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Project 52 ’11 24: Laura Hocking and Finnstock 2011

August 15, 2011

Unless you have an intimate knowledge of Vauxhall in London, or if you are familiar with small venues of our capital, then you’ve probably never heard of a venue called Tamesis Dock. On the 6th of August some friends and I (including and up-and-coming photographer Raylene Robertson, to whom I am indebted for all the photos on this blog) set out for Tamesis Dock to attend their Finnstock event and, more specifically, to see Laura Hocking play. Finnstock was billed as “A music and arts festival” and I was unsure of what to expect from any of it. Least of all did I expect the venue.

Tamesis Dock is an extraordinary little venue; an old barge moored Thames-side which holds about 200 people. You board her via a gangplank. On the top deck is the main stage with plenty of standing room, seating, sound engineer console, mini bar and even a barbecue. Below is the bar area with seating, and below that there is a dance floor, DJ booth and the toilets. It amazed me how they had managed to fit such a lot into a very small space and still created a venue which didn’t seem too over-crowded or cramped. The whole place had a good, vibrant atmosphere and we were immediately relaxed enough to enjoy the well-stocked bars and excellent views of some of London’s most famous landmarks like The London Eye and The Houses of Parliament. We didn’t eat any of the food, but what we saw looked good and there seemed to be plenty of choice. The venue must house a kitchen somewhere as well as the barbecue. We arrived at low tide but when the tide came in, Tamesis Dock floats and you can see that the waterline is almost level with your eyes in the lower portions of the vessel – a little disconcerting at first but very cool on reflection.

The view. Image © Raylene Robertson

One criticism I would have would be of the billing. If you are going to advertise Finnstock as an event of music and the arts then there needs to be a little more focus on the arts. Apart from the dancers (more on this later) there wasn’t really any art representation that I saw. They could have had a myriad of things for festival-goers to experience: maybe get everyone to write one line of a poem as soon as they enter the venue so that they end up with one big, mad 200-odd line beast, or maybe some photography or painting. Having said that, we did leave before the end so there might have been things which we missed out on.

We didn’t manage to catch all the bands who were on the bill but what we did see was a good mixture which meant that the festival couldn’t be said to be dedicated to one sort of music or the other. There were a couple of folk bands, including a banjo and double-bass lead ensemble who seemed to please the crowd. There was a nervous-looking guy who played electronica / dance music from some sort of computer. He even managed to get a few of the crowd to dance which is impressive for someone appearing so early on the bill. My favourite of the unknown acts was the 90s-inspired, Goldfrapp-esque pop band (saxophonist in tow) who played just as the venue started to slip its grounding place and float. The slightly unusual combination of saxophone and keyboards really worked and they were tied together and framed well by singing which was powerful and unexpected from a girl who was so petite. There was also a helping of indie bands and a singer / songwriter type.

A section of crowd. Image © Raylene Robertson

Next up were the samba dancers. This was completely unexpected by me and seemingly the rest of the crowd, who looked as bemused as I must have when a scantily-clad showgirl and her shirtless dance partner came gyrating their way through the crowd to the stage. They were accompanied by loud samba music and danced about for a few minutes until the time came for a little audience participation. One semi-willing female audience member was chosen by the male dancer to come dance with him, whilst the female dancer chose one red-faced, reluctant man to be her partner, much to the audience’s delight (and indeed relief at having avoided the draft). The whole thing went off to much applause and much aplomb and provided the only bit of the arts which wasn’t a band. Next up was the singer I had specifically come to see: Laura Hocking

I’ll admit, Laura Hocking isn’t incredibly well known but she seems to be quickly establishing herself as one of the front runners of the London folk/singer-songwriter scene, and is riding high upon the wave of a newly resurgent folk movement headed by such artists as Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling and Fleet Foxes. Having mentioned her as a folk artist, it is difficult to get away from the fact that there is something different about her; something genre-dodging and unique. She combines razor wit and beautifully turned and worked lyrics with upbeat, accoustic guitars to produce a sound I haven’t heard any other artist come close to. I suppose there is a pop quality to her music, especially when she plays with her band The Long Goodbye but don’t let this cloud your judgement of her – she is quite unlike anything currently in the charts.

I was lucky enough to speak to her before she played and she admitted that she gets nervous before performing. She soon managed to calm her nerves and looked confident and in control as she quickly won over the largish crowd. After getting the venue to adjust the volume on her microphone, she swung into the opening of her set, “Two Thirds is a Dream”. It is a quietish song but one which lacked nothing sonically as Hocking was able to make use of her talented vocals to overcome the noise of the crowd, the Thames and of the wind. It was very well received by all sections of the crowd, whether they were familiar with her work of not.

Next up was the more up-tempo “Alpha Male” which further caught the already piqued interest of the crowd. I hope that the crowd, as well as listening to the music, were able to listen to and appreciate her lyrics which are extremely well worked and crafted in all of her songs. She usually heads up each of her songs with a little tag line, such as “This is a song for any alpha males in the room; I can see some”. Hopefully this will make at least some of the audience members listen to what she is singing.

Laura Hocking on stage. Image © Raylene Robertson

She then played ‘All Fall In”, a song which seemed to be about being scared at night and not knowing quite why. This was followed by a song I didn’t recognise, but which was described by Hocking as “a song about getting kicked out of Catholic school for doing handstands”. With a set up like that, how could you not like it? This was followed by the very beautiful “Lolita” which “is a song about falling in love with your teacher.” The lyrics are particularly well written in this song and Hocking manages to capture a lyrically difficult subject with sensitivity and wit “I like the way you don’t talk down to me / I’m seventeen, I’m seventeen / I’ll be seventeen / soon”. The guitar is gentle and lilting and she was able to make the meaning in the song come across when performing.

Her penultimate song was “Strongmen and Acrobats” which is a deeply personal account of someone with autism and the way it has changed and affected Hocking’s life “you taught us to tend towards clemency / It caught me under the collarbone fairly frequently”. The emotion was clear in her performance as she sang with a sincerity which is impossible to fake or replicate. She ended her set with “Talented Tailor”, “a song about getting drunk at a guys house and waking up to find him giving you a tattoo” – announced much to the audience’s delight and amusement. It was an upbeat performance and the perfect song for Hocking to leave on and to really leave the audience with an impression and memory of her talent.

Throughout her guitar playing was beautiful and accomplished and her vocals spot on and every bit as good as when recorded. Her set lasted about forty minutes and, being a fan, I would liked for her to have stayed longer though I was quite pleased to hear her perform songs I wasn’t familiar with. I’m sure that none of the other audience members would have minded either because she seemed universally popular and generally well-received. I suppose such a mixed and crowded bill as Finnstock’s demands brevity to accommodate the variety of acts on show. People not fans of that style of artist or those who had come expressly to see another band play would not have welcomed an overly-long set. A testament to her popularity came early during her set when one of the audience called for her to play longer, to which she replied “I’m not half-way done yet”  which triggered applause from the rest of us.

Laura Hocking and me. Image © Raylene Robertson

We left during the set of a shouty band who introduced themselves as “like that time in Back to the Future – your kids are going to love us.” I doubt they will but it is nice to see that Finnstock ran a truly eclectic bill. I would recommend it to anyone, whether you know the people playing or not. The venue alone is worth checking out. I hope to return next year.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Winston O'Boogie permalink
    August 17, 2011 2:20 am

    The unknown act with the saxophonist is Patchy. You should review her next gig; she’s simply wonderful.

    • paulgallear permalink
      August 17, 2011 8:28 pm

      Ah! thanks for the heads up. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her. Thank you for reading

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