I thought I was just popping out for a bit of music on a Tuesday night, with no great expectations from two acts that I had not heard of or heard anything by. I was in for a double surprise.
Support act Alex Ohm took to the stage, just a guy and a guitar, but reminiscent of one of those "surprise" X Factor auditions his voice soared and powered through the small room, almost plaintive at times, much in the style of the current crop of male singers but managing not to sound like just another boy and guitar.
Starting with his own compositions he switched -as many new artistes do - to a cover, but in this case it was a slow, acoustic version of "You're the one that I Want" - yes, the end track from the movie Grease! Did it work? You bet your life it did.
Whilst perhaps not a flawless set, it was a very enjoyable and quite unexpected opening slot, and Alex seemed to warm up as his set went on, cracking jokes about "I feel like one of Westlife sitting on this stool - but with an instrument" . A member of the audience instantly replied "And with talent" – a very fair summation of this local opener.
Styling themselves as Americana, the first thing I noticed about Carousel is the collection of instruments on stage - not a collection normally seen on any stage outside a trad folk show! A harmonium, fiddle, a mandolin and a 10-string cittern as well as the two guitars you'd expect from most live bands.
Opening with their song "Seconds" Carousel blend strident guitar, fiddle and harmonium to great effect, backed with a stunning three-way harmony on the chorus.
"Dead Horse picked up the pace with harmonium swapped for a mandolin, and the fiddle giving a superb soaring counterpoint to the vocals and again, the stunning harmonies.
Listening to "In the Wild " which featured the cittern, you realise that Carousel are a real fusion band, cleverly blending traditional instruments with acoustic and electric guitar, blending their complementary voices and blending folk, Americana and their own personal experiences.
Sarah took lead on her self-penned "Smile", showing that even lead vocal is easily interchangeable with this quartet.
"My father's son" showed not only the Americana influence, but also the rockier side to Carousel and included 4 voices in perfect harmony and a true rock guitar solo from songwriter Tom, who dedicated the song to the support of his own father.
"Over the wall" got the audience clapping and stomping the intro - getting a small weekday crowd involved shows the charisma of this four-piece from Southend (And the mention of their hometown elicited an ironic cheer) the song itself relied more on the voices than the instruments.
“Doug's song” is about Sarah's bow tie wearing dog, the introduction to this song featured great banter between the band members and the audience, as Toby tuned his cittern while bemoaning it as an instrument.
"Firesong" is their latest single, released while on this tour, followed by the less serious, toe-tapping "Man on the Run" which was apparently inspired by the tv show "Sons of Anarchy”
This show was day 6 of their first headline tour, although Tom was convinced it was only day 5; the band were thrilled that a number of people had found them and come out to see them play. Listening to the band discuss and bicker about the "frog line" in "Don't let it die" showed how comfortable they are together and that they clearly enjoy what they do. - and it's a great song!
"Comfortable Skin" touches on mental health, and being there for someone, really showing the maturity of this young band.
"Porcelain" has Sarah again sing lead, with Tom and Chris on backing sounding almost like one voice, to the extent that I had to look and check they really were both singing, with Sarah expertly leading the audience in a sing-a-long.
After some heartfelt thank-yous the final song "These hands" was a great up-tempo party track and had the whole crowd clapping along with the band.
Carousel demonstrated a new take on walking off for an encore - just turn your backs (the Hare and Hounds isn't really big enough for a proper walk off/walk back on).
The encore song was "Show" which really kept the party feeling going from the previous song and left everyone wishing the party could carry on longer!
Tom asked everyone if they would come to see them again. From me personally a resounding "yes"!
On a cold night on Birmingham these guys from Southend have definitely won a new set of fans, even ones with "funny accents" (Thank you Sarah) and I will be amazed and disappointed if I don’t see them featured at any of next year’s UK festivals
For Forever British Country