Bandwagon noun (pl. bandwagons) 1. A large wagon used to carry a band of musicians in a parade.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

August and After

August and After at Ronnie's Bar

After a disappointing tapas meal near Piccadilly Circus (but a deliciously juicy jug of Sangria) I stroll up to Ronnie Scott’s. There’s an exciting buzz outside, with people drawing on ciggies and rickshaws spinning through the heart of Soho within centimetres of my toes. I’m here to check out the headline act of tonight’s bi-weekly TV Nights show - August and After.
I bustle up the bruised stairs and step into Ronnie’s Bar, a maroon-tinged room with leopard print thrones and monochrome photos of music legends lining the warmly-lit walls. Stylish professionals are sipping on House cocktails like ‘Rummingbird’ or ‘Dizzy Spells’ and I’m half expecting to spot an undercover celeb slink past.
I scour the space in search of the lads I’ve stalked briefly on Facebook and eventually find Ned, one half of August and After, chitchatting to a pilot. I coax him downstairs and soon after we’re joined by bandmate Vedantha on the dirtied-white boxes out front. They tell me they met a party, (dressed as a Sex Pistols star and Russell Crowe respectively), and made a pact to form a band almost straightaway. The guys are chuffed to have come from frolicking around in fancy dress to performing their folk-fuelled ballads at Ronnie Scott's for the first time.
After a chinwag and a half, I hike back upstairs. Young and old (grandparents included), the assembled crowd members are all thinking the same thought - “It’s bloody boiling in here”.
The TV Nights host insists that the sweltering audience shut up or get out; and the crowd settle down for August and After’s opening song. Quaint guitar plucking flirts with silky strings played by the Cosmopolitan Quartet musicians. Vedantha’s soft, deep voice meets Ned’s higher tones to form a mellow harmony.
I’d like to see the two front men relax a bit more to let the real meanings of the songs blossom through; but this could be the nerves of playing such an established venue showing. “It’s a massive privilege to be breathing in Stevie Wonder’s sweat”, Vedantha declares. And it’s on with the next few tunes…
‘The Orchard’ is one of their more reflective numbers, with a sombre vocal melody and gorgeous bursting violin instrumental. My favourite tune of the set is ‘The Jailbreak Song’ with its jazzy, French feel and story-telling lyrics (“It’s freezing on the roof, ten flights of stairs and now it’s hard to move”). The bass line bumbles along, giving a wave of energy. Slides on the violin amuse me with their implication of a frustrated hitchhike overseas and I’m reminded of the many misadventures I had during an inter-railing trip two summers ago.
Salamander’, the final track from August and After’s debut album, broods over the hurdles of life, which seem all the more frightening when you’re unprepared. The slow-paced feel, warming chord sequence and delicate vocal line from Ned has glints of Coldplay. The two guitar lines weave into each other; higher-pitched, picked twinkles flicker in and out, making for a stunning instrumental. 
The headline performance closes with ‘Set Sail’, a sorrowful song about leaving that has an endearing animated music video. The boys express gratitude to the crowd for their support and give a big ‘Thank You’ to the crowd members who took photos of them, adding in a cheeky-chappy tone, “It makes us feel pretty cool”.

'Salamander'  at The Islington

Earlier on in the evening, Ned and Vedantha joined me for an interview underneath some scaffolding outside…
What do you guys get up to when you’re not playing music?
Ned: One of the things Vedantha does, which I always talk about ‘cos I think it’s really cool, is that he’s an incredible chess player. He’s played for the UK.
We’re both getting into writing as well. Vedantha’s blogging in some political forums online and I’m doing some music reviewing. But we both like playing football.
(To Vedantha) You play chess, so did you do a Maths degree…?
Vedantha: No, I didn’t (laughs)…they often go hand in hand! I did Philosophy but the amount of people playing chess for England went on to do a Maths degree.  I think my main thing though is the political stuff.
Is that what you want to do as a full time career then?
Vedantha: Possibly, alongside music! At the moment I’m writing for an online publication and I might be writing for another one soon. Political writing is something I really want to get into, but also actually trying to change the way the debates are framed… We learnt about logic trees in Philosophy and you can use them to synthesize an entire debate into just one diagram… I’m trying to see how we can apply that into more political debates.
Ned, what did you do at uni?
Ned: I did Law. And the practical application of that in my music is… I read our contracts…and Vedantha’s still the one that understands them! But I might end up being a music lawyer, who knows! Might be useful!
Vedantha: He does crosswords as well…
Ned: Oh yeh. I’m a mega crossword geek. I compile crosswords sometimes. I’m making a special August and After one. But, like, a cryptic one.
When will that be released?
Ned: A few weeks from now, maybe…I’ve still got to write half the clues. It’s a toughie!
What’s your favourite music venue?
Ned: At Latitude there’s the i Arena, which is the one in the woods and I’ve seen some amazing bands there. I like the idea of a stage that’s in a really weird place. We’ve done museums, churches…we played at Portobello market, which is quite cool.
Where do you guys think you’ll be in five years’ time?
Vedantha: If we’re being ambitious, we’d be at the level where we’re getting a bit of buzz, getting some really good press and also doing other things.
Vedantha: I want to be a benevolent dictator.
Ned: He wants to be Jack Johnson, basically. But without the surfing.
(And while they’re aligned with each other on stage through their harmonies, off stage a couple of their responses to a game of ‘Would You Rather’ clash a little...)
Would you rather be surrounded by piranhas while playing, or be surround by slugs?
Vedantha: Slugs
Ned: Piranhas definitely, ‘cos that’s so much more badass and cool and probably fun to watch.
Vedantha:  I want to live!

