Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Submission - Spaghetti Penis EP

I don't want to sound too righteous, but honestly, so many people who claim to be deeply into punk rock don't have a clue about it. I'm talking about the countless NME journalists and keyboard warriors on YouTube who constantly argue about what exactly 'is' punk and what 'isn't', and they've mostly been miles off the mark. NME are particularly guilty, along with many UK music publications, as they have been busy, in the past few years especially, championing the likes of Gallows as the 'saviours of punk rock'. Firstly, who decided that punk rock as a genre needed 'saving'? And secondly, whenever I listen to any of their tracks, all I hear is a messy, tuneless barrage of almost white noise, with the only lyrics being distinguishable being the odd expletive here and there amongst the sound of what seems to be Frank Carter trying to puke up his vocal chords. They certainly aren't 'saving' punk rock. I don't like the term 'saviors of (insert genre here)', but if you're gonna bandy it around, then I'd be very inclined to take it from Frank Carter and co and slap it emphatically on the backs of Richard Harris, Sadie Williams, Phil Morgan and Stuart Cavell, known collectively as The Submission.

I'm well aware of how bold a claim that statement is, but I stick by it. And that comes after witnessing just one frenzied half-hour set in a small club in Gravesend. And now we arrive at this 5-track EP, purchased for the princely sum of £2, presented as it is in a plastic wallet with the cover being what looks like an intense mosh pit. As visual embodiments of a band's sound go, this one is very effective. And I will say this right off the bat, I enjoyed this EP almost as much as I enjoyed seeing them live.

In terms of production, I've been warned by Rich that the quality isn't too great, but to be honest I had no problems with it. Sure, it's scratchy stuff, with the backing vocals not quite meshing with each other, and overall this is the polar opposite of the highly-polished, high-budget affairs many of us are more used to, but I wouldn't say it affects the quality of the music, and it may actually add something to it - it gives the music a slightly rawer edge which I think actually compliments it. Think along the lines of The Offspring and Green Day's respective pre-major label records, 'Ignition' and 'Kerplunk', and you have a fairly accurate picture.

The five tracks on here consist of three originals and two covers, and while the two covers - hugely enjoyable punk remixes of the '80s pop song 'Spin Me Right Round' and the rock 'n' roll classic 'Johnny B Goode' - are entertaining listens, the three originals are the songs that really merit praise here. It's easy enough to say that they are simple blasts of pure punk rock joy, but what makes them such entertaining listens is that they aren't just standard three-chords-and-that's-your-lot - every individual member injects extra life into the mayhem to take it up to another level. Rich hollers his vocals with wild abandon, but instead of just tuneless larynx-shredding, it meshes into the high-octane rhythms very well. He and fellow guitarist Phil intersperse the fast-paced riffs with thrilling and angular guitar breaks and solos to make the likes of Captain Sensible of The Damned or Brian Baker of Bad Religion proud, particularly on standout track 'You Just Don't Know'. Drummer Stuart drives things forward all the time, throwing in rolls and helter-skelter fills only where appropriate, and bassist Sadie augments the six-stringers' assault with some neat bass lines which bring to mind such famous punk bassmen as Mike Dirnt of Green Day or Paul Simonon of The Clash - hardly the centre of attention, more the glue which musically holds everything together.

Lyrically, do not look at the sniggery, blink-182-esque toilet humour of the title track as a guide, although it is funny in places. Instead, look at the aforementioned YJDK and the 'Reggae Rock Rebels' with it's fantastic skanking verses, as better guides for themes, the former being a powerful rant against those who look down their noses at others not quite like them, with Rich taking great pride in declaring: "I don't wanna ever be like you!" and the latter acting as a counterpoint, rallying the troops in emphatic style to break out of whatever humdrum town they may be stuck in (quite a common situation for many in towns across Kent), and when all four bellow the lines 'Jump up!/Shout out!/You're reggae rock rebels' with a ferocity that distorts the microphone, you can't help but want to join them.

