Date of gig – 17 April
Date of review – 4 August (!)
Date of review – 4 August (!)
Touchstone have now successful blazed their trail at RoSFest, so I am free to post this review of their (now, not so) recent gig at The Horn in St Albans, on Friday 17 April. It was partly a launch of their new album, Wintercoast, but it was also a warm up for their appearance at The Rites Of Spring Festival over in Philadelphia last weekend, so I did not want to reveal the setlist in advance of that – lol there’s me thinking anyone reads this and pays any attention. I could say wibble and no-one would notice with all these words flying around. I got there early, partly because I had no idea what time it was really supposed to be starting and did not want to risk missing anything, but this did mean I could stand in the bar area and hear some of the soundcheck. And Elkie’s vocals sounded very smooth and full, and this simply added to my excitement at the thought of hearing some of the new material tonight. I also caught bits of Shadow and Discordant Dreams, and they seemed to have a more rounded sound than when I had heard them before. But that was all still to come – there were a couple of acts before that.
David Brown is a singer/songwriter from Birmingham, formerly of The Cellarmen, but who has now set out on his own, and was performing a solo acoustic set tonight, including tracks from his solo album, Chilvers Grove. He learnt to play English Rose by The Jam a few years ago and says he has been trying to write something half as good ever since. Well, what he has come up with so far did not sound half bad to me. He opened with Ghosts, gentle paced, melodic, easing us in, and very enjoyable, then moved on to Greasy Spoon, with more upbeat strumming, a good sound to demonstrate his excellent voice, whistful and melodic, the track now drifting along with a laid back feel, easing to a close, and so far he certainly has a sound which reminds me of David Gray. He knows how to work an audience, asking “has anyone pre-ordered the Touchstone album ?” There is a cheer, to which he responds, “I’ve heard some of it. It’s great”, and, of course, we all love him now ! He goes into The Road, a bit more uptempo, the sound circling, floating, his vocals more forceful, pushing the track on, with a strong melody. The next song is the title track from his album, named after the place he grew up, Chilver’s Grove. The sound is weaving, airy, David’s vocals coming through, dominating, there is a harder edge to his guitar strumming, but also a cosy feel which is reflected in the strong narrative in the lyrics. David is joined on stage by Glenn Stafford (I think that was his name – I really should have checked !), who is also on acoustic guitar, and they launch into a version of Neil Young’s Ohio, which a much more upbeat feel, a bigger sound, very much rolling along. Glenn’s vocals are lower than David’s and they combine very well, producing a very powerful, strident sound. It is a great version of the song. The next track is Violence, “probably about growing up in Birmingham, actually”, and while it has a calmer sound it certainly has an edge to it. It has an upbeat, full sound, hard and forceful at times, and it is hard not to tap your foot along to it. The two guitars come together very well on this one, and it rises on a crescendo before easing to an almost wistful end. The set closes with Sea Spray, a bouncy opening before the track drives forward, a hard sound to the guitars, a really enjoyable melody in there, a full, rounded sound, the vocals powerful, rising, and the guitar strumming is relentless now. It has been an excellent choice to close a most enjoyable set on a very strong note, and it will be interesting to see where David takes things from here.
Next up are The Harringtons, a young local band who open with Touts, an instrumental start leading into riffing and a feedback scream. The melody builds before it goes back to riffing, a dirty, scratching sound with the melody running through it, Nick Ketley’s drums crashing against it before it eases, then builds again with the melody growing in rounds, and Miles Howell’s vocals come in with a hard sound, hard against the solid rhythm being given by Nick and Jonathan Ketley on bass. Guitarist Gareth Hooper also provides vocals and together with Miles they produce a very dramatic sound, while Gareth’s guitar sound almost has a jig feel to it – reminiscent of Big Country, but without the Scottish overtones – and the track is really racing along, alternating between the vocals dominating and the guitar pushing out the melody in rounds, and then they break into the very familiar sounds of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain (the Formula 1 music) to close it out, the guitar having a violin feel to it. There has certainly been a mix of ideas and sounds to start off their set. They continue with Plead Mitigation, a big guitar sound which again has that celtic feel, before easing for the vocals to come in, then rocking along with an indie feel, sharp pauses, a very interesting guitar sound as the track goes stacatto, then racing along again before easing once more into a more melodic part, rising and falling as it kicks off and pauses, rocking hard and becoming more melodic, a melodic part taking us to the close as it drifts off with high notes into a somewhat quirky ending. O’Laney’s Loss has an upbeat melodic guitar opening, with some keyboard in the intro providing depth to the sound, a laid back mellow feel which soon picks up and has a pop feel to it, a very enjoyable melody within the track, which eases off before a guitar part closes things off very nicely. Crowd Pleaser does what it says on the tin – it crashes in with a big melodic riff, making me think of The Zutons from their first album, a mix of a 60s classic rock sound and indie, the drums rolling as Gareth picks out a high guitar part and keyboards add some substance to the sound he is producing, as he heads into a perky solo with some crunch behind it, and the track comes to a sharp end.
