Bit of a trek for our first ( and no doubt many others ) visit to the The Victoria, a nice enough looking Pub serving a nice line in food in Dalston. To get to the music area you go through a door in the bookcase and you entered into a small dark rectangular box of a room with a small bar and merchandise table to the right. The room is an eerie kind of dark, with strange pink fluorescent light strips lighting up only the top 12 inches below the ceiling giving a bizarre neon effect. There is a wooden strip around the venue, just wide enough to place a pint glass on that is placed about five foot above the ground. The floor once was wooden, and over that was placed a thick lino style covering that has had huge chunks ripped out of it. The PA looks like it could support a heavy metal band let alone two acoustic singer songwriters. The stage is set with one chair, that looks like it might just about support an eight year old child and a microphone that initially looks like one of the old BBC news announcers microphones from the war, two spotlights give the stage a pinkish blue hue. With former touring mate Barna Howard playing out over the PA, the room starts to fill.
Eric McEntee is from California, he took to the stage in a blue jacket and hat and with a bootlace tie had the look of a Bob Dylan album cover about him! He's arrived off a short tour of France and this is first visit to London, he has already had his clothing locked in a laundry and been caught up in an "event" in the Strand. With the help of family connections he is staying at the Savoy, but for now he is in a dark room in Dalston. Opening with a song called "Roly Poly" he managed to get through the first verse only to have his mobile phone go off. The second song "Savannah's Eyes" is a pleasant song that evokes the sound of Cat Stevens, it is quite beautiful. After reviewing his bizarre day, he plays a Gram Parsons song "Brass Buttons", it fits in naturally with his style., he also later did a somewhat upbeat tune that accompanied Townes Van Zandt's "Waiting Round To Die" which was a new take on it. It was not all covers though, "I'm Not Bothered By The Rain" was particularly impressive and sounded like it should be on film soundtrack, that we should all have!
His final song "A War On 2 Sides" dealt with the reality of life as an aspiring songwriter, Eric was an intriguing guy and great company providing an excellent if slightly unassuming start to the evening.
Andrew Combs was here for a short two date UK tour, playing acoustically, trying out a few new songs while visiting plenty of his back catalogue. With a new short haircut, he was able to stand pretty much unnoticed in the bar area. The joy of being able to see him in such a venue at such a time was that he is not coming off a tour with a band where he has been singing every night and his voice is in mighty impressive form, immediately displayed on the opening "Month Of Bad Habits". It was to be followed by "Rainy Day Song" covered by Lee Ann Womack on her latest album "The Lonely The Lonesome & The Gone" which should please the Bank Manager.
The first of the new songs was revealed to be an experiment at writing a simple 3 chord song "Like A Feather" immediately sounding promising for the next album. The stripped back of "Rose Coloured Blues" brought the words even more to the fore and somehow made it even more affecting, even complete with mouth trumpet. The tale of fishing and God, "Swannee County" sounded excellent, with a full on whistling solo and a delightfully high pitched finale. With a three month child at home, the question of what the future holds has been playing on his mind and that future is addressed in "Dirty Rain", where there are "plastic people stacked in towers with nowhere to go!". That was followed by the title track of his previous album the wonderful "All These Dreams"
Andrew is very much an anglophile so it was great to hear him apologise for bringing us "out of the way" on a school night!. A couple of new songs came next, "Born Without A Clue" was started in the wake of Tom Petty's death and while not expressly about either Tom or dying he must have channelled the spirit of Mr Petty while writing it, as the chords were distinctly Pettyish and sounded fantastic. The next one "Firestarter" ( not the Prodigy song ) had the intriguing line "Red is the colour of your busted lip" and immediately had the feel that it will be a big song when it emerges fully recorded.
The next few songs all came with liltle insights, "Lauralee" written with the man who wrote the words to the Baywatch theme, "Too Stoned Too Cry" is one of the few of his older songs that he still likes to play, while "Blood Hunters", really striking in this solo format was revealed to be about losing your mind.. The final song, the "creepy" peeping Tom song "Hazel" proved to be an exceptional finale beautifully sung.
The decision as to what songs should make up the encores was left to the audience and so we got "Please Please Please" with the warning that he might forget the words, he didn't of course. We nearly had "Pearl" until at the last moment someone suggested "Strange Bird" which although it came replete with whistle and bird call was a slight disappointment but it would be churlish to complain after such a fantastic night. We were dispatched to the streets serenaded by his "facebook" song "Foolin'" from one of the few people that could drag me across town to Dalston!