I had never been to The Shacklewell Arms before last night. It seemed fitting that my first visit to the legendary Hackney pub and venue would be for a special occasion. And the last night of the first tour from The Earlies for eight years was definitely special.
By some feat of logistical and spatial magic, the eleven-piece band and their huge array of instruments and technical gear managed to squeeze themselves onto the tiny stage, some of the musicians hidden from view in darkened cubby holes. But once they began their first number they all made their presence felt. With The Earlies, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Writing about what music sounds like is a fine art, or a mug’s game or both. Even quite good music writers have failed to capture the diversity, richness and genre-defying sound of The Earlies in words. So I won’t even try. At one point in the gig, though, looking at and listening to the cellist, trombone player, trumpeter, flortist, singers, guitarists, pianists, percussionists, an image sprang to my mind. A school orchestra gone awol, released from the limits of their classical disciplines into a wonderous world of free expression and… ok yes, I did think of School Of Rock for a moment.
I’m a full blown sentimetal country music fan, and there are plenty of country twangs and moods in Earlies’ songs. But I like how they resist – both musically and lyrically – the let’s call it ‘schmaltz’ of a lot of country music. The Earlies don’t overtly sing about heartbreak, or nursing a glass of bourbon on the porch. But last night I suddenly remembered where their first (2005) album had reached me, somewhere in Northern England, heartbroken, probably nursing a bottle of wine on the back step. And when they played Wayward Song, I let the tears fall as if the Earlies were Loretta Lynn or Johnny Cash after all.
‘…in this life we love who we can, then they’re gone…’