Pour yourself a drink and sit down. It’s another long one… Arborescence and Watercress…

It’s been a while since I blogged… But I’m back! Still keeping up the whole ‘music every week’ thing, but slacking a bit on the blogging part of the deal, but I’m sat at my computer with a glass of Pinot Grigio, some salt and black pepper crisps and a pot of houmous. 6 Music is playing live sets from Glastonbury. Lets see how far I get before I fall asleep!

Right. So the last blog was about the beer festival at the Hawkley Inn. What have I been up to since? Well, a fair bit… A birthday party and a Shantyhead gig, and I’ve got another of those tomorrow.

The birthday party. No… my live music for this week wasn’t the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ whilst watching someone spit all over a cake whilst trying to blow candles out. This wasn’t really a birthday party. It was a mini festival… (As an aside, I advocate watching which side of the birthday cake is closest to the candle-blower and eating from that side. Less fallout.) It was the birthday of Nick, guitarist from Vicar’s Crackpipe who I saw earlier in the year. We’ve become friends since the gig and I received an invite to his 40th. Now, this became interesting when the venue was announced. Some woodland in a top secret location in Devon. OK. Nick lives not far from me in deepest darkest Hampshire. The party was in Devon. I was intrigued.

In the weeks following my invite, the Bookface event page for the party became more intriguing. It had a name. Arborescence, There was a stage and an acoustic area. There was a programme of acts. I really didn’t know what to expect, but as each post on the event page was made, the excitement was quietly building. The location was duly programmed into Google Maps, the phone inserted in its cradle and the Range Rover surged off in a westward direction.

On reaching the rough location of the entrance, I happened upon a farm gate with a blue plastic bag hanging from the post. This was in the instructions. It was a bit mysterious, but Nick didn’t want any uninvited guests. I turned onto the farm track, jacked the suspension up on the Rangey and carried on to where the sketch map I had been supplied with said there was parking. With fields to my left and woodland to my right, a gentleman with formidable sideburns suddenly appeared, and on assessing my eligibility to be where I was, told me where to park. I was sleeping in the Range Rover so was sent to the campervan area. Yes, this was a birthday party, and it had a car park and a campervan area. Nice. I pulled in front of a VW camper and got out to assess the surroundings. The lady from the VW was at the van giving her dog some food. She was heading back to the party area and offered to show me round. Walking along the track in the dappled sunlight, we passed the car park and portaloos and the tented camping area. Walking down a tree and flag lined avenue, we branched off the track past a small fire that some young boys were diligently tending with long sticks, and happened upon a clearing. Long tables were set up beneath a canopy of tarpaulins, with two barbecues producing mountains of hot food. We passed through to another tarpaulin-sheltered area, where six sofas encircled a large fire pit.

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Nick was apparently at the stage, setting up some kit. I was directed towards a pathway through the woodland, dense tall trees either side. I wandered for a minute or so, then another clearing became apparent. Wandering on, another tarpaulin shelter became visible. Beneath, a stage was set up, with a rather impressive PA setup. I thought to myself ‘this is going to be a good night’. Nick was duly found, greetings made, and I was introduced to some of his friends that were setting up various sound and light equipment. One such gentleman, I mentioned in my initial blog entry regarding Vicar’s Crackpipe. Ganja Murray. He exists! And a very nice guy and pretty damn good musician he is too!

I disappeared back to the truck to get it into sleeping mode and grab a beer. I then headed back to the arena to see what was going on. Amplified music was the order of the evening, ending at midnight. Apparently in previous years, the police had arrived at 2am, responding to calls concerning noise. That’s when the acoustic session would begin.

First on the stage was a bit of electronica. A guy with a synth playing psychedelic-piano-dub type stuff. I’m not sure of his name. It was really well put together, with synth melodies melting seamlessly into well-chosen samples. A really chilled way to start the evening. Then some folk. A lady on fiddle, a chap on guitar (Sean, formerly of Feckless, possibly) and Nick on mandolin. The folk standard, Raggle Taggle Gypsies, was belted out with much vigour, followed up with a song with a great lyric, ‘Ain’t no money in poetry, that’s what sets the poet free’.

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Possibly Sean, formerly of Feckless

A cover of Weller’s ‘Wild Wood’, played in an actual wild wood, was a real masterpiece, fusing smooth vocals with skillfully played fiddle and tremolo mandolin went down tremendously well, with kids dancing on the two-tier stage. This was followed up with a similarly well played and well received ‘Copperhead Road’ and a slightly folked up version of ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’. The set finished with ‘Port of Amsterdam’.

Next was DJ:W, playing ’90s trance. I am a bit of a sucker for a bit of trance. Some damn good tunes. However, I was somewhat hungry and headed to the barbie to cook and eat some meat-based product. And back to the truck to stock up on beer. I caught the end of DJ:W’s set, which was as good as the start. Then it was time for DJ Aircon. A dealer in drum’n’bass. Like the previous guy, a master at his craft. There were some fire-spinners working their craft in the foreground, with backing from Aircon, which made for a dramatic end to the amplified part of the evening. Aircon’s set is available to stream here.

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I ended up over by the sofa-fringed fire again, chatting to Bernard and Catherine from Vicar’s Crackpipe. I was persuaded to fetch the bouzouki from the truck to join in the session that was already in full swing. At one point, there was me on bouzouki, Bernard on melodeon, two fiddles, two guitars and a bodhran, played by the percussionist from the Finchdean gig, who no longer had to improvise his percussion instruments with whatever came to hand. Accompanied by two fiddles and a guitar, I hammered my way through Christy Moore’s ‘Ride On’ and The Clash’s ‘I Fought The Law’, which despite the alcohol consumption, seemed to be well received.

A different set of vocals joined the soundscape. It was getting light and the birds were clearing their collected throats for the dawn chorus. It was 4am and time for bed. I staggered back from the fire and laid my head down for a very sound sleep. I rose at midday and wandered back to the fire. Instruments were strewn around the sofas and, chatting to another reveller, it appears that the session was still in full swing at 9am.

