Tag Archives: Nick and the sun machine

Discovering Wide Lying Smiles…

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Being an ‘events blogger’, I imagined at the end of Folkstock Festival and its post-event buzz that I would log off and submit my Folkstock Festival Musical Notes to the cyber pages of internet history. An archive of reviews and ramblings, pretty pictures and ever less impressive video qualities (Youtube videos of tomorrow are going to project life-sized, holographic images of bands directly into my bedroom so that I can go to a gig without so much as moving my hand to wipe the drool from my ever fresh-air depraved mouth, right?) that would serve as a good point of reference for all involved to see how far they’ve all come – artists, Folkstock brand and all.

But as my blog’s lain dormant, the Folkstock community has remained very much alive and kicking in the heart of …well, Hertfordshire (too much?) and as I’ve tagged along for the ride; dropping in and out of the local music scene at various stages of its bubbling progression – much the same as I did over the festival period itself – my blogging fingers have itched to dance over a laptop keyboard to the catchy melodies that have surfaced over the last few months; attempting to articulate with words alone the talent that I’ve seen growing.

Joining Folkstock Founder Helen Meissner and Nick Stephenson at the Alban Arena, for Nick and the Sun Machine's album launch.
Joining Folkstock Founder Helen Meissner and Nick and the Sun Machine’s Nick Stephenson, at the Alban Arena, for the album launch: Wide Lying Smiles. 08.03.14.

However, it can be daunting to try and capture the passion and inspiration that flows out of guitars, vocal harmonies and lyrical genius on the pages of a website; and quite frankly, I didn’t really have a clue whether I was doing it right the first time around!

But the Krakatoa moment in my music blogging ‘career’ came last weekend, Saturday 8th March, as Nick and The Sun Machine’s debut album Wide Lying Smiles burst onto the scene.

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From my seat in the dark corner of the  Alban Arena stalls, subtly trying to peer around the couple next to me that were caught up in a mood far too physical to have been ignited by the electric opening chords of ‘Acid Rain Clouds’ (however exciting the immediate burst of music may be!), the energy and flawless musical chemistry that came from the stage for the entirety of Nick and The Sun Machine’s set moved me. So much so, that I knew I was going to have to write about the experience.

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In fact, the beauty of the album is it, in itself, delivers an experience – stepping away from the atmosphere of a live gig, the smooth quality of the sounds in the album recording easily allow you to drift into a relaxed state of listening; an eclectic mix of rock, pop, and folk, each track manages to flow seamlessly into one another, yet still deliver melodic surprises.

I picked up my copy of the album on my way into the St Albans Arena gig, instantly intrigued by the artwork. Created by St Albans local (and Bass player Joe White’s brother) George White; the cover shows an eye-catching pattern of psychedelic colours overlaying an image of a 16th century Memento Mori pendant: a symbolic reminder of mortality; that we are just flesh and bone.

Wide lying smiles

Wide Lying Smiles album artwork

It was hard to gauge from the curious but modish album cover what kind of sound, or even genre, the music of the album would reveal itself to be. I’d already bought a copy of the acoustic teaser release; Quiet Lying Smiles from a gig at Trestle Arts Base some weeks ago, but the tracks definitely sound somewhat different to the clear-cut, high quality sound of the rock/folk/pop influences at play in Wide Lying Smiles.

Quiet Lying Smiles

Quiet Lying Smiles E.P

So from my chair in the familiar dark surrounds of the Alban Arena, I waited anxiously for the notes of the new album to prove themselves. I already had the CD in my bag; now it was up to Nick and The Sun Machine to convince me that I actually needed to listen to it after tonight.

Having recorded the debut album from April to June of last year, I’m sure the four-piece band – Nick Stephenson (Vocals), Simon Hadwin (Drums), Joe White (Bass) and Michael Scott (Guitar/Keyboard) – were feeling a mix of excitement and pressure as they began to play; marking the official launch of the album in front of a home crowd – but if they did, it didn’t show.

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Resonating through the auditorium, the up tempo ‘Acid Rain Clouds’ was the perfect introduction to the evening. Unfolding to allow each member of the band to present their talents, and lead singer Nick Stephenson the chance to flawlessly showcase the smooth tones to his voice, I wasn’t surprised to learn afterwards that this is Nick’s favourite recording on the album. Other than reminding him of a happy time creatively (which shows in the way he performs it) Nick explains “the arrangement by the rest of the band takes it somewhere I would not have envisaged initially… that’s why we are a ‘band’ as opposed to a singer with backing musicians”.

