Second Update on Dorset Music Awards

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…So we’ve reached the end of the Dorset Music Awards heats.  Amazing music – I will be posting my thoughts on the bands seen later (when permitted by the team). I also now don’t envy those who will have to judge the next round but one (the semi finals) – the quarter finals are down to public vote, where acts need fans to help them get further on.

Suffice to say we had a long debate over a large number of acts. Yes, some decisions were more or less automatic (if 2 of the 3 of us agreed “yes” or “no”).  That still left a large number that were debated long and hard.  Us three judges each made some tough calls, we each “fought our corner” for those we’d liked (or even not liked enough), we each have had to make concessions that we didn’t agree with, however at the end of the 90+ minute session, we are all satisfied with the final list, albeit still perhaps personally disappointed we didn’t have it all our way… 😉

We know there will be some surprises, and apologies in advance as we know there will be some big disappointments.  It is my understanding that each act will receive feedback on what they did or had that allowed them to go through, or what it was that meant they failed to go through, or that they were close and either just did or just didn’t make it.

Admittedly, that means I now need to write up nearly 40 pages of notes made during the sets we’ve seen.  Gosh.  Overall (apart from that seemingly daunting task) I’ve had an absolute blast; I only hope my input has been of sufficient quality for Rich and Trev that they allow me the privilege (and pain) of judging again another time.

Now, I’m almost looking forward to judging in the next competition I’ve been asked to participate in, Bournemouth Unplugged.

For the record, the bands/acts seen today were (in order, and for anyone that didn’t get to see these, sorry in the main you’ve missed a blast):

Connor Heather

Lucas Raye

Not Made In China

Looking Through Glass

County Hospital

Rapids

Sitting Pretty

Dan Rumsey & The Bitter End

Hessian

Evolver

Transend

Icarus 1

Bel Casino

Moll Storey

The Blackened Blue

Fearne

New Volunteer

The Neon Tigers

Dead Lettuce

Constellation

Kinnie The Explorer

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Quick Update on Dorset Music Awards

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OK, so we’re halfway through the Dorset Music Awards 2011 Heats – this year I’ve been given the privilege of judging this stage of  these prestigious awards.

No spoilers here, all the acts were awesome (except the two that didn’t turn up – that is very disappointing and means they excluded two other acts who may have wanted this more than them).  I’m not going to comment at all at present – we debate the results at the end of today, and the results will be published some time later in the week by Dorset Music Awards.  Then I’ll feel able to publish my highlights.

What I am pleased to say is that I have been genuinely surprised by some performances – some acts I’ve not seen before have been amazing (how come I’ve missed them?) and others I have seen before have really pulled out all the stops to impress the judges and the audience.

We’ve already had some healthy and robust discussions as judges over what we’ve thought of some bands, so I’m half looking forward with anticipation to tonight, with another day of great music ahead of me, and half with trepidation and apprehension at the monumental task I have as one of the three judges having to decide which twenty acts of the now 38 (hoping none pull out today) we’ve seen are “better” than the other 18, and so deserve to play in front of their audiences at the public vote round.

Here’s who I saw, in order:

Sarah Griffin

Down By The Waterside

Mischa

Stop Go Sixty

Beckett

Sketches Of The Adverse

Powdered Cows

Saturday Sun

Sirpico

Lauren Bannon

Manikin Time Shark

Pachango

Blackwater Caravan

Amity Rd

Cella Creeps

Moontown

Big Face Reggae

DO(MI) at DMA – One Band Two Stages

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Having hosted a full day of the most excellent music, the end of the first day of the Dorset Music Award heats is closed by last years festival winners Disco’s Out (Murder’s In) .

They’re playing over two stages, with (as DMA’s Trevor points out) two PA systems, two sets of speakers and all the foldback speakers linked together somehow
        And it is awesome.

