Summer Daze I: The Red Dirt Skinners

So an awful lot has happened in the eight weeks since I last posted. Some of the lack of posts was to do with the busy and some to do with July being sub-optimal emotionally, but along the way there was an encouraging amount of Shakespeare in June which kept me too busy to blog, a first-class gig and an excellent trip to a festival.

The Merry Band at the Coal Vaults

As previously reported, Pathwalkers played a send-off gig with the four-piece line-up in June and going forward, Ian & Mikk founded the The Merry Band. Hunting up opportunities to bring out the trio version I had a great piece of good fortune. As it turned out, some good friends of mine from a previous life in Sussex were passing through Coventry on their way to a tour of Scotland, and had booked a night in Coventry with the Tin at the Coal Vaults.

Now, Rob & Sarah knew me as a venue operator back in Sussex, and haven’t heard me play since I became worth listening to. In the three years since we’d last seen one another, I’d moved to Coventry by accident and they’d got married, been burgled, written, recorded and released three critically-acclaimed albums, and made the jump from local to nationally-touring musicians. For some years, I’ve seen them as role models, both in music and in their attitude to life, and so I was enormously flattered when they invited me and the boys to support them on their way through Coventry.

The gig would be my first appearance on a pay-entry bill, as well, so the other reason I didn’t blog much in June was that any creative energy I managed to find went into rehearsals. I was more nervous than usual when we got there, but seeing Rob & Sarah again rapidly eased those tensions. It was lovely to catch up (also, they have some glorious toys in their sound rig!) and we settled in to watch the opener with pleasure.

Paul Handyside turned out to be a travelling Geordie with a lovely, expressive voice and an excellent slide-guitar accompanist in Rob Tickell. I really enjoyed the set, which had stylistic echoes of an age with more hats and better manners, but the stand-out song for me was his closer. Let the Good Times Roll Again was one of several songs engaging with the legacy of the Great War and the generation who fought in it, and I thought it was the best of them.

So then it was my turn! Given the quality of the musicians I was sharing the stage with, I’d trimmed sail for a short set to songs we know very well, focussing on original pieces. It’s hard to review your own set from inside, but fortunately I don’t have to: the lovely David Goody sent me three videos from the back of the audience. I’m going to include a couple more videos below: but suffice to say I came off stage very happy with how we’d done.

Of course, the flip-side of the Skinners having not seen me play since I left Sussex is that I didn’t know any of their new work. When I hired them last in 2011 they were a four-piece soul and mo-town outfit called Moneymaker; their success had come as an Americana fusion duo. I’d seen just enough gig footage flying past on youtube to pique my interest and as expected, they were fantastic! They opened with the hangover anthem Up All Night (see above) which set the scene nicely for the rest of the evening. Well-chosen covers (their version of Space Oddity is electric) and superb originals made for an excellent evening all round.

From the high-octane end I particularly enjoyed several including what I think of as The Swearword Song (no actual swearwords were harmed in making it): but the track I came away with the strongest connection to was Lay Me Down. Intense, personal and yet simple enough to speak to anyone who has ever been afraid at night, they perform the piece with an open honesty which tugs at the heart.

The Skinners headed off to points north, but not before leaving me the best musical compliment I’ve had in a long time. I got to visit them in their natural habitat a couple of weeks ago after Chilled in a Field (of which more next issue!) and look forward to doing so again at the next opportunity! If you see them playing in a town near you, you don’t want to miss it.

And finally as promised above, two more Merry Band videos from that night: another of my originals, and our take on the traditional tunes Over the Hills and The Soldier’s Joy.