Sunday, 24 April 2011

Live: Captain Bastard and the Scallywags w/guests - The Beacon Court Tavern, Gillingham 24/4/11

They say every cloud has a silver lining, right? Who 'they' are I don't know, and I'd like to meet them once they've just lost their job, had their house burn down and been dumped by their girlfriend who also revealed she was HIV-positive and see what they say then, but in Gillingham's case, they may be right. I used to live here, and in the ten years or more that have passed, I've been in no rush to get back. But I will say this: although you could still swap out the large amount of run-down houses for caravans and pretend you're on the set of My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings without anyone noticing anything, the silver lining in Gillingham's case is the location of an excellent venue, the Beacon Court Tavern, in it's midst. Tonight, it's being taken over by Medway's travelling band of pirates and misfits, Captain Bastard and the Scallywags, and they're throwing a big Easter Sunday party for everyone.

As to which bands will be joining them for tonight's escapade? Your guess is about as good as mine - I think I've counted approximately 7,096 different lineups for tonight's bill, with names like My Third Leg and Melchett being bandied around, so maybe it's a bit of an anti-climax that the responsibility of opening proceedings falls to a local music shop employee with a guitar and some light-hearted covers of recent pop songs. Actually, it's not at all, and Manny's amusing ramblings and jammings are charming and hella funny. He reminded me of Team Harry, and in a good way; it's useless trying to review this sort of thing critically, because it's not trying to be anything other than good fun. I happened to be grabbing a bite to eat when he hit the stage and only caught the final song (a stop-start and snigger-inducing version of the Black Eyed Peas' 'I Gotta Feeling'), hence no rating, but as I said already, trying to give this a serious rating is like trying to analyse a performance of Les Miserables done by an entirely drunk cast wearing silly hats and bunny slippers, or trying to argue intelligently with some 12-year-old redneck troll on Youtube.

So with everyone firmly in good spirits, it's time to welcome an actual proper band onto the stage! Wait, sorry, my mistake, it's only Mexican Wave (70%). More cover-based shenanigans ahoy then, with half-a-tablespoon of goofs and a liberal sprinkling of self-deprecating banter in a standard cover-band recipe. But amidst more hoots and guffaws of laughter, there's actually some pretty decent musicianship, and the songs the trio roll out are executed pretty well, all told. Considering we're talking about a band that practices about as often as Boris Johnson has sex, the competent musicianship and energy on display is enough to put some serious original bands to shame. It helps that the songs themselves are entertaining, with a setlist ranging from Nirvana and Kerbdog to Reuben and Green Day, and that the people playing them are capable musicians in their own right - Capt. Bastard's own Jordan Harris (guitar) and Ben Gower (drums), plus The Plan bassman Wayne Tully form a tight unit and underpin the goofball fun with some fine chops. A covers band that can actually play - a novel concept I know, but it makes for good entertainment and great fun this evening.

And so here we go, on a stage that can actually fit the whole band with space to spare, Captain Bastard and the Scallywags (85%) hit the stage, set up, completely bemuse the soundman, look at each other, shrug, say 'fuck it' and race into action for their headlining set of folk-punk carnage. Magners and Guinness's at the ready everyone, this is gonna be chaos. And so it proves, as the gang give the best performance I've yet seen from them, even surpassing their excellent set in the confines of the 12 Bar Club in London several months back. Ironically, they played there only last night - maybe the aura's rubbed off on them? Or perhaps they just seem to raise their game when placed as headliners on a bill? Either way, long may it continue. Execution and timing issues are no longer a problem, as the 8-piece ensemble have gelled nicely as a unit in the previous six months or so since their inception, and tonight the sound quality is very strong, with all the instruments nicely balanced (note this day down in your diaries folks, because believe me, it's a rarity). So we have Jordan's mandolin karate-chopping over the top of Lucas Razzell's crunching electric guitar and Tom Gardener's jangling, clanging acoustic guitar, placed on a bed of Bill Gower's solid bass runs and Keith Sargent's haphazardly chaotic drums, with a dusting of Ben Gower's neat accordion lines and Kayla Harlow's elegant pennywhistle melodies and topped off with a dash of hollered vocals provided courtesy of Andrew Keech. All in all, the perfect folk-punk recipe, and with these high-quality ingredients, fun and great songs are guaranteed. The standard one-two opening of 'Along Came a Spider' and the Dropkick Murphy's 'I'm Shipping Up to Boston' is shifted a few songs into the set tonight, and newies 'Scream' and 'Soyouwannabeapirate?' slot in alongside already established anthems like 'Nine Layers of Hell' (complete with Keech starting a three-man circle pit in the intro) and my personal favourite, 'Getting Out Of This Town'. Obviously, a folk-punk gig (or indeed, tonight's gig) wouldn't be complete without a raft of traditional covers, and they don't disappoint; an entire medley of them rolls out as always, and their brilliant version of 'La Bamba' is ridiculously good fun.

As the final notes of set closer and Flogging Molly cover '7 Deadly Sins' fade away and the band say their goodnights, the realisation hits that these guys have, through hard graft and a great ear for a tune, grown in stature to truly become a player on the Kent punk circuit. Their rise has been steady rather than meteoric, but a rise it has been nonetheless, and provided they keep everything together, they're only going to continue to grow stronger. That prospect I had of necking Magners and dancing like a tit on hot summer evenings to the Scallywags remains an enticing proposition, and it's looking more and more attractive by the day.

Headliner's Setlist:
  1. You, Me and the Devil
  2. Scream
  3. Along Came A Spider
  4. I'm Shipping Up To Boston (Dropkick Murphy's cover)
  5. Soyouwannabeapirate?
  6. Nine Layers of Hell
  7. Covers Medley (including Whiskey in a Jar and The Wild Rover)
  8. Gettin' Out Of This Town
  9. La Bamba (traditional)
  10. 7 Deadly Sins (Flogging Molly cover)

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