Hip Hop Hooray; The Scribes Rock Trowbridge Town Hall

Pleased as Punch I’ve managed to tick three Bristol-based musical acts off my must-see list in as many weeks; Boom Boom Racoon, Mr Tea and the Minions, and this Saturday night saw me boom-bap bouncing to The Scribes in the most unusual of places to find hip hop, Trowbridge Town Hall…

And bouncy it certainly is, an irresistible, partially old skool sound which embraces all the positives of UK hip hop, and none of the negative stereotypes. If we were the other side of the pond, it’d be classed east coast rap, surely(?) as the Scribes find the perfect balance between carefree and enjoyable, the like of De La Soul, the concentrated harmonising of A Tribe Called Quest, and the tongue-twisting proficiency of The Fu-Schnickens.

It’s poignantly layered with denotation, when it needs to be, yet it remains without the pretentious bravado and bling; there wasn’t a gold bikini-clad hoard of chicks sprawled across a white stretch limo (partly a shame), there wasn’t a single baseball cap on back-to-front, or a gold chain large enough to anchor a cruise ship. In chatting with Ill Literate outside, he was keen to cast off those preconceptions for his trio, and UK hip hop in general.

In fact, he was tremendously outgoing, sociable and articulate, this common association of a chip on shoulder was non-existent. What there was where truckloads of intelligent lyrics, executed so incredibly intricately, precise and with a skill way, way beyond the average; dope is the appropriate term, apparently!

But from listening to their tracks, I gathered this long before the show, I’ve been waffling about their talent for some time now, trying to get the message out there; the Scribes are the most promising hip hop act currently on the UK circuit; I’ll call it.

Though if last night proved my point, the crowd at the Town Hall was minimal and disappointing, but one talent I hadn’t predicted was their stage presence. The Scribes have a natural ability to entice, encourage and involve the crowd; it was virtually holiday camp entertainment fashioned at one point, where they divided the room in two for heckling humour, but if this was cliché, they united the sides again in harmony; nicely done.

There could be many factors as to why numbers were down, perhaps the Town Hall has a stigma for younger local hip hop fans, perhaps the publicity didn’t reach the required audience, maybe, it was pointed out by an attendee that the scaffolding obscures the wealth of events happening inside. I’d favour some marketing brainstorming might be an idea, the poster designs are rather formulated, this one hardly spelt out the awesome hip hop gig it was. Outside, a popular nearby bar’s DJ blasted out Wham’s Wake me up Before you Go-Go to a busy crowd; you can’t train stupid!

What Trowbridge and neighbouring villages need to twist their melon around is the venue is offering a vast variety of affordable events, and with the incredibly motivated Sheer Music promoter, Kieran Moore at the helm, it’s quality not quantity. Twist to the predictable preconception is, Trowbridge Town Hall is a wonderfully welcoming and aesthetically pleasing venue, pushing the boundaries. And in this notion, The Scribes were in fact the perfect act, as they too clearly push boundaries.

The Scribes are booked to many festivals, from Shindig to Boomtown, and are popular regulars at Salisbury’s Winchester Gate. As I peered inward and ignored the lack of audience, I could imagine they’d handle a huge crowd with similar ease, and the whole house would be jumping like House of Pain on trampolines in zero G.

Support came from Salisbury-based Mac Lloyd, a solo artist impossible to pigeonhole. With a sensationally emotive voice he cast some original compositions to the crowd, using ambient and breaks backing tracks, but at times incorporating electric guitar and sporadically rapping. I could suppose it’s intelligent hip hop, at base level, but it’s too unique to categorise and played out with such skill and passion, let’s roughly liken him to what Pewsey’s Cutsmith is putting out, and open a whole new pigeonhole for them; now that’s experimentally creative and interesting. Keep your eye on Mac Lloyd.

But look, it’s Sunday; permission granted for me to go out on a whim, get a little rant off my chest?! Concerning today, not for The Scribes’ sake, more so for the general misconception of this genre, quintessentially the new rock n roll? And for it we need to go back, way back, back into time, back to legwarmers and BMX….

I grew up in dog-turd-paved suburbia, bin bag mountains on the streets, where binmen were on strike, hardly anyone under the age of 25 had a job, and a frustrated generation hostage to a Conservative regime caused white to blame black and only unite to bash the Asians. Yet gradually, Skinhead and teddy-boy gangs dwindled as we joined hands in primary school, and body-popped; I was too chubby to breakdance!

