On Tuesday night, I saw Dan O’Dell (a.k.a. Heartwork) post on Facebook that he was going to be visiting Swindon again, and despite the fact that it was extremely short notice I knew I had to try and be there. I’d never heard of The Roaring Donkey before, but walking in I was impressed by the atmosphere – it feels like a small country pub, despite the fact that geographically it is just behind The Vic in Swindon, which is quite a busy area. It’s made even better because, in keeping with its name, The Roaring Donkey has donkey memorabilia everywhere: postcards covering the ceiling, donkeys hanging behind the bar – such a quirky, unique idea.
Because it’s hidden away, it feels like a real gem – I was having a great evening before the music even started! Sadly, the crowd wasn’t as large as I’d anticipated (only just managing to breach double figures) but with karaoke at The Vic drawing everyone like a magnet, it wasn’t too surprising that the venue wasn’t filled to bursting. However, it definitely made it feel more special – we’ve all heard stories of majorly successful acts who performed to small crowds for years before their big break, and it really does feel like these two artists are on their way to something bigger.
Heartwork performed first, and I was so excited for his set – when I saw him last time, he was utterly brilliant, and that hasn’t changed a bit. He still ridicules himself as much as before (exemplified brilliantly when he stepped up to the microphone and introduced himself, explaining “I go by the name of Heartwork because I’m a 24 year old pretentious twat”) and his jokes are still shockingly bad (stood next to the dartboard pictured above, Dan joked “tonight, I’m going under the name of Dartwork!”) but the jokes and humorous comments came so naturally that I couldn’t help laughing out loud through almost the entirety of his set – even if some of them were a bit cheesy.
The relationship between Dan and Neil Morris made it even funnier. Dan shared the fact that they’d met at 2000 Trees festival a few years back, and you could really tell how close their friendship was – the jokes between them made the set feel more intimate, as though you were amongst close friends. With the homely atmosphere of the pub, it made for one of the nicest live environments I’d ever experienced – it was lovely to just relax and chill out, listening to some beautiful acoustic music and having a laugh.
And that’s the thing: the music was brilliant. I recognised all of the songs but one, despite the fact that I only listened to them that one time back in April – they just really stick in your mind. My favourite was still ‘I Went To Parts’, which is a song I strongly relate to, but I also loved his newest song ‘The Things I Wish I Said’, dedicated to a friend that he lost contact with due to issues with a woman. As Dan shared, “the theme of the evening is I am a terrible person and these are my songs to redeem myself”, so a lot of the lyrical content was confessional in nature. It makes it impossible not to care, because it’s all so easy to relate to.
The most interesting aspect of his set had to be the fact that half of it was broadcast on Periscope! Neil decided to film him performing ‘The Things I Wish I Said’ (hilarious choice, because in the middle of the song Dan paused to shout “uh oh, it’s happened! I’ve forgotten the words!”) – certainly the only show I’ve been to where there are more people watching at home than there are in room.
Sometimes, bands have a lot of on-stage banter because their music just isn’t up to scratch and the need to give the audience their money’s worth in some way, but that’s not the case with Heartwork – he jokes around on stage despite the fact that his songs are amazing. You can tell that he’s not as confident as he should be (shown most obviously in the fact that he always performs with his eyes closed) but he has such a talent for song-writing, you’d expect him to be a lot less humble.
Dan shared the fact that he’s going to be coming back to Swindon next month, and despite the fact that I already have a gig booked for each week of October (eek!) I’m going to have to go along! If you’re in the Swindon area, you’d be wise to go as well – I can assure you that you will definitely not have a boring evening.
To Water On Mars
The Things I Wish I Said
I Went To Parts
Fear and Clothing
I hadn’t heard of Neil Morris until this show was announced, but I’m glad I stuck around to see his set anyway. His voice has a real country tone, which means this was one of the more unusual acts I’ve seen live: I love country music, but it’s not often that I get to see it performed. As well as this, his lyrical content was pure folk, so it was such a nice change for me.
The joking between Neil and Dan was still hilarious through Neil’s set – you could tell they’d both consumed a few two many beers, but because of the great environment it didn’t deplete the enjoyment of the evening in the slightest. It did mean that Neil had a few moments where he forgot his own lyrics and needed to restart – most hilariously during ‘This Life’, when the line “his future’s filled with dread” kept tripping Neil up (as he told us, every time he sang it it sounded like “his fuchsia’s filled with dread” like “he has a load of flowers filled with dread”, and he refused to move on until he pronounced it correctly). But when you’ve been writing and performing for as long as Neil has (a massive nineteen years, from what he was saying last night!) it’s completely understandable – I mean, even Dave fuckin’ Grohl is forgets lyrics from the songs he plays less frequently.
The most beautiful song Neil performed was definitely ‘Daisy’s Song’ – an ode to a dead girlfriend. Dan suggested playing it, so Neil agreed – midway through the set, he did step back from the microphone to ask “what’s the fucking chorus, Dan?” to which Dan responded “I don’t know, I’ve only heard it once!”. Despite this little interlude, it was still such a poignant tribute, and it’s definitely one I’m going to listen to more.
Some of the songs in the set sounded rather similar to me – when you’re playing a fifteen song set, that’s going to be the only issue – so the ones that really stood out were ‘Blood Diamonds’/’Don’t Know If I Should Drive’, two songs that tell the story of a disastrous dinner with a girlfriend’s family, and ‘Bristol Doesn’t Have a Coastline’ which was an utterly hilarious closer. To be able to laugh along at songs, I normally need to be listening to them at home – it takes a very skilled vocalist to be able to have the clarity and diction to communicate the lyrics properly. Neil obviously had this, because I was rapt by the funny stories that he was telling: I couldn’t help laughing along, and the imagery that he was conveying was so evocative it was so much like reading a book. ‘Bristol Doesn’t Have a Coastline’ was so wittily written – it’s the story of a night out that ends with Neil waking up, expecting to be in Bristol, and finding that he’s actually looking out at Clevedon (or, as he put it “best not tell anyone about this stupid thing I’ve done, so I wrote a song about it!”).
Neil’s songs might have been more humorous than Heartwork’s, but their origin stories are both very similar – Heartwork shared the fact that when his relationship ended he had to leave the cat with his ex-girlfriend, and Neil had actually been through the same situation. Neil shared the fact that his coping mechanism was to go out on tour, which was “basically two and a half weeks of a mild fucking breakdown”, but going by how good the songs are that focus on these experiences, it was a wise decision.
I’ve bought Neil’s albums, so I’m going to be listening to them a bit more over the weeks to come – I really do appreciate his unique vocal style. If I can see him again in the future, I certainly will: I’m going to be keeping a close eye out to see if he returns to Swindon!
Give Me Tuesday
It’s Hard To Open Doors
Don’t Walk Away
Don’t Know If I Should Drive
Son of Wednesbury
A Little Polish (The Blanks cover)
On My Own
Santeria (Sublime cover)
Bristol Doesn’t Have a Coastline
Sadly, I can’t workout what the eleventh song Neil played was – sorry about that! I can tell you that it mentioned “last night wasn’t supposed to be the kind of night I ended on the floor”, so if you’re a fan of Neil’s and recognise the lyric – let me know!