Music > Live Reviews

Wooden Arms


by Richard


Wooden Arms


It was fellow Outline contributor Stuart who a year and a half or so ago re-introduced me to the delights of obsessive gig-goers' website which re-awakened my inner nerd and so I can confidently state that I have seen Wooden Arms perform live more than 30 times. From their earliest gigs (which incredibly was back in 2012) I have seen numerous line-up changes and additions and heard the sound evolve and develop. Tonight's gig I think featured only Alex Carson and Jeff Smith from that earliest incarnation (though several friends and former members were also in attendance in the audience).

From the same source I know that I have already seen Hot Raisin a similar number of times in just this year alone. They are big favourites of mine but when I first put my name down to cover this gig for Outline back in early spring I had no idea they would be on the bill as the gig was originally scheduled for May, and then November, before finally taking place in December due to logistics and the small matter of Jeff becoming a proud father. I still only made it to OPEN in the nick of time though, with the full five-piece Hot Raisin just about to start their set as I walked through the doors at about 7:30pm

I make no secret of my love of Hot Raisin so their name on the bill was an added bonus for me and was certainly a lovely surprise. In their short career they too have expanded their line up from the original duo of Tory and Mary to tonight's full electric five-piece though they are also still regularly gigging as a duo, and frequently as a trio with Luke too. It was as that trio that they recorded their recent EP release of just a few weeks ago - The Forge Sessions - to add to the year's earlier full-band recording, the Whiskey Ginger EP. Both have already sold out of physical copies which tells you all you need to know about their quality. Tonight they sounded full, tight, punchy and strong without ever swamping the delicate side of these beautiful, melodic and heart-warming songs. Always charming, witty and engaging between songs too, the chemistry between all of them consistently shines through. The new songs are rapidly establishing themselves as set favourites for me but I love the way they close with the slow-release power of Whisky Ginger. They never disappoint me and always uplift me. Tory's vocals and Mary's guitar is a beautiful combination and they don't sound like anyone else. Tonight with the three boys alongside them (Tom, Daryl, and Luke) these songs sounded huge but also tender when they needed to be - often within the same song - with plenty of light and shade. Gorgeous. Ones to watch.

I've only seen Chalky Seas a mere three times but all occasions have been this year (the first being at one of the last BFR nights) and even so their development and growth in that relatively short time has been incredible. Describing themselves as "indie-folk" I think they too have released a couple of EPs this year, the latest being Long Way Gone. My previous encounters with them have seen them using a cajon but tonight featured a full drum kit, which in my opinion sounded and suited their style infinitely better, in this venue at least, the playing having a suitably deft touch. They have a great sound, tight harmonies, beautiful voices, melodies and catchy songs with a good humour inbetween, especially when the phone rang! ("That's not a business call. We're a folk band!") A nice touch was coming down onto the floor for their penultimate song, playing and singing unplugged, bringing the audience much closer (in every sense) and creating a kind of festival camp-fire moment feeling which really highlighted those tight harmonies and the delicate playing. Beautiful.

Anyone involved in Norwich music over the past decade will know of Alex Carson, be it from his Birdcage/Plasterers/Gonzos music showcase nights, his Bare Feet Records (BFR) releases, or Wooden Arms themselves. Like Shane O'Linski (who also played a magnificent gig this week) Alex has done so much to help, showcase and support so many musicians in Norwich. Fittingly, being back in the city he soon dispensed with the shoes and socks in a nod to his BFR roots. Seemingly full of energy and drive he is now focussing all of that energy on Wooden Arms. Predominantly London-based these days this was - other than a short set for the BBC Introducing in Norfolk birthday party the other week - their first Norwich gig in over a year, which is unheard of for them. In that time they have been busy recording the brand new full-length album which they were here to promote (Trick of the Light) and showcased tracks from this album as well as some more familiar older numbers. Added to the strings, piano, guitar, trumpet and drums since I last saw them they now have a bassist too, making their sound altogether much bigger, deeper, fuller and heavier than I have heard from them before. Full of drama and powerful moments in fact, giving everything a cinematic film-score feel ... I'm sure the inverted screenplay has not been written to accompany such a score but hearing these pieces one can almost see some of the scenes in one's head already and it's quite a rollercoaster. The final three songs especially were full of passion, tenderness and drama: Burial, False Start, and December, two of which featured the sumptuous vocal tones of Jeff.

A lovely gig that won them many new admirers. The band seemed to enjoy themselves too and as ever Alex was on fine witty form. Hopefully they will be back sooner than another year in which time their recognition may have grown even further (they have been getting considerable national attention). Every copy of the vinyl album having already been sold by the time I got to the merch stall, again that tells you how successful a homecoming gig this was.