One hundred and sixty miles, fourteen musicians, six months of planning, five bands, two venues, one review. A mash up blog post about Tarantism playing Newport and Lampeter.
I stopped regularly promoting gigs a good few years ago now, when it became more like work than a fun hobby. But when Mel from Tarantism got in touch, I didn’t give it a second thought. Of course I would help out.
I first put Tarantism on in the last century. It was the only gig I’ve promoted but not actually attended. I was at home babysitting my eight day old new daughter, Tara. (Name inspired by Tarantism!) I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen the band over the years. The vast majority of times it has been at festivals. They are the personification of the idea of a ‘festival band’.
Lockdown was tough on musicians that rely on live performances, both financially and mentally. For Tarantism they had the added problem of the band living all over this green and pleasant land. They did, however, manage to put together a new album during that time. Which was no mean feat. (See review here, which includes details of how they managed to pull it together.)
The end result was a masterpiece that needed to see the light of day. Not to mention a bunch of musicians that needed to blow off the cobwebs. So Mel dug out her Filofax and started plotting.
Mel: “It was never going to be about money. Festivals can pay quite well but grassroots venue gigs are hard work, for little financial reward. But after lockdown, I just really wanted to get out and meet people.
“Going on tour is also a fantastic bonding experience. Rhiannon has been playing fiddle with the band for a good few years now, but has never been on tour with us. She just rocks up when we play festivals, it has been lovely getting to know her even more”.
Although I don’t really do a lot of promoting these days, I have done a couple of fundraisers for the Green Gathering Campaigns area, including two Tarantism Folk Discos in Newport’s Le Pub. Mel likes the venue. So do we.
So does everyone who has ever been there! Well, almost everyone. The venue has a very strong ethical conscience running through everything it does, from food and drink, through proper treatment of staff to support of good causes. Fascists, perverts, homophobes and Covid deniers are not tolerated.
Venue manager Sam has been heavily involved in the Music Venue Trust in recent years, keeping the flag flying for small independent venues and fighting to keep them open. Without them the grassroots would whither – and most of the big name bands out there start off small. Without venues like Le Pub, the cultural landscape of the nation would be far less interesting.
I’m not interested in bands that make it big anyway. Give me one hundred and twenty people in Le Pub over ten thousand in a corporate sponsored aircraft hanger any day. No matter who is playing.
In the weeks leading up to the gig I went over the top on social media. Constantly posting videos encouraging people to buy tickets. Fry told me it was on the verge of getting annoying, but hey, at least people couldn’t say they didn’t know about it. And Fry turned out.
On arrival at the venue I noted two things. Firstly, all the bands were on time, except Mark, Tarantism’s drummer. The second thing was that Matt, the sound engineer was using a combination of five shower curtains, two broom handles and a blanket to shoo to pigeons out of the club. (You can’t have a vegan venue and be cruel to pigeons!)
The pigeons finally exit the venue, just as Mark arrives. Sound checking can begin. One of the things that could make promoting a pain was making sure all the bands arrived on time and were sound checked in time for opening. Although late, Mark is not late enough to cause me any stress. The experience and professionalism of the band, combined with the expertise of Mat the Pigeon Whisperer / Sound Engineer, mean we are ready to roll with time to spare.
The other major headache is covering costs, but I soon discover that the annoying videos have resulted in the fee for the band being covered by advance sales. All we need is some walk ups and we can pay the support! I’m a soft touch on the door and a fool to myself. I give in far too easily with blaggers, but tonight Sam has provided us with in house door staff to put a barrier between me and any sob stories. I do like working with this venue. It is rapidly turning into a stress free night.
The room is empty as I ask Taffy Twp to kick things off. But as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come”. Within a few strums of his guitar, the contents of the beer garden and bar filter into the venue. We have a gig on our hands.
Taffy is a singer songwriter that likes to mix stories from the life of the underdog with the odd sea shanty. His lyrics are thought provoking and he has the growing audience nodding in appreciation. It helps that he is a spanner monkey that makes a living building festivals and sound systems and has lots of mates on the scene.
He is joined on stage for a few numbers by his shipmate Rhiannon, who is conveniently on hand, what with being in Tarantism as well. Almost like it was planned.
Next up come Dactyl Terra, who were probably still in nappies when I put that first Tarantism gig on. They have learned a thing or two in between though.
Talented and culturally aware way beyond their years, they lay down an amazing bluesy psychedelic rock that has everyone in the room grinning. People are looking at each other either saying “wow, these guys are good”, or, “I told you so”… depending whether or not they had seen them before.
I’m also thinking, “there is way more to this set than the new EP, I hope there is an album on the way”.
For forty five minutes they lay down their mesmerizing funky groove then, like professional musicians, finish their set on time without me needing to chuck them off (although in fairness, I could listen to these guys all night). The grins are soon replaced by sharp inhales and, “ooooh. They’re gonna be a tough act to follow”.
When I put a bill together I’ve always liked variety. Whilst I consider myself an old punk, I would hate, for instance to watch three punk bands in a row. So the issue of being a tough act to follow doesn’t necessarily come into it. Tarantism are not going to be doing the same sort of thing, there is no comparison. They are a very different beast, and have been around long enough to not worry about who they are following.
