Amelia’s Magazine | Woodpecker Wooliams at King’s Place: Live Review

Woodpecker Wooliams by Sam Parr

Woodpecker Wooliams by Sam Parr

Turning a corner from King’s Cross station, it was a chill wind that blew as I hurried down York Way. Past those Victorian facades touched by the regeneration that is fast spreading through this part of London, I spied that most modern of constructs, King’s Place. Opened in 2008, a mixture of the artistic and commercial (as well as performance and exhibition space, it’s also home to the Guardian newspaper), this was my destination for the evening.

I’d been to King’s Place once before, to catch Laura J Martin just before Christmas, but tonight’s action was taking place in the venue’s main room, Hall One, a curious space (apparently a structure within a structure, a box sitting on rubber springs to acoustically separate it from the rest of the building, and layered in veneer that comes from the same 500 year old German oak tree) which strangely reminded me of a lecture theatre.

The final day of The Local’s “three day mini-festival of modern-day existential songwriting”, The Stranger The Better, tonight’s fine line-up included Sons Of Noel And Adrian and a solo set by Meursault front-man Neil Pennycook, but opening proceedings was Woodpecker Wooliams.

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Hailing from Crawley but based in that musical hotbed-by-the-sea, Brighton, Woodpecker Wooliams (otherwise known as multi-instrumentalist, shaman and bee-keeper Gemma Williams) was apparently once told by Brian Eno not to bother with music. Ignoring his sage advice, she has instead spent time crafting darkly delicate melodies tinged with electronic flourishes and occasionally unsettling lyrics, delivered in an idiosyncratic style that has drawn comparisons with Björk (“creepy, but in a good way” is how the Guardian described her – creepy from Crawley indeed, to borrow a music journo description of another of that town’s famous sons, Robert Smith of The Cure). Touring around the UK and Europe has led to radio sessions (most recently on BBC Radio 6 Music, with Tom Robinson) and the release of her debut album, The Bird School Of Being Human, on Robot Elephant Records.

Woodpecker Wooliams by Gilly Rochester

Woodpecker Wooliams by Gilly Rochester

It was a prompt 7.30pm start and I’d just made it to King’s Place (having come straight from home), but, on discovering that no drinks were allowed in Hall One, I had to endure that most novel of experiences – a sober gig. As Woodpecker Wooliams (tonight, a full band) walked on stage and settled down in their places, the strangeness of the atmosphere was heightened by the fact that the audience was completely hushed, there was none of the background chatter that you normally get in venues.

The set tonight was a run through of tracks from the album, which all have a common theme (in title, at least, as they’re all named after birds). We got songs like Red Kite and the most recent single, Gull, with Williams sat with her harp as around her dissonant electronic drones warbled, backed with skittish drums, an occasional trumpet (and, on Crow, a grainy sample of the Last Post). There was even the parping of a deflating balloon – not the sort of thing you’d normally encounter, especially somewhere as refined as King’s Place! Williams moved behind a keyboard set-up for an incandescent Sparrow, bobbing to the beat as the searing vocals echoed off the laminated walls. The unusual quiet of the hall added to the often eerie nature of the songs, and focussed attention on the performers.

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Cheers broke the respectful silence as we reached the end, Williams and band taking the crowd’s applause as they walked off the stage as we, in turn, filed out to lay siege to the bar during the brief intermission.

There don’t appear to be any more live performances on the immediate horizon for Woodpecker Wooliams, at least until an appearance at the End Of The Road Festival during the summer, so we can only wait and see what more magic she is concocts in the meantime.

Categories ,BBC Radio 6 Music, ,bjork, ,brian eno, ,brighton, ,Crawley, ,End Of The Road Festival, ,Gemma Williams, ,Gilly Rochester, ,King’s Cross, ,King’s Place, ,Laura J Martin, ,Meursault, ,Neil Pennycook, ,Robert Smith, ,Robot Elephant Records, ,Sam Parr, ,sons of noel and adrian, ,the cure, ,The Guardian, ,The Local, ,The Stranger The Better, ,Tom Robinson, ,Woodpecker Wooliams

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Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with The Epstein about new album Mumurations

The Epstein by neonflower
The Epstein by neonflower.

