Photos by Simon Rose
This one could go either way. It’s a free gig organised by Eagle Radio, a Surrey+Hampshire based commercial radio station, in a large venue that usually has touring musicals, comedians and older established acts. Despite being about two years old, it still smells new. Quite a departure from the small venues and pubs that the acts regularly play. There’s every chance that this will be a cracking night for fine bands to prove that they can play with the big boys and girls who usually occupy this stage, or it may be a Partridge-esque cringe-fest.
If we wanted to be bitingly cynical, on paper it has the capacity to illicit images of naff school kids playing sloppy Nirvana covers in between some wannabe local celeb radio jock spewing out patronising hyperbolic guff about all the talent in the local area. Stuff like a chuckled “remember tonight when this lot are headlining Glastonbury”, or how these kids are really “teenage kicking”. Meanwhile, a perma-tanned used-car salesperson, who has paid a few grand to have his banners up around the venue, beams on from the sidelines. That’s a worst-case scenario, let’s see how it plays out.
Paper Boatswere on first, crafting a soaring Indie sound that sounds like an old holiday photo. One of the sepia ones where English guys are wearing trunks and it isn’t weird. What’s kind of exciting about this set is that for a lot of the people here it’s possibly the first local/unknown band they’ve seen in a long time. It’s an easy enough sound for a mainstream music fan to get into, with some uplifting melodies and a vocal that was reminiscent of a softer Kele Okereke.
Following this it was time forMartha Paton, who recently won an award for her songwriting. Her band provided a fullness to her sound which helped fill the room. Her vocal was slightly muffled at times, which meant certain nuances of her prize-winning lyrics may not have been picked up by the 600-strong crowd who had filled the floor. When her voice did shine through it was chillingly pure, with the bigger notes coming as a surprise amidst the more delicate ones. Her tracks reveal more on repeated listens, so hopefully this sample encouraged some people to delve deeper into her repetoire.
The tempo is raised when the heaviest band of the evening takes the stage.Echo Parkdeliver a passionate set, with singer Laurence covering every inch of the stage as if this was his last night on Earth. A highlight was probably the massive opener ‘Circles‘, which they released a few months back as a free track. Seriously, the chorus is unapologetically giant and was designed to rip through the atmosphere in high-ceilinged rooms like this.
Wahey! Here comes the predicted local radio DJ. But guess what? He quickly chats honestly and knowledgably about the bands, thanks everyone for coming, takes a pic and is done. That wasn’t hard, was it?
Tonight’s final act was the energetic Jazz five-piece, TheFresh Dixie Project. Playful timings, flickering keys and a lightening bolt of a frontman were prominent throughout their all-too-brief half-hour on stage. And the suits, oh the suits! No band ever made a mistake by taking to stage sharply dressed. What’s notable is that they take a pretty old musical style and DON’T try to add any obvious modern gimmicks, no laptop twiddling or rock solos to make it some sort of anarchic steam-punk crossover affair. It’s pure swing that teases and thrills as twisted heartbreaks are wrung-out at breakneck speeds, causing the most movement of the night. You have to be a cascading bore to not shuffle a bit to this.
It’s a mixed line-up, a slightly incongrous setting, but ultimately it was a formula that worked. If local radio stations, councils and big venues decide that they really do want to help the music scene in their area then this is what’s possible when they do more than simply pay it lip service. Too often we hear people in positions of influence tell us how great they think local music is, without ever doing much to back-up their quaint soundbites. Last night we had four unsigned homegrown acts on stage, with over 600 people coming along to watch. It was genuine support from people who wanted to help out. If more places do this more often then that can only be a good thing.
Did you go? Tell us what you thought in the comment section below.