Devizes-based event medical company, GWP reported their rapid response vehicle was broken into over the weekend, and approximately £1,000 worth of vital lifesaving equipment and uniform was stolen.…
We make a point of avoiding local news items, rather concentrate on feelgood magazine stories. Leave the hard work and nitty-gritty to Newsquest I say!
But sometimes occurrences come along, such as this, which beggars belief at the audacity and sheer stupidity of some. So, if I am to report on a news item, I reserve my prerogative to cast an opinion, without justification, and today that is directed to the perpetrators of this crime; You. Stole. From. An. Ambulance, for crying out loud, I urge you to read that back to yourself and pray you never need the use of one yourself.
GWP ask the public to please look out for anyone offering kit or uniform, and if anyone has CCTV footage of New Park Street Devizes, they would be very grateful if you could get in touch.
Last weekend the company provided medical provisions for Midsomer Norton Town Council’s Christmas light switch on, followed by Bradford on Avon Town Council, and a dance event by Oxford County Council. They also start a month-long worth of provisions for Stourhead National Trust and Forest Green Rovers Football Club.
GWP said “they’ve taken about £1000 worth of equipment, but more worryingly is the paramedic marked uniform.”
At first I figured it was just for money, and hadn’t even contemplated the security issues of potentially posing as medical staff. GWP replied, “equipment like the defibrillator is worth money, but yes, posing as medical staff is a big security concern. Especially after last month, someone pretending to be a nurse from the local GP surgery, St James, was uncovered.”
We hope the thieves can be found as soon as possible, and give our support and gratitude to the staff of GWP.
Today though, staff are trying to focus on the positives, showing the new branding added to their ambulance, by local graphics company Kennet Sign & Display, ready to go to Forest Green Rovers Football Club; keep up the great work!
Got my groove thang on at the Muck & Dunder, Saturday, with help from The Allergies; yeah, I can still cut a rug, just!…….
It was the standout track on Bath’s premiere funky groovers, Stardust Collective’s 2014 Shindig ‘Afterhours’collection which alerted me to the wonders of Bristol DJ duo, The Allergies.
Drenched with a classic Stax undercurrent, “As we do our Thing,” acts as a go-between, teasing unnoticeable changeovers from archaic soul, which is favoured by my Boot Boy Radio show audience, to modern breaks, which perhaps is not so favoured, but I love to josher. I’ve blended it in with everything from Harvey Scales & The Seven Sounds’ Get Down, to Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog, and out into Skint’s big beat anthems from Cut La Roc, or Wall of Sounds’ Wiseguys. It’s a tune which also turned Craig Charles’ head at the time; nuff said.
Saturday night at Devizes’ one and only rum bar, the glitzy without being pretentious Muck and Dunder, and one half of the duo, Roy, aka, DJ Moneyshot had drawn the short straw, while Adam, or DJ Rackabeat, his partner in beats, browsed the exotic cocktails menu.
Lumbered with me waffling this in his ear, and expanding it into an Uncle Albert moment, Roy didn’t seem to mind, least humoured, my “when I was in the rave,” ramblings, on the grounds we had a mutual associate in Stardust organiser Slim Goodgroove, who I’ve not seen since art college.
If some in Devizes would shake negatively at a £15 ticket stub to watch two guys putting records on, when live music is the usual order of the day, they didn’t see what I and the punters of the Muck & Dunder saw. You know, here at Devizine we promote and celebrate live music, and I could go as far as suggesting for many in this area, DJ culture is somewhat alien. Yet hardly new-fangled, DJ Kool Herc delivered hip hop to NYC ghetto bloc parties the same year I was born, Grand-wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash and a handful of others turned mixing records into an art form.
And it’s very much in this ethos and spirt which The Allergies base this show on. Their skills on the wheels of steel are as spellbinding as Miles Davis with a trumpet or Hendrix with a guitar. If it was an honour and privilege to witness this magic here in our humble town, it was nothing compared to the irresistible urge to shake our booties uncontrollably for an astounding two hours, of which these magical master-mixers shaped.
After being smoothed in with RnB jams from Bath’s Graham the DJ, The Allergies went off on one, cutting and scratching with such proficiency they made it look child’s play. I’ve not got my groove thang on like that since the heady days of largin’ it with Norm, Brighton style.
Though comparisons to Fatboy Slim perhaps too meek, if there’s a difference, the squidgy 808s have waned, and the Allergies favour blending seriously intoxicating 45s of classic funk and hip hop with contemporary reworks. The result was an off-the-scale funky jam, the like old Devizes has never seen before, as the duo swapped and changed positions, sometimes passively battling, other times complementing, weaving their enchanted sounds as they used two turntables as a musical instrument.
If crowd-pleasers like Ini Kamoze’s Here Comes The Hotstepper raised the roof, brassy adaptations of Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk captured the imagination, but the melting pot was vast, and wrapped in their unique funk revival ethos, ending on a peak with a mashup of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya to the beat of The Special’s cover of Message to you, Rudy; vinyl junkies would kill for a peek into their box of 45s.
Backward caps off to the Muck & Dunder for an excellent booking and most memorable evening’s entertainment, the like we’d usually need to trek to a city of cultural influence for. Here’s a comfy and hospitable lounge striving way beyond ramming a tacky nightclub concept and driving dance music events to Devizes with the matured and sophistication it by now deserves.
While it’s not so easy to review a DJ set as a band, I hope I captured the glorious moment. It needs mentioning, the Muck pulled off something I was interested to peruse the attraction of locally. It was adequately filled, and, as it was in the rave era, the crowd were there to party therefore left qualms and attitude at home. As it should be; dancing is about throwing ones cares aside for the moment, and if you witnessed me gyrating like Sonic the Hedgehog on a gyroscope, it’s because it was impossible not to!
They didn’t mind a joker rearranging letters on their menu board to spell out titillating alternatives, and for every tip you give bar staff comes the promise of giving Boris Johnson a wedgie! A quality night with the tastiest menu of cocktails; it’s a tropical holiday experience in your hometown! Yet while DJ culture will continue at the Muck, there’s a variety of events coming up, including live music Sunday sessions, the first on 19th December, with the brilliant Ben Borrill. Long live the Muck & Dunder, and all those who sail in her.
Local newspapers ran with a yarn of snow blizzards, due Saturday, and illustrated the clickbait with scenes of worst weather of yore. The laughable reality was there was a blustery storm which bought five minutes of flurry.
I don’t conscribe to sensationalising, neither need to interview for the emblematic promotion of a new product. The Lost Trades aren’t yet announcing a second album, neither have they memoirs published; there wasn’t a good reason to interview them. They didn’t whet appetites broadcasting a follow-up album when I asked them the standard “what’s next” question, rather spoke about strategies.
I was eager to catch up with them though; haven’t seen them for ages, and they were happy to oblige, because they’re nice like that! They’d finished a soundcheck supporting Focus for a Long Street Blues Club gig at Devizes’ Corn Exchange, which Andy kindly reviewed.
No matter how they’ve been gigging further afield and stamping a benchmark for folk harmony trios internationally with The Bird, The Book and the Barrel, their feet remain on the ground, and this is, after all, their original stomping ground. Two thirds from Devizes, Jamie R Hawkins and Tamsin Quin, while Phil Cooper is from Trowbridge, the latter of whom casually asked prior to the interview what I could write about them which I haven’t already.
