Show & Bournemouth Unplugged Quarter Final 4

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Hessian join me in the studio tonight – or rather, four of the five of them.  Tilly (bass) can’t make it to town, yet phones to join into the interview conversation from wherever she is (London, I think).  The band have played other gigs in addition to the times I’ve seen them during the Dorset Music Awards, so there’s ripe material for discussion there. 

They’ve also been spending time recording some tracks – Sam is putting the finishing touches to their latest recording while we’re in the studio together, mixing the vocal takes. As we play it out towards the end of the show, they listen relatively intensely over the studio foldback, understandable since they’ve not heard it before!

We all make a sharpish exit from the studio, as I head off to O’Neills again to some shock news – Boyd and Wain have cancelled their appearance tonight in the Quarter Finals, effectively putting themselves out off the competition. I’m in two minds about this news – one half says that they are such brilliant musos they would provide a lively and enjoyable set. Many I speak to are also of the same mind.

My other voice is asking what is an act playing gigs in the States and who could easily book themselves a set of London sessions doing in a competition like this anyway.

Moot point really, they’ve pulled out, and Joel Gregory has slipped under the wire as act 16 (Saturday Sun also don’t get put forward for missing their Quarter Final)

Again I’m writing my comments on the fly as I hear the acts, in preparation to make statements to the audience here.

Tim Somerfield

Tim Somerfield Bmth UnpluggedQuiet intro – says “start where left off last time then on into different material” – don’t need to tell me that as I probably wouldn’t remember anyway.
2nd song clever chord work putting on syncopation with left hand. Also in 3rd song, and others – waiting for another style.
Obviously has his crowd here, yet not making the most use of them to my mind. Even at the end when I comment on this in my judges verbal response, there’s no reaction. Leads me to think of that line from John Cleese in the parrot sketch – Voomph? That wouldn’t Voomph if it had 2000 volts through it.
OK chat to cover tuning, fast de tune.
Confident patter for stage presence, yet not much else.
Strong clear voice.
Liked chord work on last one, shows a different style from what’s gone before.

Andy Stock Band

Andy Stock BandBefore start – Cast of thousands or so it seems compared to Tim’s solo slot.
Solo start then band come on one by one helps with working out the levels originally.
Like the reworking of a cover – making it yours – sounds like it was rewritten specifically for tonight?
2nd song a bit too long of similar repetition, still I like the personalisation. Sounds a bit muddy on the PA. Awkward when there’s 2 good PA guys in the band. Tight on the musical breaks.
Set seemed too short, turns out they have space for another song (which Andy solos) There’s a lot of talent there, could do with more polish.

Si Crockett

Si Crockett Bmth UnpluggedSi Genaro has lost his harmonicas this very night, so makes a little notice at the start thanking those who’ve rallied round and helped him out – first time I’ve seen him serious for a long time…
Laid back start, turning Ain’t No Sunshine into his own style. 3rd shows off Si Crockett’s voice with some high pitched crooning.
Big Face Reggae starts waking things up a bit, still laid back yet bigger audience reaction
Si C voice and Si G beat boxing save the day for Sunshine, was becoming a bit samey to my ears. MSSB (full title not repeatable here – Radio Rules) wakes up the stage a bit, a bit of action at the last.
A few ‘in’ gags regarding Small Face Reggae and Big Face Reggae (his non-unplugged band)

Joel Gregory

Joel Gregory Bmth UnpluggedBit of a surprise to hear him back.
He’s not doing that much of particular interest on the guitar. His voice is good though – clear lyrics
One very vocal crowd member
Turns out he’s a wildcard re-entry who responded when Boyd & Wain pulled out. This is a little unfair both on him and on others, however competition runners reserve the right etc. etc.

The winners who go through to the semi finals are announced as The Andy Stock Band and Si Crockett, this doesn’t go down too well with those who felt Tim Somerfield played the better set of at least one of those. Where some weeks have had very close results this time there is only a close-ish gap of 3% between each of the acts; I end up taking some time listening to Tim’s right to reply (as does Fiona, the sponsor of the overall competition) anyway.

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Dorset Music Awards Semi Final 2 @ Mr Kyps

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DMA logoAfter the amazing crowd efforts last week, this second semi final finds Mr Kyps in a more muted mode at the start. Mischa are first on, and get some great reaction despite the smaller numbers than last week. This reaction seems to spur the band on to putting on a great show.

Mischa the man is wired and firing on all cylinders, Si is very animated despite sitting on a cajon, he doesn’t just play the box with his hands, his whole body is involved with the rhythms.

Ed (bass) and Rowland (cello / ukelele) look enigmatic, flowing with the lilting melody that is One Of Those Days. Mischa recounts the story behind On My Own, which itself is sad yet appealing, and seems to be appreciated by many in the venue both as the story and the song.

