Wednesday, August 05, 2015

August List, august environs


Dressed like they've fallen through a wormhole from the very first Glastonbury, Seth Bye and Katie Griffin tick all of the requisite folk boxes: liberal use of banjo, fiddle and accordion; a lively bluegrass song about drinking; another track that draws its subject matter from local folklore (a witch who refuses to be killed); a third about trains. At least they're sufficiently self-aware to acknowledge the fact. Their use of a looping pedal is probably an offence punishable by immediate excommunication from the Folkies' Guild, though.

By their own admission, Martin and Kerraleigh Child aka The August List are more accustomed to playing “sticky” rooms – places like the Camden Monarch, where their set was apparently once rudely interrupted by a drunken loon standing in front of the stage attempting to piss on a DVD. Given tonight’s polite, mild-mannered audience of 50- and 60-somethings sipping their wine (your average theatre-going crowd, basically), the chances of a repeat are fairly slim.

Ideally suited to the simultaneously confessional and powerfully dramatic nature of The August List’s dusky, gothic Americana, the setting induces the duo to begin with a spellbinding un-amped debut live performance of the first song they ever wrote together. It’s followed by a truly stunning version of The Diamond Family Archive’s ‘Big Black Dog’ that completely eclipses the original and ranks as the most jaw-dropping thing I’ve witnessed all year.

We may be seated, but songs about Armageddon (‘Red Light On The Tower’) and being under surveillance by sinister omniscient birds (‘High Town Crow’) ensure that we’re certainly not sitting comfortably.

After the interval, they whet our appetite for the follow-up to last year’s O Hinterland with ‘Old Rip’, which – like fellow newie ‘Connie Converse’ – betrays a lyrical obsession with absenteeism. It’s easily the equal of both their older material and an array of covers that include The White Stripes’ ‘Hotel Yorba’ and ‘Acid Tongue’ by Jenny Lewis, the artist who first inspired them to play music together. An encore of ‘Cigarettes, Whiskey And Wild, Wild Women’, which they confess to having learned from YouTube footage of Peter Sellers performing with the Muppets, prompts an improbably rambunctious mass singalong.

Reviewing their album launch gig back in October, I was moved to brand The August List the best band in Oxfordshire – and it’s a verdict that tonight’s gig convincingly corroborates. Little matter that they hail from Dorset, rather than Devon (as is mistakenly announced before they make their entrance) – they’re ours to keep now.

(An edited version of this review first appeared in the August issue of Nightshift.)

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