There’s an atmosphere of light but happy inebriation onstage. It’s an atmosphere that’s set to catch on, as a giant flagon (rum? whisky?) is passed around the font rows of the Kantine audience. The plastic beer glasses will be airborne soon, flying swiftly over a sea of smiling faces and waving arms. Skinny Lister are in town.
There was an energy about Skinny Lister at the Rockaue Festival this year that leaped out at the audience despite it being only late afternoon and sunshine. This band would be wonderful in a small, sweaty club on a rainy night I thought. Well it seems they may already be too big for that small sweaty club – this was The Kantine, not the much smaller Yardclub next door which I had expected to host the show. It was raining outside though, and it was sweaty inside the crowded Kantine as a good natured crowd gradually filled out the last corners of the hall.
Coming down on the train from Bonn meant I hadn’t had time to grab much to eat, so Beans on Toast was a good start to the evening. B on T is actually a one man energy machine from Braintree in Essex named Jay McAllister. He’s a man well known to Skinny Lister and Frank Turner fans since McAllister has supported and worked with both. If I refer to him as something of a ‘Frank Turner Lite’ it’s not meant as an insult, rather than that his songs are very much punched out from the heart as Turner’s are, but McAllister only has a tiny, battered parlour acoustic (with a nifty electric switch painted in felt tip pen on the soundboard) for company.
There are no ‘Sleeping Souls’ onstage or indeed in the audience though. because Jay McAllister is one of that valuable breed of folk players who can actually command attention with just the aforementioned guitar – oh, and a big clutch of often witty but always thoughtful songs. Fast food chickens and threatened trees in Sherwood Forest are amongst the oddities in McAllisters lyrical box of tricks. One of those guys whom you suspect could write a song about anything and make it listenable. Songs of Politics, Drugs and Love, delivered with, dare I say it, a touch of the Chas and Dave humour. So much so that I’m wondering if Mr McAllister might even be related to Dave Peacock. Lone Folksingers, go and see this man onstage. This is how it’s done.
A gent I was speaking to before the show had come over from Oxford for this, his fourth show of the Skinny Lister European Tour. There is, it seems, like Frank Turner’s fanbase, a fan Army growing. When I saw the them at Rockaue I was thinking of Skinny Lister as a band for The Harmonie in Bonn so I’m rather taken aback to see such a big crowd that seems already to be familiar with every line of every song from at least the last two discs. Much of that comes from the band’s previous excursions supporting the Dropkick Murphy’s. A good few are here from Düsseldorf I suspect where the Murphy’s tour stopped off in February.
I know it’s old hat but comparisons with those other London based folk-rockers the Pogues are still inevitable. The energy and enthusiasm of the band is reminiscent of McGowan and Co in the early 1980’s and the audience has a similiar feeling of affection for the band. There’s an instant connection even before the giant flagon gets passed into the crowd that says everyone is invited to the table – everyone is a part of the show.
On the ‘table’ there is a feast of great folk-rock music. Vocals (and even microphone when a technical problem arises) are shared between Daniel Hepinstall and Lorna Thomas but there is a healthy punk-like scrum onstage the whole evening as Sam ‘Mule’ Brace waves his concertina above his head only to be followed moments later by Scott Milsom doing the same with his own instrument – in this case a stand-up bass!
I love it when the Folk side takes over for a short time as on Lorna’s gentle ‘Bonny Away’ which sounds like a folk classic but is in fact written, as much of the band’s material is, by the band’s own Dan Heptinstall. It’s a credit to Heptinstall’s writing in fact that when an old classic like ‘John Kanaka’ is played his own material sounds just as traditional. Really and truly though, the quiet moments are only for catching breath and bounding energetically into frenzied Lister anthems like ‘This is War’, ‘Trouble on Oxford Street’ and ‘Six Whiskies’.
Not so many years ago I remember seeing those plastic beerglasses flying around in front of the stage as The Pogues played a thumping set at the old Bonn Museumsplatz. It doesn’t take much of a step to imagine Skinny Lister in the same scenario at Kunst’Rasen.. It’s a band that is going to get both even better and even bigger. They might just need a larger flagon to pass round amongst the audience soon…