Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Pity the poor touring band: six sweaty hours on the road from Edinburgh to Manchester, then a BBC radio session (for Marc Riley; listen again here) and then hotfooting it to a pub gig venue to be watched setting up by a small but patient crowd already in situ. The joke made in last week’s interview with Bart Eagleowl about this touring combination being “one band with three different singers” was in some ways shown to be true tonight as most players (okay: eagleowl) remained on stage throughout. But only in some.

The live set started with four songs of “doom-wop” from Rob St John: dark, folky melodrama sung with an ominous deep voice that seemed at odds with his tender years and slender frame. I’d only heard sessions of him playing solo before so it was an interesting contrast to hear him backed by the rest of eagleowl and Mark Hamilton of Woodpigeon. It took the first song to balance out the sound but then the haunted tones of his voice sat well with the full band backing. Darkly engaging stuff. The album from which these songs come is due in September on Song By Toad Records.

After a short break it was eagleowl making their live Manchester debut. The late running and no sound-check meant some compromises (a keyboard wasn’t working so was junked in favour of harmonium) but none of this appeared to affect their set. The graceful, elegiac arc of their early singles and EPs was matched in these new songs but given extra backbone with some impressively powerful drumming from Owen William (of Benni Hemm Hemm). Dulcimer can be often cloaked in murky darkness but here with the blinds up to let the late evening sunlight in, it brought a lightness to counterpoint the sombre post-folk intensity. Although to be fair, eagleowl also lightened the mood with their penultimate song and its Cliff Richard parody chorus of “it’s so funny / we don’t fuck anymore”. The final nine minute song peaked with some pulverising drumming and noise. Never thought I’d use ‘pulverising’ in relation to eagleowl but it all worked beautifully.

I’ve seen Woodpigeon admirably fill bigger stages including the main stage at End of The Road last year (and they are at the Barbican this Saturday night) but they felt equally at home in this cosy setting. Despite the six musicians on stage for some of the quieter moments, Woodpigeon found themselves competing with the trad folk jam session downstairs (seriously). This and the small room gave the evening a casual, jovial intimacy. The band played older and new Woodpigeon songs (new album due 2012) and despite several mentions of how early they’d been up and the long day thus far, this did not sound like a ragged or run-down performance. And by the final two songs of the main set, played with all the lights off because “they’re spooky songs”, Woodpigeon created real moments of hushed wonder. An encore of a “Swedish folk love song” (Abba’s ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’) only served to cement the warm feeling in the room for the whole night. The only shame then was giving the late running of the evening, not many people stayed about to buy any of the CDs or LPS on sale. So if you really pity the poor touring band(s), go here or here to help them out.

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