Jess Bryant // Silvern // Album // Red Deer Club // 09.08.12

This article originally appeared on Never Enough Notes on 10 July 2012.

‘Dark cinematic folk’ is how Jess Bryant’s music is described on her Twitter page. Cinematic certainly is an apt description but it’s hard to pigeon hole the orchestral ‘Silvern’, which could be labelled as much with the broad brush of indie as with classical, folk and jazz in differing places.

Musically Bryant’s classical influences are clear and also a love of the glockenspiel, which appears nearly in every song. Apparently she is also influenced by writers like Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami who both focus on absurdism and surrealism…

Read the rest of the review here at Never Enough Notes.

First Aid Kit // Blue // 09.07.12 // Wichita

They sound like they’re from the deep South of America but Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Sӧderberg are in fact part of the wave of Scandi-indie bands that have been making their mark on music over the last few years. Aged just 21 and 19 both sisters have haunting and frighteningly mature voices, as good live as recorded.

Read the rest at Never Enough Notes.

Boat To Row // Grassmarket EP // 19.03.12 // istartedthefire Records

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on March 16 2012.

Summer is coming. It’s nearly time for sipping cider in pub gardens, going to festivals and wandering through fields. Boat To Row has made the perfect soundtrack to all those things with this re-released EP.

Having at one point done a tape-only release, with Crossroads in 2010, Boat To Row are obviously not afraid to do things the old-fashioned way, with a traditional sound of banjos, ukuleles and melodica combined with slick production.

Read more here at Never Enough Notes

Belleruche // Stormbird // 05.03.12 // Tru Thoughts

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on February 16 2012

Belleruche have seemingly joined the campaign to bring 1980s style electro back once and for all. But they don’t always play this way, with experimental, hip-hop and soul fusion being their usual shtick. The trio formed in London and have been knocking around since 2005 and have released three albums. Their LP ‘Rollerchain’ is due for release in May and will set the scene for this new, darker and broodier sound.

Latest single ‘Stormbird’, out on 5th March, starts with a rhythmic tempo, marching along in an eerie way with continuous whining keyboard and guitar in the background. Getting faster and faster towards the end, it is repetitive in a good way and sticks in the mind as does Kathrin deBoer’s voice. Sweet, sultry and smoky. Then all of a sudden, after less than three minutes, it’s over. And I want to listen to it again.


LIVE // Y Niwl // Buffalo Bar // Cardiff // 28.01.12

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on Monday January 30 2012

In the mountains of Snowdonia you can imagine that fog could be an issue, after all Wales is not exactly known for its dry weather. Out of these mountains, three years ago, emerged from the mist a somewhat unlikely event.

Y Niwl (The Fog in English) are a surf rock band more akin to the west coast of America than the damp mountains of North Wales. Tonight they have travelled down south to one of Cardiff’s coolest venues, Buffalo Bar, to give an excited audience a dose of Shadows-esque guitar and surfy sounds, North Walian style.

Being an instrumental band can sometimes leave audiences feeling a little bit awkward. They can’t sing along and have to remember songs by melody and not what the singer is saying. For some, including myself, that can be a tall order. But Y Niwl show they don’t need lyrics; the depth of their rich sound speaks for itself, even after a storming set from support H. Hawkline. Y Niwl does very little vocalising in general, including in between the tracks, but the audience stay engaged.

Their self titled album was released in late 2010 and was nominated for last year’s Welsh Music Prize. Gruff Rhys won for his album Hotel Shampoo. Rhys is a friend of the band and they have toured America with him: “While a Welsh band going to America to play surf rock might seem a bit like taking coals to Newcastle, everyone over there was genuinely welcoming towards us,” guitarist Alun Evans told the Western Mail. Maybe you can teach your grandma to suck eggs.

Y Niwl play a neat 30 minute set at Buffalo, followed by an encore, and politely everything is done by 9.45pm with room for some Saturday night partying after the gig…or an early night.



First published on the Red Pepper website on Thursday 20 October 2011

It’s a sunny day and a small, blonde girl is picking flowers in her garden. The rest of her family, are arriving home from school, cleaning and washing the car. It’s a picture of middle England tranquillity, a large rural house and a close-knit family.

