I don't remember the last time I went to the Stag's Head in Hoxton. No matter how good the music may have been or the fact that it was a free gig with a whip for the artists performing the issues the venue had with the sound will make me a touch reluctant to return to the pub in a hurry. That, and having to do the sound effects every time I asked for a pint of Ba Ba!!
Still, I arrived in time to finally see Barry Warren live. I've known Barry for over 20 years now and among the friends from back then he's still known as Sad Goth Barry even if over the years he's changed into not so sad Americana country goth Barry. At this gig, he's playing solo with an acoustic guitar rather than as part of his band The Snakeoil Rattlers.
He opened with Wheeler's Story a slow strum of a railroad song taking us deep down to the Bayous of, erm, Welling where Barry emerged from some years ago. Road Tales does what it says it does and its arrival marked the point where the battle against the noise from the other people talking began for the night. I wouldn't have got so irked if the loudest person talking in the venue wasn't the sound man! Sorry, it's his job to get great sound and not be heard and certainly not be heard shouting at his mate, not if it's louder than the vocals coming out of the PA!
Georgia was a cool, slightly mordant take on that slow train ride down to Georgia. That was followed by some snake, rattle and roll down on the Snake Farm. That was as rocking as it got before Preacher Road, which seemed to see Barry trying his hardest to be like John Prine.
We then got the Birdman Of The Arkansas. I don't think the titular character was in the pen looking after his birds but it was a slow blues that would probably sound better with a full band and without the input on the house amp crackling at various points in the song.
Barry then paid a nice tribute to his friend and total music business Legend Barry Marshall- Everitt who lost his long battle with cancer last week. I think he helped put on a good couple of hundred (if not more) shows that I went to over the years when he was running the Borderline and managing, among others, Steve Wynn. After Barry had told his Barry story he played the other Barry's favourite song, Willin', by Little Feet, which finally got a good portion of the crowd singing along rather than talking.
Old-time Rattler was nice and sparse but in need of a full band and somewhat downbeat and a little gnarly in places. He finished with I Ain't Fixin To Die: this shouldn't be confused with the Bukka White classic Fixin' To Die, but it was a good life-affirming song about making sure you carry on and have a damn good life. Great advice, all round.
After the break it was time for Trent Miller who - like a few weeks ago - was accompanied by Graham Knight. They played the same set of songs again, only this time instead of a rapt quiet audience they battled against an ever louder audience and that sound man now yelling at his mate to make sure we all knew the intimate details of the crap he was yammering on about.
So that as they sung Time Between Us, all the subtlety in the lyrics and music were lost among the nattering and chattering that were becoming more distracting. Your Black Heart kept us in the depths of emotional despair and despair at the musicians talking more and more loudly on the dance floor when they could chat in the bar next door!
Lupita Dream On as ever stands out as one of Trent's best songs but the quiet bits were really struggling to be heard and the microphone needed to be louder. I don't think the sound man was really listening at this point.
How Soon Is Never still sounded good and bitter and twisted as he makes sure she knows they will never get back together no matter what. Days In Winter kept things nice and dark and might have got a few more people listening in better circumstances.
Pictures Of A Different World, in which audiences paid attention and gigs like this played decent sized venues or just one in which a relationship worked out how it ought to would be good enough for Trent as he blows on his harmonica.
They finished with Fear Of Flying. That seemed to go down pretty well and they almost got enough applause for an encore which was surprising as it seemed like most of the people clapping hadn't been paying that much attention.
Then it was time for Texan Tommy Hale And The Magnificent Bastards to battle with the sound and silence the audience with volume. They opened with a song about being Crucified that featured some very quiet vocals as the microphone volume didn't match the volume his band was playing at. Like it did throughout the set, whenever Tommy showed his technique for nuanced sound in his vocals by singing far from the mic it got kinda lost in the magnificent rampaging guitars.
The soul stew of whatever happened Yesterday sounded cool, even if the guitars kept going in and out of the amp and the sound man tried to get the input to work properly. It helped for a while. Still, Homecoming Mum was a full-on street preaching showdown. I worked hard to hear what Tommy was singing over the Magnificent Bastards who also double us at members of The Snakes and The Redlands Palomino Company among others.
Not sure if it was Simple Song next or something else as the vocals were hard to hear: a shame as they really had that feel like they should be playing behind chicken wire in a packed roadhouse on the outskirts of Dallas rather than a pub with a stag's head looking on in Hoxton.
Tommy then told us the story behind Save Me (The Ballad Of Odell Barnes Jnr), his childhood friend from the wrong side of the tracks who was executed for murder. Before they played this barnstorming song which has just enough of the gospel chant mixed in with being a murder ballad to really be the stand out song of the set.
They then played theme song Magnificent Bastard wherein the vocals had a real preacher man feel to them. Tommy was giving it his all no matter what and joking in between songs about having the whip round so he got some money for playing tonight.
By this point, the sound ought to be perfect but it never was and thankfully the band was firing on all cylinders to overcome it. Sonrisas y Sunshine did it's best to make us all smile against that faulty amp. While what I guess was called Read to Me seemed to slow things a touch and was about the most subtle thing they played.
Not sure what the song they closed with was called but they did more than enough to earn the encore that I'm sure wasn't called Ringmaster, despite what my notes read. Still, it was a fine end to a decent set played in trying circumstances. If Tommy comes your way he's well worth seeing - just go to a venue with a good sound man!!