Local Americana band Mulholland opened their own EP launch gig – held, appropriately enough on Thanksgiving – with a set of acoustic covers. “We’re normally louder,” explained frontman Stan Smith, and they would be later in the evening. Bass player John Elliott joined Andy Southgate on guitar for the Stephen Stills’ Johnny’s Garden and the pair provided a lovely dual guitar line, while Ann Dunford-Smith’s violin was more prevalent during Ryan Adams’ Come Pick Me Up. Neil Young’s Down By The River upped the volume and tempo from the previous tracks. “Talk,” suggested Stan as he remembered he had to change guitar for The Byrds’ My Back Pages. Ann thanked the audience for coming down and pointed out that the EP was for sale before drummer Vic Heard cheerfully pointed out that they hadn’t given him a microphone. That fact that we heard (no pun intended) him made the quip slightly ironic. As Ann changed to accordion Jennifer Chubb, whose smile lights up any stage (and who had, apparently, not got the memo about the band’s wear-a-hat policy), provided cello for Nick Drake’s Northern Skies, a much slower and gentler track. At this point special mention has to go to Liam on the sound desk – whatever he was doing meant that every instrument was coming through the mix clearly and yet Stan’s vocals, which at times remind me of Dylan (but better), were never swamped. The set ended with a version of Faith Hill’s Breathe which saw one couple up dancing at the side of the stage.
Next up was Rachel Croft, who has such a lovely voice and whose guitar playing is, at times, so quiet and unobtrusive that it seems she could be singing a cappella. She opened with new song Rainier Days, a well-crafted, bitter-sweet track that was performed with beautiful vocals and a dreamy look in her eyes. Before the gig I overheard her telling somebody that she was due to start recording in January – if Rainier Days is on the album/EP, she’s got a guaranteed sale from me. “I never plan a set,” she explained before playing a cover of What’s Up, originally by 4 Non Blondes. (“Who,”asked one of my gig buddies. “You’ll know it,” I told him. He did.) Rachel’s acoustic version seemed to almost completely change the dynamic of the song without doing it any harm whatsoever. After her own, more folk-y, Old Climbing Tree, she gave the audience a choice of which Eva Cassidy song she would play. Fields Of Gold won the vote over Songbird and Somewhere Over The Rainbow, although I’m not sure how as they all seemed to get the same volume of cheers. A chorus-less and as yet unnamed original followed and then we were treated to another Eva Cassidy song – a cover of a cover – this time Somewhere Over The Rainbow, a song which, Rachel explained, is a challenge to play busking while you can’t feel your fingers. The tempo was increased and the deft, finger-picking guitar style ditched in favour of strumming for the final song of the set, a cover of Etta James’ At Last.
A quick turnaround between acts meant that I missed Jonny Gill’s opening track and his set started, for me, with the lively nostalgia of There’s Still A Duckpond Here, a song about the village he grew up in. A more serious song about how mental illness is misunderstood was introduced as being “in 3:4 time, if anybody wants to waltz” as he commended the couple who had been dancing earlier. Something about 24, possibly the simplicity of it, reminded me of Anathema’s Weather Systems album, which is no bad thing. It’s over two years since I last saw Jonny perform and, during Bones, I realised that I didn’t remember him being so dry-witted, bordering on cheeky, on stage. Nor, do I remember enjoying his sets as much as I did this one. Bones itself was a strong song, a sort of acoustic indie-rock. Jonny may have a hankering to return to the village of his youth, but I Love This Town, with its references to the Minster, Stonegate and music on the streets showed how much he likes living in York, while Carry Me Home ended this set on a slightly more sombre, but no less entertaining, note.
Next up was Phil Grainger and two of his collaborators in Gobbledigook (which, if I understand it is a multi-stranded entertainments outfit which covers music, theatre, children’s parties and even Santa’s grotto). A slightly different line-up to the last time I saw them saw Phil, with what seemed to be a very undersized guitar for a man of his stature, joined by Dave Jarman on hand drum and Simon (whose surname I forget) on electric guitar. There was little conventional about this set, from Simon’s scratchy guitar style during the first song to Phil’s restrained vocals, which seemed to take a few people by surprise judging by comments I overheard after the set. Even more so than the spoken word poetry/rap sections dropped into a couple of songs by Dave. When you are told that a song might appear “preachy” in the middle you don’t necessarily expect the percussionist, whose sisters it was written about, to step up to the mic and rap at you. Nor do you expect the song to segue into a version of Love Train. The trio had an easy, mickey-taking rapport on stage, adding a bit of fun into the set. The slow, short, simple and yet effective Worries saw Dave take over acoustic guitar duties and Simon get a break. Before the next song Phil swapped his hoodie for a horned hat, making him look like a singing bison for the rest of the set. After one more catchy original he offered us the choice of an original or a cover, “but we’re not saying what the cover is.” “Whitney Houston,” came back shouts from the audience. “We need to stop playing this song,” he replied before, apparently for one last time, performing How Will I Know which saw the audience clapping and singing along and cheering the unexpected and yet somehow still inevitable rap section.
Before starting the final set of the evening Mulholland took time to acknowledge the work of Andy Jackson, who produced their Ghosts & Shadows EP. Inviting him on stage they presented him with a token of their appreciation which appeared to be a cased musical instrument and which seemed to take him very much by surprise. Twice he could be heard incredulously asking, “Really?”
Having been so generous in the time allocated to their support acts, Mulholland’s electric set seemed a little rushed. I’ll be honest, until tonight I hadn’t realised they performed their own songs as well as covers but this set was comprised of the five songs from the EP and So Sorry Blues, another original which, as the title suggests, had a blues-based style. Come On Back was a lively song about the past, drinking an debauchery while the vocally more complex Hangtown had only been played once before, and never with Jennifer on cello. “You’ve had a few drinks,” Stan told us, “so it’ll be fine.” And fine it was, its lyrics inspired by the town of Placerville, in El Dorado, California, which was once known as Hangtown due to the number of hangings that took place there. It seems as though Stan may have forgotten some of those lyrics because he introduced the next song with “here’s one I do know the words to” before having to make a quick guitar change due to some sound problem he was being told about but which I couldn’t detect. With time already past the usual (I think) Basement curfew, the band asked whether they could do two more songs and complete the EP. The huge US flag on the wall behind Vic seemed to decide that if they were playing for longer it would help speed up the tidying up process afterwards and chose that moment to slowly fall down, to the amusement of the audience. The opening to Dead Hand Blues was reminiscent of the soundtrack to a Western while Fool Of Love ended the set, and the evening, in a much livelier and rockier fashion.
The Ghosts & Shadows EP is now available for download/purchase via the band’s website.