Ben Watt was one half of Everything But The Girl together with his wife Tracey Thorn, perhaps best remembered for their 1998 cover "I don't want to talk about it", and the 1995 remixed smash hit "Missing" with the line "And I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain". At the end of the 20th century, EBTG took a break, with Ben DJ-ing and running his Buzzing Fly record label.
Bernard Butler was guitarist in indie rock group Suede in the early 2000s, later teaming up with vocalist David McAlmont. I've no idea how he knows Watt, but they have an understanding with guitars, and tonight there was no need for a support act or any back up.
So what brings them to a small church ten minutes from St Pancras Station in 2014? Ben helpfully explained that music journalist Pete Paphides had suggested to him in the garden at a party a few summers ago that he thought people would like to hear him play guitar again, was taken aback that there was still a desire for people to hear new music from him, and so over the year or so, Ben and Bernard have been collaborating on Ben's first solo album in some three decades. At the same time, Ben has also been writing a book after his parents, "Romany and Tom".
I'm not quite sure when I first started following Ben on Twitter. It was probably December 2012, when Tracey released a Christmas album recommended to me by my local record shop [People Music, Chapel Street, Guildford], and so I added her, and then Pete Paphides, followed by Bob Stanley from St Etienne, and then Ben, when I clicked it would be good to follow musicians I've loved and admired both then and now.
Ben and Tracey have a curious twitter relationship, both individually tweeting about their daily lives to their own sets of followers, often it seems whilst sat on the sofa together, Ben reporting Tracey dancing round the kitchen to Courtney Barnett, or her asking about what brand of coffee machine to buy. One of Ben's set of tweets from 2013 was on how he was "searching for a vintage Wurlitzer keyboard", "found it", and then "It's Arrived!".
Towards the end of last year, rehearsals with Bernard were progressing, with a two night set at The Slaughtered Lamb, (sold out before I realised it was on).
Moving forward to 2014, a Sunday and Monday night were announced at St Pancras Old Church, and Ben's album is now I believe finished, with a release set for April. I was too slow for the Sunday, but figured I could do the Monday and still get home to Guildford on the train.
St Pancras Old Church is a lovely church venue, perhaps holding 120. Doors were at 7:30, and arriving about ten minutes later I grabbed a quick drink and looked for a seat. The chairs were rows of five either side of the aisle, and luckily I managed to squeeze into a spare seat between two pairs of gig-goers on the right hand side right at the front.
The stage was already set up, Bernard's guitars to the left, and Ben's to the right, together with that Wurlitzer piano mentioned before. My neighbour must also have been a twitter follower, as he pointed out to his friend the story behind it.
Church gigs are always quite archaic, not overamplified, and this one was too, with table lamps and floor lamps for lighting, rather than the usual spot lights from gigs. I also noticed a trail of 4-plug extension cables onward plugged into another 4-plug extension cable, leading back to one socket in the wall. Ben had tweeted of a ten minute PA failure the night before, and I could imagine that going back to a small venue after all these years has its drawbacks.
At around 8:30 Ben and Bernard came out from a side door by the altar, Ben with dark jeans, black t-shirt with a logo/quote I couldn't quite make out and lumberjack shirt; Bernard with turned up thin jeans and a buttoned up blue denim shirt. Bernard still looks the same with his floppy haired fringe, Ben's twitter cartoon of a sharp jawed man with jet black stubble and a buzz cut, is now growing into a grey speckled beard and can't quite be bothered to buzz cut so often haircut. A smartly dressed gentleman, perhaps in his sixties, was roadie for the night, bringing guitars out and back through the evening.
Ben's first song was "Levels", written a year ago about trips to the Somerset Levels, coincidentally in the news for being flooded.
This seemed a very autobiographical set, "Bricks and Wood" being about a journey with his brother to his parents' old home, apparently now without roof or windows, and how sometimes it's best not to go back.
Ben and Bernard changed guitars at every song, Ben must have had four or five, he explained all tuned differently, and that he really needed an interlude between songs to tune them. I'm no guitar expert, but Bernard I think switched between two electric guitars, Ben with acoustic, lead, electric.
Ben revisited his first ever single on Cherry Red Records, on which he had blagged Robert Wyatt to guest vocal at the time, as well as a few of his songs which he performed alone.
One of the most moving songs was "ashes and bits", Ben starting with a journey from Stokenchurch and onto the Oxford ring road, a journey I've made many times having grown up just south of Oxford. He then went up to Matthew Arnold field, up at Boars Hill. For me, Boars Hill meant sledging in the winter as a child, school cross country runs as a teenager, scout camps at Youlbury, and driving up to Jarn Mound late on Fridays to try and pick up distant radio stations from the top of the hill. For Ben, it was to scatter "ashes and bits" under the arched trees, before leaving past a car with picnickers eating their sandwiches. Ben's singing style is with his eyes half closed, and I wondered how he made it through this song without a tear.
One more about feeling his age was a rambling folk-rock song about continuing to DJ at events which earlier in life he would have happily done until the early (or late) hours of the morning, but how he felt he was now the old man at a younger man's party, perhaps DJ-ing for the last time.
The gig finished around 10pm (the church bells ringing the hour in, as Ben said he hoped they were in the chord of C at the 9pm chimes), and off out into the rain and train home.