Bands and booking agents really ought to do some more prior consultation. The vagaries of their tour schedules mean that I'm now into a burst of three gigs in three days, to make sure I don't miss anything vital. Roy Harper at the Royal Festival Hall this evening and the Black Twig Pickers back in Brighton tomorrow, with the bar set encouragingly high by an excellent set from Tunng in Hove last night.
It's tricky to describe them to anyone who doesn't know the music. I've seen other reviewers resorting to labels like folktronica, future folk or even pastoral gothic, none of which says an awful lot to me. The folk descriptor seems primarily to come from the fact that front man Mike Lindsay plays an acoustic guitar with his fingers, but I guess there is also a nice undercurrent of lyrical weirdness which taps into some aspects of the English folk tradition, by way of the likes of Robyn Hitchcock.
I first saw them on the same bill as Bob Dylan at the Hop Farm and they certainly provided the brightest set of that particular day for me. With a total of six albums now under their belts (don't miss the BBC sessions set which includes a great hook-up with Tinariwen), there's a wealth of fascinating stuff to dig into.
They're driven along by a stomping rhythm section and the combination of two guitars and three fine voices in the front line means there is always a lot going on, even before you start adding in things like melodica and laptop oddments. At one point last night, Lindsay and Ashley Bates ostentatiously swapped guitars before the former wigged out splendidly with a succession of foot-up-on-the-monitor rockist tropes, before delivering his own verdict: 'we're just a folk band, really'.
On earlier albums there were rather more quirky samples and beats taking things in unexpected directions. I've been finding their most recent album, Turbines, rather understated and more conventional than its predecessors. But the selections from it that they played last night seemed to come to life better live and fitted in well alongside the older songs.
This was the last night of their tour and in amongst the encores there were flowers and a bottle of Laphroaig for the female vocalist who did very well in taking Becky Jacobs' place on these dates - and whose name I'm afraid I missed.
A lot of warmth, a lot of fun and a splendid version of 'Bullets' from 2007's Good Arrows to round things off. Still as good a place as any for new listeners to get a sense of what this bunch are about, I'd say:
We're catching bullets in our teeth
And though it's easy when you know how it's done
They split the secret up six ways before they gave it to us just before dawn
And now we don't remember.
Whatever else the song might be about, I think that's a pretty fine metaphor for the sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, 'don't look now but we're levitating' dynamics of playing in a band that can aspire to greatness.
A fair few rounds were successfully captured last night, I'd say.