I wrote this piece in May about a gig I went to in March. For some reason, I never published it. Now feels like as good a time as any to do so. With an incredible, determined spirit, bars, their staff and the musicians who play in them have struggled on through 2020 reinventing themselves, releasing lockdown videos and generally keeping our spirits up. I miss those small and sweaty back rooms of bars from where live music flowed…
Can it really only be just six weeks ago that I went to my penultimate gig (for the foreseeable future)? Back then, London was mumbling towards an eventual stop but, by and large, none of us truly could see what was just around the corner. We talked in whispers about the impending doom as if that might ward off the disease and gave people stares on public transport if they inconsiderately coughed our way.
I’m glad that the memory of seeing David Woodcock And The Fixtures is such a positive one. In many ways, signing off from active gig-going after such a fun gig at Biddle Bros up in Clapton seems stupendously lucky and entirely appropriate. A grand venue and a jubilant night of music for this unforeseen swansong.
I’ve been to Biddle Bros before. Blink and you’ll miss it; it’s a small boozer, a quirky local with a back room music venue. There’s no stage and this back room can barely hold more than 30 people without it being a squeeze. But squeeze in we did; social distancing wasn’t a thing for us gig-goers determined to keep on keeping on. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing.
When we return to live gigs, we’ll all let out a collective cheer. The efforts made by musicians to fill our living rooms with live Facebook feeds are noble but any avid gig-goer will surely concede it’s not the same as being there in person. I’ll be sure to celebrate their return by checking out all three acts on this bill put together by that interesting promoter, Sad House Daddy.
Up first are Preen, a three piece folk act who let us know that this is one of their first gigs. With smart harmonies and clever key change, they play their own songs about English sun, watching and not dancing at parties, puzzles and hanging on. At times, it’s a bit Mamas and Papas. They play an obscure Jeff Buckley cover as if it’s one of their own. These are nice people and they go down a treat.
Joseph Futak begins by praising Preen. Tonight has that sort of close camaraderie about it. With rich, baritone vocal, Joseph melts the crowd with a mellow, soporific sound. Think Tindersticks with a chilled shoegaze layer and you’ll be in the right space. Backed by George, Osian and Lucy, Joseph’s maudlin and dry humour comes to the fore before a deliberately ‘stompy’ tune wakes us from our peaceful dreaming. Neat stuff.
David Woodcock takes to the stage giving off the air of Jarvis Cocker (if JC was a foot shorter). Dressed with dapper-retro style, in red shirt and one of those piano-keyboard ties, he soon gets the crowd onside by throwing some toilet paper into the audience. Back then, stockpiling was a very real thing. David’s dog, Barkley, barks along attentively right at the front of the crowd.
Think the very best of British – the Kinks meeting Ian Dury before a bit of a Blur crossed with music hall and you’ll have imagined the space that Woodcock inhabits. Lyrically astute and melodically engaging, this is a knees-up for thinkers and drinkers. It’s not long before a honky-tonk contagion spreads from the house piano and spontaneous dancing erupts.
David knows his pop history. He tells a story about Sir Paul McCartney before launching into Guilt Tripper, a tune that recalls when their paths nearly crossed. Barkley obediently observes at stage right as a troupe of punters launch into an early English folk dance. Handkerchiefs and toilet tissues are thrown into the air with reckless abandon as an incredible run of the best pop tunes you’ve never heard are strewn from the stage in the finest of finales.
If only we knew the full impact of what was just around the corner…