Hessian DMA SF2Hessian start with an absolute blinder “smacking me in the face” as one commentator puts it. They are so clearly and openly happy to be here – big smiles on their faces, big shouts to the crowd. They are tight too, they’ve clearly been working on their cuts and breaks in the music.

Hessian have also brought their fans with them this time, there’s a big party going on in the front. There is some really intricate duelling guitar work happening, courtesy of Sam and Richard, while Tillie (bass) and Alex (drums) lay down a really heavy yet sufficiently muted to allow the guitars and synth to shine.

The vocal harmonies from Tillie and Richard are allowed to play a dominant part in one of their songs, and most of the time they absolutely nail it. There are a couple of misses, but only a couple, really just demonstrating that there is still room for improvement even in the polished performances.

Big Face Reggae DMA SF2Big Face Reggae start with a flourish, throwing out fluorescent glowsticks into the crowd. They kick off with Big Face Reggae, as expected very strong reggae beat – It’s really good to see Rio on the drums again, him having been absent all through the other rounds

What I’m enjoying most is four high quality individual acts in their own right, all getting together to make Big Face Reggae what it is. Ant from Fairplay is stupidly talented in many other ways as well as on the bass he’s using tonight. Si Genaro is doing what he does best, drawing in and engaging the crowd, when not on the mic with the harmonica. Lead Si Crockett warns they’re about to play the last of their laid back songs with Pub Girl, which same really allows his voice to shine. He was right about the laid back stuff, Spill Your Drinks is pure ska, lots of skanking going on, Si Genaro features as MC. This really gets the crowd noisy as well.

It helps that Mr Kyps has filled up by now; there aren’t as many crowded at the front as last week, so the overall venue feels fuller as people are more distributed. What we’re seeing this time is a lot more dancing, Big Face Reggae‘s last song (title can’t be repeated under Radio Rules) gets a lot of people moving, and not just at the front – having witnessed this performance, I can see why a lot of other punters are tipping them to be at the top in DMA 2011

Evolver DMA SF2Evolver are our fourth band of the evening, I’ve been looking forward to seeing them as I’ve missed their other two Bournemouth performances since their appearance in the DMA heats, where what they did made it very easy to put them through to the next round.

They don’t disappoint – Ed (lead guitar) using an ebow and vibrato to create an unusual sound. Their first song is raunchy and lively, before they slip into an announced new song and a tidier pace.

They are all dressed smart – some in jackets, others in shirts; one thing I pick up is their faces, Jordan (keys) is looking very much rabbit in the headlights at the start, maybe awed by being at this stage of the competition. As the set progresses and they get into it more, they start looking more comfortable in themselves and can tell they get a little more relaxed and start smiling a lot more, which is good to see.

Evolver move on into a blinder of a set – everyone I talk to is loving what they’re doing, its all very slick and polished, including the gaps between song for instrument switch overs. Megaphones are also in attendance as for County Hospital last week, really helping make a contrast to what has gone before.

New Volunteer DMA SF2New Volunteer start to a half empty venue, which doesn’t really fill up again despite their clear attraction; they start very gently with Surrounded, showing a true artistic edge. Third song (and title of their CD) Remote Control Parade has a progression of chords that sound like they should be really awkward, yet the whole sequence works in an amazing way.

By their fourth song the guys have demonstrated their multi-instrumental skills, e.g. Chris Pedley started on drums, moved to bass, and is now on guitar. Dean on Bass moved to sax, then percussion, and keys, Rich moves from glockenspiel to drums and vocals; they all look like they’ve been enjoying themselves from the off.

The dance music is catchy and yet still out and out rock. Right at the end Chris Mears collaborates with Rich in a drum solo, using a floor tom at the front of the stage, making an impressive end to an impressive performance.

So, my tips for the five finalists out of the ten acts – Constellation and Fearne from SF1, though I would really like to see Cella Creeps and County Hospital go through as the “artistic” element.  Evolver and Big Big Face Reggae from SF2, again I’d like to see New Volunteer make it as the artistic entry.  That means (obviously) I’ve not plumped for Bel Casino, Mischa or Hessian; no diss on them, every single act has I think each played blinders of sets. The results are announced on Monday, so watch this space…

Dorset Music Awards – Semi Finalists revealed.

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DMA logoThe results are in from the Quarter Finals of the Dorset Music Awards 2011 , the Semi Finalists being:

Bel Casino
Big Face Reggae
Cella Creeps
Constellation
County Hospital
Evolver
Fearne
Hessian
Mischa
New Volunteer

There are definitely some surprises for me there, thought The Neon Tigers would have had it nailed, but then at the expense of whom? – all are deserved looking back at my blog notes.

