Well, it’s 9 o’clock in the evening and 5 degrees outside. I’m sat in my bedroom in Horfield, Bristol, with a Thatchers Haze and some little flickering tea candles (I light them occasionally for ambience). It is warm here, and quite cosy, and in about twenty minutes I am going to leave this haven and venture out into the night in search of music. I am doing this for you.
Bristol is a vibrant place. Any night of the week you can find dozens of bars in a relatively small radius with free (or very cheap) live acts on. Now, other No Tasters have already reviewed bands in London and Leeds. Bristol remains a blank spot on the map. I can’t make excuses any more: I must head out into the frigid dark of a January eve and do a review.
I considered briefly that it might be a sensible idea to purchase tickets for a specific event, prior to leaving. But, eugh, that sounds a little too regimented and ‘ooo you must arrive by half past ten of the clock lest you miss it’ and that is not how I like to operate. No: for better or (far more likely) for worse, I am going to light out into the city with little more than a vague notion that it would probably be good to find and review a band or two. Will I succeed? My money’s on ‘no’, as I know full well how much of a useless pisshead scrote I am.
But look – I’ll do my best, alright?
Band One: Billy and the Lowground @ The Golden Lion, 9.30pm
Alright, I’m here. I’ve arrived soggy because it’s wet outside. Not raining – no actual raindrops. Not quite fog, either. Just like… wet air? Just wet air. Fuck January, man.
The Golden Lion is rammed. I’m sipping a Guinness in the back, and the band’s on in the packed room next door. Yeah, I know that’s not how music reviewing works – I know you need to actually see the band, not just hear the bass throb through the wall. But it’s busy, and I haven’t the energy to shove my way in. Ugh. Don’t look at me like that. I just- fine – fine. I’ll do it.
Alright I’m here, leaning on the door frame. Billy and the Lowground, let’s see what you got.
It’s rocky folk, and I’m getting faint Celtic vibes. We have guitars, we’ve a fiddle, and we’ve a banjo. The arrangement is nice, their playing is tight. They’ve done this a million times and it shows – they exude a nice low-key confidence. They look earthy and refreshingly relaxed – scuffed boots, old jeans, a plaid green shirt, hair kept short, beards grown out (except the fiddle player, who is female and quite definitely does not have a beard). I’m reminded, bizarrely, of the dinosaur handlers from Jurassic park – you know, the well-meaning outdoorsy types who are usually the first ones to be scoffed when the dinos break loose. Imagine if those guys made a bitchin’ folk band: here we are.
Lyrics are down to earth – can’t catch many but there’s ‘last bus home’ in there – and choruses are rousing and jolly. It’s good boozing music. Good, honest drinking music. There’s a low-key punk to it, vaguely reminiscent of the Pogues, but with far less screaming and slurring. The people here are enjoying themselves – it’s a cosy gig and a warm crowd. I am happy. But alas – my Guinness is done, and I must head out into the night once more.
Band Two: Lost Boys @ The Bristol Flyer, 10pm
I must apologise to Lost Boys, because I didn’t stay too long in this pub. The band were reaching the end of a thundering rendition of the Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ and they were giving it welly. Welly is great, of course, but you’ve got to set your welly-levels in accordance with the venue you are playing and the vibe of your audience. Absolutely thrashing the cymbals to death when, three feet away, people are sat eating olives and sipping red wine, is too much welly.
Band Three: The Old Malthouse Jazz Band @ Left Bank, 10.30pm
Alright, next one. The place is heaving, the dancefloor’s crowded. I’m acutely aware of how much of a weirdo I look, standing alone typing notes on my phone. Bought a Corona at the bar just now and a man made a joke about the coronavirus with a guilty grin. Ha.
The band are slick, kicking out up-tempo jazzy swing with a distinct silky vocal. Groovy and joyful, they look the part – all smart shirts and braces and pork pie hats – and they’re wonderfully attuned to one another. It’s all gone a bit Jungle Book in here. It’s hot and sweaty, and they’re playing a song that sounds like a swing version of ‘That’s Alright Mama’. Folks are swayin’, feet are a-tappin’, and I keep getting knocked all over the place by fragrant women in floaty dresses. The band’s got everybody up and dancing, and a handful of beaming couples are twirling each other around what little floor remains free. I feel I’ve been beamed back through time eight or nine decades.
Not bad at all, chaps. Onto the next one.
Band Four: Yoko Pwno @ Canteen, 11ish?
What a name, ey? I like ‘em already. Canteen is absolutely heaving. I got a cider from the bar (no idea why I’m mixing drinks so extravagantly – there’ll be hell to pay tomorrow), now I’m leaning on a photo booth that trios of giggling drunk people keep climbing inside for snaps. Somebody just tried to hang a coat off me. Dammit.
This band defy simple explanation. They’re an odd blend of folk and electro, as far as I can tell. They’re playing the crap out of the fiddle – two fiddles, in fact – and there’s an infectious energy to them. They’ve a big crowd up and bopping around, and I’m loving the connection between the two fiddlers – a tall, bespectacled guy in a ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’ tee, and a dark haired girl in bright tartan jeans.
It’s funny; you never know what people have inside them until you see them in their element. Sure, you have your leather-jacket clad musos on the cover of NME, but generally speaking, the vast majority of us – musicians and laymen alike – all look like normal folk. The thought that the person you sit next to on the bus could have this (know that I am now gesturing broadly towards the band) inside them is quite exciting. You never really know, do you?
They start off with the bouncing funky folk you’d expect from an act with two lead fiddles, then without warning veer off into sonic wilderness. There’s a techno beat here, a reggae chug there, then from nowhere a couple of Beastie Boys-reminiscent rap verses drop. I find myself unsure of what will come next, and I like it. They’re polished, creative, exciting, and weird. Weird is the vibe. Weird’s what we want. The crowd loves it, and I feel refreshed. Thank you very much, Yoko Pwno.
Here is where my notes finish; here is where we part. I was drunk and headed home shortly after. I bought a couple of beers for the long walk back and called into my local chicken shop for 6 nuggets and a burger. Then, reclined on the sofa watching It’s Always Sunny, I consumed my saucy goods and fell asleep until 4am, when my girlfriend, having woken up and wondered what had become of me, came downstairs and shook me awake.
What a night. #blessed