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One band was missing from last night’s lineup. A three-piece reggae / ska outfit called Datura. (Looking at their Bookface page, they have a fourth member, but he wasn’t there.) They couldn’t make it in time to play last night, but turned up anyway to ply their musical wares to the survivors on Sunday morning. All dressed impeccably in matching yellow outfits, one guy on guitar, sampler and vocals, a lady on bass and a chap on drums, they played a ceaseless set of covers and their own material for at least two hours non-stop. I had time to listen to some tunes, take some photos, eat some breakfast, pack the truck into driving mode and come back to listen to more and take more photos. The set finished with, for the second time in a fortnight, Dawn Penn’s ‘You Don’t Love Me (No No No)’. I left the woods with a spring in my step and a very chilled out mindset. Thanks, Nick, for an amazing weekend. Can I come back next year, please?

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Datura

The next week saw a return trip to the Mid Hants Railway where Shantyhead were invited to play the loco department’s annual summer party. Widge from the band also works on the railway – the link that got us the gig. We were set up in the picnic area at Ropley station, part way along the heritage railway more commonly known as ‘The Watercress Line’. We played two sets, with entertainment in the interval from Thermic Syphons, a covers band formed from other railway staff. Railway people like their beer and there was a large amount on offer from Triple FFF Brewery. I was drinking my favourite of theirs, ‘Stairway’, formerly ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – a 4.6% fruity pale ale, which accompanied the balmy summer’s evening perfectly.

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A great view…

We played our usual mix of sea shanties, folk songs and threw in a couple of dubious rock / punk covers, which was greatly received. It was the premier for a song I suggested – ‘Paddy on the Railway’ and a song loosely based on the classic ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ rewritten about the staff of the railway. I am quietly chuffed that my performance of the modern shanty ‘Rollin’ Down The River’ was the best I’ve ever performed it.

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Shantyhead… Now with mood lighting…

Thermic Syphons’ set was a powerful mix of punky rocky Green Day infused covers, with epic drum solos. Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ and Oasis’ ‘Champagne Supernova’ were lapped up by the small yet appreciative crowd. For a bunch of mates who work on a heritage railway, their sound is very tight and incredibly well put together. I hope they are gigging elsewhere as I’d really like to see them again.

Epic blog over. I’ll be putting photos in and adding links soon, but time has got the better of me. Shantyhead are playing a birthday party at a pub this evening, so I ought to get some kip…

Until next time, keep rockin’!

 

It’s time for Mega Catchup Blog! Isle of Man and Hawkley…

This blog starts where the last one was written. On the Isle of Man, staying in Douglas with my mate Rob, the organiser of the week’s entertainment. The Isle of Man is an interesting place anyway, but this week happened to be the practice week for the TT races – an annual pilgrimage for fans of two-wheeled motorised vehicles to watch and take part, around the gruelling 37.75 mile mountain course.

Saturday night was the opening night of the Bushy’s Beer Tent, which has supplied beer to the masses for twenty years now. We went along, tickets in hand, to drink fine ale and see that evening’s bands. There were a couple of local acts, and then, to coincide with it getting dark (which made the light show actually work), 90s indie favourites, The Lightning Seeds.

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The first warmup band we missed, due to queueing, both to get in and for the bar. There was a bit of a cock-up at the bar, in that the beer I was drinking in the afternoon at my favourite pub on the island, the Rover’s Return in Douglas, had been put on the wrong pump in the tent. Bushy’s Brewery,  a staple of the Isle of Man ale drinkers’ library, had produced an IPA for this year’s TT. Shuttleworth’s Snap. It was golden, hoppy and ultimately incredibly quaffable. It fitted in perfectly with both the way craft breweries are heading in recent years, and also with the weather. It was hot and sunny, with clear blue skies. Until the Lightning Seeds were halfway through their set, when a little light rain appeared, albeit very briefly. I got through my fair share of Snap over the course of the week. It’s definitely on the recommended list.

Still… I digress. The pump that said ‘Snap’ actually dispensed something else. Which the bar staff didn’t realise. It was on pint 3 that the pump clips had been turned round and the beer served was the beer advertised.

The second band on were again a local Manx combo called Ballaghs (unless you know otherwise, they have no web presence). Bouncy, gutsy folk rock was the order of the set and I was in my element. They covered a number of songs I know. Levellers-y stuff… You know the thing. My ears pricked up at the opening chords to a song I know well. It’s by Rev Hammer, an English singer-songwriter I discovered through The Levellers, and it’s quite an obscure song from a rather unknown album, Industrial Sound and Magic, released in 1991. It’s called Down By The River ‘O‘, and is about a town that gets flooded. I like this largely unknown song. I’m glad I know it.

Back in ’97, I helped my mate out with some haymaking. I have great memories of driving a 1950s Fordson Major around a field, hay turner doing its thing behind, singing this particular song at the top of my voice. It goes really well with the chug of the engine of a Major in whatever gear it was in. Consequently, I stood in the middle of the crowd singing along to every word, enjoying every note. The smile on my face was thankfully hidden by the beard, otherwise I’d be locked up for being the nutter I am.

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Ballaghs at the Bushy’s Tent

It was only after they had finished when the singer, a guy called Mike tapped me on the shoulder. When he was on stage, I overheard someone say he bore passing resemblance to a very young Bernard Cribbins. This was not the case at ground level. He thanked me profusely for singing along to that particular song. He’d forgotten the words and was using me as a prompt!

Before the set was out, a couple of Levellers covers were dropped in – English Civil War and a bouzouki-led cover of Riverflow, a favourite of mine (really? I hear you ask…). At this point, I didn’t care that the Lightning Seeds were on later. I could’ve listened to Ballaghs all night. But the evening progressed as planned, and after a good few minutes, said headline artistes took the stage and opened with Lucky You. There was a mass exodus from the beer tent to the stage area and within a minute or so, the place was rammed. An ideal time to get to the bar for a top up. If you could have moved.

