A vintage set from some old friends, a festival and a last minute decision…

It’s been a hectic few weeks here, with  one of them living in a small tin box in a field, so I’ll try and keep this as brief as possible!

It’s the 28th July and I’m in the South Western. Beneath the stairs, a ramshackle bunch of musos ply their trade. On first glance, they are extras from Easy Rider, but on closer examination, beneath the hippy wigs and round sunglasses stands 71 Chain. Tonight was a 70s covers night and the band were styled as ‘1971 Chain’.

The outfits may have been somewhat tongue-in-cheek but the music was far from it. Chris, Paul and Ryan were sharing lead guitar, Mongo was his usual metronomic self on the drums and Adam had a tiny synth to supplement his fretless five-string bass.

The guys covered a lot of ground that night, with highlights including the ubiquitous Stairway, some Pink Floyd and Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. Alas, the end was nigh, and the crowd, some dressed up, some in civvies, were given the choice. Free Bird or Comfortably Numb. The merits of each song were discussed by the audience at great length and the inevitable happened. They played both. A great night came to an end, leaving me to get home, crack open a bottle of Scotch and start preparing for the next week.

Next week was Wickham Festival. My annual music pilgrimage that, whilst not a great distance from home, has to involve camping. There’s far too much good ale and good company to not indulge and have to drive home each day.

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Wickham Festival

At Wickham, I camp with a group of friends from across the country – the Isle of Man, Petersfield, North Wales, and this year, Nottingham and Southampton. We set up our camp, the Manx Embassy, and keep everyone up into the night with after-hours sessions. This year, we were co-opted as staff, with the proviso that we would help setup and once the music started, we were done.

The festival started with an evening gig on Wednesday night, but we were set up on Tuesday. In the dry. Wednesday arrived and we turned up for duty in the sideways rain. We worked a ten hour day laying out the caravan and camper van field in conditions reminiscent of The Somme, then three changes of clothes later, made our way to the community centre for beer and some tunes for the early arrivals and staff.

Trudging into the warm, light community centre, wearing the only dry things we had managed to find, we immediately realised the community centre people hadn’t really understood what a folk audience drinks. Apparently they had some bottled Doom Bar. We saw one bottle. Luckily, they had draught Thatchers, which was sufficient for most.

The entertainment that evening consisted of Alistair Russell, singer-songwriter and compere of the main stage, someone I didn’t catch, and TRADArrr – a folk-rock band playing a lot of trad stuff with an almost proggy twist.

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TRADArrr

Lowlands of Holland was delivered with a female vocal harmony and Golden Vanity was given a Floyd-esque treatment. Their instrumentation included cello and cornet, and the set went down a treat with the gathered throng of bedraggled campers.

Soon it was festival proper. Four stages pumping out music from midday until midnight, there was a lot to see. A few highlights:

KT Tunstall – Got everyone to light the stage with the lights on their phones. This is becoming a popular thing. But it worked. Conscious she was at a festival, she permitted beer to be held aloft instead of phones, which caused great appreciation from the crowd. Whilst illuminated thus, Tunstall launched into Other Side of the World, with raw vocals and a simple guitar backing. Suddenly the bass drops in and an audio masterpiece is absorbed by the muddy yet merry throng still fighting to keep their phones and beer upright whilst singing every word.

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KT Tunstall

Famed for her use of a loop pedal, the exclamation of ‘Arse!’ when it died brought a couple of roadies sprinting from the wings to wrestle the electronics back into some semblance of normality. Tunstall tells a joke. The technology soon does what it is meant to, and the looped ‘woo hoo’ begins Black Horse and the Cherry Tree which merges seamlessly into the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, complete with kazoo. The loop is still going on in the background and it really works rather well.

The headliners on stage 2 on the Thursday were a three piece called Talisk. They played what can only be described as bloody good folky dance music (club type stuff) on guitar, fiddle, concertina and cajon. There may have been a few samples dropped in there, but I’m not sure. Either way, it rocked. Talisk are essentially a three-person Peatbog Faeries, with the crowd bouncing in the mud waiting for the beat to drop. It was a special evening. It could easily be described as a ceilidh band playing Ibiza club tunes, and I really got something out of it.

At this point, I was in festival mode. I didn’t make very many notes from here on in. This is largely from memory… Here we go, then!

Friday – Spooky Men’s Chorale – a great bunch of lads singing very silly songs (and some more serious) in the most polished, spine-chillingly tight vocal harmonies. Props were brought out for Don’t Stand Between a Man and His Tool – more akin to a visit to B&Q than anything dubious, and the conical hats meant only one thing – they finished with the traditional Georgian folk song, The Prophecy of the Three Brothers. Watch the video. It’s great.

Later that day, Cornwall’s own Fisherman’s Friends took the main stage and gave the landlubbers some shanty treatment. They have been a great influence to my band, Shantyhead, and were a pleasure to watch. They finished with a cover of Show of Hands’ Cousin Jack, a song about the demise of Cornwall, for which Steve Knightly of Show of Hands appeared and joined in on vocals. something to behold, I thought, until Show of Hands had their own set that evening, which culminated in the obvious return of favours – Show of Hands playing Cousin Jack with all the Fisherman’s Friends joining them on backing. It’s something I saw many years ago before the Fisherman’s Friends were famous, and it was electrifying then. It’s something else now. Astounding.

Saturday was an early start to see the chap who was camping opposite us singing with his shanty group on stage 2. Very well executed, but incredibly slow-paced compared with what Shantyhead do. And full marks to the sound guy who had to deal with a singer who was unaware that you have to be somewhere near the microphone for the sound to pick up, preferably facing it. I hate to think how much gain was wound up on that channel, but it worked.

Later in the day, I listened to Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston from the comfort of the embassy, which was located a little way behind the main stage. I have very fond memories of the set from Coventry ska giants The Selecter, who followed Miranda and Rex, playing all the old favourites, and their new track, Frontline.

The day finished with Dhol Foundation, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Oysterband and The Levellers. All bloody good bands. I spent most of my time dancing like an idiot, soaking in as much of the atmosphere (and the contents of the bar) as I could. Highlights of the aforementioned bands? All the festival favourites were played. Everyone sang. Everyone danced. Everyone had a good time.

Sunday was a little more subdued in my part of the world. A great comfy night’s sleep in the small aluminium house on wheels, late breakfast and donning of the kilt. Every Sunday at Wickham is Kilt Sunday. It has to be done. I bimbled around all day, not really staying on one stage too long to take much in. Today was our day. At 7:40, the acoustic stage belonged to Shantyhead.

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Waiting for the rest of the band…

This time we were joined by Debs from The Courtiers on fiddle, and from what was coming back over the monitors, bloody hell, it sounded good. Maybe the countless days of excessive drinking swayed my opinion somewhat, but the verdict from those out front was equally positive.  We threw caution to the wind this year and played a couple of our numbers usually identified as ‘filth’ during an ordinary set. Lollipop Man, ironically taught to me last year at Wickham, and A Dogging went down really well with the gathered crowd. The hurdy gurdy got its festival debut with a certain Clash cover, and we all rolled up and rolled down then got drunk in Tilbury town with Rollin’ Down the River.

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Ferocious Dog

After locking everything away in the small aluminium shed on wheels, it was a quick dash back to stage 2 with festival buddy Mell to see Ferocious Dog. Still as mad, loud and evocative as ever, you could feel the ground shake with a combination of the bass and the bouncing of the crowd. When they’d finished, myself and Mell went over to stage 1 to catch the last act of the festival. Peatbog Faeries, delivering their own brand of heavy folk trance. We gradually wormed our way in from the outer edge of the crowd until we were close to the front. Not for the first point in the weekend, the eyes glazed over and I was lost in a world of music. Pure bliss.

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Peatbog Faeries

It took a few days to get over Wickham. The smile was difficult to shift for quite some time. The weekend came and it was catchup time. I was getting to the stage of thinking I’d have a week off the ‘music every week’ thing and get some things done. That’s what I started doing, until one task was cut short by mechanical issues and I found myself at a loose end on Sunday afternoon. Ah! I saw something on good old Bookface.

Half an hour later, I was sat in the Dolphin in Botley listening to TheRealRaj play a gig that unusually wasn’t in the middle of Southampton. I only caught the second half of his set, but Raj was his usual self – a really talented guy doing what he loves. It comes over very strongly in the music and through his modest stage persona, the calibre and depth of Raj’s musicianship shines like a searchlight pierces the night sky. Wow. That was a bit poetic!

Raj was  set up in a corner beneath the big screen TV which was showing a football match, thankfully with the sound off. With a harmonica on a frame round his neck, a tambourine on his foot and a guitar in his hands, only the occasional upward glance to check the score and a coffee perched on a stool next to him, the small yet appreciative crowd were treated to a set of self-penned songs. I am taking great pains to mention, as per request, that HE DIDN’T PLAY ANY COVERS!

