““If you don’t shut up I’ll play for longer!” ”
““If you don’t shut up I’ll play for longer!” “
Last time I came out here to see Tom McRae (and nobody else in their right minds would travel out to here to play) I had a bit of a nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, the gig was great, fabulous in fact, (read about it elsewhere on the site) but Katwijk and Scum in particular isn’t exactly the easiest place to get to and from using public transport. The nightmare part came after the gig when I realised that a) the buses had stopped running and b) I didn’t know where the bloody bus stop was even if they were. I had myself a bit of a drunken panic as I left the venue and stared around in the darkness looking for some clever thought to appear in front of me. Miraculously one did and as people started to leave the venue and clamber into their cars I managed to pluck up enough courage to ask, “Anybody going near Lisse?”
Thanks to the generosity of some lovely people from Haarlem, I managed to hitch a lift home. I remember that one guy was an Ajax fan, the other a Feyenoord fan and their girlfriends were both drop dead gorgeous, but as for their names? Forget it; I did. But thanks for the lift guys, whoever you were. Anyway tonight I’m prepared. I’ve brought friends. Friends with cars! Two cars to be precise, so if I don’t make it home safe tonight then there’s no hope for me.
It feels strange to be back here. Scum is, after all, a hang out for the young and restless of Katwijk (and trust me, if you were young and lived in Katwijk, you’d be quite restless). Quite what Tom McRae is doing here is anybody’s guess, but thanks, praise and gratitude must go out to Huig (local promoter) for digging deep into his pockets for a second time and bringing the band back.
First thing I noticed inside was that the word had gotten around. Last time out there were about 50 people here. The first support act hadn’t even started as I entered the ‘main hall’ and already the venue was home to double that number of punters. A couple of swift halfs and the first act on the bill, Steve Reynolds, wandered onto the stage, taking seat on a box centre stage.
I’ll confess here that I’d never heard of Steve Reynolds before tonight, but after hearing him and watching him pick his guitar masterfully with that claw for a thumbnail of his I want to find out more. He’s a handsome fella, with the kind of big goggly eyes and curly hair that women just seem to find irresistible. Damn him. On top of that he writes good songs and sings like a bloody angel. Damn him again. Thankfully he has a little quirk; his legs just can’t keep still. At first I thought he was just keeping a beat, but after a while I realised that he sat down simply because one of his legs is possessed and keeps trying to run away from him. It doesn’t just wobble, he has to fight it, kicking it with his other leg and trying to trap it against his other calf before it gets out of the socket and hops away to freedom. Anyway, if you haven’t heard anything of his – go find out. He’s good. Very good. You’ll like him.
More lager was downed before Act II began. This turn belonged to Rachel Yamagata. I may as well confess that I’d never heard of her either before tonight but; well you can tell where I’m going to go with this; I want to know more. A lot more! She was bloody marvellous. Backed by a chello and violin she belted out a set of real power and intensity. Passionate? Christ Almighty! She has a voice as breathy and powerful as the late Janis Joplin, only more sensual and a scream that is heartbreaking. She sang one song and caught my eye, holding my gaze with a deep stare for what seemed like an eternity. It was only when my girlfriend grabbed me by the arm that I remembered where I was and who I’d come with. Rachel had me under her spell and I was hooked. Same goes for my fellow Incendiary head MONO. Unfortunately, most of the crowd were far too interested in their own voices to take much notice of Rachel and her tales of lost loves and violent break ups. They missed out, Rachel was fabulous.
Could Mr McRae top that? Course he could. Sadly, the noise level from the crowd didn’t really pack up for his set either. I got the impression that half the crowd came to see Tom McRae (and that half were very attentive and respectful) and the other half were there simply because there was something on in Katwijk and they had to catch up on the gossip before they crawled back into their seaside homes for another year (I told you they were restless). But, for those of you that weren’t there and for those of you who were at the back chatting and are wanting to find out what you missed, Tom’s set can de described rather simply. It was wonderful.
