Sunday, 27 February 2011

Live: Captain Bastard and the Scallywags - 12 Bar Club, Soho, London 25/2/11

The 12 Bar Club is exactly the kind of venue you can imagine a band playing just before they get really massive, with the show in question being one of those that thousands of people will end up claiming that they were there for it. It has that sort of quaint, slightly run-down feel to it, with an excellent retro charm exuding from the old Beatles LPs, ska posters and tinplate Americana signs up on the walls. Oh, and the actual gig area is bloody tiny. A dark kitchen-sized room with a bizarre random balcony perched high above and a stage barely large enough to fit a jazz string quartet made up entirely of ants and dung beetles, let alone an 8-piece folk-punk behemoth with an arsenal of instruments. This should be interesting.

Oh yeah, the band themselves. Capt. Bastard and his assorted scallywags first came to my attention at the all-day show at The Railway Pub in Walmer last October, where, in their second ever appearance as a band, they turned in a performance which, whilst marred by drumming cock-ups and infected vocal chords, was entertaining enough to suggest that, with time and a little elbow grease, this rowdy bunch could evolve swiftly into a formidable live prospect. Since then they've been putting in the hours on the live circuit, and with a mini-tour of sorts coming up in March, as well as a 4-track demo tape by the name of 'Racing Legend', tonight feels like a good night to check in with the Scallywags and see how things have progressed since I first witnessed their folk-punk carnage four months ago.

Remember how I made a point in the intro of emphasising just how bleedin' minuscule the stage is? Well, that point is made again here, as half the band manage to squeeze onto it, and the other half just shrug and set up on the floor. How's this for intimate? If I were any closer to the band, I'd run the risk of getting a guitar stuck up my nose. Or perhaps an accordion...not quite sure how that'd work, actually. Anyway, after all instruments/voice boxes are finally soundchecked, the band turn to face front and pelt out the opening notes to the rollicking 'Along Came A Spider', and away we go. Down those pints and sit tight, folks - this is gonna be fun.

And so it proves, with a set of chaotic Celtic-tinged carnage which pilfers all the best bits from the Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly and Calico Street Riots' respective back catalogues, but also adds just enough of a sprinkling of original ideas and energy to keep it fresh and very enjoyable. Everything is done at helter-skelter pace, and there are moments where it threatens to tip over the edge and completely disintegrate. The fact that it never does is a huge complement to the manic drumming of 'Miami' Keith Sargent, who does his best Tre Cool impression for most of the set - that is, gurn spectacularly, act the showman and beat the bejasus out of your kit. He does so with great aplomb, and it's his relentless energy that drives the set forward. The rest of the band seem to give the odd sense that, rather than all playing as one with a telepathic unity, they seem to all be doing their own thing, in their own way, and it just so happens that it all merges together into one cohesive entity, further adding to the runaway train edge-of-disaster feel.

The two guitarists demonstrate this phenomenon well - Tom Gardener, the proverbial Captain Bastard himself, strums hard at his acoustic guitar, banging out riffs and the odd bit of backing vocals with a wide-eyed and sometimes manic stare, whilst his colleague on electric guitar, Lucas Razzell, barely seems to break sweat whilst jiving and strumming in what sometimes appears to be a world of his own - a world where presumably slicked-back haircuts and rockabilly-style guitars would be mandatory by law. Singer Andrew Keech bellows his lines with wild abandon down the front, aided by mandolinist Jordan Harris' emphatic blasts of backing vocals, and Harris' choppy mandolin work augments the six-stringers' riffs very well. In the eye of the hurricane, pennywhistle-ist Kayla Harlow is an oasis of calm composure and cheerful melodies, and brothers Bill and Ben Gower (bassist and accordionist) are similarly relaxed and cheerful in the bedlam.

As I said before, the songs do stick to quite an established formula, but it's never a tired running through the motions of stuff that's been done to death before - for one thing, the originals allow each instrument to shine individually and expand the song sonically as well as power forward the overall mix, which makes a refreshing change of pace and scenery at some parts. But chaotic energy and raucous singalongs are what the entire folk-punk genre were built around, and the Captain and his merry 'wags will be damned if they're gonna be ditching those principles any time soon. They are quick to tip their hats to their influences, with covers of the Murphys' 'I'm Shipping Up to Boston' and Flogging Molly's 'Seven Deadly Sins' (the latter ending the set in style), and a gleeful romp through the classic 'La Bamba' comes four songs in. There's a strong consistency to the set, which tells you a lot about the strength of the originals, in that they can hold their own against the established covers. Indeed, songs like the aforementioned '...Spider', 'You, Me And The Devil' and 'Getting Out of This Town' have the potential to become band anthems in their own right, with vocal lines just waiting to be bellowed back at the band by intoxicated future audiences as their name spreads. Who knows, maybe they could hit the heights of fame and popularity, and tonight will be one of those nights where half of London will go on to claim they were present for?

All I know is this: it must be hard-wired in my DNA to enjoy live folk-punk, and in that respect, Captain Bastard and the Scallywags have an ace live show full of boundless energy and enthusiasm. But what makes them a truly exciting prospect is that they are far from a one-trick pony - there are hints of variety and uniqueness, and if they continue the upward curve of improvement from since the last time I saw them, by my calculations, they'll be destined for true greatness by mid-summer. Enjoying a hot summer's evening by drinking copious amounts of Magners and watching this lot absolutely tear it up? Aye, now there's an enticing thought. I'll see you there.

Rating: 84%

  1. Along Came A Spider
  2. I'm Shipping Up to Boston (Dropkick Murphys cover)
  3. Getting Out of This Town
  4. La Bamba
  5. 9 Layers of Hell
  6. Covers Medley (incl. Whiskey in a Jar and The Wild Rover)
  7. Scream
  8. You, Me & The Devil
  9. 7 Deadly Sins (Flogging Molly cover)

Photography by Rosetta Baker.

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