Holy Now, Lazy Pilgrims and Calluna – Sebright Arms – March 13th 2019

The AirBNB is comfortable this week. I’m paying peanuts to be in Bethnal Green. The room has a desk (on which there’s a couple of cups and a box of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry infusion teabags – but no kettle) and the bed’s a dream to sleep on. I sit and write at the desk and I’m almost tempted to not head out to a gig. 

But this one comes recommended by a good friend who’s music taste I trust. I realise that the Sebright Arms (a venue I loved when I visited last – here) is no more than a twenty minute walk away and I’ve always been a sucker for a bit of Swedish jingle and jangle. Holy Now, recent additions to this year’s Indie Tracks festival line-up, are probably going to be worth making the effort for.

I’ve got some time to kill so order a burger at the Sebright bar. When it arrives, it’s nothing short of a taste-delight though I’d completely miscalculated that preparation time plus eating time would result in wolfing the food down to catch the opening act. Rather than give myself indigestion, I masticate slowly and saunter down to the Sebright basement when Calluna are in full flow.

They’ve clearly brought a fair following to the Sebright – and it’s unfortunate that some of the between-song banter fails to reach out beyond the dewy-eyed front row friends and family. For, despite hailing from Milton Keynes, Calluna should be more confident than this. In lead singer and band leader,Heather Britton, they’ve got a vocalist who has a pleasant, mellow husk to her voice. The band make a polished gentle shimmer of a sound and you can see why they’ve already got Match Of The Day (or is that MOTD2) soundtrack credits. My notes say it’s a bit like if Tanita Tikaram ever did shoegaze. My notes are probably wrong. 

 

The fan room empties for Lazy Pilgrims. They’re an altogether more challenging proposition than Calluna. A four piece, two boys in beanies flank a singer, Georgie, who’s probably well dowsed in patchouli oil. Their thing is grunge with a fair dose of prog. My notes suggest that it moves into stoner jazz at one point but given that’s barely a genre (is it?) I’ll just settle on the fact that they give us extended jams with power vocals. Chris, the guitarist, changes guitar after one particularly epic solo, probably because he’s worn the other one out. I notice that Chris is wearing no shoes but is wearing a particularly thick pair of woollen socks. Georgie is odd in that she wears a black boot on one foot and a sock on the other. Random things distract as my mind wanders. “This one is called ‘Sepia lips and the cosmic elliptical”, says Georgie. Oh my, I am done. In a festival field though, this could be right up my street. 

 

Holy Now are two boys and two girls from Gothenburg, Sweden. They write great songs but that is probably where the similarities with ABBA cease. “They’re like a band that would have been on Sarah Records back in the day”, says a decent chap I chat with before Holy Now take to the stage. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that this is a label that appeals and so I await their entrance with anticipation.

“It’s been a long day. We had to be up at 4.30 to catch our flight”, says Julia, singer with Holy Now. Nobody can tell that this is a tired band though. Their breezy tunes are delivered with attention-grabbing energy. It’s all about twee melody, discord and harmony. Julia has a high-pitched wail of a vocal which makes it sound less pleasant than it actually is; the rest of the band moderate with bursts of backing vocals which take the songs to new and interesting places.

Best of all, there’s a sense that Holy Now want to have shambolic fun. They admit that they’re testing a sharper approach to their chat between songs. “How does you say Sebright?“, ponders Ylva, the drummer. “What does it mean?“, she adds before telling all about the lovely merch on offer. We’re encouraged to count to four in Swedish enabling the count-in to an upbeat jaunt of a number. “Grab someone you love for this ballad”‘ we’re told – potentially strange advice for a song with a chorus containing the lyric ‘Break It Off’.  “That’s a really sad song”, admits Julia as it draws to a close. 

It’s been another night when making the effort to get out and about has richly rewarded. I’m lucky to be living this nomadic lifestyle. 

