Thursday 24 November 2022

Skinny Lister - The Old Fire Station, Bournemouth - 23rd November 2022

I'd seen Skinny Lister once before, in the tiny West End Centre in Aldershot, and been mightily impressed with their energy as a live band.

I'd often felt I'd like to go and see them again, something I rarely do, and after hearing their new album and seeing they were out on tour again (they're a hard working band, seemingly always touring and/or recording - They announced another new album is on the way at this gig!) I decided to go and see them at a venue I'd wanted to visit; The Old Fire Station, in Bournemouth.

Bournemouth is about 60 miles away from my home, but I grew up in the area and went to college there, so I remembered the 'Old Fire Station' when it was just 'THE Fire Station', complete with fire engines and firemen, so one Wednesday in November I set off for my last gig of 2022.

The outside of the venue still looks as I remember, although little else did around this part of Bournemouth that I'd not been to in decades, there are now many modern multi-storey buildings around the area, a lot associated with Bournemouth University (back in my youth it was just a Polytechnic!).

Inside was disappointingly bland, just a large open dark space, with a long bar (serving only rubbish lagers, Budweiser and Carling figuring large - I believe this is a Student Union venue when not hosting gigs, but surely some students like a decent lager, at least?) - If I'm honest it looked like a student night club, the sort of place I'd probably have loved when I was 19, although I'd have wanted Stella, at least!.

I arrived as the first of two support acts was part way through his set. Tom Jenkins was a rather moody Welsh singer with a guitar. His songs were rather gloomy, but he'd do himself a few favours to sing more and talk less between songs, in my opinion. He wasn't terrible and one or two songs were quite good, in a gloomy, oh woe is me and South Wales way, but he wasn't (as you may have guessed) exactly my cuppa, especially as I was there for the fun and excitement I'd experienced at my last encounter with Skinny Lister.

After he left the stage a couple of black clad women appeared, one with a guitar and the other on Drums. They were Deux Furieuses and what a noise they made! It was slightly hard to credit that two people could be so visceral and loud. Impressively, though, you could hear most of the vocals (at least until part way through, but I think that was the band's fault as the guitarist/singer indicated a change of some sort to the sound people between a couple of tracks).

They're obviously a political/feminist band (one song was in honour of Sara Everard, another called Bring Down the Government), but I think anyone who likes powerful 'Post Punk' rock would find something to like here - Worth a listen; the drumming seemed especially noteworthy to me.

They were certainly a good warm up act and, after grabbing a pint of the least worst Lager there (Praha), I headed back to the front of the gig.

Maybe it was the layout of the venue, maybe it was just a November Wednesday, but there didn't seem to be that many people here. The Aldershot gig (capacity 200) was packed solid, but here I was standing right at the front, and there were spaces around and behind me.

If the Skinny's were disappointed by the turnout, they didn't let it show.

One of the things that had really struck me the first time I saw them was that they arrived on stage to the first note of the first song. Tonight, like most bands, they shuffled on with the lights down; change this, guys.

If that was a mild disappointment, there was little else to be disappointed about.

Skinny Lister are a 'Folk-Punk' (Their T-Shirts are now branded as 'Shanty Punk' - which does sum them up quite well) band who mix folk, sea-shanties, ballads and rock in a pretty unique blend.

Few other current bands feature a double bass and accordian, but if it all sounds a bit The Furies/Roger Whittaker and real ale and beards, it's nothing like that.

I honestly struggle to think of any act I've seen who engage an audience so entirely and quickly. Even the chilly and sparsely populated venue was soon up to speed, singing along and jumping up and down.

It was clear that many (if not most) people there knew the band and their material, some having travelled some distance (Southampton, Winchester and, of course, me from East Hampshire were all mentioned).

As the band rattled through familiar songs, a couple of new ones, destined for the next album, a guest appearance from 'Party George' (who is Lorna's father and writes some of the songs) and the hits (the main set finished on Trouble On Oxford Street) they never let up the energy or the rapport with the audience. The sound balance (a pet peeve of mine) was good, too, you could hear the singers (Dan mostly takes lead vocals, but Lorna does some) and the instruments.

If it had seemed at risk of being a bit of a damp squib of a gig with the poor beer, chilly air and thin crowd, it all faded away in the excitement of their performance and the fully involved audience around me at the front - We were having a a whale of a time!

Songs like 'Damn The Amsterdam', 'This is War', 'Dresden' (a song about arm wrestling!), 'What Can I Say', 'Rollin Over' and 'Cathy' were rattled off energetically and received enthusiastically.

A video of Skinny Lister in action in London

If there was one more mild disappointment for me it was the lack of 'Bavaria Area' on the set list, a song about being hassled by Bavarian Police, a song I could relate to and liked for it's Ska-influenced beat.

