Monday, 31 October 2016

7/10/2016 Syteria, JoanOvArc & The Kut at Club 85

Friday night finds me getting on my bike and heading off to a gig - in completely the opposite direction to normal. Heading north out into the sticks I arrive in Hitchin a lot quicker than if I had got the train, and spending a lot less on petrol than I would have done on the train fare - £12 return apparently. Considering that the venue is in a smallish town out in Hertfordshire Club 85 is an amazing place. Holding a few hundred people, plus having a large stage with decent PA and lighting systems it's actually a far better venue than most in London. Although it's not as big as the rightly famed Rock City in Nottingham, Club 85 also has you asking the same question - why haven't we got venues this good in London? Maybe Hitchin has a more enlightened council? It's cheap as chips for a four band bill as well - only £6.60 for a ticket bought online or £8 on the door. Bargain! Not that there aren't decent  4 band bills to be had for similar money (or even free) in London if you avoid the more corporate rip-off venues. Bar prices at Club 85 came as a bit of a shock for somewhere well out of London though - I saw someone being charged £4 for an ale, and I got stung for £2.80 (I think) just for a tiny can of Red Bull! Being on the bike I wasn't going to be boozing anyway, but it's something to bear in mind if I consider getting the train up here in future.

The night is billed as 'Women That Rock' - a night of all female (nearly) rock bands. I've heard some people say recently that we should no longer be making a point of bands being 'female fronted' or being an  'all girl band', but that's how this show was presented and that's what I'm saying it is - because it is. I've probably been guilty of this in the past, but if pointing it out gets a few more punters in the door then everybody wins. Right? And it's only going to encourage more girls to pick up guitars - so that can only be a good thing too. Right? Well if you don't think so then you can fuck off right now.

First band on the bill were Screech Bats. Unfortunately I didn't arrive in time to catch any of their set. I got into the venue just as Syteria were starting their set.

I realised once I was watching my first band of the evening that I had forgotten to put my freshly recharged camera on my jacket pocket before leaving home - so you'll have to make do with pictures from my phone. My current camera isn't very good for gig pictures anyway so it probably doesn't make much difference. However, this venue's otherwise rather good lighting rig shines some bright lights directly at the crowd from the back of the stage a lot of the time making it very difficult to time photos to avoid it - after a while I start to wonder if someone operating the light show is watching me and doing it on purpose every time I try to take a picture!
This is a new band from Leeds formed by lead guitarist Jackie Chambers from Girlschool - a band who played at this same venue about fifteen years ago and are still going - you can catch them on tour supporting Saxon soon.... Syteria are more of a metal band compared to Girlschool's more classic hard rock sound, but that's not to say they don't have any good tunes 'cos they do.
This is the second time I've seen this band this in the last few months. They were good when I saw them at their London debut, but I think they are better tonight in a bigger venue and playing to a much more crowded room. They sound pretty heavy and they rock pretty hard - these facts are definitely appreciated by tonight's rock loving crowd.
Syteria certainly give a good account of themselves tonight and I'm sure they have won over a lot of new fans.

Next is the most popular by far band of the evening, partly because being from neighbouring Stevenage JoanOvArc are virtually a local band, but also because they have spent years of hard work gigging in London as well as Hertfordshire building a following.
It looks like all that hard work is finally starting to pay off. It's taken a long time, and in more recent times JoanOvArc seem to have been overtaken by bands like The Amorettes (another all female 3 piece featuring two sisters) and Tequila Mockingbird who have't been going as long but seem to have somehow got the media and airplay breaks which have eluded the even more deserving JoA. Tequila Mockingbyrd have even been getting recent airplay on Planet Rock with a song called 'I Smell Rock & Roll' that sounds more than a little like JoA's older 'Live Rock 'N' Roll'. Interestingly, both bands will be playing on the same bill in December along with The Amorettes.
I've seen this band many times over the years, and I've never seen them be less than very good. Tonight is no exception and JoanOvArc are on fine form - spurred on all the more by playing to what is effectively their 'home crowd'. Not that they need a familiar audience to get a good response - this is a band that excels in winning strange crowds over. They do this partly through having plenty of strong material, but also though the sheer power and passion in their performance - this is a band who never ever seem like they are just going through the motions - they look like they absolutely love playing live - in fact they live for it. It's very obvious that really mean it - and they throw everything they have into every show.
Although JoanOvArc can be very 'pop' if they want to and can make music that sounds very commercial, at heart they are very much a ROCK band and are highly influenced by the classic rock of the past - which isn't to say they can't put a modern twist on things. Some of their more recent songs like 'Say Sayonara' and new single 'Dragon In The Sky' are very commercial sounding - when these girls hit the stage they can (and do) rock as hard as anybody - lead guitarist Shelley is often seen wearing a Ramones or Motörhead T-shirt. This is no 'fashion statement' - these are bands she loves and are a major influence on JoA even though they don't sound like either of those classic bands. What this band does best is rock out, and some of their older songs like 'White Trash', 'Seeds Of Summer', and 'Live Rock 'N' Roll' would be totally at home on stage at any major rock festival. I'm pleased when they dedicate a song from their forthcoming debut album to "All the bikers out there" - although I didn't actually see any motorcycles outside apart from mine. The band have played quite a few biker festivals and their style of music goes down well with that crowd. The forthcoming album is called Ride Of Your Life and I'm really looking forward to hearing it.
Shelley's sister Sam takes most of the lead vocals as well as playing bass - and she does a fine job on both, with her vocals being particularly clear and powerful - no forced or affected 'raw' vocals in this band. Comparatively recent addition to the band (JoA were a power trio for their first few years) Laura also takes the lead vocal on some songs as well as playing solid rhythm guitar. Meanwhile, and the back Debbie on drums is the real powerhouse behind the band and really drives things along with a mixture of sensitive playing and aggressive push.
JoanOvArc don't play many covers in their sets, and as tonight's performance is not a headline set there didn't seem to be time to play anything other than their own material. However, Sam announces that due to a number of requests from fans in the crowd they are going to play a song that they only rarely perform these days - 'Freebird'. This band have plenty of their own songs that I like, but seeing them play 'Freebird' really is something special! I have seen many bands playing this song over the years, but I've yet to see anyone play it better and with more passion and enthusiasm than these girls - Shelley really is on fire when she rips into the solos! Some bands play this song really well, but still seem like they are going through the motions playing a known crowd-pleaser - but when JoanOvArc play this song they are totally into it and play as if their lives depended on it!
With some bands, ending the set with a cover can seem a bit of a cop-out, but after hearing JoanOvArc close their show with a truly storming version of 'Freebird' I feel sorry for any act that has to follow them....