Within two minutes they are under attack leading to brutal rape, humiliation and murder, a regular occurrence in the Democratic Republic of Congo where nearly one woman a minute suffers some form of sexual abuse. The film uses an old campaigning trick to try to get Western audiences to take action on issues abroad. It asks what if this happened to someone you know? What if it happened to your family?

The film is definitely shocking, as the title suggests,  and Save The Congo and filmmakers Black Jack and Dark Fibre are hoping it will shock people into taking action. The film is attempting to highlight the link between violence and rape in the DRC and mobile phones. As the film is only available through the official site, they are careful to make sure there is always some context but the link between the story and mobile phones (explained by text at the end of the film) is not immediately clear without some digging around the website. It’s also arguable that making the film so graphic and not widely available will restrict how far their message spreads.

Hunger for DRC’s natural resources has had a negative effect on its citizens and like many countries in the global south natural resources have proved a curse instead of a blessing. The basis of the Unwatchable campaign is that minerals mined in the DRC have been financing the war which has seen over five million deaths in the country since 1998 and led to mass rape. DRC is rich in minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten that are all used in the manufacture of mobile phones as well as other electronic equipment such as games consoles.

These minerals pass through many hands before reaching the multinationals and money can get into violent hands. Over 90% of mines in eastern Congo are controlled by armed groups or sections of the army that have ‘gone solo’. As prices and demand rise there is more to bargain with; minerals are either bought directly from armed groups or from miners who pay taxes to warlords in order to mine. They are then sold on to traders who export the minerals to smelting companies for refining and ultimately to factories for manufacture. Unwatchable calls for more transparency in the process and an end to ‘blood minerals’.

Rape is used as a cheap and effective way to force populations to leave areas, or destroy communities and gain control of these lucrative minerals. While mass genocide would often provoke decisive action from the international community mass rape does not. Congo has now been named one of the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.

Mobile phones are now seen as a necessity in the UK so the team behind the film are hoping that the connection of the industry to the events shown will galvanise people into action, seeing another away that their lives are affecting those elsewhere, and not for the better.

The main call to action, which comes at the end of the film, is a petition urging the EU to introduce legislation to stop mobile phone manufacturers buying conflict minerals as well as contacting their mobile phone manufacturer to demand they make sure they are not using blood minerals by publishing details of their supply chain.

The plot for Unwatchable is based on the true story of Masika and her family. Masika’s husband was mutilated and murdered, her daughters gang raped and Masika herself was raped over twenty times and forced to eat her husband’s dismembered penis. Masika was left unconscious and developed fistula. Traumatic fistula is often suffered by women in the DRC after violent rape. If it remains untreated it can lead to dangerous infection, incontinence, restriction of mobility and a nasty smell. These effects can lead to women, who have already undergone severe trauma, being ostracised from communities ans left immobile.

Maskia’s story is actually far more horrific than the one in the film and the video of her telling it on the website is incredibly powerful, coming directly from the person affected. Unwatchable is not the only recent film to highlight the issue of blood minerals. Blood In The Mobile is soon to be released which explores the relationship between minerals, violence and rape in DRC.

Although only just over six minutes long the production of Unwatchable is slick and you can tell it has some big Hollywood names behind it including composer David Arnold, cinematographer Michael Bonvillian and Mark Wolf. Film can be a good way to get an issue into people’s consciousness but there needs to be a clear link between calls to actions and horrific stories. Unless a film does this it doesn’t matter whose ‘eyes’ it is told through, people will still shrug it off as ‘just another tragedy’ they can’t do anything about.

Can there be radical voices in the mainstream media?

Journalists considered to have radical views are sometimes judged as being unable to differentiate between fact and opinion, while on the other side accused of succumbing to an inaccurate ‘establishment approved’ version of the truth. I went to a session at last weekend’s Rebellious Media Conference and heard from three ‘radicals’ working in the mainstream media…

Annoying authority is doing a journalist’s job – advice journalist Amira Hass was once given and has stuck with her as a Jewish Israeli working for Israel’s oldest daily paper Haaretz and spending time living in and reporting on the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Hass was on a panel titled ‘Inside the Belly of the Beast: Radicals in the Mainstream Media’ joined by Duncan Campbell the man behind the controversial BBC series Secret Society and who exposed the ECHELON surveillance project. The third panel member was David Crouch, deputy Europe news editor of the Financial Times. All three have been, or continued to be, annoyances of authority but also have made successful careers of working in the mainstream media.

