Sunday 14 October 2007

Seth Lakeman, University of Lincoln

Tonight I find myself at Lincoln University to see the folk maestro, Seth Lakeman, in action.

Firstly the university confuses us because we head for The Shed and the gig is in The Engine Shed, to which we have to ask directions. It's very confusing them having places with such similar names. Secondly, and this a first, the gig seems to be running ahead of itself. We arrive in time to see the start of the second support band but end up catching only the end of them. Seth himself comes on twenty minutes early.

The place is also packed, obviously folk is in vogue at the moment. The audience is a mix of oldies and youngsters who have got old before their time, and us of course. This makes me feel very young. There's no proper beer available, which would have sold well given the clientèle, and I have to make do with Kronenbourg 1664, that famous French lager brewed in very Gallic Reading.

Now, as I've said before, I'm not really a great fan but I have done my research by listening to both 'Freedom Fields', and 'Kitty Jay'. It starts well because Seth opens with a string of tracks that I know and I am very impressed because for the first few tracks he plays the fiddle. Very good he is with it too. He is accompanied by quite a vivid stage show, plenty of flashing lights etc but this leaves the back of the stage a little too dark to see what the two percussionists are doing which is a shame. The band also consist of a double bass and I'm told his brother on guitar.

Seth himself doesn't stay on the fiddle for long and plays an assortment of bass guitars and the material isn't stuff I recall, consequently he loses me a bit after that. Personally, I think he is at his best on the fiddle.

My legs are knackered and I consider moving a little further back and leaning against the wall until someone steals my intended spot. Seth grabs my attention again towards the end when he plays the title track of 'Kitty Jay', which is clearly popular and possibly the stand track of the evening.

He returns for an encore of two tracks, one of which is an instrument, then he's gone and that's it. It's still very early, these folk people don't like to be out too late.

Tuesday 9 October 2007

Brakes, University Of Warwick

In March I saw the Brakes live at the Rescue Rooms and L regretted not going with me. So I said the next time they played locally, I would take her. In fact they played Derby last Friday but we were up on the coast in our cottage. The next best option was tonight at Warwick University, which is confusingly near Coventry. So that is where we go off to tonight.

We drive the sixty odd miles to Coventry but we are too late to see anything of the support band, mainly due to problems finding the car park. A few signs would have been nice. As you can tell this is a venue I haven't been to before. It's a pretty good one too. A tight venue with a high stage and lots of vantage points. It reminds me of a smaller version of Leicester Poly, De Montfort Uni as it now is. The show is part of their Fresher's week. So I'm expecting lots of drongos and possibly a few babes but we don’t really get much of either.

Daughter is with us, complete with a headache, which isn't good news for going to a gig. Probably something to do with going to school this morning in the pouring rain in just a jumper. So she'll be next with the flu symptoms.

The band open with, as I assume they always do, 'Hi How Are You'. Daughter looks at me as the first of many F words are flung from the stage. Every so often she says something to me, which I can't hear properly because of the noise and I'm tempted to quote the band's line 'Won't you shut the f*** up, I'm just trying to watch the band' but I don't.

Apparently Daughter's been listening up on The Rakes by mistake. Easy mistake, Brakes/Rakes. I think L has made the same mis-association in the past. It's all probably a bit of a shock for Daughter, I mean, I can't really imagine the deadly serious Rakes imploring the audience to 'Do The Spring Chicken'.

Some of the audience take this offer literally. One particular audience member, who seems to have come as a member of the Hair Bear Bunch, does the Spring Chicken throughout.

The Brakes are one of my favourite bands. They are a refreshing alternative to most of what is around at the moment. Their songs are pleasantly random, an intriguing mixture of moods and styles. A bit like women but with lower maintenance. Between tracks it's often difficult to remember you’re listening to the same band.

They also have something to say and are not afraid to say it with their quirky lyrics. 'Here's a song about the death of God' cue 'Cease and Desist'.

You get the feeling that the band revel in being unconventional, their songs never seem to follow any set structure. They often stop without warning and often err on the well... brief side, stopping before they've even really started. 'Cheney' is a nine-second rant about the Vice President of the USA. The almost as short 'Pick Up The Phone' is about foreign policy.

The obligatory pineapple is brought out for the 60 odd seconds of the punky 'Porcupine or Pineapple', their anti-war song. Hair Bear is by now desperately trying to upstage the band but even one of the speakers almost falling on the drummer a few songs in can't upstage them. Admirably the drummer barely seems to notice, as he carries on playing. He could so easily have not been so lucky.

The support band the XCerts, who we missed, slow the crescendo of songs by bringing a cake on stage for the bass player's birthday.

Again the epic, lovelorn 'No Return' tugs at the heartstrings and steals the show, a song seemingly personal to vocalist Eamon Hamilton about love lost but painfully remembered. It complements the short, frenetic bursts of their other songs extremely well.

The set is over in around fifty minutes, having played most of their two albums. A chap near us has continually called for their seven second song about punctuation 'Comma Comma Comma Full Stop'. I keep expecting them to either finish or encore with it but it remains unplayed. Eamon returns alone to play a single solo encore, a song about European integration he calls it. Maybe be that should be disintegration, as he whinges about metrification among other things.

All bands are influenced by somebody who has gone before them but the great bands earn our respect by taking those influences, turning them on their head and then coming up with something distinctive and then crucially, ending up sounding like no one but themselves. That's the Brakes.

As the lights go up, it looks as if L's pulled, she's talking to Hair Bear. Thankfully I don't think frizzy afros do it for her.