I MISSED A WEEK! But it was beyond my control…

The first week of this blog entry begins in disappointment. I’d arranged this one months ago… It was Frank from Shantyhead’s birthday this particular week, and I’d arranged to accompany him to see The Magic Band (of Captain Beefheart fame) at The Brook on the Sunday night. Sunday is the last day of my gigging week, and I hadn’t arranged anything earlier. Sunday came around and, short on time, I called the venue to see if they took cards on the bar, to save me having to go to a cashpoint before setting off. Yes, the nice man on the end of the phone said, they did take plastic, but not tonight… The gig had been postponed… The Magic Band head honcho, John ‘Drumbo’ French, had taken ill and the gig was postponed until Wednesday.

What more can a guy do? I’ve spent the whole year so far finding bands to see, sometimes at the last minute, on a Sunday morning, when the week was rapidly disappearing, but I’d still managed to do it. I thought this one was a banker, having had the ticket for bloody months… Instead, I went to the pub. I didn’t speculate this kind of thing happening when I started on my challenge, but I don’t think something beyond my control should affect things… Still bloody annoyed, though. Ironically, at the pub, I met up with half a dozen people who were also meant to be seeing The Magic Band that night…

Tuesday came around. Not Wednesday. That was tomorrow. There was a birthday party going on at the South Western with a bit of music. Why not? Ex lodger Luke was going and current lodger Jake was up for it, so we went along. Another good friend and festival buddy was hoping to come along, but due to circumstances beyond their control, it wasn’t to be, but there was still music to be had. It had to be done.

It was the birthday of Bryan, the (double) bassist from The Doghouse Boat Boys – a local folky bluegrassy rockabilly type band from Southampton, who I rather enjoy listening to. On arrival, they were playing acoustically in the middle of the odd-shaped pub. Due to the crowds, timing and positioning in the pub, I didn’t get to hear a great deal of their set, which soon came to an end to let the birthday celebrations take hold. I glanced at the band after acquiring a pint and was surprised to see Ryan Stevens of 71 Chain fame wearing a check shirt and baseball cap, playing mandolin. It turns out he’s a recent addition and is loving it! They played their own brand of ‘good time acoustic hellfire music’ as their bookface page puts it, to a very appreciative crowd of revellers.

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Dog House Boat Boys

The DHBBs were followed by Johnny Boxcars – a three piece, also from Southampton, playing electric rootsy blues. Guitar, bass, drums and vocals were at one point supplemented by the fiddle player who was playing with the Boat Boys. Much beer was consumed and a great night was enjoyed by myself, the two eras of lodgers and the rest of the pub.

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Johnny Boxcars

Roll on Wednesday… Picked up by Frank, we headed off to Southampton again. Parked close to the venue and headed over, only to be told by a chap on the door that the Magic Band van had died on the way to the gig. They’d had to hire another one, and due to the delay, were still soundchecking. Pop back in an hour. So after a quick consultation of t’internet, we ended up having a quick pint in The Drummond Arms. Typical urban boozer. Nothing to complain about, nothing overly noteworthy.

Returning to The Brook, the doors were open, the beer was purchased (on card…) and we waited for the gig to start. I went into this without any preconceptions. I don’t have a great knowledge of the works of said Captain Beefheart, whose tunes the Magic Band faithfully replicate, so I was there to see this ‘green’, so to speak. This was their farewell tour, and a loyal crowd of followers were in attendance.

My overall impression of The Magic Band is of a group of performers that deliver a weird, yet incredibly polished sound. They were so well-rehearsed. To them, playing a gig was like putting on an old comfy pair of shoes.

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The Magic Band

After thanking the NHS for looking after him during the past few days, and the hire company for providing  a replacement van, Drumbo picked up his soprano sax and belted out a song that everyone but me seemed to know. The whole set was a freeform jazz-rock fusion that was a pleasure to hear. As a band, they were incredibly tight, and were absolutely the kings of discord. Kev from the pub who also came to the gig, despite being a long-term fan, summed it up when he described the gig as ‘a bit bloody weird’.

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Count the strings!

At the end of the first set, John ‘Drumbo’ French wandered over to the drummer and stood next to him, with his own set of sticks, playing all the drums and cymbals that weren’t already being played. Drumbo was Captain Beefheart’s drummer, and in no way concealed the fact. The second half opened with him on drums, playing lengthy drum solos for the first few tunes, which had the consequence of a lack of vocal.

It took me a while, but I finally twigged that there wasn’t a bassist in the lineup and that the keyboard guy was playing bass on his synth. He soon joined the drum solo, as did everyone else in the band in turn.

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One of those dodgy animations Google does without prompting

A break from the psychedelia occurred when they played a blues number, unusually from what I’d experienced so far, it was properly in time and in tune. At this point, I paid some attention to the guitarist. He had a headless guitar with rather a lot of strings. How many? I had to wander up to the front to count them. It turns out there were eight! The official verdict was ‘too many!’.

The encore was a bluesy number with up-tempo prog elements, which was a great end to a great gig. I went in with no preconceptions and came out having thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

The next week of my continuing musical odyssey took me into December! The final month! On the 1st, it was time to head back to The Engine Rooms to watch the west country delights that are The Wurzels. I dug out the T shirt I bought the first time I saw these legends of comedic agricultural covers in preparation for the gig, and noticed the date on it was 2003… Bloody hell, that was a long time ago! I’m pleased to say that although the years have rolled by, the quality of tuneage has not diminished in any way.

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The fabled T shirt

Support for the evening was from a band I’d heard of but never seen – Skimmity Hitchers. These guys hail from Dorset and, if possible, drink more scrumpy than the Wurzels themselves. My immediate description would be ‘country ska with double bass’. And cider. And lyrics about cider. And humour by the bucketload. The ideal on pantioninf.

The mainstay of the set, like that of the Wurzels, involved cider and agriculture based parodies of popular songs. Early on was Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, repurposed with the chorus beginning ‘I drank down a lovely pint of cider’. Soon followed a version of Creedence’s Bad Moon Rising, rewritten about crappy English seaside towns.

Their parodies are on a parallel with the headliners’ I Am A Cider Drinker and Combine Harvester when it comes to the structure and content of the lyrics, and the instrumentation isn’t half bad either.

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Skimmity Hitchers

Elvis had the Hitchers’ treatment, with Viva Lyme Regis, as did Steve Miller’s Abracadabra, with the chorus ‘Ten pints, ten pints of Thatchers’. Green Day didn’t escape – evidently, I don’t wanna be a cider drinking idiot. Dreadlock Holiday came soon after (I don’t like cider… I loves it!) and the set finished with Katrina And The Waves’ classic tweaked into I’m Tripping On Moonshine. These guys knew what they were doing and put on a bloody good show, that I would’ve been happy with on its own. The masters, however, were yet to take the stage.

The lights dimmed. Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town blared out from the PA. Some ageing gentlemen wearing comedy agricultural clothing entered the stage. The Wurzels were here.

The set opened with the timeless classic, Blackbird, which a much younger beardless version of myself can be seen to sing at the wedding of some friends (who were also at the Engine Rooms this evening)… After consuming a wedding’s worth of helium balloons. Regrettably, the whole incident was captured on video and now lurks on YouTube under the title ‘Helium Wurzels‘. The set continued with Champion Muck Spreader. The audience, who had been suitably warmed by the Hitchers were in a state of veritable ecstasy. The Wurzels are a band that attract a particular type of follower, and they aren’t the sort of band you go to without any prior knowledge, on the chance you might like them. The crowd, therefore, was comprised mostly of die-hard fans of theirs.

As I wandered to the back to obtain a glass of coke and chat to a couple of friends who happened to be there, I was immediately seized by the arm by what is best described as a mad dancing woman, and twirled around. All kinds of madness was occurring at the back, so I decided to stay for a while and watch. Much bobbing up and down in time with the music and that country / Highland dance thing where you link arms with someone and spin round in a circle, then break off and link up with someone else. You know what I mean. I was roped in several times and spun around by a number of different people that night. A set of Scottish ceilidh tunes brought out the best (worst?) of the dancers, in what seemed like a private show to those at the back, behind the majority in the standing room only crowd in front.

