Mitch Albom, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto. Review.

3D-frankie-e1439344972792The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto starts off a little slowly as the narrator gets themself established. Considering that the narrator is music itself, this isn’t an easy task but it does make for a little of a slow burn. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Albom whose previous successes give him some leeway.

It’s like when JK Rowling spent pages and pages describing all the departments in the Ministry of Magic describing everything. It didn’t progress the storyline but by that point, no one was censoring her. Frankie Presto is a much shorter story than any Harry Potter could be, however.

Music, our narrator, is at the funeral of one of its beloved musicians, one of, if not the best one that there has been, Frankie Presto. A Spanish documentary is being made about Presto and the story cuts back and forth from Frankie’s childhood to his end. The book is full of cameos from all sorts of famous people such as Lyle Lovett, Duke Ellington, and Wynton Marsalis who either provide their best story or featuring in Frankie’s progress.

With such powerful emotions and dramatic tellings, long-time musician Albom keeps the telling sparse but appropriately wrapped in musical metaphors.

It’s a beautifully told story and I read it in one day. Highly recommended.

Downloaded from NetGalley.

Some fun things

There are so many things I see and want to write about but then I forget or spot the next thing and can’t figure out when to write a whole post about them. I’ll include as many as I can remember here instead.

Humble Bundle

Pay what you like for a bundle of music and distribute the sum between charity, the artist and the site. The artists include They Might Be Giants and Ok Go.

There are five days left for the current bundle.

Cherry Pie Lane

I chat to Cherry Pie Lane on Twitter and she posts the most beautiful handcrafted goods that it makes me want to pick up something and do something else with it. One of my favourite things is the clay baby foot commemorating a birth.

Children’s Wool Craft Classes

The Homemade Mama is doing some wool craft classes for children. My little girl is too little but I imagine that older tinies would enjoy making pom poms and garlands and other interesting things.

Three Gigs in Bristol Not To Be Missed

There are three musical events which have me excited about October and November.

Belleruche (+Bizali)

Belleruche are a band I’ve meant to watch for a while as I seem to keep missing the  vocals of Kathrin deBoer and the light accompanying guitar although be warned that the sound is more funky than folksy.  They played at the Big Chill bar in February and are back in Bristol in October.

Where: Metropolis, Bristol
When: Thursday, 21 October 2010, doors at 19:30, starts at 21:00

Bristol Ticket Shop £8.75  SeeTickets £8.80 (+£1.50 transaction fee)


Junip are a three piece band from Gothenburg, Sweden – featuring Tobias Winterkorn (keyboards), Elias Araya (drums) and José González (vocals & guitar).  José González is better known for his solo work which includes the song Heartbeats featured in the Sony advertisement with the colourful bouncing balls. Junip are promoting their new album Fields (new single Always is on Spotify).

Where: Thekla, Bristol
When: Sunday, 03 October 2010, doors at 19:30, starts at 19:30
Bristol Ticket Shop £9.25 Seetickets £9.75 (+£1.50 transaction fee)

Local Natives

Local Natives are an indie rock band based in Silver Lakes, Los Angeles, USA. They released their album Gorilla Manor in November 2009 in the UK. According to Wikipedia, Clash Music described their music as “psych-folk, or modern worldly folk” and that sounds about right.

Bristol Ticket Shop £11 See Tickets £11.50 (+£2.25 transaction fee)

Where: Thekla, Bristol
When: Thursday, 18 November 2010, doors at 19:00, starts at 19:00

Cover of Fields by Junip

Dot to Dot: the Crookes

A beach baby, bouncy, feel to the Academy was a pleasant surprise and I don’t mean in a Bon Iver kind of way. The Crookes were the band that were on at five and we had just arrived from an overcrowded and very hot Thekla. The only band playing at the Thekla was in the bar and we weren’t allowed in because it was too crowded.

I was looking forward to the unknown bands at Dot to Dot most of all and the Crookes fit well into this category. They are a four piece Indie band from Sheffield although none of them are originally from there. Their sound was half ska, half Grease Lightning and were a fun way to start off the festival.

