Chris T Popper reviews Strand of Oaks at St. Pancras Old Church, London, Friday 22nd February 2013
Apparently the oldest place of Christian worship in England (it has believed to have existed since AD 316) St Pancras Old Church in central London was a beguiling if somewhat confusing venue for a music gig. Convinced we were in the wrong place we had almost turned to leave before three gentlemen who were sort of loitering in the foyer put us right, telling us to come on in… an intriguing start to proceedings.
With tins of beer purchased off a small table (once retrieved from a small fridge nearby) we wandered down the church aisle and took our seats on the front row. Drinking alcohol in God’s house felt a little odd but I managed to muddle through… along with a small but appreciative audience that had gathered on a bitterly cold February night for Tim Showalter and drummer Chris Ward aka Strand of Oaks.
Trap Door was one of my absolute favourite songs of 2012 so I was eager to see them in action close up. The support was Antonio Lulic (accompanied by John on Double Bass) with an enterprising performance and an excellent line in self-deprecating humour.
To warm applause Strand of Oaks entered the stage and quite simply produced a mesmerising set. Opening with tracks from his latest offering Dark Shores, we were treated to Satellite Moon and Maureen’s before Showalter explained he didn’t get too much publicity for his music as he didn’t write songs about flip flops and the beach… he preferred writing songs about killing John Belushi’s drug dealer.
Throughout the performance he was wonderfully humble and made an immediate connection with everyone watching. It should also be said for such an intimate gig the audience made sure Strand of Oaks were cheered to the Godly rafters after each song – and quite rightly. Personal favourites for me were the fabulous tracks from his Leave Ruin album, Two Kids and Sister Evangeline.
Other treats included tracks from Pope Kildragon, finishing the set with a rousing Bonfire before exiting to whoops and cheers. Re-emerging Showalter confessed he didn’t usually do encores but such was the feeling of mutual appreciation he kindly obliged us. Before finally leaving the stage Showalter offered to meet all of us in attendance for a chat before we left. Never one to turn down the chance of chewing the fat with an artist I managed to get a quick word with Tim as he talked amicably to the throng gathered in the holy foyer.
Once I had congratulated him on such a fine set and identified ourselves as Mad Mackerels, I couldn’t help but mention he left out Trap Door… (I just couldn’t help it okay, such was my heartbreak… and I didn’t even mention he also left out the sublime Alex Kona). But hey – with a back catalogue as good as his it really didn’t matter.
I genuinely have never seen the point of watching bands at massive arenas whoever they are (and that includes Radiohead… and I love Radiohead). Standing three miles back watching a video screen of Bono’s or Chris Martin’s cretinous fizzog isn’t my idea of fun. But then again watching either of those bands close up wouldn’t be either. Tonight was. A bizarre venue coupled with a totally compelling atmosphere, immediate, different and utterly fucking freezing, the music mattered not the pyrotechnics/dancers/costume changes. And I loved it. If you get the chance go and see Strand of Oaks, it’s good for the soul.