Just as a decade prior in New York’s ghettos, racially segregated warfare came to an end through the invention of block parties heralding a mixture of musical genres to appease them all. Just as rock n roll united black and white, hip hop dragged everything into its melting pot.

Now, exported to Britain a short-lived fad arrived, quickly as ever commercialised. It was carefree party vibes; Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s The Message was the exception to the rule, ground-breaking it displayed conscious prose, just as Gill Scott Heron, which warped into a freedom of expression ethos whereby frustrations of ghetto life could be voiced; enter Public Enemy and NWA.

Consequently, it became aggressive, angry and as it spread across the States rivalry got heated. It took us to the late eighties whereby the backlash returned us to a carefree offshoot. The likes of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Arrested Development put the hippy back into hip hop.

The genre ruled the day, but the commercialism only resisted and what rebelled was slackness in lyrics, this polarised philosophy of do or die; gold, guns and hoes; that sort of macho bullshit.

Afraid it is so, but so too does rock and ska have their extremities, and we don’t single them out with a narrow-minded preconception, we accept there’s that part to them but it doesn’t represent a majority, why do we do it with hip hop?

The roots of hip hop are not lost, just obscured like a flower in bracken. The original ethos was more akin to the carefree spirit of early rave, a generation on, than it is to a modern commercial hip hop market. We see this now through the later nineties’ association with the big beat sound of Skint and Wall of Sound, using breakbeat to throw jazz, blues, rock, and reggae into a melting point; what-cha gonna do when the fat boy’s trippin; that kinda Brighton rock!

One good reason why The Scribes are ahead of their game, they can fit into this, and unlike the nonsensical chanting of an MC, they lyrically supply something sublime.

This may play off well in the cities and festivals, but by the end of the night I tried to convince Ill Literate not to give up prompting The Scribes to the smaller, more rural backwaters, as there are pockets of resistance; there are hip hoppers doing crazy legs in the fields! Secret is, they come to Devizes via our tropical holiday-at-home rum bar, The Muck & Dundar in November; I’d sincerely hope we can show them some serious support, because believe me, the Scribes, and Mac Lloyd rocked da house, aka, Trowbridge Town Hall last night, and this thoroughly deserves our attention.

The Scribes

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Professor Elemental Booms Trowbridge Town Hall with Raccoons and Cheesemakers

Type “smack me” into Google, at your own risk, and third predicted search is “…on the bottom with a woman’s weekly.” Six years since her passing, and over three decades since Victoria Wood first performed the Ballad of Barry and Freda her finest hour is everlastingly. Proof while often pushed into the “novelty” pigeonhole, comical songs can be as eternal as serious songs; if I had a penny for every time someone called me Ernie……

Horse and carriage association, comedy and music, since day dot. Be you come at it from a comedian background or as musician, the aged hybrid functions, and it’s effective equally if, like me Saturday night at Trowbridge Town Hall, your jawbone aches from grinning like a jester as much as your feet do from dancing!

It’s been something of a music-comedy weekend at the county town, Barnsley’s The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican played the Pump Friday, with their cheeky, seventies children’s TV presenter style of pop adaptions, chief coordinator Kieran sung their praises while I regretted my absence. But I crossed the border and landed in Vegas for Saturday’s offering at the Town Hall; couldn’t resist.

Hosting three acts of varying genres, tenaciously linked by the comical element, the night will end bizarrely, with naturally witty Brighton chap-hopper Professor Elemental rapping through a horse’s head and encouraging the audience to knock an inflatable unicorn between them. But the assorted crowds gathered this wasn’t going to be the archetypal hip hop gig.

Starter for ten the first act is Bristol’s conscious, anarchist, cross-dressed trio, Boom Boom Racoon. An acoustic ska-punk band I’ve been raving, but dubious they’d fit into Devizes’ rather polarised music epoch. Apologies are made for the bassist recovering from a gum infection, as his usual shouty exclamations will be reduced. Nevertheless, offerings approximately casing their fondness of invading dustbins, the NHS, and Lotus Biscuits were purveyed with finesse, and the poignantly satirical Fuck You, Ashley, the final tune on their second album, Songs From Before the Times.

I’d argue though unconventional, in a geek post-punk fashion, veganomics, LGBT and other leftist subjects maintain a seriousness edge, making Boom Boom Racoon uniquely placed at a comical gig, yet concluding on their amusing high-energy adaption of the Venga Boy’s Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom, wherein they dub their own band name into the title, there’s forever a feeling not to take them seriously.