 

 

The Lottery Winners and Depression, Baby – Sebright Arms – February 26th 2019

I’m glad that I went out tonight. Feeling a tad tired after last night’s restlessness (here), I almost did the unthinkable and curled up early. 

But this room is still sauna-like and frankly unpleasant. I’ve discovered the source of the difficulty though. There’s a thermostat in the corridor of this Airbnb and a guest in another room seems to think it a good idea to turn this up to max at every opportunity. I’m now switching it to something sensible whenever I leave the room. There are no compromises here; this is a ‘negotiation’ I will win by sheer bloody-mindedness.

In truth it wasn’t much cooler down in the basement of the Sebright Arms. Another new London venue, these trips out are delicious. The Sebright is a spacious and busy pub; upstairs the piped music is loud as it dwarves any commentary from the football being shown on the big screen. Nobody seems bothered by Bury vs Portsmouth anyway. 

The basement venue for music is functional, dark and sticky. Tonight, I’ll be watching The Lottery Winners. From oop north, I’ve been aware of the name for a while without paying them much attention. Initial pre-gig impressions are strong; two of them, beardy giants both, shake my hand as I enter the room. They’ve got a slightly blurry, fuzzy backdrop pinned to the wall behind the drum kit announcing the band’s name and some flickering old black and white TV sets dotted around for the same purpose. You suspect that The Lottery Winners mean business.

But first it’s the support for the evening, Depression, Baby. An initial sense that they might be trying a bit too hard to be cool gives way to a general feeling that they’re bloody good and that they’ve got fabulous tunes. It’s swathed in the past with bits of rock ‘n’ roll, doo wop and country coming to the fore. But, there are also cinematic sweeps and velvet flourishes that give this a decadence not unlike Father John Misty or The Last Shadow Puppets. They’ve got a fine vocalist, an interesting turn of phrase lyrically and a neat way of harmonising. New single, No Strangers, still has less than 1,000 Spotify plays and the band are keen to bump this. It’s a travesty that more haven’t listened. Give it time and their listens will surely rocket.

 

It’s also something of a travesty that more don’t know about The Lottery Winners. From the off you know that this is going to be a hoot. Larger than life singer, Tom, choreographs a last-minute band entrance to Push The Button by the Sugababes. He’s an effervescent ball of energy for a 20 stone man; always wise-cracking, corrupting and being mischievous, it’s a bit like watching Johnny Vegas front a band. The joking around and tomfoolery never gets tiresome.

That’s partly because The Lottery Winners have the material to back them up as well. Quite why this quartet from Leigh are still playing free London shows when, by rights, they should have hit the jackpot and be charging for the privilege, is anybody’s guess. The loyal fan base here tonight are already aware of their brilliance but they pick up other converts (including me) en-route. 

The offer is a sort of best of British pop; singalong choruses (‘a publisher’s dream’) harking back to Britpop highs, they freely comment on and criticise the state of life for young people today. Recent single ‘That’s Not Entertainment’, channels their anger about reality TV through a saucy-seaside postcard lens and ending up sounding like the Northern spit of Blur circa The Great Escape. 

Long-standing followers urge for The Lottery Winners to eventually release their album. “We thought we’d cut out the middlemen and put it straight into the charity shops”, quips Tim. “I wrote this one about my Mum, it’s called I don’t love you”, he states before playing a heartfelt lovely number. 

Loud Northern bastards they might be but they’re also the complete ticket. They have the tunes, the stagecraft and the girth. By the time that they get all baggy on us and recall what it’s like to be 21 again, the knowing lyrical nods towards the Inspiral Carpets (This is how it feels) feel almost throwaway. But one suspects that this cleverness is no accident. They encourage a crazy dancing chap to join them on stage, their very own Bez in the making. 

The room is less sauna-like when I eventually arrive home yet the sweat from the venue still lingers. I mightn’t have won the lottery but I’m winning my thermostat battle – and seeing great bands in the process.