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Nancy Wallace, Jason Steel, The Straw Bear Band and The Owl Service, The Stag’s Head, Hoxton, April 25th 2010

April 26, 2010

We hadn’t been to Come Down And Meet The Folks for quite a while – in fact, not since it moved from the Apple Tree in Mount Pleasant to the Stag’s Head in the wilds of Hoxton. It’s always been a laid-back way of spending a late Sunday afternoon, listening to music and drinking beer, with the hat passed round at some point.

Today’s headliners played at the last-ever In The Pines afternoon – another pleasant Sunday experience, now sadly gone – but first up was sometime Rockingbirds front-man Alan Tyler, who played a couple of his pleasant acoustic country rock ditties. The pints of Maldon Gold were going down smoothly as Nancy Wallace took the tiny stage accompanied by guitarist and singer Jason Steel. The two are label-mates on Rif Mountain and I raved last year about Nancy’s solo album Old Stories, which easily made my Top Ten of last year. We spotted folk guru and fRoots supremo Ian Anderson in the small crowd. I’ve recently got the fine compilation of his own music Time Is Ripe: Rare Psych Folk From The Village Thing Years 1970-73, which I thoroughly recommend. fRoots magazine is co-promoting Nancy and Jason’s gig at the Green Note next month, so I assume Mr Anderson thinks good things of them.

Sure enough, they delivered a very good set. I’ve seen Nancy quite a few times before and admire her pure voice, no-nonsense concertina- and guitar-playing, but I was also mightily impressed by Jason Steel‘s very fine guitar-playing and sympathetic vocals. They started with traditional saucy song Blow The Candles Out, aka The London Apprentice:
   Your father and your mother in yonder room do lie

   A-hugging one another, so why not you and I?

   A-hugging one another, without a fear or doubt

   So roll me in your arms, Love, and blow the candle out.

The pair then traded traditional songs, such as Leadbelly’s Goodnight Irene, and their own compositions, including Nancy’s Sleeping Sickness and an as-yet-untitled songs they’ve randomly called Vampire Scrapbook. The highlight, though, was a wonderfully performed Blackwaterside, the old song that Anne Briggs taught to Bert Jansch and which subsequently inspired many a guitarist, including Jimmy Page, who thieved it for Led Zep’s Black Mountain Side. Nancy’s singing was spot-on, while Jason showed some wonderful runs and flights of fancy. I’m very much looking forward to that Green Note show next month.

All the afternoon’s acts (barring Alan Tyler, Come Down’s… host) are on the Rif Mountain label and The Straw Bear Band impressed as well. Front-man Dom Cooper has a powerful voice, nicely balancing the delicate guitar and percussion behind him to create what they call ‘medieval Krautrock’ or ‘garage-folk’, which pretty much, er, nails it. Their set included trad songs, such as folk stalwart Nottamun Town, their own compositions and some surprising covers, including a spook-folk Bad Moon Rising. Good stuff.

Now I’d like to give you a review of the Owl Service’s set, but I can’t. Just before they came on, I spotted that DJ Wheelie Bag was standing near us, which meant that Pugnacious D, Astral and I engaged him in conversation during The Owl Service’s set. Oops.

DJ Wheelie Bag

DJ Wheelie Bag is a legend in his own living-room, and for years hosted a music night at the Pillars of Hercules pub in Soho, with his fearsome homemade sound system blasting out some cracking Jamaican ska, British beat, rockabilly and voodoo rock. It was always fun watching the scared look on tourists’ faces when he opened his ‘wheelie’ unit and started up the music, wearing a strange hat and manipuating the fetish Barbies attached to the decks with car aerials.Anyway, last year, the management at the Pillars fired him, silly buggers, but now he has a new residency at the Spread Eagle in Camden Town. He also makes bespoke wheelies to sell and each year their owners gather for the Wheelie Bag Ball.

Wheelie reminisced about his times at the Pillars, enthused about his latest musical love – ‘Cumbia’, a powerful mix of Colombian and African dance – and smiled as he recalled the various ways he has of getting the Rhythm Festival’s promoter to pay him. It would be lovely to spend a while longer chatting, but we needed to get to The Lexington for the Jim Moray show. More of which soon…

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