Midwinter Moonshine V at Norwich Arts Centre, with The Vagaband, Lank Smith and the Pythons, The Henry Brothers, Hank Jd Sleek, 21 December 2014. Plus, Jug Jaw’s Beat Club with V8 Rumble, Lank Smith & the Pythons, Norwich Community Choir, Bedfords Crypt, 22 December 2014. Photographs by Richard Shashamane
The Vagaband’s fifth Midwinter Moonshine was once again a sell-out and the hottest ticket in town, plus it had an incredibly strong line up, compered by Paul Mills. Arriving to the smell of hot spiced cider and friendly faces everywhere one looked, the sense of occasion was palpable before a note had even been played. The excellent Hank Jd Sleek – twin of Earl Harlem – was spinning tunes in his western booth in the bar, whilst the Bo Nanafana girls had done a splendid job of decorating the stage in the auditorium.
Around about 8pm the Henry Brothers took to the stage for a set of incredibly dark but wittily delivered murder ballads. Great harmonies, double bass and resonator guitar they were perfect to open the evening.
I’ve seen Lank Smith and the Pythons countless times during the course of the year or so but almost always in the Crypt at Bedfords so I was intrigued as to how they would sound in the much larger NAC auditorium, not that I had any doubt they would sound dynamite, which is how I described them to friends about to hear them for the first time. Based around members of Kill It Kid and Hello Bear they absolutely stormed their set, filling the room with guitar, drums, keys and impassioned vocals from classic blues r&b from the late 1960s. It was electric and exciting and bloomin’ marvellous! They had a lot of people hearing them for the first time tonight and at one point someone in the crowd shouted his thoughts aloud … “You lot are bloody brilliant!!” Everyone agreed.
It was a brave and confident move by the Vagaband having such a strong support. The calibre of acts raised everyone’s game and the Vagaband came onstage to the strains of Ten Bells Watz with the background projection’s brilliantly evolving graphics. I love seeing the band play gigs like this. It felt important. Very quickly it seems, the songs from the new album have become my set highlights and feel like their strongest songs, in fact I’d love to see them play a gig of the album in its entirety. The Whistling Song is now the mighty epic it was always destined to become with the audience now familiar with all the words and singing along to the chorus, whilst the slower songs like Medicine for the Soul give a good balance and are getting stronger live with each performance. Magnificent! The set went from strength to strength on a night nobody wanted to end but at the end we had all the acts onstage together along with Paul for a joint rendition of The Weight. A perfect end to a truly joyous and celebratory occasion that got everyone into the festive spirit. It was a mighty night and it seemed everywhere I looked I saw a familiar face with a broad and lovely smile, this is what this band does and the effect they have.
The following evening, tired, I just about managed to muster the energy to head to Bedfords to see Lank Smith and the Pythons again for the unmissable Jug Jaw’s Beat Club. It wasn’t clear to know how many would be out tonight, a Monday after a full on Sunday gig but close to set start time the place was almost rammed and Lank Smith & the Pythons delivered yet another blistering set of genuinely exciting blues rock, and as always, played stunningly by all concerned.
Headliners tonight were V8 Rumble (not to be confused with The Rumble, as I did!) who played a storming set of rockabilly and rock covers. I’m not so sure about the Tiffany cover but the rest of the set was a great mix of Johnny Cash, Them, Elvis et al. They certainly got the place dancing too.
Sandwiched between these two acts was a nice touch having the Norwich Community Choir performing some carols. I always love these Jug Jaw’s nights, and I think there is a genuine buzz growing around them, I’m seeing a few more new faces each time and everyone always loves it. On one notable occasion a couple of police officers came down the stairs simply to come and check out the music for a few minutes having felt the buzz and the vibe floating out onto the street. Yes, it is that irresistible!
more photos to come…
Many thanks to The Vagaband, Norwich Arts Centre, Chris and Steph, and Bedfords Bar
words and photos, richard shashamane 2014