The Black Hats, The Chimerical and SkyBurnsRed @ The Victoria, Swindon 15th March.

There had been much chopping and changing in the opening slot of this Songs of Praise night with bands Imageas diverse as Atari Pilot, Nudy Bronque, Blackwaters and Headlights being briefly pencilled in only to have things change. The best laid plans of mice and…music promoters? So it was with a great relief that SkyBurnsRed jumped into the slot at the eleventh hour.

SkyBurnsRed are just one more reason for me to keep banging on about what a brilliant local music scene we have at the moment. In the cyclical world of highs and lows, we are definitely heading up to a high point with bands such as this, as well as Crash and The Bandicoots, The Racket, Super Squarecloud, Old Colours, Young Blood and the aforementioned Nudy Bronque forming the vanguard of the younger bands.

Testament to their popularity, they played to the busiest room I have seen for an opening band at Songs of Praise, opening bands playing original music kicking off at nine o’clock on a damp Thursday are always going to have their work cut out. Having recently coined a phrase for their music, I think I shall give it a bit of a test drive –  SkyBurnsRed play Gypsy Metal. To clarify, dynamically intelligent alt-rock, laced with dark almost gothic overtones, peppered with eastern grooves (I’ll say it again, I love Paralysed Lullabies) and violin that wanders between lilting gypsy riffs, punchy staccato jabs and classical washes. And live they really put on a show. Whilst the drums and guitar take the music down the rock route it is the four stringers, the bass and violin, who add a lot of the flavours with clever interplays and arabesque vibes. It’s rock meets classical with out the pomp and pretensions of what that has meant in the past.

Up from Bristol, the Chimerical are a much more straightforward affair. Matching the power of grunge with the immediacy of Brit-pop they ran through a set of charged songs that played around with ska rhythms, post rock onslaughts and slightly Libertines inflected sleazed out indie. If the vocal side of things did let them down to a degree, their rhythm section coupled with the nonchalant guitar style and a lively show more than made up for it.

There are only two types of person in the world. Those who believe that The Black Hats are the next big thing and those who haven’t seen them play live.  Tonight they proved exactly why I know that to be true. A couple of years ago I vowed that I would continue setting up gigs for The Black Hats in Swindon until the punters started to get it. Tonight there were the first signs that the town is finally starting to see the light.

The most obvious thing about this band is the simple truth that they know how to write a good song, songs that pop back into your head days later and find you unexpectedly singing “we write things, we write things down…” for no good reason, to the amusement of the other people in the bank queue. Once that is quickly established it is followed up by their consummate musicianship and understanding of song structure. Effortless beats and intricate bass grooves allow the guitar to weave high end riffs or drop out all together without there being a hole in the music. To paraphrase front man Nick, they sound like The Jam might if their career had continued unabated to the present day. They share the same energy and passion, have a slightly modish punk edge to what are essentially melodic yet fairly aggressive indie-pop songs and they remain quintessentially English.

Whilst comparisons to The Young Knives and Stars of CCTV era Hard–Fi are conclusions also easily jumped to by the younger listener, I think that The Black Hats have enough of their own musical identity to brush such observations aside. As their PR campaign builds towards the release of the forthcoming album, Austerity for The Hoi Polloi, I think this is one band that are going to find themselves hot property as the year progresses.

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