What’s Cookin’ @Leytonstone 06/07/16

4 stars (out of 5)

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What's Cookin' ScrollerI 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.