There’s something quite refreshing about heading away from London for a gig. The hour-long drive down to the Kent coastline made for a nice change, swapping the monotonous, robotic atmosphere of public transport for the comfort of a car.
Never having been to Deal before, we arrive at the venue and park right outside the front door of The Lighthouse Pub. Some things just feel too easy. It was too dark to see the sea but the faint outlines of beach huts and the hustle and bustle of an apocalyptic ghost town made for the perfect ambience to listen to the smooth sounds of Will Varley.
Names on the door, no tickets required, it’s probably busier than this in our local right now. But whilst said local would be full of poncey city types sipping wine, this is a real pub. Battered kegs of ales and a variety of different Ciders are on display behind the bar and ancient looking bottles that have clearly been washed up onshore, line the windowsills. There’s lots of beards, waistcoats and other sailor like attire, we’d clearly travelled back in time. There’s got to be pirates around here. Two girls next to us at the bar are drinking some kind of warm cider from a handled glass. Feeling like we’re letting the side down we order two lagers.
This is Varleys hometown and the conversations being over heard suggest that half the people here are friends and family. It feels like we’ve interrupted a family reunion.
8:45 seems like a strange time for a support act to take to the stage when the main man is due on at 9:00. Knowing that he is coming straight from an earlier engagement in London, we’re confident things will be running late. It is record release day after all.
A spontaneous sounding set from ‘Billy and Phil’, one of which is the barman, tells us this was not planned. They manage to hold the fort for a while with some uber mellow folk sounds, teasing us with snippets of Varley riffs. Alas, we are assured Will is en route.
At about 9:45 the Jesus like figure, along with trademark waistcoat takes to the mic.
Postcards from Ursa Minor, Varleys new full length is out at midnight tonight and the early stages of tonight’s set is dominated by new songs. Opening with a softer example of his new material, a track we are all yet to hear, an elegant tone is set. The now full pub then comes to life with ‘As For My Soul’, the opening track on PFUM. “Light a fire! Drink a Beer! Sing a song!” Varley chants before inviting the audience to join in for some La la la la la’s, like the captain of a ship to his crew.
We’re asked if we object to hearing new material, a rhetorical question given the nature of the occasion. ‘Talking Cat Blues’, a tune already released from the album follows, showing the more lighthearted side of his songwriting. “Don’t put shit puns on your record”, he advises in regards to a lyric that has the crowd ‘LOL’ing. “Bit fucking late now, the albums out in about 40 minutes!”
There is a strong sense of genuinity about Varley, and in complete contrast to tales of cat’s smoking cigars and playing guitars, ‘The Man who fell to Earth’, demonstrates his ability to switch a crowd from giggling into their pint glasses, to becoming deep in thought about the state of affairs of todays world.
Not that Varley needed any ammunition to make tonight’s audience laugh; we were read snippets of an extremely poorly translated German review of his album throughout the evening from his phone. The utterly nonsensical content of the piece had Will laughing as much as anyone in the room. What “Varley spilling his beans” was originally translated from is anyone’s guess. Multiple references to David Cameron were made throughout the night, including the obvious pig-fucking incident.
Punters seemed to oblige to the regular invitation to all “get pissed”, as some of the older tunes such as the incredible ‘King for a King’ provide the evenings highlights. By the time Varley announced the last song, the politically charged ‘We don't believe you’, he had everyone singing along.
After leaving the stage for all of about 4 and half seconds, Varley returned for an encore of ‘Advert Soundtrack’ and closing classic ‘I got this Email’.
Looking around at the entire pub dancing, linking arms and doing the ‘Hoe Down’, we begin to regret driving tonight. Cogs begin to turn… wonder how much a B&B would cost around here. But the night is over for us, well, at least until we realise 20 minutes down the motorway that the company card is still behind the bar and we have to return, only to see Will Varley still at the bar, necking a Guinness, looking pretty pissed.