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)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

4th March 2013: Steven Wilson - Royal Festival Hall, London

There's a point in this evening's gig where old Stevie McChuckletrousers warns us to never, ever, ever read your own reviews - which is quite handy, as it means he won't know I just called him Stevie McChuckletrousers. But it raises an interesting point: the object of this evening's rant is an Amazon review calling his lyrics Tolkienesque, but it could just as easily be his reputation for being miserable.

Steven asks us politely on Facebook before the gig not to take
any photos tonight, so you'll have to get what you're given.
Mind you, any old excuse to bring this out again...

I can see why people come to this conclusion - last tour he came on after an hour of drone music, played 2 hours of unremittingly serious heavy rock and then came back on for the encores wearing a gas mask. Still, at least he's always had the songs about serial killers, suicidal religious cults and braindead teenagers to lighten the mood.

Tonight's opening doesn't do much to disabuse anyone of this popular notion, as the album cover backdrop sits moodily on the rear screen and sinister whispers gradually get louder as the room gets darker. But then, the band appear from the wings, start playing what sounds like an outtake from Yes's "Drama" album, and make it clear that things have moved on a little since last time. Yep, 'Luminol' is a pretty clear statement of intent, beginning with the kind of pounding riff and galloping drum pattern that influenced a thousand neo-prog wannabes back in the 80's. It's almost upbeat, with its jazzy flute parts, funky bass solo and, erm, lyrics about "returning to dust". Oh well, 2 out of 3's not bad.

What's more, the band aren't taking things too seriously, either - drummer Marco Minneman grinning from ear to ear for large portions of the set as he knocks out fill after fill, as if to say "Nope, I can't quite believe I'm that good, either!"

In lieu of being allowed to take photos, the part of Marco Minneman
will tonight be performed by Shaggy from Scooby Doo.

Steven wisely decides tonight that we'll be treated to the entirety of the new album - a brave move since it's only been out for a couple of weeks, but that simple announcement gets a cheer bigger than some bands' entire sets - and with good reason. It's funny, there's ample evidence on this blog that I both proclaimed 'Grace for Drowning' to be one of the best albums of recent times, and the accompanying tour the pinnacle of modern rock concertage - and yet, as the band move from 'Luminol' into the gorgeous 'Drive Home', it's immediately obvious that we're on a different plain tonight; as much as it's evident upon first listen that 'The Raven That Refused to Sing' is a significant notch above anything Mr Wilson's put out under his own name thus far.

'Drive Home' is eagerly anticipated by all, if for no other reason than to see how on earth new guitar boy Guthrie Govan manages to pull off "that" solo, live. The solo on the album has divided people right down the middle, with its unusual tone, fluid approach to tuning and, ultimately, more notes than a Tanzanian bank vault. Tonight, it's as moving, and as over the top as the album- only more so, with 2.7 times as many hemidemisemiquavers, and a whole load of rock god attitude as well. I decide Guthrie can stay.

What's more, Steven puts in one of the most natural and confident vocal performances I've heard from him, (especially whilst sitting on a stool wearing trousers so tight I'm not convinced they aren't in fact treggings), and there are some spine-chilling backing vocals from Nick Beggs, who somehow manages to sing 4 part harmony all by himself but we'll just gloss over that...

You have been watching...
Ian Anderson as Guthrie Govan.

'The Pin Drop' has to be got out of the way early in the set, explains Steven, since it wasn't really designed for his own voice, but he does a mighty fine job of it anyway, before moving onto the first old track tonight - 'Postcard', which I raved about last time but this time stands out like a sore thumb amongst the more accomplished new material, with its seemingly half-finished 'doo doo doo' lyrics. It's the first time tonight he's seemed fallible, although the band do a cracking job, especially on the climactic section with pounding drums.

