Words by John Noblet
Abie’s Miracle Tonic are a three piece band with way more instruments than members – their arsenal includes various types of guitar, several kazoos and a souped up washboard.
The stage they grace tonight is situated outside the Midlands Arts Centre, and although the MAC might not be the best possible backdrop for their eccentric, ragtime whimsy, it seems like the right choice; kids run around happily, the odd passerby stops for a quick dance, casual observers dip in and out of conversation whilst the hardcore musos gape in awe at how quick the guy on the washboard can move his hands.
I find their easy going charm very difficult to resist. Yes, many modern bands who are influenced by 1940s/1950s music can come across as gimmicky, wheeling out the ‘vintage’ outfits as if that makes up for the screamingly obvious lack of content. But Abie’s Miracle Tonic come across as capable, talented musicians who have found the right tools to express themselves. In fact, they’re the direct opposite of gimmicky, given that their stage presentation involves the three of them sat on chairs, passing instruments back and forth, making music and enjoying themselves.
The kazoo solos function as just another cool sound to play around with, an acidic contrast to the lush vocal harmonies. Although the approach is undoubtedly lighthearted throughout, the arrangements and instrumentation are varied enough to prevent them from ever becoming merely pleasant background music; time and tempo changes creeping up on you just when you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security.
Whilst their humility is refreshing, you wonder if it works against Abie’s Miracle Tonic in the modern self-promotion = oxygen music scene. I want them to make videos just to see what crazy visions they’d conjure. They may well be a hard sell to anyone who completely dislikes their genre, but I think there’s a lot of floating voters out there who could be easily converted, given the right opportunity. And anyone who’s got a fetish for that kind of thing should check them out immediately.
The same is true for tonight’s headliners, Mellow Peaches, who take to the stage as the first few stars appear in the sky. The Peaches (as probably nobody but me calls them) have been around for a while now, slowly treading a determined path with twin bluegrass acoustic guitars. Amit Dattani’s rich, warm vocals sound particularly good tonight, despite some of the details of the rest of the mix getting lost in the breeze.
Their set tonight draws heavily from their debut album, I’ll Go Down with This Ship, released late last year. My lone criticism was that, having seen them a few times before, I’d have liked to have heard some new material. However, this doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the show – the one new song goes down a treat, and augmenting much of the set with guest musicians is a great idea.
Dan-the-washboard-man’s (from Abie’s Miracle Tonic) intricate skiffle style percussion adds rhythm without over powering the guitar interplay, and ‘Mayflower’ rolls out like a great lost classic you haven’t heard in years. It reminds me of the time I once drunkenly described Mellow Peaches as “the good Mumford & Sons”.
An odd thing about the Mellow Peaches is how easily songs written by Amit sit alongside those from the nineteen twenties. Someone should lock that boy in a cage with a guitar, some whiskey and enough steak to stop him from starving, and only let him out when he’s written some more timeless classics.
It’ll happen eventually anyway, and I’m sure more than a few ears will be keen to hear them.
For more on Abie’s Miracle Tonic, visit http://www.abiesmiracletonic.co.uk/
For more on Mellow Peaches, visit http://www.mellowpeaches.co.uk/
For more music at MAC, visit http://www.macarts.co.uk/events/performances/music