Thursday, 12 July 2012

6th July 2012: Tinyfish - 12 Bar, Swindon - Celebr8 Warm Up gig

This is not really a review of Tinyfish as such - I think I made my feelings fairly clear here, and I don't need to make their heads any bigger than they already are. Apart from maybe Leon. His head is a bit small. But then, so's the rest of his body, and you wouldn't want a freakishly large head on that body - he'd look even more like a Dolmio puppet.

Come on then, fess up- who moved Swindon? Last time I looked (and frankly, who looks for Swindon that often?), I swear it was about 20 miles West of Heathrow, which might explain why at 6.30 on Friday we're happily getting into the car for a gig which is due to start at 8, blissfully unaware of the transitory pleasures which await us.

The "forgotten craft" now being added to by a dented VW Passat.

Not only have I carelessly misplaced my destination, but the entire road system seems to be conspiring to prevent us from getting there - as if, maybe if we don't turn up, it won't be the penultimate Tinyfish gig after all and we can all carry on pretending they aren't retiring from live shows. Trusting TomTom Traffic works nicely for getting away from the Hampton Court Flower Show but rather less well when it leads us directly into a 4 mile tailback near Reading which I strongly suspect is of its own making. (The TomTom's making, not Reading's. Though you never know.)

Lesser fans than us would have turned round and gone home at this point, especially on discovering that tonight's support act, the Dec Burke band, are stuck in another jam on the M1 and won't be playing, but we're damned if we're going to miss any more Tinyfish than we have to. Eventually we arrive in Swindon, some 3 hours after we set off, but fate isn't finished with us yet, and we end up with a twenty minute walk from the car to the venue, back the way we've just come. Oh, and it being July, it's hammering it down with rain and we don't have an umbrella.

There've been many moments on the road where I've thought about doing a U-turn through the crash barrier and saying 'up yours' to the whole evening, but when we realise that we've taken a wrong turning on foot, and Karin looks at me from under her hood with big sad eyes that say 'This is not OK', it's the lowest point of the evening by far.

And then suddenly, when all seems lost, a vision comes to me, a face which is hard to make out but somewhat resembles Morph with a bumfluff moustache... "Don't be so fucking gay, Hendry", the face says. These are just the words of inspiration I need, so as the vision of Camfield disappears into the night we plough on, morale restored - and eventually we see the welcoming lights of the Swindon 12 Bar, our refuge for the next hour or so.

He likes to hit shit... hard.

The main pub's ominously silent as we enter and I do wonder for a split second whether the entire evening is some kind of practical joke on me (which I wouldn't put past the band or its fans), but eventually I hear the unmistakable sound of arsing about and know that I'm definitely in the right place for a Tinyfish gig.

Our timing is impeccable in fact (well, you know, apart from missing the first 6 songs of the set), as the gap in the proceedings means our entrance is actually announced by the aforementioned drummer, from the stage, to a massive cheer from band and audience alike. Almost makes it all worthwhile. Almost.

It's even more timely in that we're bang on cue for 'Driving All Night', a song about an interminably long and uncomfortable car journey, featuring the line 'The journey's easy, that's what our friends say' - at which I have to bite my lip to avoid shouting 'BOLLOCKS' at the top of my voice. It's almost as if they know. (Oh, yeah, they do, because I've been texting people all the way there trying to get them not to start until we arrive...)

Tonight's gig is a warm-up for their final full band gig at the weekend's Celebr8 festival in Kingston, and as such there's a pretty informal atmosphere (informal for Tinyfish, that's saying something) - but that's not to say that the band aren't playing well, far from it. The quality of their playing gets better with every gig, as they get tighter as a live band and do way more justice to Simon and Rob's songwriting than their albums ever could.

