Cornbread and butter beans, and you across the table

My transition into Old-Fartdom is, I’m afraid, almost complete. Last week, it was George Formby, this week it’s Jugband music and Vaudeville…

On Sunday night, I went to the Slak Bar in Cheltenham mainly to see Philip Roebuck spank his banjo (so to speak), and he was great, benefiting greatly from the cosier surroundings of the pub (and apparently discovering the pleasures of West Country cider – well Strongbow at any rate…). If you’re wondering, the banjo got through the evening unscathed, but there was a tambourine fatality…

The Wiyos

I hadn’t really been too fussed about the main band of the evening, the Wiyos – as I say, I was going mainly to see the King of the Buskers – but to be honest they absolutely stole the evening, with a mixture of all sorts of desperately un-cool sounds. I do try not to define bands by who they sound like (it’s a bit lazy), but really the Wiyos aren’t doing anything new, in fact everything they do is old, old, old – they do a kind of Louis Jordon / Texas Playboys, Jugband / Western Swing sort of thing.

Now, some of you may actually need to be persuaded that this is indeed a good thing, and really all I can say is, go see them. The whole act is just so infectious and such a laugh, that I swear even the most hard-bitten, cynical indie-kid would not be able to stop himself grinning aimlessly and slapping his knee, like some sort of dumb Oaky by the end of the set.

At first glance, a guitar, stand-up bass, vocalist trio, one of the things that makes the Wiyos so much fun is the performance of Michael Farcas, who not only sings, plays harmonica, kazoo and washboard, but also injects a real sense of humour into the set with his mannerisms and Harpo-style parodies. The other thing that made their performance so enjoyable was the way the three of them are clearly connoisseurs of old time music and managed to keep a good time feel about it, without it all getting too cheesy.

The Wiyos site gives away a number of mp3s, one of which I’ll put up here, but none of them quite do them justice. There are also some videos which are worth watching as do a better job of capturing some of the fun of seeing them live. The one I’m posting here, Cornbread & Butter Beans is about the best and features the washboard, (though unfortunately not one of Farcas’ Woody Allen-style washboard solos – I can’t help thinking there may still be a place for the bike horn in popular music…)

You’re Gonna be Sorry

video of Cornbread & Butter Beans (17Mb)

I’ve got a dream that’s coming true

OK, listening to a bloke singing George Formby songs is not most people under 60’s idea of an evening out. (And not mine either, I should add quickly, oh the stories I could tell you…)

Benjamin Weatherill

But one of the more striking performances I watched at Green Man last week, was a feller I’d not heard of called Benjamin Weatherill, who seemed to specialise in reclaiming old music hall songs. By the time I got round to the Green Man Café stage, he’d already started his set, and I was struck by this very tall chap in a white shirt and tie playing a guitar which he quickly switched for a ukulele. He had a distinctive unsteady delivery and it had the effect of making his songs sound rather moving.

And yes, he was singing a George Formby song but because he had no cheeky-chappy-type style, it made what I’d always thought was quite a cheesy song sound rather simple and innocent. At a number of places he whistled accompaniment, too.

(I realise I’m not making this sound any better, but stick with me on this; he was really impressive.)

He has a website with a number of demos (here) and a number of proper releases available, plus a couple of videos. The songs sampled there are mixture of traditional folk songs and rescued music hall songs. To be honest none of these recordings really quite do him justice, and I would urge you to try and see him if he plays somewhere nearby (he seems to base himself around the North of England – unfortunately for me).

Both of the tracks I’m posting are (I believe) George Formby songs, the second of which is a short video, but there are a few others for the taking from his site

I haven’t told her

Leaning on a lamp post

Grasshopper sitting on a sweet potato vine…

I’ve just come back from the Green Man festival at Brecon, my first music festival, and had a pretty good time. Saw a whole pile of really great music and took a load of fairly middling photos. The best performances, however, were by bands I already knew and are not really Partly Porpoise fare because they are so well known. For example, Calexicio were great, as were the Silver Jews, Micah P Hinson and M Ward. There were also some top class performances by a whole load of Welsh names (I guess it’s not a surprise) – Euros Childs, Richard James, Cerys Matthews and an absolutely mental set from Gruff Rhys. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much Welsh sung…

One of the best sets, however, was by Phillip Roebuck, my one-man-band hero and all round uber-busker, who was as crazed as I had hoped he would be, thrashing a noticeably battle-worn banjo so hard that he’d broken a string within two songs. He didn’t have such a great spot in the festival, I thought, mid afternoon on the Saturday, with not a huge audience, but I heard more than a few people talking about the “cool banjo dude”, so I can’t have been the only one he impressed. I did feel also that the huge stage didn’t do him any favours, and I’m imagining that the smaller more intimate setting of Sunday’s Slak Bar gig will suit him pretty well. He himself doesn’t seem to mind where he plays and told me that it’s always great to play a large venue.

