Wednesday, October 31, 2012

last woodland gig of the season

Saturday 27th October, 2012
fireside strawbale amphitheatre
secret woodland location, East Kent

We wanted to finish off the season with something a bit more raucous around Hallowe'en/Samhain time, and we came up trumps: Hellfire and the Monsters offered to come out and play acoustic sets!

Famous James and the Monsters, now a four piece, started things off with a half-hour set. They're mostly known for being a kind of shit-kicking good-time band, but in this context the more delicate and beautiful elements of their sound came to the fore (mostly Jamie and Ash's gorgeous harmony singing). Ashley's a natural performer, a real joy to watch in action. At one point, his banjo went out of tune in mid-song, so (grinning) he announced he'd just nip behind the stage and tune up...on his way back he knocked it against a tree, putting it more out of tune that it had been originally, but this just added to the hilarity and spontaneity that surrounded their performance. The winds had died down, remarkably, after a blustery day, and (with the help of a large fire of birch logs), it seemed quite warm. I'd been a bit worried about musician's fingers getting cold, but this wasn't a problem. And we could almost feel the musical warmth coming from the Monsters.

Hellfire Orchestra, despite some last-minute vehicle problems in Deal, made it over to play their first ever acoustic gig. Jolliffe the drummer had decided during rehearsals that it sounded better without him and that he'd rather sit out front and enjoy the show for a change, so they played as a trio (Jamie, a.k.a. "The Turncoat" on guitar and vocals, Phil from Cocos on mandolin/guitar and Billy from Cocos on bass). Jamie's a magnificent lyricist, and his tuneless vocals have an incredibly expressive snarl running through them. His songs like "The Final Tug in Your Unravelling" and "For a Moment" are, quite simply, classics. "Port Arthur", a song of smuggling and deportation to Australia, sounds like an authentic period song. In fact there's a timelessness about Jamie — I got the impression that there's a time-travelling bard who shows up in every period of British history to sing it like it is, songs of iniquity, despair, hope, rebellion, songs from the heart, songs from the gutter... and he happens to be the current manifestation.

We also got a rousing version of the American folksong "John Henry", but my favourite was a version of the sea shanty "Blow Boys Blow", which is basically English sailors taunting American sailors (almost in a kind of pseudo-aggressive hip-hop battling kind of way). The snarl and swagger was in full effect!

Well a Yankee ship came down that river (singing blow boys blow!)
Yankee ship came sailing down that river (blow boys bonny boys, blow!)
And how do ya know it was a Yankee clipper? (singing blow boys blow!)
How do ya know it was a fed-e-ral clipper? (blow boys bonny boys, blow!)
It was them...stars and them bars that they dragged out behing her (etc.)
Stars and them bars that they dragged out behing her

And what do you think that we had us for breakfast?
We had the starboard side of an old southwester!
Oh, and what do you think that we had for dinner?
We had yer captain's heart and yer bo'sun's liver!
Oh, and what do you think that we had for supper?
Oh well we boiled and we stewed yer illustrious guv'nor!

Oh we'll blow ashore and we'll blow our pay, lads
And then we'll blow aboard and we'll blow away, lads!
And we shall
From Singapore up to the...Cliffs of Dover!

Oh, so Yankee ship sailed back up that river (singing blow boys, blow)
And won't you take... all... of... your... shit... back with ya?! (singing blow boys, bonny boys blow).

There seem to have been a lot of versions of that one in circulation, and Jamie's had quite a bit of fun with his own. That last line immediately brought to mind the shockingly huge, abandoned US naval base up in Greenland.

It's a shame that quite a few people who'd planned to come didn't make it, thinking the weather was too rough (down in Deal it had been blowing a gale and hailstones had been falling that evening). But there was a more-than-decent audience and everyone was clearly enjoying themselves. No photos or video has surfaced of that night, but the evening before they were playing as an electric four-piece (with scary face paint!) at the Ship Inn in Deal, so there's this:

Hell yeah!


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