A couple of months ago, The Medway News carried an interview with John Terry, owner of the Tap ‘n’ Tin in Chatham. In it he pronounced the Medway music scene well and truly dead. The “right” bands were no longer interested in his venue and therefore there was no local music to be heard in Medway.
He couldn’t, of course, have been more wrong: as events like the fourth annual Oxfam music festival ably demonstrate. It’s called Medway Happenings, and it’s happening right here outside the Command House, Chatham.
This small, free celebration of song boasts an impressive selection of Medway’s finest: the Flowing, Frau Pouch and Theatre Royal are just three of the bands on the line up. In fact the eleven bands and artists on today’s bill represent just some of the many, many, many musicians currently playing fantastic original music in this northern corner of Kent.
But it’s not just the musicians who are putting on a good show today. For all the great singing, strumming and bashing on stage, the heavens are doing their level best to literally dampen the mood with a series of downpours. And when it’s not raining, huge gusts of wind come along and send the gazebo sheltering the sound equipment flying several feet to the steps of the pub.
Not that the rain will put either performers or the crowd off. We’re made of tougher stuff than that. And so we’re more than happy to huddle beneath the giant umbrellas while Cry Baby Special sings and plays on the mercifully en-roofed stage.
And when the music stops and the technical bods arrange the arrival and departure of artists, we can happily toddle up the steps into the warm, dryness of the bar where, rumour has it, they serve alcohol.
There’s a rich assortment of music to be had here. All of it rather special and wonderful Cry Baby Special (aka Jason Stafford) offers us Dylan inspired acoustic folk rock – he even obliges with a cover of “It ain’t me, Babe” – and a voice recalling Brian Molko. It’s beautiful and impassioned, recalling the sound of Lupen Crook, also of this parish.
At the end of his set, Stafford hands his guitar and the stage over to Porlie Eidolon. Eidolon is another local musical hero in these parts. Didi Bergman (up later) recalls going to see him play gigs when she was but a wee small lass.
Today Eidolon pounds out an intense grinding, Nick Cave-ish song. Is that really the same guitar he’s playing that Cry Baby Special played?
There’s plenty of folk tinged singing and song writing to be found here today. Simon Bunyan opened the event (amid the promise of showers) with his one man and a guitar routine. And later Didi Bergman will take to the stage with her tender songs that are at once beautiful and fragile.
Nestled somewhere between them is The Flowing, or, at least, Dave Pickett of The Flowing. As with Cry Baby Special, the comparisons with Dylan as yardstick are inevitable. “Hold On” has something of a whiff of “Blowing in the Wind” about it.
As you might expect, the lyrics revolve around the poignant. Snatches of lines gleaned today include “she lay there dying from her wounds” and “better to be half way up than half way down”. Here are songs for the battered and world weary.
Midway through his set, Pickett is joined on stage by John Whittaker on trumpet. It won’t be the only time you’ll catch sight of Mr. Whittaker today. His muted trumpet brings a further delicate touch to the proceedings – the sound of restraint hiding an torrent of emotion.
The Medway sound
Medway is becoming something of a trailblazer for this kind of acoustic contemporary folk. But that’s not the only Medway sound doing the rounds at the moment. Elsewhere (and much on display today), is a more retro-sound. It’s a sound you’ll find in evidence here in the form of Groovy Uncle, Theatre Royal, the Len Price 3 and The Galileo 7.
Groovy Uncle might just have been frozen in time in 1964, like some Adam Adamant figure, defrosted just in time for the 2012 Olympics. The song (and title track from Groovy Uncle’s album) “Play Something We Know” has the most appropriate of names. Though totally original, it sounds like we’ve all known it for years.
Groovy Uncle’s music is bouncy, bubble gum pop owing as much to The Small Faces as early Beatles. It is, in fact, rather groovy. So groovy in fact, that it’s sent the rain away for at least 20 minutes.
Later, The Galileo 7 appear on stage to treat us to another case of nostalgia, this time with their eyes firmly on The Who. They open with “Never Go Back”, a sneering, snarling, psychedelic sounding song if ever there was one.
Plus the keyboardist bounces around in her all purple ensemble with a mad dance that’s nothing if not impressive. It’s high on energy and just a little bit fun too.
One band who seem more than a little bit surprised to be here are Frau Pouch. The potty mouthed noise merchants are not used to playing family friendly shows. Their 2.30pm billing may be the earliest they’ve ever played their post-watershed songs.
And John, the guitarist and singer, seems more than a little worried about the reaction they’re going to get. “We’ve written some alternative lyrics,” he explains. “But we apologise in advance just in case we forget to change the words.” This could be interesting.
Of course, it’s not just interesting. It’s fantastic. Frau Pouch’s sound is a stripped back, noise-fest: an intense, thrashing lo-fi rock beast – all shouting and angular…melodies. For want of a better word.
And rather than provoking a barrage of unwanted questions of what such and such means, the under 10s in attendance are loving it. They’re bouncing up and down like nobody’s business. Maybe Frau Pouch should do a guest slot of In The Night Garden some time.
Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society offer noise of a different variety again. This time it comes at us from somewhere near the Mississippi.
Turner’s opening gambit is a glorious, heavy blues number (as they’ll all be), complete with John Whittaker (him again) on trumpet to complete Turner’s distinctive gravely vocals. This time there’s no mute. And chaos is unleashed. Wonderful, joyous, cacophonous chaos. Absolutely marvellous.
The set features songs from the excellent EP, Weekend Heart (available on sale under a heavily secured gazebo tent) and “Murder on Gaslight Street”, Turner’s offering on last year’s ME2 album.
Since the recording, it’s been spruced up with Tex-Mex trumpeteering, giving the song about misery in Medway a distinctly dirty, murky, Latino feel. It’s rather gorgeous.
With such a rich array of sound, it’s easy to forget the rain and the wind. Soundman Jay might not find forgetting the weather as easy as he wipes off the rain from his sound equipment. But for the rest of us, the sun might as well have been out all day.
From the gentle acoustica of Didi Bergman and The Flowing through to the gleeful noise of Frau Pouch and Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society, this has been an excellent day of music.
Same again next year?
Photograph (c) Phil Dillon