Full disclosure, I play with most of these musicians on a regular basis and many are my friends. I feel perfectly comfortable telling you this because nothing I have written is hyperbole or designed to elevate my friends’ shit bands to a higher status, it is an account of a great evening through my eyes.
17 or so slippery steps, lit minimally, lead us down to the basement. After a bottle of red, it’s a miracle no accident occurs. £4 in and we’re away. Uncle Jane are one song deep by the time we stumble in. It’s a room not full but filling, and there is atmosphere and anticipation in the air. Plastic fish line the walls and nets, fish hooks and tackle hang from the ceiling. Seabass one has begun.
Uncle Jane take no qualms in capitalizing on the early strands of excitement, delivering their garage grown punk sounds with a detached attitude. The kind of music inspired by CBGB’s bands and Trashmouth stalwarts alike, think mostly major chords but delivered with enough sleaze and attitude to never sound actually bright or happy. Lyrical highlights include a repeated mantra of “the end is nigh”, with which it is hard to disagree. It is when guitarist Jack takes a step back from providing the chordal structure of the songs and plays his lead lines that the music becomes most exciting for me, he has a knack for sleazy chromatic lead playing that gives me the tingles.
It’s over in a flash, and the room excuses itself and leaves for a smoke break.
We’re now deep in the throngs of inebriation and probably embarrassing our hungover, morning-after selves already by this point, a good start for 9:15pm. Bill Nickson and his band set up without attitude or drama, the kind of musicians who appear content to let the music speak for itself. This extends to the music, nothing is excessively flashy or loud, just well placed lines executed with precision. I assume that the music is largely composed alone, as opposed to fleshed out in jam sessions, it’s tautly arranged power-pop for want of a better phrase. I assume that Bill is inspired by a lot of American alternative music, I pick up whiffs of Elliot Smith, a touch of Pavement perhaps, those kind of uniquely American 90’s elements, I’m a big fan.
Bill plays his set and is invited by crowd and organizers Jo Mary to perform a one song encore, which is a mark of how well the performance went down, as well as the deep respect all the musicians on the bill tonight have for each other.
Like a set of bellows the increasingly crowded room exhales itself back outside for progressively sillier conversations and one form of smoking or another. At this point things become a little more high stress. Rumours abound that Jo Mary may or may not have a drummer, as she is deep in the throngs of Wrong Festival, phone off, nobody quite sure where she is, or what kind of state they may find her. For any other band this would be unexpected, but it’s classic Jo Mary, always feeling held together by sellotape, always on the brink of breaking down, taunting themselves by arranging an objectively incredible night and then potentially being unable to cap it off as they so deserve to do.
Samurai Kip take to the stage, and do their thing. Their thing could best be described as the point where Jazz and Rock meet, there are folk inspired lyrics certainly, and there are real rock elements, but an adherence to jazz style improvisations and obedience to funk and groove really set them apart from other bands. They are wildly psychedelic, but not in a “turn up the guitar pedals and wig out” sense, in the sense that the arrangements take left turns down roads you didn’t know existed, and they are capable of genuinely surprising the listener. The songs are also catchy and fun, lyrically very smart, and inherently danceable. What I’m trying to say is, this is a special band. Every member is obscenely talented. Jamie Lindberg on the bass guitar blows minds, and is in some sense the beating heart of the band, working with his younger brother Michael on the drums to create a dynamic, pulsating flow atop which guitarist Aiden’s insanely proficient chord play floats. And they have a Trombonist, Charly, making the whole thing even more special.
When they all take a solo in set closer “Mr. Void” (available on Spotify), I’m giggling with glee. Aiden once told me he couldn’t play lead guitar. He lied. Everything comes to an end and everybody present is ecstatic. Extra kudos to the band because they seem to have new material every week, and it’s always brilliant..
Now it’s Jo Mary’s turn, the drummer has arrived, of course she has; even more classic Jo Mary than almost falling apart is their uncanny ability to pull it all together when needed, utilise the drama and encapsulate it into their performance. Their whole existence is bloody performance art, bickering like spinal tap, always on the verge of total disaster but pulling it together to create a frenzied rock n roll show. Tonight is different. Tonight they have come with an agenda, dressed in matching boiler suits and tighter and more well rehearsed than ever before. Tonight, I am given the feeling that everything they have done before this has been priming us for whatever comes next, back in the day, they would have finished on a wild cover of “Sister Ray”, and invited the audience onstage. By this point, it comes 4 songs in and nobody needs to be invited, we know where to be. They mix up the tempos of old songs, speed up where necessary, and feel like a cohesive unit. The addition of a 3rd guitarist doesn’t add much musical depth, but by having two players hammering chords in unison, it adds weight, girth and punch.
The music is the kind of music that a music snob would deride as simple, because they only play what needs to be played, but that snob would be wrong, and will never write a tune as exciting as the stuff Jo Mary keep for B sides. Ochan on lead guitar is faultless. Lisa doesn’t miss a beat behind the kit. Sam sings and writes in a way that feels effortless. Mike is a great bassist. It is typical Jo Mary that they have a member whose sole job is to wander round the stage smashing a tambourine and he somehow feels like the most important person in the room.
At some point Sam shouts “where’s my mermaid?” and Bejia Flo emerges from the crowd to duet the final two songs, Wife Song and The Pulp. They sound better than ever with her additions. At this point I am myself dragged onstage to contribute guitar to Wife Song, and the rest is a chaotic blur of fantastic rock and roll. The affair was filmed and a can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/highsoulrecords/videos/1970262489969569/
The music was incredible, the venue the perfect vesicle, and the atmosphere and crowd creating the kind of buzz that makes me think “we have a scene now”. Well done to Jo Mary and all involved for the fishy goodness you pulled out of the swamp.