Halfway through MARTHA TILSTON'S first song, she has to ask the bouncers to move out of the way. They are standing directly in front of her in this intimately likeable new venue in Sale. At first the penny doesn't drop with them that an audience doesn't want to look directly at them whilst listening to soothing folk music. After a couple more requests, they belatedly get the message and move away to the sound of warm applause. Did they really think it would kick off tonight of all nights?
Anyway, Martha Tilston’s accompanied by her compadre playing bass guitar, she’s busking on an acoustic and singing about gloomy stuff, being dumped, rain, Sunday night TV etc. She has a good voice and reminds me a bit of Thea Gilmore without the fancy lyrics. Not bad, but nothing to make me drop my pen. Then after a couple of songs, she tells of how she wrote the next song whilst sat on the toilet….great now I’ve got that disturbing image etched on my brain for the rest of the set. It's a song about numbness also. Maybe she was on it too long? Another song/essay is about how evil George Bush is, like we need reminding? She then sings her best track “Firefly” about how long love can still be electric after a few years and still “get a chill thrill.. etc” This song shows she can connect emotionally when he so desires. Besides, it banished the toilet image, so it must be doing something right.
Next up are New Yorkers HEM who are a cracking band, have a superb album ("Eveningland") just out and are the only band here this reviewer is previously aware of on this bill . They start with Cash cover "Jackson" and just fill the room with a lovely 70’s country folk scene. I wanted to grab a “bud” and talk about what the corn harvest was like last year. Or something. The lead singer, Sally Ellyson, has her long brown hair parted in the middle like some 70 pictures I’ve seen on TV ( I am not old enough to know the decade really). More acoustic framework, some slide guitar, drums and the lovely, shy Dawn on a xylophone. Sally never fails to emit a soothing vocal. Proper milk and cookie stuff.
Just as the atmosphere has got going and the people sat on the floor (proper folk gig, like), Max and Paddy’s elder, uglier and probably harder sister starts getting everyone to stand up in the middle of a lovely quiet song called "Dawn." You couldn’t help laughing and shaking your head at the timing of it, just like bouncers move you from the pub mid pint. “Dance with Me, Now Darling” thankfully takes you back to that nostalgic place while “Receiver” just makes you smile and sway along to it. Prior to this latter, they announce it has been selected onto Radio 2’s playlist and funnily enough I heard it on the radio the next morning. Spooky eh?. I am sure they’ll grow and get a good following. They know they’re not that “cool” but isn’t that being cool in itself?
Finally, we have THE EARLIES. All (count 'em) 11 of them! A sort of Blazing Squad if you will. Their sound is folk/physcadelica/rock. It's as it they've raided a music shop on the way in and got points for every one they played. You're concentrating on who is playing what/when and how instead of the songs, to a certain extent anyway.
The songs themselves generally started with the blokes singing in harmony to a slowish beat and then get going a bit and become loud enough to bounce off your chest and then reduce again. When they do up the tempo you can't escape it, although it seemed that some people were trying to from the looks of things in the crowd near me.
I was waiting for something to get my teeth into and it only came when they played their new single “Bring It Back Again”. This is the only song to get my toe tapping and if they carry this momentum with the rest of their stuff then they should be OK. However the band leader on keyboards describes how a few of them had given up their day jobs to do this and I felt on tonight's evidence this is something of a gamble. As a few of the cheering audience are their mates and the fact this tour has other acts on the bill probably helped also. I’m also not sure how much The Earlies would have to earn to take them all out to dinner or put them all up for the night in style.They just don't move me, entertaining and funny as they are/ were. I desire melody and they just have a blast of noise and a proto-psych vibe.
Tonight offered a mixed goodie bag of music for us all. I personally enjoyed Hem the best by some way, but felt the crowd who'd come here to see the Earlies were pandered to equally well. But we both got to try something new, which can only be a good thing in the long run.