July 30th, 2010


Jred at Riff's Bar

I live like a hermit these days. That's almost entirely a consequence of the smoking ban. So it was a big event to find myself sitting on a warm summer evening talking to Jredheadgirl - aka Juliette Tworsey - and her friends and relatives and Firebug band members, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes before and after their show at Riff's Bar last night.

I first encountered Jred in Forces' Tavern a year or two back, where I occasionally wrote comments under the tag of idlex. It must've been 18 months or so before I learned that she played in a band in California. And it was only last month I found out she was coming to England to play a few gigs. And it was only last week that it occurred to me to actually go see her play at Riff's Bar outside Swindon. Hermits are like that: It doesn't occur to them to actually go meet people. Particularly the virtual people who inhabit the internet like angelic beings, who are almost all only known by what they write, rather than what they look like, or how they speak, or how tall they are.

Juliette Tworsey is a very real and vivacious 5' 3" stick of a girl with a mane of long red hair and a flashing smile. She's an inch or two taller in her stacked boots. She's wearing skin tight jeans and a skimpy halter top under a long blue double-breasted overcoat with giant buttons down each side. And she's smoking roll-ups in a roll-up holder, and rummaging around in a big handbag to try to find a lighter. And she is talking, easily and humorously. She has to be reminded two or three times that the show is about to start before she eventually goes off to join the band inside Riff's Bar - which is really just a pub with a tiny stage at the end of one of its bars. Not that there is much preparation needed. She just takes off her overcoat, and plugs in her yellow guitar.

The other members of Firebug are a trio of well-built, six-foot-plus, American alpha males in jeans and sneakers. And they form a tight unit that drives a band of which she's very much the lead singer and spokesperson. She introduces them by name. These are deeply competent musicians. Adam Levy on bass. Ty Dennis moonlights as drummer for the Doors. And as the lead guitarist Jules Shapiro plays, he keeps tossing little extra musical inflections and asides and remarks into the melodic torrent. And Juliette rides the wave easily at the front, jigging up and down at the microphone, stepping back from it to add another musical inflection on her guitar.

The result is very much like Chrissie Hynde fronting the Pretenders. There's the same kind of tension between the female lead and the male backing, between sensitivity and brute force. It's very sexy. They're playing the Sonisphere at Knebworth on Sunday, and they thought that while they were here they might as well play a few bars. So here they all are.

After the show, people drift back outside. It's more like a party than a rock concert. The band members chat to each other and to the customers. And Juliette sits talking, bantering with a glass of wine, about Irish relatives and the music world and LA, where people drive along six-lane freeways at 70 mph, texting.

And Juliette is touched that I've driven all the way from Devon to see her. And, after midnight, as people finally start heading home, she's worried that I'm going to be driving all the way back. She suggests I stay the night at a motel. When I persist in the folly, she suggests I drink some coffee. And she tells me to email her when I get home.

Which, of course, I do. Because she told me to. I stop for a big mug of coffee at a motorway service station. And I report my safe return on her facebook page first thing when I get back.

All in all, a memorable night out for a hermit.