Today is another Buy One Get One Free blog, I’m afraid. We could do with some rainy days so I’m not sat outside enjoying the weather when I should be blogging!
So this one all starts on a Sunday evening at the end of June. Shantyhead have been booked for a private party (a friend of Widge’s birthday) at The Ship at Bishops Sutton. A rather nice free house that I’d not previously visited. They keep a good pint. I was drinking as much Adnams’ Ghost Ship as I could, hoping it would run out, as the perennial favourite, Hopback’s Summer Lightning, was poised to replace it. Alas, despite my efforts, it didn’t materialise that evening.
We were a trio this evening, as Frank was cycling round the Spanish mountains (or rather cycling between Spanish bars). For once, this was in our favour, as once we’d set up, we didn’t have a great deal of room to play with. The three of us were squeezed in rather tightly, and adding a fourth would have been interesting!
The first set went largely without a hitch. Until the end. We finished with a song that’s new to us – Poor Paddy Works On The Railway. A bit of a foot stomper that starts slow then suddenly jumps up in tempo. Rog sets the pace on the bodhran and myself and Widge don’t get much say in the matter. It’s usually fine, but this time, I assume Rog was anticipating his half-time pint, and set off at lightning (not Summer, I hasten to add) speed. We kept up, but the amp didn’t like it. It got very hot and cut out. I’ve not seen the overheat warning light go on before and I do not want to see it go on again. Not good.
For a couple of minutes, it was too hot to touch. We managed to get it outside and struggling to find tools, eventually used a Poundland screwdriver to get the cover off. The heat was as if someone had taken a tiny bit of the sun and put it inside the case. After a bit of poking around, it seems the fan had stopped working. A good prod with some keys and a stick and a few terse words seemed to do the trick. It fired up again, fan running, and with the aid of a desk fan supplied by a random pub customer, we played the second set without any Breville sandwich toaster-like activity from the sound gear. I’m currently waiting for the new fan to be delivered. In the meantime, my kitchen table has a new (and rather heavy) feature. We bought the amp secondhand from the Wedgewood Rooms a couple of years back. Some big names have played through it. And we managed to kill it playing folk songs in a pub!
The next week was a little more sensible. My friend Wednesday, from deepest Gloucestershire, paid a visit and we took a trip to the Hat Fair – an annual event in Winchester, which is, in essence, a city-wide festival of street performance. The name comes from the hat that is passed round after a performance to collect cash. We saw a few well polished acts, full of improvisation and crowd interaction, including what resembled an explosion in a giant Kerplunk factory, but with no balls (Amy Winehouse has all the balls). This was backed by a banghra-dub DJ, freestyling vocals with a looper as he mixed the soundtrack. The performance was by the Italian theatre group Stalker Teatro and was apparently something to do with life and architecture in post-industrial cities. Either way, a plethora of coloured sticks and reels of sellotape were employed to a somewhat baffling, yet intriguing display.
In the evening, we shot over to the South Western Arms in Southampton for the UK launch of 71 Chain‘s new EP, Cheese & Ham. It initially saw the light of day on their German tour a couple of months back, but this was the UK release. Crammed into the corner of the pub as per usual, the band were testing their shiny new PA when we arrived. It was sounding good. The usual ‘Colin’s in the Southwestern’ ensued, with lots of people I knew appearing and saying hi, then 71 Chain fired up.
They opened with Sailor’s Prayer, a new acoustic version of which appears on Cheese & Ham. Heating The Dust followed and the groove was set. A perfect blues-rock accompaniment to a long day in the sun. I was drinking the weakest beer available, for reasons of steering wheel technicianship. I forget what it was, but it was golden, hoppy and very moreish.
Chris and the boys launched into We Believe from their first album. They were playing a good mix of the back catalogue tonight. Pull Away (From The Lies) got a few of the punters singing along (myself included), then Winterborn, as Chris put it, ‘a song about druids’ – this raised a big cheer from the audience. The nature of the EP was explained, then they belted out the title track – Take It Easy (The Cheese & Ham Song). This is a folky ballad with great vocal harmonies from Chris and Ryan and a great driving mandolin lead. I like it. The first set ended with 71 Chains, taken again from their first album, You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.
After the break, the 71 Chain machine was in full effect. Deep driving bass lines that go through you from the feet up echoed from Adam’s five string fretless bass as they played The Love Of A Woman. The immediate description that springs to mind is ‘power blues’. Following this, their folky side came to the fore, with Stories, from the second album, Stories of Life, Love and Loss. Another track from the EP followed – a long, reworked version of Grain Race. Great vocal harmonies fused with smooth guitar riffs, all topped off with crescendos on the crash cymbal from Mongo. Bloody well written and bloody well played.
Glancing at the band between songs, I saw both Paul and Ryan picked up their mandolins. This can only mean one thing. She Moved Through The Fair. It’s worth seeing them just to hear them play this song. Dual mandolin lead, fully dynamic, with Ryan playing off the Paul and vice versa. It is pure audio delight. I absolutely relish the way they play that great folk standard. It far surpasses anything other version I’ve heard.I had my eyes closed, swaying my head, lost in a world of my own.
I was still in my euphoric state when they got to the last number. Chris looked in my direction and said ‘you know what time it is, Colin’… Picking my way through leads, monitors, pedals, guitars and stands, I found myself next to Ryan as the familiar chords of Sea Shepherd belted out. It’s three years since we sang this on stage with the guys at Wickham Festival, and a couple on top of that since we recorded it, but it still sounds as fresh as ever. A great end to a rather pleasant day.
The weekend is upon us and it’s the Beggars Fair in Romsey tomorrow. I’ll be heading over later to see a bit of music in the Tudor Rose. Whatever way your weekend takes you, keep rockin!