Thursday, March 17, 2016

Coventry singer songwriter Cliff Hands gets ready to launch new album

Pete Clemons with another Coventry Telegraph article - 

Coventry singer songwriter Cliff Hands gets ready to launch new album

Pete Clemons details the rise of a fantastic and much-loved local artist

One of the most eagerly anticipated CD releases of 2016, for me at least, is that by Coventry troubadour Cliff Hands. And for Cliff, who is much admired by fellow musicians and music lovers alike, this will be his third album release.

Being first made aware of the album toward the end of 2014 it was actually my most eagerly awaited release of 2015 but, as you will see, aligning everything together for a project like this is no easy task, particularly when you are part time musicians.

But, align everything they did and the completed product is upon us. The album is titled ‘Two Inch Down to Dust’ and I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that this particular set of songs, have hit the mark in terms of quality and craftsmanship that has surprised me. This release is nothing short of sensational.

Whenever I have had the chance to talk to Cliff he always seems to come across as a very pleasant and unassuming sort of guy. But this is in complete contrast to his songs which can carry quite a sting.

Cliff is also incredibly modest about his past recording achievements which I personally have held in high regard. But I have always felt that his songs are worthy of far greater recognition than just the Coventry’s circuit for singer songwriters. Not that there is anything wrong with the Coventry circuit. Far from it, but I am sure a wider audience will relate with this release.

For this album Cliff plays acoustic guitar and occasional mouth harp. He has also enlisted the talents of David Sanders on lead guitar, Wes Finch on bass, and Gee Vaughan on drums. Timely contributions have also been added by Hazel Stalker on piano and Bradley Blackwell on upright bass. And each of these musicians has complimented the songs by adding sensitivity or an edge where required, light or dark where necessary. And all are understandably and rightly proud of what has been achieved here.
Kristy Gallacher and Cliff Hands

Cliff’s lyrics are, I would describe as, observational. He creates songs about instances where some of us quite often would turn a blind eye to. They can also incredibly witty and thought provoking. And probably down to their sheer honesty they can also create a sharp intake of breath. His songs, for me at least, instantly conjure up images and paint pictures.

Like many musicians nowadays, Cliff is a ‘spare time’ musician. It is not his day job and neither is it a major source of income. I believe that they call it a ‘labour of love’. By day Cliff is a carpenter and I guess is he in contact with all manner of folk. Just maybe, it is that contact which sharpens his senses and puts life into perspective for him and from where he is able to channel his thoughts into his songs and music.

Cliff released his debut album ‘Crawling from the Woodwork’ during 2008. It was a completely solo work. At that time he was quoted as saying the following "Most of the songs on the album have been written over the previous two years, although one or two are a bit older than that. Although I have been busy with work and family commitments, I never gave up playing and would always be strumming and writing. But then a couple of years ago I stumbled across the Tin Angel live music venue in Spon Street and the people I met there inspired me to start up seriously again’’.

For his second album ‘Street Shanties’, released in 2012, Cliff attempted to enhance his songs and take them to another level.

So for that album he introduced the talents of guitarists such as Al Britten and David Sanders. These guys are far from strangers to Cliff as previously they had performed together as ‘The Dead Lily’s’.

A good melody is all important to Cliff. And you can hardly criticise him for being a lazy writer as he stretches the dictionary to its full extent with each word of his lyrics seeming to count.
My personal take is that the album does not overtly fall into any genre. Yet it is tinged with folk, country and rock styles. The songs on ‘Two Inch Down to Dust’ were not all new to the project. One track, for example, titled ‘Number Plates’ has certainly been around for a while. In fact I was fully expecting to see it appear on Cliff’s second album ‘Street Shanties’. But it simply did not fit the flavour of that album.

For those who have seen Cliff play live then they may be familiar with one or two of the tunes but they have developed significantly over time. And now, and with the added textures from the backing band, those particular songs sound really wonderful.

The album, which is littered with references to Coventry, was recorded in two locations. These were The Tin Angel studios at the Canal Basin and over in Stratford. But because of work and family commitments getting everyone together has been a real challenge. And as such, the album took two years to put together and complete.Cliff is particularly keen to acknowledge the talents of Ian Whitehead who recorded and mixed the album and also to Paul Sampson who mastered it.

