Monday, 16 November 2015

Sex and a bit of protest thrown in

Like that scene from Spinal Tap...
A few blogs back and I was eulogizing about The Borderline and the joys of heading into a basement to listen to music. Tonight I’m once again heading down into the depths of a building. This time I’m at the Sebright Arms in Bethnal Green although I’m turning too many corners for me to be confident of ever reaching the venue. It’s just like that scene from Spinal Tap, except on this occasion it’s the audience member who is lost and not the band! I chant ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and beat out a drum rhythm on the heating ducts until I finally turn a corner and open a door and am relieved to find myself in a cozy venue with an audience standing around the sides of the room just like we did as teenagers at the school disco in the early 1980’s. 

Sophie Morgan is support tonight and announces her presence on stage with a geography lesson. ‘I’m from Widnes. It’s a town between Liverpool and Manchester,’ and then a thank you for turning out to see her, ‘I thought it would just be me and my Dad’. I look around and decide the age demographic is such that 89% of the males in the room could be her dad! To be certain of who he is I will have to try and discern the look of pride from among the looks of guilty pleasure!

Her set consists of all but one self-penned song performed from behind her keyboard. She is young. She needs more maturity. The Piano arrangement is adding nothing to the song, as each runs into the next in my mind. It is a real lesson, not in geography, but in how significant a part of the art of songwriting the arrangement is. Even changing the voices on the keyboard for different songs would help tonight!

Also, please stop saying ‘thank you’ as the last chord of each song is struck! We can usually tell when the song is finished. And please don't introduce every song. It is OK to make the audience work out what the song is about, even better let us decide what it says to each one of us. As Martyn Joseph was pointed out: Songs are like children. You give birth to them, bring them up and then let them go and find their own way in the world. One day people will talk to you about them and you will wonder if it is your offspring they are talking about because they have interacted with others in a way you do not recognize.

Mutton and Lamb I think they are called... 
As her set finishes, Sophie’s dad reveals himself to help pack up the keyboard and the crowd begins to swell for the headline act. There is no room left on the edge of the room so the dance floor fills. This gig is part of ‘The London Folk and Roots Festival’ and the audience is exactly what I would expect at such a festival - beards, sweaters, man-bags and ill-fitting jeans! Then a couple enter, looking quite out of place, Mutton and Lamb I think they are called as I hear my neighbours mention their names! They behave in a very un-folk like way as they head straight for the empty stage and take a selfie, complete with the peace sign that I am sure will be adorning Facebook before I reach home!

However, perhaps False Lights only have themselves to blame, as this is the band whose blurb states they owe as much to Radiohead as to Fairport Convention! With that sort of self-penned bio perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that this couple are here and that they spend the whole of the gig watching through their iPad screens as they video each song!

As the band sets up, the guitar-father of folk rock Richard Thompson is the chosen music of the sound engineer. Radiohead, Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson - False Lights have a lot to live up to! I have to say, in their sound, they are more Fairport than Radiohead but that is not a criticism; it is very much a compliment as the gig is fantastic. This is exactly what electric folk played by a six-piece band should sound like. Driving drum and bass, understated guitar riffs, piercing fiddle, droning melodeon, close harmonies and catchy tunes telling stories of love, death, betrayal, sex and a bit of protest thrown in for good measure!

There is a sense that this is a folk supergroup, the brainchild of Jim Moray and Sam Carter, both bright young stars of the British folk scene. Unlike certain other supergroups however, this one really works, taking traditional songs and making them sound like they were written this morning. Sam Carter looks more like a 50’s rockabilly than 21st century folkster, in his tight white tee-shirt, slight quiff, blue jeans and Gibson semi-acoustic, but he sounds like a great folk singer. 

Loud and proud in the folk tradition...
Too soon the set is over and of course we demand more. The band gather in the midst of the audience and sing the gospel inspired ‘How Can I keep from Singing’ and we can’t. Steve Knightley of Show of Hands often jokes as he encourages people to join in with a chorus, ‘this is your worst folk nightmare – audience participation!’ Yet without embarrassment the crowd joins in. Suddenly this isn’t a rock gig with peace sign selfies but the best open mike night. No amplification, pure acoustics, voices and a sensitive audience joining in. 

It is becoming commonplace for such an acoustic encore, and in danger of being overdone. Show of Hands, Jon Gomm, and Duke Special to name but a handful of those acts which I have seen do such a thing at the end of their gig. Yet tonight it really works and does not feel contrived or a gimmick. The band climb back on stage and finish with ‘The Charlesworth Hornpipe’ and the lively dance even has the feet tapping of those still enjoying the safety of the sides of the room. The rest of the audience are dancing and we all leave with smiles on our faces and a Charlesworth spring in our step. 

Their debut album is called ‘Salvormeaning “one who salvages from ships or their cargo”. They say it seems appropriate for the process of writing the album. It also seems appropriate, because what is salvaged in False Lights is the fine tradition of British Folk Rock, the tradition that sticks a finger in the ear not to tune the voice but to stop them bleeding! False Lights play loud and proud in the folk tradition but they have produced songs for the 21st century and in that sense their blub is right - they owe as much to Radiohead as they do to Fairport.

Gig: 33 of 50
Date of Gig: Fri. 30th October 2015

Selbright Arms, Bethnal Green
False Lights
Sophie Morgan

Running total of artists seen 69

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