“We’re not just skiffle, we’re militant skiffle” proclaims the high profile and famously bolshie film critic Mark Kermode from the stage at Koko before his energetic, if not exactly fresh-faced, retro combo The Dodge Brothers launch into another frenetically paced number. I’d heard of this group via occasional mentions on the legendary movie review slots hosted by Kermode and the seasoned and rather more emollient Simon Mayo, but it was a complete surprise to find them supporting C.W.Stoneking tonight. A very nice surprise too: this is no mere vanity project. Despite remaining firmly within what one might unkindly dismiss as an outmoded idiom this band really rocks, and they’ve got some good material too. Singer and guitarist Alex Hammond hollers out tales of transport, homicide and drunkenness (the band’s own tongue-in-cheek description of their songs’ subject matter) which he punctuates with authentic sounding but never overtly flashy rockabilly riffs while Kermode slaps his battered double bass and parps feistily away on a harmonica like he’s exorcising some personal demons. The sound’s fleshed out by Aly Hirji’s briskly scrubbed acoustic guitar and Hammond’s son Mike on either snare drum or washboard, augmented during one number by an empty wine bottle which he clamps gamely between his thighs and whacks with his sticks. Between song banter falls initially to Hammond senior, but as on the radio Kermode can’t resist getting more and more involved, and fans will have been able to breathe easier once the inevitable David Lynch reference is out of the way. The songs are short and fast and sharp (and pretty much all original too, I found out later) – top quality support.
This is the third time I’ve seen uncanny 1920s blues throwback C.W.Stoneking this year (see also here, where I try to describe what he sounds like, and here, where I get to meet him), and by now I’m familiar enough with him to not spend the set wondering where he got the time machine that let him assimilate and replicate this style of music so authentically but instead relax and enjoy the subversive faux-vaudevillian showmanship he’s also a master of. This is a brilliant performance. After a few numbers featuring his distinctive and highly talented band he takes the stage solo for a while, prefacing the songs with rambling, surreal monologues that are worth the ticket price on their own. Blues singer Jimmy Rogers is recast as an African fertility deity, a shipwreck leads to death by banjo and a sinister discovery of an “I love Jesus” tattoo, and tales of New Orleans fortune tellers and abandoned weddings take unexpected turns when Coldplay and techno DJs are incongruously namedropped. Stoneking seems more relaxed and comfortable in his master of ceremonies role and his ninety minute set flashes by. The audience are eating out of his hand by the end. Great gig all round.