We had a bit of an inpromptu decision to head down to the wonderful Bocabar in Glastonbury last night to see Nick Parker and the False Alarms and The Leylines. I’d not planned on being in the West Midlands for work earlier in the week, but as I was it seemed logical that I was already thirty odd miles along in the right direction, so why not carry on? Plus Ella could get the train across to Solihull easily enough and meet me at my office, so that’s what we did – final meeting finished up, laptop shut down and off we went!
Now it’s worth taking some time to comment on the venue – reclaimed from an old industrial building, it has a wonderful creative and community-led vibe to it, nestled near a Premier Inn on the outskirts of Glastonbury itself, although still get lovely views of the town and the tor on the way in to get parked up. Inside you’ll find an eatery, bar, awesome and reasonably priced artwork adorning the walls, and a low-ceilinged large event venue that holds around 300 people. A really lovely space, nestled in an area that has clearly suffered a bit of depravation in recent years.
We descended late afternoon and settled with coffee and soft drinks, outside a murmuration of starlings was threatening to form as they prepared to roost as dusk set in. Alas despite my best efforts I never did get to see whether or not they eventually succumbed to that peculiar and mesmerising urge they have to perform complex acrobatics together. Inside we sat merrily watching soundchecks as the assorted musicians arrived – if you ever see a gig you fancy at The Bocabar then I’d thoroughly recommend a visit!
With Nick having the False Alarms along with him (and being bang in the middle of his stomping ground) this was ostensibly a double-headliner show for many of the folk in the room (self included, a Nick full-band show is something I don’t get to see enough off and was probably the tipping point for committing to driving there and back of an evening for me!). After a few technical trickies with the violin they were underway to a full and increasingly warm room – mercifully the aircon unit just above the stage kicked into life not long into the set!
“This is a song called Cock” he announced, and we were swept into the energetic fiddle driven odyssey of Comfort or Convenience – of course, C.O.C (as Ella just pointed out to me) – he apologised in advance for putting new songs into the set, clearly that wasn’t going to be an issue. I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the (less than few people I thought, haha!) who’s had a sneaky peak of his soon to be released new album (watch this space for a review, or read this one in the meantime – I promise you it’s awesome).
However, it was Never Been to Dublin that was up next which the majority of the room were content to sing along to quite vociferously, many the verses and chorus alike, less initiated soon picking up the chorus at least. Nick had recruited Ella for backing vocals for a couple of tracks (he’d wanted me to bring my cajón up on stage too for a song, which felt patently ridiculous in a full band setting so I bottled it, haha!) – but one of Ella’s songs was up next – Make Yourself at Home is the opener for the forthcoming album Besta Venya (which you can pre-order, by the way).
Initially the levels for Ella’s mic were a little on the low side but eventually it seemed to be resolved and sounded great. Nick and the False Alarms hadn’t played together in a while, he’d explained between songs, but it really didn’t show to me. They have great energy and exude enjoyment in what they are doing, and I seriously think if you set up a triple-bill of The Leylines, Nick Parker & The False Alarms and Blackballed you’d definitely have the three happiest-looking drummers in the world on back to back! It’s really infectious when bands have that much energy on stage.
Down With the Yoof was next, again on the new album – a lament written from the viewpoint of Nick’s embarrassed son, it rarely ceases to raise a smile! Back to older territory Could We at Least Try was introduced by asking the audience if they’d ever dated someone who turned out to be a lady (or gentleman) of the night (!) – I think that there might’ve been an admission from front right of the stage, but hard to be sure! It’s a foot-tappy song that sounds fun despite the really quite heart-rending tale it recounts.
Nick had another special guest to introduce for the next song, Lorna from Fly Yeti Fly joined him for the lovely duet of I Guess I’ll Never Know, a song from the new album drenched in sentimentality and regret and being too cowardly to pursue an opportunity on a train, it’s a lovely song and Lorna did a great job on providing the other vocals (despite protesting she’d forgotten the words after – and don’t think she had!). They pulled a proper surprise out the bag next, the last gig they’d played had been a wedding and apparently this was “the only song we enjoyed playing” at it.
As it kicked in I found myself thinking “It can’t be that, can it?” – but it was indeed a lusty cover-version of Pulp’s seminal classic Common People – thrusting me right back in time to being an awkward seventeen year old forced to make a dreadful karaoke performance of said song when I was convinced it wouldn’t have been available being so new. Ah, memories. Nick and the band certainly did the song a lot more justice than I did back in the day!
