Always Wear Ear Protection

Friday 12 January was the latest of Connor Llewellyn and Mitch Tennant’s Blowout indie/alternative showcase nights. I’ve been promising the boys for ages that I’ll pop along, so I was pretty much the first punter on parade. (Connor hadn’t even set up the door, so the bugger scammed me out of a quid on the grounds that he ‘didn’t have any change’.) I made some notes as I went along, and I’ve typed them up pretty much as they stand. Please bear in mind that I’m the wrong side of forty (and then some), so I probably don’t fall into the target demographic for Blowout – but first impressions are important.
Power trio – three young lads. Very nice guitar work from the main man, strong basslines, great riffs and a solid backbeat. Pixies influence quite apparent, but have potential to explore new ground. I bought their five-track EP Milk Teeth for a mere pound. You’ll pay that for a sliced loaf and not get as much wholesome goodness for your cash. Oddly enough, there are four people credited on the sleeve notes. Maybe they’re like The League of Gentlemen, and one of them stays out of sight. Who can tell?
Another trio. More punky than Tusk – maybe how The Jam might have sounded in a parallel universe where Carnaby Street didn’t exist. More aggressive musically (in a good way), harder and faster than Tusk, but also rather aggressive and a little off-putting between songs. They set up a resonating wave through the furniture at one point. That takes some doing, fair play.
Stiff Necks
Yet another trio. This is bad news for me, as rhythm guitarists and keyboard players seemed doomed to extinction. Perhaps, as in Roger Waters’ famous quip, I’ll end up on the drum stool. Chunky basslines, solid drumming and some nice riffs, but I had the feeling that the main man’s heart wasn’t really in it. After three quite similar bands back to back, I felt slightly as though I’d been bludgeoned about the face by a Nirvana demo. I never got the whole Sub Pop thing, so maybe I wasn’t the ideal audience for these guys.
These, it turns out, are clients of my old pal Darren Broome’s agency, Lost PR. Apparently they’ve played at Leeds/Reading, so I was expecting something pretty substantial. They were an unusual setup – drummer, bass player, female vocalist. That was it. Katie has a decent voice, but it was lost in the barrage from the other two. She seemed a little timid between songs. It might have just been the mix, but I thought the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Apparently Katie works in a call centre. They have a song called (possibly) ‘Working in a Call Centre’. What you see is what you get. There doesn’t seem to be any wit. Maybe it was in the lyrics, but who could possibly tell?
It could just be me – a combination of advancing age and partial shift of hearing – but I wondered at several points why the bands bothered with vocalists at all. When the vocals aren’t buried under thee wall of sound, they’re completely unintelligible. The Cocteau Twins got away with using the voice as an instrument, and the hardcore bands like Napalm Death rendered lyrics redundant, but haven’t we moved on since the early nineties? I think we had a bad case of Tom Hardy Syndrome on Friday. As my friend Alan has pointed out on several occasions, we have sound reproduction technology that is unsurpassed since Edison first recorded the human voice. It isn’t even as though the venue has substandard gear – the mixing desk looks like something they found in the craft at Roswell. So why is it so bloody difficult for singers to make themselves understood. Answers on a postcard, please …
The Saturday night saw the welcome return of EZY Money, a guitar and vocal duo who first came here in the autumn. Brian and Simon are very nice guys who’ve been on the circuit for ages, and we chatted for a long time before they started their set. They specialise in classic rock covers, but it’s decent classic rock – there’s no Kings of Leon here. Instead, they go in for mini pyrotechnics, with Brian’s guitar shooting sparks from the stage, and later on he played with a firework in his mouth. It’s a little way from Arthur Brown, but give him time. ‘Duelling Banjos’, anyone? Oh yes, that was in the set as well. I only know three banjo players, and it’s always good to see one getting an airing. EZY Money even played my all-time favourite song – ‘Comfortably Numb’ – although the buggers waited until I’d gone for a jimmy riddle before starting that one. They pulled in a great crowd, a few people were dancing, and everyone had a thoroughly good time. (Especially one young lady, who was passed out on the end of my row. But I digress …) In the second half they returned to the greatest rock band of all time, and played two thirds of ‘Wish You Were Here’, with a little help from your humble blogger. I sang all the right words – but I didn’t necessarily sing them in the right order. Needs work, as they say.
My ears are still ringing this morning. Now I know why Connor and Mitch wore earplugs on the night. It’s a good idea, as it turns out.

The Horror …

Halloween weekend was just as crazy as you’d expect in Aberdare. This reporter called into a town centre pub for a livener on Friday afternoon, to be met by barmaids in fancy dress.
‘Oh, if I’d known we were gearing up for Halloween, I’d have come as Professor Snape’, he joked. Then he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar and found that he already had.
From there to Jac’s, where Friday night was a freaky frenzy of fun and frolics in the company of three fine bands, two of whom were simply names I knew from around the Aberdare scene.
Dead Shed Jokers got things off to a wicked (geddit?) start, with a powerful set of melodic hard rock. Versatile musicians all, the front line guitarists swapped from lead to rhythm to bass without any effort. As happens so often these days, I found myself wondering how I’d gone so long without catching them live, and making a point not to miss them next time.
The same can be said for Heavy Flames, whose dark bluesy sound set the perfect mood for the weekend. One of my friends remarked later on that he couldn’t believe I’d never seen them before. Neither can I, to be honest, as they seem to have played in every pub with a decent performance area. I must have been going to the wrong places until now.
There was a ‘Brucie bonus’ in the form of Henry’s Funeral Shoe, but I didn’t especially rate them when they were active on the scene. Instead of listening, I schmoozed some old pals of mine at the bar. A heady mixture of alcohol, nostalgia, cajolery, bribery, blackmail, and threats of violence means that I now have an opening act for the charity evening next May (of which more later).
The headliners were more old pals of mine – the ever-brilliant Cripplecreek. Currently a five-piece beat combo, they’ve reconvened after a long absence from the Aberdare scene (Carl, their drummer, spent several years in Australia) and you would swear they’ve never been away. Tight, melodic, powerful, and energetic, they were every bit as good as the night they trousered a cheque for £1,000 in Hereford, nearly two decades ago. Due to finish at 11.30, they were still firing on all cylinders at just before midnight. To judge from their previous form, they’d have played until the sun came up without stopping for breath.
Unlike your humble reporter, who is definitely getting too old for all this …

Just an Experiment

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