Monday, 24 June 2013

Music: Olympia by Austra

Katie Stelmanis, Austra | Photo: press/promotional

Toronto-based band Austra have exceeded all expectations with their new album Olympia (although that does seem impossible following the high praise for the debut Feel It Break). Stunning from the very start, the album sees the band covering new ground, whilst retaining the strong vocals and catchy electronic vibe that they are known and loved for.

The opening track What We Done? introduces a heavier bass and more layered texture than anything we have seen before from Austra, and these are to run through the entire album. Forgive Me similarly possesses a deep sound, with bass motifs shattering the chorus deliciously. 

Other striking tracks are Home (released previously as a single), with a piano chord opening and Austra-esque strong vocals accompanied by a beautiful flute-like flourish throughout, and Annie (Oh muse, you) for pure energy.

You Changed My Life and I don't Care (I'm a Man) demonstrate classic stripped-back Austra confidence and quirky sensibility. I love the way lead singer Katie Stelmanis enunciates words and splits syllables across wide beats.

 It is a more-than-satisfying and wholly impressive album. Buy it.


Friday, 21 June 2013

The Playlist: You Don't Love Me (no, no, no)

Jamaican singer Dawn Penn's ultra-cool 90s classic You Don't Love Me (No, No, No) – a reworking of a song she wrote back in 1967   has entered my radar with a (laid back) bang this month. It seems to be everywhere I go, reaching my ears via repeated plays during al fresco dining and through the sets of various DJs in clubs around Bristol. This constant – albeit appreciated – exposure has ensured that it has lingered in my head for multiple hours during the languorous month of June. + I am off to the perfect little free festival defined by its reggae vibes next month and this song is getting me psyched for that... Glastonbury first (watch this space). 

It was Penn's only billboard hit and peaked at No. 3 on the UK singles chart in june 1994. It has, of course, been sampled and covered numerous times since the 90s.

|||//////// It is definitely my favourite reggae track on the playlist these days. \\\\\\\\\

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Theatre: Relative Values – Theatre Royal, Bath

Bath's Theatre Royal is a beautiful theatre with an intimate feel and it makes the perfect setting for a play like Noël Coward's popular comedy Relative Values. I went along to the press viewing tonight and greatly enjoyed this version directed by Trevor Nunn, and starring Patricia Hodge, Caroline Quentin and Rory Bremner.

Set in the living room of a quintessentially-English aristocratic home of the early 50s, the play humorously explores snobbery (and the inverted forms it takes), class barriers, the post-war struggle between modernist and conservative thought, and the inevitable clash between the traditional English upper-classes and new Hollywood glamour – all with amusing insight and inevitable consequences. I suppose the plot has a reactionary vein to it, but, for me, Coward doesn't strike the heart of these issues with sharp precision; rather with a robust light-heartedness.

It is a delightfully enjoyable production, with the brilliant cast giving relentlessly engaging performances. Although a few lines went awry, and there was somehow a sense of the 'unfinished' when it ended, it was a well-executed piece. I greatly enjoyed the flamboyancy of the humour, thought the costumes were really smart and really liked the regency-style set. I predict that, in line with my brief-and-untrained overview (theatre isn't my area of expertise), this one is going to get some good reviews from those in the know. A highly enjoyable evening. And, thanks to a lovely colleague of mine, it was fun to be part of the journalist pack for the evening – I enjoyed a nice glass of elegant white in the press room during the interval.

Theatre Royal, Bath | Photo:

Patricia Hodge and Ben Mansfield in Relative Values | Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Relative Values runs until 29th June.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Music: BBC Cardiff Singer of the World

As a result of my tendencies towards a rather large range of cultural forms – be that a retrospective of a contemporary visual artist, or the latest unmissable 90s hip-hop club night – and the commitments of a nine to six job, it has been a while since I have enjoyed a recital of top vocalists. That is why I was so delighted to be invited by a colleague from BBC Music Magazine to join her at the first concert of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World last night (Monday 17th June).

