Variety is the spice of life... and that’s what you get if you go to watch The Songbook Collective.
Five top quality musicians on one stage, the concept is an unusual one as the members take it in turns to perform their own material.
The Songbook Collective is Paul Weller’s live band, and is made up of Northampton’s own Andy Crofts and Ben Gordelier from The Moons, Steve Cradock from Ocean Colour Scene, Steve Pilgrim who has played with The Stands and John Power, and Andy Lewis, renowned groove merchant and DJ.
The quintet were at the Roadmender on Friday night to play only their second gig - the first being at The Cavern in Liverpool on Thursday - after deciding to keep busy and hit the road while their boss is busy working on a new album.
The band all clearly love just getting out there and playing music, and they produced an exciting and eclectic 90-minute-plus set that fairly flew by.
First to take centre stage was Pilgrim.
The drummer in Weller’s band, I know that Pilgrim is also a singer-songwriter, and saw him out step out from behind the skins to perform at a gig at The Roundhouse in Camden a few years back.
But it is still something of a revelation to hear him sing, opening up the gig with a set of six songs, as well as a slowed down version of the Ocean Colour Scene hit, The Circle. I hadn’t heard any of Pilgrim’s solo songs before, so won’t pretend to be in the know, but they grabbed me instantly.
You can’t help thinking to yourself that he is perhaps wasted behind that drum kit!
It was a good start, and next to do his bit was Lewis, whose day job with Weller sees him playing bass.
Clearly a character, Lewis jokes with the crowd and ups the tempo somewhat as he sings four of his own compositions - complete with plugs for how to download them from Bandcamp!
The highlights of his mini set are the Northern Soul-tinged Love Is Alive In My Heart and Are You Trying To Be Lonely, a top 40 hit a few years back with Weller on vocals.
Cradock is the next main man, and the band are at this point joined by his wife Sally to sing backing vocals.
A renowned guitarist with OCS, Weller and last year, The Specials (he is on brilliant form all night) Cradock has also released three solo albums.
We are treated to five songs from those, as well as a new track from a project he is working on with legendary singer PP Arnold.
The track is called The Magic Hour, and on first listen, even with Cradock on vocals instead of Arnold (something he apologises for!), sounds an absolute belter!
So, 17 songs in, it is the turn of Crofts to step up to the mic for a mini Moons set.
It’s always a treat to hear songs by The Moons, and in the hands of this five-piece band they do seem to have just a little bit of extra oomph.
We hear six songs, with Promise Not To Tell the stand-out.
The fifth member of the Collective, Gordelier, doesn’t take to the mic and sticks to drumming for virtually the entire set. As always, he is a class act.
Following the Moons section, it’s time to wrap things up, and the gig ends on a high with two absolute pearlers.
First, Lewis introduces the penultimate track as ‘one for the boss’ before the band launch into a blistering version of The Jam’s Art School, with Crofts on lead vocals.
Then, for the closer, it’s back over to Cradock for the always fantastic OCS signature tune The Riverboat Song.
I first heard Cradock play that riff at a packed Roadmender 20 years ago - and it still sends a shiver down my spine.
So, a great gig from a great band.
The only downside? That would be the fact there were so few people there to see it.
I reckon there was barely 300 turned out at Lady’s Lane, which is a real shame with the quality that was on show.
Those that did turn out will have loved every minute of it, and those that didn’t, well, it’s their loss.
Joining The Songbook Collective for Friday’s gig was Northampton’s Howlin Owls.
The band have been busy working on their forthcoming debut album and virtually not seen live for around 12 months.
However, there was no signs of rustiness from the purveyors of bluesy folk rock, with the six-piece looking genuinely thrilled to be back on stage playing live again.
Led by Morad Samaloussi, Howlin Owls teased a few new songs which will no doubt feature on their debut LP, and whether it was the venue or the occasion, they seemed to have a heavier, grittier edge to them compared to previous gigs.