Brian Viner: 'The band's audience comprised neighbours and a local chicken farmer'

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The Independent Online

Two years ago we hosted a concert in our living-room, which is not exactly the Hollywood Bowl, but it's amazing how many chairs, hired from the village hall, you can squeeze in with the sofas pushed back. Top of the bill, indeed alone on the bill, were the husband-and-wife singer-songwriters Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish. I booked them because I like their lyrical melancholia, the plaintive echoes in their music of Hank Williams and Patsy Kline, and also because Mike and I were at school together.

The audience comprised our neighbours and friends, including Stewart the local chicken farmer, who fell victim to the foolish decision of the stage manager (me) to turn up the radiators full whack. It was a chilly autumn night and I wanted people to be warm, but hadn't allowed for the heat a small crowd generates by itself. Stewart sat on one of the sofas, and during a sad song about a young woman killing herself, unwittingly contributed a basso-profundo counter beat, which grew steadily in resonance until his wife Susie kicked him awake.

Anyway, when I heard about a two-man band from Peterborough called The Candle Thieves who have spent this summer playing the nation's back gardens on their Live In Your Garden tour, I was seduced instantly by the notion of hosting another small concert without the hassle of hiring chairs, wondering what to do with the radiators, or stopping chicken farmers from snoring. On the other hand, there was the uncertainty of the weather to consider. Happily, I booked them for the afternoon of the second Saturday in September, which by cosmic good fortune turned out to be one of the finest days north Herefordshire has enjoyed all year.

The Candle Thieves themselves, however, will read the word Herefordshire and wince. They thought we lived in Hertfordshire, only one letter but over a hundred miles apart, and the keyboard player – who with a splendid dash of mystique is known only as The Glock, presumably short for glockenspiel – had to drive all the way from Peterborough to perform a 35-minute set in our garden, then drive back across the country to Newmarket, where he was due to play at a wedding reception. Whether he made it I don't know. It was The Glock against the clock.

The singer/guitarist, the more prosaically-named Scott McEwan, was at least able to stick around for tea, cakes and a chat. He told me he and The Glock have played about 20 garden gigs this summer, in places as diverse as Grimsby, Bristol, London and now Herefordshire. They never ask for payment, just a whip-round, on the basis that it is "a privilege" to be allowed into people's gardens. Which is all very well, but they're 26 and have to eat. Scott told me he'd spent the previous day handing out sweets in a promotion at a cash 'n' carry in Northampton. "But I'd rather struggle doing something I love than earn lots doing something I don't," he said. Moreover, back gardens are invariably more congenial than some venues. "There was a place in Leeds where we played to no-one," he added cheerfully. "Even the bar staff weren't there."

More fools the bar staff. The Candle Thieves, you read it here first, are wonderful. Their songs are uplifting, musical talent formidable, and their hugely-engaging performance in our garden delighted an audience ranging from 10 to 79, not an easy trick to pull off. Our 16-year-old daughter Eleanor gave them the ultimate endorsement: she downloaded four songs to her i-Pod. Even Dizzee Rascal is only on there twice.

The garden dimension works brilliantly because they are so sunny-natured; indeed they hand out seeds with their CDs in the hope that people "might plant something to remember the day by". They have played all sizes of gardens and once led an audience into a potting shed, in a variation on garage music. They were informed before one gig that it would have "a Brokeback Mountain theme" and could they come dressed as cowboys? There was, I was assured, no hidden agenda. Just some rather good chile con carne. Their 'Sunshine' EP is released this week by Alcopop Records