All posts by oliver@sxsc.org

THE RAILS plus guests, February 23

It would have been easy for The Rails to have picked up where they left off in the wake of their acclaimed 2014 album Fair Warning. And, had they done just that, who would have held it against them? Within months of its release, the debut set of songs by the duo comprised of Kami Thompson and James Walbourne had harvested myriad rave reviews and sundry other accolades, among them Mojo’s Folk Album of the Year award and the prize for Best Newcomer at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. But for a duo brought together by serendipity – they first met during sessions for an album by Kami’s mother Linda Thompson – there was never any doubt that the way forward was to stay open to the vagaries of chance and embrace new possibilities. Three years later, they’re back with an album that emphatically vindicates the pair’s restless curiosity.

Comprised of ten original compositions, Other People is a record rooted in change: both musical and circumstantial. For James, a ubiquitous presence on lead guitar for artists such as The Pretenders, Edwyn Collins and Ray Davies, it was time to inject a bit of voltage into the group he formed with Kami after they became an item in 2011. “With the first album,” explains Kami, “We decided to make a 70s sounding folk-rock record, but this time, we focused our energies on addressing what was happening around us.” In doing so, it became impossible to ignore the other changes that have swept through their immediate and wider environment. One of the earliest songs written for the record was The Cally. Both inspired by and written on the Caledonian Road, which connects Holloway to Kings Cross, the album’s reflective opening salvo took shape after James’ grandfather Sidney Walbourne told him about his drinking companions at The Cally pub, echoes of a pre-gentrified London in which the local boozer paid host to almost every kind of transaction imaginable. The song, which appeared fully formed in James’ head as he found himself walking along the eponymous thoroughfare, also served as a tender memorial to Sidney, who passed away soon after, aged 92.

In the wake of Sidney’s death, James and Kami found themselves pondering whether there was a place for them in the rapidly transforming city where James had spent all of his life. “Part of it was just working out if we could actually afford to live here any more, which is crazy, you know? But that was just a small symptom of a much bigger tragedy, that’s really heartbreaking.” It’s a tragedy the pair confront head on in Brick and Mortar, which sees James’ mourning the desecration of “old Soho”, in particular, Denmark Street, epicentre of the 60s beat boom and, for James, scene of many a teenage afternoon spent soaking up the ambience of its world-famous guitar shops. On the plaintive Leaving The Land – perhaps the most readily recognisable sonic link between The Rails’ first album and this one – Kami delivers one of her most affecting vocals to date. “In some ways, it’s a companion piece to Brick and Mortar,” she explains, “It’s one thing to see your favourite shops razed to the ground, but actually so much of what’s happening is tantamount to social cleansing. In Camden, you’re seeing entire estates pulled down and it’s not being replaced by social housing. It’s being replaced by luxury apartments.”

For James, the contradictions of this new era of austerity are confusing. “You’re surrounded by Keep Calm And Carry On imagery, which is somehow supposed to instil the idea that in tough times, people dig in and discover their sense of community. But sometimes, it’s hard to find evidence of that.” In trying to make sense of that contradiction, Kami and James found themselves writing the album’s title track, a cathartic sigh of exasperation which might just as easily be directed at tax-evading pop stars as the seated commuter too busy staring at his phone to notice the pregnant woman standing next to him. Here and elsewhere, The Rails’ second album is one which lays itself open to the stormy weather of life, be it when addressing the desultory self-justifications of an abusive husband in the broodingly poignant Dark Times, or the everyday ups and downs of James and Kami’s own relationship in Drowned In Blue.

“I think we both felt that the music had to complement what was happening in the words, this time around,” says James. “And that determined the way we were going to make this record.” Key to that process was finding the right producer. At the very top of James’ wish-list was Tennessee-based producer Ray Kennedy, who had impressed him with the “off-the-scale psychedelic country treatment” he meted out on Steve Earle’s benchmark 2000 album Transcendental Blues: “To my amazement, Ray said he’d be up for it. We travelled to his studio, knowing that we had seven days to nail it.” The pressure of the deadline audibly brought out the best in the players assembled to tease out Kami and James’ vision for the songs – a vision which they described to Kennedy as “folk-rock on steroids.” The synergy summoned by the players is abundant throughout Other People, be it Late Surrender, which seems to locate a perfect equidistant point between Roy Orbison and Lucinda Williams, or the yearning desolation of Kami’s vocal on Mansion Of Happiness.

“It was just a dream, really,” beams James. “Our drummer Cody Dickinson [North Mississippi Allstars, son of Big Star producer Jim Dickinson] worked with us on the first album, and we knew we wanted him back for this one. He’s the archetypal Southern gentleman – and y’know, whatever record you’re making, you know you’re gonna need someone who is incapable of being an arsehole!” Augmenting the line-up this time around was former Son Volt bassist and old friend Jim Boquist. With the core band in place, Ray Kennedy steered The Rails through a series of performances in which the only brief was to retain a sense of power, presence and intimacy.

