SILENCE AND COMPANY / SJ AND THE FLYING PIGS / KASPAR AND THE SWAMP DOGS – The Portland Arms, Cambridge 12.09.19

PAUL MONKHOUSE

PHOTO CREDITS: STUART ISTEED PHOTOGRAPHY

Having seen Bon Jovi starting out as a support act and Ed Sheeran playing tiny pubs for both to go on to sell out multiple nights at Wembley Stadium it’s safe to say that you never know when you’ll witness the next artist on the first steps to mega-stardom. Walk into any pub or club up and down the country on any night of the week and you might be in with a chance of saying ‘’I was there when…’’. Thursday night at the Portland in Cambridge was such a night, the stage in the backroom of the pub graced by three acts whose styles varied hugely but whose quality shone in equally dazzling proportion.

 

Kicking off the show, London based trio KASPAR & THE SWAMP DOGS brought their Delta Blues cool to the stage. Kaspars playing and voice bringing his own spin on the authentic sound of the Deep South with an obvious affection and thrall to the style. Sadly this was the last gig with the current line-up as the rhythm section of Seb Rejahl and Mia Carey were heading off to university in Sheffield three days later but with material that shows a direct kinship to the brilliant Stevie Ray Vaughn on display you can bet that you most certainly haven’t heard the last bark of these dogs.

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SJ AND THE FLYING PIGS is the Americana tinged side project of some of Morganway and, like the mother band, exude the same huge class whilst exhibiting the more Nashville flavour of their material than the usual West Coast stylings. ‘Hit the Road’ is pure bluegrass and ‘Roaming Bandit’ a beautifully moody tongue in cheek love song, both done with the humour that is so appealing throughout the set. The equally shimmering ‘Anchor Down’ is a stunning song of goodbye and the band follows this with their stripped back, but brilliantly effective cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Free Falling’ and the raucous whiskey drinking song ‘Fireball’.

The set continues in this fashion, highlighting the many sides of the genre, SJ’s vocals as beautifully clear as always, her partners in crime of Nicola on fiddle and vocals and Aaron on guitar bringing so many layers to songs. When the hilarious ‘Herringbone Hetty and Her Southend Jetty’ concludes the short set it can’t help you wanting more and leaving with you with the knowledge that, in whatever guise they play, these musicians are among the very finest around.

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It seems strange to think that headliners SILENCE & COMPANY have only been around for nine months due to the amount that they have achieved in such a short space of time. Having already won Song of the Year at the recent NGM Awards for their first single, this gig to launch their second offering is packed all the way to the bar and speaks of a future where much bigger stages and audiences will become the norm. Billing them as a blues-rock band doesn’t fully do them justice as opening song ‘Fall’ sees elements of funk and cool jazz all brought together in a delicious gumbo that is impossible not to dance and sway to. The band members themselves are equally eclectic in their style of dress; lead singer/guitarist Jake Wix resplendent in silver DMs and gold jacket, vocalist Millie Wisbeach is the living embodiment of Ariel from ‘The Little Mermaid’ with her striking red hair and sequin paneled green bodysuit, drummer Sean Clayton going for hippy cool in a paisley shirt and bass player Lewis Young sporting the grunge look, all black t-shirt and flying hair.

‘My Kind of Person’ blazes with an American New Wave vibe and it shows the confidence of the band that they play the award-winning ‘This Ain’t a Blues Song’ so early in the set, the number so Summery and blessed with a great guitar solo from Wix. The band absolutely blindside the audience next with an unexpected and fun cover of ‘Old Town Road’, switching then to the acoustic duo of ‘How It Ends’ and another cover in the shape of ‘Gotten’ by Slash & Adam Levine. Two covers in one set is a risky proposition but thankfully their own material is strong enough to stand alongside them and it seems certain that as time progresses these will be pushed out of future sets by self-penned numbers.

Any doubts are blown away by the big dynamic rock of ‘Its Life’ and as a turbo-charged riff similar to ‘Oh Well’ kicks off ‘Plans’ the band really takes flight, Young a whirlwind of frenetic energy as he pulls shapes and runs the equivalent of a marathon on his small section of the stage. ‘Hideaway’ stomps, Clayton’s percussive playing fueling the crunch and intent where ‘Pint of That’ is brilliantly sweet pop/rock, the interplay between Wix and Wisbeach and overall style very reminiscent of The Beautiful South. Lead track from the EP, ‘Hit Back’ closes the night and is a hugely enjoyable funky rock tornado that sees Young jump into the audience and an extended guitar solo that wrings every last drop of sweat and energy out of the packed crowd. Despite initial teething problems with a lead at the start of the set, the evening is an undoubted triumph and the band seemed genuinely overwhelmed with the response from those gathered to see them. All hail the new superstars waiting in the wings.

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