The Twenty Best Things We Heard, Saw, And Discovered At The Green Man Festival

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Our first visit to the brilliant Green Man Festival. Here are the twenty best things we heard, saw and discovered over the weekend.

1. The Parquet Courts live up to the hype
Like the Ramones on speed, the four-piece transcended all the hype with the set of the weekend – a thrilling, occasionally ramshackle, breakneck excursion into punk, slacker pop and moshpit heaven, and in Stoned and Starving they have a ready made classic for years to come.

2. Dancing Bears at British Sea Power
An epic, brooding, cinematic set brought to a stunning, and appropriately eccentric climax as, during Carrion, two seven foot Grizzly Bears appear amongst the audience  to dance, grapple and lead an impromptu conga.

3. John Cale and Roy Harper still cut the mustard
They may be advanced in years, but both the old boys demonstrated just why the main stage was still the perfect stage for them. First up an amiable Harper showed just why he is a primary influence on so many of today’s folk stars from the Fleet Foxes to Joanna Newsom, finishing his set of pastoral, freak tinged folk with the classic, and beautifully poignant When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease. Then Cale, dressed in a fetching pink suit jacket and tie with denim shorts reeled through a set that built to a fabulous pulsating climax with Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend, Nookie Wood, Satellite Walk, and a stunning version of Jonathan Richman’s Pablo Picasso.

Mikal Cronin 14. Cover versions aplenty
Cover versions abounded everywhere at Green Man. As well as Cale’s brilliant Pablo Picasso, we had Roy Harper doing Dylan’s Girl From The North CountryNeil Young covers from Low (Down By The River) and Band of Horses tearing through Powderfinger, Fanfarlo covering Orange Juice’s Rip It Up, and Mikal Cronin delivering a superb Whole Wide World, but perhaps best of all was Mo Kenney’s melancholic, acoustic take on Bowie’s Five Years – simply mesmerising.

5. Grass House are destined for big things
We’ve loved Grass House for a long time and our first chance to see them live is everything we hoped for. Outsider pop it may be, but the effortless way the band mix dusty, western twang with sinister gothic noir and use them both to weave mournfully surrealistic tales means the crowd is soon gripped. And in the hypnotic and transfixing Spinning As We Turn, the gothic blues of And Now For The Wild and the tense, sinewy I Was A Streetlight they have three singles that should be the envy of just about every other up and coming band out there.

6. James Yorkston’s Dad sings along
A wonderful set by James Yorkston and band is capped by his Dad shyly joining them on stage for a full tent a capella sing-a-long of the Ivor Cutler classic Hold The Barrel Steady.

7. Arbouretum get heavy
Sometimes you just need long hair, cool as fuck riffs, guitar shredding and fantasy led lyrics. Arbouretum were all that and more and in False Spring provided the best air-guitar moment of the weekend.

8. Public Service Broadcasting get funky
Brilliant use of humour, sound samples, computer conversations with the audience, guitar riffs, banjo and persuasive percussion meant Public Service Broadcasting managed to get the entire walled garden crowd on their feet and dancing within two songs. Whether it was a self-conscious shuffle or a full on funky freakout, resistance to tracks like Signal 30, The Now Generation and London Can Take It, proved utterly futile.

9. Barry-Sean is a Whooper
We didn’t know it before, but gradually over the three days we started hearing a few whoops and hollers from Barry-Sean. Sure he started quietly, with a couple of muted efforts for Parquet Courts and then the next day for Grass House and a couple of others, but by the tail end of the festival he was in full voice, hollering like Foghorn Leghorn for Darren Hayman, Public Service Broadcasting and British Sea Power

10. Sam Amidon’s surreal banter
Amidst a lovely set of muder ballads, love songs and a capella gospel tunes, Sam Amidon entertained royally with some surreal between-song banter, none more so than the tale of the messages he receives from Kirsten Dunst’s eyes during her films.

Green Man Main Stage11. The Green Man Stages…
Really are sublime. The Mountain stage nestles at the base of (you’ve guessed it) a mountain, the walled garden stage is simply perfect, the courtyard a delight, the hills, the steps, the views, and this year even the weather meant it was everything we hoped it would be, but expected it wouldn’t.

12. Low really are a classic band
In the press tent one desperate-to-impress young thing opined that despite the new songs not being very good, Low were still a classic band. “Really“, asked another scribe, “do you know the new songs?“, the young thing confessed he didn’t and gently, but firmly, the scribe pointed out you can’t know how good the new songs are if you don’t know them at all. Touché.

And anyway, while the set did contain bonafide classics in Monkey, Over The Ocean and Murderer, at least one of those ‘new songs”, Plastic Cup is destined for the same status.

13. Boutique camping…at our age – hell yes!
Confession time. Barry-Sean paid extra for our four man tent, already put up and waiting for us in the Tangerine field. No more cramped, and crap, single skin pop-up tents that leak and then refuse to return into the carrier you brought them in. Our smugness was unbearable when the one serious downpour of the weekend happened about 2am on Saturday night…we woke dry and warm. The most comfortable festival we’ve ever been to.

14. Edwyn Collins ripping it up
As well as Fanfarlo, Edwyn Collins treats everyone to Rip It Up during a brilliant set in the late afternoon sun.

15. The ever growing popularity of Phosphorescent
As the burgeoning crowd testifies, and indeed the number of them singing along enthusiastically to most of the set, Matthew Houck’s Phosphorescent have delivered a true masterpiece with most recent album Muchacho, and stepped up to the big league. As the majestic Song for Zula floats out across the hills beneath the setting sun, it is probably the most perfect way to capture the enchantment and good-natured magic of this lovely festival.