Calne’s Real Cheesemakers on the other hand blast loud rock in your face, all the while maintaining a heap of West Country humour. Akin to Boom Boom Racoon in only one factor, hilarity. Their psychedelia, surrealist-edged rock is aptly introduced with The Tortoise is Coming, and retrospective contemplation with Unicorns of the 1980s.

It becomes almost Dr Seuss at times, such as the vaudeville Trouserland. There’s a ballad involving dinosaurs, local banter with the Roundabouts of Swindon, and a Springsteen-fashioned lengthy, emotional build-up to a song which lasts but a second. The Real Cheesemakers nonsensically mock everything, in a metal style, even down to the dark, satanic ethos of the genre, as if Spike Milligan was Iron Maiden’s frontman, yet they were a Wurzels tribute, naturally.

They’ve supported Professor Elemental in the past, allowing him bound majestically on stage for a duet. Then the stage was stripped bare for the Prof to do his thang, an astounding hilarious stand-up routine, rapped.

Unlike the others, I suspect Professor Elemental comes from the comedian-turned-musician angle, as he weaves rap so effortlessly into what’s best described as stand-up. Topically waxing lyrical, satire and observational humour abound, astute in audience participation, such as the cliché rapper’s request to the crowd to “make some noise,” the Prof appeals they make specific noises.

As any professional stand-up he comments on his surroundings, the venue’s similarities to a council hall, cos it is; he elects himself mayor. He’s also no stranger to character assassinations, whipping off the jacket of his rainbow suit and trademark hunter’s Pith helmet, to become a crude and condescending businessman, heckling an unsuspecting girl in the crowd.

Everything the Professor does is astutely performed, with whimsical yet chivalrous charisma. He simply charms with lyrics chockful of pop culture references and judicious observations, it’s nothing less than hilarious. As the show progresses so too does the insanity level, to the aforementioned section where he’s donned a horse’s head and encouraging the crowd to bounce an inflatable unicorn between them.

Never a dull moment, there’s so much jammed into this show it’s tricky to pin the man down, like a one-man Airplane movie, blink and you’ll miss something. He explodes with colour and amusement, while attracting hip hop aficionados his performance is favourable to all, still, in his own unique manner, he can execute a fine rap too. He comes with a treasure trove of merchandise: comics, books, stickers and of course CDs, though I’d suggest the live show is his forte.

Once he lost the pith helmet, I realised he was older than I assumed, a stand-up comedian stage presence attributing hip hop into his act, he cited the Sugarhill Gang, suggesting his roots lie as old skool as I, a genre he salutes rather than mocks.

I sincerely hope he’s happy independently doing circuits, seemed as if he is, as his professionalism and natural comical ability would be ideal for mainstream TV to wreck, theoretically selling-out as a game show host, or mores to the pity, the best damn Doctor Who post-Tom Baker.

If I pondered through pigeonholing how divergent the three acts were, I was pleasantly surprised when they came together for an improvised finale, and in this the gig was a prime example of Trowbridge Town Hall’s diversity in programming; this was something I’d expect to see at a city venue or festival. A highly enjoyable evening with an assortment of hilarious class acts, in which I got to bounce a unicorn.





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A Gecko in Trowbridge Town Hall

It’s always a warm greeting as you enter Trowbridge Town Hall, even if, like me on this occasion, you’re running late…..

Prior to my arrival I digested the fact I’d likely forgone the supposed support act, Gavin Osborn, but was dammed if I’d miss Gecko, as since reviewing his sublime second album Climbing Frame back in October 2020, I’ve been aching with the understandable desire to see him pull it off live.

Mellowed piano song oozed from the humble hall ahead, oh no, I figured, Gecko has already begun. Such it is that Gavin recently resigned event coordination at the hall to the capable hands of then sound engineer, Kieran Moore, I assumed he was billed as a kind of farewell to his previous position, unmindful I’d emerge from the Hall a Gavin Osborn fan too. Even by the evening’s culmination I was also dubious of suggestions the two were collaborative, or if it was just banter between them.

But it seems a tag-touring-team is a reality, and given I’d mistaken Gavin for Gecko in the vestibule, who could be more apt to work with for the reptilian-named poet-esque singer? For luckily, Gavin was still on the subtle stage, virtually stripped bare of instrumentation save a banjo, microphone, music stand and randomly placed hardback chair.

