A plethora of musicians and live music fans are roaming the streets of this part of Shepherd’s Bush as the multi-act, multi-venue Bushstock festival gets into full swing. Tucked away among the pop and indie bands, blues guitarists and DJs are Canterbury-based jazz/prog/funk outfit Syd Arthur, playing at the delightfully appointed Bush Hall.
As is customary at such events, bands wrestle with strict time slots, a certain amount of gear sharing and minimal space or set-up time, so it’s unsurprising that the Arthurs start slightly late and play a more truncated show than fans might have hoped for. Perhaps calculating that the audience aren’t likely to be overly partisan or familiar with their back catalogue, the band plump for a set taken entirely from the Apricity album, their as-yet unreleased follow-up to 2014’s Sound Mirror.
Kicking off with the 60s-tinged funk-folk vibe of Plane Crash In Kansas, the band seem a little languorous, despite the jolly lilt of Raven Bush’s cheesy 70s electric organ sounds. The very same sound also features in the stabbing riff that introduces No Peace, which continues the slightly retro feel and includes short breaks from both Liam Magill’s guitar and Joel Magill’s bass. A short drum fill then kicks us into Sun Rays, with its syncopated, off-kilter yet strangely hypnotic rhythms. Josh Magill plays the entire song holding what looks like a shaker in his right hand – it’s hard to be certain as he’s somewhat obscured by a speaker stack almost directly in front of the kit!
The spacious and most jazz-leaning song in the set is Into Eternity, which allows Liam’s voice to actually cut through the rather swampy sound for the first time, as he delivers the dark-edged, yearning vocal. It’s taken a little while, but the fusion/alt‑funk guitar-led Rebel Lands, the driving double time of Portal and the odd-time jazz funk of Coal Mine see the band finally getting into their stride, and the audience respond with enthusiasm. And suddenly it’s all over, the band exiting to the strains of a pre-recorded keyboard outro.
In truth, this probably isn’t the most ideal circumstance in which to see Syd Arthur, or the ideal setting for their material to flourish. To see them exercise their undoubted creativity and perform with more space (both figuratively and literally), it’s worth keeping in mind that they have further dates lined up for later this year, when they’ll get the chance to really open up and play their repertoire.