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Scratchy Beard record second album at live gig at Bear Pit tonight (Friday), all welcome

IT’S that tricky second album time for one of Stratford’s best bands Scratchy Beard.

Rather cunningly they’ve decided to record it as a live album, Live Lounge Session, which will be recorded at their gig at the Bear Pit this Friday to which everyone is invited.

The band are renowned for the joyous sound they make: a multi-genre sprawl that they’ve described as “trans-European roots music with upbeat guitar, finessed cello, dixie-esque clarinet, stomping drums, souring violin, heartfelt tin whistle, a vintage 1960s electric reed organ, blues melodica, three-part harmonies, jazz maracas and more…”

When Herald arts popped into rehearsals this week the band were their usual jocular selves as they ran through new songs surrounded by a veritable sea of beguiling instruments.

Frontman Spesh Maloney, who as well as singing and playing guitar writes the lyrics and music, said they wanted to capture the energy of a live session.

“It’s always so tricky getting everyone together at the same time to record an album – you end up doing overdubs, recording individually and then putting it altogether – so it sounds a bit more contrived. There’s that sound of people playing together that you miss – especially the rhythm section. So for this we’ve taken over the space to do the live album in this fairly intimate space.”

Scratchy Beard in rehearsal this week at the Bear Pit. From left, Adam Cross, Samantha Norman, Emma Capp, Greg McLeod, Mat Heighway and Spesh Maloney. Photo: Mark Williamson B11/3/22/6760.
Scratchy Beard in rehearsal this week at the Bear Pit. From left, Adam Cross, Samantha Norman, Emma Capp, Greg McLeod, Mat Heighway and Spesh Maloney. Photo: Mark Williamson B11/3/22/6760.

“It will have a different energy especially with a live audience.

Rather unusually the gig will be in the round, so the band will be fully exposed from all angles.

“You will be able to see my arse bouncing up and down on the drum stool,” jokes Greg McLeod. “As a drummer you usually have to watch everyone else’s arses from the back of the stage.”

For the briefest of moments the name Scratchy Arses is considered.

Greg McLeod on drums. Photo: Mark Williamson B11/3/22/6831. (55485233)
Greg McLeod on drums. Photo: Mark Williamson B11/3/22/6831. (55485233)

The band were formed about four years ago following an epiphany in a Spanish drinking establishment. Spesh explains: “About ten years ago I was in a bar in Barcelona and heard some gypsy jazz and fell in love with it. I began to think what would happen if you formed an ensemble, taking the swing and feel of hot jazz and blended it with storytelling songs inspired by English and Celtic folk, and throw in a pinch of bluesy roots?”

Not long after the brainwave in a bar Greg joined on drums and Laura Stevely on clarinet, melodica and tin whistle – and the trio are regularly joined by quality musicians, including – for this live recording: Samantha Norman, violin; Emma Capp, violoncello; Mat Heighway, basses; and Adam Cross, clarinet, whistle, kazoo, recorder and reed organ.

The band released their first album, Volume One: Folk With Swing, just before lockdown two years ago.

For this new album the sound has evolved, says Spesh.

Frontman Spesh Maloney Photo: Mark Williamson B11/3/22/6852. (55485235)
Frontman Spesh Maloney Photo: Mark Williamson B11/3/22/6852. (55485235)

“The first album had that gypsy jazz and folk sound and all the tracks fitted together well, they were all coloured with the same palette.

“But there were a few songs that didn’t fit into that mode and they’re included on this new album – it’s still folky but steps away from that swing stuff – we’ve introduced an electric bass, so we’re getting more electrified. Greg likes his grooves so that’s probably influenced me,” says Spesh.

Bassist Mat is liking the new stuff. “It’s a bit more groovy and involves me more.”

While Samantha and Emma are enjoying the more melodic numbers such as Follow Me Home and Wake.

Spesh has resisted the temptation to do a catalogue of Covid-era songs. “Lots of people have down lockdown-influenced art but I’ve tried to keep going as normal. Everything feeds into it – just the geopolitical situation affects your mood… which perhaps leads you to a minor chord rather than a major.”

Friday’s audience are very welcome to whoop, holler, tap feet and chat even.

“Hopefully it will feel informal, a café vibe – people can relax and the bar will be open. We don’t want a sterile atmosphere. The audience are welcome to make noise.

“We want to capture that honest experience, warts and all. First and foremost it’s a show – with some of the finest musicians in Stratford!”

All bloopers will be appreciated, says Spesh.

“Part of the joy of listening to old Motown records is that sometimes you can hear a colourful note that’s a mistake but they kept it in because it sounds good – happy accidents. Ooh, Happy Accidents, that’s another good album title.”

For tickets go to www.thebearpit.org.uk or call 01789 333935

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