PHOTO CREDIT: Deana Lowe
The track, Hey Maria, is available via:
Cinematic Folk; Pop
10th August, 2018
ON this outing…
PHOTO CREDIT: Julien Weber
I get to look at a few different, interesting things. I wanted to look at song derivation and how the most compelling and passionate tracks can stem from something quite humble and romantic. I also want to look at artists whose live performances redefine that experience and make me, and many others, want to go. I will also look at the recording process and the final process – how we often get caught in this assumption all modern music is digital and soulless. I will then finish by looking at Gypsyfingers’ sound and why we need to see more of it in music – a look at the band and where they will head from here. The guys act as a fully-fledged band but the core is, and always has been, Victoria Coghlan and Luke Oldfield. Pat Kenneally and Simon Hedges are new to the ranks and elevate the sound - and help bring magic to the studio and stage. I mentioned the changes in the Gypsyfingers ranks the last time I reviewed them so, on this outing, I will address other themes. We all listen to music and digest it but I wonder whether we truly ask where the story comes from and get an impression of its creation. I review tracks all the time and interview artists so I get a first-hand exposure to where the songs stem – I always ask artists during interviews where the inspiration comes from. Music is growing and always-busy so I feel it is getting harder to stop and absorb a song. We listen to what is out there and, if the artist is engrossing and makes you stop, you might ask where the lyrics and music come from. Most of the time, we listen to music and let it absorb into the skin without realising how it all came to be. In the case of Hey Maria and its beauty; I was interested to know where the lyrics arrived from and what its background in.
Without going into the full story; it is inspired by Maria, a friend of Coghlan’s, whom she met in Paris. Coghlan was in a taxi, at 3 A.M., and sitting next to Victoria. It came to pass they lived in the same street (in Montmartre) and a long friendship ensued. They spent the summer sunbathing and enjoyed road trips to the South of France. It may seem idyllic and a bit envy-provoking but Hey Maria was written by Coghlan when she was on the beach in Cannes. That, in itself, sounds like the start of a film and I wonder whether the band might expand on that inspiration for their own feature. It seems like the best songs always have some unique and deep beginning. I can imagine Gypsyfingers making a bit of a film around Hey Maria and that friendship: the late-night ride and the long summer in the sun. Even before I heard a note and listened carefully to the song; I was picking apart the story and envisioning what was happening. I have spent years assessing songs and a few of them remain in the mind and keep me coming back. That might sound severe but there is so much music out there it can be hard to get a grip and let it all remain. This song, by Gypsyfingers, is one that has remained in the brain and seeped into my consciousness. I feel, if we look at where songs begin and their stories, it gives us a much deeper and more extraordinary connection. Hey Maria is about friendship and summertime; letting go and moving on. If anything, the song marks a departure and move from the band (a duo, technically, but the band plays live). It is the first proper Pop song from Gypsyfingers and, as I shall explain later, breaks from their established and incredible sound. I feel Hey Maria is the representation of where the guys are heading and what their new sound is all about.
PHOTO CREDIT: @sallystage
I do not get to see live music that often – I get invited all the time but am busy writing – but, when I do, you always get a different experience. Great artists can embrace and capture you on the page and their recorded music makes you feel one way. When you go and see that live, there is something different that you were not expecting. Some say the best artists can make their live music sound as good as the record but I feel there needs to be a split between the studio and stage. I have not seen Gypsyfingers take to the stage but I have watched videos of them perform live and seen plenty of reviews. Their recorded material is exceptional but it is the harmonies and layers you get on the stage that blow you away. The fact that they have formed into a live band – brought in more instruments and fleshed out their dynamic – makes the experience a little different but it is still exceptional. If anything, there is more adventure and strength than before. Although the full band has an incredible connection; it is the partnership and understanding between Coghlan and Oldfield that makes their live shows so beautiful. The two are in a relationship – so that makes things more convincing and stronger – but that does not always mean the music will be committed and strong. Listen to the two on stage and there is an understanding and sense of the mesmeric that is hard to shift. People have celebrated the Gypsyfingers live show and noted how memorable it is. You get brilliant and heart-breaking acoustics and Coghlan’s voice shimmering, shivering and buckling the knees. There is the incredible musicianship and the band all in-line and on the same page. It is atmospheric and dramatic; it is scintillating and swims in the brain. Although I do not get out and see artists play; I am compelled to see Gypsyfingers play and see what they are all about.
