‘VARIOUS ARTISTS’ – ‘UNPLUGGED SATURDAY’, ‘FAT TUESDAY’, HASTINGS & ST. LEONARDS 18.2.23
Hastings Fat Tuesday CIC (HFT) is a not for profit organisation based on the south coast that delivers a year round programme of activity to support and showcase the local music scene in Hastings and St Leonards. This includes the flagship ‘Fat Tuesday Music Festival’ that is now in its 14th year, a 3 day Sonic festival for all things electronic and experimental and a range of live music events, workshops and professional development sessions to support emerging and established musicians and those involved in the music industry.
Fat Tuesday Unplugged Saturday (18th February) is a mind-boggling schedule of three hundred gigs on the Saturday afternoon, taking place in thirty different venues across Hastings and St Leonards. Sixty acts each play 15 minute sets in five different venues. The ‘unplugged’ element is that the venues generally do not provide any sort of PA system. You can play acoustically or amplified, but you need to be able to carry all your instruments and any amplification from venue to venue. The upshot is that the Hastings streets are filled with roaming gaggles of gig-bag toting musicians trundling sack trollies laden with gear. It’s quite a sight. My plan is to spend most of the afternoon in my usual milieu of The Carlisle, a rock pub on the seafront. On the way though, I’m going to check out a couple of smaller venues in the Old Town that I haven’t been to before.
Frank From Blue Velvet – Dragon Bar 1.15pm
I start the afternoon in Dragon Bar, a densely packed and lavishly decorated restaurant and cocktail bar in George Street. Frank From Blue Velvet, one of my favourite bands from the local scene, are set up in the window. It’s a stripped back version today, with three players and a gold-themed dress code. Moustachioed frontman Andrew Davies looks particularly splendid in a shiny snakeskin jacket and a straw cowboy hat, playing an orange Gretsch guitar. Bassist Ruby Lyons is rocking an outfit of gold lamé, whilst drummer Ogs (a former member of Peter and the Test Tube Babies) sports a yellow waistcoat and gets busy on a minimalist kit of snare and kick drum. The music is wonderfully vibey, a sort of dark Americana. It conjures images of a claustrophobic and chaotic old west, of drinking and gambling and danger, and gathering storms. There’s a fine rendition of ‘Snakepreacher’ from the debut album, stomping along over a shuffling snare, and a strong conclusion with ‘I Am Frank’, with its haunting refrain: “F*cked up, messed up girls and boys. Misfits, oddballs, broken toys”. It’s a great start to the afternoon, and I’m glad I caught the band in a venue small enough to hear their hard-driven busking amps.
Silent Natives – British Tea Museum 1:30pm
I’m intrigued to visit the British Tea Museum at the other end of George Street. As its name suggests, it is indeed a tea room, though they’ll do you an iced-tea with gin if you fancy. Silent Natives are playing. They’re an indie three-piece from Romford, with Steve on vocals, Rich on bass, and drummer Chris, who today has gone for the more portable option of a cajón. Steve is playing an acoustic with a lovely tone, which gives a slightly folky feel to the songs. Opening number ‘On The Run’ has a vocal line with long sustained notes. The more mournful feel of ‘Alive’ is accompanied by finger-picked guitar and shuffling rolls on the cajón. ‘Love It’ is a liltingly catchy number framed by bouncing octave notes on the bass, and there are some interesting changes of rhythm on set closer ‘I Love You’.
The Shady Pines – The Carlisle 1:45pm
By the time I reach my intended destination of The Carlisle, The Shady Pines are underway with their set. An 11-piece singing ensemble dressed in colourful clothes, enthusiastically directed and accompanied by pianist Becky Byrne, they romp through mainstream cover versions such as ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and ‘Mr Brightside’. On paper, this sounds like the musical equivalent of one of Dante’s ‘Circles of Hell’, but their enthusiasm is infectious and it’s surprisingly good fun. The Carlisle is quite a large venue to play acoustically, so choirs come into their own here, and the ladies of The Shady Pines have done well to win over the crowd. In a masterstroke of programming, the next act is called Shady Baby, much to the amusement of both parties.
Shady Baby – The Carlisle 2:15pm
Based around the songwriting of Sam Leaver, Brighton four-piece Shady Baby play classic indie rock with hints of 1990s Britpop and the earlier indie-dance crossover scene of Madchester. They have recently supported Priestgate at The Prince Albert and headlined The Green Door Store. Sam is on vocals and acoustic guitar, accompanied by Laurie Debnam on electric guitar, Nick Varnava on bass, and drummer Tom Jackson on cajón, sporting a wonderfully retro mullet and ‘tash hairstyle combo. Although travelling light with relatively small busking amps, I notice they have still managed to bring multiple guitars. Opening number ‘Too Late’ has a gloriously infectious descending chord pattern overlaid with chiming lead that puts me in mind of Primal Scream. The mood is briefly punctured by one of the bar’s local “characters” coming up to the stage and cupping his ear, as though straining to hear. Band and audience alike dissolve into laughter. ‘Lonely Town’ is a catchy tune built around a four-chord pattern and a choppy rhythm, and there’s a section with a tasty break of bouncing bass. Final number ‘Come To Life’ has an insistent driving beat and a garagey Velvets vibe. Sam’s vocal is a pleasing drawl and Tom is getting busy on the cajón. They mention that the last two songs feature on a 7” vinyl single, and I’m sufficiently impressed to buy a copy. This is a band I would very much like to see in full effect.
