A few months ago I reviewed the Dodo Street Band CD, Natural Selection, and thought it was pretty good (read Mike’s review here). They didn’t have many gigs planned, but one was fairly near to me so booked the date in my diary.
People talk about going out for the evening to the theatre and mention the whole evening – maybe a meal beforehand, meeting up with friends, the expectation of maybe a London theatre, etc etc. With music, people I know tend to talk about the gig, not the whole event. So this is another occasional live review with a broader slant.
Generally, when I book something in advance, there’s more than a hint of excitement. This was certainly the case with gigs as diverse as, say, seeing the Rolling Stones in Roundhay Park in 1981, taking a friend for his sixtieth birthday to a stadium a few years ago to see The Who – but also things like seeing June Tabor live for the first time in a theatre in Scunthorpe (“a voice as smooth as a pint of Guinness” was a remark I overheard) or going to see a mate’s band play their first ever gig in a dodgy pub. But then, some days, other things just get in the way – and this was one of them. As the day approached I discovered I was working away, getting back home the night of the Dodo Street Band gig.
So on a Wednesday night a couple of weeks ago, I find myself driving after some long days away and hotel-bed-limited-sleep to a concert. The gig is in Worksop college, geographically about half an hour’s drive from where I grew up but in other ways, a couple of light years away from the factory towns, rural and pit villages where I used to play cricket. (I mention this simply because about the only thing I thought I knew about Worksop College was that Joe Root smashed to smithereens most of the cricketing records there.) Generally, my venue of choice to watch music is some kind of club/pub, – in the old days with dark walls, sticky floors, smoke and alcohol. I get the feeling I’m not going to be visiting that kind of place……
And it’s not, but it’s rather splendid. Easy to get to, easy to park, students politely pointing me in the right direction – past the cricket pitch on the right – and into the main building. Given work and the drive, I’m feeling too tired to be in the right place mentally for music. But the setting is pretty good, the room light and airy (and hence a long way from places like Sheffield’s Leadmill or Boston’s Axe and Cleaver where I used to watch my music) is fine and with great sound. The college also they fed us canapés and gave us a free drink at half time. My mental rehabilitation was getting fixed, partly because I was being well looked after.
And the gig? Sometimes you’re just glad you ignored the tiredness because you’ve been to see something unique. This was one of them. The band live are stunning as they trade tunes between fiddle, recorder, accordion, double bass – and in Cormac Byrne they have what I can only describe as a lead bodhran player. Like a live jazz band players sit bits out, they watch their fellow band members take the lead, they mingle the combinations of instruments in different ways so the sound varies – but what never varies is the skill and entertainment value. The humour of the Dodo Street Band’s website is translated onto the stage through entertaining introductions: the Dodo flying machine, for example – the Wright Brothers weren’t the first to create a flying machine, it was the escaping dodos.
What we saw that evening was the band members bringing to exuberant life the skills on the album….plus a bit. The skill of Adam Summerhayes’ fiddle playing being not only in the fingers moving fluidly, but in the way he manages – just – not to poke his colleagues eyes with the dancing bow; as well as bodhran, Cormac Byrne played spoons, bones and members of the audience – anything that could make a percussive sound; Piers Adams had a collection of recorders in what looked like a builders tool belt, switched expertly between them and even played two simultaneously (picture above); Malcolm Creese held the rhythm and played bass solo – and had the most deadpan introductory line – for the first tune in a set “which is called […pause…] ‘Tune Number One”; and a particular mention not just for Murray Grainger’s piano accordion playing but his focus as his young family wanted to join him on stage. They describe their instrumental prowess as playing: Scrapes, Bangs, Blows, Twangs and Bellows.
And Worksop College? A cracking setting, the concert room and the mix were both good, but I also have the unique memories of the rather grand hall where we had interval drinks and the cheery helpfulness of the students. There was also a fascinating conversation with the person who organised it all. I discovered that this gig was one in a series of musical events which Worksop College put on and which they open up to anyone who wants to come. The College seems to have a strong musical curriculum and, to my mind, the staging of music events of all genres and opening them up to the community is a great idea.
Lastly, Natural Selection, the Dodo Street Band’s album was good to listen to, but the live evening got me going, even after the drive and the start to the week I’d had. The evening as a whole? A highly talented – and fun – band in a great location. The venue and the band, then – both of them worth writing home about.
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