• Michael Bugeja

MALTA TAKES ON LONDON


It may be traditional snacks and local specialties and beverages that online seller Maltesefood2UK. com usually gets to ship over to the UK on demand, but a couple of weeks ago, this company’s support helped export a good chunk of live Maltese rock by way of a multiple-band gig that took place at The Water Rats in the English capital.

Ambitiously titled Malta Takes London, this wasn’t the first event to feature Maltese bands in England, but certainly the first to present six of them in one night, which perhaps explains why it caused quite a buzz among London’s ever-increasing community of Maltese ex-pats.

“The bands in this gig did Malta proud,” commented UK-based singer Jon Lukas Woodenman, who drove up to London to attend the gig. “They worked the crowd well and, on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed my first all-Maltese London gig,” he added.

Having flown over to London especially to cover the event, I have to say I quite agree with his comments. The line-up itself was quite diverse in terms of both style and origin. Apart from No Snow/No Alps, who were on tour around Europe and the UK, and Jane Doe, who were there for a brief visit to play a couple of gigs, the majority of the bands – namely Canvas Wall, Carrie Haber, Dana McKeon and Cable 35 – are all UK-based, but Maltese (even if not in their entirety) all the same.

The idea behind the idea for this event actually stemmed from a conversation between Canvas Wall’s Craig Rogerson and No Snow/No Alps’s Nick Morales, who was putting together his band’s tour.“Originally it was just going to be a gig with Canvas Wall and No Snow/No Alps,” Rogerson explained to me, “but the idea developed into a bigger event, and the feedback we were getting in the run-up to the event was very encouraging.” Indeed, I was quite impressed by the actual turnout on the night, as well as the audience’s response to the live music on offer.

Jane Doe kicked off the night a little earlier than concertgoers in London may be used to, although the venue was already pretty full. With six bands to go, there was little choice but to move the starting time forward. This didn’t put the band off in any way and, possibly still pumped up from their performance at Belushi’s the previous night, they displayed a lot of confidence.

Musically, it was a set that bridged their earlier influences and their more recent work; the result was a mixed lot, whose standout moments were new single Goldrush, a similarly inclined take on Dolly Parton’s Jolene and one of the new, as yet untitled, tracks that may well hold the key to the band’s direction from here on.

Next up was Dana McKeon, accompanied by former Funk Initiative guitarist Daniel Cassar and Ryhan Lovell on percussion.Based in London for around two years, McKeon rolled in with a couple of acoustic numbers that portrayed her singer-songwriter side, but it was her third number – a beatbox solo – that totally grabbed the audience’s full attention.

More of a medley, it was a comprehensive representation of Mc-Keon’s beatboxing talents (for which she has been internationally recognised too, incidentally). A vocalised rendition of beats ranging from breakbeat to dubstep, by way of a mash-up of popular hits that sunk in well with the now warmed-up crowd, finished off with more luscious tunes and a rendition of the young lady’s upcoming debut single Street Art.

Based in Sheffield for the past two years, but to be found performing all over the place most days, Cable 35 brought a totally different kind of energy to the stage. They displayed their hard-earned experience of the stage with a set that, as expected, projected their impish personalities and was mainly culled from their most recent release.

A pummelling Spinach off this year’s Fungus EP opened the floodgates for a riveting 30 minutes of grunge-fuelled punk rock, emphatically boosted with the inclusion of live favourites Saturated, Andy Shakes and Sanitation. Interestingly, the band also slipped in a new number that suggests their next record may feature some surprises.

Hot on the heels of their latest single N.E.W, No Snow/No Alps’s performance captured just how much this band has evolved and grown this past year. Far into the Night off their 2011 Romantikpolitik album introduced The Water Rats to their upbeat blend of alt-pop ingenuities, held in place by their two-pronged vocal delivery and flowing rhythmic groove, effectively conveyed via Morales’ direct interaction with the crowd.

I must say that despite vocalist/keyboardist Mai Skjødt Micheelsen being somewhat under the weather on the night, the band delivered a vibrant performance all the same; a sure sign that the current line-up should hopefully be moving on to greater things.

Next up, Carrie Haber brought back a particular air of intimacy into the proceedings, even if some people at the back didn’t seem to immediately notice. Serving up a variety of songs that highlighted the many aspects her vocal range can handle, this young and rather unique lady soon brought them on board, leading us all through a heady blend of smoky, self-styled soul and quirky pop.

This was the first time I’d seen her with a band, and the extended formation suits her well, bringing a different kind of depth to her music without quashing those particular qualities that make her stand out among the sea of budding female singer-songwriters flooding London’s music venues.

Rounding off this special event, Canvas Wall – featuring new guitarist Dean Zammit and clearly with their dedicated fanbase in tow – took to the stage.Melodic rock with a subtle alternative twist – as featured on their 2012 debut album Thinking Out Loud – is their speciality, and they did not disappoint on the night, delivering a slick set that peaks when they play Close to the Edge and The Road to Bliss.They had the crowd shouting for more when they played their final song – enough, in fact, to merit an encore before showering everyone with packets of Malta’s best-known cheesy snacks and quickly nipping offstage.

In the end, it was a great night out, regardless of whether the bands were Maltese or otherwise. The fact that it featured six of our own giving it their best in the world’s music capital was a bonus.It was also an unusual, yet great, way of showing support for Maltese bands in this very difficult industry and, as Haber remarked later, “we all need a bit of support and encouragement and I definitely feel that this event has given all the artists who performed exactly that”.

Among several post-gig comments from the other bands, some remarked that events like this could be an important stepping stone for our bands; that they serve to bring together the Maltese abroad, but perhaps more importantly, that it promotes the notion that anything is possible, especially when bands come together.

Most certainly, this event has ignited a spark that they intend to pursue, assuring me they have every intention of gigging in London again. Who knows, maybe this one-off event could turn out to be the start of something much bigger than it was intended to be. Some help from the right sources could work wonders of course, hint hint!

Michael Bugeja’s visit was partly sponsored by Maltese foods2UK.com

This article was first published in The Sunday Times of Malta (December 1, 2013)

Photo by Denise Scicluna

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