16. Darren Hayman’s King Charles rap
Illustrating why he is a British songwriting treasure, Darren Hayman introduces Henrietta Maria one of the standouts from 2012 historical concept album The Violence with a role-played soliloquy as King Charles that is as good as it is slightly creepy.

17. Midlake and Band of Horses rock out
Two bands joyously grabbing their headline (or near headline) opportunities on the Mountain stage to deliver crowd-pleasing country-rock with a backwoods feel. Muscular as it was tender, and perfectly matched to the atmosphere and setting of the Brecon Beacons.

18. The Allah-Lahs get groovy
Closing the night on the Walled Garden stage, the Allah-Lahs treat us to some seductive, surf-tinged psychedelia that somehow manages to be both laid back and carefree, and melancholic and nostalgic. Perfection.

19. The art of Nick Reed
In the vintage tent were a host of little stalls. In a corner were t-shirts and postcards from Nick Reed, pre-dating the wonderful David Shrigley, his is a brilliantly warped worldview told through the eyes of a scribbled dog and some scalpel sharp observations. T-shirt for teenage son duly purchased.

20. Marika Hackman enchants in the Rough Trade tent
With a crystalline voice like Nico, and lyrics that are as dark as anything we heard all weekend, Marika Hackman enchanted all who were present when she played a short acoustic set in the Rough Trade tent.

And some of our favourite songs…

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Mad Mackerel The last Five Years – Chris T Popper Picks His Favourites

MM The Last Five Years - Chris T Popper

Believe it or not, Mad Mackerel has been around for more than five years now. During that time we’ve posted more than 4,000 times, and offered more than 5,000 songs for your listening pleasure. And more than three quarters of a million people have paid MM a visit during our lifetime on Google’s (godawful) blogspot and since April 2010 on WordPress.

We asked some of the regular MM contributors to give us their top twenty songs since MM first went live and we’re also going to give you one big mega-listing shortly, first up was Dr Roddy and now the ultra-punctual and fastidious Chris T Popper offers up his selections.

20) Strand of Oaks – Trap Door

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19) Avett Brothers – January Wedding

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18) Blitzen Trapper – Black River Killer

Download Blitzen Trapper – Black River Killer mp3

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17) Toby Burke – Cantina Crawl

Download Toby Burke – Cantina Crawl mp3

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16) Wye Oak – Civilian

Download Wye Oak – Civilian mp3

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15) The Airborne Toxic Event – Sometime Around Midnight

Download The Airborne Toxic Event – Sometime Around Midnight mp3

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14) Mathew Sawyer & The Ghosts – Revenge Of The Extra From Zulu

Download Mathew Sawyer & The Ghosts – Revenge of The Extra From Zulu mp3

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13) Wooden Wand – Uncle Bill

Download Wooden Wand – Uncle Bill mp3

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12) Timber Timbre – Bad Ritual

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11) Howling Owls – Snake Charmer (No Money In The Bank)

Dowload Howling Owls – Snake Charmer (No Money In The Bank) mp3

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10) Sonny + The Sandwitches – Through The Fog And Haze
Over the years I have never forgotten how much this song meant to me; if anything it gets stronger like an addiction (and considering this is a personality trait I’ve developed over the years I will happily succumb). I can be in the shower/waiting in a queue/at a meeting with senior management and I’ll randomly sing the first line. Sometimes that doesn’t work out so well when someone is talking flow charts and I’m singing ‘through the fog and the haze…’ at them. But it makes more sense than what their flapping mouths are coming out with. It’s just going to happen.

Download Sonny + The Sandwitches – Through The Fog And Haze mp3

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9) Darren Hayman – The Ship’s Piano
Not a single mackerel swam my way on this one. I was denounced as an absolute arse but I cared not. Hayman wrote this song after suffering a fractured skull; which opened up the idea to him of writing a song gentle enough to listen to with brain ache. There is nothing wrong with gentle in this age of incessant noisy shit. It is a beautiful soliloquy telling the story of a piano’s life (something I always wanted to hear) luckily I was able to understand – they didn’t. Their fault not mine.

Download Darren Hayman – The Ship’s Piano mp3

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8) Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Colour Television
Passed me by initially. Found it by simply playing my iTunes on shuffle one night a couple of years ago and was instantly hooked… and what a revelation. The insistent guitar is ravaged with a punk attitude I thought was long dead. By that I mean talent. Could have come from 1976 and share a gob full of spit with the best of that era, by that I mean the Clash and there is no greater praise I can bestow. Another story televised, another billion hypnotised. Quite.

Download Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Colour Television mp3

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7) Dennis Hopper Choppers – Good To Me
As soon as that horn blast announces its arrival I’m in. It builds with a rhythmic hypnotism that refuses to let go. Evoking the spaghetti western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone with an outstanding vocal from Ben Nicholl (I was lucky enough to catch this live and it didn’t disappoint) it’s never been off the ‘best of’ playlists since I heard it.

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6) The Cave Singers – I Don’t Mind
A timeless guitar riff that immediately sends my brain synapses in to electrical overdrive. Everything else becomes secondary to tapping my foot and grinning inanely. To be fair though, grinning inanely comes fairly naturally…

I went to see the Cave Singers live and they didn’t even perform this song (and it’s still in my top ten!). Now I know their back catalogue is good, but next time I’ll write the set list for fucks sake.

Download The Cave Singers – I Don’t Mind mp3 (from Welcome Joy)

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5) Lower Dens  – Brains
In the language of common parlance may I just say one thing? OMG. In fact I’ll go even further… OMFG! I swear down. Now I’ve totally alienated you I’ll continue… There is a subtlety to this work you have no idea about unless you have included it in your own top 5 (which you haven’t). Opens with a drumbeat that grips your lapels up like a rottweiler on heat.  And then… well, it just gets better of course. I suggest you go and listen to it and then come back to me and we’ll talk about it over a large gin & tonic and a ridiculously large bifta.