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The Wurzels

The end was, alas, upon us. The set finished with mass participation with I Am A Cider Drinker. Rapturous applause followed, and the encore was imminent. A cover of the Kaiser Chiefs’ Ruby kept the crowd going, then the ubiquitous Combine Harvester – the techno remix version I first saw performed in 2003. All Wurzels mime to the track for this one, apart from the drummer. It’s difficult to mime drums in a live situation. He drums the techno beat through the whole track. He’s in his late 70s and he can play a techno beat. Hats off. John Morgan – you the man! As per the last couple of times I’ve seen the guys, during this song, Tommy Banner (accordion) strips down to his underwear to howls of excitement from the female members of the audience.

The gig finished with a rendition of Drink Up Thy Zider. Whilst the last of the pre-recorded Wurzels jingles played, we all made our way out into the cold December air. Life is, indeed, good. And the truck started! Joy!

We’re in the last month of my live music challenge and I’ve not broken the ‘once a week’ thing yet. It has, unfortunately, been broken for me in the first week of this blog entry, but I’m letting that pass, as everything was arranged and it was the artist that caused the break. Still… Roll on the next few weeks! A year is nearly upon us!

Until next time, keep rockin!

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A philosophical reflection, some highly chlorinated samples, a folky bluesy interlude and an infuriating truck…

The last few weeks have been manic. Blogging has been difficult to say the least. Gigs have been squeezed in wherever possible.

As you’ll read below, I’m still on top of the whole ‘music every week’ thing! It’s the middle of November and I’m still going! I’m actually rather proud of that. What with everything else going on in my life at the moment, taking a bit of time to chill with a pint and some tunes really does make a difference.

The Sheiks at The Priory

Lets start with the closest gig I’ve been to so far. The Priory Inn is walking distance from my house, but it tends to be a pub I only visit once or twice a year. It’s always stood out as a bit of a Sky Sports and lager type of place, which isn’t my scene these days.

Perennial favourites of the blog, Thee Sultan Sheiks, were playing. It was Pete the drummer’s last gig, so was a bit of an occasion. The usual Sheiky vibe wasn’t soon to grab the audience after the chords of Take It Easy (Eagles) opened the set. The band were relishing in this, their final fling with Pete on drums. They were giving it their all and the crowd were most appreciative.

The first set ended with a four-part harmony to Billy Joel’s The Longest Time, and it wasn’t long before the second set opened with a bright, driving version of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, followed by a bit of Bad Moon Rising.

Until about 10:20, around half the clientele were in their twenties. Whatever was happening in Bishops Waltham at 10:20 that night seemed to attract all the younger crowd from the Priory. In something reminiscent of the Pied Piper, one minute they were there, the next they were gone. Those left in the pub were having a great night.

Stood against a wall, listening to classic rock tracks being played with immense skill, watching the middle aged dancers, I had an epiphany. I take notes on my phone for the blog, so Google Keep was already open. The muse took me, and I rapidly filled the screen with the following monologue…

The image of a band does not age. Madness, the Beatles, ELO and Queen are still in their mid 20s to everyone, be they 20, 50 or 70 today. The audience age. Considerably. Sitting amongst people who were teenagers when this stuff was released, I observe them hearing the sounds of their youth. They are transported back to those heady days before the mortgage, the kids, the council tax and the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy that comes with age and responsibility. They are temporarily relieved of the burdens of modern life and live as they did when they were 17.

Watching people being liberated from the existence they never imagined when they were young, through the medium of music, I realise I’ve been absorbed into the system. I’m part of what, in my carefree youth, I couldn’t fathom. I went to gigs and laughed at the older folks letting their hair down, enjoying themselves, living life to such a degree that it seemed they didn’t have care in the world.

Now I’m one of them. When I’m in front of a live band, I don’t have a care in the world. I’m somewhere that the pressures of modern life don’t exist. And it doesn’t matter what the song is or who the band are. I’m free. That’s what music does. It liberates. It allows you to forget the shit you have to put up with day in and day out. Even if it’s only for one song, your mind is free. You are alive. Music sets the soul free. It allows you to be who you really are. Who you should be.

Put a good tune on. Go and see a band. For that moment in time, fuck everything. This is you. Feel the energy. That electricity pulsing through your entire being. That’s what it’s all about. Don’t close your ears to the thing that makes you who you are. Who you were. Who you will be forever. Sing. Dance. Enjoy. Love. According to Talk Talk, life’s what you make it. Make it fucking good. That power is in you. Do it. Nobody is going to do it for you.

Love music. Love life. Live free.

Whilst my mind was racing, a cat was happily asleep on the table by the fire on the opposite side of the bar and the band were singing some Tom Jones.

Alas, the end was nigh, both of the evening’s entertainment and of Pete’s career with the Sheiks. They went out with a flourish, with the crowd favourite, Caravan of Love.

I walked home with the bouncing gait of someone who’s just gone some way closer to working out what life is all about.

Samples in Chlorine

Next was a trip to sunny Southsea on a Tuesday night with now ex-lodger Luke. The Pyramids was the venue, Public Service Broadcasting were the band. With the power of Twitter, I was able to see what the stage times were in advance and we decided a decent pint before being subject to venue beer and venue prices was an idea. We happened upon what looked like quite a new bar, Meat And Barrel. It’s a big place, very light and airy, and evidently used to be two or three shops. They had a large selection of cask and keg beers and a fair food menu. Definitely somewhere for a return visit.

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Meat And Barrel

For those that haven’t been to The Pyramids before, the first thing that you should know is that it’s attached to a rather large swimming pool. The second thing you should know is that the overpowering smell of warm chlorine that hits you when you walk in the door does fade after about five minutes.

The last time I was here was watching Feeder in the mid ’90s, and I don’t remember it being this packed. I think it was sold out, but if it wasn’t, there was very little room for anyone else to fit. We ended up lurking towards the back, close to the bar and to a fire door that a security guard was helpfully holding open to allow a bit of draught to enter.

This tour came on the back of the release of PSB’s latest album, Every Valley, detailing the rise and fall of the Welsh coal mining industry. PSB are essentially a band that seamlessly weave audio and video samples from archive footage, public information films and similar material with live musicians, to create a unique sound that has to be experienced live to be appreciated fully. The albums, bloody excellent though they are, aren’t a patch on seeing PSB live.

The set list comprised tracks from their entire back catalogue, with Mine and Luke’s favourite, Night Mail, coming early on. For a band that relies so heavily on sampling, it was great to see that the brass that’s featured on several tracks was actually performed by a live brass section rather than being sampled.

The perennial problem with gigs in places like the Pyramids was becoming apparent. As the crowd warmed up, dancing and singing, the applause between songs was getting quieter. That’s because it was rather chilly out, so people had arrived dressed for the journey home. In the middle of the audience it was too hot for coats and jumpers. Taking them off means you have to hold them, and holding them means you have at least one hand full so you can’t clap.

Tracks such as Spitfire, Progress and The Other Side got a great reception, as to be honest, did everything that came out of those speakers that night.

A long encore included Gagarin from the 2015 Race For Space album and the finale came in the form of Everest, from 2013’s Inform – Educate – Entertain. A great track to end a cracking night. We journeyed out into the cold night air, immediately realising how chlorine-free the outside world was.

Jo Long & The Pure Drop, Talking Heads

Another new band to me, but one I’m surprised I haven’t encountered before. This was a flying visit to the Talking Heads with tame mechanic Stu. We came in halfway through and purchased our beer while the break was in full swing. Soon, though, a chap took to the stage and pulled up a double bass. He played a long solo piece using a looper to build up a rather thick and complex tune, which accompanied a song about somebody from the 1960s ending up inadvertently in the modern day. The line that stood out was ‘And we still don’t have our jet packs’.

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The looping double bass…

The rest of the band gradually took the stage. At one point an ethereal combination of guitar and double bass mesmerised the audience, with the bassist changing between bow and finger picking (or whatever that’s called on double bass) and making excellent use of harmonics.