Oxford based folk rockers The Epstein return with their second album Mumurations today. 14 months in the pipeline, it’s a record filled with songs of departure and change, all set against a lush melodic backdrop. From opener Morning News – a typically heartfelt tale set to the mournful twirls of a guitar – to the beautiful lilting sounds of current download single Calling Out Your Name, this is over 40 minutes of big folk that is well worth checking out. I spoke with Olly Wills, who is responsible for vocals and acoustic guitar.

The Epstein - Murmurations Cover
What does Murmurations mean?
Murmurations is the term used for a flock of starlings when they fly in swooping flocks of thousands and can be seen sweeping and diving above fields and trees… I think it is something that is most often seen in the early autumn. Type the word into google images and you will see what I mean, it is an amazing spectacle.

The Epstein by youdesignme
The Epstein by youdesignme.

Who came first to The Epstein, and how did the others come on board?
The band started with founder members Olly Wills and Al Verey and very quickly Jon Berry and Rowland Prytherch came on board. We started playing open mic nights in Oxford and London and built the band up from there. We got a residency in a local pub where they paid us to play for 2 hours a week on a Thursday night and slowly the band developed its live skills and worked out what songs worked and what songs didn’t. This was quite a few years ago now and the band has changed hugely over that time but Olly and Jon are still there along with Seb Reynolds on Keyboards, Humphrey Astley on Bass and Tommy Longfellow on drums.

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What inspired the words and the sounds of the new album?
Our first album was pretty narrative in terms of its songwriting and pretty country-folk in terms of sound… we wanted the second album to be quite different in both regards. We aimed for a widescreen cinematic and fully studio sound and the songs whilst still being narrative in some regards are also more image based as well. Hopefully they allow the listener to paint pictures for themselves as they listen. 

The Epstein by SarahJayneDraws
The Epstein by Sarah Jayne Draws.

What can attendees expect of your album launch later this month?
We are playing album launches in Oxford on June 27th and London on June 30th and we are really excited about both shows… We have some great support coming from The Dreaming Spires, Co.Pilgrim, Empty White Circles and Jordan Oshea (2 support bands each night, not 4!) and we will be playing the whole album from first track to last with some great visuals to help create a magical atmosphere. Great venues, great music and some cool backdrops… what else could ask for?

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Why is Oxford such a hot bed of musical goings-on? Anything special that you can put a finger on?
Ever since I have been involved with music in the city there has been a constant week in week out scene. You can choose between 4-6 gigs a night almost every night of the year which is a pretty healthy amount of creative activity for what is a pretty small city… There are some great local music magazines, there are loads of festivals to get involved in and a huge student population who are a big part of it all too. On top of this you are really well situated if you do want to do gigs in London and other UK cities. Oxford had a rich heritage in great music when I got here 10 years ago – Radiohead and Ride are just two that spring to mind – and is so cool that in recent years newer bands have brought recognition back to the city. Foals and Stornoway are two recent acts who are known far and wide now, so I guess that all in all these elements combine to create a scene in the city where as a musician there are many opportunities to get your project in front of many interested people and hopefully further a field as well.

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It’s taken awhile to record this album. How did it take shape?
We started this album in a studio in north London, did sessions in Bremen, Germany and ended up doing a lot in Truck Studios, Oxford as well as various rooms in between. It involved many musicians and much planning and as a result took us quite some time to record let alone mix and master so that in brief paragraph explains the lengthy nature of the process… The end result is what we planned for at the start, I just dont think we thought it would take nearly as long as it did to get from that start to today where the album is all packaged and ready for people to take home with them.

What next for The Epstein?
A busy summer of shows here in the UK promoting Murmurations and also on the continent where the album is out on PIAS Records. It is great to be busy again and the band has never been better as a live unit so we have a lot to look forward to in the near future. In the autumn we will finish off the next record – which we have already started on – and baring in mind the experience with the making of the current recordings we are seriously aiming to be able to release another album early in 2014. Fingers crossed!

The Epstein release Mumurations with Zawinul/PIAS on 24th June 2013. They will celebrate with a launch party at St Albans Church in their home town of Oxford.