There is a lovely sounding piano intro from the keyboards for Without Her, then the drums kick in and it rolls off, easing for the guitar to come in. It is uptempo with a tight sound and with an edge. Excellent vocal harmonies and great lead vocals working through them, a really good beat from the drums and very solid bass. It eases again as the guitar and piano sounds come together and mix so well, then the drums come in again and it races off into another sharp ending. The drums are gently rocking to take us into 8th Season, easing down for the vocals to come in before gently moving off again. It is a subdued sound with a considered melody, slowly moving along with an atmospheric, emotional feel, before it suddenly breaks out, the vocals becoming more powerful, a bigger, harder sound to the guitars, and it picks up the tempo and pushes on before easing down to close. As a contrast, the opening to November is big and upbeat, the drums crashing, the guitars flying, and it races along with a lovely guitar melody rolling through it, a bouncy feel. The drums get faster as the guitar riffs out and moves into its solo, then a sharp halt before the track launches off again to its end. They close their impressive set with You Might Never Get It, a big guitar and drum opening which then races off with a guitar wail. It pauses into the guitar building, the drums rolling, and then rocks along, really driving behind the vocals, a great feel to the bass, then eases down into a more melodic part, mixing it up as the riffing comes back in and picks up the tempo again. It is a high energy track with a lot going on within it, easing again as the guitar and bass work together, which is an interesting twist, and then the vocals are soaring off as the riff picks up again, and there is a really fun high pitched guitar hook in there, the track now taking on an anthemic sound, easing into a melodic part, working on that hook, the drums kicking in but before they can go anywhere the vocals come in, and then it races off, the drums bursting through together with the sharp guitar riff to form a very big sound to finish on. There has been a lot to enjoy in their set, and The Harringtons are certainly a band to look out for.
The place is packed for the main event. Really packed, with people squeezing in, and it is great to see. Of course, there is a lot of excited anticipation around this gig – Touchstone have been very good at raising the expectation levels around their forthcoming album, Wintercoast, both through their reports from the studio as it was recorded and through the clips they have released so far – so there are a lot of fans here tonight looking forward to hearing the new material live and in full for the first time – the fact that they will be playing the same setlist as they will be taking to RoSFest adds a little something to proceedings. There is a bass sound thumping through as the band come on stage and a narrative is being read – being read by Jeremy Irons, so we now know his input into the new album. This is all part of the Prelude and builds very nicely into the title track from the forthcoming album, Wintercoast, Al Melville’s drums kick in, Paul Moorghen (who ? Moo, surely) bass rumbles through, hard and heavy, and as the melody from Rob Cottingham’s keyboards builds in waves together with Adam Hodgson’s wonderful guitar sounds, Kim Seviour (Elkie) makes a dramatic entrance on to the stage, looking as stunning as ever but immediately with a more confident look than I have seen in her before, and I would say the greater involvement in the second album seems to have had a positive effect on her. The sound itself is epic, majestic, and reminds me of some of the most impressive Iron Maiden track intros, and it pauses for Elkie to come in high with the keyboards, a perfect combination, and the track moves along gently with a powerful sound, Adam’s guitar coming through with a hard sound, then Al’s drums kick in and he picks up the tempo, gives it a bit of bounce. A fuller sound to the track now, both Elkie and Rob’s vocals more forceful before it pauses into a thick guitar riff, a sharp sound, a stacatto feel, intricate layers rocking away with a big guitar sound (although it turns out one of the intricate layers is the intro cd still playing…), then it eases down into a rippling keyboard sound, some easy guitar feedback coming through, the keyboard melody building with the guitar sound below it, the two gradually coming together, then the drums move us on again, rocking, swaying, a crescendo into a grand sound which is soaring, and the guitar screams through as the track rocks out, screaming into a brilliant solo which really flies out, then a hard cut into the vocals again and they are producing a massive sound, Moo’s thumping bass has everything else flying around it, and what an opening