NOTE: This post somehow reverted to a previous draft, so I’ve just rebuilt it.
Its been a bit of an epic week. Much music was enjoyed, much booze consumed and many old friends caught up with. It all started on Thursday with trip to the Wedgewood Rooms to see The Lounge Kittens, with my housemate, Luke. I had a mad dash home from work, quickly nuked some food, got changed, fell into Luke’s car and we were off to sunny Portsmouth. An hour after I’d walked through the door at home, we were parking outside The Vaults in Albert Road. None of this driving around looking for somewhere to park. It was as if we’d planned it. The space was there, right outside the door. there was no queue at the bar and we were soon drinking our pre-gig pints. I was on a golden, hoppy five percenter of unremembered name. Luke was on the ubiquitous chauffeur’s pint of shandy.
This was all carefully timed due to the Lounge Kittens being one of those nice bands who tweet stage times, so we planned our arrival at the Wedge to coincide with the last couple of tracks of the support act, so the mad rush for the bar / outside for a fag didn’t coincide with our arrival. We wandered in to see a chap called Joe Black. He was a tall man, wearing a black turban and sparkly black dress, playing ukulele. Black’s own website describes him as a ‘gin drinking cabaret darling musical comedy misfit, drag clown and acid tongued ringmaster’. Highly accurate! At the end of his set, he climbed down from the stage and stood in the middle of the audience. There, he played an acoustic cover of Radiohead’s Creep accompanied by pretty much everyone else in the venue on backing vocals.
After a quick trip to the bar for another shandy for Luke and a pint of Irving & Co’s Invincible, a chestnut brown 4.6% bitter with a good rounded flavour and slightly hoppy finish. The last couple of times I’ve been to the Wedge, they have had two beers from Irving, Frigate and Invincible, on direct dispense from polypins behind the bar. It’s as well-kept as is possible using that method, and it’s definitely a joy to go to a venue when they’ve got something reasonable to drink.
The house lights dim. The audience cheers in anticipation, as three ladies take the stage. In matching blue sequined dresses, their immediate distinguishing factor is hair colour. To the left we have pink, to the right, blue, and in the middle, on keys, red. Lounge Kittens all. For those of you unfamiliar with the trio, they are a vocal-based lounge act with some great harmonies, accompanied by piano / keyboard. They do have an interesting repertoire, though… It’s mainly covers of rock and metal songs including a fair number with lyrics that aren’t that family friendly. All executed in perfect harmony. The band shot to fame when their cover of Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ went viral on YouTube, resulting in the Kittens opening for Limp Bizkit at Sonosphere the next year.
A good mix of songs filled their set, with a couple of new (at least to me) tracks including Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls / Bicycle Race and a great medley of kids’ TV theme tunes from the 80s and 90s which really brought back some memories. Transformers, Gummy Bears, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Thundercats, Pokemon, Mask, Ulysses, Ghost Busters, Inspector Gadget, Chip ‘n’ Dale and the Turtles all got the kitten treatment in an epic few minutes of music, with every theme getting questioning, followed by realisation and then immense appreciation from the audience.
The kittens didn’t bother with all the ‘going off and coming back on’ bit at the end. They rode the wave of the applause then started their encore – Tina Turner’s Simply The Best. Again, it’s the first time I’ve heard them play that one and as a showstopper, they made a good choice. We hastily retired to the car (well, the establishment that happened to be located immediately outside the car) for a wee dram before home.
Saturday was completely different. As some of you may know, I’m an archaeologist. I studied at the University of Southampton in the late nineties / early noughties, then after a brief spell as the bar manager at a real ale pub, they gave me a job for the best part of a year. This year marks 50 years of archaeology at the University and Saturday was devoted to its celebration. Luke offered his chauffeurial facilities, so myself and good friends Heather (occasional gig buddy), Emma and Rich were ferried to the Avenue Campus where a most pleasant, and only partially alcoholic, afternoon was had. After lots of wandering around talking to people I hadn’t seen in years, speeches, cutting of cake, group photo etc, myself and Heather were seconded by good friend and member of uni staff, Tim, to help him set up a couple of bars serving wine to the large numbers of thirsty archaeologists eagerly anticipating the nectar of the grape. I always seem to get involved in booze provision at the uni, but that’s another story. On completion, we took our now full glasses off to laugh at the mug shots of every archaeology student since the late 1970s, taken of each student when they first joined the university.
