The Hatstand Band

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The Hatstand Band


Although I have seen them play before, and greatly enjoyed their performances, I have not actually ever given them a full review for some reason (I have referred to them in the context of festivals only), so I take pleasure in being able to tell you about the Hatstand Band's gig at the Town House in Leamington last evening.

This very flexible group, based upon a core of Kate Vassalos on guitar & Keith Nickless on double bass and harmonica operate with a bewildering combination of lineups including often very impromptu guests. On this occasion they were a six piece with regular cajon player Stix, frequent guest Sophia Vassalos on vocals (much the same core operate on other occasions as Sophia's band), a lead (electric) guitarist & one of those guests, Bob on bodhran & spoons.

I had to check with Kate regarding the mixture of originals and covers since a high proportion of the songs were not known to me: this indeed is part of their great strength as their own songs are hard to distinguish from the covers so seamlessly do they fit it among deliberately chosen fairly obscure "dark Americana" cover versions (though a few I recognised, not least the rousing & audience pleasing version of Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis").

The set is amazingly eclectic to be honest with songs which might be fitted into various categories: folk, blues, soul, latin and even one Russian sounding one, though their "dark Americana" self description is apt given the numbers of deaths in the lyrics and the devil pops up in virtually every single song (whisky does quite often too). Their version of "Banks of the Ohio' is even arranged to better bring out the morbid lyrics better than the usual & less appropriate poppy upbeat versions do.

Just as the setlist is eclectic, so really is the sound. The band is a wonderful variety of ages & experiences, each of which brings something different to the mix (Fairies Band vocalist Tinky: check them out on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume One', was present & asking her reaction to the band, this was the point she wanted me particularly to make in this review). And I racked my brains but could not remember ever seeing a band featuring both a cajon & bodrhan previously. Particularly as the evening wore on & the songs got more and more rousing, the harmonies three singers (Keith, Kate & Sophia) were able to create became ever more stunning.

So how did they go down? Very well is the answer. There may have been multiple deceases & demons but the songs themselves prove who has the best tunes & are played with a great deal of love. That alone is one major reason why I too appreciated their performance & wanted to review them. As I (too) often say in my pieces, I tend only to respond to honesty in performance & to musicians who clearly enjoy what they are playing & that is the tipping point for whether I feel I want to write about them.  I felt their commitment to the music & I'm sure the enthusiastic audience did too. It's something you don't really need (or cannot) put into words. And thankfully Keith's bass didn't explode as it spectacularly did when I saw them at the Godiva Festival once.

There have been some great live acts on at this venue in recent weeks: before the Hatstand Band I greatly enjoyed seeing Doc Brown & Tile Hill Billy (Wes Finch & Jools Street) and the Hansel Brothers/Evergreen: three great evenings with the pub really buzzing in response to the acts: an excellent atmosphere for live, good natured music with patrons who appreciate it. Look out for more with the Folly Brothers coming up soon too.

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The Hatstand Band @ Three


Chic setting of Cafe, Bistro, Bar & Cakery (table reservations essential for dining) receives music makeover for one night a month (first Thursday) with quartet of Keith Nickless (upright bass), Mark Drury (guitar), Kate Vassalos (guitar) ad Richard Noden (percussion) who collectively form The Hatstand Band. With a seemingly never ending set list of blues, folk, americana, bluegrass together with a variety of band guises and ever long list of musicians waiting to guest or jam with them, tonight no exception.

First delight is the addition of Stix (percussion and Sophia Vassalos (singer) who now (temporarliy) make the Hatstand Band a sextet. Always a pleasure to hear the pipes of Sophia, a blinding stroll through Memphis on that Marc Cohn song (hit for Cher) and then laidback take of the bluegrass number 'Moon Over Memphis'. Welcome listen having last heard Sophia lead her own Sophia Vassalos Band in November 2016 (The Twisted Barrel, Coventry) before Sophia & Stix joined 2017 tour as guests of rock band Ginger & The Wildhearts.

Keith normally the master of all things strings finds moment to add harmonica and spanner to instruments played before handing over to first guests Ben & Tom Jennings with their strange brew of cajun, americana and psychedelia. Ben showing his mastery at various times on violin, guitar and banjo. Tom equally adept on guitar, both treating audience to an acoustic set taken from their usual line-up parts of The Anteloids (full line-up outing on March 13th at The Drapers Bar & Kitchen in Coventry). Incidentally if looking for producers or film-maker Ben & Tom are the guys to contact as they also work as Rambling Recordings.

Initimate venue is at capacity with crowds waiting outside front door, the overspill also pouring into the rear garden. With such a large number present it was sadly difficult to fully appreciate a dynamic set from recent newcomer to Rugby, Phil Evans. His brand of finger picking and delicate singing lost amid the night's bustle. I look forward to opportunity to hear his performance in full within a quieter environment, Phil I suggest Kenilworth's Treehouse Bookshop who hold regular open mic & poetry nights where audience listen in rapt attention.

The Hatstand Band close the night with another set which includes cover of the perennial co-write by Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor 'Wagon Wheel'. With a refined menu (many of the recipes available to copy for yourselves) booking a table to dine at Three is recommended, more so if visiting during one of the First Thursday monthly live music nights with The Hatstand Band & guests, must be there date for the diary March 1st.