The idea for this session came from George Monbiot’s career’s advice article Choose Life.  He writes: “the truth is that by following the path they suggest [careers people advising against specialism], you are becoming a specialist: a specialist in the moronic recycling of what the rich and powerful deem to be news. And after a few years of that, you are good for very little else.”

But for many people who want to earn a living out of journalism will follow the path Monbiot calls counter-educational, at least for a period and their day job may mean their work will be read or heard by a bigger range of people, who their ideas may not normally reach.

David Crouch maintained that it was possible to make a difference from the inside, using the anecdote of a friend who had worked as the night editor of a tabloid spending his whole shift taking the racism out of the paper so the bile wasn’t spread. He said the left have an ‘extermination’ approach to the mainstream media which needs rethinking. The hierarchy in the newsroom means the press is produced by ‘ordinary people’ so he feels there is a lot of potential in the unions, in particular the NUJ for which he is a representative. He said the union fosters pride in producing the facts and getting them right.

When asked whether the panel considered themselves activists as well as journalists Campbell pointed out the truth should never be sacrificed because of a partisan opinion but that, yes, journalists can have viewpoints too as long as they stick to the ground rules of good journalism. Hass agreed there was a line to be drawn; she will attend mass protests as a citizen but go to Gaza as a journalist. But she also said that truly objective journalism was a myth citing the examples of military embedded reporters. Everyone has opinions which come out in their work, whether they are explicitly voiced or not.

Amira Hass feels her role is to get stories covered that might not otherwise. Her main method of fact finding comes from ‘ordinary people’ although she feels this has less prestige in the eyes of editors who value secure documents and information. She also said that news sections where she has the most trouble getting her work published as they are kept more conventional but that investigative journalism was still possible in feature writing.

As well as media makers there were many activists in the audience keen to find out how they could get their campaigns more column inches. Duncan Campbell said campaigners needed to look more to the long term. While they may get coverage here and there real change is brought about by sustained campaigning and willingness to work with a variety of people. On the subject of ‘scandalism’ – a willingness to only cover issues with big fireworks and not drawn out problems – Campbell reiterated this point saying campaigners couldn’t rely on the media to do their activism for them. Media strategies can’t be the be all and end all. Hass was mostly in agreement; she pointed out that the exceptional is the usual for a Palestinian and admitted that there would need to be something ‘juicy’ in the story for it to attract attention as much as she didn’t like it.

Although the three people on the panel had had negative experiences working within the mainstream media, none of them seemed to feel disillusioned or like it wasn’t worth it. After all, today’s ‘radical’ views are often tomorrow’s common sense.  As Amira Hass pointed out – you don’t feel the breakthroughs all at one time.

Sweetie Pie And The Guttermen // An Introduction to: Sweetie Pie And The Guttermen // Out Now

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on 14 September 2011

Sweetie Pie And The Guttermen look like a band capable of a good old knees up. Armed with tambourines, harmonicas, a good bass and everything else needed for a proper country folk shin dig, they also have the depth of sound you would expect from a six-piece band.

Located in London, Sweetie Pie And The Guttermen have been together about a year getting their name from a short story by Sylvia Plath. This EP is billed as an introduction to the band and it fits the purpose, keeping it short and to the point.

First song, Love And Gin is a swinging track with all the right components there, nice intro, nice singing, nice tune, it’s very nice. Forget What Did and its uplifting harmonies are subtly cheery, in a look to the bright future kind of way, and The Puppeteer has an amiable clip clop beat with a country edge.

The EP is pleasing to the ear and has all the right things in the right places – it’s just a bit flat. It’s relatively early days though and the band has been out on the festival circuit this year putting in the ground work to grow for the future.


The Pooh Sticks // 03/09/11 // Globe, Cardiff

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on September 6 2011.

