert Johnson 78 by the roadside.

Now listen to the Notting Hill performance of the same song (video below). The voice booms, recalling the early 80’s gospel schooled chicago house vocalists like Robert Owens .  I understand the romance and back story of releasing the demo’s as a debut but you cant help but wonder how incredible it couldve sounded with full production and full voice. The hope has to be that a properly recorded LP follows, allowing Willis’s talent to properly shine.

Earl Beal tried his hand at screen writing and acting under the name Jack Fate (the name of Bob Dylan’s character in the film “Masked and Anonymous”). Under the same name he collaborated with the producer Sleepdeath on a version of  the song “An Evening’s Kiss” which eventually became his debut single on XL (albeit in a demo that probably predates Sleepdeath’s take).  Listen and download the two very different versions below.

Akira The Don, Melting Ice Caps, Barbarossa, PolarBear & B Dolan @ The Standard Music Venue

I’ve been to a few gigs over the years but I can’t think of many occasions where I’ve given much thought to whoever organised it, beyond perhaps.. which idiot chose this support band or the running order says stage time 9…Its 9.30 now!
After “organising” (in the loosest sense of the word) Oxjam Walthamstow I’ll forever have a respect for promoters and their secret language of backlines, di’s, breakables & get-ins.
In the months between committing to put an Oxfam gig and the night itself I’ve gone from angst to wild eyed panic. At any moment a banquet of worry on which to feast… will the bands you love agree to play… wow they agreed, now what order to play in, which venue, how do I find kit cheaply, create publicity on a zero budget…
By the day itself I was a whirling dervish, dashing to collect a microwave to raffle, stressing over whether the children’s “You’re a star (cute bunnyrabbit)” handstamp or office envelope date stamp is best suited to marking punters. Arriving at the venue slightly late with bits of drumkit squeezed into every nook of my Nissan Micra I was so distracted by a mental checklist of things to do that I bumped the car into the car park wall. On cue the passenger window gave way, slid down with a clunk and refused to countenance the prospect of shutting again.
Anyway you get the picture, less Bill Graham, more Frank Spencer… on roller skates… going under a bus.

Attending a really well organised Oxjam elsewhere in North London a couple of nights earlier hadn’t exactly quelled my fears. Listed in Time Out (unlike me despite numerous attempts) it spanned 3 rooms with inspired comedy, an eclectic mix of live music, and DJ’s (including Coldcut’s Matt Black!!) It was genuinely superb from the soul of Nike Jemiyo backed by south London’s answer to The Dapkings to the amusingly titled Yorkshire Rapper (Listen to “Up North” – up north up north up north).

The only problem… As the night went on it became clear that a high percentage of the not exactly numerous audience was made up of members of the bands performing. Even worse the far from “Sensible” headliner had pulled out that morning after demanding more cash and to be chaffered to the venue!!!

"If this doesn't work I could just stand like this all night"

It’s the little things, so many little things, that trip you up.
Take the picture (above) featuring my puzzled attempts to construct a desk for CDJ’s out of empty beer crates and a stray coffee table, while in the background the sound man knocks up a wire for the mixers non-standard output. Meanwhile it’s an hour and a half before doors, 4 acts to soundcheck and time seems to be the only thing rushing.
The soundguy’s so laid back he appears to move in as if filmed in timelapse. It stressed the hell out of me but was thankfully merely the calmness and consummate skill that comes with having seen it and done it all before… “it’ll be fine” he reassured. Sure enough only 20 minutes after the advertised time, the doors were flung open and fortified by a glass of dry white, the volunteer on the door began to take punters money. Punters! Actual real people have come… and there are some I dont know by name.


I’d love to be able to give you a band by band review but the entire night exists to me only as some vague blur so if anyone wants to tell me what it was like please do!
All I can say with any certainty is thank god for Akira The Don, not only for performing but for his wildly enthusiastic hosting. He set the tone introducing The Melting Ice Caps (or Melty Ice Caps as he took to calling them) as his new favourite band… “OH MYYY GODD they’re incredible!“.

Described by a friend as “Divine Comedy channelling Morrissey in Marc Almond’s boudoir while wearing a Pet Shop Boy’s scarf” I’ve seen David Shah’s Melting Ice Caps a few times. Most notably a hilariously fractious performance, accompanied only by a DVD player in a sunken pit in the corner of a boozer. At the end of a truncated set Shah quite rightly declared “Im never playing here again“.

