Saturday, 21 May 2016

Album Review! Nonbeliever: Maybe It’s Strange

Maybe It's Strange

Maybe It’s Strange opens with a hypnotic cicada apocalypse, immediately giving an eerie feel to the first track, ‘Advancing Giants’. Nonbeliever conveys an impression of sad guitar (the image of The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso comes to mind) with a distinctive magnetic rhythm and vocals that echo down a corridor from somewhere I’ve never been. I feel as though I’m on my way somewhere. A burst of drums and a plane flies overhead and then I’m onto the title track ‘Maybe It’s Strange’; guitar riffs that seem to bubble up from underwater and spoken vocals akin to early Nick Cave open and close to pulsating drums.

I am absorbed into the sound, mesmerised and unable to break free from this strange place I’ve been transported to. ‘Circles’ is the sound of a fatigued man which sings to a desperateness of one world weary. ‘You Have Not Been Listening’ takes on a Spanish guitar vibe. It’s nice to be able to hear the authentic rawness of the key change which is all too often edited out of music. I’m flying high above in the weird world Nonbeliever has created.

‘Oh No’ beckons from bridge to somewhere more upbeat; with tingling obsessive guitar and regular haunting drum beat. I would say Nonbeliever is a great likeness to musical genius Thom Yorke with his sparse languid vocals; Nonbeliever combines almost jovial compositions with lingering lyrics and heartbreaking vocals. I am reminded of a song by Arleta called ‘Apo Mesa Pethamenos’ which means ‘dead inside, alive outside’, Nonbeliever comes from a world of the stoic yet irrevocably morose but which is veiled by a drawn-on smile. I can’t fail but warm to his happy hurt.

The moody turns continue throughout the album from dream-like ‘Summer Evidently’ to electronic video game tinkles with ‘Hero’ which is cut through with sparse resonant cries. ‘Dead Leaves’ is a firm favourite of mine – going from relaxed vibes to tired vocals singing of inner brokenness. His soft and shrewd dark indifference is distinguished from the more sultry guitar.

The final track ‘Crying Wolf’ is a beautiful allusion to Radiohead’s early years with gorgeous trembling spiritual vocals alongside sorrowful cries. Nonbeliever has really impressed me, even without the sheer layers of his musical ability, he evokes a remarkably poetic presence and speaks to the fragile regret inside each one of us. I’m looking forward to hearing where this talent progresses in the future. 

Verdict: 8.5/10

Stephen Fairbanks aka Nonbeliever

Lucky for us Nonbeliever is all over the internet so there's no excuse to not listen - go on....

Want to buy the album and support unsigned artists? 

Just want to follow Nonbeliever for his deadpan humour?

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Creative Thinking

When you get that pristine white blank page out and ‘the fear’ takes you over – what will I draw or write? What if I make a mistake? OMG I’ve lost my creativity because I can’t think of anything I can do… Despair! These are a few of the things I think about when I push down the crease on a new sketch book or stare blankly at a fresh page… for so long that my eyes start to loose focus and I see black splodges wobbling around before me.

I’m sure this kind of thing has happened to many, many people even those not creatively active on a daily basis. If you have a speech to write for your best mate’s wedding or a presentation to do for a job interview. We all have the choice whether we make something bog standard or whether we push the boat out a little to make something really special for that friend or something that will make us stand out from the crowd for that job interview. This is where the creative process comes in. But this is also where ‘the fear’ sets in. Here are a few tips and ideas I use:

Firstly, you need to limber up, shake it out, get some energy flowing because you need a brain which is wide awake. Then you need to make a brainstorm – write down all your ideas, empty your mind onto the page, what you’d like to do, quotes, things that inspire you, pictures. If you get stuck, take a walk, make a cuppa or talk to a friend about it – they might have some of their own thoughts and although you might not like their ideas it could spark an idea in you. Most successful creativity comes from a long process which may start very generally or vaguely but which branches off and flourishes into something really amazing and engaging.

Gathering inspiration at a Hunterwasser exhibition
Stick to what you are good at, unless you have the time and/or money to invest in a new skill. Once I went to a wedding where the best man was a Philosophy teacher and his speech was actually a ‘lesson’ on the groom's life which included philosophical questions on the grooms choice of clothes/haircuts over the years and he really got the wedding guests actively involved in his lesson with some hands up style questions. It was the funniest and most brilliant best man’s speech I have ever heard and the guy really played o his strengths and showcased his passion for teaching (this would also be a great way to get head hunted!).

Don’t worry about the technicalities (at least not initially) – just get something down on paper because you can always neaten up and fix things at a later date. It’s easier to do something from the heart - think of a time of great emotion or a place or person that means a lot to you or even just the first word that pops into your head. It doesn’t have to be good – my friend Johnny is not an artist in the traditional sense of the word and he thinks he is terrible at drawing but he still does it. And when he does his drawings really give you a sense of honesty and caring. There is just something so special about them. So you don’t have to be the best of the best to do something creative because if you do it from the heart then your personality will shine through.

Drawing by Johnny

Relax. Put on a piece of music that inspires you and get comfortable. If it’s sunny go to the park or if it’s snowy get under a big warm fluffy blanket. Being comfortable let’s you be comfortable with your creative task. Clear all mundane thoughts from your mind (don’t think about doing the dishes or hoovering up that piece of dirt on the floor it will still be there when you’ve finished and for all of your life there will be dishes and dirt so take this time out to have a moment for yourself). If this doesn't work then do something fun - draw around your hand and then turn it into something different or make an Exquiste Corpse with a friend. 