Fair cop, since day dot Devizine followed all three, Tamsin crowdfunding her debut album, Gypsy Blood was our first article in 2017, a review of Phil’s Thoughts & Observations closely followed, and I met Jamie slightly later, at the Saddleback Festival’s Battle of the Bands in 2018.
The three musicians closely associated themselves with each other, producing and recording, assisting with gigs and collaborating sporadically, until a natural bond had formed and it made sense to form a trio. The news of The Lost Trades we broke in December 2019, a year of lockdown followed their debut gig at Trowbridge’s Pump, but a period which has seen them improve tenfold, together, on their already high standard.
Both the name the Lost Trades and the album name, The Bird, The Book and the Barrel derives from their surnames; Cooper is a barrel-maker, Hawkins the bird and Quins were counsels or scribes, hence the book. Figuring a blithe beginning, being my rare organisational skills surprised them with a typed sheet of questions, I thought I’d ask if Phil minded being referred to as a barrel! He said he didn’t, but do they call him it?
“From now on,” Jamie laughed while Tamsin christened it his new name. Phil retorted “that makes you Jamie ‘the bird’ Hawkins,” and I added I liked a bird with a beard, which isn’t exactly true but it broke the ice, if there was some to break, which there wasn’t, so I don’t know why I mentioned it!
The Trades know me well, in this, I pointed out a milkman is a something of a lost trade, and wondered if they had space for me, perhaps in the corner, with a triangle! Jamie noted I could be a “bottle fourth member!” While they pondered if there were to be any sensible questions, I broadened it with, “or is three the magic number?”
Phil was first to confirm, the others agreed humbly. Tamsin expanded, “having three of us there’s no scope for two people going against two other people, you know? It’s always equal.”
“Yeah, democratically it works really well,” Jamie added. “There’s always a mediator,” Tammy motioned, “it works well like that.” Phil enhanced, “from a harmony point of view, I mean, don’t tell any barbershop quartets this but three is the magic number!” To be honest, I’m all out of befriending barbershop quartets these days anyway.
I offered it was great to see them back in Devizes, because it was, and I asked them where was the furthest so far, they’d played. Being, I’d imagine, the map-man of the trio, Phil called Eastbourne.
But are they booked for many festivals this summer? “Yes,” Phil replied, but couldn’t spill the beans. The Lost Trades are getting a lot of bookings, which is understandable. The only characteristic variance I noted seemed to be Tamsin, who once conveyed a slightly anxious persona when performing but is now rightfully brewing with confidence. More importantly, all three seem so at ease with the Trades’ success, loving the moment, and they’re bonded even tighter.
This is the point I slipped in the standard “what’s next,” and asked, “where do you take it from here?”
“Well, we have a strategy, you see?” Tamsin whispered, “first was getting our name out to our fans, and building up this joint fanbase, which is what we’ve worked on. And now we’re trying to build our name up in the folk world. So, hitting the folk clubs.” And they’ve been getting blinding reviews from folk magazines. “And a lot of radio-play from specialist folk shows as well,” Phil added, “up in Cambridge,” he exampled. Nationally, or even internationally, I queried. “Yeah,” Phil answered proudly, “in Canada, and Italy.”
I supposed lockdown live streaming helped in this exporting, despite lack of profit. Phil nodded, “it certainly tied us over, when we weren’t able to do anything, and kept us in people’s minds.” Tamsin assured, “at this stage in our career it’s not about making money, it’s more about getting our name known and reputation built up.”
To prevent it getting too cosy, I had something more challenging up my sleeve. As individuals The Lost Trades are no strangers to diversifying genres and sounds. Phil in particular, who even delves into electronica with a side project called BCC. Yet the Lost Trades is narrow in ethos, like a corporate identity, being strictly a folk trio, even in design of covers and promotional material. Make no mistake, this works, and is a great formula, but I asked how they could future prevent criticism that it’s getting “samey.” In this I gave the example of the Adele single.
“The fact there’s three songwriters in the band, all with different styes, will help keep us fresh,” Phil explained, “and like you say, we do all like to switch and try other things. I think it will happen, but obviously we’ve put this folk package together, and the music is very much modern folk, going to Americana.” I nodded, in theme too, content is modern. Tamsin added “Also that we’re playing multi-instruments too, which keeps us fresh.”
It was perhaps a tricky question, but you only need to listen to The Bird, The Book and the Barrel to note there is room for experimentation within the genre, and The Lost Trades wish to engage this. Phil expressed, “the folk thing is less about the music and more about how we present ourselves, as a brand, if you like.”
On reflection of their earliest songs as the trio, and knowing them as individual performers, I sense each song in style and writing are pitched by one of them to the trio; I could pick out that one was very Jamie, or very Phil, but the lines are blurred on the newer songs, melded so much I cannot pick out who’s idea or who wrote any particular song; is this what they’re working towards, complete harmonising? It was the longest question with the shortest answer, they nodded throughout me asking it. “I guess so,” Jamie replied, “there’s lots of methods and approaches we’ve yet to try out; that’s another reason why I think we’ll stay fresh.”
“One of the reasons the later stuff is harder to tell is,” Phil expanded, “the earlier stuff the other two were harmonising with whoever had the lead vocal, but the stuff we did towards the end of the album didn’t have a lead vocal, it was all about the three voices all the way through. We could get samey if we did just that, so we’ll keep the solo voice every now and then, just to keep it interesting.”
Tamsin added, “Also, as we’ve grown together musically, we’re writing songs specifically for the band. We write our own solo songs and ones which we think, oh, this one would sound better as a harmony; we tailor it to be a band song.”
Sure, feels like a progression happening naturally, as they work closer together. “It already did,” Phil said when I suggested this, “when working on the album there was two or three songs which didn’t exist until a month before the recording. We put them together really quickly, and yes, they were very much that kinda organic feel.”
Mentioning the impending lockdown as they first formed, I wondered if they felt there was positives which came from it. Phil called the album a massive positive, which if you’ve heard it, you can only agree. “There were songs on there written about what we were going through at the time….”
Tamsin responded too, “lots of the songs we wrote when we were feeling down about having to cancel the tour, for example ‘Winning Days’ was where Jamie and I were feeling miserable, and Phil said ‘right I’m going to write a song to cheer us up.”
“I think, perversely,” Phil added, “the fact we’d built up friends on our side, and to suddenly have it swept away, we got a massive outpouring of love towards us, and that has probably put us on a run up the ladder, that maybe we wouldn’t have got at that point.”
I beg to differ on this one, sensing this shadow of modesty in them, when really, this massive outpouring of love towards them would’ve been inevitable with or without the restrictions of lockdown, because this grouping just works; whether you are folk’s greatest devotee, or not.
For the final question I returned blithe, as I sensed they were busting to get to the stage; “have you ever been interviewed before with questions as stupid as these ones, and did you expect anything less?!”
The one who remained most silent during the interview, Jamie, made a funny noise of which I’m unsure if it was positive or negative, but it rolled out a belly laugh, Phil pleaded the fifth on it, and Tamsin voiced in the background she thought they were “lovely” questions, because that’s our Tammy, Devizes loves her, we love all three; Trowbridge and Devizes finest musical export; I give you The Lost Trades, who I lost; by the time I stopped the record button, they were gone, up on stage, to do what they love, and long may it be so!
This was the third Long Street Blues Club weekend gig on the bounce for me. Following Gerry Jablonski Band two weeks ago, and the blow-away Focus gig at The Corn Exchange last week, it was back to the familiar surroundings of the Con Club in Long Street for (yet again) something completely different.….
