Sunday, January 13, 2013

Martin Stephenson at Islington Metalworks

The Kalamazoo Klub has been ejected from its former home under the King's Head in Crouch End. No longer known as 'Squatter's Bottom', Crouch End is becoming increasingly chichi (you thought it was already? think again!) and is changing flavour from being the home of wealthy bohemians, having caught a fatal does of bankeritis.
So here we are at the Islington Metalworks, a slice of 1990s Berlin within sneezing distance of the Angel tube station. In a room-within-a-room, flashing squiggly  red and green lights rotate on the floor, inflatables with projected oil bubbles loom at each side of the stage, and a backdrop of twinkling lights proclaim 'Wedding!' in assertive twinkly-light voices.
The young sound chap, who hails from Philadelphia, is sane and calm and tones down the lighting a little; the guys from Blinking Buzzard, a clutch of old-timey music fans who not only run the club but also act as support band, start moving upholstered ammo-boxes into position at the front of the stage, and soon it actually looks like a gig. The black-clad security fellers turn out to be sweethearts; the loos are clean and the whole place becomes an intriguing and friendly space. Spotlights are turned round to illuminate the stage and very soon the whole room fills (I'd say half as many people again as the King's Head venue pulls, possibly because of the proximity to the tube station).
Lots of Geordie expats are here and the atmosphere is buzzing.
So are the Blinking Buzzards, who have acquired a new member and who almost spill off the stage because there are so many of them. Their sound is mellow and their choice of songs exact: these musicians are total fans and they bring the aural equivalent of a Southern Porch Circa 1925 into the black-clad club. There is one moment of drama as Guy berates the King's Head for evicting them. Is that green smoke I see seeping out from under the stage? Actually, the Buzzards fare better here than at the King's Head- we can see them all clearly and they are now playing to a new, larger audience who are all listening... that can't be bad, can it?
So Martin comes to the stage, accompanied by Jim Morrison on fiddle (Martin knows a lot of Jims: there's Jim the guitar, Jim the banjo, Jim the...  well, Jim probably).
From the start we know it's going to be a good night. The sound is perfect- not too loud, and for a listening audience it's just the right volume. What an antidote to the raucous Christmas gigs!
There are some gorgeous versions here: Lilac Tree, Little Red Bottle (best of the night I think), Wholly Humble Heart, plus lots of old-timey stuff and a lot of humour that has people roaring with laughter.
Jim and Martin have a close musical bond and tonight Jim is playing particularly well- subtle where he needs to be and swooping the solos when he has space to do so. The interplay between the two musicians is a joy to watch and listen to and the audience listen keenly all the way through. There are enough older songs here to satisfy the long-time fans but also a tour through Martin's very interesting and varied musical past.
What else can I say? This is an amazing, well-managed venue, the sound guy was great, the music was perfect for brightening up a bleak January evening: and hats off to the audience for good listening!

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