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Thursday, 10 January 2013

Sounds and Rounds: Ben Ottewell- Live at The Bodega Social Club 7.12.12

 (Support from Little Gem).

Something of a despondent sixty-strong crowd of people shamelessly idle away their anticipation-stifled time, as they await tonight’s headline show from Chesterfield’s own Ben Ottewell (BO).  I join them half way through tonight’s support act, a low-key outing for part-time Arctic Monkey John Ashton AKA Little Gem (LG).  So, the scene is set and I’ve a pen and one of many pints; let’s get to it!

With his Jason Lytle/Jack Osbourne hybrid appearance, LG addresses the crowd and shares some largely inaudible musings with his seemingly vacant audience, before announcing his last track.  Despite my lateness I characteristically capture LGs last few shy, stage-bound moments, which are in keeping with his ‘More Light’ EP, yet far removed from the sounds on his ‘Collected Dust’ LP.  

Based on what I’ve heard tonight however, LG’s all set to become something of a slow-burning favourite of mine, thanks to his lo-fi one-man-band act that effortlessly combines his understated guitar, keys and vocals into a mystery coated gift that begs to be unravelled and to be discovered.  LGs largely neglected but nevertheless enjoyable, entertaining set warms the stage nicely for BO.
Heightened anticipation sets in as LG clears the stage and makes way for his long time comrade BO; slowly but oh so surely the crowd closes in on the stage.  As BO appears ten minutes ahead of schedule (probably thanks to the Bodega’s 10pm curfew), the crowd awakens from its slumber in order to greet BO with enthusiasm and affection worthy of a key Gomez band member.

Looking surprisingly like a biological blend of Kevin Smith and Mark Oliver Everett/E, a stage-lit BO welcomes his audience with a simple “Hello”, before enchanting them with his solo rendition of Nick Drake’s ‘Black Eyed Dog’, a song frequently covered by Gomez; it amuses me to hear BO open his set with a song that features the repeated lyric “I wanna go home”!  

BO seamlessly and sublimely bleeds into Gomez’s ‘Free to Run’, as a silence-struck audience takes in every last note, before erupting into applaud.  A lesser known ‘Shapes & Shadows’ follows and despite being the title track from BO’s 2011 solo LP; its reception is notably subdued.  I’m becoming increasingly aware of the possibility that tonight’s crowd are here simply to hear the hits of Gomez. 

Swapping guitars for the first time tonight, BO perhaps insightfully introduces what he describes as being a song with poor lyrics, before rolling out a fantastic rendition of ‘Get Miles’, the first song on the first Gomez LP ‘Bring it On’.  After being well received by a clearly switched-on crowd, BO goes into ‘Blackbird’, a track that sadly succumbs to the revived sounds of chatter-driven distraction.

It stands its sonic ground however and as the crowd injects some gusto into their applause, BO rightfully and perhaps sarcastically adds “Thanks for listening … it really makes a difference … it’s usually a chance to talk”.  Without dwelling on the lack of courtesy shown by his partially fractious audience, BO introduces the fantastic ‘Hamoa Beach’, explaining that it’s “By Ian” (Gomez’s Mr Ball).

BO affords the song new dynamics, particularly in the vocal delivery and I’m somewhat astounded to be hearing a personal favourite with so much undiscovered and honestly unexpected allure.  It’s simply brimming with energy and the newly instilled vibrancy of the track brings a big ol’ smile to my face, as I mentally compare it with what now seems to be a restricted and repressed studio version.

Still smiling I sing my heart out (albeit under my breath!) to the closing chorus, before BOs ‘Chicago’ opens with minimal impact.  An abundance of casual listeners chat, clunk and clatter their way through a delicate track that’s simply incapable of self-defence in the face of such sonic adversity.  To quote the great Pusherman (anyone remember them?) “Most people should be sterilised”!

Gomez’s ‘Little Pieces’ follows in the same sonically challenged suit and BO’s flawless performance goes tragically underappreciated as it fails to attract the total focus of which it was worthy.  BO’s “Thanks … can John Ashton come on stage” is instantly countered with a piercing request from the audience, as the words “Take your top off” are sent stagewards.  All clothing remains intact!  