We've missed big chunks of the 'Big Red Spark' album - never mind, we will hear them on Sunday - but we are in time for one of the key tracks from the debut album, and perhaps tonight's song most improved by Leon and Paul's live rhythm section, 'Nine Months on Fire'. It's not the longest song tonight, but it is one of the most progressive, with some interesting stop/start rhythms and crunchy guitar riffery from the honorary Swede in the hockey jersey stage right.

We're also there for some prime banter when Leon, in typical uncouth fashion, starts berating a hapless fan in the crowd for having had the temerity to present him with a lovely personalised jigsaw of his favourite artist before the gig. No pleasing some people.

We also get from Simon the story of 'Ginger' (aka 'The June Jar'), for the very last time, beginning with the phrase "There used to be this really lovely venue called The Peel..." (a tad harsh, but I get the point...)

But the best of the evening is still to come. Rob in his scientist outfit delivers a suitably menacing 'Pagodas' monologue, before the band as a whole come together to deliver the finest rendition yet of 'Wide Awake at Midnight', the optimistic climax of the 'Big Red Spark' album, during which I start to consider that there will be a point very soon where I won't be witnessing any more live Tinyfish, and I get a little bit tearful. (Obviously I pretend that I've caught my scrotum in my zip on the way back from the loo so my man cred points are unaffected.)

They finish up with 'Motorville', announced by Simon as 'The first song we ever played live' (and destined to be the last on Sunday), featuring Rob as a Blues Brothers impersonator and a cracking vocal workout from Mr Godfrey himself - and then they're off. "Sorry, we really haven't got anything more to play..." says Simon, to which I respond that maybe they might like to play the first five songs again since we missed them, something which seems popular with the audience but less so the band.

Although, hang on a minute, what's this...? They're back, and Simon announces that they're going to give something a try even though it's completely unrehearsed (will we notice the difference, an unkind heckler might opine?) and they'd said 18 months ago they'd played it for the last time - to which Notebook in the front row asks if he can have his money back from the last last time?

Can it be? Yes, it's 'All Hands Lost', the closing epic from their debut album and longtime fan favourite. They aren't lying about it being unrehearsed, as they're feeling their way through some parts but for the most part it's spot on and immediately makes the crusade to Swindon worth all the effort. There's a lump-in-throat moment as Rob's narrator asks, all too appropriately, 'Would this be the last time the 5 of us were together?', and the whole evening comes to a rousing close with a massed singalong of the chorus.

(I say it comes to a close there, there's actually an even more unplanned encore of 'I'm Not Crashing' for the second time tonight, as forcefully requested by someone at the back of the room- presumably the person that's going to withhold their fee if they don't follow his every command. But 'All Hands Lost' is a much better ending, so let's pretend.)

Afterwards, there's the usual chance to chat with friends and band members about various things, for instance we learn from Simon that the gig at Celebr8 will be a far more professional and serious affair, so in some ways this is the last 'proper' Tinyfish gig. (At this point, I insert a retrospective guffaw knowing what is to come on Sunday...) I even get the first of the rock and roll perks I will receive from hanging out with bands over the coming weekend, by stealing a bottle of water from the band's rider. 

But soon enough, barely 90 minutes after we arrive, it's time to head off into the night, our cargo of merch boy Tim 'Mouse' Lawrie safely aboard - but we're all starving so I use the best iPhone app ever invented to find and direct us to the nearest open McDonalds. It is thus that we come to be sitting on a retail park on the outskirts of Swindon eating Big Macs whilst chavs in a yellow Punto rev up fumes from their Chunnel-sized exhaust and do handbrake turns around the car park to impress the local ladies.

Suitably full of grease and congealed dog, we pull out of the car park and are barely 90 seconds down the road when we come across said Punto, diagonally across the street in amongst a sea of traffic cones, with its front caved in; various confused looking wideboys standing and pointing at the damage. I slow down for us all to get a good look at this wonderful sight and marvel in the swift dispensation of justice, before stepping on the gas (diesel) to speed us towards Kingston.

For tomorrow, we have a date with the mighty Twang.

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