So it turns out that the violinist-who-used-to-live-next-door (occasionally we could hear a few notes floating through the walls and into the kitchen) is actually part of this group, who we heard last night at the Cellar. As per the wonderfully circular world of Oxford, Joe Allen works at the Corner Club, neé QI, which almost everyone we know has connections to. I like this sort of smallness: not stifling but familiar; large enough still to be surprising, and pleasantly so.
The Cellar would probably more aptly be called the basement. Cellar implies wood, and warmth, and (quite possibly) wine; but the place reminds me far more strongly of a friend's spacious under-house hideout--a dingy, dark, sticky-floored hollow perfect to listen to music by. The beer is cheap and the ambiance appealingly sparse; and all confounded by a sense of wonder that you can be here, underneath ancient alleyways, listening to a thoroughly modern selection of youthful, pretty musicians.
Joe Allen, accompanied by Angharad Jenkins on the violin and Chrissie Sheaf on the drums, has a sound that reminds me of Damien Rice, or possibly Stephen Fretwell, with operatic elements (and the shining sounds of an electric violin, which I'm starting to think is something no band should be without...). The threesome has clearly mastered the art of performance: that is, their music is, in rare fashion, actually enhanced by their physical presence. At one point I was smiling so widely that a friend looked at me curiously (presumably thinking the £1.50 Foster's had gotten to my head); it was just that good, in a heart-soaring kind of way.
In bed later that night, we were aroused from our half-sleep (books on our chests) by a series of bangs, followed by shouts on the street which sounded distinctly different from the drunken yelps of late-night returners, or the fierce calls of virile men aching for a boozy fight; so we rose on our knees and peeked our heads out of the window. Down the street, not half a block, we could see an enormous, orange crown of flames pouring out of an alleyway; billows of white smoke came running down towards us and we smelled the acrid flavour of something wrong, something electric.
Firefighters had arrived on the scene silently, and we watched their figures dart and flit until the smoke had been shrunk and the fire reduced and our necks had begun to ache from craning. A father and son went out into the street to assess the danger, but otherwise no-one showed any signs of stirring. We could have gone on sleeping and never even known.
The whole street seemed precious then, fragile, but ours: the violinist next door, who you know only from the sound of her strings and her Welsh voice, turns out to make you smile harder than you've smiled all day; and firefighters do their job with austerity, guided by the blinking blue lights of their trucks; and we are somehow in the middle of all this.