Live review

Get the Blessing at the MOTH Club (2019 EFG LJF)

Get the Blessing
(MOTH Club, Hackney, London Jazz Festival, Saturday 23 November. Review by Rob Mallows)

Hackney on a dark, wintry London night. There’s anywhere else I’d rather be. But during the Festival, you’ve got to be adventurous and try something new. The venue certainly was for me and it contributed as much to making this gig a lively one.

The MOTH Club is a former ex-servicemen’s club (from the ‘Memorable Order of Tin Hats’) behind a proper old East End Boozer (think The Sweeney). In contrast to many other venues where jazz was played this night, this was undoubtedly among the scuzziest, scruffiest and oddest. And most charming.

Get The Blessing. Publicity photo

The walls were covered in stripped pine cladding and various military shields and plaques – the stories that must have been told in this place over the years, wow – and the connecting bar had uncomfortable, mis-matched chairs and a limited choice of beers. You couldn’t escape the 1970s, but I loved its lived-in honesty.

And yet, the ceiling was covered in gold glitter and there was a sparkly tinsel waterfall behind the stage. A Taylor Swift ‘deep cuts’ club night was on immediately after the jazz. This was punk meets pop, not a sedate evening at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Get the Blessing have been going for twenty years now. A Bristolian export started by Jim Barr (bass) and Clive Deamer (drums), who were also part of trip-hoppers Portishead, and their forward commando unit of brass, Jake McMurchie on saxophone and Pete Judge on trumpet.

Up on stage, in contrast to glittery shininess behind them, the four of them, in their white work shirts without ties and Burtons suits, looked like the sales team from a West Midlands car-parts manufacturing company who had got boozed up at the Christmas shindig, shoved the band off stage and said “let’s ‘ave a go.” I couldn’t help noticing, apropos of nothing, that Deamer was the spitting image of Rob Halford, lead singer of Judas Priest.

Looks can be deceptive. There was nothing amateurish about their performance, but they had a heavy metal spirit. Droning horns, spiky electric bass, great band synchronicity and a good dollop of compositional nous, what defined their sound was power – raw, 100W power that got the audience up on their feet (admittedly, most were already standing) shouting, clapping and having a gay old time.

Musically – and aesthetically – Get the Blessing is punk meets jazz. The venue was perfectly suited to their two-by-four powerhouse jazz-rock; indeed, such was the hypnotically rhythmic pounding of their sax/trumpet that this felt more like a ska gig, and you could see a few of the punters were itching to pogo, but thought better of it.

It certainly had the feel of a punk gig – very little repartee from the band, and each song crashed into the other – and when Barr did speak to announce a few songs, you couldn’t hear him anyway through the PA, so I’ve no idea what any of the tracks were called. The slower numbers were well done and showed off Judge and McMurchie’s capacity to create mellow brass musings. But it was the up-beat stuff – the primal thunder of the brass mixed with the low-end fuzz of the bass – that got the punters going.

On one track – name unknown, but obviously a crowd favourite – Barr got everyone clapping in 8/4 time. Now, it’s my experience that at any gig, when the band shouts “put your hands together” the audience will do so together, but then person by person people will drop out until, about half-way through, the clapping stops. Not tonight: full marks to the punters at the MOTH Club for clapping through the whole five minutes, and not missing a beat.

The London Jazz Festival often brings together a wide mix of people who might, otherwise, not normally gather together. This was the case with the 150 or so punters who were packed into this tiny club.

There were hardcore Get the Blessing fans, up front and in the middle, as they should be, cheering and jumping; around the sides in the seats, a number of jazz fans and their wives, of retirement age, who’d ventured outside their comfort zone and didn’t know what on earth they were doing there; hipsters (damn, they get everywhere) in dungarees and well-manicured beards who’d “heard they were, like, really out there”; lots of middle-aged ‘blokes’ in anoraks who were just there for the music; and foreign tourists with backpacks, who probably now think every night in Hackney is as wild as this.

So a real mix, but they were well entertained by Get the Blessing over 70 minutes. This was jazz, but heavily hyphenated – so, not one for the purists.

It was brassy and had a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin simplicity that was pretty infectious. The band know their way around metre and melody and, inspired as the band is by the tempestuousness of Ornette Coleman’s The Blessing, were always ready to take off the safety belt and deliver raucous free-form riffing that was powerful enough to knock down a small garden shed in two blows.

That’s why I like the London Jazz Festival: you can always find something surprising and have your musical sensibilities challenged. Great fun. And a hat-tip to the venue, the star of the show.

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