One of our favourite singer-songwriters, Steve Pledger returns with a new studio album, “What Tomorrow Knows” to be launched on the 8th October at a special concert at Durham Town Hall
Six years after releasing the award-winning studio album ‘Somewhere Between’, and three years since his critically-acclaimed live album, ‘Alone In The Dark’, Steve Pledger is back, set to deliver his brand new studio album this Autumn.
Titled ‘What Tomorrow Knows’, it will be launched on 8th October at a special concert at Durham Town Hall. This will be Steve’s 4th collection of original material. The LP includes some songs that have already become firm favourites in recent years at shows (I am personally hoping for Reseda!), alongside others as yet unheard.
The much-in-demand Lukas Drinkwater produced the album. Various gifted collaborators contribute something special to what is arguably Steve’s strongest set of songs to date, including Lukas himself. Steve says the following of his latest project:
“Whilst I don’t set out to write 12 songs with any kind of overarching theme, one often becomes apparent as a record takes shape. ‘Somewhere Between’ dealt a lot with transition, and it’s clear to me that these new songs speak a great deal to consequences. Consequences of our action, and inaction; our beliefs; our attitude toward and treatment of others, as well as ourselves. More than any work I’ve produced to date, it feels as if the writing, production, arrangements, and my own performances have come together to create something that best represents what I want to say and how I wish it to be heard. This record pulls no punches where punches ought not to be pulled, but I believe there is also an empathy and depth of compassion to it that I strive to capture in everything I do, on record and on stage. With the help of everyone involved in this project, that’s what I believe we’ve managed to achieve. And I could not be more excited to share it with folks later this year.”
There’s a place where you can listen to music in the heart of Manchester, near Piccadilly Station. That is The Whiskey Jar. Of course, there are other venues but there’s surely something about this place and its organiser. Because there’s a large audience and they listen, even though the venue is a pub. I’m guessing it’s in large part due to Joe “Bagpipes“, the regular host. After all, it has the reputation of being “Manchester’s longest running and best open mic night“. On 2 Aug 2022, The Whiskey Jar Open Mic Night welcomes another lot of talented musicians. I get to hear a subset of them.
I arrived late, at the end of the third musician’s set. I will hear later that in effect, I was on time (8.00pm) but the replacement host started early (7.30pm). I felt like a queen for that second 😁 I also later found out the name of that third musician, Jeorgia Rose. You cannot miss her in the crowd. However, it did help that she was directly in my line of sight, sitting virtually opposite me. I speak briefly with her but find out more afterwards. Research tells me she is an 18-year old British country singer. I remembered that I just left some friends who invited me to watch them line dance at the Pride parade this coming 27th of August. This happened after a Dolly cover documentary I watched. I feel country music is after me lol. So I listen to her on Jeorgia Rose Spotify from the popular I will still Remember to the two other offers at the time,
Funny musical man Chris Tavener follows. The folk comedian makes us smile and laugh with his brand of music. The acoustics normally so on point is slightly lacking in clarity so it’s hard to properly hear his jokes from the back (probably my fault for being at the back!). He has 3 songs on offer for us. The first one is All I need. The second one is How to truly win at life from his 2022 EP release Easy Ways To Be Happy and the last one Bill Gateswas my favourite. I remember catching his set a while ago during a So Far Manchester I attended and reviewed in 2018. It is so good to see and hear him remain the “satirical singer-songwriter, known for his comedic, witty lyrics and a vintage sound”.
They Valleys IG @_the_valleys
A couple of musicians speak to the host. It seems they are going to be next. Spencer Grant is on guitar and vocals. Jeremy (Howling) Webster on harmonica. Their Instagram says they are “a fresh new band consisting of a bunch of friends with musical talents”. Tonight they are two. From their choice of song cover to their interpretation, I am in. Even the pitch slides could not hide the talent. The karaoke that messed up with Grant’s vocals does not quite matter. To have chosen the very beautiful and traditional Henry Martin as a song shows discernment. Joan Baez would be proud but would probably have a go at them for spoiling the vocals on karaoke (or is it just me?)! Ain’t No sunshinefollows and the voice seems to recover some of its original timbre hitting the pitches. The harmonica was so well played on both pieces, subtly enhancing its tone.
Coeur Vaillant serves us his usual brand of well-constructed songs and infectious melodies on guitar. He has two pieces for this occasion: a “love” song on a bed of 7 sins and a fight song about freedom. The public is conquered. From head voice to falsetto, the public takes the trip with the singer-songwriter. It is not long ago that we were falling in love with Coeur Vaillant’s first single Spring Always Returns. The tireless musician honours his childhood passion, working hard towards his ultimate music dream.