Yet a guy looking remarkably like photos I’d used of Gecko accompanied him on a piano, tucked away by a side door. After the song I’d made my stealth entrance to was over, the pianist sat behind me. Uncertain glances behind affirmed, if there was a gecko in the room it was undeniably him, giggling at Gavin’s witty prose. I suppose this, coupled with their styles so similar I mistook the pair, should’ve been damming evidence this was more than a headliner and support act thrown in for sentiment, but what can I defend myself with, naivety caused by surviving on powernaps?!

In this, is the delight of the communal venue too. If there’s a stage green room it’s unused every time I visit; awaiting performers merge into the audience. This is no venue for egotistical celebs, and with barely raised stage and modest lighting, it’s a non-gimmick venue which bases solely on performance rather than dazzling affects. Professionalism and proficiency given, if you can hold an audience spellbound with such minimal affects and props.

Both did with bells on, and while I suspected the case with Gecko, Gavin was the surprise element. Akin to Gecko, Gavin is more storyteller than singer, though splices of prominent points were executed through great folky vocals, and highly amusing prose. Unlike Gecko, Gavin’s baseplate is folk, who through exceptionally crafted verse reminded me of the sentimentality of our own folk hero, Jamie R Hawkins.

Perhaps more akin to Beans on Toast, lacking Ozzie tinge, through observational narratives he weaved through subjects with spellbinding accuracy, hinging on familiarisation; I identified with many, particularly the amusing banjo led ditty of an aged fellow sneaking out to gigs while his wife seemed blissfully unaware in her slumber! But with heart-melting twists, Gavin wraps them up amusingly, either echoing retrospective contemplation or hinting at his political stance.

Time for Gecko’s opening song; could be anything less than the hilarious start of his album, Can’t Know all the Songs, which counteracts those who shout requests. Virtually unplugged he executed highlights of the album acoustically, and gave us unheard of tunes too, passing off his lack of backing as witty repartee. Such as pausing the song to switch from singing to kazoo during an amusing and uplifting tale of the Tamworth Two pigs, Butch and Sundance, who escaped their fate at a Malmsbury abattoir in 1998.

On this note it’s appropriate to highlight the major reason Gecko is so utterly entertaining, for not through particular quality of musician, though he is a natural, rather his choice of content and subject is so original, and his method of metaphorically weaving it into a more general point. Who writes a song from the POV of escaping pigs, or a dog sent into space? But better still, who can bend such narrative into a point you identify with? It’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, in song.

It’s a classic formula attributed to authors rather than songwriters, and Gecko reigns as either, acting with pseudo-confidence, encouraging audience participation to save him hiring a gospel choir, planning out a cliché encore by hiding behind the piano, even submitting profit margin differences between buying his CD here and streaming his music.

I think I put too much emphasis on hip hop in my album review, as his rap-fashion tendency contradicts his indie-pop overall, making it his unique style, part nerdy, part too cool for skool, but through stripped back live performance it is clear his devotion is with the latter, indie-pop acoustic goodness. A fashion with ageless attraction. But whatever pigeonhole you opt for, it’s undeniably entertaining.

If I’ve an only criticism the show was too short, the comeback is both Gavin and Gecko can suck you into their stories so time passes unnoticed, coupled with my late arrival of which I’ve only myself to blame!

Another wonderful evening at Trowbridge Town Hall, building a reputation for introducing a variety of interesting and upcoming acts, affordably; you need to be putting future dates in your diary.


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Trowbridge Town Hall Rides into Spring

At the beginning of the month Devizine covered Trowbridge’s musical renaissance, highlighting The Village Pump and Town Hall’s dedication to introducing a variety of upcoming local bands and performers. Explaining Sheer Music’s Kieran Moore had “big shoes to fill,” taking over as chief event coordinator for the Town Hall from Gavin Osborn. Well, the proof is in the pudding, and that dish has made it off the serving counter and onto our table.….

Not forgoing, the programme is already in full-swing, with Truckstop Honeymoon at the Pump on Friday, (18th) a cider swiggin’ scrumpy and western hoedown with The Skimmity Hitchers and our great friends, and the Boot Hill All Stars supporting at the Town Hall on Saturday.     

