9th November 2012-11-12
I’d been looking forward to this gig for a good while, partly as respite from the hammering RB had taken in the fallout from… “Cover-Band-Gate”? I need to think of a better name for it. But, after receiving a small number of furious responses to our suggestion to ‘try something new’, not only did I need a good night out, I also need my faith restoring a little.
Tonight did that. Halfway through the night it did strike me that it was the perfect response. Four great, local bands really pushing themselves into new territories and rejoicing in their own creativity. And for once, a decent crowd was there, rejoicing with them also.
The night kicked off with Michael Ainsley, who until recently performed lovely little pop songs with smart turns of phrase on an acoustic guitar. He was a gem amongst many a lineup where he would generally sit towards the bottom of the bill, due to his not-in-your-face approach. Tonight, that all changed.
Now backed up with the rhythm section from Retarded Fish, Rob from Runaround Kids and Harry from St Gregory Orange, Mike has reached an almost Mi Mye-esqe capacity for creating a local ‘supergroup’. But most surprising of all is how well the songs work in their punked-up incarnations. Despite the almost painful volume, the lyrically melodies – always Mike’s greatest asset – rise above it all. The band look like they are having fun, which hits me as something unusual in
They remind me more of the generation of bands which Retarded Fish themselves
belong to; faster, punkier, simpler and more carefree. To say the wild, joyous
abandonment was infectious would be to put it lightly and Michael Ainsley set
the bar for the evening incredibly high.
Buen Chico arrive next who, after some time off, have been re-establishing themselves as a tight and awesome as fuck guitar pop band. Tonight is no exception and tracks from their last release The Seasons EP are joined by newer, more diverse material. As their signature tune Happiness Is Important suggests, they are largely a band radiating with positive sounds, even when dealing with darker issues and it’s this tightrope walking that makes them more than what they could be: an awesome party band. Instead they show smarter songwriting skills and, as ever, the humorous and self defeating banter between songs cannot help but make you smile.
St Gregory Orange are next to grace the stage, and for the first time they are a ‘proper’ band. That’s some feat when they’ve been playing live for around three years. Now a five piece - the duo joined by Jack of Runaround Kids on Bass, Chad of The Spills on Guitar and drummer extraordinaire Dan Hayes - excitement was thick in the air as they kicked into the first song.
I have to be honest and say that I always felt St Gregory Orange were probably my favourite
band. But after tonight I can see that I was wrong. They created perhaps my
favourite records, some of my favourite songs and lyrics. But, as a duo struggling
to bring their creations to a live arena, they weren’t ever my favourite band.
The transformation is instantaneous. Still playing with minor laptop backing (itself a tense experiment to see if Dan can keep to the click) the sound is huge. The sense of dynamics a full band now brings means the songs have such greater power, much greater immediacy. The computer created beats are reproduced well and I saw two people dancing at one point. Seriously. The band themselves have greater freedom to rock out and what was once akin to a still life portrait is now an engaging stage spectacle.
Their album earlier this year was an amazing piece of work, so it’s no surprise it took a while to be able to do it justice live. But, in spite of all their achievements, this now feels like a beginning for St Gregory Orange, with even greater things to come.
After all of which, I didn’t envy The Do’s following those three bands, even if it was their own EP launch. Following three support acts that between them have released five albums when you are on your first solo release…
But they nailed it. The ferocity and directness of their approach was fitting for the end of the evening. There’s no fuss, no mess, no stray edges or unsure steps; everything is essential and honed to a fine, sharp point. The onstage relationship of a two-piece is always special and here it is displayed in a tight but energetic style. The riffs and songs are strong, rich in swagger without being over serious. It’s a celebration afterall, and tonight the bouncier tunes full of nervous energy get the greatest response.
With the exception of St Gregory Orange, these bands could have played a short set downstairs this evening. Once, that would have been a nasty dig. But these bands have a directness, an engaging quality that means they could reach out to people and – god forbid – actually entertain them. Some like to sneer at bands creating their own music for their own enjoyment as elitist. And some believe a stint in a cover band is a rite of passage to be allowed to play your own stuff. Tonight showed that to be complete bollocks. If my initial method of trying to convince people upstairs, to try something new, was faulty in its conviction, I am at least proud that tonight was the perfect example of what they were missing by failing to take that chance. And my faith is once more restored.
Words: Dean Freeman
Photo: John Jowett