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The Lightning Seeds crowd

Dancers a-plenty, and enough people hoisted onto others’ shoulders to free up a little dancing space, the guys pumped out hit after hit. Songs we remembered. Songs we’d forgotten, but remembered as soon as the vocals came in. It was a rather pleasant set. I saw the Lightning Seeds a few years back at a festival, but was more intent on trying to chat up a lady that I was rather keen on that I didn’t really take in much of their set.

It started raining part way through the set, but with the close proximity of people, nobody actually got wet. The end of the set was drawing near, announced by The Life of Riley. When they’d finished, whether for logistical reasons or through sheer bloody mindedness, they announced this was the imaginary encore. They didn’t bother with the going off, listening to the applause and coming back on thing. They just got on with it. Pure went into Sugar Coated Iceberg and the gig was done. A quick check of the watch and a blast up the hill to the Rovers for a last drink before closing was in order.

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Lightning Seeds at the Bushy’s Tent

Next followed two days of being touristy before Sunday night’s fun. Off to the Villa Marina, a venue on the Douglas Seafront, to see XSM – Ex Simple Mind. I was raised with a soundtrack dominated by things my father liked. From Queen to Free, to Meatloaf to Supertramp. They were all there. As were Simple Minds. When I was toying with metal and folk-punk, Dad was listening to Simple Minds. And, evidently, it rubbed off, as I knew the words to most of the songs.

XSM are comprised of the drummer from Simple Minds, his brother on vocals, a chap on synth, a guitarist and a bassist. To all intents and purposes, they were belting out hit after hit perfectly. Love Song, Waterfront and more were played, but what they heard through their monitors and what we heard through the PA were completely different things. The sound guy (I stop short of calling him ‘engineer’ as he’d be hard-pressed to engineer himself out of a paper bag) needed dragging outside and shooting. Bottom end and mids were far too loud, top end was squeaky where it was audible, and most of the time, the vocals were a tuneful hum against the shag pile carpet that filled the ears during every song. It turns out this guy was the house technician, and that his speciality is setting everything up so that the monitor mix is perfect, but the auditorium mix is diabolical. You can understand a touring tech doing that, but the house technician? Really?

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XSM before people stood up

Towards the end of the set, Promised You A Miracle and Alive and Kicking were rolled out. The crowd were really into the groove, and earlier in the gig, which was initially seated, one guy shouts at the stage ‘can we dance?’. This ended up in a brief discussion, which ended with the singer leaving the stage and singing the next song on the floor with a large number of other revellers keen to strut their stuff.

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XSM, once people had taken to the floor

The set was over and after the customary stampy encore request, the guys reappeared on the stage. After a little light heckling from the audience, the encore commenced. Alive and Kicking and Sanctify Yourself followed. Both went down extremely well, although it was a real shame about the sound. We were considering a whip-round to buy hearing aids for the sound tech by the end. At this point, we made the perilous journey across the road, then descended on a neighbouring hotel where much beer, gin and scotch were consumed.

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Back in the day, we used to hold lighters up at gigs…

Getting home from the island involved a 21 hour delay, but I’m back. And on the Saturday, the suggestion was made that I go along with my housemate, Luke, and Stu, the tame mechanic, to The Hawkley Inn, a lovely country pub near Petersfield, as they had a beer festival on. Never one to turn down the offer of a beer festival (and someone else driving), I jumped in the car.

I’m afraid I can’t give any beer reviews for this one, as they were running out and I was drinking whatever was left on the bar. The entertainment, on the other hand, I did note. A funk-ska band called Key Lime Pi, with a wind section comprising three saxophones in ascending size from alto to baritone and two trombones, coupled with Santana-style guitar.

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Key Lime Pi at the Hawkley Inn (at an angle I considered arty at the time)

Bluesy leads over a ska rhythm made for a most pleasant atmosphere on the warm summer’s evening. Good drinking music. A ska cover of Dawn Penn’s No No No got the vast majority of the assembled beer aficionados singing, before The Specials’ Ghost Town, quickly followed up by a brass-tastic Ghostbusters got them dancing as well. We did turn up towards the end, which means this review is painfully short. They finished up with One Step Beyond, which started slowly, at a proper chill-out tempo, slower than that of Prince Buster’s original, then halfway through, sped up to Madness tempo. The wind section (I don’t like using the term ‘brass’ as the sax is a woodwind instrument, although it’s made of the same material as the trombones) made it something to sit down and relish. Or dance like a nutter. I am guilty of both.

The evening ended with me, Luke and Stu finishing our beer ensconced in the branches of a nearby tree, before the trip home.

This coming weekend, I have a party to attend in a secret location in the West Country. I am taking the bouzouki and looking forward to a great time. The blog will appear some time within the next week. There is a good programme of music lined up, and it will be something to write about.

If you’ve got this far through this week’s mammoth effort, well done you! Keep on gigging, playing, or just reading the random stuff I’m posting, and I’ll catch you all soon. Take it easy!

Heave away, haul away! Two Shantyhead gigs inside of 16 hours…

A couple of weeks ago, I had a call from the events team at HMS Victory (National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard) enquiring as to the availability of Shantyhead for a short-notice gig on board the ship. What can you say when you’re presented with that kind of question, except for “Absolutely!”.

The deal was to provide sea shanties and folk songs on board Nelson’s flagship, to accompany an exclusive dinner for 102 guests. We were to play on deck when they arrived, then down below when they were sitting to eat, with a final set before they left the ship at the end of the evening. We weren’t to publicise the evening prior to the gig for security reasons.

We rehearsed like mad., brushing up on the shanty library and choosing suitable folk tunes and songs to intersperse things. Three sets were meticulously planned to streamline instrument changes and not have any one person singing lead for too many songs in a row. We had another gig at lunchtime the next day, so it was quite important we could still sing when we left the ship.

Arriving at the naval base, we signed in at the guardhouse and were issued with our passes, which contained the photos taken last time we sang on the ship. It took me a few seconds to twig that the beard on my photo was shorter than the beard is in reality, as I was wearing the same shirt and waistcoat as I was in the photo.

