In the 18 months or so since I first became aware of and subsequently a fan of Joe Kelly & The Royal Pharmacy, I have seen them in many venues of varying description. Some big, some small, some indoor, some outdoor, some full to the brim, some a little more sparse. But until last Friday night, I’d not seen them perform in a refurbished gentleman’s Edwardian public toilet block – or any toilet for that matter.
Much has been written about the Phyllis Maud since it’s transformation into a micro theatre in 2018, but I’d yet to check it out for myself. The venue itself is enticing enough, but the fact it is a 35 seat capacity venue makes it all the more alluring. It’s a bit of a tired cliche to describe a small gig as intimate, but this is the very definition of the word.
In another first, I finally got to see Bryony Sier live after about a year of never quite being able to make one of her shows. From Merthyr, Bryony has built-up a reputation in Newport after a string of gigs and this was quite an occasion to get my first glimpse.
As well as having a melodious voice, Bryony is an extremely accomplished finger picking guitarist, something that always catches me by surprise when seen live. In a 30 minute set of original songs (except for a well received rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”), she covers an array of topics including religion, travel and self-exploration, with the audience completely engaged throughout. Shy and unassuming away from the stage, she is entirely at ease when performing her songs; the stage seems like home.
Not always renown for being the most organised (he’s a musician, not a librarian), there are gasps drawn (well, a single surprised look) when Joe issues set-lists for all five band members and what’s more, all printed out. The piece of paper, right in front of my eyes becomes a bit of a problem for me. No spoilers please!
With the crowd captivated from the start, the band run through their impressive catalogue of songs. They open with “Sixty Six”, from brand new ep “The Road”, just Joe, his guitar/harmonica and a touch of haunting electric guitar from Chris. As the set warms up after “Holding On” and another new release “Home”, Bryony is invited onto the stage to provide backing vocals for “Losing Side” and personal highlight “The Beast”, swirling keyboard’s prominent.
The Royal Pharmacy have played in various guises of late, but when all playing together as a five piece in full flow, there are fewer bands in the area than can compete with them. The regular set comes to an end by what is now the standard closer “The Kings Road”, a guaranteed favourite when the band release their much anticipated debut album.
In normal circumstances an encore would’ve been likely, but the logistics of getting five members off stage and back on again would’ve been impracticable at best. After chants of “Babylon, Babylon” and a not too convincing protestation from Joe (“Babylon is probably a bit too loud for this place”, he quips) the band blasted it out, before finishing to rapturous applause with the poignant “Guys Like You & Me”, once again joined by Bryony.
The Phyllis Maud is a fascinating space and isn’t somewhere you go just to see a performance, but also for a unique experience. To see Joe with the full Royal Pharmacy and of course Bryony, from such close proximity is a privilege. Although unlikely to be repeated anytime soon, you can see a highlights reel via Bryony’s brand new Vlog on YouTube.
Furthermore, if you’re a performing artist of any description and would like to perform at the Phyllis Maud, you can contact Barnabas Art House via their website. I’m sure they would love to hear from you.
All photos by the brilliant Kamila Jarczak