Walking into “Bang Said the Gun”, “the poetry event for people who don’t like poetry”, you will uncover an atmosphere of raucous revelry unique in the world of spoken word. Music blasts, the crowd wave their shakers (or, milk bottles filled with rice) and the hosts weave through the room, chanting and ramping up the merry-making. The night has experienced a surge in popularity of late, aided by the success of its own Rob Auton at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, at which he won Dave’s funniest joke award. From the off, the night storms along under the guidance of Jack Rooke, a slightly chaotic and irresistibly energised compère. Co-founder Martin Galton is the first to be introduced, and he launches into “Rude Bastards”, a familiar crowd-pleaser that soon has the audience bellowing back at him.
Then comes Rob Auton, a man who increasingly resembles a character from a Tim Burton animation, and whose look of wide-eyed naivety and wonder is in perfect accordance with his whimsical, absurd humour. His new “Face Show” appreciates the often overlooked charm of faces great and small, and he creates a moment of tenderness amongst the audience as he encourages us to search for a face we have never before seen. There is something in his poetry of a child’s ability to create poignancy by observing the everyday with new eyes.
The main attraction of the night is the appearance of Howard Marks, notorious drug baron turned writer, who opens by lecturing the crowd on “the anarchy of the English Language” and why money is literally a replacement for shit – accompanied with a lengthy exposition of Freudian psychology. His declarations espouse liberation from materialism and desire to live every moment, but regrettably this energy is not matched by vast passages of his prose, which sound as if they were being read from a textbook. But the moment he moves away from didacticism into a whimsical nonsense poem his writing shines. Each listener is gleefully caught up in his vivid, hallucinatory vision of a universe formed by the “Big Bong”, which culminates in Sad Adam and Christmas Eve getting rat-arsed on reindeer piss.
Yet it is not all fun and games, and James Bunting and Maria Ferguson draw us back to the recognition of poetry as an art with an unparalleled ability to expose the most vulnerable and oft disguised realms of our psyche. They provide the emotional core of the night, both reluctantly admitting that they “can’t do funny” before launching into their fast-paced, witty and ultimately solemn poems. Bunting reminds you how it feels to be in love as well as the acute pain of loss, while Ferguson mixes tales of halcyon, hedonistic days with moments of depression that form a microscopically detailed human tragedy.
The night concludes with the “Raw Meat Stew”, an open mic competition of unerringly high standards, with the winner claiming the Golden Gun Award and a 10 –minute slot at next week’s show. And don’t forget to stick around – in the downstairs bar the night is young for poet and punter alike.
Bang Said the Gun is at the Roebuck, 50 Great Dover Street SE1, every Thursday at 8pm. Tickets on the door £7/£5 concessions.
The Boat Race 2014: Liveblog
18.35: The Oxford side has collected the trophy. And on that note, it’s time to say goodbye to the liveblog for another year. Thanks for sticking with the OxStu, and congratulations to the team!
18.32: The losing Cambridge side collect their medals:
18.27: Not much magnanimity from the Oxford students with our News Editor Jacob Lee in Hammersmith. However, there’s a bit of a strange feeling among the crowds rather than full-on elation, probably due to the oar incident.
Malcolm Howard, President of OUBC, is interviewed for TV and claims he is “proud” while also expressing some sympathy for the losing Cambridge team. Oxford rower Constantine Louloudis says the river “is running dark blue”. The Cambridge rower involved in the clash says it “is part of the race”, but thinks team members should “keep your held high and move on”. Coming up soon will be the famous tradition of throwing the winning cox into the river, as well as the presentation of the trophy.
18.20: PROTEST NOT UPHELD: Cambridge were out of their water, not Oxford, meaning the oar clash will not affect the race’s result.
18.18: VICTORY FOR OXFORD. However, umpire Richard Phelps has raised his red flag, meaning there is definitely a protest from Cambridge. The cox for the Tab team is speaking to Phelps now.