Boot Hill All Stars

Such is the fashion for live music in Trowbridge, Fridays at the Pump, Saturday at the Town Hall, aside some great happenings at Stallards and Emmanuel’s Yard, comedy and more commercial nights at the Civic. Gecko appears next Saturday at the Town Hall, and all-day Sunday there’s   fundraising session, Kalefest, a family-orientated mini-festival for some musical equipment for a teenager with a severe brain injury, in which Zone Club, Pete Lamb’s Heart Beats and The Relayz play.

Marching on atop this free six-week interactive course of workshops for 16- to 18-year-olds, covering all aspects of the music industry, next month sees a continuation of great bookings, of which we highlighted in the aforementioned preview, here. What we’re here today for is to check in on Kieran, see if he indeed “filled” those shoes for the ongoing season.

So, just revealed, April and May listings at the Town Hall and Pump, which have equally exciting news, as, perhaps, Mr Moore asks the shopkeeper for a shoehorn. Isle of Man’s recent export to Wiltshire, Becky Lawrence, the musical theatre singer-songwriter who wasted no time fitting into the local circuit, joining established local bands, The Bourbons UK and Clyve and the Soul City Foundation, teams up Bristolian country singer-songwriter Zoe Newton to pinch-punch April at the Pump.

Zoe Newton at Bradford Roots Festival

Whereas, in the name of variety I’m surprised to see The Town Hall hosting a “rum and reggae night” on Saturday April 2nd; it’s as if they’re calling to me! Seriously though, I’d wager youngsters reading this are asking Siri what the hell a shoehorn is.

But nice surprises flow, as Gavin Osborn himself plays The Pump, Friday 8th, with his band Comment Section. Regulars at Stallard’s, locally-based indie-rockers Riviera Arcade arrive at the Town Hall with Gloucestershire’s electric-punk favourites, Chasing Dolls on Saturday, with (udated) Devizes/Swindon NervEndings headling the show.

NervEndings

Alcopops Records’ Croydon duo, The Frauds play the Pump on the 15th, with Ipswich’s experimental indie-pop darlings, Lucky Number 7, while Henry Wacey and Dan O’Farrell are there on Saturday. Surreal stand-up, Welsh hard rockers The Vega Bodegas are at the Town Hall on the Saturday, with support from Wiltshire-based metal trio newcomers, Last Alvor and self-confessed “degenerates,” synth-punk noise-makers Benzo Queen.

If that weekend is atypical of what I’d expect Mr Moore to assign, the following, Saturday 23rd is different. Kieran is no stranger to asking what acts local giggers would like to see via social media, as Brighton’s Chap-Hop legend Professor Elemental comes to the Town Hall, with support from my recommendation, Bristol’s fantastic veganomic ska-punk-folk crazies, Boom Boom Racoon, who’ve we fondly followed in the past on Devizine.

Boom Boom Racoon

If I’m excited with boom boom coming soon, while “Sunday league” songwriter Tom Jenkins finishes off April on Saturday 30th, May is positively booming too. Local soul-hip hop DJ, Mac-Llyod gets the crowd prepped for another of my personal favourites, Bristol’s bouncy boom-bap virtuosos The Scribes, on Saturday 7th May. Aching to encourage these guys a gig more local than Salisbury’s Winchester Gate, I’m delighted to see this on Trowbridge Town Hall’s listing; they’re definitely calling to me now!

Pan-European ‘inventive and thrilling’ alt-folk duo, singer-songwriter Tobias Jacob and double-bass playing multi-instrumentalist Lukas Drinkwater play the Pump on Thursday 12th May, whereas I’m notified Saturday 14th’s do at the Town Hall will be a “pipe and slippers rave,” of which I had to inquire if, as it sounds, it’ll be an old skool DJ rave type thing, and this it was confirmed, “that’s exactly it.” If they’re calling me, now they’re mocking; the feet in my slippers were stomping in mud when you were an itch, whippersnappers! “Honey, where’s my whistle and white gloves?”

Sheffield’s award-winning finger-style guitarist, Martin Simpson breathes some folk to the Pump on Friday 20th May, while the Town Hall blow cobwebs off with Trowbridge’s own hardcore metal quartet, Severed Illusions. With nine years under their belts, they opened for Hed PE at the now defaulted Beirkeller in Bristol, and played metal festivals’ assemblage M2TM. Joined by doomcore fourpiece Eyesnomouth, and Salisbury’s screaming metalcore Next Stop Olympus; that’s going to go off.