Great care and a good deal of thought has also been taken with the albums overall packaging. A photo shoot was arranged on location at the Cat in the Hat curiosity shop on the London Road who kindly let Cliff and the band loose within their premises.

And credit is due to Gee Vaughan for the resulting sleeve and photos and Al Britten for its artwork.

The release of ‘Two Inch Down to Dust’ is being ushered in by way of a launch night at The Maudsley Pub on the Allesley Old Road on Saturday 2nd April. In addition to Cliff and the band the line-up for the evening is completed by the wonderful talents of The Moonbears and Kristy Gallacher.

To book tickets, click here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Caravan to roll back the years with West Midlands performance this March

Another by Pete Clemons for the Coventry Telegraph - 

Caravan to roll back the years with West Midlands performance this March

by Pete Clemons


Caravan are a UK band formed in Canterbury during the second half of the 1960s and who initially comprised of Pye Hastings on guitar and vocals, Richard Coughlan on drums, Dave Sinclair on Hammond Organ and Dave’s cousin Richard Sinclair on bass and vocals.

They were also augmented by Pye’s elder brother Jimmy Hastings who added to the bands overall sound immensely by way of alto sax and flute.

In fact the roots of Caravan can be traced back to a band called The Wilde Flowers.

And it was from the base point of the Wilde flowers that, in addition to Caravan, a host of other bands and artists such as The Soft Machine, Kevin Ayres, and Robert Wyatt first came to prominence.

Caravan are best recognized as being one of a number of bands from the Canterbury area who, at the time they first formed, wanted to write more than just two minute beat and r ‘n’ b songs.

And creating this band was a means of cutting loose and writing a unique style of original music.

It all started brightly enough for Caravan, in terms of album releases, as the band’s first two LP’s were showered with glowing reviews.

But it could have, so easily, all ended in tragedy during an early gig at the Marquee, London in 1969.

As once described by Richard Sinclair: "Pye came up to grab hold of the microphone and say "Hello!". All that came out to about 500 very damp and sweaty people was "Hellll!" He didn’t get the "lo" out. He fell backwards into the drum kit in a shower of sparks, like the biggest light bulb you’ve ever seen."

As for playing in the Coventry and Warwickshire area I have dates of Caravan playing in Nuneaton as far back as 1970.

Their most recent appearance was at the Coventry Jazz Festival of the August bank holiday Monday of 2004 where they performed in Castle Yard in the shadow of the old cathedral.

There were many other visits by the band in between those years.

Caravan were quite wonderful musicians and equally adept as writers but the band members individual music tastes and growing ambitions, ranging from rock and jazz and through to the incredibly ambitious, would at times collide and this would lead to constant change.

And this, I guess, is what happened to Caravan during a tumultuous period after the release of the ever popular third album ‘In the Land of Grey and Pink’ during 1971.

First Dave Sinclair left and then shortly after the bands next album, ‘Waterloo Lily’, both Richard Sinclair and Steve Miller – Dave Sinclair’s replacement - had gone.

Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan rebuilt the band and took Caravan in a new direction.

The line-up expanded to a five piece and included Geoffrey Richardson on viola as well as the returning Dave Sinclair.

(Dave Sinclair would actually dip in and out of the band over the next 30 years adding that certain uniqueness to the overall sound).

So grand and melodic was Caravan’s music that it always gave the impression that it was created to be accompanied by an orchestra.

And so it was to be as this very thing happened on 28th October 1973 when Caravan shared the stage with The New Symphonia Orchestra at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London.

But the theme had been set for the remainder of the 1970s and early 1980s. Good solid musicians passing through the ranks producing a succession of equally impressive albums.

With each of the albums contained a diverse and varied range of songs that carried light and dreamy lyrics along with a spattering of humour.

Unusually though, Caravan’s 1982 release ‘Back to Front’, did just that. It reverted to a four piece but more than that.

It saw a reunion of the original foursome who created those first three ‘classic’ albums.

By that time each of the band members had ‘day jobs’ and apart from the odd gig, during the 1980s, Caravan appeared to have ceased as a band.

That was, however, until 1990 when Caravan, along with several other bands from the 1970s, were asked to appear for a forthcoming TV series called Bedrock.

The live recording took place at the Central TV Studios, Nottingham.

