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OOTB 313 – 11 Sep 2008

Well, playing a little bit of catch-up here. There’s so many people
signing up to the mailing list, you see, it’s taken us two weeks just to
type their email addresses!

Anyway, enjoy Johnny Pugh’s review:

OOTB No 313

Jim White, Francis Hayes, Sophie, Ross Nielson, Bill, Ben Young, Yogi, Calum Carlyle, Alan, Kevin O’ Neil, Rob Sproul-Cran, Nyk Stoddart, Pip Robinson

Jim White Our compere kicks off the night, with ‘I Found Love’. The rhythmic strumming, and ‘ba-ba-ba-ba’s in the chorus lend the song a happy-go-lucky feel, a motif which serves to highlight the change in mood of the lyrics as the song progresses. Having ‘lived on chocolate and red wine’ previously (oh the decadence), the song finishes with a break-up, as Jim sings ‘I set my love free’. A poignant start to the night. Also, massive respect has to be given to Jim as he manages to fit the word ‘polystyrene’ into a song.

Francis Hayes Francis begins with ‘All about You’, a song about following dreams and the consequences that it can bring. Triumphant strumming is coupled with the power of Francis controlled vocal, questioning ‘Are we so blind?’. Its an honest song, tinged with frustration, but also hope, as Francis surmises ‘Its all to do with fear’. Following this, we are treated to the recently penned ‘Skinless Wonders’, which explores the way in which different people can have such contrasting experiences of life. The structured verses each give a different perspective, over anguished minor chords. This one seems slightly pessimistic, particularly with the memorable line ‘I lose so much each time I try to give a little more’. I believe Francis’ final song was called ‘Mocking Time’. Here the strength of the vocal gives the song a prophetic air, slandering those ‘waiting for salvation’, both in the lower and higher ranges. Really enjoyed this last one, again some great lyrics, ( Is it hatred if its you that turns the knife). Another, varied and thought provoking set from this versatile songwriter.

Sophie In what must have been one of the most confident and memorable debuts at OOTB, the audience were treated to some wonderfully unique song writing and skilled musicianship, with Sophie. ‘Over the pavement’ is an observational piece, with the gently picked nylon string guitar evoking a ‘lullaby-esque’ feel to the repeated words at various points in the song. What is more there is a whistling interlude…marvelous. This sounds like one of those kooky acoustic songs that adverts seem to use at the moment. ‘Facing Your Demons’ allows Sophie to showcase her vocal dexterity, using her voice almost like a classical instrument. The lyrics are enticing and poetic, putting me in mind of a female and happy version of Leonard Cohen. Not sure he would have put ‘snickety-snack’ in his lyrics, but mores the pity for Leonard Cohen. Another really enjoyable piece. Didn’t catch the name of her last, but it was my favourite of the set. Here, the song writing was really natural , as she sings of insensibly rejecting love: ‘if there were any sense in my heart, I would feel for you as you feel for me’. Again the sharp stabbing vocal sounds like an instrument line. A really enjoyable set which had the audience hanging on every note. What’s more she has only been writing songs for a year, so we can expect even more from this talented and unique artist. Hopefully we will get to hear the fruits of this at OOTB again soon.

Ross Nielson starts with the angry ‘If I can find my change of heart’, a particular favourite of mine from his repertoire. The lyrics explore inner demons taking control, (‘have you ever felt the darkness slip inside your soul?’), and the pain that the snarling vocal expresses sounds completely genuine. His second was ‘Playing Games’, which is about the mind games which love can engage people in, especially when it is unrequited. First Ross maintains that ‘Nobody knows her quite like me’, before denouncing ‘Yeah she burns tonight’. The occasional spoken words have real attitude and add variety to the acoustic rock sound. His last has a different, modal feel given the Fmajor – Dmajor chord progression, which underpins the sustained vocal. Again the lyrics are angry, but in this case slightly more general; ‘With the smell of success you shot your God’, is a disturbing line delivered wonderfully by Ross’ gritty vocal. Ross has a CD coming out soon I believe, so watch this space!