We were met at the gate by Alex from the events crew, and we followed her car through the winding roads of the naval base until we came upon the Victory, sitting in her dry dock, where she has been since 1922. Despite its age, Victory is still a commissioned warship and is the flagship of the First Sea Lord. I went for a job on Victory a couple of years back as an archaeologist, but it wasn’t to be. Oh well! I’m working on her now!

Shantyhead in the country pub on HMS Victory

We were led up on deck and told where to set up, and with barely five minutes to spare before the guests arrived, we were tuned and ready. Breaking into song as the guests arrived, we provided an audio backdrop to the drinks reception, ticking all the nautical stereotype boxes.

An officer takes the fore and reminds all those present that cameras were not to be used at any time during the event. Who were these people? There were miles and miles of gold braid, more medals than you can shake a stick at, and dress uniforms from all of the services of the UK and abroad, mixed with a smattering of tuxedos. These weren’t your average corporate audience.

Soon, Alex arrived to usher us below deck to the second venue for the evening. Stood at the end of the top table, with ropes and guns to prop our instruments up on, we began to play as the tables filled with diners. The initial arrangement was to sing during starters and leave for the main course, dessert and speeches, before returning to engage them in some rowdy shanty singing at the end.

That was the plan, anyway. We got about ten minutes into our set and, through chatting with the client between songs, retired to the green room, to return to play in two hours’ time at the end. The green room in this instance was the Senior Rates’ Mess at the rear of the ship, immediately beneath Nelson’s cabin. Being an actively staffed ship, there are senior rates to use the senior rates’ mess, so it’s not an exhibit of how it was in Nelson’s time. It’s in a staff only section of the ship, and on walking into it for the first time, I was astounded! It’s a country pub stuck to the back of the ship! Tables, stools, bench seating, a bar with two hand pumps, exposed timbers (and a bed and TV for the duty officer), with windows giving a panoramic view across the dockyard.

No sooner had we poured ourselves a beer, when one of the event crew arrives and informed us they wanted us back on, and to play an instrumental set during the main courses. From our repertoire, we had only rehearsed two instrumental numbers, and with a lot of busking and improvisation, we pulled off 35 minutes of musical delights that we are rather proud of.

The view from the country pub

We filed back to the country pub for a drop of Nelson’s blood (wouldn’t do us any harm) in a bit of a daze. What just happened? Neither of us really knew, but it worked. We had a good chat with the officer in charge of the ship, and it turns out the gathered throng were top brass in the security services and MOD, hence the lack of publicity and lack of photos. We did get a photo of the band in the senior rates’ mess, as that was considered safe.

The final set began at around the time it was due to finish and consequently was somewhat shorter than planned. A rousing version of What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor was the final number, with all the guests joining in with buckets of enthusiasm. As I stood talking to Alex after the gig, I ended up in some kind of receiving (departing?) line consisting of the two of us, and shook the hands of a good proportion of the guests as they left, including at least one admiral. Very positive comments were received as was one request to come and sing in an officers’ mess in the dockyard.

From the stripped down acoustic gig of the previous evening, the next day was a little more involved. This was the full electric setup, opening the Encore Family Music and Arts Festival at Berrywood School in Hedge End. The van was loaded and we set up under a rather low marquee on the playing field of the school. All was going well until the mixer… you know… the one that went pop at the wedding gig the other month? Yeah. That one. It came back from repair the previous day. And it went pop again. Joy. In anticipation, we already had the spare mixer with us, so as setbacks go, it was rather minor.

We moved the speakers and mic stands to the edge of the marquee so we could look out, but the threat of rain meant we stayed under cover for the duration. The set went without any more hitches and kicked off the first festival of its kind at the school, which to all intents and purposes  looked to be a rather fun day.

Shantyhead peeking out of the marquee at the Encore Family Music and Arts Festival (Photo: Kate Garcia)

We packed away to the high-energy rhythms of the Big Noise Samba Band and were soon on the home straight. 16 hours. Two gigs. Done and dusted. Sleep followed soon after.

I’m typing this from a coffee table in a Victorian town house in my next musical destination, Douglas, on the Isle of Man. There’s various things that have been lined up this weekend by my good friend, festival, gig and workshop buddy (and owner of the coffee table) Rob. I’ll probably do an edit, add tags etc. when I get home next week, but until then, my thoughts drift to Manchester, and to those affected by the bomb attack at the Manchester Arena, targeting innocent gig-goers on what was until that point, a great night out, and many of the audience’s introduction to live music.

On behalf of all musicians and music fans, WE ARE NOT AFRAID. THE MUSIC WILL GO ON.

UPDATE: The next installment is coming soon… I haven’t forgotten!

UPDATE 2: Following the recent events on London Bridge, WE ARE STILL NOT AFRAID. THE MUSIC WILL STILL GO ON. Thoughts are with those affected.

Lisa Marie Glover at The Tipsy Pig, Romsey

This is a first for me… For various reasons (mainly tiredness) I only stayed at this one for the first half of the gig. I’m sitting here typing when the second half is probably still going on!

This evening’s musical pleasures necessitated a visit to a place I’ve been wanting to see for months now. The Tipsy Pig is a craft ale bar in Romsey. It follows the ethos of the micropub movement that has produced lots of interesting places to drink in Southampton. The Pig is different in that instead of setting up a craft ale bar in a disused shop, they chose to breathe new life to an old pub. It’s a light, airy building with high ceilings and minimal furniture. Minimal furniture but maximum beer. Six handpumps, six (or was it eight) taps for keg and a menu of bottled beers, artisan spirits and a good selection of wines.

I arrived at 7:30, on my way home from work, after a dubious Subway at a petrol station on the outskirts of Romsey. (The guy serving was new and it was his first solo shift. I had to point out where everything was. Interesting to say the least… I don’t know what I had in my sub, but it wasn’t the teriyaki chicken I asked for… Not unpleasant, though, and I’m not dead yet…)

Walking up to the bar, the very attentive and knowledgeable staff (also rather beardy, apart from the female one) suggested a couple of beers that fitted my criteria of ‘around 4%’ and gave me tasters of several choices. With this amount of choice, I decided to stick to halves so I could try a little more before I headed off. The first was a cloudy Belgian style keg beer by Vibrant Forest, Zuur Rhubarb. It was only 3.5% and was, as the name suggests, a sour rhubarb flavoured beer. Definitely the thing to cleanse the palate from my Subway experience earlier. It was enjoyable, but I think halves are the size in which to drink it.