The Lost Trades

From here gigs are pencilled in, June sees Martin Carthy, Jon Amor with Kyla Brox, Hip Route and Billy & The Low Ground feature, but be certain the near-future looks bright and varied for Trowbridge’s live music scene, particularly as the last gig of May is our beloved folk-harmony trio The Lost Trades on Saturday 28th. Bring in the summer with Graham Steel’s award-winning Phil, Jamie and Tamsin, what more could you ask for?


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PREVIEW – White Horse Opera’s Production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amour”@ Lavington School, Devizes – Wednesday 26th, Friday 28th, and Saturday 29th October 2022

Opera Is Back! – The Elixir Of Love! – Go See This Show! by Andy Fawthrop We’ve said it before, and we feel no … Continue readingPREVIEW – White Horse Opera’s Production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amour”@ Lavington School, Devizes – Wednesday 26th, Friday 28th, and Saturday 29th October 2022

Ålesund and Agata at Trowbridge Town Hall

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……


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Ride & Oasis Member “Andy Bell” Brings his Space Station tour to Trowbridge

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!


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Everything You Are, Onika Venus

You remember being given some coursework, when back in higher education, with various objectives and your task was to choose one to complete? Not really wanting to do it, you go to the student at the top of the class, and ask them what they’ve done. They reply, “ah, not much,” and this gives you the cue to do absolutely nothing. Then, on the day of handing it in, they’ve unexpectedly produced the single-most awesome project, covering all the objectives in one ingenious combination, and you stand there with zilch, except a jaw hanging and an implausible excuse, which you made up on the bus coming in?!

I’d imagine Onika Venus to be just like that. Now Bristol-based, Jamaican-born Onika plays Trowbridge Town Hall on September 18th, so, given reggae is cited as an influence, I thought I’d check out her debut solo album, Everything You Are, which was released back in March.

The title track was chosen as Songsmith’s Song of the Year 2020, and it’s easy to hear why. I’ve not been this blown away by a female vocalist since discovering Minneapolis’s Mayyadda.

Immediately this pushed my buttons, but if this opening title tune is decidedly acoustic blues, with a distant harmonica resounding in the background, there’s a truckload more going on than the first impressions here.

The premise from the beginning is as simple as, Onika Venus has the prevailing soulful voice to carry whatever genre is thrown into the melting pot, and drizzle it over you like hot sauce. It only leaves you pondering how far she will take it. The second tune I pigeonholed as RnB pop, a contemporary Macy Gray or Erykah Badu, aiming for chart success. When I’m Broken carries this concept to a higher height, and is simply, the model formula of popular music every song should aim for.

Yet, three songs in and here comes the Caribbean influence. Friday Love has a clear mento feel, it’s immediately beguiling, a good-time chugging song in the face the despondent romance theme. This will occur again towards the middle the album with Who’s Been loving You. Again, with Shotgun there’s similar appeal, perhaps the most definable as “roots reggae,” and, for me, they’re the favoured sections.

But it swaps back to the mainstay for track four, steady soul with an orchestrated ambience; Everything has its Season, is the ideal equilibrium to bless that heavenly voice and compose this euphoric moment of bliss. After a surprising modern dancehall intro, we’re back to an acoustic guitar riff for the poignant The Storm, using sax to mitigate jazz. I Need You, though, has kick-ass funk, Ike & Tina Turner in their prime.

With only three tunes to go, just when you think influences have been exhausted, there’s a duet with a male voice, supplied by husband, Mark, Mary, sounds classic Americana, as if Joe Cocker just walked into the studio and said, why don’t you try this?!

To keep you guessing what the last couple of tunes will hold, yeah, folk is strapped onto soul, Reaper Man aches of Aretha Franklin, but by this point you just know Onika Venus can carry this off with bells on. Raising the bar of comparisons is justified, believe me. For when it’s funky I’d give you Randy Crawford, Chaka Khan, and when it levels with acoustic and folk, her voice dishes out notions of reggae heroines, of Phyllis Dillon or Marcia Griffiths, and the gospel finale, yeah, Aretha will be justified, if not Sister Rosetta Tharpe; it is this magnificent.