to their set, and what an introduction to the new album ! The song closes and the crowd erupts – and such a reaction is very well deserved. Shadow has lovely, floating melodies, with the rhythm from the drums and bass very solid, and Elkie’s vocals come in smooth and clear. Then the sound rocks hard and heavy and her vocals soar, hitting every note perfectly, and the treble sounds within the track work so well against Moo’s bass, which itself is such an integral component within their sound. It eases into an atmospheric part and the guitar riff races off, the bass thumping along with it, then the keyboards come through as the vocals come back in, and it builds and Elkie’s vocals soar, then ease back and flow gently, then the drums bite and it rocks again to the end. Of course, that was from their debut album, Discordant Dreams, as Elkie puts it, “the old album – still fresh and buyable and in stock”, and they continue from that album with a track which has proved to be a real grower for me, Being Hannah. The tremendous vocal harmony takes us off , with the guitar running under it, the bass and drums building up. The track moves on with the guitar picking out a tune, but it is the vocals whichÂ dominate, as the track continue to build, the guitar riffing really taking us on into an expansive vocal harmony from Elkie, Rob and Moo, and there is a great tempo to the track as the guitar and keyboard melodies shift around. Elkie is playing around on stage, mischievous, a wonderful performance – entrancing. The track eases down into a hard, heavy part, the guitar bursting through, high notes as the drums and bass rumble on and thump us through to the end.
There’s something of a drum solo from Al, prompting Elkie to ask. “who wants to stick the drummer’s sticks up his arse ?” A big keyboard intro leads us into The Mad Hatter’s Song, the guitar riffing as the drums crash and the bass thumps, it all easing into a floating keyboard sound as the guitar soars. The vocals come in with Rob dominating, there is a burst into a plateau of sound, then the track moves on through an intricate section, settles, pauses, ticking along. The keyboard starts to slide in, joined by the vocals in harmony, the drums crash in again and we move on. There is a sustained guitar sound as everything is rising, soaring and then holds there, before dropping to Adam picking out a guitar part, the drums and bass coming in with a bouncy beat, the sound building again and then racing off, forceful vocals, Elkie’s voice screaming through, the drums and keyboards bite in to pause us until it moves off again, repeating but this time with the vocals continuing, creating a big sound to close with, and the crowd erupts. The keyboards are building an atmospheric sound and we move into another of the new tracks, Original Sin. It moves along at an easy pace, the guitar slides in with the bass, the drums tapping along. Elkie’s vocals float in as the track holds, then sways off with a hard beat, Rob’s vocals also coming in. Both vocals are very strong through the track. A more edgy sound to the guitar as this fine ballad eases along, some occasional bursts, flourishes, before it comes in for a sustained solo, flowing, piercing and Elkie’s vocals soar to lead us to the close. Another one off the original ep now in Hear Me, the keyboards and guitar creating an atmosphere within swirling, high, treble sounds, the guitar floating off as the keyboards provide the melody beneath it. The drums bite in with the bass, a hard sound but with a gentle beat. Then wonderful harmony vocals again, as the guitar drifts on with the keyboards, before the guitar has a fuller sound going into the solo, flowing then soaring with a scream, wailing into more riffs, and the track eases to a close. In the crowd, Stefano, all the way from Italy, cries out, “excellent, guys, excellent !”. A big beat thumps out and, no, it is not Loveshack, it is Zinomorph (and what a great song title that is), another one from the new album, but one which has been previewed online, so already has something of a familiar air to it. The guitar riff comes through, driving the track, with a wonderfully funky bassline. At times there is a light sound to the guitar and keyboards, and then the guitar will be crunching, the riff keeps bursting through, and then the vocals come in over it, easing into a vocal part between Elkie and Rob, a lovely guitar part now being picked out under that. Ah, there are so many layers, such interesting complexities within their tracks – so that even the familiar throws up something new with each subsequent listen. And the track moves from one part to the next seemlessly, a great rhythm throughout, holding it together, and pushing it on to a sharp close. The setlist had Voices up next, but sadly a lack of time meant it had to be left out on the night.
