Scala – March 25th
Skinny Lister didn’t waste a second at the Scala; starting before the crowd or lights could adjust, Dan Heptinstall was up at the mic and hitting that acoustic like it was his last. The band joined in, and from then on it was a constant train ride with no stop offs. The charismatic Lorna Thomas kept the momentum up, switching from vocals to crowd waltzing and passing the moonshine (or whatever was in the jug). It could have been moonshine; they had the ravaged folk sound of Flogging Molly and the eccentricity of a western themed museum, so I wouldn’t put it past them.
They truly tried to get the crowd into their zone but I couldn’t help notice the audience were pretty complacent, and perhaps not getting their share of moonshine. Either way, Skinny Lister had a passionate and exciting presence that didn’t go to waste. With songs like ‘Trouble On Oxford Street’ and ‘If The Gaff Don’t Let Us Down’ there’s a happy heartbeat tone of ruggedness to them that doesn’t get caught up in arrogance, and attitudes like that go a long way for any band.
Chuck Ragan and the Camaraderie took the stage starting with ‘Something May Catch Fire’ and ‘Nomad By Fate’. Getting the show revved up, it was a led filled double-barrel shot of adrenaline for the London crowd – a mixed crowd of old and young who seemed happy to watch in calm country fashion. Steady heartfelt strummers followed and the band remained on form, particularly Jon Gaunt on the fiddle who was owning that stage when it came to solo moments – ‘Right as Rain’ being worthy spectacles just to see that dude flash of his skills and send the crowd into a stupor.
But it was ‘The Flame in the Flood’ that had it for me. The lyrics embody that make it through no matter what ethic which seems to haunt Ragan’s discography like a looming unforgettable aura, yelling and reminding us all that the next day is worth breaking a back bone for. He doesn’t shy away from hollering like an overly-sentimentalised, pissed off lion who’s spent every day in the zoo forcefully snapping each vocal chord into place and listening to Bob Dylan on repeat; he embraces every emotion and projects a clear honest performance for the audience. It’s really something when you see the guy manage to fill a room with that harmonious husk whilst stepping back a good three feet from the microphone.
Slide guitar was perfectly in place for songs like ‘Flame’ and ‘The Boat’; adding a quality that cuts in front of the rest, it would be hard seeing these songs again without it. The Camaraderie add a new essence to Ragan’s live sound that lives up to the more instrumentally filled Till Midnight, and if I’m honest, gives a healthy dose of pop-accessibility to the performance that wouldn’t be too far away from a comparison to Steve Earle. As much as the full band add that extra dose of bluegrass spirit, Ragan makes sure to shower the crowd and venue workers with the utmost gratitude and humbleness.
The gratitude lives on through his songs too, howling Hot Water Music renditions such as ‘Drag My Body’, which, to the no surprise of any HWM fan, was a ground shaker of a song that consisted of just him and the acoustic. “Bleederrrr!” calls a voice from the crowd as Ragan is about to round up the band back onto stage. “Okay, I can do that,” and the riff begins. A moment of live glory that got every fanboy in the crowd singing along. Even his Cory Branan cover was top notch – although, as he admits before playing: “nobody can play a song like Cory Branan”. Which is very true, but nevertheless a good version in its own right.
Sentimentality and songs with titles of regional food – but about dying alone – filled the rest of the evening keeping a full crowd pleased. And to the welcome surprise of everybody, the last song was a new number given no title. And what did it sound like? It sounded like the continuity of music from a man who’s still on the road.