Categories ,Al Verey, ,Co-pilgrim, ,Empty White Circles, ,Humphrey Astley, ,Jon Berry, ,Jordan Oshea, ,Morning News, ,Murmurations, ,neonflower, ,Olly Wills, ,Pias Records, ,Rowland Prytherch, ,Sarah-Jayne Draws, ,Seb Reynolds, ,St Albans Church, ,The Dreaming Spires, ,The Epstein, ,Tommy Longfellow, ,Truck Studios, ,youdesignme, ,Zawinul/PIAS

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Amelia’s Magazine | Review: Truck Festival 2011

Truck Monster Illustration by Barb Royal

Dancing like a loon to jungle music at 3am. Sitting next to a cornfield in the evening sunshine with a succulent burger in one hand and a cider in the other. No, for sale wait, getting some love from the Truck Monster…. no; feeling the love as the most perfect album in the entire history of recorded music was recreated live on stage…. I’m trying to sift through my favourite moments at Truck festival 2011, and I could sit here ad infinitum without coming any closer.

The weekend of July 22-24th is one of Summer’s prime time slots in the festival calender – if this was the telly, it would be the 7.30pm Eastenders or Corrie dilemma, so Truck has always run the risk of being overlooked by the bigger beasts of the festival scene, yet it has diligently carved itself a niche amongst good people who love great music. If I were to try to give Truck a unique selling point, I would say that it’s like attending the worlds hippest village fete (but with no pretentious ‘tude). Example? Next to the stage that Transgressive, Heavenly Records and Bella Union were curating the line-up, the local Rotary Club were serving up cups of tea and scones. At this rate, I wouldn’t have been surprised had I been served tea by a ray-bans wearing vicar.

This year, I brought a good friend who had previously only been to one festival (Glasto), so I was excited to see what she made of something a lot more intimate. Joining us for an all-too brief time was Amelia and her lovely boyfriend Tim, who I last saw at Wood Festival. Sharing the same ethos as Wood (which isn’t hard; they are run by the same family), Truck is a resolutely inclusive, family-friendly festival. Babies and tiny tots are held in high regard here, and are given plenty of fun activities and places to play, which must be a godsend for parents.

Illustration by Benbo

Amelia captures her crew in the early evening sunshine.

Photographs by Amelia Gregory

I noticed that Truck had expanded a fair bit, there were additions of a theatre space, a comedy and cabaret tent, (which I regretfully say that I didn’t give enough attention to – next year I promise!), as well as Wood Field, which was a little slice of Wood festival, curated by the Oxford Folk Festival and providing lots of environmentally friendly activities and workshops (and music of course)

Most of my time was spent by the Clash Stage. This was the place where Transgressive, Heavenly and Bella Union took turns in curating the days set list. I considered myself in safe hands with these three labels; the triumvirate of the independent music scene. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the people behind this. Not least because they nail it again and again and again. Transgressive had kicked proceedings off on Friday with acts like Gaggle, Peggy Sue, Johnny Flynn and Graham Coxon. Gaggle are a force to be reckoned with; I first saw the 20+ piece all-female performance art choir about a year ago at The Lexington and was completely transfixed. They exemplify everything great about being a woman; strong, loud, dynamic and passionate (with killer headgear), I found this photograph of Gaggle posing in the field above Truck to give you a sense of their presence.

photo by Andrew Kendall

Saturday was Heavenly Records turn to take care of us. When I was first really getting into proper music – after my Five Star faze – Heavenly were one of the first cases where I was intrigued by the label as much as the artists. Right from the get go, Heavenly had its finger on the pulse of the dreamy halcyon days of early 90′s indie-pop, underground and all matter of slightly letfield music. And they provided one of the biggest and unexpected highlights for me on Saturday night – Edwyn Collins. First of all, I had no idea how many songs of his I knew without actually realising who had sung them; of course his biggest hit was “A Girl Like You“, and his days with Orange Juice produced the glorious “Rip It Up And Start Again“, but apparently I’ve been singing along to many more of his hits over the last few years. Live, his set was faultless; it was energetic and fun and the audience were loving every minute. It was about halfway in that I suddenly remembered reading that Edwyn had suffered two strokes a few years ago and could not marry up the idea of suffering something so debilitating with the man on stage who was giving us such a wonderful show. After the weekend I learnt that after a stroke, a persons ability to sing can sometimes remain unabated. I left the set in absolute awe of this mans ability and talent.

photo by Andrew Kendall

Tearing ourself away from the Clash Stage for a hot second, we headed over to the Main Stage to catch Gruff Rhys who delivered a brilliant performance. I had never managed to see the Super Furry Animals live, so I was really happy to watch Gruff entertain us. Sensations in the Dark is one of those perfect songs where every second packs a punch – and it’s great to dance to. (Which we did of course).

