East London’s world-famous Cart & Horses pub re-opened over the 12/13 March weekend with a new downstairs live venue. Over the two days, the party featured five bands who played on a new stage, paid for by the compilation album Wasted Year 2020.
Words: Alex Eruptor
The album, celebrating the history and the future of live music at London’s world-famous Cart & Horses public house in East London, features bands associated with the pub and with the early history of Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden, the now mega-famous Heavy Metal band, played its first public gigs at the Cart in the mid-1970s. Paul Mario Day, the first Iron Maiden singer, returned to perform there in January 2019.
The weekend was well attended, with fans flying in from all over the world to be present for the re-opening of this iconic venue and to hear their heroes play.
Buffalo Fish was the first band to grace the new stage, a four-piece blending alternative and classic rock, funk, and Hendrix. From the start, the music was high energy, ex-Iron Maiden guitarist Terry Wapram playing fluid leads and riffs over a funky rhythm kept tight but loose. Wapram and bassist Dwight Wharton commanded either side of the stage with their playing, never wasting a note and expressing it from the heart while making it look almost effortless, which it certainly isn’t, but their technique is so good. No affectations or unnecessary dramatics, they let the music do the talking.
The showmanship comes from frontman Rob Stitch, who also plays guitar well and links well with Terry, providing riffs, octaves and occasional leads to gel with Wapram and bridge to Wharton. When not guitaring, he dances or uses his prop, a ‘voodoo stick’ with skull atop, pointing into the crowd like a funky shaman. Drummer Pete throws in some interesting beats and changes whilst retaining the groove, occasionally reminiscent of early ’90s alternative rockers Atom Seed and The Beyond, but always sounding like Buffalo Fish. This original and energetic blend was well received by the crowd, who lapped up the original material and two choice Hendrix covers. Those receiving their first Buffalo Fish experience had their minds truly expanded.
And so from the funk and groove of Buffalo Fish, to the heads-down no-nonsense gallop and chug of Airforce, featuring another former Iron Maiden man, Doug Sampson (from the Soundhouse EP, Metal for Muthas album, early EMI demos, and BBC Radio sessions of the late ’70s).
Proudly announcing to the crowd, “We are Airforce and we play New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” the next forty minutes or so were a real treat from start to finish. Airforce are fresh from touring in support of Steve Harris’ British Lion, and having seem them a few times, this was probably the most accomplished and tightest performance yet.
Like Maiden, Airforce has a formula with particular rhythms, tempos and lyrical themes, mostly war-related. Finest Hour is a relation to Maiden’s Aces High, whilst Fight is an anthem for anyone trying to overcome anything. Heroes is based around a marching beat motif loved by the crowd, and Fine Line is heavy but hooky, perhaps closer to Priest than to Maiden. Like Buffalo Fish, Airforce are tight and efficient, Chop Pitman and Tony Hatton playing solidly and using just enough notes to make the point. That’s not to say they are without flare, though, far from it, there are interesting details and some epic guitar tones and the drumming of Doug Sampson. Let’s not forget that he was the man keeping the beat for Maiden when they signed their first record deal.
Up front Flavio Lino has a soaring voice well suited to this type of hard rock/Heavy Metal, on more than one occasion, coming close to Bruce Dickinson in the higher middle register. It’s the perfect set for a Cart crowd of early-year Maiden disciples, NWOBHM survivors long starved of a British Heavy Metal fix, each song getting great cheers from the audience, many of whom were already familiar with these songs.
Flavio has been told to rest his voice for at least a month to rest his overworked vocals chords. We wish him well and send our hopes for a speedy recovery.
Headlining the Saturday night was tribute act Ion Maiden who focussed on material from the early years and the Paul Di’Anno era of the first two Maiden albums. It was an entertaining set, and perhaps the only chance that I’ll ever have of hearing Purgatory played live and at such volume.
Was it as good as the real Iron Maiden? Of course not. Did it have the authenticity, curiosity or the cool factor of seeing genuine ex-Maiden men Terry Wapram or Doug Sampson? No. But they provided an energetic set of crowd-pleasing fan favourites, songs that neither Maiden nor its ex-members play anymore. The crowd loved it, and the entire room was moving and singing as if it were 1981, dancing and grinning from ear to ear as the band on stage performed Killers, Wrathchild and all the rest. An epic Cart and Horses experience and a perfect way to end Saturday night.
Day Two was Sunday, and things started early, at 4 pm. That might be the recipe for lethargy anywhere else, but this is the Cart & Horses. Once more, the fans descended, with many familiar faces from Saturday back for more music and more beer. The sun was out, and there was a genuine buzz about the place when I arrived.
Up first were 4FoxSake, a punningly named young foursome whose sound had a distinct pop-punk influence. Cheerful throughout and not afraid to interact with the crowd, they were a useful opening act, breaking the ice and holding the audience’s attention.
The main event was Gypsy’s Kiss, the band at the very top of the Iron Maiden family tree, having been ‘Maiden bassist Steve Harris’s first band in 1974. Reformed a few years ago, the band boasts original member David Smith handling guitar and lead vocals, as well as two other guitar players, keyboards, bass and drums. It’s a lot to fit together, but they probably have the clearest sound of all the bands this weekend. Smith’s voice projects well, and the whole band are on form.
GK have a couple of albums of material to choose from, including a few numbers from ‘back in the day’ such as Gypsy’s Kiss (What Went Wrong), Influence, and Endless Pit, the latter being the genesis of an idea that evolved into Iron Maiden’s Innocent Exile. Gypsy’s Kiss is a hard rock band with unashamed pub rock roots. Smith announced it is fifty years next month when they first played this very venue, and they proudly perform a few pub rock cover version staples, including Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.
They are joined by three amazing backing singers (well, Mike, Enrique and my good self) for four glam rock classics in 20th Century Boy, Cmon Feel the Noize, Ballroom Blitz and School’s Out which obliterates any chance of mid-set fatigue. With the crowd well and truly jumping and singing with every word, things are eventually brought to a close with the much-fabled and eccentrically titled Heat Crazed Vole, a song you might have read Steve Harris mention in Iron Maiden biographies.
Gypsy’s Kiss have no robotic Eddie’s, but they do have someone dressed up as a giant vole walk amongst the crowd, onto the stage, back into the crowd, and out of the room, which is all good fun and gets the cameras flashing and people laughing. It is a great end to a great night, finishing with a spectacle and of course, great music.
Overall then, a fantastic weekend. The sound in the new downstairs venue is really good with great bass response, and the crew worked all weekend tirelessly to make sure that everything ran smoothly and sounded great.
There were also two awesome event t-shirts to mark the re-opening that proved very popular. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting Cart & Horses. You can feast your eyes on the cool selection of Iron Maiden posters, autographed photos and artwork decorating the upstairs room, treat your tastebuds to some good drinks.
The downstairs will have regular live music for your ears, including many hard rock and Heavy Metal bands.
For more information and to buy merchandise, including the T-shirts and Wasted Year 2020 CD, visit www.cartandhorses.london