Review: Ska and reggae at the Arts Institute

November 1, 2010 1 Comment »
Review: Ska and reggae at the Arts Institute
Rob on caterpillar rattle and congas for that authentic ska sound

Tattsyrup at CAI. Photo: Paul Seligman

When I previously slipped in a plug for the great value entertainment at Cardiff Arts Institute (CAI) in my last post, I was bluffing. I had only heard of its reputation, but I was due to go there that evening, following a hot tip from my friend Gerald for King Porter Stomp.

We checked out the band on myspace and liked the ska/funk/hip-hop mix, so on Thursday evening we parked right opposite the CAI at 8pm, following a quick check that JD Wetherspoon’s current Beer festival was still offering ales of a suitable quality for £1.85 a pint, as I wasn’t expecting a trendy new venue to offer ‘proper beer’.

Entry to CAI was a very low £4 (though advertised as £3, apparently that’s the student price – what about discounts for the retired or otherwise unwaged like my partner?).

We were in time for the sound checks by two other bands. We hadn’t realised there would be support – a long evening clearly lay ahead. Would it be a drag waiting for the main act, which apparently wouldn’t be on till 11pm? Perhaps it’s OK for the student types who frequent the CAI, it’s not so good after a long day at work with an early start the next day. We needn’t have worried….

Still, the sound checks sounded promising and we’d arrived early enough to get one of the few tables where you can sit and still see the band in the long and narrow space. There are plenty of comfy sofas further away from the performance area, but we’d gone for the music.

I was pleased to find there were two Brains ales and a guest beer, and my partner reported that the coffee was excellent. For more adventurous drinkers, the cocktail menu looked excellent and the bar appeared to be well stocked. The menu looked tempting as well, and they serve food till nine – we’ll try that next time.

At nine o’clock Captain Accident and the Disasters kicked off the evening. If you follow that link to his myspace site, you’ll find it’s a tasteful white font on light grey. Consequently I have no idea what it says and I can’t tell you any more about the Captain and his band, though accents suggest that they are pretty local.

It was a really enjoyable opening set, more lively than the same tracks on myspace. The self-penned lyrics were quite sweet, against a mostly reggae/ska rhythm but with plenty of variation and bursts of lead guitar that wouldn’t have been heard on Roots Reggae. (Younger readers may use different style labels, I use what I know!) Our feet were definitely tapping.

The between-set tracks were well chosen and the short interval until the next-up band passed pleasantly and quickly.

Unlike some promoters who seem to delight in putting on support acts in a totally different genre to the headliners, this Miniature Music Press evening stuck to a broad reggae/ska/dub groove.

On the dot of ten, Tattsyrup burst into a full-on version of ‘One Step Beyond’ and everyone was up and dancing. I’ve got the Prince Buster original on 45 rpm vinyl, but I suspect they were more influenced by Madness, and the set was largely in the Two-Tone / Specials / Madness tradition. We danced in a quiet corner at the stage side, being approximately three times the age of the average attendee and not wishing to look too embarrassing to the young folk skanking (in the musical sense, of course) at the front; it didn’t stop us from thoroughly enjoying ourselves for the next 50 minutes.

I recognised sax player Jenny and lead vocalist and flautist Brett from Wonderbrass, one of our favourite local acts, and they brought the same joie–de-vivre and party atmosphere to this project. The band really looked like they were having a ball and so did the audience – the photo from my mobile does not do them justice. Tattysyrup have been around for quite a while (as a name inspired by League Of Gentleman’s ‘local shop’ owners suggests) and I can only regret that somehow we missed them till now. Check out some tracks here and think about getting to The Globe on November 20th, because they are great live.

After that, we wondered if King Porter Stomp would be even better. Both previous bands had plugged them enthusiastically. Sadly, I have to report that they didn’t really do it for us. They were missing two players, and perhaps that explains why they didn’t achieve the sound we’d heard online. The tunes were repetitive and we could hardly catch a word of the supposedly socially aware hip-hop lyrics. Which rather undermines the point of writing and memorising all that clever fast stuff, doesn’t it?

By 11.30pm, we decided it was time for home. We’d had a great evening for very little expenditure. And we picked up free ‘regulars’ cards, which get us in free in the future, give us discounted drinks until 9pm and offer a few other benefits. With friendly staff , a great bar, easy parking and good music, I can see us really becoming CAI regulars.

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