My mate can drink 3 pints of lager through a straw in less time than it takes to boil a kettle.
According to some, this makes him a ‘legend’.
Brian Wilson is regarded by many as a ‘genius’.
I would argue these labels have caused problems for both men and have probably influenced their behaviour and probably not in a good way.
Fortunately, these days, Brian Wilson is old enough (73) and wise enough to realise that Einstein was a genius and yer man Brian Wilson is extremely good at what he does and what he did. It kind of takes some of the pressure off.
Crushed up against the barrier for one of a very small number of UK dates at the ‘Together The People’ Festival in Brighton on a soaking wet and windswept evening that screamed ‘Autumn!’ very loudly isn’t really the vibe you want upfront of the appearance of the guy most responsible for connecting music and summer in America in the sixties, but this is Britain after all, and all that a temperate climate implies. Or to put it another way I’m cold and wet and I really hope this is worth it.
The ensemble set-up is promising though, with a massive array of instruments you aren’t likely to see at many festivals this year. This is perhaps unsurprising as Wilson’s band intend to recreate “Pet Sounds”, the 1966 album which forced the Beatles to ‘up their game’; a fantastically complex concoction which even with today’s technologies must be a challenge to present. For it is 50 years since Brian Wilson recorded “Pet Sounds”, and this tour honours that landmark.
It is also a ‘good sign’ when the best part of a dozen musicians troop on, including The Man Himself and fellow founding Beach Boy Al Jardine, who is so fabulously wealthy he CAN’T be doing this for the money. This clearly isn’t going to be a bargain basement cabaret trip. These boys look like they mean this.
But what are we going to get? Fabulous though it is, the album is not two hours long. Intentions stated straight away, though and after the briefest of intros Wilson announces the band’s intention to start with the ‘finest record The Beach Boys ever made’ – a sentiment Al Jardine seemed to concur with – “California Girls”. Cue the mellotron-style opening and flatulent orchestration, which sounds like distilled essence of summer, and off we go. Rinky-dinky, rinky dinky, rinky dinky, rinky dinky, Game On, we’re off and running. “I Get Around”, ”Shut Down” and “Little Deuce Coupe” in short order, followed by Jardine taking the lead on “California Saga”.
So, twenty minutes in and we’ve already had songs about girls, cars, California surf culture. That’ll do me, lads, we can all go home happy now. Quit while you’re ahead.
On, then, troops Blondie Chaplin, a South African guitarist who was a Beach Boy for a year or so in the early 70’s. He’s a real old Les Paul-totin’ rocker and he’s been in with the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, and insert name here. Some observers have been a bit unkind about his contribution to the tour but I must say I really think it added a bit of mid-set ‘grit’ to proceedings and he made a fine job of “Wild Honey” and the massively under-rated “Sail On Sailor”.
After that Wilson introduces the “Pet Sounds” section of the show, slightly apologetically announcing that we’ll be back to some good old rock n roll later; but for now, the band will present us with the more personal and intimate delights of probably the most influential American album of the sixties (a claim I make despite the fact it took America about two decades to realise this).
And sure enough that’s exactly what they do, from the angel’s harp and six-ton drum strike which announces “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, through the Folkeoke of “Sloop John B” and the song which Jardine blithely reminds us is Paul McCartney’s favourite song, the majestic, dignified and perfect “God Only Knows” through to the crystalline beauty of “Caroline, No”, complete with the audio train charging across the stage marking the end of the album with the barmy barking dog et al.
And did they pull it off?
Too right they did.
But how? It is no secret that the ageing process and the difficulty of the journey has robbed Brian Wilson of some of that fabulous range and vocal flexibility. He also seems to need a bit of help with the lyrics, using a sight screen linked to a tablet computer. No shame in that. That’s just using technology to support what you’re doing. No different to using a PA system or an FX pedal. And he has another formidable weapon in his armoury as well. He’s in fine voice trucking through the mid range sections of the likes of “California Girls” but when it all gets a bit much he chucks the ball across to Matt Jardine, who was pitch-perfect all night and reached the places which a 73-year voice could no longer be reasonably expected to scale (and in fairness, sometimes never did; many of the most striking voice parts on the original recordings weren’t Brian Wilson).