Much better is 'The Holy Drinker', another (whisper it) quite upbeat number, during which bassist Nick Beggs manages to confuse me by picking up his Chapman Stick, and then standing caressing it idly whilst a thumping, slapped-sounding bass part mysteriously appears from the PA. What's this? Backing tapes, surely not our Stevie? A quick tug on my arm, however, from Karin sitting next to me alerts me to the most rare sight of Steven himself with a bass guitar strapped around him, hammering out the low frequency goodness whilst looking like he's having a blast. I can't say I've ever sat there and thought, "Wouldn't it be great if there were TWO bass players on this song?", but now I've seen it done, I've come to the conclusion that it ought to be mandatory - Steven hammering out the steady riff whilst Nick slaps and fingers his stick furiously. (Ooer.)

I know, I know, Nick Beggs doesn't really look like David Bowie in Labyrinth.
He does have an awesome black trench coat type thing, though,and a shock of straight blond hair.
Maybe David Bowie in Labyrinth when he's just stepped out of the shower.

Not only that, but the first few and last few minutes are a wonderful opportunity for the other members of the band to take their turn in the spotlight, notably woodwind legend Theo Travis with his screaming, wailing wind solos and metal sax riffs, and keyboard maestro Adam Holzman - a much more jazzy, solo-happy player than Steven's previous bandmates, and a perfect fit for tonight's material, with its hints of everything from Caravan to Crimson. (Ok, that's not a very wide range is it, but they both begin with 'C' so it sounded good. Look at me, giving away my art - next thing I'll be telling you how I always write things in threes because it's what Cicero taught me to do.)

After 'Deform to Form a Star', the band leave the stage for a bit and they make us watch a curtain again - still at least it's only for 5 minutes this time and not an hour like last year. And it's a pretty effective way to spend their fag break, watching the spooky eyes of 'The Watchmaker' whilst the sound of clocks ping all around the auditorium in Quadraphonic Surround sound. Anyone would think they'd just spent a couple of months with Alan Parsons. And the curtain at the front of the stage stays put even beyond the wife-burying, guitar strumming, "Trespass"-revering of the song in question - as Steven reprises his role as The Collector for 'Index', tonight's most successfully straightforward song, perhaps. Also making a welcome reappearance are the interesting visual effects from last year's tour - Steven casting all kinds of odd shadows on the curtain as he's lit from behind by different coloured lights. It looks so good, I have to risk getting thrown out to bring it to you here and now.

Did I mention we're in the second row? Oh, you'd think I would have mentioned that by now.
 We're in the second row. 

Just when we think it might not happen, we're served up two songs from 'Insurgentes', Steven's first solo album, which strangely sound more well rounded than some of the 'Grace For Drowning' material here tonight - the second is 'Harmony Korine', during which Steven actually gets to play guitar for once. But before that, there's the haunting title track, with a beautifully classical sounding piano introduction from Adam, befitting our grand surroundings. 'Insurgentes' is a favourite of Karin's, which seems to get her in an emotional place every time, and rightly so. Someone who it seems to get in a different place is regular gig buddy Bob who I spot making a dash for the gents.

Keyboards this evening by a very young Timothy Spall.

The evening's getting on and there's just about time for two of the best tracks from 'Grace' - firstly the wonderful 'No Part of Me', with its jittery electronic drum patterns which Marco somehow plays live, and a fantastically eastern-sounding woodwind solo from Theo. And then we move on to the epic 'Raider II', which prompts the "Tolkeinesque" rant I mentioned earlier- Steven's response being that his mum brought him up all proper like, to write songs about serial killers. His mum's actually up there tonight, with Steve Hackett in the Royal Box - oh crikey, that sounds wrong.

It's tempting to see 'Raider II' as the main event in tonight's set, being 20 plus minutes long, and giving everyone in the band ample opportunity to show off- especially Nick Beggs, who revels in his role as resident rock god tonight, brandishing his bass like a giant "weapon", thrusting in the direction of everyone who doesn't get out of the way. When you can play like he can, it's allowed, although it's somewhat at odds with the creepy visuals playing on the back screen.