‘Ask Me For My Name’ and ‘Baby A’ were among the crowd-pleasing tracks that followed, but the pinnacle of the evening for me came with the change in pace and atmosphere that ‘White Chalk’ brought with it. The haunting acapella harmonies that make up the first few bars of the song were spine-tingling as they echoed out through the venue, making the performance seem all the more intimate than before. Given how distinct this song is, I was pleased to find it’s the opening track of the album.

The real gem in Nick and The Sun Machine’s song writing crown however, (can you put crowns on sun machines? Do songwriters even get given crowns – or do they just shack up with Drew Barrymore and sleep under pianos like that average yet pleasant Hugh Grant film? … I diverge…) was the brand new and (as yet) unrecorded song; ‘One Thing’. With an edgier rock feel and an undeniably strong rhythm, this seemed to the song most people were discussing in the foyer afterwards.

Concluding with ‘Fast Learner’, Nick & The Sun Machine ended the set to rapturous applause, and the kind of support that makes me so fond of St Albans – though I have no doubt they would have (and will) provoke the same reaction elsewhere.

Nick sun machineI thought about Nick Stephenson’s words that many of the album’s songs were penned in a creatively rich period ignited by listening to the album ‘Let England Shake’ by PJ Harvey:

“… I heard that and thought it was one of the most powerful records I’d heard in years, and it just set me off writing most of these songs – it influenced not ‘how’ we sound but more the thing that drove the writing,” he’d explained;

and I found myself concentrating harder for the signs that Blur, Jane’s Addiction, Wild Beasts, The Beatles and Beach Boys were also all creative influences for this album, as I listened to it for the second and third time on my journey home.

Oh yeah, and something about Toploader.

wide lying smiles cover ‘Wide Lying Smiles’ is now out. More info can be found at http://www.nickandthesunmachine.co.uk

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10 things I loved about you, Folkstock:

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This time last week Folkstock Festival had drawn to a close. This week, I think my blog is drawing to a close too. Aside from our wonderful videos, which will be posted up shortly (I’ll notify all my readers via my Folkstock twitter feed when they are completed and uploaded), I’d like to sign off with my 10 favourite things about Folkstock Festival. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my ramblings and perhaps there’ll be a Folkstock Festival next year, that I’ll see you all at?!

1. The “game for a laugh” mentality.

This blog, although often carrying a serious message, is meant to be a bit of fun. I was invited along to blog from a young person’s perspective – and that’s the tone and style I’ve tried to keep. My blogging team were set the same task. Sound editor and interviewer Mikey D interviewed many of the artists, and came up with some unusual lines of questioning. I love that everyone was game for a laugh! (That bizzare conversation at the Morris dancing performance… that was us. sorry).

NOTE: You’ll also find the full results of Mikey’s ink blot tests on this sound bite too!

2. The tone.

I loved that Folkstock Festival didn’t take itself too seriously. I was a  little worried that it could become commercial – but it stayed true to its independent festival ethos the whole way through. image

3. The banter.

I love it when artists are able to connect with their audience. And better still, when they are down to earth enough to be able to laugh at themselves, and invite us (as an audience) to laugh along with them. Lucy Ward got this spot on! She laughed  at herself, we laughed at her, she poked fun at us (mostly for not singing along loud enough), we played along (mostly by shouting her songs back at her). It worked.

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 4. The dress sense.

Thanks to Espiritu, there was colourful hair galore at Folkstock Festival! And in fact, some people had got the memo and arrived with their own various funky hair colours ;). I loved that people just felt relaxed and comfortable all day! Most of all Nick (the Nick and The Sun Machine variety) who kitted himself out at The Grand Vintage Fair stall before going on stage!

Photo by Steve Beeston Photography

Photo by Steve Beeston Photography

5. The sing-alongs.

There was plenty of this going on last Saturday (21st September). I must admit, one of my favourite sing-alongs was at the Turn Up The Sun stage – an enclosed space (like a circus tent) perfect for this kind of activity – and was with the band Ryewolf: they were just fun, and played the kind of traditional folk music that has you tapping your feet and clapping along.

