Thursday, 21 June 2007

Killing two gigs with one stone

I'm back, from way too long a hiatus caused in equal measure by boredom, writers' block and lack of desire to read the papers. But now, I have been in a state of almost frenzied activity, have a certain degree of inspiration, and have started to buy The Guardian again.

And it is music, rather than politics, history or depression, that I turn to now. I have just returned from a gig in Leam(ington Spa) with three friends which has turned out to be one of the highlights of the year. The reason for the title 'two gigs' is that I was in the same place not a week before, and that too turned out to be a great night. It seems that the Jug and Jester, a pub which I had previously considered a little steep (which is the least of its... foibles), is in fact the venue for some of the best live and local music I have heard, making Wednesday nights a newly significant one where once they had been dominated by slavish all-nighters and people kicked out of Score. Aside from anything else, it has become but one of many incentives for me to be a frequent visitor to Leam in the second year.

The first instance, on the 14th, was prompted by a friend of mine, Gethin Jones - a talented man whom I met through Warwick drama - being on the running order. Having no prior knowledge of his musical abilities, and feeling the natural urge to turn out and support him, I made the journey on the pink bus from the bubble to the Jug. The venue itself is the smallest third of the Jug, away from both the main bars and rather cosy to say the least.

Gethin was on first, and playing a half-hour set of some very heartfelt acoustic folk. He has a soaring voice which conjures up comparisons to Jeff Buckley, laced liberally with spiritually (Gethin, like me, is a Christian) if with greater subtlety. So compelled was I by his talents and honesty - which certainly showed through in both his performance and his 'banter' inbetween numbers - that I bought his album Silence Falls... (2005), on the recommendation of Jack Howson, drama buff, fellow Smiths fan and Gethin's publicist of sorts.
After a brief changeover and a change of drinks, the middle act came on. I had not heard of Lewis Garland and the Kett Rebellion before, but the very sight of a double bass and its stoical player - both sadly rareties these days - was reason enough to be optimistic. They didn't disappoint on a musical level, although the mandolin players (or The Third Man, as I call him) seemed a little obsolete at times. Garland's witty and sarcastic lyrics made me chuckle, and on the final number the entire crowd was participating. Such was the good mood that my friends Jack Coal, Sam Gayton, Liz Sands and I found ourselves in a four-part harmony.

Finally came a completely different kettle of fish in the form of Kanute, in what turned out to be their debut gig. The simplest way to describe their sound would be Arcade Fire, doing electro pop. The band, like the rockers from Montreal, was a seven-piece, consisting of a female vocalist, a keyboard, drummer, guitarist and bassist (normal so far) - with an electric violin and cello in tow, which if nothing else made them intriguing to look at. Then they started playing, and despite my reservations towards electro-pop, this manages to bring a smile to my face and a nod to my head. Their swirling melodies fitted the vocalist very well, and while the cello tended to drown out the violin throughout, this was not reason enough to stop me purchasing their self-titled EP, Kanute (2007).


The following week, I reconnoitred to Leam and the Jug, this time specifically to see Jaffa Rose play. I was in the company of David Holmes and Matt Reynolds, the latter of whom is rapidly becoming a mentor and great friend to me. At the Jug we were joine by Matt's housemate Dan Welch, who also turned out to see Warwick's finest jazz rock band. I only realised recently that they were Warwick-based (and graduating this summer) having been out of the Bandsoc loop for what amounts to the whole year. Though they are staying together, this was to be their final gig as Warwick students, and I wanted to see what I had missed out on all this time.

The gig started an hour and a half left, which otherwise would have made me leave out of frustration, but my temper was in another country thanks to a cool Bulmers and the safe and prior knowledge that we were in for a treat (God bless MySpace). On first this time around was Air Fiji, a five-piece which sounded like Feeder attempting to do ska - one of their members was a trombonist, and so I, as a fellow player (in the past at least) was naturally more favourable toward him. Their set was littered with indie riffs but was overlayered by sharp bass work from a man whose technique and appearance resembled that of John Paul Jones, thus rendering more amenable chord progressions which usually tend to jar me and make it ever more difficult to listen to Franz Ferdinand, the indie rockers who helped shape my sixth form years.

The second act, Scaffold to the Sky, required a hefty technical changeover, the length of which conjured up literal images of their name as their project and product. When they eventually took to the stage, the band described as 'post-prog' - which on the surface means anything from disco and punk onwards - performed two lengthy numbers of Floydian proportions, laced with classical references as evident in the keyboard solos. The second piece was so long (though not pointless) that I went to the gents after four 'movements' and came out five minutes later with at least another four still to come. Scaffold to the Sky were the most interesting band of the night, and certainly the most acquired taste.
Finally, after much delay and another pint or two courtesy of Matt, Jaffa Rose finally and gloriously took to the stage. Time was against us and so we only caught two songs, but neither pulled any punches. The first, an intricate instrumental, managed to blend a hard rock attitude with quick and spontaneous changes in time signature which seems to be a feature of modern jazz - at least, of the stuff to which I have been exposed. Special kudos must go to both the saxophonist and the manic drummer. For the second song, they added the female vocalist. Having been so impressed with the first song, I had a fear that she would ruin things. I was gladly proved wrong, her voice taking that testosterone-pumped jazz rock and filling the room with a sweeter, more heartfelt counterbalance.

Though we had to depart shortly after, we ended up waiting for the bus home long enough to have made it possible to go back, but sadly we did not. MySpace would have fulfil our Jaffa requirements until the Big Easy on Monday, as would the complimentary EP, Second In Demand (2006). As we headed back to campus, amid the flurry of post-pub bad jokes and stories of hedgehogs selling fridges(?!), we departed safe in the knowledge of a night well spent. It had been Matt's first time in the Jug despite being three years my senior - now, it seems, he will, like me, become a frequent visitor.

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