Star and Shadow Cinema Xmas Party. 23-11-2011.

December 31, 2011

It’s Christmas eve eve and The Star and Shadow Cinema are throwing their Christmas party. They’ve lined up some bands and invited us all down for some festive cheer. The Star and Shadow is a brilliant venue. I respect it so much. It’s run entirely by volunteers and is maintained by the dedication and passion of the local arts community. It shows alternative films, has a zine library, puts bands on and tonight it has mulled cider! I’m in for a long night of standing around watching bands and I’m genuinely excited by this prospect, especially considering the caliber of the line up.

I saw every band that played and I’m going to try and give each one a brief ‘overview’, as if I were to fully review each one I don’t think I could keep myself interested, let alone anyone else. First off, opening the night, it’s Cath & Phil Tyler. The room is silent when I enter except for some gentle acoustic guitar and folky vocals. They play traditional folk songs. It’s soft, gentle, cosy and warm. It’s simply mesmerising. I’m stood at the back of the room encapsulated by the performance they give. I like how it’s traditional folk. It’s not trying to be something else. It’ honest and it’s inspiring. After their set, they gather some extra singers on stage to sing carols. Even though this wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea I still find it entrancing, definitely bringing some festive spirit to the night.

Next on, it’s Waskerley Way. Quite a departure from the musical styles of the previous act, WW plays music that could be classified under various genres. Chill wave, electronica, lo fi, psychedelic and everything else. I must say, it’s intriguing! It’s made up of loops and samples played out through a laptop with the addition of reverb drenched vocals, my bloody valentine-esque guitars and clarinet. It’s an odd combination, but it works. It’s always a delight to see WW play as he always has a genuine enthusiastic and optimistic approach to the music he plays. He posits that, “it’s not for everyone.” But if it weren’t for this guy playing music in spite of that we’d be hard pressed to find someone with enough talent and motivation to give use something like this. Whichever way you look at it, the world would be a much more miserable place without Waskerley Way.

Following shortly after, Retriever head on stage for their set. Sounding like they came straight from the 80’s, they play post punk music at it’s best. Yes, the influences are obvious; there’s a nod to Joy Division here and a hint of Siouxsie Sioux there, but it always feels refreshing. It’s got a healthy dose of gloom mixed in with the music. They always play a good show and tonight was no different. What always stands out for me is there use of a drum machine. A traditional post punk outfit like this would usually be expected to have a human drummer. However, these guys opt for a drum machine placed elegantly on stage. I always get excited by the prospect. It puts a mechanical and calculated edge on their music that I find entrancing. I mean, if Big Black could pull it off, why can’t Retriever?

With next band I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t heard of them before let alone heard any of their recordings. Their name is Beauty Pageant, and I’m told beforehand that they play ‘No Wave’ music. Interesting… They arrive on stage and instantly start making a horrendous noise. There’s a saxophone player screeching notes down a mic, a drummer completely demolishing his drum kit and a guitarist making what seems like freestyle noise. I have to move away from the speakers in fear that my ears won’t cope. It’s absolutely incredible. Exactly the sort of thing I like. It’s experimental, it’s avant guard, it’s loud and it’s provocative. I feel like I had fallen in love with this band from the first shout they let out. They play a set full of what can only be seen as ‘different music’. It’s sounds like it came straight off the early No Wave compilation ‘No New York’. I see that as a massive accomplishment in itself. It’s definitely alternative. It does have hints of female-fronted alt rock bands such as the ‘Raincoats’ with similar style vocals, but for the majority it just feels completely different. It feels so fresh and lively. As they finish their set my ears are crying with pain at the sheer volume that they play, but my brain is left feeling satisfied with the musical barrage it just experienced.

Unfortunately I didn’t have quite the same enjoyment from the next band – Blackflower. It seemed as if some of the audience we’re quite ‘into it’ but it wasn’t for me. I felt as if it didn’t really fit in with the whole feel of the night. Their simpler, more straight forward style of indie rock didn’t quite move me in the way that the other bands on the line up did. They’re good at what they do, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the same overwhelming appreciation I had for some of the other acts on the bill.

The next band to play were Pale Man Made. In simple terms, its a noise pop band. With male and female vocals at the forefront, it sounded like perfectly executed indie pop. I think it’s one of my guilty pleasures at the minute. I’d group them in with bands such as Veronica Falls and Vivian Girls. I particularly enjoyed the alternating male/female vocals. It definitely gave an additional dimension to their music, making them stand out from the crowd. I’m definitely going to look out for more from these. It’s going to be interesting to see where they go.

Throughout writing this review all I have wanted to do is skip straight to writing about Richard Dawson. He was the last person to play and frankly, his performance was better than the rest of the bands combined. It was simply mind blowing. I was stood right in front of the man himself and as he ‘set up’. I was warned that I may end up crying during the performance. I’ve heard his recordings and loved them, but this was the first time I would see him live. With a worn out, battered acoustic guitar he takes to the stage. Full of wit and personality he tells humorous stories before launching into an ‘instrumental’. Not really a standard for folk artists, but my god did it work. The guitar work here is simply stunning. It’s intricate and its emotional.It gets better and better. Playing song after song filled with stories of loss and heartbreak it’s one hell of an emotional show. Playing for almost an hour, I find it impossible to take my eyes away from the stage and even have to remind myself to blink. The sheer passion and emotion that these songs contain is unbelievable. The whole venue is silent. Its amazing how one person with such modesty can capture the hearts of an entire room. Richard Dawson is definitely one of the best singer songwriters in the country at the minute. Seriously, the quality of his work is unprecedented. I could sit here all day and write about how good his performance was and how it made me feel, but that wouldn’t be fair. To be truly appreciated you must see him live. No words can even come close to conveying the feeling you get from seeing him perform. Truly magnificent.

What a brilliant night of music. By the time it’s over my legs are aching from standing up for so long. My expectations had definitely been met, even exceeded. I think the obvious next step is to check out each and everyone of these bands. More so, the Star and Shadow cinema. It’s a true gem. Something completely different and unique and I feel so proud to say I live in a city that has such a place.


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