Sunday, 16 June 2013

TV Smith + Louise Distras at The 12 Bar Club June 07th

TV Smith and Louise Distras at the 12 Bar Club - Photo by Steve Worrall
It's the 12 Bar again and the 12th anniversary of Barnet Mark's London Callin' club night. TV Smith is standing behind his merchandise table, a table that's almost groaning under the weight of over thirty years experience in music. From a rare recording of his pre-Punk band Sleaze, to albums by The Adverts, TV Smith's Explorers, Cheap and of course his many and varied solo records, an impressive back catalogue lay in front of him. Behind him were hanging T-Shirts for sale, some showing extensive dates from his relentless touring schedule. 

TV Smith at The 12 Bar Club - Photo by Zig Criscuolo
Then there are the three volumes of his autobiography, or "Punk Rock Tour Diaries" as they are titled, which are a must-read for any self-respecting music fan, as they document warts and all, the truth about trying to get along as a self-sufficient Musician. There is no place for Rock Star excess in these books, no Limos or Lear jets - just the bus or the tube to the airport or train station. Travelling, not with record company finance but with a support network of independent promoters, bands or friends and often with only a bag of clothes, a box of CDs, a guitar and an emergency sandwich for company. All for the chance to perform to an audience, whether it is in an arena supporting Die Toten Hosen or a decent venue to a derelict squat or a tent in the middle of a forest, it's all worth it just to get on stage and play. 

Louise Distras by Paul Osborn
Next to TV Smith is another merchandise table, not quite as laden with goods, but impressive nevertheless with an array of T-Shirts, Badges and CD's. Behind this table stands Louise Distras, the Wakefield based singer songwriter. Louise is probably not quite ready to write her autobiography yet, but these are early days, she's due to release her Pat Collier produced debut album "Tales From The Factory Floor" very soon and people are starting to take notice of her raw and uncompromising protest songs. Seeing both Louise and TV Smith standing there chatting to fans, I'm struck by the similarities in their approach and I wonder if Louise has read any of TV's books. They are both steeped in that D.I.Y. spirit of trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, music is their life and their livelihood and those merchandise tables are an important part of their set up, and not just for helping to bring in important revenue but as a way of building a strong relationship between themselves and their fan-base.  It's obvious they take great pride in the quality and design of the goods on display, not to mention the reasonable pricing for fans.

TV Smith by Zig Criscuolo
Their accessibility and friendliness to all who wish to chat is apparent, both are song-writers with strong ideals and values and this is a great chance to communicate. I talked to Louise after her excellent set where she stunned the crowd with her raw, powerful voice and the quality of her songs. I noticed she was wearing a "Strummerville" badge, which I felt was quite apt. I think there is a lot in common with what Joe Strummer believed in and where Louise is coming from. She sings about the effects of social injustice in modern Britain, the aftermath of bullying and hate crimes, in fact her single "Standing Strong Together" was a fundraiser for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, the charity set up in memory of the Lancashire student murdered by two teenagers for no more reason that she was a Goth and looked different. Louise is sticking up for the underdog, promoting individualism, another single "The Hand You Hold" was released to help promote International Women's Day, and I can see why Joe Strummer might be such an influence. Louise Distras is cool and charming with a friendly down-to-earth character, "I felt shy and a bit nervous tonight", she told me, "I'm not used to playing to so many smiling faces..!" At first I found this comment a bit strange and I worried about what sort of audiences she has been performing to! But then I could kind of understand where she is coming from. Again, like TV Smith, she has important things to say, and I suppose it's probably just as rewarding to play to a hostile or inquisitive crowd and at the end have at least a few people going away saying "you know, I never never thought of it like that..." than it is to have a room full of people cheering and clapping without even considering the subject matter of the songs themselves. But it's also about that balance between entertainment and getting a message across, and Louise and TV both have a humour and self-effacing quality that means you don't get the feeling you are just being preached at. But most importantly they have the songs, both are playing it as stripped back and as honest as you can get, just vocals and guitar, nothing to hide behind, so the songs have to work and they certainly do. Of course TV Smith has a great back catalogue of classic songs in his armoury, and despite having to miss half his set to catch my last train home, I manage to hear a superb, passionate performance including "The Lion and The Lamb", "No Time To Be 21", "Complaints Department", "Coming Into Land" and "It's Expensive Being Poor". TV also plays two brand new numbers, "Replay" and "Long Gone", which were both excellent and promise good things for his next album which will be released sometime in 2014. 

Louise Distras - Photo by Steve Worrall
Oh yes, I mentioned his humour. TV notices me checking my watch as I consider if I have just enough time to hear one more last song before shooting off in the dash for my last train. "I usually save this song for the encores", TV says, "but I can see Steve has to rush off..." and he slams into "Runaway Train Driver", thanks Tim, very funny! So feeling honoured to have a song dedication but slightly embarrassed about the circumstances, I make my excuses and leave, very quickly!

Don't forget our TV Smith Retrosonic Podcast special Edition which features TV talking us through his career and picking out some important songs along the way. We were also treated to an exclusive acoustic session so we hope you enjoy it! 

Here's a video of TV Smith performing The Adverts classic "No Time To Be 21" on the night. For a bonus video of Louise Distras playing "The Hand You Hold" please check out the Retro Man Blog YouTube Channel here.

With many thanks to Zig Criscuolo from The WitchDoktors and Paul Osborn from The SuperMinx '70 for allowing me to use their photos. Both are not only great photographers but also in excellent bands, so please check them out. Thanks also to Barnet Mark, TV Smith and Louise Distras. You can check out more photos at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page, please head on over and "Like" for access to the Photo Album.

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