Review: The Red Paintings – Barnstaple, Devon

The Red Paintings @ The Factory, Barnstaple 13/11/15

And now for something completely different……

A few weeks ago, the ruling classes here at Devils Gate Media asked if anyone fancied covering a gig that fell outside of our usual genre. A band from Australia who feature strings, live artists on stage and musicians from around the globe. For me, half the fun of music is broadening my tastes and finding new bands, so I stuck my hand in the air and in the manner of Donkey from Shrek (the main character of which also makes an appearance in this review) shouted “Pick me! Pick me!”

Fast forward, and I made a 70 mile drive to the biggest town in North Devon with a camera, an open mind and a slightly bemused girlfriend. Normally, when I arrive at a gig, there is a healthy crowd milling around the entrance, but when I found the venue, in a group of warehouses belonging to the local college, on an industrial estate, we walked straight in. Maybe we had got the time wrong, and it was one of those gigs that starts late and finishes in the early hours ? No worries, time for a quick beer and a wander around the performance space. For a small town in a rural area the venue is superb. The capacity is well over 500 people, there are several bars, a huge lighting rig, and a massive stage. Most towns would kill for a live music venue like this ! Score one for the local scene.

After about half an hour, another dozen people had wandered quietly in, the lights went down and the first support band came on stage in a blitz of sound and energy. The Dead Betas are an electro punk band who hail from that hotbed of youthful rebellion… North Devon. Led by Tobias Monsters, an engaging and charismatic frontman, they run through a set of catchy, riff driven punk. The songs are often about what they know best, growing up in a rural area, and although punk could be said to have its angry basis in inner city depravation, it works, adding humour to the mix. The set ended with a lingerie clad Shrek dancing on stage before joining the audience, adding to what was turning out to be a somewhat surreal evening.

A short break, and we were ready for the second support, Them&Us. For me, this was a revelation. The set started with the single musician, Lee, walking onto the stage and letting fly with some seriously impressive beat boxing, before being joined by his co-star, the ridiculously beautiful singer Ami. Normally keyboard driven sampled music leaves me cold, but the sheer quality of the set these two put together drew me in and captivated me. Ami’s vocals were sensational, moving between elements of Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Lana Del Rey, and others. Sometimes soft and folky, others rocking with the best of them, she drew your attention to the centre of the stage and kept it there throughout the set. In the background Lee kept up an assault of sound. Huge bass, sometimes sequenced, sometimes from a bass guitar, massive beats and layer upon layer of texture created a unique sound that deserves a much wider audience. Their set was an unexpected delight. This is a website that caters to the lovers of the heavy and loud, but if you have an open mind and a love of music for music’s sake, give them a listen.

Bizarrely the crowd then got even smaller, to the level where it was now embarrassing, and most of those watching appeared to be members of the support bands. It is very much to their credit that The Red Paintings still came out and put on a great show. Led by the wonderfully named Australian, Trash McSweeney, and consisting of an all female supporting cast of musicians from around the world, The Red Paintings are pretty much impossible to compartmentalise. They took to the stage in a variety of striking outfits, eschewing the usual lead guitar for electric violin and with a large blank canvas and two male artists models providing a backdrop. Trash holds the centre of the stage, his voice can be soulful or raucous and I suspect from glimpses that he can be an engaging front man, but the lack of an audience to interact with led to him putting the energy into the music. Beside him, Alix Kol provides the melody, her beautiful violin moving from gypsy to reel to screaming feedback as the set progresses. It’s a wonderful change from lead guitar and really works. Bass is provided by Ginny Eck, who became a bit of a band crush for me. Playing an instrument almost as big as she was, she is constantly cavorting around the stage and has a huge smile on her face throughout the gig. Behind them all on drums, Hiroshi Kamoshita provides some energetic and driving rhythm.

The set is incredibly varied. Artists are invited on stage to paint the canvas and models as the band play. Watching them paint faster and slower as the music changed was genuinely fascinating and the end result rather beautiful. An alien in a jar is used to play slide bass, a hamster makes an appearance, the musical style changes with every song and there is even a Michael Jackson cover version, and a stunning version of ‘Mad World’.

I would love to see The Red Paintings again with an audience for them to feed off. Playing an almost empty room is incredibly hard, and they rose to the challenge, but there was a lack of energy that I suspect flattened their usual show.

One of the reasons I was so quick to offer to review this gig was that many bands don’t come down as far as Devon or Cornwall. It is up to us as music fans to change that by buying tickets to gigs and supporting live music. For less than the price of a cocktail in a nightclub, locals could have enjoyed three hours of incredibly varied music in a superb venue but far too few bothered. I’m glad I did!

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Review and images: Rob Wilkins

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