No Holy Men, The Big Alabama, Black Shuk, Turf Club Racebook for Tilting Sky at Norwich Arts Centre 12 December 2015
On this dark and blustery, wet winter evening I made my way to the Arts Centre for Craig Hill’s Tilting Sky presentation with a good value for money offering of four bands including my main incentive for being here, my first opportunity to hear No Holy Men in what was only their second gig of their short career so far, their first at the Waterfront falling on a date which presented me with a common bugbear of the dreaded gig-clash.
Tin cans were being blown along St Benedicts when I arrived and the sign outside the Ten Bells was swinging noisily and dramatically but there were plenty of people around making their way to pubs and clubs and a whole host of live gigs around the city.
First on in a quiet and very dark NAC was Graham Horne (Barlights) in his recent new venture under the moniker of The Turf Club Racebook. A really nice chap he played a gentle set on his beautiful resonator guitar. Wonderful humour between songs and heartfelt and moving lyrics within them he came across really well. Particularly memorable for me was his Christmas song. Nothing cheesy about it though, it was melancholic reflection and well written with a nice finger-picking style. Graham is still performing solo but the plan seems to be to get a band together and I think it will be interesting to hear these songs in that full band format.
A short time later it was Black Shuk who took the stage, young and enthusiastic with plenty of energy they weren’t put off by some technical issues when the wireless rendered the guitar silent, in fact after a few moments getting that sorted out they then proceeded to play a storming song that was my highlight of their set. They appeared to be having a blast and so were those in the audience down at the front.
Presumably named after the local legend of the dog Black Shuck they have a good attitude and plenty of promise with a bass heavy sound although I’m not quite sure about that “Shuk me” background projection!
The stage seemed to get even darker for No Holy Men which kind of suited their mood though quite challenging for photographs but in any case I was wanting to hear the trio of No Holy Men featuring brilliant photographer Andi Sapey on guitar … who was kind enough to compliment me on my recent exhibition … a real thrill and honor for me! With Nigel on drums the vocals were delivered, breathtakingly, by Alex Hill, a total natural. The undoubted highlight of the night was hearing these songs for the first time and Alex’s incredible voice. I don’t think I’ve heard her for a couple of years at which time she was playing solo acoustic sets, this format suits her. A lot!
Not without one or two technical issues themselves they were completely cool and unfazed by it and played a varied and compelling set. A couple of numbers could have come straight out of session featuring Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground. I loved them and will make a point of seeing them again. And again. Very impressive songs, lyrics, mood and delivery, especially on the slower ones with that cinematic and haunting contemplative feel, with a singer whose voice will certainly get your attention.
The night was closed by The Big Alabama in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd. I very much enjoyed a couple of the more obviously blues influenced numbers but found myself wanting a bit more variety and subtlety as opposed to the onslaught of the huge riffs and crashing drums at that stage of the night, especially following on from No Holy Men who were still very much in my thoughts. They did nothing wrong though and admirably continued to play with great gusto and professionalism to all those who remained and I always like it when bands play to those who are there to hear them whatever numbers there may be and despite not being able to feed off a larger audience how they probably hoped to.
Many thanks to Craig Hill, all the bands, and Norwich Arts Centre.