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!

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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!

 

Shantyhead at the Ship, 71 Chain at the South Western

Today is another Buy One Get One Free blog, I’m afraid. We could do with some rainy days so I’m not sat outside enjoying the weather when I should be blogging!

So this one all starts on a Sunday evening at the end of June. Shantyhead have been booked for a private party (a friend of Widge’s birthday) at The Ship at Bishops Sutton. A rather nice free house that I’d not previously visited. They keep a good pint. I was drinking as much Adnams’ Ghost Ship as I could, hoping it would run out, as the perennial favourite, Hopback’s Summer Lightning, was poised to replace it. Alas, despite my efforts, it didn’t materialise that evening.

We were a trio this evening, as Frank was cycling round the Spanish mountains (or rather cycling between Spanish bars). For once, this was in our favour, as once we’d set up, we didn’t have a great deal of room to play with. The three of us were squeezed in rather tightly, and adding a fourth would have been interesting!

The first set went largely without a hitch. Until the end. We finished with a song that’s new to us – Poor Paddy Works On The Railway. A bit of a foot stomper that starts slow then suddenly jumps up in tempo. Rog sets the pace on the bodhran and myself and Widge don’t get much say in the matter. It’s usually fine, but this time, I assume Rog was anticipating his half-time pint, and set off at lightning (not Summer, I hasten to add) speed. We kept up, but the amp didn’t like it. It got very hot and cut out. I’ve not seen the overheat warning light go on before and I do not want to see it go on again. Not good.

For a couple of minutes, it was too hot to touch. We managed to get it outside and struggling to find tools, eventually used a Poundland screwdriver to get the cover off. The heat was as if someone had taken a tiny bit of the sun and put it inside the case. After a bit of poking around, it seems the fan had stopped working. A good prod with some keys and a stick and a few terse words seemed to do the trick.  It fired up again, fan running, and with the aid of a desk fan supplied by a random pub customer, we played the second set without any Breville sandwich toaster-like activity from the sound gear. I’m currently waiting for the new fan to be delivered. In the meantime, my kitchen table has a new (and rather heavy) feature. We bought the amp secondhand from the Wedgewood Rooms a couple of years back. Some big names have played through it. And we managed to kill it playing folk songs in a pub!

The next week was a little more sensible. My friend Wednesday, from deepest Gloucestershire, paid a visit and we took a trip to the Hat Fair – an annual event in Winchester, which is, in essence, a city-wide festival of street performance. The name comes from the hat that is passed round after a performance to collect cash. We saw a few well polished acts, full of improvisation and crowd interaction, including what resembled an explosion in a giant Kerplunk factory, but with no balls (Amy Winehouse has all the balls). This was backed by a banghra-dub DJ, freestyling vocals with a looper as he mixed the soundtrack. The performance was by the Italian theatre group Stalker Teatro and was apparently something to do with life and architecture in post-industrial cities. Either way, a plethora of coloured sticks and reels of sellotape were employed to a somewhat baffling, yet intriguing display.

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Banghra-dub Looper Man

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An explosion in a giant Kerplunk factory…

In the evening, we shot over to the South Western Arms in Southampton for the UK launch of 71 Chain‘s new EP, Cheese & Ham. It initially saw the light of day on their German tour a couple of months back, but this was the UK release. Crammed into the corner of the pub as per usual, the band were testing their shiny new PA when we arrived. It was sounding good. The usual ‘Colin’s in the Southwestern’ ensued, with lots of people I knew appearing and saying hi, then 71 Chain fired up.

They opened with Sailor’s Prayer, a new acoustic version of which appears on Cheese & Ham. Heating The Dust followed and the groove was set. A perfect blues-rock accompaniment to a long day in the sun. I was drinking the weakest beer available, for reasons of steering wheel  technicianship. I forget what it was, but it was golden, hoppy and very moreish.

Chris and the boys launched into We Believe from their first album. They were playing a good mix of the back catalogue tonight. Pull Away (From The Lies) got a few of the punters singing along (myself included), then Winterborn, as Chris put it, ‘a song about druids’ – this raised a big cheer from the audience. The nature of the EP was explained, then they belted out the title track – Take It Easy (The Cheese & Ham Song). This is a folky ballad with great vocal harmonies from Chris and Ryan and a great driving mandolin lead. I like it. The first set ended with 71 Chains, taken again from their first album, You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.

After the break, the 71 Chain machine was in full effect. Deep driving bass lines that go through you from the feet up echoed from Adam’s five string fretless bass as they played The Love Of A Woman. The immediate description that springs to mind is ‘power blues’. Following this, their folky side came to the fore, with Stories, from the second album, Stories of Life, Love and Loss. Another track from the EP followed – a long, reworked version of Grain Race. Great vocal harmonies fused with smooth guitar riffs, all topped off with crescendos on the crash cymbal from Mongo. Bloody well written and bloody well played.

Glancing at the band between songs, I saw both Paul and Ryan picked up their mandolins. This can only mean one thing. She Moved Through The Fair. It’s worth seeing them just to hear them play this song. Dual mandolin lead, fully dynamic, with Ryan playing off the Paul and vice versa. It is pure audio delight. I absolutely relish the way they play that great folk standard. It far surpasses anything other version I’ve heard.I had my eyes closed, swaying my head, lost in a world of my own.

I was still in my euphoric state when they got to the last number. Chris looked in my direction and said ‘you know what time it is, Colin’… Picking my way through leads, monitors, pedals, guitars and stands, I found myself next to Ryan as the familiar chords of Sea Shepherd belted out. It’s three years since we sang this on stage with the guys at Wickham Festival, and a couple on top of that since we recorded it, but it still sounds as fresh as ever. A great end to a rather pleasant day.

The weekend is upon us and it’s the Beggars Fair in Romsey tomorrow. I’ll  be heading over later to see a bit of music in the Tudor Rose. Whatever way your weekend takes you, keep rockin!

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!