It is Independent Venue Week. Back for its third consecutive year, this initiative aims to celebrate and promote the continuing existence of all of those small venues that provide the very bedrock of live music in this country.
Dotted across the length and breadth of the UK, there are 120 named venues that make up Independent Venue Week in 2016. One of them is the Fulford Arms public house in York. It rightly prides itself as being much more than just a pub and working extensively with local promoters such as Please Please You it puts on all manner of gigs all year round.
Staying true to one of the fundamental tenets of Independent Venue Week – giving local, non-established musicians the opportunity to perform in a live setting – the first act on stage tonight is Missing Kids. One of the stalwarts of the thriving York music scene, the duo describe their music as “shoddy guitar pop”. On tonight’s evidence alone the last part of this statement is undoubtedly true. But even allowing for any inherent sense of self-effacement and/or irony, shoddy it is not.
Danny Trew Barton (he of Wolf Solent fame) takes over the drummer’s stool for the evening. He joins the band’s regular guitarist and singer Dave Mudie and together they produce a set that oozes eloquence, charm and no little melancholy. ‘Little Things’ embraces all of those elements placing their sound tonight somewhere between that of Sparklehorse and desolation.
Every once in a while something leaps up off of the stage and makes you stand to wide-eyed attention. Tonight frog manage to do precisely that. frog is a two person band from New York City. Always in lower case except, it seems, on their merchandise T-shirts, they comprise guitarist, singer and frontman Dan Bateman and drummer Tom White.
Forging luscious off-kilter pop with electrified country and a just a little hint of jazz – their debut album, after all, is called Kind of Blah – they bring together the spirits of Jonathan Richman, Hank Williams and Miles Davis into what is a rather exhilarating holy trinity of sound. ‘Knocking on the Door’ from that very record is possibly what George Jones would sound like that if he were still pointing that lawnmower in the general direction of the nearest town. And ‘Arkansas’ is a living, breathing slice of unkempt joy. Whatever you do, catch them in the UK whilst you still can.
And to round off what is fast becoming a rather wonderful start to Independent Venue Week here in York is an obtuse, complex but never anything less than riveting performance by The Drink. The London-based trio somehow manage to capture the unorthodox, an often staggering intricacy and the totally unexpected in the cross-hairs of their songs. The end product – drawn from their two albums, Company and Capital – then emerges as a strangely compelling hybrid of indie, traditional folk and an almost progressive operatic sound in which Dearbhla Minogue’s falsetto voice and astonishing guitar work are key.
Small venues like the Fulford Arms are the very lifeblood of the live music industry in this country. Many similar establishments are being placed at risk through a combination of reasons that range from inflated business rates and threats from residential developers to low turnouts. It therefore becomes even more important that we all continue to turn out in numbers to support our local independent music venues and enjoy nights like this.
Photo credit: Simon Godley