Shall we go for 3 in one? Why not?! Uncle Tom’s Cobbleys, Ruby Blue and the infamous Vicar’s Crackpipe…

Hello! It’s half ten on a Wednesday evening. I’m sat here listening to BBC 6 Music, drinking Co-Op Pinot Grigio. I think it’s blog time!

I’m fitting three blogs into one. It’s a first, as I’ve been on two in one lately, but this week, I’ve managed to see some music early in the week, and it leaves me in the position to do so.

Here we go…

It was a couple of weeks back now, the week after the Winchester Hat Fair, when another local town does it’s street performance thing. Romsey, pride of the Test Valley, hosts its annual Beggar’s Fair. The reasoning is the same as the Hat Fair. Street performance. But there’s a bigger music scene at the Beggar’s Fair. A lot of the local pubs have music in the evening, and as I drove into the market town, each pub I passed had a throng outside, enjoying their beverages, jiving to some kind of musical entertainment emitting from within.

I’d arranged to meet a couple of good friends, Ash and Shell, at the evening’s venue (the Tudor Rose). I’ve known Ash for absolutely ages, since we were both at school, coding dubious software for the Acorn Archimedes computers the school was filled with, on our lunch breaks. Ash married Shell a few years back and my lasting memory of the day is sitting at a table at the end of the evening whilst people ferried balloons to me. I consumed a whole ‘balloon arch’ of helium that evening, with somewhat embarrassing video evidence of my musical talent(!) as the much younger, non-bearded me sang various Wurzels songs, in a rather silly voice, with the bride’s father accompanying… I digress…

Arriving at the pub, Ash and Shell were waiting in the alley beside the bar. I bade my greetings and popped in for a beer. From memory, it was something like a Fuller’s Seafarers. About 3.8%, golden, hoppy and most refreshing on a hot day. The band, Uncle Tom’s Cobbleys, were setting up. I say band. There’s two of them, playing guitar, fiddle and banjo. I was introduced to these guys by Shell many years back, at a random pub in Andover. They play covers. Anything from 1970s metal to things released last week. Folky acoustic covers. They are a pair of very talented, very adaptable musicians. When they started with George Ezra’s Blame it on Me, the pub immediately filled. We stood a few tracks then went outside. A window and open door were between us and the noise, and it came across as clear, if not clearer, than when we were standing inside.

Hits from Green Day, Chris Isaak, Guns’n’Roses and Black Sabbath followed, with a brief pause for a guitar string to be changed. All the time, the fiddle player was playing his five-string fiddle whilst mixing the sound live. Quite a skill.

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Uncle Tom’s Cobbleys

After a fiddle-driven cover of Sabbath’s Paranoid and a great performance of Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls, the fiddle was cast aside and the banjo brought out for Ghost Riders in the Sky. The ‘yippee-i-ay’ chorus echoed from the Georgian buildings of Romsey as the entire audience joined in with the vocals.

It wasn’t long until the break. The guys continued the set with Ring of Fire and the Wurzels’ I am a Cider Drinker. Both were enthusiastically accompanied by the audience, who were deep in enjoyment.

Lady Gaga’s Poker Face followed, which I enjoyed whilst watching a bumblebee harvesting nectar from a hanging basket that happened to be at head height immediately next to me. Bellowhead’s version of New York Girls followed, with significantly less instruments than Bellowhead, but equal amounts of energy. A bit of trad and Thin Lizzy inspired folk led us to the break.

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Bumblebee. Flower. Leaves. Out of focus brick wall.

They couldn’t have chosen a better song to start the second half. The Levellers’ What a Beautiful Day. Oh yes. I adore that bloody song. And they know how to play it. They sing the proper lyrics. I’ve seen too many people cover it having never read the words. They know them inside out. Several well-played covers followed. I Gotta Feeling, Pompeii (Bastille). A bit of Walk This Way, a bit of Beyonce and some Ed Sheeran brought us up to another pub-filler. My ears are still ringing to the people of Romsey singing Jolene, which merged seamlessly into Rawhide.

There appeared to be an early curfew on the pubs of Romsey this evening. Before the time bell rang, a string parted company with the banjo, but they soldiered on. An energetic cover of Little Lion Man followed the ‘last orders’ bell, which was quickly followed up with Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk. The crowd were alive. Everyone was bouncing, everyone was singing. Their set finished with Rasputin, Wake Me Up and finally, a well-practised, well played version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Whilst I was a little disappointed to see they didn’t play Gangnam Style, as I’ve heard them do before, it was a great evening seeing a band I hadn’t seen in some years. For two guys with three instruments, they know how to work a crowd. They know their material, they know their audience and they can tailor one to the other seamlessly. They don’t play that often, but if you see them advertised, I thoroughly recommend going along. You might find me there.

The following week saw a return visit to The South Western to see Ruby Blue and The Chain again. Avid readers may recall the last time I saw them was at their EP launch at The Hobbit, where the sound quality left a lot to be desired. This time, they were looking after their own sound, which works rather well when Adam (bass) is on the desk.

