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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Erland and the Carnival: Nightingale – album review

Erland and the Carnival - Nightingale

Folk – in its most traditional form – can be a bit of a marmite genre. But Erland & The Carnival feel like a band who, irrespective of preference, create songs that show how objectively good they are at their craft.

That is what made the band’s self titled album from 2010 such a compelling listen – and Nightingale follows on from where it left off. This time though, instead of lovingly refurbishing folkloric songs and poems, these thoroughly British gents have written their own material from scratch. And while some of it retreads unnecessary ground from the debut, there are new moments of freakish wizardry and enchantment in their music.

The band are Erland Cooper – a folk guitarist and singer from the remote Scottish island of Orkney, ex The Verve, Blur and The Good, The Bad and The Queen guitarist, Simon Tong, plus dummer, David Nock, formerly of The Orb and Paul McCartney‘s The Fireman.

Map Of An Englishman is the first foray into a heavier and more produced sound, and is one of the band’s best tracks to date. Named after a piece of artwork from Grayson Perry, beneath its unfamiliar surface lies the characteristic nuts and bolts of whirring Wurlitzers and plodding rhythms, delivered upon a glorious musical wave that’s quite easy to be swept away upon.

If The Coral were the brothers of Frankenstein ‘s monster, they would probably have come up with something as weird and wonderful as Emmeline, complete with its horror house crescendo. And sixties influences from The Doors on I’m Not Really Here are so bold that you’d half expect to find their smudged fingerprints over the instruments.

In Nightingale, Erland & The Carnival take an Alice In Wonderland journey, delving into the curious, from dreamlike, to dark, nightmarish moments. I Wish I Wish is as wispy as it is odd, playing with rhythm to give the track an impossible sounding complexity that dances against the simplicity of the storytelling. Maddening Donnie Darko moments surface on Springtime and there’s also room for kaleidoscope Sergeant Pepper and marching bands on Wealldie.

The band say they recorded the album in the bowels of a ship moored on the Thames. Cabin fever aside, the heart wrenching love stories of Nightingale and East & West must have benefitted from solitary confinement, as the loss sounds all the more beautiful, especially in its stripped down state.

The latter end of the album palpably strays too far into obscurity – too far, that is, except for The Trees They Grow So High, which is wonderfully obscure. Like the present you hadn’t noticed behind the tree on Boxing Day, it comes as a bolt out of the blue with acid trippy lyrics, mixed with shoegazey folk that isn’t afraid to flirt with an experimental electronica beat.

Nightingale has a definite progression in sound from the debut – it’s darker, more varied, and more surreal. Whether the one is better than the other feels like a moot point for this band; the earlier was an exercise in lovingly bringing to life forgotten folk verses, yet this new offering had entirely different parameters in starting from scratch. In fact it’s this that makes Nightingale such a majestic, natural step, by virtue of the fact that while it’s so complex and accessible, it’s the genuine article.

Reviewed for MusicOMH

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The Spine Tingler #4: Erland and the Carnival – Map of an Englishman

Map of an Englishman is the first the new material from Erland and the Carnival’s second album, Nightingale.

Named after a piece of artwork from Grayson Perry, the video is masterfully layered with etched drawings of bodily organs, which shrink and expand over the video to mimick the band’s  tale of  lost love.

Erland Cooper – a folk guitarist and singer from the remote Scottish island of Orkney – has written beautifully simplistic and direct lyrics that tell a story. Initially, this appears to be a whole new direction for the folk ensemble that includes ex-The Verve Simon Tong, and  David Nock, formerly of The Orb and Paul McCartney’s The Fireman. But beneath an unmistakably more heavily produced, deep, and rounded sound, the track is made up of the same nuts and bolts of whirring instruments, plodding rhythms and organs that made the first album such a magical listen.

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Summer Sundae 2010 – festival review

Summer Sundae 2010 - crowds at the Main Stage

Reviewed for Gigwise

The story of Leicester’s Summer Sundae 2010 will always tell that it was a shrewd early move to book Mumford and Sons that ensured the safety of the much-loved festival’s tenth anniversary.