'Raider II' is undeniably great, but I can't help but feel there's some unfinished business, with the heart-wrenching title track from 'The Raven That Refused to Sing' left unplayed - and sure enough, with barely a second to collect our thoughts and shift out of "being scared shitless" mode, the backdrop starts playing the beautiful animated video for the song in question, and my evening is complete. With some wonderful flute playing from Theo imitating birdsong in the absence of the raven's actual voice, it's a moving tale of, well, I'll let you watch the video. I will say, however, that it joins the very elite ranks of songs which make me cry every time I see them played live (number 3 - after 'Agadoo' and 'Whodunnit?', obviously.)

Who knew Comedy writer and grumpy old man David Quantick was such
 an amazing flautist?

There's a subdued stage exit befitting the sombre and touching nature of the last song, but it's not long before they're back - and what the heck are they going to play?

"I've got this band called Porcupine Tree...," says Steven, excitingly using the present tense, before going on to apologise about not having rehearsed this very much, and yadda yadda, and here's a song he wrote 25 years ago. For something unrehearsed, the band do a pretty good job of 'Radioactive Toy', jamming around with it in various parts while Steven skips round the stage, rocking out with the other members and looking like he's enjoying himself as much as he ever has. Yes, I know that's not very much.

I even...

... manage to sneak a few photos...

... but they're all from the last 30 seconds...

... so I have to shove them all in here...

... in the interests of chronology.

It's all over bar the bowing - the band come forward to lap up the well-deserved applause and stand in front of their animated caricatures while they say good night (obviously none of them are as good as my celebrity looky-likeys above. If Steven does read this, he has my full permission to use those next tour instead.)

It's been quite a couple of hours - shifting moods and styles, wonderful songs and some of the best playing you will ever witness at a live music event. If 'Raven' represents a maturing of Steven's solo writing, then tonight proves that this group of musicians are becoming a proper band. Steven's name may be up there on the posters, but tonight he's less obviously the ring-leader than this time last year. Each and every one of them get a huge cheer as they come forward to take their bows - and yes, they all flipping well smile. Even Chuckletrousers.

Or is it Chuckletreggings?

Steven Wilson Setlist:

Drive Home
The Pin Drop
The Holy Drinker
Deform to Form a Star
The Watchmaker
Harmony Korine
No Part of Me
Raider II
The Raven That Refused to Sing
Radioactive Toy

Friday, 1 March 2013

22nd February 2013: Syd Arthur / Rae - Sebright Arms, Hoxton

I'm on my way to the station for this, my second gig of the year, when my trousers suddenly explode. I'd like to say it's with the knowledge of the sheer awesomeness awaiting me this evening, but it's probably more to do with the week I've just spent in the USA, the land of cheese and frying. And fried cheese.

I spend half the walk trying to hold together the offending broken belt, which is now swinging by my knees, before attempting a surreptitious fix on the rush hour platform and then admitting defeat and dumping the whole thing in the bin outside Cafe Nero with a dramatic flourish.

It's EXACTLY like this. Only without the Hollywood star.
Or the palm tree. Come to think of it, it's nothing like this.

My destination tonight (via Fat Face at Waterloo station, to buy a hideously expensive replacement) is the Sebright Arms in... erm... a really difficult part of London to get to from Waterloo station. We're off to see a band called Syd Arthur who I've been told about by tonight's gig buddy, a fine fellow by the name of Tim who I've mentioned once or twice hereabouts. His entire trip from Hull to tonight's show is being paid for by me in exchange for the enormous header you had to scroll past to find anything to read. I'll leave it up to you to decide who got ripped off in that deal.

Suitably belted up I meet up with Tim and the lovely Karin at Waterloo and we begin our journey into the depths of the unknown. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm a bit suspicious of that orange line that suddenly appeared on the Tube map a few years ago. It turned what was previously "Here be monsters" into "Just about doable if you don't mind changing 3 times" - and it's such a trip that we make to Hoxton this evening.

