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I never wanted to be a booker. I boast no inside-track on the hottest venues, nor can I woo event managers into throwing headline slots my way at whim. Until I made the decision to sign an artist to a management deal this short-coming was never more than a small blemish on an otherwise majestically pristine exterior; an ash smudge on the cheek of a firey A&R goddess… Now it’s taken on a little more the form of a missing body part; not something as fundamental as a leg or anything, but perhaps a toe – a big toe. As with most things in life, however, practice makes progress and the more venues I hobble through the steadier I do become. I’ve found a little unabashed persistence and creativity helps in getting the keys to the stage, but what’s worth having that doesn’t take a little graft? Even at this early stage I have found something to be glaringly obvious, however, and that is that I’m often not as out of depth as I fear. As I fake my way into the line-ups, all too many venues are faking their way into the sector itself.
Live music is the bread-winner of today’s music industry and bakeries are on the rise. Whether it’s sticking a portable karaoke machine next to the bar every third Thursday or boasting the most well-trodden stage on the strip, more bars, pubs and clubs are adding live music to the bill. This is excellent news for the unsigned artist: more stages, more audiences, more exposure, mo’ better, yes? Largely yes, this stands to reason, but more is always not always better… Are we talking a few indiscriminate rolls sold by the till on the way out or are we talking rows of floury dough, that slicer-machine and the whole hairnet operation to boot? If it’s just to perk up a slow night and grab in a few extra bodies then that’s fine, let’s call it that; artists would know what to expect and in turn what was expected of them, but if you’re going to sell yourself as the real deal you do have to at least have a appreciation of live music, an interest at minimum.
I have been to some venues that entirely define themselves as a “live music venue” yet appear to be more concerned with getting the bands in and out as quickly as possible so DJ Scotty can spin his ropey 80’s tunes on time. Some boasting to be the best event hosters have asked on the night if anyone really cares about having a sound-check, playing in line-up order, or actually playing at all when it comes to it. One venue promised in-house promotion in the lead-up, a fully competent sound technician for the night and just general interest and enthusiasm. I had to fight tooth and nail to get the event poster put up even as late as the day before, and when we arrived on the night we were met by one lackadaisical bored gentleman who disappeared for almost the full set-up time and then finally jabbed at a few dials after much berating on my part and even that of the artists.
Live musicians aren’t asking to be babied. Nobody is suggesting a cuddle on arrival and a cookie after set, but my third party viewpoint has seen musicians often viewed as almost an inconvenience by those actually booking them to play. Yes they should be grateful for a stage on which to perform, of course, but let’s not use that in a ‘take it and shut up’ capacity. It takes hard work, persistence and a great deal of personal confidence to secure and perform a live gig so it’s up to the venues to cough up some support if that’s what they claim to be offering.
The venues that do nurture the artists they book, whether it be through promotion, backstage support, or even just a friendly face on arrival, are those that will reap in the real talent and the rewards of being a genuine live music venue. Thankfully these are in rather decent supply here in Britain, and we at STX are looking to recognise the important role that they play in the development of our unsigned music scene. We ask some of the brightest underrated talents in the industry to meet us in the venue that they feel has been the most supportive and influential to them personally as an unsigned artist, and to share a couple of their tracks with us from their favourite stage.
Where better to find the best live music venues than from the artists who actually play them? Whether you’re looking to listen, play, or both, STX wants you to be as sure of a venue as you are of the artist.
Look out for the first exclusive feature in a few weeks.
An interested artist/venue? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
We featured Ryan Lawler way back in October just ahead of his performance at the first STX Presents live event, pitching him as a singer full of promise and potential. His laid-back musicality and that remarkably dexterous husky voice, only hinted at by a couple of YouTube covers, were enough to assure us of a chap already on his way to bigger stages and better recognition.
We don’t like to brag here at STX but we’re always right. Always. Over the last few months Lawler has grown in leaps and bounds (and facial hair) to become a fully formed artist. He’s been uploading, networking and gigging like a mad man and has attracted the attention and affection of the countless. Now he’s ready to share his first original track and allowed us the privilege of doing so first, but not before we had a little chat…
In a tucked-away rehearsal studios in Sheffield, Lawler performed for STX two tracks: a cover of Ed Sheeran’s beautiful ‘Parting Glass’ and a live acoustic version of his debut original track, “Here Comes The Rain”. We were not disappointed. Not one drop.
The artwork for the track was designed and created by the man himself. Cool, no?
Click it to watch the track performed live.
Click here to watch Lawler perform a stunning cover of
Ed Sheeran’s ‘Parting Glass’
It’s rare to fall in love with an EP on first listen but it does happen. There’s usually a track you’re not quite sure of… sometimes the impression that the format is heavy-hitter plus padding… often it takes a few listens… Only Shadows’ debut ‘Forest Fires’ had me from the start.
The prominent guitar riffs and passionate lyrics sit this 4-track offering firmly in the alt. rock/powerpop categor, with the substance to make Only Shadows a plucky contender amongst its more established genre-mates.