He’s also got Al Jardine. We were warned upfront of the tour that he might not be at all the dates, but I don’t see how. Quite apart from his audible contributions to proceedings he did seem to be a key part of Traffic Control on stage; a lot of what happened seemed to be going ‘through’ him and if that’s the case then you can call me Al, for this was a masterclass.
And Wilson’s penultimate secret weapon; the band. With a total age somewhere around 10,000 years or so they are probably the oldest collective I have ever seen at a rock gig; but what you get is the sum total of a great many misspent youths. If I were Brian Wilson, even if I reached the point where I couldn’t sing anymore or tinkle the ivories I’d probably still want to tour with them just for the sheer joy of hearing my compositions played before a live audience with such love and craft. They are very special musicians.
All great musicians attract the best musicians. That’s a given. But these are something else. At times the sound from percussion, through keyboard to the bass sax and back through the spectacular control of the often mind-boggling bass guitar parts, was breath-taking.
And the final clincher is the material. “Pet Sounds” played live is an earth-shattering experience. And to think this guy created this when he was only 23. It is a work of, errm…..
And just in case anybody thinks it is home time; how about “Good Vibrations”, “Help Me, Rhonda”, “Barbara Ann” – played more rocked-up than I recall and evoking the ‘garage’ feel of the original version by The Regents – “Fun Fun Fun” and a balls-out “Surfin’ USA”. Ensemble bow, no encore, PA system plays “Beach Baby” by British band First Class, and a slightly stunned and absolutely soaked clutch of folks make their way back through the Brighton mud.
Now hear ye. We’re in the 90th minute with this now. Catch this tour. I don’t care what you have to do. Go to Oslo if you have to. Yes, Brian Wilson will barely move throughout the evening. Yes, his voice isn’t capable of doing all the things it did a while ago. But…..the body of work, the range of songs played, the virtuosity of the band, the sheer richness of the sound. And the voices. The Voices, plural. Unfortunately due to the age-related limitations I’ve already referred to I can’t give this the 5-star review it probably deserves because as I’ve said before, you can only review what is in front of you. But it was pretty clear to me I had been in the presence of genius.
Damn. That G – word again. Sorry, Brian.
It’s not just Edinburgh that has a festival in August. What about Southend? Maybe not as fashionable but there’s a great arts scene around Southend and its satellites. So, on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, why not head out to have a look at The Railway Hotel’s contribution to the Estuary Fringe Festival which is an afternoon session in the beer garden followed by more live bands inside in the evening. I got there just as the belly dancing was finishing and the stage was being set up for live music (with background music leaning heavily on blues classics and some nice Al Stewart songs).
First on stage was Pick Yer Feet Up, or Eleanor Donne (fiddle) and Dave Murray (twangs and bangs) playing a selection of ‘bogus Bulgarian bangers’. It was relatively low-key but very melodic in an Eastern European way with a nice line in dry patter from Dave between songs. In the great old Python tradition of ‘now for something completely different’, next up was Dirty Captain Scott. What can I say? A twentieth-century estuary poet backed with cajon beats (and guitar towards the end of the set). The rhythms were insistent and the delivery, well, imagine Adele rapping and you’re most of the way there. A great set that you just couldn’t ignore.
Next? The Timlins (Matt and Victoria) played a lovely set of melancholy (maybe even miserable) songs, reminding me a lot of Turin Brakes and (bonus points if you remember this band) Budapest. Victoria’s keyboard filled out the textures created by Matt’s acoustic guitar and the harmonies were sublime. Personally, I like a bit of miserable; always have. Dead Air next, playing their first (and possibly only) gig, played a set of folky Americana with a female lead singer, acoustic guitar and mandolin backing and some lovely harmonies. If you wanted a backing track for an English summer day you wouldn’t go far wrong here.
And on to Phil Burdett, backed by long-term collaborators John Bennett (guitar), Steve Stott (mandolin and fiddle) and Colleen McCarthy (backing vocals). This was only Phil’s second live appearance after major surgery earlier in the year and he was a man on a mission, determined to get songs from his two (yes, two) new albums out there in a live setting. Throughout the set, the arrangements were a masterclass in understatement; the instruments created a framework that allowed the songs to shine. John Bennett is subtle and understated in a way that reminds me a lot of Steve Cropper; no fuss, but just try to imagine The MGs without the guitar parts. Even “New Greyhound Rag”, which was written as full band piece with bass, drums and various other bits of percussion is driven along nicely by the two guitars.