I will move to a different subject but I feel we often undervalue live performances and do not really place huge importance on them. Maybe we are all too busy to get out there and see gigs but you only get one side of the coin when it comes to recorded material. In the case of Hey Maria; it is a song that has a true story and sound but will become a new beast when it is translated onto the stage. Music is about the stage and studio – you cannot get a full impression from one side. Artists rely on finance from performances and gigs are a crucial aspect of modern music. I feel we all need to get out there a lot more and enjoy the fantastic musicians that are playing. Gypsyfingers are among the best live acts out there because of the experience and expertise you get from the friends. There may be new members in ranks but they have settled into the fold and you get a real sense of belonging and togetherness. Maybe it is that core of Coghlan and Oldfield that makes the sparks fly. Their older music and new sounds blend beautifully and you get an evocative and sensual night that stays in the memory for a long time. I often get a bit sceptical about gigs and whether they can equal expectations. In the case of Gypsyfingers, they have a great reputation and are a definite must-not-miss! I am excited to see where the band goes and where they can bring their music. So far, they have performed around the U.K. and Europe but I feel there is a lot more to come. There is great potential to explore the U.S. and put together a road movie. The guys could bring their songs to life in a visual sense and, perhaps, do little introduction films to each – that would then transition to the live performance. There is great romance and strength in what they do and I would love to see that travel the globe. Maybe Asia and Australia await them. I feel next year is one where they can spread their name far and wide and amass even more fans.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sally Low
I have looked at the inspiration for songs and the stage: I have missed out the middle bit and the actual recording process. The reason I am taking a forensic and mechanical approach to their songwriting and music is that of the detail that goes into it. We often look at music and feel there is a slightly overproduced and soulless quality to it. I am not often compelled to look at music derivation and the stage performance; how it comes to life in the studio and the equipment used. I know Luke because he is a skilled producer and has worked with some fantastic artists. His old man is Mike Oldfield so there is that history and musical genius in the family. The Hammond organ and techniques used to record the song have a retro feel. The guys have a love of the 1960s and 1970s and bring a flavour of that to the recording. The drum and bass lines were recorded live to tape with a guide vocal and guitar lone. The song’s sound reflects a get-up-and-go-attitude and the sunshine of France. Coghlan wants the listener to draw their own conclusions from the song but you can definitely hear that distinct story and brilliance of the time. I mentioned how past efforts were recorded by the duo and that was all there was – they have recruited a band and now have a fuller sound. When it comes to Hey Maria; this was a band effort where they recorded live at Tilehouse Studios. Drums by Kenneally and bass from Hedges were complimented by Oldfield’s electric guitar and Coghlan’s acoustic guitar and vocals. The guys did eight takes and they agreed the seventh take was the best. I love the studio and seeing how songs come to be.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sally Low
Many artists do multiple takes to see if different nuance and life can be detected (on each take). Rarely do you get one-take cuts and that is what we hear on record. I can imagine the four of them running through the song and trying different angles on each take. After the session was complete; Oldfield transferred it to digital by recording the outputs of the tape machine onto ProTools. He edited and they continued recording. The drums were recorded with three microphones (overhead, kick and snare) and you get organic and original takes on Hey Maria. The guide acoustic guitar was re-recorded and classical guitar, percussion and backing vocals were added – Hammond organ (from Kenneally) was injected and gives the song a summery feel. The tape machine at the studio is a two-inch, sixteen-track Studer A800 and is one of the best-sounding analogue tape machines. You get tape compression and the tape gets saturated and the audio gets subtly fattened. That detail and love of recording live means the band are closer and improve and that translate onto the stage. I feel, if we know more about how a song is recorded and its components, that gives us a much better understanding of music and its derivation. It is almost like food: if we know where it comes from then we are more informed and more connected. It sounds strange but I feel knowing about the tape machine and microphones gives the music itself more physicality, soul and picture – it is almost like I am in the studio with them. I am a big fan of analogue and feel music has become too digitised and technology-based. Artists are keen to use fancy equipment and not try and get that live-sounding music to the people. A lot of music is very plastic and lacks any real depth and complexity. Oldfield, as a producer, knows how important it is getting the best from an artist and how to do that. His dual role as producer-musician makes Gypsyfingers gives the band new layers and skills. I love the workings and activities you get from a studio and what happens there. We listen to music and never really picture how the pieces came to be and how many takes were laid.
