My friend Jake Flowers has just popped a whopping 15 tracks on his Bandcamp.
They’re available to download as a set for just £3 – which is a bloomin’ bargain. The songs were recorded between 2007 and 2011 – but Jake is still recording and you can hear new materials and demos on his Soundcloud.
I first met Kal way back in my first year of study at the University of Birmingham. I caught the end of her amazing solo performance on the acoustic stage at Prichattsbury 2008 and pestered her for an interview on my meagre £20 dictaphone. Undeterred by my crappy equipment, Kal was more than happy to chat about her music.
Later that summer, covering Lounge on the Farm for BBC Kent, I heard my name called out by an Irish accent; Kal was playing the festival! We caught up and Kal dedicated her song, Disaster to me. To repay the favour, when I was called upon to co-host Myspace Mars Planets Radio with Alex Zane a month or so later, Disaster was the Myspace track I decided to play.
Roll on nearly three years later and I discovered that Kal was to support an Amazing Radio interviewee, Emily and the Woods, at a gig in Newcastle. Once again Kal dedicated Disaster to me, and as I watched her play I realised how far we’ve both come – Kal is steadily racking up a following during support gigs for Atlantic Records artist Ed Sheeran and has even recorded sessions for the likes of phenomenally successful youth broadcaster SBTV (who recently appeared fly-on-the-wall Channel 4 documentary that I provided the site support for).
Kal’s seminal number Disaster will always remain one of my favourite songs, not only for the memories it holds for me but because it perfectly encapsulates the gut-wrenching feelings of a relationship breaking down. No matter how many times Kal performs the song, it never looses its power – something wonderfully demonstrated by the album recording. (Trust me, the accapella moment towards the end of the song is simply stunning.) However, the song I think you should hear first from Kal’s repetoire is Downstairs, a track that introduces you to Kal’s signature mixture of pure longing, sadness and sexual tension.
The second act, Oaken Lee, is another act I have a personal connection with.The musical maestro behind Oaken Lee is Jake Flowers, someone I first saw perform at Birmingham’s Artsfest 2008.
I remember thinking how different Jake was from the other acts playing the Kerrang! stage, with his woolly pullover and acoustic guitar.
In my last year at Uni I got a call from someone seeking music for a charity event at Selly Oak’s Urban Village. I couldn’t get a full band together, but managed to convince my friend and guitarist James to come and play. Jake and his two bandmates were also playing and I remember thanking my lucky stars that James and his friends had convinced me to stay for the performance – it was captivating.
I feel rather honoured that Jake has had the good grace to keep in touch since I left Birmingham, and I jumped with joy went he sent me a copy of his new EP. The sound is ever so slightly lighter than his older recordings, with the occasional sample (in the style of ‘Pop Folk army’ Tunng’s thirties-style orators) and less amplified/electric instruments. It’s perfect for those wistful Summer moments and certainly requires sharing with a friend. (See, that’s how I think of you all now!) The Americana Acoustic numbers feature bass from Jake’s long-time friend and musical contributor, but feature less drums than on older releases, presumably free-ing up Jake to tour independently whilst still staying true to his on-record sound. He also experiments more lavish backing vocals, and revels in the quiet pauses he has total command over.
To see how Jake’s sound has developed, check out the original/Oaken Lee recording of One Summer Gone, one of my favourite tracks from the songwriter. The new version is less lo-fi, with more reliance on acoustic guitar and less on bluesy electric guitars/offbeat drums. The Oaken Lee rendition takes its time and allows one to ponder the terrific lyrics and reflect upon the idea that ‘this world was ours’.
The third and final artist is another who has changed his musical alias of late – and yes, I also have longer-term connections with him, this time being that my band Get Frank supported him as both a two-piece and six-piece back in Birmingham when he performed as Dan Smith.
Dan is now enjoying success as Bastille, with two of his anthemic, sequenced, synth-heavy numbers being featured in E4’s addictive reality series, Made in Chelsea. He commands the synth sounds like no other, making them sound fresh, modern and as foward-thinking as pop songs can be.
Unlike many other ‘artists bearing synths’, Dan’s voice is dexterous and warm. In his former pop life, he could justifiably be described as a male Regina Spektor, with flexible vocals and amazing piano lines. Any former fans fearing Dan’s transition to the programmable side have nothing to fear – Dan’s addition of more keyboards is a journey of progression rather than cynical cashing in. His work remains unique and relevant – and I ruddy love it.
As all of the acts featured on this post are unsigned, their recordings vary in quality. Therefore get ye to one of their gigs before you make a decision on whether you’d buy a properly produced LP. I’ve always felt very passionately about giving acts a chance in a live environment, as it tends to be more of a testament to their songs and musicianship. For example, many can get access to Garage Band, but not everyone has the money for Logic. When I watch a musician play their own music I know fairly early on into their set if I want to invest in their songs. I also feel cheated when I’ve heard a fabulously produced record, but been spectacularly disappointed with the act onstage. The only type of music I can think of that is not intended for live performance tends to be found in a lift, and last thing I heard, ‘elevator music’ was hardly up there with the greats…
So here are some acts I recommend investing in tickets and travel for. (By all means listen to their demos, but please don’t think of them as the finished product):
Jake Flowers– Bluesy, beautiful, delicate finger spun melodies with understated, sultry vocals courtesy of Shropshire born Flowers. Drums and bass give a welcome added kick whilst lyrics are effortlessly fascinating. Utterly charming, scarily talented.
If you like… Ryan Adams, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, Mumford and Sons …you’ll love this!
Brilliant Mind – Newcastle bunch who blast out Johnny Marr inflected guitar riffs combined with self depreciating Morrissey-style lyrics without turning into a Smiths pastiche (although I just made them sound like one.) Features divine contrapuntal layers of guitar and organ melodies. Incredibly charismatic as a live act.
If you like… The Smiths, Young Knives …You’ll love this!
Ever Since the Lake Caught Fire– Newcastle rock orchestra with trumpets, occasional female guest vocals, splatterings of saxophone and lashings of indie pop goodness. A force to be reckoned with when live and always a joy to behold.
If you like… The Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Modest Mouse …You’ll love this!
Holy Mammoth– Amazing Radio DJ Tom Cotton’s third favourite band (after Radiohead and The National.) A live act that bursts with onstage chemistry developed from years of friendship and experience from touring under different monikers.