(review by Levi Lewis-Olding)

Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun, with support from Danny Gruff & The Peacemakers, Sparrowhawks

Okay, so I’d not really heard much from these guys before aside from one of their songs, “Home / Hospitals” but the name alone was enough to attract me to this gig! Also, as incredible as their name is, I’m just referring to them as JL&TSS from here on in.

It was an odd one for me really. I had a phone call early that morning asking if I wanted to go to Chester Zoo, and who doesn’t want to go and look at animals all day before a gig? Anyway, I digress. After failing to find ANYONE to come to this gig with me, I went ahead and went solo. I really wasn’t expecting much from this gig to be honest, the sound at Central Station can be questionable and I only had enough money for two glasses of whisky, so I was pleasantly surprised that the ticket only cost £5 (I got the advanced fee due to buying from one of the acts, exciting, I know!)

The evening began sitting in the McDonald’s just up the road purely for wi-fi and cheap coffee purposes. I had a text message from Danny Gruff himself saying he would meet me with the ticket just after he’d finished his KFC (Who can blame him?) so I wandered down to Central and stood looking shadily round the back. This must have worked, as two of the staff gave me incredibly dodgy looks before wandering off and muttering something about how odd I looked. Great. Anyway, Danny soon arrived and proceeded to tell me I looked like I was about to rape someone, which is possibly the nicest way anyone’s greeted me in a while. Pleasantries were exchanged and I got my ticket for five British pounds.

Doors opened at 7 (Though head of security was a little late showing up apparently, and so they actually opened at 7:10. After standing in the freezing cold waiting to go in, it would have been nice to walk in to the warmth of Central, except it was FREEZING. Needless to say, I went straight to the bar and ordered a JD & Coke (It warms you up, right?). Anyway, enough complaining about the freezing cold, on to the first band! It was pretty empty in Central when Sparrowhawks took to the stage, which was an unfair reflection on how they actually performed. Sure, they were a little different from JL&TSS and I think a few people were a little disappointed with that, but the self proclaimed “Alternative rock” group sure put on a show! Crowd interaction was a little lacking, but that can be excused due to their short set time, and who cares when the music is so good? I can’t quite tell if the crowd was stunned in to silence or merely confused by this band. With your average set-up, I was expecting an average performance from them, but boy was I wrong. Although none of their songs really stuck in my head at the time, I still found myself picking up a free EP (complete with badge!) just so I could hear their incredible harmonies. I mean, I’ve heard vocal harmonies before, and I’ve heard them done well, but this! This was something else, these guys have really got some unbelievable harmonies. Using a unique jazz-like approach to folk rock, I can say with complete confidence that these guys have got something special about them. Just as a side note, the singer also complained about it being freezing in the place, so it wasn’t just me. Anyway, I was equally impressed with the attitudes of the band members. Manning the merch stand was the bassist, who I had a brief chat with, and he seemed like a really cool guy. I didn’t get a chance to speak to anyone else from the band, but I’m sure they’re all lovely people!

Next on the bill was Danny Gruff & The Peacemakers. I’ll admit, I’ve seen these guys before and this was the band I was really looking forward to. With their light-hearted approach to music, they are just out-and-out a band that you enjoy seeing live. Danny and his band sort of remind me of Tenacious D in a weird way, someone once said about Tenacious D “You listen to these songs and you think “haha, these guys are funny, but then you listen again and you realise there’s a really good song underneath””. Well that’s pretty much how I’d describe Danny Gruff. He writes some great songs (I’d personally recommend The Hangover Song) with some exceptional musical ability and then goes ahead and makes them even better by adding lyrics which everyone understands. To top off what is already a great band, he is also an exceptional front man, and I mean it. He knows exactly how to get the crowd in the palm of his hand, and unlike so many others, he knows what to do with them once they’re there. Anyway, enough fangirling about this band, on to their performance. They were great. I can’t flaw anything about this performance (Except maybe the technical difficulties with Danny’s guitar which delayed their start). but aside from that, they put on a great show, storming through their repertoire and mixing in skillful amounts of crowd interaction in between. I guess the real stand out moment from this set was when he jokingly tells the sound man “Watch out, it’s about to get emotional in here” before launching in to his very emotional song Wanderlust, and then in true Danny fashion, changes the song completely halfway through and launches in to an upbeat rendition before urging the security guard to get dancing. The only thing which blemished this performance was the cold (I will shut up eventually!) and the sound. I’m sorry, but it was atrocious, too much bass, too much drum, not enough of anything else. I don’t know if it’s the sound guys at Central or if it’s their equipment, but this is a regular occurrence at the venue, and one which they really need to sort out.

After congratulating the band on a great show and getting another whisky, I took my place near the front of the crowd to watch JL&TSS. I’m fairly sure a few of the band members had been walking around all night, I just didn’t recognise them, which I’m pretty ashamed of… Anyway, on to the stage they come with the front man carrying the most beautiful acoustic guitar I’ve ever seen and they launch straight in to “England’s Dead”. I’ll freely admit that I only knew one of their songs before watching this gig, but despite this, I loved every minute of every song. Evidently, the crowd loved it as well, as they delivered a storming performance which truly stuck in the mind. The performance was truly capped off when the singer mumbled something in to the microphone (I couldn’t understand what he was saying, blaming the sound system, not the whisky…) and next thing, the whole band was standing in the middle of the crowd. I was literally within touching distance of every member of the band, and even better, they sang a song! The front man brought his guitar with him and the lead guitarist provided some great vocal harmonies in between long pauses with nothing to do. This was reinforced by the drummer shaking some bells to provide rhythm and the bassist playing a melodica which is something I thought was a child’s toy but is apparently a legitimate instrument. Anyway, they delivered “The Boat Song” in this little circle of the crowd and it was a heartwarming moment. Despite having never heard the song before, I found myself grinning in sheer joy at hearing it, it really was that type of performance. Sadly, they returned to the stage after this song and played a few more numbers before closing their set. I actually felt depressed when they announced that they were about to play their last song, wishing that they’d play another song that I’d never heard, knowing that it would be equally as good as the ones before it, but no, that was it for JL&TSS’ set. I wasn’t too disappointed though, because although the usual “Please buy our merch” was thrown in our faces, the front man went straight from the stage to the merch table to sell it himself. That’s the kind of personal touch I absolutely loved seeing, and I even ended up buying a t-shirt (I went in to debt just to buy it.) and had a quick chat and a handshake with the front man before wandering off to McDonald’s for another coffee.

What a show, I’m just so glad I went along. I’ve not only discovered a band to look out for in the future, but I got a t-shirt and a free badge! Who says you need friends to go to gigs?

Sparrowhawks: https://www.facebook.com/SparrowHawksMusic

Danny Gruff & The Peacemakers: https://www.facebook.com/DannyGruff

Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun: https://www.facebook.com/jimlockeyandthesolemnsun