Live at The Highwood on Saturday, 14th September 2002
Having settled myself down before soundcheck with - wait for it - a glass of water (not being one to skint the rock and roll lifestyle), I watched with interest as a varying and frankly baffling array of workshop tools, guitars, miniature drumkits and animal-print amps were wheeled onto the small stage by an equally delightful assortment of long metal hairstyles, arranged tent-like above the leather-jacketed Fobia, and the tie-and-shirt-type figures of headliners, Diawara. The Highwood appears deceptively smaller than some venues, perhaps resulting from its fairly remote location, but this was no obstacle to the 50 odd people who arrived early to worship at the altar of ROCK... well, and mellow acoustic from Jimmy Glass, but this reviewer knows a good soundbite when they... er... type one.
First up were Andy and Cathy, otherwise known as Jimmy Glass for football reasons (perhaps someone can enlighten me on this), with an entertaining acoustic-and-vocals set that pleased even the rock-heavy crowd that had gathered. Competent guitar from Andy was accompanied by some good singing from Cathy, with a wide range of covers in a pleasing and effectively simple style. The odd dodgy moment for the pair was well-concealed, and probably would have gone unnoticed if they hadn't been performing well-known songs; overall, the sound was great and, as demonstrated in the mixing of The Police's 'Every Breath You Take' with the classic 'Stand by Me', there was creativity at work as well. With a little more confidence and variety in the otherwise brilliant vocals, and a little more tightness overall, both of which will come with experience, this is one pair I would enjoy again.
Next along were Fobia, attempting to re-create the energy and anger of stadium metal in the less-than-arena-like Highwood with, I'm afraid to say, limited success, which is a bit of a shame as they have a lot of potential as musicians, and came across as a sincere and genuine bunch of lads. Every single individual showed talent and even brilliance in their field, with particular credit going to the lead guitarists Thom and Sam (makes rock horns in reverential manner), whose long and elaborate solos lifted what was unfortunately in other ways a somewhat soulless sound, "metal-by-numbers" if you will. Perhaps a degree of irony wouldn't go amiss. Otherwise, this was, as already said, a tight and entertaining set, with numbers like 'Stone Child' displaying hints of what could be a brilliant band in the interesting rhythmic section, and when I could tear my gaze away from the eye-watering (and strangely hypnotic) gyrations of Sam's checked lycra trousers, the traditional spectacle of smoke and face paint was actually, dare I admit it, pretty enjoyable; once the variety in the songs comes through these guys will be brill.
Headliners this evening were Diawara, who impressed throughout with an indefinable blend of mellow indie jams and rocking melodies. Whilst certainly not as visually engaging as the preceding act, with (mildly put) a little less movement on stage, the attention-grabbing sound was fresh enough to compensate more than adequately. Technical competence in all areas was emphasised by the talents of drummer Tom Emmerson, which helped hold together a tight and varied set despite a few gremlins in the amps. Lead singer/guitarist James Stringer held his own with self-penned songs that ranged from the mellow piano-led 'Listen a Little' - think the bastard son of Muse, Crowded House and Coldplay if you dare - to the all-out chorus-rock of closing number 'The World Does Not Revolve Around You'. An exciting combination of raw energy and chilled contemplation helped create a rapport with the audience, with one member joining the band for an impromptu rendition of a classic ode to friendship, 'Paul Is A W*nker' , to amused appreciation from the majority of the crowd, even leading to an encore of the Dylan-written, Hendrix-inspired 'All Along The Watchtower', that went down well. Although it's fair to say that Stringer's guitar talents slightly outstrip his vocal ability, this didn't detract from the feel-good tunes that catch you unawares with a lyrical bite and a bit of a sinister undertone. Coupled with a pretty cool sense of irony - the appearance of aforementioned tiny drum kit making it to my top 5 list of "Cutest Band Accessories" - this was an enjoyable set that promises good things in the future. As soon as the band can get as much movement and energy into the stage presence as is there in the sound, with a little more in the way of "band unity" in the performance, these will be ones to watch.
Altogether, a good night's entertainment with bands that I would gladly pay my fee to see again, and a decent atmosphere in spite of the wide range of musical morsels on offer. The contrast between the bands emphasised their qualities in a way that you don't often see on the scene, possibly through fear of one set of fans giving the other bands a hard time, which is a shame as when the crowd are receptive it really works. Personally I was disappointed that I didn't get a turn with the mini drum kit, being somewhat of a hard-rocking post-modern kinda chappette myself, but I DID get to touch the zebra-amp, and I DID drink three whole glasses of water. With ice. Rock on.