Ned: And when you say surrounded, I would die over my music – that’s the difference between us! I would lay down my life for the songs…!
Would you rather the sound cut out all the time while you were playing, or the audience heckled you?
Ned: Heckled. ‘Cos one of the big things about our stuff, which probably should’ve been one of our (three) words, is that we love interacting.
Vedantha: Collaboration.
Ned: Yeh, collaborative is one of our three words.
Would you rather sneeze every time you heard music that you like, or throw up every time you heard music you don’t like?
Ned: Probably the sneezing one ‘cos that’s quite sweet, whereas the throwing up one...there’s so much music that I would just be like ‘Uhh..’
Vedantha: That’d be so much fun! You’re in an incredible venue and then suddenly ‘Bleurgh…I chundered everywhere’!
Would you rather you owned McDonalds, or you owned a small, organic, vegetarian restaurant?
Simultaneously: a small, organic, vegetarian restaurant!
Photography by Sophie Ellis 
Tuesday  20th August
Ronnie's Bar

Friday, 9 August 2013

The night I joined The Empire

The Empire at The Bedford

I’m craving music this Tuesday night, so I’ve rolled up to The Bedford in Balham to knock back a couple of G&T’s and get ready for up and coming indie rock band The Empire.  Little do I know that in a couple of hours I’ll be bursting into a back room where two of the lads are about to strip down to their boxers (oops!).

The free show’s being streamed live online and host Tony Moore welcomes the five-piece on stage classing them as “big, brassy, noisy and fabulous”.  My eyes spin to werewolf-esque guitarist Matt Holt - not because of his glinting eyes, but his intriguing familiarity. I make it my mission to find out which TV personality he is by the end of the night.

The boys start off gently, the steady drum beat and soft lead vocal rocking me into dream-filled melancholy with the circling back of line ‘I’ll be there to see it all’. But then the bass arrives - dirty, taunting and heavy. The vocal melody (‘Light the sky up, signal fire’) sung by Glaswegian Dave Gibson surprises me with its dissonant notes. His right-hand wrist swirls round in the air, seemingly coaxing out the anguish buried down within the music.

I’m reminded of the muddier sounds of Snow Patrol as the heavy rock sections interlock with softer guitar and vocal phrases.
Lovely & likeable lead singer Dave Gibson

Aided by his gorgeous Scottish accent, the very likeable front man utters what sounds like a charming collection of words - “Nice to be back making a fucking racket”.  

I lean back in the candlelit carousel room, (known as The Shakespeare Globe Theatre), and lend my ears to tracks ‘Fortune Favors The Brave’ and ‘This Time Next Year’. When Gibson sings, the purity of his voice and raring emotions cut through the unforgiving drums and thick guitars like a rough-cut star punching through the foggy night’s sky.

My head clocks again towards The Empire’s bassist… ‘Is he in fact Breakfast Show host Jamie Theakston?’, I ask myself (soon before slapping my forehead at my own absurdity). But my attention swings back to the music, where the jazzy piano hook in ‘Sirens’ sets a nonchalant mood before the track turns darker.

The boys end their performance with defiant anthem ‘Sticks + Stones’ and I bustle backstage to grab a few words. Unluckily for them, I’ve caught Rob (drummer) and Dave (front man) as they’re about to strip off into some sweat-free gear. ‘You idiot’, I scold myself, as I promise them it’s an interview I’ve come for and not to survey them in their boxers.

You’ve guessed what my first questions for drummer Rob Shaw and singer Dave Gibson is…

Is your guitarist (Matt Holt) secretly a celeb..?
Dave: To be honest, he might be – he’s a man of many talents. What’s happened there is you’ve been dazzled by his beauty. You’re not the first!

Who writes your songs?
Dave: I do, and we all sort of contribute.
Rob: It starts with Dave.

What are your favourite sounds at the moment?
Dave: I love a band called Beach Party. They’re from LA. They’re really, really amazing.

Rob: A friend of mine’s band called Royal Blood. They’re just a two-piece but it sounds like there’s about 50 of them on stage.

How did you guys form?
Dave: I was actually a solo artist before, signed under my own name and then decided to put a band around myself and put the word out that we were looking.
Rob: I messaged him on MySpace, that’s how I found his sounds. I was just blown away so kind of said 'If you ever need anyone..'
Dave: And I did!

So what was your stuff like before? Was it the same but completely stripped?
Dave: Very acoustic, very acoustic.

But still with a rocky twist?
Dave: No, not at all. I was never able to really put that sort of edge into it.

So how did you feel about adding different stuff?
Dave: Loved it. This is always what I wanted to do.

(Rob starts spraying his pits with deodorant)

What did you think when you woke up this morning?
Dave: I actually thought, ‘We’ve got this gig tonight, we better smash it and I should probably eat all the sandwiches before we go and perform’.  
Dave: Like get some sandwiches.

Did you actually have sandwiches?!
Dave: I did eat sandwiches!

What flavour??
Dave: Ham and cheese (with American Mustard)
Rob: Egg and bacon

Ham and cheese with pickle...?
Dave: No, American Mustard! Keeping it real!

(And boy did they need sandwich-driven energy for that powerful performance!)

What’s your worst festival moment, either playing or watching?
Dave: Do you know what, in all honesty, we haven’t had one. We’ve been really happy with the festival things, very lucky. I can’t think of anything bad I’ve seen from any other bands except, well, just a general point - that it’s always really awkward as a singer watching bands on stage at festivals when you know they’ve just had a line check, they’ve not had a proper sound check and you can see that the singer cannot hear a word of what he’s doing. That sucks.

What are you guys drinking tonight?
Rob: All of the beers!

Later that night, it hits me - the bassist is the young and attractive version of George and the Jungle's Brendan Fraser. I can go home and sleep easy...

Photography by Sophie Ellis
Tuesday 6th August
The Bedford