Gig Review: StringerBessant – Thekla, Bristol – Friday 10th May

StringerBessant - Playing Thekla, Bristol - Friday 10th MayReview by Conal Dougan –

For gig attendees unfamiliar with the sound of StringerBessant, a natural expectation would be for a night of euphoric indie-rock. After all, the commercial highpoint of the duo’s previous incarnation as Reef, “Place Your Hands”, continues to be a 1am floorfiller for indie and student club nights, inviting gaggles of bromanced dudes to jump around while hugging each other.

In reality, the characters that amble onto the stage could easily have walked straight out of a Daniel Woodrell novel or a Fleet Foxes tribute band. Bessant is a mountain of gristle and hair with a magnificent beard – the look is complete when he pulls out a gigantic rag to blow his nose – while lead singer Stringer dons a rustic felt shirt. Bessant prepared for the performance by mingling with the crowd, kissing the ladies and embracing the gents, and it is clear that the band are here to enjoy themselves.

Stringer warms us up by enticing us to “have a breather, think about your family”, and then they swoop into their set. Usually the band performs as an acoustic twosome, but for new album ‘The SB Band’ they went electric and were ably supported by two other musicians. On the night, guitarist Amy Newton is understated, adding delicate licks to the chords laid down by Bessant.

Much of the band’s music could be unfairly pigeonholed as an attempt to replicate Harvest-era Neil Young. Stringer’s voice has always carried an air of sunny West-coast USA, and tonight sounds particularly like David Gray. However, what comes across is the same innocence that characterised their Reef output, especially when they implore the crowd to “Give Me The Keys”. Once he becomes steamed up, Stringer removes his felt shirt to reveal a low-cut t-shirt and a proud mat of dark chest hair.

Bessant grew his mighty beard when trekking up the Himalayas, and it is clear that their laid-back approach to music-making plays a major role in attracting fans – the band’s EP, ‘Wild Day’, was part-funded by fans through Pledgemusic. The duo can live comfortably from their Reef royalties, and projects like StringerBessant seem like a good way for them to make music they enjoy playing, and perform this music for accepting fans.