Event review: Sieben and the Silver Darlings at the Oval, Saturday 4th February


By - Wednesday 22nd February, 2017

A night of music and real ale-soaked creativity at one of Croydon’s most authentic venues


Photo author’s own.

It was with keen anticipation of another heady, boozy, real-ale-soaked night of musical creativity and exploration that my partner and I caught the overground into darkest West Croydon station on a drizzly damp February Saturday evening.

The signs were good that we were in for a night of some unique and virtuoso playing by Sieben, otherwise known as Matt Howden. Matt specialises in looping effects and playing his violin in as many differing and unconventional ways as possible resulting in a truly unique sound and performance. Mixing this with a love of old English folklore and legends results in a mesmerising performance both visually and sonically.

I was immediately impressed when looking at the track listing of his latest album The Old Magic. Containing as it does a song called ‘Come, Raven King’, any fans of recent BBC production of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark would be suitably impressed. Anyone who remembers seeing Niall Greig Fulton as the Raven King in his bright green jacket and shocking sweep of grey hair will not be disappointed to hear his ancient character as the subject of a gloriously mysterious and subtle track. Unfortunately for me – and for any other fans of fantasy tv series – Matt was unable to play this track on the night due to his recent acquisition of a new loop fx pedal, and not having enough time to plan the required delays necessary for this particular track for the evening.

Credit goes to resident Oval sound engineer and aspiring graphic designer Gavin ‘Badman’ Kinch

We were however treated to a stirring rendition of title track ‘The Old Magic’, which saw Matt swirling his bow around his finger, much like Charlie Chaplin would his walking stick! Not afraid to use every differing surface on his body Matt has developed a technique of using the two-day stubble on his chin and rubbing it against the bridge of his violin to get a pleasingly rasping sound which he works into the medley of sounds on his tracks. Matt also manages to get a wonderful echoing sound to his lyrics by singing across the body of his violin, letting the body of the violin act like a tiny echo chamber.

Looking like Paul Heaton from The Beautiful South but sounding more like a cross between David Bowie and Marilyn Manson, Matt really came over well on the Oval Tavern‘s timbered stage. Credit must also go to the excellent sound at the gig from resident Oval sound engineer and aspiring graphic designer Gavin ‘Badman’ Kinch. Gavin always looks most dapper in his flat cap and scarf combo which he wears so well! Back to the main act of the night, and I must comment quickly on the excellent runic tattoo Matt had on his left fore-arm. He told me afterwards it was a very early runic alphabet symbol for vine, apple tree and hawthorn which would have meant something to our ancient ancestors, and succeeded in making Matt look like a knowledgeable host for tonight’s performance.

Hailing from the town of Sheffield was the uniting theme between both acts on tonight’s line-up. The Silver Darlings were up first and opened their set with a song called ‘Peter Reaney’. It is based on the life of a farm labourer who is jilted at the church by his true love and who then spends the next fourteen years of his life shut in the loft of his parents house, no longer able to face the outside world. Playing to a pub half full of engagement party revellers this was a bold choice of first song!

A mix of keyboard, violin, bass, and even a bit of melodeon playing

With a soft timbred Americana sound, I really enjoyed listening to the Silver Darlings. Andy Whitehouse was the lead singer and creative force behind the band and has gained from touring with fellow Sheffield artist Matt Howden. Named after the classic Scottish novel written by Neil M Gunn about crofters forced down from their hillside living and into the fishing industry trying to catch the cash rich crop of ‘silver darlings’ – herrings then sold to be tinned and eaten around the world – the band proved to be an interesting mix of literary and vocal influences. Andy has a new solo album called Almost Home, from which he played several tracks, with the backing of his fine band. They sounded really good, with a mix of keyboard, violin, bass, and even a bit of melodeon playing.

When not playing in a band, Andy makes his living from being a psychotherapist, and so he kept us all entertained with the stories behind each song and even a little quiz in the middle of his performance. Just like the Question of Sport round, ‘What Happens Next…’ was a great song of his and meant that anyone who knew who Carl Rogers was was given a shell from the suitcase of CDs for sale. My partner being a therapist in training herself meant that we became the lucky owners of an authentic Sheffield-borne seashell (I must ask Andy where the shells came from).

Tonight being a contribution-funded event, I gladly stumped up the cash for a copy of Andy’s Almost Home CD in lieu for such a good performance. Fans of the British folk scene will be glad to hear that more folk acts are planned to appear at the Oval this year: Pagoda in March, and a whole Northumbria Festival coming up in May.

Kasper Seward

Kasper Seward

Kasper grew up across the border in leafy Wallington, but has lived in Croydon for the last 8 years. After a mixed education in the cultural arts, and several years volunteering with local conservation group The Downlands Project, Kasper has become a professional volunteer devoting his time and energies to issues he sees as important.

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