Opener Blow My Mind has them all in full effect. Being on the different stages enthuses them to compete for the crowd (the small band are on one stage, the brass and keys etc on the other). What I find more amusing is that they can’t do the normal talking to each other, resulting in a lot of fun play between them:
Steve: “I’ll start it and you join in when you know what it is”; he even goes over there for Clown, since the start relies on brass and guitar doing big chords together

Possibly as a result of this, they think the two stage idea sucks (and say so); they are still incredibly tight despite the split difference; I think it all adds to the novelty mystique around Disco’s Out (Murder’s In). Inspired by a plea from Big Face Reggae earlier in the heats, lead Steve encourages lunging, the results are mixed, and inspires yet more competiton between the stages as the brass also want their share of lunge-ers, ably provided by Alfie (Animal Talent Show) being an obliging nutter.
Its also the first time I think a band have been asked to do an encore, and them almost collapse and their face drop – they are exhausted having been partying all day at the award heats.

Moving on to Champions Brothers Grimmer, The Hops and The Neon Tigers are billing. I miss the former; The Hops are full of energy, well dressed in suit uniform really rocking out. Its a good crowd as well, which is really good to see at Champions. Possibly all down to the hard work Tone is putting in as booking mananger, as well as promoting for bhone.

As well as energy, the Hops again have some good solid tunes – Back To The Beach again is a favourite; I have to ask myself for a London band three of which are ex-Bournemouth to be singing a rock song about beaches seems a little odd, especially when it doesn’t have anything of the “Bournmouth Sound” beach surf vibe about it.  Good all the same.

And so on to the headline for the night, The Neon Tigers. They have really upped their game since the last time I saw them perform, with a big intro on a darkened stage. When they were on LiveWire Live they made a big thing about bringing a sense of theatre back to live music, here I see this being worked out.
This time, Richard’s transition from keys to the gorgeous double necked strat is simpler than before – gone is the poncho, he stays in the dark tight fitting clothes, and even retains the hat while he rocks out.
One thing that accompanies gigs from The Neon Tigers are offerings of delicacies and sweets; tonight is no exception – Spacedust (exploding candy) this time!

OK this is new – during The Boy Needs Help intro, Richard leaves the stage while the rest of the band rock it out, drawing out and playing fugues with the riffs. When he returns its a transformation from stage cool black into illuminating red. So, The Neon Tigers the best rock band currently in Dorset? 100+ people in Champions would definitely agree tonight, find out tomorrow at the 2nd day of the Dorset music awards heats (they’re on at about 5pm Sunday)

A Frenetic Pink Moon

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Phil. J King is just starting when I arrive – I spoke at length about him a few gigs back – suffice to say this time I get to hear my favourite track of his, Life’s Rich Tapestry – loaned guitar and all (broke a string in the first song – big thanks to opener David Brown for being generous) .

Iridescent Lightbulb and Pointless Graffiti also please this critic, well written, and offering different musical perspectives between them. Each of these are available on Phil’s 2009 EP Life’s Rich Tapestry, available from Phil at gigs, or by messaging him.

Next up Annie Winter and Jemma Davies; they’ve picked novelty name Constable for this gig, starting by a debut of a track penned last night, fresh indeed. Annie plays, Jemma sings. They’re very giggly and a lot of fun, not taking themselves at all seriously, even though the song topics feature strong issues such that the giggles and crude comments are a bit of a distraction.

It’s also interesting to hear their alternating voices as Annie solos the second song; Annie much like a deep Stevie Nicks, Jemma more of an Amy Winehouse. It takes until the fourth song for them to sing an arrangement together, Jemma harmonising in the chorus of a song predominantly Annie’s. They switch the guitar over for one song, Jemma’s turn to be doing the solo, before handing back Annie’s musical dominance.

Next up an amalgam of Quinns Quinney and Jack Ratts. The instrument mix is something else – bouzouki, washboard, fiddle, acoustic guitar, two banjos and a bass guitar!

With this mix it’s no wonder they launch straight into frenetically pacey bluegrass – Cripplecreek up first. Eventually the vocals catch up with the music volume-wise, with 9 things going on all at once there’s a lot to keep ones ears occupied..

Jack Ratts feature one of the fastest pickers as noted by Andy Stock in bouzouki player Andy. He’s also calling many of the shots for this jam session – they’ve not played together before so everything is one big experiment, which works (for the most part, broken strings excepted). What I find vaguely amusing is my mate, Hawkeye, is up with the second banjo, however a string break causes him to miss out on a few songs, then he can never get back into it (so he comments after). Hawkeye is a professional troubadour, particularly playing in Denmark – shows that even pro’s can get thrown with this sort of playing.

