Blackbeard’s Tea Party – The Duchess, 06/04/13

Strange, when I arrived at the Duchess tonight I could have sworn that the doors hadn’t opened but when I got inside there was more people in there than had been in front of me in the queue and the first act was already on stage.
Andy Doonan’s vocals reminded me of somebody but I don’t think it was the Bon Jovi comparison that I have seen bandied around. Listed on his website as a solo artist, Andy started tonight’s set with a nice song – Hometown – playing acoustic guitar, alongside Sam Smith on electric guitar and Chris Dickinson playing a cajon. The second song, a cover that was naggingly familiar, as if I knew it but under a different arrangement (it turns out that it was Be Somebody, which explains the familiarity), saw them joined by Joe Doonan and Becca Yeadon on backing vocals and this “squad rotation” continued to varying degrees throughout the set. Right Now was a lovely, quiet song which showed off Andy’s impassioned vocals while the next, Stumbling was more upbeat, as was Remember The City Lights which saw the Sam move to keyboards and Andy himself partake of a bit of harmonica action. Andy’s latest single, Here You Are, a kind of soft-rock ballad without the shudder that those words sometimes conjure up, is available as a free download on his Facebook page and was next to be played before he moved to keyboards for Sky On Fire from, I believe, a forthcoming E.P. The mix of piano and electric guitar gave this song the fullest sound of the set. Overall, a pleasant start to the evening and another artiste added to my ever-growing list of those to look out for.
After a quick turn-around, Vinnie and the Stars took to the stage. Or, at least, The Stars did, playing a funky drums, bass and keyboard opening before announcing Vinnie Whitehead’s appearance on guitar, greeted by cries of, “We love you Vinnie,” from the audience. On stage, the band looked a bit of a mixed bag, the keyboard player and bass-player looking like escapees from a Madness tribute band and generic rock band respectively, while Vinnie himself, with his baseball cap and thick silver chain was almost the poster-boy for Yorkshire Hip-hop. His vocals were a strange sort of mixture of sung rap and funk (maybe that’s what Hip-hop is…), and came together with the music in an enjoyable, toe-tapping way. For the most part, the set had a light feel to it, but Nonsense was louder and came over as a bit angrier, while another song had a pseudo-political protest feel to it, if only in the performance as I couldn’t make out to many of the lyrics. With time running out, Vinnie announced that they were going to have to speed through the last two songs, rather than cut either of them. I’m Not From America… I’m From Hull was a humorous rap, performed slickly and with a vague party-band feel to it, while the last song was back to the funky rap stylings. Comprising at least two styles of music that I don’t actually enjoy shouldn’t have worked but this set was, in fact, very enjoyable. I doubt I would buy any albums, but I certainly wouldn’t shy away from seeing this band live again.
I’ve wanted to see Blackbeard’s Tea Party for a while now, without actually knowing why. It’s probably the write-ups they get on what’s-on listings, which usually mention things along the lines of “formidable live act”. It certainly isn’t any degree of knowledge about them or their music. But, let’s face it, when has that ever stopped me seeing a band? Tonight is the first night of their first U.K. tour, one to promote the release of their third album – Whip Jamboree – the first with Stuart Giddens, who I have seen previously as one half of the duo Stuart and Pip. How this band ever play the likes of The Fulford Arms, I will never know (unless I head over there to see them sometime). The Duchess was as full as I think I’ve ever seen it and the audience was buzzing. They had already given both support acts good receptions and were clearly looking forward to the headliners. Unfortunately, I now found myself towards the back of the crowd, peering at the stage across a sea of heads, a sea which included a veritable tsunami of six-foot-plus fans right across the middle. So, any observances in the following aren’t from the best of positions…
