Misery Guts / Clever Little Tramps @ The Ship & Mitre
Nights like this are what the phrase ‘intimate gig’ was made for. No, it’s not a musical orgy (although the room is so packed that if everyone’s clothes had magically disappeared, it very well could have become one by accident). It’s Misery Guts, glum-faced purveyors of indie folk, launching their new single Let Me on My Way.
The setting is oddly fitting, in that only the odd few people will fit into it. The upstairs bar-room of The Ship & Mitre is not a big venue at the best of times, and with the bands’ equipment taking up about 30% of the floorspace, the room soon starts to feel – as crafty estate agents say – ‘cosy’. Good setting for a folk gig/single launch? We’ll see.
Before our hosts for the evening try to hock us their latest wares, however, we’ve got Clever Little Tramps warming us up, favouring harmony-laden folk music to the more traditional tramp method of warming up a crowd, a bin full of burning newspapers. Brothers Russell and Mark are a man down tonight, their bassist having “selfishly taken his kids away for the weekend”, but you’d never know it. Okay, well I mean they told us, but other than that, you’d never know it. The songs still sound rich and full, the vocal harmonies fleshing out the sparse instrumentation, which flits between a line-up of two guitars, and the less complex but equally effective ‘one guitar and one box-with-a-hole-in-it-that-the-guy-slaps’.
(Image: Clever Little Tramps)
On their Facebook page, Clever Little Tramps list Bob Dylan and Tom Waits among their influences, as any folk band worth its salt rightly should. But there’s a shiny, pleasant sensibility to their sound that recalls certain twee-pop acts from the late 80s and early 90s. There’s even a hint of Del Amitri in their more earnestly sung tunes, but far less sickly sweet. Lyrically, a lot of their songs are reminiscent of ‘Master of War’ era Dylan and early Billy Bragg, a folk blueprint now often ignored or forgotten. I’m not sure if I’m ready for a full-scale return of the political troubadours just yet, but it’s nice to be reminded that modern folk doesn’t all have to be about quiet introspection and how cold winter is.
(Image: Misery Guts)
Misery Guts might count among those later categories of folk in some ways – the fragile, aching artiste schtick – but it’s hard to deny that they do it very, very well. From the desolate plea of new release Let Me on My Way, Misery Guts have earned the name, and there is a definite aura of winter about them. But if their repeated use of sleigh-bells and glockenspiel is any indication, it seems to be an altogether more festive winter than Bon Iver or Dry the River are used to toiling through.
There’s a breadth to their musical style that thankfully manages to keep it from becoming trite or clichéd. Their sound can range from Leonard Cohen, James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel through to a slightly alt-rock feel, like The Cure in their slower, more thoughtful moments. Their lyrics are equally varied, taking in snapshots of conversations, one-on-one monologues, and quirky little stories (such as in their excellent encore closer Spiders) through to a mournful interpretation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s epic tragedy Crime and Punishment.
The single, we are told, is only available online. Except it isn’t, but they’re working on it. And there’s CDs. But only a few. And you can’t have them. Or… something. Look, I honestly don’t know, it got kind of confusing. If you can decode the riddle of the missing format, though, you’d be well advised to grab yourself a copy.
Words: Michael O’Farrell
Photography: Natalie Hind