Thursday, January 19, 2012

Famous James at the Black Griffin

The Black Griffin down in Canterbury High Street (having now returned to its venerable name after an unfortunate stint as "The Hobgoblin", thanks to a temporary takeover by Wychwood Brewery) has been putting on local bands on Monday night, I've just discovered. Last Monday it was Famous James and the Monsters (now a seven-piece with Phil Holmes on sax/accordion/chalumeau, Phil Self on mandolin and John on additional percussion). I missed Rob Gambell supporting, apparently an incredible set from him — I thought he'd moved to Bath to study stonemasonry, perhaps just back for the gig? "The Fruit Group" were playing when I arrived, sounded very competent, but I was immediately dismayed by the whole crowded, noisy pub environment. Hardly anyone really engaging with the music, the whole space set up wrong for live bands, the usual problems. So I got onto a bit of a negative one about it all, but was happy to see quite a few familiar faces, so I stuck around.

But FJ&TM rose above this. They surfed on it... A noisy crowded pub energy somehow got pulled in, channeled and redirected, and it was as if they were carrying us all along with them. The material helps: instantly catchy tunes (although often with quite intricate structures), warm, uplifting harmonies, lyrics that you don't need to fully hear in order to "get" where the band are coming from.... some of the time the whole place seemed to be singing along with songs they didn't know. Recent recruit Josh Magill's drumming was a huge part of the equation, but everyone was contributing (just a shame Jamie's vocal harmonies and Phil's mandolin were a bit lost in the mix, but overall the sound was remarkably clean). There was a timeless wildness about it all — the people of Canterbury have no doubt been drinking ale and getting merry to lively music in public houses for many centuries, and this slotted very comfortably into that tradition.

Will, Billy and Dave from Cocos Lovers were there to check out Phil's latest musical involvement (and signing to Smugglers Records), I had a good chat with Will outside afterwards about their latest direction, plans for a third album and how they intend to record it.

Three fashionable young Californians were standing near me, clearly amazed by what they were hearing and seeing around them. One of them asked me the name of the band, noted it down on his iPhone, and then said "This is a really cool country you've got here!". I suspect they were touring Europe and this was their first night in England, which they assumed was like this everywhere, all the time. If only!


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