We did our best to put our money where our mouth is and get along to as many of this week’s top-top gigs as we could.
And boy – was it worth it!
Hastings just keeps on proving why it deserves the ‘music cities’ badge…the quality and quantity of live music on offer is unsurpassed.
The Jenny Lind did us proud to start the weekend off with a bang by hosting The Elasticated Waste Band
This skiffle-fuelled six-pieve almost tore the roof off one of our favourite old-town haunts with two sets of high energy covers, all perfectly reworked to the delight of a full house.
To say it was hard to move was an understatement, as the crowd was rammed shoulder-to-shoulder to the back of the room.
We bought the band a few drinks for their efforts and left with huge grins on our faces..
And so came sunday, and the first gig of a two-night residency for Jon Cleary at The Albion.
Jon waxes lyrical on his Facebook blog about his time in the town…both as a teenager, and now, returning after many years, as a seasoned performer:
“Hastings Pier Pavilion was less than an hour on the number 8 bus from the village I grew up in and in my early teens was where I’d go with the more adventurous of my school mates…” he reminisced: You can read more of his thoughts here.
Whilst most of The Albion’s gigs are free entry, this was one of those occasional ticketed shows…and it was a sell-out, with those unlucky enough to not have advance bookings having to be turned away at the door.
And Cleary was worth every penny of the cover charge.
The clarity of his voice and his dextrous mastery of the piano combined to deliver a masterclass in funky, soulful r’n’b in the genuine tradition.
Hailing originally from Cranbrook in Kent, he now sits amongst the New Orleans pantheon of musical greats, having scooped a Grammy for his 2016 album, Go-Go Juice (best regional roots album).
And so it’s fitting that he has returned just a month before Hastings picks up the pulse of its spiritual twin town and rocks to the beat of Fat Tuesday.
After this exceptonally fine gig, we took a few nights off to recover before heading out once again – this time turning towards St Mary in the Castle for a much-anticipated show by The Breath.
Opening for the main act was Kirk McElhinney.
McElhinney is a confident and heart-warming performer.
His voice easily filled the cavernous former church, and he lifted spirits and set the tone perfectly for the night ahead. Simple, life-affirming, and mellow, his songs were the aural equivalent of slipping into a favourite woolen jumper and settling down with a good bottle of wine in front of an open fire on a cold and windy night.
The Breath, if you Google them, are described as ‘bluegrass’.
This is wrong – and just goes to prove you can’t believe the internet…
In fact they are quite hard to pigeon-hole.
If pushed we’d say they are best labeled as an upbeat celtic take on the ambient style made famous by the Cocteau Twins.
Singer, Ríoghnach (pron. REE uh nah) Connolly, is the centre of gravity for the band…and that’s not a comment on her not-insignificant physical presence. Rather it’s a testament to how every song orbits around her beautiful voice.
The natural acoustics of the venue allow Connolly’s vocals to echo from the vaulted roof and create a soundscape that is at once enthralling and delicious.
The cabaret style layout makes the relatively sparse audience feel more like a crowd, and proves that this space can be used to good effect by smaller acts looking for the ‘wow factor’ – as well as offering a stage to bands who will easily pull several hundred to a standing-room-only show.
As the week rolls to a close and we get set for the Weekend’s Mardi Gras Ball shenanigans and a dose of Frat Cave action it’s time to head down the seafront to St Leonards’ Kino Teatr.
And if you haven’t yet been – we just want to know…why not?
Because the Kino is a spectacularly good space, and any city on earth would be proud to have it on their patch.
Tonight it plays host to a trio of disparate acts who each provide a unique texture to their part of the night…which is exactly what we want from a three-band bill.
Kamo Quartet open proceedings with a series of improvised string compositions that provide the soundtrack to a collection of silent film shorts, taking us through houses of horror, out to sea in the darkeness, and across the snowy hills above Hastings Old Town.
They also work their magic from cues given to them by audience members, who take turns to decry random phrases and words at sporadic intervals throughout their last number.
After the interval, Gadzooks! admit to being on unfamiliar ground playing to a rapt audience rather than in the corner of a noisy bar.
They trot happily through a crowd-pleasing set of jazzy tunes lifted from decades gone by and chat easily with the audience between songs to create a relaxed ambience that perfectly suits the shabby-chic vibe of the Teatr.
This is a great band for anyone looking to add a live sound to their party. Push back the tables and chairs and let’s dance…
Rounding off the night – and the week – is Thomas Truax, a self-styled troubadour playing David Lynch-inspired cinematic songs on home-made contraptions that blend Victorian engineering with 21st Century imagination.
Truax comes across like a curious cross between David Byrne and Edward Scissorhands. Vaguely gothic, but exploring the darkness in more of an Alt-Folk style, he switches between his bizarre hand-crafted Frankenstein instruments and his trusty guitar with ease.
Owning the stage with a charismatic but, at the same time, somehow deliberately awkward presence, he variously lies prostrate on his back, disappears into blackness behind crazily-lit glasses or stalks the room to climb onto and leap from the bar.
If you like your music to challenge you as well as carry you away, this is a show you need to experience in the flesh.
Full moon over wild town – acoustic (turn up the volume!)
Keep tuning in for more insights into Hastings’ exceptional live music scene…