The early evening sun streamed through the windows. The room above the pub looked bright and inviting as we helped Sue put out the tables and chairs. Nyge put some music on the CD player and stuck up posters for upcoming gigs. Gradually people arrived, putting their names down on the list. Mostly familiar faces, young and old, they smiled and bought themselves a drink from the downstairs bar. 7.30 came and went – not quite enough people to get started, but soon we had enough, a couple of dozen. The chatter subsided and our monthly singaround began.
It’s usually thought of as a folk singaround but you can sing anything you want and this evening we had a fair smattering of protest songs, comic ditties, self-penned songs, music hall numbers and traditional songs from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the USA and Canada. Some singers were solo, some accompanied themselves on guitar, dulcimer or mandolin, and others sang in pairs or got everyone to join in. At our singaround, you don’t even have to sing if you don’t want to.
Flubbing notes, forgetting words and singing off-key were common, but it was all treated with good humour and appreciation. No-one was there to show off, but just to share their love of a song or two. Some singers and performers were clearly more accomplished than others, but it didn’t matter – it’s only a singaround.
Half way through the evening we had a break to recharge glasses and I walked downstairs, ordered my drinks and turned to watch the big screen on the wall as I waited. Ray Davies was singing Waterloo Sunset on an impressively large and brightly lit stage – the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. A scattering of people in the bar were watching silently. I started singing along quietly but got a glare, so I shut up.
Back upstairs the singaround continued until after last orders and we said our goodbyes till next time. As we made our way out downstairs, the same locals were still glued to the box, watching Eric Idle singing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life with a cast of thousands. This time the locals were singing along, so we joined in, smiling, as we walked out into the warm night.
The Olympics Closing Ceremony cost £15 million and our singaround was free. An unfair comparison, perhaps, but music is first and foremost an experience in human communication, a means of human expression. It is not a product, it is not a profession and it is not even primarily an entertainment. Fortunately, singarounds will be going on centuries after grandiose ‘bread and circuses’ schemes have turned to dust in the air.
Two years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing the Toronto-based band the Wilderness of Manitoba three times in the space of a few days. As I said then, they appeared in this country on the crest of a mutli-part harmony wave created by the success of Fleet Foxes the previous year. To suggest that they’d jumped on a bandwagon would be unfair, though, as they’d carved out a very particular niche for themselves – cello, singing bowls and a female voice made theirs a different sound from most of those earnest, bearded bands.
In the years since, they’ve lost the services of singer Melissa Dalton but gained those of vocalist and violinist Amanda Balsys and drummer Sean Lancaric. Clearly these changes were going to affect their sound and, sure enough, they’re a more rounded-out band now, with a rockier, more indie edge. Most of tonight’s set at the Windmill consisted of new songs and for the most part I enjoyed them a lot. Frontman Will Whitwham is a genial leader and an expert songwriter. In fact, I think the songs are stronger than those of the past, though the rustic harmonies are just as fine.
After the show, I said ‘hi’ to Will and we talked about the band’s activities since we last spoke a year or so ago. Will was keen to get their new album, Island Of Echoes, out there, but the band is looking for someone to release it in the UK and Europe, where there’s plenty of ‘punter’ interest but none from record people.
If they were a UK band, these days I’d suggest just pressing, printing and releasing it themselves, while making sure all their media antennae (Facebook, mailing lists, Twitter, internet radio etc) were at full twitch to promote the CD as much as possible. But if you’re a band from across the ocean, that’s a very difficult proposition. Life’s hard for musicians these days – a theme I’m sure I’ll touch on more in the future.
Finally, for your delectation, here’s their closing freakout from the show, courtesy of MrHiderN:
Well, the blog’s been resurrected. It seemed a shame just to harangue my friends with gig stories when I could put it all down here and save them the ear-bashing. Nice to be back…
Time and work conspired against completing the full year as intended, but here’s a list of the gigs I’ve been to since the last review.
