There is a house in Reading. They call it the Rising Sun….
Sorry – that one was too hard to resist. There is a house though, and while it may not have been the fall of many a young man, the walls of the Rising Sun arts centre have doubtless held in some debauchery over the years, as the venue evolved from a hippie squat to a volunteer run community hub. It’s a veritable cornucopia of quirk, with steampunk windchimes in the smoking area and a garden boasting perhaps Berkshires most well-known dinosaur outside of Richard Benyon.
Tonights event, the seventh In Malcolm We Trust, celebrates local gig aficionado Malcolm Unwin, whose birthday is an annual festivity for the Club Velocity promoters. This year they have assembled a cabaret of local talent, headlined tonight by none other than Berkshires native son Ben Marwood, whose appearance tonight marks his return following a near four year hiatus.
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While the mood in every corner of the event is pro-Reading, its by no means locals only – best displayed by the presence of Marta and Jordi: Two self-described, ‘Catalan freaks’ who have trekked all the way from Barcelona for the evening, having discovered the joys of Marwood online and vowed to make the trip as a Christmas present. In an era where the powers that be are doing everything they can to incinerate our relations with our EU brothers, its comforting to see that folk punk is managing the opposite.
Jordan Apap admirably takes up the challenge of opening the festivities – a performer of palpable sincerity and impressive reflectivity for one relatively young, he echoes Frank Turner with proclamations of, ‘Not Dead Yet’. His final number, inspired by a riverside encounter on Oscar Wilde Street is a gem, and perfectly suited for an evening celebrating Reading.
Ben Gosling, the evenings Second Ben, follows with a deft blend of humorously spaced out banter and soft, rhythmic folk. Pete Hefferan, of former Reading oufit Pete and the Pirates is joined tonight by his new crew, laying out a set with a mellow indie vibe and a dose of self-deprecation. ‘This is a party song!’ he announces, right before a funereal, ‘Hallelujah’-esque number.
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At last, the crowd react to the long awaited return of Ben Marwood with a rapturous welcome fitting his tagline of ‘living local legend’ as, ‘We Are No Longer Twenty Five’ kicks off the set.
‘You people are too kind – you obviously don’t get out enough’ he jokes. Much of Marwoods charm as a performer lies in his tongue in cheek, often irreverent style – on such familiar turf, he’s not afraid to gently needle his audience, or riff on Chicken Legends and M Night Shyamalan. His announcement of latest album, ‘Get Found’ is greeted with a raucous cheer as he leads into its lead track, ‘Baby You’re A Mess’.
‘Lets play a game called Singalong!’ he announces like a folk-punk Bob Barker, delving into ‘Singalong’ – it seems oddly fitting that a track with the refrain, ‘We all forgot the words’ gets the audience chanting in near perfect unison. Next, he brings birthday boy Malcolm on stage, who delivers a touching tribute to Marwood and the promoters, which is followed with an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday.
‘Here’s a song about murder’ Marwood offers chirpily as he introduces ‘Under Lock and Key’, an early-era melancholic murder ballad that’s arguably Marwoods signature track and certainly one of his best. ‘I Promise You It Will Be Okay’ leads to an acapella crowd sing-a-long. ‘I just broke a sweat!’ he exclaims, ‘Folk singers aren’t supposed to break a sweat!’
As the set closes, the crowd are cheering ‘Marwood’ like a football chant, and he reappears, joking, ‘I didn’t actually check if anyone said encore.’ An audience member requests David Gray, and is promptly told – jokingly – to get out. A playthrough of ‘Tell Avril Lavigne I Never Wanted To Be Her Stupid Boyfriend Anyway- segues into a bluesy rendition of Ms. Lavignes Sk8r Boi, followed by a rousing ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’.
Now its over for real, and as Marwood melts into a soup of audience hugs, his return to form is cemented. Tonight’s show is a triumph, and underlines for any doubters that Readings musical prestige is not limited to the August festival. Here’s to the next one.