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A Month of Riffs and Riff Raff....

Over the last month or so I have had the pleasure of attending no less than 6 fantastic gigs over the past month or so. This excludes local acts that I have seen in pubs in Brighouse where they are free to enter, but who were nonetheless excellent - The Rainey Street Band at Jeremy's, Nick Hall at the Beck. This is more gigs than I have been to in such a short space of time since I was a student, when every night in Manchester there seemed to be someone on.

I have already written about the brilliant gigs I went to featuring Neil Young and The Stone Roses recently, but I have also seen a further four over the last few weeks from generally less well-known artists that have all been superb. These were The Deslondes, Kurt Vile, Martin Carthy, and finally Hurray for the Riff Raff. All different, but all masters of their own musical genres.

First up were The Deslondes. I loved their eponymous first album when it came out last year, so much so that it ended up in my list of top albums of 2015.

I accept most people haven't heard them, but trust me, they are something special, and great live, as I saw when I caught them at one of the handful of UK dates they were playing this summer, at the excellent Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. Blending country, bluegrass, folk, and rock'n'roll, this New Orleans-based outfit have a traditional good-time feel. An hour or so in their company will chase any blues away.

Next up was Kurt Vile at Gorilla in Manchester, who was performing with his band The Violators. I have been a fan of his for a number of years, since he released his solo album 'Smoke Ring for My Halo', after leaving one of my favourite bands, The War On Drugs, whom he set up with Adam Granduciel in Philadelphia. His music is influenced by the likes of Tom Petty, Springsteen, and John Fahey, and features a lot of swirling, hypnotic guitar lines. The place was packed, but a friendly steward let me head up some stairs so I could get a good view above the massed crowd. A good gig, but a bit of an early finish, possibly due to the fact he was due on at Glastonbury the following day. For starters, check out his 2015 album 'b'lieve i'm going down'.

A complete change next. I saw Martin Carthy at the wonderful Square Chapel in Halifax. Now Martin is a doyen of the traditional folk music world, folk royalty indeed, married to Norma, from the famous Waterson family, and father of Eliza, who has carved out a distinguished folk music career in her own right. He belied his 75 years as he kept us all enthralled with a set chock full of wonderful songs of love, lust, betrayal, treachery - in fact, all the human traits and behaviours that keep the world wobbling on its axis! He treated us to little anecdotes, referencing the stories behind the songs, like a curator, a guardian of our wonderful musical heritage. A lovely evening at a lovely venue, now closed for a few months as work finishes on a new extension, which should be well worth checking out when it opens again in the autumn.

Last up was another gig at the Brudenell, and in many ways it was my favourite of the super six. Last week I caught Hurray for the Riff Raff, another New Orleans-based outfit like The Deslondes, with whom they have a number of connections. I'd first come across them a couple of years ago when they released their excellent album, 'Small Town Heroes'.

The Riff Raff play a mix of country, folk, blues, with nods to the likes of Woody Guthrie, and are a definitive Americana act, their music could not come from anywhere else in the world. They are fronted by the diminutive Alynda Lee Segarra, who is of Puerto Rican descent and was brought up by her aunt in the Bronx before running away and eventually ending up in Louisiana. Alynda writes most of the songs, which are rich in memorable tunes and lyrics, drawing on the experiences of her unconventional  background, which often hit against social injustice, reflecting a country where prejudice and racism still exist. But, despite the sometimes serious themes, the glorious melodies meant that we all left the Brudenell feeling uplifted and privileged to have experienced a fantastic band who are sure to gain more followers once more people have heard their music.

It's been a fantastic month....

Alynda Lee Segarra, Hurray for the Riff Raff


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