In between sets, I meet Robert. Robert is a regular audience member at the Wednesday evening open mic. But he thought he would try out the Tuesday evening open mic that the venue also offers. He explains that he comes to listen and relax. He likes the atmosphere and enjoyed the last set. I tell him the name of the last act is Coeur Vaillant. I try to decipher the enigma of the foreign name and pronunciation. Coeur Vaillant in effect is Valiant Heart in English. There is a backdrop of knight time and day dream right there. I somehow also manage to drop that I’d like to perform here. Yes, you heard it, I basically inserted right there that I too am a musician. I am half-proud to have dropped some self-promotion there, something at which I am execrable. And to mark the following embarrassment I systematically feel (which will no doubt mean no promotion for hours), I’ll move ever so swiftly to the next subject. Robert says the ambiance is different to when Joe leads. The usual host makes sure no one talks during the sets, twitches the knobs to ensure the sound is at its best. Yes the music and its conveyor are king. This host is nice and cool and relaxed.
Before I leave
Robert compliments Coeur Vaillant as the musician returns to his seat. The host then performs. It is not the regular host, known as Joe Bagpipes. Shame, I wanted to finally meet him. This organiser performs what I understand to be Harvest (Neil Young). He follows up with a second song that sounds like a Nick Drake’s cover.
I am suddenly feeling tired and ill at ease. It’s humid and hot. I realise I need to leave before the end. Shame. It was a nice hour and a half shared with music lovers and music givers. I hear there’s another open mic on Thursdays but this time at a nearby venue, Stage & Radio at 7pm. It will be for another time. Robert will stay as usual until 11pm. But I need to end my night right there, right now. It is outside that I meet the Valleys again and get a lot of information about them. I am outside so I am feeling better. Live is well and truly back and that has made me feel great. But it seems that this whole lockdown thing has made it a little more difficult to be in crowded places for a long time. Or maybe it is the heat and humidity, whichever came first. Either way, I was happy to have been there and to have listened and witnessed some of the great next generation of musicians.
On the first date of her UK Tour, Annie Keating transported the audience to Brooklyn, New York & Bristol County, Massachusetts simultaneously on her magical time machine! What a Special night that was and the audience will remember it for sure in spite of the facts that the band only met for the first time 2 days prior and that it was Annie’s first gig to a Live Audience since 2019!
Annie’s joy to be performing live again was clearly evident. The appreciative & engaging audience so contagiously picked up on it. Annie has a natural talent to connect with audiences and her wonderful songs with amazing backstories were enjoyed by everyone. The band, needless to say, rose to the occasion also & everyone contributed their parts so incredibly well, clearly enjoying performing so well.
Annie’s music requires great lead guitar contribution which Teddy Krumple had developed in Annie’s own band and this was achieved really well by guitarist for this tour, Joe Coombs. Joe had some great fills & also great slide and rhythm work and even helped Annie on occasion with capo position selection. The brilliant rhythm section consisted of Scott Warman on bass and Jamie Dawson on drums. The highlight for Jamie was on the track, ‘On The Loose’ before which Annie suggested we watch the drummer and she was right and also well supported by Joe on bass.
We were treated to 18 marvellous heartfelt songs of immense variety and quality which all have meaning & performed to the highest level. The backdrop to the Bristol County Tides songs was obviously the lock-down and Annie communicates the deep meaning behind each song. I feel we can all empathise and identify with that as it affected us all. One of the songs she performed, ‘Nobody Knows’ holds that message so clearly and before she performed at the release livestream with no audience last year she introduced the song so well as follows:-
‘So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about uncertainty, change. I think one thing we probably all had in common was it sort of changed our lives in whatever way. For me a lot changed but for everybody it’s just like how do you deal with this massive amount of change and uncertainty and one thing that’s been comforting me in these times is the idea that it’s all changed. That’s growth & it’s like you don’t get to live your life without it constantly being changed and there’s this quote that I read the other day that made me feel good about that journey. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about uncertainty and change’. – ‘Suffering is resisting the route of uncertainty but no matter what the circumstance, uncertainty is all we have.’ ‘I think there’s growth in there somewhere.’ She turned to her guitarist Teddy Krumple and he said ‘Life is a jazz solo.’