Jo Long & The Pure Drop are definitely on the ‘return visit’ list. They are a four piece, with bass, guitar, mandolin, piano and strong female lead vocals, playing folky-bluesy songs with more than a hint of country in places.

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Jo Long & The Pure Drop

Unfortunately time was not on our side this evening, and we left shortly after the band had played Stu’s request of Black Is The Colour. A really powerful rendition, with lots of harmonics on guitar and the double bass as the melody instrument. There was so much feeling coming from the stage during that one song, I’m glad we were able to catch it.

Mechanical woes but I still got to Botley…

I love my car. I really do. Sometimes it doesn’t love me. I drive a twenty year old Range Rover, and enjoy every minute of it. You don’t buy anything made by Land Rover of that age if you don’t want to get your fingers dirty. That’s not a problem for me, but sometimes it gets a little on the infuriating side. This evening was one of them. The truck has had problems starting for a little while now. It came to a head on this particular night. Bookface told me of an interesting looking covers band playing at The Dolphin in Botley, so I thought I’d check them out. Leaving home at 9pm, I finally got to Botley, a 15 minute drive, an hour and twenty minutes later, after having to walk to the garage and back for fuel and drag out my spare battery to jump the now flat-batteried, newly fueled truck.

Wandering up to the bar with my hands black from impromptu engine bay intervention, I purchased a pint. The Dolphin is a Wadworth pub and I opted for the golden, hoppy Horizon, which at 4% was the perfect thirst quencher.

Retread were on stage. The immediate impression was of a really tight and well rehearsed, very good covers band. They were playing to a very appreciative crowd – I had to carefully navigate through various dancers to get from the door to the bar. Their style is bluesy rock. Thin Lizzy got an outing with Don’t Believe A Word, then some blues, then a double bill of Stevie Wonder, ending with Superstition.

The band are a five piece with keys, bass, rhythm guitar / vocals, lead guitar and drums. The visual image to me was of a group of ex teachers. Not just any teachers. The really cool ones.

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Retread

The drummer’s art was demonstrated with Free’s All Right Now, which featured cowbell throughout, only spoiled by piped music / the pub jukebox playing in the distance. In my view, that’s really rather rude. One or the other. If you have live music, that’s it. If you have a jukebox, that’s it. Make your mind up, Dolphin!

The final song of the set was Bad Company’s Can’t Get Enough, followed by an encore of Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love. I’m disappointed I didn’t see more of their set, but from what I saw, I can recommend these guys if you want a bit of 70s inspired bluesy rock.

That’s about it for now… I’ve got some interesting stuff in the pipeline, not least this coming Sunday when I’m off with a few friends from the pub to see The Magic Band (of Captain Beefheart fame) on their farewell tour. Now I’m going into this blind, as I’ve not really listened to much Beefheart, so expect an open non-biased review next time!

Until I get round to posting the next blog entry, keep rockin!

Two men in someone’s front room, quite some distance away, a chap in a pub and another beer festival…

This week’s mega-blog begins on Saturday a couple of weeks ago. I was rounded up at midday by Widge and Gaz, who promptly put all my PA gear into Gaz’s van, deposited me on the front seat next to Widge and set off for Cambridgeshire. Another Widge and Gaz house concert was on the cards.

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ROAD TRIP!!!

A fairly uneventful three hours on the road followed. Stationary on the M25 for a while, a couple of cars behind a van belonging to a company called ‘Totally Buttons’ (cue much Googling to see if there was a ‘World of Zips’ or a ‘Velcro Baron’). Off the motorway, the travelling prog roadshow happened upon a small rural petrol station that wanted a quid to use the facilities… No pennies were spent.

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Affiliated with World of Zips and Velcro Baron

Owing to allowing extra time in case of traffic, we arrived at the venue an hour early. We didn’t see much of Ely as we were only on the edge – Gaz was sure that round the next bend we’d see the cathedral, but it was not to be. As tour guides go, he isn’t going to be getting any amazing reviews on Trip Advisor…

Setting up in Geoff, the householder’s front room, we just about managed to fit everything in, using occasional tables (what do they do the rest of the time?) as speaker stands, the guys soundchecked. Happy that the sound quality was good, we were whisked away into the dining room where our hosts served us an amazing lamb ragout with jacket potatoes and kale. It was so good, I  now have the recipe.

The ticket-holders began to arrive as we were finishing up. There were a few faces I recognised from the Hampshire house concerts, one or two from the Leamington Spa gigs I roadied some years back, and a lot of newbies. But they weren’t newbies. They were diehard fans who went back absolutely ages.

I was taking photos throughout the gig, which meant I wasn’t focusing on the music as much as I normally do, but it sounded great. They were going through the back catalogue of both early IQ and current Jadis, with the usual sprinkling of covers for good measure. Gaz was playing his new twelve string for the acoustic bits, which appeared to be a bit of a bugger to keep in tune, but for a brand new instrument, for £99 delivered, it had a really pleasant bright tone.

My highlights have to be some of the covers, as I don’t know the other stuff well enough to comment on a particular song. Solsbury Hill went down really rather well, with Widge on cittern and vocals. There was the usual plethora of instruments from Widge’s extensive collection – synth, cittern, flute and hurdy gurdy all getting a look in.

The encore was Comfortably Numb, before a rendition of Heat of the Moment – a tribute to Widge’s good friend John Wetton, who died earlier this year.

After a rather booze-fuelled (for the two of us not driving) trip home, with diversions due to roadworks and just forgetting which way to go, I fell out of the van and into bed, absolutely shattered, at 4am.

I am getting to grips with shooting in raw with my camera, which means there’s far more post-processing opportunities, hence there’s a little gallery below of some of the shots I rather like…

The next week, I popped into the Tipsy Pig in Romsey – a bit of a detour on the way home from work, but worthwhile. For the second time, I was disappointed by the Subway in the garage on the outskirts of the town – this time, they were out of most of the ingredients. They had plenty of bread, some salad and not much else by way of fillings. I went for various sliced meats and whatever salad they had left, topped with some ranch dressing. Not quite what I was after, but it didn’t kill me…

A chap by the name of Joe Mongan was playing the Pig. He’s one of the current brand of young blokes with an acoustic guitar who do solo sets, but fairly unusually, he writes a lot of his own stuff. He did a few, as he put it, ‘cheesy covers’, which went down well. The first of which was a song I discovered in a Shropshire field one rainy day, performed by the guys that nearly took it to Christmas no. 1 later that year. JCB Song, by Nizlopi. It’s a silly song, but I rather like it.

Whilst Mr Mongan continued wowing the crowd with well-played guitar and a good strong voice, I wowed my tastebuds with a selection from the great choice of beers available at the Pig. Unfortunately, due to being steering wheel technician, I couldn’t have a great deal, and I daren’t go near the strong stuff. I ended up having a Red Cat Brewing themed evening, with a pint of Mr M’s Porter – great, strong, porter flavour, which I’m told has hints of coffee – a drink I can’t stand – but it is such a good beer I ignore that suggestion.

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Joe Mongan at the Tipsy Pig

The pub was packed with a lot of happy people. A good turnout for a Thursday night, with lots in their twenties – contemporaries of Joe, who I think drinks there, but I get the impression he had not necessarily played there before.

Another cover followed – Can’t Stand Me Now (Libertines), delivered with powerful vocals and smooth guitar, then back to his original material. Some of it had something of early Oasis about it. The guy has bucketloads of talent and isn’t afraid to use it.

I finished the evening with a half of a Red Cat 2.7% pale golden offering. I’m wary about beers of that strength as it’s difficult to make something so weak have any flavour. Red Cat have done it. It was a surprisingly hoppy easy-drinking beer, almost a beginners’ IPA. It’s a shame I didn’t get its name, and it doesn’t appear on their website, which doesn’t help. If you see something that fits the description, have a taste. I rather enjoyed it.