Gruff Rhys Illustration by Barb Royal

Late Saturday night and the bars kicked into full swing, such as Kidstock (pictured above), home to several sambuca shots which fortified Anshu and myself for our next pit-stop – the Boxford dance tent. My lovely and kind friend Toby Kidd was DJing old skool jungle in a two hour set that led me to discovering that I can actually dance to jungle. (I’m well aware that photos exist that will disprove this belief, I’m just not going to show them to you).

Photo by Ian Taylor
Sunday was a blazing hot day and I spent the first part of the early afternoon watching bands from a horizontal position, whilst letting the good people at the Rotary Club feed me a late breakfast. (Not literally at the same time, that would be too sybaritic – even for me). Bella Union’s set was possibly my favourite over all, I loved Cashier No.9, who opened proceedings and have been playing a lot on 6Music recently. I hadn’t heard of Lantern’s On The Lake, but I really enjoyed their set – it was a mix of loud, jangly guitar and etherial shoe-gaze. In fact Lanterns took shoe-gaze to its most literal level – I didn’t get to see the lead singers eyes – she and her guitar were pointed resolutely at the floor, lost in the wall of sound that she was creating.

Alessi’s Ark is a favourite of Amelia’s Magazine and its contributors so I was eager to see her set as well. She has a sweet delicate sound that reminds me a little of Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins, which is ironic seeing that the guitarists in the band founded Bella Union, the label that Alessi is signed to.

Alessi’s Ark Illustration by Barb Royal

While my friend went to chill out in the afternoon sunshine with a reflexology session, I made my way over to the Wood stage, where Rachael Dadd was performing songs from her new album Bite The Mountain. I’m feeling like a little bit of a Rachael groupie of late, having gone to both nights of her album launches, as well as watching the beautiful evening that she helped put on a few months ago to raise money for the Japanese tsunami appeal. So although I know most of her songs off by heart now, they still feel fresh with every listen.

Rachael Dadd Illustration by Tom Watson

The most epic part of the weekend took place on Sunday night. Over at the Main Stage, The Dreaming Spires were holding court. The band consists of Robin and Joe Bennett, the brothers behind Truck. Knowing these guys, I knew what they had up their sleeve after their blinding set, which made me very excited. So at 11pm, everyone rushed back to the Clash Tent, where alongside The Magic Numbers, Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou, and Sarah Cracknell of St Etienne, the band performed the entire album of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. From start to finish, every second was magical. The audience sang along for most of the songs, or danced furiously. Watching the album being performed live, it made me realise how sonically perfect Rumours is; the composition of each song is faultless. The songs were sometimes sung en masse, or the various bands would take it in turn to sing. Of course, it wouldn’t be Truck if the Truck Monster didn’t come on stage and dance behind the band, which added a suitably surreal touch to proceedings. It was one of those moments that can never be captured again, and I’m so glad that I got to experience such musical craftsmanship.
All of a sudden, the festival was over for me, as I had to rush home. My spies tell me that me that those who stayed danced late into the night (or early into the morning), drawing to a close a beloved festival that gets everything right.

Photograph by Ian Taylor

Some girls get all the luck. Photograph by Carolina Faruolo

Categories ,Alessi’s Ark, ,Bella Union, ,Cashier No.9, ,Clash, ,Cocteau Twins, ,Edwyn Collins, ,festivals, ,fleetwood mac, ,gaggle, ,Graham Coxon, ,Gruff Rhys, ,Heavenly Recordings, ,Johnny Flynn, ,Lanterns On The Lake, ,live, ,Orange Juice, ,Oxford, ,Oxford Folk Festival, ,Peggy Sue, ,Rachael Dadd, ,Rumours, ,Sarah Cracknell, ,St. Etienne, ,summer, ,Super Furry Animals, ,The Dreaming Spires, ,The Magic Numbers, ,Transgressive Records, ,Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou, ,Truck Festival, ,Truck Monster, ,Wood Festival

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