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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Josienne Clarke, Sam Brookes and Laura J Martin go all Ron Burgundy at The Old Queen's Head

It's traditional for The Old Queen's Head on Essex Road in Islington to hold an all-day music festival on bank holidays for those unwilling to leave the big city and commit to a couple of nights under canvas in the face of meteorological uncertainty.

The essential queeniness of this particular weekend made the pub feel like even more of a destination than usual - the upstairs room is so beautiful that it's a pleasure simply to be there.  But this time, rather than the regular, slightly under-organised folk event, it was publicised using the name of a Radio Six DJ, Tom Ravenscroft, who turned out to be John Peel's son. He hit the decks when the live acts finished at 10.30pm and the day's music was as eclectic as you'd expect it to be when Peel's name is invoked - although to be fair, they hadn't done that. I only realised who Ravenscroft was this morning when I was poking around on the net.

Taking a strong early stand for the folk contingent, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker were on second at 1.45pm and the opportunity to hear them play while eating a doorstep fish finger sandwich (me, not them) was too good to resist *wipes imaginary breadcrumb from the corner of mouth in happy recollection*

They've nearly finished making an EP of four original songs including Homemade Heartache, which I insert into this blog at the slightest opportunity. In fact I've a good mind to make it my personal mission to get a copy to Emmylou Harris, for whom it could have been written. But they also rolled out a version of Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where the Time Goes? that both nailed the song's source code and lifted it higher than I've ever heard it go, emotionally speaking. It took so much vocal power to produce that Josienne said she's going to have to be a bit careful: they played it live for the first time this weekend and in four different venues on Sunday alone - which was uncomfortably depleting by the sound of it. Ten out of ten for effort though.

There was lots else to see, lots to talk about, including a rather moody and attractive PJ Harvey-a-like called Anna Lena and the Orchids, a stadium-ready synth outfit called Plant Plants, who only needed a light show to rival DeadMau5, and a couple of testosterone-fuelled guitar bands called The Riff Raff (all werewolfy facial hair, biceps and popping veins, though sadly they seem to have the same name as someone else and I can't find them or their biceps on the web) and Glitches, who were great, though their unpromising taste in knitwear made me think that the invasion of the UK by Polish plumbers must have been singlehandedly responsible for the 80s revival.

But the most fun for me was to be found at the acoustic end of the spectrum, where Sam Brookes produced an assured and original set: he simply wasn't trying to be like anyone else and sounded as if making music came as easily to him as breathing. I'm not sure I'd remember any of the songs but would go out of my way to test that theory because the spirit of his playing was so free, as if he were playing the best gig of his life on an empty mountaintop.

The find of the day, however, was Laura J Martin, who plays something akin to jazz flute, uses sampling to reproduce herself during live performances and has a wonderfully kooky stage presence that involves hopping, finger-wagging and emphatic nods of agreement in response to her own music.

"Uh-oh," said one of my companions as she kicked off her set with a loud jazzy toot. "It's Ron Burgundy." But the affection I feel towards Anchorman knows few bounds, so I was much more taken by the novelty of hearing something this unusual and well-put-together and less with the eccentricity of it. She also plays the mandolin, is from Liverpool and made a huge impression on my rather shy second cousin Alick, who talked to her for a little while afterwards before sliding under the table on his way to the loo in a gesture that made it look as if she'd just melted him.

I love The Old Queen's Head as a place to spend bank holiday weekends. If they'd put beer taps upstairs so you could avoid having to make a choice between expensive bottles and climbing the crooked stairs with a tray it would be perfect.

By way of encouragement to the pub's management, here's some ham and eggs coming atcha... Hope you've got your griddles.

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