Legal Tender, our hosts for the evening, have been putting on events at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, and other venues for that matter for some time now, and, as it transpires, Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts have featured at quite a few. The Mrs and me, however, being staunch supporters of doing sweet FA at the weekends, had failed to notice either. But, that was before hearing the beautiful ‘Penny Falls’ and three other tracks by Sawyer and his Ghosts on MySpace. So armed with a borrowed A to Z, and buoyed by our new adventurism, we made the journey across London to regain ‘a life’, and find the Working Men’s Club.

From the outside, the club tucked away just off Bethnal Green Road, looked like any other social. Inside, it had been transformed from an otherwise bog standard clubroom into a kitsch-lover’s paradise, complete with an illuminated heart-shaped backdrop, dangling baubles, lush red carpet and a spinning glitter ball. It was like entering a weird combination of the ‘Cabaret’ film set, and a Butlin’s ballroom in it’s 1950’s hey day. Half-expecting stocking clad showgirls dressed in sequins to appear from stage right, we headed for the bar.

“Two quid for a half-pint bottle mate”, said the bar man, who was apparently more used to the subsidised club prices available any other night. “I know mate, it’s a bloody rip-off if you ask me”, he went on. “Tell you what, don’t tell anyone but I’ll do yer two pints of shandy for a fiver. How’s that ?” Satisfied we’d got a reasonable offer, and a taste of genuine Eastender hospitality, we found a table and settled down for the evening's entertainment.

By now, the club was rapidly filling with a predominately young, hip and ‘London trendy’ crowd. Legal Tender club nights are obviously in the accent round these parts. People started to dance to the DJ’s set, which was an eclectic mix of post-punk, electro, French stuff, Motown and indie pop. There was even an obscure Japanese cover version of Bow Wow Wow’s ‘I Want Candy’. We began to wonder just how Sawyer’s billed acoustic set would go down with this dance hungry, chatty gathering.

Mathew Sawyer must’ve wondered something similar. The acoustic stayed in its case. He’d chosen to play an electric guitar and had press-ganged the headline act’s drummer to play alongside him for the evening. As he rather sheepishly ambled on to the stage, he apologised for the lack of a full band. He needn’t have worried. Given half a chance, his tender yet powerfully emotive voice and song-writing craftsmanship could’ve carried the night alone.

Sawyer, who remained seated with his guitar resting on his lap throughout, opened with ‘Don’t Want To Hang Around’, one of the stand out tracks from his just released debut album ‘Blue Birds Blood’. When he finished the song, the audience applauded politely, took swigs from their expensive bottles, and continued chatting. I couldn’t help but feel the majority was merely waiting for the dance records to come back on. Stoically, Sawyer continued.

Those of us who carried on listening were treated to a stripped down performance of most of the songs from ‘Blue Birds Blood’, plus a couple of others I’d not heard before. Rather than giving us a Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts ‘unplugged’ kind of night, it was more Mathew Sawyer laid bare, exposed and vulnerable, which is ironically entirely in keeping with the ‘feel’ of the album. While the all too vocal majority missed the understated beauty of ‘Penny Falls’, and the like, the rest of us were captivated by Sawyer’s heart-breakingly honest delivery.

Unsurprisingly, the dance floor filled as soon as he’d finished his set. In this venue and with this crowd you almost felt relieved he’d got through it unscathed. Sawyer had given us a small part of his soul tonight, and was deserving of a more appreciative audience. With ‘Blue Birds Blood’ under his belt and with the inevitable exposure it will, however, bring, in another venue on another night you just know he’s going to get one.

Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts are appearing, with Wet Dog, at the Hope and Anchor, London on February 4th 2007. The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Bob Stuart and orignally appeared on his website

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Commenting On: Legal Tender, Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, London, 6/1/2007 - Mathew Sawyer

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