original. acoustic. music.

Review: Monroe's Deviant Jamm.

Happy Bar is a warm, inviting, comfortable venue, but it has some rather unfortunate architectural features.

It is essentially a basement - an oblong room accessible by stairs down from street level. It has a bar down one side, a small dais opposite, a raised stage area at the far end and some very obtrusive columns down the middle of the room.Ideally, performers would be on the raised stage at the far end and the audience in the main body of the room - indeed we have played and been to a few gigs in this orientation - but the columns make it difficult to get a good view of the stage from most seats.

This time around we played on the small dais opposite the bar, which meant the best seats in the house were in fact behind the bar, the rest of the audience mostly clustered either side of the stage. We've played a gig in this orientation before as well, and it was a good time too, but it was also an all acoustic performance that better suited the audience at such close quarters.

I have to say, that with the line-up that night culminating in the excellent 5-piece Apricot Jamm, we'd have been much better located on the main stage - it is very hard to play to an audience either side of you when you habitually project straight ahead. As I say, the barman had the best seat in the house!

This arrangement also affected the sound, and I must take the time to mention and congratulate the sterling efforts of Dean the sound guy. Dean was brought in by Gerry and Lucy from Monroe, who had worked with him before. Had I a hat, I'd be taking it off to him at this moment, as he managed to make all three bands come across very well given the fact he had never heard two of the acts before, and had only a short amount of time to sound check all three before the night began. Excellent work.And so, to the gig!

The line-up: Monroe, The Gracious Deviants, and Apricot Jamm.

Monroe have been a four-piece in the past, but tonight we heard from the two main creative forces Gerry Blair and Lucy Briant. Both played guitar and sang, alternating between acoustic and electric guitars to vary the sonic palate.

Their set was mostly new material, all original, soulful, evocative, emotive songs. Their two voices blended comfortably and smoothly - Lucy's wonderfully husky tones and Gerry's sonorous alto - winding their way around simple yet effective guitar lines and subtle and appropriately restrained use of guitar effects.

Although, as we have discovered, recordings often do not capture the energy of a live performance, I urge you to visit Monroe's Facebook site and check out the tracks that are there, as any further description from me is unlikely to do them justice. Suffice to say, they are great performers.

Darrel and I were on next and ripped through our set, as is our current custom. How far we have come from our initial performances where I talked and talked and talked before playing simply to calm myself down - every break in between songs would be an apology either for the song past or the one to come! With time and practice comes confidence, and Darrel and I were determined to come across the best we could.

We had assembled what we thought was the best set of songs to showcase our sound and set off under the hot lights, Darrel having to work hard to keep his voice after a week of parent-teacher interviews and general child-wrangling at school. All was going well until the first few bars of Mistakes I've Made Before when my B-string decided to part company with my guitar, just in time for my solo! Despite my guitar dropping out of tune, I managed to talk my way through the solo and borrow one of the Apricot Jamm's guitars for the rest of the set.We were suffering a bit, but listening back to the gig we did a good job.

I guess the only thing that really stands out in the recording is not our performance, but the audience. It's a curious feature of original music gigs - during the first act the audience is reverent and quiet, but by the second act, they've settled into the night, drank a bit more... and suddenly have very important things to say to one another, really loudly, until the music stops. That aside, they were very appreciative, and you have to admit that sitting down listening to three hours of music you've never heard before can be a little taxing.

We finished with All About You and Release just so that both of us, rather than just one, would be knackered by the end.

Finally Apricot Jamm took to the stage. They are a hard-working, hard-rocking five-piece who have a fairly busy schedule playing covers gigs, but tonight it was all about originals.

Apricot Jamm are Karen Gibson on lead vocals and guitar, Scott Roy on bass and guitar, Morgan Samuel on guitar, keys and trombone, Michael Rowlands on lead guitar, and Logan Gibson on drums. Their set featured many changes, in line up and instruments, going from two acoustic guitar singer-songwriter style to a full-blown five piece at one point featuring the multi-talented Morgan Samuel breaking out the trombone.

Karen Gibson's strong, roughsawn yet melodic and soulful voice partnered with her acoustic guitar work was well at home in both line ups, duo and full-blown band. Scott Roy of the furry trousers and somewhat unique slant on life in general provided some deft 12-string work in the small group songs and a solid bass line throughout the band songs. Morgan Samuel effortlessly moved from acoustic to electric guitar to keyboard, onto trombone, and back again - equally confident and proficient in each instrument - and sang too! Michael Rowlands' commanding lead guitar work leapt out from the mix in all the right places, evidence of an experienced and talented musician. Last but by no means least, Logan Gibson's extraordinarily tight and multi-faceted drumming belied his age - only 15 and yet playing with a fire and determination that would put many older musicians to shame. With their solid rhythm section, great lead and rhythm guitar work, keys, and three-part harmony in the choruses of some incredibly catchy songs, Apricot Jamm deserve every success coming their way. I'm still humming the "Hey Yeah" hook of one of their songs. All in all, a night packed with excellent music, and I'm looking forward to getting together with them all and doing it all again.

And you should be too.