Holding the UFQ Live II CD in my hand I’m instantly transported back to a night in May this year, which proved to be one of the most enjoyable of what has been a great year for gig going. But in the here and now, I’m also much taken by the opening lines of the sleeve notes that say, “Dear Listener, we sincerely hope you enjoy the album you are holding in your hands. The UFQ is and forever will be primarily a “live” band. For us, always, the incentive is to send you away having shared a singular experience with us; hopefully going away feeling lighter than you did when you walked in.” Well I, for one, can affirm they absolutely live up to this promise.
Were I a mathematician, I could probably plot an equation that demonstrated the inverse ratio of the anticipated hassle of getting to a gig and the amount of fun you actually have when you get there. I’d never been to the Sebright Arms, but the enthusiasm that accompanied the suggestion that I should definitely be headed for Hackney made it impossible to refuse. Alex’s insistence that this was, “One not to miss,” and the chance to witness, as least in part, a live album recording sold it to me.
Still, Hackney is a bit off my internal A-Z, but I reasoned the London Overground from Crystal Palace would land me close enough. At the other end, it actually proved a little further than I’d reckoned and a fair few minutes of nagging doubt ensued, not to mention a sense of urgency. Having failed to charge my phone, the battery-sapping-map-app was a risk to far and a general sense of irritation, mostly with myself, ensued. Finally arriving, however, and immediately checking that I hadn’t missed anything, Joe, the regular soundman form the Slaughtered Lamb, was on hand to reassure me that I was bang on. So, with time to take stock, a decent selection of ales presented themselves and a thirst quencher also duly quelled the internal simmering.
Although the band hadn’t yet taken the stage, there was a lively enough atmosphere already brewing in the downstairs room, which seemed ideally suited for the purpose intended. There was a table at the back with a few pre-printed sheets to sign in and the chance to get your name on the CD artwork. (I’ve checked I’m just up to the right of centre.) It may say more about my own predilections for owning a physical copy of the CD, but it strikes me as a much nicer and more permanent connection with the night than any amount of camera phone footage, YouTube postings, selfies, etc.
It was literally a few minutes before the quartet were on stage launching into their set. As I looked on, Tom Chapman was sat at the cajón to the left, then Joe Broughton and Paloma Trigás in the centre with Frank Moon and his oud flanking them to the right. This was the first time I’d seen them and it took me about a song and a half to catch up to speed with the frenzied knot of cognoscenti, gathered as close to the low stage as possible. The virtuosity of the UFQ is immediately apparent, but their playing was such a high standard, with notes and beats combining with dazzling complexity, that for a moment I was just a little dumbstruck and my brain took time to recalibrate.
A twitch of the toe became more assured, transfers to a nod of the head and we’re away. Where we are bound is anybody’s guess as musical styles, genres, melodic ideas and shifting rhythms are summoned and despatched at will. But amidst the virtuosic intensity an energy forms that gathers the songs and tunes to a critical mass, which becomes utterly impossible to resist.
The twin fiddle attack from Joe and Paloma gives them the visual feel of a ceilidh band or at least the sense that they come out of some Celtic lineage, but then the oud is a very different musical voice to overlay on that and the cajón adds a sharp vigour to the rhythmic snap of the music. Joe will also use a mandolin and he and Frank will alternate with guitar at various points in the set. Whatever instruments are to hand, however, there are no flaws in technique as the foursome play as one in what at times seems an almost impossible act of musical plate spinning – none were dropped.
Joe proves to be the host for the night he’s just as enthused as the music is, funny and engaging, but also with the sense of genuine gratitude towards the assembled crowd. He managed to make the whole business of the recording sound like a natural extension of the evening, whilst whipping up the enthusiasm and making jokes at the band’s expense, one of which has made the album, but I won’t spoil it for you. The guy is just a natural, with a great gift for making music only matched by his desire to share it with anyone who’ll open their ears and their heart. Having read his CV, Joe is clearly made of different stuff, but then all of the UFQ are supremely talented.
I have to say, however, that I cannot think of a prettier thing in the whole of this mad world of music than the sight of Paloma Trigás as she plays. And I don’t mean that in any old pervey sort of a way, but with her fiddle ablaze, she beams the widest smile I have ever seen. It’s a smile that could put a Cheshire cat to shame, but also the sort that has your cheek muscles tightening as you can do nothing other than smile back. But then that’s what this band is about, you just can’t help but get swept up with it all. They are all smiling, I’m smiling, the whole room is smiling. What could be better?
As for the CD, well it sounds absolutely faithful to my ears. Obviously I didn’t attend both shows and the only concession that has been made towards production as such, is to pick the best takes from the two nights. Otherwise there is no overdubbing, fixing or studio tweakery involved, just the band and the honest reception that they get from those assembled crowds over the two shows.
As I said earlier, there is something of a Celtic lineage, but any attempts to define the music as such, simply seems like a cap on imagination and an unnecessary limitation. There is also reference to the folk tradition in two thirds of the Stoney Steps Set and Dink’s Song. The latter is an affecting tale of love lost, originally collected by Alan Lomax and performed by Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Fred Mc Neil and even more recently, Jeff Buckley. It’s a rare chance for Tom to stretch his vocal chords aided and abetted by Paloma. The tune set meanwhile, lives up to its billing as a crowd pleaser.
There’s also an amusingly titled percussive interlude, with Joe swapping to cajón, Frank to conga and Paloma to cowbell and shaker. The joke is of course that Triangle Solo restricts Tom, the band’s rightful percussionist to that most basic and unpromising instrument. It’s perhaps a sign that amongst all of the instrumental derring-do, the band don’t take it all too seriously. Nonetheless, the outright funk might well have the likes of even the great Nico Vasconcellos looking on with a grin.
I let on earlier that I am no mathematician, I am no musician or musicologist either so I won’t attempt to tell you about the complexities of the time signatures, or the origins of the melodic strands. What I am though, is someone who has listened to music for as much of my life as I can remember. I know when I hear something special and experience the thrill of a new discovery – something to take to heart for the long term. UFQ are that. The night was a pleasure to attend and the CD has transported me straight back to joy of it all. If you get the chance to see, them then snap it up, then buy this CD. It might not be this particular event that it will transport you back to, but I’m confident that the connection will be made.
As for that promise… I left the Sebright Arms with such a skip in my stride, I walked back past the turning for the station before I realised it and had to get directions to retrace my steps. I just caught the last train to anywhere and only fluked a connection due to late running of the following service. But you know what? I didn’t give a jot!
Review by: Simon Holland
Fri Nov 08: London Album Launch, Kings Place
Sat Nov 09: Alstonefield, Village Hall
Fri Nov 15: Worcester, Huntingdon Hall
Tue Nov 19: Ashford In The Water, Memorial Hall
Wed Nov 20: Milton Keynes, The Stables Theatre
Thu Nov 21: Chester, Alexander’s Live
Sat Nov 23: Ormskirk, Rose Theatre
Thu Nov 28: Bristol, St George’s