Don’t you just hate it when supporters of one band performing at a gig insist on talking through the other bands’ sets, despite there being people in front of them obviously trying to listen to the music? Me too and that’s probably why I “snapped” tonight, turning round and asking them politely to keep quiet or at least move to a different part of the venue. The Basement isn’t that big but moving upstairs means that chatters are quite so disturbing. “We were only chatting between songs,” I was told. Yeah, except it was more like between lyrics. Anyway, sometimes what is said between songs is just as valid and entertaining as the music itself. It’s disrespectful to the other bands and, to be frank, it’s likely to put me off seeing the band the talkers are supporting if they ever turn up again.
Anyway, that’s enough soapboxing.
First up tonight were Strung To The Sky, a young acoustic duet from Leeds comprising of Lucas Smith and Callum Macintyre. The website says they teamed up after busking together but I’m not sure how you can busk together if you haven’t already teamed up… They promised a set of mostly originals, songs that had been worked on over the last couple of months an opened with a nice mellow number, with guitars and vocals in perfect harmony. Second song Ink started off with a lighter guitar sound which got deeper as it went on and was accompanied by strong vocals, while the third, a much longer affair, with variances in style throughout, saw a change of vocalist and, consequently, a lighter tone. The laid back style, with an occasional burst of vocal angriness, continued into the next song and was even more pronounced in the wonderfully named Nobody Listens To Historians, which featured some lovely harmonies. The final song of the set came from an EP the duo recorded a year ago. My Going Away Present started with the lightest opening so far, with the guitars turning much stronger in places. The tight playing was obvious to see an this song in particular showcased the differences in the pair’s vocals, described elsewhere as Callum having the voice of an angel and Lucas that of the Devil. Along with the previous longer song this was my favourite of the set. Despite, I believe, a very short sound check (I’m sure they arrived as we were already waiting to get into the gig) this was an assured performance and the EP, available to stream on the above link, is well worth a listen.
As with the equivalent gig back in August last year, punk-poet Henry Raby took to the stage between acts, regaling us with his poems and extolling us to show our appreciation for each of the bands.
London duet Winspear and William are two-thirds of The Standards, which was disbanded towards the end of last year. Older than the opening act, the first impression is that they are going to be a bit rockier, with Winspear sporting and electric guitar and William on keyboards. Opener The Simple And The Few was, however, another mellow track, although Winspear’s vocals did border on the anguished during the chorus. A humorous rapport was immediately evident between songs, with mickey-taking about polka-dot shirts preceding the fire exit being pointed out because “we’re going to set this place alight”, which became ironically prophetic when the venue’s fire alarm system insisted on going off at various points during the evening. (No annoying sirens, thankfully. Simply an irritating flashing red light at the back of the stage and staff running around wondering who was smoking.) Disconnect was a slightly rockier song the vocals for which somehow, in a strange way, had a cadence that reminded me of Rat Pack songs, while still having a nice raw edge to them. November the 14th, it was announced is, somewhat appropriately, about the 14th of November which, for some reason, prompted a brief interlude of Happy Birthday for one member of the audience – I couldn’t work out whether the birthday was tonight or in November – before the song itself, which featured airy keyboards counterpointing more of those deep, raw vocals, an almost rock, but slightly subtler, guitar section and, at the end, an apology for the f**k-ups. Being honest, I didn’t notice any. Stole My Smile is, apparently a very new song. “You’ve paid to get in, so let’s do a song that’s very under-rehearsed,” came the quip. Another light song, its dual vocals were fascinating, while William’s face was a study in concentration as he played the keyboard. That Rat Pack impression was back during Give An Inch, Take A Mile and there was something about the song that gave the impression it should have been performed in front of an orchestra, or at least a sizable string section. Another short set finished with the duo’s just-released single, Growing A Beard, another gentle song with pleasing vocal harmonies and an atmospheric guitar section in the middle.
