When we arrived at The Duchess, Vinnie and the Stars had already taken to the tinsel-and-Christmas-tree bedecked stage for their now regular support slot for Blackbeard’s Tea Party. I’ve seen them a few times now and while, in the past, I’ve commented that I don’t “get” them, I find myself enjoying the live performances more and more each time. They play with energy, performing catchy, lively songs in an indefinable style – a bit of pop, a bit of rap, something a bit slower – and yet always recognisable as their own sound. This time out the keyboards seemed to be more prominent than I remembered and, while most of the set was familiar, two songs stood out. No Demons will be on the band’s next album and is currently available as a free download. Although its verses were rap-like, the near anthemic chorus seemed to be crying out for lighters in the crowd. I didn’t catch the title of the track that the band hadn’t played for years, from the 2009 Swings And Roundabouts album but it was a cracker. I’m not sure whether the ubiquitous I’m Not From America… I’m From Hull, with its now familiar origin story, had a more inventive mix this time out or whether it was simply better sound but it was definitely even more enjoyable than usual. “If you like punk, get down to the front because it’s about to get mental,” suggested Vinnie towards the end of the set. It was definitely fast and furious, but I don’t remember punk having such a nice keyboard line. The set ended in a lively fashion, with even the bass player bouncing on stage. Maybe I’m getting used to them but, from the times I’ve seen them, this was the band’s best performance yet.
Even though Christmas was still nearly three weeks away, tonight’s large crowd seemed to be well and truly in the spirit. Elves, tinselled hats, reindeer antlers and Santa hats were present in abundance in amongst more traditional pirate gear. Even Santa himself, slimmer and yet still in a tight-fitting red suit, was manning the merchandise table. One woman, however, was bucking the festive trend in headgear and sporting a hat made to look like a raft. And, yes, there was indeed a chicken on it…
Coming on stage to a combination of siren and sleigh bells, Blackbeard’s Tea Party opened the final (and, apparently Christmas-themed) gig of their latest tour with a lively jig and the strong vocals of The Valiant Turpin before Stuart Giddens, welcoming the audience and thanking us for coming out to see “our small busking band”, determined that the front row consisted of people from as far apart as Manchester, Plymouth, Bristol and Edinburgh. After Laura Boston-Barber led off Bulgine, we were treated to a preview of the band’s next album with Stand Up Now, a recruitment song for Diggers in the time of the Civil War (if I heard/remember correctly). What I thought were unusual sound effects, with some of the vocals seeming to come from behind the audience, were probably more to do with the microphone malfunction which forced Stuart to switch mics during the next track. By now the crowd was bouncing and Whip Jamboree brought about the usual sing-along and a huge cheer for Stuart’s hip action. An even louder sing-along accompanied Fairytale Of New York while the smutty Landlady saw the crowd swaying along while Laura, Martin Coumbe and Tim Yates seemed to be playing their own personal game of musical statues on stage. Stuart’s introduction to the next song made it clear that it was going to be Chicken On A Raft even without mentioning the title and the audience, once again, needed little or no encouragement to join in with the chorus and associated actions. Laura was joined by new husband Dave Boston as they duetted on fiddle and fiddlesticks for the opening of their first wedding tune (as opposed to first wedding dance) which seamlessly segued into a second lively instrumental as the set drew to a close.
The inevitable encore saw Martin come back on stage dressed as Santa, followed by the rest of the band and various renditions of the familiar outfit – Dave sleeveless and Stuart topless but with glowing braces – and a rendition of Mike Oldfield’s In Dulci Jubilo. This was followed by a rousing version of Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober, bringing another superb gig to a close. This is one small busking band who knows how to work an audience.