The 2017 WOMAD Awards

IMG_9563Another year later and I’m once again nursing an epic hangover from a wonderful three days at WOMAD in New Plymouth. This year we had the most stunning weather imaginable, the mountain was out in full glory, the flags were glistening in the sunshine and the people were kicking off their shoes and embracing bare feet as a cool-down method. The Bowl of Brooklands was looking its finest, and the music, food and dance that filled it was certainly world class, here are my picks:

The crowd favourite award:

This has to go to UK ska superstars The Specials. Their energetic set to close out Friday night was just what the doctor ordered. They had the bowl stage packed in and everyone was up on their feet dancing away as they charged through a hit filled set. Songs like Message To You Rudy and Ghost Town were echoing in my head for hours after they left the stage, only complaint – an hour set wasn’t long enough!

The unforgettable award:

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The Soil, an acapella trio from South Africa, blew me away. I am lost for words when I think back to their closing set on the Dell stage on Sunday night, it was the perfect performance to finish the festival on. This trio have voices like I’d never heard before and their ‘kasi soul’ sound is modern but traditional at the same time. It was simply magical to listen to under the trees and stars and beside a shimmering lake. I’ll never forget their show and that feeling.

The stage presence award:

Mali dance music hero Inna Modja had the most compelling stage presence. I couldn’t take my eyes of her! She moved with grace and funk, sang each note perfectly, told stories with pride and passion and generally just had me as putty in her hands.

The best dance party award:

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New Orleans jazz-hip hoppers the Hot 8 Brass Band had the crowd at the Gables Stage on Sunday dancing like mad things with their funky blend of genres. They had a contagiousness to their performance and I had a stupid grin plastered on my face as me and friends bogeyed the set away. Their musicianship was outstanding, to have so much talent on one stage is pretty darn impressive. Special mention to the trumpet player who regularly gave me chills as he hit such high notes so effortlessly.

The wow factor award:

Marlon Williams, our kiwi folk prodigy, ditched the dingy bar concert venues to take on the mighty Bowl of Brooklands and he did it superbly. He and his talented band the Yarrabenders, had the huge crowd overwhelmed in various fashions throughout his show. I was close to tears numerous times and kept gushing over how long he could hold a note for. I loved being up stomping my feet in a mad dash to keep up with the fast moving guitar before sitting back by the lake front to sway side to side in a mesmerised daze.

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The unexpected delight award:

Sitting down on a sunny Sunday afternoon to watch some of New Zealand’s best dancers on stage was a true privilege. The New Zealand Dance Company had the crowd captivated and were the talk of the festival for their stunning perfourmance of Brouhaha. I’m no dance expert but I loved it and didn’t want it to finish! Great to see the D put back in WOMAD.

Song of the Week – 3WW

3WW – alt-J

English indie group alt-J’s new track is dreamy. 3WW is a slow-building mesmeriser. Whatever you do upon first listen, don’t cut it off early, keep going right till the end and it won’t disappoint.

3WW features a more gentle melody than their previous works, it’s lullaby-like for much of the song. But don’t you worry -the alt-J trademarks still shine through loud and clear, they just have new twists. For example – a woman’s vocals (Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell) adds a refreshing new element to the quirky male vocals we’ve come to love from lead singer Joe Newman.

I must say, I’m a big fan of all their old work, but I love being able to follow the lyrics in this song more clearly than in previous tunes. Captivating poetry shines through:

“There was a wayward lad
Stepped out one morning
The ground to be his bed
The sky his awning”

The song has mellow use of synth and soft drum beats throughout but cleverly inserts bursts of crescendo which take the song from being a cafe style easy-listener to a well-thought out and cleverly crafted single.

This is the first track off the bands upcoming album Relaxer. It reflects the album name as it is a more subdued style song for the group but I think it’s an interesting new direction and I can’t wait to hear more.

Song of the Week – Barcelona

Barcelona – Ed Sheeran

Ed is back with better material than ever with his new album Divide. He’s tried to take on a different sound in every track on this record and it sure makes for fun and surprising listening!

My favourite track from my first couple of listens is jazzy tune Barcelona. This song just makes me grin – right now I’m on the train listening to it and I’m having to work hard to stop my feet tapping and my shoulders jiggling in time with the bouncy and fun-loving track.

If you’re looking for a song to ensure you feel happy, make you want to dance and unable to not singalong then this is it! Pure happiness for three minutes!!

Song the Week – Big Picture

Big Picture – London Grammar

English alt-pop group London Grammar are back with a vengeance with new track Big Picture, an epic ballad with a modern electro sound. In shades of their previous works it is a true builder – with every line sung the melody layered beneath grows and grows to great effect.

It’s hard not to sit up and listen when you hear Hannah Reid’s insane voice! This woman has such a unique sound and can show off the most impressive range, but the control she has of her instrument is the icing on the cake. Throughout Big Picture she changes the tempo and the feeling of the track regularly, her voice holds the power. The best part – the rest of the band (Dan Rothman and Dominic Major), know this. For that reason the bases to the songs aren’t overpowering but instead shadow Reid and move in her direction. It works beautifully and helps to make their music so powerful.

Big Picture is just a small taste of what’s to come on London Grammar’s new album and now I’m bloody excited.

