The chance to see to see a rare performance from Matt Owens (formerly of Noah and the Whale) outside of the West Country, was enough to persuade this reviewer to head for the hills of south London, and try out this venue next to Herne Hill station.
Owens and some of his band, the Delusional Vanity Project, came over from Bath, but the bass player didn’t make it – flat tyre in Whitstable – so the set had to be hastily rearranged. First up was ‘Go Easy on Yourself’ from the latest album which set the tone for the new, more rockier material from Owens and his band. From the title you might think this was a song harking back to 70’s country rock, especially with the payoff line of “And if you can’t go easy on yourself go easier on me”. But this is definitely a contemporary rock song with an indie-folk feel.
The first half of the set was without a bass, but it wasn’t too noticeable because there was lots of oomph from Jimmy Besley’s nicely amplified bass drum. In the second half George Leigh switched from lap steel and mandolin to bass and added heft and counterpoint to the melody in the way that all good bass players do. This second half also saw James Jack swap his Strat for a Les Paul, and Owens moved from his vintage Martin to a vintage Gretsch and then a customised Framus. It was more than a decent performance with one man down.
Just over half of the songs were from the latest album, with just the excellent ‘Too Far Gone’ from Owens’ first album. This song allowed room for some great keyboard playing from Fred Abbott and guitar from Jack. Most of the remainder came from the 2020 release ‘Scorched Earth’ including the slightly funky ‘Strip It Back’ and the folkier ‘Cargo for the Road’ – a song about ambivalence to life on the road. A theme reworked as a cautionary tale to aspiring musicians in the anthemic finale of ‘300 Shows’.
Most of songs have a clue in the title as to what they are about. Not so ‘Beer for the Horses’, the eponymous track from the latest album. A careful listen to this his riff-laden song that wouldn’t be out of place on a Tom Petty album revealed that it was line scrawled under a wartime photograph in a bar.
It was the support band Casino Moon who organised this gig, which was essentially a double-bill, and much of the 100 plus enthusiastic audience was made up of their fans and friends. They played several of their single releases and songs from a yet to be recorded album. Their one cover was ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ by the Waterboys who are a positive influence on their newer (unrecorded) material. One of their members plays mandolin and lap steel which helps sustain this vibe. But they definitely have their own style as evident on ‘River Orwell’ (2022 single) and ‘Home’ (2021 single). Well done to Casino Moon for playing an excellent set and for bringing over Matt Owens.