Of course, this is hardly original stuff - the title track nabs a vocal line from the Stiff Little Fingers back catalogue, YJDK runs like a medley of all the best songs from the Clash's debut album, and RRR bounces along on a very much Rancid-style vibe. But at no point does it feel like blatant re-hashing of some dated concepts - the tracks all buzz with their own electricity and intensity, and are laden with hooks which are all their own, no matter how many nods to past legends they may make. And, ironically for a band who sing 'I don't think it really matters/whether you are, punk or not', The Submission are the best pure, 100% punk rock band I've had the pleasure of hearing in a long time, and one listen of this handful of tracks will leave you desperate for more.

If you can, go and see them live, and enjoy The Submission in their element. But if they don't happen to be playing anywhere near you tonight, then this little disc is a very enjoyable listen, and serves as a fascinating taste of things to come.

Rating: 8/10
Standout tracks: You Just Don't Know, Reggae Rock Rebels.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Torn Out - S/T EP

Usually, when you see a bloke touting an acoustic guitar, it's a prelude to some plodding, achingly earnest dirge. There are a few exceptions, but certainly you would never put acoustic instruments and raging punk rock together. It appears acoustic duo Ben Smith and Steve Knight, AKA Torn Out, have never read this particular rulebook on the do's and don'ts of punk, and they head into battle armed only with a couple of battered acoustic guitars. Even I will admit at first that I was slightly skeptical, but I'm happy to report that such conceptions are quickly ripped apart when you hear them for the first time. For me, that was a 2-track EP loaned from a friend, then a live appearance at a certain local all-day event, and now we arrive at this 9-track EP, freely distributed at the event in a full CD case with inlay card and lyric sheet, as well as nicely designed album cover.

First track 'Filthy Hands and Fluro Ink' is introduced courtesy of a lightning-fast bassline, with the guitar joining swiftly afterwards, and Ben's shouted vocals soon after that. And really, this opening track sets the tone for the entire record - it's fast, catchy, and confrontational, with Ben hollering for all his worth throughout. It quickly gives way to band anthem 'Chasing Lost Nights' which sums everything that Torn Out are all about up in two and a half minutes - energetic and hummable guitar lines, augmented by slick bass runs and backing vocals barked with gusto from Steve and topped off with Ben's aggressive vocals.

The lyrics really are an ace up Torn Out's proverbial sleeve - heartfelt, gritty and emotional without a hint of angst or cliched whining. It also has a powerful, street-level realism to it all - when Ben shouts 'these split bin bags and pissed stained streets are not the life of which we dreamed', people can nod along in agreement - having lived in Swanley for nigh-on the past decade or so, I can certainly relate to such statements as that. Such angry and disillusioned vibes run through the entire album, reaching their apex on 'Soul of these Streets', where Ben proudly declares 'We are the soul of these streets/we are the heart that beats/underneath all the chain pubs/we're the flesh and blood that's capable of love'. A strong anti-commercialist vibe permeates on the aforementioned 'Filthy Hands...' and album closer '10 Steps to Great Abs', a furious finale where Ben cries 'Let's stop buying what they're selling/we'll deal with our insecurities together/then we'll see we're all the same/not a manipulated image on a glossy page!'

The music has a fantastic renegade vibe to it, and they successfully achieve what many people would think was impossible - acoustic guitar music with more soul, passion, power and energy than most bands twice their size with more instruments and amplifiers. For them to pull this off is a tremendous achievement, and they should be congratulated for doing so. They successfully tap into the mundane and soulless vibe of many inner-cities and satellite towns without a hint of cliche or posturing; when they sing 'Together there's nothing stopping us/leaving this life we never owned', you feel duty bound to join them in their escape. Uplifting and anthemic in equal measure, Torn Out really are a hidden gem. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9/10
Standout tracks: 'Chasing Lost Nights', 'Matilda & Me', 'Soul of These Streets'.

Live: Jaya The Cat and others (All-Dayer) - The Red Lion, Gravesend, 8/8/09

For some reason or another, I didn't expect this all-day event to be a tremendous occasion, probably because I had become so disillusioned with local-band gatherings after a trip to a recent YOG gig in my home town of Swanley. I also hadn't heard of many of the bands performing - only the Moo Woos, who I had seen twice before, and Jaya the Cat, who I had been given a folder worth of tracks by one of the promoters, were acts I recognised. The location didn't appear to be anything special either - a small club strapped onto the side of a relatively small boozer tucked down a backstreet in the middle of shipping warehouses and factories in one corner of Gravesend, with a smoking courtyard and tiny outdoor stage out the back. When I finally arrived at around 45 minutes past the scheduled start of the show, some very bizarre noises were emanating from the outside stage (I'm pretty sure it was
The Cripples) and the first band inside were still sound checking. Still nothing yet to persuade me that this would be an amazing day out.

