The Voluntary Butler Scheme
Dalliance in the Doghouse with The Voluntary Butler Scheme More
Written By Ria Wilkinson Saturday, October 4th, 2008
Ophelia, Modeliste and The Voluntary Butler Scheme Doghouse at The Royal Oak, Halifax
Dalliance was in the Doghouse. It was a chilly Friday night too. What crime or misdemeanour had been committed? None, for this was a treat. A treat that wheedled Dalliance out of it's cosy Bradford home to venture forth over yonder hill to the Doghouse in Halifax.
The Doghouse is a night hosted in the intimate setting of an upstairs room of The Royal Oak drinkery. However, don't go thinking you can turn up on the dot of an 8.30pm doors and be expected to be let in, instead they encourage you out into the night to seek entertainment whilst they set up in apparent privacy.
As it was, it was nearly 9.30pm by the time first act Ophelia took to the stage which was crowded with all manner of ibooks/ipads/iMacs, mysterious boxed stuffed with wires, and even a small screen onto which a Clara Bow film was projected.
Ophelia are a two piece act that really should have never bothered leaving their bedrooms. The music of Ophelia is third rate Angelo Badelamenti-esque, soundscapes over which undeterminable lyrics are affectedly murmured as Clara Bow frolics on screen in order to grasp any of the attention rapidly dissipating from the audience. By the third track of music to accompany pretentious art house movie sex scenes, we know there are no surprises from this "create music by numbers with my ibook" outfit.
The audience thins out and the half hour Ophelia play feels like forever. Tellingly, the greatest volume of applause comes when it becomes apparent it was their final track. They shuffle off stage and we hope that the next band on are something a bit different or else we'll have to brave again the locals' karaoke in a nearby pub until the top act of the night is on.
Happily, and likely all the better received for it, the middle act are an actual instrument playing group named Modeliste. A local three piece of percussion and two guitars - what else do you need? - they opened up with pacy "Misinterpreted" and soon the audience attention was recaptured and there was involuntary bobbing along to the beat. This promising start was further built on with another couple of tracks before the Hendrix/Chili Pepper influenced "Bop Good" swung things round to a 70s feel. Fronted by Ben (who looks like an escaped Sanderson from Le Tournoi) on bass, "Wyld Thing" Ross on waccachacca guitar and completed by another Ben doing the prerequisite "vaguely dark and mysterious drummer" (I cite fourteen corners and the [now defunct] Letters as further evidence...) that is a local band motif, they powered through another four songs ending with another slick slice of 70s "Hot Love".
Modeliste were a real refreshment of the senses post Ophelia, and it was appreciated the way their melodies broke rhythm so that there were different flavours in each track. And whilst soft rock guitar noodling and "Shaft" reminiscent "waccachacca" noises may not be original, it's what you do with it that counts by referencing them well. Modeliste were well positioned to lift and energise the crowd and they really made the most of it and we look forward to catching them again.
Top act of the night that persuaded Dalliance not to climb into it's fleecy pyjamas but instead into the car, was the excellent Voluntary Butler Scheme. Previously seen as a support to the Brakes' Eamon Hamilton at the Faversham in Leeds earlier this year, we were quickly converted to the charm, uniqueness and downright skill employed by one man act, Rob Jones.
Using a series of layered looping pedals and variety of different instruments that would make any music teacher proud, Jones produced quirky, original and beguiling tunes about love and life. Dalliance was delighted to have the chance to see him again after tracking his quite prolific output of new material released via his MySpace site.
Tonight was not merely a rerun of the previous gig but actually the first gig of Rob playing with his two new compadres. He has recruited a percussionist and another multifunctional friend to tackle various instruments - apologies for not catching their names to credit them accordingly.
Credit they indeed deserve though! Rob mentioned that he was tired of assembling both instrumentage and tuneage and explaining to bemused audiences the nature of his act‘s name. When taking into account the complexity of assembling his music as one man then deconstructing it to make it fit for three whilst building it up more, it really was quite an achievement. In total they played eleven songs. Some newer like opener "Multiplayer", some more downbeat like "Country Lanes to Motorways", a short fun thing like "Dancing with Ted Danson" and some familiar favourites such as "Alarm Clock". The audience had a significant proportion of pre-converts and they lapped up, as did Dalliance, each tune rapturously. None more so then towards the end of the set when recent single (and BBC 6Music favourite) "Trading Things In" was released into the room. It was interesting to hear a fuller arrangement of the tune and one of the new recruits did a sterling job on the trumpet, rewarded well with whoops from the audience.