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4) Emil Friis – Sand In Your Eyes
Smashed in to my number one spot last year and who could stop it? I have no idea what it’s about and neither do I care. It’s just not important to me because I can put this song on at any time, in any mood (and by jingo I can be a moody bastard) and find myself singing the chorus loud and proud – without getting a single word right. But hey that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? The sheer momentum carries you along like a crazed right wing Chancellor at a witch’s funeral – enough to shed a tear for the right reasons.

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3) Phospherescent – Song For Zula
When Mr Mackerel asked us to put together our favourite songs of the last five years I was a little cautious of including any recent favourites. It’s difficult enough to pick 20 of the best at any time… but Song For Zula transcends the conundrum. The impact of the opening bars/violins/first line (referencing Johnny Cash no less) is timeless. I have a special place in my heart for Phossie and the Red Eyed Fly in Austin when I first saw them live (get me!) – opening with a Radiohead cover and then converting me to country music by channelling the great Willie Nelson. Met him (Phossie not Willie!) by the way. I want to be his best friend. He doesn’t.

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2) Howling Owls – A Wordsmith’s Reverie
You know when you read a book and think ‘shit I could never write that beautifully’ (I’m a frustrated author as well as human being) – Howling Owls does that musically. There is a self-aware yet peaceful desperation to this; and not a single word is wasted. The lament of ‘I will change everything about me for you – except for the fact I can never be what you want me to be’ is heartbreaking. It also makes you realise how shit this world is. Far more people know about Kim Kardashian than Howling Owls and Wooden Wand put together. Just think about that for a moment- done that? Good. Now try not to wail in utter sadness…

Download Howling Owls featuring Maximino – A Wordsmith’s Reverie mp3

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1) Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed
This is my favourite song of the last five years of Mad Mackerel. It’s actually hard to write anything that can really do it the justice it deserves… I love music so much that a work of this sheer magnitude can leave me running on empty, even when it comes to my typical hyperbole. So, deep breath… here goes. From the moment I heard it I knew it was special. And it’s never lost its impact or the way it moves me like no other song. I know people like me say ‘genius’ a lot (and that people say that people say ‘genius’ a lot when they shouldn’t). This is genius.

Download Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed mp3

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And my 3 favourite bands…

3) Jeff The Brotherhood
2) Wooden Wand
1) Phosphorescent

Needs a mention

Best Cover:
Download Port O’Brien – Halo mp3 (Beyonce Cover)

My favourite Live Act of 08-13
Phossie – Red Eyed Fly, Austin, Texas 2009
I suddenly and quite unexpectedly understood country music.

American Songwriter’s Muse Sampler For May

American Songwriter's Muse Sampler For May

American Songwriter’s latest free Muse sampler is a gem featuring twelve tracks that includes such MM faves as Phosphorescent, Caitlin Rose, Water Liars, Cheyenne Marie Mize and Futurebirds alongside some Americana heavyweights like Son Volt and Will Johnson and the new-wave inspired indie rock of the Features.

Just head over to their Bandcamp page here and download it all for nothing.

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SXSW Day 5: Experiencing One Or Two Technical Difficulties

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The final day of SXSW and I’m on a quest. Phosphorescent play their last show today and I have tried and failed to get into four previous ones already. So it is the long walk away from downtown and up to the San Jose Hotel day party, I arrive hot, bothered and five hours early…but I’m in!

No matter either because Shakey Graves is on and he has been a longtime fave on MM, with an easygoing line in between song banter and exuding good natured bonhomie he sets the day up perfectly with a perfectly judged mix of story songs and folk tales including the wonderful So It Goes. And another band I’d been hoping to catch were up next; The Allah-Lahs had been described as the most laid back band at SXSW and it was easy to see why as they delivered a fantastic set of west-coast inspired 60s rock that outjangled the Byrds at times. A true hippy treat in the Texas sun (“It’s been a long, long journey and I don’t know where I left my mind“), and with Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind) and Long Journey I have two more songs added to my imaginary set-list of the best songs of SXSW.

Next up is Lucius who offer a fizzing blend of indie pop with touches of soul and folk, and plenty of catchy harmonies, before another band on my must-see list Foxygen are due on stage. Except they’re not because they can’t be arsed to show up and so we’re treated to some stand-in Texas blues boogie that consists of a set of covers from Bowie to the Killer Bees and fine though it is, it ain’t what I came to SXSW for…and nor is Lissie who is up next with a set of country rock standards that I can’t recall the moment she and the band have left the stage.

C’est la vie so they say. But finally here is Matthew Houck and Phosphorescent who prove that all good things are worth waiting for with a sublime set opening with Terror In The Canyons from forthcoming album Muchacho, then Pictures Of Our Torn-up Praise, taking in a majestic Song For Zula, and closing with an epic version of Los Angeles.

Satisfied at last I headed back towards downtown, stopping at the gas station for refreshments. Behind me in the queue (or line as I like to say here), a man fell into me and to the floor, I helped him up and was overwhelmed with the smell of sour sweat and alcohol (or liquor as I like to say here). Despite being no more than thirty, he was totalled despite protesting “I’m not intoxicated“. He carried two cans of beer in his hand and two or three crumpled dollars in the other, and mumbled something else at me before saying more clearly “I’m thinking I should move away and start again, tho’ I ‘spect it will be just the same, whaddya think?” Before I could answer (like I’d have a clue) he went on “yeah, I have myself a couple of opportunities, a couple of opportunities if I can sort out one or two technical difficulties.” He looked at me quite lucidly for a long moment and then said “Course those difficulties is I’m a drunk and I don’t got nowhere to live.” As we neared the counter he offered some final words for me, “You know they say the greatest gift is God’s love. You know, loving one another and looking out for ‘em and shit. Well I think the greatest gift would be a buck from you so I can buy this beer, whaddya think?

