Friday, 19 June 2009

Tick, tick, tick... JUNE!

Suit Yourself vs. June now available online here.

Here's a tantalizing taster (... and my Carniville review) below.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Come on in...

A review of The Jamaica Street Artists Open Studio via Suit Yourself Magazine.

Like many on the Gloucester Road to City Centre shuffle, I trudge by the unobtrusive mass of the Jamaica Street studio nearly every day. Despite its size, it’s easy to pass its scarlet and green frame and abundance of windows without realising it’s the diamond in Stokes Croft’s creative rough. Sometimes a paint-covered overall with a fag and a cup of tea in hand reveal its secret, but you’d rarely guess that inside this discreet building there’s a frenzy of activity as a community of artists go about their creative business.

Last weekend’s open studio was a chance to wander through this usually unseen warren of art, natter with the artists about their work and purchase their skilfully crafted wares. Selling in a mid-recession market has been tough for many of the studio’s artists, but economic downturn hasn’t affected the incredibly high standard of work found within these walls nor the overwhelmingly friendly atmosphere.

After venturing up the narrow staircase beside a decidedly rickety-looking iron elevator, punters were met with room upon room of treasure-filled studios. The range of media that the building houses is as varied as it is impressive. The hidey-holes of more traditional fine artists sit comfortably aside those of illustrators of children’s books, edgy ceramicists, machine embroiderers, poster-makers and jewellers. Highlights included Sophie Woodrow’s beautiful porcelain mutants that combine cutesy fauna with urn-like menace, Karin Sabine Krommes’ intricate paintings of aircraft mechanics, kooky characters and visual puns from Bjorn Rune Lie and the playful and exquisitely embellished textile pieces of Louise Gardiner, among many others.

The Jamaica Street creatives were well aware that all work and no play makes dull artists and the opening night was just as much of a wine-fuelled celebration as a serious exhibition. An electric after-show party at the nearby Croft saw cracking sets from the strangely attractive Dagger Brothers – tiny t-shirted electronica meets performance art that must be seen to be believed – and plenty of DIY athleticism from loop peddle champion S J Esau.

No doubt there was many a headache when then studio opened it doors bright and early the following morning but these guys are professionals and the show must go on, hangover or no. It was once again a pleasure to have brief glimpse into a studio that is at the epicentre of Stokes Croft’s creative and cultural identity. As the builders begin to encroach, let’s hope that this gem is kept well and truly away from the property developers’ greedy paws. To ensure the studio’s future, the artists within need to raise the money to buy the building themselves and so please donate and support them in whatever way you can.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Jamaica Street Artists Open Studio 2009

A bit of footage to whet your art-loving whistle ahead of the Jamaica Street Artists Open Studio this weekend.

Thursday, 4 June 2009


A review of Canadian fiddler extraordinaire Final Fantasy's St George's gig last week, via Suit Yourself magazine.

Last time Final Fantasy, aka Owen Pallatt, was in town, he persuaded a mesmerised audience to forget the Louisiana’s sticky, beer-soaked floor and sit child-like before him and his violin. Back once again, his well deserved success has meant an upgrade to the bigger venue of St George’s but the intimate atmosphere, civilised seating arrangement and the audience’s youthful wonderment was still very much intact.

The Canadian string-arranger to Arcade Fire has developed a reputation for technical brilliance, quirkily-looped soundscapes and touching lyrics that has inspired almost fervent worship in fans. Fitting then, that a hushed St George’s should be host to his choirboy-like vocals and violin’s soaring heights. Support was provided by the caped Castlemusic whose delicate vocals were accompanied by such minimalist and rawly played guitar riffs that it was sometimes uncertain how long she’d been playing. At times powerful, at others utterly vulnerable, her ditties formed impressionistic sketches using old folk emblems. Tales of sea-faring wives and leafy forests were entangled with more modern touches, the best of which saw Castlemusic abandon her guitar, using her voice alone to fill the church’s lofty heights.

After a brief interval, Final Fantasy treated a now fuller nave to a mammoth set of new tracks, many of which Pallett endearingly excused for not being quite polished enough. Heartland, which looks set for release at the end of the year, is not a giant departure from previous records: lyrically marrying the fantastic and routine and musically forming entire arrangements from bass and percussion to melodies using his trusty fiddle. Yet there is perhaps more confidence seen in the tentative first performances of these new tracks than before, or maybe this is just Pallett’s ease at playing not only in a venue more frequently used for classical musicians but also a former place of worship, harking back to Pallett’s formative years performing alongside his church organist father.

Almost the entirety of Pallett’s set was accompanied by a silhouette artist who transformed coloured scraps of acetate into kooky audio-visuals using a clunky overhead projector. With the help of a mirror, aeroplanes soared across the ceiling, lace-gloved hands played piano and a mass of flowing locks were trimmed to form a face resembling Final Fantasy himself. Although at times the DIY aesthetic felt a little bit stilted, the final projections on to St George’s balcony and roof, which saw glittering stars brush Pallett’s face and violin in the darkness, were particularly enchanting. Two encores later, a bewitched congregation finally filtered out into the Bristol night, filled with awe at such a beautiful and seemingly effortless set. Praise be to Pallett, Hallelujah!

Sea Sew

A review of Irish songstress Lisa Hannigan's debut album via Suit Yourself magazine.

Even if her name doesn’t sound familiar, only those hiding under a rock the size of Dublin will have missed the distinctive voice of Irish songstress Lisa Hannigan. Her velvety vocals weaved their way through Damien Rice’s hugely successful 2002 album, O, and the more recent 9 like a sultry ghost, winning both musicians much critical acclaim. After a rather hasty departure from Rice’s side – to her surprise, Rice announced that he no longer required her services whilst they were on tour in Munich – Hannigan, with several years’ worth of songs in her head and notebook, returned home to start work on her debut.

The eagerly awaited result, Sea Sew, not only exudes Hannigan’s familiar, fragile and beautiful wheeze but also showcases her talent for orchestral arrangement. Horns, strings and classical piano tussle with folky guitars, whilst Hannigan undulates between fragile child and jazz vixen. It’s a playful album – echoed by the kitsch needlepoint artwork knitted and embroidered by the singer and her ma – that shows that being taken seriously as an artist doesn’t mean taking yourself too seriously.

Aquatic opener Ocean And A Rock begins the album-long sea metaphors and showcases a breathy and guttural richness that cradles the listener back and forth in the wave-like rhythms of Hannigan’s phrasing. Sea Song has a similarly strong sense of movement this time employing salsa rhythms and entangling violin wails to provide something sexier than some of the more Radio 2 suited tracks. The haunting Keep It All is where the record becomes really interesting, with heady twangs of bass strings and a dark Portishead-like vibe. Tender and commercially successful Lille provides a spectacular finale, complete with plonky xylophone, pizzicato violin and some elfin intonation that would make Joanna Newsome proud – in fact Hannigan enunciates the word ‘arguably’ in eiree similarity to the pixie-child herself.

Although the album shares a lot of similarities with Rice’s work – slow building crescendos, minimal production and heart-wrenchingly raw vocals – Sea Sew clearly shows Hannigan heading in a different direction to her previous collaborations. Hannigan isn’t always the most profound lyricist, teetering at times towards the twee: “cup of coffee, splashy splashy,” but then if Kate Bush can write an emotional voyage inspired by a washing machine, perhaps the kook can be forgiven. It’s a strong and confident debut from a justifiably assured artist, whose previous experience will no doubt yield stunning live dates.

Catch Lisa Hanningan at live on Tuesday 14th July 2009 @ The Fleece, Bristol