Bill Bill takes to stage to treat us to some performance poetry. His first is a thought provoking exploration of the subjective nature of time and its restrictions. These philosophical meanderings were paired with some rendering descriptions of the problems time can bring, or not heal, which give the piece a great deal of pathos. His second I can only guess is called ‘intermission’, and includes some good old fashioned audience participation. This poem discusses the trials and tribulations of being a performance poet on a music scene, and there is an anger when Bill claims that the real performances are actually occurring in the conversations during the intermission. Bill’s poetry is rooted in real life, and is relatable yet challenging.

Ben Young The good news…tonight is Ben’s CD launch! (cue loud cheers). The absolutely devastating news… This is Ben’s final OOTB before he leaves us all for Turkey, (cue moans of despair, and outrage…a few people faint). Unfortunately, tonight will be the last time we get to hear Ben play the Canon’s Gait for a long, long time. Good thing that he treated us to a magical featured slot tonight, as well as free CDs by way of a farewell. In order to establish where he lies in the guitarist pecking order, Ben’s first song exhibits some mind boggling guitar work, including finger picking bended strings and some great inter – chord licks. The lyrics demand that ‘I must eat before I go’…an admirable sentiment. Next we hear ‘Drown’ following some horrendous drunken heckling, which Ben seems particularly adept at dispatching with aplomb. Anyway, returning far more importantly to the music: the song begins with one of those wonderful blues licks that would make anyone want to pick up a guitar and start playing blues, before reverting to some syncopated finger picking to provide a basis for the vocal. Ben’s lyrics tell a story, as he is told ‘that you can’t fix what you’ve done with more words’, while he asks ‘hold me down…until I drown’. ‘Bottle Bottom Specs’ has an almost Kinks like quality to some of the lyrics, with its witty observances: ‘I never change my mind as well you know’ captures the tension that can occur between couples in a whimsical but heartfelt manner. This attitude in fact sums up the song nicely. Again the guitar is complex, but not to the extent that it focuses the listener’s attention away from the excellent lyrics. ‘Leicester Forest East’ is a song about the eponymous service station. This song I think can be taken at face value, in that Ben’s musicianship makes even the banal wonderfully entertaining. On the other hand the lyrics are ambiguous, and could be taken as metaphorical (he writes novels don’t you know). ‘I should have done this so long ago/ What does it say about me?’, could be about leaving any place or even relationships. What really impresses about Ben’s music here is its adventurous nature. While many proficient guitarists are content to play the basics as quickly as possible, Ben’s chord voicing and progressions are both original and engaging. Quality stuff. Next up is ‘Battle of the Bands’, one of my favourites. The guitar work is dark, mirroring the bitter resentment of the lyrics. Again the narrative lyrics are peppered with other ideas and challenging observations: ‘And now a girl band sings of sisterhood/ as her sisters turn away’. Like Dylan, Ben is skilled at creating pictures of his story in the listeners mind. The chorus slams the bands who sing ‘with nothing to say’. ‘Lost in Englandland’ is a nostalgic tale about the place ‘where we first fell in love’ where Ben sings high at the top of his voice. It seems to be a happy memory, tinged with a sadness that those days have passed. The music is almost jig-like, using quick runs between the chords, and octaves which make the guitar sound almost like a 12 string. Ben’s last is a fantastic, sophisticated blues number lamenting that ‘My Baby don’t like my Music’. Clearly his baby is either an idiot or deaf. Again, this gives Ben license to roam freely on the fretboard. A really polished set, and as one member of the audience stated, ‘Wherever he’s going, it’s our loss, and somewhere else’s gain’. Thanks a lot Ben, and the best of luck with whatever you end up doing.

Yogi Next we have Yogi giving a quick squashee slot, with ‘Can’t go on this way’. The quick changing palm muted chords sound urgent and foreboding, as Yogi sings ‘I can’t believe that I didn’t see it’. This is song of desperation and a convincing performance is given, the words seemingly wrenched from within.