The haunting piano intro to You Only Disappear announced Tom’s arrival on stage and as he sang the first line, “Close my eyes, moving still,” I just had to smile. It was so good to have him back. The song is still as beautiful as it ever was, delicate, heartfelt vocals wrapped in a sonic security blanket of piano and chello. Karaoke Soul followed and that too was excellent with sinister, pulsating strings driving the song through to its frantic and stunning conclusion. Is it wrong that I find that song so heartwarming? Best not answer that.
Tom’s been living out in LA for the past year or so he said, “in the hope that all that sun would allow me to write a happy song.” He looked up at the crowd, cracked a smile and said, “It didn’t work, it just drove me fucking insane” and proceeded to play a new song called How The West Was Won that got me all excited at the thought of a new album. As he’ll freely admit, Tom’s never wrote a happy song in his life, but he has written some beautiful songs and if you’ve ever seen him live you’ll know that he does have a pretty good sense of humour. It’s just that he hasn’t learnt how to put that into song yet.
By the time he got round to playing Sao Paulo Rain; after a fantastic (Dose Me Up) End Of The World News and the delightful (and new song?) Hummingbird; even the crowd was starting to rankle him a bit, but fair play to him, he kept his sense of humour throughout. “Hey listen, remember when you were at school and you used to have assembly? With one guy up at the front and you were all shutting up and listening to him? Well this is like that.” Still the chatting continued. “If you don’t shut up I’ll play for longer!”
Walk To Hawaii was amazing. “The perfect place to sit back and watch the world go down in flames,” he sings and I couldn’t agree more. There was no politics involved tonight, (Tom was having too much fun and too much brandy for that) it was just left to stand on its own and it was absolutely wonderful.
Another trip back to his debut album followed with a & b song, before we were treated to what I think was another new track, Border Song and then came the highlight. Strapping on a 12 string Mr McRae and the full band belted through an electric version of Streetlight. Now Streetlight is my favourite Tom McRae song, but I’ve only ever heard it sung solo. Given the full band treatment, well it just blew my head off. Stunning.
“So is everyone here from Katwijk?” About half and half I’d say, judging by the reaction. Looking at a girl near the front Tom asked, “So where are you from then? Groningen. Really? We only played there last week.” That’s a hell of a long bus ride home was all I was thinking. The girl asked him to play Mermaid Blues; “Shall we put it to a vote? What shall I play, Ghost of a Shark or Mermaid Blues?” Again, the response was half and half. “There now, do you believe in democracy?” he said afterwards, “Only in America,” shouted some clever sod, which caused everyone to break a smile. “Fuck it,” said Tom, “We’ll play Mermaid Blues.” Well done missus. It was great, it has to be said. At the end of the song Tom turned to the instigator and asked, “Are you happy now?” The girl, who was almost in tears replied to the affirmative, to which Tom retorted, “After that song?” Tom McRae. Man of the people.
The main set finished with a song called Silent Boulevard before they left the stage in search of more brandy. Returning on his own a few minutes later Tom asked for requests, listened to us argue amongst ourselves for a while and then decided to play what was on the setlist anyway, which just so happened to be Bloodless, the song I’d been requesting. Hurrah! The band returned to play Boy With The Bubblegun. Some crafty kids started blowing bubbles, which I thought was a nice touch and the night ended in a jovial manner, although Oli Kraus got a bit enthusiastic with his chello playing, sending the hairs of his bow (and the hairs on his head) flying in all directions. As Tom’s set finally came to a close, everybody, even the gossip mongers at the back of the room cheered him from the stage like a hero.
Katwijk. Count yourselves lucky and Huig? Start saving mate, Tom’s hopefully going to be on tour again next year. I look forward to another night in the Dunes.
Words and photographs : Damian Leslie
[corrections] I have amended the above article, in which I previously referred to a person named Huib, whom I presumed to be the owner of Scum. Turns out the man is actually called Huig and is not the owner of Scum, but is in fact a nice, friendly local promoter (to which everybody that attended this gig owes a huge debt of gratitude). I apologise for getting your name wrong Huig but it was Tom McRae himself that told me you were the owner; although he’d had a few brandies by that point so I think we can forgive him.