Only Shadows-Be Still (Track 03)
Track 03, ‘Be Still’ was the first track I listened to of the four and personally I think it should have been the first track of the EP itself; it’s an immediate clincher. The opening minute and a half of tender vocals over a perfectly stripped-back instrumental is immensely alluring and a real showcase of the band’s attention to detail in composition. The contrast of the high vocal trills with the heavy drum beat and backing chants afford the lyrics their earnest vulnerability but don’t allow you to think for a second that you’re in for a ballad. When the full force of the track does kick in it is epic. Be Still belongs on a festival stage. It’s the sort of song that demands an overly passionate mime between friends, in a field, with fists of emotion. I love it.
Only Shadows have really defined their style in the very short time they’ve been together and this EP is bursting with confidence. Sure there are areas that would benefit a tweak here and there (I find the drums a little erratic in Track 01, ‘Many a Mountain’) but these little imperfections merely highlight the band’s raw potential.
The title track ‘Forest Fires’ is one of the more reserved tracks on the EP with its slower tempo and longer spells of melodic guitar but it remains typically indicative of Only Shadows’ affection for rousing anthemnic-style hooks and chants. Early in this EP you get the impression that this is a band that makes music with a live audience firmly in mind.
Only Shadows-Forest Fires (Track 02)
In its entirety the Forest Fires EP is a very enjoyable listen. Its tracks are full of guts and personality without compromise on substance. The choice of songs work very well together, with a consistent theme and format running throughout. It would be interesting however, to see if the band would play around with structure when faced with filling out an LP.
Only Shadows have definitely made a confident entrance on the post-punk scene and I’m intrigued to see how they follow up on one of my favourite alt. rock EPs of the year.
Climbing Trees is a 5-musician ensemble defining their style as “Cymrucana”, a fusion of folk, rock and roll, blues and gospel, all of which culminates in a rich and joyfully scenic sound with the raw arresting charm of the Welsh Valleys. Their homeland is evidently a core element of the band, with their first full-length album titled “Hebron” after a small town in Carmarthenshire. The release comprises 10 tracks of rustic melodies and earnest lyrics, each leaving you in mind of rolling hills and woodland streams. The album showcases a remarkably diverse array of voices from the band’s arsenal of 3 lead vocalists, each lending a unique character to their respective tracks yet maintaining a compatibility that makes the harmonies wonderfully rich and unified.
Climbing Trees-Burning Candle (Track 02)
The chord-heavy ‘Burning Candle’ (Track 02) is a real nod to the gospel and blues influences in Climbing Trees’ sound with its expansive vocals and a rhythmic melody that takes up a conversation with your soul. The track is typical of the the band’s atmospheric musical style, which also really shines where the vocals are fully harmonic, like in ‘River Home’ (Track 05) which has a similar bluesy feel.
Climbing Trees play around with song structure a great deal in ‘Hebron’. There are some tracks with a more traditional verse and chorus based anatomy like ‘Gone to Sea’ (Track 07), with an infectious hook and simple lyrics hinting at more commercial appeal. In other tracks like ‘Ahab’ (Track 08) the vocal exists as an instrumental accent rather than the vehicle for lyrical meaning. This particular style communicates a real self-awareness of ability from Climbing Trees, which allows them to confidently and consistently play to their strengths. The album also features entirely instrumental tracks like the gentle closing piano track ‘Nos’ (Track 10), charmingly translated from Welsh as ‘night’, or the eponymous track, ‘Hebron’ (Track 06). The latter in particular is a testament to Climbing Trees skill at eliciting an emotional response from only the use of their instruments. It’s a climbing joy – 4 minutes and 48 seconds of a smile that creeps to a grin.
Climbing Trees-Hebron (Track 06)
This album announces Climbing Trees to the world. It’s an exhibition of musical talent, ingenuity and promise. Even looking at it without subjective interpretation it’s quite simply a bloody good listen. Folk seems to be the up-and-coming cool kid of the new music scene and it’s refreshing to see a genre that demands originality and musical accomplishment increasingly afforded some street-cred’ in an environment where it’s often been snatched up by saggy-crotched trousers and auto-tune. Climbing Trees are very much here to rule the school… and they brought their Welsh dragon.
The Walrus has landed, or perhaps beached…? Beached does imply a halt in momentum however; picture this particular Walrus pitching up on an iceberg greased with twelve layers of hotel lobby floor wax. There is nothing but lightening-speed potential in this latest offering from the brilliant Maddie Jones.
Released today, the “Mr Walrus” EP is a six-track collection born of startlingly authentic lyrics and unique musical choreography. It features a number of Jones’ signature songs with the addition of one or two others I hadn’t yet heard. I must admit, I’ve developed a real affection for this remarkable artist. She is naturally endearing, but without trace of passivity, and Mr Walrus is the perfect showcase of both the charm and the assertion intrinsic to her resolute individuality.
Maddie Jones-Me, Myself and I (Track 01)
There is no other song that could have possibly introduced Jones’ as a creative-being on the face of her EP alone. “Me, Myself and I” is intelligent, frank and deliciously sharp. Standing at only 1:45 minutes it’s the shortest song of the 6 but packs a hefty whack entirely worthy of pole position. It’s a scathing assault on the self-involved and the opportunistic, with stop-your-sh*t lyrics and squawks of frustration that still have me laughing at my thousandth listen.
