Yet another blinding night’s entertainment at the Southgate, as Frome’s Back Wood Redeemers came, saw and kicked ass….
His banjo to one side for a beer break, Flounder Murray perched on the step as I defined the live music scene in Devizes as thriving. As most Saturday nights we were spoiled for choice; People Like Us, I explained, popular locally, playing the Three Crowns, and there’s Britpop trio Billy Green 3 heading the Crown, rock n roll at the Rotary’s sixties-themed Presidents Night at the Cons Club, an Elvis tribute at the Cavalier and a gin and bourbon festival at the Corn Exchange. Not even touching upon various village gigs, such as Splat the Rat who played the Cross Keys in Rowde. I really need a clone, or five!
The area’s population is approximately 31,000, I’ve researched now, but returned the question on the night with a blank stare. Inevitable if you’ve not heard of Frome’s Back Wood Redeemers, this one passed you by. Alas, you missed out on what was a no-brainer for me, since Flounder last appeared here as part of the band The Boot Hill All Stars and blew the roof off with an original blend of grinding, upbeat folk and gypsy ska. It was one sweaty night. Though a quieter Saturday at the trusty Southgate didn’t damped the atmosphere, just rather more intimately contained.
An altogether unusual seven-piece band squeezed into the tight space, I expected no less then crusty beards, the circus attire of vintage suits, bowler hats, clown trousers and stripy tights and anything goes. Armed with an electric guitar, harmonica and drums, nothing unusual there I’ll grant you, but throw in a banjo, two, yes two double basses, a pink electric mandolin made to look like a mini guitar, and a fellow propped in the alcove with a trombone, might just invoke an appropriate image as to how bonkers it was; might.
Described as “songs of dark country, twisted blues & religious fervour,” BWR did what it said on the tin. The mood on my entry was melodically paced; on asking Flounder the difference between them and the Boot Hills he expressed the hunt for vintage blues or country songs, even gospel and the ethos of twisting them into this west country folk. We talked of ska and how it developed in a similar manner as rock n roll, those rhythm and blues rarities very much standard radio airplay across the Americas. Yet Flounder pronounced the need to cover artists such as Tom Waits and Nick Cave too, and with his archetypical gritty vocals these artists are apt.
Flounder though did not front all the tunes, the band clearly a collective as the double-bass man in tights straddled off his instrument to parade around like Bez of the Happy Monday’s, singing fervently with an expressive dance routine to boot. The second half promised to be dirtier, faster and grittier, and did just this. Through the promised murky country tunes, those Somerset folks threw everything at this original blend. Think of a Wurzels-Levellers combo as a Northern Soul band at the Hacienda’s Madchester era trying their hand at jump-blues, you might come somewhere near! Yet whatever pigeonholes you care to throw at it, in the jest of this band who daren’t take themselves seriously, it’s lively, crazy and highly entertaining.
Danceable too, once a Nick Cave song finished, the Train to Skaville riff teased the audience, and Flounder bounced into Toots & The Maytals’ 54-46, only for a melody of Tainted Love and the Cure’s Love Cats to follow. Yet aside the crowd-pleasers, it’s the proficient general skulduggery of instrumentation and upbeat sound which fuses the frenzy of the Back-Wood Redeemers and makes them so appealing. The finale Bound to Glory being the icing on the cake, and perhaps more apt for the band’s description than those known pop tunes; but either way, all were executed sublimely and originally. It was, in short, a crazy, crazy night Kiss fans wouldn’t dream of.
As it’s been said, hats, and many of them, off to the Southgate, who, while the others tend to provide us with safe options of tributes and locally renowned acts, and there’s nought up with that, The Southgate strive to hunt for something different, and bring alternatives to town. With the attitude of providing free live music every weekend, of course, there is also plenty room for our local favourites too and while these make the best and most crowded nights here, when The Back Wood Redeemers are back around this zone, you’d be a fool to miss them.
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