True, Fast and (mostly) balanced..

IMG_2219Nights like last night are the kind of occasions that you simply won’t forget – to coin a phrase from one of the acts in question, I can’t stand the thought of lying on my death bed with regrets, but I’m pretty sure this evening’s fun and games will be one that I relive when that time comes.  Okay, a bit morbid, sorry.  For a mere £8 something Andrea had bagged not just Funke and the Two Tone Baby and Gaz Brookfield, but Maelor Hughes and Ken Bonsall in a Ferocious Dog one-piece guise too.

Any one of those acts in my admittedly slightly biased opinion are worth that fee – throw in a bonus song from Brian Stone, the awesome Rock and Blues venue in Barnsley and friends too numerous to count in attendance and I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all to say it’s one of my favourite gigs of this year.  Ella and I headed up to Barnsley from Loughborough and had treated ourselves to an inexpensive Premier Inn room a ten minute stagger down the road, and were soon battling through the wind to get there.

Upon getting into the venue and wrist banded up it was already pretty full of familiar faces, we had plenty of time for mingling and getting a few drinks down us before the doors to the venue proper were opened.  Maelor was up first with a slightly poorly throat – it didn’t take away from a top opening set though, Morning Sun was the second song in, by the time he’d moved into Better Day the crowd were already shouting the ‘Oi Oi’ bits without him asking them to, he treated us to Won’t Fight Your War before offering us the bonus of a guest appearance.

IMG_2220Brian took the stage, and Maelor’s guitar, and treated us to his own song Life Begins at 50 which sounded great and went down really well – we’ll gloss over the clumsy re-handover of the guitar that saw him clonk himself on the head with it, leaving him with what I’m told is now a pretty impressive black eye! Oops!  Maelor returned to finish his set off with Fight With Me and Milltown Boy.  He’d conspired to only have two CDs with him, one of which was already promised to Becky – a bit of a shame.  Everyone should have a Maelor CD.

Ken was next up – initially appearing on stage in sinister silhouette form picking up with Battle of the Beanfield which had been playing over the PA before he was due to start.  Relaxed and in high spirits, he was sat on a stool with his guitar in a lounge-act style, I was wondering if he might chuck a few rat pack songs into his set – but no, Gallows Justice started his act proper as has become custom.  Blind Leading the Blind followed which was nice, it’s been a while since I’ve heard that!

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In no time at all Spike and Beth’s girls were up on shoulders and dancing along – Ken was definitely in playful mood, launching into the beginning of Pocket Full of Madness before deciding since it was nearly Christmas (and he was wearing a t-shirt featuring the lyrics from it) to treat us to a rendition of The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York which was predictably raucously sung along to.  Between the Wars by Billy Bragg was up next – particularly poignant in the week that will see Kellingley Colliery end deep coal mining in the UK.

IMG_2225Unconditional (with the family friendly lyrics) was next and then Ruby Bridges – with the revelation that the band are making a video for the song next year.  Slow Motion Suicide led into Criminal Justice before Freeborn John was dedicated to Dean who’d fixed Cerebus earlier in the day to get Ken to the gig.  After a quick pause we figured we should do a surfboard so I quickly got myself horizontal – straddling Naomi in the process (sorry, Naomi).  Dean got up and we perhaps should’ve set up a bit further back from the lighting rig!

Mairi’s Wedding Part III saw Spike have both his girls on his shoulders only for Dean to get underneath to make a bit of a tower – which had a mixed response from the girls to be fair!  As the set drew to a close Ken asked for requests and the chosen track turned out to be Raggle Taggle Gypsy which was a nice energetic finish.  A lovely intimate performance – which betrays Ken’s self-depreciation about his musical abilities – there was nowhere for him to hide here and it was a cracking performance.

IMG_2233Next up was Funke and the Two Tone Baby.  He’s obviously been co-headlining with Gaz for a while now, we talked to Gaz before the gig started and he’d said they’d been swapping ‘headline’ slots depending on who had a bigger following in the area – after Funke had finished I saw Gaz and asked him how he felt about following that, he admitted to being pretty daunted.  Dan is a phenomenal performer – fortunately, so is Gaz so he’s more than up to the challenge – they compliment each other brilliantly as ostensibly they are both solo acoustic artists, but so very different!

