So the first week back in the swing of things, organising, going to and writing about live music in the area has got off to a slow start with the only two gigs I attended being ones that I was organising. Biased? Maybe, but it is all I have to tell you about at the moment, but there was still an interesting point to be made.
The Roaring Donkey on Wednesday featured one of the most popular solo acts on the circuit, Jim Blair, normally found fronting Hip Route but no less potent on his own. Jim’s music is a wonderful blend of funky grooves, driving bluesy Americana lap, slide, fingerpicking and conventional styles. Add to that and easy on stage style and a voice that sounds like it is the product of a cocktail of honey and razorblades and you have a winning combination.
Over the weeks that I have been involved in booking the acts there a gradual change has been taking place. Early gigs seemed just background noise, a live jukebox largely ignored by those on their way to more boisterous establishments or getting a bit of bar space before heading over the karaoke hell that is Wacky Wednesday. Gradually thought, the amount of familiar faces returning solely for the music has increased to the point where last week the room contained only those who were there to appreciate the music. These Wednesday sessions seem to be becoming a legitimate, contemporary acoustic and unplugged music session. Try it one evening, you may just find something that you like.
On Thursday at The Victoria our big show of the week was also of a more chilled nature. The mercurial George Wilding (pictured) kicked things off, a young solo acoustic player, quintessentially English in style and looking like a cross between Syd Barrett and Mark Bolan, being made seemingly of hair, scarves and a sequined jacket. Wonderfully observant lyrics mixed with dexterous guitar action and a youthful charm made for a great opening slot.
Little Red took the middle slot, two guitars and three voices mixing in ever shifting measures to create a wonderfully pastoral sound that hid a darker lyrical undercurrent. This is a band that even from their stripped back starting point understand restraint allowing the dynamic to fade right back before launching an unexpected salvo of passionate vocals or the slightly unexpected retro twang of Ben Gosling’s electric guitar. And if front man Ian Mitchell isn’t the long lost brother of BBC Wiltshire stalwart Will Walder, I’ll eat my hat. (It’s okay, I don’t have a hat!)
And finally to the main event. The Black Feathers have gained a great reputation over what seems like the implausibly short three years they have been together and we were about to see why. Maybe it is the fact that they are husband and wife, maybe it is their constant trips across the pond to immerse themselves in American roots music, maybe they just work a lot harder than most other acts. Whatever is they gave the audience a master class in vocal harmony and song arrangement that was second to none. They have a wonderful and wonderfully self-deprecating stage charisma and as a focal point are mesmerising to watch. And when one critic described them as Britain’s answer to Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlins, I can’t imagine anyone would have argued with such a description.
And the point I mentioned I wanted to make? We get so used to gigs being loud and flashy affairs, selfie taking hipsters celebrating their own presence, laddish bores talking over the music and adoring fans trying to outdo each other for the status of superfan, that it comes as a breath of fresh air to go to two gigs in a row where the audiences are mostly seated, respectful of the performers to the point of pin-drop atmospherics and content to sit and soak up every word, musical phrase, every move and nuance of a show. I’m not saying that’s however show should be but it does make a refreshing change.