Chris Murray – Camden Underworld

By paul

Chris Murray
Tuesday 3 March 2009
Underworld, Camden
Support: The Skints + Gecko + Squab

There?s no doubt that acoustic music is currently enjoying a resurgence. Whilst the likes of Frank Turner skyrocket into the conscious of mainstream music listeners, lone guys and gals the country over are being given the opportunity to perform to appreciating crowds on a regular basis. Not since the unplugged days of Dylan has it been so ?cool? to be quietly out there on your own. Tonight?s bill heavily favours the acoustic side of life as well as showcasing the sort of ska that defies the miserable drizzle outside and convinces you it?s actually summer.

Opening acts don?t usually receive so much as a batted eyelash at the Underworld but tonight Squab manages not only to flutter eyes but to demand the attention of everyone in attendance. And that includes the bouncers! A big part of it has to do with Harry Yeff: how often do you get to see a human beatbox nicking the drummers spot on stage? The London act, completed by Steve Coe and Jak Brown both on acoustic guitar, plays a mixture of ska and folk delivered in an easygoing manner that allows at times for the beatbox to take centre stage but is never eclipsed by what some will dismiss as gimmick. It?s all highly enjoyable and well worth checking out. (4/5)

Gecko follows up in a similar manner only with the more traditional drum set replacing the beatbox this time. To sum up the music on offer here it?s probably easiest to mention some of the influences on display: The Streets, Natty, The Beastie Boys, Jack Johnson, 60?s Trojan reggae, mariachi music. It?s a mixed bag the size of Wembley Stadium and yet it all comes together so nicely. Will Sanderson-Thwaite, the man behind Gecko, and his backing band The Blizzards prove to be an incredible spectacle blending sometime heartfelt, sometimes comedic lyrics with a hotpot of musical styles that keeps you guessing until the very end. (4/5)

?We?re the only band without an acoustic guitar,? laughs electric guitarist Josh Waters Rudge. ?That makes us the bad guys.? Indeed The Skints aren?t here to ply an acoustic trade, but nor is the London quartet likely to break your ears with some crushing beatdowns. The punky reggae party brought by the hometown band is exactly that: some traditional roots reggae blended with fast guitars and socio-conscious lyrics in a multi-paced, multi-voiced, multi-faceted fusion that has the dance floor skanking just like the old days. It?s a change of pace that actually sits snuggly alongside the rest of the bill rather than being the proverbial sore thumb. Well that?s certainly the impression you get from what is the largest crowd of the night. Without a doubt The Skints are going places. Give them another six months, an album release, and the tour slots the band has lined-up and it?s not unfathomable for these guys to be headlining the Underworld sooner rather than later. (4/5)

Such is the youth before him you?d be forgiven for thinking Chris Murray was a band dad. It?s actually testament to the length of time the now L.A. based Canadian has been performing. From his time in King Apparatus until his present solo status, Murray has been regarded very much as a man of the music. His collaborations with the likes of Hepcat and The Slackers have been interspersed by work with traditional reggae artists, and all this comes across in tonight?s 60 minute performance.

From the off, ?We Do the Ska? sets out the stall: just Murray, his guitar, and a chorus line of not-quite in tune fans. Comfortable in his own performance whilst being thoroughly charming and amenable, Murray takes requests at the drop of a hat. ?Heartache? is a spontaneous request that feels like it should be in the set always, perfectly natural. The likes of ?So Many Roads?, ?Ex Darling? and ?The Real Ska? showcase the chilled reggae vibe and quaint storytelling that earmark Murray?s recordings and then take them up another notch. Live is where it?s at.

As a special treat, Murray invites Gecko and the beatbox Yeff to perform a couple of songs. Favourite ?Rock Steady? sounds particularly enriched by the vocal harmonies, bass grooves and a mouthful of unimaginable noises. I guess it?s what Murray sounds like full band. It makes a pleasant break to the set without losing the acoustic etiquette.

Back to one man and his guitar, Murray closes out a slightly shorter set than he would have liked, and with it closes an impeccable bill of consistent performances, fours across the board. All in all it?s a thoroughly agreeable Tuesday night that won?t leave the ears ringing for days afterwards. This whole acoustic lark ain?t all that bad, you know? (4/5)

Alex Hambleton