I had a great little run of concerts recently. Got the New Year going. All small-to-medium in scale and based in West London, and including Honeyblood. The best band.
The fun started on Sunday 21 January at Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush. Featuring a guitarist called Francis Dunnery, who used to be in prog/pop/metal band It Bites, in the 1980s. Not a band I ever listened to, but my good friend Dave, aka DC, is a fan and he’d agreed to come to Honeyblood, so I returned the compliment. Another friend, Tony, came along too. They were keen on a curry at the excellent Indian Zing in Hammersmith first, so we indulged in that, and had the excitement (not) of seeing ex England centre forward, now dire TV pundit, Alan Shearer there. Weighs you down a bit, curry before a gig, though. Especially when it turns out to be two and a half hours long, in an increasingly warm space. I have to say that, despite the prog aspects of the gig, it was very enjoyable. Francis is now a 60 year old northern geezer in a cloth cap, but he is an ace guitarist and has some very amusing patter in between songs. He is enjoying himself. His band were good, and his other guitarist, a young guy with long blond hair, had a very amusing guitar noodling duel during the encore. I can play faster than you! And he has a very enthusiastic fanbase. Mostly older types, but willing to join in the fun. Great atmosphere. Can’t knock it really, even if I didn’t rush home to listen to It Bites albums. No harm to get out of your comfort zone from time to time.
Next up, on Thursday 25th, it was This is the Kit at Shepherds Bush Empire. This was a concert postponed from September last year, as the band had been offered the support slot with The National on their tour. Of course they had to accept! I saw The National with This is the Kit at Hammersmith Apollo, as it happens. It was an excellent show, but I was a little distracted after an intense day at work and then in my role as a school governor – the school was undergoing an Ofsted inspection. I never got around to writing a review of that gig, but This is the Kit were a bit swamped by the Apollo on the night, I thought. At the Empire, they were in the perfect venue. A step up in size for them, but pretty well sold out. And they were really excellent. The focus was on new album “Moonshine Freeze”, which I would recommend to anyone. The roots of the sound are folk, but there’s so much more – it’s even a bit jazzy at times. The sound was superb, the playing and singing by all the band immaculate. My friend Jon G and I had seats in the stalls, and we sat back and just absorbed the vibe. A genuinely beautiful experience.
On Sunday the 28th, Jon and I and our wives, Maggie and Kath, went over to Twickenham, to a pub called the Cabbage Patch to see Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker. The pub has strong rugby connections, but also a concert space, which is often home to folk or blues nights. Twickenham is the home of blues music in London, dating back at least to the 1960s. Jon and I first came across Josienne and Ben at End of the Road in 2016. It was an astonishing concert, Josienne’s beautiful voice wafting over the Garden Stage early in the afternoon. One of the highlights of that festival for me. Since then I’ve seen them with a band, and that became a bit Radio 2 bland. At the Cabbage Patch they were back to a duo, and played two sets. Truly beautiful music: the purity of Josienne’s voice and the subtlety of Ben’s guitars. They didn’t play many of their trad folk songs – just a couple. But they were highlights. The first brought a tear to my eye. Mostly, the songs were more in the American singer-songwriter mode. I was thinking of Joni Mitchell quite a lot. A high compliment. A truly uplifting evening.
And then the big one for me. Monday the 29th. The band that I love more than any other at the moment: Honeyblood. It was a one-off show at Bush Hall as part of Independent Venue week. I expected to be going on my own, but ended up with DC and the two Jons coming along. It would have been five had Tony not lost his dog at the weekend. What an outstanding excuse! You’ll be relieved to know the dog returned safe and well. We dined at the excellent Defector’s Weld pub on Shepherds Bush Green and then hit Bush Hall. Saw most of support band Sick Joy (not a great name) who weren’t bad – but were very Nirvana. And then Stina and Cat. They played all of “Babes Never Die” except “Gangs” (not sure what is wrong with “Gangs” – a great and meaningful song) and a decent selection from the first album, “Honeyblood” too. But, as in Nottingham before Christmas, no sign of the new single, “Swell Love”.
It was an eventful show. It had a real raw punk energy at times, and moments of beauty, especially “Cruel” and “Walking at Midnight”. “Cruel” was almost slowed down to its pace on the album, and worked better for it. I was pleased to hear it again, as I thought I heard Stina say at Nottingham that it was being retired from the show. The energy, and a certain wildness, was fuelled by alcohol: there was a lot of beer being swigged, which I hadn’t seen them do before. And Stina got frustrated by the sound, especially the mix of her vocals, where she was getting feedback. The solution seemed to be to turn them down, so that the riffs overwhelmed them at times. I was hearing them still, I guess, because I know most of the words. The show was being streamed to five other venues: in Leicester, Edinburgh, Stroud, Ipswich and Brighton. I wondered whether nerves about that provoked the drinking.
Stina also messed up the set list towards the end. They made a joke of it, but there is some electronic programming for songs like “Love is a Disease”, so it wasn’t helpful to Cat, who deals with it. None of this made much difference to the audience’s reaction, which was really positive. My mates all enjoyed it too. But you could tell something wasn’t quite right.
It came out on Twitter the next day. A few posts, I would guess from Stina, which were very self-critical; and a retweet of a Laura Viers post about losing the muse, worrying your new songs weren’t up to the standard of previous efforts. That seemed to explain a lot: the drinking, the relatively shambolic performance (but very rock’n’roll) and the non-playing of “Swell Love”. The tweets confirmed that the self-excoriating lyrics on parts of “Babes Never Die” are autobiographical. None of this is unique – all artists suffer from angst and self-doubt throughout their careers. Some suffer from depression, as Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography attests. I do hope Stina is “only” struggling with a temporary loss of confidence, and that she regains her inspiration and self-belief. I don’t know her obviously; and yet, having listened to her songs so many times over the last year, and related so strongly to the feelings in them, I feel like I understand what she might be going through. And I feel for her.
Phew! On one level it’s only rock’n’roll. On another, all artists let you into their world. And sometimes you realise what they are going through. They’re all human – ordinary people at the end of the day. So we should never expect too much from them. Just enjoy them for what they are.
Good reviews John. Hopefully the Honeyblood muse will turn up just like Smiffy’ s dawg. They have some stonking good songs in their set but not every artist can match – let alone beat- their own early output. Big test- especially when you’ve built a following. Bruce pulled Born to Run out of the hat as his 3rd album but it was a trying experience as you will have read- full of self doubt, never remotely satisfied.
Just on my way up to Old Trafford expecting a hammering- and heavy rain predicted!
Thanks Dave. You’re dead right about Bruce. I’ve read a few pop autobiographies in the last couple of years, and they are all riddled with self doubt and dissatisfaction with their recorded work. Good luck to Huddersfield against the Mancs. If Bournemouth can beat Chelsea 3-0 at the Bridge….
Yes, nice piece, John, and a sensitive response to Stina’s situation. They clearly have real talent, but creativity is such a fragile thing – perhaps especially, as Laura Viers suggests, when the writer’s own experience may lie at the heart of the music. But not everyone wants to write songs about buildings and food.
I greatly enjoyed our night out, and liked the intimacy and home-made vibe of Bush Hall. A good venue for bands at that level, not least because Honeyblood would surely have felt the crowd’s warm support.
Thanks Dood. Yes, one to remember.