Thankfully for Oxjam Shah took full advantage of The Standard’s unusually wide stage with the full band Ice Cap experience, now with added Sax. New tracks “Join The Dots” and “In Bloom” were given an airing ahead of an EP in the new year, along with many of their nine “mostly free to download” singles (Grab them here).

A stray set list at the end of the night revealed that even with a bumper 45 minute slot there was no room for the superb “Pavlovian Boy“, or singles “Being No One” and the melancholic magnificence of the breakup song “Hard To Get“. As ever it ended with “Selfish Bachelor“, the diamond in a jewel encrusted crown of bittersweet pop songs. “You’ve been the best audiences we’ve had all year” said Shah before adding “although this is only the third time we’ve played…“.

For some reason #oxjamwalthamstow wasn’t trending worldwide at this point but word of the mighty Ice Caps did spread into the twitterverse with the local MP tweeting from Westminster:


Mise En Scene, Through a prism, Join the dots
Strike in the dark [audio:http://www.musiclikedirt.com/wp-content/MP3/strikeinthedark.mp3]
our lovely afternoon
le cafe et les hommes, in bloom, ohio
between eros and agape
Selfish bachelor

Pavlovian Boy


Barbarossa (Italian for “red beard”) has been around in various guises since 2006, and recorded the first and so far only MusicLikeDirt Live session earlier in the year during a brief sojourn under his real name James Mathe. Most recently “Stones” a track featuring Jon Hopkins from the 2006 LP “Sea Like Blood” LP featured on the hit US series “How I Met Your Mother“. Fans of the show filled chat rooms with plea’s like “Help! I need to know what that song at the end of the last episode was… I want to play it at my wedding!!“. Basically the man’s got a beautiful voice, what more is there to say? That voice was even more to the fore as this was a solo stripped down performance, just James with his instruments spread out across 3 low tables.

The gig took place days before he was due to head to the hills outside Manchester to record

The Melting Ice Caps & Music Like Dirt join Oxjam 2011

On Wednesday October the 19th Music Like Dirt will be joining forces with Oxfam for a charity gig featuring some of my favourite music of recent years.  Its all part of the Oxjam festival which sees hundreds of gigs across the country to raise money for Oxfam’s work.

Check Oxjam’s website to find a gig near you, or even better buy a ticket for my night from We Got Tickets for the very reasonable price of £6.
I am both honoured and excited by the artists who’ve agreed to play but as a first time gig organiser frankly I’m terrified no one will turn up!

There’ll be more details on the blog in the next few days but first I thought I’d give a mention to a concert being put on by one of the bands who are playing, long time MLD favourites, The Melting Ice Caps.

Ice Caps head honcho David Shah describes SPECKS IN THE SKY as a night of stratospherically dreamy music (but without the night bus, or a stratospheric ticket price).  It’s taking place at The Willmington Arm’s in Clarkenwell on September the 29th – at 4 quid its at least worth a gander at their Facebook page.


Keeping it in the family Shah himself will be performing, not with The Melting Ice Caps but his other group, The Soft Close-Ups.
They’re an art-pop duo who veer (beautifully, of course) from the acoustic to the electronic.

You can grab their album, ‘In Retrospect‘, for free (they also accept money) here: http://corporaterecords.co.uk/artists/The+Soft+Close-Ups/

Fireworks” in particular is a delight, with such sparse production that there’s little but a burbling 80’s synth to accompany David’s plaintive voice.  It’s even more special when coupled with a simple but very effective video.

“A delectably knowing way with lounge pop” said God Is In The TV

The Soft Close-Ups – “Fireworks” by calmfarm


I’ve not had a chance to listen to Owen’s music yet but David assures me of his brilliance and canny ability to wring magic out of piano, ukulele and cello.  My list of lazy comparisons includes Joan As Police Woman and Rufus Wainwright template. He rarely plays live and usually releases his music through playful stunts – copies of his last EP were hidden in secret locations for fans to hunt for.

Have a listen at www.owenduff.co.uk or watch his lovely Joanna Newsome cover below (He also sacrilegiously covers Whitney’s “I wanna dance with somebody”)


HK60s’ debut album, ‘My Fantoms’, comprises delicious vintage sounds, perfectly judged melodies and drifting melancholia. They wouldn’t be at all out of place in the esteemed company of Stereolab, Broadcast and Saint Etienne.

