Nocturne Live, Blenheim Palace
22th June 2019
Tears for Fears have a history with Blenheim Palace. Roland Orzabal explains that they once did a live broadcast from here to Japan after playing four nights at Hammersmith Odeon. This was presumably a double dollop of Britishness for the Japanese, though the duo – as their name suggests – managed to translate their more international influences of Arthur Janov and existentialism into chart success. In fact, in tonight’s show – part of the Nocturne Live concert series – the duo prove that their status in British pop music’s heritage is befitting of the beautiful surroundings. Their most well-known hits – “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, “Mad World”, “Change” and “Shout” – are tonight welcomed by a respectful but enthusiastic audience, with the heavy cold-afflicted Curt Smith’s voice is still distinctively clear.
It’s not simply a stick-the-greatest-hits-on-and-play-long performance. Their cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” – appropriate given the locale, but actually currently a mainstay of their live show – is menacing in a way their other songs aren’t, not reaching a crescendo or really ever giving in to its fury. A few songs have different formats to their original counterparts: “Head over Heels” is the medley version with “Broken” from Songs from the Big Chair, and “Secret World”, from the charmingly titled post-reformation album Everybody Loves a Happy Ending (Roland and Curt having parted ways after The Seeds of Love), is somewhat bizarrely punctuated by snippets of Wings’ “Let ‘Em In” (more recently known from the Postcode Lottery advert). “Woman in Chains” has an abstract funk intro, with the Oleta Adams slot filled by Carina Round, who complements Roland’s vocals in a different but no lesser way than the deeper-voiced Oleta did.
The sprawling “Badman’s Song” might have fitted in on the famously troubled epic jazz/blues jumble that was The Seeds of Love, but it feels self-indulgent tonight; they can be forgiven though, given the strength of their back catalogue, and the fact that they’re still here, together and smiling.
From Nightshift, August 2019
Released 21st April 2019
Described by Tiger Mendoza’s Ian De Quadros as “A remix album. Of sorts”, New Ideas takes the collaborations forged across previous EPs – 2017’s “Old Ideas 1” and 2018’s “Old Ideas 2” – and explores a kind of reciprocal collaboration alongside two new tracks.
There are four versions of the originally grungy hip-hop “Maverick Souls” from “Old Ideas 2”; Asher Dust’s earnest vocals get a variety of interpretations, the most striking of which is the swift two-minute remix by Didcot’s hardcore punkers Worry, who cover it with a wall of frantic sampling and noise.
The remix by Carterton’s Dan Clear of “Missing You” – with vocals from Lucy Vee and rapper Half Decent – becomes an even more blissed-out stark juxtaposition of choppy rap and the ethereal, while “Jazzer” is transformed by REELS from what Nightshift originally described as a “hypnotic afro-hop babble” into a starker, more frantic house number, and by Breezewax into a slower and surprisingly even more hypnotic piece that gives the beautiful the acoustic guitar and orchestral backing of the original more prominence.
New track “Find You” has vocals from Kate Herridge from Reading’s Ocean Ruins; her shaky “Am I not enough?” refrain loops over heavy beats and reverbed synths – and eventually crunchy guitars – to create a mesmerising whole; the other new track, “Perish The Thought”, which will feature on Asher Dust’s upcoming final album, is an off-kilter hip-hop meld of seemingly detuned guitars and Asher’s trademark paradoxically menacing yet comforting vibrato voice.
The sheer variety of approaches explored justifies the rationale of giving a track of one genre to a musician from another and seeing what they come up with. The album is therefore well worth exploring, especially since the profits from the release will go to The Oxford Foodbank. Above all, however, New Ideas is a fresh testament to the cohesion of and bonhomie between the Oxford music scene at a time when such harmony and unity is sorely and sadly needed.
From Nightshift, April 2019
Released 31st January 2019
Low Island have been banging out interesting electronica for a while now. A repeating melody and busy ostinato bassline (think a more frantic Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You Make It”) makes “In Person”, the latest instalment, perhaps more commercially accessible than their other, more atmospheric and disorientating electro-pop stuff; saying that, the way it builds on this repetition – initial bare voice and bass, to which their now trademark double-track octave vocals and plinky synth chords are introduced, only to drop out periodically before the fraught electro-jam climax – is still unsettling. The whole thing exudes Friendly Fires-esque nonchalance, but controlled rather than extravagant. The lyrical argument about people feeling decreasingly connected to each other in a world of increasing digital connectedness is emphasised by the tension between the retro analogue-sounding synthesisers and modern production techniques; somewhere between the advent of popular electronic music and now, bonds have been loosened and relationships skewed.
If Low Island’s output continues in this poppier vein, they might find themselves reaching Years & Years-type heights, though their back catalogue suggests a formulaic path is unlikely. Whichever way they’re producing all this lovely stuff, they must keep it up.
From Nightshift, March 2019