Maddie Jones continues to use sound in a very innovative way and this playful diversity is reflected right down to the arrangement of tracks on the EP; up-tempo sass is routinely alternated with a softer, more intimate feel. As a whole, the theme of the collection strikes me as a promotion of self-confidence and empowerment. Whether she’s warning you not to push your luck or reassuring you that your perseverance will pay off it does feel as though Jones’ is giving you a kick in the seat of respective force. The only discernible break in this premise comes in the form of Track 04 of the EP, “Illusion”. With lyrics relaying the vulnerability of allowing someone access to your true self and in return seeking access to their own, this track shows a delicate and introspective quality that further highlights Jones’ ability to keep her audience alert and guessing.
I had every intention of viewing Maddie Jones’ latest release with an unaffected and unbiased eye, unfortunately, when you attempt this with the sort of artist that captivates upon first impact it becomes an almost impossible task, one which I’ll readily admit to failing miserably. Luckily the Mr Walrus EP is everything I knew it would be and certainly a little bit more. I’m hugely grateful it slid by Stopped in Trax before it speeds off onto the big ‘bergs.
Death Rumba… have you encountered this?
It’s not a dangerous subset of dance with steel-toed shoes and spiked castanets, although abstract interpretation could define it as such, death rumba is actually a genre born of a manic concoction of Latin-infused trumpetry and Punk-like abandon. Big Lion and The Filthy Old Orchestra’s EP, “An Introduction to Death Rumba”, is a window into a world where scantily-gowned dancers smile as they cucaracha you hard upside the head. You should also watch out for the Russian Barynya knees thrown in there for good measure.
I have listened to this collection of tracks incessantly for a while now and I still don’t feel qualified to offer a definition shorter than a paragraph. It’s unlike anything I have ever heard – it’s eccentric musical genius. The EP itself is exceedingly aptly titled; the first track holds your hand for the first minute or so with a familiar simplistic Latin rhythm but you are soon unwittingly sacrificed to gravelly punk vocals and an instrumental that thinks it’s much cooler than you… and probably is. Finally you emerge from the close of Petryorshka reeling but subconsciously reaching for the repeat button. Don’t be frightened, go around again! I was brave myself and now opener, “Death Rumba” is my jam.
If you’re feeling a niggle of familiarity in the back of your mind that you can’t quite isolate let me attempt to appease you. The Big Lion is in fact James Stevenson of Red Crow and his ensemble of dirty musicians is a mix of his band-mates and a number of other talented artists. When he approached me with his solo material, I was sold before pressing play, however I had no idea that what had landed in the STX submissions would be so… incomparable to anything. The diverse array of sound achieved by this community of artists is frankly ground-breaking. It is a baffling level of musical accomplishment and I for one am entirely unprepared for whatever’s next to be unleashed from their armoury. Everybody duck!
Arbor Lights are a post-rock band without the frequently habitual pomp and pretence. Their tracks are not excessively long in title, nor in composition, and their name was inspired by their original meeting place rather than an obscure cross between a children’s nursery rhyme and the various colours of weather. Arbor Lights are simply a band that makes great instrumental rock music.
Released in July of this year, “Hatherton Lake” is a a testament to Arbor Lights’ aptitude for balancing the ambient with the assertive. Soft and harsh tones are expertly blended and contrasted, communicating the progression of each track so cleanly that it renders any potential vocal addition mere clutter. Individually the five compositions are musical tales in their own right but the album itself reads like a novel rather than a compilation. The arrangement is so masterful that by design it insists that you experience the songs as a single 41 minute event.
The opening track, “The Silent City” coaxes you in with a steady atmospheric incline spanning over a minute before you are met with a confident guitar riff, which soon heralds the arrival of a steady driving beat. It serves as an introduction to the band as well as the album, offering an insight into how Arbor Lights’ define themselves as musicians but also keeping the listener anticipating, as though the entire track is climbing to something other than its own climax. At the barely discernible close of the first song you are left in no doubt that it is.
The ascent of Hatherton Lake continues through “Interstellar”, by which time the band is confident enough in the listener’s engagement to completely switch up the song halfway through, meeting the gentle lead into the defining track of the album, “Damascus”; a perfect equilibrium of the soft and harsh attributes of Arbor Lights. If you do decide to listen to the tracks individually, “Damascus” will relay the experience of the entire album effectively enough in its own right. It is excellent.
By “Silhouettes” the album is in its prime with a loud warmth subsiding in gentle ambiance, misleading the listener into thinking the final track “The Mayor and the Diver” will serve as a winding down. Wrong. The conclusion to Hatherton Lake is a raucous onslaught of distorted guitar and symbol battery. It is unlike any other track on the album yet sits perfectly in the context of the collection. It is Arbor Light’s closing argument – you have been lulled in and kicked back out, kicked back out to sit quietly and wait for more.
What an album.