…heart-melting beauty…” – Sean O’Hagan, The High Llamas

Stream the album for free at http://propersongs.net/label/2011/02/hong-kong-in-the-60s/

You Can Take A Heart But You Cannot Make It Beat by Hong Kong In The 60s

Glastonbury 2011

The freshly converted are always the worst. Born again Christians, ex smokers, and in my case, those who never showed much interest in going to Glastonbury but now – courtesy of a ticket from the very kind organisers of the Emerging Talent competition –  stand transformed into a grade A #glasto bore.

While theres clearly some truth in the charge that over 40 years the festival has become more commercial, less edgy and enevitably at £195 pounds a ticket overrun by the middle classes. I can only judge it through my own first timers eyes, and on that basis, it was like somekind of musical wet dream.

A typical evening begins with Jarvis and the newly reformed Pulp revisiting the festival that made their name back in ’95.  After that a short hop up the hill to The Crows Nest cafe where The Master Musicians of Joujouka are winding up a bewitching set, before the new queen of country Caitlin Rose takes to, what just about qualifys as a stage. A crowd of about 30 lap it up while sipping their herbal tea.
Leaving the nest, the walk down to the main site is accompanied by a sky alight with lazers from the Chemical Brothers. Their music booms out, but over on the West Holt, Big Boi from Outkast has the crowd bouncing to the catchiest riff of last year, “Shutterbug”. He ends with a triumphant “London, thank you, you’re the best“.

And thats just a few hours of music, as the cliche goes, Glastonbury is about much more than that.


Most of the first day involved getting there, finding a muddy swamp on which to pitch and then cycling through a series of perplexed facial expressions while working out which pole goes where.  Its never ideal to be on your own in these situations as throwing the tent pegs on the floor and storming off in a huff is much less rewarding when on your return, someone else hasnt put the tent up for you.

Earlier in the year 40 bloggers were chosen to judge new bands applying for a coveted “Emerging Talent” slot at the festival, and a few left their computers behind for the weekend to attend.
Robin from the Breaking More Waves blog had the foresight and a twitter account to summon a handful for a meetup in the Park bar.  Remarkably the people behind Just Music That I Like, Flying With Anna, Hot Cakes, and This Music Wins were charming, friendly, knowledgable about a wide range of musical styles and in many cases claimed to hold down jobs, relationships, and children (well not hold down children, but you know what I mean).
The conversation naturally focused on things like how long your blog had been going, music you like, the story behind your name, and of course a few mildly competitive when did you first hear X band.  Take Caitlin Rose, one by one those who’d seen her recounted the ever increasingly tiny and obscure places they’d first seen her play.
At this point – realising I hadnt seen her at all yet – I panicked and claimed to have introduced her parents… but I think I got away with it.

MLD Sessions: James Mathe

For the first MLD Session we headed to the Pure Evil Gallery in deepest Hoxton.  Down in its basement, surrounded by sculptures, spray paints and a buzzing tv set, we recorded three songs from one of our favourite artists, James Mathe.

Introduced via The Daily Growl blog back in late 2006 when recording under the guise of “Barbarossa” (“Red Beard” in Italian), James’s latest EP gave a taster of what to expect on his eagerly awaited LP “Care Cracks“.

In the past Ive compared his vocals to Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor (a comparison reinforced when they played after each other at one of the final Luminaire shows). Thankfully he also shares the Chips gift for melancholic lo-fi electronic beauty coupled with beguiling melodies.

First up the beautiful “Bloodlines”, it was a real privilege to see James and his band play this track live. Thanks must also go to Pure Evil for letting us film after hours.

You can hear more from James on the links below. You’ll also get a few musical tips too, like this gorgeous Findlay Brown remix which completely passed me by back in January.

James Mathe – Facebook / Myspace / Soundcloud

For the second track James put the Omnichord to one side, grabbed a drumstick and joined the drummer for the urgent stripped down sound of “Turbine“. Lovely guitar work, especially as the guitarist had only learnt the songs the previous day!

Back in 1995 Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine were less than flattering about “Lenny and Terence”, but James is clearly a fan. He covered

Chrome Hoof – Live in various warehouses

In the three years since 2nd LP "Pre-Emptive False Rapture", Chrome Hoof have bolstered their already mighty reputation for epic live performances, and I've conspired to miss every single one...