Itís a £1 ride on a 168 bus from the Elephant and Castle and a nice journey until you get to Camden. Why is this place so scruffy? Itís surely not as down market socially as the Elephant and, on the whole, I think I prefer the latter. What the Elephant doesnít have, however, is The Lock Tavern, where, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they advertise an Acoustic Trip.
Treehorn are playing a half-hour set tonight. They are a guitar duo which includes Nick Evans, a school friend of son Nat. I thought Iíd catch the sound check, buy Nick a drink, then disappear. But there is hardly anyone in the bar and no sound check. Then itís 8.30 and, suddenly, the place is full of nice looking people in their early 20ís.
Upstairs, there are joss sticks. I feel conspicuous with my age and work suit. I pretend Iím a talent scout and find a bit of wall to lean against. The eveningís compere is Ben Mitchell, a genial Australian with front who, apparently, was in Neighbours. He mentions "vibe", "acoustic trip" and "unplugged" a few times, then plays one of his songs with a plugged-in acoustic guitar. Other acts follow. All male, better guitarists and better voices than we had around 30 years ago, but the same introspection Ė all "me". The words are 70ís James Taylor-earnest, but the music owes more to the slow funk rhythms of grunge bands and others.
You could call it navel gazing, but they all play with their eyes shut, with no attempt to meet the eye of the audience. But the full house is enraptured. Itís not the bunch of sad, loner males you used to see at this kind of gig. There is an equal number of single young women. There is not a sound while the performers are on. Iím thinking, there must be money to be made here and not by the performers with only 3 songs apiece. This could run and run because, clearly, 30 years down the line the angst is still the same.
Turns get 3 numbers each and Ben keeps things moving, introducing, plugging people in, working the sound from the side of the stage and nodding his head with apparent enjoyment. Iím starting to enjoy it too. A female duo, Cooking, are next. Thatís definitely an electric bass but its owner sings the high harmony. Same sort of material and a throwaway "Is Treehorn next?" Like previous acts, they plug their appearances at other venues like The Kashmir. There is clearly a circuit to be worked. A recent Guardian press cutting on the wall describes Cooking as "the winsome duo Cookie [did I mishear?], new unsigned faces in an acoustic movement that is gathering up rock fans, fashion victims and exhausted clubbers all over London." Hey, thatís me. Ben announces that Cooking and others play at Acoustic Trip every fortnight.
And here are Treehorn at 10.30 for half an hour (Iím usually in bed by now). "Donít be fooled by the pink shirt," says Nick, "itís all gloom and doom." And it was. And the people love it. Well-played material, good harmonies, an adoring following. Nickís Dad is there. I ask him where are the laughs? Where are the ones we can join in? Where are the ones we can dance to? Nick and his partner, Kevin Finnegan, both write and their voices and playing complement each other. I but the 5-track CD. Yup, just like the gig. Lyrics are more like poetry set to music, which perhaps makes the songs difficult to engage with when you come to them "live" without having heard them previously. "Gentle fears and harmonies" is their strongest, with a catchy chorus, but what does it mean? "The king and I" concerns Nickís feelings on the death of Elvis but, stone me, he wasnít one year old then. There must be worthier subjects in his own experience. Kevin sings "Clumsy boy" in a Van Morrison voice. Generally well recorded and occasionally shaky backing vocals and off-the-beat guitars on some tracks, give it a "live" feel. Youíll love it.
Catch Treehorn while you can. I might go again but it makes me feel a bit old. Ronnie Scott was right. The only way to stay feeling young is to hang around old people.
First published Leisure August 2001, 37-38
Copyright © John Scott Cree 2001
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