by:Larm feature on Norwegian Arts


I recently spoke with by:Larm festival head and general festival pioneer Erlend Mogård-Larsen about the upcoming edition of by:Larm and how the festival has evolved over its near two decades.

“The heart of by:Larm is the cobbled square of Youngstorget. With high-rise buildings flanking each side, a huge tent is erected in the centre to host the biggest bands. The other venues are within a short stroll of Youngstorget, making it easier to see more than just two or three bands in a night. Many of the city’s most renowned venues are involved, from the imposing sloping floor of 1750-capacity Sentrum Scene to the sweaty basement bar of Revolver.”

Read the full feature on Norwegian Arts.

Photo by Kim Erlandsen for NRK P3.



Straw Bear Saturday on Caught by the River


Photo: Sarah Campbell

I went to the Cambridgeshire Fenland market town of Whittlesey to witness the annual Straw Bear Festival and was rather taken in by its charms.

“Though the Straw Bear was present in 1909, the tradition faded away shortly after. In 1980 it was reintroduced by The Whittlesea Society, free of Bumbledom. 37 years on, it is now an extraordinary occasion where people of all ages line the streets in their hundreds, if not thousands. I heard someone accurately describe the day as like Christmas for Whittlesey. Shop windows are adorned with replica Bears and lampposts and bins are permanently decorated with straw motifs. The alcohol ban is lifted and plenty use personalised tankards to sip – or gulp – their ales. As well as the great crowds, there is a convivial atmosphere from early on. It is not a stretch to say that Whittlesey is rather proud of this rekindled custom.”

Read the full post on Caught by the River. 


Digital Natives: Phonofile feature on Norwegian Arts


Photo: Zoe Cormier

At the end of 2015 I spoke to Norwegian digital music distributor Phonofile on their expanding operations, opening an office in London and the future of streaming.

“Phonofile is one of just a number of companies that are examples of what has been called Norway’s “digital consumer culture”.  Norway is renowned as one of the world’s leading consumers of digital media, as the results of the 2014 POLARIS Digital Music Survey show.  Even among their high-consuming Nordic neighbours, the Norwegians are ahead. The survey found that 36% of Norwegian music customers say they are willing to pay for music, compared to just 13% of Finns. Norwegians also spend more on digital music (£16.65 per month) than their Scandinavian neighbours.

The reasons for the spread of legal digital music in Norway are down to a combination of factors. There has also been a significant reduction in piracy in this time, with just 4% of Norwegians under 30 still using file-sharing websites for pirated music.”

Read the full feature on Norwegian Arts. 

Portsoy, Sandend and Fordyce on Caught by the River


Photo: Sarah Campbell

During August 2015 I visited the Banffshire coastline and did some digging into my ancestry and combined this with a walk around former familial villages and towns. A little ancestral psychogeography if you will. It was published on Caught by the River the same November.

“Portsoy has a picture postcard quality without being truly beautiful. Side streets wind steeply downhill towards two harbours. The first of these was built in the 17th century, the latter in the 18th, as a result of the boom in herring fishing. In this mizzling weather there is a sense of melancholy about the place, as a solitary man tends stoically to his wooden boat. Later on the wind, rain and late-evening gloom combines with the exposed, rocky coastland to create a sense of something greater and more powerful than beauty.”

The full post is available on Caught by the River. 

Review: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Pond Scum


John Peel has been dead over ten years now but part of his legacy survives in the multitude of Peel Sessions, for one. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s umpteenth album is a compilation of a dozen of these tracks, recorded under various names – his own, Will Oldham, BPB and Palace – over a decade or so. It’s a collection of some of his best tracks recorded in a fundamental manner, with fewer of the instrumental textures of some of more recent releases.

First and foremost, it is a pleasure to hear Will Oldham play in this more stripped-back manner. Among other things he is a storyteller and removing some of the instrumental density allows you to hear his tales with a greater intensity and clarity.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think Will Oldham is best when he is at his most morose and laden with doom. Sometimes the figure that he cuts is so mournful it’s harrowing to listen to. The power of his lonesome balladry is often overwhelming. Other times it is as though he is singing his laments to himself; looking deep into his soul. The finger-picked acoustic arrangement of ‘Stable Will’ embodies all of these things perfectly. But there are other, jollier tunes; ‘Jolly One (2-15)’ and ‘Jolly Five, nominally at least. And ‘Arise Therefore’ sounds more hopeful, buoyant and polished than its original Palace incarnation.

Oldham’s poetic power is also clear. Take the opening lines of ‘Trudy Dies’: “I haven’t known sorrow for so many years / With no foe to fight / Death is all I fear / ‘Cos death could take you / Death could take you / And that’s just what it’d do”. I often thought Scout Niblett’s cover as almost as good as the original, though this version probably falls a bit below those two. His unusual version of Prince’s ‘The Cross’ sits quite well thematically within Oldham’s world, if perhaps not musically – though he does a typical deconstruction into something much more of a very raw racket than anything else.

Sure, there are other songs from the Peel Sessions that would have been nice to have featured – the fragile ‘I am a Cinematographer’, heavy ‘Another Day Full of Dread’ or the pulsating ‘O Let It Be’ – but that is probably just the Oldham devotee inside me speaking. The main problem is picking through to create a compilation of acts of Oldham’s longevity, quality and variety. It’s a tough task but there aren’t hundreds of Peel Sessions tracks and this is a more than reasonable outcome.

It is difficult to really know what to feel about Pond Scum as an album. It could serve as a decent introduction to newcomers, but it is not a massively wide-ranging or varied collection and the arrangements are too similarly basic to really give a fair and rounded impression. There are a few better starting places – I See a Darkness, The Letting Go, or anything under the Palace moniker if you’re feeling curious. Though it has merit in the strength of its content, Pond Scum may be only one for the collectors.

Review originally published on Drowned in Sound, January 2016.