Live Review: The Burning Hell at the Old Cinema Laundrette

So, there you have it, Durham can do gigs…

Ok, so the Old Cinema Laundrette isn’t exactly Madison Square Garden, but it’s cosy, intimate, and, importantly, in Durham. From my visit tonight I learnt two things:

1. For as long as you’re in Durham and a fan of music, you must make a trip down to this extraordinary venue.

2. For as long as they’re still a band, you should probably take any opportunity you have to see The Burning Hell.

… The Old Cinema Laundrette is in deep Gilesgate. Past Hild Bede, past the Sainsbury’s, past where I almost ended up living this year (until we saw the view of ‘Discount Autoparts’ from the kitchen window). Gilesgate has a second Ciao Ciao, a Third Bell’s, pubs upon pubs, and, hidden away in a small unsuspecting laundrette, live music.

Of course there’s no one checking tickets on the door, I walk straight in, a man behind the counter asks if I’m here for the show, before asking if I want a beer. A Scottish ale…forgot the name…nice, £3. I go to look for the stage.

So it turns out the floorspace of the laundrette is the stage. I go to sit down, me and my friend take up two of the eight available seats. God forbid if they’re after audience participation, there’s nowhere to hide.

After a man finishes taking his underwear out of the tumble dryer, a girl comes on, and starts tuning a guitar. The man from behind the counter comes to the front, announces her as ‘This Little Bird’. Everyone applauds. She starts playing. My word she has a beautiful voice, and it’s there six feet in front of me, with no microphone to cause distortion. The style is basic, but pretty, folky, delicate. There’s songs about the coast (she’s from Seaham, County Durham), and songs about relationships, and they’re all tragic. There’s a touching tribute to her late father, and a more uplifting song about love, and the warm up set’s finished. The pure acoustic nature (no guitar pick ups, no microphones) is a real seller for me. I love this place already.

In the break I go to the toilet (the plushest toilet I have ever seen, a real Edwardian feel to it), realise that the attendance is slightly bigger than I first thought (the people standing round the corner make the eight up to twenty), and buy a can of Diet Coke.

The guy from behind the counter is back up at the front. It’s time for The Burning Hell.

It’s a guy and a girl, both Canadian. One holds a guitar and the other a clarinet. They play mostly comedy songs, and they’re hilarious.

There’s one about avoiding having to burn the Canadian flag for heat when freezing in the woods, by burning your friend instead. There’s one about the guy: “My name is Mathias and I came to say this: I’ve got a big bushy beard and kissable lips”, and one about his life on the road: “I thought about how living out of a van isn’t as romantic as it’s made out to be / Especially when the only one in the van is me”.

The songs that aren’t funny are just lovely and warm, albeit off-beat: “Here’s something wrong with my hands / Oh yes, they’re not holding you / They should be enfolding you like a mother’s pouch / Around a baby kangaroo”; “That sparkle in your eye / Shines like a shiny diamond / In a shiny diamond ring / And like a crow, don’t you know / I’m helpless around shiny things”

In one song, the girl, Ariel, kicks out a killer clarinet solo that almost doesn’t fit with the quirkiness and light-hearted nature of the rest of the evening, but I’ll take it nonetheless. The rest of the time she’s either providing back up vocals or duetting with Mathias, whose vocal expressions provide the perfect half-spoken, half-singing delivery needed to carry the lyrics home.

Predictably the two are also great in between songs: “Lucky we came to a launderette, we’ve actually ran out of clean clothes, these are out of a charity shop in Liverpool”, explaining their slightly mismatched outfits, before adding “This launderette has better acoustics than most…launderettes we’ve ever played at”.

They end with two songs about rappers. First up is ‘Professional Rappers’, which starts by accounting the strains of the day-to-day life of being a rapper before, like many of their songs, going off on a complete tangent.

It’s funny. But it’s no ‘Amateur Rappers’: “From Biblical Babylon to modern scientology / The problem with cults, at least according to me / Is that it’s so hard to see the purpose, meaning or point in them / And they’re never any fun, but still, people keep joining them”.

The song makes no sense, but is absolutely brilliant, as they stop midway through to tell jokes. “Why did the plane crash?” asks Ariel, “Because the pilot was a loaf of bread”. Mathias’ turn: “Hey A-Train / Uh-huh? / I’ve got a good one for you / What’s that? / Knock knock. / Who’s there? / Interrupting cow. / Interrupting cow wh- / Moo. / You see the joke is the cow is always interrupting and – never mind. / I should maybe stick to dead baby jokes, they work every time”.

The song ends with a message on why it’s good to keep a dog: “Then I think I’ll need a dog if the nuclear holocaust comes / We’d wander the desolate planet, hide in deserted city slums / My dog would warn me, he’d bark if mutant cannibals were attacking us”

…I learnt not to question these guys, just to enjoy them.

An excellent gig, and a ‘venue’ that suited the band perfectly. But then again the venue would suit anyone perfectly, music in its purest form: acoustic and intimate.

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