The next week was another booze-o-rama. So much so that I’m not going to mention any of the beers I enjoyed as they are too numerous to remember. It was Wickham Beer Festival, held in the Community Centre in Wickham. I missed the first band, who were over and packed away by 8pm when I arrived. The next band, Rapid Tranq, were a rock covers band. They did the usual covers band stuff, with a sprinkling of the less ordinary.

Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling opened their set, and it was indeed a good, good, night. Sound quality was, to be honest, lacking. The mix was very bottom-end heavy, but as everyone was there with the sole purpose of becoming inebriated, it went down well.

The first of three Thin Lizzy covers came soon after – Dancing in the Moonlight, whilst the singer was running around the crowd brandishing a radio mic. Not long after, the Lizzy continued with The Boys Are Back In Town, then came a song I’ve not heard many cover bands play – Coldplay’s Yellow.

As the casks were gradually emptied and the drinkers gradually filled, the number of dancers increased proportionately. The hits kept pumping out from the bass-laden PA. Sheeran’s Castle On The Hill, a bit of Kravitz, Feeder’s Buck Rogers, I Want To Break Free and Smoke On The Water, some Foo Fighters and a bit of Neil Young led them up to half time.

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Rapid Tranq, Wickham Beer Festival

After the break, the dancefloor was packed. Deep Purple’s Black Night was followed by the conclusion of the Lizzy trilogy, with Whiskey In The Jar.

The singer was very enthusiastic, engaging the audience, dancing with them and belting out the hits. Green Day’s American Idiot, the Kaisers’ I Predict A Riot and Blur’s Song 2 went down very well with the aficionados of the fermented grain. The set finished with Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, with Should I Stay Or Should I Go as the encore.

Much beer was consumed, many songs given drunken accompaniment and several glasses obtained. That was my fifth beer festival this year, and, owing to the season, probably the last, but who knows what’s round the corner?

Tomorrow, I’m off to see an old blog favourite in a pub that’s crawling distance from home. Wish me luck…

Until next time, keep rockin!

 

A new band, a new venue and a newly married couple…

It was Sunday the 24th September and I’d been looking forward to this one ever since I heard about it. I was drinking in the Hyde Tavern in Winchester the Wednesday before and there was a folk singaround going on in the back bar. I popped my head round the door and stayed for a few tunes. I got talking with the landlady and it appears this was the Winchester Folk Club who had relocated from The Railway. A piece of paper was produced and I was asked if I wanted to join the mailing list. Absolutely! I signed up right away and the next morning received my welcome message and details of a gig by The Blacksmith Band – a fairly new local folk rock outfit who were playing at The Cricketers in Longparish that coming Sunday. That’ll do, I thought, and furiously copied the details into my diary.

Sunday arrives and after a nice drive through rural Hampshire, I arrive at The Cricketers. It’s a great little country pub located somewhere in the green bit on the maps between the A303 and Andover. It’s a Wadworth’s house, so has their full range of beers. As I was driving, I opted for the 4% golden, hoppy, Horizon. A great thirst-quenching summer brew to accompany some excellent folk music.

The band were in full swing when I arrived, and as I waited for my pint to be poured, they showed that they do rather know their stuff. Cecil Sharp and The Copper Family were mentioned in the same sentence in the lead up to the next song.

A great a cappella introduction rang out to Martin Carthy’s Hard Times of Old England, which was soon backed up with drums and a driving bass line. The crowd, really enjoying the moment, were loosely arranged in rows, seated at tables, facing the band. Sound wasn’t bad in the pub, with its low ceilings bedecked with beams. It’s a shame the band were stood against a window and consequently appeared largely in silhouette.

The Blacksmith Band are a five piece with stunning female lead vocals, very much remeniscent of Maddy Prior. The vocalist also plays acoustic guitar. She’s only in her early twenties, and hasn’t been in a band before, and now she’s the front lady of a rather good folk outfit. She’s backed by a multi-instrumentalist on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, another guitarist, bassist with a five-string and a drummer. I wouldn’t necessarily compare them to the folk rock of Oysterband or The Levellers, more the kind of folk that uses electric instruments and a drum kit to purvey their trad heritage. Slightly more rock than the kind that incensed a Manchester man enough to refer to Bob Dylan as ‘Judas’ back in 1965, but by no means Ferocious Dog. Think Steeleye, Fairport, that kind of thing. And they do it very well.

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The Blacksmith Band

It turns out I’d missed most of the first half and the break was upon us. One of the audience stood up to go to the bar and we both immediately recognised each other. It was the landlady from the Hyde Tavern! We had a brief chat about how I’d not have been there if it wasn’t for her taking my email address the other day, and that they didn’t take Hyde beer tokens there. The rest of the break was spent chatting to the very friendly and welcoming locals and the landlady. I believe at one point I was singing Procul Harem or something of that vintage with a chap called Mick who had a rather impressive handlebar moustache.

The second half began with Fairport’s Walk Awhile, with the bassist and fiddle player joining in on vocals. The whole sound, and to some extent atmosphere, was akin to seeing an old favourite of mine – The Hedge Monkeys – a New Forest based folk rock band who are sadly no more.

After some jigs, they sang a song about a chap called Michael who went for a walk and had a chat with a raven. He then ended up killing his missus. It turns out the song was Crazy Man Michael by Fairport. Next up was a really well played cover of Mike Oldfield’s Moonlight Shadow, which I was given on vinyl the other week and I’m playing as I type. The guitar solo was played on mandolin which worked really well.

The folk standard, Steeleye’s All Around My Hat came soon after. This isn’t one they’d played much, and it took a few false starts to make sure they were all singing in the correct key for the vocal chorus that traditionally starts the song. As the set was drawing to a close, the band played Fairport’s Meet On The Ledge then did the introductions of the various members of the band.

All in all, it was a really good Sunday afternoon. A new pub, a new band and lots of new people. I’m going to be keeping my eye on the gig listings of both the band and the pub. Repeat visits to both are in order.

The next week is a short entry in comparison. Friday the 29th September was the wedding day of friends of mine Nicky and Reece, who are licensees of The Brushmakers Arms in Upham. I went down in the evening, on the trusty Funky Moped as there wasn’t likely to be a truck-sized parking space to be had. And I was right. Last time I attempted to ride the moped to the Brush, I ran out of fuel and had to push it home. This time, the tank was brimming and I made it without the enforced walk.

The pub was heaving. An acoustic duo were set up to the left of the door, but there was no chance in getting anywhere to stand indoors. I retreated with my pint of Hopback GFB (3.5%, golden, hoppy, definite session beer) to a table out front where I could still hear the tunes.

The entertainment came from local duo 7 or 11 – both in their twenties, Steve is on guitar and vocals, whilst Sam was playing cajon and harmonica. Songs ranged from classic rock ‘n’ roll, through rock and blues to 90s indie. Highlights include Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride and Joy and an Only Fools and Horses medley, with Hooky Street and the title theme.

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7 or 11 (photo shamelessly nicked from their Facebook profile)

A couple of modern classics were given a bit of a skiffle treatment – skifflization? – Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger and Coldplay’s Yellow. The set came to a close with a great choice. Brown Eyed Girl. The perfect song to end a set for an overflowing pub of inebriated wedding guests. Everybody was singing. The atmosphere was perfect.

7 or 11 are another act I want to see more of. I seem to recall catching a bit of their set at the Bishop’s Waltham Festival last year, but the beer was flowing and I wasn’t taking notes to write a blog at that point.

This coming weekend, I’m taking prog on the road again, with a Widge and Gary show in  the depths of Cambridgeshire, where my slightly rusty roadying skills will again be employed.

Until next time, keep rockin!

Sheiks, Chains, Shakers and Knots…

Well, if there’s one thing this year so far has taught me, it’s easy to find time to go and see music every week, but it’s harder to find time to sit down and blog about it… Here’s another bumper edition…

On the 2nd September, I blagged a lift from my good friend Graham to Samuel’s Rest for Thee Sultan Sheiks. They were their usual selves, letting their hair down after many gigs pretending to be artistes of the 70s and 80s.

