By Simon Shoulders, Rock At Night London Correspondent
Venue: 93 East–London: The Jonesing Jams – “Worlds Collide” with support from Shaman Elephant – 93 East, 20/04/2017
Need some heavy 70’s psych-rock improv in your World? Look no further than the Jonesing Jam…
The word went out about something new about to appear on London’s busy and eclectic music scene. The concept was intriguing but also brave, a hand-picked supergroup of musicians from different bands put together for one night only to improvise a set of heavy 70’s inspired psych-rock live on stage.
Clearly not your average night’s live music and one fraught with risk if the requisite musical chemistry failed to materialise, but why shouldn’t it work? The clue is in the name. The Urban Dictionary defines Jonesing as “…having a strong need, desire, or craving for something” it’s a word that’s come out of drug culture, it’s about addiction and incurable impulse and perhaps that’s fitting because the process of writing music is for many artists is just that, something born out of a desire or craving to communicate ideas, emotions and passions through exploring sound and experimenting with music. Choose your musicians carefully and it’s possible you might be in for one hell of a ride and get experience an incredible show that’s never been heard before, and perhaps more importantly will never be heard again. There’s the potential to be part of the ultimate in transient experiential sonic immersion, or if the planets don’t align just so, witness a courageous musical experiment go down in flames right in before your eyes.
Either way perhaps it’s worth rolling the dice…
I met up with Ella Stormark, the brains behind the Jonesing Jams, about a week before Thursday’s jam to find out more…
So tell us about what the concept behind the Jonesing Jams is…
Well it’s pretty much kind of supergroups formed for one night only. So I picked for this one in particular the guitarist from Heck, Matt Reynolds, and I’ve got Johnny Halifax from Honkeyfinger and Jonny Halifax and the Howling Truth playing lap steep and harmonica, the bassist from a psychedelic band called GNOB and the drummer from Swedish Death Candy and all they know is that they’re going to get together and do kind of a heavy improv 70’s psych jam on stage in front of an audience with people they don’t know.
So they’ve never played together before?
Matt and Johnny have met before and played together, but the rest of the band they don’t know each other, they’ve never met they’re just kind of being good sports and giving it a go because it sounds interesting.
So we’ve got absolutely no idea what’s going to happen on that stage then?
No. I’m kind of just hoping for the best. They’re all amazing musicians, but all from very different genres so I hope they can kind of take their feel and just put it aside and do something different, and have fun and do a bit of a jam.
How did you choose the musicians? How did you contact them?
Well I figured for the first one that it would be a safe bet to ask people that I knew, mostly because I could guilt them in to saying yes and that they’d feel bad if they said no. So I think my first one was Matt. It started with Matt. I’d already mentioned the idea to him before of doing a jam night like this so I messaged him saying “You remember how I mentioned the jam nights to you and you thought they were a good idea?” and he was like “Yeah that was a great idea.” so I said, “If you like the idea so much, why don’t you play one?” and kindly he agreed to do it and he was stoked about the idea. The second one was Johnny and that was kind of easy because he already knew Matt I could be like, “Do you want to do this? Matt’s already doing this so you might as well…” So then he agreed and the bassist, Ben, I’ve seen him play jam nights before. He’s an amazing jam bassist and I figured he’s be up for it so I asked him and he was like, “Why not!”. The drummer I’d never met before, I’d seen Swedish Death Candy once before and I remember being blown away. I’d no idea what his name was so I found them on facebook and sent a message pitching this whole weird new concept to them and asking to please be put in contact with your drummer. Their guitarist got back to me saying “Yeah we’ve forwarded it to him. Maybe, we’ll see…” Next day I got a message saying “That sounds fucking sick! I’ll do it!”. And then all of a sudden I had my own little supergroup ready to just get on with it.
That’s spectacular. So you’ve got four very special musicians, on a stage together, you’ve pulled that together. What was your inspiration to actually make this happen? What’s driven you to do this?
