This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) Gobshout.com. It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...
I have a theory about “Alt Country” music, and it is this: you can't make it British. The best you can do is to imitate it in a British accent. It's still got to be about deserts, whiskey and trains. It would not work if you sang about tea. Tonight though, we are in the midst of a British country and folk music bonanza.
The Travelling Band impress from the start. Not least amongst their achievements is squeezing seven people onto the Water Rats' tiny stage and still managing to play. The set is spell-binding, with harmonies dripping off the excellently crafted songs. For a band whose debut album is yet to be released, this is a confident and involving performance. Encouragingly, they already have new songs that don't appear on their first long-player. One of these, Sundial is a particular highlight of the set. Yellow light streams off the stage and the song fills the room so completely that at one point I began to fear for the structural integrity of the building. Three guitars, endless harmonies, bass, drums, keyboard and violin create a rich sound which, when layered with harmony, grabs you immediately and keeps you listening. If there is any justice in the world, these guys will be huge by this time next year.
Hey Negrita are a deal more advanced down their career path. Now on their third album, the band is a tight unit comprised of two guitars, drums, double bass and harmonica. Tonight is the first leg of a three-week UK tour, with Travel Lodges up and down the country already booked, according to lead singer Felix. Their tunes are ridiculously catchy and deal with the staple country blues diet of love, loss and drinking on your own. Heavy on the harmonica solos and some superb guitar work, the five-piece soon have the Water Rats dancing. Everyone is thoroughly enjoying themselves – the band not least – and the new songs are received with cheers and singalongs from the hardcore fans. Mid-set, Nick from Alabama 3 is introduced to the delighted crowd, and a “harmonic-off” ensues that is quite literally mind-blowing. Overall, the set is a brilliant and accomplished performance from a band whose future will undoubtedly be bright. Catch them if you can, before the rest of the world does.