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The Sixteen Tonnes and Jason McNiff, The Stag’s Head, Hoxton, August 8th 2010

August 10, 2010

Venerable Sunday afternoon club Come Down And Meet The Folks (hosted by Alan Tyler of Rockingbirds fame) used to happen at the Apple Tree near Mount Pleasant. We spent many a fine time there with artists such as Emily Barker, Case Hardin, James Walbourne, Doug Paisley, The Coal Porters and more, and I was disappointed when they moved to out-of-the-way Hoxton. The good news is they’re moving back to the Apple Tree and this gig was the last at the Stag’s Head.

In fact, the pub is shutting, which gave something of a party atmosphere to the proceedings. My first memory of a pub-shutting party was at the Gun Barrels in Selly Oak, Birmingham. This event coincided with the Birmingham premiere of The Last Waltz (so it must have been summer 1978), as I’d been to the cinema with some friends and then took the bus out to Selly Oak to say goodbye to the old pub. When we got there, there were fire engines and police cars, and the road had been blocked off by the sheer numbers of people drinking heavily and making off with ‘memorabilia’. It was subsequently rebuilt in horrible one-storey red brick and is now a student bar and club, full of shotz and vomiting. Apparently, it’s a ‘Scream’ pub (a Mitchells and Butlers brand), which tells you everything.

Anyway, back to sunny Hoxton, where the pub garden was beginning to fill up and the free barbecue was lit. Astral and I enjoyed a couple of pints of Landlord (unusual for a back-street traditional boozer) and then switched to the delicious Dark Star Hophead that was being served in the garden. We then headed inside to see troubadour Jason McNiff (below left), whose brand of Dylan-inflected confessional ‘folk’ appeals very much.

Jason’s still a young man, but he’s busked all over Europe from a young age, and there’s a continental flavour to much of his sound, particularly Italian and East European. This romantic strain was emphasised as he started his set with a Leonard Cohen cover Lover Lover Lover and included another, Lady Midnight, later on. The rest of his set dipped into his four-album back catalogue, with Pilgrim Soul and Delia as highlights, plus a fine song I hadn’t heard before, April Cruel.

The Dylan resemblance has perhaps been overplayed as his sound is more Leonard Cohen, but he’s also a good picker in the 60s style of Davey Graham and a lot of those Transatlantic artists. It would be wrong to think of him as a throwback, though, as his talent gives a timeless edge to his songs.

After saying ‘hi’ to friends G, A and N, we settled down for a rollicking set from Liverpool band The Sixteen Tonnes. The five of them (lead guitar, guitar and vocals, mandolin, bass and drums) squeezed onto the stage and launched into a very entertaining selection of pub-country-rock pop songs – It Makes A Grown Man Cry, You Might Not Know It (But I Do), Heartache, Pale Blue Eyes (no, not that one…), Make My Sorrow Wait, Early Morning Rain and more.

I was amused to see that the lead guitarist was the young red-headed chap I’d last seen crowd-surfing at the Jeff Tweedy solo show at the Union Chapel the other month. Yes, you read that right, but he crowd-surfed at the instigation of the annoying comedian who was inexplicably the support act. Anyway, I complemented the surfer on his moment of glory and he seemed chuffed.

The beer was definitely working its magic by now, and the crowd received The Sixteen Tonnes very enthusiastically. They were great fun and just right for a boozy Sunday afternoon. After they’d finished, I bumped into Ramblin’ Steve from the What’s Cookin’ club and he confirmed that there’ll be no more shows at the Sheep Walk in Leytonstone, which is a shame, but the North Star gigs will continue. As with Come Down And Meet The Folks, it’s a friendly live music pub-club run by an enthusiast and deserves support from London’s gig-goers. Long may they both continue.

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