Community reporter Andrew Larder reports on the 100th gig by Ken Brown’s Squareroot Promotions, an incredible night with the Track Dogs.
Something special was required for Ken Brown’s Squareroot Promotions 100th gig. Trying to describe the event sounds a bit funny: an Englishman, an American and two Irish men walk into a five-hundred-year-old fortification. What happens next is no joke, but I did pick up a joke for banjo lovers/haters on the night; I will tell that later.
Track Dogs take their name from the maintenance crews who keep the New York subway moving and at the gigi, they rolled out song after song, taking the audience on a musical journey. The Square Tower provided the band Track Dogs with a perfect intimate venue; however, these guys would be perfect for festivals as well. Recently featured on Radio 2’s The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe, they generate a hybrid of Americana, acoustic-folk and Latino music. The band are based in Madrid, have been together for fourteen years and in 2019 released their eighth album, Fire On the Rails.
The band members include purveyor of fine bass lines and mandolin player, Dave Mooney, and graduate of The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, a classically trained trumpeter, Howard Brown, who expertly infuses a mariachi vibe to the proceedings. Sporting a sumptuous beard, Robbie K. Jones expertly plays cajon, banjo and bongos, while charismatic lead guitarist and vocalist, Garrett Wall, fronts the band. The set also features a bodhrán (a frame drum of Irish origin), and – as the band describe them – a ‘gaggle’ of ukuleles.
At one-point Robbie and Garrett teased the audience with the opening bars of Duelling Banjos. Robbie told us he refused to learn it as a youngster as he did not want to have keep playing it all the time. Banjos provoke a volatile reaction from band and audience alike.
This is also the moment I hear the joke about banjos, but more on that later.
As if all this is not enough, the band sing in four-part harmonies, take turns at lead vocals and swap instruments. While their dazzling musicianship kept the sold-out crowd entertained, between songs they interacted with each other and the audience with amusing banter. The encore contained some intricate clapping to accompany acapella singing with All Clapped Out.
The band’s obvious delight at playing is infectious. The set includes two covers: the Americana standard Man of Constant Sorrow, and James Taylor’s Carolina in my Mind. The strongest songs though are the originals the band wrote themselves, all of which are outstanding. Catchy tunes and clever lyrics allow Track Dogs to power through over two hours of material. Topics include love lost and won in Love and War; forest fires caused by steam trains Fire on the Rails; and a song dedicated to Freddie Mercury, And the Piano Sings. Whatever Happens and I’ve Needed You linger on long in the memory after the gig is over.
As if to confirm they really are as nice as they seem, the band call up super fan, Shane, to the stage. This is Shane’s 50th Track Dog gig and they present him with a special T-Shirt and bottle of Cuban rum. Shane and his wife (who has only been to a mere 49 gigs) have followed Track Dogs all around the UK and Spain.
The band currently tour in a ‘cosy’ motorhome. Garrett Wall said, ‘We love the Square Tower, our second time here and a really special venue made all the more better by Ken and Square Roots Promotions, who are setting the bar high when it comes to promoting gigs in the UK. We are going to spend a couple of days in the area to get to know the city better.’
I asked Garrett if they had played any other unusual venues.
‘We once played on an Easy Jet flight after we were told we’d be waiting three hours before take-off. We got one song recorded which went somewhat viral and then the flight was cleared, probably because we had the banjo out.’
The energy and enthusiasm of Track Dogs is well worth seeking out. Their uplifting variety of songs could nourish the most jaded of souls.
Hold on, I nearly forgot the banjo joke.
Q: Why are there no banjos in Star Trek?
A: Because it’s the future.
Sorry banjo lovers.
Square Roots Promotions – see what’s coming up at the Square Tower
Check out Track Dogs Youtube video of them busking in Madrid with their song, Whatever Happens.
Main image by Andrew Larder. All other images by Paul Windsor