Having stood outside in the sun all day (again) and I decided to finish my evening in as mellow and as relaxed a way as possible, which meant folk music in the splendour of the Austin Central Presbyterian Church, where a number of people had told me the acoustics were fantastic. Taking my seat in the pews seemed a little weird but a solid set of folk tinged with ambient electronic washes from WALL confirmed what I had been told about the acoustics. Next it was a wonderful set of back-porch Americana from the Milk Carton Kids who received a standing ovation for their mix of wry, self deprecating humour and bittersweet songs of perfect pitch and harmony that were somewhere between the Everly Brothers, the Louvin Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel. Memoirs Of A Once Owned Dog will stay with me for a long time to come! You can download two albums for free from their website here.

Freak-folk artist Devendra Banheart, by contrast, seemed a little out of sorts and while he undoubtedly possesses a rare talent, tonight his attention seemed elsewhere and he struggled to get, or keep, any momentum. While his thoughts and emotions clearly lay very close to the surface and this, combined with his fragile voice, is capable of creating something of unique, heartbreaking beauty, it didn’t quite happen this time.

And so to my last show of SXSW, and an acclaimed legend of contemporary singer-songwriters in Iron & Wine who seemed as much at ease and content as Devendra had been anxious and fidgety. He opened with two brand new songs, and although I wasn’t too familiar with his work, the second of these (provisionally titled Lowlife Buddy of Mine), was as good as anything I’d heard all week. He happily took requests from the packed audience and ran through a back catalogue of fabulous songs including Grace For Saints And RamblersJesus The Mexican Boy, Fever Dream, Woman King, the Postal Services’ Such Great Heights and closing with Lion’s Mane.

Fittingly another standing ovation and out I go into the warm night. I negotiated my way back through the frenzy of Sixth Street for a final time: through the shouts and screams, the rap music, the rock music, the punk music, the house music, the man playing a grand piano in the road, the woman dressed as a gargoyle, the hustlers, the arguing, the angry, the buskers, the bouncers, the old, the young, the drunk, the crying and saddest of all, the man desperately handing out posters for his lost dog.

Despite a couple of “technical difficulties” of my own at times, SXSW has been everything I could have hoped and more. Cheers Austin…

First Taste From Phosphorescent’s New Album

Phosphorecent New Album

It is fair to say that along with The Cave Singers, the album we are most looking forward to hearing in the early part of 2013 is Phosphorescent’s Muchacho, due out on the 19th March via Dead Oceans.

Matthew Houck has delivered five albums as Phosphorescent since his 2003 debut. However, it was 2007’s Pride – a delicate and spare, haunted and haunting work of ragged country, bittersweet southern gospel and forlorn folk-ish drone – that really first caused ears to swivel appreciatively in Phosphorescent’s direction. He followed it with To Willie, a tribute to country legend Willie Nelson, then 2010’s Here’s To Taking It Easy, an unapologetically enthusiastic plunge into country rock and rolling Americana. Now, his sixth album flashes yet another colour in the subtly shifting Phosphorescent spectrum.

Muchacho is already described as “an assemblage of underwater hymns redolent of both record’s spare, sometimes psychedelic predecessor, 2007′s Pride”.

You can decide for yourself as the first taste comes with this lyric video for Song For Zula. It unfolds over six minutes showcasing Houck’s distinctive, cracked vocal in a way that makes us more than eager for the 19th March!

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No Direction Home Festival: A Review

No Direction Home Festival: A Review.

No Direction Home Festival  ||  Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire  ||  8-10 June 2012

The omens were not good for the inaugural No Direction Home music festival, setting out in heavy rain that only got heavier as the traffic got slower the further north I went. However, despite the slate grey skies and constant brake lights of the M1, a journey of over 5 hours was rewarded on arrival by a break in the weather than unbelievably lasted for the whole three days.

No Direction Home is a new “little brother” venture from those behind the End of the Road Festival (those who read MM even semi-regularly will know what a fantastic event that is) and so felt very familiar from the moment we set foot in the main arena. Familiar food stalls, the Rough Trade tent, the book tent, the cinema tent and more had all been transplanted wholesale to just south of Sheffield. Likewise the music line-up was the same mix as the End of the Road – predominantly Americana, folk (both freak and traditional), country, indie and a smattering of some ultra-heavy psychedelic rock over two main stages and a small, intimate café stage by the lake.

Indeed many of the performers (perhaps slightly too many) were equally familiar as End of the Road veterans: The Low Anthem, Gruff Rhys, Richard Hawley, Django Django, Other Lives, Dirty Three, The Unthanks.

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In fact our opening set came from another EotR alumni, Lanterns on the Lake, their heavy, ethereal, ambient tinged folk a perfect atmospheric companion to the sullen, overcast skies and heavy clouds, whilst in the somewhat optimistically named Electric Dust Bowl Big Top, Wet Nuns flailed away with a punishing set of hardcore riffing and gravelly vocals – furiously competing with the elements outside.

It took Django Django to brighten the mood; their good-natured approach and twangy electro-krautrock pop lifting collective spirits. A huge improvement on when we saw them at EotR in 2010, now they ooze confidence and are happy to let the songs from their excellent debut album stand up for themselves; Life’s A Beach, Waveforms, Skies Over Cairo, Wor and standout single Default all being highlights.

