Stick In The Wheel

It’s a lovely day, but we’re late. Forgotten Oyster cards and slow food are to blame. Whilst Lampy’s artisan burger was lovingly made by the (slow moving) gentlemen in the Caboose at the back of the Old Trueman Brewery, and I’m told, tasted really rather good, it did mean that by the time we made it to Rough Trade sound-check was over and most of the band were to be found outside in the sun enjoying a pre-gig cigarette. As Lampy surveyed her lighting-based domain it be came apparent that “things had moved”. Clearly, DMX Stick In The Wheelcables and lighting control boxes are unlikely to sweep majestically around the side of stage area under their own motive force like wildebeest migrating across the savannah. Nope, something had happened… It turns out that Rough Trade East closed early on Wednesday for a bit of a “corporate event” and word has it that the event organisers brought their own lighting system for the evening’s festivities. Grant, RT’s resident sound-man, was still finding various wires out of place and things previously plugged-in, now dormant and power cord free…

Therefore, it was more by luck than any judgement that when Stick In the Wheel sauntered on to the stage after passing around the bottle of “Throat Specific Mixture” (an alarmingly pungent fluid that by the fact it smelt rank, and (apparently) tasted worse, therefore must have been “good for you”) there was any lighting at all. The band are lovely and friendly enjoying easy banter and Stick in the Wheelconversation both with old friends and strangers they’ve just met with broad east London accents and even broader smiles. As the denizens of the record store looked up from the CD racks and drift towards the back of the shop to see what the fuss was about, a call (well, a string of good natured abuse at least…) went out for lead singer Nicola Kearney to join the band on the stage. A little tweak to the tuning of Ian Carter’s rather beautiful dobro guitar that provides much of the rolling rhythm in Stick In the Wheel’s songs and the band launched in to their set.

If you’ve not encountered Stick In the Wheel before then don’t let a generic “folk” label put you off. We’re not talking maypoles and morris dancers folk, instead this music has its roots deep within the underbelly of the East End. There’s a mix of new compositions and carefully chosen classic folk tunes, all of which tell the very human stories of survivors, victims and hardworking but overlooked heroes (such as the long-distance lorry driver in “Champion”). Nicola Kearney’s unashamedly east London accent shines through in her vocals and anchors Stick In The Wheel’s music in the city. It lends a distinctly Dickensian-air to tracks like “Jail Song” but a much harder, more raw and vitriolic edge to much more Stick In The Wheelpolitically charged songs like “Common Ground”. These songs are carefully curated and reimagined to tell tales from beneath the city’s glossy and presentable surface. In songs such as “Me N Becky” things take a distinctly darker and more political direction. On the surface this is a jolly and happy sounding tune, but listen more closely and you’ll find lyrics describing the 2011 London riots and some of the very shocking individual consequences that resulted. This is a song that delivers a sobering dose of stark social commentary and never fails to stop me in my tracks.

Stick In the Wheel’s choice of songs, and the way they’re delivered seems perfectly primed to invite the audience to consider underdogs and implications, and through music, to draw comparisons between the issues of the past and those of the present. It’s completely alright to be very angry with what you find.

Their set at Rough Trade sounded great and was over far too quickly for me. I could listen to a lot more, but I might have to wait a little while. Nicola’s not been too well (hence the application of the pure evil of the “Throat Specific Mixture”!) and the band don’t have any gigs for a month or so which will allow some time for well-deserved rest before what looks to be a very busy summer festival season…

Rough Trade East 07/05/2016


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