Holy Moly And The Crackers made the journey down from their home town of Newcastle Upon Tyne, via Devon, to play in Canterbury, where incidentally they thought they'd be playing to three people! Now if that's not a band committed to the cause then I don't know who better fits the bill (After the gig they were stopping off in Cambridge to break up the three hundred and thirty mile trip back home!). If their efforts to entertain audiences far and wide weren't enough there was also a chap in the crowd who'd made his way down from Hull specifically to see the band (A Refreshing beer, or two, and a Hospitable Canterbury B&B were his destination post show).
Prior to the entire band taking to the stage of the Marlowe Theatre Studio it was their drummer Tommy Evans, sporting a rather jaunty corduroy cap, who started the evening's entertainment in fine style. Playing a string of very well captured covers, he began with a couple of Bob Dylan tracks, 'Baby Blue' and 'The Times They Are A Changin', and moved on with songs by Bob Marley and Johnny Cash, as well as a great take on The Velvet Underground's 'I'm Waiting For The Man'. The percussionist, who could have easily passed for an extra in Oliver, left the comfort of his drum kit to sing and play an acoustic guitar throughout the seven-track set, apologising for his proficiency as well as his time on stage. He needn't have done either. His guitar playing needed no apology and his singing was revelatory at times, especially during his two close-out tracks from Nina Simone with 'I Put A Spell On You' being particularly good.
During Tommy's support set he had confessed, as the band's driver, to having always thought that Canterbury was in the South-West, not the South-East. It mattered not as he'd got them all from Honiton in Devon, where they'd played the night before, via Stonehenge, to Canterbury in Kent for their first show in the Cathedral City. As they all took to the stage, Conrad carried his wife Ruth to her bar stool for the night (We had to pretend that she wasn't there for the purposes of the encore) and the rest of the band, including Tommy after his wardrobe change, took up their respective positions.
Conrad beckoned the crowd nearer to him and the band set about their opening track, 'Sugar'. The snarling, stomping and, befittingly, theatrical track lifted from their 2017 album 'Salem' was a fantastic introduction to a night that had the atmosphere of a gypsy carnival. The pace was ramped up further with the lead single from their latest album; 'All I Got Is You' brought together all of the elements of the band beautifully. Ruth's irresistible vocal, Rosie's deftly delivered accordion and Tommy's metronomic beat paired with the ever steady bass beat of Jamie Shields, the fevered guitar work of Nick Tyler and the charismatic whirlwind antics of Conrad Bird ensured that the immediacy and upbeat nature of the song were not lost on the enthusiastic audience.
2018's lively slice of downright dirty Deep South Rock n' Roll 'Gravel Rag' set up a track from the band's first EP from 2104, 'Lilly'. 'Cocaine', "another song about going out on a Saturday night, but a bit more naughty this one", with "lyrics found in a Ted Hughes poetry book" went down a storm. If the party hadn't fully kicked in before this track it certainly did as the first notes were played. Ruth Patterson's violin playing was equally as compelling as her vocal and Conrad Bird's trumpet playing just took the track to another level. The slightly sleazy mix worked wonderfully to capture the essence of the song before the band segued effortlessly into 'Grace'.
Tales of Tommy's misdemeanours in Hungary played out through 'Naked In Budapest' before the band's breakthrough track, 'Cold Comfort Lane', got the crowd fired up on the impromptu dance floor created in front of the stage. The pulsating, energised track was delivered with an impassioned intent as Bird's trumpet sounded out for all it's worth and Tyler's guitar delivered its incendiary power chords. Holy Moly's folk roots came to the fore on the toe-tapping cautionary tale 'Devil And The Danube', before a quite brilliant 'Upside Down' closed out the main set in double quick time.
As the gentlemen of the band took their leave for a brief moment of respite, Ruth remained serenely perched upon her seat, Conrad having not taken the chance to carry his partner from the stage. She didn't have to wait long before he returned to join her for a duet as the enthusiasm of the crowd demanded more. The remainder of the band came back to conclude the superb fourteen-track set with yet another riotous and rousing belter, 'Mary'.
As gigs go, tonight's was pretty special. Not only had the band found the venue and played to a lot more than three people, they had delivered a stellar performance that had atmosphere aplenty, engagement in spades and a set full of banging tunes that captivated all before them. The festive season is near but I can guarantee that these are by far the best Crackers you'll see all Christmas.