Last night I took a drive down the A38 to Plymouth to go and see The Simmertones at The Junction in Mutley. As my nephew is at uni in Plymouth we packed the car with his Mum, Dad & sister and made a family outing of it.
I haven't been to a gig for a while for various reasons which I won't bore you with, so for the last couple of weeks since I decided to go I've felt like a kiddie in the week running up to Christmas. There's always that sense of trepidation though when going to see a band for the first time, will they deliver or might you come away feeling a bit let down? I've been listening to The Simmertones for a while and have played their brand of upbeat ska on SFR a number of times. Anyone not familiar with them bloody well should be! Go to their YouTube page and have a lookie for yourself.
So, how was the gig? The Junction is a fair sized pub on 2 levels with the band set up on the higher level. When we got there it was a bit dead, a couple of locals and a smattering of people who I assumed to be there for the gig (the odd Harrington & Pork Pie Hat gave it away - perceptive bugger I am!) The staff behind the bar were spot-on, friendly & chatty. This makes such a difference; so many gig venues have bar staff that are surly or disinterested, landlords should take note that the right attitude from the bar staff transmits to the punters - if you want a good atmosphere get the staff to smile! The beer (and my cokes) were cheap enough and it cost the massive sum of £2 to get in. No tickets at inflated prices or booking fees, just turn up, pay your 2 quid and you're in! I'm taking my lad to his first gig in a couple of weeks for his 10th birthday, tickets are £15.50 each plus booking fee - no concessions for kids. So 9 times the price of last night. I suspect the subject of booking fees, concessions and stupid ticket prices may well be the subject of a future rant so I'll leave it to you to work out which you think is the better value!
The pub started to fill up and it was quite amusing to watch my niece and her mate's reaction to the clientèle coming through the door. Plenty of bald heads in evidence - not all shaved, one of the benefits of age is that sooner or later you can leave the clippers in the drawer and still achieve the skinhead look.
The band kicked off about half 9, straight into a blinding set mixing ska & reggae classics with their own tunes. People were dancing from the off, none of that foot-tapping reserve that you see at the start of some gigs. The tunes were irresistible, even stone-cold sober & being a totally shit dancer I was skanking away like a good-un. This is a band who clearly love what they're doing. The energy & sheer joyousness of the music they play, plus the intimacy of a small venue made for a special show. The band cover a lot of classic ska, stand-out tracks for me were Simmer Down & 54-46 Was My Number. These aren't just slavish copies of the originals however, the tunes are treated with the respect they deserve but the arrangements make them very much re-workings rather than simple covers & give them so much more value as a result. For me the real joy was seeing a ska band doing their own material, kicking out ska which is fresh and new. Absolute top tune of the night for me was their single Bring Your Love To Me with their masterful rendition of the Dr Who theme a close second. Despite being musically tight and accomplished they aren't what you'd call polished, retaining the energy of the music and a rawness which makes it all the more infectious; a good comparison I think would be to compare the power & energy of The Skatalites with the polished, slick arrangements of Byron Lee. Lee may have been the guy they liked in the posh hotels but I know which one I'd have rather seen play! This is a big band with a big sound, their arrangements make the most of every instrument, particularly the kicking brass section. So if you like your ska bouncy, bright & brassy check them out at their website, follow them on Twitter, 'like' them on Facebook, buy their stuff on Amazon but above all get along to see them live if you ever get the chance.
A very civilised interval was had, allowing the smoking of a couple of ciggies and those of us who may be older and perhaps not as fit as we once were to cool off & get our breath back. All in all I came away from the evening with a huge smile on my face; drenched in sweat and covered in coke thanks to the exuberant gyrations of the lady dancing next to me but still grinning like that kiddie on Christmas morning when they find their presents are every bit as great as they hoped they'd be! The venue was good, the staff were great, the drinks & door charge were cheap and the band were bloody brilliant. As we left my niece commented that not only were the band bloody good but it was also lovely watching how much the 'scary old geezers' were enjoying themselves without a hint of bother. Which, if you ask my opinion, is how it should be!