18.16: Looks like it will be a similar margin of victory for Oxford in the main race as it was in the Isis vs Goldie reserves race an hour or so ago – probably of around 10 lengths at least. Cambridge cox shouts: “Fight to the end”.
18.13: Around three minutes to go as they approach Barnes Bridge. Oxford’s victory is certain now, as they are far ahead. The real drama could come afterwards if there is an appeal by the Cambridge squad for that oar contact, but they now look like they are resigned to a certain fate.
18.11: The look of determination on the faces of members of both squads is a testament to the grit and determination of Oxbridge rowers. Oxford’s lead is still as strong. The BBC, meanwhile, has confirmed there was contact between the two oars a few moments ago. Cambridge could appeal or protest after the race, but it depends if Oxford was in the correct area of water at the time. Decision up to the umpire.
18.07: Jacob is with a large group of Oxford students as they approach halfway point at Chiswick Bridge. The atmosphere is “euphoric” as Oxford have a very clear lead.
18.04: Serious blow to Cambridge after what appears to be a clash of oars. Cambridge has fallen back quite far, giving Oxford a serious lead.
18.02: The lead is still with Oxford despite the fact that Cambridge had the advantage on the first (“Middlesex”) bend around the Fulham area. Oxford have the advantage of the next bend at Hammersmith Bridge.
17.57: They have begun! Around two minutes late due to objections from the coxes. Oxford have the advantage at the outset.
17.50: Storm Uru – on the Oxford squad – is a fantastic name. Apparently named because his father was a sailor in a storm, and he vowed to call his first son “Storm” if he survived. Luckily for Oxford, he did. Five minutes to go.
17.41: ISIS WIN THE RESERVES RACE: In Jacob’s words, Oxford’s reserves have “nailed” Cambridge in the Isis vs Goldie race.
Meanwhile, Max Bray – a fresher History student at Somerville – had more sage sartorial analysis: “It’s refreshing to see a paucity of light blue scarves on show”.
17.31: Natalie, a spectator on the banks, says: “It’s a lovely atmosphere. It’s a good opportunity to catch up with old friends, and there is a great British sense of occasion”.
Meanwhile, one of these dancing sailors – Crispin – says he’s “not really bothered about the boat race, we just like singing and dancing”.
There’s only 20 minutes to go until the race starts!
17.16: The crews are now heading off to do a warm-up. Now that they are out, things are obviously becoming a bit more tense among the spectators. From Jacob:
17.12: The squads are now walking down what is essentially a catwalk from the boathouse to the river. Brasenose student Tom Watson got a particularly strong cheer from the crowd. Cambridge rower Ivo Dawkins looked slightly nervous as he stepped into his boat: it’s no surprise, considering his father’s boat sank when he participated in the race several decades ago.
17.06: Our News Editor Jacob Lee is down by the river:
Meanwhile, the main teams are currently taking their boats down to the river! A quick summary of what time everything else is going down over the next hour – at 17.25 we’ll be watching the Isis vs. Goldie reserves race, followed by the main race exactly half an hour later at 17.55.
16.57: The OxStu’s Music Editor Jake Downs has some wise words for whoever sourced Cambridge’s kit:
16.50: The reserves teams are heading out now, with Goldie (Cambridge) going first. Isis (Oxford, obviously) have also made their way onto the river:
16.38: Clare Balding (one of my utter faves) is now kicking off her coverage on BBC1. She has had a very busy weekend, having covered the Grand National at Aintree yesterday. Meanwhile, WEATHER FORECAST: the temperature in Putney is around 16 degrees, while light rain is forecast for 6pm. Wind speeds of 15mph are estimated, which hopefully won’t pose problems.
16.33: It’s estimated there will be almost 250,000 people on the banks of the Thames today, and Putney is certainly looking busy at the moment.
16.22: Our friends over at The Cambridge Student have some insight into why teams choose the stations they do after the coin toss.