There are two competitions in Cardiff Singer – the Song Prize and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World – which run simultaneously over the week. Twenty of the finest singers from all over the world compete in both strands of the competition, hoping for a place in the final on Sunday.

Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cardiff Singer is as big and glamourous as ever. Audiences come from across the globe to watch the rounds, which – despite being so prestigious – have always had a friendly atmosphere. It is an amazing experience to witness these powerful voices in combat and know that they are being adjudicated by a legacy of judges.

Performing tonight was South Korea's Kihwan Sim (bass), our very own Katherine Broderick (soprano), China's Yi Li (tenor), USA's Jamie Barton (mezzo-soprano) and Croatia's Marko Mimica (bass-baritone). The repertoire spanned nations, eras and settings, with some of the more animated performances landing us in the middle of intimate moments of whole operas with a feeling that we had just witnessed the entire plot play out. That is the magic of an expertly performed opera aria. 

All of this without mentioning the fantastic accompaniment provided by Jun Märkl and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. What a wonderful concert. 

Katherine Broderick, soprano | Photo: press/promotional

Yi Li, tenor | Photo: press/promotional

Take a look at BBC schedules to keep up with broadcasts of the event.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Playlist: Austra

Austra | Photo: promotional/Austra

Austra is one of my all time favourite electronic bands. From Toronto and led by the fantastic singer-songwriter Katie Stelmanis, the band formed in 2009 and is identified as being a 'gay band' – that is, in Stelmanis's words, "being gay and being in a band" (in reality she has always considered it important to keep the two identities separate). 

The debut album Feel It Break hosts the singles Lose It and Beat And The Pulse, which are both endlessly good, and the band has just released tasters from the imminent album Olympia

Home is playing on repeat through these speakers. It is characteristically strong, subtle and catchy in the Austra way. And whilst having plenty of energy it is gentle and – well – cool. The other track I have heard in lieu of Olympia's release is Painful Like. Again it has brilliantly energetic vibes and electronic riffs that make it instantly likeable. Austra is one of my lifelines; a band I go back to time and time again for a fresh sound and strong intentions. Give them a listen.

Austra | Photo: promotional/Austra

Austra | Photo: promotional/Austra

Olympia is released in Canada on 18th June.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Art: Remembering Exhibitions, Royal West Academy

Remembering Exhibitions | Photo: RWA

"An exhibition marks a moment. It can define a movement, highlight an artist or characterise an institution."
– Dr. Janette Kerr, President, RWA

In collaboration with students from Bristol University, the Royal West of England Academy is currently displaying interesting snapshots into its long exhibition history. A special showcase of key works from the Academy's permanent collections, as well as catalogues and posters from past events, reflect that a diverse range of styles from a wide period of art history have filtered through the academy over time.

It is nice to descend the flight of stairs into the RWA's basement to see rows of posters for past exhibitions adorning the walls. They evoke a feeling of nostalgia and – for me at least – envy at not having been born when the opportunity to see them was presented!

In the following rooms, three strands of exhibition history are systematically explored.  The RWA Annual Exhibition, featuring works by past RWA presidents; International Modernism, which looks at the legacy of Roger Fry's 1910 exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists (which Virginia Woolf claimed to have been so significant as to have 'changed the human character'); and finally, Landscape and Regionalism, which incorporates a range of periods, styles and techniques and reflects regional aspects of RWA shows.

Highlights were Bernard Dunstan's impressionistic works; Bedroom with Oil Lamps hosting a universe of atmosphere, and The Bathroom evoking Degas's watched nudes. I also loved Methuen's works, similarly impressionistic and atmospheric. Michael Porter's Edge of the Field is simply stunning – it has vivid colours and beautiful textures – and I loved Camilla Nock's abstract canvasses for Conversation with Myself – soft visualisations of a Joyceian stream of consciousness perhaps.

This is a well-curated and nicely-paced exhibition that I would recommend before it finishes next Wednesday. It is a brilliant collection of periods and revisitations to certain styles, and documents well the influence that exhibitions can have on the direction of art.