Threaded throughout the whole thing, of course, are the psychically attuned harmonies that have become something of a calling card for Kami and James. In Kami, you can hear something of the lineage that she wears so lightly, in particular the same well of sublime world-weariness that her mother Linda Thompson plumbed both on her solo albums and her records with Richard Thompson. It’s a lineage most outside musicians might have been abashed about entering, but you only need to hear James play to realise that’s never been an issue. Described by Nick Hornby as “an unearthly cross between James Burton, Peter Green, and Richard Thompson”, Other People showcases some of James’s most inspired performances to date. “I think we were all just so relaxed,” he explains, “We wrote a lot before we entered the studio, so we knew the songs so well that it was just a matter of honouring the material.”

For both Kami and James, however, the real moment of payback comes when they get to take these songs on the road. “We’re both very excited about getting to play these songs with an actual band,” says Kami. “It’s just a matter of figuring out how that would work, because rehearsals alone are grounds for divorce, aren’t they?” James emits a rueful laugh. “We’re really quite horrible to each other! She’s like, ‘Just play the fucking chord, will you?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I will if you can just warm up your fucking voice!’ That’s another reason why it’s good to be touring with a band. They can prize us apart from each other if they need to.”

The Rails

DESLONDES at the Railway, January 28

After a successful and very fun mainland tour last month we’re very excited to announce a UK tour for January 2018. The Deslondes will promoting their critically acclaimed new album Hurry Home on this tour which included an appearance at the Celtic Connections festival. Find all tourdates at the bottom of this news piece.

The Deslondes follow up their impressive debut album with the equally fine Hurry Home. Less country inclined than its predecessor the album finds the band roaming through a variety of styles – swampy southern roots, 50’s rockabilly, and classic rhythm & blues which, with several members of the band singing lead on various songs gives the album a truly dynamic feel.

Hurry Home represents a sonic shift from the country-folk of their debut to a psychedelic, electrified soul sound, with a stronger emphasis on organ and electric guitar. The band split up songwriting and lead vocal duties among its five members, Sam Doores, Riley Downing, Dan Cutler, John James Tourville and Cameron Snyder, continuing its democratic ethos and musical versatility.

The album that emerged is Hurry Home. “It’s a fitting title for this album because our lives and our songwriting revolve around leaving and returning, or searching for, home,” says the band. “And home can be a physical place, a relationship, or a state of mind.”

Tickets: https://www.railwayinn.pub/show/deslondes/

ELLIOTT BROOD at the Railway, December 13

Elliott BROOD is a three-piece, folk-rock/alt-country band based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Their brand of fuzzed-up roots music makes for a captivating and frenetic live performance. That energy has always translates to the band’s five acclaimed records. Their style has been called everything from ‘blackgrass’ to ‘death country,’ but those descriptions don’t capture the transcendent heights of their unique approach to roots music.

Fall 2017 will see the band release their sixth full-length studio album Ghost Gardens via Paper Bag Records. The album title alludes to a phenomenon whereby the perennial gardens of houses and buildings having been abandoned or forgotten for years or even decades, continue to grow and reappear year after year, despite their original caretakers’ absence.

The road to Ghost Gardens began with the rediscovery of lost demo songs from early in the band’s career, nearly a decade and a half ago. The misplaced hard drive had long been forgotten in a garage sitting dormant in an old suitcase. The rediscovered recordings were demos and rough sketches of song lyrics and melody ideas. On Ghost Gardens, Elliott BROOD get to relive their past through a lens that is wiser both musically and lyrically.

In 2013, Elliott BROOD won a Juno Award for their World War One inspired album Days Into Years. Over the course of their career they have been nominated for a total of five Juno awards. In 2009 they were shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize and in 2012 the band found themselves nominated for a Genie Award for their original song “West End Sky” that was featured in the film Grown Up Movie Star.

Elliott BROOD are Mark Sasso, Casey Laforet and Stephen Pitkin.

Tickets: https://www.railwayinn.pub/show/elliot-brood/

NADINE KHOURI with special guest Jason McNiff in the Swiss Cottage, December 1

To order tickets, please go to the Swiss Cottage Sessions page.