The pub was, surprisingly, not packed, which meant I was able to stand within reach of the bar to the left, and a clear view of the band to the right. Makes a change for when these guys play, as it’s usually rammed. The crowd were very appreciative of the package delivered by the guys on the stage and rapturous applause followed every song.

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Thee Sultan Sheiks, Sam’s Rest

Midway through the set, the guys launched into a bit of Auf Wiedersehen Pet. with the theme tune, That’s Livin’ Alright. A tune I haven’t heard for years, bringing back memories of dispossessed labourers making their way in foreign parts. This merged seamlessly into another classic of ’80s TV themeage – I Could Be So Good for You (Minder).

As the evening progressed, classics such as December 1963, Dancing In The Dark and Jackie Wilson Said were belted out to the assembled, reinforcing the concept of the Sheiks – a covers band that doesn’t play the usual covers.

Incidentally, whilst glancing round the pub as the band played on, my gaze happened upon some horse brasses hanging from the wall. These looked OK until on closer inspection, each one was branded by Carlsberg. Carlsberg horse brasses? What the hell is that all about?

The late, great, John Peel’s favourite song, Teenage Kicks soon followed, quickly supplemented by Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, which immediately gave me the image of a jukebox, and a zombie being severely beaten with pool cues (thanks Pegg and Frost! Don’t watch if you don’t like to see the undead being beaten with table sports equipment). Towards the end, it may have been the last one but I was somewhat plastered at the time so can’t quite recall, the voice of the Valleys was heard to emanate in the form of It’s Not Unusual.

I then ascertained my lift hadn’t departed and was thus able to get home and reflect on a rather pleasant evening.

Next came a recurring favourite on the Riverflow Music blog. 71 Chain, this time closer to my neck of the woods, at The Bugle in Botley. I’ll only give them a brief mention as I’ve talked a lot about Chris, Paul, Ryan, Adam and Mongo in the past, but needless to say, they were on fine form. Roger from my band was there too, and when it came to their finale of Sea Shepherd, we both got up for backing vocals. Picking our way between stands, leads and pedals, we made it to a mic in time to make our trademark noise at the unsuspecting good people of Botley.

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Me and Rog with 71 Chain at The Bugle

They only played three covers during the gig – all of them Pink Floyd, all of them performed impeccably. They went down really rather well with the staff and punters of The Bugle and, chatting to the landlord, they are going to be invited back. Watch this space!

Now you may remember a fairly recent blog post about my arranged lift turning up late on a Saturday and thus eliminating all possibilities of seeing music that weekend. Well, the same lift was involved the next week, with the same venue and almost the same lateness. Junco Shakers were playing the South Western and this time we managed to catch a few tracks at the end of their set.

The Daily Echo describes Junco Shakers as “Southampton’s favourite skiffle-billy four piece” and they are so far the first band I’ve seen this year, in fact in a few years, that counts a washboard in their instrumentation, and to complete the image, they all sang through vintage-look microphones.

The last track of their set (told you I only just got there in time) was Got My Mojo Workin’. The Shakers had evidently got the mojo of the crowd working, as the majority of the floorspace was taken up with people dancing. Following the inevitable applause, after a protracted silence, an encore followed – a medley of rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly hits including the ubiquitous Johnny B Goode. Very well received and danced to by the amassed drinkers. The encore finally finished with Folsom Prison Blues and an immediate rush to the bar ensued, as everyone had been too busy dancing to go and get a drink.

Right… lets skip forward a week. It’s Sunday lunchtime. Lets have a break for the norm and go and see some jazz. The Platform Tavern in Southampton is renowned for its Sunday lunch with musical accompaniment. Usually jazz, blues or acoustic. Blog favourites TheRealRaj and Steve Picken played the previous week. This week was jazz trio Frayed Knot (Can’t find a link – if you have one, please get in touch).

The immediate impression on walking into the pub was that they played what I call proper jazz. None of this experimental modern stuff. Frayed Knot play jazz with a tune. It was a bit like the first verse of Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing – “You step inside but you don’t see too many faces,  Coming in out of the rain they hear the jazz go down”. It wasn’t raining, and there were a lot of faces, so if you want to be pedantic, tough – I’ve already done it.

The band are a three-piece, with guitar, tenor sax and bass. They appear to be a trio of accomplished musicians, each one able to go off and noodle for minutes on end. At one point, the guitarist set off on a rambling solo, so long that the sax player left him to run with it, disappeared off stage and wasn’t seen again until the end of the tune.

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Frayed Knot, Platform Tavern

Jazz isn’t my particular speciality. I enjoy it, but don’t know much about it. There were a good few tunes I recognised, but couldn’t put a name to them, which really helps when you’re trying to write a blog. Ah… that’s something I can talk about! Beer! I was drinking a very pleasant 4.2% golden ale by the name of Pamplemousse, by the Waen Brewery. A good strong IPA style hoppiness with a round fruity finish. Look out for it – it’s bloody good! Lots of online sources say they have closed down, including their own website and the ‘About’ page on their Facebook thing, but they are still posting regularly on Facebook and appear to still be brewing beer.

One of the Knots breaks into a song. Great instrumental accompaniment and, I’m sure the vocals were good too, but it sounded like he was singing from a phone box in Barnstaple. I’m not sure if it was the desired effect, but in my book, vocals via BT didn’t really go with the overall most agreeable soundscape that was firmly established by this point.

Ah! A tune I know! The theme to the ‘Film’ programmes hosted by Barry Norman, which Google tells me is an instrumental version of a song by the name of I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free by Billy Taylor, prominent jazz man and civil rights campaigner.

The ‘stage’ area at the Platform is to the left of the door as you go in, against an old rough looking stone wall. Being an archaeologist, and having worked for a few years in Southampton, I can tell you that this wall was once part of the medieval perimeter wall of the city. It’s now the backdrop for a rather good jazz band. Who’d have thought?

I finished my pint and had another cheeky half, sinking into the leather armchair that faced the band, across the sea of diners and drinkers, which was gradually thickening with the ‘yellow welly brigade’ – Southampton Boat Show was on. The procession of yachties was increasing, with some disappointed that the establishment didn’t serve their kind of drink, turning round and leaving, and others staying to talk loudly about nothing in particular.

I finished my beer and took my leave. I went for a brief walk through the nearby park where my grandfather, when working for Southampton Corporation as a groundsman fairly early on in the post-war years, used to cut the grass. Much to the annoyance of a local vagrant / wino, my grandfather ran over the washing said gentleman of the road had laid out on the grass to dry, with his lawnmower.

I then turned round and wandered back into town through an alley between two fairly new blocks of apartments. Last time I was here, these apartment blocks were holes in the ground, and I was at the bottom of them, on my knees, dodging pallets of bricks falling from the tower cranes (yes, really), whilst painstakingly excavating the remains of medieval Southampton, its friary and its friars, prior to the construction of the luxury accommodation you see today. I recall digging up a good number of dead monks from under the apartments to the left, and a pair of still functional medieval tweezers from under those to the right. Good times.

Right! That’s the roundup done! Tomorrow afternoon, I’m off to a pub in Longparish to see a fairly new folk rock band from Winchester.

Until next time, keep rockin!

Victorious!

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It’s late August bank holiday weekend. I’ve got Friday off work and I’m shoving a hastily packed bag into the truck. It’s festival time! I’m not going that far. Southsea. The trendy bit of Portsmouth. Further than Wickham, but only about half an hour’s drive from home. I do go to festivals further afield, but not this year. Victorious Festival is the destination, on Southsea seafront, with 13 stages (counted them in the programme) of live music over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Luckily for me, I have a friend who lives in a flat on Southsea seafront. And she wasn’t there this particular weekend. Keys were passed over, instructions given for the various appliances, and I had a highly desirable residence for the duration. Five minutes walk from the venue, each evening, I was relaxing with a G&T watching everyone else struggle homewards, from the sixth floor window.