Yet, unlike all these aforementioned legends, the style here is not monocultured, neither does it jerk from genre to genre without consistency and flow. Onika Venus gives volumes to the eclecticism, and it moulds efficaciously into one melting pot, beautifully. Prior to this solo launch, in a band called Slyde, her voice customised their breakbeat, techno and house style, to great effect, and I can well believe it. The flexibility of her skill is captured here, I’d imagine as comprehensively as she chooses personally, and just as the student who bursts in effortlessly, with the homework complete and to an exceptional standard, Onika Venus makes this look easy!


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Up to Trowbridge for Some Miller-Art

Halfway up the grand staircase of Trowbridge Town Hall, where it splits into left or right, my daughter, permanently two paces ahead of me, asked me which way now. I’d noted a sign to the art exhibit I’ve been aching to check out, so I called it. Problem was, the show is called “Up,” to which her only rejoinder could’ve been, “yes, I know it’s up, but which way?!!”

If I had reservations about the unpredictably positive response in asking if she wanted to come, being sports is her thing and creativity perhaps not so much, it was only that she might drag me around Usain-Bolt-going-for-gold fashion. Key to my pitch was that, essentially, the most appropriate movement in which to pigeonhole artist Tom Miller was street art, secondarily only to the fact she was “bored, with nothing better to do anyway!”

But it’s not her incentive on entry which is important here, rather her reaction inside the exhibit, and if she enjoyed it, which she did, anyone with a mere slither of a passing interest in art will we wowed by this show. For me, it was up my street and knocking loudly on my door.

Native to Trowbridge, Tom Miller exhibits at his hometown until 20th August, not long left to pay it a worthy visit. For yeah, Miller typically uses spray paint as street artists do, but only as a base for these canvases. He thickly layers acrylics and oils over it, amalgamating mediums as much as influences, in explosions of colour and meticulous and intricate detail. The result is staggering.

Swirls of psychedelia snake your eyes across them, akin to underground comix or yore, and in particular S. Clay Wilson. They can be themed darkly, with elements of cyberpunk, or lighter, fine art, impressionism is at play too. Yet there’s a nod to pop art, capturing humorous elements, wide-ranging themes from flowers to ice creams, and contemporary cultural icons, such as The Simpsons can be discovered on closer examination. Then, as you pan out, you begin to focus on a central point, the composition vortexes into a subject, often random, but themed to suit the surroundings. It is also a clear running concept to repeat the central subject atop the first, but slightly smaller in scale, and perhaps the topper most of one below, larger, like a play with a hall of mirrors.

Apt to mention a hall of mirrors, as there’s generally something fairground going on here, if the repetition of the central subject is cubist, it would be like viewing cubist art whilst on the waltzer. On a few occasions the subject can feel tangible, as fine art, expressionism, but with Miller’s style brashly expanding the realms of normality, somewhere along the lines. For this, and the running theme of these scaled duplications, Edvard Munch meets Marcel Duchamp in Salvador Dali’s studio, as the lines of expressionism, futurism and surrealism blur into dada in such a way only pop artists could’ve dreamed of.

But, as I said, if your knowledge of art doesn’t stretch to the influences and movements I’ve cited, none of it really matters, as why I contemplated René Magritte, my daughter also examined the concepts and discovered subjects. Like a Where’s Wally book, you could circle this exhibit twenty times and still discover something you’d not noticed before in these canvases.

Added to the pieces, there’s some sublime charcoal sketches, showing his workings and thought process. There’s also a bio, with printed matter showing the various private commissions and frescos which obviously couldn’t come to the exhibit, for quintessentially, Miller is a street artist, and in Bristol and round and about Trowbridge there’s some excellent examples. The brilliant finale to this show is, once you’ve left, you can make a beeline to Stallard Street to find such a wall with Miller’s art displayed, and in the same ethos as what’s on display inside. This added an extra dimension to the enthralling exhibit.

Plus, I’m pleased to say, Usain-Bolt had no influence over my daughter’s pace through the show, she took her time, examined everything and came out with some exceptionally precise observations. This is ideal to enthuse a non-art lover equally as much as one who is, as good street art does, but with the extra dimension of this influx of various art movement influences. Go see it, but hurry; it’s only running until 20th August!

Not forgoing Trowbridge Town Hall is a friendly place, where I gossiped and namedropped to the man on reception. There’s a vast and amazing array of events planned over the coming months, from the yoga classes to the PSG Choir and from Moo Moo Music for little ones to an impressive gig line up from the likes of Will Lawton & the Alchemists on 11th September, Onika Venus on 18th, Juice Menace on 25th, and on the list goes on….


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