So it was Thursday and I didn’t have any music lined up for the weekend, but I did want to meet up with a friend in Portsmouth. And Hurry The Jug were playing in Portsmouth on Thursday night. It had to be done, really.
Hurry The Jug are an Irish session band featuring Simon of The Courtiers on guitar and bouzouki, a guy on fiddle and tenor banjo, a chap with a piano accordion and the percussive side comes from the final member who plays bodhran, works a jig doll and dances. Essentially, they are a Portsmouth-based version of everything those who have never been, expect goes on in a pub in Ireland every week. As Irish bands go, they aren’t a leprechauns and shamrocks outfit (begorrah), but rather an average mix of guys you’d expect to be sitting round a table having a jar in a pub after work any night of the week, having a bloody good chat.
The King Street Tavern is one of those lovely tiled corner pubs that Portsmouth is famous for. They keep a good pint and looking at the menu, do good food. They have six ales on handpump, three of which were Wadworth. Those I tried were perfectly kept. The pub is spacious, with high ceilings, and the staff were attentive and friendly.
On approaching the pub, the high windows meant that the place looked empty, with no sign of customers or musicians. Until a violin bow appeared, poking into the line of sight from a window seat, mid-jig. We wandered in to a rather empty pub with some cracking tunes coming out of the four chaps sat round a table near the door. There were half a dozen drinkers apart from my friend and I, and the band, and it was quite noticeable that they were there for the music as conversation was limited to the gaps between tunes, and applause was plentiful.
The guys played a multitude of traditional Irish tunes. Jigs, polkas and reels a-plenty (plus a bit of dueling banjos). The occasional song was added to the mix, with Simon singing ‘Spancil Hill’, ‘When Will We Be Married’ and a couple of his own compositions. One was about the ‘pals battalions’ of the First World War, and one concerning sailors (possibly importing spices) who were ‘bound for Portsmouth town’.
The ‘pals battalions’ were a British phenomenon. Groups of friends, family, colleagues or men from particular villages or areas of towns would go to enlist together to fight for the country. They would train, serve, and often die, together in their groups of friends. This unfortunately meant that whole communities were often affected quite dramatically after a single battle. The Imperial War museum has more info here. Simon’s song was well researched, written and performed.
A couple of times during the gig, the bodhran player stood up and wandered over to the bar with his beer and a plywood plank. He placed the plank on the bar, sat on top, and produced a small wooden man on a stick. This is a jig doll. For those unfamiliar with such an item, a jig doll is a wooden doll with loose limbs that hangs from a stick that comes out of his back. The doll stands on the plank and with skillful manipulation of both plank and stick, dances to the music, reminiscent of step dancing. I didn’t get a photo of him in action, so I’ll nick one from their Bookface page…
The chap with the jig doll ( ^ him up there ^ ), stood up for one tune, revealing he was wearing a pair of tap shoes. From foot-high wooden step dancing to full-sized flesh and blood step dancing, the guy has talent. It ultimately adds to the experience as a whole, putting Hurry The Jug above all the other Irish bands I’ve seen.
The set was rounded off with a mellow version of the song ‘Carrickfergus’ in which dancey bloke (it’s not the first time I’ve met him, and we’ve had a good long chat about various things in the past, but I still can’t remember his bloody name!) played harmonica. Afterwards, Simon let me have a go on his bouzouki. It really is a stunning instrument, a joy to behold, but alas, he’s on the heathen GDAD tuning, which goes against everything I can play without a serious rethink! Oh well!
This coming week is looking busy – Thursday is The Lounge Kittens at the Wedgewood Rooms, Saturday is a party celebrating 50 years of archaeology at the University of Southampton, which being an ex-student and former member of staff, I’m going along to, plus an old friend of mine, John Schofield, alumnus of the university, archaeologist extraordinaire and part time DJ, is providing entertainment into the night as his alter-ego ‘Hippocampus’.
Still not over, Sunday I’m off with Gaz next door to see Alabama 3 at the Engine Rooms. I’m looking forward to Bank Holiday Monday already!
And on the river flows…