Saturday, 23 March 2013

2nd March 2013: "Twats in Hats" - Paul's House, Eastleigh

Well then. A couple of weeks ago, I moaned about standing up for 45 minutes crushed in amongst young cool people. This week, I get a 2 hour set delivered to me in the comfort of someone else's living room - I should really complain more often.

The phrase 'House Concert' conjures up all kinds of things - from washed up old has-beens who can no longer get a gig anywhere larger than a nursing home, to your annoying mate who insists on bringing his guitar around every time you have a party and singing everyone a couple of tunes, despite all evidence pointing to him being the musical equivalent of herpes (not that I have any friends like that, honest.)

However, this evening's entertainment falls into neither category (my lawyer told me to say) - no, the two gentlemen who occasionally go under the moniker of "Twats in Hats" are actual proper musicians, making a living out of it and everything. Not that that's any guarantee of quality, but trust me, these guys are serious. Number 1 singles written, BBC Radio jingle packages created, production of actual real pop and rock singles with a ton of Radio 1 airplay in this century. (We'll gloss over the prog). And yet, Jem Godfrey and John Mitchell can pretty much walk down the street unmolested (although I'm sure they'd like to be molested occasionally if the right offer came along) - which is how, perhaps, they come to feel like doing this evening's gig for a bit of fun: an evening of pissing about in someone's living room playing a selection of their songs, and some other people's songs they happen to like. "And some of each other's songs we hate", says John Mitchell right at the start, setting the tone for proceedings right from the off.

But let's backtrack a little, since my last gig blog completely skipped the traditional "getting to the gig and making fun of my companions" part. Karin and I are accompanied this evening by our friend John (known to Internet dwellers as Racing Hippo), who makes up for crashing at ours all weekend by bringing bottles of liquids with various percentages on them, and a selection of extremely nerdy board games- all of which pass Friday night and most of Saturday quite nicely, soundtracked by "Best Prog Albums of the Year So Far, Yeah I Know There's Only Been 8 Weeks of It", English Electric (pt.2) and The Raven That Refused to Sing.

Arriving in leafy Hampshire, we park up as instructed at the local Tesco (maximum of 16 Easter Eggs per person, folks- hurry!) and make our way round to Paul's house. I say this as if Paul's my best mate but in truth we've never met, a situation which is fairly common among tonight's attendees. Never mind: giant party round Paul's, everyone - it's the one with the party balloons outside and the uncensored "TWATS IN HATS" sign in the front porch.

Actually, let's take a moment to ponder this ridiculous act of bravery. Inviting 40 total strangers into my house would send my fake OCD into absolute overdrive. What if someone didn't take their shoes off? What if they broke something? What if they TOUCHED ONE OF MY CDs?

Luckily (for everyone), Paul is not me, besides which he neatly sidesteps the issue of stuff getting broken by a) not having much stuff in the first place and b) removing everything he does have from the gig blast zone and placing it upstairs, with Nellie's Merch Desk blocking any access to potential stuff-breakers. But then there's the problem of where 40 people are going to sit/stand once you've got them and the musicians into your place. In the case of Paul's house, all soon becomes clear.

Approaching the front door, every single person here tonight (musicians included) thinks "This can't be the right place..." - we're in a cul-de-sac, staring at the outside of the drabbest, 60's-built, two-up, two-down house you can imagine and trying to figure out just how mental and potentially dangerous tonight's host might turn out to be. However, once Paul's let us in, turned out not to be a psychopath, and handed us our name badges for the evening, my eye is inescapably drawn to what is quite simply the best architectural trick this side of the TARDIS.

Put simply, the whole of the downstairs has been turned into some kind of bachelor-pad, party-cum-gig space; open-plan taken to its most awesome conclusion. We step straight into the kitchen, but instead of its back wall, there's a kind of viewing gallery from which attendees get the royal box view over the sunken extension on the back of the house. It's perfect for just such an occasion as this - steps on each side lead down to the gig space/dancefloor, which comfortably sits 20 or so people on chairs without anyone having to sit under the keyboards. Instead of the garage, there's a side room with sausage rolls and pizza. Instead of copies of Viz to read in the loo, there are photo frame montages of gig tickets (Adam Ant, It Bites of course, Electronic at Wembley Arena; um, Cher Lloyd...) There's even a giant game of vertical Twister painted onto the wall behind the performers. Paul immediately becomes the coolest person in the world just by opening the front door.

