I'd been looking forward to seeing Simon Onions play since hearing a really impressive live radio set a while back. It's all too easy to be a bit lazy and invoke the late, great John Martyn in trying to describe Simon's sound. He uses a similar set-up, sure (fact fans note:12-string guitar + 2 Electro Harmonix Memory man pedals - 1 analogue delay/1 digital looper - plus an Ernie Ball Volume Pedal all into the PA), to lay down and loop patterns of sound echoing back and forth, before getting overlaid with voice and more fx - but he's got his own songs and style, quite distinct from Mr Martyn's. Some songs are bluesy and rhythmic, while others (like ""Aum Ha!" and "Everything Must Go") stretch out into psychedelic, raga-like drones (think "Eight Miles High", or Misunderstood "Children of the Sun/I Can Take You to the Sun"). When Simon started generating his layers of sound, the acoustic quality of the place was evident as the music combined with old stone and wood to mesmerising effect. Just a pity that he didn't have the benefit of the awesome visuals that came later.
Simon Onions' set: London Stomp / Everybody Knows Her Name / Nibiru / Hills of Avalon / Johnny Boy / Aum Ha! / Everything Must Go
The main event was preceded by Holy Joy extended family-members Marianne Hyatt and DJ Johnny Mugwump proceeding solemnly up the aisle to enact the Blood Wedding coalition of NICKelback Thunderclappe and I DAVe"straight2"VID Cameo as a prelude to the main bread and circuses on Friday, blessing us all "In labour, sickness and in private health."
I'd better declare an interest here before anyone screams "Favouritism": yes, Band of Holy Joy are mates of mine, especially Radio Joy co-conspirators Johny and Inga - but just go to youTube (Band of Holy Joy + St Pancras) and you'll see what a great show this was, both musically and visually.
The set was made up of mainly new material - recent single "John Wesley / Black Middens" and songs from the next album - along with a couple of the highlights from last year's "Paramour" set, notably crowd faves "Somehow I made it thru the night" and "(I dreamed) the city was on fire". In addition, there was a real rarity, a Holy Joy cover version - a nice take on Lindisfarne's "Meet me on the corner". There's a restrained power to their music now, and a real economy (see how many songs they did, no show-off solo padding here). James S Finn's fluid bass has really enhanced the sound and his interaction with Bill on drums provides the ideal environment for Chris' violin and Andy's guitar. The church acoustics were tailor-made for the violin as it soared around the hall. Another highlight came when Andy Astle took lead vocals on "How swings the Moon for you", with its haunting chorus "Your dealer sells you dust" - 'very Leonard Cohen' as our mate Helen observed. Everyone seemed to be inspired by the surroundings - despite a few local difficulties (see below), Johny was on great form, singing, promenading down the aisle and generally presiding over affairs. In addition, we got a cool moment when Johny brought punk poet Johnny Rev onstage to rap about that day’s round-up of dissidents and squatters.
In addition to the music, this night really demonstrated how the visuals are an integral part of the Holy Joy experience. Using three projectors (I think!) over three walls and the ceiling, Inga Tillere generated an intensely psychedelic environment of swirling colours, lights and images. Sometimes it was the group playing, larger than life in black and white. Throw an old vampire film* into the mix, along with a barrage of random images - trees, streets, buildings - and the effect was truly mind-bending as the patterns seemed to seep and bleed from the walls themselves. Sometimes the stage looked like it was underwater, then it was ablaze. At the end of the night when the lights came on again it was a surprise to see that the wall's hadn't been indelibly stained by the visual bombardment. Once again, take a look at the youTube clips or some still photos, either here or on the group's facebook page.
Unfortunately there are always people who can't enjoy themselves without spoiling things for everyone else. It's not often that I think "I wish there was some security here" - tho it might have taken some US Special Forces to sort out the "Oaf in the Overcoat", a big lumbering aggressive drunk who spent the whole night trying to start something with Johny, and also managed to seriously annoy quite a few people who just wanted a good night out. We also had the pleasure of a very drunk woman who thought it was karaoke night and kept screaming "Do 'Angels' fer f***sake" and tried to snatch the mic off Johny at one stage (and got two very apt words of advice in return).
But these negatives shouldn’t detract from a great evening - I’ve seen Band of Holy Joy a few times now, but this was the best gig so far. Equally, Simon Onions is well worth a look and a listen Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it - get thee to youTube and all will be revealed!
Band of Holy Joy set: Cold Blows the Wind / These Men Underground / Evening World Holiday Show / Somehow I Made It Thru the Night / Northern / Punklore / On the Ground Where John Wesley Walked / How Swings the Moon for You / Oh What a Thing This Heart of Man / The Swan, the Bear, the Plough / Darkness Ignorance Longing / Go Break the Ice / I Dreamed that the City was on Fire / Freda Cunningham ... Encore: Shake the Dust off your Feet / Meet me on the Corner / The Black Middens / The RepentantReview by Den
* The film was “Hexen: Witchcraft Through the Ages” (dir B. Christensen, 1922)