Review: Cheltenham Underground, Slak

The Cheltenham Underground have a reputation for putting on interesting music nights. Not having any preconceptions or limitations as to style or genre, you are never quite sure what to expect on one of their shows except that it will be a good night with some great music.

And so, after a summer break the Cheltenham Underground returned, and where else could they put on the show but their spiritual home of Slak in Cheltenham?

First on to the stage, or at least the area of floor designated as the stage, was Johnny5thWheel. A mixture of traditional folk with more modern stylings, Johnny often plays with his roving band TheCowards but this evening he treated us to a solo set. A quirky sound with an odd lyrical and vocal style – something akin to The Decemberists deciding to play Monty Python songs – led to an interesting if uninspiring set. When the most memorable part of the performance is the singer”™s moustache (which was so impressive a Victorian villain would be proud) it’s not a good sign.

Up next were Stressechoes. This local four piece indie outfit have only been playing together for a few months and with each performance they seem to get better and better. Concentrating more on their own material despite their early days as a cover band, the only cover in the evening’s set was the closing song which was an inspired version of New Order‘s Blue Monday. The original songs, though, belie the acoustic origin of the band, with some songs focusing heavily on the vocal harmonies and the interplay between the two lead guitars. The recent addition of the bass and drums adds great depth to the performance. The drum fills and bass lines help give extra definition to the well-crafted melodies and capricious lyrics. While the band are still getting used to playing together and there were a couple of little mistakes, each performance sees them grow more comfortable and confident and I think we will see more from these guys in the future.

For your first show after a break you would assume that you would go for a big, heavy hitting, upbeat headliner but Cheltenham Underground like to be different and instead presented us with The Wilderness of Manitoba, an acoustic folk band from Toronto, Canada, The Wilderness of Manitoba may not have been what you’d expect but were certainly an inspired choice. A lot of music these days is over produced and uses too many effects so it’s nice to see a band that relies purely on the music. It”™s a sound that is achingly simple and yet hauntingly beautiful. It’s a refreshing sound composed of layered banjos, cellos and vocals with an underlying traditional folk feel. Comparisons in the sound can easily be made to Fleet Foxes but there is a definite Canadian feel to it which brings to mind bands like Great Lake Swimmers. Whilst these comparisons can be drawn, what makes The Wilderness of Manitoba stand out is the power of the vocals. Using three and four part harmonies they weave a magical soundscape that is totally uplifting and inspiring. If music like this fails to touch your soul then nothing will.

Yet again The Cheltenham Underground put on an enjoyable evening with some fantastic musicians on show, and they will be back with their next event on Friday 8th October at the Frog and Fiddle with Waiting For Kate, Emmett Brown and Zen Elephant.

Kev Atkinson

By Kev Atkinson

Living on a precarious balance of caffeine and alcohol Kevin continues to baffle medical science by continuing to live. In order to keep these finely tuned levels up Kevin can often be found in pubs and clubs where quite by chance there is regularly music playing and through a process of osmosis has acquired a diverse taste in music. Kevin is known for his bright and cheery outlook on life as well as his spectacular sense of humour (some of that last sentence may not be true)

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