Fortunately we were able to harness the goodwill built up over many years’ toil by the good folk of Live at The Institute (see blogs passim), who were prepared to adopt their old roles for one night only in order to throw us a Christmas party. Neighbourhood Tony was to readopt his role as MC for the night – a popular host always seeming endearingly within reach of forgetting the name of the act he is about to introduce. As well as The Dogs, we were Fern Teather (and sidekick Bongo Boy) and one Rob A, one of my imaginary internet friends who, although I had corresponded with at length via the electric internet, I’d never actually met in true life. I’d invited him on the strength of his group’s new vinly album, which I’d ordered out of solidarity with a fellow artiste and of which I was pretty uncertain how it would be received by the Kelvedon crowd, a constituency generally used to being treated to the sort of acoustic balladeering frequently unleashed by (say) Ken Bruce during his daytime radio reveries - Jamie Lawson, for example, is a LatI alumnus. Rob, it quickly became clear, was not of this persuasion. As he worked his way through the line check under the watchful ears of sound factotum James, Mr. Wendell sidled up to me. “I wasn’t expecting that” he muttered. It wasn’t exactly Daft Punk getting up at the Newport Folk Festival and launching into ‘Get Lucky’, but it wasn’t far off. Helen grinned a grin. “I feel like I’ve been transported back to the eighties and have just seen a really early gig of a really massive band”.
A massive band was quite the opposite of what he was being, however, given that The Disappointment Choir traditionally follows the time-accepted notion of the pop duo by having two members. Disappointment Bob was however, tonight, a man on his own. Facing down the crowd, singing all the songs, playing guitar, triggering the drum machine, cueing the synths – all of these things could, on their own, be considered to be quite a stressful night’s work, but to do them all at once could be regarded as unnecessarily penitential. After Fern’s thoughtful circle-squaring set of beautiful acoustic ballads, during which she mentioned that the last time she’d played The Institute she was just starting her Kickstarter campaign to pay for the recording of her album and here, two years later, the last available copy of the CD was on the merch table, Rob hauled his keyboards centre stage, the lights dimmed, and he began.
I was at a table with Mrs K. a woman of generally forthright opinions on the potency of cheap music. The number of times we have to skip stuff that comes up on random play in the car doesn’t bear mentioning. She leaned over attract my attention. I braced myself. “This is wonderful” she breathed “We need to own this….”. I breathed a little sigh of relief of my own. Why had I doubted him, them, and myself? With the no-bar set up (the venue is a bohemian bring-your-own kind of gig, which means there’s none of that lobbing J2O bottles at the glass skip behind the bar that you get at many other listening venues) the audience were able to give The Disappointment Chorister their full attention, and we in turn received his.
After a quick tune up backstage, I had to put on my roadie shirt to go on and adjust Helen’s microphone back down from Rob’s height (he’s a lot bigger in real life than he looks on screen), then those lights come up and we hear that crowd and we remember why we came. Our set was a bit of a blur after that. We spoke (at length), we played some old songs, some brand new songs (agreeably, the new ones received many appreciative post-show compliments, which is in the direction we really should be going), we enlisted Bongo Boy to add some percussion to our set (somehow James managed to find another couple of channels on the desk post-sound check – it was either that or Sam was going to have to hit them really hard), and we sent the good people of Kelvedon back out into the night, musically satiated to a man, woman and (one) dog.
For we are Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs. And this is what we do.