The concerts stacked up again last week. Four in six days. All incredibly enjoyable, in their different ways.
First it was Catherine McGrath at the Camden Assembly on Monday. A pub with an upstairs venue, not far from the Roundhouse. DC did the honours and of course there was a magnificent Sushi Salsa at Camden Lock first. When we finished that there was still a bit of time to kill, so we went to a pub to watch the first half of Crystal Palace v Man Utd. That, and having a second beer, meant we ended up cutting it a bit fine, and Catherine had just started when we got there. She was half way through “Just in Case”. Hope we didn’t miss anything else, but I fear she might have come on slightly earlier than advertised. I guess I’ll never know!
I’ve waxed lyrical about Catherine McGrath on many occasions since I first came across her at Latitude last year. Suffice to say that, in her first ever headline concert, she was excellent, and played quite a different show. The main difference was that there were a few new songs – forerunners from the first album, due in May. They were good – punchy and melodic as ever. She played the lovely version of the Rascal Flatts song “Ellsworth” which I previously saw her perform at the Cambridge Audio music centre near London Bridge. And, of course, a few of the songs which have become her “classics”: “Hell Would Have To Freeze Over”, “Cinderella” (still the heartstring tugger) and the making-your-way song, “Talk Of This Town”. That was the last song, and was greeted with great enthusiasm by the capacity crowd. People really know the words to her songs. Throughout she was expressing her delight that this, her first headline show, had sold out in 24 hours. It’s not a massive place, but it must be so exciting when you are just starting. She has sold out the bigger Bush Hall too, on 2 May. Definitely going places. I’ll be there!
On Tuesday, it was over to Hackney, and the Moth Club, for Soccer Mommy. My good friend, Jon G, had bought the tickets and invited me along. Then he had to drop out because of work commitments. A friend from work came along in his place. The Moth Club is a funny old place. I saw Amber Arcades there before. It’s a veterans’ club, which has realised the commercial potential of a decent sized venue, which presumably is normally the bar and dance hall. They’ve decorated it in a completely over the top way. Glittery golden ceilings and a shimmering gold and silver foil backdrop. I’m sure there was a disco ball the first time I went there too.
Soccer Mommy is Sophie Allison and band, from Nashville. She/they have made two albums, “For Young Hearts”and new release “Clean” and a few EPs, which have been compiled into another album called “Collection”. I knew the name, but hadn’t heard the music until I did some homework before the gig, on Spotify. I immediately liked it: a combination of lo-fi indie and some lovely ballads. Sophie has a beautiful voice, and apparently the same sort of wistful outlook on life as another recent favourite of mine, Faye Webster. (Soccer Mommy are a lot better known – the Moth Club looked sold out). Did I say another there? Well yes, because after a great concert, I’ve been playing those three albums on rotation!
Even as recently as Tuesday, I was struggling to put names to songs, though new single “Your Dog” and “Cool” from “Clean” stood out in that regard. But it didn’t matter, because every song was good. She and her band gave the guitars a bit of oomph at times, and that complemented the stunning renditions of the ballads, often delivered solo by Sophie. Best of all was the encore, which I now know is “Waiting for Cars”, off “Collection”. What a lovely song! It is my new favourite.
So, thanks Jon G, for getting those tickets. My first great discovery of 2018. I’ve no doubt there will be more; and I hope we see Soccer Mommy on the festival circuit this year.
Then, on Thursday: from the veterans’ club to the Conservative club. Oh no! How could this be? Well, a couple of weeks ago I got one of those annoying unsolicited ads on my Facebook feed. It was for a country music artist who was appearing at “Westfield House” in South Ealing, about ten minutes’ walk from where I live. He went by the name of Jack Grelle, from St Louis, Missouri, and had a very impressive-looking beard! It looked like he’d got some decent reviews and only cost £11, so my wife, Kath, and I decided to go along. There was a support act called Ags Connolly. I assumed that was a woman’s name until I read more. Ags is a country/folk singer from the West Country, although his music is very much in the American mould. Kath also pointed out that Westfield House was actually the home of the local Conservative Club, but I decided not to let that deter me. In the event it was a lovely place – like a giant living room, with flock wallpaper and, of course, a portrait of the Queen. I didn’t see a picture of Margaret Thatcher, but there must have been one somewhere. The beer was cheap too, which is always welcome!
As for the music, it was excellent. Ags sang trenchant songs about lost love, his love of American music and more besides. He was good and had a nice, self-deprecating wit. Jack Grelle though, was different class. Strangely, they shared the same guitar. It may have been that Jack’s equipment was en route to another venue – he is supporting another act called Pokey LaFarge around Europe. But whereas Ags bashed out the chords (by his own admission) Jack caressed the strings, and made it sound like a completely different instrument. He had a mellifluous voice too. Similar subject matter, but somehow sweeter in tone. He was pretty dapper too, in classic country singer attire, including the shoelace tie. And that beard. Quite an image. Both Kath and I liked the music a lot. I shall most definitely check out his albums, once I get over my current Soccer Mommy fixation.
That leaves one last show, Rews at the Lexington, on the Pentonville Road. It’s a great venue above a good pub. Holds about 200 at capacity, I’d say; maybe a few more. This time I went with my mate Shane. Kath and I saw Rews by chance about 18 months ago at the 2016 Hanwell Hootie, a great event in Hanwell, West London, where all the local pubs host bands, many of them from the area, for free. And make a fortune on booze if they organise themselves. It’s an event which has grown in popularity over the year; last year there were a couple of new open air stages, which took a bit of pressure off the pubs – and the punters. Anyway, Rews – two Northern Irish women who know how to rock – were excellent; and I’ve been watching their progress ever since. They played Glastonbury last year, and their first album, “Pyro”, came out last November. On album you could describe them as tuneful rock’n’roll. Not stunningly original, but pretty energetic. Live though, they are terrific. They absolutely give it some. Shauna Tohill, on guitar and lead vocals really knows how to deliver a good punky riff, and shakes her hair very impressively! Drummer Collette Williams lays down some piledriving beats and sings a lot too. They are a band who clearly love what they are doing. There’s always a smile on their faces. It would take a real killjoy not to enjoy a Rews gig, even if it’s not really your music.
Now, just to keep DC happy here’s my obligatory Honeyblood reference! There are obvious similarities between the two bands: two women, guitar and drums, know how to rock’n’roll. I’d say Honeyblood’s songs have more depth and variety, a wider range of emotions (they are the best band in the world, after all) but you come out of concert by either of them feeling uplifted, by the timeless spirit of rock’n’roll.
A double bill of Rews and Honeyblood. How good would that be? Their record labels should talk!