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Always see the support band” – good advice given by fellow Mudkisser Andy Barnes, and quite right too as I and many others, wouldn’t have been introduced to Ahab a couple of years ago as they supported folk big band Bellowhead on a lengthy UK tour. Sitting in the student union bar at Manchester Uni, they ‘looked’ like a set jobbing musicians and half an hour later they were onstage at the Academy 2 not only warming up the Bellowhead fans, but also picking up a few more of their own too.

With Andy’s words ringing in my ears, an early arrival at The Ruby Lounge made sure that the 6 piece outfit, The Hummingbirds got their chance to impress. Hailing from Liverpool, their main locale for gigging, they are a band which unashamedly pays tribute to their roots. But there’s nothing wrong in that. Decked out in smart buttoned up jackets, buttoned shirt and polo necks, with the odd Cuban style boot thrown in, their image plus their retro sound does hark back to more fab times when four young men took on the world. Already tipped as ‘one to watch 2013’ by the Liverpool Music Awards, their songs combine elements of country, skiffle and some tremendous melodies and with a blistering R&B romp to end the set, which included a beautiful Beatles cover in ‘Something’, they have the charisma and personality which should see The Hummingbirds soon be grabbing the attention of a wider audience. 

With Ahab now firmly ensconced as a headline act in their own right, they currently operate as a core three piece. Although Callum Adamson (son of Big Country’s Stuart) is credited as a writer on the new album ‘Beautiful Hell’, he’s taken a sabbatical from the band  on both the album and the tour so long time drummer Steve Brookes was joined by bassist Oscar Lisshagen. With his obligatory Ahab side parting and beard he fits in perfectly with the Ahab image to complete the 5 piece touring line up. Opening with fan favourite, ‘Call A Waiter’ and dipping into the Ahab songbook for a pick and mix of their better known live material, it was the songs from  ‘Beautiful Hell’ album taking up most of the setlist.

As usual with Ahab live, it was like musical chairs, with the guys switching both places and instruments throughout the gig. With Dave Burns and Luke Price taking the chance to come to the fore of the three piece core unit, it was Welsh sounding Scot, Seebs Llewellyn who took up the mantle of making the well-used  Hohner 12 string guitar  the main instrument in the sound mix.

Within their distinctive and conveniently labelled alt-country sound, there are some variations; ‘She’s Wearing Red’, normally with lead vocals by Adamson, echoes his dad’s Big Country band sound, as does the new  ‘This War’, one of the picks of the new album. ‘In My Dreams’ on the other hand has a more languid feel with the rhythm section laying down a very Fleetwood Mac style groove (not dissimilar to the Mac’s own ‘Dreams’). They even venture into waltz territory with the new album’s title track, encouraging some of the audience to shed their inhibitions and indulge in a little dance in ¾ time.

With the new songs well and truly road tested, Dave, Luke and Seebs took their life in their own hands, stepping down into the audience for an unaccompanied version of old favourite ‘Father’s Eyes’, a recorded version  finally appearing on ‘Beautiful Hell’. Sure, they must love a challenge with competition form the bar area conversations all night, and somewhat fervent group of female fans at the front of the stage.

Along with The Hummingbirds, Ahab (already holding the acclaim of being the 2012 Spiral Earth ‘Best Band’ winners) just go to prove that support bands do get somewhere. Rather than motto ‘always watch the support band’ there may well be a marketing opportunity for a shirt with the slogan ‘keep calm and watch the support band’.

Review & photos by Mike Ainscoe

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