Next up is my favourite Touchstone track, Blacktide. A gentle guitar intro before the drums come crashing in, and the vocals join. The track is building, bit by bit, and tonight I am struck by the thought that it reminds me of Rush. The guitar is running through everything, with the beat jumping around it, the track still building, building and then (almost finally) it explodes with Elkie’s vocals soaring. The beat is insistent as the track hits into the guitar solo, with the keyboards flooding underneath it as the guitar flies into an intricate part, the drums kicking in, the vocals return and the track rocks on, creating a massive sound which they sustain and then grow some more, and Moo’s bass really shoots us through to the end of the track – the crowd erupts ! “I really like it when you are noisy,” says Elkie. “Can I have a pint of Stella, please,” says Moo. The drums crash in with the keyboards and we are launched into Discordant Dreams, the guitar riff cutting through, the bass rumbling, yet more great vocals from Elkie and Rob, and the track picks up and gently rocks on, now holding, holding, until the vocals start to rise then soar, and the track rolls away, some lovely bass rumbling through, the guitar sound riping across as the drums keep the beat solid. It builds into an anthemic, majestic sound, layer upon layer, picking up, bouncy now, the drums driving us along, crashing into another part, the guitar coming through, a hard sound, harsh, the bass rumbling still and there is a very fast pace to the rhythm now, the crowd clapping along into a keyboard solo, a wonderful melody, and before we know it we are into The Beggars Song, the bass holding until the drums kick in again. We are rumbling along, holding, going through changes of rhythm, then the vocals are back in and a complex collection of sounds comes together, bursts into the melody and soars. Then back down into those bass rumbles before the guitar solo takes us high again, floating, and everything rises up with it, the track comes together and rocks off with a hard sound into a massive, sustained finale. “That’s normally our last song,” says Elkie, “but we thought it would be fun to have a singalong. This is called Strange Days off Wintercoast. The chorus is just ‘strange days'” and we try it out. And, yes, we could manage it, before you ask. A big, melodic Van Halenesque guitar intro floods the room, the drums and bass kick in – and again they build the anticipation, the sound holding, holding, building it up and then finally letting loose and running, and the crowd clap along. Big, thick riffing racing, the vocals in over the top, a bouncy uptempo number rocking along, such a good feel to it, jumping into a considered guitar solo, flowing, melodic, before the track eases off, only to grow again, holding as we clap along, then rocking off again into a big, sharp ending.
They come back for more – like they had a choice. Rob thanks David Brown and The Harringtons, Moo plugs the pre-sale of the new album (unlike this review then, which now appears way after the triumphant release of the excellent new album), and a gentle keyboard intro takes us into the beautiful Dignity, a mellow feel to the combination of Elkie and Rob’s vocals, a hard edge to some of the melody as it sways along, then it builds and breaks out with a keyboard part, complex, intricate, moving into a more flowing section with the guitar coming in, building into a rocking sound. It settles and the guitar sound grows, rises, wails, and then continues on, gradually moving, picking up the pace to soar again before the tracks settles and then rocks off again, moving into a keyboard part to close. The guitar cranks up and a very guitar-hero Adam (he’s lovin’ it !) roars us into a high-octane version of Tears For Fears’ Mad World, the drums kicking off with the riff, the bass thumping, the crowd clapping and bouncing and dancing (if it can be called that) – it is very much a hard and heavy version, jumping along, the keyboards and guitar playing around in their solos, very much held together by the drum and bass as everyone has a damned good time. “One more,” shout the crowd. “One more pint,” replies Moo.You need to take two things from this well overdue review – firstly, go and buy the new Touchstone album, Wintercoast – it WILL be in the top 10 albums you buy this year. And secondly, go and see them live – you can catch them this Sunday, 9 August, at the Cambridge Rock and Beer Fest. In fact, you can probably buy the album while you are there.