Thursday 31st May: The second and final part of my round-up of May’s gigs, featuring slimmed-down reviews. For an explanation of the sudden (and hopefully, on my part anyway, temporary) change in format, see the last post.
Saturday the 19th. My lift to tonight’s gig had had to change his plans, so it was either drive myself – which wasn’t really an option given that the gig was in a real ale pub – or cycle. Thankfully the weather held and, after a small amount of cajoling from one of the band, I made an almost last-minute decision to attend. It might have been the rush to get out that caused me to turn up at the wrong pub. It was only after I’d ordered a pint in the Fulford Arms, and noticed the poster advertising a different band to what I was expecting, that I realised that I should be at the Waggon And Horses and that I didn’t actually know where it was. Thankfully, the barmaid was able to give me directions (I’d practically cycled past it already…)
Dream Of Apollo were playing the Waggon’s regular Saturday night acoustic slot. It was a slightly smaller line-up than normal, with drummer Jamie missing and Rhys, newly returned from his Antipodean nuptials, playing the first acoustic bass that I remember seeing. It was, possibly, a bad night to attempt to play music in a pub, with a number of people watching the Champions League final in the main bar. (I had, I’m a little ashamed to say, already given the match more attention than I had given to David Breslin, who provided support tonight.) The band played in a smaller “room” to one side of the pub and, I’m told, that it would have been easier to hear them properly if I had been in the room itself, rather than standing in the doorway. Most of the songs, however, are familiar enough to me now that I don’t have to hear them fully, so I was able to keep half an eye on the football, which eventually finished during the band’s break, much to the delight of a portion of the attendees. Peppered among the familiar were a couple of new songs – All For You and Your Loving Arms – as well as a couple of songs I hadn’t heard for a while, including the wonderful blackly comedic Dead Pets. The band battled gamely against the football while it was still on – bringing to mind a previous evening when they played a pub gig while Andy Murray played tennis on the TV – before eventually being allowed to shine during the second half of their set.
The Waggon itself looks to be nice venue for acoustic music. Those that were there for the music were friendly, even if some of them appeared to be there more the atmosphere, spending more time talking about who else they had seen perform that week than actually listening. Again, I’m told I could have avoided that by going into the room itself. Unfortunately it is, perhaps, just a little too far off the beaten track to consider it as a regular venue.
Thursday the 24th was the first evening this year when two gigs I fancied clashed. I decided to forego Girls With Guitars (the description sounds better than the name) at Fibbers and, instead, see another long-established prog group at the Duchess.
This being a band who started out in the seventies, it seemed almost inevitable that Stolen Earth would be supporting. With hands presumably still aching from signing two hundred copies of their debut CD, A Far Cry From Home, the night before the band took to what must have been an incredibly hot and sticky stage (the May heatwave was making the Duchess feel something akin to Hell) and, once again, seemed to hold the audience entranced. It might simply be that fans of the bands they are supporting “get” what Stolen Earth are doing musically but this band seem to get a much better reception from the off than most other supports. Tonight’s set had, again, been tweaked slightly from the previous time we saw them. Highlights included Soul In A Jar, with Adam teasing notes out of both acoustic and electric guitars, and Silver Skies, the sound for which was much better than at Fibbers a few days ago. From the third song onwards, just after she asked for more vocals in her monitor, Heidi’s vocals hit top form, with the lyrics coming across much more clearly. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting more familiar with the songs. As usual the set ended with the brilliant Perfect Wave, which got a near-rapturous response from the crowd, almost certainly due in no small part to the very Pink Floyd-like instrumental section.
I’m fairly certain that, many years ago, I had an album by Dutch proggers Focus on tape. If I remember rightly, a friend of mine had bought it, didn’t like it and gave it to me. It must be about thirty years ago, but that album was probably Moving Waves, containing the (in)famous yodelling track Hocus Pocus, and was probably my first dalliance with prog rock. From tonight’s crowd it seems that not only are Focus still a big draw but that their fans cover a wide spectrum – from the usual middle-aged beer-bellied men right through to more attractive, younger women who looked barely old enough to be drinking.
Taking to the stage to a kind of science-fictional choral opening, the band played an energetic, mostly instrumental set, although some compositions also featured founding member Thijs van Leer, now in his mid-sixties and apparently as mad as a box of frogs, on vocals, even if said vocals, for the most part, weren’t words. Yes, there was yodelling. For most of the set, van Leer sat behind a battered old Hammond organ, with “Focus” spelled out on it in black tape. Alternating between two microphones, depending on what effect he required, he played the organ and flute (occasionally at the same time) while frantically and wild-eyed conducting both the band and the audience. The rest of the band were all allowed their moments to shine – Menno Gootjes on guitar was incredible throughout, moving from studious calm to a finger-flying solo with ease, Bobby Jacobs performing the very best bass solo I have ever heard and, being a fan of good drumming, I was more than pleased that Pierre van der Linden performed two solos, a shorter one at the end of one song and a proper one towards the end of the set. Putting the set together from throughout the band’s history, including the forthcoming Focus 10, we were treated to an hour and a half of superb, if slightly quirky, music which, despite having its roots in the seventies, still sounds incredible today. As the band left the stage, the audience shouted for more but Van Leer himself returned to the stage to apologise that there was no time for an encore due to the venue having to get ready for a “pop-show” (he meant the following club night). Disappointment all round.
And that’s it. May 2012, overall the busiest month I have had for local gigs (so far…) And there could have been more – apart from missing Girls With Guitars, I chose not to see Blackbeard’s Tea Party (supported by the incredible What The Cat Dragged In) and Only The Young (who some friends will be enjoying even as I write this) and missed Cryptic Age’s album launch due to having to work in Scotland that day.
As far as I know, I’m only going to three gigs in June, and each is separated from the next by at least a week. So, with a bit more free time, hopefully normal service will be resumed soon.