Stokes Croft Streetfest

The urban cultural area of Bristol, better known for graffiti and Tesco protests, is set to become even livelier next week. A few days ago, a friend from Cheltenham asked if I was going and at that point I hadn’t even heard of it. The flyers are starting to appear around Bristol however or it could be that I’ve only just now had the time to notice the publicity.

The event is the Stokes Croft Streetfest and it takes place around most of that area on Saturday 22 May. Following a public consultation in February, the one day festival was organised in the hope of bringing together the many people who live, work and play there. The aim is to help raise the profile of Stokes Croft’s positive aspects: the art and creativity, inclusivity and diversity.

Activities, described as an ‘eclectic mix’, are arranged over two periods of time: day and evening. During the day, from 12pm to 6pm, there is no entry fee for performances, street theatre, art installations, indoor and outdoor markets which will take place in open areas such as King’s Square and the ‘Bear Pit’.

Events at night, from 6pm to 6am, are accessible with the purchase of one wristband at £5 in advance or £7 on the door. Just Jack at Lakota, the Ten Pound Suit Band at Leftbank and Brazilian Beatz at the Croft are just a small sample of the many acts taking part.


For more information visit Tickets are available from the Bristol Ticket Shop, Rooted Records, Canteen and all usual outlets.

Alphabeat, Bristol

Two location changes saw Alphabeat‘s gig move from the green and prettily located Anson Rooms in Clifton, down to the centre and then to the back-of-an-industrial-estate feel of Bedminster. Through an alleyway, in the rain, I made my way to Fiddlers and got there eight minutes early. He arrived eight minutes late which gave me plenty of time to absorb all the smoking going on around the door and note with interest a car pull up with a young woman driver. She offers to sell two tickets and then gives them away after mentioning she had won them on the radio. Two girls rather indifferently take said tickets and then use them to get out of the rain rather than wait for their friends who had theirs.

My ticket’s arrival in the pocket of my beautifully luminous friend saw us make our way into a much more pleasant setting. Fiddlers was small enough to let us get quite close to the stage and at the same time spacious enough to host six or seven tables on one side, a large bar in the middle (cash only) and a stage with a setup that provided a pretty great sound.

This latest Bristol gig for the Danish band was six months to the day (and date) since they last entertained us at the Thekla. The supporting acts last night were Pearl and The Puppets and Eliza Dolittle. I heard the strains of the first act when I was out by the front but only really caught Eliza’s act properly. The soulful, coffee shop jazz was wonderfully melodious with the aid of a guitarist/ukulele player and a double bass. I loved the music which could have just as easily set the mood for drinking whiskey in a smoky, dark, little room with a saxophone just out of sight but winced at some of the contemporary lyrics about banisters and poles and skinny jeans. Fusion cultural offering at its best and probably easy to get used to once I give it another try.

Quality in small doses was obvious with the next band as well who were of course the main act. Friends were surprised that the venue was so small for such a big act although at the time it all seemed just right.

Anders and Stine were friendly and social in between songs taken from their last two albums. Fantastic six kicks off the night and Stine tells us that it is the last night of their tour. They cover songs such as Hole In My Heart, Chess and Heatwave from the new album The Beat Is. The latter song is quietly appropriate as the music venue keeps getting hotter during the night. I looked up to see whether there were any heating vents but apparently it was just the enthusiasm of the crowd. Anders needed a towel and his enthusiastic loping dancing was a little more muted as he dripped with sweat. With a towel around his neck he was still energetic enough to sing Touch Me,Touching You, Go Go and 10,000 Nights of Thunder.

As at the previous show, the end came way too fast and with Stine announcing their last song, my equally dismayed friend looked down on me and prophetically said but they haven’t played the Spell, DJ or Fascination. So then they did. The latter two were brilliant encores. To be seconds away from such fortune telling was quite impressive although it was all a bit forgotten when Anders threw his towel in to the crowd to excited and disappointed gasps (mine for being too far!).