Finally as the night set in fully, The Low Anthem took the stage as the night’s main attraction. As they did at the EotR, they soon captured and then captivated the audience with their haunting and melancholic brand of folk holding everyone rapt as they performed one stunning song after another. There was just time to catch a set from Canadian electro-rockers Austra to finish the night – and a perfect illustration of the eclectic reach of the festival. Not something we are likely to listen to at home, but live an astonishingly powerful and captivating spectacle with three front women dynamically weaving repetitive musical patterns in a manner akin to Siouxsie Sioux fronting Can.

SATURDAY

Having gone to bed chanting the Woodstock refrain of “No rain, no rain” to myself I was rewarded on Saturday both with a dry start and a sweetly enchanting set of pastoral folk from Tiny Ruins, fresh from their recent tour support with the Handsome Family. Highlight being the surreal, but true tale of the Brazilian priest Fr. Carli who tried to fly using 1,000 helium balloons…some pieces of him were never recovered. Next up was quirky singer-songwriter Liz Green who sadly failed to sparkle as we’d hoped, and seemed a little daunted by the gravitas of the main stage, so it was back to the big top for Tyne & Wear’s Cornshed Sisters whose traditional finger-in-the-ear choral folk songs were much appreciated and provided a calming, bewitching effect over the audience.

Emerging, blinking and slightly dazed for Euros Childs it took a few songs for me to realise what an thoroughly excellent songwriter he is (for that genuinely is his real name), and for the last twenty years or or so he has been performing his own brand of slightly unhinged psych-pop laced with black humour and waspish wit. With Cavendish Hall he provided one of the songs of the weekend and one of those lovely ‘discovery’ moments of a new artist you know you’re going to enjoy for a long, long time to come.

Next up was Mrs Mackerel’s fave and one of the most individual performers of the weekend in anti-pop, anti-folk, anti-conventionalist Beth Jeans Houghton with her Hooves of Destiny. Opening with the galloping, infectious Atlas and running through many of the highlights of their excellent debut Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose (Dodecahedron, The Barely Skinny Tree, Lilliput, Harlequin and Sweet Tooth Bird) as well as non-album cuts like the barber-shop drenched harmonies of Honeycomb, the irreverent Shampoo (“looks like cum, smells like flowers, I use shampoo in the shower“) and Your Holes, it was the most delightfully unique set of the weekend and demonstrates that the independent spirit of indie pop is alive and well in BJH’s hands.

Other Lives followed with a set of wonderfully melodramatic orchestral folk rock that somehow reminded me of The Waterboys crossed with Radiohead and was every bit as good as that combination sounds ridiculous. Gruff Rhys was exactly as you would have expected – unconventional and predictably unpredictable, expertly mixing the glam rock stomp of In A House With No Mirrors with the gently psych-whimsy of Candylion and the melancholic pop of Lonesome Words. There was no such variety with the swirling headfuck of Moon Duo’s powerfully propulsive heavy-psych that suffered slightly from a muddy sound and their seeming insistence for playing in complete darkness on stage. They were followed by the equally pulverising Pyramids whose crunchy guitar riffs, slashing rhythms and howled vocals played out like an adrenalin fuelled Hawkwind on speed. Headlining the main stage was arch whistler Andrew Bird and despite his over-fussiness (no pictures, no family members, constant irritated gesturing to the soundman) he pleased the crowd with a set of winsome folk and some quite impressive violin manoeuvres.

SUNDAY

Slow Club

The sun shone. Some of the thick mud dried up, a bit, and the wonderfully uncompromising Trembling Bells kicked off the day with a set of traditional British folk underpinned with the occasional ferocious onslaught of psychedelic pyrotechnics that was as bruising as it was soothing. The much-admired Cold Specks brought authentically sorrowful tales of the delta flavoured with a soulful taste of the Mississippi to the main stage, so authentic in fact you almost expected to see a paddle steamer on the adjacent lake. They were followed by a fabulously entertaining set of quirky and surreal indie rock from The Wave Pictures and back inside the big top local boys The Crookes charged up the crowd with a fizzing, high energy set of guitar pop. By now the crowd was gathering to pay homage to folk legend Martin Carthy who introduced each song with a conversational air and as though he had all the time in the world. Exuding bonhomie, he ran through a selection of traditional and classic folk songs and demonstrated why he is universally revered by fellow musicians as one of the best acoustic guitarists around. A pleasure to watch.

And on the back of that came the unexpected highlight of the weekend. While ex-Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman, aka Father John Misty’s album Fear Fun has gradually been growing on me over the past few weeks, to hear him play it live made it obvious what an outstanding set of songs they are. Just one man and his guitar, it was dark night of the soul stuff, visceral, bawdy, and confrontational. In between he was ironic, self-deprecating and slightly sarcastic and it quickly became one of those rare occasions where the audience become transfixed by what is being placed before them. Fun Times In Babylon, Only Son Of The Ladies’ Man, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, Nancy From Now On, Writing A Novel – each song greeted with more rapture than the last and as he finished with the stunning Now I’m Learning To Love The War and Every Man Needs A Companion the entire tent breathed a collective sigh and then erupted. It was worth the ticket price on its own.

Back outside Slow Club entertained with their jolly mix of folk and indie pop, and the sweet voices of The Unthanks accompanied by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band provided the perfect accompaniment to the setting sun over the lake. And finally, despite a broken leg (which precipitated a much appreciated parody of the famed Nirvana-at-Reading style entrance in a wheelchair), local hero Richard Hawley delivered a festival closing set perfectly in keeping with the mood. His velveteen vocals cloaking the bitter sting and melancholy of his lyrics while the 60s tinged psychedelic guitar of his latest album Standing At The Sky’s Edge weaved intricate patterns in the cool night air.