I was under the impression that Hoxton was Hipster Central, but coming out of the Fube* station there are none to be seen. In fact there's nobody at all to be seen as we head towards where the venue is supposed to be, only a racist electrical shop and eventually a council estate.

(*that's a fake tube station, by the way - it claims to be a tube station and has the proper sign and all but it's quite clearly a railway station, with arches and all that railway jazz.)

It's not as if the pub itself looks any more inviting from the outside- the only clue to its contents being the word "Arms" in its name. I suppose it could be a munitions depot, which would more befit its status as square, flat-roofed box with blacked out windows and military grade shutters. Once inside, we slip past all the hipsters (so that's where they were, drinking real ale and wearing giant headphones round their necks) and downstairs into the actual gig venue- which is, to be honest, a cellar. With the standard Victorian ceiling height. Not recommended for holding a bouncy castle party, but great for concealing a secret Austrian family.

It's rather like the Peel in Kingston, pre "facelift"- dank and dirty, raw and gritty. Oh, and dark, crucially- you can't say it's lacking in atmosphere. It's not long before some guys arrive on the stage- drums, saxophone and a not-electric-electric-double bass- accompanied by a lady with a guitar.

"Hello, " she says. "We're called Rae and we're from Bristol. Apart from me, I'm from all over..."

I don't have much time to ponder the physics of such a phenomenon before she starts singing and it becomes unimportant. Leonie Evans is an immediate focal point for the band, with her sometimes breathy, sometimes playful, sometimes downright dirty vocals layering over what can only be described as jazz.

No, wait, come back! It's not like Jazz FM. Or even like Miles Davis, despite Tim's insistence that it is. But then he uses the word "vinyls", so what does he know? No, it's a kind of alternative, very hip sort of Jazz. Maybe like Amy Winehouse would have ended up if she met Nigel Godrich instead of Mark Ronson. There are even Flamenco tinges, made all the more obvious when Leonie starts scat-singing in Spanish on the only track from their debut album they play this evening, "Leda". It's absolutely mesmerising, as are her cupped-hand megaphone impressions somewhere in the middle.

And let's not pretend this is a solo act either, the band have a phenomenal bass player in the shape of Leon Boydon (and a phenomenal double bass in the shape of, um, a small double bass with a pickup). As well as providing some very impressive playing throughout (and I have Grade 7 Double Bass with Merit, so I know), he sets the funky foundations for closing number "Sublime Motion" and takes metaphorical centre stage for a number called "Leon's Metal Android", something I think we can all enjoy even if we weren't there. There's also a drummer called Dan, but unfortunately he's completely obscured by Leonie from where I'm standing. He sounds great though...

Along the way there are tracks called "Song for Friends" and "Magnum Pie" (working titles abound this evening) and then there's a song about Leonie's mum, the main riff of which she gets us to sing over and over with varying degrees of success. I'm trying out some new earplugs so I make it to the end, completely unaware that most people stopped singing ages ago. The lyrics tell a slightly sad and sentimental tale which Karin suspects is the reason for distracting us with the singalong- perhaps Leonie's not too keen on drawing attention to anything more fragile beneath the cool and sassy exterior.

Meanwhile Lorenzo on saxophone harmonises wonderfully with the vocal lines, making a wonderful case for re-appraising sax as a valid musical contribution in this post-Kenny G era. In summary, Rae are excellent. I will definitely be looking out for the new album, but if it's not called "Leon's Metal Android" I'll want my money back.

In the break I make a quick dash for the bar, but return to find that the hipsters have taken over the joint (and my spot) in their lumberjack shirts, non-ironic pornstar moustaches and skinny jeans with belts which work. I therefore end up with a much worse view of...

Syd Arthur

... Which is a shame, although I do immediately spot singer and guitarist Liam Magill's "Hatfield and the North" T-shirt (apparently home-made) which reminds me of the comparisons to the Canterbury sound which have been generating a buzz around this band for the last year or so. Personally, I don't hear it- there's nothing here which sounds like Caravan, or even Hatfield. They are, however, from Canterbury (as am I), which makes me instantly like them for that reason alone.