Nadine Khouri is a musician and songwriter currently based in London. Her latest album ‘The Salted Air’ was produced by John Parish (PJ Harvey, This is the Kit) in his hometown of Bristol. Sparse & minimal in its arrangement, the resulting album is a haunting collection of poetic & atmospheric meditations on loss & transformation. Khouri’s singular voice soars above droning organ, pulsating shakers, and an occasional choir of male voices, creating a self-contained world, reminiscent of Stina Nordenstam & Mazzy Star in their heyday. Pumping harmoniums meld into reverb-drenched electric guitar, while Khouri’s languid voice offers a dream-like incantation set against a beating Moroccan tar on ‘Broken Star’. The album also features contributions from Irish singer-songwriter Adrian Crowley, French drummer Jean-Marc Butty (PJ Harvey, The Raincoats, Mick Harvey) and violinist Emma Smith (Seamus Fogarty, James Yorkston) among others.

Released in February 2017, ‘The Salted Air’ cemented Khouri’s one-to-watch status. It was hailed by MOJO as “A thing of dark possessed beauty” in their four-star album review, celebrated by Q (Feb 2017 Critics Choice) and selected as one of Rough Trade’s Albums of the Month (Jan 2017).

Acclaimed music photographer Steve Gullick (Nirvana, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) shot Khouri’s press photos and cover art. He also directed the video for ‘You Got A Fire’.

In the past year, Khouri has performed in some of London most prestigious venues with her band, including Union Chapel, Royal Festival Hall, Royal Academy of Arts, and has shared the stage with the likes of Howe Gelb, John Parish, Gemma Ray, Piers Faccini, Seamus Fogarty, and many more.

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Landing

Jesse Dayton Band at the Railway, November 1

Dayton’s pedigree is not only impressive, but varied, to say the least. He played all of the lead guitar on Waylon Jennings record Right For The Time and on Ray Prices’ record Prisoner of Love. He’s also recorded with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Johnny Bush and played live with Kris Kristofferson. Dayton played the lead parts alongside his personal hero Glen Campbell, right after Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His exploits are not solely within the country genre either, Dayton has jokingly declared onstage, “The Clash & X saved me from going to Foghat concerts!”   So it’s not surprising that he ended up playing guitar on the Supersuckers biggest selling record Must’ve Been High, which frontman Eddie Spaghetti admits was directly influenced by Dayton himself. Dayton ended up producing and playing all of the guitars on Eddie’s solo record, The Value of Nothing and also appears on the new Supersuckers record Get The Hell. After touring with Mike Ness from Social Distortion, then playing with punk icon John Doe from the band X, (the two appeared on David Letterman), Dayton got the call to play guitar for X on the bands entire North American Tour, filling in for Billy Zoom while he was in cancer treatment.

DREAM SYNDICATE at the 1865 in Southampton, November 2

“We have a new record coming out in September.

Yes, the first album by The Dream Syndicate since we released “Ghost Stories” back in 1988. It will be released on ANTI, one of the cooler labels out there.

What can we tell you about the new record?

Well, let’s see. It’s true to our history, a bounty of gifts for everyone who’s been there since the old days and yet unlike anything we ever did before. It’s a post-millennial existential screed that feels like RIGHT NOW and at the same time a timeless joyous thrill ride. It’s psychedelic, it’s rocking, it’s garage, it’s classic, it’s indie and it’s even a soul and jazz record in the most literal sense, a sonic and emotional journey to the deepest recesses of your mind. It’s what we do on stage and yet it’s brand new. Most of all, we dig it. A lot.”

Peter Bruntnell Trio featuring BJ Cole and Danny Williams, October 24

NME claimed that “Peter Bruntnell’s records should be taught in schools”, and if you ask the likes of Rumer, Peter Buck, Scott Mccaughey, Willy Vlautin, Jay Farrar, John Murry or Kathleen Edwards, they’ll all agree that Peter Bruntnell is a writer with rare and mysterious qualities. It’s interesting that American musicians are so seduced by such a uniquely British artist, and Peter has toured extensively with Son Volt, Kathleen Edwards and Richmond Fontaine.

Peter’s restless musical spirit has seen him strike out in new direction with almost every subsequent album. Four albums for Loose continued to win him admirers – by 2005, The Independent were calling him “one of the finest songwriters in Britain” and Richmond Fontaine’s front man Willy Vlautin called him his favourite singer – and 2016’s Nos Da Comrade has won plaudits worldwide.

This show is an acoustic trio featuring the legendary pedal steel player BJ Cole.

This year’s shows

We had a cluster of shows to kick off 2017 and they’ve been amazing. The Mastersons (2 shows, sold out), Karl Blau (a superb evening and a good crowd) and Chuck Prophet (words about the brilliance of this fail me). Then we had a birthday extravaganza with Ben Folke-Thomas and a humdinger with Hurray For The Riff Raff, before taking quite a lengthy break from Railway shows. Both Lewis and Leigh and Jonny Fritz sold out the Swiss Cottage. Now we are working away on the sc4m Festival for September 10. It’s never easy, but we are getting there!