Please, could I have a double dose of psychedelic folk rock?, asks Martin Longley.
The Tin/Kitchen Garden Café
August 3rd and 5th
It’s sometimes instructive, or even enjoyable, to catch a combo twice during their tour. Perhaps this might lead to what seems like a repeat showing, and on other occasions there is an insight into wildly varying tactics. There’s always much talk from musicians about being affected by the room they’re playing in, but when Glaswegian folk rockers Trembling Bells gigged in Coventry and Birmingham within three days, the respective venues prompted very different approaches.
Monday night rules were broken, as The Tin in the Coventry canal basin became unusually crowded, a mostly standing audience bowing down to the eardrum pressure of a pa system that was crunched up higher than the small space required. As is so often the case, our hearing receptacles soon adapted, aided by a central placement, right in the crossfire path of the band’s twinned lead guitars, Michael Hastings and Alasdair C. Mitchell alternately shooting out solos, exchanging the role of ascendancy for each song. The collective audience body vibrated in sympathy.
The Bells first rang together in 2008, coming together in Glasgow, taking materials from forebears such as Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band, but gradually upping the proggy, psychedelic extremities, forging their personalised evolution of a tradition that was itself an evolutionary step, back in the late 1960s. The new Tremblies album has been released by Tin Angel Records, which is operated out of this same venue, so this gig represented a homecoming of sorts.
Drummer Alex Neilson was last seen here as half of the Death Shanties improvising duo. As a founder of the Bells, he sings on a few numbers, but the bulk of the vocal duties are handled by Lavinia Blackwall, who also plays electric keys and occasional guitar. Her high and pure lines are delivered in such a manner that it’s hard to avoid comparisons with Sandy Denny, Blackwall’s training in early music also showing through.
Already, two of the new songs have become focal points of the current set, with Killing Time In London Fields boiling with running tension, a transubstantial, progged epic that moves through different melodic phases, from ripping to floating, the organ setting turned full-on, Blackwall’s vocals geared for maximum drama. Or the rampaging Bells Of Burford.
Then there’s I Is Someone Else, which employs a guitar-heavy middle section that’s lifted from David Bowie’s Width Of A Circle. All of these rocked out with the easy precision and assurance of a band that’s already been weeks on the road. The set climaxed with Blackwall headbanging her tresses whilst attempting to destroy her keyboard, a total freak-out explosion that was followed by an a capella song, teaming her and Neilson, who’s already delivered a song or two of his own earlier in the set. Assistance for calming down, following the frenzy.
Bassist Simon Shaw wore a Can t-shirt for the Coventry gig, exchanging it for a Nico t-shirt at the Birmingham show. We wondered if he sports a different fave artist on each night of the tour. The Kitchen Garden Café had sold out all its tickets, and this smaller, seated venue provided a very different environment, to which the Bells adapted with great sensitivity.
This is not to say that they stripped back to an acoustic nature: instead, they changed the dynamics, toning down the volume, but retaining the thrust, making the projection less exaggerated. Whilst the Coventry gig was ultimately superior in its extremity and power, this was an alternative perspective on the band and their material. They came on like more of a hardcore folk outfit, revealing the core of their songs, even encoring with a different choice, The Auld Triangle, as popularised by The Pogues.