Wild Mercury Sound

Your best of Latitude, plus James Blackshaw

John Mulvey

I know we have to stop banging on about the Latitude festival at some point this year, but I've just been going through some of your comments on the Uncut Latitude blog. I've never seen such a positive response on the Uncut blogs before, exemplified by Dave's pithy, "Superb. Great Atmosphere. Great Organisation." I've just done a bit of unscientific number-crunching, and can now exclusively reveal your favourite bands of the weekend.

The Top Five looks something like:

1 Arcade Fire
2 Wilco
3 Cold War Kids
4 The Hold Steady
5 Bat For Lashes

Not far off our feelings, there, apart from Cold War Kids, who seem to have provoked some of the more extreme reactions of the weekend, as these comments prove.

A quick heads up, next, for the new James Blackshaw album, "The Cloud Of Unknowing". I'm a bit late on this one, since it's out already, though to be honest I've only just found out about it. Blackshaw is a terrific 12-string guitar player from London who constructs long, lustrous pieces that recall those progressive extrapolations of folk music made by John Fahey and the Takoma school - especially, actually, Robbie Basho.

Blackshaw doesn't have a peculiar operatic bellow like Basho - in fact, he doesn't sing at all. But he does create a very similar spiritual calm, as wave after wave of guitar roll in. I realise describing it like this makes Blackshaw sound like some kind of new age practitioner, but this is a profoundly deep practise, and he's also not averse to adding discordance to these semi-improvised pastoral trances.

When you look at the array of amazing musicians who are working under some notional "acid/freak/free-folk" flag in America (Jack Rose and Ben Chasny are two obvious fellow travellers to Blackshaw), it really points up how thin our indigenous "nu-folk" scene is (God, that name). I think I've done this rant before about how much of the British stuff flogged under this catch-all is really mimsy, well-scrubbed indie with an acoustic guitar. And I think that rant was nailed to a rave about Voice Of The Seven Woods, who's probably the closest kindred spirit to Blackshaw here.

The VOT7W album is finally out in a couple of weeks, by the way; one of my favourites of the year. I suspect Blackshaw may be, too. Have a listen at his Myspace.


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