But just focus on the songs. From the opener “Sea Change” to “A Kind of Chalkwell Station Blue”, the short set was packed with melodic and lyrical invention. The lines ‘you switch the channel in your mind – and on the news voices buzz like cracked kazoos the needle stuck on tombstone blues’ are a great example of Phil’s ability to create a striking, evocative image. All delivered to perfection in Phil’s mellow growl. You really shouldn’t get music this good for free in a pub beer garden, even if the pub is The Railway.
If you haven’t seen them before, here are some pictures of the event.
It’s great to get a gig where you have no idea to expect and it turns out to be an absolute banger; this was one of those gigs. Until I reviewed her recent retrospective, “Deranged to Divine”, Carina Round was only a name that rang a very faint bell. Now I know she has a huge fanbase and can easily fill a decent small venue like The Lexington on Pentonville Road. Actually, the venue’s quite a bit better than that; the sound is excellent and the lines of sight are good because of the raised area in front of the bar. So far, so good.
Support act for Carina’s UK tour is She Makes War (or Laura Kidd) who made her way on the stage with help of a crutch, which gave her lots of material for chat between songs about compensation claims. She delivered a fine set of introspective songs (some about ex-partners) with some innovative backing courtesy of a Les Paul, a ukulele, a megaphone and a loop pedal. I’ve been suffering from loop pedal fatigue for a while now, but Laura, and later Carina, showed that it can still be a creative tool. Highlights of Laura’s set were “Drown Me Out”, “Please Don’t”, ”Paper Thin”, “Scared to Capsize” and the raucous “Cold Shoulder”.
Carina wasn’t going to just turn up with a guitar and run through a few songs; her perfectionism means that she needs to create a complete performance, and this extended to a stunning light show created by one projector and a small screen. She opened the set with an astonishing, moody, loop pedal a cappella interpretation of “The Secret of Drowning”, setting the tone for a set of powerful interpretations of her songs, including “You and Me”, “Mother’s Pride”, “Back Seat”, “For Everything a Reason” and the haunting “Lacuna”. The performance had an intensity that comes from a desire to be exceptional combined with a natural fear of exposure on stage, which leaked out in a couple of snappy comments, although the overall impression was that (eventually) Carina knew that it was an outstanding show.
And I’m not underestimating the part that the audience played. They were obviously devoted fans desperate to hear every little nuance; they were completely silent during the songs and wildly enthusiastic in their applause. They were also the most polite audience I’ve ever experienced.
You can get some idea of the stunning visuals from the photos here.
Another Saturday, another venue to tick off the list. The Unicorn on Camden Road seems incongruous in this area; you think it should maybe be a mile down the road with all the vibey places in Camden Town. But maybe it works because of the distance. Anyway, the reason for this excursion from the well-travelled path is to check out a pub that’s daring to put on live music six nights a week; tonight’s offering was the “Somewhat Damaged” night offering four very different live sets. It wasn’t packed to the rafters, but it was reasonably busy, with an enthusiastic audience.
So, first up was a solo set from Adam Lightspeed playing acoustic versions of some new songs and some from his band Starscream’s debut album. It was a valiant attempt, but the album versions lean heavily on big productions and the songs weren’t the same in the stripped-down format. Full marks for effort; it can be a lonely place on stage solo when the room’s nowhere near full. The album “Sexploitation” is definitely worth a listen though.
Next up, Loose Joints were from the badlands of south-east Essex, mashing up funky rhythms with riff-driven rockers and generally getting the audience off their seats on their feet. They even threw in their own take on the James Bond theme. Great tunes, inventive arrangements and loads of fun. I’m sure I’ll be seeing Loose Joints again.
