Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Random Canyon Growlers Live at the Birkbeck, Leyton

Last night a five piece bluegrass and “old time” music band played at what has become one of the premier London folk and country venues, The Birkbeck Tavern in Leyton. The Random Canyon Growlers, featuring guitar, double bass, mandolin, banjo and fiddle, are mostly from the east coast of the USA, but first came together playing in the Northern Rockies. Performing two sets and two encores, the Growlers’ fast paced, in the tradition, playing proved a perfect accompaniment to the pub’s impressive real ale selection.

Lead singer Jamie Drysdale told me that they write around a quarter of the numbers they perform; others are by such bluegrass legends as Flatt and Scruggs and country star Bill Monroe. This band will go down well in the north and south of Ireland, where they also have gigs scheduled this month; the common heritage is obvious, and is one that Matt Donovan’s fiddle playing gives particular expression to. They are also due to play in Brighton, Bristol and Chagwell. Their second encore was “Salty Dog Blues”, a deliciously titled and supremely fast-paced climax to another thoroughly good music night at the Birkbeck.

The band’s UK and Ireland booking agent was full of praise for Stephen Ferguson, the pub landlord and man responsible for the What’s Cookin’ gigs. Stephen himself puts on a brave face about the bottom line issue: will the pub survive the proposal before the council to turn the whole building into a block of flats. The “community use” defence in favour of a pub with very popular music nights may, sadly, not, be enough to stave off the march of “development”. Sign this online petition to register your objections so that hopefully more music of this quality can be enjoyed live at the Birkbeck.

10th October 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Peter Case Live at the Birkbeck Tavern E11

Peter Case is a totally new discovery to me, as was the venue at which he played last night, the Birkbeck Tavern in Leyton, East London. This American, now self-styled “folk rock” artist, sang solo for about 45 minutes – every number was a corker, and some were quite brilliant. Due to the unfamiliarity of the songs, I cannot relay to you the titles, save the Beatles number, which given Case's lo-fi orientation was fairly obscure even to the English punters – “Not a Second Time”, from their second album.

One number that especially stood out was when Peter deployed Biblical-style lyrical referencing before breaking half-way for a snatch of Thelonious Monk. This is was a man armed only with an acoustic guitar; oh, and an extraordinarily good voice. His set was nothing less than compelling.

I have to confess something here. If anyone present last night is reading this, I was the goon who shouted out “What about the Blondie song?” when Mr Case asked, in a deadpan, droll delivery that made his between numbers chat highly entertaining, “Any questions?”. He never really intended to play “Hanging on the Telephone,” and I don’t blame him. He has done a whole lot more since those days. Yet I was there because the blurb from What’s Cookin’ (the cover-all name for the music nights at the Birkbeck) had mentioned that an early band of his, The Nerves, had first written and performed it back in 1976. I had always thought it was Chris Stein and Debbie Harry.

Peter Case apparently had a formidable career with power pop and proto-punk outfits, The Nerves and The Plimsouls. Great names and no doubt great bands. Since the 1980s he has obviously reinvented himself - as a skilled finger-picking folk and country player, and, from time to time, a blues man. It seems he can range pretty widely. Seeing him play for free in a Leyton pub, when I have since discovered he has umpteen albums under his belt, including for majors like Geffen, was quite a privilege.

His website reveals that this is a guy who has no time for BS and his musical favourites reflect that. I sometimes was reminded of Loudon Wainwright III, although I doubt he relates to him. Peter can storytell, but he can also play like a motherfuck. Introducing a blues number that Memphis Minnie had sung, he told us of the driver of a then 90 year old blues legend, Honey Boy Edwards. Case met the driver, a mere 70 year old, on the trail somewhere when he was still driving for Honey Boy, and he apparently had also known (driven for?) fellow Clarkesdale performer, Robert Johnson. There was a strong sense of musical legacy here, although Mr Case is a mere 54 year old.

Toward the end of his set a collection went round (I owe you Peter). This was for all three acts on the bill. It struck me that this form of payment, and the venue itself, was a much better way to do a “roots night” than Walthamstow’s would-be premier music venue, Ye Olde Rose and Crown (see Folk Night/Stow Festival review below). The Birkbeck seems like the real deal, the punters were packed in but not too tightly, beer glasses in hand, and the music was cool. Let’s hope the yummie mummies and daddies at the upstairs theatre at Ye Olde Rose and Crown don’t get wind of this.

Peter finished off by dueting with Michael Weston King. I only caught the last three numbers of Michael’s set so I can’t give a proper assessment (I entirely missed the first singer, local boy Benjamin Folke Thomas). Formerly with The Good Sons, a 1990s alt-country band, Mr Weston King too has a fine voice and also accompanies himself on acoustic. There is definitely an air of the Texan singer Townes Van Zandt about him (Van Zandt even covered one of his sons, “Riding the Range”). He should be American but his between songs patter sure made him sound like an Anglo (as did his plugging of a benefit CD on which he sings the title track We're All in it Together, for the financially troubled Morning Star newspaper). He and Case finished the night in a suitably rousing fashion to send us on our way.

These events need supporting, not least as the pub itself is threatened with closure. If you're in London get over there, especially on Wednesday evenings and alternate Saturday and Sundays when much of the roots material is aired. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Stow Festival Ye Olde Rose & Crown 21st September 2012.