Funke took the stage and launched into Never Used to Dance, with the crowd literally compelled to follow the directive to raise their hands to the air and put their feet through the floor.  He dropped the pace for I’m Not Well before slotting in an unusual song that I’d asked him via Facebook to play for Ella (ha, I’m getting good at this surreptitious request shenanigans) – Anchor is a lovely song… already a couple of ciders and jägerbombs down and it might’ve made Ella a little bit emotional.  Bwah ha ha!

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Nice to Me has a simple yet perfect sentiment, which lead us into The Great Storm.  Bella’s Kiss kept the crowd ebbing and flowing and into Medicine for the Soul.  The penultimate song was the anthemic Not Enough Bonobo which saw Andy in his gorilla suit invade the stage for a dance-along – I’m not sure whether Funke expected this development or not but he rolled with it, and to be fair, Andy’s primate dancing was pretty good!  He finished up with an awesome cover of The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black.

IMG_2238An absolutely exhilarating set that left him prone on the floor of the stage – he really does put so much energy into every gig I’ve seen him play.  There were plenty of uninitiated folk in the crowd who were blown away by what they’d witnessed – I’m really excited at how many times I already know that I’m going to get to see him play next year before I even factor in any additional tour dates.  If you’ve not got on board the Funke bandwagon yet you really must – recorded he’s amazing but the live experience is just something else entirely.

Last but certainly not least was Gaz Brookfield – he launched straight into Land Pirate’s Life as has become very familiar to me followed up with Diabetes Blues and the reprise.  In my notes I’ve written that there was a slight lyric slip – the cider and jäger fug has rendered whatever it was forgotten, I also noted a ‘hilarious’ reaction to some singing along – again, regretfully I couldn’t tell you what this was specifically!  Under The Table rendered most of the room arm in arm and swaying along.

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Sailor Jerry’s Kitchen moved into Godless Man and then Ode to Ozzy.  Then he mixed things up from what has become a familiar (but not unwelcomely so, I hasten to add!) set list by throwing in LW3 – his dedication to Loudon Wainwright III – as a handy prelude to a cover of Suddenly It’s Christmas by the man himself.  As an aside I did follow the advice of LW3 and avail myself of some of Loudon Wainwright’s discography and it was a thoroughly enjoyable exercise.  I still prefer Gaz though.

Maps was up next – alas his fellow cartographile Chris wasn’t in the crowd but I imagine there were a fair few closet and not-so-closet map admirers amongst the crowd.  The Ballad of Elizabeth Duke was met with plenty of abuse for Grant Shapps as ever, and he then pulled out the quieter version of Black Dog Day which I think is absolutely sublime – if you’ve not heard it then get hold of Solo Acoustic Guy and thank me later.  He finished up with the customary finish of Be a Bigger Man, Let The East Winds Blow and Thin.

IMG_2242The latter two are the proper singalong numbers – but frankly the whole set had been pretty much that so needless to say the crowd played their part.  Then just as we thought that the fun was over all four acts took to the crowd to have an impromptu sing-off in the middle of the dance floor – Funke started with 54-46 Was My Number, Gaz shifted style with a bit of Ice Ice Baby (I still know all the words to this – ha!), Ken threw some Roots Radicals into the mix and Maelor – apparently feeling the pressure – went for Wild Thing mashing up into the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air into Boom Shake The Room.

IMG_2243It was rounded off with Funke having an alarming knowledge of Spice Girls’ Wannabe – Gaz in particular seemed absolutely incredulous at this, but it was funny.  Maybe they should get some studio time in for a random mash-up session?  An absolutely magical evening – Andrea really pulled an absolute cracker out the bag this time, I’ve been to some stunning gigs this year, and this one is right up there amongst the very best of them – a well deserved sell out with so many of my favourite performers and people in attendance.

As we wind towards the end of the year if you’re going to make one resolution for 2016 – then make it to support events like these – promoters work so hard to pull together talented acts in venues that can be struggling.  It’s not even like it’s a selfless act – these are some of the best nights you’ll experience, you’ll find new musical loves, you’ll meet awesome people in the crowd and you’ll escape from the mundanity of tedious weekend or evening televisual tripe.  Go on, do it!  Keep your eye on Andrea’s events, or Pete’s events for a starting point and treat yourself.

All that remained for us was to stagger back to the hotel via a late night pizza shop – an awesome night.  A real highlight in what has been an already awesome year.

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