Monday, 9 June 2008

Wrongpop 15 @ The Glebe William Feech/Ortolans/Andy Robbins Trio/Ox Scapula/Bilge Pump @ The Glebe, Stoke. June 7th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Stuart F. Steele

Having missed the last Wrongpop through events beyond my control, I made sure I attended this one and how glad I am that I did.

For some reason, the name ‘William Feech’ conjures up an image of someone studious, serious, and committed to their passion; whatever it may be. Having only exchanged a few sentences with him at the gig, I have no way of telling if these notions are correct, but I can say that this man is certainly an excellent guitarist. His style somewhere between folk, ragtime and classical, the accomplished William Feech treated us to a riveting display of musicianship; his swift fingers deftly picking and fretting in dazzling coordination. His opening number, an instrumental, quickly grabbed the crowd’s attention and his ensuing set showed him to be a capable singer to boot. His clear, almost breathless vocals matching his thoughtful tunes perfectly. Although he doesn’t say much between tracks; hence I am unable to accurately name any of his songs. Not that it really matters; everything he played was worthy of merit. Given the right breaks, it wouldn’t be long before the name of William Feech is on the lips of discerning guitarists and fans of guitarists everywhere. A perfect start to the evening.

Since I began reviewing bands back in January, this is the first time I have seen anything quite like Ortolans; otherwise known as Paul McDowell and Mike Perry; guitar and drums respectively. Although Paul favours an acoustic, his effective use of a small range of guitar pedals adds plenty of dramatic light and shade to this talented duo’s compositions. In his position as solo rhythm section, Mike pulls no punchs; filling in here, there and everywhere; ensuring the pace, no matter what tempo, never weakens for a second. I never thought I’d ever say this, being a bassist of 35 years standing myself, but the presence of a bass player, to my mind at least, didn’t seem to be missed, or even required, at all. Paul capably handles all the vocals and his peculiarly gymnastic singing in their second number was truly something to behold. Their third number featured a neat harmonic twang on the riff, as the drums built into a manic, but accurately syncopated workout behind it. Absorbing stuff. Their music overall is hard to nutshell. They are folky, jazzy, rocky; there are even traces of grindcore in the mix. In fact, in places, it could be called grindcore without the grind. Superb.

Many times has it been recommended that I should see The Andy Robbins Trio and tonight I finally got the chance, and I’m delighted to say they are every bit as good as I had heard tell. Their first number, a blending of two compositions; ‘1111 1’ and ‘Leave it all Behind’ from his forthcoming album ‘Two Horses’, initially sounded to me to place them very much in the free-form jazz mode; before coming together much more solidly as things very gradually built to a thoroughly gripping crescendo. The tune became almost anthemic. Me? I was blown away. The man himself on guitar and vocals, he tells me he has always liked the jazz approach of using the song as a vehicle for improvisation, believing it to be a better practice than just throwing song after song at people. “So the songs can sound pretty different each time we play... Which is good... A bit of self expression rather than recital.”

As a philosophy, I can’t fault it.

As a semi-improvisational band, with Keith Finney on bass and the amazing Doog on drums, the band’s set of three lengthy songs was just knockout. First class, I do declare.

I recently saw Ox Scapula at the Band Stand and they played pretty much the same set here tonight. The main difference was that they were much more animated. They have some very good, well-played ideas and the hypnotic beat and almost Indian-sounding drone of their first song sets the tone of their overall performance well. Incorporating various musical forms into their arrangements and having heard them a few times now, it is clear that they have a well-developed and distinctive sound of their own; and one well-applauded by an appreciative audience.

For sheer entertainment, headliners Bilge Pump from Leeds are something of a difficult act to beat. The first thing that struck me as the three of them assembled on the stage, is how un-rock star-like they are. On the other hand though, their music does stuff with rhyme and metre, time and tempo, that some considered stars of rock never get anywhere near. Beginning with near-as-damn-it whalesong feedback, they suddenly exploded into the most invigoratingly abstract riff I’ve heard in many moons. And there was plenty more to come. Their well-rehearsed set is absolutely jam-packed with refreshing, clever ideas and it speaks volumes for the standard of musicianship in that every song sounded just as interesting and absorbing as the one before. The numbers seem to feature all sorts of lyrical and musical oddities, including some peculiar screaming, and it sounded great to me. Peculiar screaming? Bring it on! If pushed for a comparison, I would hazard Devo (for intellectual input and quirky ideas) meets Sex Pistols (for sheer, raw energy) meets Skid Row (for sheer erratic, speedy, but ingeniously held together, panache (not the Yanks, Gary Moore’s first band)). The fact that this talented outfit - Emlyn Jones on bass/vocals (abstract and otherwise); Joe Mask on guitar and superlative drummer Neil turpin - has been going since 1996 and is not a lot more well-known is a sad reflection of the state of the nation.

As a last word, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many truly outstanding drummers assembled together in such a small area. Stoke really does rock.

Congratulations to Wrongpop’s Steve Clarke and all at the Glebe for putting on this exceptional night. Definitely one to remember.

No comments: