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Entries in Hove (2)


Tunng at the Old Market, Hove

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.


Tom Russell in Hove, actually

It is one of life's continuing mysteries how as good a songwriter as Tom Russell manages to stay below so many music fans' radar.

His gig at Hove's Palmeira pub was the last on a British tour which I haven't seen written up elsewhere. Of course, it was sold out - but, come on: that means maybe a hundred people. Even I have sung a song at the Palmeira...  Tom was reminiscing fondly about the last time he had played Brighton at 'an East Indian ballroom' (the Hanbury in Kemptown). I've also seen him at the Greys (a far smaller pub than the Palmeira) and the Anchor out in Barcombe (hidden in the depths of the country, beyond the reach of our satnav).Why not the Dome - which regularly features folk who live many floors below Tom in the Tower of Song? Go figure.

It feels wrong to say 'Tom Russell gig' in the same way that 'Gillian Welch concert' is only halfway there. The great Thad Beckman is Tom's David Rawlings, conjuring similarly beautiful and essential sounds from his battered and ancient Gibson. Perhaps less oblique in his strategies than Rawlings, but full of both subtlety and power, and blessed with jaw-dropping technique. There were frequent pauses for roaring applause after beautiful solos - with Tom mock-ruefully decrying his audience as 'bastards'.

Russell's interaction with the crowd is practised and warm, with lots of stories and bizarre asides. He enjoys trying out his British accent, playing around the familiar local Brighton line that he is now in Hove, 'actually'. Over the evening we also get a burst of Norwegian (in honour of some fans who've flown in from Bergen); a graceful acknowledgement of shouted praise for his pristine new cowboy boots (seemingly made of orange suede); and Pancho Villa's final words (clearly a born delegator, they were 'don't let it end like this - tell them I said something').

I do sometimes have a problem with Tom's more sentimental side, but not this time. He played some songs of that can cross the line - 'Finding You', 'Guadalupe', 'Nina Simone' - but kept them straight, direct and powerful. The set as a whole was simply one to treasure, stuffed full of classics and probably the best I've seen him play.

Too many highlights to enumerate fully, but let's list a few: an inspired immigration double-punch to end the first set of a beautifully sung reading of the glorious 'California Snow' followed by a stonking and unanswerable singalong 'Who's Going To Build Your Wall?'; then a similar double-punch closing the second half, with an appropriate boxing theme - 'Muhammad Ali' and (one of my very favourites) 'The Pugilist Is 59'. Special mention also for a disquisition on Bob Dylan which included Tom singing a burst of 'Love Is Just A Four Letter Word', followed by the opening line of 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' and then shouting 'take that, Shakespeare!'; and for his final encore of a Johnny Cash medley - this is a man of taste.

In what is already shaping up to be a fine year for live music, this is bound to be up there in the best gig list. Well played, Tom and Thad: long may you run.