16.16: We’re delighted to have Alexander Fox (whom you might recognise as the presenter of Shark Tales, a video feature for some other Oxford newspaper) in charge of the OxStu Sport Twitter feed today as the Varsity football match goes on:
16.09: COIN TOSS: the first team coin toss has gone to Oxford, who have also picked the Surrey station. It might be a small victory, but it bodes well…
16.04: A bit on the geographical area where the race will take place: the squads power down a part of The Tideway, a stretch of the Thames in central London, and will cruise past the suburbs of Chiswick and Hammersmith (where our News Editor Jacob Lee will be picking up a bit later). The Tideway is essentially just the part of the river which experiences tides (self-explanatory, really – that wasn’t an insult to Oxbridge’s collective intelligence). Remember to let us know what you are doing today for the Boat Race. Give us a tweet @TheOxStu or email firstname.lastname@example.org!
16.00: The second teams of both squads – Isis (Oxford) and Goldie (Cambridge) – race half an hour before the main teams. They’ve just had their coin toss:
15.56: In around ten minutes time there will be a coin toss between the Presidents of each boat club to decide which squad gets which station. They will supposedly use an 1829 sovereign coin in a nod to the year the Boat Race began, and speaking of which, here’s a delightful little website full of stats and cute graphics to keep you entertained: http://white.net/boat-race/
15.43: The Boat Race might be fast-paced and energetic, but today is no day to neglect the spiritual, thoughtful side of life. Thankfully, “Older People’s Day” is there to keep us reminded:
15.34: The Boat Race has a history stretching longer than any of us have been alive: Oxford has won the annual event 77 times, while Cambridge has clinched the title on 81 occasions. This is the 160th race, and any eagle eyes out there will notice that 77 plus 81 in fact leaves one year unaccounted for – this is because there was a dead heat in 1877. Legend has it that it was only declared this way because the umpire fell asleep under a tree, although he claimed that he was wide awake and that the tips of the boats passed the finish line at exactly the same time.
15.15: Lots of areas around the riverbank in London are closed, much to the chagrin of this tweeter. His kid, however, doesn’t seem all that bothered:
15.08: The race is being sponsored by financial giant BNY Mellon, which has launched a bizarre little website which attempts to find out which side you should be cheering on through a quick quiz. Asking fans to choose between Nigella Lawson and Carol Vorderman is probably not the most perceptive way of doing this, and readers of this blog probably already have a chosen side, but if you’re short on cash there is a £10,000 prize at stake so get on it: http://whichblueareyou.com
15.00: Hello and welcome to the OxStu’s coverage of the 160th annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge. Behind the blog is Editor-in-Chief Nick Toner (@nick_toner), while intrepid News Editor Jacob Lee will be bringing us the latest happenings on the banks in London. We’ll be here for the next few hours keeping you up-to-date with events and gossip from the race, so stick with us. Tweet us @TheOxStu or email email@example.com to feature in the blog – we’d love to hear from you! Meanwhile, if you just can’t get enough of live action sport, check out Associate Editor Miles Dilworth’s live coverage of today’s other big match – the Varsity football – here.
It is just over a year ago now that Oxford succumbed to an agonizing 3-2 loss at the hands of Cambridge at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park. Following months of hard training and a promising end to the season which saw the Dark Blues eventually steer well clear of relegation, the side are ready to go again at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. The Oxford Student runs you through the men who have been chosen to stop the rot of successive Varsity defeats. * denotes returning Blue
You can follow live text of the game from the Oxford Student from 14.30 onwards on Sunday.
15 Appearances & 1 Assist – 2013/2014
Course: MSc Pharmacology
Position: Defensive Midfielder
Team Supported: Anderlecht (Belgium)
Style of play in 5 words: Left foot, 50-50s, headers, much talking
Career highlight to date: Winning the league in the Belgian 3rd (2008-2009) and 5th Division (2012-2013)
Views on Varsity: I expect it to be a close game with few chances for either side. One goal might be enough in this game and we should therefore make sure that our organization is perfect for the full 90 minutes. We are peaking at the right moment, we are ready and hopefully the Oxford fans are as well because we will need their support to win the Varsity trophy
Peder Beck-Friis *
19 Appearances, 4 Goals & 2 Assists – 2013/2014
College: Christ Church
Course: M.Phil. Economics
Team Supported: Djurgarden (Sweden)
Style of play in 5 words: Physical target man. Good awareness.
