Headlining tonight are The Stripchords, a group of blokes playing surf music. Their unique selling point seems to be that they in front of projections of films of 1950s strippers plying their trade.
Letter from London October 2007
So, after a month's absence (when I found myself too busy seeing a bewildering Animal Collective, an on form David Devant and his Spirit Wife and attending the shambolically organised Field Day festival) I find it's been rather slim pickings in the past thirty odd days.
I start the month with another trip to the North East. Not Newcastle this time, but Stockton upon Tees. Now, I'm certain that I must have been here before, after all I grew up in the North East and those years were full of family weekend visits to backwater market towns. When I arrive in Stockton on a fine Saturday evening the place doesn't ring any bells at all. It is, however, depressingly like all the other North Eastern market towns I've been unfortunate enough to find myself in on a Saturday night. There seems to be one main street which has with a handfull of pubs, a couple of bars with awful party music leeching out of them, the usual fast food joints waiting for kick out time, and that vague atmosphere that somehow everyone else knows that you're not local, and so deserve a good kicking. After twenty minutes of wandering about I give up trying to find the venue using the map I had printed off the internet and ask a bouncer where it is. Turns out I'm just around the corner, the Green Dragon Yard, where the Georgian Theatre is to be found, is well and truely hidden away down an alley way.
It's a nice enough place: pay at the entrance, through into the main space, do a U-turn to get to the well priced bar (which is behind doors, so you could go in there to escape from the music and chat, if you like) and nice bogs. The height of the main room makes it look like it could hold far more than the 200 capacity it claims, but that also means the couple of dozen hardy souls who've ventured out rattle about in the place. In fact, shortly after I arrive, the promoter notices that not everyone has a seat, and hurries off to some store cupboard to get more. The turnout is particulary disappointing, as a local band, The High Plane Drifters, are headlining with an album launch gig. I've seen these guys a couple of times in London, and was looking forward to seeing them play in front of an adoring home town crowd. As was later pointed out to me, they've probably supported every band that has passed through Teesside in the past couple of years and, if that's the case, the locals will be fed up to the back teeth with them.
On stage there's a rather meek looking guy who is sitting playing folky music on his accoustic guitar, and blimey, doesn't he half sing like Donovan. He's called Benjamin Wetherill, and it's all pleasant enough, but doesn't really catch my imagination. When he swaps his guitar for a ukelele (or something similar), my heart begins to sink. There's some amusing heckles from his mates in the crowd; "Do your Mudhoney cover Ben", which gets the retort "I did it already, you missed it". Which is all very nice, but... The stuff on his myspace page catches my attention more than he did on the night, with more textures than one man and a guitar could reproduce live. He seems to play quite a bit in Yorkshire and Teesside, so if he's in your town why not check him out?
Next up is the main reason I'm here, a guy who I have seen supporting Mudhoney, although I doubt the heckler would have known that. It's time for Sweet Velvet C, better now as Chet Weiss, the singer and guitarist with The Immortal Lee County Killers. The ILCK were my favourite of the blues rock bands that emerged at the start of the decade. Chet has moved on, and is tentatively starting out as a solo performer. He's got a new guitar and a backing track of electronic drums that's recorded onto CD and played out from a portable CD player. The sound desk has these turned up way too high, so I struggle a bit to hear the guitar and vocals. There's a mixture of familiar songs, both ILCK songs and covers that they used to do, as well as plenty of new material. The stand out track for me is Sex Dragon, when it's announced it's met with happy jeers from a coupe of lads in the crowd. "It's quite a simple concept", explains Chet, "You have sex, you have a dragon, you put them together and you have a sex dragon". As well as being the title, Sex Dragon appears to be most of the lyrics as well, which makes me smile. The small crowd don't really seem enthralled by Sweet Velvet C, and he seems a little below par. Maybe that's got something to do with the fumes he claims are coming off his electrics (american plugs, UK sockets and a screwdriver not playing together well I'm told).
Headlining, as I've mentioned already, are the High Plane Drifters. They're in that blues rock furrow as well. And they do it very well: they sound like they could be from the Southern States, which I find astounding. Then I remember The Animals, another north eastern band that did american blues music forty years ago. I prefer the current crop, and would urge you to see them if you can.
A week later I'm back in London, going to another new venue for me to see Sweet Velvet C again, but this time with a bit of company and a chance to stay afterwards and chat to Chet. Tonight he's playing at the Corn Rocket Club at the Birdcage in Stoke Newington (or is it Stamford Hill). Some where I've never been before, and to be fair it does still look a bit rough from the outside. But when I get in I find that there's a very nice crowd of people in there, with enough dyed hair and clothes not bought from GAP to make me feel totally at home. The Corn Rocket Club DJs are playing 50s tinged surf and garage music and this looks a lot more promising place for Chet to play. The 'stage' is just a corner of the pub, however, and although the sound is much better here, the crowd in the pub seem just as uninterested as the crowd in Stockton. Chet is a lot more lively and even treats us to a bit of a dance, including a spectacular splits. Headlining tonight are The Stripchords, a group of blokes playing surf music. Their unique selling point seems to be that they in front of projections of films of 1950s strippers plying their trade. While I like vintage soft porn as much as the next man, it doesn't hold my attention for long, and I wander off to chew the cud with Chet.
Words: Chris Gibson