LIVE: Chuck Ragan / Skinny Lister / Tim Vantol @ The Scala, London

By Glen Bushell

The worlds of punk rock and folk have been crossing paths for many years, and more often than not share very similar traits. There are just as many punk songs about love, life, and protesting against the norm as there are folk songs, and both genres possess a an incredibly raw sense of honesty when done right. One man, who has transcended both genres, is Chuck Ragan. From fronting arguably the best punk rock band of the last 20 years, Hot Water Music, to making a name a name for himself as an acoustic guitar toting troubadour, Ragan is one of the few artists who does both of these things exactly right.

On this exceptionally cold March night in London, there is a warm, community-esque vibe thick in the air of the Scala, one that can only be attributed to the connection people feel to tonight’s headliner. You know that feeling, the one where you could probably talk to anyone in the room and it would be like you have known them for years, even if you haven’t met them before. A sense of community that you only get in the punk scene.

First up is Tim Vantol, who has come from the Netherlands to tell his stories to a particularly keen audience, and he does so with incredible passion. He is only given half an hour with us this evening, but Vantol is compelling enough to make you want to watch him play songs like ‘Apologies, I Have Some’, or ‘If We Go Down, We Will Go Down Together’ all night long. It’s safe to say that as the crowd swells during his performance that Tim Vantol will soon become more than just an opening act on tours like this, and has gained more than a few new fans tonight.

Home grown folk-rock sextet Skinny Lister take to the stage next, and are certainly lively considering they jetted in from SXSW in Texas less than a week ago. There are no cobwebs on the London band, and even if things their delivery feels a little contrived, and at times clichéd, they do provide a “right ol’ knees up” to say the least. Their set draws heavily on their forthcoming album ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’, and as they pass a flagon of ale around the Scala, their huge personalities enchant a large portion of the crowd this evening, and before long they will no doubt be headlining this venue themselves.

When Chuck Ragan appears to a rapturous applause, it is like being greeted by an old friend, and before he has even uttered a word his presence alone manages to fill the room. Backed by The Camaraderie – which currently includes Hot Water Music drummer George Rebello – they dive straight into ‘Something May Catch Fire’ from last years excellent album ‘Till Midnight’, and continue through a career spanning set. Older tracks ‘Nothing Left To Prove’, ‘Rotterdam’, and ‘You Get What You Give’ all sound huge tonight, with Chuck Ragan’s vocal becoming more grizzled and gravel-laced as they years have gone by.

The Camaraderie leave the stage for a few songs gives us a chance to see Ragan at his most stripped back as he runs through passionate covers of Cory Branan’s ‘Survivor Blues’ and Alkaline Trio’s ‘Bleeder’, and also informs the crowd that Hot Water Music are in the process of writing new music before performing an acoustic rendition of ‘Drag My Body’. His band returns to the stage for the spine-tingling ‘Bedroll Lullaby’, and ‘The Boat’, which as expected brings the house down tonight, with Chuck Ragan visibly moved by the response to their music.

Tonight didn’t feel like a show or performance by any of the artists, but more a gathering of like-minded spirits getting together to celebrate nothing more than their love of honest music. Anyone who ever doubted the power of song should come to a Chuck Ragan show and be proved wrong, because this was as inspiring as it gets.