Strange bedfellows are made in the western outpost of Bath, Somerset. It’s a small community, neatly split into three piles. The tourists, who come for the Georgian tea rooms and Roman spas, the students (Bath has two universities and several colleges) and the locals with their stout hearts and strong heads for scrumpy cider. Forget about the tourists, they don’t venture into Walcot – the ‘Artisan Quarter’ – after dark, but a characteristic feature of Bath’s premier good time bar and live music venue The Bell is the coming together of local middle-age rock ‘n’roll dinosaurs like this reviewer with the students, who hunt in packs out by the picnic tables. They are separate but united in their love of good music, which The Bell has developed a reputation for providing from far and wide down the years.
Tonight, though, was all about an act from closer to home. Littlemen are the brainchild of Nick Allen, a much-loved patron of The Bell as well as lyricist-in-chief and (albeit non-performing) member of the band (more on him in the exclusive interview to follow soon). Tonight The Bell had an air of expectancy and a large crowd had crammed into the old place to hear their favourite tracks from the ‘Long Road Home‘ album as well as the new songs that it was rumoured they had been working on recently. They began on safe ground with ‘Cloudy Nights‘ followed by ‘One Afternoon‘ and the naturally easy manner which lead vocalist/guitarist Simon Allen (no relation to Nick) wears under his west country flat cap lent a mood of familiarity as he remarked, “I wrote this song about my daughter. If I wrote it now it’d probably be a death metal tune!”
Littlemen have a smooth, melodic Americana sound comparable to Wilco and songs that are truly meaningful. Songs about family were followed by songs of tragedy which gave way to love ballads and all performed with a professionalism that was almost too perfect by the band. Rhythm section Andrew Maggs on Bass and Rob Brian on drums were as solid as an England scrum in this hotbed of rugby while Paul Hartshorn on lead guitar seemed to speak the old truism about stylish guitar being more about what you don’t play, until ultimately he would seem to get bored and casually decide to blow everyone away with an inspired and soulful solo.
By the midway point, the students were becoming curious and were pushing their way in from the garden to see what the fuss was about. Simon introduced the band who were well received, including Nick who was watching critically from the side of the stage. It’s fair to say the loudest cheer of the night was reserved for this moment and he graciously scowled into his drink while the band launched into new single ‘Talk‘. By now The Bell was rocking out and Littlemen were responding in kind, Simon Allen’s impassioned Jeff Buckley-like vocals transferring effortlessly onto the live stage. A double encore ensued, the gorgeous ‘Wings‘ immediately followed by the sublime ‘Keep On Running‘ and then it descended into a jam session. Keys man Jon Buckett swayed like a cobra to the pungi as he played on oblivious to the West Country crowd, students and dinosaurs alike who, having stayed until the last ringing bluesy chord, melted away into the night. Littlemen may not tour extensively due to various commitments but they are consummate professionals. Janice Long and ‘Whispering’ Bob are both fans and for those who aren’t fortunate enough to catch them live, the album ‘Long Road Home‘ is an AUK recommendation.