Happy days! In the course of a heady 6 weeks or so I’ve seen Gong, the Ozric Tentacles’ Ed Wynne Band, the Steve Hillage Band, Soft Machine, Caravan, a host of ‘new’ Canterbury bands including Lapis Lazuli and members of Syd Arthur, and now this. If the trip to Canterbury took out a couple of days in travelling, the reward was a gig literally at the end of our street as Here and Now arrived in Todmorden.
The Golden Lion is a venue fast approaching legendary status in its locality. The Boxing Day floods of 2015 came in the middle of, but did not deter, the establishment of this remarkable pub as the musical hub of its community. Ramshackled, chaotic and utterly vibrant, the Golden Lion appears to constantly do several things at the same time: multiple musical events, excellent Thai food, a craft ale shop and a well stocked bar. We’d wandered down the road a few weeks previously, ostensibly to see an excellent local outfit called Jumble Hole Clough perform in the tiny gig room upstairs, but never got past the ground floor bar as a remarkable open mic night, hosted by various members of the utterly bonkers Bacup collective Mrs Cakehead drew us instead into a surreal, anachronistic and fairly approximate blend of 60s flower power and 70s punk attitude.
Tonight’s gig was a threefold event: Here and Now headlining, local act Featherteeth as the main support, and the excellent Tom Ashurst/Mark Robson duo third on the bill. I’d been looking forward to the latter as much as anything, courtesy of the superb live CD recorded by the two reviewed here earlier this year. Traffic problems for Here and Now put back start times for each of the acts, which meant that at the time the gig was due to start the support acts were still soundchecking. Even the Tom Ashurst soundcheck was startling – this precocious talent purveys flurries of bluesy acoustic guitar, often sampled in loops to build multiple layers of sound, then solos effortlessly over the top.
Tonight’s setlist bore little relation to the CD – the only common song I spotted was a cover of Softs’ ‘Tales of Taliesin’, and even this was shorn of its main guitar solo theme. The venue, upstairs, shrouded in a red glow as thick curtains blocked out the last of the evenings’ sunlight is a somewhat intimate affair – with a capacity of no more than, say, 80 – the numbers assembled slowly built during the set, unfortunately not always by people who seemed willing to listen to the intricacies of the music, here thoroughly embellished by the work of Mark Robson on keyboards, all subtle accompaniments and soundscapes. As Mark explained, he and Tom live at opposite ends of the country, with scant time to practice together, which makes their telepathy all the more impressive. Given the general cacophony amongst the audience I half expected Tom, who possesses a fine line in fruity language, to tell the offenders precisely how to shut up. But actually a rather cleverer tactic prevailed, namely to engage the audience in somewhat more rowdy song-based numbers – I’m not that familiar with the Hawkwind back catalogue, but am guessing that ‘Night of the Hawks’ is part of Tom’s repertoire with the Hawklords, for who he plays bass. A shame not to hear Tom’s superb version of ‘Fohat’, but that’s hopefully for a future, more elongated set.
Featherteeth are a band whose name I’ve seen knocking around locally, and even recognised their violinist as a someone who busks around Tod. This was a hugely enjoyable straight-aheadish four piece based around guitar/vox, bass, fiddle and drums, mixing a few anthemic tunes with some more earthy numbers propelled along by some all-encompassing drums and some excellent fiddle work. Highlights for me were the jiggy ‘Animal Tracks’ the evocative ‘Indian Giver’ and some extended numbers with a ska backbeat. Good rousing stuff to really get the feet moving. To get a taste of what this band are all about, check out this video recorded recently at Todmorden’s BinBagPig studios https://youtu.be/i-rJTVUYBpg
Mark Robson, Andy Burrows (Here and Now) photo: Phil West
Here and Now are these days a four piece: Keith Bailey on bass, Mark Robson on keys, Andy Burrows on guitar and Gem on drums. This gig was a one off (in a brief chat with Keith he told me that the original plan was to do 3 concerts), but there will be another gig later this month in Southampton prior to the band’s headlining spot at Kozfest. Publicity had been sparse for this gig, but necessarily so as with such a small capacity venue, it had quickly sold out. Word had still spread remarkably quickly to the extent that there were many people who’d travelled a distance. In a heaving amorphous mass, the audience almost blended with the band: Gong T-shirts and dreadlocks abounded and hazyish memories recall a fairly extensive set with a desire to stretch things out which I don’t quite recall from my last time seeing them at Kozfest 2017. Some very familiar tunes which roused a crowd clearly consisting of the converted included ‘What You See Is What You Are’, (the iconic opener from ‘Give and Take’), a very fine rolling version of ‘Surgeon’s Knife’ from ‘All Over The Show’, samplings from the ‘Fantasy Shift’/’Theatre’ era and the inevitable outtings from ‘Floating Anarchy’, including bits of the ’No More Sages’ suite.
Keith Bailey, Here and Now photo: Phil West
There were at least two songs I didn’t recognise, and whilst I’d assumed these were from the Eighties repertoire I was less familiar with, the fact that Keith introduced the second one as ‘another new one’ suggests that there is strong new material the band is performing, it was utterly in keeping with the expansionist vibe of the evening. I’d mentioned to a friend who hadn’t seen the band before that they would witness one of the finest bass players in the business, and that was certainly confirmed, but I was also totally impressed by Mark Robson on keyboards. I remember when he first joined the band perhaps 20 years ago being slightly perplexed at how such an apparently gentle soul (responsible at the time for releasing the stripped down ‘In Search of a Simple Life’ and fabled for his didgeridoo, penny whistle and soothing vocals) would fit into a rousing punky band. Tonight, well up in the mix, it made sense. A shame that Andy Burrows was less fortunate in terms of sonic exposure – I had to worm my way to the front of the heaving crowd to get a real flavour of what he was doing – he is a fabulous guitar player but his sterling work wasn’t always audible.
Strangely enough, the band’s rousing send off (and I can’t remember whether this was ‘Opium for the People’ or ‘Glad You’re Here’, both of which really got the crowd moving) was greeted with tumultuous acclaim but not calls for an encore – perhaps people were either overwhelmed, or just desperate for some air. Or in our case, just about capable of dragging ourselves back up the hill, exhausted.