Music and charity seem to go together like hand and glove, especially in York around Christmas time. Dan Lucas has, in one guise or another, been organising a festive season charity gig every year (I believe) since 2001, when his punk band The Nosedivers raised money to buy food for the local homeless shelter. I have to admit, that I haven’t attended any of these since discovering the local music scene – perhaps mistakenly believing that they were more suited to those of a slightly younger age who were wanting to get away from their families for a while. As one on a slightly older generation, and with none of my gig-buddies showing any interest, it seemed slightly unfair on my own family to dessert them at this time of year just to go solo to a gig.
This time, however, things seemed to fall into place – the gig wasn’t on Christmas Eve (as it has been in the past), a friend and fellow music lover was attending, along with his wife, and there was an opportunity for the five of us to meet up for a curry before Debbie and Elizabeth made their way back home to lounge on the sofa watching Christmas videos on MTV while the rest of us headed to the gig which, this year, was to raise money for those affected by Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated much of The Philippines back in November. As we arrived, the venue was already showing signs of getting a healthy crowd (and definitely not just those of student-age) and Dan himself was pacing around the place in what seems to be his default state whenever he is organising something bigger than usual – stressed and with alcohol in hand.
Sadly, due to illness, Aimie J Ryan had to pull out at short notice, not only leaving a rather male-centric bill but one consisting of acts that, except for one, I had seen at sometime within the past eighteen months (and all but one of them during 2013).
Opening proceedings with a new and as yet untitled song was Nathan Luke Riley, wishing us a Merry Christmas before he started and noting that it was going to get “chilled and depressing from now on”. Nathan is one of those singers whose vocals are somehow familiar to me but in a way that I can’t put my finger on, reminding me of somebody else but not enough to work out who. This first song, though short, showcased his vocals brilliantly, evoking an emotional loneliness. Sirens followed – a song written about somebody Nathan had met while working at the Duchess, its heartfelt and emotive lyrics turning a figure of embarrassment into one of pity. There was more heartrending with Buried, its lyrics telling of a restrictive relationship. Nathan ended his short set with Honest Love and it was hard to reconcile the nervousness he seemed to display between songs with the calmness that came over him while actually playing. This had been a nice gentle, if slightly melancholic, opening to the evening.
Next up was Zak Ford, his acoustic guitar once again accompanied by Jennifer Chubb on cello. Zak’s playing was more energetic than Nathan’s as he opened with My Name Is Zak, a song which serves both to introduce him and tell anybody who isn’t sure exactly why he is standing on the stage with a guitar and microphone. The darker guitar of Heartbreakers was countered by the lightness of the cello, while the much slower Astray, a new song, was spoiled slightly by the dual vocals fighting to be heard over the music and what seemed to be a slight distortion on the cello sound. Within The Hook Of Hope, the title track of Zak’s new EP (on sale during the gig, hopefully adding to the amount raised) started slow and gentle before the guitar work became faster, with the cello giving a layered background to Zak’s stirring vocals. Thankfully the previous distortion had disappeared before the duo’s final song and the sumptuously downbeat and slightly more intricate My Body also benefited much more from the lovely vocal harmonies.
Now it was the turn of Dan Lucas himself, tonight joined by a medium sized version of the “big band” that accompanied him earlier in the year – Ms Chubb on cello, Adam Rogowski on guitar, Bradley Blackwell on double bass and Andy Jackson on mandolin. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of the output of Boss Caine, whether he is playing solo or as a band, and that I have been enthusing about how well he has been served by the sound guys over the last couple of gigs. Tonight, despite a couple of wince-inducing blasts of feedback, was no exception. Starting with the now usual set-opener of the brilliant Ghosts And Drunks the band moved on to Smoking In My Backyard, one of my many personal favourites, after a short break to rectify a double-bass injury (basically, its “leg” wasn’t extended enough, eventually leading to it being replaced by a standard bass). Despite its very, to me, Yorkshire feel Adam’s guitar seemed to give the song more of a country vibe and it was another that benefited from Jennifer’s lovely backing vocals. Man Overboard was followed by Lady MacBeth, this time made to sound even more melancholy by the cello accompaniment. Truckstop Jukebox (which, for some reason, I have always thought was called Grievous Angel), the tribute to Gram Parsons, lightened the tone a bit, as did Leaving Victoria. Then there was a stage rearrangement saw Chris Helme take over lead vocals, Mike Newsham replace Andy Jackson and Andy Gaines join in on fourth guitar, with Dan and Jennifer on backing vocals for an even more upbeat ending as the audience were invited to sing along to a jam version of Neil Young’s Helpless. (<- This links to a video taken on the night, so you can get an idea of how good it was.)
Chris Helme remained on stage and was joined by fellow ex-Yards Chris Farrell and Stu Fletcher and a drummer whose name I didn’t catch for the next set. I can’t remember how long ago it was that I last saw Chris. It was before I started blogging (so at least six years ago) and I remember I wasn’t that impressed, not so much by the music but by the fact there was so little of it due to his constant faffing around between songs. Since then I have probably in equal parts missed and avoided his solo appearances in York. It might be that one or both of us have matured since then but I enjoyed his set a lot more tonight. Starting by noting that so many people had, ironically turned out to support the gig in bad weather, Chris opened his set with Blindeye, his more honeyed tones counterpointing the whiskey-and-tobacco-infused vocals of the previous set. Another act treating us to a new song, Tell Me That I’m Wrong was strangely raucous while the two tracks that followed were gentler and more relaxed. Summer Girl continued in that vein, its lovely opening eventually building to a more powerful ending. Another understandably short set drew to a close with Pleased, a song “about drinking”, a more bluesy number with Farrell playing an exciting guitar line over a slower and, again, more relaxed back line. This was the only act of the night that was, in some ways, new to me and o n the basis of this set, I won’t be consciously avoiding him again.
So far the evening had been, in a musical sense, fairly quiet. All that was about to change as …And The Hangnails took to the stage. Despite there only being two of them, Martyn Fillingham on guitar and vocals and Steven Reid on an almost minimalist drum kit, this is a very loud band. I guess it didn’t help that I was standing right next to one of the banks of speakers. While the previous acts introduced at least some of their songs, or engaged in a bit of banter between songs, …And The Hangnails seemed to have no time for such frivolities, speeding through their set as is their lives depended on it. Starting off with ear-splitting vocals over a foot tapping rhythm, they moved onto something much faster, Reid reminiscent of Animal from the Muppets while Fillingham’s vocals, drowned by the music, came across more as noise than vocals. Another short, hi-energy track followed, with more pointless vocals followed. The music was raw, punk-like and, when the vocals did manage to force their way through, I could only pick out the repetitive bits. Eventually a track I recognised came along – Meet Me By The River started with vocals that could be heard over the drums and quieter guitar and was the best track of the set, despite reverting to type towards the end. “This song is really hard,” announced Fillingham towards the end of the set, although it wasn’t clear whether he was telling us the title or just letting us know how difficult it was to play, starting fast and furious before an abrupt mid-song change of pace and another towards the end. Finally, just as I thought they should be running out of steam, the set ends with their most energetic track. This was the third time I had seen this band and, despite feeling that I was “getting” them more last time out, they remain one of those bands that, while I appreciate that they are good at what they do, what that is isn’t one of my musical choices.
…and, sadly, that was where I had to leave the gig, despite there still being one act to play. Having had a few drinks I was reliant on public transport for my journey home and, therefore, I had to miss We Could Be Astronauts and their brand of classic-style rock.
I’m told that the gig, with the bands playing for free and the sound and lighting people also donating their time, raised somewhere in the region of £1,200. Well done to all involved.