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TheRealRaj

There were a couple of tunes I don’t recall hearing before (I probably have, but I was getting over a heavy week…) – one with a great, smooth, Celtic twist, in some kind of Johnny Flynn-esque style, then a song called Mayfly – written about the insect, that only lives its life in the open air for a single day – with the line ‘this is our day in the sun’. A lovely tune, but a little ironic that we were all sat indoors while the sun was, as is so rare this summer, shining beautifully outside.

The session finished with me tuning the most argumentative mandolin I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with, then a good discussion about Land Rovers and how what they now call a Discovery is nothing like a Discovery.

Until next time, keep rockin!

Shall we go for 3 in one? Why not?! Uncle Tom’s Cobbleys, Ruby Blue and the infamous Vicar’s Crackpipe…

Hello! It’s half ten on a Wednesday evening. I’m sat here listening to BBC 6 Music, drinking Co-Op Pinot Grigio. I think it’s blog time!

I’m fitting three blogs into one. It’s a first, as I’ve been on two in one lately, but this week, I’ve managed to see some music early in the week, and it leaves me in the position to do so.

Here we go…

It was a couple of weeks back now, the week after the Winchester Hat Fair, when another local town does it’s street performance thing. Romsey, pride of the Test Valley, hosts its annual Beggar’s Fair. The reasoning is the same as the Hat Fair. Street performance. But there’s a bigger music scene at the Beggar’s Fair. A lot of the local pubs have music in the evening, and as I drove into the market town, each pub I passed had a throng outside, enjoying their beverages, jiving to some kind of musical entertainment emitting from within.

I’d arranged to meet a couple of good friends, Ash and Shell, at the evening’s venue (the Tudor Rose). I’ve known Ash for absolutely ages, since we were both at school, coding dubious software for the Acorn Archimedes computers the school was filled with, on our lunch breaks. Ash married Shell a few years back and my lasting memory of the day is sitting at a table at the end of the evening whilst people ferried balloons to me. I consumed a whole ‘balloon arch’ of helium that evening, with somewhat embarrassing video evidence of my musical talent(!) as the much younger, non-bearded me sang various Wurzels songs, in a rather silly voice, with the bride’s father accompanying… I digress…

Arriving at the pub, Ash and Shell were waiting in the alley beside the bar. I bade my greetings and popped in for a beer. From memory, it was something like a Fuller’s Seafarers. About 3.8%, golden, hoppy and most refreshing on a hot day. The band, Uncle Tom’s Cobbleys, were setting up. I say band. There’s two of them, playing guitar, fiddle and banjo. I was introduced to these guys by Shell many years back, at a random pub in Andover. They play covers. Anything from 1970s metal to things released last week. Folky acoustic covers. They are a pair of very talented, very adaptable musicians. When they started with George Ezra’s Blame it on Me, the pub immediately filled. We stood a few tracks then went outside. A window and open door were between us and the noise, and it came across as clear, if not clearer, than when we were standing inside.

Hits from Green Day, Chris Isaak, Guns’n’Roses and Black Sabbath followed, with a brief pause for a guitar string to be changed. All the time, the fiddle player was playing his five-string fiddle whilst mixing the sound live. Quite a skill.

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Uncle Tom’s Cobbleys

After a fiddle-driven cover of Sabbath’s Paranoid and a great performance of Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls, the fiddle was cast aside and the banjo brought out for Ghost Riders in the Sky. The ‘yippee-i-ay’ chorus echoed from the Georgian buildings of Romsey as the entire audience joined in with the vocals.

It wasn’t long until the break. The guys continued the set with Ring of Fire and the Wurzels’ I am a Cider Drinker. Both were enthusiastically accompanied by the audience, who were deep in enjoyment.

Lady Gaga’s Poker Face followed, which I enjoyed whilst watching a bumblebee harvesting nectar from a hanging basket that happened to be at head height immediately next to me. Bellowhead’s version of New York Girls followed, with significantly less instruments than Bellowhead, but equal amounts of energy. A bit of trad and Thin Lizzy inspired folk led us to the break.

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Bumblebee. Flower. Leaves. Out of focus brick wall.

They couldn’t have chosen a better song to start the second half. The Levellers’ What a Beautiful Day. Oh yes. I adore that bloody song. And they know how to play it. They sing the proper lyrics. I’ve seen too many people cover it having never read the words. They know them inside out. Several well-played covers followed. I Gotta Feeling, Pompeii (Bastille). A bit of Walk This Way, a bit of Beyonce and some Ed Sheeran brought us up to another pub-filler. My ears are still ringing to the people of Romsey singing Jolene, which merged seamlessly into Rawhide.

There appeared to be an early curfew on the pubs of Romsey this evening. Before the time bell rang, a string parted company with the banjo, but they soldiered on. An energetic cover of Little Lion Man followed the ‘last orders’ bell, which was quickly followed up with Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk. The crowd were alive. Everyone was bouncing, everyone was singing. Their set finished with Rasputin, Wake Me Up and finally, a well-practised, well played version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Whilst I was a little disappointed to see they didn’t play Gangnam Style, as I’ve heard them do before, it was a great evening seeing a band I hadn’t seen in some years. For two guys with three instruments, they know how to work a crowd. They know their material, they know their audience and they can tailor one to the other seamlessly. They don’t play that often, but if you see them advertised, I thoroughly recommend going along. You might find me there.

The following week saw a return visit to The South Western to see Ruby Blue and The Chain again. Avid readers may recall the last time I saw them was at their EP launch at The Hobbit, where the sound quality left a lot to be desired. This time, they were looking after their own sound, which works rather well when Adam (bass) is on the desk.

In a rather unusual move, they were set up under the stairs. The big problem with gigs at the South Western is the large brick chimneybreast that divides the room. Last time, 71 Chain were set up in an ‘L’-shape around the chimneybreast, with the audience only able to see half the band from any one position. This time, there was more room for people to see the band, but a constant trickle of people going between various parts of the pub and the bar tended to get in the way. It’s a really difficult venue to set up, but it does attract good music and sells very good beer.

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Ruby Blue and The Chain

I was joined for the evening by Catherine and Andy, she of Vicar’s Crackpipe fame, and he of the improvised percussion at the gig in Finchdean I blogged about earlier this year. We sat soaking in Ruby’s blues-rock groove, chatting about all things musical for a good couple of hours.

Over the course of the evening, several fine wines and ales were consumed (and some dubious soft drinks… Spot the driver…) accompanied by the seamless coupling of keys, bass, guitar and drums, topped off with Ruby’s heartfelt vocals. The gig was a well planned mix of slow, meaningful songs and more upbeat material. There issomething of a Fleetwood Mac vibe about them. Early Mac – the Peter Green era – but with striking female vocals. Ruby writes her own material, and she’s as good a poet as she is a singer. Meaningful lyrics a plenty, she’s in the early days of what looks to be a promising career in music.

At the end of the evening, I left for a most chilled drive home, smiling quietly to myself after another great night.

Finally to this week. Tuesday had arrived. Shantyhead usually rehearse on Tuesdays, but owing to holidays, we had the week off. The week previously, Simon from Hurry The Jug and The Courtiers had asked me if we wanted to cover this Tuesday at The Vaults, where The Jug have a regular set. Owing to the aforementioned holiday, we had to decline, but I suggested he tried Vicar’s Crackpipe instead. He did, and as none of the trio were on holiday, they accepted.

My evening went as follows:

Get in from work. Nuke a curry. Get changed. Put on some boots I bought when I was 16. Remove boots. Remove receipts, general detritus and a rather old crinkle-cut crisp from boots. Reinstall boots. Eat curry. Jump in the car and drive to Pompey. And relax.

The guys were playing in the side bar, which was pleasantly full with a very attentive audience. There was a number of tables in the floor area, all full of people sat facing the band. It happens so often at these folky gigs that the audience are there for a chat and a pint and the band, whoever they may be, are treated as background music. This wasn’t the case – people were, on the whole, here for the music.

I tucked into a pint of Flying Saucer, from Vibrant Forest. It’s a 4.3% golden ale with enough of a hoppy kick to really hit the spot on a warm, sticky evening, Moreish but not incapacitatingly strong.

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Vicar’s Crackpipe

Despite the heat, VCP were alive with energy. They were seated in a crescent, with Bernard on melodeon to the left, Nick on the right on guitar and mandolin and Catherine on fiddle in the centre. Together, they were indulging in some voracious foot-stomping which to the educated eye looked like some kind of one-sided / mono Riverdance.

The music was going down exceptionally well, with chilled reels being perfect for a hot evening. I arrived towards the end of their first set and was able to have a good chat with the guys during the break.