Career highlight to date: BUCS Final, Bramall Lane 2011 (with Edinburgh University)
9 Appearances – 2013/14
Team Supported: Portsmouth
Style of play in 5 words: Confident, organised, communicative, shot-stopper
Career highlight to date: Playing for Millwall Reserves
13 Appearances – 2013/14
Position: Centre Midfield
Team Supported: Newcastle
Style of play in more than 5 words: high intensity, short-passing and ball winning
Career highlight to date: Playing in Stade Oceane [Le Havre] in front of 12,000 people as a warm-up act to Zidane.
Views on varsity: Varsity games are always very tight. It’s going to come down to who takes their chances on the day, who shows more composure and who comes out of the blocks fastest.
13 Appearances & 1 Goal – 2013/14
Position: Centre Midfield
Team Supported: Blackpool
Style of play in 5 words: Lanky, play-making from deep midfield
Career highlight to date: Playing Real Madrid Youth in Madrid, but a win in Varsity will top that!
Views on varsity: The team has come into real form at the end of the season, and plenty of competition for places has led to a massive step-up by all. We’ll win by staying calm and trusting each other 100%.
19 Appearances, 1 Goal & 2 Assists – 2013/14
College: St John’s
Position: Right/Left Wing Forward
Team Supported: Newcastle United
Style of play in 5 words: Almost entirely unlike Hughie Gallacher.
Career highlight to date: Matty Smith’s free-kick in training this one time. It was really good. Or scoring twice in Centaurs Varsity.
Views on Varsity: Howay the lads!
17 Appearances & 1 Assist – 2013/14
College: St Edmund Hall
Position: Right Back
Team Supported: Arsenal
Style of play in 5 words: Wannabe Sagna without the hair
Career highlight to date: Winning the Premier League with Teddy Hall
Views on Varsity: Feeling confident and hoping that half a year of hard work pays off!
22 Appearances, 1 Goal & 1 Assist – 2013/14
Course: Engineering Science
Position: Centre Back
Team Supported: Chelsea
Style of play in 5 words: one step ahead of opposition
Career highlight to date: Scoring a last minute equaliser against Atletico Madrid U18s last year on tour
Views on Varsity: After a slightly slow start to the season which is expected due to the large influx of players into the squad, we have grown as a team and have been looking really good recently both in our defensive shape and in building our attacks and it is safe to say that the talent of players we have is the best I’ve been involved with in my time at Oxford. Cambridge have had a hold of the Varsity trophy for the last few years so it’s time it fell back into dark blue hands and with the quality of our squad I am feeling confident about producing the right result on Sunday.
Michael Moneke *
16 Appearances & 1 Goal, 2013/2014
Team Supported: Chelsea FC
Style of play in 5 words: I eat strikers for breakfast
Career highlight to date: Almost being sent off by Lee Probert in Varsity 2013 (said it was ‘a good yellow’. I disagree)
Views on Varsity: Pretty unlucky to lose last year after going ahead twice. It’ll be a tight match, but there’s only one winner here.
Ezra Rubenstein *
26 Appearances, 14 Goals & 6 Assists – 2013/14
Course: BPhil (Philosophy)
Team Supported: Manchester United
Style of play in 5 words: Drift infield, find holes, dribble
Career highlight to date: Winning Varsity at the Kassam in 2011
Views on Varsity: Most people would have us as underdogs going into the game, but I’m quietly confident we can pull off a Dark Blue win.
26 Appearances, 7 Goals & 7 Assists – 2013/14
Course: DPhil Chemical Biology
Team Supported: Manchester United
Style of play in 5 words: Quick movement and throw balls
Career highlight to date: University of Bristol Varsity at Bristol Rovers ground.
