Dorset Music Awards Quarter Final 4

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DMA logoWe’re at the last week of the Dorset Music Award Quarter Finals, and anyone watching Facebook and Myspace will already be well aware of this – 20 bands, most of which are actively on the “vote for me” campaign trail have reached this stage, ten will be decided upon by this, the public voting round.  On paper, this last night promises to be the best of the four, the line up could almost be construed as anyone’s ideal final lineup, all the acts here are huge names on the circuit.

Sarah Griffin Dorset Music Awards QF 4Sarah Griffin opens, again she’s performing solo, and being soulful with it, really pouring out her heart into the songs. Upbeat Crazy Kate is an exception, otherwise she’s keeping with her ballads. There is promise of upbeat to come, (or even a beat, she jokes) if she gets through to the next round.

issTV are here again this week, catching interviews with a number of the bands (OK, I have a little bit to do with some introductions). They’re intending to produce a package on the whole music awards, so are trying to catch everyone they can in these stages

Mischa Dorset Music Awards QF 4Mischa is the second act presenting himself to us tonight, he’s again gone with the full more or less unplugged band; he was on the show the other week with Roland (cello, ukelele), he’s also brought Ed  on bass and Si C on cajon, making for a full rich sound, yet still laid back and summery feeling. Opening with his classic Air I Breathe, its more of an extended jam session as they all bounce off each other.

I also have another catch up with Alex Marle – he runs the Music Mania events at the Winchester, and is organising a stage at the Rugby Sevens over the Spring Bank Holiday (6 bands,2 days, £30 a ticket, unless you speak nicely to Alex as he has some reduced price ones available.)

New Volunteer Dorset Music Awards QF 4New Volunteer seem to take a long time to set up, but its worth it. They open with just a looped glockenspiel, growing their sound and building it in a very open manner – not much soloing going on, just a laid back crescendo. As the set progresses they become more mainstream – one song reminds me a bit of See Emily Play by Pink Floyd, melody-wise. They are flamboyantly dischordant and wonderfully artistic musically.

What I am disappointed at is the crowd, or lack thereof. This is really surprising since (as I said at the start) the 5 acts on tonight on paper make the best line up of the competition so far. Having said that, none of them (with one exception) have really brought much of a crowd with them, excuses could be it’s paddy night (I’m still puzzled that everyone goes a bit mad for an Irish night) or that they are on too late (in Fearne’s case probably true, they have a lot of fans at the younger end of the age spectrum).

Big Face Reggae Dorset Music Awards QF 4Big Face Reggae (Si Crockett in band mode) is our penultimate liner tonight – I’m wondering if he’s feeling a bit misplaced – this is his 3rd gig in 2 days now and he starts with a cover (I thought DMA was an original music competition, unlike last nights comp.!)
He’s roped in Nacho Jase, and Si Genaro again tonight, with the addition of Ant Lewis on bass. The cover was a laid back Bobby McFerrin number which settles the lineup and sets a good scene, he then slips more into his beach induced surf / skank material. The four of them are very tight, as pauses, accelerandos and rallentandos in the music demonstrate.

Fearne Dorset Music Awards QF 4Last on tonight are Fearne who kick off an awesome set – they are really antsy on stage as if they have a point to prove, like they own this competition (as they well should). This is DMA year 6, Fearne have been going in varying guises for 6 years, and this is the first time they’ve entered. They are also the only band tonight that have a vocal crowd, that (as per last week’s final act) have to be in contention for most tenacious fans award. The fans are active, moving forward on request and very vocal. I really hope that in particular these guys have done enough to get through this fan vote round.

In conclusion then, Fearne have given the best overall performance, and New Volunteer are my pick for the most “arty”, and also just about have an edge on the others for providing the most musical interest; all acts have been superb tonight.

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BMTH Unplugged Heat 3

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BMTH Unplugged heat 3 tonight. Again to protect the judging & voting I’ll only be giving scant reviews, more of a mention of the acts.

May Day

May Day are kicking off the evening, a 3 piece comprising cajon, guitar and very clear vocalist. They have a bit of a stereotypical Northern bloke look about them, dressed in smart allusions to grunge-grey including trilby and flat cap! Enjoyable enough to listen to musically and vocally. The cover they choose is Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground, and they jolly it along in lively manner.

