Downstairs at The Betsy Trotwood is a pretty unique place. Holding the dubious accolade of being the smallest venue in London, it probably couldn’t hold more than fifty people at the very most. A dingy wine cellar with some cosy alcoves cut into the ground for good measure, it’s a likeably intimate place that’s perfect for the more restrained kind of band – Kelman being one of them.

The last time I saw them live was at the Pleasure Unit on Bethnal Green Road, a psychedelic looking venue with trippy visuals and worse clientele, and with a screen next to the stage which made watching bands a disorientating experience. Sandwiched in-between some truly dreadful pub rock and prog-metal outfits, the band stood out like an anachronism, the primitive nature of their set-up – just drums, an effects-less guitar, and vocals – in sharp contrast to the other bands' vapid posturing.

At the Betsy Trotwood, the band’s approach makes more sense in the smoky, intimate surroundings, as a handful of onlookers congregate. Made up of brothers Wayne and Marc Gooderham, formerly of Baptiste, Kelman’s music is reflective, often heartbreaking stuff, far more stripped-down and restrained than Baptiste were.

Named after the Glaswegian author James Kelman, they take to the stage and begin with an untitled track on which Wayne mutters “I just sat back watching my kingdom collapse”. Shorn of the cello added on the recorded version, live it’s an even more stripped back affair, shorn of any superfluous elements and emphasising the subject matter of Gooderham’s vocals, which seem as naked and poignant as ever.

With the drumming mostly made up of sparse brushes and tom-tom beats sometimes reminiscent of Mo Tucker, the vocals touch on drinking (“I’m on the way down…peel my clothes from my drunken frame, turn your back and walk away”, he mourns on ‘The Happiest Man Alive’), loneliness (‘A New Career in A New Town’, ‘Fu**ed and Far From Home’), flawed lust (“loving you has never been easy…your hand on my neck, we’re down on the tiles”), and memories of how “if I found your cigarettes I’d smoke them just to taste your breath one last time.” This isn’t to say that Kelman are miserabilists, just that their music touches on the realism and desperation of humdrum life, one where a life of rainy days, half-empty pubs, damp bedsits and dreary suburbs are viewed with a dejected, resigned air. If it’s the kind of subject matter that Tindersticks explored through subsequent albums, the music points more towards a less effects-laden Galaxie 500 or even a subdued Beat Happening, one that emphasises the space in songs inherent with only two or three musicians.

“Raise a glass to lost friends”, sighs Wayne on ‘Shut A Final Door’ as the music slowly swells and dies down. Ironically for music that touches on intoxication and frayed emotions, this can be intensely sobering music, and one destined to play in the confines of a bedroom all alone. This might not be music destined to take over the world, but even on the periphery it can offer an intimate experience, and one that ultimately uplifts even in its darkest reflection of tainted memories.

Wayne’s guitar breaks a string just before their last song, one that they played at the Pleasure Unit and which descended into an intense crescendo, with the guitar finally rocking out as Wayne slashed at his strings. No matter; Kelman are a small gem to be cherished, a haven in a sea of mediocrity. I exit the Betsy Trotwood, out on to the rain-soaked streets and the big city awaiting, the music still ringing in my ears.











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