So, what about Sister Witch? The songs are the work of David Ryder Prangley and Lux Lyall, guitarist and singer respectively and they were joined on stage by Belle Star and Anna Christina (drums and bass) from Lilygun and another two guitarists to create a very seventies-style line-up; three guitars, indeed. There’s more than a nod to seventies iconography as well, with DRP’s low-slung guitar and the routine of sharing Lux’s vocal mic à la Bowie and Ronson. And the glam references don’t stop there, some of the riffs could be T Rex at their noisiest and they’re interspersed some classic Stones-style interwoven guitars. And that’s before we get on to the studied ennui of Lux, sitting down to read a Zelda Fitzgerald biography mid-song. A bit theatrical maybe, but it’s all part of the show, and she really can sing, so it’s not just a distraction; it never harmed Bowie or the New York Dolls to introduce a bit of performance art. On a crowded stage there was always something interesting to watch; no way you’re going to ignore Sister Witch. Style yes: substance definitely.
As for Black Sixteen, well, not for me really. Two guitars, bass and drums knocking out muscular riffs and a singer who didn’t quite have the voice to compete. Maybe not helped by the minimal soundcheck, but they just weren’t doing it for me. Nice venue, but one little whinge on behalf of the photographers. Red stage lighting; just say no.
Every time I visit The Half Moon the evening starts out with something a bit surreal. This time it was a Scottish musician at the bar asking for a pint of the weakest bitter they had. And before I get complaints, I’m Scottish and I’m allowed to make those jokes; it’s called self-deprecation apparently. The headliner this time was Lisa Mann from West Virginia via Portland, Oregon on her first UK tour supported by (fairly) new kid on the block Katie Bradley, each offering their own their own particular take on twenty-first century blues and its offshoots.
Katie’s band kicked off with a statement of intent, a storming version of the Jimmy Reed classic “Baby What You Want Me to Do”. With two lead guitars, one fairly clean and jazzy and the other over-driven and rocky plus Katie’s harmonica, there was plenty of variety throughout the set. Although Katie’s the lead singer, the vocals were shared with the two guitarists as the band ran through a set of slow blues, jazzy blues and funky blues that included the BB King classic “Thrill is Gone” and lovely duet of “Tennessee Whiskey”. Any headline act would be grateful for a support that warmed the audience up as thoroughly as this.
What strikes you immediately as Lisa Mann and the band take the stage is the contrast between the giant Dudley Ross making his Telecasters look like toys and the petite Lisa Mann with a six-string bass slung John Lee Hooker-style over the right shoulder. The band line-up highlighted a slightly different emphasis after the mainly blues-based opening set. The combination of Dudley Ross’s crisp clean guitar and Steve Watts’s keys created a soulful sound more in the vein of Stax than Chess, offering the perfect complement to Lisa’s powerful vocals and melodic basslines.
The ninety-minute set took in blues, funk, soul and even had a jazz-funk interlude to allow Steve Watts a chance to shine, and showcased excellent songs from Lisa’s five albums including “Doghouse”, “Big Long List” and the closer “Hard Times, Bad Decisions”. The playing was spot on throughout, making it easy to forget that the band had very little rehearsal time together before the start of the tour; only the very good ones can do that and make it look so effortless. Let’s hope it’s not too long before Lisa Mann’s back in the UK again.
You can see some photos from the gig here.
Another Friday night, another new venue in Shoreditch. Deep in the basement of the Ace Hotel on Shoreditch lurks a bar called Miranda with a small stage, nice sound system and reasonable stage lighting. The audience was a bit of an eye-opener as well; sparkly dresses and bright eye make-up as opposed to the jeans, cowboy boots and faded tour t-shirts I usually see. The reason for all the finery was the launch of the first EP by Daisy and the Dark, the latest incarnation of Sarah Kayte Foster, a former Mediaeval Baebe.
Not surprisingly, Sarah has a superb voice and she’s surrounded herself with quality musicians, including Keltrix violinist Sharon Sullivan to create a full live sound augmented by backing tracks and accompanied by back projection and four dancers; not so much a gig as a multi-media event. Opening with the EP’s lead song “Circus”, the set was well-paced and demonstrated Sarah’s stunning voice in a variety of musical settings as well as across a huge dynamic range.
