June 30, 2022: The Forty Elephant Gang and The Dreaming Spires live at The Water Rats
The Forty Elephant Gang live at the Water Rats
The Forty Elephant Gang, intriguingly named after a notorious Victorian-era criminal gang of girls and women, alternated between folkish mandolin numbers and esoteric rock.
The band drew a solid crowd but they were always going to have unfair competition. The split pub/venue space meant that many members of the close-knit Americana community couldn’t help but gravitate toward each other after so many years apart. The number of musicians found deep in conversation gave tantalising clues to guest stars to come during the main event.
The Dreaming Spires live at The Water Rats
When the brothers from Oxford and their band of Americana stalwarts took to the hallowed stage, the packed crowd of friends and fans went wild.
There have been a few line-up changes since The Dreaming Spires released Brothers in Brooklyn in 2012. The present incarnation features members/collaborators of Goldrush, St. Etienne, Ride, Gaz Coombes, Billy Bragg, Danny and the Champions of the World, and Peter Buck of R.E.M.
Thomas Collison’s trusty martlets flag got a night off because his keyboard screen was the anniversary album’s artwork to honour the occasion.
Celebrating the record’s tenth birthday by playing it in order made it even easier for fans to welcome their favourites. Everything All The Time was particularly well-received, and it could go without saying that the crowd was primed to sing along. The trio of fans throwing shapes and rolling on the floor at the front might have surprised any newcomers to this literate power-popicana band, though!
A particular nod has to go to Not Every Song From The Sixties Is A Classic. Not only because of its catchy hook, but also because of the sneaking suspicion that it was being played to a crowd that did indeed, for the most part, overly revere sixties music en masse.
Laughing & Dancing gave us the first special guest appearance with Hannah Deeble of Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou fame.
The influence of Big Star and Teenage Fanclub became evident as the set continued with songs like Can’t Keep This Feeling In. The album set segued between Rickenbacker janglers and heartfelt ballads until we reached the delightfully puntastic The Dreaming Spires track The Dream Inspires.
Once the album tracks were put to bed early – they are only ten years old, after all! – it was time for some bonus The Dreaming Spires live favourites.
The song All Kinds of People was an essential choice. It was the song that took the band to The Andrew Marr shows, where Marr introduced them as “one of the best live bands in the country.” They performed the critique of austerity in front of then-Secretary of State for Defence and future Chancellor Phillip Hammond, confronting him with lyrics like “there are some kinds of people who are comfortable with lies.”
Clearly, such lines are depressingly relevant seven years later but, then, so is”there are all kinds of people preying upon the weak and they don’t know that we are strong/we get stronger every day.”
Occasional Dreaming Spire F. Scott Kenny drew one of the biggest cheers of the night as he took the drum throne to play the deep cut The House in Elsinore. Meanwhile, current drummer Jamie Dawson accompanied on bongos.
Robin Bennett stepped back from lead vocals to enjoy the craic with his brother Joe Bennett during a riotous cover of Tom Petty’s King’s Highway. Y, known for appearing in Wayne’s World II and being an alumnus of Goldrush and Danny and The Champions of the World, delighted the crowd with his spirited performance. Kudos to The Water Rats’ lighting tech for adding to the entertaining spectacle perfectly.
Finally, The Dreaming Spires live set ended with an impassioned sing-along to Dusty in Memphis. After enforced years away from live music and friends, a full-volume collective chant to “you know we’ve got soul, woah oh oh” was much needed and grabbed with earnestly clenched fists.
Check out musiccloseup.com for more music news, reviews, and photography!