Like Henry Raby, Joe Tilston was also present at last year’s gig. This time, though, he was joined by The Embers Band – Luke Yates (violin and electric guitar), Micky Dey (drums) and Josh Tildesly (double bass) – to play songs mostly from his Embers albums, released last year. “We’re going to play most of what we played last time, just with more people, and here’s a dead miserable one,” he announced before starting with Kings Of Industry, playing the slow and sombre opening solo before the rest of the band came in to liven it up slightly. Railway Children saw the electric guitar replaced with a violin. Even with the full band there are still sections of the songs with just Joe’s acoustic guitar and superb vocals. Before playing You And I, Joe explained that Micky had realised in sound check that he has been getting the backing vocals wrong for the last two years and that he has now realised that it isn’t actually gibberish. Whatever it is, it’s another lovely song. Mirror Mirror is a new song about the effects that the media has on the way people view themselves. Coming at the audience in waves of increasingly passionate vocals, and thought-provoking lyrics – “why do you have to hide, that beauty inside? – it’s a great song with a great message. Where Is The Love and Liza & Henry, Joe’s re-write of There’s A Hole In My Bucket (believe me, it really works), ended an all too short set which, after just the second time of seeing him, cemented this act as one I could watch again and again.
Billed as the Big Band Hometown Spectacular Part 2, tonight saw Boss Caine perhaps surrounded by less of a big band than during part 1 (and less, even, than during December’s charity gig at Fibbers). He did, however, manage to surround himself with more of bevvy of beauties this time around as, along with recent stalwarts Bradley Blackwell on double bass and Andy Jackson on guitar, mandolin and, if memory serves, keyboard (neither of whom, it should be pointed out with the greatest respect, I am including in the bevvy count), Jennifer Chubb (cello) was joined by Sarah Horn (of “lots of bands, all of them awesome”) on violin and Amy Greene (singer/songwriter) on backing vocals. Not everybody played every song. As far as I can remember, opener Smoking In My Back Yard only featured Dan’s guitar, Sarah’s violin and lots of vocal harmonies, while Strength Of The Evidence includes all the instruments but still feels minimal and the music never comes close to overpowering the vocals. I hadn’t heard the beautiful Streetlights And Stars before tonight (and I’m now even more perplexed as to why it doesn’t seem to feature on either of the two upcoming albums) and, while I have probably used the word “mellow” too many times in this review already, I can’t think of a more appropriate description for it, except perhaps “gentle”. The one thing that did strike me during this set was Dan’s body language on stage. At last year’s gig he was, by his own admission, a picture of stress. Tonight, however, he was more relaxed than I have ever seen him, laughing and even cracking jokes – what’s made of brass and sounds like Tom Jones? Trombones! – between songs. As a relatively long-term fan it was a joy to see and after Man Overboard his good mood was quite possibly a factor in the next song being played. Apparently This Is Your Life, from the album The Ship That Sailed, has only been performed twice before, because it ended with Dan crying on stage. Tonight, though, he was “feeling alright” and managed to get through it without incident. After a brief pause to allow for an unscheduled change of lead to the violin, the set continued with the livelier Truckstop Jukebox, Dan’s tribute to Gram Parsons, which saw the best backing vocals so far, with Amy clearly enjoying herself on stage. Tonight’s version was enhanced beautifully by Sarah’s between verses violin sections. Then it was back to the slow and more sombre for Steinbeck Approximately and Long Gone Serenade, two more new songs. The latter was, I believe, another tribute, this time to Townes Van Zandt, whose seventieth birthday it would have been tonight. Once again it showcased Dan’s simple yet effective, heart-on-sleeve lyric writing – songs that used to please me, make me cry now – and heartfelt vocals. That was supposed to be the end but, with the audience shouting for more, we got what I think is the first Boss Caine encore I have seen. The band seemed to be discussing what to play when one audience member requested Leaving Victoria and the choice was made. It seemed to throw Amy for a short while as, presumably, it hadn’t been rehearsed but they all got through it and left the stage to copious applause.
Speaking to Dan afterwards, he admitted to me that he doesn’t particularly like headlining gigs. On the strength of tonight’s performance (and others) he should get used to it. The Basement might be a small venue but he has now sold it out twice and I can’t help but think that, with his music being played by Bob Harris and the recent announcement that he is curating a stage at this year’s Galtres Festival, one of York’s hardest working musicians is finally seeing his star ascending and getting the recognition that some of us have long thought he deserves.