Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cocos Lovers in Whitstable (at last!)

The "Private Widdle Social Club", a Deal-based cabaret experience which has been gaining strength over past months, ventured out to Whitstable on Saturday 14th of May. This was the first thing I've ever attended at the Horsebridge Arts Centre, despite keeping an eye on live music events in East Kent for the last four years. For some reason, they never seem to book anything that interests me. But the PWSC brought Cocos Lovers out from Deal, so I wasn't going to miss that. This is the first time I've seen them in Whitstable (and I think the first time they've played there since their days as The Faraway Tree).

One of the great things about gigs in Whitstable is that I can cycle there and back (and go and spend some time on the beach watching the waves rolling in, possibly catching a famous Whitstable sunset).

Whitstable sunset
Whitstable sunset photo by Swales Parry

A comedian-singer-songwriter (very sharp, quite surreal, generally very funny) called Mitch Benn compered the event. Ladies of the Lake (Natasha and Nicola from Cocos, plus a friend) sang four a capella numbers: "Rounding the Horn", "What Shall We Do with the Baby", "The Waggoner Lad", "Four-Loom Weaver" (about the Lancashire cotton famine during the US Civil War...something I knew nothing of). Beautiful, of course. The acoustics up in the Horsebridge are notoriously problematic, but quite OK for unaccompanied singing.

There were various bits of (mostly funny) comedy and poetry, everything moving along at a nice pace. Paul Clifford (the Canadian drummer who played with the Be-Good Tanyas, recently co-produced the forthcoming Cocos album with Matt Tweed, and who's jammed with me, Miriam and Tom) put in a brief appearance as the unclassifiable 'Shed' — I won't even try to describe...

Olly, a.k.a. MC Kotchin got up to rhyme over the top of fiddle, guitar and drums supplied by members of Cocos, with Will and Natasha backing his vocals on the chorus. He's got an incredible flow, really gentle, and always seems to explore deeper subject matter than the average MC. Vaguely metaphysical stuff. I'll never forget the freestyle he did while Cocos were playing around the fire at my birthday party last year (during the instrumental part of "Cracks and Boulders").

Cocos Lovers then braved the acoustics, sensibly keeping the volume relatively low. The set was almost entirely composed of post-Johannes material, illustrating how prolific they've been lately. Their manager Gary was sitting at the back next to me, having repeated self-confessed "proud dad" moments about how mature the band are now sounding. Deal friend Liam was filling in for Billy on bass, expertly (but Bill's absence allowed my ears to take note of that particular magic touch he brings to the sound).

There was one song which is so new that it's not even on the album sessions, called "Lost Kids", sung by Pog and featuring both Phil and Dave on electric guitars. That, back to back with "Our Love Is Not Like Roses" would have been the highlight of the set for me, but they then ended with a cover of Gillian Welch's "Caleb Meyer", a song unknown to me at the time. Poggy sung this with such force, over a super-powerful groove (nothing 'country' about their rendition)...I've never heard them quite like this before, and it was one of the highlights of 2011 thus far.

There was also a segment of their set where the band morphed into "Poggy Hatton and the Humble Oats" (that's Pog, James, Liam, and Liam's girlfriend) for a couple of songs. She's so prolific at the moment that it's probably a good move to have a second outlet for her songs.

They encored with "Time To Stand" (it would have been nice to hear "Hal-an-Tow", it being early May, but the audience were pretty up for it at this point, so something a bit more raucous was probably the right choice).

Cycling home through Blean Woods I stopped to listen to three separate nightingales, about as close as you're ever likely to get to a nightingale. Good to be back in England!


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