Support act for the evening was Eddie Witcomb, who started off with a lot of nervous chatter before getting stuck in. He played mostly his own material but also hit a cover of Nina Simone’s “Because You’re Mine”. His songs were gentle, thoughtful pieces, but definably in the downbeat and miserable categories. Describing himself as a “one song a year man”, it was obvious that his songs were a labour of love. Some of them had curious, trail-off endings, leaving the audience confused at times as to when he’d actually finished. Overall his set was entertaining, but low key. I think he needs a few more upbeat numbers to leaven the mix a little, but otherwise great stuff, much appreciated by a large and supportive audience. Chatting afterwards over a pint, Eddie said that he had indeed been nervous, mostly caused by simple lack of gigs over the Lockdown period, but that he was looking forward to getting his various solo and group projects moving again – which I’m sure will happen for such a dedicated and talented bloke.
Antonio Forcione, the main act of the evening, is an artist who has been hailed as one of the most charismatic, unconventional guitarists at large in the musical world today. And with a host of international awards under his belt, this eclectic composer produced two fine sets that had the audience enthralled. Starting on stage with just himself and his cellist, the very first number was spell-binding and mesmeric. Then joined by bass and percussion players to fill out this international quartet, he proceeded to produce some truly stunning acoustic music. It was a mark of the respect with which the audience held him that when he was playing you could hear a pin drop in a very crowded room – no background chatter, no noise from the bar, perfect listening conditions.
The first set was slightly shortened when Antonio had to do some running repairs on his guitar, before coming out of the blocks in the second half with number after number of beautiful, nuanced playing. Dropping back to occupying the stage solo “to give the band a rest”, he proved that he is an absolute master of his craft. And then, as the band re-joined, with their sensitive and sympathetic accompaniments, adding layer upon layer of sound, much of it with a laid-back jazz sensibility, creating complex soundscapes, the magic simply continued. We had a musical trip around the world, with influences from Spain, Italy, South Africa. It was mesmerising, it was entrancing, and an absolute pleasure to listen to.
Yet again, we were very lucky to be able to listen to an international artist of such standing and musical skill in our little town. Another great booking by Ian Hopkins. And another great night out at Long Street Blues Club.
I’d always imagined a virtual reality internet, but honestly, with Facebook, sorry Meta, (which incidentally sounds like the name of a hard rock magazine,) announcing … Continue reading “Facebookland, Really?”
Finally, after a missed year (best to write 2020 off the map) our Christmas festival was back on Friday and as illuminating as ever….
With enchanting light displays, bombastic fireworks, specialist stalls (in the Marketplace, the Corn exchange and the Shambles), seasonal music performed with gusto, the spectacular parade beaming with all its glorious homemade creations and of course our signature local atmosphere, the festival had it all and showed our little town is getting back into the groove of doing what it does best: the kind of spirited events you’ll only find down in Devizes.
On a funny note, much to the amusement of both me and the woman sitting opposite, we both got an accidental front row seat to the firework display, which was suitably loud!
Once the parade, the fireworks and the music had faded into the night, I caught the beginning of an artistic shadow puppet show with beautifully built wooden Reindeer.
Having all of this right on my doorstep has got me right into the Christmas spirit. After all, aren’t we lucky to live here in the most wonderful time of the year?
Christmas is coming and Devizes is the place to be!
Not just on the premise of tea and nibbles, I find myself at Bath Road Business Centre. The Wharf Theatre’s old prop store has been gloriously converted into a recording studio, of a sort, by a company which once set up base in Frome’s Old Fire Station, Visual Radio Arts.
My initial reaction to the name was, hasn’t visual radio been done before, at the turn of the last century? They called it television! Over a bourbon biscuit, I’m gonna brave-up, come right out and ask founder Phil Moakes what defines visual radio as opposed to television or video, surrounded by his team, co-producer Maggie Gregory and presenters Patrick Moss, Carl Sutterby and Sara Vian, the latter of whom chuckled it was a good question; phew!
The only absent presenter I didn’t get to meet was Chris Watson, who, sensibly, turned up after I had gone. Independently Chris runs the site Music Eye, which does what it says on the tin, particularly prompting his readership to emerging talent.
“If I watch a television program there’s a relationship between what you see and what you hear,” Phil begun, “if you close or eyes and just listen to the audio, you’re missing the story because it’s partially being played out on video, and visa-versa. So, my argument is, visual radio should work on both mediums equally; if you close your eyes, you can still hear the band, you don’t need the pictures, but when you open them, the pictures are there, therefore, if you wanted, you could run the whole show on radio.”
Patrick added, “which is how it started.” This visual experience with the ethos of radio started little over five years ago as a project through Frome FM. Visual Radio Arts has blossomed since with a plethora of upcoming bands and solo musicians, both signed and unsigned, queuing to feature on episodes. Browsing their website, where their back catalogue is freely available to view, it seems our paths have crossed several times, just not met until now. But as many artists I know and whom have been featured on Devizine in the past, acts like Malone-Sibun, The Lost Trades, Kevin Brown, Strange Folk, and more recently, Ålesund, there’s a multitude of ones new to me.
Likewise, I’m hopeful the move to Devizes will encourage a partial shift of our local bands to jump on this most excellent opportunity, and I ran off some namedropping of my own. Fact is, being on the same wavelength, it’s a match made in heaven, oh, we could have talked all night! Though, as these programs are primarily a promotional tool, they’ve come from far and wide already, either headhunted by Visual Arts Radio or enquired.
If this era of lockdown raised the appeal of online gigs through streaming, it’s been a scramble in the dark to both improve on the quality and earn from them. We discussed the worth of Facebook live streaming, how other sites followed suit, on ticketed events and the inevitably of bandwidths unable to handle the traffic. If the novelty of watching your favourite artists perform with a backdrop of their washing on a clothes horse is wearing thin, Visual Arts Radio is for you.
It presents artists professionally with quality editing, and Phil was keen to point out the ethos of presenting an entire forty-plus minute, uninterrupted set, with a possible interview at the finale, rather than the unpredictability of a live stream, or this goldfish attention-span we’ve currently acquired scrolling through endless three-minute videos. It was at this point, I suggested they were “the New Grey Whistle Test,” to which they agreed, and in considering this ground-breaking show, perhaps Visual Arts Radio isn’t something entirely original, but right here and now, it most certainly is a unique venture that I, for one, am welcoming to Devizes with open arms.
Phil seemed focused on music, “What I’d like to do is have a variety of styles and shapes, so we’ve got a mix of solos, acoustic, maybe doing folk, and rock bands,” he explained, though open to suggestions, I wondered how this opportunity might suit other arts. Comedy, for example, which by the nature of the beast, couldn’t surely be visual. Phil pointed out they’ve had poetry in the past, which would obviously work audio. This moved from comedy music acts like Corky, or Calne’s Real Cheesemakers, and onto any bands which used props, like the visual experience of a Boot Hill All Stars show, of whom Phil replied had been in the studio already.
“I think we’ve moved on from where we first started,” Phil continued, “when we first started it was all about music, but I think five years later, we’ve kind of worked out what and how is our best game. And, so if something came along, and it was visual comedy, then we’d probably have a think, see how it would work, but we’d probably still do it, because I think the world has moved on, and more prone to want to see pictures.”