The second set started with an instrumental with a definite Scottish feel to it. Then Nick took the mic and sang a song, the name of which I don’t recollect, but I seem to recall it mentioned a wicker man who appeared to be waiting for something or someone. During the song, a loud ‘TWANG!’ was heard. Afterwards, Nick defiantly exclaimed ‘A broken string will not defeat me! I have a spare! Guitar, that is…’ – that’s organisation for you!

New guitar affixed, they went into a tune written by Bernard. Proper foot stomping ‘good to be alive’ folk. The man is a genius. I’ve tried writing music and failed miserably. He has real talent to come up with the sort of stuff he does.

As I was musing that I’d probably sweated a pint quicker than I was able to consume one, the tempo picked up again with one of those tunes that I can only describe using binary opposites. It went from hot to cold, light to dark, soft to hard. It really worked well and was widely appreciated by the audience which had been steadily growing since the outset. It was one of those tunes that sounds like it’s drawing to a close, the audience start to clap, then it picks up again and carries on for another couple of minutes.

A few more tunes, a few more songs. The story of the Three Drunken Maidens (yeah, those three… From the Isle of Wight… Those ones we sing about too) was told, with a rather tidy instrumental at the end.

The highlight of the evening? A folk-blues cover of Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Brain… It did rather take me by surprise, but they definitely did it justice!

The guys finished with Galway Girl. Absolute audience rapture! Much calling for an encore led to another of Bernard’s tunes. This one was described as ‘a crazy Russian Cossack dance tune’. It did not disappoint. The band were still seated, but pure energy was oozing from each one of them as the evening drew to a close. It was great to see a pub still full of people at 11pm on a Tuesday, all there because of well-played music.  I’ve been 25% of the audience for mid-week pub gigs in the past, so have seen both ends of the spectrum. This is definitely the end I prefer.

Right, Time for me to sign off.

Until next time, keep rockin!

 

Shantyhead at the Ship, 71 Chain at the South Western

Today is another Buy One Get One Free blog, I’m afraid. We could do with some rainy days so I’m not sat outside enjoying the weather when I should be blogging!

So this one all starts on a Sunday evening at the end of June. Shantyhead have been booked for a private party (a friend of Widge’s birthday) at The Ship at Bishops Sutton. A rather nice free house that I’d not previously visited. They keep a good pint. I was drinking as much Adnams’ Ghost Ship as I could, hoping it would run out, as the perennial favourite, Hopback’s Summer Lightning, was poised to replace it. Alas, despite my efforts, it didn’t materialise that evening.

We were a trio this evening, as Frank was cycling round the Spanish mountains (or rather cycling between Spanish bars). For once, this was in our favour, as once we’d set up, we didn’t have a great deal of room to play with. The three of us were squeezed in rather tightly, and adding a fourth would have been interesting!

The first set went largely without a hitch. Until the end. We finished with a song that’s new to us – Poor Paddy Works On The Railway. A bit of a foot stomper that starts slow then suddenly jumps up in tempo. Rog sets the pace on the bodhran and myself and Widge don’t get much say in the matter. It’s usually fine, but this time, I assume Rog was anticipating his half-time pint, and set off at lightning (not Summer, I hasten to add) speed. We kept up, but the amp didn’t like it. It got very hot and cut out. I’ve not seen the overheat warning light go on before and I do not want to see it go on again. Not good.

For a couple of minutes, it was too hot to touch. We managed to get it outside and struggling to find tools, eventually used a Poundland screwdriver to get the cover off. The heat was as if someone had taken a tiny bit of the sun and put it inside the case. After a bit of poking around, it seems the fan had stopped working. A good prod with some keys and a stick and a few terse words seemed to do the trick.  It fired up again, fan running, and with the aid of a desk fan supplied by a random pub customer, we played the second set without any Breville sandwich toaster-like activity from the sound gear. I’m currently waiting for the new fan to be delivered. In the meantime, my kitchen table has a new (and rather heavy) feature. We bought the amp secondhand from the Wedgewood Rooms a couple of years back. Some big names have played through it. And we managed to kill it playing folk songs in a pub!

The next week was a little more sensible. My friend Wednesday, from deepest Gloucestershire, paid a visit and we took a trip to the Hat Fair – an annual event in Winchester, which is, in essence, a city-wide festival of street performance. The name comes from the hat that is passed round after a performance to collect cash. We saw a few well polished acts, full of improvisation and crowd interaction, including what resembled an explosion in a giant Kerplunk factory, but with no balls (Amy Winehouse has all the balls). This was backed by a banghra-dub DJ, freestyling vocals with a looper as he mixed the soundtrack. The performance was by the Italian theatre group Stalker Teatro and was apparently something to do with life and architecture in post-industrial cities. Either way, a plethora of coloured sticks and reels of sellotape were employed to a somewhat baffling, yet intriguing display.

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Banghra-dub Looper Man

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An explosion in a giant Kerplunk factory…

In the evening, we shot over to the South Western Arms in Southampton for the UK launch of 71 Chain‘s new EP, Cheese & Ham. It initially saw the light of day on their German tour a couple of months back, but this was the UK release. Crammed into the corner of the pub as per usual, the band were testing their shiny new PA when we arrived. It was sounding good. The usual ‘Colin’s in the Southwestern’ ensued, with lots of people I knew appearing and saying hi, then 71 Chain fired up.

They opened with Sailor’s Prayer, a new acoustic version of which appears on Cheese & Ham. Heating The Dust followed and the groove was set. A perfect blues-rock accompaniment to a long day in the sun. I was drinking the weakest beer available, for reasons of steering wheel  technicianship. I forget what it was, but it was golden, hoppy and very moreish.

Chris and the boys launched into We Believe from their first album. They were playing a good mix of the back catalogue tonight. Pull Away (From The Lies) got a few of the punters singing along (myself included), then Winterborn, as Chris put it, ‘a song about druids’ – this raised a big cheer from the audience. The nature of the EP was explained, then they belted out the title track – Take It Easy (The Cheese & Ham Song). This is a folky ballad with great vocal harmonies from Chris and Ryan and a great driving mandolin lead. I like it. The first set ended with 71 Chains, taken again from their first album, You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.

After the break, the 71 Chain machine was in full effect. Deep driving bass lines that go through you from the feet up echoed from Adam’s five string fretless bass as they played The Love Of A Woman. The immediate description that springs to mind is ‘power blues’. Following this, their folky side came to the fore, with Stories, from the second album, Stories of Life, Love and Loss. Another track from the EP followed – a long, reworked version of Grain Race. Great vocal harmonies fused with smooth guitar riffs, all topped off with crescendos on the crash cymbal from Mongo. Bloody well written and bloody well played.

Glancing at the band between songs, I saw both Paul and Ryan picked up their mandolins. This can only mean one thing. She Moved Through The Fair. It’s worth seeing them just to hear them play this song. Dual mandolin lead, fully dynamic, with Ryan playing off the Paul and vice versa. It is pure audio delight. I absolutely relish the way they play that great folk standard. It far surpasses anything other version I’ve heard.I had my eyes closed, swaying my head, lost in a world of my own.

I was still in my euphoric state when they got to the last number. Chris looked in my direction and said ‘you know what time it is, Colin’… Picking my way through leads, monitors, pedals, guitars and stands, I found myself next to Ryan as the familiar chords of Sea Shepherd belted out. It’s three years since we sang this on stage with the guys at Wickham Festival, and a couple on top of that since we recorded it, but it still sounds as fresh as ever. A great end to a rather pleasant day.

The weekend is upon us and it’s the Beggars Fair in Romsey tomorrow. I’ll  be heading over later to see a bit of music in the Tudor Rose. Whatever way your weekend takes you, keep rockin!

Pour yourself a drink and sit down. It’s another long one… Arborescence and Watercress…

It’s been a while since I blogged… But I’m back! Still keeping up the whole ‘music every week’ thing, but slacking a bit on the blogging part of the deal, but I’m sat at my computer with a glass of Pinot Grigio, some salt and black pepper crisps and a pot of houmous. 6 Music is playing live sets from Glastonbury. Lets see how far I get before I fall asleep!

Right. So the last blog was about the beer festival at the Hawkley Inn. What have I been up to since? Well, a fair bit… A birthday party and a Shantyhead gig, and I’ve got another of those tomorrow.

The birthday party. No… my live music for this week wasn’t the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ whilst watching someone spit all over a cake whilst trying to blow candles out. This wasn’t really a birthday party. It was a mini festival… (As an aside, I advocate watching which side of the birthday cake is closest to the candle-blower and eating from that side. Less fallout.) It was the birthday of Nick, guitarist from Vicar’s Crackpipe who I saw earlier in the year. We’ve become friends since the gig and I received an invite to his 40th. Now, this became interesting when the venue was announced. Some woodland in a top secret location in Devon. OK. Nick lives not far from me in deepest darkest Hampshire. The party was in Devon. I was intrigued.