Witty banter behind us, we continue with “a track by Bill Withers” and fellow hard-core Gomez fans await ‘Ain’t no Sunshine’, a track Gomez covered as a flipside to their 2009 single ‘If I ask you nicely’.  BO and LG deliver a strong, seductive and sultry version that to some degree is self-indulgent but nonetheless joyous.  Tomfoolery now takes hold, after LG announces his “first-ever feedback”!

BO asks “Everyone alright, everyone enjoying their beverages?”  As an audience member asks about his “Santa beard”, BO mishears and comically responds with “NO! It’s my beer! ... Oh my beard … no that’s mine too, it gets trapped sometimes … most unpleasant! … Suppose we’d better play ‘We haven’t turned around.” The crowd quietens so as to fully absorb another well-executed Gomez hit.

With silence intact as one song closes and another opens with both BO guitar and LG keyboard sounds, ‘All Brand New’ exquisitely unfolds, just as the vocals are once again engulfed by the crowds collective YAKYAKYAK-ing, which continues to drown out most of the witty banter that ensues; something about BO and alleged Yorkshire roots, but I’m still unsure of its totality even now!

Another cover attempts to woo the crowd into submission and as Little Willie John’s ‘Fever’ unfurls, the crowd’s interest is quirked, with both BO and LG zoning out to create their all-encompassing sound.  It’s followed by ‘How We Operate’, the title track from one of Gomez’s strongest album’s (released in 2009 and produced by Brian Deck, the album’s simply a must despite a weaker 2nd half).

BO clearly loves this spectacular, echo-heavy track, perhaps more than each of its predecessors and as it demands the room’s attention, it closes and LG leaves the stage (he may’ve left before this track, but my drunken notes have temporarily deteriorated into unintelligible scribble and this is as close to decipherment as I’m gonna get … my apologies dear reader!).  ONWARD!

“Thanks … lovely … even if you are from Nottingham!”  Solo once more, BO advances with what is surely a Slimming World favourite!  ‘78 Stone Wobble’ attracts a backing track from tonight’s crowd who now, after finding itself back in more familiar territory, has found the power of interaction!  Accompanied by BOs inspired, “OOOHHH”-attracting guitar play, the set closes majestically.
Appeasing the crowd and its yearning call for more, BO delivers! 

Sticking with the old-school favourites, we revisit the Gomez debut LP once more as we’re treated to the heart-warming ‘Tijuana Lady’.  Thankfully, an unmistakeable lack of lyrical knowledge manages to stop the crowd from drowning out the wonderful sounds that BO is kicking out.  It’s awesome, absolutely awesome.

Sets such as this assure The Bodega’s position as my favourite live venue in Notts.  Forgivably low-brow and faultlessly intimate, it affords folk scarce insights such as seeing any given act buying their own drinks at the bar.  It’s also perfect for meeting your heroes, who’ll often take to the floor after their show.  Tonight’s no exception; I’m joined by LG and BO at their bountiful merchandise stand. 

Sharing idle, off-the-record chatter is poor form of course, but I see no harm in letting you in on the fact that a vegetarian Little Gem confesses he was oblivious to his namesake lettuce, before sharing his love of Monster Munch and Wigan (yes,’ LG’ was inspired by a Verve B-side track)!  And as for BO, well what follows is a cheeky summary of our conversation.

After asking about his thoughts on The Bodega and smaller, noisier venues in general, Gomez counterpart Ian Ball’s (IB) forthcoming album and LG himself, I can confirm that in a typical salt-of-the-earth fashion, BO openly commends all!  Fond memories of the Bodega bleed into bragging rights about hearing bits of a burgeoning, somewhat experimental album from IB.

An open and affable BO closes with kind words about his long-time touring buddy LG, who I first heard opening for Gomez back in 2005 at an amazing three hour gig at the Hotel Café in LA.  LG, the once nerve-wracked has undeniably developed into quite the artiste since back then, with his commitment to the cause not going unnoticed by an affectionate BO who warmly sings his praise.

Finally, I’d like to tag on an apology for the unforgivably late arrival of this article!  I’m unaccustomed with such poor punctuality, but from Christmas and calamity to good tidings and tragedy, each has taken its toll on my recent output.   Still, its 2013 now, what could possibly go wrong from here?!  Thanks for your continued support dear reader; happy New Year!!!