The Taskers–The Basement, 28/02/15

Rarely has a man-and-acoustic-guitar act grabbed my little group’s attention in the way that Sand Creature (a.k.a. John Holt-Roberts) did tonight. In an energetic style which saw a sheen of perspiration on his forehead before the second track had finished, he delivered a flurry of songs which brought smiles to our faces, despite occasionally varying into darker-toned lyrics. Opening with a fast and furious guitar salvo that brought to mind flamenco and vocals sounding like some sort of “pirate-folk”, he moved on to Jelly Beans, which saw the almost twee-ness of “I like kitty-cats. Do you like kitty-cats?” tempered with the question of whether whoever the song was being sung to would reign down death on the singer’s enemies. Goblin Nights was much harder to interpret, its lyrics delivered in rapid, tongue-twisting style that was as impressive as it was incomprehensible, with guitar-playing to match. John’s accent gave Stuff And Feelings a proper Yorkshire acoustic rock feel, while the song itself somehow (and I have no idea how) brought to mind Richard Stilgoe’s performances on the BBC’s Nationwide programme from my youth. Valentine (pronounced “teen”) was slower, perhaps giving John a chance to re-energise. An alt-love song, it featured such lyrics as “I can break your mind before you break my jaw” delivered in a style that definitely brought to mind Morrissey (but I wasn’t going to let that spoil an otherwise very enjoyable set) and the most impressive guitar-playing yet. Hard-hitting musically, Radio Man was on of those songs that, even though he explained what it was about – the hypocrisy of media outlets – I couldn’t work out what was actually been said. All through his set John had shown as easy rapport with the audience and humour between songs. Even that, though, hadn’t prepared us for what came next… explaining that he was, in fact, a multi-instrumentalist and that his other instrument was “more tribal” he gave us the Didgeridoo Song for which the lyrics and delivery were brilliantly funny and which contained not only a rap section but two didgeridoo solos. “Some people say I’m gimmicky,” he explained as the song ended. “To them I say ‘f*ck you, here’s a song about peripheral characters from Star Trek.’” (sic) and launched into the final song of his set, Tusken Raiders a cautionary tale of an apocalypse which incorporated science-fiction tropes and, in the middle, a list section of fantastical monsters against another backdrop of furious guitar-playing. Highly original, very entertaining and a great start to the evening.

Hull’s Farewell Fairground are a three piece Folk-pop band who, tonight, suffered a little from the now increasing crowd noise in that, while it was easy to hear their music, it became harder to hear the vocals and what was being said between the songs as their set went on. They opened with Sunshine Girl, a light and airy song that showcased their vocal harmonies, with cajon-playing Chris Smith performing lead vocals. The lively One Way Ticket, with guitarist Matthew Beale now on lead vocals, had more of a Country feel to it while a new song which, apparently, had a story behind it, saw second guitarist Daniel Leigh take over the main vocals and give the track a feel of The Beautiful South. Daniel then switched to mandolin and Matthew added a harmonica for another light track that once more featured lovely three part harmonies. The band are an offshoot of a covers band (Compass) and broke up their original songs with a cover of George Ezra’s Budapest before their next original. I didn’t catch the title but it was delivered in an interestingly staccato, machine gun style, particularly in the case of Chris’s cajon. Tribute, we were told, was written in general about alcoholics although there seemed to be another story which, if I heard correctly, involved Daniel being the band’s own Bez (although what he’s done to gain that reputation wasn’t clear…) By now it was nigh-on impossible to hear any lyrics but musically the song was superb. A cover of Mumford & Sons’ Roll Away Your Stone ended a set which, while enjoyable, left me wishing that I had more of a chance to hear it clearly. Hopefully our paths will cross again.

While listening to The Taskers’ set, I became increasingly worried that I didn’t know how I was going to write it up, primarily because their performance was so different to what I usually head out to see. Not that I haven’t seen similar bands – but they have usually been support acts in York’s bigger venues, not headliners in one of the city’s more intimate locations. Based in the Midlands, the band have links to York and have played a number of acoustic gigs at The Habit. Sensibly in my opinion, they booked The Basement for their first full electric set in York and were rewarded with a very reasonable turn-out. Comparisons with The White Stripes are inevitable, if only because of the familial make-up of the band’s core members – Jack Tasker on guitar and vocals, with sister Sophie on drums and vocals – but they add Jack Rennie on bass and local girl Sarah Pickwell on cello. Cello in a garage/grunge band? It sounds like it should be incongruous, but it really isn’t. After getting the audience going with a rousing, “Good evening!” Jack opened proceedings with a choppy guitar line before Sophie’s drums came in and everything got lively. The short and sharp Raptors was followed by Pleasure Point, which will be the lead single from the band’s upcoming album of the same name. Sarah’s cello plucking gave the snappy track an extra bass line, while Jack T’s vocals, occasionally just a little bit shouty, were backed by some nice ones from Sophie. Jack R took over vocals for Chemical Way and then Jack T explained that the next song, Laurie Lee – yes, about the writer and featuring his most famous novel title in the lyrics – was one they usually performed at The Habit, before dedicating it to Rosie, an audience member. The liveliest and arguably most accessible track so far, it saw an increasingly expressive Jack T, while Sarah could be seen singing along despite being without a microphone. Older song Litas featured powerful vocals, this time staying just the right side of shoutiness and a lovely guitar section in the middle. After a brief break to get Sarah’s cello back on-line, it was back to the new album for Shit & Blossom, another short and snappy track, this time with a musically explosive ending. People Like You had a nice three note riff running through it and then the darker Beneath The Skin – a song about the band’s favourite television show The Walking Dead (and containing a few spoilers for anybody who hasn’t seen season two) – opened with a short bottle-guitar section and incorporated an abrupt change of pace in the middle. The horror theme continued with Hogs From Hell, a song about demonic pigs from the band’s last album. This one in particular showcased the tight playing that had been evident throughout the set and featured not just a change of pace but a variation in tone during a superb instrumental section. Jack R, pointing out that he had no hand in writing Trials, introduced it as one of his favourite songs ever. The opening was slower and drum-led, the drum-line great throughout and the delivery slightly angry and talking afterwards, my group agreed that it was the best track of the set. “This is a Neil Young song,” announced Jack T as the band brought the set to a close. My heart sank slightly as Neil Young is one of those artistes that everybody respects and yet who I know few songs by. I was expecting to have to note down and search lyrics on-line but I needn’t have worried. Rockin’ In The Free World is, perhaps, the only Neil Young song I would recognise as such straight off (thank you Live Aid) and this was a much better than average take on it which included a short drum not-quite-solo from Sophie and the end of which saw a great response from the audience. I would definitely see The Taskers again. Maybe it’s time to plan a trip to The Habit…

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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