Annie has had her music played by Bob Harris since 2008 and the last time was about a month ago when he played her latest single ‘Feels Like Home’ which was part of the set-list on the night & is a wonderful song. He has played her music many times & on one occasion in 2011 she played two songs live, namely ‘Victoria Station’ and ‘First of November’ and was described as follows, ‘New York’s famous Village Voice described Annie Keating as ” a wise mix of Lucinda Williams songwriting, Gillian Welch guitar and a vocal of her own – a cross between Willie Nelson and John Prine”. The Boston-born New York-based musician and activist play live for Bob Harris. Such a fine body of work to explore with many great albums and I feel she is developing new ideas and connections all the time, Her album ‘Bristol County Tides’ is a real gift of creativity, emotional connection and expression of challenges felt by the lock-down. A heartfelt collection of beautiful songs communicated through her music and her live performance takes everything to a new level. She really needs to be congratulated and I can’t recommend enough for people to attend whatever gigs they can on this tour. Her music is so exciting and vibrant and full of enjoyment and celebration now that she can take her music live to the UK and beyond!
As frontman and chief songwriter/lyricist for 80s/90s seminal Pittsburgh rock band, Little Wretches, Robert Wagner rode a wave of local notoriety that led the band to the forefront of the underground music scene. He has also recorded and released two new albums in 2020: Undesirables and Anarchists and Burning Lantern Dropped In Straw. The former spawned an iTunes chart-topping single and received airplay on over 115 North American AM/FM radio stations.
1 In Music: Hi Robert, and thank you so much for giving us a bit of your time. Tell us a little more about you and your band Little Wretches. What is unique about you and your music?
Robert Wagner [RW]: Did you ever go to a party that has a sign-up list for who is going to bring what? I always want to be able to bring something that nobody else is going to bring. What could I possibly bring that is unique, especially given all the talent out there? Well, the music of The Little Wretches will introduce you to people you’ve never met, people you will love and care about, people that you will not meet except through our songs. Our songs are portraits and landscapes and parables. You will someday wake up from a dream, asking yourself where you first encountered that person in your dreams, and you’ll have an “AHA” moment–That was a character from a song by The Little Wretches. You’ll find yourself humming, and “AHA,” that’s a melody from The Little Wretches.
1 In Music: So, what or who shaped you and your music to become what you have ust described and who supports you?
RW: There’s a line in one of our songs,
I am what I’ve been through.
We descend from people who risked and sacrificed everything to leave their homes, cross the ocean, and seek opportunity in America. We descend from immigrants–Hunkies and Dagos and Polaks. We were taught to believe that we are supposed to do something with our lives, to make something of ourselves, to reach, to climb, and to reach back and pull others up with us. I made the mistake of telling my grandmother I wanted to be happy. “HAPPY?,” she said. “Cows in a pasture are happy. Do you want to be a cow? God gave you talent. If you don’t do something with it, your life is a waste.” Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing. Maybe being overly dramatic. But we’re The Little Wretches, as in “blessed are the meek,” as in, “how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Get it?
1 In Music: I like your grandmother and how you came to name your band! But give us the missing link here… How did you get from your gran’s wisdom to choosing to make music professionally?
RW: Things turn into their opposites. I ALWAYS wanted to play music. When I was in my late teens, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The night before my big surgery, I had a little conversation with God. I said that if I lived, I would NEVER do anything other than what I want to do. I would never SAY anything that I did not believe in. As it turned out, the punk music scene had just gotten off the ground in my hometown, and punk gave people like me license to get up on stage and gave us a couple of years to tread water and discover what we’re good at. What I’m good at is teaching through stories and telling stories through songs.
1 In Music: So, you are into punk music. What other type of music do you listen to?
RW: I listen to everything except popular music on the radio. I discover an artist and then dive deeply and get everything they ever recorded: Skip James, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Johnny Cash. Woody Guthrie. Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. Lou Reed. Patti Smith. Emmylou Harris. Frank Lowe. George Harrison. Of course, as a songwriter with an ear for storytelling, I study Ray Davies of The Kinks, Pete Townshend of The Who, Phil Ochs, people like that. Michelle Shocked and Jonathan Richman, they are the artists that gave me the template for what I do live.
1 In Music: Who, to you, is the most undervalued music artist?
RW: Undervalued? Undervalued by whom? Some who come to mind are John Cale, Mick Ronson, and Leon Russell. Ian Hunter and Garland Jeffreys. See? They are known and loved by those who know them. I wish they were better known, but they’ve had a huge impact on music. And as I said earlier, Michelle Shocked, Jonathan Richman, and I’ll add Peter Himmelman.
1 In Music: How do you prepare for your performances?: I spend the whole day in preparation. I need to exercise to prepare my lungs and tighten up my vocal cords. I need to run through some of the figures and changes on my guitar. I keep my spirit open to inspiration. There is a balance between giving people what they want and giving them something they don’t already have. What am I bringing to the table that is not already there? What knowledge and experience can I share that is not already common knowledge? This is kind of weird, kind of religious, I suppose, but there’s something in the Bible where disciples are sent out, and they ask, “What are we supposed to say?” Don’t worry. When it’s time for you to speak, the words will be given to you. That’s what I want to do.
