Archive for March, 2013

LAU are taking Scottish folk to the music to the world. But their success is causing some consternation among the traditionalists in Scotland.

The Edinburgh-based three-piece add “loopheads, distortion and other electronic tools” to their core instruments of fiddle, accordian and guitar.

The trio of Aidan O’Rourke, Kris Drever and Martin Green have just played two sessions at WOMAD in New Plymouth, on New Zealand’s North Island, which followed their appearance at the same, global festival in Adelaide, South Australia.

Speaking before their first performance, O’Rourke said their style hasn’t always been welcomed, with various online forums describing their music as a betrayal of traditional music styles.

When we started what we are doing we knew some people would disagree and certainly there’s people who don’t like what we’re doing. And they make that clear online. But we expected that and we appreciate that some people want the traditional form to remain as it was in the 1960s and 70s.”

Green – from hails from Cambridge – says there is room for the purism of the long-established traditional artists such as Kenneth McKellar and Jim MacLeod.

None of us mind the traditionalists, we all have a great love and respect for tradition and you need a certain number of people that want to continue a certain idiomatic way of playing this music otherwise you’ll lose some of that style, so in a way we’re grateful there are people who aren’t doing what we are doing. What we’re doing suits the WOMAD festivals and other such events,” says the accordionist, who now lives in Pathhead, Lothian.

As an outsider I find the Scots extremely confident about their music and therefore free with what people are prepared for people to do what they want with it. There doesn’t appear to be a particularly preservationist society, it seems to be quite forward-thinking.”

Lau on the Shell Gables Stage (Craig Stephen)

Lau on the Shell Gables Stage (Craig Stephen)

Lau, who released their third album Race the Loser at the end of last year, have worked with Karine Polwart, and Cream’s Jack Bruce; have appeared on Later … with Jools Holland and performed at many diverse festivals in Britain and Europe. Their love of the tradition is matched by their inventiveness, and they focus on writing their own songs rather than play a series of standard Scottish folk songs and reels.

There’s a whole set of different things, I suppose songs that I write tend to have a humanist element but then Aiden uses landscape a lot as an inspiration,” says Orcadian Drever.

At WOMAD New Zealand their set list included the abrasive Save the Bees, containing a fairly obvious environmental message and Horizontigo, a song written by Green that explores his fear of mountains.

The first night sees Lau play to an audience that stretches from teenagers at the front to the Over 65s seating area tens of metres back. On the second night of WOMAD they find new friends, and an equally rapturous reception. They head to Japan in June, for their fifth visit to the country. Lau say the people there have no trouble understanding them.

The language thing doesn’t appear to be a barrier, not in the way that, say a Japanese artist signing in their own language might experience in the UK,” says Green.

People think our music is quite filmic so we don’t really need to explain what it’s about to the audience. They can make up their own minds,” adds O’Rourke.    

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World music is the final untapped form, the last genre to be fully developed and explored. There is no limits to its potential, with hitherto unknown musical forms from obscure corners just being discovered by the west, and the ability of traditional forms of music to be welded into other variants.
That can’t be said for what we regard, in our myopic western society, to be traditional genres – rock, hip-hop, indie, folk, punk, country, etc have all drained the well for so long there’s little to sustain it.
Which is part of the reason I have come to WOMAD in New Plymouth. The city, and the region around it, Taranaki, are not renowned for music of any denomination, but the people have warmed to this extravaganza since it was moved from Auckland a decade ago. WOMAD is a world-wide event, and had just come from Adelaide, but the New Zealand version remains distinctive, and this year features the Human Library where ‘readers’ borrow a book, ie a person, and leaf through their internal pages. Books on the shelves included an ex-street kid, a rape victim and a singer with Aspergers.
I will come back to day two, the busiest day for this writer, later, but will start this review, at what was effectively the end of the festival for me, on Sunday lunchtime, due to time constraints.
The Melbourne Ska Orchestra kicked off a rain-soaked afternoon on the main stage which is surrounded by a ‘moat’, that would certainly prevent anyone stage diving. I’m unsure quite what to make of the Orchestra, which comprises at least 24 people on stage at one time. They went down a storm the previous evening and they’re equally popular on Sunday afternoon, with a version of ska that owes more to My Boy Lollipop (which they played) than to Ghost Town. Lead singer/ conductor Nicky Bomba says the band were brought up on the ska revival of The Beat, Madness, The Selecter and, most of all, The Specials, before they launch into Rudi, A Message To You.
All of those bands were heavily political drawing on experiences, both of their own and of the young people in Britain at the time, of unemployment, racism, social tension  and the rise of Thatcherism. The Specials’ Ghost Town is one of the most potent protest songs ever, on the devastating impacts of such monetarist policies. None of that has rubbed off on the orchestra which prefer to be a fun-packed band, the kind you could hire for a wedding.


