71 Chain, South Western Arms

Excluding a brief mid-week visit to Mango (a Thai tapas place on Portswood Road, Southampton, a couple of doors away from the newly awarded South Hants CAMRA Pub Of The Year, The Bookshop Alehouse), where a meal out with a couple of good friends was accompanied by a blues duo, who, with lots of slide guitar and harmonica, played a pleasant, if a little loud, set which included a blues version of ‘Happy Birthday’ for, initially, one chap, then two, then three, this week’s live music fix came in the shape of my good friends 71 Chain, a Southampton based bluesy-folky-rocky five piece, that for some reason, mainly due to a bassist by the name of Hamish, had me and Shantyhead doing backing vocals on their last album.

As is often the case at a 71 Chain gig, I arrived at the South Western Arms halfway through, only to bump into everyone I knew on the way to the bar. A fellow archaeologist called Brian, who I met after several years at the Mary Jane gig, some blogs ago, held the door open for me, my uncle and cousin were at the bar after a hard evening’s beer testing, and good friends (see the Coast gig, again, some blogs back) Andy and Ruth tapped me on the shoulder as I paid for drinks for myself and the tame mechanic Stu who had come along for the craic. I ended up sat at a table immediately in front of the band, opposite Tim, the flute player from the Talking Heads Irish session.

[For full gig review, insert text about first half here]

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Who’s this tucked into a corner? Yes, that’s right, It’s 71 Chain!

The guys were playing an acoustic set (with electric bass), which is probably a good thing as they were crammed into a rather small corner of the pub. The second half started with a Led Zep cover, distinct voices and smooth yet potent guitar quietening the Friday night pub chatter as the throng turned to listen.

Mark ‘Mongo’ Mongan, drummer extraordinaire, although bereft of his kit, was sat atop a cajon which with deft strokes of his hands pounded out a driving rhythm befitting the mix of original songs and covers that filled the second half, which continued with the evocative dual mandolin-driven ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, a trad song with that 71 Chain energising pulse that makes me incredibly happy whenever I hear it.

Chris (vox and guitar) announced they were shortly off on a German tour and had been doing a bit of recording so they had something to flog the continental audience. It turned out to be an EP of some of their older tracks, and from it, we were treated to ‘The Great Grain Race’ – a cracking song with a robust finale.

‘Hello… Is there anybody in there?’ began the first of two covers. I do like Comfortably Numb. It’s one I bash out on the bouzouki now and then and I’ve heard it played by so many bands I lose count. The acoustic version by the 71 Chain boys was a pleasure to experience. Floyd gave way to a cover of the Hendrix version of Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’, delivered with Ryan (guitar, vox) on vocals. This led into the 71 Chain / Shantyhead epic, ‘Sea Shepherd’, written about an organisation I have a lot of time for. Essentially, Sea Shepherd are the Provisional Greenpeace. Direct action environmentalists that go out and sink whaling ships and generally cause a nuisance to those attempting the illegal massacre of aquatic and semi-aquatic wildlife. And they have a ship named after Steve Irwin. What more could you ask for?

Usually at this point of the evening, when I’m in the audience, Chris gives me a shout from the stage and I end up standing in front of a mic, joining in on backing vocals. This time, they were crammed into such a small corner that me getting to the front would have meant a Pickfords’ scale furniture moving exercise, so I joined in from my seat. It was the first time I’d heard Sea Shepherd, which usually has a long howling guitar solo in the middle of it, played acoustically. I was impressed. They kept the vigour and life of the song despite the lack of effects and feedback.

Back in January, I mentioned the Chris and Ryan acoustic set at the South Western that turned into something similar to this evening due to the rest of the band appearing with instruments. That is except Mongo, who turned up with a thirst. I mentioned in that blog that they played a song about the man himself spending too long in the pub instead of meeting a lady as he’d arranged. That time, when they played ‘I Stayed A While’, he’d been sitting next to me, drumming on the table. This time, he was sitting on a cajon, giving it his all. Man and wooden box in perfect harmony.

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Mongo

By this time, it was getting late and the songs in the second half had been the long ones. Watchful of the neighbours, the message came from the bar, ‘Two more’. The guys finished on their own song, ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone’. A classic bit of modern blues. Much applause.

The crowd at the South Western know the band well, but if they’d have been newcomers to a strange pub, the applause would have been very similar. Electric or acoustic, festival, pub or local arts stage outside a church, Chris, Ryan, Paul, Adam and Mongo really know how to work an audience. I’m honoured to have been given the chance to record with them and inadvertently end up on stage with them at various events. Long may they continue!

A technical note… When I’m at a gig, if I get a good view of the act, I keep hitting the shutter button on the camera on my phone, to try and catch an expression, look, lighting condition etc. that makes a good shot. My phone automatically uploads the photos to Google Photos which does silly things with some of the shots. A bunch of photos in quick succession is converted to an animated GIF, the results of which can be rather fun, so I post the better ones here. And to that end, this week has two…

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It’s as jerky as a nineties webcam…

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