About 20 years ago I went to see a film in Bristol with Phil, who bumped into a student he used to teach. This guy told Phil that he was studying in Brighton and when I explained that I lived in Hassocks, he excitedly told me that he often went to Hassocks to take photos for his photography degree. I looked surprised and asked him why, at which point he looked a bit embarrassed and reluctantly told me that it was Hassocks was so ordinary.
I can only agree. Hassocks is 7 miles North of Brighton and doesn’t have the glamour of the city and neither does it have the beauty of a Sussex village such as Hurstpierpoint which nestles in the South Downs. It’s a great place to live but there’s nothing exceptional about it. There aren’t even any particularly good pubs although The Hassocks Hotel, which is next to the railway station does a beautiful pint of Harvey’s. It’s a good community pub and when my mother-in-law was alive, she used to go there for a pensioner’s lunch – probably Shepherd’s Pie followed by Apple Crumble. Lovely.
The Hassocks Hotel can get a little, shall we say, funky on a Saturday night but nothing too terrible. It’s not the place for a quiet conversation but there’s a good sense of people enjoying themselves whether it be through watching football on the many screens or children playing pool or the sound of cackling laughter indicating that Sunday morning may be a time for recovery.
Last night, The Hassocks Hotel was the venue for a fantastic gig by Jesse Malin. I have seen music there before when Paddy and I went to the Mid Sussex Americana And Ale Festival in August 2018. On that day, the acts included Jason McNiff, Ags Connolly, Danni Nicholls, Bennett Wilson Poole, Mike Ross, Izzie Walsh, Robbie Cavanagh and Hannah Rose Platt. The Jesse Malin concert was the first live music that I have seen since a brilliant gig by Grumpy Chris Wood in March 2020.
Jesse Malin played with a red hot band consisting of lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboard and drums. He played acoustic guitar. It was very loud. I only knew one song (“Wendy” from his first album “The Fine Art Of Self Destruction”). It was hard to distinguish between some of the songs a lot of which sounded like The Clash (they even played “Rudie Can’t Fail” from “London Calling”). Nevertheless, it was brilliant.
There were a number of unique aspects to the gig. Firstly, Jesse Malin seemed a little surprised to be in Hassocks. His previous UK Tours had included dates at The O2 Academy in Leeds, another O2 Academy in Bristol and Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. On this tour, he had played at The Garage in London on the night before and the adverts in the music press claimed that the last night of this tour would be at the “Mid Sussex Music Hall” in “Brighton”. Instead of Brighton, he found himself at an ordinary pub in an ordinary village surrounded by, as he kept saying “Picnic Tables”. Jesse Malin felt the need to remind us of his pedigree – he told us that Lucinda Williams had produced his 2019 album, “Sunset Kids”. He had opened for Kiss at Madison Square Gardens. Bruce Springsteen duetted with him on a song from his 2017 album, “Glitter In The Gutter”. (He didn’t mention that Ryan Adams had “discovered” him and produced his first album – nowadays Ryan Adams has been cancelled due to allegations of sexual misconduct.)
When I lived in Harlow, I once walked to a great venue called The Square to see Half Man Half Biscuit. When Roo and I lived in Falmer we walked to Sussex University to see a brilliant gig by Loudon Wainwright III. Walking to a gig, like I did yesterday with Peter, is wonderful.
Somebody, it may have been Lester Bangs, once said that “rock’n’roll is all about fucking.” If Jesse Malin had this quote in mind, he would have been a little disappointed when he saw the audience at The Hassocks Hotel. I guess that there were 150 people in the audience of whom about 120 were men aged over 50. I guess there were about 20 females there and a few younger men. One of the men of a similar age to Peter and me was having a great time until everything started kicking off. He had a grey beard, a flat cap and a pint and he seemed to have learned how to dance at Woodstock in 1969. It used to be called “idiot dancing” but that’s a bit harsh. He was really into the music but he was taking up quite a bit of space as he needed a lot of room to express himself. About halfway through the gig, an angry looking man stood at the front and glared at him. I have no idea if Mr. Angry was anything to do with the band or with The Hassocks Hotel but after he found that his glaring had no effect Mr. Angry marched up to Mr. Idiot Dancer and manhandled him to the back of the hall. He encountered some resistance and both of them ended up on the floor at which point the band stopped playing and Jesse Malin repeated “peace and love man.” I’ve been to a lot of venues to see live music but it took The Hassocks Hotel to provide a gig which kicked off so badly that the band stopped playing.
I loved the gig but Peter expressed slight unease at Jesse Malin’s predilection to jump off stage and walk round the audience whilst still singing. I think he should invest in a radio microphone because the long lead attached to the microphone became a health and safety hazard for the audience! At one point, still singing, he came up to Peter and me and half barged us out of the way before he clambered onto the tables that we were leaning against. I’ve never been so close to a performer before. At one point, Jesse Malin talked about how, during lockdown, he performed a webstream from his house. He said that the lack of an audience response at the end of each song was particularly difficult. He said, and I think this is great, that performing live to an enthusiastic audience is a bit like going to a church where everyone has the same belief in the power of music.
An intimate gig in a small venue. What could be better?
Actually, what could be better is Jesse Malin’s latest album, released only two weeks ago. I’ve been listening to it all day and it’s a brilliant blend of different styles. He says “When I made my first solo record, I used an acoustic guitar because I wanted people to hear the lyrics, but as time went on, my rock and roll and punk rock attitude started to appear, and I made a couple of records that, in my opinion, were a little too much of that. I’m now able to incorporate these two sides of my personality and blend them together in a way that’s comfortable. I feel I was able, with this record, to house both sides of my personality.” This is a double album comprising 17 songs. One album is the Americana-leaning which he has called “Roots Rock.” The second album is more rock-focused, titled “Radicals.”
One of the early highlights is “State Of The Art” which was released as a single. The song is addressed to one person who has suffered from drug addiction and been in prison and is trying hard to escape the racist, sexist, hating society that they grew up in. One of the brilliant aspects to Jesse Malin’s songs is that he writes great choruses. Even yesterday, when I didn’t know a lot of the songs, I could latch onto the choruses. In “State Of The Art”, the chorus is “Living in the state of the art/I’m trying not to take it to heart/while everything is falling apart/I know you wanted more this time.” Apart from the lyrics, this is a great power pop song and reminds me very much of some of the best music made by Jason Isbell. There is no higher praise.
Equally amazing is “The Way We Used To Roll”, in which a rolling infectious piano-based rhythm propels Jesse Malin to describe the good times he has experienced – “the dancing, the laughter, the mischief, and community,” as he describes it. Jesse Malin was born in New York and was the front man for a band he called Heart Attack when he was 12 years old. The chorus of this song is “Oh, do you remember the way we used to roll? Oh, do you remember? Before they got my soul.”
One of the highlights of last night’s gig was singing along to the chorus of “Saint Christopher” which goes “Hey man whatd’ya say? I’m all fucked up in the USA. Hey man where do I go? Cause I’ve been all over the world”. It’s a great song about looking for love, peace and happiness. I would strongly recommend that he could find this at a rock’n’roll concert in a small venue in Hassocks.