What could be better for a Friday night than seeing a band I haven’t seen in years in a venue is haven’t seen music in for a similar length of time?
Being a venue with a 3am license, The Hobbit tend to start their bands a little later on a Friday. The gig kicked off at ten with a sound that I’ve not heard in ages… the twin fiddle lead is something I’ve not experienced since Debs left the now sadly disbanded Blue Horses – a staple of my late nineties / early noughties gig going days, that introduced me to Mary Jane in the first place, when they were supporting the masters of Welsh Celtic rock (who I would link to if they still had a website…).
A timeless vocal harmony started the band’s take on the trad ballad ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ before a song poetically exploring the changes of the seasons. This was the title track of their latest album, the 2014 release, ‘Solstice’. The intro is reminiscent of Guns n Roses, but there’s no doubt… it’s a Mary Jane track through and through.
A collection of reggae funk inspired reels was deftly played on their varied instrumentation which included six string bass (either red or black, depending which way you looked at it), electric twelve string, recorder and tin whistle. There was what can only be described as ‘interesting’ dancing from the audience throughout.
They finished the first set with the trad song ‘Matty Groves’. As Jo (vocals) put it, a song about adultery and death that you need two whistles to play.
The audience rapidly diminished during the break, but they’re a fickle bunch and the room soon filled up again once the music restarted.
The venue, a fairly small downstairs room at The Hobbit, still manages to squeeze in its own (albeit fairly limited) bar and the resident house technician. “He’s been doing it for years” the barman explained. Not as long as that particular room has echoed with live music, though… It turns out this is one of the oldest alternative venues in Southampton with well over fifty years of musical heritage. The Hobbit was originally known as the Portswood Hotel with this room being the original home of the Yellow Dog Jazz Club, from which the Solent City Jazz Jazzmen were born. The feet that have polished and rounded these floorboards over the intervening decades…
The second set kicked off with an energetic fiddle-led instrumental with what can only be described as robotic folk dancing from a chap in the audience. A song about selkies followed (mythical creatures from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland who take the form of seals until full moon when they are transformed into men, come ashore and ravage local womenfolk, denounced by one audience member as ‘dirty bastards!’). All throughout, Jo (vox) danced with boundless energy, only matched by the powerful vocals she delivers.
When the next song started, I could see the realisation on the faces of the twenty-somethings in the audience as they worked out what it was. A brilliant folky rocky cover of Tears for Fears’ Mad World. Everyone was immediately united in song.
More jigs and reels followed, a brief story about a camping trip to Ireland followed by a song about it, called Over the Sea. Another about those dedicated to Sunday afternoon DIY then brought about a request from the band for everyone to dance. The set came to a close with what can only be described as pure musical energy. Twin fiddle driven instrumental folk with a solid rock backing of guitar, bass and drums was a real reminder of the sort of thing I used to see all the time, leading me to wonder what got in the way.
As an encore, a ‘boring folk number’ was played. It was a cover of a song by that little known American folk combo, Guns N Roses. Sweet Child of Mine went down a storm. As did Rock And Roll (Zeppelin). The extended encore finished with Drunken Sailor and a final twin fiddle driven piece.
It was 1am. It was trying to snow. It had been a great night revisiting a brilliant band in an intimate venue, but it was time to head home. I wholeheartedly recommend seeing Mary Jane if you get the chance. They are every bit the band they were ten years ago, and then some. And as for The Hobbit, that place doesn’t ever change!