Chris Woodford closes the evening on the nightshift, however I’m leaving before pumpkin time.

Lady Winwoods Maggot at the Winchester

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Yet again I miss the opening act, Quinns Quinney, yet they’ve clearly gone down well with the middle act of the evening, Katy Boyd and Benny Wain. Katy & Benny mention they are at Bournemouth Folk Club next month, and announced they’d like Quinns Quinney to join them on stage as the support act. Wait to see if that happens…

Katy and Benny play a mixture of country and bluegrass on their acoustic guitar and fiddle (with stomp box), mixing it up trying to create a frenzy. This is laudable; their acoustic nature fails to penetrate the lively and noisy crowd, despite Connie pumping up the volume levels on the sound system. Good enjoyable stuff all the same. Their folk club date (at Centre Stage) is Thursday 17 February (also at Chaplins Sunday 28 Feb and Wimborne in June).

The final act of the night are Lady Winwoods Maggot; they were on LiveWire Live last week as part of Connie’s promotion for tonight. Disclaimer needed here – I am a solid Maggot Fan (even though I rarely get to see them play), of both the old folksy stuff and the newer punkier element.

As ever they go all out. These guys don’t know how to put on a lacklustre performance, even when starting off to a reduced crowd, or even a crowd that are looking perhaps for more of a folksy sound (having had Quinns and Katy & Benny doing their bluegrass thing)

The band have been delayed as the last act on (graveyard rather than headline) and some of the crowd have already departed. Despite this, the songs are hard, the music harder, the couple of covers thrown in suitably “Maggottised”, and they get a usual entourage of dancers doing some “interesting” moves.

I remind myself (as I did last year every time I saw them at a Dorset Music Award gig) that I need to indulge myself in an evening of Lady Winwoods Maggot one night, instead of flitting about the Bournemouth venues as I am want.

Smokin’ Aces

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Bit of an adventurous afternoon – I have to be at the HopeFM studios by a certain time to be photographed for a cheque presentation. The company I work for have donated us some money under their “Connecting and Protecting” mantra. I make it to town just in time to do that (boy our daytime traffic is abysmal in town – I normally only go in at night…)

When I arrive a surprise is foisted onto me – can I cover Drive for the evening. Unprepared (I was supposed to shop for tea then go home and cook it) I agree anyway – what a blast. I’ve not done Drive for a long time (since 2000/2001 when I started with the station.) And had forgotten how simple things are with no live guests to interview and a computer throwing the music at one. Co-presenters Claire and Sully make it completely enjoyable, throwing in features and randomness ino a rtotally fast paced show quite unlike that mood I try to create on LiveWire Live.

Afterwards a trek across town to where I’d abandoned the car in a hurry, get tea & take Ness to mum’s for a photo hunt (we’re down to one car at the moment) eat my quick bite to eat then out again for the evening. So I finally get to Smokin’ Aces when there’s a gig on – New Volunteer doing what has been billed as an experimental set.

Nothing experimental about the quality, as I’d expect from the group, pretty harmonies and very laid back tunes, totally what the doctor ordered after the afternoon just experienced. Then I find out that was the sound check! The bar has only just opened due to some hassles, and here was me thinking the band were halfway through their first set, it was sounding so good.

So, venue report time. The bar seems small on first look, narrow with diner style booths facing a long bar down the sides, with the band in the window. It is deep though, with a back booth and seperate lounge area in the cellar. This itself is well-appointed with private booth, bar and kitchen area and outside rear access.

Back to the music. I’ve not heard New Volunteer for a long time (since the 2010 Dorset Music Awards I believe). They are impressive, the experimental nature refers to the approach they’re taking with the songs, not the playing since everything is pretty much tight and note perfect, with good orchestration and subtle vocal harmonies. They are ringing the changes, at one point bassist Chris Pedley takes a break while the band reform and continues, at another female vocalist Cassie guests, accompanied just by Chris Mears acoustically. Slowly as the set progresses the other musos join up until they’re back to full strength.

Meanwhile the once empty bar has totally filled up with the beautiful people come out to enjoy a Friday night out on the town. This means many aren’t necessarily live music fans but that hasn’t stopped them coming in and apparently enjoying what’s occurring. Rich and Trev (Devil’s Music, Dorset Music Forum) are here too – Rich is DJ’ing and plays some kicking tunes, some deliberately picked (he indicates) to suit me!