Having waited over an hour past the scheduled time to be allowed to pay my £5 and go upstairs to the Theatre at Ye Olde Rose & Crown on the second night of Stow Festival, I was not in the best mood to appreciate the promised night of folkish delights. 

I sat frustratedly through a solo set by a very pleasant woman called Sarah (aka “Bobbing for Apples”) that suffered from feedback that an hour of extra sound checking had not rectified. Audience reaction divided between semi pissed camp followers and polite applause for someone trying hard in very trying circumstances. She was actually a lot better when she really performed genuinely unplugged to avoid the feedback. Sarah was followed by a better but still mixed performance from another solo performer, Blabbermouth (a name more apt for the compere Paul Mosley). His set was better if a tad over earnest.

I was in need of something distinctly good to bother sticking around any longer in this hot and socially exclusive theatre room. Local band Candidate (see pic above) got off to a bit of a shaky start, but hit their stride half way through. Some nice Byrds-like arpeggio guitar and genuinely tuneful and emotionally engaged performances upped the quality of this gig no end. According to the band’s lead singer who I met earlier, few people like them except some comedian bloke who writes in The Grauniad called Stewart Lee. I think they deserve a wider blessing than him.

Moses (see pics above), a now E17 based but originally Huddersfield folk combo, I think, were apparently re-crossing some particular epic journey to grace us with their presence after 10 years apart (or so I could gleam from the onstage and rather cliquey banter by some of the blokes in the band with their dedicated followers).  Paul Mosley turned out to be their lead singer but even he, the night’s organiser, didn’t condescend to say what the name of his band actually was. I had to work it out from the description of their set in the programme. They were good, however, albeit that their incessant upbeat rootsy rousing performances occasionally seemed a bit forced, a bit like much New Folk in general (c.f. the Mumfords). The guitarist has the making of a good stand up comic, shame he didn’t do a warm-up while we were waiting for the gig to start. 

I can’t say if From The Deep, the final act (as billed), performing some kind of “swampy blues”, appeared or if they were any good as I had exited by this point. My problem that, and the late start. I think these gigs need better organisation, better sound engineers and a higher quality threshold for some of acts. Remember, Stow Fest/Ye Olde Rose & Crown organisers, some punters are paying, not (as elsewhere) cocking an occasional ear from the luxury of the bar.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Stow Festival 2012

The four day Stow Festival
kicked off Thursday night (20.9.12) with a selection of gigs in pubs and clubs across, unsurprisingly, Walthamstow. I got to see two. Not at the same time you understand, but by cycling fast under the influence. I was initially waylaid in Billy the Builders Bar in Clapton where I got bored waiting for a would be Django Reinhardt to appear and peddled back to E17.

The Duke’s Head (established 1837 it says above the stage; I think that’s actually when Wellington took command of the British armed forces) is in Wood Street. This is apparently now a regular free music venue whose threshold I had not crossed until walking into The Irregulars in full pelt. The Irregulars are a ska band specialising, it seems, in songs from “The Harder They Come” Soundtrack, some late 70s early 80s ska revival covers, and some obscurer numbers, obscure to me at least. There were quite a few ageing rude boys in attendance (all terribly polite these days), quite a few regular drinkers, and a few not so “local” looking people. There was a great atmosphere and the almost all-white band could play alright. Reflecting the inclusive spirit of the now rather old UK ska revival, not all the punters were white I am pleased to say.

I entered on “Miss Jah-Maica” (ouch) and exited on “Too Much Too Young”. There were two Beat covers as well, but sadly no “Stand Down Margaret” (she is reborn, no?). The evening was a lot of fun. Beer, like in so many pubs in the Stow, is not cheap at the Duke, but worth it perhaps if other bands who play here are of this calibre.

My next and final stop of the night was The Victoria. Once feared by “non-locals”, this upstairs and out of the way place on Hoe Street is actually a refreshing change from the more renowned music and arts venues such as Ye Olde Rose and Crowne where beer is pricey, gigs (like during the Stow Festival) are often in the theatre upstairs and therefore not free, and it’s not that easy to get a drink when busy. The Victoria has taken to holding Glam-Jam nights on Saturday that also charge, but offer an entertainment and a songbook hard to find elsewhere in Walthamstow.

The Victoria last night was hosting a free performance by Los Otros (see pics above; sadly taken after the event). They are modern jazz band with a front man with more than a touch of the trad about him. I only caught the last three numbers so it’s hard to judge the performance properly, but these boys can certainly play. A young tenor sax player (Polish, so I was informed) with good feel, and a very able drummer, double bass player and pianist who soloed to great effect. The bass man had more than a passing resemblance to Steve Howe from Yes (the band that couldn’t say “no”), which threw me somewhat. The front man sings at some distance from the mic which allows his voice, more a whisper than technically brilliant, to work to full atmospheric effect on top of, but not overly dominating, the excellent players. They finished with “All Blues”. I didn’t expect to hear a track from Miles Davis’ "Kind of Blue" album in The Victoria. Excellent.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bahrain instability continues

Deira Diary: Bahrain instability continues This article was written just before the Formula 1 fracas in Bahrain and the talk (since postponed) of a "union" of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain