A Night of Scouse Folk
, Percy Street
23rd July 2010
The first gig I’ve ever attended where the audience are seated
in church pews and have been actively encouraged to bring their own booze,
tonight St. Bride’s plays host to an eclectic night of scouse folk.
Singer-songwriter Steve Pilgrim, Southport band Misery Guts, and the debut
of Candie Payne’s new group The Big House comprise the bill.
The service begins shortly after nine as Liverpudlian chanteuse Candie
Payne takes to the stage. In line with the current fashion for ‘Man-with-a-guitar-plus-girl-singer’
(think Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward),
The Big House have the same laid-back air to their tracks, albeit with
a hint of the churning emotions that lie beneath.
With Candie’s bewitching voice well to the fore, the duo also tap
into the same honeyed vocals and sweet guitar accompaniment minted by
the likes of Belly and Mazzy Star in the early nineties. Making the most
of the venue’s acoustics, the acoustic guitar and two voices ring
out crystal clear, as even in their embryonic state the songs sound complete.
‘Pebble Lane’ skips along on a finger-picked refrain and Crosby
Stills and Nash harmonies. The similarity to CSY continues as the announcement
they made at their debut performance at Woodstock - “We’re
shitting ourselves” - is repeated here, as this is revealed to be
the group’s first gig.
Judging by the quality of the songs and the performance however, you
would never know. The church provides a low-key setting for the group’s
debut, considering Candie’s past success working with Mark Ronson
and appearing on Later With Jools Holland.
The sixties atmosphere of Candie’s debut album ‘I Should
Have Loved You More’ - influenced by the likes of Julie London,
and Dusty Springfield - has largely been traded-in for soaring country-inflected
vocals which sound reminiscent of Bobbie Gentry at points. A cover of
the Gene Clark track ‘Here Without You’ pays homage to the
most under-rated member of The Byrds and highlights a treasured influence
as many of the tracks revolve around Byrdsain arpeggios and finger-picking.
Another stand-out track, ‘Counting Thunder’ follows the duo’s
explanation that they are going to expand into a full group with drums
and electric guitars. If their next incarnation proves to be as captivating
as their present one, the results will be little short of outstanding.
Next to the pulpit is singer-songwriter Steve Pilgrim, currently serving
as Paul Weller’s drummer, replacing mainstay Steve White after some
twenty years. His own material, performed on acoustic guitar ranges from
upbeat and optimistic to snarling and angry. His keening voice clearly
enunciates the lyrics, his music the bitter, more Dylan-influenced side
of folk music than The Big House’s sweetness.
Reminiscent of Nick Drake’s haunting compositions, the plaintive
‘Explode the Sun’, is a highpoint of the set, a simple mournful
ballad based around spare acoustic strumming. Having worked with many
of Liverpool’s music alumni - including Howie Payne’s The
Stands, John Power, and recording his debut album in Noel Gallagher’s
studio - his musical resume is highly impressive.
‘Post-Thatcher Consumer Market Blues’ (the title alone enough
to raise a cheer) is another highpoint, an embittered composition that
revolves around the chorus, ‘It’s time to wake up/It’s
time to switch off.’ The newer material aired tonight shares much
of the same air as Pilgrim surveys the changing political landscape.
Tonight’s headliners Misery Guts suffer from their sound being
slightly jumbled by the ecclesiastic acoustics, as the drums reverberate
off the hallowed walls. The only act on the bill to feature a rhythm section,
the initial sound confusion is ironed out as the band’s delicate
acoustic guitars are emphasised in the mix.
The new tracks that are debuted maintain the quality of the ‘More
Human than Human’ EP, one cut introduced as ‘a song about
Spartacus’ sidling along in Morricone Spaghetti Western mode, supplemented
by delicate xylophone.
Now a firm favourite in the set, ‘I No U No’ rings out clearly,
as does the impressively bleak ‘The World Turns’. Finishing
on the strike of eleven, with the church in almost complete darkness bar
the stage lighting, the venue is one of the most evocative in Liverpool.