September 29, 2012
There are two themes here, the first is that anyone who claims there’s no decent music out there is dead inside (or doesn’t get out enough), the second is that I have the social skills of a rancid satsuma. The second theme is of greater concern to me personally, and probably less so to you. I’ll try to avoid an excess of introspection.
Lovely friends Ed and Sarah took me out to a gig at the Rising Sun Arts Centre in Reading, I think it was their turn. I like the RSAC, it’s a bit odd with iffy facilities and no parking but these are the signs of a decent arts centre, you know, one that actually supports the local artistic community and is willing to take the occasional risk. My fiancé once described it as being akin to a drug den which I think just adds to it’s charm (she disagrees). We had come predominantly to see Ben Marwood but also other bands who were booked for the night. I had seen Ben once before and had really enjoyed his set (supporting Jim Bob) and as a result had purchased his album and EP both of which I love to a possibly obsessive degree.
Solipsism ahead, I suggest skipping this paragraph. Having made it out of the house and to a venue without any major fuckups I got cocky. Ben turned up, came over to say hello because he’s a generally lovely chap. In my head I exchanged polite greetings as you would with another human. In real life I blurted some gibberish about having the same t-shirt as him while inside my head I shouted at myself for my failure to communicate like a normal. I didn’t stop for a while, internally I shut down a bit and questioned why I had been allowed out. Solipsism ends (for now).
First band came on. I’m not going to name them because I’m not going to be very complimentary. They reminded me of the Levellers, which didn’t help much, I’ve never been a fan, I don’t trust hippies. There was nothing wrong with their set it just didn’t appeal to me and by the end I was bored and wishing we had skipped the gig and gone for a quiet drink somewhere instead, I don’t see my friends too often. Ben came on next with his acoustic guitar. Just him and a guitar. Somewhere in the region of 12.5 seconds of him starting the first song I remembered exactly why we were there and exactly why I listen to music at all. His songwriting is just fucking amazing which combined with a brilliantly human stage presence kept my attention solidly until he stopped playing and went away. The combined wit and flow of his lyrics coupled with their incongruous and sometimes dark themes (murder, mental issues, the struggles of modern life) makes for incredibly compelling listening. Ben finished, we left because frankly nothing was going to top that.
Some days later lovely friends Emily and Jen accompanied me to Sub89 in Reading to watch B. Dolan’s Church of Love and Ruin, which is a kind of insane travelling hip-hop cabaret circus. I was prepared for a degree of culture shock as I’ve only very recently started exploring the world of hip-hop, I only really became aware of B. Dolan a few months back when I bought a copy of House Of Bees Volume 2 on a whim. I had a rough few months recently when my Dad was very ill in hospital (he is recovering now thankfully) but House of Bees v.2 along with Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces really helped me keep it together on the drive back and forth and helped introduce me to what hip-hop really is outside of the mainstream media bullshit. Anyway, I digress. I was expecting culture shock, and possibly to really not enjoy myself, I was not expecting to be blown away.
A quick comment on the venue. I like Sub89, it’s a decent sized venue in a good position. It’s well staffed and the layout works nicely. What really struck me that night was how helpful and friendly the door staff were, both as we arrived and as we drunkenly (well the other two drunkenly) left.
Dan Le Sac was doing his DJ thing as we arrived being all kinds of awesome and introducing us to sounds of the like I had not previously experienced. I was really tempted to approach him afterwards to ask who some of the tracks were by, but as has been previously established, I’m not great at talking to humans and would inevitably end up asking him some stupid shit about what he had for breakfast or similar.
Next up were What Cheer? (the question mark is their own). Because I’m a good little punter I’d made a vague attempt to know what the night was going to involve and was expecting a brass band of some description. I was in no way prepared for the full force of What Cheer?, who burst to life from the back of the room and made their way through the crowd to the stage already well into their first number. I’m informed that what they played was a selection of covers of classic hip-hop songs, I’m far too culturally oblivious to confirm or deny this. Musically incredibly upbeat and intense brass and percussion it was impossible to avoid getting drawn in. The band themselves were mingled in with the audience hassling us (with good humour) to move our damn feet and enjoy ourselves (which we did). What Cheer? broke us in pretty well for the rest of the night, you’re going to have to be pretty uptight to have not loosened up by the end of their set.
