Soulsec at The Borderline, London, March 2005

I will admit that I was not in a great frame of mind last night. A long day at work, meetings that over-ran, a nightmare journey home and worst of all, no time for dinner before leaving for the gig. It was touch and go whether I would leave my house at all, but in the end my yearning for live music over-ruled my stomach.

We all know that support bands are rubbish, and only exist to make headline acts look good. I arrived at the venue just as the support band were finishing, and was very pleased to hear those words that I always love hearing from a support band – “Thank you, good night”. My frame of mind had improved somewhat by this point, but imagine my dismay when I checked the running order and discovered that there was to be yet another support band before Soulsec. Should I stay and watch, or should I leave for dinner (there is a little Italian haunt around the corner which is a favourite of mine)? Apathy won the day and I stayed to watch support band number two set up.

As my eyes became accustomed to the smoky darkness of the subterranean venue, I became aware that perhaps I had come to wrong place. Being, as I am, in my ninth lustrum I am used to being one of the oldest people at gigs. However, I could not help noticing a fair sprinkling of even older oldies in the audience. Ladies with dyed perms, old men in suits – either I had gate-crashed some great uncle’s birthday party or these were the mums, dads, aunties and uncles of the members of one of the support bands who had come to cheer their familial prodigy on. The latter proved correct – more of that later.

The arrival of the blonde female singer cheered my spirits further, and the band Claire (led by lead singer Claire) took to the stage. After a song or two I appreciated the student-pop-rock style of the band, and preferred the songs they played on the twin golden Les Paul electric guitars to the tracks they did on acoustic guitar. An experimental track sung over a recording played on a miked-up Dictaphone was interesting, but no more. My foot was tapping generally though, and by the last song as the lead singer screamed repeatedly the chorus “take me any way you want to” it seem quite an appealing idea.

The assembled aunties, uncles, siblings and friends were very appreciative and by this time the venue was pretty full. As Soulsec came to the stage one at a time to tune their instruments and do the general plugging-in thing that musicians do, the audience thinned appreciably as the Claire fans moved to the back and departed. This was a real shame, because the gig was supposed to be a fifth anniversary celebration – almost a reunion in a way, and these people could have witnessed and contributed to that.

Finally, Paul and Andy took to the stage for a guitar and vocal version of In Heaven She Walks, Richard joined for the second track and the full band for the third track onwards. This was always going to be a heaver set than the last acoustic gig I saw, but it was not full-on heavy – a mildly subdued performance which I presume was deliberate.

Unfortunately a few members of the audience were shouting for songs from another band you all know but who I shall not name here. If it were me I would have been much more annoyed than Paul appeared to be. For a man with so much energy he stayed very calm.

Andy play guitar with almost a childish spring in his step, and seemed more confident on his feet than when I had last seen him sat down playing acoustically. We could hear his playing better as well, and in addition to being a very inventive guitarist he makes good use of his effect pedals to produce some really pleasing sounds including one particularly beautiful rich tone.

Vinny always has a slightly bemused look on his face at the beginning at each track and invariably asks “Do I start this one”. I saw a few shrugs of the shoulder and witnessed a few mouthed “I haven’t got a clue” moments. He seems happy though by the end of each song. His drumming was rock solid and devoid of any of the jazz-swing moments we were treated to in the acoustic set.

Brad is a cool bass player. He seems to be on a mission to play each note on each fret of each his five strings in each tune. Is he paid by the note?

Richard played with his usual aplomb, and with hair flying in all directions but always obscuring his eyes.

My favourite moment was when Sinister was played just with Paul on vocals Richard on piano. It’s not a favourite track of mine but this rendition really hit the spot. Andy was off stage fixing his second broken string of the night and Richard was reading the chords from a sheet of paper, so I would guess this was improvised.

The set list is probably available elsewhere, but they played Postcard, My Fathers Bride, Fried, Lady Grinning Soul, Eight Days to name a few.

By the end the audience was too small to do justice to the venue really, and maybe that was why there was no encore. This didn’t feel like a fifth anniversary celebration gig, but then Paul reminded us of his father, who’s death it was also the fifth anniversary of.

The subdued nature gave it almost an intimate nature, and I felt well entertained by the music, if underwhelmed by the occasion. My stomach was of course still rumbling, and after a rip-off cab journey home it was too late to eat so I had to make do with polishing off the previous night’s Chianti.

With the piano playing from Sinister still fresh in my memory, I am left wondering how these gigs can be better promoted and better attended. I guess that all of us who attended last night and all those who read this review can play our part in that.

Anyone know which bus I catch for Balham?

Anthony Goodwin

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