The intimate stage, lush red curtained backdrop and flickering candlelit atmosphere of the legendary Hebden Bridge Trades Club is a perfect setting for two acts performing songs tinged with nostalgia and whimsy. First up is Pocket Hercules, who is actually John P. Sheridan, a Hebden Bridge local who has recently rescued his guitar from hiding and unearthed a voice that used to do the rounds in Camden and Islington in years gone by. Interspersed with pally banter, Pocket Hercules sings a clutch of engaging acoustic songs with intelligent lyrics and a deft finger plucking style. ‘Present’ is a number that sounds immediately familiar in the way the best songs do, ‘Diamonds From Stones’ takes a look back at love lost and ‘Let Me Be Your Answer’ implores with an uplifting chug. Pocket Hercules looks like the type of bloke who has bags more songs than the six he plays tonight, and as he announces an album in the new year, he may well become a voice that gets heard a lot more.
From one man on stage to a troupe of seven lads and lasses, next up is Manchester’s seven-piece, The Slow Show. Named after a track by The National, the first thing that hits you is the distinct similarity between lead singer Robert Goodwin’s baritone voice and that of The National’s Matt Berninger. Although Goodwin only looks to be in his early twenties, he’s somehow acquired timeworn vocals and a knack for world-weary lyricism. His voice occasionally echoes that of Lambchops’ Kurt Wagner as well, and after a couple of songs it’s clear that this talented band are in thrall to a magically morose brand of Americana.
They’ve not been together for much more than eighteen months but they’ve already garnered praise from the right radio DJs and snaffled a support slot with Elbow. Goodwin looks comfortable on stage and after a couple of tracks he confides in the crowd, “We’ve been on tour for a while now and everyone keeps asking us if we’ve been to Hebden Bridge, it’s become like a mystical place in our minds now, so we’re glad to finally get here.” They get a warm response and gently ease into the next number. It’s another comforting slice of melancholia, and although it goes down like a warm liqueur, there are hopes for something with a bit more kick to get the blood up.
At the close of the song a pained groan seems to swell up into the rafters from some unknown place and the band look up and around the room to locate the source of this indecipherable noise. With a nervous laugh Goodwin leans into the microphone and asks the audience, “What was that?” The crowd are equally unsure and silence reigns for a moment, until a comedian shouts, ”It’s the beast,” and the room breaks into a laugh.
The Slow Show released their ‘Brother’ EP on the Smoked & Uncut label last May, and the title track is a real standout from the whole set. It comes over you like a warm blanky - a song to listen to whilst sat by an open fire, snuggled up with a hot toddy, staring out the window at the driving rain. A beautiful piano intro is followed by a haunting violin, and Goodwin croons, “let’s go back to football fields, and backyard alleyways, before God let you down boys, and took your life away”.
The band continues rattling through song after song, showcasing a lot of material, but as polished as each one is, it leaves you craving at least one tempo change. They’re a tight band with a well-crafted sound, but there’s not a jot of irony in that name.
Words and photos by Nick Rice