In the weeks following my invite, the Bookface event page for the party became more intriguing. It had a name. Arborescence, There was a stage and an acoustic area. There was a programme of acts. I really didn’t know what to expect, but as each post on the event page was made, the excitement was quietly building. The location was duly programmed into Google Maps, the phone inserted in its cradle and the Range Rover surged off in a westward direction.

On reaching the rough location of the entrance, I happened upon a farm gate with a blue plastic bag hanging from the post. This was in the instructions. It was a bit mysterious, but Nick didn’t want any uninvited guests. I turned onto the farm track, jacked the suspension up on the Rangey and carried on to where the sketch map I had been supplied with said there was parking. With fields to my left and woodland to my right, a gentleman with formidable sideburns suddenly appeared, and on assessing my eligibility to be where I was, told me where to park. I was sleeping in the Range Rover so was sent to the campervan area. Yes, this was a birthday party, and it had a car park and a campervan area. Nice. I pulled in front of a VW camper and got out to assess the surroundings. The lady from the VW was at the van giving her dog some food. She was heading back to the party area and offered to show me round. Walking along the track in the dappled sunlight, we passed the car park and portaloos and the tented camping area. Walking down a tree and flag lined avenue, we branched off the track past a small fire that some young boys were diligently tending with long sticks, and happened upon a clearing. Long tables were set up beneath a canopy of tarpaulins, with two barbecues producing mountains of hot food. We passed through to another tarpaulin-sheltered area, where six sofas encircled a large fire pit.

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Nick was apparently at the stage, setting up some kit. I was directed towards a pathway through the woodland, dense tall trees either side. I wandered for a minute or so, then another clearing became apparent. Wandering on, another tarpaulin shelter became visible. Beneath, a stage was set up, with a rather impressive PA setup. I thought to myself ‘this is going to be a good night’. Nick was duly found, greetings made, and I was introduced to some of his friends that were setting up various sound and light equipment. One such gentleman, I mentioned in my initial blog entry regarding Vicar’s Crackpipe. Ganja Murray. He exists! And a very nice guy and pretty damn good musician he is too!

I disappeared back to the truck to get it into sleeping mode and grab a beer. I then headed back to the arena to see what was going on. Amplified music was the order of the evening, ending at midnight. Apparently in previous years, the police had arrived at 2am, responding to calls concerning noise. That’s when the acoustic session would begin.

First on the stage was a bit of electronica. A guy with a synth playing psychedelic-piano-dub type stuff. I’m not sure of his name. It was really well put together, with synth melodies melting seamlessly into well-chosen samples. A really chilled way to start the evening. Then some folk. A lady on fiddle, a chap on guitar (Sean, formerly of Feckless, possibly) and Nick on mandolin. The folk standard, Raggle Taggle Gypsies, was belted out with much vigour, followed up with a song with a great lyric, ‘Ain’t no money in poetry, that’s what sets the poet free’.

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Possibly Sean, formerly of Feckless

A cover of Weller’s ‘Wild Wood’, played in an actual wild wood, was a real masterpiece, fusing smooth vocals with skillfully played fiddle and tremolo mandolin went down tremendously well, with kids dancing on the two-tier stage. This was followed up with a similarly well played and well received ‘Copperhead Road’ and a slightly folked up version of ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’. The set finished with ‘Port of Amsterdam’.

Next was DJ:W, playing ’90s trance. I am a bit of a sucker for a bit of trance. Some damn good tunes. However, I was somewhat hungry and headed to the barbie to cook and eat some meat-based product. And back to the truck to stock up on beer. I caught the end of DJ:W’s set, which was as good as the start. Then it was time for DJ Aircon. A dealer in drum’n’bass. Like the previous guy, a master at his craft. There were some fire-spinners working their craft in the foreground, with backing from Aircon, which made for a dramatic end to the amplified part of the evening. Aircon’s set is available to stream here.

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I ended up over by the sofa-fringed fire again, chatting to Bernard and Catherine from Vicar’s Crackpipe. I was persuaded to fetch the bouzouki from the truck to join in the session that was already in full swing. At one point, there was me on bouzouki, Bernard on melodeon, two fiddles, two guitars and a bodhran, played by the percussionist from the Finchdean gig, who no longer had to improvise his percussion instruments with whatever came to hand. Accompanied by two fiddles and a guitar, I hammered my way through Christy Moore’s ‘Ride On’ and The Clash’s ‘I Fought The Law’, which despite the alcohol consumption, seemed to be well received.

A different set of vocals joined the soundscape. It was getting light and the birds were clearing their collected throats for the dawn chorus. It was 4am and time for bed. I staggered back from the fire and laid my head down for a very sound sleep. I rose at midday and wandered back to the fire. Instruments were strewn around the sofas and, chatting to another reveller, it appears that the session was still in full swing at 9am.

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One band was missing from last night’s lineup. A three-piece reggae / ska outfit called Datura. (Looking at their Bookface page, they have a fourth member, but he wasn’t there.) They couldn’t make it in time to play last night, but turned up anyway to ply their musical wares to the survivors on Sunday morning. All dressed impeccably in matching yellow outfits, one guy on guitar, sampler and vocals, a lady on bass and a chap on drums, they played a ceaseless set of covers and their own material for at least two hours non-stop. I had time to listen to some tunes, take some photos, eat some breakfast, pack the truck into driving mode and come back to listen to more and take more photos. The set finished with, for the second time in a fortnight, Dawn Penn’s ‘You Don’t Love Me (No No No)’. I left the woods with a spring in my step and a very chilled out mindset. Thanks, Nick, for an amazing weekend. Can I come back next year, please?

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Datura

The next week saw a return trip to the Mid Hants Railway where Shantyhead were invited to play the loco department’s annual summer party. Widge from the band also works on the railway – the link that got us the gig. We were set up in the picnic area at Ropley station, part way along the heritage railway more commonly known as ‘The Watercress Line’. We played two sets, with entertainment in the interval from Thermic Syphons, a covers band formed from other railway staff. Railway people like their beer and there was a large amount on offer from Triple FFF Brewery. I was drinking my favourite of theirs, ‘Stairway’, formerly ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – a 4.6% fruity pale ale, which accompanied the balmy summer’s evening perfectly.

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A great view…

We played our usual mix of sea shanties, folk songs and threw in a couple of dubious rock / punk covers, which was greatly received. It was the premier for a song I suggested – ‘Paddy on the Railway’ and a song loosely based on the classic ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ rewritten about the staff of the railway. I am quietly chuffed that my performance of the modern shanty ‘Rollin’ Down The River’ was the best I’ve ever performed it.

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Shantyhead… Now with mood lighting…

Thermic Syphons’ set was a powerful mix of punky rocky Green Day infused covers, with epic drum solos. Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ and Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’ were lapped up by the small yet appreciative crowd. For a bunch of mates who work on a heritage railway, their sound is very tight and incredibly well put together. I hope they are gigging elsewhere as I’d really like to see them again.

Epic blog over. I’ll be putting photos in and adding links soon, but time has got the better of me. Shantyhead are playing a birthday party at a pub this evening, so I ought to get some kip…

Until next time, keep rockin’!

 

It’s time for Mega Catchup Blog! Isle of Man and Hawkley…

This blog starts where the last one was written. On the Isle of Man, staying in Douglas with my mate Rob, the organiser of the week’s entertainment. The Isle of Man is an interesting place anyway, but this week happened to be the practice week for the TT races – an annual pilgrimage for fans of two-wheeled motorised vehicles to watch and take part, around the gruelling 37.75 mile mountain course.

Saturday night was the opening night of the Bushy’s Beer Tent, which has supplied beer to the masses for twenty years now. We went along, tickets in hand, to drink fine ale and see that evening’s bands. There were a couple of local acts, and then, to coincide with it getting dark (which made the light show actually work), 90s indie favourites, The Lightning Seeds.

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The first warmup band we missed, due to queueing, both to get in and for the bar. There was a bit of a cock-up at the bar, in that the beer I was drinking in the afternoon at my favourite pub on the island, the Rover’s Return in Douglas, had been put on the wrong pump in the tent. Bushy’s Brewery,  a staple of the Isle of Man ale drinkers’ library, had produced an IPA for this year’s TT. Shuttleworth’s Snap. It was golden, hoppy and ultimately incredibly quaffable. It fitted in perfectly with both the way craft breweries are heading in recent years, and also with the weather. It was hot and sunny, with clear blue skies. Until the Lightning Seeds were halfway through their set, when a little light rain appeared, albeit very briefly. I got through my fair share of Snap over the course of the week. It’s definitely on the recommended list.