Whilst their set didn't run entirely smooth, suffering from technical problems, and new recruits dashing about slightly unsure of what instrument to grab next, it felt very organic. The audience warmly supported the band and the relief and smiles of the new line up spoke volumes, that despite it being a bit unpolished, they had most certainly ridden the wave of their first gig together triumphantly! So much so that they were strongly encouraged to perform an encore and despite their protestations that they had no further practised material, they did oblige by playing their opener again. And the audience loved them all the more for their shy reluctance and honesty.
With the recent success of the not too dissimilar sounding Noah & The Whale, as well as strong support from such forces in music as Steve Lamacq, hopefully it's only a matter of time that an album is released and The Voluntary Butler Service are rewarded with the fans they deserve. But please don't let them get too popular, for it's these tiny venues that Rob and new sidekicks really shine.
Eamon Hamilton of The Brakes, The Voluntary Butler Scheme, Hella Cholla at The Faversham, Leeds
Two guys and a gal stroll into a bar. They are greeted by a plate of Bourbon biscuits at the door in exchange for an e-mail address or just plain charm. Whichever of the three acts on tonight in the Faversham have sponsored said biscuits, they have already won over one member of group that have travelled near (Morley), further (Bradford) and far (Newcastle) to be here tonight.As it is, we have strolled in on the last three songs of the opening act Hella Cholla – the biscuit sponsors.
They are, at the core, a duo act of lively Hannah Yadi on vocals and stoic Will Betts on acoustic guitar although tonight they are supplemented by a bass and simple drum beat. Hannah’s voice fills the bar easily with its strength and sharpness striking the ears of the audience seated around the tea-lit tables in front of the stage or stood, pints in hand, around the columns of the room. Her voice has a tone reminiscent of a southern or even antipodean origin and it ensures the lyrics are sung with clarity and your attention is hers.
The backdrop is a red curtain that forms three sides to the stage and there is a brass bar along the stage front to keep any potential moshing at bay – not that is required tonight as the tables and tea lights create quite an elegant, cabaret ambiance to the room. Hannah certainly captivates and is a little firecracker as she constantly bops about the small stage utilising the microphone prop to its full advantage. Her expressive face eagerly illustrates the songs (co-written with Will) with the passion and energy of a childrens’ television presenter. If this is the result of sugar and E-numbers in Bourbon biscuits prior to taking to the stage, more acts should have Bourbon biscuits mandated on their riders!
Confident as Hannah is when singing, the shy chat to the audience between songs (promoting the hospitality Bourbons and the e-mail sign up) and her nervous impatience as Will re-tunes his guitar endears her to us whereas the strength of her voice and animated show may have left the impression of overbearing brashness.
Just as we are really getting into the swing and toe-tappingness of their Mediterranean flavoured upbeat rhythms, we are informed that the next song, Dance Like Ordinary People, will be their last. We are told it was the first song they co-wrote together and the performance of it is alive with the joy of familiarity and quirkiness that the song holds for both Hannah and Will, who supplies some vocal harmony. The song describes a shy girl with an alarmingly unique dance style “you don’t just dance like ordinary people, neither do i...” – personally, I’d check for Bourbon biscuit consumption – and it makes for a rousing, warm end to their set.
Not too soon after the stage is vacated, a tall, solitary figure unpacks a number of instruments and sets up the keyboard and mics mostly unnoticed by the crowd. By this stage, the two guys and a gal have secured one of the tea-lit tables right at the brass bar front of the stage and have an excellent view of the assembly in action. It’s not apparent until a yellow maraca is studiously shook for a looping pedal to capture, that this is actually the start of the build of the first song from The Voluntary Butler Scheme. Although perhaps not obvious from the act name, The Voluntary Butler Scheme (or TVBS) is all but one man, Rob Jones. Hailing from Stourbridge, Rob is a one-man-band for the Jens Lekman, The Go Team!, Divine Comedy, Mr Scruff loving generation. As he layers up the loops of a maraca, a tambourine, some guitar bridges and some backing vocals of the first song, he does not address nor make eye contact with the audience.
Jones diligently applies each layer with an expression of focus and thought that gives the impression of watching a scientist, or even a magician, set up an experiment. Loops in place and already creating a sound that belies the work of one man, he finally plays the keyboard over it and glazes the finished product with vocals delivered from behind a curtain of hair. The keys are depressed with the same sure footedness that the guitar has been strummed, and he sings Tabasco Sole as his foot keeps rhythm on the bass drum – a true multitasking master. The song ends and he engages the audience from behind the hair and mumbles about his act name not really being indicative of a solo performer. The audience applaud him generously, impressed by the skill alone, to say nothing of the jaunty tune. For the second TVBS song - Hot Air Balloon Heart - he wisely simplifies it down to just the keyboard.