Views on Varsity: The build up has been super exciting. We are going to score more than them. It really doesn’t matter who the opposition are, we are going to win.
10 Appearances – 2013/14
Team Supported: West Brom
Style of play in 5 words: Agile and intimidating shot stopper
Career highlight to date: Playing for the Blues vs. Atletico Madrid U18′s
Views on Varsity: I’m confident in our ability to handle the occasion better and play our style of football confidently and get a result!
16 Appearances & 2 Assists – 2013/14
Position: Centre Midfield
Team Supported: Reading/AEK Athens
Style of play in 5 words: Small but battling, nippy and dedicated
Career highlight to date: Nutmegging Ezra
Views on Varsity: We won’t give them any ground, they won’t have the levels of commitment and teamwork we have.
26 Appearances & 1 Assist, 2013/14
College: St John’s
Position: Left Back
18 Appearances & 1 Goal – 2013/14
Course: PhD in Geophysics
Position: Centre Midfield
24 Appearances, 8 Goals & 3 Assists – 2013/14
Course: Masters’ in Public Health
Position: Attacking Midfield Midfield
Mr Shan looks ahead to the summer balls and offers some tips on getting the perfect White Tie at the cheapest price.
Summer is a time of joy and relaxation, where the mood is livened by rays of sunshine and work is delayed by slothing around on the lawns. It is also the time for commemoration balls, all of which adopt White Tie as the dress code. White Tie is an alien term for most students; it is an outdated dress code adopted by those who are equally as outdated. That said, sipping wine donning the full attire does make you look like someone from Downton Abbey. So live dish out the cash and live the dream. Have a read below for some handy tips on securing that White Tie as cheaply as possible.
Never Buy: For most of us it is never quite worth investing in a set of White Tie, given how rarely suitable occasions present themselves. Indeed, it does seem expensive to rent out a set every time such a ball takes place. However, if you consider the hugely disproportionate ratio of Oxford White Tie events and those outside the bubble, chances are the White Tie would be left to gather dust in the wardrobe once Oxford life is complete. A full White Tie hire costs £84.99 while a single tailcoat from Ede and Ravenscroft costs £695. The entire outfit amounts to a crippling £1480 (including tail coat, shirt, bow tie, waistcoat and shoes).
Outfit: The jacket is a double-breasted black or midnight blue wool Tailcoat, the front of which should end above your waist. The Shirt should have wing-collars and a starched front; this simply means that the front part is made from a tougher material (cotton piqué or Marcella) and feels different from the rest of the shirt. The front could take one or two studs, the number depending on personal preference. The Bowtie must be white and is made from the same Marcella material as the shirtfront; black bowties are reserved for butlers and waiters. The Waistcoat is constructed from the same Marcella cotton; the cut is low and resembles a sharp V that covers the waistband and finishes at the same length as the tailcoat at the front (in contrast to the Morning Coat waistcoat, which looks more like a standard suit waistcoat). The Trousers ought to be of the same fabric and colour as the tailcoat, with a higher waistline. Shoes should be Opera Pumps, which are black patent leather dress shoes decorated by a silk bow on the front. According to Tie-a-Tie.net’s guide on White Tie, black patent Oxford lace-ups are also accepted, though inferior to Opera Pumps.
Mix and Match: Having already had to pay around £200 for a ball ticket, even the £85 hire seems like an awful lot of money. Yet not the full outfit is necessary; and you can often find pieces in your own wardrobe to substitute items in the set. Shoes are the most obvious example: anyone relatively well stocked in Black Tie outfits would own a pair of black patent leather shoes. Whilst these might upset the white tie prudes out there, who prefer the Opera Pumps, there is simply no point to buy a pair just for the occasion. The same can be said for the trousers: whilst they might not match the exact fabric of the tailcoat, most modern black tie trousers are made from similar types of wool and should pass off as being part of the same outfit in the night under artificial light. The shirt is slightly more difficult as it requires a starched front with wing collar, but some might already be using a similar model for the Black Tie. If you are really short for money, however, you could perhaps use the sub-fusc white bowtie as a replacement. It is incredibly tacky but hopefully everyone would be too drunk to notice or care. If alternatives are used for shoes, shirt and bowtie, you would only need to pay for the tailcoat and waistcoat, which amounts to a slightly more manageable price of £64.99. This is, of course, still a large sum for a student; but guess what, you’ve already signed up for the ball, you might as well look brilliant for it.