Still… I digress. The pump that said ‘Snap’ actually dispensed something else. Which the bar staff didn’t realise. It was on pint 3 that the pump clips had been turned round and the beer served was the beer advertised.

The second band on were again a local Manx combo called Ballaghs (unless you know otherwise, they have no web presence). Bouncy, gutsy folk rock was the order of the set and I was in my element. They covered a number of songs I know. Levellers-y stuff… You know the thing. My ears pricked up at the opening chords to a song I know well. It’s by Rev Hammer, an English singer-songwriter I discovered through The Levellers, and it’s quite an obscure song from a rather unknown album, Industrial Sound and Magic, released in 1991. It’s called Down By The River ‘O‘, and is about a town that gets flooded. I like this largely unknown song. I’m glad I know it.

Back in ’97, I helped my mate out with some haymaking. I have great memories of driving a 1950s Fordson Major around a field, hay turner doing its thing behind, singing this particular song at the top of my voice. It goes really well with the chug of the engine of a Major in whatever gear it was in. Consequently, I stood in the middle of the crowd singing along to every word, enjoying every note. The smile on my face was thankfully hidden by the beard, otherwise I’d be locked up for being the nutter I am.

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Ballaghs at the Bushy’s Tent

It was only after they had finished when the singer, a guy called Mike tapped me on the shoulder. When he was on stage, I overheard someone say he bore passing resemblance to a very young Bernard Cribbins. This was not the case at ground level. He thanked me profusely for singing along to that particular song. He’d forgotten the words and was using me as a prompt!

Before the set was out, a couple of Levellers covers were dropped in – English Civil War and a bouzouki-led cover of Riverflow, a favourite of mine (really? I hear you ask…). At this point, I didn’t care that the Lightning Seeds were on later. I could’ve listened to Ballaghs all night. But the evening progressed as planned, and after a good few minutes, said headline artistes took the stage and opened with Lucky You. There was a mass exodus from the beer tent to the stage area and within a minute or so, the place was rammed. An ideal time to get to the bar for a top up. If you could have moved.

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The Lightning Seeds crowd

Dancers a-plenty, and enough people hoisted onto others’ shoulders to free up a little dancing space, the guys pumped out hit after hit. Songs we remembered. Songs we’d forgotten, but remembered as soon as the vocals came in. It was a rather pleasant set. I saw the Lightning Seeds a few years back at a festival, but was more intent on trying to chat up a lady that I was rather keen on that I didn’t really take in much of their set.

It started raining part way through the set, but with the close proximity of people, nobody actually got wet. The end of the set was drawing near, announced by The Life of Riley. When they’d finished, whether for logistical reasons or through sheer bloody mindedness, they announced this was the imaginary encore. They didn’t bother with the going off, listening to the applause and coming back on thing. They just got on with it. Pure went into Sugar Coated Iceberg and the gig was done. A quick check of the watch and a blast up the hill to the Rovers for a last drink before closing was in order.

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Lightning Seeds at the Bushy’s Tent

Next followed two days of being touristy before Sunday night’s fun. Off to the Villa Marina, a venue on the Douglas Seafront, to see XSM – Ex Simple Mind. I was raised with a soundtrack dominated by things my father liked. From Queen to Free, to Meatloaf to Supertramp. They were all there. As were Simple Minds. When I was toying with metal and folk-punk, Dad was listening to Simple Minds. And, evidently, it rubbed off, as I knew the words to most of the songs.

XSM are comprised of the drummer from Simple Minds, his brother on vocals, a chap on synth, a guitarist and a bassist. To all intents and purposes, they were belting out hit after hit perfectly. Love Song, Waterfront and more were played, but what they heard through their monitors and what we heard through the PA were completely different things. The sound guy (I stop short of calling him ‘engineer’ as he’d be hard-pressed to engineer himself out of a paper bag) needed dragging outside and shooting. Bottom end and mids were far too loud, top end was squeaky where it was audible, and most of the time, the vocals were a tuneful hum against the shag pile carpet that filled the ears during every song. It turns out this guy was the house technician, and that his speciality is setting everything up so that the monitor mix is perfect, but the auditorium mix is diabolical. You can understand a touring tech doing that, but the house technician? Really?

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XSM before people stood up

Towards the end of the set, Promised You A Miracle and Alive and Kicking were rolled out. The crowd were really into the groove, and earlier in the gig, which was initially seated, one guy shouts at the stage ‘can we dance?’. This ended up in a brief discussion, which ended with the singer leaving the stage and singing the next song on the floor with a large number of other revellers keen to strut their stuff.

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XSM, once people had taken to the floor

The set was over and after the customary stampy encore request, the guys reappeared on the stage. After a little light heckling from the audience, the encore commenced. Alive and Kicking and Sanctify Yourself followed. Both went down extremely well, although it was a real shame about the sound. We were considering a whip-round to buy hearing aids for the sound tech by the end. At this point, we made the perilous journey across the road, then descended on a neighbouring hotel where much beer, gin and scotch were consumed.

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Back in the day, we used to hold lighters up at gigs…

Getting home from the island involved a 21 hour delay, but I’m back. And on the Saturday, the suggestion was made that I go along with my housemate, Luke, and Stu, the tame mechanic, to The Hawkley Inn, a lovely country pub near Petersfield, as they had a beer festival on. Never one to turn down the offer of a beer festival (and someone else driving), I jumped in the car.

I’m afraid I can’t give any beer reviews for this one, as they were running out and I was drinking whatever was left on the bar. The entertainment, on the other hand, I did note. A funk-ska band called Key Lime Pi, with a wind section comprising three saxophones in ascending size from alto to baritone and two trombones, coupled with Santana-style guitar.

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Key Lime Pi at the Hawkley Inn (at an angle I considered arty at the time)

Bluesy leads over a ska rhythm made for a most pleasant atmosphere on the warm summer’s evening. Good drinking music. A ska cover of Dawn Penn’s No No No got the vast majority of the assembled beer aficionados singing, before The Specials’ Ghost Town, quickly followed up by a brass-tastic Ghostbusters got them dancing as well. We did turn up towards the end, which means this review is painfully short. They finished up with One Step Beyond, which started slowly, at a proper chill-out tempo, slower than that of Prince Buster’s original, then halfway through, sped up to Madness tempo. The wind section (I don’t like using the term ‘brass’ as the sax is a woodwind instrument, although it’s made of the same material as the trombones) made it something to sit down and relish. Or dance like a nutter. I am guilty of both.

The evening ended with me, Luke and Stu finishing our beer ensconced in the branches of a nearby tree, before the trip home.

This coming weekend, I have a party to attend in a secret location in the West Country. I am taking the bouzouki and looking forward to a great time. The blog will appear some time within the next week. There is a good programme of music lined up, and it will be something to write about.

If you’ve got this far through this week’s mammoth effort, well done you! Keep on gigging, playing, or just reading the random stuff I’m posting, and I’ll catch you all soon. Take it easy!

Heave away, haul away! Two Shantyhead gigs inside of 16 hours…

A couple of weeks ago, I had a call from the events team at HMS Victory (National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard) enquiring as to the availability of Shantyhead for a short-notice gig on board the ship. What can you say when you’re presented with that kind of question, except for “Absolutely!”.

The deal was to provide sea shanties and folk songs on board Nelson’s flagship, to accompany an exclusive dinner for 102 guests. We were to play on deck when they arrived, then down below when they were sitting to eat, with a final set before they left the ship at the end of the evening. We weren’t to publicise the evening prior to the gig for security reasons.

We rehearsed like mad., brushing up on the shanty library and choosing suitable folk tunes and songs to intersperse things. Three sets were meticulously planned to streamline instrument changes and not have any one person singing lead for too many songs in a row. We had another gig at lunchtime the next day, so it was quite important we could still sing when we left the ship.

Arriving at the naval base, we signed in at the guardhouse and were issued with our passes, which contained the photos taken last time we sang on the ship. It took me a few seconds to twig that the beard on my photo was shorter than the beard is in reality, as I was wearing the same shirt and waistcoat as I was in the photo.

We were met at the gate by Alex from the events crew, and we followed her car through the winding roads of the naval base until we came upon the Victory, sitting in her dry dock, where she has been since 1922. Despite its age, Victory is still a commissioned warship and is the flagship of the First Sea Lord. I went for a job on Victory a couple of years back as an archaeologist, but it wasn’t to be. Oh well! I’m working on her now!

Shantyhead in the country pub on HMS Victory

We were led up on deck and told where to set up, and with barely five minutes to spare before the guests arrived, we were tuned and ready. Breaking into song as the guests arrived, we provided an audio backdrop to the drinks reception, ticking all the nautical stereotype boxes.

An officer takes the fore and reminds all those present that cameras were not to be used at any time during the event. Who were these people? There were miles and miles of gold braid, more medals than you can shake a stick at, and dress uniforms from all of the services of the UK and abroad, mixed with a smattering of tuxedos. These weren’t your average corporate audience.