Calum Carlyle Tonight Calum plays us a song from all the way back in 1993, called ‘Computer’, a poignant assessment of societal placement. ‘I want to kill myself, I don’t want to play computer anymore’, grieves Calum, over his trademark intricate guitar work. The song is moving, and troubled, describing the frustration of trying to find a ‘shoe’ that fits you in society, (in a purely metaphorical sense). If we thought 1993 was a while back, Calum now takes us back to a few hundred or so years BC, singing a Torah inspired song in Hebrew…as you do. The minor key chord progression gives an Arabic feel to the song which I can only guess is probably well suited to the lyrics. Whatever the case, Calum adapts his voice to this style of music well. I think his next challenge should be a little number adapted from the Qur’an…just an idea. Back to the 90’s next with ‘Don’t Go Away’. This one is slower, with gently strummed chords, which echo the sentiments of Calum’s belief in the song that he is ‘safe here’, and ‘I want to tell you everything’. This is a million miles away from his first song, and this set has shown great versatility.

Alan Alan begins with a song called ‘A million miles’. However, instead of being a love song, as I expected, Alan bitterly proclaims that the titular distance ‘isn’t far enough away’. It is an astringent song of resentment without remorse, and was all the more refreshing for it. From this, we then hear a song at the other end of the emotional spectrum, as Alan plays us a song written about a friend who passed away called ‘Stay as you Are’. Really heart rendering stuff of raw emotion, as Alan imploringly asks ‘will you pick me up tonight?’, and states ‘I’ll stand with you tonight’. Tear jerking material, especially with a performance as personal, and powerful as this. To finish we are treated to the best song written ever, (according to one of Alan’s friends) ‘Walking in Circles’. This has a commercial feel, with Alan singing ‘How many times have we been here?’, and describing the way in which people fall into the same traps over and over again, sometimes against their will. There is defiance towards the end however, in the line ‘I will not fall into your arms anymore’, the words counteracted by his delicate falsetto. A roller coaster through the emotions tonight from Alan, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that.

Kevin O’ Neil Following Laura’s dramatic win in the raffle (did she win the personal radio, or was this some light handed cheating to avoid winning the binoculars? The investigation continues…) Kevin takes to the stage. Didn’t hear the name of his first, but it had a quirky minor feel to it, which mirrored the philosophical lyrics (‘a mirror inverted absorbing the soul’). The philosophical theme continues into his monism influenced second ‘What is Everything?’. This is a darker, inquisitive number, again with some poetic lyrics over some intelligent chording. Inspired by Bill earlier, Kevin delicately sings that ‘all time is the same’. As one member of the crowd so eloquently stated it was ‘totally great’. To finish, we hear ‘Looking Back’, which sees Kevin depart into more familiar singer/songwriter territory, which he handles equally well. ‘I know this is as good as it will be’ he sings, as the song descends into a sense of powerlessness, and regret. The first time I have seen Kevin play, and on the basis of tonight’s evidence, I certainly hope it will not be the last.

Rob Sproul-Cran The evening is brought to a close by three squashee slots, beginning with Mr Sproul-Cran. Tonight he plays a recently written one, which in spite of hearing a couple of times now, I have no idea of its title. Whatever the name, it is a dark, funereal song of apathy, as Rob whispers over the deep chords ‘Her tears confuse me, I forget she thought she knew me’, and the chorus line ‘Trust in me she should never have done’. The lightly strummed power chords offer a scant backing, allowing Rob to really whisper the words, and create an atmosphere of soullessness, as he continues to purge his conscience throughout the song. Nice one.

Nyk Stoddart Nyk plays an old favourite tonight with ‘Mutant Zombies from planet X’. Not only is this a great crowd pleasing song, but a really enigmatic performance, as Nyk playfully chuckles, or adjusts his specs in the brief silences between lines. The chorus has the bar shaking, with the audience joining in the (all together now) ‘na na na na na na na!!’. Pure psychedelic Stoddart gold, and another great performance. I believe he too has a new CD out and about, so again, watch this space.

Pip Robinson Tonight, there seems to have been real versatility in the performances, and what better way to finish this evening by moving from the tub thumping singalong of Nyk, to a beautifully delicate song from Pip. The fingerpicked arpeggios replicate the subject matter (time) cleverly, and she conveys a sense of inevitability masterfully with lines such as ‘Couldn’t stop it then, and I can’t stop it now’, and ‘She strikes again on everyone and everything’. Amidst this, the song also reflects on loss and missed chances (‘Would we do it all again?’). A great end to a really enjoyable evening from one of my favourite voices at OOTB recently.

Compere: Jim White, Review Jonny Pugh

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