Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Echobelly - West End Centre, Aldershot - May 16th, 2019

It was my birthday and I was idly thinking that I really haven't seen (or have got plans to see) many bands this year, so I did an online search to see what I could find - What I found was 'A Special Acoustic Evening with Echobelly' just down the road, a couple of nights later...

Now, if you're about 10-15 years younger than me, you probably remember them, the way I remember 'A Flock of Seagulls' or 'The Bodysnatchers' - A band that were around, had some success, but never really hit the 'big time!'.

Me, I recognised the name, but actually couldn't think of anything they'd done, so a bit of Googling revealed a pretty good sounding 'Brit Pop' group with a sweet sounding female lead singer and some year old black and white videos of the singer and lead guitarist, sounding pretty good (maybe better!) still.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and so I found myself snuggling into the tiny arch of the West End Centre in Aldershot.

I grabbed a beer and found the support act had started. A woman singing and playing a keyboard and a chap on a guitar. The singer had definite influences of Bjork. I have to say it wasn't really my cuppa, but the sound was surprisingly good and it wasn't awful, as many support acts are, either through appalling sound balancing or lack of talent.

The archway emptied out and I shuffled forward with my now half empty pint glass.

Unnoticed, and before most of the crowd had returned from the bar or wherever else they'd been, a small woman and a tall man appeared on the stage, which is almost at floor level in the West End Centre.

Smiling, the woman (who was obviously Sonya Madan), said "Hi" and she and the tall man (Glenn Johansson) settled themselves onto their seats. Echobelly, on this tour, are formed of just these two original members, and songwriters, of the band.

The setlist below is from other gigs on their acoustic tour and may not be 100% right, from memory, for Aldershot, but they performed a mix of material from their heyday in the mid '90s and more recent material, mainly from their recent Anarchy and Alchemy album.

Glenn's guitar work sounded pretty good to me (although I'm no musician myself) and I think Sonya's voice is better now than in her '90s performances, richer and fuller to my ear, although there were a couple of moments where I think she just failed to reach a high note, but that may have been the audio equipment rather than her. Generally, though, they sounded crisp and clear and her voice is up there amongst the most pleasant I've heard and overall, the sound in the West End Centre was as good for them as it had been for their support act.

Many of the audience were 50ish year old men, some of who seemed transfixed by Sonya, but I was the only person who cheered when she announced that the next track was 'Faces in the Mirror', from their recent album, suggesting most of the audience were on a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

For me, though, this was a voyage of discovery and I have to say it was a highly enjoyable one.

Glenn's guitar playing and Sonya's lovely voice and the venue lent the whole gig a very intimate feeling and was one of the most enjoyable I've been to.

The more famous singles like King of the Kerb, Dark Therapy, Insomniac and, of course (he writes as if he remembered it!), Great Things, got the best reception, but to my unfamiliar ear, the newer stuff was just as enjoyable and, probably, more mature and rounded (no great surprise that they would get better at writing songs as time goes by, I guess).

The gig was short (before the last song of the encore, Sonya said "This really is it, because we don't have anything else!") at around an hour, but perfectly formed.

I didn't know anything about Echobelly, except the name, a week before, but by the time I left, I was a definite fan.

If they're in your area, go see them!

Setlist

Something Hot in a Cold Country
Car Fiction
A Good Day
Faces in the Mirror
On Turn On
Sparks
Bulldog Baby
Firefly
King of the Kerb
Great Things
Dark Therapy

Encore:
Insomniac
Giving It All

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Hue & Cry - St John's Church, Farncombe - April 5th, 2019

Hold on, read that again... A concert in a church 15 miles from here? By The Blow Monkeys?

OK, so that's (sort of) how I came to be sitting in a church, on a wooden pew, listening to Hue & Cry, now just Glaswegian brothers Pat and Gregory Kane, on an early April evening.

I'd had an eye on seeing The Blow Monkeys for a while and an alert popped up for them appearing at the Church in a small village on the edge of Godalming in November 2019. The price was right and it was local, so I bought a ticket.

From that purchase I started following events at St John's Church in Farncombe and soon spotted that Hue & Cry were playing here in April, so I bought a ticket and here I was.

Now, lest you think this is a defunct Church repurposed as a club/venue, not a bit of it, it's a proper working church, earning a few quid on the side and delivering the great acoustics you often get in churches to the audience of less 'spiritual' (Two Marxists in this case!) performers.

The venue was all seater for this and sold out. Most people were pretty old (I'm mid '50s and I think a good chunk of the audience was older than me, although one of the group of women sharing my pew commented that 'They sound just like they did when I was at school', putting here at 1east 10 years younger than me!), but it was clearly popular and some were, equally clearly, hardcore fans.

It started early (I guess an early curfew is one of the conditions for holding such events in the church), but being 30 minutes drive from home that was no hardship and there was no cringe-inducing support act (with dreadful sound levels) to suffer either.

At 8PM the two brothers appeared.

From their heyday as two bright eyed, curly haired lads, their appearance now is more akin to a couple of Mitchell Brothers lookalikes, but fortunately Pat's voice (always the defining element of the band, I thought) has stood up incredibly well.

The tour was billed as a 30th anniversary celebration of the Bitter Suite album and the first part of the evening featured most of the tracks from that album, including "Mother Glasgow", the Kate Bush song "The Man With the Child In His Eyes" (which seems to make more sense when a man sings it, but I never like Kate Bush that much), The Robert Wyatt/Elvis Costello song "Shipbuilding" and a number of others, before reaching the massive hit that was 'Looking for Linda'.

Pat (and to a lesser degree Gregory on electric piano) chatted away humorously between songs, explaining their strict recording policy ("If you're not recording all your favourite songs and sticking them on YouTube, we want to know why!") and some of the inspirations for the songs.

The sound was good and Pat's voice really did sound clear and distinctive as I recall it doing so in their heyday (I'm sure, too, I have a more recent 'live' recording of them, but I can't find it!)

After 9 tracks (I don't know why they didn't do all the tracks, maybe some are hard to deliver as a duo or they just don't rate them anymore) there was an interval (A bottle of Doombar, ordered before, awaited me out in the side room at a refreshingly un-Gig like price!) and then we were back for a hodge-podge of hits and favourites.

This included the hits, 'Ordinary Angel' and 'Labour of Love' (sadly one of my favourites 'Violently' was left out) as well as some more recent songs, including one (or more) from an album released a year ago.

The de rigeur encore (Take that, Brexiteers! ;) ) was but a single song, 'Stars Crash Down', where we all got to sing 'Building a republic of love'.

To be honest, I never enjoy gigs where I have to sit down as much as standing ones, but this gig suited listening on the whole, rather than jiggling about (I can't call what I do dancing with any credibility), and I did enjoy it.

The pews did feel a bit hard after a while though. The chap in front of me must've been a regular as he'd brought a cushion with him!

I hope, though, that the Blow Monkeys will be a standing event - They need jiggling around to! ETA ARGHHHH - Stupidly I booked a holiday the same time, so I won't be getting to see the Blow Monkeys in 2019 after all!

Setlist
Mother Glasgow
The Man With the Child in His Eyes (Kate Bush cover)
Shipbuilding(Robert Wyatt cover)
Rolling Home
Peaceful Face
Widescreen
Looking for Linda
Remote
Truth
Just Say You Love Me
My Salt Heart
Headin' for a Fall
It Happened Here
I Refuse
Labour of Love
Ordinary Angel

Encore:
Stars Crash Down