I am slightly disappointed that Powdered Cows didn’t make it, then surprised and pleased that both County Hospital and Cella Creeps have gone through;  thought two of them would be a victim to the other one of those three rather than vice versa – all three by far offered the best artistic efforts of this round.

Not at all surprised that we have four acts from the last Quarter Final, at the expense of only two from each of the earlier Quarter Finals – although the lack of crowds that turned out for that QF doesn’t bode too well for the near future. As I said at the time, the concluding QF lineup could have been many people’s ideal Final lineup…

It almost disquiets comments about the voting system, in that those bands that had the least people seeing them at this stage have managed to do enough on the campaign trail to reach the next stage. Then again, bands that pulled out all the stops for their QF appearance (Cella Creeps, Pachango , Constellation, Sirpico) have had mixed fortunes.

I do feel for other artistic talents that haven’t made it – particularly Saturday Sun, who fit perfectly into the South-Coast-beach-induced vibe alongside Bel Casino, Fearne and Big Face Reggae

I’m disappointed that after last year’s phenonemal effort, Sarah Griffin didn’t make it; not having a band seems to place one at a large disadvantage at this stage – Lauren Bannon being the only other similiar act to make it through the heats to then fall at this hurdle.

My thoughts for the public voting round to any acts lucky enough to be here next year? Make sure you have a pile of gigs lined up in different places, and get out there and win a new crowd over (easy for me to say – I always bear in the back of my mind that anyone can be a critic, it takes hard work to be an artist).  I think that’s what some bands in particular did in 2010, not that I was keeping that a close an eye on last year’s proceedings 😉

Again, lots of hard and quick work by Rich and Trev to announce the results so swiftly, thanks fellas!  Here’s to the Semi Finals in a couple of weeks at Mr Kyps.

Dorset Music Awards Quarter Final 3

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DMA logoAs with the other heats, tonight I’ve seen and heard 5 high quality acts, and would not be in a position to pick any clear winners were I to be asked.

Seems the voters can’t either – no specific spoilers, but I’ve heard the voting is very close across many of the 20 acts, and this year looks to be record voting. When Trev was on HopeFM’s LiveWire Live show with me this week, he let it be known that at this halfway stage of the public voting round, around 5000 votes have been cast, compared with about 6000 in total for the whole competition last year.

Therefore the message to acts is clear – please please please if you want to have a clear win to go through to the next round, rather than have to go through another tiebreak judging process, shout your “vote-for-us” plugs about everywhere.

Hessian DMA QF3On to describing this Quarter Final: Hessian start – I’ve been looking forward to hear them again since they gave me such a wake up call at the Heats. This time they’ve not brought the huge crowd with them, this also means the room is half empty as they start.

Guitar led synth based rock, hooks and melodies, tight silences, lots of motion and communication between each other; also plenty of plugs for themselves. One of the last songs features some cutting harmonies from the two singers, lots of pauses in the music also feature demonstrating just how tight this band are together. All good stuff.

NMIC DMA QF3Not Made In China are as ever a lot of fun, while still being unable to box or label genre-wise. Really happy upbeat chords from JJ, Gav’s smile and ska-like bass riffs, Tiff’s clear lyrics above everything, with Matt’s personality able to shine through the drums. The Winchester has now filled up, though still not at capacity, and there’s a modicum of movement on the dance floor.

Sirpico DMA QF3Its the middle of the evening, and Sirpico‘s turn to wow me, which they easily achieve. Even before being announced by Trev, Al is on the mic welcoming people and encouraging them to step forwards. This sets up the scene for a rocked up set of 4 lads dressed in cool black, playing their guts out to a crowd that the majority of don’t start out as theirs, but are slowly being won over. Their fans have some quality heckles too, e.g.:
     Al: here’s the only slow one we do
     Heckle: and I bet that’s at f*^*in’ 1200 BPM too

Powdered Cows DMA QF3Powdered Cows take my artistic award for the night (no real surprise there) something that I haven’t appreciated before is how, while the songs sound like they’re in similar keys, there are subtle differences between them, making it well nigh on impossible to just jump in and accompany them, as Ed Pope does on sax for a couple of numbers. Tonight the first few tracks are very heavily guitar oriented, with strong drum beats. Soon Martin switches from guitar so the synth plays a big part, drums turn into tambourine & whistling before there’s a total instrument switch around between Amy (drums now guitar) & Deena (vice-versa). Meanwhile Angus stays solid playing bass throughout.

Constellation DMA QF3Constellation have had a crowd here since the beginning of the night, so understandably there’s a lot of noise when they finally take to the stage. This also means that The Winchester is still absolutely packed as they play – if there was an extra award for crowd commitment and dedication, these guys would be strong contenders! Once announced they kick straight into a big drum solo to start the set. These guys are a great party band, positive major keys, upbeat/ reggae style guitar beats, and everyone here seems to be here for good time, judging by the noise and heckles.