The only stipulation for this particular gig was that it had to be the classic line up of each of the bands who were to appear (as described in the very first paragraph above).

The success of that reunion led to a succession of further sold out gigs and then followed another period of quiet until 1995 when Caravan would resurface once more with a new album called ‘The Battle of Hastings’.

By now Jim Leverton had been recruited on bass as Richard Sinclair had moved on to his ‘Going Going’ / ‘Caravan of Dreams’ projects. Geoffrey Richardson had also returned to the fold.

There then came a quite delightful album titled ‘All Over You’. This was essentially ‘a delve into the archives’ which, in turn, produced an album of mainly acoustic re-workings of familiar tunes from the Caravan back catalogue.

Between 1996 and 2007 Caravan included lead guitarist Doug Boyle. This addition had a profound impact on the music in as much that spectacular guitar solos were added to the mix that, in turn, brought a whole new dimension to familiar old tunes.

A follow up to ‘All Over You’ titled ‘All Over You Too’ appeared in 1999. Again it raided the archives but this time, with Doug Boyle featuring, the songs were freshened up but had a more edgy feel to them.

In addition to some quite memorable gigs this period also saw the release of another new studio album during 2003 which was titled ‘The Unauthorised Breakfast Item’.

And still today Caravan continue as an active band, albeit sporadically as there have been quiet periods over the last 10-15 years. 2005 saw the beginning of health issues for drummer Richard Coughlan that had an effect on his drumming.

A new drummer, Mark Walker, joined the band in December 2010 although Richard still performed alongside on percussion.

Sadly, Richard Coughlan passed away during December 2013.

Pye Hastings said at the time: "Richard was a fine musician and will forever be remembered, not least by us, but by the fans all around the world."

2013, however, also saw Caravan at work on a new album which was sponsored through ‘crowd funding’.

That album’ titled ‘Paradise Filter’ was released early 2014. And a short tour was put together to support it. And yet another of, the nowadays, very occasional Caravan gigs appears in the region during early 2016.

Frustratingly, although they were reasonably popular, Caravan never quite gained the recognition that I felt the band so richly deserved.

Although they did have their moments some forty years ago when, arguably, they were up there with the very best that was around at that time.

The current line-up is Pye Hastings still on guitar and vocals, Geoffrey Richardson on guitar and viola, Jan Schelhaas on keyboards (Jan had been with Caravan during the mid 70s and rejoined the band during 2002), Jim Leverton on bass and Mark Walker on drums will be appearing at the Artrix, Bromsgrove during March.

St. Patrick Goes to The Punjab in Albany Theatre event

Not one by Pete Clemons this time but a link he sent me by James Rodger that's relevant here and from the Coventry Telegraph.

St. Patrick Goes to The Punjab in Albany Theatre event

The Albany Theatre


Two of Coventry’s longest established communities celebrate each other’s culture in a spectacular evening of music and dance on March 19 at the city's Albany Theatre.

The project is the brainchild of Joe O’Donnell, one of Coventry’s finest Celtic musicians and a resident of the City for 20 years.

Joe has a lifelong interest in Indian music and its likely influence on European music, including Celtic music, not least of all his own.

Joe has assembled a talented array of Coventry’s musicians and dancers to explore this rich cultural association.

They will combine traditional and new material, much of which will be seen and heard for the first time.

The artists involved are folk group Comhaltas, seniors from the McHugh Irish Dancing School, Uillean Piper Aiden O’Brien, Asian dancer Sabrina, and Fine Lines featuring tabla player Juggy Rihal, voted Best Musician in the Bhangra Music Awards 2015.

Topping the bill is Joe O’Donnell’s Shkayla, the powerhouse quintet that also features Si Hayden on guitar. Especially for this event the band will perform some of Joe’s celebrated but seldom-heard album ‘Gaodhal’s Vision’.

The original recording featured Ireland’s greatest blues and rock guitarist Rory Gallagher, with whom Joe worked extensively in the 1970s.

The event is being promoted in partnership with Coventry Irish Society.

The Society has recently expanded its remit into supporting Irish artistic activity in order to increase awareness and develop links within the wider community.

Tickets are on sale at The Albany Theatre box office, price £12 (with concessions).

Book tickets here.