Mighty Sounds – The Carlisle 2:45pm
Next up at The Carlisle are Mighty Sounds, a Hastings reggae band who play a mix of roots, lovers rock and their own original material. They run the Reggae Room on Fat Tuesday, but this afternoon they’re here in a stripped back form with six players on stage. Vocalist Lee Prudence and keyboard player Jonny Sparkles look like they’ve come straight from the ball in their masquerade masks. John Sutter is on guitar, Philip ‘Soul’ Sewell is on bass, and Marcus Weeks adds melodica and trombone. Percussion today is provided on a djembe drum by a player I don’t recognise. This afternoon’s set has a lilting and languid lovers rock feel, floating nicely on bubbling bass and gentle offbeat guitar. I’m rather taken by ‘If You’re Not There’, which I think is an original number. The melodica and keyboards add layers to a rich and vibey sound. To conclude, there’s a cover of Marcia Aitken’s ‘I’m Still In Love’ that segues cleverly into the Althea & Donna classic ‘Uptown Top Ranking’. Nice!
Hastings Punk Choir – The Carlisle 3:15pm
There will certainly be no problems hearing Hastings Punk Choir, who are next on at The Carlisle. There are approximately thirty singers on stage, guided by musical director Tom, who accompanies some songs on an acoustic guitar through a busking amp. The singers mostly wear black t-shirts with the choir’s logo, and are a fairly diverse looking bunch, spanning a broad range of ages. Musically, it does what it says on the tin: a choir, singing fun punk covers. I shudder to think what my teenage self would have made of this, but 45 years on I can’t help but enjoy it. A rousing shoutalong of The Stooges’ proto-punk ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ opens the set, and some wag has donned a rather sinister-looking dog mask. I particularly like the choral rendition of the X-Ray Spex classic ‘Germ Free Adolescents’, with the lower register members replicating the riff, acapella style. During ‘Teenage Kicks’, one singer is holding a cute terrier who seems to have missed his cue for the opening number. We journey on through increasingly surreal territory with Wire’s ‘I Am The Fly’. Are there props? Toy flies on sticks? Of course. The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ has been attempted by almost every cheesy pub covers band I’ve ever seen. The choir’s version, which closes the set, is quite refreshing by comparison.
Mr Wilson’s Second Liners – The Carlisle 3:45pm
I’ve suddenly noticed that the spacious bar of The Carlisle is absolutely rammed solid. This is partly due to the preceding 30-piece choir, who have doubtless brought their friends and relations, and partly due to the obvious popularity of Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, who also played at Le Grand Mardi Gras Ball last night. Second Liners are traditional New Orleans parades with walking brass bands. This lot come from the cajun enclave of Manchester, and their twist on the tradition is that they play brass band versions of 90s club classics, dressed in brightly coloured ‘Sergeant Pepper’ bandsman jackets with wacky headgear. All of this sounds dangerously close to the hipster event horizon, and I’m concerned that Hastings might be dragged in and compressed into a trendy singularity. It certainly feels like that in this room, which has become very tightly packed indeed. Somehow the band battles its way through the throng, and any cynicism on my part disappears immediately when they start playing The Beta Band’s ‘Dry The Rain’. I’m sold and my mind is blown. They really are superb players, all established session musicians, and it is tremendous fun. With the zany hats and continuous movement it’s hard to be certain who’s who, as they have a fair roster of members, but I think we have Will Lenton on bass sax, Howard Jacobs on percussion, Phil Davies on banjo, Atholl Ransome on soprano sax, Paul Leeming on trumpet, with Henry Botham and Sally Edward on trombones. Apologies for any cases of mistaken identity. There’s a fantastic rendition of The Shamen’s ‘Move Any Mountain’, with Mr C’s iconic rap section performed through a megaphone. The Prodigy’s ‘Breathe’ sounds more sinister than you might reasonably expect with comedy brass, and the final number, Beats International’s ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ is an absolute delight, with everyone singing along and dancing as enthusiastically as possible in the limited space available. What an experience!
India Electric Co.– The Carlisle 4:15pm
With some of the previous couple of acts’ followers leaving for their respective next venues, The Carlisle is now merely full rather than packed. India Electric Co. are on next, a three-piece featuring Cole Stacey on acoustic guitar and vocals, Joe O’Keefe on accordion and Russell Field on a minimalist kit of snare and kick drum. They hail from Devon, and are also part of Midge Ure’s backing band. They’ve managed to tote a reasonably large PA speaker around with them, so the sound is pretty good. They open with ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’, which moves along nicely over a brisk beat of shuffling snare. The accordion gives it a hint of Celtic folk, the overall effect being vaguely reminiscent of bands like The Waterboys. By way of contrast, there’s a very downbeat cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’, for which Joe takes over on guitar, and drummer Russell plays a tin whistle. It’s atmospheric, and rather moving. The final number is called ‘Beirut’, and has a different feel again. The accordion sounds more continental, and the rhythm suggestive of a tango. This act clearly comprises some talented musicians with an interesting and varied repertoire.
Lost Revellers – The Carlisle 4:45pm
Lost Revellers today are playing as a duo, with Richard Moore and Caitlin Roberts on violin and accordion respectively. Their music has an Eastern-European folk vibe, the sort of thing you might want to do a circle dance to or play at an extravagant wedding celebration. They are clearly very talented and accomplished players, with Richard demonstrating some staggeringly fast bowing and fingering. They don’t have a vocal mic, and the bar is getting pretty full again, so it’s very difficult to hear their between song chat. I suspect the numbers are standards rather than originals, but it’s hard to be sure. The final number sounds like Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoedown’. Whatever the material, it’s superbly played and goes down well with the enthusiastic crowd.
With such an extensive schedule of events over so many venues, we can only scratch the surface of what goes on during Unplugged Saturday. I watch another set of Frank From Blue Velvet, then head home amongst the gig bags and sack trollies of this huge throng of musical talent.
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