i don’t know if i’m going to change the world or just drink tea;
I wonder if it isn’t going to break my heart when I leave this city; you know, whatever’s in there that it hasn’t broken already. Yes, I know I’m paraphrasing Jason Molina. But it seems as if however many years in one place will never be enough – there will always be more to discover. Little treasures I barely knew existed like the Hidden Lane Tearoom – it’s down the same little alley as Volcanic Tongue, and they’re playing Fleet Foxes on a boombox in the corner. The crockery is mismatched vintage stuff they’ve picked up in charity shops and grandmother’s dresser, and right away I spot Shambles Miller and his laydee playing pick-up-sticks in the corner.
We’re here for a Tea Party: not the nutty friends-of-Sarah-Palin type, as organiser Sean McCann is quick to point out, but one with actual tea and meringues and cushions and poetry and live music from nice people with acoustic guitars. Since we’re all squeezed onto the top deck it feels as if there are more of us than there probably are, but it’s cosy and companionable as it begins to get dark not least because the musicians are close enough to hear my undignified laughter (sorry, Campbell!).
First up are McCann’s own Ballad of Alex K, whose first gig I was lucky enough to see a couple of weeks ago at Vicki Cole’s Sufjan Stevens tribute night. I say “lucky enough” because I think they might already be my favourites and that’s with the eponymous Alex K only in the country five weeks. It’s McCann and Kenzel alone tonight, him fighting with the sampler (which is fine, because it’s much more fragile and perfect when it’s just acoustic guitar anyway) and her voice like bitter honey giving me shivers. They play that Sufjan Stevens cover. You could hear a pin drop.
The quirky, intimate format means you can get away with some different things, and so next to perform is poet Martin Kinnaird. “Happy or sad?” he asks, peering over his binder, and the people choose a dark performance in the style of HP Lovecraft before his take on Carroll’s Jabberwocky. It takes some serious skill to pull of a poem full of nonsense words. He finishes up with some of the “pocket poetry” he scrawls on train tickets when he’s drunk; a handful of sometimes dreamy, sometimes cynical snippets read at random. It makes more sense to me than the fantasy stuff, but the stuff that you write because you need to, rather than because you want to, generally does.
Paul McGranaghan picks up the mood with some Jack Johnson-esque funky guitar wrangling, but as his short set progresses he develops a kind of rusty string (to quote one of his own song titles) style edge with this interesting husk to his voice which comes out in the slower numbers. There’s one called “Goodbye Take Two” he suggests he might want to retire, and it’s so deeply personal you feel a little bad for even listening.
After that, Shambles Miller proudly proclaims that he is here to lower the tone (but hopefully not the ceiling, as he’s already having to stoop a little). Despite his frequent invites it’s the first time I’ve managed to catch him live, and as I giggle my way through his set I curse myself for having waited for so long. Shambles’ songs are not what they seem: witty, self-deprecating lyrics full of comedy anger and his beer belly disguise semi-serious political polemic and enough heart to power a small charity. He covers my favourite Billy Bragg song, but I worry I’m sitting too close to sing along without putting him off.
Miller has a new EP due out imminently, with a launch party at the Liquid Ship on Friday night to celebrate. Between us we’re going to whore the release out immensely this week, so you can look forward to that.