The crowd was a mix of younger afficionados of skinny jeans, older shuffling dancers, joyful vivacious lovely blonde girls and some sportily attired fans. I’m sure that everyone walked out feeling cheerier than when they came in out of the grey, rainy evening. A later curfew at Fiddlers meant the walk home was at a time closer to midnight than 10pm and through the edge of Bedminster rather than the prettily lit Queen Square. However it was nice to be so close to a charming band although the location and heating may be a reason that it was available at such short notice for the band’s last change. No complaints though as it was a fantastic band which provided for a fascinating evening.

Vashti Bunyan and The Cedar, reflection

Local band, the Cedar, were already on stage and singing when I arrived late on Thursday night. I was kindly instructed to wait at the door, go up the stairs, wait at the back and then go forward when there was a song break. I was touched by the care the St George’s team took to ensure that the band was not disturbed although the group on stage seemed to have no problem with noise and interaction. Their banter was inclusive and almost pleading in its need to get involved. How many countries are there in the world, Emma asked and when someone called out 200, Neil was on hand to wonder at the aggressive tone. 200 exactly she laughed? and why not I wondered. We later found out about Neil’s birthday (09 April 2010) and his turning 30. Emma arrived from Canada recently and attempted to create a history for St George’s while Neil tuned his guitar.

Such a boisterous little band who I had last seen play in the same hall over a year ago at the Acoustic Music Festival (18 January 2009). No lost hamster underneath the fridge freezer and no mentions of a nephew this time. Their energy seemed slightly out of place on a quiet Thursday night but the music slowly won out over the need to entertain and make us respond. Strong vocals from Neil were accompanied by Emma on violin, and the two Bens on drums and bass guitar.

Vashti Bunyan’s musical career began in the early 1960s and it was through happenstance and luck that she was back in the music scene we were told. Her first song was a love song called Hidden [spotify link]

I hear you, I do know you very well and our time will tell if I read you right, she sings but I find it hard to pick up her words from underneath the guitar and the violin. Everything is so soft that I have to strain to hear. Soft. Whispering. As if around a camp fire or a living room.

A smile accompanies the frequent references to her age and the years between songs. Just Another Diamond Day is introduced as a song written when she thought life was much simpler. She doesn’t think so any more and it feels like a pity. Winter is blue, a heartbreak song when she thought she knew better. ‘Lately’ because it is more recent. There’s a song for her children. I’m glad she explains the music beforehand because I can’t hear many of the lyrics.

I don’t mind though as the night is beautiful, the music magical and haunting and the acoustics provide the loveliest atmosphere I’ve been lost in for a while. The acoustics so impressed the Cedar that Neil wanted all of us to join in as well. We were encouraged to sing our names to the sound of an F# and then to name our favourite colours. While I appreciate knowing that Neil’s was blue I would not have been unhappy with just the music which was beautifully done. The performances pulled us along from vibrant and commanding and on to plaintive, nostalgic and haunting, leaving an enraptured crowd demanding an encore. Love, heartbreak and the need to travel were touched upon at St George’s and then let go with the last song Goodbye. It was a lovely night and the venue’s acoustics were as amazing as Neil suggested.

Event information discovered on Bristol Culture.

St George’s Bristol, Great George Street, Off Park Street, Bristol BS1 5RR , Box office: 0845 40 24 001

The Random Family

One of my favourite gigs last year was at the Croft to watch Random Family, The Miserable Rich and Babel. The venue itself wasn’t exactly impressive being one dark and dank room at the back of the pub, and all the bands were running late. The crowd seemed kind of restless with people coming in and out of the performances.

The Random Family were on first and they had comfy and friendly banter about driving down from Liverpool in the same car. The band is made up of four colourful members who play lots of instruments (!): Joe Keelan – vocals, guitars, mandolin, banjo, harmonica; Kathy Halter – vocals, flute, wooden flute, clarinet, tambourine, gloc (plinky plonk), harmonica; Paulie Riley – vocals, double bass; and Billy Lazareni – vocals, guitars, mandolin, ukulele, bouzouki.

