After rounding off their 2019 with a very noisy night at The Fermain Tavern, L’Islet Records started the new year in slightly more low key fashion with an acoustic night at The Vault (though they still managed to fit in a good dose of their ‘Grunge From The Vale’ sound).
Before that though the night began with Rachel Dawson.
Having been a highlight as part of the School Of Popular Music Showcase at the Vale Earth Fair and opening WaterColour Matchbox’s album launch last year she once again stood out here with a selection of popular covers highlighted by Big Yellow Taxi, Hallelujah and Fields Of Gold.
This was my first time seeing the young performer away from more family friendly environments and she dealt with the increasingly rowdy bar well and, for those paying attention, her voice was tremendous and the real stand out, but backed up with some great guitar playing too.
With the recent dissolution of JD & Folk John Le Sauvage seems, for the time being at least, to be heading more dedicatedly in a solo direction, though playing solo is not an entirely new thing for him.
With a range of pedals, a mini tambourine on one foot and a stomp-box under the other along with his acoustic guitar and a harmonica around his neck he seemed a little over encumbered with equipment as the set began with a shaky version of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues.
As the set went on through he settled into things, and generally was playing fewer instruments simultaneously, mixing his own songs with some well chosen indie covers along with a surprising and enjoyable take of Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue Got Married.
He was definitely at his best when he kept it simple and on his own songs which, while not ground breaking, came with a sense of honesty that is always good to hear while the use of some subtle vocal effects did a great job of adding some extra texture to the usual one man and an acoustic guitar formula.
Coastal Fire Dept. have built a formidable reputation for their classic grunge inspired style of indie rock but this was the first time they’ve taken to the stage as a full band armed with acoustic instruments — or at least Ollie Goddard and Robert Battle’s acoustic guitars, Saad Frihmat stuck to his electric bass while Gareth Thomas was behind a slight pared back drum kit and armed with hot rods rather than conventional drum sticks.
Playing pretty much the same set we’ve come to expect from them at full amplification it was clear from the off that, while maybe not as loud and distorted, the band weren’t dropping any energy for this show and that their songs work just as well stripped of the fuzz.
As well as being musically rather clearer this left the vocal performance far more audible, an undeniable challenge for any performer but one Ollie rose to and, by the second song, you wouldn’t know this wasn’t how they always performed, while Bobby maybe tempered his volume slightly but his roaring backing vocals fit just as well.
As the set went on it was clear, particularly on longstanding number Coco, that they were having great fun on stage which was, of course, infectious, while Ladykiller stuck just the right side of folk punk and came across even darker than usual (no mean feat for a song about notorious serial killer Ted Bundy).
Another highlight was provided by shorter and sharper, almost punk-ish, I Don’t Wanna Hold Your Hand (that’s pretty much all the lyrics), which was great fun and I can’t wait to hear at full force while wrapping up on their upcoming new single left the crowd (and I think the band) wanting more.
While rather different to their usual performance Coastal Fire Dept. kept enough of what made their name intact to be familiar while showing their songs more than hold up to the (at least partially) stripped back approach which is always a good sign for the quality of the songwriting and above all, along with the sets from Rachel Dawson and John Le Sauvage, it all made for a very enjoyable and slightly more relaxed evening’s entertainment.