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WEST SIDE STORY: I'd been looking forward to this gig all week - local action for a change! - and then the snow fell and everything went into shutdown mode. So Saturday afternoon's thaw seemed like a really good omen for what turned out to be a very enjoyable night - a new promoter putting on two fine groups in a really friendly setting, and the promise of some more good gigs round here to come, courtesy of Helen Martin Promotions.

The one downer of the night was the non-appearance of Patrick Fitzgerald (Kitchens of Distinction) due to serious illness. Both groups dedicated their sets to him and I'm sure anyone reading this will want to wish him well.

There was a real back-to-basics down-home vibe about the church hall setting, and the show attracted a dedicated crowd of all ages, races and sexes, which made for a great atmosphere, with nice touches like both groups watching each others' sets, and the raffle of Springs' memorabilia to raise money for the Hounslow Youth Counselling Service.

Band of Holy Joy have really been on a roll since the release of the ‘Paramour’ album, and there was no sign of the impetus slowing as they turned in a storming show. Last time I saw them singer Johny Brown was struggling with a really sore throat, but there were no inhibitions this time as he poured everything into an impassioned set of mostly new material. Great to see him being able to really let go, dancing and pogoing around the stage, when he wasn't down with the audience or urging us all to come closer. Another very significant change is the addition of new bassist, the multi-talented James S Finn. Although he's only been in the group a short while, his playing has really added a new dimension and momentum to the sound. No disrespect to the previous bassie, but James' style and input feel much more suited to the kind of direction the group are heading in now.


Apart from "What the Moon Saw", ""A Town in Every Girl" and "Bluebird" it was all new material - the music supported and enhanced as always by Inga Tillere's visuals and projections. There's a distinctly Northern feel to a lot of the new songs, especially "On the Ground Where John Wesley Walked", inspired by the last summer's shooting insanity in Cumbria. "Darkness Ignorance Longing" sounds like another fine Holy Joy instrumental, and the mad abandoned tango of "The Swan, the Bear, The Plough" got everyone moving. Forthcoming single "Oh What a Thing, This Heart of Man" (due out January 7th) was another highlight, with its haunting invocation of a chorus, "I say we strike out now..."


The group are really playing as a tight and purposeful unit now - Bill Lewington was as economical and powerful on drums, Chris Brierley's violin wove magic spells and Andy Astle was as versatile and original on guitar as ever. Watch out for more live action with Bitter Springs in January and check out Lee MacFadden's youTubevideos from this gig in the meantime - right now the Band of Holy Joy are hot  - whatever's happening outside!

Setlist: The Black Middens / These Men Underground / Meet me on the Corner / Northern / On the Ground Where John Wesley Walked / Darkness Ignorance Longing / What the Moon Saw / The Swan, the Bear, the Plough / A Town in Every Girl / The Repentant / Oh What a Thing, This Heart of Man // Shake the Dust Off Your Feet / Bluebird

Line-up: Johny Brown - vocals, words and visions / Andy Astle - gtr / Chris Brierley - violin / Inga Tillere - visuals and projections / James S Finn - bass / Bill Lewington - drums

This was something of a home fixture for West London chaps Bitter Springs, and a timely one too, with another excellent new release to promote. A lovely live rendition of the single "TV Tears" was a fitting reward for all who'd braved the cold to escape the night's visual valium of "X Factor" and "Celebrity", with typically sharp lyrics about our subservience to that little glowing box. The group took the stage to the sounds of "Sirens Every Day" (also from the new cd/ep), complete with menacing helicopter sounds and a great chorus of "White Youth / Blue Tooth ..." , with its cheeky but poignant reference to the Clash's "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" (another long gone West London gig).I look forward to hearing this live next time

At times it was hard to see how the little stage could contain all seven members of the group, but disaster was avoided, and it was great to hear the rich, deep sound of steel guitar, violin, and organ meshing with the guitars and bass. They've got the kind of empathy - tight and flexible at the same time - that only comes with people who've played and lived their music together over a long period of time.

With a songwriter as prolific as Simon Rivers there's plenty of material to choose from, so we got a generous sixteen song set. Once again there was no shortage of highlights -  though I'd have to pick out a couple of personal favourites: "TV Tears", of course, and a beautiful take on the great lost single of the year, "My Life as a Dog", plus a great version of one of the best songs in the universe, Bobby Womack's "Harry Hippie". In addition there was another outstanding new song, "Hounslow Solicitors", a very accurate account of how easily a dull appointment can be escaped by spending the afternoon in the pub instead (hope I've got that right!), and a nice nod to an absent friend, Vic Godard, with "And Even Now".

In no time The Springs were in full flow - sorry, couldn't resist it - the place was full, the mulled wine was kicking in, samosa fragrances wafted through the air as the hometown crowd danced and sang along. It doesn't get much better than this... once again, Lee MacFadden was hard at work with the camera, take a look at the results on youTube (links on facebook too) and you'll see what I mean. And if anyone's got any stills from the Bitter Springs set they'd like to share with us, please get in touch!

Setlist: Vagina Trees with Penis Leaves / Moving to the City / My Life as a Dog / Gathering Dust / The Hounslow Solicitors / The Wounded / Selective Memory / Girls in F.I.T.S /Harry Hippy / Big Sweaty Dad / Prize / TV Tears / And Even Now / Dark Force / Xmas No. 1 / Good Provider

Line-up: Phil Martin - violin, gtr / Daniel Ashkenazy - bass/vocals / Jack Hayter - pedal steel / Paul "Wizard" Baker - keyboards/vocal / Nick Brown - gtr/percussion / Paul "Minibar" McGrath - drums / Simon Rivers - gtr/vocal

Review by Den Browne
Photos by Helen Martin