This is Swansea band The Pooh Sticks’ last ever show in Wales. Probably. Buoyed by a successful comeback after 15 years at last year’s Indie Tracks, the band have decided to give gigging another go for a limited time only.

It’s clear, from this packed room of raucous and excitable indie pop fans to Pulp’s successful reformation and performances at this year’s Reading and Leeds, that there is still a place for old-school indie pop in 2011. And it seems The Pooh Sticks can be thanked for this continuing success as Pulp, The Cranberries and Cast all supported them back in the day. As singer Huw Williams told the “South Wales Echo”, ‘it was quite depressing, supporting The Pooh Sticks meant that you were going to be selling hundreds of thousands of records two years later’.

Huw went on to have a successful career behind the scenes in the music industry, and that was that.

Tonight they are back at Cardiff’s Globe, a venue which has the Cardiff rumour mill in overdrive as at closes, opens, closes and changes hands. It is well and truly open for business now though and security must be biting their tongues as The Pooh Sticks continue to be a band they should issue hard hats for on the door. An inflatable pink ball bounces overhead throughout the set, including hitting most band members in the face at least once. There are also low flying chocolate éclair sweets, and a number of cardboard placards lovingly crafted by the band bob among the crowd stating things like ‘Swansea Posh’ and ‘Indie Pop Extremist’.

Indie Pop Extremists is a good description for The Pooh Sticks as they storm through their set, selecting songs from their history including the ‘early funny ones’ (complete with cardboard placard), and their more mainstream power pop tracks like “The World Is Turning On” from their 1993 album “Million Seller”. Williams has just the right amount of bravado and sarcasm for a frontman and long-term guest vocalist Amelia Fletcher also gives a great performance, impressive as it‘s her second set of the night after supporting with her band Tender Trap.

With every band member having so many other projects on it’s hard to say when they will gig again and whether the threat of this being their last ever Welsh gig will be realised. But when the time and place is right there is always room for the placards and self aware indie songs to return.


Palestine Film Festival 2011 Review: Children of the Revolution

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 16 May 2011

Amy Hall reviews Shane O’Sullivan’s Children of the Revolution. A film about complex mother/daughter relationships and the legacy of of two famous militants…

Families are complicated, and with every generation they get more so. This is the focus of Children of The Revolution, a documentary mainly described through the eyes the daughters of two notorious and controversial militants: Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu.

Neither daughter has followed in their mother’s footsteps but they have very different views on their upbringings and the things their mothers did to try and further their cause.

Both Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu became interested in violent direct action groups around 1968 when the smell of revolution was in the air across the globe. Although Meinhof, with her husband Klaus Röhl, had been heavily involved politics for a while, Shigenobu first became inspired into activism after joining a protest on student fees just before she started university.

Bettina Röhl, the daughter of Ulrike Meinhof, is now also a journalist with a small daughter and says that this has brought her further away from understanding her mother’s behaviour, especially towards her and her twin sister Regine. Mei Shigenobu, despite also being separated from her mother for long periods as she grew up in the Middle East, describes the loving community that surrounded her.

Perhaps what makes the film so interesting is that it contains a huge amount of archive material. As well as old photographs and news reel there are interviews with both of Bettina’s parents. It is easy to see the source of Bettina’s resentment for her mother and also how torn Meinhof felt as she says a female political activist is “disarmed by her children”, that her private life is set against her political life – the “source of women’s oppression”.

The film does contain a lot of violent images, and neither daughters are in support of this. While Bettina sees her mother as simply a terrorist, Mei seems to think that was the way activists needed to get noticed at the time – doing a big action and then releasing statement. But she adds that with the growth of the internet and independent media means that this is outdated. It is also unclear what actions Fusako Shigenobu was actually involved in.

This film is a fascinating look at the intricate weavings of the family and relationship between mothers and daughters, which even those not interested in the political landscape can relate to. But it is also a snapshot of the revolutionary spirit of the late 1960s and 1970s and how sometimes that was exploited to commit acts of extreme violence. It is clearly rooted in the time period it is set, although there are links made between the movements the two women were involved in, there are not so many with the present. But then, as Mei points out as she is filmed in her work as a television anchor:  “From where you start history thinks look differently.”