Soon, Alex arrived to usher us below deck to the second venue for the evening. Stood at the end of the top table, with ropes and guns to prop our instruments up on, we began to play as the tables filled with diners. The initial arrangement was to sing during starters and leave for the main course, dessert and speeches, before returning to engage them in some rowdy shanty singing at the end.

That was the plan, anyway. We got about ten minutes into our set and, through chatting with the client between songs, retired to the green room, to return to play in two hours’ time at the end. The green room in this instance was the Senior Rates’ Mess at the rear of the ship, immediately beneath Nelson’s cabin. Being an actively staffed ship, there are senior rates to use the senior rates’ mess, so it’s not an exhibit of how it was in Nelson’s time. It’s in a staff only section of the ship, and on walking into it for the first time, I was astounded! It’s a country pub stuck to the back of the ship! Tables, stools, bench seating, a bar with two hand pumps, exposed timbers (and a bed and TV for the duty officer), with windows giving a panoramic view across the dockyard.

No sooner had we poured ourselves a beer, when one of the event crew arrives and informed us they wanted us back on, and to play an instrumental set during the main courses. From our repertoire, we had only rehearsed two instrumental numbers, and with a lot of busking and improvisation, we pulled off 35 minutes of musical delights that we are rather proud of.

The view from the country pub

We filed back to the country pub for a drop of Nelson’s blood (wouldn’t do us any harm) in a bit of a daze. What just happened? Neither of us really knew, but it worked. We had a good chat with the officer in charge of the ship, and it turns out the gathered throng were top brass in the security services and MOD, hence the lack of publicity and lack of photos. We did get a photo of the band in the senior rates’ mess, as that was considered safe.

The final set began at around the time it was due to finish and consequently was somewhat shorter than planned. A rousing version of What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor was the final number, with all the guests joining in with buckets of enthusiasm. As I stood talking to Alex after the gig, I ended up in some kind of receiving (departing?) line consisting of the two of us, and shook the hands of a good proportion of the guests as they left, including at least one admiral. Very positive comments were received as was one request to come and sing in an officers’ mess in the dockyard.

From the stripped down acoustic gig of the previous evening, the next day was a little more involved. This was the full electric setup, opening the Encore Family Music and Arts Festival at Berrywood School in Hedge End. The van was loaded and we set up under a rather low marquee on the playing field of the school. All was going well until the mixer… you know… the one that went pop at the wedding gig the other month? Yeah. That one. It came back from repair the previous day. And it went pop again. Joy. In anticipation, we already had the spare mixer with us, so as setbacks go, it was rather minor.

We moved the speakers and mic stands to the edge of the marquee so we could look out, but the threat of rain meant we stayed under cover for the duration. The set went without any more hitches and kicked off the first festival of its kind at the school, which to all intents and purposes  looked to be a rather fun day.

Shantyhead peeking out of the marquee at the Encore Family Music and Arts Festival (Photo: Kate Garcia)

We packed away to the high-energy rhythms of the Big Noise Samba Band and were soon on the home straight. 16 hours. Two gigs. Done and dusted. Sleep followed soon after.

I’m typing this from a coffee table in a Victorian town house in my next musical destination, Douglas, on the Isle of Man. There’s various things that have been lined up this weekend by my good friend, festival, gig and workshop buddy (and owner of the coffee table) Rob. I’ll probably do an edit, add tags etc. when I get home next week, but until then, my thoughts drift to Manchester, and to those affected by the bomb attack at the Manchester Arena, targeting innocent gig-goers on what was until that point, a great night out, and many of the audience’s introduction to live music.

On behalf of all musicians and music fans, WE ARE NOT AFRAID. THE MUSIC WILL GO ON.

UPDATE: The next installment is coming soon… I haven’t forgotten!

UPDATE 2: Following the recent events on London Bridge, WE ARE STILL NOT AFRAID. THE MUSIC WILL STILL GO ON. Thoughts are with those affected.

Lisa Marie Glover at The Tipsy Pig, Romsey

This is a first for me… For various reasons (mainly tiredness) I only stayed at this one for the first half of the gig. I’m sitting here typing when the second half is probably still going on!

This evening’s musical pleasures necessitated a visit to a place I’ve been wanting to see for months now. The Tipsy Pig is a craft ale bar in Romsey. It follows the ethos of the micropub movement that has produced lots of interesting places to drink in Southampton. The Pig is different in that instead of setting up a craft ale bar in a disused shop, they chose to breathe new life to an old pub. It’s a light, airy building with high ceilings and minimal furniture. Minimal furniture but maximum beer. Six handpumps, six (or was it eight) taps for keg and a menu of bottled beers, artisan spirits and a good selection of wines.

I arrived at 7:30, on my way home from work, after a dubious Subway at a petrol station on the outskirts of Romsey. (The guy serving was new and it was his first solo shift. I had to point out where everything was. Interesting to say the least… I don’t know what I had in my sub, but it wasn’t the teriyaki chicken I asked for… Not unpleasant, though, and I’m not dead yet…)

Walking up to the bar, the very attentive and knowledgeable staff (also rather beardy, apart from the female one) suggested a couple of beers that fitted my criteria of ‘around 4%’ and gave me tasters of several choices. With this amount of choice, I decided to stick to halves so I could try a little more before I headed off. The first was a cloudy Belgian style keg beer by Vibrant Forest, Zuur Rhubarb. It was only 3.5% and was, as the name suggests, a sour rhubarb flavoured beer. Definitely the thing to cleanse the palate from my Subway experience earlier. It was enjoyable, but I think halves are the size in which to drink it.

Lisa Marie Glover, a solo singer / guitarist hailing from Leeds, took the stage and began her first set. In all honesty, the sound was far from good at the end of the bar at which I was perched. I gradually made my way closer to the stage, and the acoustics of the building became more forgiving and the sound quality was rather good the closer I got to the PA.

Lisa has a bluesy, almost trad-jazz infused style and has a propensity to play well-placed walking bass riffs on her acoustic guitar, very much reminiscent of The Kinks’ Sunday Afternoon.

The atmosphere was very casual – people out for a drink with some background music. Despite this, there was a good level of applause after each song, which as the evening progressed, grew considerably.

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Lisa Marie Glover

Lisa’s smooth, silky vocals soothed the trials and tribulations of the working day away with a cover of The Beatles’ Lady Madonna.

It was time for another half. This time, the recommended tipple was White Tips IPA from Siren Craft Brew. This was another keg beer and at 4.5% was a nice change from a lot of craft beers that seek to push the boundaries of percentage far beyond the session beer level. It had a rounded hoppy flavour with a dry bite to the finish. Elements of citrus without it being overpowering. If I was here for a session,  I’d have had another.

Throughout the purchasing of beverage, a liquid blend of vocals and guitar exuded from the stage. Lisa played a well-balanced mix of covers and self-penned songs. A rendition of Dream A Little Dream Of Me was followed by an original composition about spiders. She doesn’t like spiders. Nor do I. The song includes putting them in a pint glass. I can’t get that close! If Lisa fancies a little contract work eradicating the eight-legged-bastards from my house, I’m more than happy to arrange it!

Now it’s a song that always wakes an audience up, whoever plays it, and tonight was no different. Jolene. Not as much audience participation at the Tipsy Pig, but this was the interim between the early shift and the night shift. Lisa sang Jolene with a real heartfelt tenderness that is definitely lacking in the original, and also in most covers that seek to emulate the original.

My final half of the evening was a 4.6% single hop offering from the selection on handpump by Animal Brewing Co. Hop Hound uses only Citra hops and is everything a summer ale should be. On the first sip, you are transported to the dappled shade of a tree beside a river, or at least a sunny beer garden. The right balance of bitter and a mellow sweetness. Definitely a quaffing beer.

The walking basslines and the easy listening blues-jazz-folk continued with a country-tinged cover of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love which brought the first set to a close. After a good chat with Lisa, I made my way home, only to get my second wind on walking through the door. Oh well! Blog time (with a can of Hobgoblin Gold)!

When I entered the Tipsy Pig this evening, the bar had a handful of people, all enjoying a quick jar on the way home from work. When I left, it was a busy town pub with the evening shift in full swing. I wholeheartedly recommend visiting if you’re in the area, and if you see a lady by the name of Lisa Marie Glover advertised anywhere, I’d also suggest you pay her a visit.

Right. I’ll see how I go writing last week’s blog now… Funfun! Keep rockin!

 

A bloke in a pub, three blokes and a lady in a pub and two blokes in someone’s living room…

Another epic week of far too much music!

It all started on Thursday the 4th with a trip to The Dolphin, St Denys (Southampton) to see a friend, Ryan Stevens of 71 Chain fame, playing his solo set.

