(London, England, U.K.)
On this music-oriented tour of England, I was trying to experience a variety of music venues and formats. One venue that’s hard to arrange in advance is the small pub…but I managed to find and book something 5 months ago. I’m really glad I did, because it ended up being the most enjoyable concert of the tour so far.
The venue was the Half Moon in Putney, located just under an hour by bus from my hotel. The Half Moon accommodates only about 200 people for concerts but has hosted some names you may know: The Rolling Stones, The Who, Elvis Costello, U2, the Yardbirds and Kate Bush for starters. In fact, many of these artists have even had residencies at the Half Moon. It’s just one of those legendary venues that musicians love to play even though it is tiny.
So who did I see here? The name of the band was Los Pacaminos. The name may mean nothing – they have only released 2 proper albums after more than twenty years together. I don’t think they’ve ever played outside of Europe and I don’t think they’ve ever had a hit. However, they contain some of the very best professional musicians in England…including one who you might know.
I didn’t really follow Paul Young’s career in the 1980s. I knew he had a bunch of hits: Come Back and Stay, Every Time You Go Away, Oh Girl, Don’t Dream It’s Over (a Crowded House cover, with Paul Carrack!) and Love of the Common People, to name a few. The songs were squarely aimed at the mainstream and he was very successful with them.
However, Paul Young also has a passion for rootsy Tex-Mex music. In 1993, he formed Los Pacaminos (a nonsense word, referring to “pack ’em in”) with a bunch of musicians who had been in his bands and also liked this kind of music. They are still together today and that’s who I was going to see at the Half Moon!
I didn’t know what to expect. I read that “La Bamba” and “Wooly Bully” generally made appearances but the rest was a mystery to me. My expectations were low, the ticket price was by far the lowest of the concerts I’m seeing, and I was a little unsure about spending a evening in an unfamiliar bar far from “my” part of London.
Any anxiousness was gone by the end of the first song. They came on stage with suitably “western” hats, like cowboys. They played a combination of originals and slightly obscure but very fun covers of songs from their musical influences…such as Doug Sahm (of the Texas Tornados and the Sir Douglas Quintet) and even Johnny “Guitar” Watson. They even tried a few synchronized “moves” like you would see from guitar instrumental bands in the 1960s.
The lyrics were sometimes similar to those you’d find in country music (there was the occasional mention of “hurtin'”, “drinkin'” and “cheatin’ hearts”) and there was a pedal steel guitar and an accordion…but the arrangements had Mexican touches and were rocked up far more than you’d ever get in country music. They all played well but special mention must be made of their guitarist Jamie Moses: he’s played with Queen and clearly has the chops to play even the most ostentatious rock guitar parts.
Most importantly, it was blindingly obvious that these guys loved the music and were having a great time. A couple of times during the show, they’d play a short version of “Tequila” and a tray of tequila shots would materialize on the stage. Despite this, they stayed happy and nobody in either the band or the audience became a problem. The joy was infectious and the 2+ hour gig was over in a flash.
I picked up a CD signed by all of the band members and look forward to listening when I get back to Kingston. If you ever get a chance to see Los Pacaminos, I highly recommend it. [Click on the link for a “studio” version of Woolly Bully by Los Pacaminos!]