Fast or Furious: Get the White Tie reserved from the shop as soon as possible. Common sizes like 44, 46 or 48 run out extremely quickly; I myself took the last size 44 tailcoat from Ballroom a month ago. Deal with it swiftly or face being denied entry for not meeting the dress code.
Check out Shepherd and Woodward and Walters Oxford online for princes and orders. Pop down to Ballroom Emporium near Magdalen to have a look at their selection.
Food: An elegant take on traditional breakfasts.
Experience: Airy, friendly, greenhousely.
Value: Absurdly good. Change for a tenner.
Luton, 2004. A tubby 11-year-old takes his first crunching, stinging, anarchic bite of the KFC Wicked Zinger Burger. Somewhere in Heaven, an angel made of reconstituted chicken gets his wings. Fast-forward a little – Edgware, 2009, a glorious medley of Thai food with real, almost-live sushi to boot. Oxford, 2012, Brasserie Blanc’s juicy, smoky Steak Onglet.
Every so often, you have a meal which shacks up in your mind and refuses to leave, as if a Michelin-star chef is squatting in your memory palace. We’re talking about those experiences with food which are so good that sear themselves onto your memory like a brand on a pig’s buttock. Granted, these are few and far between when it comes to breakfast – give me some Golden Nuggets and I’ll be happy. Fry-ups are consistently enjoyable, but you can get a decent one in any old greasy spoon. But I’ve added Banbury Road, 2014, to my munch bank, because breakfast at Gee’s is an absolute delight.
This isn’t the first time the OxStu’s intrepid journalists have visited Gee’s, hungry for scoops, so I won’t dwell on the beautiful, greenhouse-like setting, or the friendly staff who, unbidden, refresh your jug of tap water, and know the ever-changing menu inside-out, back-to-front, and sprinkled with parsley. I’m back to sample their breakfast menu – and what a breakfast it is.
It’d be hard to improve on breakfast as a concept. For centuries, breakfast was something dull, functional – I like to think gruel, or beef dripping – right up to the point at which somebody – I like to think the Earl of Sandwich – decided that it would be much more fun to start the day with sausages! with bacon! with eggs! – and the full English as we know it was born. So, to their credit, innovators though they are down at Gee’s, they haven’t thrown the rulebook through their great big glassy window of a restaurant. Glance down the menu, and you’ll see familiar dishes like bacon baps, sausage sandwiches and eggs benedict, royale and florentine; evolution, not revolution, is the order of the day, along with that pork and fennel sausage sandwich, in which bulging, hot, herby pillars of sausage nestle between two crusty slabs of toasted bread.
The scrambled egg is superb. It’s suffused with golden yolk, and comes in generous, minutely-crenellated mounds, like a ruined Gondor viewed from above. There’s none of the wateriness that plagues college-cooked egg, and the whole thing tastes fresh and summery. The bacon roll encases stacks of thick, dark, tangy rashers in a sweet, yielding bun, and the orange juice is cool and freshly-squeezed. And then there’s the full English pizzetta – bacon, sausage, mushrooms (a breakfast of champignons), egg on a thin base.
I thought it couldn’t get any better, until we got the bill, which confirmed that all of the above dishes come in at under a tenner. I’m never buying a McMuffin again.
