The crowd is slow in arriving tonight for this John Peel Tribute Day gig at Clwb Ifor Bach, but, undeterred by the wide-open spaces, we voyage inside in the hope of maybe finding a Peel-esque gem.
Of course we know all about the headliners Pete and the Pirates and look forward to seeing them again with a tinge of excitement after their blinding show at this year’s End Of The Road festival. But first, a disparate troupe of players take the stage with an air of quaint fascination.
Everyone Else But Burt manoeuvre tonight’s empty spaces like they’ve done it before, ploughing on with their set in intrepid abandon despite an abundant lack of interest. The lead singer is in appearance a quarter Bruce Springsteen, a quarter Jonathan Richman, and a half Welsh Valleys’ rock star, which is some fantastic mix, and at their best their songs sway like a soothing summertime breeze.
There’s a Jesus look-a-like stage right, a scarecrow at the back that comes to life ten minutes into the set to wreak tambourine havoc, and a trumpet player who informs their songs with a kind of jazzy mischief. When they leave the stage at the end to the somewhat tragic site of a crowd at last starting to form, I can’t help but feel sorry for them.
There’s an anticipatory atmosphere as Pete And The Pirates stand tuning. When they launch into recent single Come On Feet the place erupts. The Pirates have songs to soundtrack the journey of beatific hearts, playing them live with a boyish charm and ease that defies belief.
The lead guitarist is the spitting image of a young Darren Hayman, busily arched over his axe in that quintessential manner, and Hayman is a really good comparison for the band’s sound in general – upbeat indie magic anchored by wondrous lyricism and poetry.
Lead singer Tommy Sanders commands the centre with a glint in his eye, the multi-layered tracks shooting from his band in spiralling shapes. This Thyme buzzes with lo-fi charm, the guitars bubbling in such a terrific manner before the chorus scrapes the sheen off the stars. A new track called Knots does something very similar, only with a slightly more melancholic air, and coup de grace She Doesn’t Belong builds from winter sadness into little bursts of poetic melodies that threaten to make hearts burst.
With the Pirates, there are no folk pretensions, no retro pop stance, certainly no rock ‘n’ roll antics, just melodies and songs so sharply played as to cut you in half. At the end, we walk to the bar seemingly without feet touching ground. They weren’t even trying. No one has the right to be that good so easily.