I think it’s definitely just having friends that do music. We spend a lot of time at rehearsal studios where kind of we’ve had a few drinks and we all just hang out and the ones that want to play music all take turns playing and then swap around instruments and it all just sounds amazing! I remember being blown away by it thinking it’s such a shame that no-one gets to hear this cause you’re sat in there, there’s three of us that aren’t playing and the rest are playing and having fun with the instruments. But then for the rest of you, you get this amazing gig that’s the kind of music that just kind of disappears after this night. No-one else hears it and yeah it’s just completely different, just bouncing ideas off each other. I figured that it would be such a fun thing to do that, but on stage in front of an audience. The atmosphere will obviously be different because it’s not that safe space like when you’re in your own home or rehearsal studio. I thought it was worth asking, and yeah, somehow people seem excited to do it. Id’ be terrified, personally I would never do it, but you know I think for a musicians point of view it’s different which is why they’re willing to give it a go just because no-ones done it before.
So we’ve got brilliant musicians and we’ve got this concept of just coming together and playing. Will the guys have spent any time together beforehand, or is it just literally going in blind?
I’ve given them, well originally I gave them two cover songs to play. I pitched the idea whether they’d want to play one or two cover songs to kind of start the night off and maybe one to finish the night off. They were all up for it and I pitched some ideas and they fell for it! They decided to meet and hang out for a few hours tomorrow afternoon and have a bit of a jam. A kind of jam before the jam, but that’s pretty much it, most of them have never met before and they might not even get on… Hopefully they will! But they’ll have a solid two hours together before the jam and they’ll have the sound check on the day to kind of pull together the last strings that need to be tied up.
Who have you got supporting the jam, or is it just the guys by themselves?
For the support slot I’ve got this amazing Norwegian band called Shaman Elephant. I went home to Bergen in January because they were releasing an album and were having a release gig. I’d never seen them before and I was just blown away. Mesmerised straight away. I went and talk to them after and kind of pitched it to them, I mentioned I had this jam night and I said I don’t really have a support band and the support slot is yours if you want it and they like jumped it straight away! They were like, “Definitely we’ll come over!”. So after that I like messaged them back and forth and they’re coming over three days before the jam, staying at my house. So I’ve just like taken in a bunch of Norwegians I don’t really know that well but I’m super stoked to have them and I can’t wait to her them play on the night because their album is like spectacular and especially having someone from my own home town, Bergen in Norway is not exactly the Mecca of the music industry, like booming with new bands (unless you’re black metal!). So being able to give them a bit of the time of day outside of Norway is something I’m really excited about and I think they are too.
So you’ve managed to bring a band over from Norway for this event and you’ve got a group of musicians that have never played together before doing something unique, something different. This is a bit crazy!
It kind of like started out as this idea in my head. Like it would be some much fun to do it but then I was like I might as well try! Some how people have agreed to come play it, even from overseas, and I am beyond excited about it! Having my own little supergroup performing and and one of my favourite Norwegian bands of the moment and I’m kind of just a bit overwhelmed but it and by how people are so into the concept, into the idea, and the fact they want to take time out of their busy lives, a lot of the bands tour a lot, they gig a lot so the fact that they want to do something that’s so different, I’m beyond excited about it!
So is this one off or do you think there might be more?
There will definitely be more. I’ve got another one lined up in June. 15th of June. I’ve got an amazing band. A six piece band which I haven’t announced yet, it’s superb! It’s going to be, if it’s possible, more psychedelic than the first one and I’m really stoked about it. I’ve got someone flying over from San Diego. I’ve got someone coming down from Stoke-on-Trent. It’s going to be a big one!
So when and where is this gig then?
The one in April is at 93 Feet East. It’s just off Brick Lane and I figured it’s the perfect spot for a gig like this because it’s quite big (ambitious I know!) and it’s got a really nice outside area. The inside’s kind of a blank canvas, everything’s painted black and you kind of have the opportunity to make it your own and turn it in to this new and different thing.
So the venue sort of fits with the music? A blank canvas, something new to start with.
Yeah, I’d say so. I did’t want, well a lot of UK venues I find that they’re kind of like a traditional pub style, or very British with wooden interiors and a bit of burgundy carpet and curtains or whatever and I just wanted something that was kind of blank and you can throw in a bit of colour or a bit of whatever and just make it your own. I feel that’s important for a night like this to make it aesthetically pleasing, some thing visually pleasing.
So we’ve got great musicians from all over the place, and we’ve got this blank canvas to play with and we’ve got visuals. Can you tell us what to expect? Or is that a surprise…
Well to be fair, I’m very much a procrastinator, I’ve got all these ideas in my head but it’s gonna look sick if I get it done in time. We’ve got projectors so we’re going to do some psychedelic visuals on the night and I’ve got Orange Amps doing the back line so there’ll be a stack, a wall of orange behind the band which is going to look sick in itself and that’s kind of all you need. We’ll hopefully get some other bits and bobs, some surprises in there that I cannot reveal as of yet, but I think it’s gonna be fun to watch too.
