Torbay, like so many other small-town areas at the moment is a place full of bands with nowhere to go. Enter then the Apple and Parrot on Sunday 9th August, a pretty traditional sticky pub with a real life (and assumedly tinnitus ridden) parrot lurking in the corner. Since 2010 they’ve been looking to increase the profile of live music in Torbay and it’s this noble quest which led to Parrotfest, their monthly micro-festival of local bands playing what they want to play how they want to play it.
The only problem with this is that a lot of local bands seem a tad scared to play what they want. Given that Torbay is – believe it or not – by the sea, the general venue and even band consensus seems to be that seaside folk are only capable of understanding Ben Howard and his similarly salty compádres. The relief then at arriving to a full electric kit on a fully lit stage was palpable in the room and obvious in the head-banging. The first band of the evening to kick things into gear were Mafia 4 – formerly Babysnakes – whose powerful vocals, polished performance and crowd-pleasing song choices brought things to a new, slightly heavier level after the jangling hillbilly vibes of multi-instrumental nu-folk duo New Daze, a pleasant curve to all watching. But that word, ‘pleasant’ epitomised much of the evening; while both of these acts were great, and better than certain acts who seemed to be fronted by a confused looking George Michael impersonator who, all credit to him, kept schmoozing through various technical difficulties, both of these acts were solely made up of other peoples’ tracks.
While there’s nothing especially wrong with covers, particularly when done interestingly and well, it doesn’t seem too likely that many of those performing learnt their art to make easy money playing easy covers. Take Mafia 4 for example; they started out as Babysnakes, performed originals which were well received until it became apparent that bookings would be far easier to find if they performed well known chart hits, and that’s where they are now; a cover band, albeit a good one.
So then in the search for new music, the original intention of the micro-fest and given the increasingly intoxicated shouts from the bar the quest of the punters too, our options are limited to three key players. Early in the night saw Stuart Roberts, a solo singer songwriter performing his exceptionally un-bitten tongue in cheek number ‘UKIP are c**ts (but so is everyone else)’, a satire in the tone of a slightly less lamenting Father John Misty and a bloody pleasant surprise given the expectations of a guy with an acoustic in Torbay.
The biggest guns came out when the sun went down though. The Quincies, veterans of the local music scene and the only headline act to throw out a set entirely driven by originals. Starting out – back in the day – as a cover band as a means of finding what they wanted to play, they so far epitomise the healthy progression of a developing band. Now years down the line and out of awkward musical adolescence they tear up the stage, reinvigorating the lagging crowd as they find that they actually have to listen, that these songs, tracks from their upcoming EP A Change in the Tide as well as entirely new numbers are different and genuinely brilliant, even in the face of broken guitars and pedals admirably handled by frontman Robin. The crowd can’t sing along but it becomes quickly apparent that on a night like this, that’s just not what’s needed. They’re engaged and relieved to actually be hearing something of real artistic merit, songs full of driving riffs, snaring hooks and some genuinely thoughtful lyrics.
As Radiosaurus, the final act of the night so eloquently put it in discussion, ‘there is a pure emotive connection between musician and audience and as a song-writer you want your audience to feel what you feel playing the music’, and this is what they, The Quincies and earlier in the evening Stuart Roberts brought to the table. Awoken then from a stupor of unintimidating cover-tracks, the enthusiasm for Radiosaurus was more of a war-cry than a polite welcoming applause. Despite being together only two years, Radiosaurus dedicated themselves and their set to originals aiming to ‘squeeze as many genres into our rock music as we can’ and in the process produced a vigorous and invigorating set. That is, until frontman Alex announced the next song to be a cover, and the crowd erupted with cries of outrage and to their surprise, for originals. Speaking to them about their thoughts on the night and the small-town music scene’s struggle, they described the continued demand for cover bands as ‘frustrating’, but added that ‘it makes sense though, people like what they know and can have a sing along to. Those sing-along folk buy the beers and pay the bills.’
And therein lies the problem. The venues can’t be blamed as cover bands bring in the money. The bands can’t be blamed because they need the money and the exposure. Really, it seems that the blame can only really lie with us, the punters. Radiosaurus commented that their favourite act of the night ‘would have to be The Quincies as we have a lot of respect for anyone who jams out to original tracks to a pub crowd on a Sunday night’, but given how much the crowd enjoyed them, shouldn’t bands like that be the norm? It’s all well and good us whining at the bar about hearing the same covers being played by different bands, but unless us folk who pay the bills of the venues booking the cover bands say it to someone who counts, the situation’s only going to decline. And when a band like The Quincies who pride their integrity above all else are considering taking a leaf out of the Babysnakes book and forming a cover band just to bankroll what they really want to do, things might already have gone a step too far. So Parrotfest, I applaud you. Acts with the guts to get up there and at least play music like they want to, even if it isn’t their own songs, I respect you. But readers, the time for apathy is done with. Wake up and smell the monotony, because it’s coming in thick and fast unless someone sends up a flare.