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Toy Horses at The Watershed

March 8, 2012

Sunday 4th March 2012.

I knew from the off that tonight was going to be slightly surreal. I wave my press pass at the doorman. I then notice he’s blind. Guess the dark glasses and white stick should have given it away. Never mind, he’s got a photographic memory and, when I give him my name, he welcomes me warmly and we’re in. I wait politely downstairs with my other half and a can of Red Stripe whilst Toy Horses complete their soundcheck. The monitor in the bar allows me to put faces to the names I have researched and, when the time is more appropriate, I go upstairs. I introduce myself as, “the evil, loathsome, scumbag journalist that’s going to be reviewing the gig.”  It seems to break the ice. Tour manager Louise is both grateful and impressed as I accurately name the band. “No one has ever done that before,” she beams. Tom Williams, wearing his trademark trilby and holding his electric ukulele, which looks more like a giant clothes peg than a musical instrument, calls across the room, “You’re far too good looking to be a journalist.” Bloody hell, I think, don’t tell me he’s blind as well? I knew it was going to be slightly surreal. Still, he needn’t have bothered with the flattery. Toy Horses were superb and only a complete philistine could write a damning review.

Here’s a scenario that most 22 year old musicians can only fantasise about. You’re, noodling around with some songs that you and your stepdad  have written, you upload them to a Myspace page and the next thing you know, you’ve been spotted by former Uncle Tupelo and Wilco drummer, Ken Coomer who’s flown you over to Nashville and is recording, producing and playing on your first album. The album gets shortlisted for The Mercury Music Prize, you play SXSW and to top it all, Twitterati demigod Stephen Fry proclaims to 2.7million followers that you are his, “new, favourite indie band.” Now consider that fantasy from the point of view of the stepdad…

Yet this is precisely the meteoric rise that Toy Horses’ Adam D. Franklin and stepfather, Tom Williams have experienced over the last 18 months or so.

Sunday night’s gig at The Watershed in Newport Pagnell, a venue that feels full when more than two dozen punters turn up, might well have been considered a bit of a come down, but no, not according to Toy Horses. The words, cat, room and swing, might leap to mind, however, in The Watershed there is barely room to swing a kitten born of pygmy parents with growth hormone deficiency. Yet for Tom, a seasoned live performer who is now relishing the opportunity to record, the banter and the intimacy of the small venues still inspire him. For Adam, the “gigging and the build up to the performance,” are his driving force.

Instagram courtesy of @JenInTheShed

From the opening vocal harmony of the toe-tappingly quirky ‘Damage Done’ to the anthemic, sing-along, crowd pleaser ‘Interrupt’, with which they closed the show, Toy Horses managed to take the audience on a tour de force of quintessential British popular music since 1960. What is all the more remarkable is the ease with which they did it without ever sounding like a rip off of anyone.  Adam’s vocals range from angelic heights to guttural, growling depths and he plays guitar and keyboards with a sensitivity to match. Tom’s harmonies compliment superbly and, as incongruous as he might look on stage with a bunch of whippersnappers, with his trilby and his giant clothes peg, his precision, passion and presence are crucial. They played 80% of their album and gave us a couple of live gems including ‘But What About The Future’, where Tom takes the lead vocal. It seems strange hearing his soft, delicate Welsh spoken voice transform into a bold, brash (I’m tempted to say ‘Mockney’, but that might sound disparaging and I don’t mean to be), anyway we get something more akin to Steve Marriott/Ray Davies than Tom Jones, put it that way. The song features the immortal line, But we will both like Stephen Fry/ He’s such a clever fucking guy. Likes a bit of flattery then does our Stephen?

What cannot be underestimated either is the quality of the supporting cast. Jon Proud is what every bassist should be; solid, reliable and unerringly accurate. Carl Prior plays both guitar and keys with a deftness of touch, whilst Tom Rees is simply breathtaking on drums. Tom Williams, on both occasions he’s allowed to put the clothes peg down and play a proper instrument, breaks a guitar string. Fortunately, Harry the Guitar Tech is on hand to replace the aforementioned casualty before the end of the next song. No mean feat when you’ve got to exit the building to do so due to the lack of space. Luckily for Harry, the second time was during ‘Interrupt’. And I have to mention Dave The Sound. Louise told me at the off that he’d worked on Oasis’ ‘Supersonic’, possibly my favourite Gallagher track. The balance he delivered in a small room, whilst keeping the power right up there takes a lot of nous. At one point, when Adam moved from guitar to keys for the first time, there was obviously something bothering him, but I couldn’t hear anything wrong. Then he sang, to the tune of the song, keeping perfect rhythm, “Dave, can I have some piano in my monitor please? I can’t hear a thing.” Very assured and professional from a 22 year old.

Adam’s Twitter profile states, “I’d like to be a Beatle.” Far be it for me to be the one to break the news to him that that’s never going to happen, but what I will say is that you should take the earliest available opportunity to see Toy Horses before the arena tours become the norm. On the way home, Mrs Aardvark said that it had been a, “real privilege” to have seen them at that venue. A Beatle he may never be, but there is every possibility that, one day, Adam and Tom might play Shea Stadium. Check out the links below and listen for yourself. I hope you’ll enjoy their music as much as me, Mrs Aardvark and Stephen do.


Toy Horses, March 2012 – 8th The Ringside, HULL, 9th Ku Bar, STOCKTON-ON-TEES, 10th The 100 Club, LONDON (MIND benefit), 11th Croft, BRISTOL, 15th Eric’s, LIVERPOOL, 16th The Leopard, DONCASTER, 20th Telford’s Warehouse, CHESTER.


From → devilsaardvark, Music

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