Jinx Dawson and her Coven cast us in their spell in London on 11th September 2017.
Shameful as it may seem, though they’re part of a scene I myself have belonged to, share several of my friends (real ones, not just Facebollockers) and are signed to one of my dearest mates’ labels, this is still the very first time I’ve seen Gallery Beggar. I didn’t even catch them at 229 last year with Trembling Bells, who are also pals of mine: a sorry display by all accounts, making tonight an even more ideal occasion to finally put things right.
Sadly, because they’re the opening act, I’m still only going to get 40 minutes in which to achieve this- but even within that short time, I am instantly aware of what I’ve been missing. True, there’s nothing amazingly original about their sound- particularly with key numbers such as ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme ‘and ‘Geordie’ being the work of that well-known songwriter “Trad. Arr”, and their own best composition ‘Pay My Body’ sounding undeniably like Fairport Convention’s take on ‘A Sailor’s Life’ crossed with something off the first Trees album- but if you’re going to steal, steal from the best, and do it well.
And that’s precisely what they do, further enriching and enlivening the well-trodden “folk tradition” with an occasional leavening of psychedelic heavy rock. With four albums already under their belt, and a growing live following, GB look set for a lengthy and fortuitous career: assuming their individual members don’t try to live up to their mentors’ propensity too much by sacking each other every five minutes, or falling head first down staircases, they’ll develop into either (a) a much-beloved British institution or (b) one of those legendary cult acts whose name is whispered in reverence by a small yet fervent army of worshipful devotees. Either way, expect to see and hear a lot more of them.
The legend of Coven, by comparison, is already as well-established as it’s possible to be at cult level. Despite my initial reservations that the Dome may have been a little generously-sized for them, the entire place, by the time Jinx Dawson and her hooded acolytes take the stage at 9.20, is rammed: they know how to make an entrance too, shrouded in grim-hoods, dry ice, lasers and yes, a coffin from which the vintage rock world’s self-proclaimed “Goth Queen” emerges to tumultuous applause. An extended excerpt from the infamous Black Mass provides the aural accompaniment, segueing neatly into the thrashy-doomy strains of 2013’s Out Of Luck: anyone concerned they’re about to get bludgeoned by an hour’s worth of newer, more metallic material, however, is soon assuaged when that, in turn, is immediately followed by the 1969 classic ‘Black Sabbath’. And then we’re off, occult-psych classic after occult-psych classic.
“Bubbling pot of unguents and potions….” intones the thrice-descended adept princess: a roomful of minions chant “aaa-aah, aaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaah” in time with the song’s marching chorale, showing their heroine just how pleased they are to finally see her- and this incarnation of the band- on these shores. In order to forestall the slight confusion caused by a British outfit of the same name who toured the country a mere month ago, promoters Tidal Concerts have been keen to impress upon audiences that this is the band’s debut UK appearance, and as such, the gig bears all the portentous atmosphere of a candle-lit grand unveiling: my only regret, as Dawson and her bandmates eerily emit the chorus to ‘Coven In Charing Cross’, is that it wasn’t held at the city’s Heaven venue based in that very district. That would have stuck the cherry nicely onto the cake- although maybe this location, with its treelined hills and bizarre juxtaposition of Victorian and brutalist architecture, is more Satanic than you’d think. After all, noted Odinic priestess Freya Aeswynn did live just around the corner for most of the ’80s.
Two more late-period numbers, ‘Black Swan’ and ‘The Crematory’, make welcome appearances- but for the most part, it’s that classic debut we’re concerned with, and why not? It was, lest we forget, the album that started it all. They raised their horns before Sabbath or Black Widow, recorded a song called ‘Black Sabbath’ when the Brummie pioneers were still playing blues clubs under the name Earth, even had a bass player called “Oz Osborn”… if you’d once been that innovative and knew that’s what your audience still wanted to hear almost 50 years later, you’d capitalise on it too. Be fair, the only artists who I would class as more seminal to this strain of rock are Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and his English imitator David ‘Lord’ Sutch- and they’re both dead.
More to the point, they write brilliant songs: in any subgenre, ‘Wicked Woman’, ‘Choke Thirst Die’, ‘Dignitaries Of Hell’, ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ and ‘White Witch Of Rose Hall’ are as melodically strong, tight and powerful as they come, their swathes of evil freak-flag riffage offset subtly by spidery, garagey keyboards and folksy harmonies. You see, though the room may be full of ink, mascara, piercings, leather and goatees aplenty, this is not and never has been a heavy metal band: they may have flirted with that style with moderate success in the ’80s, just as they also flirted with country-soul in 1971, but at heart, the original media perception of the group as “the Satanic Jefferson Airplane” is still as close to accurate as it gets. And let me tell you, that’s no bad thing. The one major difference is that while the trademark Jinx wail may be slightly cracklier and lower now than in the band’s blood-spattered heyday, at least she and her Coven are still, unlike Ms Slick or her ex-bandmates (or so it would seem at time of writing, anyway) rocking and rolling down their left-hand path.
And if certain purists, usually those not even born in ‘68, choose not to like it because it doesn’t sound like a carbon copy of the album, then frankly, fuck ‘em: the minute they can pen me a tune as good as ‘Blood On The Snow’, then they can criticise. My only disappointment is that such an auspicious show is all done and dusted in less than 70 minutes with nary an encore (wot no ‘One Tin Soldier’?) but even for a band that has existed on and off for five decades now, this is merely another of many rebirths- and for that reason, I’m certain we’ll see them again soon. After all, are not renewal and regeneration (the original meaning of the word, not the bullshit appropriation used by property developers) central tenets to any occult practitioner worth not just their salt, but their blood and hair? Verilye and indeede, I doth believe they are. So mote it be.