If you like your live music with a bit of theatre and glamour, this is for you. There’s a lot going on, with guitar, drums, two backing singers and four dancers, not to mention the illuminated, flashing hula hoops. All of this is cleverly woven in to the songs themselves and it works in the same way that a Kate Bush or Bjork show does; there’s always plenty to watch. Sarah has a voice that has been compared to both of those singers (and Florence Welch), but a setting like Miranda also gives her the chance to relate to the audience and create a more intimate experience.
It’s been a while since I saw anything quite like this; a spectacle rather than just a gig, but Daisy and the Dark do it very well indeed and by the end of a short set, the audience was hooked and I was impressed by Sarah’s new material. It’s time for this Daisy to see some daylight. Here are some photos from the gig.
Have a look at the video for “Circus” to get some idea of what it’s all about:
I shouldn’t have found it funny when Steve Jenner’s latest “Tales from the Towpath” was a gig that coincided with the Germany/Italy Euro quarter-final on Saturday. Four days later, karma kicked in and I found myself in Leytonstone for the Wednesday What’s Cookin’ session at Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen’s Club while Wales played Portugal in the semi-final. So now we know where my priorities lie.
What’s Cookin’ has been a fixture in East London since 2004, occupying various venues around Walthamstow/Leyton/Leytonstone under the direction of Ramblin’ Steve (Ferguson) and has landed in a function room above one of the few surviving social clubs. The venue scrubs up nicely when dressed with a few lights, a mirror ball and some faux foliage to create a nice domestic ambience that enhances the relaxed feel of the night. If you add proper, well-kept beer that doesn’t involve taking out a second mortgage, you’ve got a recipe for success, football permitting.
First out of the blocks was Dan Webster from York. He’s touring with Amelia White at the moment and the two helped each other out through both of the opening sets. Dan’s songs are mainly in the folk storytelling tradition and his laconic delivery worked perfectly as an opening to the evening as he ran through a selection of his material including “Haul Away”, “Dancers” and “Elvis”. The songs are well-crafted, combining folk tradition with the modern singer/songwriter idiom; a lovely way to start of the evening.
The volume increased a few notches with Amelia White as she ran through an electric set, most of which was accompanied by Dan. “Dogs Bark” and “Home Sweet Hotel”, an insight into life on the road, stood out in a set of fine songs from. Amelia’s voice is individual and intriguing, lending a plaintive touch to her succinct and slightly skewed lyrics. Not mainstream and not for everyone on the night, but it worked for me.
After a last-minute travel hitch the planned headliners, The Uptown Toodeloo String Band were replaced at the last minute by Morton Valence, fronted by Robert Hacker Jessett and Anne Gilpin. The set started with Robert performing a solo version of the wordy “Lower Middle Class Dilemmas” before being joined by Anne and, a little later, the rest of the band. The full band line-up introduced some superb harmonies and some fascinating textures, including Anne Gilpin’s Ebow guitar, which added a layer of brooding menace. Their musical vision felt a little out of place on this particular bill, but I’ll be making an effort to see them again.
What’s Cookin’ was a great midweek night out, with a friendly atmosphere, interesting setting and an eclectic choice of performers. The only jarring note was the number of people leaving just before the collection to pay the musicians. Maybe it was about public transport, but it left a sour taste to see so many people refusing to contribute. Anyway, check out the What’s Cookin’ website; you may just find a reason to go to Leytonstone on a Wednesday or Saturday night.
It may be stretching a point to provide a ‘tales from the towpath’ where we had to catch a combination of trains and tubes to get to this gig, but hey, this is London after all – and unless you’re going to Dingwalls you really shouldn’t expect to float to a gig.
The crowd might have been a bit sparse for a Saturday night but a whole bunch of people had decided to spend another two hours of life watching Germany win on penalties after extra time. Clearly, in a week of surprises no doubt a predictable, nay, inevitable outcome was a comfort to some. But those who did so missed a storming, uplifting Saturday night out.
And that, in essence, is what City Funk Orchestra are about. From the get-go you just know you’re in safe hands. Within the first half a dozen songs we’ve had a slick, uptown “Back Together Again” where the blend of voices paid genuine homage to Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Not” featuring some real ‘period’ bass playing from the absolutely imperious Rick Mitra, a great version of “Love TKO” which took the pace down briefly before the first set ended with a very acceptable “Ain’t Nobody”.