Blackbeard’s Tea Party play folk music and it’s almost too easy to characterise at least some of the band members as archetypes from folk (or, perhaps, fairy) tales of old. There’s the slightly cheeky village lad whose voice can charm anybody, the beautiful May Queen with her long flaxen hair, the mighty-thewed giant able to rip tree stumps out of the very ground (and hang them round his neck to play as drums) and… well, I could go on but I didn’t get a good enough look at others in the band (and one might not take too kindly to being called Lob…). But what of the music? Well, the band play a mixture of their own compositions and updated arrangements of more tradition stuff. Tonight’s set was comprised of what sounded like, to my folk-uneducated mind, shanties, drinking songs, jigs and, perhaps, reels but all with a modern flavour through the inclusion of Martin Coumbe’s electric guitar and Tim Yates’ bass. Arriving on stage to the rather un-folk sound of an air-raid siren and a huge bass and drum rumble, the band launched straight into a sea shanty and the crowd was already bouncing. The next song saw vocalist Stuart Giddens adding a melodeon to the line-up, which was completed by Laura Barber on fiddle and Yom Hardy and Dave Boston on a multitude of percussion between them, but with no conventional drum kit in sight both played mainly with their hands, with Yom’s hair flying and Dave, who was generally standing up, occasionally stretching his arms wide and appearing, like a modern-day Atlas, to be holding up the Duchess’ ceiling. Both played with physical flourishes that, if nothing else, showed just how in time with each other they were. For me, most of the time it was near impossible to tell whether songs were followed by instrumentals or whether the instrumentals were just extensions of the songs but every track got a rapturous reception from the crowd who, if not more folk-minded than me, were at least more familiar with the band’s output. One example of the modern updating came with Landlady, the band’s version of Jake Thackray’s The Lodger, with music by Laura and added lyrics from Stuart who, before playing it, announced, “Hang on to you hats, ladies and gentlemen. This one’s dirty.” There was something almost pantomime-like in the performance of it. The New Jigs, taken, appropriately enough, from the new album was dedicated to Dave Boothroyd, producer of said album, who Stuart credited as inventing the new music genre of “tech-folk”. During the set, each band member seemed to get a small solo spot during the songs but, about halfway through, the spotlight was most definitely on Laura, who performed a short fiddle number with the rest of the band fist-pumping to the rhythm until they all came in for the end of the track. The whole performance was energetic, the band generally smiling and enjoying themselves and rarely still on stage, whether it was Dave wandering around, one of the others joining him on the drum platform or the whole front line leaning slowly from side to side in unison. The slightly off-the-wall feel continued as Lankin, a “miserable folk song”, was greeted with cheers as Stuart described what it was about (effectively, a builder breaking into a house and killing a child…) and was followed by Rackabella, a “pork-pie hunting” song, about which I wasn’t privy to the in-joke. A couple of tracks later and Stuart called for the people in front to create an open space to accommodate a “surprise” as the next track was accompanied by The Black Swan Rapper, who performed an intricate, energetic and acrobatic dance with rapper swords. As they departed the floor, the rush of people to get back to the front was almost as awe-inspiring as the rapper team had been. Landlord was another saucy song and, I think, one that I’ve heard in another guise as the line “tomorrow we’ll be sober” sounded familiar and was followed by the intriguingly titled Chicken On A Raft which, rather than being about floating poultry, was written by Cyril Tawney about an unpopular dish of fried egg on fried bread that was served during his time in the Navy. The set finished with Polka Against The Clock which is one of those songs that sounds chaotic, as though the various instruments are pulling against each other rather than working together, but somehow still works.
After a short break the band returned for an encore, with Stuart looking like he had just stepped out of the video for Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing (how much less “folk” can day-glo sweatbands be…?) and, after another instrumental, the evening ended with the title track of the new album, a rousing sing-along that seemed to encapsulate the character of the whole show. Inevitably, on the way out, I visited the merchandise table and bought the entire back catalogue. While I expect the albums to be good, I suspect it won’t be as good as seeing the band live.
As I mentioned, I had wanted to see this band for a while. Now that I have, I want to see them again. Soon. It may be my own local bias but, while Blackbeard’s Tea Party update folk music in much the same way that acts such as The Albion Band do, they seem to do it with even more energy. Very highly recommended.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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One Response to Blackbeard’s Tea Party – The Duchess, 06/04/13

  1. Great stuff, as usual, Ian. I missed this one, but having seen BTP before this evokes the feel, energy and enjoyment of being there just as I remember it.

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