Monday, October 12, 2009

The Destroyers / The Toy Hearts / The Old Dance School @ The Town Hall, Sunday October 11th 2009

The Town Hall’s seen a fair few acts in its 175 years. The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Pink Floyd, MC Charlie Dickens on the ones and twos (playing Bleak ‘House’)…but tonight it’s the setting for some homegrown talent, kicking off with folk six piece The Old School Dance. Actually that’s Folk with a capital F. The real McCoy. The sort of music that you’d probably have heard played in ye olde inns across the land a couple of hundred years back. Of course they’ve freshened it up a little (tonight they revealed that one of the jigs was inspired by a late night drive home from a gig soundtracked by Radio One) but the music remains true to its roots.

It’s always heartening to see a young band embrace such a traditional sound. Images of desolate moors, flame haired maidens and wild ale fuelled dances around bonfires abound and I had to nail my feet to the floor to stop myself from doing a strange kind of Riverdance jig (trust me…no one wants to see me dance…very messy). The guy who played the ‘box’ (he sat on it and played it like a drum…can’t think what’s it’s called, but a few folk bands use ‘em now) was particularly good tonight, at one point he did a kind of duelling banjos style bit with the two fiddle players…break beat folk anyone?

The idea that one of the greatest bluegrass acts around right now should be here in Brum is, let’s face it, pretty preposterous. But here we are watching them. The Toy Hearts (a family concern – two sisters, one dad) have been going a while now. I first saw them at the inaugural Moseley Folk Festival and since them they’ve (in a coals to Newcastle stylee) played at Bluegrass festivals in the USA and cut a couple of rather fine albums. Shut your eyes and you can almost smell the campfires and mountain air. Papa Toy Heart’s an accomplished banjo and slide player and daughter # 1 (Sophia) is, it transpired, the only female flat pick guitar player to be featured in Flat Pick Guitar Monthly (available at all good newsagents). Daughter # 2 (Hannah) meanwhile was recently at something called the Bluegrass Leadership Programme, a US backed scheme to destroy the Taliban with an army of mandolin and banjo players singing songs about how their man/woman gon’ dun them wron’. I jest (no, really), but clearly the band’s getting the kind of respect stateside that most bands would give their wing tip collars for. As with The Old Dance School, it’s traditional music but delivered in such a fresh and enthusiastic way that you’d need to be clinically dead not to feel invigorated by it all. Highlight of the set included a new number entitled ‘Tequila and High Heels’ - a not entirely successful combination Hannah ruefully observed (I can vouch for that, those high heels are a bitch after a couple of glasses of dry white wine).

Finally, the explosive force of energy that is The DestroyersBirmingham’s very own gypsy klezma ska collective (a proposition that’s probably even more preposterous than the Toy Hearts). I like to think that they all live together in a big house somewhere, cooking huge pots of stew and singing songs late into the night whilst plotting ways to overthrow the government and make the wearing of gypsy style clothing compulsory (I reckon those pointy hats that some of the band wear would end gang violence overnight). At the heart of this whirling maelstrom of fiddles, ukes, trumpets, clarinets, tubas, trombones and hurdy gurdys is Mr Paul Murphy, part demented ringmaster part MC and with a voice to die for (Scots with a distinct hint of menace and madness). The lyrics are as nuts as the music…just cop a listen to Glass Coffin Burial for example…an everyday tale of a scientist who finds a way to make himself dead….but alive…so he can lie in his coffin and watch time pass by. You don’t get that from Lady Ga Ga. The band started this track lying on the floor of the stage, corpse like before kicking off with a tune that could, quite possibly, actually raise the dead. Another highlight (there were many) was the mass sing along to Viva La Musica, several hundred people belting out the words, unaccompanied, back to the band. As celebrations for the Town Hall’s 175th birthday go, you couldn’t get much better. It was a dizzying show, part celebration / part call to revolution…hmmm…perhaps it’s time to end the old three party political system once and for all and just introduce the PARTY system, courtesy of The Destroyers. They’d get my vote.

PS: It appears that this show was recorded using six cameras (that’s roughly one camera per 28 members of the band) so I suspect some form of film might be in the offing. As this was arguably one of their finest ever performances that’s a very, very good thing. Viva la musica!


Ashley Keeler said...


The Baron said...

Cajon to you too...oh...I see...THAT's the name of the box thingy. Genius.