The Bell in Bath’s Walcott Street is not a large pub. With the small stage taking up half the available width of the front bar area, even a modest crowd can make the place feel jammed. With a large one, as there was for the Pushy Doctor’s second visit here, it is absolutely rammed, and its not unknown for the roar of chatter to drown the band out. After the third number last night, Andy Sheppard drew breath and reminded the assembled hordes that talking and generally having fun was allowed. The Doctors had segued from a galloping Killer Joe, via a clattery melodic drum solo into a hooky modal piece through an organ interlude into a blazing latin groover. Andy could have reminded some folk that they could close their mouths (quite a few seemed to have dropped open). This band were on blazing form. Everything seems to have gone up a gear since I saw them last at the Greenbank. The pace is up, the grooves are springier and lighter (not that that seemed possible); Andy Sheppard seemed to be relishing surfing on the rolling momentum created by Tony Orrell’s drums. Dan Moore’s playing absolutely locked in but there were lots of darker chords and tones giving everything an edge. And there was a pride in the material; “My name’s Andy Sheppard and I love cheese”. There’s always a twist to remind you just how good they are though. ‘Baby Love’, the rousing closer modulated effortlessy through key change after key change just ramping up the excitement. ‘I only have eyes for you’ had a great, recurring stabbing rythmn to subvert it. Each pop tune interspersed with 1930’s cheese (aka standards). And the anthemic rendering of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love can break your heart’ brought a lump to this cheese lover’s throat. Occasionally the momentum and tension was almost unbearable. My other pair of ears was screaming ‘breathe, breathe’ as the long, held soprano note over the crescendo of drums and and organs at the end of Dear Prudence extended and extended (okay, strictly that circular technique is breathing). There’s a delicate balance between being playfully respectful towards material, delivering it seriously but with a smile (or beaming grin in Tony Orrel’s case) and being over ponderous, and sentimental. The Pushy Doctors have it down to a tee; impossible not to leave feeling enlivened and borne up by the occasion. They’ve been playing pretty relentlessy around the small pubs and clubs of Bristol and Bath these last few months. Catch them while you can is all I can say.
The Pushy Doctors, The Bell Inn, Bath, Wednesday 31st August