6th April | Hy-Brasil

I entered Hy-Brasil to discover a man dressed as a pink elephant; it most definitely was a Saturday night in the centre of Bristol. But tucked away at the back, past the rowdy bar, lay the quiet stage area where band members embraced friends who perhaps began as fans and the merch stand proudly displayed Tugboat Captain’s ‘Be Strong, Smoke Less’ bold, red-print tees.

Hosted by an MC, lording his spoken word between each set, the night began with his ironic ‘Plastic Fantastic’ poem, leading into the first support set, Enjoyable Listens – a two-piece, vintage mod get-up, starring vocals and bass (plus laptop clicking for backing tracks). Band leader, Luke, seemingly manifested a 1980s Morrissey: gallivanting across the stage, jesting at crowd members and posing on the monitor. But he was humble and sucked us in with his theatrical flair and humour. Meanwhile bassist, Jamie, remained expressionless and subdued throughout the set. An endearing, contrary pair.

GINS, the final support of the evening, felt fairly ill-fitted amongst the other acts, but then I didn’t think the roaring spoken-word was well placed either. A solo artist, she began hunched into herself, slowly looping layers of vocals, which built to a mass of confident sound. I prepared myself to be bewitched by peculiar melodies and offensive lyrics, but was disenchanted by an onstage moodiness that failed to translate through her music. I imagine GINS would be the perfect act for a small festival stage under a night sky full of stars; her new-wave witch blends deserve a space where her terrestrial sounds can be fully absorbed with outer space in view.

The night was running over an hour behind the set times released online, but it wasn’t just the relief of finally seeing Tugboat Captain arrive on stage that made me jump to my feet. There was a little chaos in getting the band behind the stage curtain and then a slightly awkward revealing, but immediately, I got a sense of their whacky charm. They maintained this charisma throughout their set, teasing the crowd, leaning from the stage to toy with Luke from Enjoyable Listenings and dancing to the floor, scrambling through guitar leads. Built with guitar, bass, keys/bassoon and drums, all four covered vocals at one point or another.

I was disappointed not to hear the female vocals take lead on ‘Be Strong Smoke Less’ like the recording, but she was playing some kick-ass drums at the back of the stage, so this was possibly a logistical move. Regardless, all of them brought sweet, soft tones which blended together like your favourite summer smoothie: super-uplifting and smothered in sunshine. When the bassoon was pulled out for the first time for ‘Calm! Haribo?’ they acknowledged its abnormality in pop music and absurdity in size. But its woodwind resonance complimented their upbeat, modern Kinks vibe.

It’s no wonder Tugboat Captain have been so successful in building a fan base on their own. Their captivating, non-threatening rapport creates an opportunity of freedom and escapism for the audience, who are made to feel like family. Thanks to their religious touring, it won’t be long until Bristol gets to welcome them again.

Listen to ‘Be Strong, Smoke Less’ here: