The end of this week has been busy so I’ll try and be brief… Last time I said that, an essay ensued, so I think we’ll just see where it takes me.
I was gigging with my band, Shantyhead, on Friday night at The Fox, Bramdean. Had we not been pre-booked, I’d have been seeing The Courtiers, my friends’ band, who were gigging that day. As luck would have it, one of them announced a warmup gig in Portsmouth at The Wine Vaults on Albert Road, Southsea, on Thursday. Why not?
The Courtiers are a folk band who I’ve been seeing for a good few years now. They are a lively folk band consisting of Chris and Debs (who I’ve previously mentioned as playing in the Drystone Cowboys) on guitar and fiddle respectively, and Simon on bouzouki and five string banjo. Chris also plays a foot-operated drumkit. There’s usually a fourth member, Tim, who plays flute and whistle, but tonight he was replaced by a new face – a chap called Paul who was playing concertina, mandolin and tenor banjo. Chatting to him between sets, it turns out he also plays the Northumbrian pipes and is learning the fabled bundle of plumbers’ ephemera that forms the ullean pipes. I don’t know if Paul has replaced Tim, or if Tim was having a break, but either way, the Courtiers were as tight as they usually are (apart from when Simon started singing half a bar out from the tune, in the wrong key, which I won’t hold against him – he’s a nice chap and I did very much the same thing myself the next night…)
The courtiers play an interesting mix of folk from the British Isles, the Americas and Continental Europe and on Thursday, they didn’t disappoint. The second set began with a fiddle-driven instrumental of ‘Kashmir‘ by the mightly Led Zep, then back into the heady mix of jigs, reels, polkas and songs The Courtiers are famous for.
There’s a couple of songs in their repertoire in French. One of these does make me smile each time I hear it, as it brings back memories from Wickham Festival 2015, when The Courtiers were playing on the outside stage and I had the band’s camera and tripod, shooting some video for promotional purposes. Throughout this track, a beaded chap who was likened to Catweasel, was dancing in a very spaced out manner, really feeling the music and using every limb he possessed to the extent of its capable movement, which was a joy to behold, until his balance suddenly failed at the moment he was next to me with the tripod and camera. After a brief sojourn, I was back, filming the band with a two-legged tripod whilst Catweasel danced with a little more reserve, some distance away.
The Courtiers went down exceedingly well at The Vaults, with the punters as well as the band warming up for Friday’s Guinness-flavoured celebrations wherever they would be. Bramdean is where I’d be. At a lovely little country pub called The Fox, playing the Shantyhead Irish set. It was the first time we’d played The Fox and we attracted a rather large crowd, with the pub fully booked for food.
The Fox is a freehouse, with a liking for beers from the west country. Breweries including St Austell and Sharps are frequently represented on one of the four handpumps and on special occasions, they use the four-barrel stillage behind the bar for direct dispensed beers, taking the possible maximum to eight beers. Mandy and Pete, the licensees, keep a great pub, equally welcoming to drinkers as well as diners. There should be a mention of Matt, who I used to work alongside at the Hampshire Bowman many years ago now, who put us in touch with Mandy and got us the booking.
Friday was a great excuse for us to dust off some old favourites and give the premiere of some new material we’d been working on. The ‘rovers’ were brought out in force. It was said at one point that we had more rovers than Battersea Dogs’ Home. There was the Irish, the wild, the “I’m a…“, and towards the end of the set, the Shantyhead classic about a layby on the A31, ‘A Dogging‘.
The set was a good mix of Irish songs and tunes, sea shanties, traditional folk, the odd risque song and the grand premier of a nice bit of folked-up punk. The Clash’s ‘I Fought The Law‘ played on hurdy gurdy and bouzouki, with yours truly on vocals, was very well received, as was ‘Bad Moon Rising‘ with a banjo solo in the middle, which despite the special £3 beer, I still got through unscathed.
The gig went down a storm. The locals were dancing and singing with increasing gusto as the booze flowed. Mandy and Pete have already asked us to come back. I think that’s a given. I’ve since heard from a very good friend who works on the bar at an establishment near to the Fox, and her boss is keen to know how much we charge, as he had an empty pub all evening. All in all, Friday was a great success!
Between playing bouzouki (mostly with the right chords), banjo, whistle, didgeridoo, and singing, and setting up and packing down, loading and unloading the van, I was absolutely shattered on Friday. And on Saturday morning. And on Saturday afternoon. Saturday evening came along and after a can of cheap knock-off Red Bull, half a pizza and a glass of Pinot Grigio, I was ready for round 3.
It was off with my occasional gig buddy Heather to the Talking Heads, Southampton to see Ferocious Dog, who if you’ve not encountered them before, you’re missing out. They are a proper folk rock band, like The Levellers were twenty-odd years ago, with the volume turned up.
The gig was sold out, with The Heads packed out with die-hard fans and relative newbies like me, Heather, and my friend Nel who generously let us park at her flat and plied us with (non-alcoholic) drinks after the gig. I’d seen Ferocious Dog with Heather at Portsmouth Guildhall, supporting The Levellers at the tail end of last year and the raw energy they were pumping into the audience was phenomenal. They had a proper moshpit going in the crowd which is something I haven’t seen at a folk rock gig since late nineties Levellers gigs. They couldn’t do that in the considerably smaller Talking Heads, could they? Oh yes they could. After a couple of songs, the air was thick and moist, with an ever increasing number of revellers removing their shirts whilst dancing like there was no tomorrow. It was hard for anyone to keep still, especially the merchandise man, who was on a raised platform in the corner dancing on a chair for most of the gig when he wasn’t purveying merch to an eager crowd.
The set opened with the room in darkness and a booming didgeridoo. Unfortunately the didge was recorded, but the effect was perfect. As the lights came up, the band joined in and the crowd exploded. Being a new convert, a lot of what went on was unfamiliar to me – apparently there were two new members to the band, but as I didn’t know the old ones, it didn’t really matter to me. I can’t really remember the names of any songs, apart from the trad song, The Raggle Taggle Gypsies, and a dub reggae-infused song called Freeborn John. That’s what Ferocious Dog are all about – bending genres from folk to punk to reggae. And they’re bloody good at it. As I type, I’m listening to their 2015 album, From Without, which deliberately blends delicate folk melodies on fiddle with pounding punk guitar and powerful heartfelt, sometimes angry, sometimes mellow, lyrics, all held together with solid bass and drums.
As the gig drew to a close, the welcome blast of cold air from the outside world, whilst definitely welcome, was a reminder that a great three days of music was over.
Until next time!