The last time I visited Gorleston’s Ocean Room for one of H’s “The Room” nights was way back in February 2013 when The Vagaband, Stare, Dove and Boweevil et al. were performing. I was absolutely blown away by the place back then, the first impressions of it are indelible with the beautiful decor and attention to detail. Without exception, I am sure, every single person experiencing it for the first time on this occasion had the same positive impression as I did five years ago. It is without a doubt somewhere you walk in and just mouth the word “Wow!”
The Ocean Rooms look quite unassuming from the outside but upon entering there is this peculiar Tardis-like effect whereby the place seems twice as large on the inside as it does from the outside, and being circular it feels like a vast spiegeltent given a North African flavour with some of the decorative and tasteful touches. The sort of place I always think would be perfect for a Bo Nanafana away-day.
Put together by the incredible Howard “H” Marshall, The Room is based upon the concept and layout of Jools Holland’s “Later” (but without the boogie-woogie piano gatecrashing) and features five acts over five stages and PAs, dedicated soundmen, incredible lighting, projections, seating, two bars and a whole lot of atmosphere and music.
I arrived early with Hot Raisin and heard their soundcheck and was immediately impressed with the sound from the PA, their soundman Richard nailed it. They sounded clear, punchy and beefy and with the room empty at the time, very loud too.
With the music starting at 9:15 there must have been around about 500 people by then and there was a palpable excitement and anticipation as H welcomed us through a silent mic “That’s the first technical hitch of the night out of the way!” and introduced all the acts who each played a short intro jam.
Hot Raisin were the only band I had seen before this night and playing as full five piece band their first set went down a storm as we went through the stages, each band playing two songs ‘In the round’style before a short break and with a middle set of three songs each, another short break and then a further two songs each before a finale set from the H Gang. People had a blast with great entertainment from the moment the doors opened to the end of the night. Even The Vagaband and Yve Mary B (both of whom have played here) having the video of An Eye for an Eye projected onto the screens during one of the short intervals. There was also fun from heavy rockers Walkway who had a dazzlingly light show, big sound and had many people rocking out with them, and the more traditionally ascoustic Hot Stove League who were so good they had a blast of applause at the soundcheck.
Earlier in the day I had noticed a condenser mic hanging from near the glitterball and naively assumed it was for the benefit of the audience ambient sounds until the Bloodshake Chorus started to play and this demonic blood-spattered character started deeply singing Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” like it has never sounded before. That’s already two fake-blood covered acts I have seen so far this year! (Take a creepy bow, Starcrawler). They looked like a nightmare come to life and get full marks for impact and theatre with well-chosen and performed covers, getting the whole place singing along to Jolene too. Hot Raisin have, on occasion, played These Boots as well. Things could have become quite weird had they planned on doing that one too tonight. They play covers but put their own unique, dark twist on them, the band are tight and singer JJ has great range and expression in his voice. A lot of fun … I wonder if they have ever shared a bill with Das Fenster? That would be tremendous.
It was a tremendous night, all the bands played flawlessly and I felt particular pride and fondness – well, love – for Hot Raisin who were magnificent and were my highlight. I hope and look forward to more big gigs with a PA and sound like this, as this is up there with their benchmark gigs, like that one at NAC. All of them a great musicians, the songs are interesting, catchy (all earworms) with beautiful vocals, playing and charming lyrics. To cap it all they play with a joy, chemistry and a belief in the songs that I find impossible to resist, they are all close friends so there is this lovely interplay, exchanged smiles and delightful glances; at the end of each song band and audience toast each other with hearty “Cheers!” and raised glasses.
Each set had its own character (and subtle costume changes from Tory) and as individuals their own personalities came through, as did the unique, collective Hot Raisin persona which is never less than charming and hugely likeable … but added to that they have wonderful songs and musicianship. They got a great reception and there was brisk business for their two EPs. Effortlessly cool and naturally warm … I love them.
There are some gems of venues throughout Norfolk and not all of them are in Norwich, Howard is showing what spectacles can be put on in such places and all credit to him, it must be a phenomenal amount of work, a real labour of love, but because it is done through love of the music it works as that comes across through every single detail of the night. Huge credit to him and his crew and all the artists, they all made for a truly special and fantastic night. From a photography point of view it was a joy to snap, if only all stages could be so well lit!
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