Lisa Marie Glover, a solo singer / guitarist hailing from Leeds, took the stage and began her first set. In all honesty, the sound was far from good at the end of the bar at which I was perched. I gradually made my way closer to the stage, and the acoustics of the building became more forgiving and the sound quality was rather good the closer I got to the PA.

Lisa has a bluesy, almost trad-jazz infused style and has a propensity to play well-placed walking bass riffs on her acoustic guitar, very much reminiscent of The Kinks’ Sunday Afternoon.

The atmosphere was very casual – people out for a drink with some background music. Despite this, there was a good level of applause after each song, which as the evening progressed, grew considerably.

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Lisa Marie Glover

Lisa’s smooth, silky vocals soothed the trials and tribulations of the working day away with a cover of The Beatles’ Lady Madonna.

It was time for another half. This time, the recommended tipple was White Tips IPA from Siren Craft Brew. This was another keg beer and at 4.5% was a nice change from a lot of craft beers that seek to push the boundaries of percentage far beyond the session beer level. It had a rounded hoppy flavour with a dry bite to the finish. Elements of citrus without it being overpowering. If I was here for a session,  I’d have had another.

Throughout the purchasing of beverage, a liquid blend of vocals and guitar exuded from the stage. Lisa played a well-balanced mix of covers and self-penned songs. A rendition of Dream A Little Dream Of Me was followed by an original composition about spiders. She doesn’t like spiders. Nor do I. The song includes putting them in a pint glass. I can’t get that close! If Lisa fancies a little contract work eradicating the eight-legged-bastards from my house, I’m more than happy to arrange it!

Now it’s a song that always wakes an audience up, whoever plays it, and tonight was no different. Jolene. Not as much audience participation at the Tipsy Pig, but this was the interim between the early shift and the night shift. Lisa sang Jolene with a real heartfelt tenderness that is definitely lacking in the original, and also in most covers that seek to emulate the original.

My final half of the evening was a 4.6% single hop offering from the selection on handpump by Animal Brewing Co. Hop Hound uses only Citra hops and is everything a summer ale should be. On the first sip, you are transported to the dappled shade of a tree beside a river, or at least a sunny beer garden. The right balance of bitter and a mellow sweetness. Definitely a quaffing beer.

The walking basslines and the easy listening blues-jazz-folk continued with a country-tinged cover of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love which brought the first set to a close. After a good chat with Lisa, I made my way home, only to get my second wind on walking through the door. Oh well! Blog time (with a can of Hobgoblin Gold)!

When I entered the Tipsy Pig this evening, the bar had a handful of people, all enjoying a quick jar on the way home from work. When I left, it was a busy town pub with the evening shift in full swing. I wholeheartedly recommend visiting if you’re in the area, and if you see a lady by the name of Lisa Marie Glover advertised anywhere, I’d also suggest you pay her a visit.

Right. I’ll see how I go writing last week’s blog now… Funfun! Keep rockin!

 

A bloke in a pub, three blokes and a lady in a pub and two blokes in someone’s living room…

Another epic week of far too much music!

It all started on Thursday the 4th with a trip to The Dolphin, St Denys (Southampton) to see a friend, Ryan Stevens of 71 Chain fame, playing his solo set.

It wasn’t a massively attended gig, but I was there, with occasional gig buddies Ruth and Andy. Ryan took the stage with a couple of guitars, a PA, a couple of effects and a loop pedal. When you see 71 Chain, you normally hear Chris on vocals, with Ryan on backing. This time, Ryan had no choice but to be solo. And he’s good.

I arrived part way through the first set. Got a disappointing beer. I can’t even remember what it was to give any kind of review. It was past it’s best. Lets focus on the music, shall we?

Ryan’s solo sets are made up of a carefully selected mix of covers. In the part of the first set I saw, we were treated to skillful renditions of Half The World Away (Oasis), In The Morning (Razorlight), a frantically strummed intro bursting with energy to Mr Nutini’s New Shoes, then moving a little back on the tempo, REM’s Man On The Moon with a muted strum on the verse. Ryan introduced “A bit of modern rock ‘n’ roll” – Jake Bugg’s Lightning Bolt was given the Stevens treatment, which went down a storm (get it? Lightning? Storm? I’ll get my coat…) with the small audience. For the noughties’ kids, Outkast’s Hey Ya led into the first outing of the looper for the evening, for a bit of Ed Sheeran. From personal experience, getting things right with a looper can be hit and miss. Ryan hit. He finished the first set with The Beatles Come Together.

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Ryan Stevens – Google Photos did its thing again…

After much chatting with friends, it was time for the second set. Another plethora of very well played covers followed, with T-Rex and Queen getting an airing. One annoyance was that the big screen TV was on in the background and from where I was sitting, Ryan was competing against BBC News 24. I appreciate the pub wasn’t heaving, but those that were there were there to listen to the bloody music (and not drink crap beer).

Ryan dealt his three-chord-wonder, The Joker (Steve Miller Band) followed up with Lizzy’s version of Whiskey In The Jar(o). I’ve often mused over the word ‘Jar-o’


jar-o
noun
Receptacle for beverage, esp. whiskey


Ryan broke from tradition at this point and treated us to one of his own compositions. It was a really good song – a well-penned Mumford meets Sheeran style piece well executed. Shame I can’t remember what it was bloody called!

After a bit of Sweet Home Alabama (turn it up…), the looper came out again. Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall works really well when you set up the chords on the pedal them play the solo over the top. The looper stayed out for the finale, Hendrix’ version of Watchtower, that was painstakingly built up, layer by layer, into what can only be described as a masterpiece of sound, created layer by layer by a very talented chap.

Ryan Stevens is nothing but a human jukebox. To hear what I have so far, I am impressed. Adding that to his 71 Chain work, his is a name to watch out for.

