Tea and Cakes and Rock'nRoll - Steamchicken at Harbury Village HallReview
Currently touring their latest album, Look Both Ways, Warwickshire's own Steamchicken took a day off from the trail of pubs, bars and restaurants that have been hosting them so far to come to what is home for about half the band, the village of Harbury, and a sell-out audience in the spacious village hall.
For reasons best known to them (maybe they didn't want to miss a good night on the tele?) the gig ran from 4 till 6 with tea and very generous helpings of cake served at the interval. Think that was unusual? No bar. Great cake though......
Anyway, we weren't there to comment on the catering facilities. Fetchingly adorned in quirky combinations of gold and black, the band kicked off on the dot with the rousing Cecilia and Landslide – statements of intent for the next 90 minutes. Amy Kakoura is their striking and engaging singer, and she lines up alongside a powerful horn section, featuring tenor, alto (occasionally clarinet) and soprano saxes with trumpet and harmonica, in front of an assertive and driving rhythm section that could give Niles Rogers Chic a run for their money, Joe Crum laying down huge beats on drums and Tim Yates busy working the floor-shaking bottom-end of an exotic-looking 5-string bass.
Steamchicken have an eclectic repertoire – coming from a folk/ceilidh background, they have cleverly branched out to embrace jazz, reggae/ska, swing, country and blues, all of which filter through in varying amounts to a set inclusive of anything from ‘50s rock to old-as-the-hills folk classics, with many of Andrew Sharpe (keys) and Amy's own original songs in the mix.
They are great to watch – its never easy swinging a horn about on stage but these guys manage it in spectacular style with choreographed moves that don't risk taking any eyes out, while never missing a beat. And what beats – Steamchicken don't do straightforward when it comes to repertoire and arrangements. Ella Fitzgerald's hectic bebop When I Get Low I Get High gets a workover that brings in influences from electro-swing to Balkan street band, Oh Mary Don't You Weep gets a reggae beat complete with a gorgeous ethereal horn riff straight out of Kingston (Jamaica, not on-Thames...). Johnny Cash doesn't escape lightly with Ted Crum on harmonica using electronic wizardry to sound like the train whistle from hell on a funked-up Folsom Prison Blues.
In between the power numbers, a few of the band escape for a quick lie-down and re-dusting of the gold glitter, while Becky Eden-Green contributes some beautifully moody and evocative clarinet on a couple of quieter numbers where Matt Crum also ditches his soprano to take over on the keys. The stand-out example of this reduced line-up is the elegant, sweeping Madam Will You Walk, one of Amy's own songs.
Sadly, the audience wasn't driven to getting their boogie on and remained firmly seated throughout - the late afternoon timing maybe, or the lack of beer? Who knows, its a shame because this is original and infectious music that cries out to be danced to – but there was certainly no lack of appreciation of their performance. Their spiky, riff-driven version of the classic Walls of Jericho brought the event to a notional close, before the obligatory encore of Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens, pretty much the band's anthem, unsurprisingly!
These guys really should be better-known and fronting up main stages on a few summer festivals. In the meantime, the tour continues until mid-April with appearances in Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone, London, Newbury, Evesham and Dursley. Details on their website - http://www.steamchicken.co.uk/livedates.php
The CD is well worth investing ten quid in as well, an excellent recording done at Leamington's own Woodbine Street Studios which manages to capture the exuberance and variety of the band's live performance.
Ted Crum: harmonicas
Joe Crum: Drums
Tim Yates: Bass
Mandy Sutton: Tenor sax, BVs.
Becky Eden-Green: Clarinet, Alto Sax, BVs
Katy Oliver: Trumpet
Mat Crum: Soprano sax, Musical Director, Arranger.
Amy Kakoura: Lead vocals, songwriter.
Andrew Sharpe: keys, songwriter