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Stackridge - Lyme Regis Review

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    Posted: May 10 2011 at 02:29

STACKRIDGE –Woodmead Halls, Lyme Regis, 30th April 2011

The gig was introduced by a slightly incoherent host dressed like something out of the Old West as he stumbled around the stage, tripping over trailing leads before announcing the arrival of the band onto the boards to great applause from those present. James Warren found that his guitar was failing to respond, no doubt due to the aforementioned old codger whipping out the lead with his foot! This however was soon rectified and the band took their places, at stage right (from an audience perspective) was Andy Davis with his classic Les Paul, trusty pedal board and extra keyboard, behind him and hidden by his stacked keyboards was Glenn Tommey and on the other side of the stage stood James Warren with both electric and acoustic guitars at the ready.  Crun Walter, clutching his bass lurked behind the diminutive one, handsome Eddie John at the back was on his drum kit and at stage centre, in the position once occupied by Mutter Slater, stood the striking figure of violinist Clare Lindley, wearing a black and polka dot white dress over her leggings.

The set kicked off with the recently rearranged ‘The Last Plimsoll’, the sound was better than I’ve heard for a while, this sonic clarity enhancing an impressive opening salvo. This new arrangement, originally forced on the band by time restrictions for their recent U.S. television appearance on the Craig Ferguson Show, benefitted the song and greatly emphasised the dynamics of its composition. One of the few times during the evening I thought of Mutter was when the passage for the flute solo arrived but the band’s natural dynamism covered this absence admirably and generous applause erupted after the final chord was played. The first delightful surprise of the evening followed, as the glorious ‘Teatime’ was reinstated, a song that sits at the very heart of Stackridge mythology, no greater compliment could be given than the fact that, even without its customary flute solo, this beautiful tune still moved me to tears and what an amazing performance this was. It was clear by now that Clare had moved effortlessly into the centre stage previously occupied by Mutter and made it her own, she was a towering presence that galvanised the eye and gave a perfect central focus to the band’s visual image on stage. To see her cut loose on violin on the extended coda of ‘Teatime’ was truly awe inspiring and full marks to the band for the set changes that opened up such opportunities for Clare to display her exceptional improvisational skills.

A punchy ‘Lost and Found’ followed with more great dynamics and some fluttering flute from Glenn, although we couldn’t see him behind his keyboard castle, as Clare’s violin duelled  with the flute on this one. Nice to see the band dipping into the ‘Sex and Flags’ album for ‘Big Baby’, sung by both Andy and James alternately, with Clare adding strongly to the vocal mix too. This track featured some spiky guitars from both Andy and James and brought an edgier feel to the set. Another selection from this era followed with James’ tune ‘Something About the Beatles’ on which Andy cranked up his lead guitar and let fly with a bluesy, sustained solo. The popular ‘Red Squirrel’ was up next as the band stoked up some brooding power in the guitar department once more, before the lighter and very welcome interlude that was the re-introduced ‘Fundamentally Yours’ in all its pop glory. The first set closed with another sweet surprise as ‘Hey Good Looking’ from the ‘Mr. Mick’ album was heard live for the first time since 2000, when the Millennium line-up had performed it. A nice re-arrangement that started with just Andy on keyboard and vocals until the band swung in with a Caribbean lilt enhanced by Crun’s reggae-tinged bass lines, James’ gently chopping guitar and Clare adding percussion with her guiro, as well as sparkling vocals all round.

Another interlude followed with our possibly inebriated host, who presided over a raffle of comedic proportions before James, Clare and Andy took the stage for what James dubbed “...a short acoustic session”, although this statement was technically incorrect as Andy still played his electric guitar on a touching version of ‘Can Inspiration Save the Nation’ with violin fills by Clare and harmony vocals from James, not forgetting some pearly sounding organ on the middle eight by the still virtually invisible Glenn. It was great to see this track return too. If we thought the first set was good (and it was), the second set was to get even better as Crun took the microphone to introduce the band, including a quip about Clare’s “Oxfam dress” after which she playfully booted him in the rear!He then introduced  ‘Seek and You Will Find’ as “A track from ‘A Victory for Common Sense’...”, James correcting this statement as he chipped in, “It’s not actually on the album!” but added, “It is on the Albanian version”  as the band rolled into this atmospheric  composition featuring strong three part vocals by James, Clare and Andy and tambourine courtesy of Crun. The extended play out gave us another chance to admire Clare’s violin extemporisations, what an extraordinarily talented asset to the band she is proving to be.

The second set reached a real highlight as the band performed a brace of newer compositions, first heard in embryonic form at the Polish Club in Bristol last September, but now substantially re-arranged and released as a single to support this tour. The first of these, ‘Dummies’, is a brilliant song, strong on atmospherics and led by an insistent violin melody. Again the three-way vocal frontline impressed with their power and Andy also played some remarkable lead guitar through his pedal board on what most guitarist call the ‘dusty end’ of the fret board (right next to the body of the guitar), very evocative and yearning. The second song featured on the single can only be described as classic Stackridge as ‘Beside the Sea’ is the perfect summertime concoction and an endearingly whimsical portrait and caricature of an archetypal English seaside town, real saucy postcard stuff!  With its romping violin melodies, great vocals and a chorus that glues itself to your ear holes, ‘Beside the Sea’ is a winner in my book and had me grinning from ear to ear. James’ ‘pension plan’ song, ‘Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime’, was up next with a strange reshuffle that saw it start with the violin solo before James sung one verse, then another instrumental interlude followed, it worked rather well, I thought.

The band then stretched out on Crun’s tune, ‘Long Dark River’, with its meandering meshed guitars and steely bass line topped with more of the rich three-part vocals and driven by Eddie’s steadily building drums and Clare on tambourine. What a heady brew this track is as it rises to its inexorable climax of blazing guitars and pummelling drums, a fantastic live number. The audience sing-along favourite ‘The Road to Venezuela’ was next as we happily bellowed out the chorus (well, I did!) and  had fun shouting “Oi!” along with the punchy violin / percussion figures on the middle section of this classic Stackridge tune. Then James said “We’ve come to the end” and so followed ‘Boots and Shoes’ to close the set and what a rollicking and rocking version it was as we sung along with Gusto (yes, he was at the gig too!). Off the band trotted but we wanted them back, so we initiated a ‘Slark chant’  until the band returned to tackle the aforementioned tune, although Glenn commented on our chanting, “I can’t play it that fast though!”. ‘Slark’ was rendered in some style with Glenn up front on flute for the first part (and visible at long last!) and we all sang along with that timeless riff on the ending before one final blast to celebrate Dora’s 40th birthday, as the band put the tin lid on it with a stomping rendition of their very first single from all those years ago, the eternal ‘Dora the Female Explorer’. At times I really felt like I was watching the best band in the world tonight - the magic remains and the incredible story continues...long live Stackridge!

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