The Melbourne Ska Orchestra (Craig Stephen)

The rain of the final day was in contrast with the sunshine the large crowds enjoyed on the previous day. Porky’s day began with Nici d’Arac on the main stage. They were mainly dressed in black and, although singing in Italian, gave the impression of being a folk version of Radiohead. I was taken more by VulgarGrad, a Melbourne band doing a very good impression of Russian thieves, and playing some excellent Eastern European style music.
WOMAD is a festival in which it is quite feasible to turn up a few songs in and still get near the stage but that didn’t apply to those performing, or talking, at the Pinetum stage. Due to being elsewhere at the start of Sam Hunt’s show I was unable to get to the start of his performance, and was left trying in vain to listen to his recitals, not even at the back of the crowd, but beyond it. Alas I had to give up, but from what I did catch, this veteran was very much on form.
Often it is the performances you stumble on that are the most pleasing. A brochure can’t always describe an artist fully, and this was the case for Grace Barbe, an artist I was left unsure about from the festival notes. But when I came round the corner to the Shell Gables Stage I heard a glorious fusion of African and Caribbean melodies that reminded me of a Zouk album I bought in 1987 that contained fantastic sounds from mainly Francophone Caribbean islands. Equally, there are artists hyped to the heavens you feel obliged to see, but I didn’t stay long for Salif Keita. While I very much appreciate African music my head has never been able to comprehend the particular sounds of Mali, though this is not clearly a problem thousands of other festival goers had. The feedback from other attendees was that he was brilliant and I trust their judgement.
* If you have a WOMAD festival experience, from any year or location, please tell us about in the comments box.
Keep watching this blog for my interviews with Lau, and Norwegian/ Sami singer Marie Boinee.

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How to describe WOMAD to an alien, or someone from Porirua? It is nothing quite like any festival I have been to before. For a start there are few of the po-faced Indie diehards, the nothing-but-rock and-steak-burgers tough nuts or the students too stoned to notice any of the acts.

There are, however, an endless trail of packs of teenage girls, some of whose members regularly break out and hug a boy, and packs of teenage boys waiting for those girls to lunge at them. Then there’s the tie-dye, grey-haired brigade with their ‘you’re only as young as you feel’ attitude and total inability to dance. But there’s little inbetween, the late teens, and 20 and 30-somethings are generally few on the ground. I guess they’re getting ready for St Patrick’s Day which falls on the third and final day of WOMAD.

Those people are often families allowing their six-year-olds the opportunity to hear Kiwi bard Sam Hunt swear profusely. Anyone over 28 comes prepared: blanket, foldable chairs, umbrellas, raincoats, an extra layer of clothing, packed lunch, flasks, wipes, bags for recycling and bottles of water. The teenagers come armed with an iPhone.

As for the music, I wouldn’t imagine the local schoolkids listening to Japanese classical music or Tibetan monks at home, but some of the music will rub off I’m sure. I am hoping that one act, The Alaev Family, receive some deserved attention. They contain three generations of the same clan, including their 80-year-old grandfather and mentor, who certainly isn’t here for a novelty piece, as he can fairly sing. Starting with three of the family banging the drums, they soon expand to seven though you get the impression they would be happy to accommodate many more musicians. Imagine gypsy/ Meditteranean music played by whirling dervishes for close to an hour and you get a picture of the Alaev Family on stage.

My wish seems to be partly fulfilled as the Taranaki Daily News’ front page on the Saturday is entirely taken up by Ariel Aliev banging the drums.

The other act I catch that evening is Lau, a Scottish three-piece, who I will feature on these pages in the near future. This is the chillout piece following our friends from Tajikistan though they can fairly pummel those instruments – guitar, accordion and fiddle. Save The Bees is a robust campaign to see the beemakers. Tosca is an electric instrument and Martin Green gives a warm-hearted introduction to Horizontigo, about his fear of mountains, coming from the flatlands of East Anglia.

Lau play largely their own material but have space for a rendition of Lal Waterson’s Midnight Feast.

Keep checking this site for a review of the second day and first part of the third.

Lau on the Shell Gables Stage (Craig Haggis)

Lau on the Shell Gables Stage (Craig Haggis)

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Those good people at Powertool Records deserve an Outward Bound badge without doing the course for their tireless promotion of all things Kiwi and obscure in this dismal climate for independent record labels.
The latest release out of New Lynn in Auckland is by Transcendental Learning Collective. With that name I guess I won’t be telling you anything new by describing them as guitar-heavy psychedelic noiseniks in the same vein as Suicide, HDU, and perhaps even Spacemen 3. You will have a picture of TLCmultiple guitars, maximum repetition and minimalist vocals. Just what your local DJ, bored of Rihanna and Lady Gaga, is looking for. There’s only five tracks on their debut Shift, and the first one is eight minutes long. There’s a touch of dub as well to alleviate any suggestion it’s one never-ending cacophony of anti-rhythm. I’m pleased to say it’s also quite excellent, and best played in the car with your windows open while stuck in a traffic jam as a boy racer and a National Party voter sidle alongside in the other lanes.

