One of the best things about writing this here blog is the opportunity to dash out the door after a nuts day at work and put my other hat on.
(Metaphorically of course, I look like a bit of a plonker in a hat).
That hat is my blogging hat, the one that says Material Whirl on it and affords me the chance to do some really exciting things - like experience new music in cool little venues I've not visited before. Music makes my world go around; I'm no more content than when listening to live music and when it's new and played by a talented band and I'm nestled somewhere in London Town, well that's even more awesome.
So when I left work last Friday night and pegged it over The Millennium Bridge to head out East (I say pegged it; I mean weaved in and out of a ton of eager tourists taking selfies against a backdrop of St Paul's Cathedral as I said 'excuse me, please' 88 times) it wasn't long before I felt exuberant - I was on my way to accept an invitation to catch VICTOR & The Rain Dog live and I was up for it. I'd been listening to their EP VICTOR & The Rain Dog (released in July 2014 to a sold out gig at the Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston) the past few weeks and was hooked.
So, just who are VICTOR & The Rain Dog? They are comprised of Victor Marichal, a 25-year old Parisian who moved to London 3 years ago and David Payne (bass) and Adam Hayes (drums) who have been performing together for about 7 months. The lead vocalist, guitar and ukulele player, Victor, is a gifted autodidact who taught himself flamenco guitar and percussion - and what a skilled self-teacher he must be as reflected in the accomplished sounds he makes. Victor is hugely influenced by traditional Latin, Spanish and African music as well as legends such as Tom Waits, David Bowie and Jack White and this is apparent in the band's unique blend of musical styles.
What makes VICTOR & The Rain dog even more beguiling to me is the stories they tell through their music - each song tells a tale and conjures up some beautiful imagery. Victor is a skilled allegorist and perhaps it's this that appeals to the writer in me, and my love of words and written adventures. The band's lyrics weave a rich and enticing tapestry and with a style described on Sound Cloud as 'Carnival Rock and Urban Storytelling' this is quite unlike anything I've heard in a long time - yet it immediately resounded with me.
The essence of the band is an otherworldly fable - Victor, the son of a French escapologist with a passion for Spanish guitars, develops an early passion for music and story-telling. Suffering from monochromacy, a rare type of colour-blindness where one sees the world in black-and-white, he decides to countervail for a lack of colour by creating wonderful stories and singing beautiful songs. Starting off with performing in the streets of Paris, he soon falls in love with a prodigal Italian acrobat whom he and his heart follows to London. There, one stormy night, Victor meets and befriends a wild dog with a passion for hurricanes. He calls him the Rain Dog.
How marvellous is that?
Back to the gig. The band was playing at The Sebright Arms, a proper lovely East-end boozer tucked down a lively passageway in Bethnal Green, where the staff are trendy but affable, the food mirrors the clientele - hipster but with substance thanks to burgers and wicked sides from Lucky Chip in residency and where from behind the coloured-glass framed bar, the welcome sight of real ales and cider with Brooklyn, Hackney Hopster and Wild Card Queen of Hearts beer (hi, Walthamstow local stuff) makes an appearance on tap. Beneath my feet was the loud rumble of the sound check coming from the 150-capacity venue in the basement below the pub and as I sipped my pint and took it all in, I felt like I was in an episode of Peaky Blinders, but in a really good way as the atmosphere was raucous but charming. Not about to kick off. That would be weird. Not to mention dangerous.
Anyway, you know some gigs you go to and every song sounds the same? You get a bit distracted, start looking around, checking out the venue, nosing at other people and what they're doing, considering another trip to the bar. Not with this band. The opening was strong and rousing and I was immediately on board. To prelude each song, Victor provided a narrative, giving a theatrical mood to the subterranean basement venue and the first track from the EP Rosalyn was rousing, melodic and darkly romantic with a catchy-hook chorus that attached itself to my brain and happily stayed there long after the gig was over. Sidewalk Empire is a blues song about a man roaming the streets of London on a cold winter day (but it's bloody freezing outside and you've got my jacket); if you check out their Tumblr - Diary of a Rain Dog (no do, it's great) you'll see life imitating art with Victor's general adventures around town and the lovely people he meets busking.
VICTOR & The Rain Dog have a great stage presence - super-clear yet brilliantly gravelly vocals, spirited drums and plinky guitars and the use of loop machines and even a loud hailer for effect. Their music is infectious and mystic and a little bit vampy which is right up my street. I heard so many influences which appealed to my love of a range of musical genres - blues, indie rock, 80s New Romanticism and blogger Daniel Lugg has summed it up perfectly with his album review - 'this band engulfs you with icy twinges of blues, rock and latin that solidify into an impenetrable backbone of music originality. There's a real intense menace to the guitar rhythms entangling amongst the distinctive vocals. They also have stomping tunes to back up their stylistic choices. A fascinating accomplishment'.
The crowd was just getting into it when the sound guy gave the nod for the last song. An encore was demanded from the appreciative audience, but it was not permitted. A travesty of course that it should be over so soon, but VICTOR & The Rain Dog were part of a line up of other artists and so couldn't have sole ownership of the stage as they so deserved. Fear not, as there are chances to see them again in the coming months. I am going to try to get to The Slaughtered Lamb on 20 November 2014 and their Christmas gig at The Old George on 18 December 2014.
I had the pleasure of meeting Victor post-gig who was super friendly and genial and chatted to their brilliant manager James Ash over a few drinks before sadly returning to the real world in search of the tube home. I left with a sense that all was ok with the world - in London, with live music and exciting new talent. VICTOR & The Rain Dog are a genuinely talented and fascinating group and I wish them all the very best.
Their beautifully handmade and stencilled EP 'VICTOR & the Rain Dog' comes complete with a lovely little business card that asks 'If you ever see the Rain Dog, please email them'.
Well have you? If not, you should.
Photos provided by VICTOR & The Rain Dog, shot at The King's Head Private Members Club and taken by Robert Baggs.