Could it be, I wonder this Sunday morning after a grand evening at our dependable Southgate, that being couped up and unable to play to a live audience for what feels like a decade, has planted fire in the bellies of musicians and a drive to return to the spotlight in an explosively intense and mind-blowing manner?
It certainly felt this way with the Boot Hill All Stars giving it their all, last weekend at Honey Street’s Barge, and again, last night where a “Plus Friends,” gig took place at the Gate, in the blaze of glory local folk have come to expect from the homegrown talented musicians involved.
As far from a band name as a desperate attempt to rehash a once-trendy US sitcom, Plus Friends is the banner for a looser formulation, I’m assuming, to temporarily disassociate the trio of Phil Cooper, Jamie R Hawkins and Tamsin Quin from their Lost Trades Americana branding and allow themselves the freedom to adlib and play in unison their separate songs as solo artists, generally rock out, and perhaps throw in a cover at will, as they did with a finale of Talking Heads’ Road to Nowhere. Though covers were scarce, the crowd know these guys only too well, and their original penned songs.
Plus, and, most importantly where the “plus” part falls neatly into place, to add a fourth member in par rather than “support,” that being the modest acoustic local legend, Vince Bell. Not forgoing this allowance also saw Jamie’s eldest son occasionally join them on percussion, adding to the overall “family” nature of the homecoming gig.
And that’s precisely how it felt for punters and performers alike, a true community recovering from isolation the best way they know how. “This is how it should be,” delighted photographer Nick Padmore told me at the end. Because while the Southgate’s dedication to bringing variety, and artists who might well be unbeknown to Devizes is most welcomed, nothing raises the roof quite like Vince belting out his satirical prose about his hometown and the crowds joyously joining in with the “and you ain’t ever leaving!” chorus.
It hallmarks everything great about this splendid occasion, and a true Devizes-fashioned return of live music with homegrown talent abound.
But it’s not just the brilliance of Vince, Tammy, Jamie and birthday-boy Phil, to perform with bells on, which made the evening, rather the friendly assembly of local live music aficionados too, with their meeting of the “same ol’ faces” not fully grouped since lockdown begun. And, in turn, the Southgate to accommodate them so welcomingly within current regulations.
There’s a streamlined table service, its dedicated staff have the efficiency of McDonald’s, and the genuine friendliness of Disneyland. Though such comparisons should end there, for The Southgate is far from the mechanism of commercialism, rather a rustic haven for those seeking a “real” West Country pub experience, and within it, creating a free music venue that performers are queuing to play.
It’s without doubt the sum of all these parts made it so many chose our Southgate over Gareth’s squad on the tele-box, a brief “footballs coming home” chant raised by Jamie being the only reference to the Euros necessary. No, we’re happy here, thank you. Content to hear the welcoming homely vocals of Tamsin Quin, the passionately executed sentimental writings of Jamie as he rings out solo classics such as his tribute to his dad, the rockier side to Phil Cooper as he selects a tune from his solo lockdown album, These Revelation Games and the beautifully arranged understated lyrics of Vince as they so eloquently weave a tapestry of narrative. And as my opening presumption noted, they delivered it with such Jack-in-the-box passion, what once would have been a pretty standard gig down the Gate was more akin to a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Oh yes, more of that, please!
And our wish is granted, as The Southgate’s gig calendar is building as if 2020 never happened; next Saturday, 10th July sees Swindon’s premier ska covers band The Skandals, with ex-Skanxter Carl Humphries returning as frontman. Sunday is the turn of Essex’s finest Americana roots band, Jamie Williams & The Roots Collective.
One weekend after is all you need to wait until reggae duo Jon Lewis & Jah-man Aggrey, TwoManTing, on Saturday 17th, Rockport Blues on 24th, and Blind River Scare’s Tim Manning rocks up on the final Saturday of July. The dates are booked into August too, with Kevin Brown on the 7th and the brilliant Strange Folk on the 9th October, but you can bet your bottom dollar dates in-between these will crop up very soon, check the event guide as I attempt to keep ahead and update it without getting too frustrated with cancelations, or the Southgate’s Facebook page, where the spirit of live music lives on, as proved last night.
All Images used with kind permission of Nick Padmore