As they say on their Myspace page, the Random Family combine traditional folk instruments and arrangements with modern approaches to song writing. They utilise four part harmonies, acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, tenor guitar, double bass, flute and clarinet to create their unique style and varities of arrangement.

They were a random find as I had originally gone to the Croft to listen to the Miserable Rich, however, I ended up preferring the first act. My two favourite songs are Lullaby and Dreams of You which are acoustic little folk creations that are lyrical and melodic set to a gentle rhythm. I love them and they are two of the loveliest songs to get lost to.

They are currently recording their first album so look out for that. Until then you can visit their web site to hear their songs

Two Door Cinema Club, under water

Two Door Cinema Club are an Electropop/Indie Rock band from Bangor and Donaghadee, Northern Ireland who formed in 2007. They played a sold out show at Thekla in Bristol on March 9 and their sound is a curious blend of synth augmented melodies, not unlike Passion Pit, but with curiously shallower and limited lyrics.

Lyrically short songs but a much longer band name which was a bit of problem when the audience tried to express their unbridled enthusiasm. It was the end of the night and it was time for the encore. The band walked off stage and the crowd started calling out. ‘What are they saying?’ Ellie and I asked each other. Four more? Two more? Two door? I couldn’t tell but they nonchalantly walked back on stage and played their last two songs. The ones that sounded very similar to nearly all the other songs played that night. Catchy riffs, catchy hooks but no real depth and no real anything else. Some that perhaps stood out a little more were the three singles Something Good Can Work, I Can Talk and Undercover Martyn (look out for the Passion Pit remix).

I enjoyed Undercover Martyn and it’s the reason I bought the tickets in the first place but after a while I realised that the constant repetition began to get tiring very quickly. I started counting down the set list from song number five (eight to go, seven to go…).

The young crowd who seemed to know all the lyrics made me feel quite old and indeed most of the night was spent in grouchy old woman mode where Ellie and I argued and prayed for health and safety to prevail. The supporting act, the Citadels, had a bit of a frenzied and unstable-banter inspired lead singer. The music was a little more diverse and quite thoughtful but the activity on stage was accompanied by cans of red stripe and some bizarre antics.

Towards the end of their set, after the blue sequin-clad female vocalist let go of the microphone and headed back to her keyboard and flute, the male and predominantly lead, vocalist took it upon himself to get into a rock frame of mind. He stood on the speakers at the front of the stage, gyrated and stomped on the guitar lying on the ground and then proceeded, in his enthusiasm, to spill beer all over the electrical equipment and wires. I grimaced, I cringed and I uttered some shocked recriminations to Ellie. What could he possibly be thinking?

The Two Door Cinema Club were the very antithesis to their support led antics. The crew tidied up the stage and carefully dabbed away the offensive fluid. Instruments were placed, tested and retested. We nodded our approval at the tape that was used to fasten the cables down to the stage and the care taken with this young band was evident.

Once their catchy tunes began to be heard, the crowd started jostling and pushing and shoving. ‘I notice some vigorous dancing going on’ noted the lead singer in his soft Northern Irish accent. ‘Just keep it safe’ he admonished and it was a strange thing to hear from someone so much younger than me but probably older than the crowd.

Safety and caution seemed to be their motto and they didn’t venture too far out of their depth. From my vantage point on the balcony I kept getting drawn to a bright orange sign on the floor with the words ‘weak spot’ written in big bold letters.

In his excited dancing progress, Alex Trimble, the lead singer would occasionally step on it and I kept waiting for something to happen. Nothing special happened that night but their tendency to play it safe might be a weakness which gives way very soon. For now they are celebrating the release of their first album Tourist History (March 1) to much plaudit and acclaim from the young Skins watching audience. The music was pleasant and catchy enough to explain why the French record label Kitsune Music signed up this young band but the repetition became old quite quickly.

Up ↑