December 18, 2016
Union Chapel Bar, London
“I’m sure you all know sixteenth century pagan carols”
Stick in the Wheel looked the folk part on first glance; a fiddle, a cajón drum, guitar and several singers. Easy to miss the punk tattoos and distinctive approach, at least until the performance kicked in; this was feisty, fierce folk.
Those expecting nicey-nicey sing songs might have been alarmed. Granted, the band pulled no punches and there was certainly no undue reverence – such as when they described a tune’s standard arrangement: “everyone says it’s very slow but it’s f***ing boring.”
Nonetheless, there was a warmth to their ways, and no sense of iconoclasm. Rather, by selecting songs with modern day parallels and delivering them with defiance, they worked to prove the relevance of the genre to austerity Britain.
For instance, Stick in the Wheel’s original song Me and Becky, about the 2011 London riots, was a natural companion piece to Hard Times of Old England, showcased with impressive fingerpicking and harmonies, with its refrain:
“If you go to the shop and you ask for a job/
They answer you back with a shake and nod/
Ain’t that enough to make someone turn out and rob?”
The set was full of stories of struggle and survival, championing necessity over niceties. There were more than a few London lasses picking pockets to feed their families, all the better if the victim was a scumbag: “he still gets ripped off but it’s morally alright.”
Again and again, the band revealed a love of the culture that they were working to maintain, and showed a desire to keep folk relevant and alive:
“I think traditional music should be more prominent…and I don’t think the people who should be supporting it are supporting it. They just wanna [keep] doing their Americana bollocks”
Singer Nicola Kearey stole the show with typical straight-faced wit -“I’m not much of a Christmas person. I prefer to open my presents in complete silence” – countered by gentle heckling from within the band behind.
The concession to Christmas came towards the end with the sixteenth century Boar’s Head Carol, complete with pretty fiddle and sleigh bells.
True to form, Kearey pointed out it would be ridiculous to do an encore when the ‘backstage’ area was visible to all…but tradition is tradition, so after walking off and on again (or hiding in the curtains) they delivered a cracking version of Poor Old Horse as a rousing singalong. A great warm-up for those heading downstairs to Union Chapel’s annual Carols By Candlelight extravaganza.
Visit Stick in the Wheel’s website for a list of tour dates, including a free London show on February 4.
“That was a religious song. We’re Not particularly religious but it’s got some imagery about zombies”
It’s a measure of Stick in the Wheel’s unconventionality that despite talk of zombies, vegetarianism, and defacing instruments, Marisa, Jack and Davy still came across the more traditional of the two bands.
For in the songs, the multi-instrumentalist trio stayed true to tradition with simple accompaniment, a capella harmonising, and oak, ash, thorn and briar aplenty.
They made for a fitting support to lure any unsuspecting folkies into Stick in the Wheel’s set, with just enough balance between folk songbook orthodoxy – notably a cover of And Am I Born To Die – and instrument swapping fun with modern day banter.
Still, it’s a struggle to imagine Stick in the Wheel singing “if I show to him my boldness/he’ll never love me again,” unless the protagonist had already picked her mark’s pocket and planned her escape through the backstreets.
Marisa, Jack & Davy will be supporting Stick in the Wheel at the show in Bedford on January 28. Details here.
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