Five diverse bands, loosely connected by a rock/indie style, were brought to the 229 Club by music promoter Absent Kelly. These sorts of nights give exposure to grafters looking to get that big break – small venue, small crowd, large ambition.
Opening the night was Bradley Donaldson, a singer with an acoustic guitar. Songs were angsty and generally played in minor keys. I got the feeling that he probably spends a lot of time in his bedroom listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam and The Lemonheads.
He made me smile when he introduced his second song as, “This is basically the same vibe as the last one, but in a different key.” His lyrics had a general theme of gloom – he was often “slipping away”, telling us that he “would never see the sun” and was “seeing faces no one else can see”.
At one point I thought I heard him utter “bad shoes, bad singing”, which I thought was a bit harsh as a self-appraisal, but it turned out he was singing “misused, mistreated” – more of the same cheerful stuff. I had thought Bradley was probably still at school, but he told me afterwards that he works in a games shop and is trying to do something with his music. He seems to know what his thing is, so good luck fella. His first single – aptly entitled “Blind is Here”.
Next up – Morning Tourist. For those of you who know your recent UK political party leaders, you’ll remember the jolly (now dead) ex-leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy. Front man, Sean McKinney, really reminded me of him. Weird.
Now I don’t know how good a singer Kennedy was, but Sean was pretty tuneful. He sang and played acoustic guitar, joined by “Sam from Sheffield”, who stood in the shadows at the side of the stage looking like a young Louis Theroux, adding accents on his Fender. Apparently it was only Sam’s second time playing live with Morning Tourist – the first being to Sam’s girlfriend, so they were doing a good job.
Style wise, the songs felt mid-Atlantic with a lot of nods to the deep South Americana thanks to Sam’s interjections, which could just have easily been played on slide guitar. Songs were inoffensive, competently delivered, and could have been recorded in the folky haze of the late 60s – touch of the Donovan in there. We were asked to “make a break for the coast” etc. Their last song, “Rabbit Hole”, was probably the best of the bunch – accessible and unassuming.
A blonde girl in a tight green dress then went up to the stage and I was expecting her to front the next band – but I think she was Sam’s girlfriend. Hey ho. Instead, four lads in the more usual drums, guitar, bass and singer-guitar formation got up and played a very tight and rocky version of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” as an opener. Energy returned to the room.
Switch Violet, from Bath, were playing their first London gig and had come to enjoy themselves. I was struggling to find comparisons, other to say they are just a good rock/pop/blues band – the sort that you’d see play school proms, student bars and weddings. They reminded me of Squeeze in their heyday (Chris Difford played the same venue 3 days later).
“Joanna” was the highlight of the set, which had the catchy “you want in, you want out” refrain (you want to shake it all about?) and featured a guitar break that Slash would have been proud of. “Lowlight” was version of “Sex on Fire”, which they tried to overlay a ska rhythm. May need more work on that one. They ended by saying that they would be back in London soon. They’ve got the ambition and could do OK if they sharpen up their set a bit.
Rock/blues clichés of Judas Priest (without the keyboards), Deep Purple (again, no keyboards), or even Black Sabbath, were creeping into much of what Rough Sketch did during their short set.
Songs seemed to include quite a few “I want to knows” and “Yeah yeah yeahs”. This band is probably a vehicle for the shadowy figure of Mani the guitarist to ply his trade as a Jimmy Page disciple. There was a bit of an odd dynamic on the stage, as the drummer and bass player looked as if they had just come from playing with Two Door Cinema Club or Foals, and I wondered if the singer should be working in Bradley’s shop, with his Lord of the Rings t-shirt on.
At one point between songs, they made the comment, “There’s a lot of Nepalese in here tonight.” Something I’ve never heard said at a gig before – I suspect they were Mani’s fan club. “We can become a Nepalese pop band if you like”. Maybe they do need to refine their identity and beef up their rhythm section if they are planning to stay heavy – looking at their Facebook page, I suspect half the band is new and still blending in.
The sound-man chose to play “Cochise” by Audioslave after Rough Sketch’s set had finished – another great Led Zep rip off. I suspect he was suggesting that they ought to give that a listen.
History lesson time. When I was at school, my younger brother played guitar in a band (probably talking 1981-82 here). He coveted an effects pedal called a “chorus” (aka a flanger), which came in a blue metal box. And so it came to pass that Grapefruit’s guitarist has the same pedal and likes to use it as much as my brother did. Think of the opening of “Spellbound” by Siouxsie and the Banshees – that guitar noise stitched together most of Grapefruit’s repertoire.
Grapefruit’s songs are built around the real life partnership of guitarist Grace Holbrook and singer Angela Chase – her vocals playing off the John McGeoch guitar sound. They are a solid indie band, tight and slick songsters with a hint of a nod to Warpaint, Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls and The Smiths. The two-girl axis is more than capably supported by bassist Ollie Davidson and James Hack, who I think has recently joined them on drums.
Songs flowed easily and they made a cover of Best Coast’s “Boyfriend” their own (by substituting the last word with girlfriend, of course). My favourite of the set was the slow and thoughtful “Pulse”.
Angela thanked the crowd for dancing – tonight’s excited audience were made up of friends and family and the earlier band members, who it was good to see had stuck around. Grapefruit do have that charm and innocence that will carry them on to bigger things.
Tom, the Absent Kelly A&R dude told me on the way out that he “loves that band”. They’re on an upward trajectory and it will be interesting to see how they go down with audiences who don’t know them.
Thanks to Chris at the venue for the beer tokens and Tom at Absent Kelly for the ticket. Looking forward to spending more evenings of discovery in 229. Full photo galleries at www.jampondphotography.com/gigs
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