The voices of Noel McCalla and Louise Warren matched each other beautifully, even if Noel was occasionally a little bit found out when ‘doing’ Barry White. Quite simply, he’s very competent in the lower register but he’s absolutely astonishing and has a genuinely soulful intensity when he heads up the scale. By the same token Louise was astonishing when she let fly at Aretha’s ‘Rock Steady’ but seemed a little at sea on material which perhaps needed a little more control such as Sister Sledge’s “Thinking Of You”.
High points of the set for me were a warm and sinuous version of Luther Van D’s “Never Too Much” and a crowd-pleasing “I’ve Found Lovin” which really rolled back the years for many of the assembled.
As already alluded to, the rhythm section of Rick Mitra and Geoff Dunn never missed a beat. Guitarist Nial Tompkins showed he was equally at home playing the funky scratch you need for the likes of “Good Times” alongside occasional pyrotechnic lead fills, and Gary Sanctuary on keyboards had his hands full providing the depth and breadth of backing needed to ‘trick’ the assembled into not missing a horn section – which is probably the main thing that was missing.
But you can only review what is there – and what was there was enough to have the floor full of dancers and a room full of smiley Saturday night. City Funk Orchestra go out there and Do The Deed. They really are a party on legs. The set may have been a tad predictable but what did you want for your money? And to be fair they were considerably less predictable than Germany on penalties.
There’s nothing quite like it is there? I mean, music. Sometimes it just creeps up on you and whacks you over the noddle when you’re least expecting it.
The game plan as I wander through England picking out the odd gig here and there was to catch Henry Cluney, of Stiff Little Fingers fame, who was due to play The Wheatsheaf, a pub in central Oxford, on the particular Sunday afternoon in question.
And I got there late and missed him. However, this being a sort of package bill straggling across Sunday afternoon into the evening promoted by local hotshots GiddyUp Music, I thought I’d swing by and at the very least grab a beer and an earful, the way you do.
Walk through the door of the authentically cramped and sticky-floored Wheatsheaf and suddenly you’re in pubrock heaven, circa 1975. Mad Larry and his band are on stage – well, more accurately just to the left of the bar – and are blasting through an incendiary “Drinkin’ Man’s Blues” which gives way to a cheeky and well-played reggae tune which I must confess I didn’t recognise and then an absolutely storming version of “You Keep A Knockin’” which would have shamed many of the pantheon of greats who have had a tilt at this one. We then get some self-penned ditties, liberally laced with tales of beer, drugs, naughtiness and more naughtiness, stirred in between a Bo Diddley, a BB King and all played with Feelgoodian pace and attack culminating in Mad’s album title track “Dirty Work” before a wham-bam encore featuring some exceedingly tasty guitar work by Dan Collis – who’s full-on ‘yer ‘aving it’ approach reminded me more than a bit of the late, great Gypie Mayo – and honking harmonica of the greasy, sleazy variety from Kevin Busby. Blooming great engine room as well; take a bow Ron Wyatt and Anthony Christmas on bass and drums respectively.
Despite this being the last set of a long afternoon, the pub was rammed with punters all grinning that silly grin you do when the beer and the live music combine most agreeably. And for the life of me, I couldn’t think of an occasion which more accurately summoned up the spirit of the pub rock RnB gigs of the mid seventies when, if you lived in the right bit of the country, you could stumble through the door you could hear music leaking from and catch The Kursaal Flyers, The Motors, The Feelgoods, Lew Lewis, Kilburn and the High Roads, and insert name here. The only thing missing was the nicotine and I don’t smoke. And I have to say that’s how I like my nostalgia; not in pre-packaged compilation form, but about a yard away from you, at ear-whistling volume, with some own recent tunes flung in for good measure (Mad’s album was released in 2014) and played with enthusiasm and conviction.
I implore all right-thinking people in Oxfordshire and thereabouts to beat a path to The Wheatsheaf whenever GiddyUp promote one of these jollies and indeed specifically to go see Mad Larry’s Band either here or when out and about elsewhere (they have been a regular guests of The Pretty Things just recently, which is no mean accolade).
