I don’t know if I’m the first person to struggle to spot The Victoria, nestled snugly in its alleyway next to the Alexandra Theatre. However, finally stumbling across it I felt like I’d been let in on a special secret; the place practically glows with warmth and its blending of the traditional with ironic pop culture touches gives it a unique charm. Upstairs, fairly lights and a disco ball set a slightly incongruous but nonetheless magical scene for the ‘Colour Presents’ evening.
Wolverhampton band Young Runaways made an impressive opener. I was intrigued after learning that they have had coverage on BBC6 Music from Tom Robinson’s ‘Introducing’ show and that they played Glastonbury last year. The first thing I noticed was just how relaxed they were as they launched into the title track from their imminent release, ‘The Boy & the Beartrap’, and the joviality continued throughout their set.
They played at the Little Civic a couple of nights ago as a seven-piece, however tonight three of the chore members (Graham and Lucy Philips, and Matt Pinfield) gave a pared-down performance which was perfect because it allowed the subtleties in their lyrics and harmonic melodies to really shine. Stand-out tracks for me came in the second half of their set. The gorgeous three-part harmonies on ‘Ropeswings’ were a joy to behold and new track ‘Beggars Belief’ featured a beautiful instrumental. I think they missed the rest of their band members at times but the set totally worked — its intimacy matching the venue perfectly. That said, I certainly wouldn’t pass up the chance to catch them again in full, seven-member glory really soon.
I had the chance for a quick chat with Mellow Peaches earlier in the evening. Again, I’ve never seen them but I was looking forward to their set after listening to a couple of their tracks on MySpace. The lads are lovely, unassuming and immensely gifted. Their guitar playing is extremely accomplished and their ear for a catchy melody is very strong. The Mellow Peaches didn’t deliver as much banter or seem quite as confident as Young Runaways but they did display a quiet wit, for example when introducing the amazing banjo-led number ‘The Flying Scotsman’, apparently “inspired by James and Henry”. Where Amit’s finger-picking led, Rich’s warm, soulful harmonica followed, adding an extra toe-tapping dimension to tracks such as ‘Run Paddy Run’ and ‘Hey Hey’.
Throughout both supports, the crowd continued to trickle in steadily, so by the time headliner Charlie Parr graced the stage the room was comfortably full. I spoke to some of the audience and people had travelled a fair distance to catch the only Midlands date on Charlie’s sell-out UK/Ireland tour. I found myself towards the front of the audience, half of which were sitting, feeling really relaxed in such a friendly, appreciative atmosphere. Even though Charlie relished the previous acts and chatted with audience members and fans, for some reason I felt completely star-struck. I had seen his sound-check earlier in the evening which literally left me with my mouth wide open so I was almost holding my breath as he began to play. I was fascinated by his look; he’s a bear of a man in plaid shirt, stomping work-boots, cloth-cap and grey beard but he carries himself with a humble grace.
It’s difficult to pinpoint particular stand-out moments in the set mainly because the whole thing was fantastic, but also because the songs are so rooted in their genre that it is difficult to listen to them in isolation. However one track towards the end of the set, which I think is called ‘Cheap Wine’, was different in tone and tempo to most of the others, telling a poignant story of down-and-outs buying the cheapest drink in the bar, and the finale, ‘God Moves on the Water’ (also the last track on latest release, ‘Roustabout’), was a thumping sing-along where Charlie stopped playing and had everyone clapping and stamping in time as he belted home the chorus unaccompanied.
It was a good job I was sitting down as Charlie’s set was hypnotic, his perfect picking relentless, his fingers a blur. He couldn’t quench the crowd’s thirst for more, finishing only at the last minute, to catch the last bus, the last train and walk another 9 miles to Kenilworth for the night, no doubt singing heartbreak and strumming the Devil in the moonlight as he went.
The Boy & the Beartrap
Windows Wide Open
One of Us
Pray for Me
All in Time
Run Paddy Run
Running Around in Circles (while your foot’s stuck in the floor)
The Flying Scotsman
65 Years of Soul
Charlie’s set defied any effort to compile a complete setlist, but songs included:
Midnight has Come and Gone
Last Payday at Coal Creek
Bad Luck Blues (Blind Man Jefferson)
Prodigal Son (trad)
God Moves on the Water (Blind Willie Johnson)
Review – Angela Slater
Photos – Andy Whitehouse