Wednesday, 2 July 2014

7th June 2014: Gary Chandler and Martin Orford - Paul's House, Eastleigh

This entry should not exist. I'd basically decided to quietly slip away from doing gig reviews, after realising that I was rapidly losing my lifelong love of live events, due to either typing witty observations on my phone throughout the whole thing, or sitting trying desperately to make sure I didn't forget a single thought that occurred to me - usually by means of silent 'My Aunt Went to Paris...' type games, going round and round in my head and driving myself doolally. (You know, "My Aunt went to Paris and she brought back a blistering guitar solo, some angular riffing, a Rickenbacker twelve string fretless Moog, a glare from McChuckletrousers...")

BUT! But, but... When I started this thing up 3 years ago, and people started to read it and not want to jab their eyes out with a rusty set of compasses afterwards, people would ask me whether I thought I could really go somewhere with it (and they didn't just mean to Lydney). And I would say:

"Well, imaginary reader, the best I am hoping for is that, some day, someone will like my word-spewage enough to invite me along to something just to review it, and that they might even let me in for free."

My name IS down, and I AM coming in!

That, dear friends, is what finally happened, when Paul (he of the famous 'Twats in Hats' gig at his legendary abode) messaged me to ask if I'd come down and review the night in exchange for a free ticket. Apparently my review of the previous gig went down rather well - who'd a thunk it? Plus, the England/Italy match is on, and I'm really concerned that Phil Neville's commentary is going to put me into a coma if I don't ENGLAND HAVE JUST SCOOOOOOOOOOOORED!!! oh there was a brief moment where he sounded like he was mildly interested, but it's passed now.

Sorry, ahem, anyway, it is thus that I find myself on a train heading down to Eastleigh, where I'm very kindly collected from the station by "Prog Rock Matt" - my most frequent accidental gig buddy, tube-whilst-going-to-other-gig buddy, giving-me-lift-in-minus-17-degrees buddy, but first time actual gig buddy. Arriving at the bachelor pad par excellence, I'm pleased to note that nothing has changed - it's still a space age shag pad-cum-mini Brixton Academy that would have been the stuff of teenage Gigging Forever's dreams, and Paul actually lives here for real. Like all the time. Plus, I even get to sign the wall of fame, which is nearly as good as the ticket-fest in the bathroom.

Since the last visit, Paul's become a friend too, so we have a good old chat about how we both nearly died running the London Marathon, what other house gigs might be on the potential calendar, and Cher Lloyd (it's an ok subject to broach on a second visit), but then eventually, two chaps wander over to the instruments down in what probably used to be the living room, in front of the Damien Hirst-painting back wall, and introduce themselves.

Gary Chandler and Martin "Widge" Orford are proper musicians from the South Coast prog scene and bandmates in Jadis, whose accessible, prog-tinged rock understandably makes up a large portion of this evening's music. There's also plenty of time for stuff from Widge's other former band, IQ, and neither are any strangers to playing on other people's albums either, so we know we're in safe hands when they embark on their set of songs which also includes material from their solo albums, and carefully selected covers.

Gary sings with a powerful rock voice and plays both acoustic and electric guitars (much to the enjoyment of Paul's neighbours, I'm sure), as well as having a proper rockstar mane of hair to toss about at key moments. Widge plays keyboards, flute and cittern (look it up), and sings in a slightly softer but no less powerful fashion, eschewing the mane in favour of a leather waistcoat over checked shirt combo.

The odd couple of prog, they may be, but they captivate the room for a full two hours (apparently the longest they've ever played?), kicking off with an instrumental medley of Jadis hits, to which the audience supply the lyrics, before moving on to 'Across the Water', which has some wonderful close harmony vocals and gets the first massive round of applause of the evening - are there really only 40 people here? It's a great song, actually, and I'm prompted to think that even prog music sounds like "actual songs" when stripped down like this, well, until Widge breaks out the widdly-widdly keyboard solo, anyway, before Gary lets rip with a full electric guitar break. "How are the neighbours about all this?", he says when they're done. Er, bit late to be worrying about that now, mate.