Then the band in question completed their sound check, turned to face stage front and let rip with what can only be described as a sonic punch in the face.

The band were
The Submission (10/10), and they proceeded in the next half-hour to remind me why I fell in love with punk rock in the first place. They played hard, fast (think Ramones-type tempo), anthemic, buzzsaw punk rock of the purest kind, and matched the energy of the songs with a furious delivery, led by talismanic frontman Richard Harris, who jumped, hollered, headspan, and not so much as strummed his guitar as beat it to within an inch of it's life. The rest of the band followed his lead and played to the top of their strengths - drummer Stu Cavell was a powerhouse at the back, guitarist Phil Morgan augmented the guitar assault nicely, and bassist Sadie Williams anchored it all with a bass performance that put me in mind of the likes of the Clash's Paul Simonon or Ali McMordie from Stiff Little Fingers - hardly flashy, but solid and impressive, and she was never in any danger of being drowned out in the mayhem, as some punk bassists can be. As for the songs? Again, comparisons to punk legends such as the 'Fingers and the Clash are inevitable - indeed, band anthem 'You Just Don't Know' sounded like it could have been lifted from The Clash's self-titled debut LP, which is high praise indeed. When they gave the rock 'n' roll national anthem, Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B Goode' a 100mph remix, I was sold. And when they finished with a rip-roaring version of the legendary 'White Riot', my mind was made up - The Submission are my new favourite band. They successfully tapped into the original spirit of punk rock much better than 90% of more successful 'punk' bands around today, and I certainly had no qualms in spending the princely sum of £2 on their 5-track E.P, which I shall be reviewing soon.

So a fantastic start to the day, and the band charged with continuing where The Submission left off were A Boy Named Girl (7/10), who hit the outside stage about 5 minutes after The Submission finished. ABNG were advertised on the fliers as pop-punk, but the phrase pop-punk puts me in mind of bubblegum acts such as New Found Glory. ABNG put me more in mind of the slightly heavier pop-rocking of acts such as Kids in Glass Houses, and even maybe Lostprophets circa Liberation Transmission. Certainly singer Phil was doing his best Ian Watkins impression throughout the set, or however good he could get, as the band were quite tightly crammed onto the small outdoor stage. The songs lacked the immediacy of other acts, and maybe that's what let them down a little, as their songs are the kind that may take repeated listens to get used to. I will admit that it wasn't particularly my type of thing, but I still give them good credit for putting on an energetic show, and to be honest, anybody who was given the task of trying to follow The Submission were having a lot asked of them. Also, their choice of cover was inspired - Ricky Martin's 'Livin' La Vida Loca' - and it certainly got people dancing and singing in the smokey courtyard. Full credit to them for that.

Back inside, and I was eagerly awaiting the start of The Moo Woos (9/10) set, having seen them twice before - once at a battle of the bands in Bluewater, where they performed last and blew away every band that had followed them, and another supporting the legendary Stiff Little Fingers. Once again, they didn't disappoint, with another energetic and powerful set of anthems, including the catchy 'Chelsea Girl' and 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled'. Just as before, they let loose their cover of Green Day's 'Basket Case' to a rapturous reception from the audience, and the finale to their set was inspired - a combined circle pit and singalong, if you can call it that, to their anti-chav anthem 'Fuck Drum 'n' Bass' with the crowd joining on the Neg-style 'Whoop Whoop's of the chorus. Great fun.

Another thing that hit me about the event came when Submission singer Richie ended up standing right next to me during the Moo Woos set. When I got talking to him, he was friendly and very knowledgeable about punk, and the same was true for the rest of his band - there was not a hint of arrogance or 'I'm in a band' aloofness about any of them, and the same was true for the other band members who I chatted to throughout the day. Nothing much in that you may think, but that was one of the great things about the day - there was never an 'us and them' divide between bands and fans; they all mingled and drank together as one. It made it something special - you could see a band rip it up on stage, then be sitting having a beer with them after the set.