And so it was time to fight the pop-up tent and go home, one amongst 3,000 satisfied punters. No Direction Home succeeded in keeping the intimacy that makes The End of the Road so special and had many memorable performances that will linger long in the memory. Tickets are already on sale for next year (click here) and we’re hoping with a year under their belt, they will go with a slightly more original and bolder line-up. If so, we will be there again!

Download Euros Childs – Cavendish Hall mp3 (from Ends)

Download Cold Specks – Holland mp3 (from I Predict A Graceful Expulsion)

Download Father John Misty & Phosphorescent – I Would Love You mp3

Download The Wave Pictures – I Love You Like A Madman mp3 (from Instant Coffee Baby)

Download Andrew Bird – If I Needed You mp3 (Townes Van Zandt cover)

Download The Crookes – Backstreet Lovers mp3 (from Dreams Of Another Day)

Download our full Festival mixtape here.

Daytrotter Reaches 2,000

Daytrotter Reaches 2,000 Sessions - Free Mix.

The wonderful Daytrotter recently announced their 2,000th session and managed to get none other than Country music legend Glen Campbell in to record it, followed swiftly by a new session from the brilliant Delta Spirit.

For those that don’t know Daytrotter sessions are typically four songs in length, recorded live to quarter-inch tape in a matter of a couple hours, with no overdubs. They are then made available for download and streaming on the site and its various apps. Since beginning in February of 2006, Daytrotter has given away tens of millions of downloads and countless many more streams. In addition to studios in Rock Island and London, Daytrotter sessions are also occasionally taped in San Francisco, CA, Asheville, NC, Nashville, TN and Montreal.

Accessing all these sessions plus all the upcoming ones by all the bands you know and love costs a paltry $2 per month. For your ongoing listening pleasure we can’t think of anything anywhere that will give you better value than that. Below are just a very few highlights from some of the sessions we have loved – listen (they should fit neatly onto a CD), and if you haven’t done it yet, go and sign up here.

Download We Are Augustines – Ballad Of A Patient Man mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download The Cave Singers – Cold Eye mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download The Felice Brothers – Marlboro Man mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Phosphorescent  - Cocaine Lights mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Father John Misty – I’m Writing A Novel mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download A.A. Bondy – Witness Blues mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Justin Townes Earle – Lone Pine Hill mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download The Tallest Man On Earth – Shallow Grave mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Gabriel & The Hounds –  When We Die In South America mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Jessica Lea Mayfield – Our Hearts Are Wrong mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Liars – Scarecrows On A Killer Slant mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download The Low Anthem – Ticket Taker mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Bill Callahan – Eid Ma Clack Shaw mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Middle Brother – Portland mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Arborea – Black Is The Colour mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Heartless Bastards – Got To Have Rock ‘n’ Roll mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Port O’Brien – A Bird Flies By mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download The Dutchess & The Duke – Scorpio mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download KaiserCartel – Carroll Street Station mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Ray Wylie Hubbard – Drunken Poet’s Dream mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

Download Sandman The Rappin’ Cowboy – White Line Highway mp3 (from Daytrotter Session)

MM’s 2011 Top Ten Series: No 8 Mad Mackerel

Mad Mackerel's Best of 2011.So, the penultimate entry before Mrs Mackerel finishes off this year’s set of Top Ten postings tomorrow is my very own.

Without further ado…

10. Milk Music – Beyond Living

Although it was released early in the year, I only discovered it recently. A full on, no holds barred, nihilistic 70s punk attitude and the very best of the heavyweight riffs of the grunge era is a mighty powerful combination. One that makes me wish my car stereo went all the way up to eleven.

Download Milk Music – Beyond Living mp3 (from Beyond Living EP)

9. Yuck – Holing Out

Similarly, Yuck’s Holing Out effortlessly recalled the 90s with a crunchy distorted riff, reverb and a fuzz slathered hook. That it also had one of the best videos of the year was just another bonus.

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Download Yuck – Holing Out mp3 (from Yuck)

8. Wooden Wand - No Hayride

If there is one mystery to me in the world of music, then it is how James Jackson Toth aka Wooden Wand can be so damn prolific across so many genres and yet suffer no discernible dip in quality – not that I’m complaining. Another great year and too many tracks to choose from, but in the end it was this, seemingly an afterthought on his forthcoming boxset that makes up Volume 3 of his archives – a simple folk ballad that still managed to be head and shoulders above most things released this year.

Download Wooden Wand - No Hayride mp3 (from Archives Vol 3)

7. Kurt Vile – Peeping Tomboy

Top ten from the opening moments of this song; the hazy, shimmering guitar and the lazy drawled vocals intoning

“I don’t want to change, but I don’t want to stay the same
I don’t want to go but I’m running
I don’t want to work, but I don’t want to sit around all day frowning

I don’t want to give up, but I kinda want to lie down
But not sleep just rest
Give me a break how much does it really take?
Get my head outta here”

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6. Henry’s Funeral Shoe – Dog Scratched Ear

It made a lot of other MM guest top tens so no need to add anything new. Anthemic, swaggering blues boogie at its fiery best.

Download Henry’s Funeral Shoe – Dog Scratched Ear mp3 (from Donkey Jacket)

5. The Royal Sea – This Summer

I’ve mentioned this two or three times recently and posted it earlier today so not much more needs to be said about this either. Simply that it is pure, sugar-coated garage pop with just the right amount of surf inspired twang that in a parallel world would have been the woozy, feel-good hit of the summer.