Take a deep breath:
10-12/09/10, End of the Road Festival, Larmer Tree, Dorset. 14/09/10, The Wilderness of Manitoba, The Slaughtered Lamb. 16/09/10, Brian Eno’s Apollo with Icebreaker + BJ Cole, QEH. 17-19/09/10, Rustfest / NYAS Convention, The Canterbury Arms. 20/09/10, Sam Baker, The Luminaire. 21/09/10, Smoke Fairies, Dingwalls. 24/09/10, Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, DHFC. 25/09/10, Ghosts from the Basement — Village Thing Day, Cecil Sharp House. 26/09/10, Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara, Vortex. 27/09/10, Black Twig Pickers, Vortex. 28/09/10, Pete Molinari, Jazz Cafe. 30/09/10, Eilen Jewell Band, The Luminaire. 02/10/10, Peter Bruntnell Band, The Luminaire. 05/10/10, Band of Heathens, Borderline. 06/10/10, Jonathan Richman, Luminaire. 07/10/10, Black Mountain, Black Angels, Shepherds Bush Empire. 08/10/10, Louisa Killen, Thomas McCarthy, Chris Coe, Kings Place. 09/10/10, Old Nun’s Head Beer Festival + Easycome Stage, Old Nun’s Head. 14/10/10, Emily Barker, Exmouth Market Church Hall. 15/10/10, Nils Lofgren, Cadogan Hall. 20-26/10/10, Bridge School Benefit concerts / IRF, California. 28/10/10, Swans and James Blackshaw, Koko. 30/10/10, Alasdair Roberts, Trembling Bells, Shirley Collins, Cecil Sharp House. 31/10/10, Halloween Fair: Smoke Fairies, Circulus, Mary Epworth, Cecil Sharp House. 01/11/10, Otis Gibbs, The Slaughtered Lamb; Perunika, National Theatre. 03/11/10, Meet On The Ledge: Owl Service, Straw Bear Band, Cecil Sharp House. 04/11/10, Wilko Johnson, Academy Islington. 06/11/10, Tunng, The Forum. 07/11/10, Master Shipwright’s House BonFest, Master Shipwright’s House. 09/11/10, Cowboy Junkies, Union Chapel. 12/11/10, Cheap Trick, Shepherds Bush Empire. 13/11/10, Nick Harper, Headgate Theatre, Colchester. 14/11/10, Drive-By Truckers, Shepherds Bush Empire. 15/11/10, John Hiatt and the Combo, Shepherds Bush Empire. 20/11/10, Bellowhead, Shepherds Bush Empire. 21/11/10, 14 Cousins, Grey Horse. 23/11/10, Steve Wynn, The Lexington. 26/11/10, Martin Simpson Trio, DHFC. 29/11/10, Sleepy Sun, The Borderline. 03/12/10, Chuck Prophet and Steph, Kelley Stoltz, The Borderline. 05/12/10, Alasdair Roberts, Olivia Chaney, Jim Moray, Snape Maltings. 06/12/10, Richard Thompson, Cadogan Hall. 07/12/10, Mark Olson, The Slaughtered Lamb. 08/12/10, Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500, The Garage. 09/12/10, Philip Jeays, Battersea Barge. 10/12/10, Jackie Leven, Union Chapel. 11/12/10, June Tabor, Kings Place. 17/12/10, Hawkwind, Hoaxwind, Forum, Bull and Gate. 23/12/10, 14 Cousins, The Antelope, Surbiton.
I was hunting around for a great photo from one of these gigs, but I kept coming back to this picture of Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy. It’s a promo shot from the 60s and the woman is a Danish weightlifter… and she really was holding them up. Marvellous.
Compelling laidback country-flavoured rock with confessional lyrics. Crazy Horse-style head nodding. Crap sound got better quickly. Loved it.
Sassy young Nashville country singer. Funny and sweaty. Great voice and a fine young band. One to watch.
Sunday: oldies Martin Simpson and John Renbourn brilliant and touching. The Destroyers fantastic gothic klezmer fun. More beer.