A lot of proverbial eggs were placed in one basket when the popular indie-folk act were boldly announced as Sunday’s headliners. Organisers must have been rubbing their hands together as the foursome notched up best Glastonbury performance, rubber stamping a sell-out for the festival based at De Montfort Hall and its leafy grounds and part of the city’s Victoria Park.

Friday’s headline was grabbed by a down-to-earth Seasick Steve’s eagerness to play longer than his allotted slot, and so, starting earlier than planned, the blues musician flaunted a long and raucous list of favourites from his five albums. The hobo-turned-music-star flirted with an array of busking instruments and silenced any naysayers in the process, even managing to woo an unexpecting female fan with a dedicated song.

Meanwhile, a luckily timed quick shifty indoors saw Roots Manuva calling all to raise their index finger and declare, ‘One hope one quest’, as he unveiled Witness. The British hip hop artist proved that like Seasick Steve, he was also a master of a polar opposite side of the musical spectrum.

Earlier that day, Kyte’s shoegaze indie kicked off the main stage weekend with an aplomb that belied their baby faces, no more so than during the cover of Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. Erland and the Carnival, comprised of former Blur and The Verve’s Simon Tong, Paul McCartney’s Fireman’s David Nock, and the immaculately-voiced Erland Cooper, took to the increased-capacity Rising Stage with triumphantly revamped folk antiques.

That paved the way for a not-disappointing set from The Sunshine Underground back in the main arena, whose sing-a-long mid-noughties indie classics like Borders and Commercial Breakdown hit the mark and kept a bulky audience rooted to the spot during torrents of rain. Glaswegian alt-rockers, Teenage Fanclub followed, making a welcome comeback appearance to the festival breach.

Twenty-strong female choir, Gaggle, kicked off Saturday’s main stage lineup with woe-betide tales of men, debauchery, drugs and drunkenness. Their powerful acapella and drum beats were the perfect tonic to blow away the cobwebs. Dog Is Dead might have been all-male and a quarter of the size, but they continued the pitch-perfect harmonies indoors with refreshingly different jazz-infused indie with tongue-in-cheek shouted lyrics like, “This is a zoo, could you not feed the animals?”

We Show Up On Radar’s gentle electronic folk at the Rising Stage was child-friendly enough for toddlers to fall asleep in their parents’ arms and audience-friendly enough to induce a sway at the front, or some wellies-off time at the back. While popstrel, Diana Vickers, faired well with a young audience; her number one hit, Once, and a little-known aptitude for trumpet playing thanks to an instrument she named ‘Tommy’, got the best reactions.

Fun, mystical, folky poptronica from Tunng followed indoors, but it was Caribou that packed out the venue. Grouped at centre-stage, Dan Snaith’s foursome rolled out funky grooves, pulsating acid house, psychedelica and plenty of bleeps and tweeps, culminating in an extended version of the Mr Scruff-esque Sun from recent critically acclaimed album, Swim, to mark a festival highlight.

The Go! Team’s first performance in two years cranked up the evening pace at the damp Main Stage ready for Tinchy Stryder. But it was the return of Mark E Smith’s on-stage nonchalance that was the talk of the festival that night, as The Fall graced the alternative headline spot. It might not have been to everyone’s taste, but the performance was enigmatic and showed just why the band had been so influential to punk.

A closing late night live set from The Whip stirred the remaining partygoers into a soft peak as Saturday hit its climax.

For the most part it was the DrownedInSound Indoor Stage that harboured the anticipation for Sunday’s bands. Lo-fi tales of young love from Summer Camp were at times beautiful, at others, a little too sickly sweet. Errors’ angular electronic post rock went down a storm, before twee-indie favourites, Los Campesinos! justified the size of their crowd in De Montfort Hall. The ecstatic audience reactions to You! Me! Dancing! obviously delighted sharp-tongued lyricist, Gareth, as an impromptu stage dive during Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks resulted in a catalogue of injuries and mild concussion that somehow didn’t stop the remaining two minutes of the band’s set.

Frightened Rabbit’s rousing, gut-wrenching high points from across Winter Of Mixed Drinks and Midnight Organ Fight, delivered by Scott Hutchinson’s endearing Scottish twang showed the band as one of the most, if not the most exciting of their genre at the moment.

Earlier, at the main stage, the sun had finally hardened the mud and the crowds were happy to sit and listen to a day of stomping folk and acoustics, which would become both a theme and a slight criticism as the pace remained rather static. Nonetheless, it was easy to drink in the sounds of Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit, as well as Jose Gonzales’ Junip, who mixed a heady cocktail of the ambience of Air with lulling plucked guitars and effortless vocals.

But it was Mumford and Sons who won the heart of the weekend. An abashed Marcus declared how honoured the four were to play their inaugural headline spot at Summer Sundae, but admitted there had been a double-edged sword to their meteoric rise, as they had struggled to gather enough material to fill the hour-plus slot. The band needn’t have worried as every Sigh No More track was an audience favourite – The Cave moistening eyes and loosening even the most tired of feet.

Indoors, The Futureheads took their stiff competition a rival headliners with great humour and did not suffer painfully on numbers, as a busy crowd duly obeyed Barry Hyde’s request for them to do the ‘bouncey bounce’ dance during Skip To The End. The Mackem three’s loyal cohort were clearly determined not to be wooed outdoors, away from their dry wit, tongue twisting lyrics and catchy guitar riffs at breakneck speed.

One thing is for sure, having wavered on the brink of cancellation throughout the latter part of 2009, Summer Sundae came back fighting for its tenth anniversary and proved it has become a vital fixture of the British festival calendar, with a dexterity that allows it to span both generations and genres.

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Erland and the Carnival: Erland and the Carnival – album review

Just found this in my documents and can’t believe I didn’t put it up earlier in the year. So here goes – a belated Erland and the Carnival review!

Erland and the Carnival

If you were selecting three musicians to sensitively refurbish and bring to life old folk songs and poems from dusty bookshelves and vinyl collections, you would probably chose the three that make up Erland and The Carnival.

Erland Cooper, a folk guitarist and singer from the remote Scottish island of Orkney, has a reverence for the genre which is necessary to keep this collection of songs true to their roots. With a CV including The Verve, Blur and The Good, The Bad and The Queen, guitarist, Simon Tong, offers a respectable balance between creativity and traditional guitar-based indie rock. And dummer, David Nock, formerly of The Orb and Paul McCarney’s The Fireman, bridges the decade gap enough so as not to impose anything too conceptual for the sensitivity this album requires.

Erland and the Carnival is an album full of samples turned into contemporary folk. Yes, it is a collection of classic English and Scottish folk songs and poems rearranged and revamped. But more than that, it is an exercise in researching and digging up semi-forgotten verses to breathe new life into them.

There are touches of The Coral on Love Is A Killing Thing, whilst northern soul, echoes of the Beatles and Mancunian guitars feature sporadically throughout the rest of the album. Military two-steps also gallop throughout the entire record, with heavy twinges of Western and The Last Shadow Puppets, most noticeable on My Name Is Carnival, The Derby Ram, Everything Came Too Easy and You Don’t Have To Be Lonely.

Leonard Cohen’s poem is reworked on Disturbed This Morning, but the star of the collection is the loop onto which William Blake’s poem, On The Echoing Green is carefully double stitched. It leaves you paralysed for three-and-a-half minutes.

The whole album has a haunting sound deeply rooted in folk, which is why the original songs and verses avoid sounding too rehashed. On every level this complex record packs traditional drums, psychedelic organs and the tale-telling vocals of Erland.

It’s not as though Erland and The Carnival immediately drags you in and does something revolutionary to your musical preferences. But it feels like a record which should be genuinely appreciated, because it does for folk what an archaeological dig does for unearthing forgotten gems. It is enchanting and freakish and makes the genre accessible without being mainstream, psychedelic but not loud and trippy, and thoroughly other-wordly, yet unmistakably British.

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