Unsurprised Alchemy: Will Lawton & The Alchemists Played The Pump

Roundabouts of Wiltshire, I usually just drive around them, that is, after all, their purpose. Saturday evening, I parked in the middle of that big one in Trowbridge; you know the one, all roads lead there, probably driven around it a thousand times. But I knew it was there and like the rest of my night, nothing came as a big surprise.….

Though to assume “unsurprised” conotes negative couldn’t be further from the truth. The carpark is for patrons of the town’s The Lamb, a handsome unassuming flagship Waddies, with a pump room aback converted into a music venue. Unsurprised by this because I’ve known about the Pump for years, sent reviewers there, plus every musican who’s played it speaks highly, and gasps in shock if I reply I’ve yet to frequent it.

Simple reason being gigs are more often than not on Fridays, unsuitable for my rota. But to pinch an idiom from Sheer Music promoter Kieran J Moore himself, which he often uses to describe a band he’s booked, The Pump is “punching above its weight” when it comes to local live music venues, casting off any ill-conceived notions Vegas is a cultural void, and affirming our county town on the UK’s grassroots venue map.

Sheer Music itself is a stamp of authenticity, your assurance of a quality gig, and here is its headquarters. KJM not in attendance tonight, but their Will Riker, Megan made the perfect host, with a joy impossible to hide spoke of their delight at the helm of the Pump; I’m equal in delight to have finally ventured here.

But it’s a triple-whammy of unsurprised delights, as headlining is the fantastically unique Will Lawton and the Alchemists, a raggle-taggle ensemble of skilled Chippenham, and Malmesbury musicans impossible to pigeonhole. On the strength of recommendations, our review of their latest EP Alchemy, and Will’s solo tracks he’s contriubted to our Julia’s House compilation, I was assuredly in good hands.

They were everything I imagined they would be, splashed with a touch more. Sublimely distinctive and individual, quirky and acomplished, the result was spellbinding musical alchemy (as it suggests on the tin,) the variety to force your eyes closed and dream abstract visual accompaniments but sqint at intervals to amaze yourself at just how they create it.

These original enchanted compositions are performed on keys by Will himself with poignant lead vocals, guitarist Ami Kaelyn with emotive side vocals akin to Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky, Buddy Fonzarelli on an eletric four-string upright bass and as witty as they come, sophisticated engine room drummer and live sample trigger Weasel Howlett, and classically trained, multi-instrumental Harki Popli usually adding an eastern flavour on tabla drums but unable to attend tonight.

There’s often psychological and astronomical themes to make Brian Cox’s toes curl, but it’s always with this drifting, beautiful ambience.

After the perfect ambience of their lengthy EP tracks, kicking off with the Bricks single, moving onto Dust, and earlier compositions like Soul Sneeze, they break them down with hilarious banter of equal skill. It’s avant-garde, only comparable with those who pushed musical boundaries for pushing musical boundaries; from Mozart to Flyod, Zeppelin to Giorgio Moroder, Scott Joplin to Scratch Perry, and I’ll give you King Tubby to A Guy Called Gerald as The Alchemists occasionally slip into idiosyncratic drum and bass with a breathtaking outcome. This is jazz, this is indie-folk, this bears hallmarks of classical, soul, psychedelia, of everything gone before and a hint at what’s to come.

If I get narked by Oasis being compared to the Beatles I retort they’re retrospective, the Beatles were progressive, and the Alchemists are far closer to what we could predict they’d be putting out today, to rinse the sincerity from Stevie Wonder’s parental pride anthem, Isn’t She Lovely, with a tune called Daughter, yes, it really is on this level.

But maintaining a down-to-earth charisma it’s warts and all, as if the music comes naturally and they’re in its playground. Similar could be said for the supporting act, as I did say this was a triple-whammy. With a forthcoming tour, they hid their identity with the anagram, Slotted Hearts, to perform a trial-and-error inaugural showcase of the new album, but like I also said, nothing came as a surprise as I teased Tamsin Quin, one third of the Lost Trades, that I sussed it because I’m good at anagrams. This was, of course, bullshit, I just noted they were attending via the Facebook event page!

And a wonderful set they were already in swing of upon my arrival, The Lost Trade’s second album is the perfect progression of their debut we reviewed a week ago. Our beloved vocal harmony modern-folk trio are going from strength-to-strength, destined for the deserved greatness they work so hard for. Their performance was as they said it would be, we were guinea pigs to replicating the album live, and if a few hitches were expectedly made, they were subtle at best. But humbly excusing themselves was unnecessary. If this was an insight into what’s to come, you need to be there when it goes off. It was a stunning performance, sublimely introduced, end of.

But it’s the informal setting, you see? The kind of safehouse where The Lost Trades can experiment, the kind of music appreciation society open to interpretation, with walls adorned with brass instruments and other random paraphernalia, wonky steps up to a seated balcony, and crossed beamed with an invition for appearing acts to graffiti their names upon. It’s quirky, non-pretenious, and exceptionally hospitable; it’s got my name all over it. A little haven of music I wished I’d trekked to a lot sooner, but I’ve done it now, and I’m not looking back.

Sellout gigs I hope will encourage them to open Saturdays more often, their programme chockful of selected delights, which, more often or not, are the upcoming named must-sees. The Pump’s collaboration with Sheer is a match made in heaven, and if your vision of heaven is a quirky backroom blessed with a plethora of our best musical activities, The Pump is the direction you need to be looking.

Through the ambient nature of Will Lawton, and the mellowness of The Trades, I take to wonder how lively post-punk bands like Carsick fair here, Megan confirmed they were stage diving like a moshpit, so aside this venue’s quaintness, diversity matches its brilliance.


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