Friday completed the week’s 71 Chain fix, with the launch of Ruby Blue And The Chain‘s debut release, ‘The Boathouse EP’ at The Hobbit. Ruby Blue is the daughter of Mongo, 71 Chain’s drummer, and The Chain are Chris, Adam and Mongo from the aforementioned band on guitar, bass and drums respectively. Ruby (Emily) plays keyboard and delivers powerful vocals that complete the band’s smooth blues-rock sound.

The venue was packed to the gunnels with fans of the band, fans of 71 Chain and a load of archaeologists from the university who are friends of Emily’s mum. It’s a small world! The gig started with some solo Ruby Blue material, which really showcased Emily’s dynamic, strong voice, which I found somewhat reminiscent of one of my favourite female musicians, the wonderful Thea Gilmore. A voice you can easily become lost in.

After the solo set, Emily called for the band, who appeared on stage after fighting their way through the assembled throng. I’ve seen the band play a couple of times before and I’ve very much enjoyed what they do. Chris’s Gary-Moore-esque guitar and Adam’s fretless five string bass pair faultlessly with the vox and keys from Emily, the package is completed with percussion from Mongo. This evening, though, the band was really rather let down by the quality of the sound. The venue is a fairly small room which was evidently empty at sound check but full of sound-absorbant bodies for the gig. A former sound engineer friend of mine used to take bundles of blankets around to pub gigs, to drape on chairs and tables giving more of an impression of a full room when setting the levels. This evening, there was a tremendous amount of bottom end that largely obscured the vocals and melody. Adam’s bass was perfect, though, even if certain notes did seem to hit the resonant frequency of the room, compounding the problem.

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Ruby Blue And The Chain

I elected to stand in the corridor outside the room, which gave a far better sound, but it did mean I ended up talking at length with an old friend I bumped into who happened to be standing out there for the same reason, and whilst I enjoyed the evening, I didn’t really get to enjoy the music as much as I could have. I parted with the princely sum of five whole pounds and left with the five-track Boathouse EP so I could enjoy Ruby Blue And The Chain at my leisure in more acoustically suited surroundings.

When I pulled the disc from its sleeve, I was immediately struck by the graphics on the front, which resemble a vinyl record, with (printed on) grooves and a label. On flipping the disc over, I was surprised to see the reverse is black instead of the usual silver. Impressive! On playing the EP, you are treated to five tracks of audio delight. This is the right balance of blues and rock for me. Chris’s cutting guitar riffs provide a direct contrast to Emily’s piano and the vocals top everything off. All songs are penned by Emily, with three also having Chris credited. A fiver well spent.

Saturday. Almost there! Roadie time for me.

Widge, from my band, Shantyhead, has a long history in the music business. He’s also known as Martin Orford, keyboard player, vocalist and songwriter with several prog rock outfits. Every now and then, he dons his baseball cap and waistcoat and re-enters his prog guise to play small events. Saturday was one of these – a house concert in Chandler’s Ford alongside former Jadis bandmate Gary Chandler. Widge is on keys, flute and other random instruments. Gaz is on guitar. Both share vocals. I come along to roadie, bringing PA equipment and fulfill the role of general dogsbody, lead tester and general sound checkist.

The venue was the house of a nice chap called Paul. The ground floor of his house is open-plan. He fills it with chairs for the audience and puts on a rather large buffet with great stocks of booze for everyone (roadies included) to enjoy. Setting up is a casual affair at Paul’s, a few hours before kickoff, we can get sorted at a comfortable pace. The most daunting bit of the setup is the moving of Paul’s plate glass dining table out into the garden, through a tight ninety degree turn, then propping it up against the wall of the house. Once that’s done and the gear is set up, soundchecks carried out, I change into a clean shirt, grab a beer and enjoy the gig, before doing everything in reverse before disappearing off in Widge’s little van.

It’s a friendly atmosphere at Paul’s house concerts, with lots of familiar faces appearing each time. Everyone knows each other and I’m accepted as one of the prog crowd now, which is really rather pleasant.

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Widge and Gaz belt out Comfortably Numb

Alongside songs from the Jadis back catalogue, Widge plays some of his solo material and things from his time with IQ. They also play a number of covers, which since we’ve converted him to folk, Widge is keen to play with his plethora of bizarre folk instruments. This time, it was the cittern and hurdy gurdy that got an airing. Widge guested on keys, flute and the hand-cranked-multi-stringed-babe-magnet on the last Jadis album ‘No Fear Of Looking Down’, released at the end of last year.

I’m not great with the names of a lot of the Jadis / IQ songs, but I can recall some of the covers. With Widge on vox and keys and Gaz on guitar, Wonderous Stories (Yes) went down well. A cittern / acoustic guitar-based rendition of the Genesis classic Carpet Crawlers warmed the audience up for Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill which started to great appreciation from the audience, most of whom were singing along throughout.

A bit of Floyd brought the evening to a close. Comfortably Numb with Widge on keys and lead vox. Gaz played the solos with his usual skill. Immense applause and general appreciation. It’s guaranteed a great reception.

As the audience and performers were more or less on first name terms, the banter between songs was a great source of amusement to everyone. Many anecdotes were shared, a plethora of stories remembered, including memories of Widge’s good friend John Wetton, who sadly passed away earlier this year. In tribute, Widge announced a song that he’d sung backing on countless times before, but never lead vocals. This was the encore and this was for John. With cittern in hand, backed by Gaz on electric, after a tentative start, the music took hold. It was Asia’s Heat Of The Moment and was performed with great emotion and feeling. A fitting tribute to a great musician.

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Widge and Gaz

The evening had drawn to a close. Instruments were cased, cables wound, bags packed and vans loaded. That bloody table was reinstalled without a hitch. The guys have already been booked for this time next year.

Thanks for sticking with this mammoth update! I’ve already uploaded the next blog as it was only short. This coming week, it’s a busy one, with Shantyhead gigs on Friday and Saturday. I’ll tell you more next time!

Keep it live!

Three kittens, a bouncy archaeologist and some country-tinged acid house…

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.