They were back quickly for a two-song encore ('Hamburg Drunk' and 'Six Whiskies') and then off to sign merchandise and have photos taken with fans. That isn't really something I do, but when Lorna briefly became free between photographs as I passed, I couldn't resist telling her how much I'd enjoyed the gig and that I'd seen her heavily pregnant at the last gig in Aldershot. One of the songs she sang tonight was 'Bonny Away' a song she described as 'her song' (her being her now 2 year old daughter), although they recorded it years before she was born. She seemed lovely, with plenty of time for the fans.

I'm not sure I'd rush back to The Old Fire Station. For Bournemouth gigs, the O2 Academy in Boscombe has far more character, but the sound was good and the issues of the layout (with half the audience behind the DJ booths) wasn't a problem on this occasion (I can see it might be for a fuller house).

COVID, no doubt, has done for the communal flagon that was passed around at Skinny Lister gigs of old, but the communal fun spirit in the crowd remains. We're all part of a big family, with a secret - One that needs to be shared with a bigger audience, because if you've not been to a Skinny Lister gig, you really have missed out on a great time!

My gigging for 2022 is done, but Skinny Lister, once again, proved the perfect way to end the year!

Setlist: This is from a European gig and not 100% right, but most of the songs here were played.
38 Minutes
My Distraction
Tragedy in A Minor
Rattle & Roar
Company at the Bar
If the Gaff Don't Let Us Down
Forty Pound Wedding
Geordie Lad
Damn the Amsterdam
Bold as Brass
Bonny Away
John Kanaka
Rollin' Over
What Can I Say
This Is War
Trouble on Oxford Street

Hamburg Drunk
Six Whiskies

Saturday 12 November 2022

Echobelly - The West End Centre, Aldershot - 11th November 2022

I'd seen Echobelly before at the West End Centre, but this time was different

The first time was a very stripped back affair, with just Glenn and Sonya and a tape machine (at one of the first gigs I think they did after starting to reuse the Echobelly, rather than Calm of Zero, name).

This time they were back, but with a drummer, bass guitarist and (tucked away at the back) another guitarist.

The West End Centre in Aldershot is a tiny venue, so I was expecting it to be packed as it was shown as 'sold out' on the email I received the day before.

Aldershot is about a 10 minute drive from my home and I arrived about 15 minutes before the support act, Annabel Allum, was due to go on.

I'd looked her up on YouTube and saw a melancholy, quirky young woman singer, but she sounded interesting enough and a fair number of others joined me in having a listen.

I would say 'interesting' is a good description for Annabel. Although she dresses like a '50s dock worker in her pyjamas and her songs are, indeed, quite melancholy, she seemed quite a friendly, cheerful person between songs.

The sound (as opposed to the sound balance) was different too, just her vocal and her electric guitar, which leant the songs I'd heard on YT a very different sound. Very stripped back and edgy.

She got a good reception and I'd say she'll either be a huge success or disappear without trace, it could go either way!

There was a 15 minute or so interval before everyone returned to the hall for Echobelly.

The background music changed and the (already dark) lights dimmed a little more, while the stage lighting changed and then 3 musicians I didn't recognise appeared, followed by the two I did.

I'm not an old-school Echobelly fan (unlike most there, I'd never knowingly heard a song before looking them up before the previous gig), so I didn't recognise the first couple of songs and I received later songs, like Faces in the Mirror, with more enthusiasm than most.

What had struck me at the previous gig was that Sonya Madan has (still) a lovely voice. Sadly, while the band exuded energy, her vocals were rather lost in the mix.

Someone behind me was grumbling about this as well, but no-one said anything, so I called out that the vocals needed raising.

She replied that she wasn't feeling too well, but would try singing louder - Whether it was that or the engineer changed the mix, but the vocal was clearer on later songs.

Once that improved, it was possible to really enjoy the gig.

It was totally different to the previous one, as I'd hoped and expected, with the 5 piece lineup given the songs more punch than the mainly acoustic set of the duo had.

The crowd responded most enthusiastically to the hits, like 'King Of The Kerb', 'Father, Ruler, King, Computer','Great Things' and the encore finale, 'Dark Therapy', but all the songs got a good reaction, a few of us obviously enjoying some of their later material more than the majority ('Faces in the Mirror' was the first song of theirs I was aware of and stil a big favourite of mine).

The set wasn't very long; even with an encore I was back outside in an hour and a quarter of them coming on stage, but it was highly enjoyable.

I'd be hard pressed to say which gig by Echobelly I'd enjoyed the most - The first was more intimate and allowed us to enjoy Sonya's voice and lyrics more, but this was more energetic.

Either way, I'd say they're a band well worth seeing and judging from the reaction of the packed venue, I was far from alone in that view on that Friday evening.

Apologies for the terrible photos, I had to use my phone this time and it's useless in low light

Bulldog Baby
We Know Better
Car Fiction
Anarchy and Alchemy
Iris Art
King of the Kerb
Hey Hey Hey
If the Dogs Don't Get You, My Sisters Will
Down to Earth
Faces in the Mirror
Father, Ruler, King, Computer
Great Things
Giving It All (Calm of Zero cover)
Dark Therapy