Lucky Seven – The Joy of Sets

dexys2OK, regular Christmas readers of this organ will remember that it often takes me a while to get into this end of year malarkey, but once I’ve warmed up…

So, anyway, I’m venturing forth and starting with some great gigs I’ve been to this year. I’m always a bit sheepish about recounting my gig tally for the year – usually I can do this on the fingers of both hands, although this year I’ve had to take off my shoes and socks too. (I have buddies who talk about getting close to three figures, think about it…)

That being as it may… here we go, chronologically:.

 

February: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins @ The Fleece, Bristol

My first visit to the Fleece, if I remember rightly, and really enjoyable evening it was too. Hot, pubby, beset with sound problems yet still gentle and intimate. Spent a lot of time following Creosote and his warm, delicate songs, but Hopkins impressed too, sympathetically colouring in around the King’s bold lines. Really nice support spot from Withered Hand too.

Only Living Boy in New York

 

April: Trembling Bells with Bonnie Prince Billy @ Frog & Fiddle, Cheltenham

Possibly my highlight of the year. Oldham was as unconventional as you’d expect, by turns daunting, witty and self-effacing, employing a new and impressive set of quirky gestures and never less than whole-hearted in the delivery of a terrific bag of songs. Trembling Bells were also powerful and more than a little scary, and a storming set was delivered with what can only be described as Gusto.

Every Time I Close my Eyes (We’re back there)

 

June: Anaïs Mitchell & the Young Man Band @ St Bonaventura’s, Bristol

Another massive treat in the warm, DIY surroundings of one of my favourite venues. Performed most of the wonderful Young Man in America record, and a good selection from her earlier stuff, all with affection and intelligence, and was supported expertly by one of the most talented bunch of musicians I’ve seen for ages. And she signed a copy of Hadestown for me.

Saw her later in the year solo in Oxford, which was also brilliant but didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of this gig.

Tailor

 

June: Andrew Bird @ Trinity Centre, Bristol

Another debut venue, and another beautiful evening in Bristol; and if we’re talking expert musicians you’ve got to tip your hat towards Andrew Bird. I’ve never seen a man play the fiddle like this guy, bowing beautifully, then strumming it like a yuke, then back to the bow all within a verse sometimes. Played a good long, occasionally theatrical set and finished it up with an Ol’ Timey clutch of toons. Didn’t know whether to stroke my beard or grin like a loon…

Desperation Breeds

 

July: Wooden Shjips @ The Fleece, Bristol

This was the steamy, roller coaster of an evening you kinda hope for when Ripley Johnson and his awkward crew lumber on stage. You know what you’re going to get with the Shjips, meandering, uncomplicated and repetitive yet somehow fascinating and complex at the same time. The Elevators of the 21st Century… Another evening where the support band, three young lads from Weston called Towns, added to the fun.

Flight

 

August: Dexy’s @ Green Man

So to the festival season.

Despite the rain, there were some fine moments at Green Man as usual –some of them young (TOY, Savages, Field Music), some of them old (Van) and lots of them Welsh (Cate le Bon, H Hawkline, Sen Segur, Pen Pastwn). But the most enjoyable set of the weekend came from the wild-eyed bugger himself. Only managing to get through 5 or 6 numbers in his hour (so gloriously teased-out was each one), Rowlands, and a band that included long-suffering confidante Pete Williams; Mick Talbot and spurned chantoose Madeleine Hyland mugged their way through a hugely pleasing set. Highlights included This Is What She is Like, Lost and a gigantic version of Come On Eileen. Wow!

Lost

 

August: Woods @ End of the Road

There were some even better sets at my End of the Road debut this year too. Honourable mentions should go to Yeti Lane, Gravenhurst, First Aid Kit, TOY (again) and a bedraggled Midlake, but my favourite section of the weekend was Saturday afternoon’s belter from Woods. Their records often major on the slightly fey, slightly geeky tones of Jeremy Earl’s vocals and Woods’ bubblegum sound. On stage. however, the shackles were off and some great garage-y, psychedelic meandering went on. We also heard a lot of stuff which was new then, but which appeared on Autumn’s Bend Beyond.  Happy daze.

Cali in a Cup

The hours go by like sips of water…

So last weekend, I went to the Fleece inBristolfor my first gig of the year. I’d been looking forward to it for a few months since it was announced and it turned out to be a really beautiful event, one I’ll remember for a good while. Diamond Mine was one of my favourite records of 2010, although inexplicably I managed to leave it off my Seven Great Records list for the year. If I were writing that now, I’d change that…

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins

Never been to the Fleece before, but I have a feeling it won’t be long before I’m back again. Lovely little venue, with a real pub feel to it (the clinking of bottles is a predominant feature of the recording) and a pretty good pedigree for “my sort of act”. The acoustics in the place were great, really clear, but the actual sound was pretty ropey at times, with a couple of major mishaps and some distortion. More of which later…

First support band, Delfinger, a guitarists and two chubby fellers on tiny synths, were pretty good and worth recording (if only I had…), but second support Withered Hand, had already been flagged up to me as worth a listen and I managed to record his whole set. Good it was too, although it started off quite literally with a bang from a mic that had people diving for cover. His songs kept the attention, sounding a little like Fionn Regan and punctuated by a nice line in self-deprecating between-songs chat.

The King Creosote set started in similarly inauspicious fashion, as the long lead in introduction track, First Watch, fed in to John Taylor’s Month Away the mics failed altogether and he had to abandon the song with a desperate “Fuck it!”.  There was a considerable amount of laughter and joking about it and it turned out not to matter, being something of an emblem for the evening as a whole, good natured, witty and unfussy. All the tracks from Diamond Mine were performed pretty much unbroken to an appreciative, at times, spellbound audience. It’s a great cycle of songs with King Creosote’s voice carefully and affectionately complimented byHopkins’ background keyboards and accordion. It was stunning.

Once Diamond Mine had been exhausted, the pair seemed to relax a little, with noticeably more banter with the audience and a selection of other Creosote songs taking the evening to close on an hour and a half. An encore that included an exceptional, very poignant version of Song to the Siren brought the evening to an eventual but still-too-soon end.

It had been a warm, intimate affair despite the technical hitches, and I’ve tried to make sure the recordings reflect that, usually I’d be furiously editing out as much audience interference as possible, but the occasional bit of chatter and the odd clink of bottles seemed to add to the whole thing. I’ve also included the whole “Fuck it!” part of John Taylor’s Month Away, and the sounds of one unfortunate woman fainting and having to be carried out during Running on Fumes. It’s a real warts and all recording, but I like it…

A few highlights…

First Watch / John Taylor’s Month Away (“Fuck it!”)

Bats in the Attic

Spy Stick

Song to the Siren

and something from the Withered Hand set

No Cigarettes