I feel I need to precede this piece with a disclaimer: I love music, but I’m not an expert. I’ve got a fairly broad taste, but I‘m not one of those people that seeks out the obscure bands that are brilliant but underrated. I’d describe myself as fairly mainstream with a bit of a penchant for Northern Soul, but open to ideas. I also wasn’t anticipating being asked to write something about the gig, so I didn’t attend with a notepad to jot down notes about songs and running orders (although I did swipe the set list from the stage as a memento, but subsequently binned it because it was, after all, just a printed sheet of A4 with someone’s boot print on it).
I’d gone to this gig as a punter who had got a bit over-excited, listening to Craig Charles’ Radio 6 Funk and Soul show one Saturday night. I just wanted to dance somewhere other than my kitchen for once, because the truth is I don’t get out much. But this was too good an opportunity to miss. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never been to Band on The Wall before and if Charles’ radio show was anything to go by I was hoping for some soul and funk classics mixed with some up-to-date stuff that I may or may not know. What I got for my £15 ticket was a vibrant, energetic live set by and followed by the most animated, engaged DJ set I’ve ever seen!
and and their live band are slick, meaning that their flawlessness was perfect for the small and intimate Band on the Wall. Their set featured some of their better known stuff (you may recognise ‘Hard Work’ from an ad campaign), a good selection of their back catalogue, including their blinding cover of Yazoo’s ‘Don’t Go’ , and new songs from their recently released third studio album ‘Broken Toys’. You can hear the jazz influence in parts so you just know this is a band that like to test themselves, but ultimately it was clear that they were enjoying themselves just as much as the audience. They got to everybody: there was such an eclectic mix of people in the audience from students to pensioners, hipsters to a bloke that looked like BB King himself. Their appeal is obviously wide, so it makes you wonder why they are not better known. I’ve been inspired to investigate their albums (easily accessible for download from popular sites BTW) with a view to knowing them better next time I see them.
The reason for my original kitchen-based over excitement was Craig Charles’ Saturday night Funk and Soul Show on Radio 6 Music. Charles’ plays a mix of classic soul and funk and up-to-the –minute music on his radio show and his live set offered the same degree of variety with added ‘clubby’ vibe (is ‘House Funk’ a genre?). There were remixes of absolute classics like ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’ and Michael Jackson’s PYT, coupled with total surprises like ’ on 3 Burners interpretation of Gary ‘Cars’ and a cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit (can’t tell you who that was by I’m afraid, but I can tell you even in its -up loveliness it managed to retain its grunge metal feel). All delivered by Charles with the enthusiasm of a man besotted with sound. There is a physical ‘performance’ element to his set that you don’t expect. So much so that I ended up on the balcony in part to get some space to throw some shapes, but in part to watch him work. It’s fascinating, and genuinely lovely to see him interact with the crowd. You can’t help but walk away from there as a fan.
If you asked me for a highpoint – the absolute pinnacle of the night – it would have to be the Hot 8 Brass Band’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’. I will be forever grateful to Craig Charles for giving me this: I heard it on his show about three weeks ago and have played pretty much nothing else since. I defy you to find a happier sound anywhere. And there it was: right in the middle; glorious, perfect, sexy and beautiful and begging me to make pilgrimage to New Orleans.
So here’s the crux of it: Charles knows his stuff because he loves it. That is exactly why he champions bands like and and Lack of Afro, who should be household names but, sadly, aren’t. And somehow that’s why going to this gig makes me feel like I’m in on some amazing secret; that just by being there I’ve been a bit cool for once. It also makes me feel like there’s a lot to learn, and that I should be braver about listening to new bands. In my heart I feel that I should have known about all this years ago, that I’ve missed out. For that alone I can’t recommend it to you enough: if you’re a seasoned go because you’ll love it; or if you’re completely naïve, just go for the atmosphere and the possibility that you might hear something that really is music to your ears.
P.S. I did go and rummage in the recycling bin last night to see if I could retrieve the set list, but it is gone. Sorry.
Band on the Wall is part of the not-for-profit Inner City Music charity which offers community and school education programmes. For more information and to find out what else is on visit www.bandonthewall.org
Craig Charles Funk and Soul Club is next at Band on the Wall on 28/03/2015.