Kulley’s stunning return

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FORMER Harrogate acoustic musician Karl Culley made a brief but stunning return to Harrogate with a show at the Blues Bar.

Ably supported by the intense and dynamic singer-songwriter Ghostown Soldier, Culley played two sets of material from across the past five years.

Although tracks from his brilliant new album The Owl on Triumphant Sounds label such as the Paul Simon-esque Bound for the Ground and moody Never Desert a Dying Horse stood out, Culley subjected ‘oldies’ such as Elephant Juice and Bundle of Nerves to bold, new arrangements too, with amazingly fluid guitar playing.

In typically perverse Blues Bar style, the audience reacted best of all to the dark drone of the hypnotic Shooting Illuminations as this talented figure detuned his guitar into the land of no return.

CD REVIEW: Karl Culley - The Owl (album)

IT’S a sign of the impressive progress the obsessively romantic but cooly metaphysical Karl Culley has made that the term ‘singer-songwriter’ sounds too restrictive for this Harrogate acoustic musician these days.

Try putting this extreme romantic’s intimate moans and “ai-eees” in any pigeon-hole and see how they wriggle free.

Neither John Martyn nor Bert Jansch nor Paul Simon nor Robert Johnson nor Jake Thackeray nor Nick Drake nor Bob Dylan nor Pavement but somehow all of them and none of them.

Released on Triumphant Sounds label, The Owl is a stunning album, a giant leap forward, helped by tasteful contributions from regular accompanist on double bass, Ash Johnson and various members of excellent Harrogate/York alt-pop band The Birdman Rallies.

The talented and versatile Culley’s delivery is more measured than previously, his singing stronger and more confident.

He’s gradually learnt to sit in the pockets of his quietly haunting songs rather than galloping for the finish line.

Boasting a light touch as well as a sense of urgency, Kulley is a skilfully subtle heavyweight whose thought-provoking songs often leave a spiritual trail in their wake.

Asides from the opening pair of jaunty, rambling tracks, Bed at Sea and Stars, he’s mostly left behind the frenetic, percussive finger-picking style of the days when he was like Bert Jansch on speed, sprinting not strolling down that country-blues highway.

This 11-track album has at least five different styles of songwriting, from the breezy Paul Simon-esque Bound for the Ground and gently-strolling, Pavement-esque Shady Woods, two of the most deliciously catchy songs he’s ever written, to the hypnotic darkness of Never Desert A Dying Horse, the exquisite lightness of Nothing Moves On The Mountain and the intense atonal disonnance of Psalm.

As always Culley, his emotions swing wildly, one minute a bountiful warm thrum, the next a deathly hush.

He suffers through love, he soars through love, explaining, perhaps, why his lyrical motifs veer regularly between sky and ground.

What makes him different from a million other acoustic talents peddling the usual mix of folk and pop and blues, is that it often feels like his very soul at stake in his music.

Like the bluesmen of old without actually sounding like them, Culley sounds like his heart is being tossed around in the wind of a spiritual dust bowl, never knowing quite where it will land.

A searcher of wisdom, he appears to find some on the wonderfully calm and understated Star-Like Bead, his thoughts rising like gossamer balloons in the clouds.

Excitingly Karl Culley is now a small strum or two away from meeting the sort of standards set by the famous names which first inspired his switch from indie rock to acoustic-based music nearly a decade ago.

Put simply, Culley is the best, upcoming acoustic talent in the UK right now.


A YOUNG Ripon indie band are in line to appear at this year’s Leeds and Reading Festival.

The Weeknights, who were finalists in last year’s AMP Awards, have made the heats of the annual Futuresound competition at The Cockpit in Leeds.

It’s an event usually dominated by Leeds bands with the winners guaranteed a slot at this year’s festival.

The inventive teenagers, who hail from Ripon Grammar School, face three other bands on Monday, July 11 - Bear Mask, I Swim with Sharks and Piskie Sits.

The band themselves, made up of two sets of twins - Lewis and Dominic Veakins and Rory and Guy Buckle - are anxious to get as many fans there as possible.

They say: “The outcome is mainly decided on audience vote (60 per cent to be precise), so we need as many of you there as possible. This is a huge opportunity and it could be a major turning point for us.”

The Weeknights, who supported Field Music at Harrogate Theatre during last year’s Harrogate International Festival Fringe, are encouraging fans to get tickets. They are only £1 each anyway!

SUCCESSFUL local promoters Kula have added some more well-known names to its autumn programme at the Frazer Theatre in Knaresborough.

September 2 sees legendary folk/roots/Americana singer Michael Chapman visit the venue, September 24 sees 80s rock star John Parr (who was huge in the US) bring hits like St Elmo’s Fire to the Frazer, while songstress Beverley Craven returns for a second show on October 15, though that one is already halfway to sellout.


STYLISH Harrogate bar Katana’s bid to be a major player in the music scene under Craig Gerdes continues with a great double bill next Friday, June 24.

Confirmed are prog-ish rock band Tunji plus one other.

Organiser Lex of Lobo is still hosting an open acoustic night every Tuesday night at Katana.

SPEAKING of Lex, local bands are reminded that he’s running a weekly Battle of the Bands at The Regency in Harrogate where he’s had a weekly Thursday jam session.

The prize contest takes place every Wednesday.

Any bands wishing to play in The Regency Battle of the Bands should enter at the pub or email: Diverseat@hotmail.co.uk

MONTEYS Rock Café is to launch a new open mic jam night.

It’s the idea of Louise Stalker, lead singer with local band Empress.

She, and drummer Lee, start the night, snappily entitled Lee & Lou’s Open Mic Jam Night, on Sunday, June 26.

Running from 7pm-10pm, it will be an evening of two halves.

Firstly, acoustic performances with any instrument you fancy - and by that they mean violins, cellos, mandolins, anything!

Secondly, rock performances with drums, bass amp, keyboard amp and two guitar amps on offer.

Formed bands are welcomed but there’s a two songs only policy plus everyone is encouraged to mix on stage!

TALKING of jazz, Ripon band Firefly, a swing vocal quartet with a varied repertoire in the style of the big-band vocal groups of the Forties, appear at Christ Church hall in Harrogate next Friday, June 24 in a charity event for the Happy Wanderers. Start time is 7.30pm and the Dales Singers will also be appearing. Tickets cost £6.

LAST but not least, after Gig Scene mentioned the exhibition of great photographs by Terry Cryer at RedHouse originals gallery in Harrogate, we got an email for renowned local pianist Derry Jones.

Derry remembers: “I frequently saw Terry back in the 50s when he was always hanging around any jazz activity, and particularly the Yorkshire Jazz Band, which was pretty popular in those Trad Jazz days.

“He took photos of Muddy Waters, and I’m pretty sure he was at the Grand Hotel (now Windsor House) when it was the most popular dance venue in town, when Muddy Waters came with us when we were playing there and sang at least one song.

“Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to play with him as he had his own pianist, Otis Spann. All remember is that Spann did more with his left hand than I could do with two!

“I am so pleased that Terry’s work is still being appreciated. I attach a little photo he took, probably about 1957, showing one of his less distinguished subjects ie me!”