Song of the Week – Shine Like the Sun

Shine Like the Sun – Thomas Oliver

I have been waiting for the release of this song for months and months now! I first heard it during Pass The Gat performances at the Taranaki Arts Festival and WOMAD. Played acoustically live it brought tears to my eyes – and now the released version has had the same affect.

Thomas Oliver is a super talented Kiwi musician with an array of talents and this first taste from his album due out in April (and paid for all by crowd funding) is a sign he’s perfected his true sound as a solo artist.

He first burst into the scene years ago with the Thomas Oliver Band who played a foot stomping style of folk music. Following that he showcased his incredible weissenborn playing skills on Beneath the Weissenborn.

Both of these sounds were fantastic and much loved by the people who discovered them, but Shine Like the Sun is more mature and accessible for listeners. The blues style riffs add some grunt to the gentle track, his falsetto shines in the chorus, and those lyrics? Romantic as hell!

I think Oliver is onto a winner with this touching ballad.

Three hip hop albums you’re stupid not to be listening to:

I keep going to write a blog for a song of the week but over the last couple of months I just can’t chose one, because I have too many options!

So I’ve decided to write this post instead, because three hip hop albums have been dominating my listening as of late. I’m sure many of you are already fans of at least one of these artists, but if you’re not – it’s time you chucked these talented musicians on your playlist.

  1. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

The third studio album from Childish Gambino (Real name Donald Glover – also an actor who plays my favourite character in TV sitcom Community), Awaken, My Love!, has a more soulful style than his previous works. The artist has moved on from a rap focus and embraced his voice. I liked the old stuff, but this I love!! Each song has a funky base line and melody but the vocals are jazzed up in each different track too – it’s amazing what this man can do with his voice. Must listen tracks are Redbone, California and Stand Tall.

  1. Anderson .Paak – Malibu

This California man, born Brandon Paak Anderson, initally started producing music under the name Breezey Lovejoy – I’m glad he reverted to his current moniker. I never knew of Breezey’s work but thanks to the album Malibu, I’ll never forget Anderson .Paak. This is one hell of a record from the groover, its GRAMMY nomination for best urban contemporary album is testament to that. Each track on this album is upbeat and catchy, a smooth mix of soulful vocals and light rap makes for easy listening, but if you want to delve deeper into the tracks there is a lot to them. This is a record you won’t tire of quickly – having 16 songs on offer also helps on that front- impressive! The Bird, Put Me Thru, Celebrate and Am I Wrong are the stand outs for me.

  1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

He just smashed it at the GRAMMYs – he snapped up the best new artist prize as well as best rap album, and that’s a mean feat for an artist who only released his album via streaming. What a step forward for the music industry! But the reason Chance won is because he’s brilliant. With shades of Common and Kendrick Lamar, anyone who didn’t know of him before the GRAMMYs will certainly be a fan after seeing his compelling performance. I couldn’t take my eyes of the screen and have been watching it on repeat. Coloring Book, featuring an impressive array of collaborators such as Justin Bieber, Anderson .Paak and Kanye West, makes for compelling listening and I keep going back for more. His gospel take on rap music is powerful as heck but also funky as hell. Give it a crack and start with tracks No Problem, All We Got, Blessings, Same Drugs.

Concert Review: James Taylor

How sweet it is, to be a crowd member at a James Taylor concert.

Last night I headed along with other picnic basket carrying fans and settled in on the grass in the glorious Napier sunshine for a stunning night at Church Road Winery. What a setting! You couldn’t ask for a much dreamier spot or day to hear the dulcet tones of this American music superstar.

I don’t say superstar lightly, he is one of the most humble and gracious performers I’ve ever witnessed, yet he still has this insane star quality. We were mesmerised by his passionate storytelling and loved the pride with which he introduced each band member and rattled off their talents (of which I can confirm they had many –what an outstanding array of artists!).

Songs took on new meaning as they were preceded with tales of encounters with the Beatles and song swapping sessions with Carole King. Taylor acknowledged that the first time he played You’ve Got a Friend he never imagined he’d end up playing it every day for the rest of his life – but he was quick to say that that was in no way a bad thing! Amen to that – what a magic song it is and he brought it to life wonderfully last night, the crowd sang every word with their arms wrapped tightly round their mates, it was a real highlight.

This was one of many songs we were treated to in this concert of hit, after hit, after hit. We got all the goodies as well as the odd new song thrown in and it flowed perfectly. New tracks like Today, Today, Today truly stood up against the rest and showed he’s still a current artist with plenty more to give. My favourites were Copperline, Shower the People, Sweet Baby James and Country Road, each was played and sung with stunning ability and made everyone sit up a listen.

This is one of those concerts you think back about the next day and realise you’re bloody lucky you’ve witnessed such a musical genius at work. James Taylor still has full control of his lullaby voice and picks those guitar strings with lightning speed. My only criticism was finishing on a song which wasn’t a singalong, it left me thinking ‘that can’t be it?’ I felt certain there was a little more left in the tank. Perhaps playing Something in the Way She Moves, would have been a better choice given it seemed to be the only song people were whispering afterwards that they were sad not to hear.

But when I think about it – maybe my one minor complaint is created only because I didn’t want what was an epic show to end.

A+ work from you James Taylor – what a night!