A specific shout out to Josh from Conversion Studios, he’s offering part of the prize package, and we had a brief chat once introduced by Trev to each other.  Also to two particular members (who will remain nameless – they know who they are) of one of the acts in the Quarter Finals – placing bets on whether they get a mention by name or not in this blog – nice try chaps, I’d say OP wins for that!

Dorset Music Awards – Heat results announced

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Well, it’s all over, and 20 of arguably the best acts in Dorset have made it through to the public voting Quarter Finals of the Dorset Music Awards 2011 – and I feel able to talk about it properly 😉 

First off, big kudos to everybody daring enough to enter the awards in the first place, and to then play in the heats – it must be absolutely daunting to know that you’re giving a performance that you will be assessed on, that could possibly change where you’ve been heading so far.  I don’t play publicly anymore, so you’re already way many steps ahead of me, a mere critic. Admittedly I’m one who prefers to offer critical appraisal rather than pure criticism, so I found it hard to make some harsh decisions in the judging chambers.

Those acts chosen are (in the order seen in the Heats):

Sarah Griffin
Mischa
Powdered Cows
Saturday Sun
Sirpico
  Lauren Bannon
Pachango
Cella Creeps
Big Face Reggae
Not Made In China
  County Hospital
Rapids
Hessian
Evolver
Bel Casino
  Fearne
New Volunteer
The Neon Tigers
Constellation
Kinnie The Explorer

 
I had some disappointments – Blackwater Caravan were one band who I had heard of but never seen before, and I had passionate discourse with the other judges that I just didn’t “get” why their loud and up to 11 show was so stunning – they didn’t really stand out to me.  Moontown and Amity Road were the same – I enjoyed being entertained by them, and was enthused by their attempts to win the crowd over, yet wasn’t able to sway the other judges to my opinion. Other acts that got a positive yes from me and didn’t go through were Moll Storey and Transend – which surprised the others!

In the vein of offering critical appraisal, all my comments have been made available to the bands via the event organisers, good and bad.  I’ve also offered an opinion on what they could do to improve my view of them, which will possibly get me into a lot of trouble. Controversy here we come :D.
My performance highlights looking back were :

  • Mischa, who reached the Semi Finals last year and re-entered, turning up this time with a full band to up his game – big UP
  • Hessian – filled the place with a really buzzing crowd and woke up the venue just before lunch
  • Sitting Pretty – while the grunge look and sound isn’t a preference of mine, they just got up and did it, just not quite well enough to make the cut for me.
  • Transend – I really don’t like their music style, but I didn’t care.  They came in with great ‘attitood’ and woke the place up.
  • Amity Road – Many of the bands on the stage nearest the door had a hard time drawing the crowd away from the bar – these guys already had an audience, called for (and received) more, then gave a strong visual performance to enhance their sound.

My tips for the finalists?  Sarah Griffin again, The Neon Tigers, Mischa, Big Face Reggae, Fearne. Now watch my kiss of death see them all go out in the Quarter Finals :-o. 
Who would I really like to see do full sets on one stage? Cella Creeps, County Hospital & Powdered Cows purely because they were the most artistically stylish, and The Neon Tigers because of their sense of musical theatre.

What surprised me were the number of acts that weren’t a definite yes from all three of us judges – it did make me wonder if those who entered had really taken on board the Tips for Entrants notes provided by Dorset Music. Having said, that, I’m also guilty of not reading them until afterwards, yet I am in accord with the “Band Persona” and “Stage Presence” comments.  I felt that acts had some members that were trying, yet were let down by others in the band.

I’m reminded of a time I saw The Strokes I think it was (my sister-in-law had them on the telly) – they were just standing there, live on stage, playing the music, looking at the floor.  Why bother doing a live gig if that’s all you’re going to do? Is being part of the crowd (and that wonderful experience) enough to compensate when the same tunes can possibly be heard better on your Hi-Fi?  I’ve probably just alienated many in the Bournemouth gigging crowd, and perhaps you my audience, by being so candid, however I feel that if I want to see a band live I want to be captivated to some extent by the live show.  If I just wanted to hear good music, I can pick up the CD and listen without going out.

I’m minded that the vast majority of acts in Bournemouth are absolutely fantastic, strong musically and in stage presence, which is perhaps why this is such a tough town to make a break in – we just haven’t got enough venues and outlets to showcase the massive talent visible to us all.  I’m very glad and grateful Dorset Music (amongst soooo many others) push themselves and the boat out so far to make this scene what it is.

Here’s to more great music on the scene, and to the Quarter Finals near the end of the month.

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