Tom Bellamy @ The Canteen, Bristol, 7/10/09

Travelled down to Bristol last night to attend the ‘launch party’ for Tom Bellamy’s ‘Beauty from Ashes’ EP, reviewed here recently.  The gig took place at ‘The Canteen’, a new-ish bar/restaurant/performance venue on the ground floor of Hamilton House in the Stokes Croft area, just outside the city centre.

Hamilton House is easily found as it’s right next to the famous/infamous piece by Banksy that adorns the side wall of an adjoining building (see picture below). It’s a pretty anonymous piece of 60’s architecture on 5 or 6 floors that has now been taken over by the local community and put to good use, with workshops and studios on the upper floors and more stuff of this nature planned.  Not sure what the local street drinkers from Turbo Island across the road make of it all…….

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Anyway, pretty much the whole of Hamilton House’s ground floor is taken up by the aforementioned ‘Canteen’ which has a lengthy bar with a good range of local beers as well as the usual suspects and, from the adjoining kitchen, serves up a limited but effective selection of food.  I had a Beetroot & Goat’s Cheese Risotto, which was excellent and my fellow travellers were similarly enthusiastic about their choices.  Prices are reasonable and portions generous.

So thumbs up for the beer & food, but I think The Canteen’s qualities as a music venue are a bit more questionable.  Acoustically, I don’t think it’s a great space, though I know that they have had acoustic engineers in to analyse the room and make suggestions about how things might be improved.  As far as it goes, I think the place could use a slightly ‘pokier’ PA system, but the real issue is in people’s perception of what The Canteen is. 

Clearly a lot of people see it as a Pub with food & music , a few maybe see it as a Restaurant with beer & music, but I suspect that not many see it as a Music Venue with beer & food.  The place was pretty full with a largely twenty-ish crowd, many of whom clearly just wanted to stand at the bar and chat with their mates.  Fair enough; we were really there for the music, but I’m not going to get sniffy because not everyone felt the same.  However, I do think that the friendly folks who run the place have a bit of a dilemma and probably need to implement a ‘polite but firm’ policy about people who just want to talk over/through the acts that they put on.  They perhaps need to make it clear that music nights are for listening and save the chat for later…..yeah, I know; good luck with that one!

Still, it was a bit of a shame for all of the performers, all of whom suffered to a greater or lesser extent from the chattering classes at the bar and also weren’t helped by some initial problems with the PA.    I guess more people listened to Tom Bellamy because he’s a known character on the Bristol scene now.  Certainly, I found it interesting to see how Tom has built up a constituency of supporters in Bristol in exactly the same way he did previously here in Birmingham.  Tom played about 10 songs – all his own, apart from a second encore of Dylan’s ‘Love minus zero; no limit’.  Some he played alone, including old favourites like ‘Astoria’ and for others he had vocal assistance from Eddy Day-Clarke (who should now be aiming to get her own recording career off the ground) and musical backing from a  promising band that featured Ollie on upright bass, Dan on drums, Lizzy the one-legged cellist (a dead ringer for a young Vanessa Redgrave) and Matt on second guitar.  Tom played (I think ) all the tracks from the new EP (selling briskly from a stall stageside) but given the constant groundswell of chat from the bar area, it was inevitably the more bositerous numbers like ‘She knows’ that worked best. 

All in all and despite caveats about the levels of audience noise, we had a great night, although it was about 1:45 am before we got home.  Worth it, though and it will be interesting to see the impact the EP has on Tom’s burgeoning career.

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