Review: Ben Thorpe ‘Illuminations’ – “A solid debut offering from a promising artist”

BEN THORPE

Tracklisting: The Thump/Division/Call It Sweet/Down by the Valley/Retrospect/Pretty Little Colours/The Quartet/Like You & Lou/Cherry Picking/Porcupine Love/It’s Chemical/Illuminations

The male acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriter has practically become an entire genre in itself and effectively a whole sub-industry, thanks to the success of artists such as this year’s official soundtrack to summer Ed Sheeran (currently enjoying an unbroken eight-week run at number one in the album chart), Ben Howard, Paolo Nutini and George Ezra.

Cornwall’s own recent contribution to this growing wave is Redruth-based Ben Thorpe who introduces his debut album ‘Illuminations’ to the world at a time when the male singer-songwriter is arguably at its peak. With so many other similar artists, it is a task to distinguish the truly great from the truly average and the defiantly unique from the defiantly homogenous. Thankfully, Ben manages to both emulate his influences and peers, and refine his sound into one that singles him out from the rest of the pack.

The debut album by Ben Thorpe is packed with hooks and bags of attitude in equal measure. The combination of yearning, angst-ridden lyrics with sun-soaked upbeat melodies result in a collection of songs that simultaneously float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

His vocals throughout fall somewhere between the sneer and snarl of Arctic Monkey’ Alex Turner and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, and the whisky-soaked gravelly tone of Paolo Nutini. Certainly, there are infleunces of each on the blissful indie-pop of album opener The Thump, which sounds like what the result would be if Nutini did a cover of a Strokes tune, as does the funky blues of The Quartet. Division mimics a stripper-back Monkeys track without the heavy guitars but swagger still kept intact. Built on Ben’s tender vocal and a delicate string-plucking melody, the track briefly builds from its quietly yearning vibe into a choir of voices that promise a big finish, only to fall back onto a whimper.

On Down by the Valley, he blends a Jeff Buckley-inspired morose vocal turn with the retro twang of Miles Kane, while Pretty Little Colours sounds like Tom Odell with a guitar in place of a piano. It’s Chemical is arguably the poppiest song on the record, with angsty lyrics welded onto an infectiously upbeat melody and energetic beat. The driving title track closes the album. Where the album opened on the most graceful of touches, Illuminations closes with a sucker-punch acoustic guitar hook.

Overall, a solid debut offering from an artist with a lot of promise, who imitates all his obvious influences without sounding like a clone copy, and dresses it all in his own distinctive style that marks him as a real contender for the elite of Ed Sheeran-era guitar-bearing male artists.

‘Illuminations’ will be released next month. You can catch Ben Thorpe supporting LightKnife at the following venues/dates:

– Miss Peapod’s Cafe, Penryn, Sat 23 Aug

– Studio Bar, Penzance, Thurs 4 Sept

– The Balcony, St Ives, Fri 19 Sept

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Introducing… Gareth Lee & Annie Baylis: ‘The day we first met was a surreal experience’

Gareth Lee and Annie Baylis

It’s hard to believe that the duo of vocalist/guitarist Gareth Lee and vocalist/violinist Annie Baylis has only existed since the start of this year, and even more striking that the pair had never previously met until on the set of their first music video. When you listen to their superbly crafted, pleasantly harmonic folk/pop, it sounds like the work of a pair who have known each other for years.

Gareth’s wispy, refined vocals and laid-back guitar melodies coupled with soothing strings and deft vocals courtesy of Annie forms a striking combination, and the terrific chemistry and flawless harmonies of the duo make their music instantly memorable on first listen.

Here is an interview with the duo straight from finishing their set at this year’s Helstonbury festival.

How long have you been together as a duo?

We formed the band at the beginning of this year, but we’ve been gigging together a year before.

How did you first meet?

Remarkably the first time we properly met in person was on the same day we shot our first music video in St Mawes. We hadn’t seen other on the gigging circuit up to then and it was through friends of ours where we first heard of each other. We sent each other tracks and worked out some harmonies online. The day we first met on the set of our video was a slightly surreal experience, but one that sparked off our musical journey together.

Obviously you come from very different music backgrounds. Has working together brought a new element to both of your individual musical styles?

I think in terms of our approach to writing songs it’s definitely brought about a change. We’re able to bounce our own ideas off each other and bring our own style to the songs we write together, which enables us to inject a lot more creativity and energy into our songwriting.

Have you recorded any material together, and plan to release new music in the future?

We’ve very much rushed into that process as a lot of our songs were still very undeveloped going into the studio. We hadn’t gigged much prior to our first few sessions, so when we performed our tracks in the studio, they lost their ‘feel’ or the live element they had.

We felt that instead of going headfirst into a studio, it’d be much more natural to record us in a live environment. A couple of weeks ago, we recorded some of our live gigs and we plan to compile some of these recordings onto our first EP, which we intend to release in September.

Have you toured much outside of Cornwall?

We have done a few shows out of Cornwall recently. Weirdly enough, our first gig away from home was all the way in Newcastle which obviously was a very long trip for us, and it was make-or-break whether we could stick it that long. We made it through the trip and through the gig though, and we certainly learned plenty more about each other on the long, audacious journey there.

Do you think there are enough music venues in Cornwall to really drive its music scene?