The lads have joined up with the bar to find acts that will fit with the bar’s style. In saying that, though, the ethos of the night is bands are requested to strip back from what they’d play elsewhere, either by ringing the changes in who’s playing at one time, or by playing different laid back sets than normally heard on the circuit. Rich introduces me to owner J (short for JJ – I kid you not!), he’s clearly a man of vision and not afraid of working hard for success – so I sincerely hope success finds its way to this great little bar.

Curiousity @ Mr Kyps

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…Made it to a gig at Mr Kyps before it started, which is two rarities for me in one sentence – got to be a winner! I’m surprised at the capacity crowd for what to me was a poorly advertised night – I even struggled to find a door time – however there are two local bands here I’ve been wanting to see for some time so worth the effort to drag myself past my other popular venues to reach this one.

Kings of Hearts are very energetic with their music, solid and heavy, yet melodic rock. Rhythmic bass lines, catchy guitar picks & riffs, tight drums, epic choruses, everything that is good about rock is here.
Even better, lead vocalist Phil’s lyrics are clear and audible, a bonus in this day and age of mumbled, shouted or just generally distorted vocal lines.

With Kings of Hearts finally I hear a band that are able to give name checks clearly throughout their performance, it’s a shame they’re not actively working the crowd to the potential their music delivers; the applause is there for them, just not the mad banging or pogoing I’d expect to accompany these guys.

Another rare nicety – a guitar needs tuning, and there’s no spare, so the guys just jam until it’s ready, finishing off by jumping straight into another not-yet hit, tight. To me, that’s the other thing missing – I don’t know Kings of Hearts stuff; I think I’d like to based on this performance – they’re just not giving me the titles, the set transitions are so slick. Good stuff. 

The set is over far too quickly for me – a very good sign.

A short break and on with The Sabres. I was a big fan of the previous incarnation Hoffman Sloth, and had picked up early Sabres tracks from the much missed Dorset Rock Online site.

Straight in after announcement into Out Of My Mind, another energetic number yet this time attemping to slightly engage this audience, who still  just seem to be happy supping their beers and rocking along.

These guys again are tight, no wonder considering their heritage. This time round, lead Richie seems to have learnt that complex lyrics and complex guitar work don’t go well together, and keeps them segregated
He’s also there with the name checks and promo stuff – something one has to do when playing a crowd that might not have come out for you.

There are clearly some other previous incarnation fans here, when The Sabres break into an older number the place starts waking up a bit at the front, although by this time there seems to be a bit more space around…

Again, the set is over all to quickly for me, although listening around some weren’t overly enthused by the show – pooh to them I say, I enjoyed it.

On to Mirrorkicks, down from London. I’ve not come out to see these guys, as regulars here will know my focus is on locally sourced music. They open with a sad-rock mellow number, which while not a fave of mine (or the crowd by the lacklustre applause) is well executed.

Another 3 piece,  Mirrorkicks have their 4th man – a synth – providing continuity between songs. The bass player is fairly active compared with the movement of the other bands, strolling around the stage as he underpins band intrumentals and speeches from said 4th man. Unfortunately these are the only clear vocals, except when the music quietens and lead Edwin sings almost a capella, where his voice comes across very cleanly.

Things also wake up at this juncture, while the wailing lyrical style continues the bass and drums kick up into a comparitive frenzy.  These types of numbers also go down with the remaining crowd (it’s definitely thinned out a bit, 60 at a rough guess, down from “feeling full”)

My overall feeling is that these guys are probably great to listen to album-wise, the live performance I’ve witnessed tonight just isn’t there for them to shine out to me as a London band hoping to make it outside. …Alice is a case in point. A beautifully appealing song, chords to really cut you, heart rending lyrics sung with real passion, a fantastic anthem, and the crowd seem to agree.

Maybe I’ve set the bar too high; they are good and tight, as have all bands been tonight, I’m just not sure I’ve been entertained. Just as I write this near the end of the set, we get a funky number started by the synth, and things wake up; the last song is really lively by comparison to all the other stuff, much more appealing to this hacks tastes!

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