A bit of a busy weekend, having watched Suzanne Vega at Bath Forum the night before, which I will write up if I get time, but for now, I will leave you with a one-word review…tremendous! It was a bit of an early start for a gig, beginning with a long-overdue catch-up with my oldest friend, not least to return a stack of Albion Band albums I have been holding on to for about half my lifetime! And then, to horse! Or at least a 3-minute wander twixt pub and venue, but when I put it like that, it t doesn’t sound much like I’m suffering for my art.
I caught a bit of the titular Mickelson, Scott, to his friends, last year when I was in the lucky position to watch Kelley Swindall play a pin-drop set at The Tuppenny and then let momentum, gravity and a few beers send me down the hill to a packed Beehive. There, joined by local troubadours Jon Bucket on piano and Lee Moulding on drums, he went down a storm.
This time, I was determined to be well-positioned to experience it all. The great and good of Swindon had gathered for this; it seemed every third person I saw there was somehow connected to the on-stage or behind-the-scenes side of local music. There was even time for a nice catch-up with Stu Rowe and his High-Flying younger brother, which is always a pleasure.
Support came from Jim Blair, a familiar face on the local scene and a purveyor of sublime slide moves, whiskey-cracked vocals, upbeat blues, and funky grooves. Mixing new songs with old, he warmed the crowd up perfectly, with great music and a few groan-worthy jokes thrown in for good measure.
And then, The Mickleson Gang took the stage, this time around augmented by Cinzano Taylor on bass. It is hard to describe precisely where Scott’s music fits into the grand scheme of things, which is always a good sign. Not because there is anything radically new in the musical building blocks they use but because the music slips and slides around, defying easy categorisation. There are moments when it passes through folk, rock, pop, acoustica, and even country but never staying long enough to be branded or pigeonholed with any degree of certainty.
The current single, Only Grey Matter Boiling in My Head, is a case in point. Too off-kilter to be pop, though it certainly exists at a point where pop is subsumed by something defter, more delicately delivered, something with rock’s weight, indie’s integrity and pop accessibility. It swoons and swoops, ebb and flow, basslines souring, pianos cascading, and lyrics leave you both amused and challenged. Poised pop, perhaps? Pop with a PhD? Who knows?
There are moments when songs wander off their beaten tracks and seem to turn into psychedelic jams, there are moments of poignancy, such as Unarmed American’s musing on the gun laws of his US homeland, and there are songs that prove that just because he swaps the guitar for the banjo, which he does a lot, the result doesn’t have to be bluegrass or country or roots but just adds another twist on this grand, graceful genre-defying pop he makes. Pop, which by any other name still sounds as sweet.
If there was any downside to the night, it was that despite the upbeat and sometimes off-beat brilliance of the show being laid out before us…and I must say that it is a hell of a band that he has drawn around him to this end….the room felt a bit, well, stilted. Scott has a keen and dry sense of humour, but his wit and wisdom and the usual band banter (bandter?) seemed to fall a bit on deaf ears. It could be because of the mainly seated audience. Perhaps it was a Sunday crowd. Maybe Swindon isn’t used to such raconteur frontmen. A rapport was being offered, but the audience did not embrace it. Oh, well. Maybe next time.
A glorious gig, a great evening, and there was even time for a few after-gig drinks and chats with the main man and his musical acolytes. He’s back in the summer, so make sure you have a ticket; next time around, I suspect that you won’t be able just to wander in and purchase one on the night.