The Bell, Pokesdown

The Hightown Crows

When returning from a journey up north, that’s anywhere past Ringwood to us south coast Johnny’s; there is a road sign just past the Shell garage on the A31 pointing to the two tiny hamlets of Hightown and Crow, two place names that have been appropriated by local band The Hightown Crows. They regularly venture further afield of the Bournemouth conurbation seeking out gigs and are well known for busking at the Portobello, Camden and Brick Lane markets up in the Big Smoke. But today they are performing a bit closer to home at the Wellbeing Festival in Boscombe gardens in the afternoon, and at The Bell Pokesdown later that evening.

Sticking with the theme of local place names guitarist Hinton Admiral; slap bassist Choppy Lansdowne and Emery Down, basher of all things percussive including a suitcase; bent bits of sheet metal and even, dare I say it a couple of drums lay down an infectious rockabilly blues that guarantees to get the feet tapping. And when the booze has kicked in, a fair amount of jiving. The Crows have been around for a few years now and have released five low-fi CD’s of original material; brimming with memorable riffs, simple but direct lyrics; underpinned with a contagious rhythmic pulse that harks back to the dawn of rock ‘n roll.

The Hightown Crows

The first gig was a laid back affair with clusters of people more content to suck on ice creams, bask in the sunshine and listen to the music rather than shake a bootie- not a bad way to spend a summer afternoon. Fast forward to The Bell. Not the best pub to see a band, the layout is all wrong and the punters were more interested in the football on the telly than the live music that followed the final whistle. But like many musicians before them that have faced the same predicament; they ignored the indifference and kicked into their first number The Flood, from their 2012 album The Betrayal of Mangas Coloradas. The majority of the first set came from the same source: Debts to Pay, Double Lock, the instrumental Red Sea Rock, a slow, mournful ode to lost love Pass Me By, the frantic Desert Sand, a bit of a highlight this one with some great bass from Choppy, the country-ish Tennessee and the anti-war protest of Afghan Blues. The remainder of the set consisted of a couple of instrumentals, the ska-infused Black Beard’s Ghost which raised the tempo, but not as much as the set closer “Slow driver”. That title is a bit of a misnomer as it zips along at a breakneck pace with Hinton sliding around his fretboard with a length of copper pipe.

The Hightown Crows

After a short break they’re back with yet another instrumental Diddlysquat, then the call and response intro to Zombie Love with its wah-wah guitar solo, followed by the mawkish House of Cards. Two songs later in the second set typifies their minimalist approach to a tee, both “Bus Stop” and “Ow, You Hurt Me” are three chord tricks that lyrically, barely extended beyond chanting the titles. No clever word play here; direct and to the point, why use a hundred words when ten will do. They finish with Beggars Blues and Love, the title track from their latest CD before the small but appreciative audience bring them back for one more number, “Baby Bun” a fuzzed up instrumental swamped in feedback.

To sum up: are The Hightown Crows retro? Yes. Are they tight and polished? No. Are they rockabilly or blues, skiffle or cowpunk? It doesn’t matter, all I know is given a suitable environment and the right crowd they could rip it up with the best of them-go see ‘em!

Set List
The Flood
Debts To Pay
Double Lock
Red Sea Rock
Pass Me By
Black Beard’s Ghost
Desert and Sand
Afghan Blues
Slow driver

Zombie Love
House of Cards
Ow, You Hurt Me
Low Down High
Bus Stop
Running Wild
Beggars Blues
Baby Bun


Words and Pictures by John Cherry.

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