It was a wet, windy, and frankly, miserable night when I drove down to Uffington to see The East Pointers promote their new album ‘What We Leave Behind’ (reviewed here) at the Thomas Hughes Memorial Hall. I was intrigued. Like Nettlebed Folk Club, this venue seemed to pull in a wealth of talent to a small rural location. This was the first gig of the hall’s ‘Prince Edward Island Clambake’, which would also feature Vishtén and Ten Strings and a Goat Skin.
Chatting to the organiser George on the ‘phone (it’s tickets by phone or from the Uffington Village Store and Post Office, by the way), it seemed that the band had a history with Uffington. When they came over to the UK on one of their first tours, Uffington took a punt with them, and now ‘our favourite sons’ come back fairly regularly to play a gig to this warm and enthusiastic crowd.
The East Pointers’ popularity and local fame meant that the hall was buzzing when I arrived, as neighbours caught up with each other, bought tickets for the cake raffle, or queued for the bar underneath the flags of both Prince Edward Island and Swindon Town football club.
George announced the local news and went through the housekeeping drill, then it was time for Bob Bowles, a Swindon-based rock and blues guitarist who warmed everyone up with an accomplished mix of self-penned songs and old favourites. A particular highlight for me was his ‘Do Good to Somebody’ inspired by John Lennon, sung with a great voice and brilliant sense of improvisation. Bob should also get credit for carrying on in the face of what seemed to be a very cantankerous loop pedal.
The East Pointers’ emerged to rapturous applause, and seemed genuinely at home with the crowd, reminding everyone that dancing was positively encouraged. A show of hands revealed that at least half of the room had been to an East Pointers’ gig there before, and the band set off with a blistering reel set from the new album. Their usual catchy melodies and infectious sense of enthusiasm were much in evidence, and there was enthusiastic dancing from the audience by the second tune. The band clearly enjoyed feeding off – and feeding back – the energy of the audience, which made for a fantastic atmosphere. This was the seventh gig of their tour – they had come from Aberystwyth and were heading to Manchester straight afterwards – but there was no sign of flagging spirits. The East Pointers are masters of finding the right level of groove in a tune, and they are clearly just as tight rhythmically live as on the album.
As well as the instrumentals, the band highlighted some of the vocal offerings from their new album, including ‘Two Weeks”; a lament for the plight of all those who have to leave Eastern Canada to find work in the Alberta oilfields. Many of the East Pointers’ family and friends have found themselves in that situation, and the track was more affecting live than on the album. While I had my doubts about them moving towards vocal tracks, this gig has certainly made me give them another listen.
The sense of community pride only increased throughout the show, as the line at the bar grew longer, the crowd of dancers got bigger, and Jake Charron set about making the jaw harp look effortlessly cool. There was a quick break while the band told us about the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival in PEI, something which their families have been involved with for a long time, and which the guys are very keen to keep going (they helped to form Big Field Tradition, the non-profit group which now organises the festival). At least a few of the audience had been, and it sounds like a great occasion, so perhaps check it out if you are travelling through Canada this summer.
A mix of old and new sets were sprinkled throughout the gig, along with David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, a cover I’m hoping will make it onto an album one day. A highlight was ‘Party Waves’ – a new offering with pace, groove, and their usual mastery of rhythm. Then there was a surprisingly soft vocal number that sounded suspiciously like a murder ballad as an encore before the evening was rounded off with another trademark tune set. As some waited for autographs and handshakes and others filed out past the local notices into the rain, I could forgive them the fact they had finished a little early. After all, they were driving to Manchester, and they had a lot of friends to say goodbye to…