The move to Devizes is easier on commuting for Phil and Maggie, and there’s hoping bands locally will find it more suitable, calling in acts producing original material, from Swindon and beyond who thought Frome might’ve been a trek. Visual Arts Radio certainly have a wonderful space, large enough to accommodate the brass section of a ska band, for instance, and the possibilities I anticipate will build a working relationship with Devizine in the future. I’m glad to be invited to view bands and musicians performing here, of which we can feature and link direct to their website, where you can enjoy a full set from them.
Driving my inner-goth, I’m comfortable with this, because London-based Freya Beer’s voice is hauntingly alluring, similar to Nina Persson of The Cardigans, or more obviously, … Continue reading “Freya Beer’s Beast”
The F.T.O. Big Band at the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon. 21/11/2021
The Fulltone Orchestra (a.k.a. FTO) was formed back in 2017, the vision and brainchild of its Musical Director, Anthony Brown. Since then, the orchestra has performed across Wiltshire playing a wide genre of orchestral based music, from iconic movie themes to Bernstein and Gershwin, then Russian composers and The Planets, and most recently a firework extravaganza of classical music (with no actual fireworks folks!). Then there has been its involvement with “The Invitation Theatre Company” (a.k.a. TITCo) with the inaugural, and this year’s “Fulltone Festivals”, and the incredible “Jeff Wayne’s Musical version of the War Of The Worlds” reprised in 2019 in Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre. And of course the amalgamation of choirs in Devizes for the poignant and beautiful “Armed Man” by Karl Jenkins.
For these performances the FTO has fluctuated in size of orchestra depending on requirements – musicians coming from all over Southern England, and even have included a passing Hungarian cellist. Anthony’s vision always seeks the next, exciting opportunity and this year has seen the birth of the “FTO Big Band”. Cutting its teeth at the “Fulltone Festival” on August bank holiday weekend 2021, now the FTO took its latest progeny back to the Wyvern for its “Big Band Night” on Sunday 21st November.
And what a night it was! Five saxophones (also doubling up on clarinet and flute), four trombones, four trumpets, drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards joined by three female and three male voices crooned and smoothed and belted their way through a cornucopia of delights. From Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller (who else for a big band night after all?!) to Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Garland and Jackie Wilson numbers. And that was just the first half! The second half kicked off with “The Pink Panther” and “Big Spender” and crooned away deliciously after that with Frank Sinatra, more Judy Garland and even a spot of Marilyn Monroe.
The band, as ever with the FTO, was absolutely spot on. The ever-present Dominic Irving this time left his keyboard and violin at home and whipped out his trumpet (oo err missus!). Louise Cox a persistent FTOer on the drums was her usual impeccable, percussive self. Devizes born and bred Archie Combe tinkled the ivories (I played rugby with his dad y’know!), and Vickie Watson amazed in her juggling of sax, clarinet, and flute throughout the entire show. But its churlish to only mention a few by name, where in fact the entire band were simply amazing. A whole bunch of horns and sax appeal for sure for starters!
And the singers? Well… I guess they did all right… 😉 Truth be told – of course they were brilliant. Confession time – for those that don’t already know, these people are my friends, and I am honoured to stand on stages with them often. So you can understandably think now “oh well, sycophancy rules, OK” at this juncture. But – everything I write here is true. These people WERE amazing tonight. Truly awesome. Jemma Brown with her consummate ease of poignancy in such numbers as “Ole’ Devil called Love” to power in “Big Spender” and Chris Worthy similarly between “Nightingale sang in Berkley Square” to “Reet Petite”. Then of course Sean Andrews, well known for his strength of projection unsurprisingly absolutely creaming “Luck be a Lady” … but showing a crooning side with “Come Fly with me”. Then there’s Will Sexton. Well, if you’ve never heard Will you bloody well should. And if you have you will know there are insufficient superlatives available. He calmly, coolly, sang his way through “Blue Moon”, broke hearts with “My Girl” and finished us all off with “Cry Me a River”.
But these were not alone on the stage… enter stage right Ella Mangham. WHAT A VOICE. Made for this style of music, “Black Coffee” and “Fascinating Rhythm” held us spell bound. Ella had debuted with the FTO Big Band back in the summer, but tonight saw the first appearance of a super young lady – Ruby Phipps. Now Sean had clearly bought his fan club with him as we heard when introduced, but Ruby had family and friends travelling from all over – and no surprise. Sublimely duetting with Jemma on “Get Happy”, “Over the Rainbow” and “The Trolley Song” she lit up the stage with her excellence and grace. Then the whole group appeared as Will completed the evening with – what else? – “My Way” and joined in… showing that the FTO Big Band truly did this THEIR way, in style, panache and not a little excellence.
What a night. But there’s one more person that deserves a HUGE pat on the back. I’ve mentioned this entire project, from orchestra to big band spin off, is the brainchild of Anthony Brown. But Anthony (a.k.a. O.T but never EVER call him “Tony” !!!) is more than just a M.D. (a.k.a. Musical Director). He is the passion, the life force, the visionary that has produced an orchestra that dares, and now a Band that is truly BIG. He AM da MAN.
So – if you were there tonight and saw it, how lucky were we? And if you weren’t or think I’m just a sycophant for my raving review all I can say is – my eighty-four-year-old mum absolutely loved it. And get a ticket for the next Big Band night and make up your own mind!
Meanwhile – live music is back. And don’t you forget it!
I tip my beret to The Shambles in Devizes for a wonderfully presented Christmas Art Fair on Saturday evening. Though it promised a glass of mulled wine and minced pie, which I didn’t seem to receive, it offered a variety of local artists exhibiting, and besides, I’m impartial to mince pies anyway!
(Update: seems I was supposed to queue at SoupChick for the mince pie and wine, so in effect I’ve only got myself to blame!)
If many an art show restricts itself by pigeonholing a particular movement, introducing only a handful of local artists gave the show range, and a little bit of everything could be found there. From charming sculptured little clay houses to watercolour landscapes, and from Marc Shilling’s monochrome candlelight art to Caroline Le Bourgeois’ super-cute animal studies with a dash of humour, it was a diverse assortment, but everything was great in its own right.
Breathtakingly impact-art from our good friend, Clifton Powell really makes one stop and think, not that he’s adverse to also painting life studies of local scenes and wildlife too.
A total of thirteen artists submitted, many on hand to chat with, but I was surprised how busy it was, and a couple of loops around the Shambles still wasn’t enough to take it all in.
Emily Hodges gave us some stunning photography, Josey Lewis had some wonderful landscapes, and visually, Matt Gibson and Belinda Golledge wowed, but my particular favourite, aside the couple I was aware of, Clifton and Caroline, I stopped for the longest in perusal of the colourful acrylic canvasses of first-time exhibiting Elly Smith. I loved the swirling patterns and autumn leaves design, semi-psychedelic, part fantasy expressionism, Elly had an amazing dragon piece which really drew me into it.
As well as art for sale, the more affordable prints and greetings cards were also available. Neil Barnes’s regular stall “Pics n Bits,” also remained open, for a great assortment of more mainstream prints and gifts and collectables.
Organised by the independent businesses of The Shambles, Anya Toropov of SoupChick, which conveniently stayed open for refreshments, and Michelle Turner of Phoenix Health and Wellbeing, this was a great, general exhibit which appealed to all, and certainly drew the crowds. But remember, guys, art is not just for Christmas; more of this in the future, please!
