Sunday 20 September 2009

Voluntary Butler Scheme, Derby Rockhouse

Today we're at the reopened and refurbished Rockhouse. It’s my first time here since it reopened and I never went when it was called the Future either, so it’s been a long time, something like 15 years, since I was last here. It’s all totally different but pleasant enough and not the bomb site it used to be.

This was meant to be a headlining slot for Rob Jones aka the Voluntary Butler Scheme but he appears to have been bumped down the bill because local Derby band The Souvenirs have been parachuted in above him to headline, which is a shame. Poor ticket sales perhaps?

It occurs to me that this is not really the best venue for him. His quirky music is, after all, more music for your living room than for a rock club.

First though, we have a short set from a chap called Tom Campbell, a singer-songwriter from Derby. Who armed with just an acoustic guitar is excellent. It may be just him and his guitar but he makes a powerful sound with it as he dishes out a mix of Indied-up folk n blues.

Rob is still on in the advertised 9.30 slot but now, with the Souvenirs to follow, he’s on a deadline, so we’ll only get half an hour of him. Consequently the set is pretty much what we’ve heard him do before, which may be his best stuff but there’s now no room for him to experiment on us and dip deeper into his new record. He’s on ‘tour’ to promote his long promised and finally delivered debut album ‘At Breakfast, Dinner and Tea’. Although this amounts to pretty much a collection of all the stuff that he’s already had out. That said, it’s still very good and just as eccentric as expected.

Rob takes to the stage behind his vintage piano and old fashioned microphone, the rest of his multitude of musical instruments scattered about him. His is, of course, a one man show but we know we’ll still get the full band experience. This is indie pop for loners by a loner. Well perhaps not, but that’s often how he comes over. I’m never sure if his manner, shy and unassuming, is put on or not.

He gets busy building up the track that is the quirky love song ‘Multiplayer‘ but he still hasn't got that haircut he so fondly sings about. Jones puts the song together bit by bit. Adding guitar, keyboards, a drum beat etc to the track, then he samples his own voice for the backing vocals. Then job done he can sing and add other instruments over the top. It’s wonderfully low-tech but genius too and shows what a gifted chap he is. He’s either ahead of his time or years past it, it’s hard to tell. I’ve heard him likened to Arcade Fire, only with around ten less members and better lyrics. Well quaint nonsensical ones about everyday things. No gritty realism here, only songs about failing watch batteries.

So if he wants to be a super cool rock star, and not bumped down the bill by a local band, he’s got it all wrong. No band members to banter with, no cool name and no songs about sex, drugs and rock n roll. Unless you count lines like ‘if you were a broccoli I’d turn vegetarian for you’ and ‘if you bought running shoes, as breathless as I’d get, I’d buy running shoes too’, both from ‘Trading Things In’. Do we care about this uncoolness, not a bit. There are 50 people here tonight, which is about 40 more than we expected, all loving it, charmed and amused by his performance.

Like coffee and tea I need you regularly’ ah, the romance of it. I hope these heartfelt chat up lines work for him.

The songs may be daft but they’re quality too. He has an armoury of neglected singles, all full of clever riffs and catchy choruses. Well they were played twice on 6 Music he reckons. Such as the rocking ‘Tabasco Sole’ with another great lyric ‘wear a De La Soul t-shirt once in a while to make you feel more hop-hop than you are’, which naturally has since spawned its own t-shirt.

There’s also the added ‘excitement’ with his act that, as good as his shows are, you feel that things could fall apart at any moment but they never do.

He picks up a kazoo and a ukulele for ‘The Eiffel Tower and The BT Tower’. The kazoo makes it into the lyrics, where he rhymes it with ‘lasso’ as he sings explaining playing the songs of the Pet Shop Boys for a girl on such an instrument.

‘Split’ is played with the help, if that’s the right word, of a funny slidey thing that he puts on top of his microphone. No idea what you call that.

It’s all over far too soon; it’s all simply, well, charming and all for £3. Probably the first time in history that Seetickets have made a loss on their 10% booking fee. I imagine nothing would propel The Voluntary Butler Scheme into the mainstream and that actually is fine. So until the next time Rob.

We caught a bit of the Souvenirs on the bill at Joy Formidable back in June. I’d like to see more but not tonight. We head home. We had only come to see Rob. Walking out before the headliners. Well I never. So rock n roll.

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