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Lounge Kittens

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.

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Bloody hell… I look 12 at most…

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.

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Dave and John

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.

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Hippocampus

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.

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The Alabama 3 crowd

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!

Hurry The Jug, King Street Tavern, Southsea

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.

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Hurry The Jug at the King Street Tavern

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…

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Big man, plywood and small man in perfect harmony (photo stolen from Hurry The Jug’s 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…

A wedding and two chaps in a pub…

Ah… Easter… The second season of the retail calendar… For me, it’s  long time since I worked in retail and then, the Easter weekend was a veritable portal to Hades, but these days, it’s four days off work in a row. Perfect for eating, drinking and being merry with some tunes thrown in (and some gardening to accompany the over-indulgence). This extra long weekend begain with an early evening Shantyhead gig on Friday. It was the wedding of Caroline and Chris – Caroline is the daughter of a good friend of the band – so we got stuck in and gave it the Shantyhead treatment. With unexpected pyrotechnics.

Myself and Widge arrived to the venue, a couple of miles up the road, to get set up in the morning in advance of the early evening reception. Everything went swimmingly until the moment when the mixer decided it would rather be a smoke machine. Furious ripping out of plugs ensued as a cloud of acrid electrical smoke filled the air over our six-month-old mixer. It’s going back to the shop on Friday. Once we were sure everything was safe, Widge made a lightning dash home in his little blue van to get his studio mixer and reverb unit. An hour later than scheduled, we were finally set up.

Fast-forwarding to the evening, we arrived, got everything tuned and at 5pm, as requested, started playing a 45 minute set whilst the wedding party assembled. The set was to end when the bride and groom arrived. Then we’d hold off until 7:15 and do another half hour set. As is often the case, nobody in the wedding party really pays attention to the music early on, but you keep on going, providing background music. Then, the newlyweds arrived half an hour early, so we closed our set early with Larking Around With The Morning Wood, our (not very) celebrated instrumental. (Well… we like it…)

I’m not sure you could fit many more in….

We filled the time between sets with beer from Upham Brewery, wood-fired pizza, chatting to the bride’s father and replacing a bouzouki string that broke with the first strum of the first song. The second set again started slowly. A small dancefloor had been cleared but nobody was using it. Interest grew, however, escalating with each song we played, and by the end, the dancefloor was full and everyone was singing along. The DJ that was following us was looking a little daunted by what he had to contend with, as we were still getting shouts of “one more song” whilst we were packing up. It was a bloody good night in all.

This blog was all set to be about the wedding as I didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the week. That was still the case on Saturday night when I went out for a pint with tame mechanic Stu, to discuss next week’s jolly to Wareham, to pick up a car for a mutual friend. The Hyde Tavern in Winchester was the venue of choice – it’s  a lovely pub that’s a bit off the beaten track, but it is a regular haunt of mine. They keep four or five real ales on at any one time, and the atmosphere can only be described as ‘country pub’. They don’t sell any food, but for a pound per head, you can eat a takeaway there, using cutlery and crockery provided by the pub. They also have a rather friendly dog called Jim who can often be seen wandering the bars hoping for attention, food or both.

On approaching the pub, faint strains of guitar were heard. On entering, to the left of the door, a guy with an acoustic is happily strumming away while a chap next to him tuned a banjo. Things were looking up! Beer duly purchased, we sat on the opposite side of the largely empty front bar and soaked in the mix of Irish, bluegrass, country and folk songs and tunes. It was a fairly informal affair, with a jug left out for spare change for the musicians, whose names I didn’t catch, plus lots of interaction between the audience and the duo, including at one point, myself singing “In The Summertime”.

The chap with the guitar had a voice that was quite reminiscent of Glen Campbell, which was useful as they played a couple of his songs, including a great rendition of “Gentle On My Mind”.

Two chaps in the Hyde

The evening was drawing to a close and a table of twenty-somethings on a conglomeration of tables arranged near the door suddenly became the focus of attention as one of them rushed out of the pub only to return five minutes later with another guitar. This was handed to a chap at the end of their table who proceeded to tune it to (double) drop D, then sat and played a great finger picked Nick Drake-infused piece, finishing to rapturous applause. An unexpected end to an unexpectedly musical evening. On leaving the Hyde, I asked the banjo player if they were doing it again any time soon. It appears to be a fairly regular thing and next Saturday, they are back. Nice.

Have a good week, folks, and if you are going to see any music any time soon, give me a shout. I’m always open to suggestions.

Cheers!

Shantyhead, Catholic Church Hall, Bishop’s Waltham

This week was a bit different… We played to a rather select audience back on Wednesday. Several local Women’s Institute groups were treated to a bit of Shantyhead action at the Catholic Church Hall in BW. A nice local gig for us, which started fairly early in the evening, meaning we could go for a pint afterwards.

The event was some kind of ‘meeting of the clans’ that happens every now and then and included Bishop’s Waltham WI, the Whiteley WAGs and some other local groups. It was a first for us – four blokes in a room of 60 women, all looking at us. A bit unnerving to start with, but as the evening progressed, it was clear they were all enjoying themselves, singing and clapping before the night was out.

It’s an interesting venue, with a small, very low (but high enough to trip you up if you’re not careful) stage facing the room. The stage was odd, from a technical point of view as it didn’t have any plug sockets, so our longest extension lead was employed to get power from the room behind, through two doors, to run the PA. Setup was swift, to say the least, and the room was full when we were done, so sound checks weren’t possible and mixing was carried out on the fly. The acoustics of the room are perfect when it’s empty, but fill it with people and it’s a completely different kettle of fish (should that be jam, considering the audience?).

We were asked nicely to sanitise the set a little, leaving out songs such as ‘Dogging’ and restricting the favourite ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ to ‘Five Drunken Nights’ for fear of causing offence to the mild mannered ladies of the WI. We needn’t have altered the set that much as they were definitely up for everything we threw at them.

