Review by Paul Quinton
The Snake Oil and Harmony Tour idea was conceived by Danny Vaughn, who’d always wanted to go on the road with likeminded musicians, not as a band but as a travelling package, singing solo or together as the fancy took them. After inviting a number of others, he eventually found the ideal partner in Dan Reed after the two met at Download in 2014, when Vaughn’s band Tyketto played alongside the Dan Reed Network. The initial tour in 2015 was extremely well-received by anyone who caught one of the shows, including our own Woody who reviewed the show at Wolverhampton’s Slade Rooms, which was also one of my favourite gigs that year, and so the two set out for another tour.
This gig had originally been scheduled for the Oobleck, before that venue closed, and was rearranged, at comparatively short notice at the Hare and Hounds pub in King’s Heath. It was my first time at this venue, and I have to say, it was mostly very impressive. Despite the wood panelling in the room, the sound was pretty good, although I think parking might be an issue for those who have to drive.
The support for the Two Dans, Craig McDonald, is a Gibraltar based singer-songwriter with whom Danny Vaughn has worked for several years. He has good songs, a very listenable voice, and a very engaging sense of humour, typified in the song ‘I Don’t Mind’, which he has given the alternate title of ‘The Fuck-It Song’ and which includes a kazoo solo, although he didn’t have one about his person on the night and so had to improvise with his vocals. Considering some of the acts you see playing solo with an acoustic guitar, he fully deserves to be heard by a much wider audience, and I hope this tour will have gone some way toward achieving that.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see a number of shows on this edition of the SNAKE OIL AND HARMONY tour, and just like last year’s dates, these gigs are really an utter pleasure, and not just for the audience, I suspect, as the musicians seem to having just as much fun as the crowd. Apart from a few numbers, both are changing their contributions around each night, taking songs from their bands, solo careers and some choice covers, making each night a surprise. One consistent theme has been the honouring of the musicians who’ve left us over the past few months, especially Prince, who was clearly a huge influence on Dan Reed in particular. On other shows he’s opened the set by singing ‘The Cross’, but tonight it was Danny Vaughn’s turn, with a breathtaking ‘Snows In April’, with its sadly relevant lyrics. It didn’t take long for Reed to try to lighten the mood, though, referring to the plaque honouring UB40s debut gig at the venue, he made a rueful reference to how the Network had been treated when on tour with them. The UB40 reference came up a couple of times during the show, as when Vaughn tried to work up a version of his own ‘Standing Alone’ as it might have been played by the reggae band.
Generally on each night the two musicians have sung alternately during the set, with the other dueting or harmonising as and when they wish, often improvised. There also seems to be a friendly competition, each trying to outdo the other, as when, quite early in the set, Vaughn played one his best loved songs, ‘Is That All There Is’, followed by Reed countering with one of his very best, ‘Rainbow Child’, both to the great delight of the crowd. It isn’t all obvious crowd pleasers, Vaughn offers ‘House Of Cards’, his first ever solo B-side, for example, and Reed highlights his solo work, which is comparatively low key compared to his work with the Network. Both have also been in the business long enough to have built up a fund of stories about the people they’ve worked with, as well as tales of standing next to Jon Bon Jovi at a petrol station in Los Angeles, or Reed’s time at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, teaching the monks ‘We Will Rock You’.
Midway through the set, they’re joined by Craig McDonald, for another tribute song, this time to David Bowie, a superbly sung, three-part harmonised ‘Space Oddity’, and a terrifically arranged version of Queen’s ‘39’, and the three combine for one of Vaughn’s signature songs, the powerful ‘Standing Alone’, which was about as good a performance as anyone could wish for, but while there were so many other highlights in this show, I have to single out Reed’s reading of ‘Mix It Up’, in which he recited, almost rapped, the edgy, cynical lyrics and a sensational ‘Get To You’, which had him leaving his stool, to play at the edge of the stage. Who would have thought an acoustic guitar could be that funky?
Although Vaughn chose not to sing ‘Forever Young’ at this particular gig, he ended with a crowd pleaser in ‘Wings’, which had the audience in full voice, before a single encore of Reed’s ‘Long Way To Go’. As with the other gigs on the tour, and I wouldn’t want to single any one of them out, it was the kind of show that makes you glad there’s such a thing as live music. Last year’s gig at the Slade Rooms, was one of my musical highlights of the entire year, and this really was just as good. If they tour together again, and I think they will, do yourself a favour: don’t miss it.