I only caught a brief bit of the afternoon entertainment. A couple of amps, some mic stands and a couple of racks of guitars were set up in the canteen, and lecturers of old, Dave and John, played what turned out to be a bloody good acoustic folk set. Dave on rhythm guitar and vocals, with John on a rather complex finger picked lead, with more than a hint of psychedelia. I really do hope they play outside the confines of university anniversaries. I’d quite like to see them in a pub somewhere and soak in Dave’s mellow vocals, which coupled with John’s unique folky style and the occasional vocals from one of the female students really was a pleasure to listen to.
As the afternoon drew to a close, we all meandered over to the main campus, to a venue in the Students’ Union where the acreage of buffet food and plethora of keen bar staff were waiting for the influx. Beer choice in The Bridge was minimal. Nothing real, all keg, with the best option being Goose IPA. Gin it is, then.
Entertainment for the evening was provided by a DJ by the name of Hippocampus (also known as a highly regarded, in academia and government, archaeologist by the name of John, who happens to be a good friend of mine). John is a bit of a dark horse to those that only know him for his professional life. I was first introduced to him by Dave (on guitar back in the afternoon) back in 2002, when they were both supervisors of my masters dissertation, which studied the effectiveness of Second World War anti-invasion defences, should the UK have been invaded. At that point, he drove a Saab. Shortly after, I became aware that he was one of a small team presenting a radio show playing some interesting music from a pan-genre library.
Now, instead of driving the old Saab, he was driving the decks and mixer, and with a vast library of tunes to draw on, we were treated to well-selected audio from the 60s to the present day. I’ve not reviewed a DJ before, and I’m not that great at reviewing bands, so where to go? Well… John’s mixing was top notch (apart from when he was talking to me and had to run back to the booth as it all went quiet as one track ended…) and his choice of audio was perfect. Most genres were included, to appeal to the audience with its wide range of ages. Playing the likes of Hawkwind, KLF, Johnny Flynn and Fatboy Slim, John went on for a good four hours, living every song. The energy that came out of the booth that evening was something to behold. Jumping incessantly to the beat, punching the air, before cueing the next epic choice, John was alive. He finished the set with Anarchy in the UK into We Are The Champions. Luke arrived to ferry everyone home and another great evening was over. Cheers, John!
Not a great deal happened on Sunday morning except for sleep. the afternoon was slow, too, but at 6:15, I wandered next door to meet Gaz, Ben and Sue. We jumped in Gaz’s car and sped off into Southampton for the week’s final musical assault. The venue was The Engine Rooms. The band were Alabama 3, the sole proponents of country-tinged acid house. Beer review: bottled or canned. I was on Hobgoblin. It was as good and consistent as bottled beer usually is. End of beer review.
There were two support acts. The first, a band called, I believe, Slim Johnson. They played a pleasant set of southern rock, with a bit of a heavy edge.
I spent most of the second support queuing at the bar and chatting to my friend Nel, who was also present on Saturday, also being one of us hole-digging folks, and Jim, a good mate who’s a press photographer and was there shooting the gig. My description of the guy on stage (solo performance) has to be a younger version of Seasick Steve, with a man bun and vocals tinged with AC/DC. He was playing a heavily overdriven semi-acoustic guitar and a stomp box.
The Alabama boys took the stage to rapturous applause and did their thing. Their delivery ranges from comic to deathly serious and, bloody hell, they know how to work a crowd. After singing Hypo Full of Love (The 12-Step Plan), they affirmed what I had believed all along, that “this is country as it should be done in the 21st century”. Hits from their extensive back catalogue were played with as much vigour as they were played when they were first released. They belted out Woke Up This Morning, the theme from The Sopranos, that earned the guys a following on both sides of the Atlantic. Not a still body in the building.
After the best part of two hours of pumping tunes, the band walked off stage to thunderous applause. A proper stampy encore request followed, then two of the band came on stage, to subdued lighting, they played an impressive slowed down acoustic version of U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno Anymore, one of my favourite A3 songs. They wrapped up with the full band back on for Hello… I’m Johnny Cash. The applause and stamping that followed was alas to no avail, as soon after the band left the stage, the house lights went up and we milled out with the throng to find Gaz’s car. Another immense musical evening, with the great news that Monday was a bank holiday and I could rise at a sensible hour and recover at leisure.
Here’s a couple of photos reproduced with kind permission of Jim Houlbrook, photographer:
This coming weekend, I’ve got an album launch at The Hobbit on Friday and I’m roadying for Widge when he enters prog mode on Saturday… Until next time, keep rockin!