A quick hello from B. Dolan himself and we’re off into the stratosphere with Vockah Redu. I don’t really have the vocabulary to explain the next half an hour. The first occurrence was that my two good friends both ovulated and didn’t shut the fuck up about it for the next 10 days. A man came on stage wearing a mask covered in l.e.d.s and holding a joss stick between his teeth, then it just got weird (in a good way). There was dancing (lots of dancing, but not in a shit “why am I watching dancing” type way, more of a “fucking hell, that’s impressive” type way). Singing, rap (I think) and what shall henceforth be called ‘freeform entertainment’, stuff that I cannot adequately describe. Look him up on youtube, or for preference go find the man, he is just awesome.
B. Dolan returns. He is dressed in a big red religious style robe. Everyone goes a bit mental (as mental as anyone in Reading ever really gets). He is fucking outstanding. I came specifically to see B. Dolan having sought out as much of his music over the last few weeks as I can get hold of. I surprise myself by apparently knowing the words to pretty much the whole set. This is powerful, passionate stuff, the man has a message and if he has to punch it through your ribcage he’s going to. This is my first real experience of live hip-hop and it blows me away. Utterly. It was different for me to watch a gig where the focus is entirely on the vocal side of things rather than the musicality. It was raw and very real and very, very entertaining always with a hint of the human underneath the explosive guy on stage.
Then Sage Francis showed up and the guy next to me wouldn’t shut the hell up about ‘Fucking hell, Sage Francis in England’, because air-travel is an unknown to the natives of Reading (actually I think he had traveled from London). I’d picked up a few Sage Francis albums over the last few weeks but hadn’t given them much of a chance yet (I very much have since), regretted it instantly. Raw, powerful passionate and warm all in one brilliant bearded rapper, with the perfect level of rapport with the audience. When did hip-hop become so damn bouncy and positive? A set which (in retrospect) included a good wedge of Sage’s back catalogue but with a heavy focus on tracks from his recent Li(f)e album. It also included getting B. Dolan back on stage for 2BAD (from House Of Bees v.2. Check out the video – http://youtu.be/25myHbtrq7U), the absolutely heart wrenching ‘The Best Of Times’ (http://youtu.be/VA8hzUDXvtk), Sage running around singing along to the Team America theme tune and a finale with B. Dolan and What Cheer? As the set finished Sage stepped off the stage to embrace any audience member so inclined (all of us).
We were now broken but happy. Impressed but not surprised to see B. Dolan, Dan Le Sac and Sage Francis manning their own merch table. This meant I wasn’t going to buy any merchandise because of my strong personal rule to NEVER meet any artists I’m a fan of because I’m an idiot with no social skills and don’t want to be in the position of not being able to listen to something I love any more because of memories of making an twat of myself.
That didn’t work out because Emily was with me and thought it would be hilarious to run over to B. Dolan and tell him I was his biggest fan and wanted my photo taken with him. I mumbled like an idiot, had a photo taken then moved away before I did anything too embarrassing (like opening my mouth). I did manage to speak to Dan Le Sac shortly without too much social fallout, he was incredibly sweet and I would have given him a hug but feared it would come across as a bit weird and stalkery.
To say it was a life changing night may seem like hyperbole but in some ways it really was. It was a new experience, and not one I would have ever planned for, a completely different culture from that I’m used to. There was a warmth, passion and joy running through the whole night which is rare. These were people doing what they love because they want to, not to impress or for pure financial gain or pass the time but because it’s what’s inside them. I’m incredibly grateful that they made the journey and that they wanted to make the journey over here, sleeping on floors and trekking up and down our little isle. I am a Strange Famous convert.
A disclaimer. It has taken me an unnecessary amount of time to write this in little chunks as and when I can. My memory is not perfect so if I’ve confused events or missed out anything pertinent I apologise.
Here are some bad photos taken on phones (I usually avoid taking photos at gigs because people who do such things have no appreciation of direct experience but I was too stunned to remember to be myself).
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