Second day on the trot in the Corn Exchange for me – on Friday night it was Motown Gold, with D-Town’s (ahem) young things bopping away to hits from their lifetime’s soundtrack. But on Saturday night it was something completely different – a journey into the wilds of 70s Prog Rock, with a side-serving of close-harmony contemporary folk.……
This was a complete change of venue for Long Street Blues Club for one night only, switching from the usual Con Club to a much larger hall and stage, in order to accommodate a more fitting light and sound show for one of the music business’s most famous bands, as well as to pack in a bigger crowd. And it was a move that was fully justified, as the music-starved hordes of The Vize turned out in their hundreds.
But first things first – the support act The Lost Trades, consisting of three well-known local singer/ song-writers: Phil Cooper, Tamsin Quin and Jamie R. Hawkins. (See Darren’s pre-gig interview with them if you’d like to know more about what makes them tick, [coming soon, Ed!]). I’ve personally seen these guys sing before, many times, both as individual performers and as The Trades, and they’ve always impressed me. On this occasion, and with a big attentive crowd in front of them, I thought that they absolutely nailed it.
Kicking off with “Only When We Sing With One Voice”, “Road of Solid Gold” and “Kingdom Falls” – all tracks on their latest album – all three performers looked relaxed and well-rehearsed. Their multi-voice harmonies were spot on, and their (apparently) effortless swapping around of instruments showcased their collective talent and versatility (including a complete no-panic moment when Jamie broke a guitar string). The songs were far from being one-dimensional, and instead were nuanced and textured. As a group, I feel that their song-writing has improved no end, each of them contributing their own ideas, as well as improving the inputs of the others. Their performance, to my ears at least, is strongest when Jamie takes the lead on vocals and, as they did on their last song, they simply drop all the instruments and just give us the stripped-down acapella harmonies. All in all a top-notch, consummate performance which I expect will have won them a lot of new friends. Just superb.
And then, as someone famous once said, for something completely different. And you couldn’t get much more different than veteran Dutch prog-rockers Focus.
Currently in the middle of their 50th anniversary UK Tour (which continues to mid-Dec, then starts again from April 2022), these guys are an absolute institution. Still touring, still making albums (they are now on their tenth!) and new music, and still bringing crowds to their feet across Europe, Focus blew into D-Town and, with a little musical hocus-pocus, blew us all away.
Fronted by founding member Thijs Van Leer (an imposing figure in long black leather coat) on Hammond organ, flute and (ahem) vocals, the rest of the band were: veteran member Pierre van der Linden on drums, Menno Gootjes on guitar and Udo Pannekeet on 6-string bass. And they seemed to be there on stage in absolutely no time at all, following a rapid changeover from the Trades, almost taking everyone by surprise. Before we knew it we were off with the first number, fittingly called “Focus 1” – no warm-up, no intro, just straight into it.
And that was the start of a breath-taking two-hour-long set. Suddenly we were in the midst of progressive rock – heavy chords on the organ, light passages on the flute, with guitar solos, bass solos, drum solos, some wonderful wandering jazzy improv passages, and (of course) those bizarre vocal interludes, scat singing and yodelling. Most of the set was instrumentals – these are (in true prog-rock parlance) not just “songs” in the conventional sense, but rather “pieces”, consisting of different phases, passages, moods. We were getting very close to Concept Album territory here, but we managed to avoided any such cliché as that.
Of course we got all the big 70s chart hits – how could they not on an anniversary tour? – “House Of The King”, “Sylvia” and a blistering, massively-extended version of “Hocus Pocus”. But there was plenty of other stuff to enjoy too – “Le Tango”, “Peace March”, “All Hands On Deck”, “Hamburger Concerto” to name just a few others. The vocals, such as they were, were largely incoherent, incomprehensible noises uttered by Thijs at key moments in the pieces. But it was far from a one-man show, as proved by Thijs when he wandered off stage several times, including once through the audience and into the foyer, as the other musicians took their solos and duets. Menno’s guitar-playing was stunning, and a real highlight for me, beating the bass and drum solos by a long way.
I have to say that this was the gig of the year for me. By the end of the night the band not only got a fully-deserved encore, but a full-throttle standing ovation. As far as I’m concerned, they knocked it right out of the park. If you were there, you know exactly what I mean. And if you weren’t there, you missed the best show in town!
Given what I’ve said above about The Lost Trades’ equally superb performance, the whole evening delivered a fantastic night’s entertainment, and a really strong advertisement for live music in Devizes.
You’d be forgiven for assuming I’m reviewing a greyhound race with this introduction, for akin to snapping open the starting traps, it was a fraction of second after Motown Gold played the inaugural bar of The Temptations’ My Girl at the Devizes Corn Exchange Friday evening, that the first punter broke the dancefloor barrier, and a surfeit of dancers followed his lead.
Usually a summer occasion, Devizes Arts Festival succeeded lockdown’s gap year with this arts festival “lite,” consisting of three main events and a sprinkling of free fringe ones across the town; we’ve never had a November this good. The interim mini-festival came to a soulful finale with six-piece function band Motown Gold, who professionally and passionately delivered some classic soul covers.
Since day dot Devizes Arts Festival have inundated us with quality original acts, from music, dance, comedy, talks and so much more. To stage a covers function band might well be faced with some reproach, from those who didn’t attend and see the speed the mature audience jumped the dancefloor; call Norris McWhirter, I think we’ve a world record on our hands!
Ha, it’s as if many haven’t had the opportunity to shake their tailfeathers for a year or more, which they haven’t, ergo Devizes Arts Festival in all actual fact, perfectly picked their grand finale, because despite the creativity of originally crafted music, sometimes we all need to throw caution to the wind and dance our cares away to classics we know and cherish.
The standard model of bassist and lead guitar, drums, keys and one saxophonist, with a female and male singer accepted, because they delivered the songs with wow-factor, onus largely on the magnificent vocal range of both, but in turn the glitzy professionalism and tightness of the band’s bonding. To book Motown Gold for your wedding would end in one heck of a memorable occasion, being a cut sky-high above the average.
That said, for authenticity of the Motown sound, it was absent of various elements. Backing singers would’ve done wonders, an upfront brass section too, for the saxophonist sounded a smidgen lost without the celebrated trumpeters of Motown’s in-house band, The Funk Brothers. And if it failed to fulfil my “brass-is-class” precept, the one missing component most important is the tambourine of Jack Ashford. Forget modern metronome methods, the tambourine man was the time-keeper in this era of yore, so if you crave authenticity, the tambourine is crucial within a classic soul tribute.
Entering trainspotting mode, I’d also noted not every song was Motown, rather the band selected a wide-ranging repertoire from Stax to eighties RnB, such as Rufus & Chaka Khan, Sister Sledge, et all. But each one a danceable favourite, and executed with faultless precision, it really didn’t matter one, or even half an iota. So much so, my carping is trivial, I’ll put my handbag away.
The essence is the pleasing performance, the joyful spirit of the crowd, the lights and eras-spanning retrospection, and it undoubtedly set the Corn Exchange alight with an unforgettable ambience, resulting in a brilliant finale to Devizes Arts Festival’s interim mini-festival, and leaves our jawbone firmly on the floor in anticipation for what they have in store for summer 2022. Though I hinted, they were giving away no secrets yet!
