Paul Docker Reviews Gig

Don’t Spook The Horse – The Harbour Rooms, Blakeney, Norfolk. 17 July 2010

Although I was heading to the Midlands for the Jameson Raid reunion the next night, I thought an advance trip to the seaside in Norfolk might be a nice diversion. Besides DSTH gigs have always been stunning and it would be a pleasure to see them on home turf and show some support.

I arrived to find Mark and his brother, Paul, hard at work hanging the magnificent backdrop you can see in the photos before the rest of the band arrived and an impressive array of vintage amplifiers, pedal boards and instruments were set up. This band take their sound very seriously.

There is a great sense of bonhomie between Mark, Brian, Barry and John and, despite the power tripping out, a continuous alarm needing to be fixed and Brian’s pedalboard deciding to have an off day, the setup was more like a friendly meeting than a job of work. Despite the fact that they gig infrequently, I think that reflected later in how they played.

It not being present at the last Convention in Brixton, I have to say I was delighted when Brian brought out the giant ‘Rust’ microphone and put that together at the front of the stage. All set then and just time for a trip back to Mark’s for a delicious bowl of pasta before the gig and for Mark to put on his white outfit with braces to complete the ‘Rust’ image.

By the time the band started there were around 90 people in the room, mostly seated at tables or standing at the back by the bar. That didn’t last long though and after opening with Out On the Weekend then charging into Powderfinger followed by Mr Soul and The Loner at least half of the audience was on its feet with a good number hitting the dancefloor in front of the stage.

As ever, the band sounded excellent (not least through Marks’ meticulous attention to detail in the setup of the soundboard) and there was little concession to local by-laws on volume. John and Barry laid down a firm foundation for Brian’s Telecaster and Mark’s LP to both crank out the riffs and take off on extended solos but it was never less than tight as an overall sound.

After a high octane opening, the band changed down a gear for an acoustic set of Harvest Moon, Four Strong Winds (introduced with an awful ‘cover of a cover’ joke), Through My Sails and Needle and the Damage Done. Through My Sails deserves particular mention – played with just the acoustic guitars and some minimalist brushed drums it was mesmerising and stopped to dancers in their tracks to listen.

Back to the electrics and they pulled out a real surprise with Goin’ Home. Barry seemed to have fun starting it off with that tribal drumbeat and the guitars spat out some seriously dirty riffing. The band was now bouncing up and down as well as the audience and they finished the first set with a fine Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

Heart Of Gold gave a gentler start to the second set and was followed by another surprise in See the Sky About To Rain. Mark turned to his ‘gitjo’ (six string banjo) and Brian the lap steel as Mark introduced it with ‘This one frightens the life out of me (to play)’. That tension clearly worked and it was a beautiful version followed closely by a further rarity with Boxcar being played in the same formation.

The challenge behind them, the band launched into an exemplary strinboxcarg of Neil’s Seventies classics to take us through the bulk of the second set. A grooving When You Dance segueing into a burning version of Southern Man followed by a twin -guitar intro for Winterlong – featuring Mark and Brian duelling either side of that big microphone. Then Cortez (with a lovely funky bass from John) and Cinnamon Girl with the Norwegian Wood melody in the extended outro. DSTH were beginning to rust in front of our eyes and the dancefloor was packed. Hurricane followed in quick succession and it seemed the whole of Blakeney was on its feet and having a ball. More people had come in during the gig and I was really surprised at how many people knew the words and were singing along. The image of Neil in the top corner of the backdrop looked down on proceedings and I thought I could see him nodding his approval.

The crowd was certainly appreciative (in fact that’s all I can see on my video as the band is almost totally obscured by the dancing) and there was a mass singlaong on Rockin’ In The Free World, the last song of the set. The band fed off that and kept it going with an extended jam in the middle and a couple of false endings.

Clearly they were not to be let go without an encore though and we have John to thank for being persistent in ensuring it was included in the setlist. It was a case of ‘best ‘til last’ as Don’t Spook cranked out a superb version. Mark’s face was split into either a grin or a rictus throughout but whichever it was he and the band were certainly enjoying themselves. My ears picked the familiar melody of Freebird in the jam, but hey, Neil was a friend of Skynyrd’s and if it kept them playing longer we’d all have been happy for them to put the whole song in there.

A magnificent evening of Neil Young songs played a great bunch of guys in a local social club in a small town in Norfolk. Who would have thought it? Well worth the trip and especially so for the chance to spend some further time with Mark, a man who deeply appreciates Neil’s art. Thanks to you all for both the music and the hospitality.

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