Bit of a disappointment he didn’t do “Zoom” though. Or is that Fat Larry? And did he just lose weight or go mad as well?
I have seen the future of rock n’ roll.
Ever feel that you’ve been ‘ad?
These two famous rock n roll misquotes sort of sum up my reaction to one of the strangest live music events I’ve ever attended anywhere. No – make that any kind of event, anywhere.
Indulge me a moment whilst I attempt to explain the venue. A convent, formerly the home to a silent order of four nuns, in an extremely quiet and secluded corner of England at a discreet distance from the bright lights and fleshpots of, err, Stroud.
Bands play on the altar of the convent chapel, replete with stained glass windows, and the obligatory(!) trombone wedged behind the altar and sewing machines and alarm clocks scattered around the huge stone windowsills.
The rest of this huge venue appears to be part hotel, part bar, part restaurant. The whole place has a sense of brooding oak darkness about it and the sleep of centuries of silence.
The chapel itself has around 100 or so seats arranged tidily on the chapel floor and further seats in the pews around the edge.
There appears to be no signage to speak of and getting into the venue is more by luck than by judgement, as is finding the bar as you wander around the gloomy, doomy corridors in search of a pint of 6X. Or absolution. Or both.
Eventually, showtime, and this is a very precise showtime as the show is being filmed.
The audience tonight appears to be about 30 people or so, many of whom appear to be here by invitation. By now, the casual observer would be wincing for the poor promoter who would undoubtedly be facing a night dedicated to St. Flatbroke, Patron Saint of The Unsustainable Loss.
So, Blues Guitar Summit take to the stage, unfeasibly close to the declared 9PM start time for rock n roll. The three – guitar attack of Chris Corcoran, Mal Barclay and Paul Garner are very good value, having distinctly different guitar styles, having a wide and varied repertoire from blues shuffles to solid rock boogie-woogie tunes to four on the floor 50’s rock n roll and some classic gems, such as a very likeable version of “Tequila”, for example. The rhythm section, Jamie Lawrence and Robert Pokorny on slap bass and Gretsch sticks and pans form a solid and confidence-inspiring backdrop to whatever direction the assembled guitarists head off in. The voices are workmanlike and functional, as tends to be the case, but some of the playing is genuinely inspired and very enjoyable, especially “Crawl” and ‘High Heel Sneakers’.
But something feels, very, very weird – and it isn’t just the rather ‘creepy’ venue. The band are almost treating me like I’m not here. I feel like a sort of irrelevancy. And the reason why slowly begins to dawn.
We were told at the start of the show by the smiley, jolly MC that the show was being filmed, and streamed. Nothing unusual in that, perhaps, but what became rapidly clear was – that was the whole and only point. The kit being used to film, record and stream the gig was light years in front of virtually anything I’ve seen outside the BBC and the stage / altar lighting was clearly set up with this in mind. The venue claims to be the world’s first ‘pay-to-view’ subscription live venue. Punters, anywhere in the world, pay a fee to stream the show or pay a subscription fee to stream a sequence of shows – and, worldwide, there are sufficient numbers of fans of particular musicians or a particular genre of music to make this a viable exercise.
And therein lay the problem with the performance. The band were playing directly to the camera. I was just there to be another pair of clapping hands. My ten quid ticket purchase made not a jot’s worth of difference, nor my attempts to help support the venue by purchasing another pint of 6X. I felt rather like the telly equivalent of canned laughter.
So, if you like your Rock n roll without the muck, the stale beer and the piss, this is for you. Me? I felt a little bit like I’d been used as a prop. True, I was offered free pizza and drinkies afterwards and the staff and management of the venue were kindness itself but almost as soon as the band had finished – without an encore of course as the transmission end time had been reached (an ironic request for an encore was greeted with nervous laughter) – I felt a rather tremendous urge to leave. Ten minutes later given the lack of signage we were still trying to leave. Eventually we gave up and asked one of the management team where the exit was as we wished to leave; and was told, with jolly candour and good cheer, that they didn’t like it when people left and why not stay for some pizza, at which point my companions and I did actually start to do that odd run-walk thing they do in all the best horror films.
In summary, a good but sterile performance in a very strange circumstance. The Blues under laboratory conditions. Not for me.