So if people can’t make it there, is there any way for them to catch up on what happens?
Unfortunately not this time around, but we’ll be filming the June event so you can re-live the show or catch-up afterwards. So at 7 pm we’ll open the doors and the fun will start at 8 once the first band starts playing and you can be at home and be miserable because you’re missing out, or you can be there in real life.
I was there in real life…
Just as Ella described, the black walls of 93 Feet East suck the light from the room and draw the gathering crowds attention to the stage where a projector paints swirling kaleidoscopic images onto the wall behind the stage upon which sits a monolithic back line of Orange Amps stand as a bright splash of colour to contrast the darkness.
The evening’s entertainment begins as Bergen’s Shaman Elephant take to the stage clad in a suite of Elephant shirts freshly acquired in the markets of Camden for this very gig. Their sound is firmly rooted in 60’s and 70’s prog and psychedelic rock with which the stylised representations of members of the order Proboscidea adorning the band’s clothes, the lead singer’s bandanna and the spiralling kaleidoscopic visuals lighting the band fit perfectly. The solid combination of Jard Hole’s drumming and Ole-Andreas Sæbø Jensen rolling and mesmeric bass guitar playing forms a rock-hard, groove-laden bastion from which the keys of Jonas Særsten and guitar of frontman and volcalist Eirik Sejersted Vognstølen sally forth through the haze with some truly blistering solos. There’s a freshness to Shaman Elephant’s sound that the performance is both compelling and a pleasure to watch. The band round off the set by dedicating the epic “Stoned Conceptions”, the final song from their album “Crystals” to Ella as thanks for setting up the gig and allowing them to stay at her flat.
Then we’re on to the main event, finding out whether there’ll be magic when four musicians from really quite different backgrounds come together to jam live. The set begins with a song the band have had the chance to play together before the show, Cherry Red by the Groundhogs. There are a few moments of hesitation in the first song but as they play you can hear them relax in to each other and begin to enjoy themselves as they head off in to uncharted territories together. The smiles between guitarist and vocalist Matt Reynolds from the pure noise that is Heck and the rock’n’roll two piece HCBP and Jonny Halifax from the alt-blues bands Honkyfinger and Jonny Halifax and the Howling Truth on harmonica, lap steel and vocals hint at a palpable and growing chemistry that builds and really begins to spark as the jam continues. Marco Ninni, drummer from experimental psych rock band Swedish Death Candy drives the bands’s beat at ferocious pace which seems to be the perfect starting point for bassist Ben-“Kenobi”-Marflar from eastern inspired psych band GNOB, to lay down some suitable filthy and darkly funk-laden bass rhythms upon creating a cohesive and compelling foundation upon which Matt and Jonny could freestyle and explore each others sound.
There’s no one lead musician, each in turn rang the changes shifting the direction of the jam and in turn followed responding smoothly and someone else took the lead. The sound is predictably heavy, underlain by a foot-tapping groove and incessant pace that was impossible to ignore and was well complimented by fuzz-laden guitar and lap-steel and harmonica induced desert-blues flashes. Somewhere in the midst of the swirling jam the band regroup and re-align around “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent before blasting off in to the unknown again. Technical issues dog Jonny Halifax and it would have been great to have more of his sound to add richness to the resounding the crescendos of noise the jam surges through. That being said, it’s clear that the band and the crowd are having a blast. This hand-picked supergroup works and you can’t help but be swept along with them. You can see the pure joy of creating something new the band experience from from every twist and turn of the jam. Time passes very quickly, and all too soon the 11 pm curfew is reached, and with a smile and nod between Jonny and Matt, it is breached. This jam is destined to end with a fantastic rendition of Electric Six’s “High Voltage” and no curfew is going to deny this band its grande finale!
So did The Jonesing Jams “Worlds Collide” deliver? As far as the crowd was concerned, the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!”. This is partly a tribute to the quality and talent of the musicians themselves but perhaps more of a salute to the sprit they shared in being the first to rise to the challenge of jamming live in front of an audience creating a spectacular and ephemeral sound you’ll only ever have the chance to hear once…
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