Severn Beach in the 1930s, oil on board | Lord Paul Ayshford Methuen
Caribbean Grey Day, oil on canvas | Alethea Garstin

Bedroom With Oil Lamps, oil on canvas | Bernard Dunstan

Floyd Patterson, oil on board | Bernard Dunstan

Café au Lait, oil on canvas | Bernard Dunstan

Gwavas Lake, mixed media | Michael Porter
Edge of the Field, acrylic and oil on paper | Michael Porter
Girl in a Long Green Dress, painted resin | James Butler

Remembering Exhibitions is free and runs until 19th June.

Art: Mary Drown

On my adventures around Bristol this weekend I decided to pop into the Royal West of England Academy of Art and currently showing in the Long Gallery is a free exhibition of silk screen prints by Mary Drown. The seductive silk canvasses are beautiful and delicate, and treat vivid colours with subtlety and control.

Mary Drown describes herself as having always felt the need to create things, and she worked with textiles from a young age. Her background in dressmaking and soft furnishings is reflected in these sumptuous canvasses – the silk screens would make beautiful fabrics for clothing, I think.

Mary Drown | Photo: RWA

Mary Drown: Silk Abstracts runs until 4th July.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Playlist: Daft Punk

Daft Punk | Photo: Murdo MacLeod

Who hasn't been playing Daft Punk on repeat lately? Random Access Memories has certainly dominated many a playlist since it was released on 17th May. With this album Daft Punk has not let us down – I can't get enough of it! With the affirmative opening track, and that beautiful-and-reflective The Game of Love coming directly afterwards, it is instantly irresistible. There is of course Get Lucky, which has been adopted by every DJ at any kind of club night, or on any radio station, and the brilliant Giorgio by Moroder featuring the producing legend and founding father of electronic dance music; Giorgio Moroder himself. I also love Within for powerful melodies and sadness, and Doin' it Right for the sheer sense of fun and confidence. 

Daft Punk are pure cool and deserve the legacy of true greatness they have earned – their synthesised melodies and careful harmonies are unbeatable. With Random Access Memories they are dominating the album charts and I don't know many people that can't help singing along to the catchy chorus of Get Lucky. Feel good vibes for the start of summer.

The real Daft Punk | Photo:


Tuesday, 4 June 2013


Fire in the Mountain has the best atmosphere of any festival I have ever been to. Everybody there is utterly happy, free and full of life. The music is brilliant, the workshops are varied and the food is delicious. After four days of hedonistic escapism we are back in the 'real' world. This is how it looked...

All photographs were taken on a Pentax k1000 SLR camera.

Tân yn y Mynydd | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Red kite country | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
We helped paint the signs on the first day | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
The bar – I wear: cotton dress, vintage; leather belt, Scope; leather bag, St Ives Leather Craft; wool scarf, Joules | Photo: Rosie Sleightholme

The phoenix | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
The Campsite Sessions | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Found items like these old pianos were used to build partitions, supports and surfaces | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Decorating the bridge | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Emily | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

At Moringa Cafe | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Emily and I at the cafe – I wear: wool scarf, Joules; cardigan, Urban Outfitters; cotton dress, vintage | Photo: Rosie Sleightholme

Owlsworld | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The bar | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Making the signs | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Tuning up | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Sound checks | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Our set – I wear: tweed jacket, Harry Hall (vintage); t-shirt, Zara; denim shorts, Levi's; tights, Primark; wellies, Hunter | Photo: Emily Pentreath

Our set | Photo: Emily Pentreath

Our set | Photo: Emily Pentreath
I wear: tweed jacket, Harry Hall; shell necklace, a gift from Thailand; denim shorts, Levi's; tights, Primark; wellies, Hunter | Photo: Rosie Sleightholme
Piglets | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Emily and Kerrin relax with an afternoon tea in the farmhouse below the festival | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The chai hut | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Emily finds the sunniest spot | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The courtyard | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Monday morning | Photo: Rosie Pentreath 
The canteen | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The last day – I wear: vest, H&M; swan feather clip, Racoon Circus (visit: | Photo: Emily Pentreath

You can see more of my photography HERE.