Ryewolf

Ryewolf

6. The freebies.

Some festivals give away wristbands and glow sticks. Folkstock gave away hair styles, updos, hair chalks, braids, head messages, foot massages, etc. Thanks to Espiritu Spa and Salon!

Espiritu salon and spa

Espiritu salon and spa

7. The quirky extras.

There were so many good stalls at Folkstock Festival. I loved the CD stall (Talking Elephant), but my favourite quirk of the day was being able to enjoy a cuppa from a china tea cup and not a styrofoam cup! Thank you Time 4 Tea!

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8. The food.

Pizza stand with a stone-fire oven. Crepe stall. I don’t think I need to even say anymore.

9. The family element.

Anyone who thinks kids wouldn’t enjoy a folk festival, or would end up getting bored – should have come to Folkstock.

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10. The Memorable moments.

This pretty much includes the whole festival. Beginning to end. From arriving in the morning with no clue what to do (sorry to mention it Helen, but you missed me off of the production mailing list… 🙂 ) – luckily the cars either side of us in the car park included Lauren Deakin-davies (Helen’s daughter) on one side – who verified who I was, and a kind stranger on the other side, who by chance had printed off a spare production car parking pass, and gave it to us! (thank you so much, whoever you were!) to snapping my tent pole clean in half when putting my tent up in the evening (luckily, ever the problem-solver, I remembered I had some children’s plasters in my bag [I’m a hands-on Auntie] which I used to hold it together). It was the kind of fun, crazy, random, exciting day I’d hoped it would be!

Poor tent post

Poor tent post

A couple more testimonials, from those taking part at Folkstock…

 “It’s been a good day; the audience are really chilled out which is cool. I’m happy to be involved and its been a good for a first year. I’ve done a lot of festivals this summer, and this one has got good set up – the sound doesn’t bleed between stages.” – Luke Jackson

“Folkstock’s on my front doorstep; I live just across the field, so I thought I’d come along!” Anna Wendean

“It’s a great little stage (the Alt Stage) with its own audience. I really enjoyed it.”Roxanne de Bastion

“We’ve been doing well – lots of people are buying things and one of the artists (Nick Stephenson) even bought one of our flags to wear on his stage! A European Union one of all things! He’s playing at 2.30 on the Alt Stage. I’m going to watch.”The Grand Vintage Fair, St Albans

“It was really good; I really enjoyed it and it was a good stage to play on. I’m glad I bought the flag and hat from the stall (Grand Vintage Fair) too: they sent people our way!”- Nick Stephenson

“It’s been busy and we’ve just been grabbing passers-by and pulling them in – they’re loving it! I just can’t wait for the salon to open now!”Epsiritu staff

Some of the people I chatted to

Some of the people I chatted to.

One final review, from Altitude Arithmetic

Altitude Arithmetic Reviews: ‘Folkstock’ (21st September 2013) 

Words: Priya Garg

Altitude Arithmetic was invited to the inaugural year of family-friendly trad-mod folk/roots fusion acoustic music festival, brainchild of Helen Meissner and home for a day to more than 70 artists from local to more nationally known performers and debut to veteran professionals at ‘Folkstock’.

Four dedicated stages were erected in the rugged leafy green fields of Aldenham Countrypark, just south of the pink streamer-covered visitor walkway and completed with everything from singing/ukelele workshops to various arts & crafts stalls, a selection of ciders, ales and the occasional wandering face-painted, stick-banging Morris Dancer….

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

Who’s playing at Folkstock?

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I’ve been busy this week trying to think of all the ways to get information about our amazing Folkstock Festival (and the talented  line-up) across to our followers, and those in-betweenies that are thinking about buying a ticket but not yet sure…  (just remember, you always regret what you didn’t do, not what you did 😉 ).

I have previously introduced some of the main acts playing at Folkstock, but seeing as that was a while ago – and likely to have gotten lost in the mass of blog posts, I thought I’d bring you a quick and easy way to get to know some of our artists: via my Pinboard.

If you are – or know of – any Folkstock Festival artists that aren’t on the board, please help a blogger out and go ahead and add them – I’d love to see all of the acts’ websites on there by the weekend!

Follow the board through to Pinterest to see the larger range of our artists – all image will take you through to their websites.