Friday

The venue opened at 4pm. Finishing my pre-festival beer, I locked up and made my way to Southsea Common. The real ale tent was in the same location as last year, and as per last year, they didn’t know how to run it this early in the festival. After doing the English thing and standing in a queue for the best part of half an hour (made bearable by the fact that Craig Charles, him of Red Dwarf and BBC 6 Music fame, was playing a funk and soul DJ set next to the queue), a nice security man directed me to a gap at the counter. Selecting my beverage from the 40 on offer, the girl serving took my money to the cashier and returned with my change and a receipt. She then went and asked one of the ‘pourers’ to dispense 568ml of said liquid into a plastic glass, then brought it to me. By the end of the weekend, they were somewhat more streamlined.

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A really naff shot of Craig Charles on the wheels of steel…

I made my way over to the Castle Stage (the only one open apart from the Real Ale Stage on Friday) and was treated with a blast from my youth. As a lot of this festival was. The Charlatans. Highlights have to be North Country Boy and The Only One I Know. When the Charlatans finished, there was a half hour break until the headliners, Madness. I thought I’d get a drink. Didn’t really fancy the trek to the real ale bar, then the queue, so I opted for one of the bars next to the stage. Less of an ordeal to get to the front, but when I got there, the reason for opting for the ordeal was obvious. It was an ordeal of taste. Fosters, Strongbow, Strongbow Dark Fruits or bottles. Bugger. As I’d fought hard to get where I was, and I definitely didn’t fancy a rematch for a second dubious drink, I bit the bullet and bought two pints of Strongbow, then retreated to the centre of the crowd, waiting for the Nutty Boys to put in an appearance.

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Waiting for the Nutty Boys

Madness opened with My Girl. It was apparent at this point what shape the evening was going to take. The audience knew every word, and we all stood there, singing enthusiastically, watching the instigators of our musical discord doing it properly on stage.

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Does what it says on the tin…

It’s a festival. I have a beard and lengthy moustache. I put a fair bit of wax onto said top lip hirsute growth and tend to curl it into points, in a cross between Hercule Poirot and Salvador Dali. Today wasn’t an exception. I was enjoying Madness with a bunch of random people wearing bowler hats with lightbulbs protruding from the top. I, myself, was wearing a bowler hat with two strings of fairy lights wrapped around it. We had a vague synergy going on. Still. I digress. A lady in one of said illuminated bowlers rushes up to two suitably clad gentlemen beside me and, making expert use of an eyebrow pencil, draws a curly moustache on each of them. On closer examination, she also has a curly eyebrow-pencil-moustache. She works along the line and, coming to me, draws a curly moustache behind my curly moustache, then disappears into the crowd. There’s something about festivals. I like it.

 

The evening progressed with signs that Suggs and the boys really aren’t tired with their back catalogue. All the classics followed, with a cover of Max Romeo’s Chase The Devil for good measure. I’ll cut to the encore, to save blog space. Rapturous applause and clapping brought the guys back to the stage for two more songs. Madness, followed by Night Boat To Cairo. A perfect finale.

Saturday

Frank Turner. Local boy made good. Singing his accepted brand of songs about life and the passing of the seasons, Frank remenisced about ‘getting fucked up’ on the very field on which the main Common Stage was now situated. Turner’s local roots came out in Wessex Boy, the song I discovered him through. Mass audience participation ensued. This was a fairly rare local performance from Turner, originally from Meonstoke, now living in London. He was off to play a gig to help out The Joiners in Southampton. A great little venue that has recently fallen on hard times.

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The tiny Frank Turner

Some friends of mine were up not long after Frank. The Bog Rolling Stones, half of which are in Thee Sultan Sheiks, were on the Castle Stage at Victorious. It’s the Portsmouth equivalent of the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

The Bog Rollers were on form. Dressed and sounding like the originals, in both singing and inter-song banter, they knocked out Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Women, Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, and Paint It Black all featured in a spot-on set from a spot-on tribute act.

Later that afternoon, someone I’d been waiting for. Feeder. I used to follow these guys avidly in the late ’90s. They might be showing their age a little, but they still know how to do it. They are still Feeder. Lots of the classics were dished out to the hungry audience. Feeling A Moment, with video footage of a starling murmuration on the big screen at the back of the stage, which bizarre as it seems, works, Just The Way I’m Feeling, High and Buck Rogers really hit home with the thirty-somethings like me who remember their early days, and hopefully spurred off some new interest from the younger crowd. Something from Polythene would have been good, but with a back catalogue as big as that of Feeder, there’s only a certain amount you can fit into a festival set.

The evening was closed by Stereophonics. I was feeling rather under the weather at this point, with some kind of cold thing lurking in the background and every now and then, making its presence known, hence I was at the back of the crowd.

Stereophonics know how to work a crowd. The entirety of Southsea Common was dancing and singing to the songs that have been constant reminders of their existence for a good few years now. Local Boy In The Photograph, Have A Nice Day, I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio and Maybe Tomorrow came before a request for everyone to hold their phones or lighters in the air, for a song I didn’t recognise. Later in the set, we are told of Kelly Jones’ youth, in which he discovered music by borrowing tapes from his older brothers. In true Stereophonics style, he launches into a solo acoustic cover of AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, which morphs into Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. The drums kick in. ZZ Top’s Gimme All Your Lovin’ furthers the medley, followed by Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark and Led Zep’s Rock And Roll.

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The Stereophonics crowd

When the medley is over, the cold is getting the better of me. I decide now is a good time to make my retreat, and on my way to the exit, a well-spoken man strides purposefully up to me and exclaims “This man looks like he sells cigarettes!” It was almost a shame to disappoint him, but disappoint him I must. I am not the nocturnal festival tobacconist. I bade my farewells to the nicotine-craving individual, got back to the flat, poured a G&T and opened the windows to hear the muffled  end to the Stereophonics’ set, which was accompanied by a small firework display. Most pleasant.

Sunday

My Sunday began with a trip to the Common Stage to see the Dandy Warhols. I’ve liked the odd song of theirs, but was given an album earlier this summer. They really are quite good! They had a guest on trumpet – John Read of The Specials, who occasionally pops up at their UK gigs.

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Too early in the day… People are still asleep and aren’t drunk yet…

Courtney Taylor-Taylor on vocals had three mics – one clean and two with effects. He led the band (and audience) through a psychedelic journey through American surf-rock. The 90s anthems were coming thick and fast. Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth, Get Off, and one track that went rather prog in the middle, with what must’ve been close to a ten minute instrumental in the middle, synth, phaser and distortion throughout. They had to end their set with Bohemian Like You. It’s the law. The somewhat sober crowd were bouncing merrily in the hot afternoon sun, singing their heads off.

Whilst sipping a cool beer some time later, I hear strains of 90s dance music eminating from the direction of the Common Stage. I finish the beer in the shade and amble over to be greeted by Rhythm Of The 90s – a live dance covers band. When I arrived, they were playing Underworld’s Born Slippy, with slightly odd lyrics. The feeling was all there, but if you’ve listened to that track as much as I have, you know the lyrics back to front. These weren’t back or front. Still, the sentiment was there! They went on to play Ecuador by Sash and finished up with a great cover of N Trance’s Set You Free.

I had a wander at this point. There wasn’t anything I especially wanted to see, so I thought I’d tour the stages and see what was going down.

A good Kate Bush tribute was playing on the Real Ale Stage, followed by Mayfield – the house band of Mayfield Studios, who were running the stage. They played soul, with great female vocals.

Wandering through the festival I paused to watch a couple of guys with a 30′ pole dangling a wig on a length of string onto bald people’s heads. Surreal, yet hilarious. Whilst this was going on, a young female solo artist by the name of Lauran Hibberd was playing on the Radweb Showcase Stage. I’d guess she was in her late teens (the website says 20, so I wasn’t far off), and was playing self-penned songs on an acoustic guitar. Nice, chilled, Tunstall and Melua-esque stuff. Her clear, confident vocals were a hit with the chilled Sunday afternoon punters.