If there’s one thing, we all need right now, it’s a good ol’ carefree, soul shakedown party. The proof was in the pudding, a grand night was had, the perfect end to what has been a gratefully welcomed Arts Festival for the town. One which Devizine needs to wrap up with a concluding article encompassing all the events into one feature, but right now, I’m still imagining myself doing watusi like my little Lucy, with the memory of a great night out-out!
It’s good news from Devizes Fire Station, that the fire at the recycling plant at Stert has been contained. Early this evening, the station reported the fire is now under control and contained, after two nights of fighting the flames.
“We’ve not long returned from our relief crew at the waste yard,” they reported, “Slow but steady progress is being made by all crews with, the assistance of on-site staff, using their machinery to get in amongst the waste pile to extinguish in a safe area before being re-sited elsewhere. There will be DWFRS crews there for the foreseeable future and there are still large amounts of smoke in the area so we ask local residents to keep their windows and doors shut.”
It is expected crews will be on scene for a number of days, maintaining a watching brief and smoke will continue to affect the area. Making national news, it must bring into question practises at the Grist centre, in good time, being the second incident of a fire at the site since 2014, when February saw a week-long burning and bellowing smoke from the site spread across the area.
But I believe it is time to sincerely thank the firefighters involved in containing the incident so effectively, crews from Devizes, Calne, Trowbridge and Pewsey; you guys and girls rock!
Planning an update tomorrow, Grist Environmental said, “we would like to apologise to the residents of Devizes, Stert, Etchilhampton and the neighbouring villages, for any inconvenience caused by smoke from the fire, and for members of the public delayed by the traffic control at Monument Hill. We are grateful that no injuries or damage has been caused by this unfortunate fire, and we are thankful for the support of our tremendous staff who enabled us to continue operating throughout the day.”
Ladies and gentlemen, live from the Market Place, through ongoing bouts, it’s high time to discover who will be the title holder for the heavyweight Devizes breakfast champion. Tonight, in the Little Brittox corner, a newcomer to the competition, weighing in at twelve pounds seventy-five pee, all the way from the The Condado Lounge, the Big Lounge Breakfast!
And in the erm, middling corner, the undefeated heavyweight champion of Devizes’ breakfasts, weighing in at nine pounds and seventy-five pee, ladies and gentlemen, I give you, all the way from New Society, the High Society Breakfast; let’s get belly to rumble!
No messing around, we want a good, clean, fight. There’s gonna be blood, sweat, toast, and perhaps a few tears, but my belly and I are determined to, by left hook or crook, find the best breakfast in ol’ Devizes town; or die trying.
And I feel it goes without saying, first rule of breakfast club, is we talk about breakfast, and secondly, breakfast means breakfast. If I’m patriotic about only one thing, I stipulate it HAS to be a full English breakfast, a large one, without avocado or maple syrup, plated, not squelching from the sides of a bread roll.
Don’t get me wrong, I like pancakes, on Shrove Tuesday, I like a pain au chocolat, as a snack, I like a selection of marmalades, cooked meats and bouncy cheese, for lunch. And for breakfast, yeah, I do every cereal from muesli to Coco-Pops, at home. But when I’m out to eat, in the a.m., there isn’t, and never will be, anything better, worldwide, than a full English cholesterol-hugging breakfast. Correct me if I’m wrong, pancake consuming Yankee-doodle-do.
With something to prove, new kid on the block, The Condado Lounge came out fighting. A wide, open-plan restaurant with décor a fusion of English pub furnishings and Mexican design, it’s colourful and welcoming. There’s comfy sofas and generously distributed seating.
Putting up their décor guard, New Society is equally welcoming, with a cross between wine bar and grand home kitchen, the partial antique look is wonderfully fitting with the town, and includes the stunning stained-glass window bearing the Devizes crest; evidence this was once the tourist information building. Yet they never did serve sausages, so to hell with them. It is as it has been since it opened its doors two years ago, homely and snug.
The Big Lounge Breakfast dealt some serious body-blows; this was an exceptionally tasty breakfast, tomatoes sprinkled with basil, it struck out with herby double-sausage, eggs and bacon combo, with black pudding, mushrooms, toast on the side and that little pot of baked beans. I must say, all these we’re cooked to perfection. Though it promised hash browns, they didn’t deliver, thus the Big Lounge Breakfast left itself open for retaliation.
Spotting its opportunity, the High Society Breakfast served up a less spiced but equally scrumptious breakfast, with precisely the same items, but posher condiments. While it was clear this was going to be a tough fight, it managed to deliver everything it sworn to, and low and behold, with the addition of hash browns, especially when so crunchy and golden-brownly cooked, it put the Big Lounge Breakfast on the ropes.
But for our first time in there, we were welcomed at the Condado by manager Joel, who expressed his dedication to his customers and staff; the hospitality was convivial despite the busyness. This forced the boxers to the centre of the ring, clinching.
For a moment there was a notion of level-pegging, being New Society also put their baked beans in a pot. I sigh, seemingly standardised practice these days. Warming to concept I originally deemed sacrilege, on the grounds tipping them out is optional. Which I did at the Lounge, to soak up the goodness and bind the meal with their sauce. Though I figured I give leaving them in the vessel a try at New Society, it only ended with flaking bits of dipped hash brown floating in the pot, which was uninvited; I’m tipping them from now on! Fat was good for you, then it wasn’t, now it is again, who knows what’s what, and when in consumption of a full English, who really cares?
The main thing is taste, and I’m having trouble deciding, both were great, and both replaced the eggs I don’t care for with another item of my choice, without asking, and this is always a point-scorer for me. But admittedly my tummy felt fuller at New Society, and it’s a biggish one to fill! The Big Lounge Breakfast is forced to the ropes once more!
It is a shame, because The Big Lounge Breakfast put up a good fight, but price-tag has to come into play, and for the consistency in baking a splendid breakfast, it could have gone either way. It must be said, heftily weighing in at £12.75 against the middle-weight £9.75, three quid goes a long way in the finale. Therefore, New Society’s knockout High Society Breakfast dealt the final uppercut, sadly, The Big Lounge Breakfast hit the deck with a thud, the ref threw the baked-bean-stained towel in, and in assuming the hash browns watched helplessly from the kitchen, it was all over, save those cores of the tomato which no one finishes.
An impressive bout puts New Society top of our leader board, and will go up against the winner of round two, which maybe sometime what with the cost of Christmas to cough up. Unless, of course, your Devizes café or restaurant wishes to rise to the challenge sooner and can invite my better half and me to taste your lovely breakfast; do let me know, before I prep porridge!
Wherever there are sausages, you will find me. Wherever bacon is suffering from being undercooked, we’ll be there. Wherever liberty is threatened by beans in pot, you will find… Devizine’s Battle of the Best Devizes Breakfast; it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.
The DevizesArts Festival continues! Following Thursday night’s bash at The Corn Exchange with Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, it was time for my second event in DAF’s mini-programme. This meant a change of both venue and of genre – this time it was folk music at The Town Hall.….
Sally Barker has been around the folk scene for decades, working solo, in duets and various collaborations/ groups (The Poozies, the reformed Fotheringay, The Sandy Denny Project). She has toured extensively, and played as support act to most of the UK’s folk aristocracy at one time or another (Steeleye Span, Gordon Giltrap, Roy Harper, Richard Thompson, Taj Mahal, Richard Digance, Fairport Convention, Bob Dylan, Robert Plant). More recently, in ‘The Voice UK’, she was Tom Jones’ finalist on the BBC TV programme in 2014, reducing Sir Tom, and viewers alike, to tears with her flawless performances.