I have to feel a little sorry for the last band of the night - I think someone might have not made a very good job of the running order for tonight's show. The Kut seem to have drawn the short straw and now they have to follow JoanOvArc - that was never going to be easy.
This band from London don't seem to be having the best night as they are having to use a stand-in bass player due to the usual girl having 'reliability' issues or something. The guy helping out instead does a good job though, and I wouldn't have guessed he wasn't the band's usual bass player if the singer hadn't pointed it out.
The Kut get over a slightly shaky start and kick into a gutsy grunge flavoured set. The singer/guitarist seems likeable and the band have have decent tunes - I soon start to warm to them. The band leader Princess Maha invites JoanOvArc on stage to add backing vocals to one song which adds interest to the set.
After a few songs I find myself starting to enjoy this band's set and decide I wouldn't mind seeing them again sometime. I think I nearly saw them at Camden Rocks festival earlier this year when they were also on the same bill as JoanOvArc (who I did see) but stage timing clashes meant it was not to be.
Princess Maha proves herself to be an engaging personality on stage, and also shows she can really play guitar by ripping out a quite flash and technical guitar solo at one point as well - there is more to this girl than meets the eye.

It's been an excellent night and terrific value for money - apart from the bar prices. Well worth a ride out from 'The Smoke' even it not so warm October. All three bands that I saw were well worth seeing.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

30/9/2016 The Amorettes & Love Zombies @ The Black Heart

Friday night finds me heading down to Camden. As usual my first port of call is BrewDog to avoid the silly beer prices in the venue I am going to. I find they have a beer called 'Born To Die'. I think Lemmy would have approved of that name so I down a couple of them, although at 8.5% it's not as strong as some of the other beers I have enjoyed in there. However, it's the strongest beer they have tonight so it will have to do.

Suitably refreshed I head the few yards down the street to The Black Heart. The gig has sold out well in advance and the small room upstairs is rammed! This is the fourth time I've seen The Amorettes and the third time this year - they really knocked me out at the Pure Rawk Awards and Camden Rocks Festival earlier this year. They certainly don't disappoint tonight either. As this show is part of a joint headline tour the band get to play a longer set than usual. The room is full and it's quite hot inside even though Summer has come to an end, but the Amorettes seem to thrive on these conditions. The band's current single 'Let The Neighbours Call The Cops' appears surprisingly early in their set but goes down a storm. Another highlight of tonight's set is 'Hot And Heavy' - seeming like a particularly apt anthem for tonight's sweaty little venue! The band are very loud, raw, and in-your-face - which is just how I like my hard rock to be. I am also struck by how good their stagecraft is - they have obviously worked hard at this, and now it is really paying off. Once again I thoroughly enjoy the Amorettes show, although due the packed venue and not being near the front (maybe because I left BrewDog too late) I don't enjoy it as much as the last couple of times - the band themselves are just as good though. Actually, - they weren't good - they were great!

Last to play tonight are Love Zombies. As this is a joint headline show tonight's running order was decided by the toss of a coin at soundcheck time. I'm not sure if Love Zombies won or lost the toss... Judging by the friends I've randomly bumped into at tonight's gig who also happen to be WiLDHEARTS fans quite a few people are here to see Love Zombies because of the (now broken - but that's another story) Ginger/Hey! Hello! connection. However, in spite of this it's quite apparent that more people are here to see the Amorettes as the crowd had thinned out noticeably for Love Zombies. To be fair, the latter are a pretty good band and very entertaining. Frontgal Hollis has a huge amount of energy. This pop/punk/grunge band are good fun and well worth seeing, but the Amorettes are a very tough act to follow! Love Zombies are obviously good musicians and have some decent songs - I was certainly impressed when I caught part of their set at last year's Camden Rocks Festival. However, tonight they strike me as a slightly mismatched outfit who don't totally gel in the same way as the Amorettes who hit you right in the face as a really tight and complete package. Mind you, Love Zombies did have something the Amorettes didn't: Cake. Lots of cake. Apparently it was someone's birthday. Isn't it always? Well it is at pub gigs anyway. There was an 'audience participation' section of the show - featuring lots of balloons and party poppers. And cake. Cake went flying through the air - it was all over the crowd and the floor. It was like an explosion in a cake factory. I still had some on me when I got home.

Wot - no pictures?  Well I did have my camera in my pocket, but as the venue was so rammed and I didn't get near the front I didn't bother even trying to take any pictures as I knew they would be so crap.

As usual I ended up back at BrewDog after the show. No one seemed to notice I had cake on me.