I want to prepare, but I want what happens to be be spontaneous.
1 In Music: What do you do when you don’t do music (creative or otherwise) and that you are passionate about?
RW: I have a Master’s degree in Instruction and Learning. I hate schooling, but I love learning. I work with at-risk and court-adjudicated teens. I am very interested in alternative education–homeschooling, unschooling, free schools, democratic schools, self-directed learning. I also work with kids on the autism spectrum. They say, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” The magic and miracle of communication really comes alive when you are communicating with someone on the autism spectrum. I also love the outdoors. What the heck? I’m a Renaissance Person. I’m on a quest for the Unified Field Theory, the mind of God. I’m a fanatic, I guess.
1 In Music: Success to you is…?
RW: Success is getting in front of people who’ve never heard me before and watching them drop their conversations, set down their drinks, turn and face the stage, and tune in to my songs.
1 In Music: What do you wish you were told when you started out and that you think would help anyone who starts out?
RW: There is no blueprint. I wish I’d had some entrepreneurial skills. I wish I’d understood how to “network” and how to build relationships. But there are two kinds of people who try to help you: those who push you to be a realist, to modify what you do, to cut off your edges so that you’ll fit in. And then there are those who encourage you to cultivate what makes you unique and outstanding. I’m a working class kid. People from the working class are terrified of ending up with nothing. They’re very good at doing their jobs and following orders.
I wish my people had just understood that I’m not cut out to fit in. I’m a Little Wretch, and that is that.
1 In Music: Any upcoming projects?
RW: We’re recording a collection of songs called RED BEETS & HORSERADISH. Red like the color of our blood. Beets like the earthy roots we eat. Horseradish like the powerful flavor that might be a little too strong for a lot of people. These songs are really good, and they’re the kind of thing you’re not going to get from anybody other than The Little Wretches.
1 In Music: Thank you so much for your time and candor. Tell us where we can find your music?
RW: The Little Wretches are all over YouTube, with hours and hours of live footage. We’re on all the streaming and downloading sources. Look up The Little Wretches on Facebook. Visit our website, www.littlewretches.com. I’m working out of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Kinda weird. I’m outside of Philly, but my partners are outside of Pittsburgh. I bleed Black and Gold.
Hailed more as a sex symbol than the deeply gifted singer-songwriter he is, George Michael is an example of artist whose clothes have unjustly made the man he is for a long time, denying the true depth of his amazing talent. The artist is truly underappreciated, from the magic of his voice to the craft of his songmaking to the his production skills.
The singer has a plume that defies time, bringing lost decennies in his modern songwriting, taking us into a dizzying and addictive waltz where emotions meet the inquisitive mind. His turn of phrase, his choice of progression, his very arrangements and instrumentations have the tactful touch of someone who pays every attention to detail, gives a daily praise to music, with devotion and meaning, sensitivity and sensibility.
He is the unfortunately ideal pop star whose appearance and life often obscured his songs. This is unfortunate because most of these kinds of distraction are meant to cover up a lack of substance and flair in the musical releases and this has never been the case for this artist. Every song has proven that he deserves to be hailed for his talent as singer-songwriter.
His lyrics sometimes daring, sometimes softly unclothing the hidden soul or the lustful desires, take us by surprise. They reveal at times more topical grounds than at first appear and always shows a depth that can, at first sight, at first listen even, be missed. Perhaps, his inspirationally soulful voice and melodies have just been kissing fools all along. To hear those messages requires forsaking the path of least resistance, abandoning the sideshows distractions we crave, and paying attention: and there you hear it. His voice is a soft and natural wave. The song arrangements highlight these absolutely enchanting vocals with well-timed silences, and variances in volume. The man is a pure pleasure to listen to.
George Michael in ten songs
Careless Whisper – Just one lyric line to rest this case: “Guilty feet have got no rhythm” because telling you how much more this song is will just blow your mind
Freedom! 90 – This is an impossible song not to move to. To be so talented that one can craft as accomplished a dancing song as they do soft ballads is a true feat.
Jesus to A Child
One More Try – This is a truly beautiful song. Beverly Knight agrees and covers every wave of her rendition with the velvet of the chocolate of her voice. Delicious.
Kissing a Fool – My favourite? Sigh, it is so hard to chose!
Spinning The Wheel – My favourite. Period.
Father Figure – His version is enchanting. But when Tori Amos takes it on, she opens it up and brings the message to light, the beauty of its creation and the songwriting talent of George Michael