09 February 2004

Herman Dune

Track and Field Winter Sprinter Night One – Herman Dune, James William Hindle, St Thomas and the Essex Green, King’s Cross Water Rats, Wednesday 7 January

Three gigs in three nights in the grim first week back at work after the holidays. It seemed like a good idea at the time, the time being before Christmas when I booked the tickets, thinking it would be good to have something to look forward to in the New Year. Of course, what I forget is how desperate those early weeks of the year are. I feel like I’m operating at the bottom of the sea. Thick soup fills my head. Just getting to the end of the month alive feels like an achievement. And all I want to do at the end of the working day is trudge home and vegetate.

I’m a lazy bastard and I have a blackbelt in procrastination. That’s why we always have to buy tickets in advance. Good intentions to pay on the door dissolve in the acid of another bad working day. Possession of a paid for ticket appeals to the skinflint in me. I’ve spent the money, so I’d better go. So we went, via a couple of disappointing pubs, arriving early because you have to when the band you really want to see is only one of the support bands. It was irritatingly busy, but at least beer was available.

First on was some bloke called James William Hindle, which is one more name than strictly necessary. It was just him and his guitar singing quiet, gentle tunes. I thought he was alright, but Nic said the words were naff. Then it was St Thomas, apparently a Norwegian group, which explained the presence of a number of enthusiastic Scandinavians behind us. They tried hard and they meant well, but they took themselves rather seriously, and I have little tolerance for bands who explain their songs in the gaps between then. Stop talking and play another song. (The Flaming Lips last year were great for the 50% of the time they didn’t spend talking.) I liked them a little at first but grew tired. Apparently I missed the singer talking in all seriousness of his battle to lose weight. I’d been busy spending too much money on records at the time. I like gigs where you can buy records, and somehow it doesn’t count as much as buying records in shops. Standards are lowered. I have a pile of gig purchases where beer and a live environment have made me think a band’s better than it is. So I filled my boots with Track and Field CDs, something by the first singer and a St Thomas 7” which of course turned out to be dreadful. Forty odd quid spent – not bad for a time of year when the aim is not to spend money.

Next up were the band I’d came to see. Dismissed in half a sentence in the Guardian’s predictable review they might have been, but I’ve decided to love Herman Dune. It took seeing them live last year to convert me – a great Track and Field night with Kicker, the Broken Family Band and Camera Obscura. Before then, they’d always been a sort of second division band to me, but that night the warmth, affection and obvious love for what they do had won me over. You could call what they play folk music. It’s simple, emotional and beautiful. True, they’re pretty horrible looking people – the first time I saw them I wondered who on earth were those two bearded, greasy blokes in baseball caps cheering the other bands, and then they wandered on stage and started playing – but in their heads they’re gorgeous, travelling troubadours.

It was a short and lovely set. They obviously have many songs, as there were few I recognised from last time or the excellent Mas Cambios LP, and they’d acquired a largely superfluous woman singer somewhere on their travels. Best bit was a couple of songs in the middle accompanied solely by a ukulele and for the most part without even a microphone, which even achieved the near miracle of making a London crowd almost silent. They’d gone before you knew it – why weren’t they top of the bill?

Might as well hang around to see the headliners, the Essex Green, about whom I knew nothing. The crowd, at its peak for Herman Dune, thinned rapidly, making it clear what the main attraction was. The headliners were… okay. Thought they were pretty good at the start, but evidently those were their best songs, and I grew tired of the inevitable sub-Byrdsian guitar that just had to crash into the middle of every single song. At some point the thought of getting home before midnight became appealing, so we left before they’d finished. On the way out of course I had to stop and buy one of every available home-recorded CD of a Herman Dune side project, and, as you do when you’re half pissed, tell one of the band that I think they’re great and I love them.

So that was eighty odd quid spent on records, more than a few pints and renewed acquaintance with one of my favourite bands. Not bad, and there were still two nights to go

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