Up next on the outside stage were acoustic two-piece Torn Out (8/10). All I had heard by them was a rough two-track demo loaned to me by the same promoter who sent me the Jaya the Cat stuff, and I was quite impressed by the way they managed to craft energetic and soulful songs with only two guitars and singer Ben Smith's gravelly voice. They kept that same feeling of gritty soul throughout their set, and while obviously they were never going to match the other bands on the bill in terms of energy and sonic bombast, they still managed to win over the crowd with a great set. Bassist Steve Knight added an extra dimension to what would have essentially been a solo singer/songwriter project with his clever bass runs and additional shouted backing vocals, but the aspect of Torn Out which sticks out for me is the honest of the lyrics - when Ben sings emphatically 'We spend our lives chasing lost nights, and we won't go home until, we know, that, Saturday's dead to us' on crowd favourite and set closer 'Chasing Lost Nights', you know that it's coming from somewhere genuine, and it's not being put on as some kind of act. Much respect.

Back inside, and it was time for the one-off reunion of local scene heroes Drop the Pop (8/10). I'd heard a lot about them but never actually heard a note, so I count myself glad that I managed to catch them for this last-ever show, as I was able to bare witness to their impressive live show. The songs themselves were sometimes difficult to keep up with, veering as they did through several different tempos and time-signatures, but they still proved very entertaining, loaded as they were with plenty of energy and danceability. What also helped was the high technical skill of the three members - singer Jak was a powerhouse singer and let loose many angry noises from his guitar throughout the set, bassist Joe Josland provided neat backing vocals and skillful bass playing, and drummer Josh proved the famous Strummer-ism 'You're only as good as your drummer' 100% correct by flipping between beats and tempos with ease. What also helped was the laugh-out-loud funny stage banter between songs, showing that there appeared to be an easy chemistry between the three members. It is a genuine shame that this is the last we may hear of DTP, as they struck me as a tight and powerful trio capable of great things. Still, as send-offs go, they well and truly head out on a high.

I'm pretty sure I remember The Constant Gs (6/10) featuring next outside, although I may have got them and Torn Out mixed up. Either way, the Gs took to the stage despite missing 2 regular members - guitarist Dan Woodrow and bassist Andy Cherry. The stand-in guitarist, Dave Joseph, had apparently a single day to learn the set, while stand-in bassist Sam Van Leer had all of - wait for it - 20 minutes to do the same thing. Alongside this, drummer Paul Smith had a massive hand in organising the entire all-day event itself. I could easily rip into the Gs, but all factors considered, they actually did a good job. Technically they were sloppy, with the occasional falling out of time here and there, but really, it was the kind of day where you could forgive slip-ups like this, and the band still gave it their all nonetheless, with Paul in particular looking like he was trying to do damage to his kit rather than play it, and they still received a hearty round of applause at the end of their set.

From here until Tyrannosaurus Alan my memory of events is a little hazy, probably because I was looking after a friend outside who was a little worse for wear, and also sharing some drinks with the Submission and friends outside, but I do remember catching a little bit of 7 Day Conspiracy, and thinking that they were very powerful and punky. I've defiantly made a note to catch them again sometime, as the little bit I saw of them was certainly promising. I also remember catching a little bit of Beng Beng Cocktail on the outside stage, and thinking 'what on Earth is that bizarre noise from the stage?' Again, another band to check out properly sometime in the future. I also missed The Sketch/Call Off the Search, but happily I did manage to pick up one of their free 3-track EPs that were being given out, so I'll give that a listen and get back to you on that.

