The Hoosiers 16.10.20 at The Madding Crowd, Bournemouth
The Covid music scene is upon us. We might be allowed out still – at the time of writing anyway – but getting in to see a live performance somewhere is an achievement. Putting on a gig and playing ball with the latest rules is also an achievement.
The Madding Crowd, usually a 300 capacity night club, is found via a narrow entrance above a row of shops leading up the hill from Debenhams, smack in the middle of Bournemouth’s town centre.
So many options for a pre-gig drink or food within a few hundred yards. Wetherspoons’ Moon on the Square just around the corner but my picks would be Sixty Million Postcards (now with outdoor heaters and umbrellas) and The Dancing Moose. Eating? I’d go with The Real Greek opposite ‘Spoons or The Slug and Lettuce.
The venue was recently successful in getting Government funding to help support the arts during the Covid restrictions. £28,000 to enable smaller audiences to watch here in secure surroundings and with some modifications.
I have seen The Hoosiers before, back in 2013 at Mr Kyps, which in itself was something of a comeback in quite humble, but raucous, surroundings for a chart topping band. I’d bought that album, Trick to Life, which topped the album charts in 2007, which included Cops and Robbers, Worried About Ray and Goodbye Mr A, go on… you remember that one don’t you?
Wondering where the name The Hoosiers came from I looked it up. A Hoosier is a resident of the state of Indiana 🤔 Lead singer and guitarist Irwin Sparkes and drummer Alan Sharland spent some time living in Indianapolis, Indiana when they started the band up in 2003. They’d apparently left their home town of Reading for a bit of experience, on the recommendation their school chemistry teacher, a former member of the band Starsailor.
Well tonight The Hoosiers are back, advertised as a ‘stripped back’ version. Understanding the possibility of Covid restrictions I was sort of expecting two guys playing quietly in the corner of a shadowy room but I thought I’d give it a whirl…the songs on that album I had were good.
The Madding Crowd…
Well I don’t know what this place is like outside of this pandemic – I’ve not been before – but I was pretty impressed in the circumstances.
It is advertised as a ‘premium’ nightclub and it is, – smart with wipe clean surfaces – much better than I had envisaged. Very civilised, tables of 2,3,4 or 6 with some booth type seating, including some you can’t see the stage from, which was made clear on booking.
Think James Bond film night club more than mosh pits and sticky floors. The waited service adds to the relaxed feel, and drink consumption rate. It wasn’t expensive either. A couple of decent ales at around £4 a pint and the bottles of house wine were reasonable … yes bottles …. make hay while the sun shines these days.
Me and wife Sally got the last table for two, booking the week beforehand, and it is pretty much full tonight to the Covid restricted 100 all-seated capacity. When I realised during booking that I was selecting a particular table and at first look the twos had gone, I was thinking this was going be a sticking point for booking to capacity – finding five friends to entice to a Hoosiers gig at short notice would be a tall order. At least we’re not under tighter controls or it would be single household tables eh. 😷
This is the first of two Hoosiers nights, with Saturday having some different support acts. The second one sold out in advance and tonight is full: so the table arrangements worked.
So what other overt measures are in place as a result of Covid restrictions guidance and legislation applicable to the performing arts?
We are still on the rule of six, so no tables or groups of more than that with distancing between tables facilitated by the reduced capacity. It helps that most want to face the same way – stagewards. Masks on unless seated. Details retained via ticketing/ QR code check-in/ manual record. Waited service with plenty of staff and security to ensure customers don’t let behaviour and cooperation slip – all good.
The stage had plastic screens around the drums – that could just be a sound issue as the stage is quite tight for space. Then there are the new gadgets: the performers’ face shields, pictured above, which aim to stop a shower of exhaled droplets – acts could have done with something similar in 1977 gobbing punk Britain perhaps. I’m not sure about these at all and as the evening went on they seemed like a bit of Covid stage dressing that was just in the way.
Of course there is the 10pm curfew to consider so doors open at 5.30pm, accommodating the four support acts getting a slot tonight! This means, as with cinemas, and unlike normal bars and restaurants, that last drinks are supplied by 10pm but the music and drinking up time continues until the performance is over.
You might read this and think ‘oh no I’ll just wait for the return to normality’. It was absolutely fine and it’s going to be a very long wait so I’m up for just getting on with it. I’ll be back here for anything vaguely appealing.
Tonight’s Support Acts
There’s a selection on show tonight and it’s only later that I confirm who’s who. First up is Alex David Gonzato – singer songwriter, solo with guitar tonight – who usually plays around the Basingstoke area he told us afterwards. Good start with some of his own material and a notable cover of Queen’s Somebody to Love. Bit of a surprise when that came out for an airing.
Barefoot Soul next, from Bournemouth. They were enjoying themselves with some bluesy rock and a bit of early energy rubs off. The singer mentioned that tonight’s band was a bit of a hybrid but not much time for chat or explanations.
After this the best of the supports I thought – Duncan Brookfield UK – great voice.
Next a short set from Grace Gachot before the main band. A real treat this procession of new talent in this sort of environment. With three solo singers on the bill it would be harder to appreciate them in a crowded bar or pub which is where so many new acts have had to compete…and the chance would be a fine thing right now so I’m sure everyone here was grateful for this.
You’ll have gathered by now that the enforced seating meant my pics are pretty much all snapped from the side of the stage we were sat by. Not so easy for the exploratory wander I usually try and go for.
I was pleasantly surprised to see front man Irwin Sparkes and original drummer Alan Sharland joined by a bassist and keyboard player. The talk of a ‘stripped back’ performance made me wonder if this was going to be a couple of the band playing quietly in the corner. No such thing. Not sure who else The Hoosiers would bring into their live gigs.
I don’t know their material beyond the Trick to Life album, but they plucked enough from that one to give me a familiar feel, with the notable Cops and Robbers, Worried About Ray, and of course the singalong chart topper Goodbye Mr A (…it reached number 4).
Some lively keyboard action right in front of us and the sound was good considering we were side on to the stage…not blasted out either (precautionary ear protection forgotten.)
I wonder what it was like for the band facing a seated audience of 100 and what had to be quite a tame response, but this was hugely enjoyable in the circumstances…. a bit of Covid escapism on a Friday night.
Well worth checking out who’s playing here. I see Capulus are supporting on Halloween…I’m otherwise engaged at the moment for that one but let’s face it, it’s a bit make it up as you go along and fingers crossed at the moment.
Here’s hoping for some more oases in the Covid 2020 gig desert.