LIVE: Xtra Mile ‘Twas the night before Wembley

By Tom Aylott

Xtra Mile’s ‘Twas the Night before Wembley’ show at the Camden Barfly sold out on the day the tickets were announced. This is in part due to the great line-up which acted as a showcase for other Xtra Mile bands, but also because you could be fairly sure that 90% of the rammed packed audience were loyal Xtra Mile supporters who were heading onto Wembley the following night to see Frank Turner perform to 12000 people.  You get the feeling that the line-up consisted of all the acts that were most probably going to play with Turner, when he first announced his ‘Friday the 13th’ style festival,  alas though,  due to Wembley’s ridiculous costs that plan fell through. However, shed no tears, for the small surroundings of the barfly made it the perfect place to hold this sweaty and joyous show, a celebration of a decade of independent output.

Jamie Lenman of the glorious Rueben was on hand to act as the devilishly charming ‘Master of Ceremonies’, witty and playful, it was lovely to see him up on a stage again. He was also sporting a rather marvellous moustache, and as Punktastic knows all too well moustaches always make things more fun!

Ben Marwood’s everyman style of folk opened the evening. Marwood seemed genuinely surprised at the extremely warm welcome he received. Indeed there was a distinct sense that the room had been taken under siege with fans of Marwood’s down-to-earth tunes. The fittingly titled ‘Sing-along’ did what it says on the tin to roaring effect.   The barfly even got a special outing of ‘Tell Avril Lavinge I Never Wanted To Be Her Stupid Boyfriend Anyway’ complete with ‘Sk8ter Boi’ segue.  Mark my words, big things are ahead for Marwood.

After a short interval, Dave Hause of The Loved Ones bounded onto the stage. Despite the fact that he was heckled by a woman drunk out of her mind (and it was only 8pm) his set was full of blue collar charm. One thing that could not be denied is that, man, Hause can sing!  I’ve always felt that the fire and passion in his songs don’t completely translate on his solo record ‘Resolutions’. Thankfully, the songs came across far better live, seething with more energy and melody, than they do on the record. Hause’s set was far more enjoyable than expected and had me singing ‘Time Will Tell’ for days after.

After the release of their excellent recent album ‘Death’, Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun had suddenly and rather violently jumped upwards on many lists of bands to see live. It is certainly true that the bill offered more surprising and perhaps more polished acts, but for Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun stole the show this evening. Their reckless exuberance, crazed stage moves and earnest performance which included ‘Boat Song’ sung via an epic crowd invasion, was a real highlight. It was abundantly clear from this small set, the melodic buzz and dissonant guitars of The Solemn Sun that these guys are on the rise.

An almost reverential hush descended upon the barfly, the time had come for the Xtra Special Guest. By this stage the cat had been let out of the bag thanks to Hause, and excitement over Billy Bragg’s imminent set had reached its apex, and Bragg was everything you’d expect from him. During his set he had the ability to come across as both jovial and humorous while simultaneously heaving with righteous anger, and the performance of ‘Scousers Never Buy the Sun’ showed that there was still fire in this weather weary protest singer. While Bragg’s protest songs were rapturously received, it was when he took a step back from his political and social commenting that the power of his songs struck. ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’ was a genuine love song, while ‘A New England’ remains as brilliant as ever. An on stage cameo for Bob Dylan’s ‘Times Are A-Changing’ from hero of the night Frank Turner ended the set, which would by anyone’s standards, be very hard to follow.

Crazy Arm had to follow on from two brilliant sets, though, and fortunately they’re best thing to come out of Devon since afternoon tea. From the moment they took the stage, their effortless mix of folk and stomping rock n’ roll perfectly rounded up an evening of musical highs, and though they had a very tricky task to round off the night, they did so in style.