Two months have passed since Tony Wakeford and friends played the first Ship of Fools nights, and it’s down the gangway and all aboard the Bar & Co boat for another evening of maritime merriment. When I arrive, though, everyone’s sitting around on the deck. It seems that the venue’s been double-booked and the bar below deck is full of Spanish football fans watching a game – and as we all know, whenever 22 men anywhere in the world gather to kick a ball around, everything else has to be fitted in around them. ¡Señoras y señores, I peess on your fucking football!
At last the match ends, and the lurid football shirts in the bar give way to the legions of camo and black. As for the previous Ship of Fools event, tonight’s show is sold out. I guess that when the venue will actually sink if it gets too overcrowded, the organisers have to keep a pretty tight grip on numbers. But be warned, if you’re planning to come to future events, not many people get in on the door.
Tonight’s support band is glassglue, a late replacement for the Italian band Spectre. Now, since I've never heard of glassglue, the evening’s drawing on, and I have friends who’ve come a long way to see Sieben and need to catch trains back home, I'm inclined to be dismissive and impatient, but within a couple of songs the band have won me over enough to actually want to listen to their songs. Vocalist Marcel Stoetzler bears an unsettling resemblance to serial killer Francis Dollarhyde from the 1986 film Manhunter, and he peddles a fine line in broken-down, tears-of-a-clown, cabaret melancholy, croaking out lines like ‘I'm a happy bunny’ with such luxuriant woe that he makes Leonard Cohen look as chipper as the Hooray For Everything kids. Two other lyrics lodge in my memory:
‘Lately I've been finding myself embarrassing to be with.’
‘I don’t exactly worship life, but it certainly has its moments.’
glassglue are playing as a trio tonight, having left their drummer at home, but the bassist / guitarist and keyboard player accompany Marcel’s lamentations with assurance and sensitivity, and they even have a harmonium for that Nico-esque chapel-of-rest vibe. Cool. All things considered, I'm glad I stuck with glassglue. And as I found out at the last Ship of Fools night, on a boat you find yourself swaying to the music whether you want to or not.
After that, in short order, it’s Matt Howden, a.k.a. Sieben. One man with a mic, a violin and a loop pedal doesn’t take so long to set up. Sieben’s albums frequently involve guest musicians, but with Sieben live, what you see is what you get. There’s no backing music, no triggers, no mirrors. Everything you hear comes direct from Matt. And what an extraordinary, rapturous, transformative sound he produces from just his voice and his violin – laying down a rhythm track, then playing a tune, knocking it down an octave or so to make a bassline, then playing the melody and singing over the top. It’s an amazing process to witness. Matt isn’t content with merely bowing the violin or playing pizzicato. He sings into the instrument, scrapes his fingernails along it, rubs his chin stubble on the bridge. If Jimi Hendrix had played a fiddle instead of a Strat, it might have looked something like this. I get to see a lot of musicians play, but it’s hard to name one with more obvious and prodigious musical talent than Matt Howden. Matt’s musicianship is humbling, even awe-inspiring, and yet he’s so engaging and friendly with his audience, as he runs through a load of his best tunes – ‘The Blade’, ‘The Spirit’ (both now purged of esoteric ogham references), ‘Love Must Wax Cold’, ‘A High Broad Field’, ‘As They Should Sound’ (the title track from the new Sieben album), and my personal favourite, ‘Love’s Promise’, which Matt, ever the perfectionist, scraps and starts again because it’s going too fast. The three encores include two songs inspired by ex-girlfriends, one affectionate, one not so affectionate. But it’s all good.
I have three friends here tonight who’ve never seen or heard Sieben before, who all came specifically on my recommendation, and they all went away massively impressed, even though they had to leave early because they had trains to catch. The moral here is – if you get a chance to see Sieben play live, seriously, do yourself a favour. As I said earlier, I see a hell of a lot of live music, and it’s easy to get jaded, but seeing something like this every once in a while is a salutary reminder of what really, really good looks and sounds like. There’ll be a Sieben interview coming to Heathen Harvest shortly. Next up to walk the plank on the Ship of Fools – Naevus. See you in July.