Ant Henson

Ant Henson  is 2nd on – and he’s the first act I’ve noted to make an entrance, hanging back in the crowd until announced then striding onto the stage. He’s also dressed to impress, and kicks off into an active number initiated by a blues harp player he’s turned into his entourage. His songs are very bright, probably a lot to do with the 12 string he’s toting tonight. His intro to Thin Lizzy’s Boys Are Back is surprising, and shows he can do more with the chord work than he had been showing.

Sarah Griffin

Third up is Sarah Griffin – and at this point a disclaimer is needed – I’ve become a firm fan of Sarah’s material in the past year or so. She bravely starts with heart-pulling sad song, that emphasises voice over guitar, a new thing. Toxic originally by Britney Spears is her cover, and she’s made it totally her own, managing to still the pub into her quiet vibe. The other songs she chooses are equally brave choices for a noisy pub, soulful and emotionally delivered.

Kathryn Ross

The closing slot goes to Kathryn Ross. She starts with strong demonstrations of various guitar techniques, through very pleasant songs, before switching to keyboard for some piano antics. Her voice is very clean, even though the stronger overtones aren’t there as they have been for other artists. For her penultimate song she slips a looper in so subtly it is barely noticeable, and closes with cover Say It Ain’t So by Weezer

Andy Stock

Wandering back via Chaplins, to find the man I want to speak to at the microphone, very inconvenient! The man being Andy Stock, he’s got to that point in the evening where he’s playing requested covers for the rowdy crowd, including favourite Billy Bragg hit New England.

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.

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

Musical Timezone Extremes

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A mixed bag tonight, timeless 60’s & 70’s then bang up to date, hence the reference to the extremes in the title, since I’m talking about The Searchers in Wimborne followed by The Sarah Griffin Band in Boscombe.

I have an early start to the evening in Wimborne. A friend of mine from the radio station, Geneen, needs a lift to meet Frank Allen from The Searchers prior to seeing their show in the Tivoli Theatre.

Chatting to Frank in the green room he’s politely familiar and down to earth, without any of the pretensions that certain stars in his position can too easily adopt. For example, Frank admits he’s struggling to get back into the swing of touring after the Christmas break! Most of his focus is on the upcoming tour of Australia, since it’s something the band really look forward to each time they go.

None of your jaded faded rock star here – he’s genuinely interested in his fans; Geneen has interviewed Frank many times for her Principle Personalties show to publicise their gigs locally, although I think this is the first time they’ve managed to just chat together…

We leave Frank to his preparations for the show and so on into the concert. The Searchers put on a good spectacle, with a grand entrance then straight into a string of their hits across the time they’ve been playing. There are a number of humourous interruptions since this is a band that really encourage the audience and their participation – lots of singalong, barracking & heckling – all enthusiastically led on by the chaps.

The hit songs are punched out in mini-sets of 3’s and 4’s, then with a lot of banter between batches. Frank is an excellent front man (Spencer being the lead singer), with some great anecdotes mixed in with what I imagine must be stock phrases :-

“Flash photography is strictly …
 [Pause]
… permitted.
 – we don’t attract paparazzi so you’re the only chance we’ve got of getting into the papers”.

The humour continues in similar self-deprecating vein.  I struggle to describe and express the enjoyable time they give us on stage between minisets. Lots of backtalk and comic comments particularly between Frank and John, John as the “old man” of the group since Frank joined 46 years ago, after they’d been going a year. Spencer is predominantly left as the front man for the tunes – he has an amazing voice, able to pull off Roy Orbison and Del Shannon tributes in addition to their own material. Slightly surprisingly to me, Scott (drummer) is not really mentioned in the banter, yet he’s totally there making the foundation for the band – he’s joined within the past year, and appparently is the reason some other songs have been dusted off from the back catalogue.

After the gig, I drop Geneen home before heading over to Chaplins & The Cellar Bar.

Again, as per The Searchers, Sarah herself is becoming a great entertainer, encouraging heckles and audience interaction, ably suited to the Cellar Bar crowd.

By the way, check out Cellar Bar at http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/38/3802/Cellar_Bar/Boscombe

Sarah Griffin Band Cellar Bar

Sarah Griffin Band Cellar Bar

As I’ve previously intimated, I was captivated by Sarah’s new sound at the beginning of 2010, having heard her perform as a capable yet not-much-special acoustic singer songwriter from 2007. Indeed, the debut album was one of my first picks for the Listed column I write.

