It’s always a pleasure to find the Green Note Café in Camden full, especially if the main act for the evening is what you might call an out-of-towner. That certainly applies to the Cheltenham based Edd Donovan, whose Wandering Moles have, erm, wandered in for tonight’s showcase, the London launch of their excellent Something To Take The Edge Off.
As I walk in, Edd is unmistakeable behind his glasses and bushy beard and we exchange a few quick words before I go and find myself a vantage point as they are due on imminently. I guess this being a launch event explains the lack of support, but we are due for an early start, which as it transpires will be compensated for with two sets and I’ve just time to purchase a refresher before the room is hushed as the Moles take their place.
I was surprised to find that the Moles are at pretty much full strength, which is a good thing, but quite how the six of them fit onto the tiny stage at the Green Note is quite remarkable. Admittedly the drummer and record’s producer Paul Arthurs has stripped back his kit, but is joined in the back line by double bassist James Agg and Keyboard player Chads Bradbury. Edd and Jane Bartholomew, his vocal partner, are at the front of the stage and somehow sandwiched in the middle, with room to lay down some very tasty guitar runs is Chris Collins, a man who has worked with Edd for quite a few years and seems blessed with a symbiotic musical empathy.
The first set starts with Woke Up This Morning and straight away, the Moles hit their stride. The sound is excellent as always and the room is almost completely silent bar the performers, which is as it always should be. The song is a breezy little number with a bittersweet lilt and some lovely harmonies from Jane. Edd describes is as, “My wake-up song,” before introducing the next, saying, “But every wake-up needs a crisis and this is my crisis song.” What follows is The Day I Lost My Wife, the title of which speaks volumes, especially with that introduction, although there is a hint of a wry smile on Edd’s face. It’s a new song to me none the less, although another fine and potent addition to his canon and also a sign of what’s to come.
We’re back on familiar ground with The excellent Don’t Be Afraid, which compensates for the lack of wizardry attached to the studio version, with some excellent playing from the Moles ensemble. That in turn is followed by The Show Must Go On, which again gets a fairly sprightly treatment. The “Blah, blah, blah…” lyric that start it is even more pointed in this setting and is indicative of the sly acerbic humour that seems to bubble just below the surface of some of Edd’s material. He also maintains a deadpan face when informing us, “We’re half way through the first set, so don’t worry you thirsty little monkeys.”
He straps on a harmonica for He Was A Friend Of Mine, from the House On Fire EP, which comes across as another poignant piece with lines like, “You’ve changed your behaviour, you’re drinking more.” There are two more unfamiliar songs to finish the first half in, Where The Dogs Don’t Bite and Are You Going The Same Way. The latter is a sunnier proposition as Edd sings, “I got a feeling like I just got paid, I’m still reeling from the kiss you gave.”
The introduction for the second half is Edd once again at his droll best as he thanks us in his own inimitable style saying, “Welcome to the second half and thanks for coming. Don’t forget to tell all your friends about us, as it might mean I can shave a day of my social work and maybe go part time.” It is of course a cue to launch into Social Worker, one of the albums key songs and as Edd has previously explained to me, something of a safety valve, but witty and wise with it.
You can’t fault his honesty either, but once again there is just a glint in his eye and self deprecating as the introduction is, if the result was more of the likes of the wonderful The Stone, or the borderline weird, but hilarious Glasses And A Beard, then the loss to social work would unquestionably be music’s gain. Along with the everyman complaints of Call Me Old Fashioned and House On Fire, which marries a harrowing subject to a lively tune, as if to emphasise the seed of hope of redemption contained within, the second set is mostly album material. There’s just an old song, Fell Like Snow mixed in and finally their signature tune, We Are The Wandering Moles, which rivals This Stone in my own affections.
The encore has the album’s carpe diem rallying cry of You Can Do and yet another new song in Runaway Lucy, which delivers lines like, “Run away Lucy back to hell, where you probably came from.” It’s a cracking finale.
With all of this new material, it seems Edd is certainly going through something of a creative surge at the moment, but more of that in due course. Meantime, if you have got Something To Take The Edge Off, do tell all of your friends, as the marvellous Moles are surely something for sharing. Just as a concluding note, there were some cameras at the gig and the whole thing was recorded, so watch this space for further moments of Moley magic.
Review by: Simon Holland
Released on the following formats via Paper Label Records.
19th April – Vinyl (Record Store Day Exclusive).
21st April – Download
28th April – CD and Vinyl (nationally)
Photo Credit: Jess Jones