We're quite early; early enough, in fact, that nobody has been rude enough to take the best seat in the house - a very comfy sofa perched on the edge of the raised kitchen floor, from where the discerning music fan can overlook the musicians and demand they entertain like court jesters. We make a beeline straight for it and perch ourselves like Waldorf and Statler; in fact there are even genuine muppet fur cushions for us to rest our tired feet on. Sod the Albert Hall, this is how I want to experience every gig from now on.

Entertain me, peasants.
(Photo: Sarah Ashley)

With an entire rehearsal having been announced on Twitter, (that's at least half a rehearsal more than the last time), expectations are high as our host takes the microphone to announce the band - who then fail to appear. Is this an elaborate hoax? No, they're just trying to get down the stairs past Nellie, which they soon do before taking their places and donning bowler hats ("These are really painful," says John, explaining why they very quickly become "Twats Without Hats".)

Tonight, they explain, is not just "Twats in Hats", no it's "Twats in Hats 2: The Quest for the Perfect Ending", an amusing concept based around their inability to find good ways to end most of the songs, so we're treated to all kinds of bizarre endings to tonight's acoustic performances, ranging from very expensive-sounding but completely inappropriate chords, to the Captain Pugwash theme, to an extremely evil chord which rounds off 'Still Too Young To Remember', the only It Bites song this evening to date from before John Mitchell's reign.

One miiiiiillion chords...

If I don't write too much about the gig itself, it's because it's basically a longer and better rehearsed version of their support slot at last year's Frost* AGM - acoustic versions of their own songs, some covers (including the infamous Phil Mitchell-esque version of 'Don't You Want Me', which they seem to be worried has eclipsed their entire songwriting output in popularity), and lots of arseing around.

Also, they've asked for no recordings of tonight's gig to end up on YouTube, so as to keep it special for those who attend, so I feel like a blow-by-blow transcript of every song, joke, and piss-take might be even more unflattering - however, I will say this: these are some seriously funny guys. From their impromptu rendition of the Postman Pat theme song to the moment where Jem runs out to the car to get his phone so that we can all call Frost* drummer and all-round good egg Craig Blundell to tell him we love him (spoiler- he's at a celeb-studded gala dinner for the Prince's Trust and doesn't pick up), there's more chance of Paul's neighbours complaining about the cacophonous laughter than any rock and/or roll.

But that's not to say that this evening isn't about top quality music- far from it. I've been to plenty of acoustic gigs in small venues before now but there's something so amazingly special about having two such talented musicians within poking distance; singing and playing just for us lucky few. It's so affecting, I "get something in my eye" while John Mitchell sings Peter Gabriel's 'Here Comes the Flood' in his most chill-inducing gravelly voice, and then again during their rendition of Seal's 'Violet' (for which, funnily enough, the same vocal tone works surprisingly well, but then I have always said Seal was the black Peter Gabriel.)

Photo: Sarah Ashley

But it's their own songs which are the reason we're here tonight - John's songs from Kino, The Urbane and It Bites, like the weird and wonderful 'Send No Flowers' (which seems to change key every other bar and causes Jem serious confusion on the keyboards), and Jem's songs from Frost*, including Sega-Prog freakout 'Black Light Machine' reinvented as an acoustic ballad with an almost Middle-Eastern flavour, and even a brand new Frost* song - a fabulous soft acoustic number in 6/8 which makes me very excited about the next album. In fact, we even get to hear approximately 12 seconds of the album itself, as Jem plays us odd chords from his laptop whenever he feels like it, like the giant tease that he is.

The evening goes by in a flash, and it's not long before they're asking what the time is - to which the answer is ten past.

"Ten past what?"

"Ten past life...", says Mr Hippo to my left, who's becoming very philosophical the more beer he consumes.

With everyone in suitably pensive and deep mood, there's just time for a few more songs - the wonderful 'Letting Go' and 'Falling Down' (sadly no sign of 'Signing Out', 'Casting Off' or 'Lobbing On') - followed by Jem/John live staple 'Losers' Day Parade' from the one and only Kino album, which prompts the night's biggest audience singalong and is the most certain candidate all night for getting Paul evicted.