Her focus for much of this time was on singing her own material, but in more recent years (for a variety of reasons), she has tended to focus on playing and interpreting the songs of both Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny.
And thus it was we got the show entitled “Joni, Sandy and me”, wherein Sally gave us many of the songs of those two fabulous (but very different) famous female artistes. Sally herself summed up the distinction between the styles of the two songwriters early on her show. Denny, she said, tended to use “closed lyrics” and “subterfuge” (where you had to look carefully beneath the obvious words to find out what she was really saying), whereas Mitchell was much more like a painter (where the use of bold colours and images made the meaning much clearer).
Aside from the between-song commentary on the style and historical background of the two singers, Sally illustrated what she was saying by singing the songs themselves. I was impressed by the way she switched easily between Joni and Sandy, her voice conveying just the right level of emotion, vulnerability and fragility in each song. Some numbers were delivered (to my ears at least) as straight and faithful copies of the songs as I remembered them, whereas others were subjected to much more in the way of re-interpretation. Either way, it worked for me – Dandy and Joni are two of my favourite artists, and there was absolutely nothing here to spoil it for me.
For this show (compared to the recent WHO offering in the same room) the lighting was much better, highlighting the artist on stage and dimming the background for the audience. The sound, good when it was working, suffered a number of glitches which were annoying. The room was at best two-thirds full, and I can’t help thinking that it might have been sold out if there been a little bit more in the way of advertising by DAF. But that’s a minor quibble – overall an enjoyable and well-received performance.
Devizes Arts Festival continues for the next week, with a large range of events, including several fringe (free!) events at various venues around the town. See www.devizesartsfestival.org.uk/ for further details and booking information. Of particular note will be a rousing finale dance night with Motown Gold this coming Friday 19th November. Some tickets still available.
Up the road again for the first of a string of Long Street Blues gigs during November. You spend ages waiting for a gig to come along, then three come all at once. Added to the musical offerings of Devizes Arts Festival and TITCo these past few days, and it’s been a musically busy week in D-Town where, as everybody knows full well by now, nothing ever happens……
Support act for the evening was local favourite Tom Harris, playing mostly his own material, but throwing in the odd cover to leaven the mix. I particularly liked his rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends”. Tom’s songs are intense and enthusiastic, yet infectious and winning. He chatted and sang his way through his set, winning over his audience.
Main act for the evening, having made it all the way from Aberdeen (by way of Hartlepool) was the powerful and energetic quartet The Gerry Jablonski Band. Consisting of Gerry himself on guitar and vocals, Pete Narojczyk on harmonica, Lewis Fraser on drums and Grigor Leslie on bass, the band set off at furious pace, letting us know early on that they weren’t here to pussyfoot around. They knew what they were about, they were loud, they were confident and they seemed determined to pack in plenty of songs.
Through two strong sets, there was the minimum of chat, but just enough to engage the audience. The music was rough and muscular, but with plenty of hooks and melodies. Early on we had a number called “Koss”, written in memory of Free’s Paul Kossoff, and the lyrics managed to cleverly name-check many of the band’s greatest hits. The bass was thumping, the harmonica was squealing and howling and, driven by Gerry’s imperative and rapid lead guitar, the band were on a mission.
Much as I loved it, I was just beginning to think at the end of the first set that perhaps some numbers were a little samey. But then the band came out in the second set and proved me quite wrong, with quieter numbers, more light and shade, more subtlety. A highlight was one short number sung by – shock! horror! – Lewis Fraser the drummer, accompanied only by some (for once) quiet reflective guitar from Gerry. Most of the heavy lifting in the sets was, as you might expect, by Gerry himself. There was a look and feel of the younger Marriott to me about his demeanour. Overall the band worked hard as a unit and fully deserved their raucous encore.
If I’ve been bragging about trekking to Trow-Vegas this weekend for musical indulgence, next weekend you don’t even need to journey that far to get a dosage, just that direction…..
Halfway house, the lovely village of Seend, with its wonderful Community Centre on the Green hosts a roaring twenties jazz party, next Saturday (20th November.) And what was an £11 ticket stub is free, if you share and tag your friends in this here Facebook post. Each friend tagged will gain you an entry into the prize draw – the more friends tagged, the greater the chance of winning (Terms and conditions apply.)
A Bristol-based ragtime jazz band, Trip For Biscuits, with Charlie Minty offering a Charleston dance workshop, this roaring evening will transport you back to the 1920’s, an era of speakeasies, prohibition and feather boas, and DJ Meaze will then be on hand to keep the party going until late.
Fancy Dress is also encouraged to get everyone in the mood, and 1920’s Cocktails and Nibbles will be available to purchase on the evening. Tickets are here.“Awl, applesauce!”
With Andy gig-galivanting the Vizes this weekend, I trekked to neighbouring Trowbridge, to find mesmerising and enriching vibes at the Town Hall, via Ålesund and Agata; hold my hat, there’s a good fellow……
Just as Jim Crow segregation laws spawned juke-joints, the twentieth century is littered with examples of mainstream music venues unable to stay in touch, and consequently underground scenes progressing and pushing musical boundaries. It’s true for the Mods, frequenting coffee bars when pubs closed early and refused to play jazz, for beatnik outlawed psychedelia, and from Jamaican sound systems to bless ghettos of New York with hip hop.
Late eighties and early nineties Bristol reflected a different party from the paisley clubs of London. Leftover reggae sound systems merged dub back into hip hop, and a subversive scene of downtempo “trip hop” was innate, swamping rave chillout tents, and imaged by supplementary graffiti artists. If worldwide recognition for Banksy puts Bristol on the art map, I deliberate the music clearly rubbed off on a new generation, subsequently resulting in Bristol’s paramount cultural scene today.
I ponder this while a youthful Bristol-based four-piece fill Trowbridge Town Hall with blissful ambience. The band is Agata, based upon the Polish-born singer-songwriter’s name, and they’re only the support act, apparently! I’d blue-in-face argue this gig is a double-biller, not only from Agata’s proficiency to perform, but similarities to the headline, Ålesund, complimented them perfectly.
It’s spellbindingly mellow, even if the sound is stripped of yesteryear’s trip hop beats it maintains shards of electronica’s downtempo mellifluousness, of Massive Attack, and is governed with emotively powerful female vocals, riding me back to Portishead on a drizzly Glastonbury stage of yore. Drums prominent on these wholly and uniquely original pieces, bass and lead guitars sprinkle over the electronica soundscape, caressing Agata’s delicate but emotive and elegant voice. I love Salisbury’s Timid Deer for all the same reasoning.
Gavin Osborn, the town hall’s music and performance programmer is Bristolian, ergo he’s bringing a taste of the city to Trowbridge, which itself has a blossoming post lockdown gig map. Yet if the mass appeal of Gary Kemp deejaying eighties’ dancefloor fillers at the reopened Civic this weekend wasn’t your cup of tea, make your Trow-Vegas sojourn the Pump or Town Hall. There’s a continuous programme of exhibitions, arts and music at the Town Hall and musicians queue orderly for bookings at the Pump.
With music performances set in a characteristic yet intimate setting, gigs are a convivial experience here, one easy to interact with the bands, and you come away feeling part of it rather than a face in the crowd. Agata though would make for a perfect Sunday festival act, and have played Larmer Tree, Dot-to-Dot and Simple Things.
