Saturday, 26 October 2013

Havana ball. Live review of Deaf Havana at The Roundhouse

Deaf Havana *****
Charlie Simpson **1/2***
Big Sixes ***1/2**

The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, 25th October 2013

Now, I don't know the chaps (and now chapess) from Deaf Havana personally. I did have a passing conversation with a young and fluidly refreshed J V-G at the Strongbow tent at Sonisphere a few years back, have bumped into Mr Pennells on several occasions while he was doing his other job as a sound jedi at the marvellous Barfly, but having closely watched them grow up over the years, I can't help feeling deeply paternal about this East Anglian bunch of ne'erdowells. 

Having followed them (not in a stalkery or rapey way, honest) from their screamo emo days in rat holes and toilets, via festivals, untold support slots, unplugged recitals in churches and sell out spectaculars at Shepherds Bush, tonight represents a coming of age. A transition. Moving from primary school to big school. Or maybe even packing up the boot of a patched up old hatchback with toasted sandwich makers, food parcels, guitars and Ikea pots and pans and finally leaving the family home. And, it's fair to say, it's an occasion bathed in conflicting emotions.

But before the big event, there's some other friends joining in the graduation. 

First up are Big Sixes***1/2**Since last time I saw this lot of pleasing, talented and beautifully harmonic young tyros, they seem to have multiplied. It may have been the Chianti and Jager the last time I saw them, but I don't seem to remember being that many of them; whereas tonight, the stage appears filled with bodies. No matter, the output is thankfully unaffected by the proliferation and a well-received smart set of tight and intelligent pop rock gets the evening off to a flyer.

The next friend ringing on the doorbell is Mr Charlie Simpson**1/2**, and he's brought a huge bunch of mates around too. Playing to, by now, a pretty packed cavernous and splendid old engine shed, Mr Simpson and his muckers pile into a lively set of, well, country-tinged, MOR, poppy, Eagles-ish, er stuff, kicking off with the boisterous and rousing sing-a-long Parachutes.

I'm confused though. While he's obviously hugely talented, this style and line up does little, if anything new. The songs are all splendidly crafted, but there's no edge. No lustre. The assembled session men are all clearly brilliant players, but all they really achieve is to pull Simpson's personal and honest songs into a Radio 2 mid morning, backward-looking middle of the road, Snow Patrol-infused greyness.

Simpson appears caught. Still young, it feels like he's been over-exposed to his dad's or an uncle's record classic rock or country record collection and slavishly recreated the anachronistic vibe, rather than mixing in anything new, challenging or different. 

Don't get me wrong, it's far from bad - and the prepubescent crowd don't seem to care where it's come from, they slurp at this saucer merrily - it just feels twixt and between. Neither fish nor fowl. Not far enough away from early Chris De Burgh or America and with that nu-folk, nu-country vibe soccer mom-friendly middleness that seems to be the vanilla de jour thrown in to further neuter any real thrust.

Simpson needs to have a good think. Be painfully and confidently naked. Or outrageous and wear uncomfortable bleeding edge haute couture. Not ham dresses necessarily; just don't be the off the shelf chinos in the middle. Great songs though.

Right, back to tonight's main matter at hand, the continuing rite of passage of young 
Deaf Havana*****

House lights down, Elvis up, then Boston Square in your face. We're off. And so are the baying and adoring crowd. 

And the emotional intensity doesn't abate. Older favourites Little White Lies and I Will Try get fists pumping, hands clapping, friendly pits opening and hearts exploding. A trumpet super-charged newbie Everybody's Dancing And I want To Die keeps the whole thing going set to hyper-power. There's no room for breath (the odd wee technical glitch aside) and James Veck-Gilodi's fabulous voice has seldom sounded better.

The rockier guitars and jagged edges maybe long gone to be replaced by broader, richer and more adult oriented arrangements, but the youthful intensity has thankfully remained intact. Throw in the complete honesty which is encoded on this lot's genome and even though they've matured so quickly, the painful innocence and alluring but stumbling and gauche impertinence of yoof are still etched, like old teenage acne scars, on a twenty something's stubbly chin. The glossy varnish has, mercifully, not smothered the innovative and original craftsmanship. 

Throughout, the older Veck-Gilodi appears genuinely overwhelmed and his normal eloquent and verbose inter-song banter is replaced by a repetitive mumbling mantra about how he (and the rest of the band) are blown away, undeserving, humbled and shocked by the event, the attendance and the fervour of reception. 

It's impossible not to be caught up in the import and emotion of the situation. The hatchback is moving further down the road and towards the motorway paved with fame and fortune. We genuinely are witnessing a seminal and important moment in this charming and engaging band's life.

And to kick dust into already moistening eyes, the bastards produce some sublime emotionally charged heart-bleeding moments; the gorgeous Saved and a slightly more upbeat alternative take on the self loathing and pitying masterpiece Anemophobia being the main emotional thumbscrews. The sing backs are cacophonous and fervent, the whoops, hugs and general love in the room wholeheartedly palpable. This is so very special.

There are lighter moments, the sparkling cover of The Cure's Friday I'm in Love leading the charge. JV-G's apparent Springsteen obsession even manifests itself in a brief cover of the boss's I'm On Fire, but the overwhelming emotional intensity is ever-present.

As the set ends with the magnificent paean to hometown history Hunstanton Pier, it's hard not to start blubbing like a baby who's run out of rusks. And by the time they're begged back onto stage for the last three emotion bombs, I'm A Bore, Mostly (which Veck-Gilodi doesn't truly need to sing as the crowd enthusiastically sing every word back at the tops of their thousands of assembled voices), new favourite Mildred and the plaintive Fifty Four, it's clear the band are no longer our little boy, but a full on hairy-balled, gruff voiced, independent and successful man. Taking of which, slightly mystified (if not a little relieved emotionally) that they didn't perform the stadium friendly anthemic throat-lump-making Caro Padre. But you can't have it all.

There's obviously so much more still to come from these wonderful misfits and miscreants and it'll be fascinating following their adult progress. But for the time being, I genuinely feel like they've left home for bigger and better things. So with a tear in the eye but an enormous throbbing vicarious pride and a firm, manly handshake it's time to let go. 

All the best boys (and girl). All the best.


  1. While you capture the essence of a successful evening for Deaf Havana I think you are wrong not to mention the fact that the sound engineer critically got the balance wrong as the drums were far too load and drowned out the guitars much to my disappointment, I wasn't alone . Big SIXES were far better than you give them credit for and should have been on stage longer, Charlie played it safe and I agree he needs to give more edge if he doesn't wish to end up mum and dad's fave. All in all a great review but I've seen deaf havana a few times and each time they have had sound issues which can so easily be sorted.

  2. I was up in the gods with all the olds and alikadoos, so any sound probs seemed to be minimised from where we were perched (assuming you were on the floor and allowing for genteel G&T sonic compensation upstairs). The sound seemed perfectly fine - in a typical guitar emasculated 'Philadelphia rock' vibe kind of way (unsurprising given how the band have been moved on and completely ironically since they've now got three plank spankers .)

    As for Big Sixes, you're right, I probably glossed over them a tad - lost in the emotion of the evening - but they were excellent and I look forward to their inevitable rise. Charlie? Meh. Which is a shame. He needs to get his balls back.