Words by J. Dyer with Photos by Rob Hadley

The Castle and Falcon is undergoing something of a renaissance within the Birmingham music scene. Its industrial brick walled cavern of a gig room has played host to artists such as Cloud Nothings, Boy Azooga, Deap Vally and Yak, in the past year alone. The thought of heading down for my latest fix of music in one of Birmingham’s more intriguing venues really pulls me through an arduous day of work. Boat To Row will headline proceedings, with the undercard being Katherine Priddy and Faux Palms. I must say, I’ve not seen any of them live before but let’s see what I’m in for.

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FAUX PALMS open up the night, and it seems that this band are made up of people I have seen everywhere before but not acquainted. They are an interesting 4 piece, playing a form of laid back indie-pop rock which is quite pleasing. Initially I’m getting War on Drugs vibes in terms of the music, which marry well with the vocalist’s dark and brooding vocals. Somebody lets me know that these are probably the ‘loudest’ band of the event, just as the band remarks “we’re not Slayer or Slipknot or something”. They are joyful and easy to watch, completely inoffensive but it really sets the night off well. ‘The Streets are Always Open’ is a highlight during the set, with its humble joyous melody. Maybe the stage presence needs working on a bit. They keep themselves very static with the occasional grin to confirm that they are enjoying themselves. Really though, this doesn’t matter as the audience are fully engaged with what they are witnessing and enjoying every second of it.

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After a good old 15 minute turn-around, KATHERINE PRIDDY positions herself centre stage behind her acoustic guitar. My years of gig experience have prepared me for times like this. This can go either of two ways: either I am about to endure 30 minutes of convoluted bedroom ‘gap year in India’ clichés through the medium of guitar, or I am about to be completely blown away. From the first microsecond of hearing the voice and music greeting me in the room, I was sold. Gobsmacked actually. It is music that very few people can achieve and seems to be a force of nature rather than just a skill picked up over the years. Katherine states that her influences include Nick Drake, John Martyn, Joni Mitchell and Jose Gonzalez, and these emanate from her fingers as she paints works of art. Her voice is fragile when it needs to be fragile and fierce when it needs to be fierce. Her songs actually mean something, from ‘Letters of a Travelling Man’, which Priddy states is about ‘living in a horse box in Kent’, you are drawn in and understand the point of the tender music. Then you get delved into Greek mythology with songs such as ‘Icarus’, evoking the ideas of humility. It has been a real joy to watch Katherine’s set.

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After hearing the odd thing throughout the night about BOAT TO ROW having a tough year, I discover that they really REALLY have. Their form of self-sustained funding was managed through ‘Pledge Music’, who entered bankruptcy in May this year which resulted in artists not receiving the generous donations of their fans. Unfortunately, Boat To Row were one of them. This show is all in support of the band, in the hope that they can regain their funding to release their next album. The band shuffle onto stage and embark upon a 45-minute set of wonderfully produced and arranged indie-folk music. I think the easy artist to leap at for a comparison would be Fleet Foxes. Vocalist, Michael King’s tone sits almost perfectly with that of Robin Pecknold. However, as the set moves on Boat To Row’s wider inspirations begin to shine through. Waves of Belle and Sebastian, Jeff Buckley and Unknown Mortal Orchestra begin to drift me around.

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I notice that the band are extremely refined and tight, an incredible amount of time in the rehearsal room guaranteed. They make their way through what I have later discovered to be something of a ‘greatest hits’ set, with the odd new song thrown in to leave the fans on their toes. Opening track, ‘Stranger of Mine’, is a belter of a starter. Its beautifully intricate guitar lines intertwine with King’s delicate vocals. ‘Time and Time Again’ beckons elegant vocal harmonies against dynamic honest music. The band are very real. They are earnest in approach, from their subdued yet quirky stage chatter, to their open-hearted lyrics. You get the sense that this really means a lot to them, something reflected by a dedicated, large audience hanging on to every iota of sound. A very brief pause for breath at the end of the set allows for something of an immediate encore in the form of ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac. A few vocal strains aside, it is wonderfully done in their own unique style. The natural softness of the song forms a fitting end for such a fantastic set. I must say; however, my attention was severely compromised throughout the track. Just as the first verse began, an elderly couple broke away from the audience to the back of the room where they danced together throughout. It was heart-warmingly beautiful, and I was completely transfixed by their complete absorption into one another, laid out to such uplifting music.

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Once again, The Castle and Falcon delivers me a memorable show. One which has introduced me to three fantastic independent artists that I hope to see again very soon. Oh, and go and support Boat to Row in their funding/album release.

Boat To Row’s Setlist:
Stranger of Mine
Space Between the Lines
You Let Me In
Simmer Down
Whistle and I’ll Come To You
Spanish Moss
Moth to the Light
Fairest Flaws
Time and Time Again
On Your Own
Dreams (Fleetwood Mac cover)

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See the full photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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