Are we only on number seven on this top ten gigs from Sonic Breakfast’s 2019? I’d better up the pace a bit unless I want to still be writing about 2019 in February 2020.
The one time I went to Servant Jazz Quarters this year was to see Scott Lavene. I loved his set back at the start of the summer and wrote excitedly about his live act (here). ‘Broke’, the album he was touring, has rightfully found its way into some end of year lists from astute bloggers though many still seem oblivious to its many delights. Lee from the Birmingham Mail still ignores it in favour of The 1975.
Earlier this week, Scott posted a Christmas treat onto his Facebook wall, a reminder of a musical project that he was involved with a way back and one of the more entertaining Christmas songs to ever emerge. It’s worth a watch, a dark excursion into one guy’s descent.
Also on the bill at Servant Jazz Quarters that night was The Golden Dregs. Since June, they’ve released a quality album (Hope is for the hopeless) that I’m listening to right now. I’m pretty sure that regular readers of Sonic Breakfast would approve. A successful November tour suggests there’s more to come from Ben et al in 2020.
Scott Lavene & his new backing band, The Pub Garden, are right up Sonic Breakfast’s street. This Essex geezer specialises in self-deprecating story-songs, often delivered in spoken-word and laced with a delicious sly humour. Scott’s ‘reluctantly’ hitting the road on a short tour to promote the release of his new album, Broke. “I’d rather be at home with my wife”, he jests in between-song banter.“I’m hoping that the album will just fade into obscurity so that I can get back into scaffolding”, he adds, tongue firmly in cheek.
The trouble is (for Scott) that the new record is bloody good and it comes alive even more in a live setting. Tonight at Servant Jazz Quarter, a venue that Sonic Breakfast has been wanting to get to for some time, he shows enough to the gathered throng to indicate that he just might have to get used to this life of fame. Steve Lamacq has picked up on this diamond, who’s single-handedly squeezing the best parts of Ian Dury, Jona Lewie, Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, Squeeze and early Blur through a wringer to see what emerges on the other side.
The Servant Jazz Quarter is a tiny space. There’s a small upstairs bar with friendly staff and a decent range of craft and a small downstairs basement that can probably hold no more than 50 without it feeling a squeeze. I like the cosiness; it’s surely not far from capacity on this Tuesday night.
I shamefully miss the opening act but arrive in time for The Golden Dregs. The Golden Dregs are in fact just one chap, Benjamin Woods. With bleached blonde hair, Ben inauspiciously takes to the stage and presses a button on his backing-tape machine. As he sings, he eyes his audience with nonchalant suspicion. If The Magnetic Fields came from the South West Of England, this is what they might sound like. A lyrical and literate poet able to fire out wry observations with a dry, deadpan manner, his deep, baritone voice contrasts beautifully with the skewed pop on tape. He excuses himself from ‘the cheating’ musical accompaniment and takes his place at a keyboard where his foot gets in a tangle with a tambourine. Ben’s an enjoyable, engaging support act; he’s also quite a musician as is his sister Hannah who he invites on stage to join him with a saxophone.
“We share the same Mother and Father”, says Ben.
“How many times a week?“, retorts the quick-witted soundman.
It’s not a comedy night but you could be forgiven for thinking that it edged that way. Scott Lavene is a witty raconteur; he’s the jovial Jack-of-all-trades who exists in all great, local boozers. He’s got short-stories to tell about slices of good luck and epic novels to tell about misfortune.
“This one’s about those classic rock ‘n’ roll subjects – anxiety and unplanned pregnancies“, he says, before launching into ‘It’s All Gonna Blow’, an Up The Junction for the 21st Century. “And this is about working in a factory, having an amphetamine habit and your girlfriend leaving you”, he says for the next song. There’s a theme emerging here.
For lesser acts, the self-deprecating humour might be used to mask a lack of talent but that’s not Scott. He’s a nifty guitar player who can also play piano well. When he gets out of spoken-word mode to sing (notably on Methylated Blues, a love song set in New York), you can’t help noting that the voice is pretty soulful.
He dislikes touring (“Fuck Swindon“) and launches into a tirade about Lee from the Birmingham Star who gave his album three out of ten. You sense though that behind the banter, there’s a chap who isn’t taking this too seriously.
Scott Lavene knows how good he is and will enjoy this ride for as long as it lasts. I had a blast, one of the best gigs I’ve been to in 2019, and can’t wait to catch him again. I reckon the venue will be bigger by then.