The Travels of Phil #10: A Silver Mount Zion

Decent bands rarely come to Colchester. My explanation for this is that the bands think Essex is only just outside London, and therefore there is no need for them to play anywhere between London and Norwich (UEA seems to get a hell of a lot of what I would describe as ‘decent bands’). After all, anyone in Essex who wants to go and see them just has to hop on a train into London, and that’s that.

Imagine my surprise then, when in mid/late-February, an email appeared in my inbox – a newsletter from a gig ticket site that I have signed up to for reason or reasons unknown – telling me that A Silver Mount Zion (or whatever it is they’re calling themselves this week) are playing in Colchester. Not just that, but while I’m there too! So I bought myself a ticket, and waited. Obviously, I did some other things in between then and now, but I was looking forward to it, and so the last eight weeks or so have been spent in anticipation, and therefore in waiting.

For those of you who aren’t aware (and I’m guessing that’s most of you), A Silver Mount Zion are a little bit on the odd side. Their music is, typically, verging on the orchestral, but with the odd vocal thrown in when you least expect it (and sometimes when you least want it – their music, while interesting, is by no means perfect). At times, their music is a little slow and ponderous, and their albums, along with those of sister band Godspeed You! Black Emperor* are very much ones which I need to be in the right mood to listen to. As a result, I was well aware that the gig could be one that I loved, or one that I endured only because I had paid to get in but spent the time counting the minutes till I would be able to leave again. (Obviously, I am free to walk out at any time, but I always feel really guilty even considering this as I think it is rude to do so). In the end, I rather enjoyed it, even though it was a little pretentious and arty for me. However, I am getting ahead of myself here. I shall go back to the beginning, and start there.

The day of the gig (today) arrived, and I was in the right mood for ASMZ (as I shall refer to them from now on). The day went pretty well, and come evening, I was ready to set off and enjoy myself. At just after 7pm, I wandered down to the bus stop at the end of my ‘road’ (it’s not really a road, it’s a path since I live on a ‘Walk’ – this is becoming worryingly similar to a Graph Theory lecture, so I’ll move on without further ado) intending to catch the bus that left just before quarter past. Or at least, it did virtually every other hour of the day. Of course, it changes after 6.30pm, and the next bus wasn’t until after 7.30. As it was a nice evening, I decided to walk into town, and in the end it was quite a nice stroll. Unfortunately, since Colchester is built on a small hill, most of it was uphill.

I got to Colchester Arts Centre just after 7.30pm (and in so doing, beating the bus!), and wandered in. Colchester Arts Centre is in a converted church, and along with the moody lighting, this gave the venue a mildly eerie feel. It seemed slightly wrong that there was now a bar in the corner, and that I was hanging around in a church to see a bunch of anarchists** perform.

Before ASMZ took the stage, they were preceded by a couple of guys with a drum, a laptop and a violin. They weren’t bad, but seemed a little out of time or our of tune every now and again. During their brief set, the venue filled up a little, and by the end there were a couple of hundred people in there. ASMZ took the stage shortly after 8.00pm, for reasons which didn’t become clear until later. There is a curfew on how late performances can go on, which the band seemed to attribute to the fact that it was a church in a previous life. As a result, they started early in order to finish early too. Their set seemed to consist mostly of new material, and I only recognized one song – my personal favourite ‘Take These Hands and Throw Them In the River’ – though the rest weren’t bad by any means. Whether it was a natural consequence of them playing live, or whether they have taken a new direction musically, I don’t know, but the songs seemed to be more uptempo, and to have a bit more of a conventional structure to them which made them easier to listen to than some of the older songs. The main man, Efrim (though I believe he dislikes being referred to as a main member – something to do with the other members of the band being unjustly ignored), came across as witty and likeable, and took the time to chat with the audience between songs, whilst the other members were changing instruments, or retuning.

After a brief encore, the gig ended, and I wandered out into the night air, lurked at the bus stop like a bad smell for ten minutes and then caught the bus home. It was a little too chilly to walk back, and my legs were aching from standing up for two and a half hours. I’m beginning to feel my advancing years.

All in all, it was well worth my time and effort to go and see them, and an encouraging sign that Colchester may well be getting some good bands visiting. Just as I’m about to leave. Typical!

*A Silver Mount Zion are an offshoot of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, formed when one of the members of Godspeed decided he wanted to write more orchestral and/or structured pieces, but couldn’t do so within the context of Godspeed. Or something like that.

** They’re anarchists. No, really.

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