Your ‘man-in-the-mosh pit’, Nigel Milne (Chandos 68), gives his appraisal…
Instead of hosting a ‘Big Name Act’ as the pre Speech Day concert this year, and following the success of GLASTOWEBURY two years ago, this year’s entertainment was provided by some of Stowe’s own finest sons and daughters.
Now, it is very difficult to maintain an objective point of view when watching ‘Home-grown’ talent performing on their own home ground and in front of a ‘Home’ audience of friends and family – it is all just a little bit too one sided to view the proceedings with an objectively critical eye – and ear. Everyone in the audience, naturally, wants to give the artists maximum support and encouragement – after all, they are, each of them, one of us!
So it was with, hopefully, well disguised trepidation and insouciant élan that I sauntered into the marquee one Friday night in May for SOUTHSIDE 18 – 2018’s pre Speech Day concert, with pen and paper in hand and wondering how on earth I was going to write a balanced and unbiased critique of the evening’s events as they unfolded.
Music appreciation, by its very nature, is entirely subjective, and unless a piece of music is so crumpingly dull and uninspiring or the performer is so laughably awful, most performers possessing a modicum of technical, structural, musical and harmonious quality are bound to find some appreciation amongst the assembled crowd!
However, as it happened, my misgivings were immediately blown away by the first act HUX. Poor things – for the second year running their allocation was the ‘Graveyard Slot’ and what a wasted opportunity for the audience it was as well, the majority of whom were still sampling the wares of the street food vendors outside.
A totally original, talented and captivating act, HUX performed a selection from their increasingly varied oeuvre to, literally, a handful of us in the marquee.
It was fascinating watching the contrasting personalities of Patrick Keating (Bruce 15) and George Huxtable (Chatham 15), firing off each other with the former’s urbane cool persona acting as the perfect foil to the vigorous performance of the latter in both guitar skills and vocals. Really original songs delivered with excellent harmonies and with some thrilling guitar duelling. Their opening song So Long To Find You is a triumph.
Theirs is an eclectic variety of styles with some laid back shuffling rhythms, great complementary guitar crescendos and some ‘lazin’-on-the-back porch’ laid back J.J.Cale-style Americana in which they gave us eight offerings from their ever expanding collection. All good atmospheric stuff and I would like to see these two in a small club environment like The Borderline – the mood and atmosphere would be terrific.
HUX were joined by Mali Aitchison (Nugent 18) for the last number of their set This One Two – but more of her later!
Next up, a paragon of vivacious and infectious jollity leapt onto the stage in the form of Mina Haas (Stanhope 18), who took the evening forward into a different realm with some pretty vocals in an idiosyncratic style. She was instrumentally backed up by Max Campbell-Preston (Grafton 18), Theo Hayes (Chatham, Lower Sixth) and Ben Weston (Head of Keyboard). An original number Sunny Side Up was followed by Edge Of A Miracle and a Sarah Bareillies cover Gravity. Mina has a voice full of character – did I hear a little Joni infiltrating the mid-range or even, to those of a certain vintage, Maria Muldaur?
Lucy Sutherland (Nugent 18) then held us all spell-bound by opening her set with the beautiful cover of Birdie’s Wings, whilst accompanying herself on the piano. She followed that by picking up a little guitar and delivered Kiss Me/Toothpaste Kisses and a great version of the excellent Camilla Cabello’s Havana, in an endearingly chaotic but very effective style.
Now, Mali Aitchison is an intriguing performer with a confident and upbeat delivery and with an occasional familiar timbre in the upper register. Hmmm…??? GOT IT! Definite shades of Emmylou Harris there! She opened her set with a cover of Estelle’s American Boy, which she followed with a wonderfully louche version of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and then wrapped the set with her own composition Get It Right and an exquisite co-written, harmony-infused duet with Henry Gauvin (Temple 18) called We Collide, the refrain of which remained in my mind for hours afterwards.
I remember Henry Gauvain from GLASTOWEBURY in 2016 and thinking, “This guy is a natural – he has the entire required packet of professionalism already!” and that has not changed, though I detected more confidence and swagger and ‘Hello???’ – He suddenly goes and gives us a song in Spanish! “Que”, I thought – but then, why not? … and brilliantly effective it was too.
The first band of the evening, SPOON ON THE MOON, were a revelation. Fronted by Henry Gauvain and with the digitally dexterous agility of Arthur Marriott (Chandos 18) on guitar, Tash Wood (Queen’s 18) on driving pulsating bass and Danny Jolker drumming like a – well, like a mad drumming thing! They gave us their own This Music followed by What You Know.
After a slick set, most of the band vacated the stage leaving Tash divesting herself of her bass and being joined by Charles Rivington (Bruce 18) on guitar. She gave us a sultry, bluesey lament called Let It Rain, which was oozing with regret and hugely effective. This was followed by a sparse drum loop accompanying her richly expressive voice emoting the wonderfully titled Bad Bitches Beat Heartbreak.
Continuing in the vein of moody introspection, Max Campbell-Preston took to the stage on his own and gave full throat to his own composition The Difference, which was a tour de force of vocal acrobatics and howling anguish. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make out the words and so failed to decipher the song’s message. I wondered if he had just been unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend and was none too happy about it – I do hope that wasn’t the case! An impressive and dramatic performance though.
The second band of the evening, STOWENERS, kicked off with an original number Lost followed by a symphony of no-nonsense, arse-kicking rock covers culminating in I Predict A Riot – which it damn nearly did!
The evening was then wrapped up with the ‘OK-kids-this–is-how-it-should–really-be done’ driving rock of the teaching-staff band, THE FIRING LINE. They started off well enough, or so I thought, until the opening bars of White Stripes Seven Nation Army threatened to shred the canvas roof of the marquee. Suddenly the mosh pit swelled dramatically in size and positively erupted! – and so it continued for the rest of the evening.
It is really impressive to see the volume and quality of home-grown talent emanating from Stowe these days and with all of the performers writing their own original material. The influence of the new Music School must, in part, be responsible for some of this out-pouring of originality, together with the commendable enthusiasm and encouragement of the music staff. This is all to be compared with when I was in a band at Stowe, and who, along with the other bands (yes, even Roger Hodgson’s) relied purely on performing covers. Mind you, that was the period when British pop music was, arguably, at its most fecund and we had an ever-increasing supply of wonderful new material emanating through the airwaves from the pirate radio stations and appearing in our record shops on a weekly basis, so that trying to compete with such an outpouring was rather discouraging!
So yes, all you ‘Home Grown’ Stoic acts – from one member of a mainly ‘Home’ audience, I can confidently say that you did us, yourselves and Stowe proud!
Nigel Milne (Chandos 68)