Every so often I walk over the river to the famous (among Jazz & eclectic music-heads in London at least) Bulls Head in Barnes. Every time I think I am going to see some small possibly interesting gig in the 100 or so seat jazz room. And every time I am blown away by quality, and I think, hm, this should be a 1,500 seat gig. London is funny like that. There are these strange places where hardly any people can fit, and superstar quality just turns up on any night of the week.
The Vortex in Dalston is another such place – it fits about 18 guests, and yet you can see some true jazz greats (in fact Dalston is weird – it has two venues – the Vortex and Cafe Oto hosting mostly free jazz. Now personally I mostly think FJ is a crime against humanity, but sometimes when you close your eyes and listen to some anti-musical group there, you really do believe you are in a forest full of crickets or on a moon of Jupiter). The Round Midnight bar at Angel is another fun little place – not quite so eclectic and the floor is stickier, but hey, I never saw a bad gig there.
Back to the Bulls Head. This week just gone, Never the Bride played on Thursday night. I had heard of them before, but never had the experience, as I surely would have had I been brought up in this country or at least spent the last 20 years here. I looked up a few of their YouTube clips and was amazed. This band is the real deal. Have a look at this cover of Kashmir (it’s worth it, no don’t complain that the original can’t be bettered, it’s not about that), in fact just put ‘Never the Bride’ into YouTube and listen to anything that comes up.
At the gig, the proliferation of stage gear meant at least 5 musicians, possibly going on 16. Possibly more than the audience. (One night a couple of years ago, I saw a Steely Dan cover band there, 9 players on the stage, with cables and instruments overflowing off the edge. They were great too – just like Steely Dan, I don’t think there was a bar of 4/4 anywhere to be heard). It turned out that NTB were 5 this gig, plus they brought a bunch of mostly interesting guests onto the stage during the evening, which was fun, but to be honest, there really wasn’t any comparison. NTB play like a band that could punch holes in Wembley Arena (not that I like Wembley. It’s crap. Outdoor is nice. Pubs are nice….).
Anyway, NTB’s two leading ladies, Nikki Lamborn and Catherine Feeney are something else. Nikki is in somewhat in the Janis Joplin/Bonnie Raitt mould, a real rock singer with huge dynamic and emotional range (I actually hate those sort of comparisons, just giving you an idea here…. she’s probably better…). Feeney (mostly a keyboardist) is the rhythmic/melodic motor, and I am not talking outboards here. This is where being at the tiny Bulls Head really works – keyboard players get a proper grand piano to play on, which makes for total clarity and raw beautiful power. I hadn’t seen any of the other musicians before but they were all first class – you can find out about them here.
I suspect I will become one of the ‘hooked’… I am already combing the guides for next gigs (e.g. Farnham 8 Dec). What is weird about this experience (and some other bands you see at the Bulls Head) is that you sort of know you are seeing the same thing as big name rock royalty – you know you should not be able to get this close, it feels a bit naughty to be able to go and see greatness in your living room. Well, all I can say is …. don’t tell anyone!
So if you want to see some really great rock with soul, go and see Never the Bride.
BTW, thanks as always to the people at the Bulls Head. They are always cool, friendly, the guy on the desk knows how to mix perfectly for a small venue, the selection of wine and beer is decent, what more to say?