The sad thing is that a lot of the places in Cornwall that are really getting behind original music don’t make enough money to keep them open. The Nightjar in Truro is one great former music venue that unfortunately shut down recently. They were extremely supportive of original music, and venues with that level of passion are very rare down here.

Are there any artists in the Cornish scene you think could breakthrough in the next year?

Cornwall is full of ridiculously talented songwriters, and there’s always new people coming through. People always think London is the haven of good music. London does have a lot of talented artists too and playing in London is a great platform to kickstart your music career, but I find it sad that Cornwall gets overlooked as a musical base because we have so many artists with so much potential.

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Introducing… Stone Roots: ‘Infectious, energetic funk-pop’

STONE ROOTS

Despite only being together for little over half a year, funk-pop four piece Stone Roots are already making a name for themselves in the local scene through their infectious sound and energetic performances. Fronted by the talented Holly Turton whose sultry vocal tone and charismatic stage presence blends effortlessly with the tight-but-loose groove and driving melodies of the band’s rhythm section (Chez Jeffery, Harry Bosworth and Harry Clemence), the band know how to create a feel-good vibe and get an entire crowd on its feet.

Straight after their set at this year’s Helstonbury festival and during a few casual pints, I (somehow) managed to grab a quick interview from the band.

How long have you been together as a band for?

We’ve been playing as a band for four months now; we actually got together at the end of last year and started writing our own material together, but we didn’t properly launch the band or start gigging properly until April this year. That way, it gave us a bit of time to gel together as a band and refine our musical sound and on-stage performance. It also gave us time to work on the promotional side of proceedings; in other words creating a ‘brand’ and identity for us as a band. It’s very hard to establish your own distinct sound and identity when you’re just starting out and there’s obviously so much competition and a wealth of very talented artists out there – in Cornwall and beyond. We wanted to make sure that when we launched the band proper, we had the best possible start.

As well as performing and gigging around Cornwall, are you planning to record and release any of your material?

Whenever we’ve written our own original material, we’ve recorded demos of each track. We’re hoping that by the end of the year, we can book a studio and record all the tracks we written, and hopefully it will materialise into our debut EP.

We also want to do a UK tour and start playing outside of Cornwall. We still haven’t decided which places or venues in particular we want to play, but a tour is definitely on the agenda. We were all based in Cornwall prior to forming the band, but we all have family from different parts of the UK including Somerset, London and Brighton.

Who are your musical influences and do you each bring an element of them to the band?

We don’t necessarily have a particular group of influences; we’re all influenced by a wide range of artists and we all bring our own musical style and inspirations into the group which I think enables us to be a lot more creative and looser in our performance and songwriting process.

Check out ‘Tease’ by Stone Roots below:

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Review: Hockeysmith ‘But Blood’ EP – “Anthemic, brooding, electronic shoegaze-pop”

HOCKEYSMITH

Think of a mix between the driving, euphoric rhythms of Ride and My Bloody Valentine, the distorted guitar riffs of Nirvana, and the seductive melodies of Portishead, and you still only come a fraction closer to pigeonholing what genre or sound Cornish sister duo Hockeysmith fit into.

It is almost impossible to categorize one because they are a band that refuse to be categorized in any way; instead they straddle the middle ground and uncharted territory between all genres, creating for themselves a completely distinctive sound that blends all their influences into one smouldering melting pot, yet still manages to sound like nothing else around at the moment. Their sound is as mysterious and enigmatic as the band themselves. Indeed, there is little known about the band even in local circles; they very much let their music do the talking for them. It seems to be a wise move, because one listen of their debut EP ‘But Blood’ (mostly recorded in the band’s caravan in remotest Falmouth) is enough to leave you excited for what else this duo have to offer.

The aptly eerie instrumental opener Phantom Whistle casually warms up the listener for what is to come with a kaleidoscope of jagged guitars and synths, before the title track really kicks things off. It is on the grandiosely morose title track But Blood where the pair fully introduce themselves and their brand of dark, anthemic electro-pop. The track (accompanied by an equally hallucinogenic video which you can see for yourself below) showcases the passionate, seductive vocals and harmonies of the duo which recall Cocteau Twins at their peak, combined with heavy, daze-inducing riffs inspired by the shoegaze of Ride, and darkly euphoric melodies that sound like a grunge rock version of Stone Roses.

Hesitate displays a softer, tender side to their sound, falling somewhere between the sultry vocals of Portishead and the sinister guitar-driven beats of Death in Vegas. Kicking in with a bouncing beat and centred around the delicate vocals and harmonies of the duo, the track slowly builds up over a wall of distorted basslines, crashing guitars and synths, restraining itself until the last chorus where it fully bursts into life only to finish all too instantly.

After the quiet intensity of the first three tracks, the mellow Meanwhile brings proceedings to a placid finish as the descending, downbeat guitar hook and reverberated snyths gently wash over the listener. However, the same simmering intensity that drives the previous tracks is still on display here.

‘But Blood’ is 15 minutes of anthemic, brooding electronic shoegaze-pop that is introspective enough to soundtrack your night in yet energetic enough for revellers to mosh or sway to at gigs and festivals, all delivered with the perfect combination of grandeur, delicacy and menace. For the ultimate alternative soundtrack to the festival season, look no further than this sublime collection by a band beginning to quietly assert themselves in the music scene.

‘But Blood’ is available now and can be streamed here. Check out the official video for the title track below:

Listen to the EP below:

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