Now there’s a band name to get your teeth into! Friday night was my first venture to a pub I’d never heard of in a village I didn’t know existed, to see a band I hadn’t come across before. The name stood out somewhere on Facebook – I forget how exactly I came across them, but it was playing around on Facebook during the week – probably a general search to find something to go and see this week. I had two other options lined up for Friday night, but seeing the name ‘Vicar’s Crackpipe’ and the blurb on the pub’s events page – ‘jigs, reels, polkas and songs’ – made me want to find out more.
The George appears to be a foody pub with a proper public bar for drinkers (and overspill diners). When I arrived 20 minutes into the band’s set, it was standing room only. I wandered in to a busy pub with some great Irish music being generated by these three musicians in the corner of the bar. I say three, but there was a fourth who didn’t seem to be involved with the band, but seemed to know them and was very enthusiastic at joining in on percussion.
On offer at the bar was the inevitable Doom Bar, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, Butcombe Bitter and Hobgoblin. I opted for a Butcombe, which was every bit as good as I remember. I obtained my beer and ended up in my usual place at busy gigs – standing outside the door to the toilets. I really don’t know how this happens, but it does with monotonous regularity. Ah well – at least I could keep my eye on seat availability from there, and watch out for Stu, the tame mechanic, who was also coming along. Turning my attention to the band, a chap with a melodeon was melodeoning away with great vigour, while another guy played guitar. This was topped off with a resounding melody from a lady with a fiddle. The fourth musician (who may or may not be a member of the band) was a Scotsman called Andy who was providing percussion on anything that came to hand. He clearly knew what he was doing, with the timing and skills of an experienced bodhran player, but his instrument was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, he made the most of varied items of cutlery, his keys, a ‘RESERVED’ sign, menus and a pint glass. At one point, he acquired the fiddle player’s case and used that as an improvised bodhran. Not sure how well that went down with its owner.
I was immediately taken with the tightness of the band. They appeared very well rehearsed and each individual seemed to know exactly what each other was doing and when they were planning to do it. A wonderful thing to experience in any band. The gig was a good balance of melody and backing, and was acoustic apart from a single mic and guitar practice amp, which was just about enough.
Leading up to the interval, an influence from the Highlands was apparent in a melodeon-driven reel. My desire to accompany it with whisky was emerging, but what with the half-hour drive home, I opted for a shandy, much to the amusement of the barman. Before the break, a song called ‘Beltane’ had an airing. By this point, I was heading out the front door as a small porch was present with a bench seat alongside the door, which was wide open, giving somewhere to sit with what was actually a very good view of the band.
During the break, I got talking with the melodeon player, Bernard. He runs a session at The George (not this George, but the one on Portsdown Hill) on the last Sunday afternoon of the month. He, alongside Nick, the guitarist, also presents a folk show on the Portsmouth-based Flash Radio (available online). It turns out that their show was actually being broadcast while they were playing – ah… the joys of pre-recording… There was one thing I had to ask him – why Vicar’s Crackpipe? It turns out the band is named after a tune written by Nick, which Bernard assured me would be played in the second half.
The second set began with Three Drunken Maidens – an uptempo song about ladies from the Isle of Wight and their drinking habits (which incidentally my lot have just started rehearsing). The break had seen the audience become suitably more lubricated and enthusiastic clapping accompanied the melody. By this time, a few people had left the pub and there was a table available! A swift move to the inside was made.
The second half was again well received and included a ‘Russian tune written by an Irishman’ during which the Heath Robinson percussionist persisted in trying to get everyone to dance, without great success. A few old favourites were pulled out – ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ was a good powerful tune as it usually is when played and sung well. The mandolin (which had made a brief appearance in the first set) was again extracted and what can be described as delicate but direct and powerful tunes were enjoyed. It was time for the Pogues classic, ‘Rain Street’ and soon after, ‘Whiskey In The Jar’.
A tune with a continental atmosphere was played, with fingerpicked guitar in a flamenco-esque style, accompanied by Parisian cafe style melodeon. Alas, the end of the gig was nigh. A song was sung about someone who seemed to be familiar to the locals, going by the name of Ganja Murray (evidently it is his name, and smoking and toking is his game, as we were reliably informed in the chorus). The penultimate tune was the singalong classic, Galway Girl, which didn’t disappoint in audience participation, followed by Vicar’s Crackpipe – the eponymous tune played so vigorously, the guitar shed a string out of fear that it would catch fire.
From uncertain beginnings, this Friday night was definitely one of the good ones. It’s plain to see Vicar’s Crackpipe are a cracking outfit (see what I did there), that are well worth taking some time to see if they are playing anywhere near you. They could do with some kind of online presence so we could find gig details, but there has to be something special and somewhat rare about accidentally stumbling upon musicians of this quality. Incidentally, their next gig is this coming Friday coming at the Robin Hood, Rowland’s Castle. Stumble away!
Next week’s blog could be interesting – I’m gigging with Shantyhead at The Fox, Bramdean, on Friday, and I’m off with friends to see Ferocious Dog at Talking Heads on Saturday. Until then, in the great words of John Lydon, may the road rise with you!