Download The Royal Sea – This Summer mp3 (from The Royal Sea)

4. Deer Tick – Chevy Express

Deer Tick’s Divine Providence was, mostly, a rowdy, rambunctious good time rock’n’roll record that was meant for late nights of whiskey drinking and bar-room brawls. But tucked away in the middle of all the heady intoxication was this track: sombre, reflective, and undeniably sobering. It was the soundtrack to a heavy heart and lonely regret washed by the first light of an early morning dawn and may well be the best thing they’ve ever done.

3. Felice Brothers – Fire At The Pageant

Voodoo, zombies, sinister nursery rhyme chants, classic Felice Brothers lyrics and a woozy, old-timey, back porch rhythm means this song should have been an utter mess. That it was the complete opposite stands tribute to this bunch of ramshackle mavericks of increasingly experimental Americana.

Download The Felice Brothers – Fire At The Pageant mp3 (from Celebration, Florida)

2. Tom Williams & The Boat – Get Older

The most bitterly caustic song I heard all year meant it was a shoe-in for my top ten. I originally said “it drips venom over a heavy, single drumbeat, a vicious guitar strum, and spits lyrics like physical bullets”, and this still sounds a pretty fair summation to me.

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1. Middle Brother – Daydreaming

From the simple picked guitar line and weary, melancholy opening lyric, the scene is set for a raw, unflinching excursion courtesy of McCauley’s craggy vocals and beer-soaked romanticism. Loneliness never sounded so…well, lonely.

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Almost Made It

The Wooden Shjips pulverising Lazy Bones, Tom Williams & The Boat’s observationally wry and off kilter Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet, the blistering euphoria of Wye Oak’s Civilian, and LONG’s criminally ignored and under-rated Shoot Your Dog. If there was a better example of dark, claustrophobic psych-rock this year than the Ganglian’s Jungle then I didn’t hear it, while A.A. Bondy’s dark-hearted The Twist and Twilight Hotel’s epic road trip Mahogany Veneer were both superb examples of modern Americana. Back home, Metronomy’s ultra catchy The Look, and Male Bonding’s fuzzed up, yet still sugary What’s That Scene? flew the flag for the UK - on another day, in another year, all could so easily have been in the final shake up.

Download Wooden Shjips – Lazy Bones mp3 (from West)

Download The Ganglians – Jungle mp3 (from Still Living)

Download Metronomy – The Look mp3 (from The English Riviera)

Favourite Covers

Hurray for the Riff Raff’s mesmerising My Sweet Lord and Phosphorescent’s reverent take on Neil Young’s Are You Ready For The Country? were both outstanding, but just pipped by Siskiyou’s own Young cover, the skeletally menacing Revolution Blues. Titus Andronicus payed due homage to Nirvana’s classic Breed, but best of all was Middle Brother’s version of the Replacement’s Portland.

Download Phosphorescent – Are You Ready For The Country? mp3

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Best Tunes First Heard This Year But Not 2011

How on earth had Okkervil River escaped me for so long, particularly John Allyn Smith Sails and the superb For Real. Likewise with Wilco’s Misunderstood – I’d heard it, but this year I actually listened to it. Shellac’s Prayer To God is the most vicious song I’ve ever heard and one of the best, and so too Fugazi’s Waiting Room. Richard Buckner’s heartbreaking Emma was a revelation and James McMurty’s rollicking live version of Choctaw Bingo was eight minutes of pure, adrenalin fuelled Americana.

Download Shellac – Prayer To God mp3 (from 1000 Hurts)

Download Richard Buckner – Emma (Devotion & Doubt Outtake) mp3

Happy Christmas and Happy New Year. Here’s to 2012 when it all starts again!

The End of The Road Festival: A Review

The End of The Road: A ReviewIt is true to say that our first visit to the End of the Road Festival last year was without doubt the best music event (bar SxSW) we had ever attended. A superb line-up, brilliant layout, and festival goers who were there for the music rather than the ‘experience’ ensured three days of superb entertainment.

It meant we bought tickets immediately they went on sale for 2011, before we knew the line-up, before we’d even washed the dust off from 2010, and waited impatiently for September to come around again. Granted, for us the line-up this time didn’t quite match the quality of last year (but then we were spoilt by The Felice Brothers, Deer Tick, Phosphorescent, Forest Fire, Joe Pug, Wolf Parade, Black Mountain, Elliott Brood and The Low Anthem et al) but there was still much to get excited about.

Car problems and traffic trouble meant we arrived much later than planned, missing Micah P Hinson, Caitlin Rose and Best Coast into the bargain. We had to park further away and soon discovered the festival this year was considerably bigger – a new main stage was testament to that, but more so was the crowds – lots of people, lots and lots and lots of people.

Doubts were immediate. I’ve never been a lover of the huge stages that most big festivals have, and the increased numbers surely meant the fantastic, pure love of the music that the audience had and so set the End of the Road apart from others would be seriously threatened.

Once the tent was popped up and mattress inflated it was into the big top for a first taste of Bo Ningen, and while tunes were in limited supply, the guitar shredding histrionics and theatrical rock ‘n’ roll moves thrown by the four Japanese band members, all dressed as women, was more than ample consolation for a large crowd.

The End of the Road Festival: A Review By contrast Joan As Police Woman delivered a cooly confident set of indie ballads, poppy electronics and the occasional folk flurry, which were well judged and well crafted, preventing any hint of predictability from setting in. She was followed by The Walkmen who upped the energy and excitement levels considerably – their set was one of the weekend highlights with favourites like Juveniles, Angela and of course The Rat receiving rapturous acclaim.