Oxford’s O2 Academy has housed some amazing live acts over the past couple of years, with the rest of 2014 looking equally as impressive and promising – the line-up includes American duo We Are Scientists, Tame Impala, the X-Factor’s Matt Cardle, and Katy B. Part of the charm of O2 venues is that they appeal to a wide variety of tastes, and are able to easily accommodate these.
The capacity of the building is around 1,400, which easily makes it the largest and one of the more easily accessible live music venues in Oxford. Every gig that I’ve seen at the O2 Academy has been comfortably busy, with a lack of rowdy drunks. It is clear that those in attendance are there for the music rather than the alcohol, and this gives the whole experience a much better atmosphere – singing at the top of your voice to your favourite song is made all the more special when there are hundreds of other people singing alongside you.
One of the O2′s strengths lies in its ability to showcase professional commercial artists, and to provide a stage to match. Here, the advantages of having a properly equipped music venue come into play – the lights are always incredible, with no two shows having the same bog-standard display. Smoke machines give the entire venue a great atmosphere, as well as creating a mysterious and ethereal vibe which really exalts the live music. The main downside to the O2? The extraordinarily high prices of any beverage, not ideal for a student budget.
Kate Bradley – Oxford High Street
Oxford has some great live music venues – Cellar, Jericho Tavern, the Wheatsheaf, the O2 Academy – but the cheapest, most enjoyable venue to see live music is the city centre. At weekends in summer, a huge range of musicians grace the streets of Oxford, and every ten yards there’s a new sound to enjoy – singer-songwriters strumming their guitars, MCs rapping over processed beats, classically-trained pianists and jazz musicians, and my favourite, the trio that plays medieval Eastern European music. The more uncharitable amongst you might be angered by these musicians’ imposition on the aural texture of your day, but it always warms my heart to hear someone putting their talents on show, effectively for free, in the hope that someone will drop them a pound in return.
Busking can be quite a lucrative trade, and it’s no wonder that so many people are attracted to the streets on bright, sunny days to play to the crowds of shoppers and tourists. I’m most impressed, though, by the guitarist who plays soulful acoustic hits until 11 or 12 at night outside Boots – when I’m walking to Tesco or Cellar at 11.30pm, the world feels just a little less hostile thanks to ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’.
Nobody’s saying that High Street has the best acoustics, or that it’s always pleasant to have a soundtrack while you’re trying to dodge past strangers who are walking interminably slowly, but there’s nowhere else in Oxford you could find such a variety of live music for free.
Don’t be fooled by appearances. Oxford’s best classical music venue is in fact located a minute’s walk away from the Sheldonian theatre in the relatively small and unostentatious Holywell Music Room. Yes, the Sheldonian may have it all when it comes to orchestral music and drawing in the big artists but at the price of unadventurous programming and an impersonal atmosphere. The Holywell on the other hand is open to anything from student ensembles to the latest experimental music through to nationally renowned chamber ensembles (the annual chamber music festival is unmissable) so you really never quite know what you’re going to get.
The Holywell, in its miniature stature, also exudes intimacy on every level, from the proximity to the performers to the living room lamps used to illuminate the stage. It is this that makes performances here truly special, they become personal and human.
I am yet to watch a performance at the Sheldonian that matches the unique expressiveness and atmosphere of the Holywell Music Room.
Three sold-out shows graced Oxford’s O2 Academy on the final day of February this year – One Direction support act 5 Seconds of Summer, DJ Annie Mac, and London-based singer Louisa Allen, more commonly known as Foxes.
Given that Foxes’ general success thus far has been due to her collaborations – notably on Zedd’s ‘Clarity’ and Fall Out Boy’s ‘Just One Yesterday’ – Foxes certainly did well to sell out an Academy 2 gig. The crowd, largely groups of teenage girls and late-twenties couples, certainly seemed to think so.
Arriving on stage a good twenty-five minutes later than the running times suggested, Foxes still received cheers – notably from the rows of fangirls right by the front of the stage – as she launched into her first few tracks. After a somewhat hesitant start, Foxes became visibly more comfortable as the performance continued, her voice gaining strength throughout the show. The set-list was suitably varied – Foxes’ debut single, ‘Youth’, had the majority of the unusually static crowd bobbing along, with even the occasional jump attempted. Her newest single, ‘Let Go For Tonight’ also proved popular.
