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Monday, 5 December 2011

The Destroyers do something constructive at Wilton's Music Hall

Wilton's Music Hall, just off Cable Street in Wapping, is the only venue I've ever known that makes its audience seem cooler and more attractive by association. There's something about the combination of falling-down plasterwork, expensively restored moulding and thousands of twinkling fairy lights that glamour the eye and makes one think it would almost be a shame if the place were ever brought up to surburban standards of rectitude, as various funding bodies have been talking about doing for over a decade now. It's more bohemian than the Czech Republic.

Also there, on Friday, were The Destroyers who emanate from Birmingham - at least half of the fifteen-strong, inter-generational band have a connection with the Birmingham Conservatoire - and the show was sold out.

As the audience milled around, drinking mulled cider, Bev Harling and the Kitchen Sink struck up. They're a four-piece (the line-up has changed since the video above) containing Frank Moon, of The Urban Folk Quartet (another band from the conservatoire) and his missus, Bev, who started by playing the fiddle and singing, mesmerisingly, from the floor among the audience. The whole set had a burlesque-y quality entirely in keeping with the venue: she made the playing of various domestic accoutrements - glasses of water, a wok, an electric drill - seem rather a fruity undertaking, making one think that, all things considered, Frank's a lucky man...

There was a brief pause for theatrical faffing by the sound crew - everything that takes place in that building seems theatrical - before the gradual arrival on stage of various Destroyers, jamming softly away as if they were the background for a piece of Parisian street theatre. As their numbers swelled so did the noise level, until finally...

there were fourteen of them on stage, awaiting only their front man, Paul Murphy, for the full chaotic effect. And what an effect it was...

From the off, the sixty-something's growling vocals created a sense of occasion that matched the venue. You want theatrical? We can give you theatrical...

The energy levels were phenomenal - the only band I've seen to match it are Bellowhead - and the audience seemed to have come along to exploit that, moshing, whooping and crowd-surfing to the balkanised, mariachi folk with its capacious brass section and lyrics full of portent and calamity, as if they had no intention of seeing another dawn.

The subject matter for the songs was diverse, with many of them written by Murphy. There's a Hole in the Universe, made me fear for the safety of the part of it directly above Wilton's; Methusalah Mouse is about a genetic experiment gone wrong; and they finished up with an instrumental version of Tam Lin, which they coupled with Music for a Found Harmonium.

The Destroyers have been around for eight years, building a following, gathering terrific reviews - especially for their live performances. And yet somehow they've never made a dent on the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards. How can that be when they sound like folk, they call themselves folk and the folk like them?

"I manage the band," said Louis Robinson, the tallest man on the stage, one of two fiddle players: the one wearing the velvet tam-o-shanter and a pair of low-slung Indian trousers. "I suppose that's the difference between being managed and having 'management'. I should really have got in touch with someone involved in that whole scene."

And yet what is the point of the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards having upwards of 150 judges if not that they can get around and find stuff for themselves? Perhaps if their names were known they might even receive invitations to gigs from people they didn't know?

The Destroyers come very highly recommended. Just don't expect to be able to remain seated...

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