They open up, as usual, with ‘So good to see you again’, a mellow tune that reflects on coming out of isolation after lockdown. Those young uns that came to see Dactyl Terra and are not familiar with Tarantism are lulled into thinking this will be a night of mellow, beautiful, folk music. It doesn’t take long for that illusion to be shattered.
Mixing the new album with old classics, including a few that have not been played live for a while, the crowd are taken on a journey through emotions. Chilled tunes like ‘Kaz’s waltz’ , sit alongside floor stoppers such as Harthouse Reels. We have songs about putting tents up, drinking other band’s riders and sixteenth century instrumentals.
The compactness of the venue makes for a seething cauldron of sweaty jiggling and involuntary dancing. it is dark and sweaty and all I can see from the back are heads bopping up and down with the occasional glimpse of teeth. Yet again, smiles abound.
As the promoter, I’m not really best placed to judge if it was a good gig, but from the exhausted grins after the gig and the positive comments on social media, me thinx it went well. Tarantism fans were blown away by Dactyl terra and Dactyl Terra fans were blown away by Tarantism. Taffy Twp gained some new fans as well. Our girl on the door even invested in a t-shirt. That means a lot to me, that the staff enjoy the night as well. I think they did.
Eventually we pour out into the night and head home, feeling sorry for the pigeons that had missed the gig after being thrown out.
LAMPETER OR BUST.
We had taken the day off to slowly work our way through the welsh countryside for the second night of the Welsh leg of the tour. It didn’t quite work out like that. I went to visit me granddaughter then went back to bed, eventually peeling myself off the mattress in time to head north. it’s only seventy miles, but takes two hours, across winding mountain roads, remote villages and picturesque valleys. We times it just right, arriving in time for the final sound checks of the evening.
Lampeter, and that general sort of west wales ish area is an interesting place. There are no big towns and touring bands that pass through are few and far between. Major bands that show their face are absent completely. But because of this, people make their own entertainment. There is quite a heathy music scene, with the area home to rebels, misfits and freaks that have escaped the rat race or just chosen to avoid it in the first place. This is, after all, the land of Operation Julie, Tipi Valley and the Blue Stones that were used to build Stonehenge. As soon as I walk through the door I bump into Drakey Shaun from Reality Attack who has migrated from Lancashire to live just down the road from the venue (see what I mean?)
The Victoria Hall in Lampeter first opened in 1905. It has the feel of a venue that probably went into decline at some point, before being brought back to life by volunteers. There is a crisp in house PA and theatrical stage lighting – although it would have created more atmosphere if they turned the lights in the hall down a bit more.
The edges of the room have tables and chairs, which can be the death of an atmosphere – although for old gits like me, a welcome refuge.
Helenonearth (see what she did there?) is first up. I’ve known Helen for donkeys, through her running stalls at festivals. I’ve only recently discovered she also makes music though and I believe this is the first time I have caught her live. She is not phased by everyone sat down and confidently puts in a good set of acoustic reggae and folk. It goes down well and warms people up for the evening.
Monsterometer are one of those local bands I referred to, having been making waves in west and mid wales for quite a while now. I discover that guitarist Doobs used to be in Tarantism many moons ago, when they were living in wales. I wonder if he played that gig for me in Blackwood (I wouldn’t know, like I said, I wasn’t there).
Mel: “I think he probably was. He was with us for a few years in the early days. Although when we first started we had some old commitments after Avanti split so we did gigs as Avanti even though we were Tarantism by then, so things get a bit blurry. We went through quite a few drummers till Mark came along, he has been with us a while now”.
Monsterometer play a sort of zombie swamp core type of thing, Ideal for Halloween parties, funerals or anything else happening in Wales. I’ve lost track of the festivals I have caught them at. They give it their all and people show their appreciation. I don’t think they realise how much they were appreciated though, and were taken by surprise when asked for an encore.
When Tarantism hit the stage, a few stand up but many stay sat for the opening of ‘It’s Good To See You Again’. When it is followed by ‘Hoovering the House’, people get off their arse and dance.
Then follows a game where people sit down and smile for the mellow tunes, then put down their drinks and purposefully get down to serious dancing for the lively ones, as if they were in a barn dance ceilidh. As the set progresses, there’s less chilled stuff, the dancey stuff gets more hectic and the dancing becomes frantic.
‘Kaz’s Wlatz’ stirs some emotions, it was here that Caz’s wake was held and it was on the way home from that gig that the song was written.
Mel: “but as Caz would have said, dance you bloody hippies, dance”
And we go straight in to ‘Harthouse Reels’, dancing the tears away. Not many left sitting down now.
All good things must come to an end – much to the disappointment of the crowd. But hey, all good show people tell you to ‘leave them wanting more’.
We mingle for a while, not wanting to leave the guys. Two hours to Lampeter is one thing. Five hours home from Bangor the next day is another.
As it turns out, the journey home took even longer than the trip up. A road closure on the A40 meant a diversion. Trusting in the sat nav we went in directions that seemed counterintuitive over mountains, down single track roads and through unprenounceable hamlets. We got home eventually though, having given the new album another few listens, with a smile all the way.
Can’t wait for the next time