All the way through the gig the songs sound strong, going down really well with the eclectic mix of people jumping around. Having said that, it’s clearly the pacier tracks that this crowd desire, although all those played are crowd-pleasers in my opinion – it does help that I’ve become an ardent fan in the past year.

Some new songs get their first outing tonight as well, while they’re not quite as strong as the well gigged album songs, they don’t dis-satisfy either, which hopefully means they’ll be left in the set list to grow their gig life. E.g. Shot To Pieces features the usual wonderful harmonies between Sarah and backing singer Carolyn.

Again, I struggle to find words to explain the repeat encores (literally – the band repeat some of their “happy songs” for their encores). To sum up, another great Saturday night of ace music in the area, even given the amazing difference in timeline extremes.

Wholehearted Acoustic

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This post talks about the Friday night Chaplins gig by Mischa with Si Crockett, and The Sarah Griffin Band. Also a bit of a packed weekend (more later).

I managed finally to catch Sarah Griffin in concert with the full band; I’ve missed the last couple of performances (e.g. Oxjam) and last saw her solo acoustic a few months back… She was ably supported by probably the nicest musician on the current Bournemouth circuit: Mischa (fresh from folk club appearance the night before).

Mischa was doing a solo acoustic set when I walked in, before he was joined by Si Crockett to make some things up on percussion.  While Mischa‘s tunes are always really good, and he wholeheartedly enters every performance, my highlight tonight was enjoying the interaction between them both.  Unrehearsed, Si was more or less making things up as they went along, on either Djembe or Cajon, depending on how Mischa felt and directed.

Asking Si about this afterwards, wondering how he did it, all he offered was that he enjoys playing percussion for others since he’s not responsible for everything in the gig, as he is when he’s the solo artist.  Admittedly, to my mind he was paying a lot of attention to Mischa‘s rythmns, and managed to acheive an exceptional level of accord, such that the endings and beginnings were coherent; no mean feat for an unrehearsed jam!

Mischa’s voice ably carried itself over Si’s sideshow – with his usual references to lifes loves and hates, whether in the upbeat and strummed shouting numbers, or the more intimate ballads.  Every song with Misha comes with a (just right length) story, and an encouragement to members of the audience – just making him such a delightful artist to behold.  After a big shout for Sarah Griffin, he abandons the stage on a high, bathed in sweat after another “give it his all” performance.

After the usual and obligatory break, The Sarah Griffin Band take to the stage. Sarah has been a real enigma to my mind, I’d heard her solo before, and thought she was good, nice but just good.  Then in February/March this year a CD comes along and smacks me between the eyes.

Sarah’s album (Above The Parapet) more or less came out of the blue for me – and her live band performances at that time were enough to see her through to the final of the 2010 Dorset Music Awards (didn’t win, however did receive the accolade from the judges as “one of the acts with most promising commercial viability”).

The tunes on Sarah’s CD are all fantastic – every single one of them.  I reviewed the CD for Listed Magazine (Issue 26) earlier this year; nearly every tune was eligible for inclusion on the HopeFM playlist (even other artists have raved about it – Lou Brown was on the show and spent a lot of time praising Sarah’s CD instead of previewing her own work.)

Some new songs received an outing, and some re-workings of a couple.  Of particular note was a cover of Abba’s Mamma Mia – a very brave alternate tuning rendition, downkey and to an interesting set of chords that in my mind gave new meaning to this old favourite.

I’m unsure how the rest of the audience found it – admittedly as the last song in the set it subdued things a little, such that the shouts for more had to be encouraged a little; the encore of an upbeat and pacy Fall of the Meek showed again the variety the troupe of artists around Sarah can handle.

Saturday was taken up with a HopeFM fundraising Christmas Fayre – the relevant item to this blog was that by chance the stall I was helping with was next door to Kestrel Medical, the owners of VocalZone. I’d not heard of this before; apparently (according to the testimonials) many musicians and public speakers never do a gig without it.

I tried a free sample – wish I’d had these last Wednesday – might have saved me a day off work sick with a lost voice. They do not contain any anaesthetic at all, merely ingredients that relax the vocal chords without affecting the vocal sound at all – much better than the couple of Sambucas that I know some artists insist on to relax their throat!