(Did you see how I slipped that in? Yes, it’s official – I am indeed Friend to the Stars, as I met Phillip briefly in the Green Man Café the following day. A thoroughly decent bloke he seemed too, talking about how he regularly breaks strings because of the way he plays, and showing me the state of his hands…)

Anyway, as I mentioned last time, there are loads of songs available for download on his site, and I’m sure you’ve taken them all, but for those of you’ve not gotten around to it yet, here are a couple more. Betcha can’t sit still!

Soldier’s Joy

Little Bo Peep

Top Bloke

(I don’t normally do this sort of thing, but it seems like no one else is going to…)

Whilst on holiday, I bought only one newspaper over the fortnight and was really saddened (though I guess not really surprised) to find myself reading the obituary of Arthur Lee. Now, if you’re not sure who he was, don’t worry, he hasn’t aged very well and doesn’t seem to have attracted the reams of tributes that Syd Barrett has, but in my teens I was very fond of his band, Love. I bought and constantly returned to Love’s first three albums all through the eighties. My real favourite was Forever Changes, their, ahem, “classic” album, which I can’t possibly do justice to. I loved it; let’s just leave it at that…

Having spent such a lot of time listening to the album in my youth, I was amazed to find that a couple of years ago, Arthur Lee, fresh out of jail and in fairly good shape was actually playing in Gloucester. It’s kinda hard to put into perspective how weird that was – I mean the feller was not only a voice from another time and place, he did at times seem to come from another planet. And playing at the Guildhall…

It was a great evening. He was using members of Baby Lemonade as his new “Love”, although I think Johnny Echols from the original band was also there, and he ran through the whole of Forever Changes and some of the high points of the other albums. He looked like he was enjoying himself and some of the old magic was definitely there – for me at least. I consider myself lucky to have seen the man perform and I will remember the evening for a very long time.

Top bloke.

And thus concludes our Portuguese odyssey…

(in the words of Patty and Selma…).

Well, we’re back from Lisbon and a second week in Sintra, and have had a terrific time of it, despite all the Heathrow shenanigans. Lisbon is a rather wonky old city full of delightful old houses, elevadors and trams, all of it a little down at heel, and regularly dotted with construction sites and dilapidated buildings in need of pulling down.

The only real disappointments were the lack of any music I could get my teeth into. The guide books would have you believe that Lisbon still oozes traditional fado music in the cafes and on the streets, but all I can say is that I came across none of it. The overwhelming majority of music I heard was horrible old dance mish-mashes and regular MTV pop. If I wanted to listen to any of the traditional music of the Portuguese people, I would have had to go to self-appointed fado houses that also involved buying expensive meals, and (a new one on me) paying a charge as you left if you had not spent enough money. Well as I’ve already said I can’t say that fado is really my cup of tea and frankly, I couldn’t be arsed…

One of the things I did really enjoyed about Lisbon, though, was that one of the things the Lisbonetas really like to do (aside from street barbecues and climbing to the top of buildings for a look-see) is sign things and add highly political cartons to them. Just about every building in Lisbon is covered in street art and grafitti, which continued as we moved out of the capital, which all reached new wacky heights when I saw (I swear) a haystack in a field which had been elaborately tagged.

So what I’m going to post here is a couple of tracks by a Portuguese band called Bar or possibly Baraberto (my Portuguese has not progressed much further that your bog standard “two beers and two cokes, please”), who I will try and find out more about. Let’s just say that they are not fado. I’m also going to post a few photos we took of some of the street art we came across, which will certainly be one of the things I’ll treasure about Lisbon…

Novembro – Baraberto

Corre Corre – Baraberto

Lisbon Grafitti