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The irony of a night in the company of Tom Williams and the Boat, when floating transport to navigate Oldham Rd into Manchester may have been a better option, wasn’t lost, although atrocious weather could never put a dampener on the final date of a UK tour by Tunbridge Wells favourite sons….and daughter.  The tour arranged intriguingly through a Pledge campaign, with locations voted by fans for the band to play, Manchester winning out, along with their home town, London, Leeds and Birmingham on the stroke of fifty pledges being recorded. 

Support acts are provided locally, providing two further outfits an opportunity to play one of Manchester’s finest venues.  At this point apologies to CLOCKWORK RADIO, I only caught the latter end of their set, no real time to appreciate or formulate an opinion on their performance, although a very agreeable noise eminated from the stage, produced from a predominantly bearded four piece, with a slightly manic (beardless) front man.  Nice battered looking Fender Strat on show from the lead guitarist, I have to say, who showed some excellent touches, suggesting he may be a fan of John Frusciante.    

The Gramotones, a different matter however and of particular interest, the four piece living locally to me, beginning to make a name for themselves North East of Manchester in the Oldham and Saddleworth area.  Both through their sound and particularly the appearance of Sid at centre stage, the 60’s influence is obvious, opening song "Unrequited Love" harking to Beatle style harmonies and possibly even The Hollies apparent as the set progresses. Musically, harder edges transpire, the band really hitting their stride through EP tracks “Exile” and especially searing renditions of “M62,” and "Soldiers Kiss" highlights of an excellent set, closing epically with “Little River,”segued with "Quarterway."

There’s certainly no lack of confidence, both vocalists Jake and Sid undertaking and urging crowd banter, although perhaps on occasions, potential to be misconstrued as slight arrogance.  I fully understand the desire to win a crowd over from a support slot, particularly when not quite as partisan as hoped, that’s just the way it plays out sometimes. Don’t rush guys, your music speaks for itself, audiences totally appreciative of The Gramotones thoughtful and intelligent song writing skills will fall readily into place I’m absolutely certain.

Set List

Unrequited Love
Victorian Town
Horror Draped In Dry Ice
Soldiers Kiss
Little River

No such worries for Tom Williams and the Boat although even the headliners also met by a reticent and slightly reserved audience. Championed, and rightly so, by 6 Music, this does tend to bring the more mature music fan, immensely appreciative undoubtedly, but without the desire to flail around manically at the front.  And while the Kent sextet unlikely to see mosh pits manifesting in front of them, a number of their songs really should create much more movement than a few tapping feet.

Opening with two tracks from the latest album “Teenage Blood,”  My Bones” and the title track, immediately apparent, how tight the band have become over the years, each member totally locked as one, moving seamlessly into the debut album with up tempo “Concentrate”  and Springsteen influenced “90mph,” violinist Geri moving gracefully to saxophone.  Tom and his Boat can never be criticised for a desire to stand still, similar to their visit to Manchester last year, although promoting the latest album, new song “Am I Right” is aired along with “Get Worse” a track not quite making “Teenage Blood” although instead of being disregarded, included in the live setting.    

For anyone not aware of the bands recorded material, live isn’t the best introduction to the lyrical aptitude of Tom Williams, his subject matter generally deliciously dark, although his introduction to “Little Bit in Me” explained the twisted, family based narratives employed on occasions, suggesting with certain members, less association may be preferred.  I had hoped to explore the theme more within an interview after the gig, but club nights both up and downstairs put paid to that idea unfortunately.  Another time hopefully?

Tom Williams and the Boat elevate themselves above many bands associated, rightly or wrongly with Nu or Anti Folk, through their propensity for mixing styles and emotions. Yes, there are certainly folk and sprightly country elements, although anyone arriving for the final trio of songs would never have guessed.  The intensity levels upped during “Trouble With the Truth” before “See My Evil” and “Get Older” bring the set to a close. Ant Vicory’s lead guitar more to the fore, Williams vocals penetrating and impassioned, the whole band adopting primeval personas bringing the night to a vociferous and climactic end, drummer David Trevillion casually discarding sticks, while Vicory leaves his guitar, albeit quite carefully, feeding back.

Two albums in, there’s much more to come from Tom Williams and the Boat, continuing to mature into a truly great band.  Keep a close eye on the festival circuit over the Summer, these guys could well be appearing on a regular basis.

Set List:

My Bones
Teenage Blood
900 MPH
Get Worst
Neck Brace
Little Bit In Me
Am I Right
Too Young
Trouble With The Truth
See My Evil
Get Older

Review by Andy Barnes - photos by Phil King