Added to this, Foxes displayed her incredible musical talent most prominently when she let her voice take centre stage. A mash-up cover of both Eminem ft. Rihanna’s ‘The Monster’ and Drake’s ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ really allowed Foxes’ vocal training to shine, and was a lot more enjoyable than some of the more electro-heavy songs. ‘Beauty Queen’ was sung beautifully – the “more acoustic” feel, as she put it herself, allowed the powerful message of the lyrics to be heard and displayed Foxes’ talent as both a singer and a songwriter. The use of keyboard, rather than the synth-pop and electro, really gave this song a layer of emotional quality that the mesmerised crowd engaged with. Finishing with Zedd’s ‘Clarity’, arguably the song that shot Foxes into the music industry with the most force, was definitely a crowd-pleaser, and not just for the girl that kept screaming her request at the stage.
Despite her amazing vocal strength, the stage was perhaps a little too big for Foxes. With her drummer and keyboardist polarised at either end of the stage, it seemed that the space in between was a bit too much for Foxes to know what to do with. Ensue a lot of hair tousling (though her fringe stayed perfectly in place – a true achievement), the intentional knocking over of the mic stand no less than six times, and some awkward engaging with the crowd.
All-in-all, Foxes’ vocal strength was the highlight of the show, as it should be. With a little more experience and time, hopefully Foxes will become more comfortable on stage, allowing the crowd to interact with her more successfully. The release of Foxes’ second album in May will definitely be one to watch out for.
Regular readers of the music section will have noticed quite a bit about Spring Offensive from me this term and while I apologise for such a deluge, I assure you they really are more than worthy of the coverage. Self-released and funded by an ingenious Pledge Music campaign, the Oxford quintet’s debut Young Animal Hearts has been a long time coming and die-hard fans will appreciate older favourites holding their own amongst some stunning new material.
Thematically, Young Animal Hearts will resonate with the bands 20-something peers, encompassing the post-student worries of dead-end jobs, financial grievances and identity crises. With the band members themselves experiencing many of these issues first-hand, the songs have a credibility and conviction that is overwhelmingly emotive. Lucas Whitworth and Matt Cooper’s lyrics balance simplicity and poetic imagery perfectly, with narratives that are both beautifully articulate andintellectually accessible – an irresistible mixture that makes the album highly relatable. The defiant, chanted refrains found on tracks such as ‘Speak’ and ‘No Assets’ draw you in deeper, subconsciously catchy and bizarrely euphoric given their morose subject matter.
Such an odd juxtaposition of dark, melancholic lyrics with exhilarating, uplifting melodies has led to comparisons with bands such as The National and Death Cab For Cutie. The intensity of the emotion is certainly equal to that portrayed by Berninger and co. but the jolting rhythms and mesmeric blend of vocals feel less polished, rawer and more intimate.
While musically complex, the album has been meticulously arranged to ensure every instrumental layer gives something to a track. There’s no flamboyance or pretension and their characteristic intricate percussive patterns and striking harmonies remain at the core.
The flawless ‘Not Drowning But Waving’ opens, its eerily unsettling guitar hook providing a relentless undercurrent on which the percussion and harmonies build – steadily brewing like the storm depicted – to a thunderous crescendo. Staccato synths punctuate the clipped vocals on the more instrumentally sparse ‘Bodylifting’ and clapped rhythms on ‘The River’ and ‘Carrier’ provide a similarly punchy beat that both lifts and drives the brooding libretto.
This unsuppressed vigour and energy in the face of hardship tires only in the final tracks ’52 Miles’ and ‘Young Animal Hearts’. Slowed down and more subdued, they convey a wearier resilience and while still hopeful in outlook, express a resignation to the trials of modern life and an acceptance of our innate human nature.