An Exquiste Corpse

I drew a hand and then turned it into a bird
Practice. The more you do something the easier it gets and remember you don’t have to be amazingly good at something for it to mean something. Whether it’s a personal project or a thoughtful piece for a friend, taking the time to think creatively will change you and others for the better - if you let it.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

My Poems

I used to go to a spoken word night in Manchester called Paradox  and heard some amazing things and got to hang out with the most amazing, intelligent and bonkers people I've ever met - I miss it!

Here are some crude poems I have written, they are not intricate or clever and most have been written in warm Irish pubs whilst drinking lavish amounts of the black stuff.

'Denim Man'
I see time pass in your eyes
Sorrowful but free
You looked so peaceful
I wanted to keep you all for me
Your denim fades
Your ears bloat
But your eyes remain the same
In that sorrowful state
I once thought so free

'Jelly Belly'
I've a fence around my belly
It holds me in
If the gate ever was to open
I'd flood out
My legs incased in tights
As a snail in his shell
Eyes cloud and fade with age
As purple clovers
Flow from my belly
Scenting the sky
Finally to turn your
Feet to jelly

You're my good hand
I'm the bad
If ever I knock
The knees of fate
You'll be there
To rectify me

'To Follow You'
I follow
Your plans
And deciper
Your path
Only to find
I'm full of

I love her love
But do not her
She strives
And changes
As I stay

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Healthy Pancake Day!

It’s always interesting, I think, to try healthy versions of ‘bad’ foods. I love pancakes and although I have no problem eating traditional batter pancakes, this year I thought it would be fun to try the healthy version – both for dietary reasons and also as an experiment to see how different or similar they actually taste.

Here is the simple recipe I used, first up the ingredients:
2 cups of cooked quinoa
1 cup of milk
3 eggs
2 ½ teaspoons of baking soda
¼ teaspoon of cooking salt
1 cup of fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of honey
A dash of lemon juice and the zest of one lemon

To have on standby:
Whole wheat flour (plain is fine if you don’t have whole-wheat)
Live oil or cooking spray
Lemon juice


Combine the quinoa, honey, oil, eggs and milk and mix together until smooth. 

It is worth noting at this point that if you don’t particularly like the texture of quinoa then blending your pancake mixture is an option. This will create a perfectly smooth batter with no quinoa shaped lumps or bumps.

Depending on the consistency you prefer add either the flour if you like thicker drop scone style pancakes or milk if you like a more crepe like consistency. If you have a sweet tooth then add another ½ tablespoon of honey to taste.

Add in salt baking powder, lemon juice and zest and stir.

Heat a griddle or pan with cooking spray or olive oil.

Pour ¼ cup of batter on to hot griddle or pan. I find it easier to transfer my batter into a jug and then I can just pour the batter directly onto the pan or griddle.

Sprinkle blueberries of the top and cook for a few minutes or until the bubbles start to burst on the top.

Flip and finish both sides until golden brown.

Serve with a dash of lemon juice and topping of your choice.

The verdict on quinoa pancakes is that, personally, I think they are nice and a new pancake experience but definitely not a patch on traditional pancakes. However, if you don’t want to feel guilty about having a pancake treat then these are a great alternative.

So don't wait around for the next Pancake Day to try these - whip them up for a truely nourishing and satisfying breakfast. I have mine with yoghurt. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Mark Lanegan Band at the Riverside, Newcastle

I don’t know why I am so surprised by the volume of people squashed into the Riverside for the Mark Lanegan gig on a damp Wednesday night. The support act is folksy-blues banjo welding Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss who offer an eccentric and lively warm up to the evening. I spend a good 20 minutes trying to find a suitable view and wind up next to the throbbing speakers. I had better not get another beer in case I lose this prime location, not that I’d want to move, as soon as Lanegan begins in that infamous sultry voice I am fixed to the spot.

Lanegan’s career spans generations and this really shows in the range of people and ages at the gig – fans from the Screaming Trees era right up to the more recent albums with Isobel Campbell from Belle and Sebastian. Lanegan shows that he is a true professional and someone who knows his audience as he provides a diverse range of songs, even as far back as ‘Dead On You’ from the 1994 album ‘Whiskey for the Holy Ghost’. But then the man hailing from Washington state does have a more than impressive back catalogue to choose from.

Lanegan’s newest album offering ‘Phantom Radio’ will certainly draw in a fresh audience as he continues on from 2012 release ‘Blues Funeral’ to experiment with synth and electro noises. Apparently even established ‘old school’ artists are moving forward into a brave new world of technology. It might be fair to describe Lanegan’s new (ish) unswerving direction as disturbed disco as he delivers “I feel your hands around my throat” from ‘The Killing Season’ in his arid voice which is backed with a resonating dance-like spangled beat. And therein lies his old and new self, both battling to be heard. It’s a marmite situation for Lanegan fans.

For me, his music represents the darkness and vulnerability that lies within. Perhaps through ‘Phantom Radio’ he is trying to break free from his former self and is now in the clutches of a past-present clash. However, the Grunge legend manages to keep the spiritual heart in his song, writing with lyrics which are still as deep, tormented and insightful as ever. 

The gig ends with a favourite of mine; the gospel inspired ‘Revival’ which was recorded with the Soulsavers, followed by two songs from the new album. I left the gig with inner warmth – I’m sure most fans could feel a certain connection with Lanegan who danced awkwardly on stage while maintaining a certain bashful yet assured presence. For me, Mark Lanegan’s music conjures up melancholy heartbreak and when he delivers lines such as “Hard times, walking in the sunshine” and “You don’t love me, what’s to love anyway?” I realise how much his voice truly embodies his soul and his words.

Mark Lanegan Band - Phantom Radio