It wasn’t a massively attended gig, but I was there, with occasional gig buddies Ruth and Andy. Ryan took the stage with a couple of guitars, a PA, a couple of effects and a loop pedal. When you see 71 Chain, you normally hear Chris on vocals, with Ryan on backing. This time, Ryan had no choice but to be solo. And he’s good.

I arrived part way through the first set. Got a disappointing beer. I can’t even remember what it was to give any kind of review. It was past it’s best. Lets focus on the music, shall we?

Ryan’s solo sets are made up of a carefully selected mix of covers. In the part of the first set I saw, we were treated to skillful renditions of Half The World Away (Oasis), In The Morning (Razorlight), a frantically strummed intro bursting with energy to Mr Nutini’s New Shoes, then moving a little back on the tempo, REM’s Man On The Moon with a muted strum on the verse. Ryan introduced “A bit of modern rock ‘n’ roll” – Jake Bugg’s Lightning Bolt was given the Stevens treatment, which went down a storm (get it? Lightning? Storm? I’ll get my coat…) with the small audience. For the noughties’ kids, Outkast’s Hey Ya led into the first outing of the looper for the evening, for a bit of Ed Sheeran. From personal experience, getting things right with a looper can be hit and miss. Ryan hit. He finished the first set with The Beatles Come Together.

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Ryan Stevens – Google Photos did its thing again…

After much chatting with friends, it was time for the second set. Another plethora of very well played covers followed, with T-Rex and Queen getting an airing. One annoyance was that the big screen TV was on in the background and from where I was sitting, Ryan was competing against BBC News 24. I appreciate the pub wasn’t heaving, but those that were there were there to listen to the bloody music (and not drink crap beer).

Ryan dealt his three-chord-wonder, The Joker (Steve Miller Band) followed up with Lizzy’s version of Whiskey In The Jar(o). I’ve often mused over the word ‘Jar-o’


jar-o
noun
Receptacle for beverage, esp. whiskey


Ryan broke from tradition at this point and treated us to one of his own compositions. It was a really good song – a well-penned Mumford meets Sheeran style piece well executed. Shame I can’t remember what it was bloody called!

After a bit of Sweet Home Alabama (turn it up…), the looper came out again. Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall works really well when you set up the chords on the pedal them play the solo over the top. The looper stayed out for the finale, Hendrix’ version of Watchtower, that was painstakingly built up, layer by layer, into what can only be described as a masterpiece of sound, created layer by layer by a very talented chap.

Ryan Stevens is nothing but a human jukebox. To hear what I have so far, I am impressed. Adding that to his 71 Chain work, his is a name to watch out for.

Friday completed the week’s 71 Chain fix, with the launch of Ruby Blue And The Chain‘s debut release, ‘The Boathouse EP’ at The Hobbit. Ruby Blue is the daughter of Mongo, 71 Chain’s drummer, and The Chain are Chris, Adam and Mongo from the aforementioned band on guitar, bass and drums respectively. Ruby (Emily) plays keyboard and delivers powerful vocals that complete the band’s smooth blues-rock sound.

The venue was packed to the gunnels with fans of the band, fans of 71 Chain and a load of archaeologists from the university who are friends of Emily’s mum. It’s a small world! The gig started with some solo Ruby Blue material, which really showcased Emily’s dynamic, strong voice, which I found somewhat reminiscent of one of my favourite female musicians, the wonderful Thea Gilmore. A voice you can easily become lost in.

After the solo set, Emily called for the band, who appeared on stage after fighting their way through the assembled throng. I’ve seen the band play a couple of times before and I’ve very much enjoyed what they do. Chris’s Gary-Moore-esque guitar and Adam’s fretless five string bass pair faultlessly with the vox and keys from Emily, the package is completed with percussion from Mongo. This evening, though, the band was really rather let down by the quality of the sound. The venue is a fairly small room which was evidently empty at sound check but full of sound-absorbant bodies for the gig. A former sound engineer friend of mine used to take bundles of blankets around to pub gigs, to drape on chairs and tables giving more of an impression of a full room when setting the levels. This evening, there was a tremendous amount of bottom end that largely obscured the vocals and melody. Adam’s bass was perfect, though, even if certain notes did seem to hit the resonant frequency of the room, compounding the problem.

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Ruby Blue And The Chain

I elected to stand in the corridor outside the room, which gave a far better sound, but it did mean I ended up talking at length with an old friend I bumped into who happened to be standing out there for the same reason, and whilst I enjoyed the evening, I didn’t really get to enjoy the music as much as I could have. I parted with the princely sum of five whole pounds and left with the five-track Boathouse EP so I could enjoy Ruby Blue And The Chain at my leisure in more acoustically suited surroundings.

When I pulled the disc from its sleeve, I was immediately struck by the graphics on the front, which resemble a vinyl record, with (printed on) grooves and a label. On flipping the disc over, I was surprised to see the reverse is black instead of the usual silver. Impressive! On playing the EP, you are treated to five tracks of audio delight. This is the right balance of blues and rock for me. Chris’s cutting guitar riffs provide a direct contrast to Emily’s piano and the vocals top everything off. All songs are penned by Emily, with three also having Chris credited. A fiver well spent.

Saturday. Almost there! Roadie time for me.

Widge, from my band, Shantyhead, has a long history in the music business. He’s also known as Martin Orford, keyboard player, vocalist and songwriter with several prog rock outfits. Every now and then, he dons his baseball cap and waistcoat and re-enters his prog guise to play small events. Saturday was one of these – a house concert in Chandler’s Ford alongside former Jadis bandmate Gary Chandler. Widge is on keys, flute and other random instruments. Gaz is on guitar. Both share vocals. I come along to roadie, bringing PA equipment and fulfill the role of general dogsbody, lead tester and general sound checkist.

The venue was the house of a nice chap called Paul. The ground floor of his house is open-plan. He fills it with chairs for the audience and puts on a rather large buffet with great stocks of booze for everyone (roadies included) to enjoy. Setting up is a casual affair at Paul’s, a few hours before kickoff, we can get sorted at a comfortable pace. The most daunting bit of the setup is the moving of Paul’s plate glass dining table out into the garden, through a tight ninety degree turn, then propping it up against the wall of the house. Once that’s done and the gear is set up, soundchecks carried out, I change into a clean shirt, grab a beer and enjoy the gig, before doing everything in reverse before disappearing off in Widge’s little van.

It’s a friendly atmosphere at Paul’s house concerts, with lots of familiar faces appearing each time. Everyone knows each other and I’m accepted as one of the prog crowd now, which is really rather pleasant.

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Widge and Gaz belt out Comfortably Numb

Alongside songs from the Jadis back catalogue, Widge plays some of his solo material and things from his time with IQ. They also play a number of covers, which since we’ve converted him to folk, Widge is keen to play with his plethora of bizarre folk instruments. This time, it was the cittern and hurdy gurdy that got an airing. Widge guested on keys, flute and the hand-cranked-multi-stringed-babe-magnet on the last Jadis album ‘No Fear Of Looking Down’, released at the end of last year.

I’m not great with the names of a lot of the Jadis / IQ songs, but I can recall some of the covers. With Widge on vox and keys and Gaz on guitar, Wonderous Stories (Yes) went down well. A cittern / acoustic guitar-based rendition of the Genesis classic Carpet Crawlers warmed the audience up for Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill which started to great appreciation from the audience, most of whom were singing along throughout.

A bit of Floyd brought the evening to a close. Comfortably Numb with Widge on keys and lead vox. Gaz played the solos with his usual skill. Immense applause and general appreciation. It’s guaranteed a great reception.

As the audience and performers were more or less on first name terms, the banter between songs was a great source of amusement to everyone. Many anecdotes were shared, a plethora of stories remembered, including memories of Widge’s good friend John Wetton, who sadly passed away earlier this year. In tribute, Widge announced a song that he’d sung backing on countless times before, but never lead vocals. This was the encore and this was for John. With cittern in hand, backed by Gaz on electric, after a tentative start, the music took hold. It was Asia’s Heat Of The Moment and was performed with great emotion and feeling. A fitting tribute to a great musician.

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Widge and Gaz

The evening had drawn to a close. Instruments were cased, cables wound, bags packed and vans loaded. That bloody table was reinstalled without a hitch. The guys have already been booked for this time next year.

Thanks for sticking with this mammoth update! I’ve already uploaded the next blog as it was only short. This coming week, it’s a busy one, with Shantyhead gigs on Friday and Saturday. I’ll tell you more next time!

Keep it live!

Three kittens, a bouncy archaeologist and some country-tinged acid house…

NOTE: This post somehow reverted to a previous draft, so I’ve just rebuilt it.

