|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?
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.
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