I arrived just as David “Spoonboy” Combs started playing in Housman Books. A young man from Washington DC who also sings for DIY-punk rock band the Max Levine Ensemble and plays a major in the Institute of Anarchist Studies (see interview), Spoonboy sings songs that are both political (without being preachy) and personal, but in a way that is relatable. I expected him to be one of those silent, intense types but he turned out to be a very nice guy who likes a good conversation, and with the exception of some heckling from drunk punks at the back of the room in London he seemed right at home playing in radical bookstore Housmans, or against the backdrop of protest posters and literature that plasters the walls of the Cowley Club, Brighton.
I’ve never been to a show I didn’t enjoy at Housmans and Spoonboy’s show was no different, but the vibe at the Cowley Club the next night was much better. This was due in part to the great line-up, which opened with new acoustic solo project Cynics. Giles Bidder was formerly in a ska band known for gratuitous nudity (theirs) at live shows, but he seems to have gotten in touch with his sensitive and serious side for his new project. He wasn’t bad, but unintentionally shown up by 16-year-old Rory Matthews, who sings as acoustic artist Some Sort of Threat. While most of us either try to forget what we were doing at 16 – or it was so unremarkable we forgot anyway – Rory is writing intelligent and catchy political songs with a clear voice and strong strumming hand, and is already a staple on the Exeter punk rock scene. The acoustic tone of the night only served to cushion what was Calliope of the Future. Best described as a band comprising of a xylophone, accordian, saw, drums, guitar and mandolin player that also doubled as interpretive tap dancer while the two singers sang epic poems and old-fashioned (like, time of traveling bards old) ballads. Whether people loved it or hated it, the audience was rapt in a mixture of shock and attention.
PJ & Gaby kicked off the show again in their sweet couple-duo and had a tight cluster of kids exchanging grins, clapping and singing along to songs from PJ & Gaby’s EP Alarm Clocks Kill Dreams. Spoonboy followed, and although maybe only a handful of the people in the room knew who he was, he encouraged them to sit down and suddenly those few people were enough. Spoonboy’s songs aren’t the so-called acoustic-songs-about-girls. They are songs about relationships, but relationships between the state and individual, between friends and between mind-sets and battling them by challenging things such as gender stereotypes, between him and his father (as detailed in ‘Stab Yr Dad’, his most well-known song after it appeared on Pink Couch Sessions online and coincidentally was the first thing that popped up when his estranged father typed his name into google).
At the Fighting Cocks in Kingston the next night, where Spoonboy was added to the bill on short notice, he did seem to be playing to a room that didn’t seem entirely comfortable with the sitting-on-the-floor-listening-to-political-songs things, especially as most people had come for the acts that followed by Sweet Empires (Belgian hardcore as covered by a euro-Andrew WK) and Dauntless Elite, a great Leeds band doing punk rock the English way, stopping for sips of tea inbetween songs and ending with a Kingston pile-up for “I am Ninja, My Life is Lonely and Difficult”, which appears on the first Plan-It-X compilation.
David is playing with the Max Levine Ensemble at this years Fest in Gainesville, FL.