So the Mayans got it wrong and we survived. Okay, to be honest unless you are some sort of deranged American prepper, zonked out Guatemalan shaman or paranoid occultist, no one expected anything different and just used it as an excuse to throw a party. The Furnace was no exception.
It’s been a pretty good month for me musically speaking. Firstly managing to get to a low key show in Oxford by The Everlasting Yeah, the resurfaced 4/5ths of That Petrol Emotion, thereby getting to hang out with a genuine Undertone and some really great people. (Hurrah!) I also found myself at The Barbican for the last ever Twelfth Night show, a band I had been following since 1983. I was there at …well, near the beginning and I was there at the end. (Hurrah…with lashings of echoplex, strange time changes and all the prog rock trappings) I also caught a cracking show with Super Squarecloud and Gaz Brookfield at The Victoria to mark the end of The BBC Introducing program (boo! to the BBC top brass for such a short-sighted and money driven cultural abandonment.) All in all it had already been a great month for live shows, so to line up most of my favourite locally based bands of recent times in one place was the obvious way to top things off.
In an unplanned addition to the night, Charlie Russell got things going with his line of punked-indie-mod acoustica, showing that if you are going to try and hold the room with just a voice and a guitar you need both the songs and charisma to back it up. This he has which is why it works. Now decamped to Brighton and still working as a part of a slightly re-jigged Dirt Royal line up it was great to see his axis of Libertines-Jam-Oasis influenced music on the bill.
The first full band to hit the stage were SkyBurnsRed, a band who have gone from strength to strength this year with a string of great shows, including the now legendary violin trashing slot at The Shuffle and a new e.p. as proof, if proof were needed. They are a band that really comes alive on the bigger stage and tonight they filled the room. Guitars growled, vocals rasped, violins soared, basses rumbled and drums power it all home….everything as it should be. To steal a quote from a recent review of their latest release, “It’s grunge with a classical sweep, alternative rock for the 21st century, it’s aggressive, raw and emotive, dark, elegant and sensuous, it’s the sound of SkyBurnsRed becoming the band that they have always been destined to become.” ‘Nuff said.
The Racket has proved that their shows are a balancing act on the part of the band. They can range from a beautiful chaos that becomes more about the spectacle than the music as everything seems to fall apart around them or tightly knit displays of gutter anthems that show their talents as songwriters and performers. With just the right amount of “influence” coursing through their blood streams, tonight, they seemed to get it just right. Trashy anthems and a self-assured swagger (note to other bands: cocky is okay, arrogance is not so cool) – they nailed it. They are what happens when back-street punk influences inspire indie kids to take the less obvious Brit-pop sounds, mix it up with dance grooves and a large helping of attitude. They avoid the style over substance of bands like Twisted Wheel by having the songs to back it all up.
Enter Nudybronque. Okay, I raved unashamedly about their new three-piece format, when I first saw them at this same venue and I have to say that this show justified and even enhanced my thoughts. Some sort of transformation has taken place, particularly in front man Aiden. Faced with a crisis of how to continue after the departure of sibling Mike from the band, the work that they have put in has really paid off. Still based on really accessible pop grooves their music is now filled with a previously missing intensity. Vocally they seem to now have replaced their often-innocent sound with a post-punk ferocity, darker and more mature. The old songs are still as punchy and danceable as ever and their newer material points out interesting new areas of exploration. I flippantly commented of these newer influences that they had been hanging around with Super Squarecloud too much, but as a starting point that isn’t too far from the truth. Moving away from the straighter pop lines of their earlier work they are evolving into something really interesting as the songs get more involved, more exploratory, more complex. As long as they don’t stray too far away from the melodic groove and danceable backbeats that make up their core sound, they have got it made.
What can I say about The Rhubarbs? Nothing, as for at least the third time this year they failed to show up for a Swindon booking.
If the overall thread so far has been how far all these bands have moved on in the last year, The Street Orphans hit their stride a while ago – it’s pretty much two years ago that I bigged up their self titled e.p. – and continue to deliver the goods. Plying a trade of a more accessible brand of indie but still able to blend in other genres, they manage to mix quality musicianship with clever songs and a wonderful understanding of dynamics. They might not display the intensity of the bands that have gone before but they are probably the one that will find an easier root into the more mainstream outlets of radio and album sales.
The story running round the room was that The Fixed had been elevated to headline due to their bar restrictive age, none of the other bands feeling that they would be in a fit state to play by the time the headline slot was due. If that was partly true, The Fixed didn’t seem out of place topping the bill. Last time I saw them their show seemed a bit forced and overly cocky. Foot on the monitor stage antics are fine if you are wearing beaten up leathers and Raybans and have the back story to go with it but when the reality is that you got a lift to the gig with you mum and tomorrow is all about finishing that English essay that is due on Monday, maybe I felt that they hadn’t paid enough dues to adopt such theatrics. But then again as an aging rocker I’m hardly their target audience so what should they care what I think? Tonight however they seemed to just get on with the business of playing the music. There was enough show to make them interesting but this time it seemed natural and didn’t detract from what they were here to do. This was a band I could take seriously, a band that doesn’t need to be followed around by tag lines relating to their age and potential. Just keep doing this and they will do just fine.
I also had an epiphany, a Damascene moment…well a thought. After the show had finished I wandered upstairs to The Rolleston to catch the tail end of Metalhead, as the name implies a metal covers band. And as great as they were, in terms of showmanship and musical ability, it suddenly dawned on me why, for me, this was no comparison to what I had just witnessed. It’s a nostalgia thing and I’m not really into it. For me I’m not one for dwelling on the music of the past, of course I still play my old records, but as a live performance it brings nothing to my table. I’m more interested in seeing where music is going, picking up on new music through chance meetings at gigs, receiving demos by bands who are moving things forward, looking for the next new thing to excite me. Hearing AC/DC covers is all well and good, but I have been there, done that, bought any number of t-shirts that sadly no longer fit me. Even though I may have looked the part in their audience, I felt like I didn’t belong there.
Maybe the Mayans got it right after all. In a way. Maybe the world did end. The world of Swindon bands being also-rans, of our scene being the poor relation to Oxford, Bristol …anywhere for that matter. Tonight proved that a whole group of local bands have, after a learning curve of a couple of years, really hit their stride and are ready to get out their and hold their own against all comers. Let’s think of this as year zero, the hard work is done, the rough edges have been beaten off, or grafted on in some cases and it is time to show the rest of the country what we have got, and what we have got is a whole bunch of bands that are ready to go out their and create their own name, their own career, even their own mythology.