Punch House Band are a rather good folk and originals music group based in Norwich, Norfolk, playing a repertoire including songs about East Anglia, not really with a traditional approach. It’s an energetic mixture of folk standards and original material with a focus on songs and stories from Norfolk and the East which they call Songs from the Big Sky. Their set is characterised by quality musicianship, strong vocal harmonies and a commitment to putting on a show. Bandleader Tim Lane explains the name:
On Norwich market there was a pub in the 19th century called the Punch House. Not there any more. I thought it would be good to call it after that. We like playing in pubs (we like playing anywhere and everywhere), there are some drinking songs in the set, and there’s a little bit of edgy energy to the music, and it’s a nod to the local area where we take our inspiration from—so Punch House kind of fits all was round…
The original core of the Punch House Band, Leighton Williams (lead vocal), Richard Brook (banjo and vocal) and Lane (guitar and vocal), got together when they were the cast of Norwich theatre group Crude Apache’s 2015 touring show Singing The Postman. The play, which told the story of Allan Smethurst, Norfolk’s legendary Singing Postman, featured the three of them playing the roles of Smethurst impersonators and had them performing his songs to highly appreciative audiences. Once the show was over they decided to continue as a band. (The band have maintained the theatre connection, providing the live music for Crude Apache’s 2018 summer touring show, At the Turning of the Tide, and its 2020 revival at the Maddermarket Theatre. They also acted as house band for Crude Apache’s 2019 25th anniversary cabaret.)
Having invited Jason Thompson (percussion) and George McKay (double bass) to join, the band made its debut at the 2016 Norwich Beer Festival in St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich. The combination of the theatre background and the diverse musical histories of the new musicians (Thompson’s background being rock, McKay’s jazz), means the band sound is hard-hitting, meticulously arranged and highly entertaining. And in Leighton Williams they have a charismatic frontman, who also happens to have a great voice. Read the testimonials from those who have already booked and re-booked them, and from their growing following. Funny, too.
Some highlight gigs so far include:
- Norwich Beer Festival (each year since 2016): St Andrew’s Hall Norwich, main stage, 800+ audience
- At the Turning of the Tide (2018): the band for original musical theatre open-air touring production, 12 shows, 100-250 audience per show
- Winter 2018-2019 tour: 7 pub and club venues across Norwich and Norfolk—some stonking gigs!
- Norfolk and Norwich Festival (2019): Chapelfield Gardens marquee, local artists stage
- Head Out Not Home street arts festival (2019): Riverside, Norwich city centre Thursday summer evenings live shows.
As you can see in many of the photos, the band usually dress in black waistcoats and white shirts, a simple but striking visual style that one audience member memorably described as ‘the dark side of the Mumfords’ (who?). They prefer Eastern Gothic, with a splash of steampunk Victoriana. In fact there is a quite a bit of gothic, and folk-blues fairy tale and horror in some of the songs, like a Norfolk murder ballad, a prison song, a ‘Babes in the Wood’ story song in its original Norfolk setting, others like ‘Bedlam boys’ and ‘Hog-eye man’ that sort of tell you what they are about in their titles.
The Punch House Band usually play with light amplification, and have their own PA and mics when there isn’t in-house sound equipment. The band turn up, set up, play two 45-60-minute sets, pack away again. The band can also play acoustically, for instance at an intimate garden party or a very small gig—the summer 2018 tour of At the Turning of the Tide was entirely acoustic, and in the open air. To book the Punch House Band go to this page.
In 2019, the band released their first CD, an EP containing six tracks, called Songs From the Big Sky. You can buy it at gigs, or if you’re interested in booking the band, you can get a complimentary copy from manager Jo Edye. Read more about Songs From the Big Sky here.
Elsewhere on the website there are videos and recordings, bios and publicity photos of the band, stories about songs, information about upcoming gigs, occasional blogs and more. For social media updates about gigs etc, if you are so inclined you can follow the Punch House Band on FaceBook here, and Twitter @PunchHouseBand. The FaceBook and Twitter feeds elsewhere on this page offer current and tempting snapshots of the truly fascinating & exciting stuff they post.
Main website header photo above, and official band portraits, by Al Pulford, with thanks.