Circumstances have kept me away from the York music scene for the last couple of weekends. I even managed to miss the launch of Imperial Measures, the second album from the Yards. Luckily, Roy picked me up a copy and I can happily report that it is a superb album. Gone is the raw, fast-paced, almost-heavy music of the eponymously-titled first album, to be replaced by a much more sophisticated, melodic and thoughtful collection of tunes. Some of the songs are familiar from more recent live gigs, others are brand new. All are good, some are bordering on excellent and the whole thing makes the wait between albums well worth it.
Tonight, however, we’ve managed to convince Andy to attend The Duchess, despite the headline act not being one of his favourites (to say the least…)
I arrived slightly later than usual due to the bus breaking down. Well, I say “breaking down”, it actually wouldn’t move for a few minutes after letting some passengers off at one of the stops. The driver turned off the engine (and all the lights) and restarted it (I wonder if he ever worked on an IT Helpdesk…), but still nothing happened when he pressed the accelerator, so he radioed back to base. I couldn’t hear the full conversation but did, at one point, hear the female voice on the radio say, “So, the engine’s running and in gear, but the bus isn’t moving, is that right?” “Yes,” replied the driver. There was a mumbled response and then the bus moved away from the spot. “Yes, it was that,” reported the driver.
I really hope the lady hadn’t asked him whether the handbrake was still on…
Anyway, I digress. As I entered the Duchess York-based foursome Undergrass were about halfway into their set. I wandered over to order a beer, thinking to myself that lead singer Phil Goodrick’s voice was going to annoy me and that I wasn’t going to enjoy this band. How wrong could I have been??? Very soon, Roj arrived and, after supplying him with alcohol, we moved away from the unusually crowded bar area, into the centre of the venue. A new song was being played and, at the end of it, we looked at each other and, pretty simultaneously, proclaimed, “we like these!” Blues-inspired rock, somewhat akin to Whitesnake but with Lemmy-like vocals, is the genre and well played it is. Guitarist Rob Lumby was excellent and included a really nice solo in one song, as well as country-fying the last song slightly with his use of a slide guitar. Bassist Danny Lee and drummer Dave Chitty provided a solid base to the songs and the vocals got better as the set went on. Apparently there is/has been an EP available and a second one is being worked on, but there didn’t seem to be any recorded material available to purchase tonight. Shame really. Definitely a band to look out for.
Second up were 98Pages, a threesome that we only saw a few weeks back, for the launch of their debut album, Broken Homes and the Halfway House, another very good album but, frankly, not a patch on their live performances. Obviously, not being the headline act, this set was a bit shorter than the last one but they were still excellent. This is a band with a very good stage presence, a relaxed almost self-deprecating style of playing (despite the type of music being played) and some excellent songs about drinking and the dangers of “playing away from home”. They seem to have a dedicated following – I noticed a few faces in the crowd – and I am more than happy to include myself in that. It appears, from comments made during the set, that they are already working on a second album. Another one for me to look out for.
Finally, it was Hijak Oscar, a vudu-blues band from York who received national acclaim after appearing on Channel 4’s Mobileact Unsigned programme. I’ve managed to completely avoid them as this is the band that Andy isn’t normally too keen on seeing perform. How to describe them?? “Esoteric” would cover the performance – I’m not sure how reading prayers out added to the music, especially since we could barely hear them, and the music wasn’t exactly mainstream. “Eclectic” and “exotic” would cover the band – there isn’t a single, uniform style in evidence on the stage and barely anybody in the band would be recognised as a musician while walking down the street. Keyboards and guitarist Carl Hetherington is all curls, teeth and sharp angles; vocalist Gaby Milner mixes 60’s chic with rock chick (rock chic or 60’s chick, anybody?); Mark Meilack on bass, bowler-hatted and bespectacled, could be mistaken for a city banker, if it wasn’t for the long hair, bare chest and tattoos. I could go on – this is a very mixed bag of styles, but it seems to work.
As to the music, I suspect that, for some reason, we didn’t get the best in the way of performances tonight. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the set, just that I have a sneaky feeling that they could be a whole lot better than they were tonight. There’s obviously another hard-core fanbase out there. Some people seemed to anticipate parts of the act (although, I guess, if somebody holds up a book of prayers it isn’t that difficult to work out that he’s going to read out a prayer) and know most of the songs. This was another album launch, with second release BlackSheepMoneyBox being available tonight. I wasn’t tempted enough to spend any cash this time but I would definitely be interested in seeing the band live again.
I even saw Andy dancing and clapping a couple of times.