I want to look at Hey Maria and describe it as best I can but, before then, a look at the Gypsyfingers sound. I have followed them for years and, on previous efforts, noted how they blend Folk with Pop. In fact, on albums like Circus Life, they bring in Rap, Hip-Hop and all sorts of colours. That album was four years ago – at a time when they were a duo – and I wonder whether next year will see another record. They are working on new stuff all the time and it is exciting seeing where the band is headed. They still have the gorgeous and smooth Folk sounds but their latest cut has more summertime Pop. In fact, I will include Gypsyfingers on an all-female list in the future. That may sound strange (as there are three blokes in the band) but the lead vocal is from Coghlan. She has the ability to transcend place and time and bring the listener into the song. Like all great vocalists; she has exceptional range and nuance; textures and emotional depths few others possess. I am a fan of what she does and feel she has a lot to offer in the future. One of the reasons I have been a fan of the group for years is because of that instant ability to buckle the knees and stop you in your tracks. The band is in a great position and is expanding their sonic locker to take to the road. I love the earlier sounds of Gypsyfingers but feel bringing in Pop and other genres give them a more rounded aesthetic and options when they take to the stage. The guys take great care to ensure each stage of the recording process is given as much passion and attention as possible. The stories behind the songs come from a real place; the recording is detailed but has plenty of looseness and experimentation; the live performance tops all of that off and brings a fresh angle to the music. The complete experience is something many cannot offer and I feel that is why the band has enjoyed big acclaim and celebration. They are in-demand as a live band and they have a glorious future ahead of them!
PHOTO CREDIT: Sally Low
I am used to hearing the acoustic guitar and pastoral sounds coming from a Gypsyfingers song. Usually, I am in a distinct frame of mind and know what is coming. Hey Maria subverts those views and brings in crackling energy and force. The percussion comes in strong but not too heavy; there is a balance between 1960s Pop and something based in the U.S. You get sunshine breeze and a coolness that makes you smile and imagine. Knowing the song has its heart in France; I was, instead, in the U.S. and down a Californian road. It has that old-time feel and great production that gets the mind working right from the get-go. One gets kicking and funky guitar and genre suggestions ranging from Blues and Country to 1970s Pop and 1960s soulfulness. It is a rich and heady brew that goes into that introduction. The heroine’s voice comes in and talks about lying in the sun with one eye open. Almost squinting against the force and heat of the day; you cannot help but be there with her (in a non-perverted way!) and imagine the sights. I have always loved Coghlan’s voice and it has been compared to Lily Allen and Kate Nash by some. You hear a distinct accent and grounded quality to the voice but, since the earliest days, it has gained more beauty, qualities and emotions. It is a great instrument that ranges from London-tuned to classical. You are stunned by the character and cadence of the vocal and how it holds your hand. The band kick up a smoke of sunshine, glee and romance and your mind is divided between the busy and connected background the vocal that tells the story. The heroine is lying on a beach and enjoying the sun but wants to adventure with Maria and walk with her. In many ways, I get impressions of childhood and innocent friends gambling to the woods and embracing silliness.
