Live Review : Tugboat Captain

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Tugboat Captain – The Tour review

Right after the success of unexpectedly cult single “Don’t Want to Wake Up on My Own”, Tugboat Captain have just smashed a pint of Red Stripe against the hull of album number two, called “Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud”.

Thrown into the sea on October 27th, this Battersea six piece played a week-long promo across the south, and have their biggest show to date at Thousand Island on November 24th supported by Plain Sails.

Lead singer Sox is the Tugboat Captain, and navigates the night with sister Honey Glaze and her accordion, keys wizard Sloppy Giuseppe (who rocks the electric bassoon), bassman Jesus Bigboy, string picker Papa Isaac and Bosun Joe, master of the drums. Together, knitted boat mascot in tow, this lot turned their first seated audience into the happiest crowd I’ve seen at Plymouth’s B-Bar.

‘Signs to Come’ opens the set, all harmonies and drawn-out chords. There’s a potent cocktail of jangly blues and the more psych bits of The Beatles in ‘Grace’, tempered by a lilting folksy melody and self-deprecating bite in the lyrics: Sox sings “I’m drinking from the top until there’s an empty bottle… I’ll wrestle with my thoughts, they grip me and they throttle” with the flat resignation of someone who looks into the mirror and wearily notes that they’re still there.

It’s not just the chants of “OPA!” that make up the bohemian streak: the accordion and banjo give Tugboat Captain the air of flat-capped seafaring gypsies, giving the kind of honest street corner song and dance that used to be travelling musicians’ lifeline. The catchy riff to ‘Don’t Want To Wake Up On My Own’ sticks itself to your mind somewhere between early Cure stuff and Johnny Marr, but the slower vocals make this an interesting dreamy pop song rather than indie attention-seeker.

Tugboat Captain have a very DIY ethos – everything is recorded and mixed at home. Sox’s girlfriend did the album art (and gave an unbiased review) and Papa Isaac’s mum knitted the mascot. It’s really refreshing to get a bunch of talented people enjoying themselves onstage but deliberately being normal. How many other bands tell you about the epic carvery they had on the way here?

Their ease and normality is everywhere in the music too – the anthemic ending to ‘Ikea Mirror’ has everyone up and chanting, grinning at each other. “Sixteen pound Ikea mirror, I can see now so much clearer” would be an ironic joke, or deliberate provocation or affectation somewhere else. With this band of joyous miscreants, it fits our millenial attitude of self-obsession and budget creativity.

“Because we’re on tour, we thought we’d learn a token cover”. Right, OK – some really indie thing, or a take on an anthem of our generation like Wonderwall or Mr Brightside but with added bassoon, right? Nope. It’s a Dad’s Army theme cover, jazz influenced, and has the braver or more drunk of us polka dancing at the front. Please, Captains, keep surprising us.

Fair warning – the live show is very, very different to how Tugboat Captain sound on all good streaming sites. The infectious enjoyment they give off doesn’t come through headphones on the bus or when you’re doing laundry. See them, meet them, drink Guinness with them and dance crazy. Sing about Ikea mirrors and laugh at their cover choices. Blogs and streams are cool and all that, but it’s not the real thing.


Words : Joe Morel


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