By the time Tyrannosaurus Alan (9/10) hit the inside stage, it was starting to get late, and a healthy amount of drinks had been consumed by this stage, which meant that proper, full-on skanking could begin. And if the skank pit that was waiting to happen was the proverbial stick of dynamite, T-Alan were the ones to light the blue touch paper and stand well back. They packed the stage out with a healthy array of horns and saxophones, and proceeded to belt out a set of tight, high-energy ska which got everybody in the room moving. If you're looking for immediate comparisons, Reel Big Fish come to mind, but for me they seemed to recall the sheer, almost out-of-control ska of such legends as Bad Manners, Big 5 and The Selecter, but, more refreshingly, they created a sound which was very much their own - they blended high-energy punk with ska well, and when you throw in Simon Champ's often rapped verses, you have a truly unique combination guaranteed to whack a smile on your face and get you moving. If The Submission tapped into the original spirit of punk rock earlier on, then T-Alan certainly dug into the spirit of original ska, to the delight of the crowd (including myself).

Pity The Plan (7.5/10), the last act on the outside stage - not only did they have to follow on from T-Alan's skankathon, they also had to act as the penultimate act of the evening and provide a warm-up to the night's biggest act, Jaya the Cat - easier said than done. However, they managed it very nicely with a set of fast-paced ska-punk, often veering more towards the punk end of ska-punk, but still getting the crowd skanking nicely. If I did have a criticism of them, and this is only what prevents them from scoring higher, is that the songs did seem to blend together and all sound the same after a little while, and didn't have the immediate hook of, say, T-Alan. That's not to say they were bad songs - they certainly got the crowd moving and using up what was left of their energy, especially in one song where they encouraged a 'skank-off', with the winner getting a Plan T-shirt. Guitarists Tom Crabb and Andrew Keech pretty much shared frontman duties between them, and one thing the band as a whole couldn't be faulted for was their energy - despite the late hour (it was getting on for around half past ten) they still gave a hearty and rip-snorting performance. Hats (or should that be flat-caps, in Keech's case?) off to them for that, and I look forward to getting hold of some of their studio tracks for a listen.

The all-dayer was at last reaching it's conclusion, and there was a real sense of excitement around the headliners - the anticipation in the room was all to see. The band in question, of course, was the legendary Jaya The Cat (10/10), and they provided the perfect end to proceedings. Everybody by this stage was tired from lots of dancing (and skanking in some cases), hoarse from shouting and singing, and in some cases pretty drunk, and Jaya provided the ideal finale with a relaxed and mesmeric set of punk-tinged reggae grooves. It's certainly safe to say that they lived up to the hype surrounding them, and they didn't miss a beat. Frontman Geoff Lagadec had the audience in the palm of his hand and his gravelled-throated vocals fitted the music perfectly, and he lead from the front. Particular praise must go to the rhythm section of Jeroen Kok (bass) and Dave 'The Germ' Germain (drums) for providing a tight yet groovy foundation for Lagadec, guitarist Jordi "Pockets" Nieuwenburg and keyboardist Jan Jaap Onverwagt to build on. Nearly everybody used whatever they had left of their voice to sing along to fan favourite 'Thank You Reggae' and, when they did ramp up the energy and tempo, such as on the angry anti-establishment anthem 'Final Solution', they did this in impressive style without even breaking sweat. However, they did seem more at home with the slower reggae and even calypso melodies, and to be honest so were the crowd, who had skanked themselves to a standstill by this stage. Also, extra credit must go to Lagadec for the moment when he saw me and a couple of my friends trying to get a whaft of the floor fan he had pointed up at him, knelt down and turned the fan around to face us so we could have a nice cooling off for a few songs. Just as had been done so many times already in the day, the barrier between performer and audience had been smashed, and despite the fact that Jaya were probably the most well-known - certainly internationally - of all the acts playing, they still never came across as aloof rock stars - they were simply a bunch of guys inviting everybody to join in with their punky reggae party, and never was that truer than on the closing track, an extended jammed version of the classic Willie Williams track 'Armagideon Time' which brought the event to an amazing close.

So, final thoughts on the near-10 hour marathon of music and mayhem? Fantastic. It was completely free of poseurs or anybody who was simply there because it was 'hip' or 'trendy' - it was a gathering of people all there to celebrate ska, punk and reggae, drink, dance and have a good time. And that's exactly what they got. The original spirit of punk rock and ska was alive and well, and I cannot thank enough Local Support Promotions, and especially brothers Mike and Paul Smith, for organising and staging an awesome day's entertainment, and one of the defining moments of this summer for me.

Same time next year, everyone?

Photos by Ben Thompson and Paul Smith.