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The crowd enjoy Lauran Hibberd

The World Music Stage had some cracking bass-heavy dub playing between sets. The DJ was a local chap, called something along the lines of Wayne Godley. I stayed around for a bit of the next act on that stage – a dub reggae outfit (possibly solo with backing band) from London, Mechelle Melledee. There were twin female vocals, some kind of sampler or synth for what I called in my notes ‘all the funky dub shit’, a drummer and percussionist on bongos and conga, a couple of guitarists, a bassist and a DJ (who may have been the provider of ‘all the funky dub shit’ I mentioned above). They were playing a great mix of their own stuff and some covers, including Dawn Penn’s No No No.

Drifting across from the Common Stage was what to all intents and purposes sounded like a very angry man ranting away to a heavy soundtrack. I was intrigued. I made my way through the crowd and discovered it was emanating from Slaves. I’ve heard them on 6 Music in the past and not been really fussed by them, but to see them live, I was immediately drawn in. Slaves consist of two blokes with drums and a guitar. The drummer also sings, and has arranged his kit vertically so he can stand up, beat out a rhythm and sing. They had a moshpit going at the front, which is always good to see. My moshing days are over, after going home from too many gigs with self-induced whiplash…

They played one song I recognised from the radio – Spit It Out. Lots of venom was coming from the stage which the crowd were eagerly feeding off. Later in their set, they announced a song called Cheer Up London which, as the singer told, is “all about the miserable wankers I’ve had the mispleasure to sit opposite on public transport”. This was rapidly changed to Cheer Up Portsmouth, delivered in their usual powerful energy-filled way.

It was soon time for Franz Ferdinand to take up where Slaves left off. I gradually made my way back to the stage (after obtaining beer), was briefly distracted by the dance tent where I had to go and enjoy that ’90s classic, Underworld’s Born Slippy, and arrived to the crowd happily bouncing and singing along to Matinee.

Ulysses followed, and as their set drew to a close, the obligatory Take Me Out became an immediate audience favourite. Even if you don’t know much of their music, you know that one. Much singing. This built up to their finale – This Fire.

There was a bit of time to wait for the set changeover for the headliners. In the meantime, lots of ’90s anthems were played. The whole crowd was singing, the tension (good tension, not bad tension) for the arrival of Mr Garvey and co. Which soon came around. Elbow were here. They had a great stage presence, with two female backing singers and a two-piece string section. Lots of songs I don’t know were played very well, to a great reception. Most people knew a little more than I did. The live videography was, as per the rest of the festival, spot on. A camera on a boom was located stage left, which produced some cracking close-ups of the band and panning shots of the crowd.

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Cheating shot of the big screen… Guy Garvey telling a joke…

A reverse Mexican wave was instigated from the stage, with people ducking down instead of waving their hands in the air. Then a song I knew! Magnificent. And it was. The new single, out the next day, was given an airing. Following the success of the Mexican wave, the crowd then joined in with singing Happy Birthday to Pete – he was playing something guitar / bass-based. Lippy Kids followed, then the finale… It has to be the song to end all festivals, and they did it. Ended Victorious with One Day Like This. There was lots of singing, which Guy exploited, even getting some harmonies going. I’m watching someone’s video of it as I type. Although the sound quality isn’t great, I’m loving it. The atmosphere was amazing. So much energy and so many smiling people hugging random strangers. This is how festivals should end.

I took a brisk walk to the exit. The amount of plastic glasses strewn across the ground made that crunch you get walking on fresh deep snow. On my way, I noticed a chap attempting to steal one of the flags that said ‘Toilets’. He was doing rather well until the pole snapped. After a power walk past the armed police, I got back to the flat for a well-earned G&T and turned the radio on to hear Guy Garvey doing his 6 Music show. Now that was one hell of a weekend.

There’s updates to come for the next couple of weeks. I’m hoping I can catch up before September is out!

Until then, keep rockin!

It almost didn’t happen… But eventually, I did get to see about 15 minutes of Roy Peplow at the Victualler…

It’s Saturday night and everything is lined up to go to the South Western and see a band made up of some of the regulars, playing for a special occasion. Whilst the pub has a midnight license for booze, it doesn’t have one for music. That stops at 11. Which is slightly annoying as, owing to various factors, we arrived at 11:10.

I’m standing in the beer garden drinking a very welcome pint of Hop Back’s Summer Lightning (5%, golden, if you need a description of Summer Lightning, you really ought to go out and buy a bottle of it to enjoy), listening to drunken Southampton fans singing Annie’s Song and Oh When The Saints, wondering if this was going to be my musical inspiration for the week.

Roll on Sunday morning, and a quick post on Bookface for any suggestions brought up the suggestion that Roy Peplow was playing the Victualler in Gosport. Neither an artist nor venue I’d experienced before. Sounds promising. i looked up the artist and found Roy and I share 18 friends on Bookface, all from the Hampshire Bowman. I thought he looked a little familiar.

Roy was playing an outdoor solo set with him, his acoustic guitar, a stomp box and a PA. Once I’d found him. The Victualler is a former naval warehouse alongside what is now a marina in a rather posh bit of the until now not very posh Gosport. Parking is both limited and hard to find, in equal measure. I ended up finding a ‘pick up and drop off’ space with a 20 minute limit before wandering over to the bar and asking where i should be. After moving the car to somewhere half reasonable, I got back to the venue, bought a pint and settled at one of the outdoor tables (made from pallets) to listen to some tunes.

Roy Peplow at the Victualler

Roy is a guy in his twenties, but plays with the skill of someone twice his age. As I wandered in to get my drink, he was playing I’m a Believer, and when I reemerged with it, he was launching into Sex On Fire. This was followed by Stereophonics’ Dakota and The Lumineers’ Ho Hey. Roy then played one of his own songs, Going Global. A well written, well played piece that deserved more attention than I gave it, as I was trying to move out of the rain that had just, well, appeared out of thin air, as rain does.

Peplow’s finale was George Ezra’s Blame It On Me, which although the rain-dodging audience were somewhat distributed under the various umbrellas around the front of the Victualler, still received great applause.

Roy Peplow is a name to look out for. He’s early in his musical career, but he’s got potential and talent. His voice is clear and lived in, and sounds a lot older than the body from which it comes. He sings a lot of covers, but that gets the crowd on his side for when he plays one of his own. Standing up there with just a guitar for company delivering powerful music like he does takes guts. When he sings, Roy means every word, and that comes over in performance. I’m going to look out for Roy again, and I urge you to do the same.

I’m typing this in the kitchen of a good friend in Southsea, where I’m two thirds through this year’s Victorious Festival. As I watch the boats sailing by, I’m contemplate a pre-festival beer, looking forward to the closing act this evening, the great Elbow.

Until next time, keep rockin!

A vintage set from some old friends, a festival and a last minute decision…

It’s been a hectic few weeks here, with  one of them living in a small tin box in a field, so I’ll try and keep this as brief as possible!

It’s the 28th July and I’m in the South Western. Beneath the stairs, a ramshackle bunch of musos ply their trade. On first glance, they are extras from Easy Rider, but on closer examination, beneath the hippy wigs and round sunglasses stands 71 Chain. Tonight was a 70s covers night and the band were styled as ‘1971 Chain’.

The outfits may have been somewhat tongue-in-cheek but the music was far from it. Chris, Paul and Ryan were sharing lead guitar, Mongo was his usual metronomic self on the drums and Adam had a tiny synth to supplement his fretless five-string bass.

The guys covered a lot of ground that night, with highlights including the ubiquitous Stairway, some Pink Floyd and Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. Alas, the end was nigh, and the crowd, some dressed up, some in civvies, were given the choice. Free Bird or Comfortably Numb. The merits of each song were discussed by the audience at great length and the inevitable happened. They played both. A great night came to an end, leaving me to get home, crack open a bottle of Scotch and start preparing for the next week.

Next week was Wickham Festival. My annual music pilgrimage that, whilst not a great distance from home, has to involve camping. There’s far too much good ale and good company to not indulge and have to drive home each day.

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Wickham Festival

At Wickham, I camp with a group of friends from across the country – the Isle of Man, Petersfield, North Wales, and this year, Nottingham and Southampton. We set up our camp, the Manx Embassy, and keep everyone up into the night with after-hours sessions. This year, we were co-opted as staff, with the proviso that we would help setup and once the music started, we were done.

