Brighton’s Coffee Shop Eclectica – Just my Cup of Tea?

Electravox, Ratbag and Dr Bluegrass and the Illbilly Eight performed at The Marwood, Brighton, on June 14, 2016.

Since the big move from Prague to Brighton in early 2016, my gig-going habit has taken a bit of a hit. What with the exhaustion of international relocation and an inexplicable hesitation to dip my toes into a new music scene, I needed a little push to get back out there and bang my head with the best of them.

When the lovely aerialists at Teardrop Circus invited me to join them at a free weeknight show in the upstairs room of a local coffee shop, I wasn’t particularly convinced that it would be ‘my sort of thing’. I agreed to check it out nonetheless, imagining an evening of low-key tunes and pleasant conversation.

As it turned out, Electravox, Ratbag and Dr. Bluegrass (describing their genres as Nerd-Fi, Travellercore and Cheesegrass respectively) proved me heartily wrong and rendered me somewhat dazed and sweaty by kicking-out time. Not bad for a Thursday night in a tearoom!

Boasting “Kick arse coffee and life changing cake”, The Marwood is about as Brightonian as it gets. Filled with mannequin torsos and battered film memorabilia, its peeling plaster and mismatched furniture were a throwback to my uni digs, and the gig itself had the impromptu intimacy of a living-room jam session that got out of hand.

We wandered up wooden stairs and into the tightly-packed space amidst a soulful rendition of AC/DC’s All Night Long, accompanied by banjo and upright bass. This bizarre juxtaposition was a perfect introduction to Dr Bluegrass and the Illbilly Eight.

While folksy hoedown vibes will probably never be my ‘thing’, it was impossible not to grin at the group’s hearty takes on pop and rock classics, or to jig along to their increasingly frenetic beats. Stand-out amongst the inaccurately-named quintet’s diverse range of talents, however, were the bright bursts of close vocal harmony that punctuated rousing choruses.

Dr Bluegrass were followed by the truly eclectic Ratbag, who managed to combine the walking bass lines and upbeat sax of ska with driving guitar solos and progressive blast beats, all headed up by a punk rock accordionist with cabaret vocals verging on hysteria.

While the group’s initial offerings had me tapping my toes, the set built relentlessly in pace and intensity, climaxing in a decidedly dark breakdown that found me furiously fist-pumping at the front. Full of surprises, Ratbag’s earnest and energetic mess of sounds is truly infectious.

Bearing the following morning in mind, I briefly considered heading home before the final set. But then Electrovox started sound checking an electric gasmask, and I was sold.

While Electravox isn’t a name that immediately conjures up heavy riffs and dark, Doors-esque vocals that is exactly what we were served – with the added bonus of distorted accordion synth. By the time the evening reached its swirling noise-rock climax, I was shamelessly headbanging atop a wooden bench.

Perhaps the most enjoyable surprise, however, was the moment in which Electravox’s frontman and guitarist descended into the crowd, joined by banjo and guitar from Dr Bluegrass, and led us in a bittersweet folk-driven ditty, peppered with close harmonies and stomping feet. Standing on the edge of that circle of unlikely instruments, as tattered bunting fluttered and bare lightbulbs lit peeling walls, I couldn’t help but grin.

Yes, I thought. This is Brighton.

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