In a rather unusual move, they were set up under the stairs. The big problem with gigs at the South Western is the large brick chimneybreast that divides the room. Last time, 71 Chain were set up in an ‘L’-shape around the chimneybreast, with the audience only able to see half the band from any one position. This time, there was more room for people to see the band, but a constant trickle of people going between various parts of the pub and the bar tended to get in the way. It’s a really difficult venue to set up, but it does attract good music and sells very good beer.

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Ruby Blue and The Chain

I was joined for the evening by Catherine and Andy, she of Vicar’s Crackpipe fame, and he of the improvised percussion at the gig in Finchdean I blogged about earlier this year. We sat soaking in Ruby’s blues-rock groove, chatting about all things musical for a good couple of hours.

Over the course of the evening, several fine wines and ales were consumed (and some dubious soft drinks… Spot the driver…) accompanied by the seamless coupling of keys, bass, guitar and drums, topped off with Ruby’s heartfelt vocals. The gig was a well planned mix of slow, meaningful songs and more upbeat material. There issomething of a Fleetwood Mac vibe about them. Early Mac – the Peter Green era – but with striking female vocals. Ruby writes her own material, and she’s as good a poet as she is a singer. Meaningful lyrics a plenty, she’s in the early days of what looks to be a promising career in music.

At the end of the evening, I left for a most chilled drive home, smiling quietly to myself after another great night.

Finally to this week. Tuesday had arrived. Shantyhead usually rehearse on Tuesdays, but owing to holidays, we had the week off. The week previously, Simon from Hurry The Jug and The Courtiers had asked me if we wanted to cover this Tuesday at The Vaults, where The Jug have a regular set. Owing to the aforementioned holiday, we had to decline, but I suggested he tried Vicar’s Crackpipe instead. He did, and as none of the trio were on holiday, they accepted.

My evening went as follows:

Get in from work. Nuke a curry. Get changed. Put on some boots I bought when I was 16. Remove boots. Remove receipts, general detritus and a rather old crinkle-cut crisp from boots. Reinstall boots. Eat curry. Jump in the car and drive to Pompey. And relax.

The guys were playing in the side bar, which was pleasantly full with a very attentive audience. There was a number of tables in the floor area, all full of people sat facing the band. It happens so often at these folky gigs that the audience are there for a chat and a pint and the band, whoever they may be, are treated as background music. This wasn’t the case – people were, on the whole, here for the music.

I tucked into a pint of Flying Saucer, from Vibrant Forest. It’s a 4.3% golden ale with enough of a hoppy kick to really hit the spot on a warm, sticky evening, Moreish but not incapacitatingly strong.

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Vicar’s Crackpipe

Despite the heat, VCP were alive with energy. They were seated in a crescent, with Bernard on melodeon to the left, Nick on the right on guitar and mandolin and Catherine on fiddle in the centre. Together, they were indulging in some voracious foot-stomping which to the educated eye looked like some kind of one-sided / mono Riverdance.

The music was going down exceptionally well, with chilled reels being perfect for a hot evening. I arrived towards the end of their first set and was able to have a good chat with the guys during the break.

The second set started with an instrumental with a definite Scottish feel to it. Then Nick took the mic and sang a song, the name of which I don’t recollect, but I seem to recall it mentioned a wicker man who appeared to be waiting for something or someone. During the song, a loud ‘TWANG!’ was heard. Afterwards, Nick defiantly exclaimed ‘A broken string will not defeat me! I have a spare! Guitar, that is…’ – that’s organisation for you!

New guitar affixed, they went into a tune written by Bernard. Proper foot stomping ‘good to be alive’ folk. The man is a genius. I’ve tried writing music and failed miserably. He has real talent to come up with the sort of stuff he does.

As I was musing that I’d probably sweated a pint quicker than I was able to consume one, the tempo picked up again with one of those tunes that I can only describe using binary opposites. It went from hot to cold, light to dark, soft to hard. It really worked well and was widely appreciated by the audience which had been steadily growing since the outset. It was one of those tunes that sounds like it’s drawing to a close, the audience start to clap, then it picks up again and carries on for another couple of minutes.

A few more tunes, a few more songs. The story of the Three Drunken Maidens (yeah, those three… From the Isle of Wight… Those ones we sing about too) was told, with a rather tidy instrumental at the end.

The highlight of the evening? A folk-blues cover of Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Brain… It did rather take me by surprise, but they definitely did it justice!

The guys finished with Galway Girl. Absolute audience rapture! Much calling for an encore led to another of Bernard’s tunes. This one was described as ‘a crazy Russian Cossack dance tune’. It did not disappoint. The band were still seated, but pure energy was oozing from each one of them as the evening drew to a close. It was great to see a pub still full of people at 11pm on a Tuesday, all there because of well-played music.  I’ve been 25% of the audience for mid-week pub gigs in the past, so have seen both ends of the spectrum. This is definitely the end I prefer.

Right, Time for me to sign off.

Until next time, keep rockin!

 

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