The festival started with an evening gig on Wednesday night, but we were set up on Tuesday. In the dry. Wednesday arrived and we turned up for duty in the sideways rain. We worked a ten hour day laying out the caravan and camper van field in conditions reminiscent of The Somme, then three changes of clothes later, made our way to the community centre for beer and some tunes for the early arrivals and staff.

Trudging into the warm, light community centre, wearing the only dry things we had managed to find, we immediately realised the community centre people hadn’t really understood what a folk audience drinks. Apparently they had some bottled Doom Bar. We saw one bottle. Luckily, they had draught Thatchers, which was sufficient for most.

The entertainment that evening consisted of Alistair Russell, singer-songwriter and compere of the main stage, someone I didn’t catch, and TRADArrr – a folk-rock band playing a lot of trad stuff with an almost proggy twist.

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TRADArrr

Lowlands of Holland was delivered with a female vocal harmony and Golden Vanity was given a Floyd-esque treatment. Their instrumentation included cello and cornet, and the set went down a treat with the gathered throng of bedraggled campers.

Soon it was festival proper. Four stages pumping out music from midday until midnight, there was a lot to see. A few highlights:

KT Tunstall – Got everyone to light the stage with the lights on their phones. This is becoming a popular thing. But it worked. Conscious she was at a festival, she permitted beer to be held aloft instead of phones, which caused great appreciation from the crowd. Whilst illuminated thus, Tunstall launched into Other Side of the World, with raw vocals and a simple guitar backing. Suddenly the bass drops in and an audio masterpiece is absorbed by the muddy yet merry throng still fighting to keep their phones and beer upright whilst singing every word.

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KT Tunstall

Famed for her use of a loop pedal, the exclamation of ‘Arse!’ when it died brought a couple of roadies sprinting from the wings to wrestle the electronics back into some semblance of normality. Tunstall tells a joke. The technology soon does what it is meant to, and the looped ‘woo hoo’ begins Black Horse and the Cherry Tree which merges seamlessly into the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, complete with kazoo. The loop is still going on in the background and it really works rather well.

The headliners on stage 2 on the Thursday were a three piece called Talisk. They played what can only be described as bloody good folky dance music (club type stuff) on guitar, fiddle, concertina and cajon. There may have been a few samples dropped in there, but I’m not sure. Either way, it rocked. Talisk are essentially a three-person Peatbog Faeries, with the crowd bouncing in the mud waiting for the beat to drop. It was a special evening. It could easily be described as a ceilidh band playing Ibiza club tunes, and I really got something out of it.

At this point, I was in festival mode. I didn’t make very many notes from here on in. This is largely from memory… Here we go, then!

Friday – Spooky Men’s Chorale – a great bunch of lads singing very silly songs (and some more serious) in the most polished, spine-chillingly tight vocal harmonies. Props were brought out for Don’t Stand Between a Man and His Tool – more akin to a visit to B&Q than anything dubious, and the conical hats meant only one thing – they finished with the traditional Georgian folk song, The Prophecy of the Three Brothers. Watch the video. It’s great.

Later that day, Cornwall’s own Fisherman’s Friends took the main stage and gave the landlubbers some shanty treatment. They have been a great influence to my band, Shantyhead, and were a pleasure to watch. They finished with a cover of Show of Hands’ Cousin Jack, a song about the demise of Cornwall, for which Steve Knightly of Show of Hands appeared and joined in on vocals. something to behold, I thought, until Show of Hands had their own set that evening, which culminated in the obvious return of favours – Show of Hands playing Cousin Jack with all the Fisherman’s Friends joining them on backing. It’s something I saw many years ago before the Fisherman’s Friends were famous, and it was electrifying then. It’s something else now. Astounding.

Saturday was an early start to see the chap who was camping opposite us singing with his shanty group on stage 2. Very well executed, but incredibly slow-paced compared with what Shantyhead do. And full marks to the sound guy who had to deal with a singer who was unaware that you have to be somewhere near the microphone for the sound to pick up, preferably facing it. I hate to think how much gain was wound up on that channel, but it worked.

Later in the day, I listened to Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston from the comfort of the embassy, which was located a little way behind the main stage. I have very fond memories of the set from Coventry ska giants The Selecter, who followed Miranda and Rex, playing all the old favourites, and their new track, Frontline.

The day finished with Dhol Foundation, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Oysterband and The Levellers. All bloody good bands. I spent most of my time dancing like an idiot, soaking in as much of the atmosphere (and the contents of the bar) as I could. Highlights of the aforementioned bands? All the festival favourites were played. Everyone sang. Everyone danced. Everyone had a good time.

Sunday was a little more subdued in my part of the world. A great comfy night’s sleep in the small aluminium house on wheels, late breakfast and donning of the kilt. Every Sunday at Wickham is Kilt Sunday. It has to be done. I bimbled around all day, not really staying on one stage too long to take much in. Today was our day. At 7:40, the acoustic stage belonged to Shantyhead.

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Waiting for the rest of the band…

This time we were joined by Debs from The Courtiers on fiddle, and from what was coming back over the monitors, bloody hell, it sounded good. Maybe the countless days of excessive drinking swayed my opinion somewhat, but the verdict from those out front was equally positive.  We threw caution to the wind this year and played a couple of our numbers usually identified as ‘filth’ during an ordinary set. Lollipop Man, ironically taught to me last year at Wickham, and A Dogging went down really well with the gathered crowd. The hurdy gurdy got its festival debut with a certain Clash cover, and we all rolled up and rolled down then got drunk in Tilbury town with Rollin’ Down the River.

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Ferocious Dog

After locking everything away in the small aluminium shed on wheels, it was a quick dash back to stage 2 with festival buddy Mell to see Ferocious Dog. Still as mad, loud and evocative as ever, you could feel the ground shake with a combination of the bass and the bouncing of the crowd. When they’d finished, myself and Mell went over to stage 1 to catch the last act of the festival. Peatbog Faeries, delivering their own brand of heavy folk trance. We gradually wormed our way in from the outer edge of the crowd until we were close to the front. Not for the first point in the weekend, the eyes glazed over and I was lost in a world of music. Pure bliss.

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Peatbog Faeries

It took a few days to get over Wickham. The smile was difficult to shift for quite some time. The weekend came and it was catchup time. I was getting to the stage of thinking I’d have a week off the ‘music every week’ thing and get some things done. That’s what I started doing, until one task was cut short by mechanical issues and I found myself at a loose end on Sunday afternoon. Ah! I saw something on good old Bookface.

Half an hour later, I was sat in the Dolphin in Botley listening to TheRealRaj play a gig that unusually wasn’t in the middle of Southampton. I only caught the second half of his set, but Raj was his usual self – a really talented guy doing what he loves. It comes over very strongly in the music and through his modest stage persona, the calibre and depth of Raj’s musicianship shines like a searchlight pierces the night sky. Wow. That was a bit poetic!

Raj was  set up in a corner beneath the big screen TV which was showing a football match, thankfully with the sound off. With a harmonica on a frame round his neck, a tambourine on his foot and a guitar in his hands, only the occasional upward glance to check the score and a coffee perched on a stool next to him, the small yet appreciative crowd were treated to a set of self-penned songs. I am taking great pains to mention, as per request, that HE DIDN’T PLAY ANY COVERS!

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TheRealRaj

There were a couple of tunes I don’t recall hearing before (I probably have, but I was getting over a heavy week…) – one with a great, smooth, Celtic twist, in some kind of Johnny Flynn-esque style, then a song called Mayfly – written about the insect, that only lives its life in the open air for a single day – with the line ‘this is our day in the sun’. A lovely tune, but a little ironic that we were all sat indoors while the sun was, as is so rare this summer, shining beautifully outside.

The session finished with me tuning the most argumentative mandolin I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with, then a good discussion about Land Rovers and how what they now call a Discovery is nothing like a Discovery.

Until next time, keep rockin!

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!