A first visit to the main stage to see headliners Beirut confirmed all previous misgivings about big stages. While clearly good, clearly popular, and clearly pleasing the large crowd, it was still hard to connect with the set, despite excellent renditions of our favourites East of Harlem and Santa Fe. So it was back to the Garden Stage (is there a better festival setting in the country?) to see the legendary Mark E Smith prowl and chunter around the stage with the latest incarnation of the Fall. Either terrible or brilliant as a live spectacle, and rarely in between, they were the former, with a superb set of pummelling krautrock inspired anthems held together with his unique vocal incantations.

The End of the Road Festival: A Review Saturday saw Beth Jeans Houghton take the stage first and while we hadn’t been hugely taken when we’d seen her supporting Phosphorescent a couple of years ago, this was an entirely different proposition. A beefed up band, a boost in confidence and stage presence meant a sparkling set of indie pop and folk that contained a couple of absolute stand out tracks in Shampoo and Queen Of This Town – still quirky, still irreverent but now with top quality tunes, her debut album is out in January and on this evidence will be a must-have.

The End of the Road Festival: A Review Allo Darlin’ were (like all the best things at the End of the Road) another pleasant surprise – a toe-tapping set of classic British indie pop bursting with melodies and sing along harmonies, which was in stark contrast to the portentous gloomy folk of Timber Timbre that followed. Jolie Holland provided relief with a solo set of beautifully crafted, classic country tunes delivered with her honeyed southern vocal that we could listen to all day long. Another solo set from Matthew Houck aka Phosphorescent was hugely well received, mixing a cover of Dylan with compositions spanning the old (A Picture of our Torn Up Praise) and the new (Mermaid Parade, Los Angeles), and of course a sublime Wolves.

Avoiding the main stage, it was time for a double dose of high octane riffing and pulsating psychedelia from first The Wooden Shjips and then the Black Angels. Despite a slightly muddy sound (deliberate probably) both were triumphant with the former’s Lazy Bones and the latter’s Phosphene Dream being particular highlights.

Lastly it was Okkervil River, a band that for some reason we had not become overly familiar with over the years despite their excellent reputation. The live set we witnessed will change that for good, being one of the undoubted triumphs of the weekend. A fabulous frontman’s performance from Will Sheff, pulsating and mesmerising rhythms, and superb musicianship meant the hour long set passed in a moment, but left us a whole back catalogue to explore.

The End of the Road Festival: A Review Then, as the tent called, we discovered that Bob Log III, fresh from a triumphant main stage slot in the afternoon was playing a ‘by popular demand’ headline slot in the Tipi Tent. Cramming ourselves in with the heaving masses, we enjoyed what is surely one of the best dirty blues shows you could ever see. Wearing his trademark crash helmet and playing a blistering set of raw licks that made Seasick Steve look like an absolute beginner, he held the audience enthralled for an hour with great between-song-banter and a hollered “goddamn Bob Log is good” screech at the end of each song. The set finished with two girls from the audience on his lap and three more dancing on stage.

The End of the Road Festival: A Review Sunday began with Black Mountain side project Lightning Dust and they were a perfect example of why the End of the Road is so damned good. First up on the last day usually means a sparse, lethargic audience at most festivals. Not here, and the packed crowd were treated to a sublime set of psychedelic folk with a gothic tinge and the exquisite vocals of Amber Webber. Totally unexpected, totally mesmerising, and our best ‘find’ of the festival. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

We took in the countrified shoegaze of Slowdown Molasses and the sparse, fingerpicked folk of Futur Primitif. We enjoyed a fabulously (and surprisingly) powerful set from an (also surprisingly) relatively non-hirsute Megafaun. Thoroughly enjoying themselves in the sunshine it was another exceptional set of indie rock and folk that left everyone grinning. We watched the Woodsist inspired triple billing of the Fresh & Onlys garage pop, The Woods hazy, psychedelic folk and Kurt Vile & The Violators powerful mix of spacey acoustics and thrilling Crazy Horse style guitar wigouts, and jigged along to the nomadic desert blues of Tinariwen.

The End of the Road Festival: A Review Finally it was back to braving the main stage for Laura Marling, having missed most of her solo set at the Wilderness Festival. This time backed by a six piece band, her crystal clear voice hung over the festival as a thing of pure, fragile beauty. At just 21 years of age, she may well be the best songwriter in the country.

So, was bigger better? In our opinion, probably not, but crucially bigger was not worse either. The single most important thing – the spirit of the End of the Road – remained intact. There was still the feeling that you were simply amongst a crowd (a big crowd) of people who were there, like you, for the love of the music and everything else was secondary. Just the way we like it – we’ll be back in 2012.

Download Bo Ningen – Psychedelic Misemono Goya mp3 (from Koroshitai Kimochi)

Download Joan As Police Woman – The Magic mp3 (from The Deep Field)

Download The Walkmen – Canadian Girl mp3 (from You & Me)

Download Allo Darlin’ – My Heart Is A Drummer mp3 (from Allo Darlin’)

Download Wooden Shjips – Lazy Bones mp3 (from West)

Download The Black Angels – Telephone mp3 (from Phosphene Dream)

Download Phosphorescent – Reasons To Quit mp3 (from To Willie)

Download Phosphorescent – Wolves mp3 (from Pride)

Download Okkervil River – Wake And Be Fine mp3 (from I Am Very Far)

Download Lightning Dust – Never Seen mp3 (from Infinite Light)

Download Megafaun – These Words mp3 (from Megafaun)

Download The Fresh & Onlys – Waterfall mp3 (from Play It Strange)

Download Kurt Vile – In My Time mp3 (from In My Time)

Download Woods – Blood Dries Darker mp3 (from At Echo Lake)

Download Tinariwen – Tenere Taqqim Tossam mp3 (from Tassili)

Download Laura Marling – Night Terror mp3 (from Alas I Cannot Swim)

And don’t forget our previous free End of the Road mix we posted last week.