Onto some of Martin's songs, and there's a 3-minute abridged version of 'The Last Human Gateway', which Martin sings just as well as IQ vocalist Pete Nicholls, followed by a short piano piece called 'Prelude' from his solo album 'The Old Road', at the end of which Gary looks over at us and says 'He's alright, innee?'. The night's first cover comes in the shape of a Genesis song, which is never going to get any complaint from me, or, presumably, the bloke in the 'Seconds Out' T-shirt over to my right - even though it is a "BAD GENESIS" song, from the time when neither reverse mohawk-guy nor perma-dye mullet guy were in the band, and Phil Collins had whipped the razor out. Still, 'Many Too Many' is one of my favourite G-songs, and they do a cracking rendition, so full marks from the assembled jury.

"That was a song by One Direction", says Gary - to which one of my increasingly inebriated fellow audience members up in the kitchen replies: "Oh, I thought it was Lady Gaga!", a little exchange which sums up both the increasingly relaxed atmosphere in the room and the average prog fan's idea of music newer than 1980. You have to hand it to anyone willing to come and play in such a small and intimate venue to a crowd of people raised on gigs at The Peel, where constant shouting out and trying desperately to be more amusing than the people on stage was pretty much de rigeur, but bloody hell there are a few times when I want to go and shove a slice of pizza in some people's massive gobs, and tell them to knock it off and just let the poor musicians play.

Anyway, they do a cracking job of carrying on, despite the court jesters in the gallery and the choir of enthusiastic Jadis stalkers fans on the sofa singing louder than the amplified voices of the band (and, admittedly, they're not bad at all actually, prompting Gary to ask at one point where they learned to sing like that...) - so on we go with 'More than Meets the Eye', which is preceded by a very bizarre and confusing story about a nun which ends with the immortal question "Is a cucumber a fruit?". There's some lovely flute action from Martin and "na na na" vocals from Gary, which recall the opening of some really long prog song by a posh English band whose name escapes me right now. I don't recall the original being accompanied by the sound of 10 people who can't work out how to turn off the beeping sounds on their cameras, though, so that's a nice bonus.

Up next, out comes the Cittern, a sort of large medieval guitar thing, which reminds me of my favourite 2011 London riots joke:

"I just saw some guys in Medieval outfits running towards Hampton Court. I think they were going luting..."

We get a lovely guided tour with a little unaccompanied piece which could easily be from the time when the instrument was popular, so I close my eyes and drift off into minstrel days. Also, opening them again and being reminded of the leather waistcoat and cittern combo makes the image of Widge as the long lost "Troubador" member of the Village People somewhat difficult to shift. But still, here's a nice singalong cover of Supertramp's 'Give a Little Bit' which gets everyone (oh yes, including old grumpy guts here) singing along at neighbour-bothering volumes, and then the lovely 'Speak my Name' from IQ's 'Subterranea' magnum opus, which prompts me to wonder whether I wouldn't have liked IQ even more if Martin had done all the singing in the first place.

And so it continues, with more Jadis songs, a couple more covers ('Your Own Special Way' and 'Here Comes The Flood' going down an absolute storm), and even 'Ray of Hope' from Martin's 'The Old Road' which is perhaps my favourite thing that he ever released. Any chance of a follow-up, Widge? Then, towards the end of the set, audience member impressions of Zippy and George from as yet Operation Yewtree-untarnished psychedelic kids' TV classic "Rainbow" reach fever pitch for some reason, prompting the band to roll out their apparently legendary rendition of the theme song - accompanied by singing/shouting/raucous laughter which is all the more worrying now that someone has opened the back door to prevent sweat running down the walls on this lovely summer's evening. And just as I'm feeling smug at the thought that I might be the only person here who was still a child when Rainbow came off the air, we reach the end - a lovely singalong double-whammy of Crowded House's 'Weather With You' and Floyd classic 'Comfortably Numb', with far more electric guitar solo than is customary inside a suburban semi.

A cracking evening's entertainment which is enjoyed muchly by all, as is the after party, with sausage rolls and cheese on cocktail sticks, and sandwiches - no jelly, but copious amounts of cold beer on this lovely summer's evening in Paul's garden, which like everything else at his house is completely, outrageously fabulous and OTT.

Soon, however, it's time to leave to bid our host farewell and catch the last train back to South West London, which for some reason I can't fathom on a Saturday night, is full of drunk, sweaty, overexcited students yelling and laughing much too loudly all the way back. Actually, it's just like I never left.