Wednesday, 16 April 2014

To be? Or Not to Be?

Ian Bourne's photo.
BPS ripping it up..or just tearing things a little bit, at The Shakespeare.
(Photo courtesy of Ian Bourne).
         Well..that really is the question. To be is the answer-a  debut at last for Black Parrot Seaside at The Shakespeare. In Spon Street, Coventry last night. I introduced us as “four fresh-faced lads from Coventry,” which was wrong on oh so many levels. With a combined age approaching 250, “Geriatric version of The Enemy “ might be a more apposite description . However: even for a venerable old crew like us, Coventry City centre is a familiar stomping ground. Most recently we'd played The Tin Angel (also in Spon Street) and The Tuns. Where, on both occasions we were the oldest people in the building. We even got an encore at the Tuns, closing their show (and later as it turned out, the pub) with a storming performance of “Vacuum Cleaner.” Much appreciated by the Goths, Hells Angels and under age drinkers in the Mosh Pit.

     Less recently in the city centre, we'd played (still extant) Dog & Trumpet, The Golden Cross and Coventry University. Most of the central venues we'd played before that have since been either closed, demolished or renamed. Glorious names from Coventry's Musical Heritage: The Climax: The Alhambra: The Colin Campbell:The Climax: The Dive Bar and The Bear Inn. We'd also been barred, during the rock days from The Smithfield Hotel (opposite the Road Transport Museum),by a racist manager who had objected to a reggae song we'd done. So much for Two Tone. Wonder what he'd have made of The Specials? (!).
    But the Shakespeare's Open Mic night hosted by Ian Bourne was a “tick “ for us. As I arrived, a young gentleman optimistically wearing shorts (it was 9 centigrade outside) was grinding out some pretty industrial riffs on stage whilst spilling his angst and torment into the shadows. As I settled to my first Orange Juice of the night, The Darkest Light took the stage. This duo were excellent. They were evidently well-rehearsed and worked very hard. They both delivered strong vocals and enterprising instrumentation. They'd put some real thought into their arrangements. They invited the audience to join in with “Purple Rain,” and a rather nice medley of familiar songs as they finished their set. I did, but most of the rest of the audience largely declined their offer. It didn't seem to be a chorus-singing sort of venue. More somewhere to sit and stare into a lager, or stir a finger in a diet coke whilst wondering what was for tea tomorrow. 

    Pickabale Craic followed them. I enjoyed their set, too. I'm sure I'd seen and heard the singer/acoustic guitarist somewhere before, as I recognised some of the songs. They write and perform some decent tunes. They had a nice sleazy bluesy feel to them with a deceptively relaxed style and delivery. They seemed pretty tight in a musical sense. I hope they won't be offended by me saying that they reminded me of a raw and emergent Dire Straits. It's intended as a compliment.

   Then a four-piece Parrot took flight, with the original three of us joined by Malc Gurnham on acoustic bass. We had agonised over the set list, especially over trying to fit as much as possible into the half hour allotted. We opened with “ All Over Now,” which seemed to go down well. We followed with “ The Odeon,” and “Down Our Street.” which appeared to have a mixed reception. I say “appeared,” as with Ian being a sound wizard and a lights man, and the band behind me on form and on top volume, I couldn't really hear or see much. Foldback speakers or a set of cans might have helped, but I do think I heard a few raucous Parrakeets belting out the Odeon choruses somewhere towards the back of the room.  

   Although a mixed-age clientele, I had the distinct feeling that some of our lighter, more nostalgic songs about parts of Midlands culture long gone, left us-and them out of their comfort zone. “ Albert Balls,” being more contemporary (as it is a song about tag artists) seemed to stir them a little however, and I even caught Ian chuckling in a few parts and singing along with us.
   “ If I were a Goat” is our Bete Noir (See what I did there?) Being a badly-mauled Beyonce cover, I suppose if there are any Miss Knowles fans in Da House, it's always a risk-taker. In most Folk Clubs though,audiences often take up the bleating in the choruses with great enthusiasm. Indeed, occasionally we've had some problems in stopping them, afterwards. But last night, as the final chords unfolded, there was just an eerie silence. plaintive bleat broke the hush. “ Not many Goat fans in tonight then?” I observed sheepishly, expecting some reaction. The screens to come down perhaps, Blues-Brothers fashion? Or a carefully placed bottle sailing through the air. At least a cocktail stick petulantly tossed in our direction. (We were on a Punk label once you know!). All we had was a couple of polite hecklers and  a few mildly racist sheep jokes about wellies. Really,chaps, you can't do any of that sheep-shagging stuff about the Land of Song any more. Trust me. Oops...
   We set aside the one traditional Folk song which we had planned and did a blues instead. That went down o.k. We finished with “ Folking Liberty,” as we always do nowadays. That galvanised people a little. It had seemed a difficult audience to please, but that wasn't personal. It was a Tuesday night, end of term in Coventry. City centre. And our “shock” endings and stops and starts (which are actually rehearsed and planned for) were perhaps a little too Leftfield for just a few punters?
    We handed over to the Sabboteurs, who were closing the whole evening. I am  a closet Sabbath fan (more on that guilty pleasure in the preceding  post),so I was genuinely looking forward to an act playing Sabbath songs arranged in new and interesting ways. was certainly all of that. And more. Technically, it's a brilliant idea. Anyone who has heard Apocalyptica doing Metallica covers can subscribe to it. Occasionally it was difficult to pick out which song was being done. I recognised “Children of The Grave,” “Black Sabbath”The Wizard” and “Paranoid.” And possibly the most stripped-down version of “Whole Lotta Rosie” I've ever heard. Yes, I know it was AC/DC. It was that kind of night .

    Now : if you'll excuse me, I'm off to comb through my Nine Inch Nails back catalogue. And I want to score “Seven Nation Army” for Flageolet ,Bazouki and Northumbrian pipes. I think it could catch on. Warwick Folk Festival 2015 here we come.