There wasn’t much to suit our collective tastes in our usual haunts tonight but it seemed that Andy was keen on meeting up anyway, so he came up with a couple of alternative suggestions. Roj’s response of, “I’m not fussed for folk” to the thought of heading to the Black Swan left just a band we’d not come across before (and one I incorrectly assumed must be newcomers – they’ve had a presence on MySpace since 2007) in The Yorkshire Hussar, a venue we hadn’t frequented for music before. It’s certainly changed from the real-ale pub I remembered from the days I worked almost next door to it, now just serving two hand-pulled ales. To be honest, I wasn’t going to venture out – I had already been to one gig this week and have to balance a love of live music with family time. Out of curiosity, though, I had a look at the band’s MySpace page and had a listen to Sandman, to which my initial response was something along the lines of, “Wow!” and, on the basis of that song, I changed my mind. It’s a good thing I’ve got such an understanding wife.
Dream Of Apollo was born when solo performer Vicki Mack started collaborating with other musicians in order to give her songs a bigger sound. Appropriately, tonight’s set, with the band’s equipment taking up half of the pub’s back room and a reasonably sized (for the venue) audience crowding the bar area and watching from doorways, started with Vicki performing five songs acoustically on her own. Starting with Burn (originally by Ray Lamontagne) she promised us that the rest of the songs wouldn’t be quite so depressing. Following that with Lovesong (The Cure), For My Lover (Tracy Chapman) and Boats And Birds (Gregory and the Hawk – who I’ve never heard of but will now be checking out) and then a song of her own, Mine. Throughout, Vicki’s vocals were superb, mixing the quieter bits with more powerful sections while staying incredibly clear. She performs with a slightly detached air, often starting at a space somewhere above the audience, occasionally flashing a smile and spoke rarely between songs. I’ve seen guitarists mark time in a number of ways, from foot tapping to stomping, but I’ve never seen anybody do it by rocking onto the sides of their feet before.
After those five songs, Vicki was joined by the rest of the band – Winston Sanders on guitar, Rhys Bevan on bass and Jamie Bradley on drums (and also doubling as soundman). For some reason, I had been expecting an acoustic set, but, while Vicki stayed with her acoustic guitar and Jamie played mainly played with brushes (due to the small venue, maybe?), the guitar and bass were both electric. After Sanctuary, Winston joked that they only did songs starting with the letter “S” as he introduced Someday with its lovely slow start leading into some crashing drums and a much stronger finish. Winston then asked the band whether they had any other songs beginning with “S”. “Sandman,”shouted some wag from the audience. (I don’t know what came over me…) “Ooo, we have. Are we doing that one?” he asked Vicki. “No,” she replied. (Dammit!) Instead they played their first cover of the set, In A Manner Of Speaking (Depeche Mode), which was similar in style to the last song, but with a quieter end. Then it was back to their own songs with Leander and the darker toned Anatole with its references to the “brimstone of Hell”. All these songs had been good but I was about to be blown away. Free turned out to be an epic rock track with lovely guitar work, complimentary vocals from Winston and so many changes of time signature towards the end that it was hard to keep up. If ever a song was created to end a set on a high, this is it. However, the band were nowhere near finished and continued with Home, which had a bit of a rock-a-billy feel to it before covering Jolene (Dolly Parton) and then taking a break.
I’m always a bit wary of somebody else taking the “stage” when a band is taking a break. Sometimes the audience, as well as the performers themselves, needs time to take a breath. Tonight, however, a “good” friend of Winston (prompting some amusement when he didn’t know his surname) – Maartin from The Netherlands – was invited to play a few songs. We had been commenting (between songs, obviously) how quiet the audience was being while Dream Of Apollo were playing. It seemed as though everybody was listening intently or, at least, not trying to shout over the music as is the case at most gigs. Unfortunately, when Maartin was playing two blokes behind me decided to break the spell and discuss, rather loudly, the Bramham Horse Trials, so it was a little difficult to concentrate on his performance. Roj, standing a bit closer than I was, recognised his first song as a cover of Radiohead’s Don’t Leave Me High and he also played Dutch song Slaapliedje (Lullaby) by Acda en de Munnik and his own song Not Going Home, which was much faster and lighter in tone than the other two.
Dream Of Apollo returned with Regrets Of The Devil and segued into the bass heavy Children Of The City. For the only time during the evening, Vicki’s vocals seemed a little swamped during Regrets, but any fan of the likes of (T.V. show) Supernatural would understand the references to souls being taken at crossroads. At this point it has to be said that, while I’ve seen some laid-back bass-players in my time I don’t think I’ve ever seen one as relaxed as Rhys, who spent a fair bit of time sitting down. Sandman, with its superbly atmospheric guitars, followed, with Winston saying it was for me and it was every bit as good live. Next up came Jimmy, with Vicki playing harmonica for a slightly more bluesy sound then Too Lost Too Late and Hold Me before the set finished with a cover of Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash). The audience were definitely keen for more but the band didn’t seem to have an encore prepared. After a bit of discussion Vicki and Jamie gave us one of her own songs, the darkly humourous Dead Pets, but the audience still weren’t satisfied and, were asked what they wanted to hear again. The vote was unanimous and we got a second helping of Sandman.
One of the best things about supporting the local music scene, if only by attending gigs and buying CDs directly from bands, is that every so often you stumble across a band that really does blow you away and you don’t want the evening to end. Tonight was one of those times. Totally at ease on stage, with the audience (which tonight, I suspect, consisted of a fair few people who knew the band members) and with each other, Dream Of Apollo produced an enthralling set full of very good songs and one of the best gigs I’ve been to this year. Sadly they haven’t released an album yet but if they do I will certainly be buying a copy. (I’d even go so far as to say that, with the right songs on it, I would consider purchasing an EP.) I will definitely be making an effort to see them live again, either in the Golden Lion on the 24th of June or at Fibbers on the 10th of July, when they are headlining. Maybe even both. I think I may have a new favourite live band.