However, there are a number of unused instruments scattered around him and the crowd anticipates what he might pick up next. The Eiffel Tower & BT Tower delights as he adorns a harmonica holder affixed with a Kazoo and then picks up the Hawaiian style tiny guitar. Several tracks in and it becomes apparent there is a food theme threaded within the everyday whimsy of the lyrics. From “a tv chef adding too much seasoning” (The Eiffel Tower & BT Tower) to “if you were broccoli, I’d turn vegetarian for you” (Trading Things In) or “buy my dinner from a dream take-away” (Alarm Clock). These references pepper songs inspired by the mostly sunny side of love and devotion and the quirky turn of phrase “my employment status is low” and the imagery painted in, for example, Blender (which is recipe involving mushrooms, peppers, onions, garlic and his heart) should render smiles even in those who might find it a bit twee.
When all the instruments had their turn in the spot light and the finale of Trading Things In finished with a good thrash at the high-hat and bass drum, the audience was charmed as it should have been by the effort, skill and over all sunniness that The Voluntary Butler Scheme brought to the Faversham. If twee and everyday minutiae are of interest to you (hello Jens fans) and you also appreciate some Divine Comedy, Mr Scruff, the Go! Team and 1970s sounds, then I would encourage you to seek out TVBS.
On a personal footnote here, seeing the performance of Rob Jones of all the instruments in front our eyes and ears then employing use of looping as spare pairs of hands, did not leave me feeling “cheated” at all in terms of giving a false performance. This further threw into sharp contrast the experience of watching Two Madre where the two people played keyboard, guitar and saxophone over full percussion and guitar backing provided by an ipod. It felt rather cheap and lazy to watch – either have the rest of the “band” there, do without and simplify or use a third way shown here by The Voluntary Butler Scheme.
Sometimes, it’s a bit of a worry that the fun of the evening has peaked too early with the support act, especially when not overly familiar with the headline act, as was the personal experience of watching the ridiculously good-time twangers The Wild Strings before the earnest British Sea Power earlier this month. Hopefully this wasn’t to be a case of history repeating with Eamon Hamilton (Brakes, nee BSP) and TVBS.
An unassuming presence on the stage – just a slim man dressed in black jeans, shirt and boots with an acoustic guitar stood where the melee of musical instruments had been strewn earlier. The rest of the stage was darkened so a single spotlight could pick Eamon Hamilton and his glass of red wine out on the stage. But there was a glint in the eye and a curl to the lips that quickly became a gurn Mick Jagger would be proud of as he launched into Spring Chicken and suddenly the character of the Brakes is made clear.
It is Eamon Hamilton with his set list taped to the back of his guitar introducing his songs with a couple of lines of throw away quips that suddenly give the often taken as ironic but nevertheless furious guitar work abare bones openness. Ring A Ding Ding is about George Bush and Tony Blair - and we thought he meant proper Cowboys - and Cheney is "still sadly relevant".
Eamon is on the road to try out new songs but he only has two of them. They both sound like a continuation of the impressive The Beatific Visions album and as someone shouts for Mobile Communication and isobliged one of us wishes he had shouted for Porcupine or Pineapple.
"The next one is a heart breaker" he says. No Return rings out and cuts through the air as the finest song in an impressive collection. He carries on a little after that but the night has been crowned.
And so, as the last flay of the guitar strings for Comma, Comma, Full Stop left their mark on the night, two guys and a gal rose from their ring side seat at the acoustic food cabaret and started to make their way into the night, where they happened upon the plate of Bourbon biscuits nursed by the friends of Hella Cholla. Thinking the night couldn’t be improved further after the triumphant acquisition of the third biscuit of the evening, the event was (chocolate) iced when a post-gig Eamon amiably spent a few minutes chatting to two guys and a gal as he relaxed with wine, cigarette, knitted hat and some of his moonlighting “stage technicians” in which Eamon tells us which of the five is his favourite in Girls Aloud - Nicola - and that The Brakes will be recording their new album in April to release not long after.
Tonight has been the best night so far for Eamon, for Rob Jones who is driving the Brakes man from gig to gig and for the other stage technicians who randomly include on of bright new lights Joe Jean and The Jing Jang Jong and for us because we all smile and we just discovered that when British Sea Power appeared on Later... Eamon was the Wrestler in the blue.
He lost then. We all won tonight though.