Thursday 21 May 2015

Mammal Hands' Sunday Night Beat Club at Norwich Arts Centre

As this year's Norfolk & Norwich Festival approaches the end of its middle weekend we have already been treated to some wonderful performances, Wolf's Child continues to wow audiences over at Felbrigg Hall, and we still have a whole week of treats in store. As well as welcoming artists of world renown, and having companies like WildWorks coming to Norfolk and involving the local community in their production, it is gratifying to see local bands and performers appearing in the programme. Tonight, at Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich's acclaimed contemporary jazz trio, 'Mammal Hands', are headlining the second meeting of the Festival's Sunday Night Beat Club.

This is something of a homecoming gig for 'Mammal Hands', having last appeared at the Norwich Arts Centre in September 2014 to launch their debut album, 'Animalia', released on Godswana Records. On that night we were also incredibly privileged to have had Mercury Music Award nominees, and label mates, 'GoGo Penguin' play support. Tonight the Norwich trio return, suppported by prog-folkers 'Fishclaw' from Colchester, and also our own 'Horo Quartet' from Norwich. Later, in the bar, will be spoken word from four of the leading performance poets from our own Norwich Writers Cente. 

Horo Quartet

Tonight's openers, 'Horo Quartet', are a new name to many. Some may have already seen them perform in Norwich at The Reindeer or Jurnets Bar. For others, myself included, it was a first experience of their East European influenced folk music - no lead vocals, but an enthralling mix of fiddle (Will Glenn) , flute and sax (Jordan Smart) propelled with drums (Alex Elliot) and layered with piano accordion Peter O'Brien) to contribute the Balkan vibe. Looking forward to their forthcoming return gig in Norwich at the 'Dirty Stop Outs' night at The Murderers on June 19th.


'Fishclaw' from Colchester may also have been a new name to Norwich audiences. Formed from members of 'Three Beards', 'Ghost Train Porters' and 'Secret Jane', this prog-folk outfit form the perfect bridge between 'Horo Quartet' and our headliners. Playing tonight as a five piece, the line up of electric bass, fiddle, drums, guitars and (once again) piano accordion, takes folk to a slightly darker place with tunes that use guitar to follow the path originally trodden by the likes of Jethro Tull and String Driven Ting. 

Also, for those of you who spotted the funny little wooden box to front of stage, their set ends with a bizarre performance on a tiny xylophonic keyboard that produces a sound not unlike a Fisher Price piano. In what could be mistaken as a Spinal tap styled homage to Keith Emerson, the final number concludes with an enthusiastic hammering of this tiny instrument by Simon Keep, the band's accordion player. Quite extraordinary.

Nick Smart of 'Mammal Hands'

So,  having two folk bands precede a contemporary jazz headliner may at first have seemed a strange choice, but Mammal Hands originally started off busking on the streets, and their music still captures the essence of local culture as well as ethnic rhythms from around the world, incorporating these elements into their compositions alongside their love of electronica, classical and, of course jazz.

 The audience is spontaneously enthusiastic, obviously a high number of regular fans, and appears to be made up equally of those to want to dance, those who just want to lend vocal support, and a number that are happy to adopt a cross-legged yoga position on the floor. Nick Smart seems delighted, and bemused, by the warmth of the band's reception, the dulcet tones of the Art Centre's grand piano provide sonorous enhancement to Nick's minimalist style and rich texturing of  jazz harmonies. Brother Jordan's sax carries us on a sublime journey with twists of dance riff woven in, whilst Jesse Barrett's unique playing and drumkit incorporates the sounds of Africa and Indian cultures into a homespun mix.

It is definitely a case of 'onwards and upwards' for Mammal Hands.

And that is where most gigs would end, but no, this is Sunday Night Beat Club, and even though it's a school day in the morning, there is still more entertainment, and the bar is still open. 

The Writers Centre in Unthank Road is home to many of Norwich's literary community of writers and poets, and provides a stimulating and supportive environment in which to allow the creative juices to flow. The Norwich Arts Centre throughout the year provides a platform and a stage for their writers to stand up and present their works. Luke Wright and Molly Naylor are just two well-known names that I have seen here, either performing or in the audience supporting fellow writers. They are both in the bar tonight, and together with Helen Ivory and Martin Figura (the husband and wife team behind Café Writers) we are treated to a sparring match of poetry reading from these four locally based talents. 

Luke Wright and Molly Naylor

Helen Ivory and Martin Figura

The contrast of style and delivery, and the richness of the prose in dealing with topics covering everything from Ted Heath in the 1980's to riding the night bus home, serves as an eye-opener to those that think that writing poetry is easy, and a master class to those of us that have tried, and are still trying. Nothing beats the intimate nature of four contemporary writers alternately rising from their table of drinks to deliver a sample of their prose to a relaxed after-gig audience. It was a privilege to sup a pint in their presence, and a perfect end to a Sunday Night Beat Club at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

The Norfolk & Norwich Festival runs until May 24th. Programme and tickets from their website

Mammal Hands have a website at

Hear more of Fishclaw through Soundcloud

Come and see Horo Quartet at The Murderers on June 19th, or visit Soundcloud at

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