Currently touring a lockdown inspired EP “A Thread in the Dark,” Ålesund likewise, but the similarities don’t end there. Again, a Bristol-based four-piece creatively pasting natural soundscapes into a mellowed original repertoire, with upfront drums, female vocalist on keys, and bass and lead guitars adjoining them. The main difference is only a hint more professionalism than Agata, a tad more powerful voice commands, and more prominence on that mystifying Celtic folk-rock of say, Florence and the Machine.
Alba Torriset fronts the band, explained to me the Norwegian namesake is rooted to her father’s side. She cites Florence as a major influence, alongside Bat for Lashes, but she was eager to indicate Kate Bush to me too, as I nodded approvingly, thinking the same, and pointed to the preponderance of drums akin to Running Up That Hill. Also, her ability to use her voice as a musical instrument, results in a striking performance, as her naturally emotive soothing vocals carries you aboard her journey, equally as Kate Bush could.
On this particular occasion, in the usual drummer’s absence, an apt replacement was found, and boy did she give it her all, causing me to reason she must belong to a more hard-hitting rock band, later confirmed by sound technician Kieran J Moore. And in turn, this was a spellbinding performance. Hypnotically pleasing it cradled their new lockdown inspired songs, as Alba expressed her solace to the tranquillity of the moment, in the absence of industry and traffic she focused on the birdsong, and her writing reflected this, a song called Dawn Chorus particularly inspired from the notion, enthused with subtle birdsong samples in the background.
So yes, yes indeed, a memorable and most enjoyable evening at the Trowbridge Hall; both Ålesund and Agata less hip hop than predecessor Bristol scene acts like Massive Attack, less gothic than All About Eve, and less retrospective dejection than The Strangler’s Golden Brown, or 10CC’s Not in Love, but equally capsulating, emotive and euphoric; just with an uplifting contemporary method, gaging and merging aforementioned influences, future-beautiful. If either of these bands play near you, you’d be a fool to miss them.
As for the Town Hall, next Saturday (20th Nov) night proves not to be so laidback, as another Bristol-based band, IDestroy plans to bring a riotous, all-female party-punk live show to Trowbridge. Kid Carpet, Larkhall, Katherine Priddy all lead up to the new year, when 22nd January sees Gaz Brookfield booked, and com’ ere, there’s more……
Yay! The Devizes Arts Festival is back in business, albeit in truncated format for this year, and kicked off public proceedings with a real bang last night in The Corn Exchange.
Despite being massively well served for all forms of live music in D-Town generally, jazz has been somewhat under-represented of late. I certainly remember going to regular jazz gigs a few years ago, just next door in the Bear’s Cellar Bar, but there’s been nothing much since.
But that was all put to rights last night as The Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club On Tour rolled into town. This proved to be exactly what it said on the tin – direct from the world-famous jazz club founded by the eponymous Ronnie Scott in the late 1950s London’s Soho, this was a live touring version of what generally happens “live” in the club itself. We were treated to what can only be described as a multi-media presentation, combining a world class live jazz quintet alongside rare archive photos and video footage. We were taken on a guided verbal and musical tour of the history of this great cultural institution. Set amongst the dive bars and jazz juke joints of Soho, we heard of the desperate hand-to-mouth finances of the early years, the frequent police raids, and the various scrapes with gangsters (including the Krays, who were rumoured to have taken Ronnie and Pete “for a little drive”!)
Our “MC” for the evening, playing the role of compere, raconteur and sax soloist Ronnie Scott was the near-lookalike (and birthday boy) Alex Garnett. He perfectly conveyed the seedy, dubious and wise-cracking humour of the man, combined with a clear love of the music, and appreciation of the skills of his fellow musicians. On upright bass we had the dapper Sam Burgess, on piano the grinning James Pearson, and on drums the highly-accomplished Shaney Forbes. Completing the line-up was vocalist Natalie Williams, who brought some real sparkle and show-biz pizzazz to proceedings. Whether tackling numbers from the Great American Songbook, other jazz standards, or simply scat-singing, Natalie absolutely lit up the room with her enthusiastic personality and powerful vocals.
The band looked very comfortable on stage with one another, compact and tight when required, but giving one another just the right amount of space for the various solos. I was particularly impressed with Shaney Forbes’ drum solo in the first half. The material chosen was eclectic, featuring forays into the back catalogue of Sarah Vaughn (“Sassy”), Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Corea, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, and many others.
If the aim was to convey “the feel” of what it was like in the early days of an evening in Ronnie Scott’s Club, then the quintet certainly succeeded. A near-packed house was treated to a great evening’s entertainment, and lapped it all up. A rousing call for an encore was the least they deserved. A really great night out. Let’s hope someone in town now picks up the jazz baton again!
Devizes Arts Festival continues for the next week, with a large range of events, including several fringe (free!) events at various venues around the town. See www.devizesartsfestival.org.uk/ for further details and booking information. Of particular note are An Evening With Sally Barker (featuring the songs of Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny) at The Town Hall tomorrow (Saturday) 13th November, and a rousing finale dance night with Motown Gold next Friday 19th November. Some tickets for both are still available.
Not only am I old skool enough to recall DJ Sonique singing whilst on the wheels of steel, I’m even so aged to confuse this musician-come-DJ with the namesake of the Erasure frontman. But Sheer promoter, Kieran J Moore is excited with the announcement the frontman of legendary Oxford “showgaze” pioneers, Ride, also called Andy Bell is coming to our county town.
“This is huge deal for me,” self-confessed massive fan of shoegaze and Ride, Kieran, explained, “so being able to bring this Independent Venue Week to a new and very cool venue in our County Town is special.” The reasoning for me bringing up Sonique is that on this Space Station tour, Andy deejays with live guitar, something I must say, is completely original to me.
Ride’s album “Nowhere” will often jostle for top spot in the all-time-shoegaze lists with “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine. But you may also know him from late 90s indie outfit Hurricane #1 or latterly as the Oasis bassist, joining them for their last four studio albums and finally Liam Gallagher’s post-Oasis band, Beady Eye. He’s also appeared live with Pink Floyd, The Creation, Talk Talk, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and has appeared on record as guitarist for Andrew Weatherall, and recently as bass player for Du Blonde. Wherever you know him from, he’s a big figure in the industry, one of Oxford’s finest alumni and a noted figurehead of a scene.
Lockdown project, Andy Bell Space Station started in 2020, when Andy had a residency at Lo-Fi, a coffee shop in Crouch End, where he lives. As a way of reaching people with some form of live music, Andy started streaming performances from the empty coffee shop, playing electric guitar along with reworked versions of backing tracks from his various musical worlds, the backing tracks are deconstructed and extended in a way that makes them easy to improvise over; something I’d be both intrigued and impressed to see for myself.
Andy Bell will be performing his Andy Bell Space Station, at Trowbridge Town Hall on Sunday 6th February 2022, as part of a national campaign called, Independent Venue Week. Set at the end of January every year, the week-long campaign is designed to raise the profile and support independent venues during a period that is traditionally quite quiet.
“This is often done with underplays,” Kieran explained, “where a larger artist than would traditionally play a venue, goes in to give the venue a killer experience. This is also hand in hand with making the events really affordable and accessible.”
Tickets for our Andy Bell Space Station show go on sale this Monday, 15th November via WeGotTickets, priced a paltry £8, and in the spirit of things these gigs are all age too!