Powertool records labelmates Gold Medal Famous did a tour of New Zealand tunnels with various other acts, one of which had the ‘hilarious’ moniker The Josef Fritzl Family Jamboree, at the enmd of last year to unleash their second album 100% Pure.
It is a curious beast, swinging from electro lo-fi to lo-fi electro, with slices of goth-rock and experimentalism. Its title is a celebration, if you will, of the now infamous tourist slogan that became a liability, basically on account of the fact that claiming New Zealand is pure, clean and green is a fantasy as anyone who has been told they can’t swim in a river because their genitals will swell up will concur.
100% Pure begins promisingly with the near-singalong Never Get Bored and the theremin-driven We Have Contempt For You, but The Buried Life is so tedious and ear-prodding that I’m tempted to book a holiday to Hawera as part of my escape. If there is anything positive to say about this drone it is that it sets up Everyone Hates Boy Racers quite neatly. It’s true, everyone does hate, nay despise, boy racers, even boy racers themselves, partly because they’re having fun. “Slow down you cunts/ I’ll kick you in the nuts,” is an opening line so good I would fully expect Morrissey to steal it. As standouts go this is pretty excellent, but it’s usurped by I See You At The Point, which easily matches anything by Bowie tribute acts like Suede and Moby have done. It’s a strange mix of unlistenable dirges and great pop tracks, and I can’t help but think that band ‘daddy’ Vorn Coglan has done better, and quirkier, stuff on his solo albums.
Gold Medal Famous AND Vorn album reviews here https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/lowdown-on-the-new-32-pure-s-c-u-m/



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The organisers of WOMAD have an ear for some truly invigorating music from the four corners, and an act I am particularly delighted to see playing in New Plymouth this year is Lau. It is rare, but not entirely unknown, for Scottish artists to make a breakthrough beyond Berwick-on-Tweed, a perplexing conundrum that doesn’t seem to afflict indigenous acts, or those who claim to be, from the island to the left of Scotland. It is largely to do with commercialism of course and a generic bag of positivity and melancholy isn’t to everyone’s taste.

But Lau seem to bucking the trend. They are a three-piece from northern Scotland, comprising Kris Drever, Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke, who have so far released three studio albums and a live album. They are named, not as might think after Andy Lau, the Hong Kong singer and actor, but from the Orcadian word meaning ‘natural light’.

I recently saw them on BBC’s Later with … Jools Holland, where they shone among a group of never-wills with their tribute-band brand format. Great bands make fine albums but sound even better playing live, and Lau were intriguing and adventurous despite just the standard two songs being aired, playing a style that mixes traditional influences with virtuoso musicianship, improvisational skills and a sense of the unexpected. Find your Celtic roots by all means but Lau have broader appeal.


Much of the attention this year is likely to fall on reggae legend, Jimmy Cliff, Mali’s Salif Keita and South Africa’s Hugh Masekala, among other heavyweights of the ‘traditional’ music world like The Correspondents, Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch, Peru’s Novalima and our own Fly My Pretties.

Personally I’d be inclined to skip where the hordes are heading and find someone you won’t hear being played in a bar in Coroglen. Such as Nidi d’Arac, a quartet bringing a new perspective to southern Italian folk music. “We simply interpret the Meditteranean traditions for how young Italians living in metropolitan realities perceive the culture now”, says singer Alessandro Copolla.

I’d also recommend Newtown Rock Steady from the esoteric suburn of the same name in Wellington, Aoteoroa. With a line-up of 89 people, give or take a dozen either way, the stage is gonna get mighty crowded. Their name doesn’t lie, they do play rocksteady, and if you don’t know what that is, why are you reading this column. And, finally, time should be afforded for Mari Boine, from what most folk know as Lappland, but the locals prefer to be known as the Sami people, a group that transcends borders in the freezing, inhospitable regions of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. Boine is a pioneer, in the sense that she explored her own culture, a culture that had been kicked under the table for decades. Now, far from being oppressed, Boine’s appearance comes with the support of both the Finnish and Norwegian governments.

* Womad takes place in new Plymouth, Tarankai, March 15-17, go to  http://www.taft.co.nz/womad/tickets.html?gclid=CLmhofCS3bUCFcgdpQodhw0AHg for line-up details and ticket info.

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