Photo: Sarah Ashley

Or, it is until the encore, which none of us foresee but makes perfect sense - a giant singalong of Madness' 'Our House'. A perfectly lighthearted and irreverent end to a wonderful night of music.

With the music over, Paul announces that the party is beginning, so everyone makes way for John and Jem to clear their equipment away and goes for a bit of a mingle. Actually, this was the part of the evening that I was most worried wouldn't work - the temptation being to treat the evening as just another gig and for everyone to bugger off home as soon as the entertainment is over. But the very few people who do so miss a cracking few hours at one of the best house parties I've ever been to - some of us brave the sub-zero temperatures of the garden to marvel at how the funky decor continues down to the woods at the bottom of the slope, others stand about chatting to fellow nerds about what the best Genesis album is.

Jem and John even hang about to sign things, chat, and partake of the odd sausage roll. Oh, and get their photos taken with some of the local weirdos.

"No, I don't want to play Twister, sod off..."

I think the non-musical highlight of my night, however, is wandering into the kitchen to find John Mitchell in the process of asking a genuine astrophysicist what he thinks about Brian Cox, the answer to which I feel might be even less appropriate to share than the band's jokes. It's certainly more entertaining than the moment at which a well-meaning fellow blogger decides to embarrassingly introduce me to a member of Big Big Train who's in attendance. Obviously it's not me-old-mucker Greg, (who would no doubt have greeted me as a long-lost brother) - but, luckily the poor chap is extremely kind if slightly bemused and chats graciously before being mercifully called away to do something much more important.

As the attendees start to thin out, and once the band have departed, I collar Paul and congratulate him on a fantastic evening. He tells me how meeting his hero Francis Dunnery at one of these house gigs years ago led him to set himself the goal of having the great (if slightly crazy) man at his own place, and from there to create this wonderful space in his house for friends and fellow music fans to enjoy evenings such as tonight. I have a similar epiphany this evening and wonder idly about getting Peter Gabriel (or Seal, I'm not fussy) along to play my 40th birthday party, but decide that Karin might not let me demolish half the ground floor of the theoretical house we might own by then, so put it to one side for the moment.

The band's parting words...

As if Paul weren't enough of a legend, his party playlist for the evening contains both Metronomy and M83 amongst other excellent music new and old, and I get to chat to him about some of the amazing gigs he's attended (I carefully don't mention Cher Lloyd.) However, at some point I judge that he might just be ready to have his house back, so I gather up my party, including Merch diva Nellie who we're giving a lift back to the "Lodge of Doom", and we make our way back to Tesco and thence homewards. Sadly Tesco is closed - not a solitary Easter egg for anyone, let alone 16.

Dropping Nellie off in Eastleigh town centre, there's an altercation going on outside the Travelodge. A 20-something year old man is getting up in the face of a distraught 30-something year old woman and shouting the odds - we don't hear much but stop and wait to make sure Nellie makes it in safely without getting involved. As we pull away, we can just make out the belligerent chap's immortal words: "I've just had enough, mum! I can't take it! MUM!"

And I thought Hampshire was posh.


Twats in Hats Setlist:

The Tall Ships (It Bites)
Feels Like Somebody Loves You (Nik Kershaw)
Black Light Machine (Frost*)
Ordinary World (Duran Duran)
Man in the Photograph (It Bites)
Still Too Young to Remember (It Bites)
Here Comes the Flood (Peter Gabriel)
Perfect Tense (Kino)
Send No Flowers (It Bites)
Snowman (Frost*)
Don't Say (The Urbane)
Brand new Frost* song (??)
Don't You Want Me? (The Human League)

The Forget You Song (Frost*)
Violet (Seal)
Letting Go (Kino)
Falling Down (Frost*)
Losers' Day Parade (Kino)
Our House (Madness)


  1. Great review of a great evening James. Good to see you and Karin again. The new Frost* song is called Lantern - or so Jem told me afterwards.

  2. Nice write-up, thanks for that. Huge thanks also to Paul, what a hero. :o) I have a better picture of the wall signatures if you'd like it?

  3. Thanks guys! And Pedro, I just took you up on that...

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