Green Man take to the high seas to kick-off festival season in real style
A five-hour booze cruise on the Thames is what the Green Man Festival calls Ahoy. Some shipmates wear nautical hats, make-up artists apply sparkle, and the bands play without a stage, jammed into the bow end of the Dutch Master’s lower saloon. Support Gengahr are everyone’s darling young guitar band and headliners Slow Club have songwriting skills, charm and a pedigree that make their lack of breakthrough a mystery. Artists and audience mingle on the upper decks, taking selfies and group photos, and drinking the bar dry.
Warm-up act Palace Winter push out an engaging set of Americana indie rock, blended with electronic new wave and scandi-pop from the ’80s. Australian singer-guitarist Carl Coleman is a likeable frontman, while Dane Caspar Hesselager adds driving synth bass and melodies. Drums and atmospheric guitar complete the ensemble.
Slow Club are on after most of their Ahoy shipmates have been drinking for over three hours on empty stomachs (there is no galley). “I was so miserable when I got on the boat, but now I feel the happiest I’ve ever been,” Rebecca Taylor says. It’s a stripped down two-piece, just Charles Watson and Taylor. ‘Come On, Poet’, the opener, is one of no less than seven new songs in the set, presumably from their forthcoming fourth album.
‘Rebecca, Casanova’ features Watson on semi-acoustic guitar (he’s brought two of them, as well as a neat red Nord Electro 4 keyboard) and drum machine, harmonising beautifully with Taylor’s lead vocals. He switches off the drums to let Taylor wind down the vocals then wind them up again to the song’s climax. Another new one, ‘Big Mirror’, has the crowd swaying with the Thames waves as Watson strums like a hipster cowboy and sings “I was blinded by the sun, now I’m sleeping in your eye.”
The fourth song, finally, is a golden oldie — ‘Tears of Joy’ from third album ‘Complete Surrender’ — which the duo have to start again after the boat’s rocking puts them off their stride, to much candid comic effect. Taylor jokes ingenuously with her jolly shipmates throughout the set, teasing official cameraman Dave. The chorus of “I’m ready, uh uh, I’m ready for it” sparks the first real singalong of the day.
When Watson does yet another newie — “just another town, just another friend, just another sunset” — Taylor sweetly helps him to remember the lyrics and joins in effortlessly with the vocals. Her singing is incredibly powerful on ‘Wading In The Warmest Waters’, a song about when she was happy, she says: “You’re a baby but it’s you who holds me tight.” Taylor is a rare talent, combining a remarkably beautiful voice with emotionally intelligent songwriting. Some of the crowd at the back of the packed lower saloon want the amps turned up, as they hang on every delicate word and every special guitar or keyboard note, but Taylor wants to make sure the volume doesn’t grate.
As Watson takes his turn on ‘Ancient Rolling Sea’, his microphone starts drooping towards the keyboard, too low for his mouth, so Taylor rushes over in a lovingly chaotic moment and uses her guitar to pivot it, until an audience member steps forward to hold it. “Thanks Louise,” Taylor says. Chaos and composure, combined, sort of sums up Slow Club live.
‘Not Mine To Love’ from ‘Complete Surrender’ — the 2014 album that, unfathomably, never got into the top 50 — is sung by Taylor on guitar. It’s heartbreaking and glorious: “I’ve got a lover who does me good, he flips me over, like you never would, but when the night falls, it’s you I long for.” The Ahoy shipmates sing along. A glowingTaylor asks, “Is Dave on camera getting this, ’cos it makes us look like Stars in Their Eyes?” A poignant reference to their undeserved obscurity. They should be stars.
‘In Waves’ is “about when you can’t stop looking at the internet”, and has a slow rockabilly-country feel to Watson’s guitar. “Two more songs and then cocktails on the roof,” he promises, while Taylor — sitting on an amp like a vamp — makes unreportable jokes about bodily functions. ‘Wanderer Wandering’, a Watson favourite, is followed by the second album’s opener, ‘Two Cousins’ — a fan favourite. Taylor’s fully relaxed; the audience is smiling; and the electric piano and vocals rendition is slow and lovely beyond belief. Forget stars in their eyes, some of the crowd have tears in their eyes.
Earlier, support act Gengahr, who are finishing their second album, play a few new songs —‘Mallory’, ‘Candle Karma’, ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Wildness’ — but not as many as Slow Club. On ‘Mallory’, as usual, lead guitar from John Victor is insistent and inspired, while Felix Bushe sings in his trademark falsetto. Opener ‘Heroine’ from last June’s debut album ‘A Dream Outside’ bursts tight and melodic into the cramped saloon deck. Drummer Danny Ward joins in on vocals on early single ‘Bathed In Light’, a slow starter with scratchy guitar from Victor, before he gets his instrument to soar.
A vicious break in ‘Embers’ between Bushe’s laid back ’60s US style verses shows Gengahr at their best. Oddly, their songs often peak when he stops singing and concentrates on adding to the psych-pop guitar melee. ‘Candle Karma’ waltzes with weirdly wailing guitar, while debut single ‘Fill My Gums With Blood’ is a light and breezy summer tune, perfectly suited to a boat trip festival. ‘Before Sunrise’ suggests that the new album is going to showcase how Victor’s guitar riffs, tunes, phrases, licks and wicked patterns play against straightforward bass and drums. The crowd is by now jigging along.
Second single ‘She’s A Witch’ comes alive at the end, and their last new song of the day, ‘Wildness’, is carried by a single repeated bass note from Hugh Schulte as Victor adds layers of psych guitar. By now the Ahoy shipmates have worked out that the best way of making an appreciative racket is to slap the saloon deck’s low ceiling. Gengahr end with ‘Powder’, a crowd favourite as Bushe sings and plays second guitar at the same time during great punky choruses. More of the same, please.
This Slow Club article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Photos by Gita and Ian Bourne.