The stage is set…

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It’s getting so close, isn’t it? Only 6 days to go until Folkstock Festival. We’ve put together a full set list now of acts, times and stages (click the image below to view) – so once you have your tickets, you can get planning your weekend already.

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Andy Shepherd of Shepherd Audio has kindly supplied us with this plan of how the area is going to look next Saturday, so you can get a good feel for the size and area its going to take place in. Excited doesn’t cover it!!

Folkstock merchandise, including the t’shirts (as modeled by festival director Helen Meissner and folkstock artist Amy Pettingill below), are now also available to buy via the website. Those of you who read the previous post about t’shirt designs may be pleased to see both designs are available to buy, with a list of various artists on the back.

If you can’t wait until  next weekend to have a listen to some of the artists that will be performing at Folkstock Festival – click here. Last Wednesday I headed to Nick Stephenson‘s Mid-Week  Music Open Mic night at The Boot, St Albans, to see Zoe Wren perform ahead of Folkstock – and if her set at The Boot was anything to go by, the Folkstock crowd are going to love her!

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A fabulous weekend for folk

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Folkstock artists have been busy, as usual, this weekend. The Folk, Garry Smith, Daisy Mae LewisZoe Phillips, Kaitlyn Sings, The Tritones and Nick and The Sun Machine were entertaining fans at Wilkestock Festival, whilst Daria Kulesh and her band KARA were kicking off Saturday night’s Live Music Project at Trestle Arts Base.

Folkstock Managing Director Helen Meissner spent the weekend at Wilkestock, taking amazing photos of the performances, as usual – which I’ve put a sample of here. It looks like it was a blast!

A little bird also told me that Simon Hadwin (the drummer of Nick and the Sun Machine, whom I meet at the Marketing Matters event) impressed the crowds with an impromptu spot on the acoustic stage to fill in for an artist who had to cancel – nice one!

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I, on the other hand, headed over to Trestle Arts Base, to see KARA’s folk performances with a Russian twist. Daria Kulesh was the first Folkstock act I ever encountered, having met her at the St Albans Film Festival, so I definitely wanted to see her joined by her band on stage.

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This was my first experience of hearing a hammered dulcimer instrument being played, and it certainly added another dimension to KARA’s musical sound.

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Four bands played in total last night: KARA, Starseedz, Broken Boat and The Neverists. It was great to see the space at the arts base being used so well, and lots of people enjoying the local talent that Herts seems so full of. The Neverists themselves summed it up with:

“The show we played last night was incredible, I have never felt a reaction from an audience like last night, people we’re dancing to our songs, we played the longest set we have ever played and really got to mix it up, with Jimmi leaving the drums to play harmonica.”

I love finding new music, and hearing Broken Boat for the first time last night was a real treat. I’m looking forward to seeing the performances of other Folkstock artists at Trestle in the coming months, and discovering other local bands. Hopefully some of these guys will be heading along to Folkstock Festival in 3 weeks time, to give us a few impromptu performances at the ‘on the day sign up’ slots?!

Coming up at Trestle Arts Base:

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Supporting Folkstock artists around St Albans

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In the spirit of all things Folkstock, (and having just moved to St Albans earlier this month) – I’ve been throwing myself into the local music scene here in Hertfordshire and specifically the city of St Albans. Last Wednesday, Denise Parsons of the Trestle Arts Base invited to along to an open mic night run by one of the Folkstock Foundation artists – Nick Stephenson, of Nick and The Sun Machine – at The Boot pub, near the clock tower.

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Alex Lilly and Jessica Hart performing at The Boot

What a great evening it was too! The Mid-Week Music Open Mic night showcased so many talented artists from the local music scene, with each performance consisting of 3 songs. Paul Littler, Tom Dibb, Alex Lilly, Jessica Hart, Lily Rose Fowler and headliners Sophie and Tim were the line up last week, and if next week follows suit, its bound to be awesome. The open mic night is on every Wednesday at The Boot.

Paul Littler performing at the open mic night

Paul Littler performing at the open mic night

I loved how friendly and welcoming everyone at the event was, and a special thanks to Denise for talking the time to introduce me to everyone. I’d definitely recommend that acoustic music lovers check this out. I shall also be heading over to the (free) ‘Live Music Project’ at Trestle Arts Base next weekend (31st August) to see what Denise’s own community event is like – we’re lucky to have her supporting Folkstock Festival!

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