My first gig of the year opened with a pleasant surprise. Originally down as second on the bill, Freaks + Geeks had, for some reason, morphed into the duo of Stuart Allan and Sophie McDonnell (two thirds of the band) who were now opening the evening. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the full band but, as I mentioned last time I saw them, their music is a little outside my comfort zone. As a twosome, though, Stuart and Sophie were, for me, much easier to listen to. They played a short set of just six songs, at least half of which – The Wave, Another Breakdown and the band’s “biggest near miss”, Walk – were re-workings of songs from their other band The Blueprints’ catalogue – I failed to hear what the first was and, while a shout of “Digital” came from the audience just before their third track, I don’t know whether that was the song that Sophie opened with a lovely guitar sound that was too quiet to ever be described as “jangly” or whether Digital is, in fact, a Blueprints song. A brand new song, the pop-py Multiply, was intriguing in a way that, as good as it was, made me wonder what a full band version would sound like. Walk itself was, perhaps, the song that showcased man-out-of-time Stuart’s retro influences the most, seeming to hark back to the Sixties more than any of the others. Throughout the set Stuart’s vocals and acoustic rhythm guitar could in no way be described as brash and he could probably get away with performing solo, but add in Sophie, as she teased exquisite sounds out of her electric guitar and added backing vocals, and the performance was raised to a whole other level. This was a really nice way to start the evening.
Nick Tudor opened his set by announcing that this would be the first and last time anybody would see The Nick Tudor Band, without explaining why. As the very enjoyable set went on I found that more and more puzzling. Here was a band – Nick on vocals and guitar and youngsters Regan Grimson (drums) and Curtis Papworth (bass and vocals) – who clearly enjoyed playing together and were very tight while doing so. Leather jacketed Tudor still had the Paul Weller/Liam Gallagher look that I had remarked on back in 2011 and was still an equally impressive and enthralling performer, rarely still when not at the microphone, with a tendency to incorporate knee drops that must have played hell with his calves the next morning. This set upped the volume and energy from the opening one, with opener You Keep Running Me Down (few songs were introduced so, once again, I’m guessing at some titles) being slightly out-rocked by the second track, which featured some accomplished, energetic drumming. The more Blues-like On Your Doorstep, which included a fabulous guitar-line in the middle, was followed by Nick’s first new song in two years. Appropriately enough, Write It Down is exactly what he had done with the lyrics but you barely saw him glance at them during the song, which incorporated the most prominent bass-line so far and a later hastily discarded tambourine. Brick By Brick, a song a bout Nick’s time on the dole, saw his melancholy vocals bookended by powerful riffage and seemed to be particularly appreciated by the Bridlington contingent which, by this time, made up a fair proportion of the audience. “It’s gonna get a bit psychedelic,” he announced before the final track of the set. It was certainly a lot less rocky, until a shouted “Goodnight!” led into what seemed to be an explosive musical finale but actually developed into a more subtle, ever changing instrumental section – including another great bass-line – which drew the set to a stunning close. First and last time we’ll see The Nick Tudor Band? Maybe so, but perhaps only because they came up with another name after this gig was advertised. And Page 45 are a band to look out for.
My personal story of following The Rodeo Falls goes something like this – I went to see what was billed as their last performance at The Fulford Arms during my time in gig doldrums last year, only to discover that they had also got a slot at the Festival on Rails at The National Railway Museum later in the year, at which point the band’s future was unclear as bass-player Bob Jackson was heading off to the States. Less than a month later I saw them support Dry The River at Fibbers, throwing new bass player Jono Sayner in at the deep end. Being honest, I didn’t think I’d see them headlining the same venue this soon but here they were, now with added keyboards from Louis Bradley, and based on past performances I was really looking forward to it, especially given that the band’s album, Better Broken, had made my top ten list for 2014.
Their set was made up of the familiar and the not-so, partly because it included songs not from the album and partly because those songs that I have heard (and sung along to) so many times in the comfort of my own home seemed to have been re-worked slightly. Styles were mixed – openers Captains Of Industry and X-Kids were reminiscent of quirky Sixties pop and near-reggae respectively, the latter mainly because of the keyboard and tinny drum sound. Doctor Doctor and Pepper Potts were more familiar to me and, therefore, easier to pick out above the increasing crowd noise and, by now, members of that crowd could be seen dancing along to the music. The superb Long Distance Runner gave the first impression of those re-workings, if only because I don’t remember David Carpenter’s guitar part having the impact that it did tonight. The more Blues-y Rope Tricks was, apparently, inspired by and written immediately after a band’s appearance on Jools Holland. If frontman Marck Whiley said which band it was I didn’t hear it. He shares at least one trait with Dan Lucas of Boss Caine – both are so softly spoken that it can be hard to hear what they are saying between songs, especially from my favourite vantage point. Switching to electric guitar for Men Under The Moon, Marck seemed to take some good natured ribbing from other band members after being spotted subtly re-plugging a cable into the guitar after it fell out mid-song. He then inadvertently flipped the finger at the audience, intending simply to show them that he was shedding blood for the cause of music, before launching into The Beat Goes On, another Sixties-inspired track, which showcased more on-stage chemistry, this time between Marck and David during their dual vocals section. Everybody Watching You was led more by Jono’s bass and was followed by Bang Bang, which saw Marck back on acoustic guitar, with David’s lead guitar line alternating between an electricity-like crackle and a siren-like warble. Unfortunately Best Laid Plans, with its subtle opening barely audible, seemed to hardly get going and had the feeling of a filler track, thrown in while the acoustic guitar was being repaired by an in-venue guitar tech in the form of Stuart Allen (I assume not a bad person to have around in case of running repairs). Afterwards, though, I found out that Marck, who up until that point had been throwing everything into his performance, had almost lost his voice by that time, which probably accounted for it. With the return of his acoustic guitar, however, he seemed reinvigorated. Put On Silver saw his furious rhythm guitar and Mike Bilson’s equally energetic rat-a-tat drums play over David’s bottle-neck lead guitar for the most energetic performance yet. And then it was all over, Marck eschewing guitars completely and taking the microphone off-stage to hug family members and climb the Fibbers barriers while performing Dyed In Wool.
There was no encore. I don’t think one would have been possible, and not just because of the venue’s curfew. Greeting fans and friends from the stage immediately after the final song, a sweating and coughing Marck looked exhausted, having given his all for a headline performance that, at very least, had lived up to my expectations. “Let’s do it again,” he entreated on the band’s Facebook page the next day. “Yes,” I say, “Let’s.”