Monday, 15 April 2013

Folk Me. Live review of Deaf Havana unplugged at the Union Chapel, London

Deaf Havana ****1/2*

Big Sixes *****

Union Chapel, Islington 3rd April 2013

Gulp. Church. Me? Really? Every time I wander into the Union Chapel, I’m surprised I don’t blister, turn to a pillar of salt or get burnt to a blob of tar. Saying that, it’s a wonderful venue with a vibe like no other space, and thankfully I appear to haver dodged another God bullet or thunderbolt as I uneasily lower myself onto my pew for tonight’s service.

Talking of biblical bollocks, old Herod seems to have called all the youngest and first born from the country to worship tonight. Unlike anything seen since Jesus was bigger than Aaron Lennon, a massive queue of dip-dyed, plugged up and tattooed acolytes has snaked its way through chilly norf London for pretty much the whole afternoon answering the tolling call to prayer.

Dearly beloved we are gathered here today....

Big Sixes *****
Thankfully there’s no incense or other smells and bells as we’re read the first lesson this evening. And what a beautifully fresh and inspiring homily we’re treated to at the hands of uncategoriseable upstarts Big Sixes.

Tight harmonies, uplifting tunes, reflective and clever lyrical chicanery fill the packed god room. Delivered to rapt and reverential silence, these Bucks boys preach a wonderful, original and mesmerising set. There’s real skill here. Uncategoriseable as they maybe, there are moments of Turin Brakes, Arcade Fire, Midlake, Lambchop, Tim Hardin, The holy Buckley father and son and even a brush with Dylan on show. And it’s all good.

When young’uns go all unplugged it often exposes shortcomings in technique, ability and songcraft. When the pedal boards, triggers, pads and general noise are pared away, there’s more often than not, well, not a lot left. Big Sixes prove otherwise. Judging from their relatively small and nascent, but hugely impressive oeuvre, acoustic guitar, harmony and a natural folky/nu-county dna runs right to their core. And it shows. Original, charming, beguiling and beautiful stuff. 

Deaf Havana ****1/2*

Bands do stuff. You know the sorts of thing: Zeppelin went all Arabic for a while with bongos, bongs and funny shaped stringed things. Deep Purple did a Concerto For Group and Orchestra. Even Metallica dabbled with violas, oboes, bassoons and bass clarinets. And more famously than most, Mr Cobain et al did ‘that’ unplugged malarkey.

Sometimes it works. And sometimes it engenders limited appeal or success. So when Deaf Havana reworked their brilliant Fools And Worthless Liars album so soon after its massively successful release, breath was held. But what resulted was pretty much unanimously vaunted as a modern day masterpiece.

What it proved (as if it needed to be) was that their songs were strong enough and good enough to survive the paring down test. And, to that end James Veck-Gilodi and his band of troubadours decided to give the ‘alternative’ versions a tour of their own.

So, a much expanded line up (JV-G’s ikkul bruv Matthew on guitar and vox and Max Britton tickling the keys) take to the stage like some sort of post hardcore ragamuffin jug band complete with living room standard lamps, comfy chairs, rugs flowers ‘n’ all and kick off with the folked-up version of the album opener The Past Six Years.

And all is immediately well in the world. JV-G appears to be in fine fettle and enjoying every minute of it. Swapping between guitars, mandolins, Banjos, nose flutes, penis accordions, Hawaiian slide/steel guitar thingies and even the drums during Smiles All Round, he demonstrates his versatility and all round musicianship. Most of the album is given an airing with a new song and even a completely re-worked version of Friends Like These dovetailing neatly into the set.


Throughout, there appears to be a genuine joy on stage. Tinged with gauche nerves and almost a hint of uncomfortable apology. There's no superstar ego here. You definitely get the feeling this is not some post-modern self-indulgence, nor some transient experiment the band need to get off their chests. This is genuine. Heartfelt. Real. Lyrics are forgotten, mute buttons accidentally pressed, impromptu solo paeans to guitar techs performed seemingly off-the cuff (and wonderfully). As I say, real.

Veck-Gilodi regularly maintains that his favourite sort of music isn’t at the rockier end of the corridor, but prefers the more soulful, atmospheric and melodically carpeted  gallery. He wears his influences on his heavily tattooed sleeve, Neil Young (a hint of Old Man makes it into the end of Leeches I’m sure - but it may just have been the Chianti), Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Death Cab, Beck and even Counting Crows - represented tonight with a sparkling cover of Round Here from the timelessly brilliant August And Everything After - all are evident flavourings and ingredients in this healthy, hearty broth.

But it’s misleading to list these heavyweights as mere influences. Veck-Gilodi and Deaf Havana are beginning to fit comfortably alongside such luminaries. There, I said it. Their brilliant, clever, personal and oft moving songwriting, both lyrically and musically are the reason a hard-working, rag-bag rock band from 'East of Ipswich' (wrong county I know, but you know what I mean) can put on a show like tonight. The very quality of the songs transcends genres or musical style and, fittingly in a church, shines through like some sort of shimmering, other-worldly holy light.

The mass ends with a suitably rousing hymn, the wonderfully moving Hunstanton Pier.  From the The congregation respectfully and adoringly join in and lumps in throats swell, eyes grow a tad moist and hairs stand to attention.

Brilliant and important stuff has happened here to night. Amen.

Here's a fan vid of the opening number. Courtesy of Andy Pegel.

 And here's a brilliant tune from Big Sixes. 

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