PHOTO CREDIT: Spencer Hudson
Rather than see the song as a French romance (in terms of friendship); there is more of the playfulness of childhood and meeting someone who is the same as you. Not many of us experience such vivid friendships as adults: those childhood memories and times are more precious and long-lasting. Coghlan seems deeply involved with the subject matter and fondly recalls that first blush of new connection. When the chorus comes in, there are backing vocals from Oldfield and new depths. Previous Gypsyfingers songs have been calm and emotive but here, on their latest release, energy and spark. The electric guitar has a breeziness and Blues-like lick that gives the song kick; you have a band kinetic and connected and really committed to the song. Whilst the boys summon the backing and drive the vocals forward; I am always drawn to that centre and the incredible story. Our heroine is glad she met Maria and there is that instant bond. The sheer luck of that meeting has not been lost on the lead. She is grateful for that encounter and knows how special it is. Rather than waste the moment and get too carried away, she is looking ahead and knows this friendship will last for a long time. I know the song’s history but I still keep coming back to something younger and more childlike. Hey Maria is a fantastic cut but not limited to a particular time and place: one can get their own impression and interpretation from the track. I love the composition and how many different phases there are. The organ adds a really great scent and the entire band put in a fantastic performance. Everything fits together supremely but there is a sense of the open and loose. The song is never too tight and studied: the band is free to stretch a bit and you get a few solos here and there. What strikes me is the sunshine and smiles that never seems to abate. So many modern songs have a scowl and there is something sad underneath. No such (bad) luck here! Hey Maria is a winner and enlivened figure from the very start and never loses that alacrity. Until the final notes, the listener is put in a better frame of mind and boosted by the song. I have my viewpoint of the song but I know others will have their opinions. Hey Maria is a song you keep coming back to. The rush is hard to overlook and it is nice to hear a song that is positive and has a happy story. I understand bands who want to project something hard-hitting and emotive but that does not mean you need to be forlorn and depressive – adding something bright and warm can do so much more for the listener! Hey Maria is a fantastic offering from a band who are getting stronger with every release. I am excited to see where they head and what they can achieve in the coming year. Make sure you follow their progress and catch them on the road if you get the chance – and the chance to hear Hey Maria take on a different guise and quality.
PHOTO CREDIT: Spencer Hudson
I have talked about Gypsyfingers and how they have changed through the years. That core of Victoria Coghlan and Luke Oldfield has always been there and they have that endless and rock-solid connection. Maybe that is because they are in love – I feel they have a lot of similar tastes and want the same things from the music. Each of the players wants to take their sounds around the world and remain in the industry for years to come. That will happen and, in a tough business, they stand out and how the ammunition to inspire and remain a permanent fixture. I mentioned how it would be great to see the band play across the U.S. and I know the nation would take them to heart. They could do great business in Canada and Australian dates would not be out of the question. Maybe finance will limit their ambitions but there is demand and potential out there. I have seen Gypsyfingers evolve and change but the quality has always been there and sky-high. Let me bring this down to a close but I would encourage everyone to follow the band and get behind what they are doing. The British band is a huge force and feel the next year or so will be their very best. I have watched them grow from the duo of Circus Life and lead to where they are now. The quartet is looking ahead and seeing where they can take their music. I have also mentioned how great they are live and the sort of reaction they are accruing. Hey Maria is a fantastic song and one I could not overlook. Coghlan has said she wants everyone to get their own impression and take something new from the recording. I have been given the complete story but others, listening to it without that knowledge, will go in other directions. They might see something fictional or have their mind in a different nation. It is amazing to see what each listener gets from the song.
The best tracks are those that compel different thoughts and do not reveal their true identity. Although I know where Hey Maria comes from; there is a lot more working away and more besides that taxi ride and ensuing friendship. Now that Coghlan is based back in the U.K., I wonder whether she and Maria live nearby and still keep in touch. They have a friendship but you listen to the song and are (you are) curious how things worked out. Are they still close and see one another a lot? Can we get a literal image of Maria or does she keep private? Is there going to be more material relating to that time in France and that amazing friendship? I am thankful Gypsyfingers are in the world and bringing something fresh to music. They are a band on a mission and are among the strongest out there. Maybe there will be more material before the end of this year - but I do feel next year will be their finest. I would assume an album is being worked on and I cannot wait to see what direction they head in. Maybe there will be more of the Pop direction we hear now and they will break from Folk; they might sprinkle both together and we will get the same sort of eclectic vibe as their debut. Whatever comes from the quartet; I have seen them grow and mutate from the duo and bring in new players – who have sat in the mix and bring new possibilities to the songs. I will end things here and urge people to listen to Hey Maria and get their own story and ideas. It is an incredible offering and one of the strongest from the band. It is proof they are on the rise and determined to get as far as humanly possible. If they keep on writing songs like this and putting their all into it; I feel Gypsyfingers will be a mainstream act…
PHOTO CREDIT: Julien Weber
IN next to no time!
PHOTO CREDIT: Deana Lowe