Who knew Prog T-shirts, Pyschedelic cardigans and
Windy Miller hats went so well together?

This evening's opener "Ode to the Summer" is the Syd Arthur sound all over- fluid, psych-y guitars jangle over a summery melody while multi-instrumentalist Raven Bush (Kate's nephew) adds some fantastic mandolin. It certainly does what it says on the tin, and evokes summer evenings as much as is possible in a dank hole under a boarded-up garage.

In fact everything tonight follows a similar sort of blueprint- bluesy rock with some slightly folky overtones courtesy of Raven's violin or mandolin playing. Oh, and there's the small matter of choruses that have you humming them for days without remembering quite where they came from.

So, why have they hit the radar of "those who must make everything into Prog"? Well, if all of the above make them sound like a fairly ordinary proposition, there's one small factor we've not taken into account- their crazy penchant for odd and shifting time signatures. Counting along gives me nearly as much of a headache as Gavin Harrison and 05Ric - alternate sections of 5/4 and god knows what in "Edge of the Earth" for one thing.

Syd Arthur - never knowingly under-haired.

It's this that causes Tim to proclaim after the gig that it's like seeing King Crimson in 1972. I assume it's that, anyway, since he's given up beer for lent. And actually Tim is not one to try to shoehorn everything good into the big P bucket, so I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Unfortunately, however much I've enjoyed the album prior to the gig and however much I am enjoying it right now as I type, I reach only one conclusion during the gig. As I stand, listening to the band whilst staring at the back of someone's ironically retro patterned sweater several millimetres in front of my nose, I can't help but feel I'm too old for this shit.

I bet Roger Murtaugh wouldn't put up with these conditions.

Yes, down the front at a tiny club gig was where it was at in the early 2000's, in fact I used to actively participate in pogoing and even the odd spot of light moshing when the occasion demanded it. Unfortunately tonight, after 45 minutes of being forced by other people's shoulders to stand up straight and not breathe too heavily, I'm done in. I look down at Karin who is literally two feet tall, and sense she's feeling the same, so we decide to make a break for the bar at the back from where we can see... oh, even less. And what's more, it's the only thoroughfare to and from the loo, making it the worst possible place to stand anyway.

With a shrug, we head upstairs to the pub where we sit nursing a drink between us and experiencing the rest of the gig by means of vibrations through the floor which suggest we're right above the drum kit. It's actually quite interesting, you still get a sense of the crazy time signatures but the only melody is provided by the cheesy dance tunes playing on the pub jukebox. It goes together surprisingly well, actually.

Anyway, fear not, Syd Arthur seem to be going places based on the sell-out crowd and energetic performance tonight, so I suspect I'll have another chance to see them this year, hopefully in a venue where personal space is an option and I don't wake up with a dislocated spine in the morning.

Oh, now I see where the Prog connection came from...

Once the gig is over and everyone starts coming back upstairs, I head down to find Tim, who's rooted to the spot with an odd mixture of confusion and afterglow on his face. "I'm just going to say hello to a few people," he says, and I agree to see him upstairs in a few minutes. When I come back down half an hour later, he's deep in chat with Leonie from Rae and Raven from Syd Arthur. I'm not entirely sure whether he decides to tell Leonie about his theory that she was separated at birth from Victoria Coren but he does tell me afterwards what a tit he feels for telling her she sounds like Kate Bush when Kate's nephew is standing right there. Still, it could be worse, he could have told her all about his "vinyls".

The trip home is pretty much the same as the trip there, only backwards. Although my old belt doesn't fix itself, more's the pity.

Oooh, look it's the Shard. Or is it the Gherkin? Or the Spaniel?

As we get off the train, we come across a drunk man on the footbridge with his foot stuck in a Waitrose carrier bag, hopping around and desperately trying to kick it off. I'd like to think it's a metaphor for my struggle this evening to shake off the shackles of encroaching middle age.

But it isn't. It's just funny.