Ahhhh, The Tunnels – not only do they and their promoters select absolutely splendid headline acts but they’ve an enviable knack of selecting (spoiler alert) excellent support bands as well. Brockley Forest are a guitar / vox & drums duo and yes, there are a plethora of duos around, but these guys are more than a little bit different to their peers. Opener Lifehouse set the tone immediately: armed with an acoustic and bottleneck, Dec Burdge and drumming amigo Seb McCheyne kicked off with a potent yet catchy number that somehow managed to sound like the Gang of Four playing an Appalachian juke-joint. Post punk drums and drive; alternatively deadpan & emotive vocals and sneaky slide adding up to a refreshing twist on the country blues sound.
We got nine cracking songs and with the judicious use of loops, insanely groovy polyrhythms and eclectic vocals we got plenty of variety, way more variety than you’d expect from two blokes, a guitar and a drum kit. The performance was passionate, powerful and assured but then the songs themselves were cleverly constructed and did unexpected things. Taboo grew and grew as the pair battered away at their instruments but rather than the anticipated crescendo simply stopped. Dead. Audience expectations confounded in a great way, much like the whole set. Destroy the Room rode a frankly mean riff as the band demonstrated their ability to rock but Told showed a more considered and nuanced side to the band.
In fact the clever song writing, the time changes, the willingness to stretch the tunes and avoid the bleedin’ obvious gave the set an almost prog vibe (ducks for cover as cape wearing prog fans hurl Gentle Giant box sets at the heretic) which, trust me, made for an invigorating set. Life slowed things down to almost ballad territory, but with a menacing undertow and that killer speech from Network to elevate the song to epic proportions. This tune gave Dec another opportunity to show how versatile a player he is – deployment of a gizmo (technical term) gave the solo a liquid sound that brought to mind Stuart Adamson (RIP) and yet Be My World found him thumping out a riff that echoed East Bay Ray and the Dead Kennedys. The next two numbers managed to encompass dance breakdowns; fake endings; pretty picking and crashing riffs along with a minimalist tribal drum solo before set closer Rubicon. Another country blues epic delivered tonight with mesmerising vocals, music alternating between poise and heft before culminating with a thunderous evil riff and ending a set full of promise and unexpected delights. A band you need to investigate and soon.
The room was pretty packed for Brockley Forest, but rammed as Rev.Peyton’s Big Damn Band took to the stage and to be candid, the band had the crowd in their hand from opening number Aberdeen and didn’t let ‘em loose for the duration. RPBDM comprise, well, the Reverend (Josh) Peyton himself (luxurious beard, a variety of guitars and, no…let’s not spoilt the surprise); his good lady wife Breezy (washboard and backing vox) and Max Senteney (drums c/w upturned bucket). They conjured up the most glorious amalgam of country / bluegrass with a dash of hill blues and a delightful olde tyme vibe – played with infectiously good natured vim & vigour.
Peyton’s voice was deep & rich but honeyed too, and he had enough natural charisma for ten bands: entertaining between song banter coupled with genuinely hilarious tales from a natural raconteur. His description of the genesis of the video for We Deserve a Happy Ending was worth the price of admission alone (he decided to set his best friend on fire “If they can do it in Hollywood we can do it too…how difficult can it be…we’ve got YouTube…) His playing was exemplary throughout, rhythm thumped out with his thumb and leads and riffs from his fingers, giving a full phat sound and the songs tremendous substance. The tunes, mostly originals, were full of life, full of humour and catchy as you like. Pot Roast and Kisses an early ear worm and the aforementioned We Deserve a Happy Ending a rabble rousing delight.
Breezy and Senteney were no slouches either, the former giving the songs maximum zing with rat-a-tat-tat percussive washboard, non-stop dancing and (mock) glowering at the crowd before dazzling with massive smiles; leavening the Rev’ vocals with sweet backing and generally having as good a time as the crowd. Who were having a fucking good time to be frank. Despite looking simultaneously exhausted and unnerved for the majority of the set, Senteney laid down a beat that would make a three day old ready meal dance, breaking out in to grins as the band hit the sweet spot in each tune.
There was plenty of good natured, self-deprecating showmanship on display too, Peyton’s roadie took to the stage after a particular testing solo from the big bearded fella, to mop his brow and offer life sustaining water. Bean Blossom Boogie was a chance for the rhythm section to shine, Peyton taking a seat whilst Breezy and Senteney demonstrated their admirable chops, the latter soling whilst blindfolded and the former’s solo culminating in tambourine shenanigans with the rhythm beaten out on both Senteney and Big Jeff’s heads. There was plenty of crowd participation too, already rambunctious, the invitation to join in on Clap Your Hands raised the roof and set closer You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover left the crowd spent and hoarse.
Of course there was an encore and the Rev had a new axe for the tune. No, not an axe as in a Flying V but an actual axe, strung and ready to be played (business end in a protective case but still begging the question how did he get it through customs, especially with that beard?) Peyton managed to make the axe riff and wail as the band pumped out a final burst of raucous bluesabilly climaxing with Breezy setting her washboard on fire as the crowd roared her on in encouragement.
Prior to Bean Blossom Boogie the Rev claimed the band were “Good at music, bad at business” but good doesn’t even begin to describe the power of the band on stage. Pound for pound there are very few bands that could touch this outfit for sheer joie de vivre on stage, the Rev stinging with solos, dancing a jaunty two step; Breezy both his rhythmic & dancing foil and Senteney holding the whole thing down with deft power and metronomic precision. This was yet another barnstormer at the Tunnels and a band that deserve your support to disprove their own assessment of their business acumen. You won’t be disappointed.
Photo credit: Tyler Zoller
Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band: The Tunnels, Tuesday 15th August 2017