Ella was invited on stage again to provide backing vocals for More Like This, a song on the new album delicately but decisively documents the lament of the songwriter who is constantly bombarded with suggestions of things to write songs about. Conversely, he’s actually come up with a pretty damn good song as a result of those suggestions, so there’s a paradox in there somewhere. Four of us volunteered to hold placards for Es Tut Mir Leid, also on the new album – and responsible for about 50% of my German vocabulary!
Crowd favourite Terry and June was next, which I think I was supposed to accompany with what would’ve been a strangely quiet and superfluous cajón, it’s such a lovely song. It was an ‘in off the brown’ night again, brown definitely seems to be winning over pink in recent renditions I’ve seen! With time ticking away they had time to finish up Metaphor which certainly had the crowd dancing and singing along – and a rousing and rapturous applause to finish the set. It really was very good indeed, and with The Leylines to follow – what a great deal for a fiver, even if it involved a bit of travel!
The Leylines hit the stage and got themselves sorted – launching into instrumental Stone Circle to get the already pretty well-warmed-up crowd further heated. I’d got my eye on a seat on the settee by the stage so after grabbing a few photos from the melee I retreated to take in the rest of the show in comfort! Stone Circle now melds seamlessly into You’ve Changed – whilst generally I prefer to be in and amongst it at a live gig, it is nice to watch from a different angle sometimes, from our vantage point we could watch the crowd and the band – it was fun, even if borne of being mindful of having a long drive later!
Sorry My Friends was next which seemingly 90% of the crowd new the words to and were ready for as soon as Hannah’s lifting fiddle intro kicked in. Next was a new song, In Your Shadow which slowed the pace, quite a poignant and moving song – as I noted before, it’s definitely a Leylines song, but it marks some of the development they’ve made in building their sound too – bodes very well for their new album. From my vantage point I was particularly impressed with Dave’s two-drum-sticks-in-one-hand technique to better aid his transition from quieter to louder bit as he swapped out a softer beater for his regular drumsticks. Something he does for a few songs!
Let it Go was next and again – it seemed the majority of the room were singing the song back to Steve – we were largely listening to the monitor mix rather than the front-of-house mix but at times the crowd cut through that like it wasn’t there, giving us a taste of what it must be like for a band having their songs sung back at them – awesome stuff. The quieter Save Your Soul was next, I recorded that to send to Addie this morning but it makes sense to include the video here – again, bear in mind from our vantage point that you’re probably listening to a sub-optimal sound mix from a crowd perspective.
Standing by the Waterside was up next – another new-but-feels-less-new-every-listen number, lots of harmonising, lots of energy – definitely a keeper in my mind! I still think that My Own Worst Enemy might be my favourite song by The Leylines, powerful acknowledgement of our emotional frailties at times and facing up to them. Long Way From Home felt very apt given the miles Ella in particular had put in to get to the gig, and again doesn’t really feel like a new song any more! Matt had some kind of guitar mishap and needed to swap part way through – it might have been this point when he knocked his mic stand over too, ha!
We were treated to another new one in Fly Away – clearly the second album is going to have to go some to top the first, but they are certainly on the right track. They invited Nick up on stage to join them on mandolin, and once they’d got the sound working kicked off with Things I Know, and then it was time for Hannah’s Song (something she’s had ‘kicking around’ for a couple of years, and still doesn’t have a name – Ella suggested something that sounded good on the drive home, Secret Inner Energy – so maybe that could be it?).
The headroom and lack of former-serving friends in the venue meant Queen and Country didn’t have any shoulder-shenanigans (plus I was still comfy on the sofa!), so I compromised and Facebook-lived it to Dave and Andy instead, ha! Ella was back on stage again for her customary backing vocals for Run For Cover, aumsingly her bum-wiggling dance-off with Hannah probably being the focus of the video Sue was recording from our vantage point, bwah ha ha! Nick also accompanied on mandolin, and unusually Steve got his timings slightly wrong at one point but recovered quickly.
With no real way to get off stage surrounded on all sides by people the ‘encore’ didn’t involve coming off and on again – and of course, it was anthemic Sat In a Field that finished off the set. Nick remained with mandolin and I don’t think there was a single person in the room who weren’t at least singing along with the chorus at least. By the time the ‘la la’ bits kick in at the end and the audience were invited to do their turn it was pretty damn loud from where I was sitting.
All that really remained for us was to dot around the very quickly-emptied venue to say goodbye to folk before hitting the road – even being caught behind the most cautious lorry in the world on the small roads leading to the M5, a closure and diversion on aforementioned M5 it was a pretty smooth run, we were home in about two and a half hours, so definitely worth what many seemed to think was a ridiculously long trip. I’d say it was easily worth it even if poor planning meant a quick service station diesel top-up.