Its been a bit of an epic week. Much music was enjoyed, much booze consumed and many old friends caught up with. It all started on Thursday with trip to the Wedgewood Rooms to see The Lounge Kittens, with my housemate, Luke. I had a mad dash home from work, quickly nuked some food, got changed, fell into Luke’s car and we were off to sunny Portsmouth. An hour after I’d walked through the door at home, we were parking outside The Vaults in Albert Road. None of this driving around looking for somewhere to park. It was as if we’d planned it. The space was there, right outside the door. there was no queue at the bar and we were soon drinking our pre-gig pints. I was on a golden, hoppy five percenter of unremembered name. Luke was on the ubiquitous chauffeur’s pint of shandy.

This was all carefully timed due to the Lounge Kittens being one of those nice bands who tweet stage times, so we planned our arrival at the Wedge to coincide with the last couple of tracks of the support act, so the mad rush for the bar / outside for a fag didn’t coincide with our arrival. We wandered in to see a chap called Joe Black. He was a tall man, wearing a black turban and sparkly black dress, playing ukulele. Black’s own website describes him as a ‘gin drinking cabaret darling musical comedy misfit, drag clown and acid tongued ringmaster’. Highly accurate! At the end of his set, he climbed down from the stage and stood in the middle of the audience. There, he played an acoustic cover of Radiohead’s Creep accompanied by pretty much everyone else in the venue on backing vocals.

After a quick trip to the bar for another shandy for Luke and a pint of Irving & Co’s Invincible, a chestnut brown 4.6% bitter with a good rounded flavour and slightly hoppy finish.  The last couple of times I’ve been to the Wedge, they have had two beers from Irving, Frigate and Invincible, on direct dispense from polypins behind the bar. It’s as well-kept as is possible using that method, and it’s definitely a joy to go to a venue when they’ve got something reasonable to drink.

The house lights dim. The audience cheers in anticipation, as three ladies take the stage. In matching blue sequined dresses, their immediate distinguishing factor is hair colour. To the left we have pink, to the right, blue, and in the middle, on keys, red. Lounge Kittens all. For those of you unfamiliar with the trio, they are a vocal-based lounge act with some great harmonies, accompanied by piano / keyboard.  They do have an interesting repertoire, though… It’s mainly covers of rock and metal songs including a fair number with lyrics that aren’t that family friendly. All executed in perfect harmony. The band shot to fame when their cover of Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ went viral on YouTube, resulting in the Kittens opening for Limp Bizkit at Sonosphere the next year.

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Lounge Kittens

A good mix of songs filled their set, with a couple of new (at least to me) tracks including Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls / Bicycle Race and a great medley of kids’ TV theme tunes from the 80s and 90s which really brought back some memories. Transformers, Gummy Bears, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Thundercats, Pokemon, Mask, Ulysses, Ghost Busters, Inspector Gadget, Chip ‘n’ Dale and the Turtles all got the kitten treatment in an epic few minutes of music, with every theme getting questioning, followed by realisation and then immense appreciation from the audience.

The kittens didn’t bother with all the ‘going off and coming back on’ bit at the end. They rode the wave of the applause then started their encore – Tina Turner’s Simply The Best. Again, it’s the first time I’ve heard them play that one and as a showstopper, they made a good choice. We hastily retired to the car (well, the establishment that happened to be located immediately outside the car) for a wee dram before home.

Saturday was completely different. As some of you may know, I’m an archaeologist. I studied at the University of Southampton in the late nineties / early noughties, then after a brief spell as the bar manager at a real ale pub, they gave me a job for the best part of a year. This year marks 50 years of archaeology at the University and Saturday was devoted to its celebration. Luke offered his chauffeurial facilities, so myself and good friends Heather (occasional gig buddy), Emma and Rich were ferried to the Avenue Campus where a most pleasant, and only partially alcoholic, afternoon was had. After lots of wandering around talking to people I hadn’t seen in years, speeches, cutting of cake, group photo etc, myself and Heather were seconded by good friend and member of uni staff, Tim, to help him set up a couple of bars serving wine to the large numbers of thirsty archaeologists eagerly anticipating the nectar of the grape. I always seem to get involved in booze provision at the uni, but that’s another story. On completion, we took our now full glasses off to laugh at the mug shots of every archaeology student since the late 1970s, taken of each student when they first joined the university.

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Bloody hell… I look 12 at most…

I only caught a brief bit of the afternoon entertainment. A couple of amps, some mic stands and a couple of racks of guitars were set up in the canteen, and lecturers of old, Dave and John, played what turned out to be a bloody good acoustic folk set. Dave on rhythm guitar and vocals, with John on a rather complex finger picked lead, with more than a hint of psychedelia. I really do hope they play outside the confines of university anniversaries. I’d quite like to see them in a pub somewhere and soak in Dave’s mellow vocals, which coupled with John’s unique folky style and the occasional vocals from one of the female students really was a pleasure to listen to.

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Dave and John

As the afternoon drew to a close, we all meandered over to the main campus, to a venue in the Students’ Union where the acreage of buffet food and plethora of keen bar staff were waiting for the influx. Beer choice in The Bridge was minimal. Nothing real,  all keg, with the best option being Goose IPA. Gin it is, then.

Entertainment for the evening was provided by a DJ by the name of Hippocampus (also known as a highly regarded, in academia and government, archaeologist by the name of John, who happens to be a good friend of mine). John is a bit of a dark horse to those that only know him for his professional life. I was first introduced to him by Dave (on guitar back in the afternoon) back in 2002, when they were both supervisors of my masters dissertation, which studied the effectiveness of Second World War anti-invasion defences, should the UK have been invaded. At that point, he drove a Saab. Shortly after, I became aware that he was one of a small team presenting a radio show playing some interesting music from a pan-genre library.

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Hippocampus

Now, instead of driving the old Saab, he was driving the decks and mixer, and with a vast library of tunes to draw on, we were treated to well-selected audio from the 60s to the present day. I’ve not reviewed a DJ before, and I’m not that great at reviewing bands, so where to go? Well… John’s mixing was top notch (apart from when he was talking to me and had to run back to the booth as it all went quiet as one track ended…) and his choice of audio was perfect. Most genres were included, to appeal to the audience with its wide range of ages. Playing the likes of Hawkwind, KLF, Johnny Flynn and Fatboy Slim, John went on for a good four hours, living every song. The energy that came out of the booth that evening was something to behold. Jumping incessantly to the beat, punching the air, before cueing the next epic choice, John was alive. He finished the set with Anarchy in the UK into We Are The Champions. Luke arrived to ferry everyone home and another great evening was over. Cheers, John!

Not a great deal happened on Sunday morning except for sleep. the afternoon was slow, too, but at 6:15, I wandered next door to meet Gaz, Ben and Sue. We jumped in Gaz’s car and sped off into Southampton for the week’s final musical assault. The venue was The Engine Rooms. The band were Alabama 3, the sole proponents of country-tinged acid house. Beer review: bottled or canned. I was on Hobgoblin. It was as good and consistent as bottled beer usually is. End of beer review.

There were two support acts. The first, a band called, I believe, Slim Johnson. They played a pleasant set of southern rock, with a bit of a heavy edge.

I spent most of the second support queuing at the bar and chatting to my friend Nel, who was also present on Saturday, also being one of us hole-digging folks, and Jim, a good mate who’s a press photographer and was there shooting the gig. My description of the guy on stage (solo performance) has to be a younger version of Seasick Steve, with a man bun and vocals tinged with AC/DC. He was playing a heavily overdriven semi-acoustic guitar and a stomp box.

The Alabama boys took the stage to rapturous applause and did their thing. Their delivery ranges from comic to deathly serious and, bloody hell, they know how to work a crowd. After singing Hypo Full of Love (The 12-Step Plan), they affirmed what I had believed all along, that “this is country as it should be done in the 21st century”. Hits from their extensive back catalogue were played with as much vigour as they were played when they were first released. They belted out Woke Up This Morning, the theme from The Sopranos, that earned the guys a following on both sides of the Atlantic. Not a still body in the building.

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The Alabama 3 crowd

After the best part of two hours of pumping tunes, the band walked off stage to thunderous applause. A proper stampy encore request followed, then two of the band came on stage, to subdued lighting, they played an impressive slowed down acoustic version of U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno Anymore, one of my favourite A3 songs. They wrapped up with the full band back on for Hello… I’m Johnny Cash. The applause and stamping that followed was alas to no avail, as soon after the band left the stage, the house lights went up and we milled out with the throng to find Gaz’s car. Another immense musical evening, with the great news that Monday was a bank holiday and I could rise at a sensible hour and recover at leisure.

Here’s a couple of photos reproduced with kind permission of Jim Houlbrook, photographer:

This coming weekend, I’ve got an album launch at The Hobbit on Friday and I’m roadying for Widge when he enters prog mode on Saturday… Until next time, keep rockin!