There was a higher than usual level of cock-ups, with my whistle deciding it didn’t want to play at the right octave on more than one occasion (cue standing further from the mic so it wasn’t as loud, hopefully they wouldn’t notice…) and most of us forgot the words at various points… I’d like to add that this isn’t our usual modus operandi, but I put it down to the eagle eyes of the good ladies of the Meon Valley eagerly anticipating our next move. Never have we had a more attentive audience.

Certain tunes didn’t work that well, but others were surprising in their popularity. The instrumental piece, ‘Larking Around With The Morning Wood’ was especially well received, although as usual, I play the whistle on that one with,  my eyes shut, so I couldn’t gauge the reaction myself.

We started with the slower songs, then after the break, the tempo picked up considerably. If they didn’t know what a sea shanty was before this evening, they do now. And they know how to sing one!

Fueled by cans of cheap lager from Budgens and the hope of cake, we were rather excited about the gig. Then the hurdy gurdy came out and the ladies were excited too. We have since christened said device ‘the hand-cranked-multi-stringed-babe-magnet’. Whenever Widge brings it to a gig, be it in a pub, a house concert or, evidently, in a church hall, he has a small queue of ladies after the gig wanting to know more about it, some even getting the privilege of playing it. If only the same worked for banjos…

We finished off with ‘Chicken On A Raft’, a modern sea shanty about the dubious egg on toast served by the Royal Navy. Amid great applause, those of us that could shuffle off this mortal stage did so, then came back on for an encore. Those of us that didn’t have anywhere to shuffle, stood there, smiling sweetly to ourselves. We often do ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’ as an encore with melodeon, but I decided to start it slowly then pick up to normal tempo, and as I started it in the wrong key, the squeezebox couldn’t match it when we were at full speed, so a capella it was. Via some miraculous intervention, we all ended up in tune, and we finished off rather well, with the ladies singing heartily and me in a state of surprise, that we had actually managed to pull it off.

After the gig (and the impromptu hurdy gurdy demonstration session) we began the dismantling of the Shantyhead machine, only to be presented with cakes! There were profuse apologies that they were shop bought, but they were cakes. And they were free, provided by the lovely ladies of the WI. Cakes consumed, pack up was completed and a speedy retreat to the Bowman was made for a pint of rather strong beer and a shakedown.

At the rehearsal today, Roger came in with a card, pictured below.

The card. Front bit…

 

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This week, Shantyhead are gigging again on Friday, at the wedding of the daughter of a good friend of the band. Cue an oh-too-familiar situation – there’s a few bands playing that night that I’d like to go and see, but being very much pre-booked, I’m going to have to miss them.

Highlights of the list, which you may be interested in if you’re in the area and free on Friday are 71 Chain at the Robin Hood in Sholing and The Drystone Cowboys at Samuel’s Rest in Shedfield.

I’m going to sign off now, sat as I am, at the kitchen table, with a keyboard attached to my phone as I really can’t be bothered to fire the PC up. I’ll tag this post later in the week when I am at the PC, but until then, stay safe and long live the music!

Oysters3, The Haymarket, Basingstoke

A midweek gig on Wednesday, on my way home from work, saw me checking into the Haymarket, Basingstoke to see Oysters3 – the three founding members of Oysterband, John Jones (vox, melodeon), Ian Telfer (fiddle, vox, tiny keyboard on rather high stand) and Alan Prosser (guitar, vox) on their acoustic tour, telling tales and singing songs from their 40 year history.

Having bumped into a bandmate and his friend in the car park, we journeyed through the alleyways of Basingstoke to find the venue. Wandered in, upstairs, over to the bar to be ripped off for a bottle of beer decanted into a plastic pint glass. We enter the auditorium and peer into the dark to find our seat numbers. Shortly after sitting down, a steward appears each side of the stage brandishing  signs informing us that mobile phones and cameras were prohibited. Soon, the house lights dimmed and the stage lights came up revealing John, Ian and Alan who after saying hello, launched into one of their early instrumental ceilidh tunes.

The set was filled with old favourites from every era of their long musical career, interspersed with banter and stories, mainly told by Ian. due to it being dark and phones being prohibited on pain of death, I didn’t make any notes. And it was Wednesday but is now Sunday / Monday if you’re being horrendously accurate, so here follows a brief recap of the bits I can remember.

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Oysters3 at the Haymarket

I don’t recall Ian being a great orator at full Oysterband gigs in the past, however he surpassed himself this evening. One anecdote was aired, which gave a local connection. Ian was an itinerant labourer back in the day, and lived in Basingstoke whilst they built the flyovers and similar road-based infrastructure. They hand-dug the pads for the piles at 2 x 3 (metres, yards or whatever) only to be told that they needed to be 3 x 2 to fit the bridge. Ian was rather happy with this as it meant more overtime.

Tales were recounted of tours in America, including one episode in a chilly Winnebago when thick winter duvets were “accidentally” borrowed from the houses of unsuspecting fans, and the stories behind favourite songs were told, then the favourite songs were played with the kind of tightness and skill that only comes from many years of playing them.

The first half ended with ‘When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down’ and the journey to the bar was repeated. Nothing to report on the bar front. Bottled ales (Fullers, if I remember correctly) at over £4 per pint, with the ubiquitous decanting into plastic glasses to be taken into the auditorium.

Musically, the second half was as good as the first, with that well-practised perfectly synchronised sound coming over throughout. The smoke machine received less comments during the second half as John was apparently able to see the audience again.

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Ian telling the anecdote about the bears, the pepper and the bells…

Ian’s recollections of touring in the States again came out, with the insight that Oysterband was once managed in the US by the manager of The Band, Dylan’s backing band in the mid sixties. This led on to a cover of their track, Take The Load Off Annie. The talking was quite useful at times, as Alan’s guitar was proving something of a bugger to keep in tune.

Overall, the gig was a good mix of old favourites and new material, with neither dominating. I’ve been going to see Oysterband for coming on twenty years now. I’ve seen them electric, acoustic and now stripped down to the core trio. Oysters3, though, was a lot more intimate. It was like watching a few mates playing in your local pub, chatting as they went, singing all the songs you like, but adding some new songs here and there to make it more interesting. Well and truly recommended.

Catch you next time…