Standing on the platform of a freezing cold Walmer station in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, waiting for the train that would take me homeward bound to Swanley, I found myself (amongst swearing under my breath at the fact my train was delayed, and perhaps yawning) reflecting on the previous 24 hours that had gone before it. Just down the road from the station I was sat at was The Railway Pub, and at this hour of the morning, only some broken glass on the pavement outside and some tatty posters in the windows gave any clue at what had come before it. It had seen me experience a gig like no other, one I had to travel nearly 60 miles just to get to, a fair distance for any gig, let alone one by local bands in a tiny pub in a small coastal town, but one that was a pretty hefty rollercoaster of music, beer, and great fun from its relatively slow start to its blistering finale. And now that I'm back home and back to normal levels of sleep and energy (just about), it's time for me to recount, in as much detail as I can, that hectic Saturday afternoon and evening.
It's pretty safe to say that the day hardly got underway in glorious fashion - in fact, if you had no prior idea of the quality of some of the bands following, you'd be well within your rights to have walked through the front doors, seen the first band playing on the first stage (what I'll call from now on the Bar Stage), and have turned round and walked straight back out the door again to stay in for the evening with The X Factor. I'm not joking - opening band Dr Goon (2/10) were so atrocious they had to be seen to be believed. Not seen for too long, mind - just long enough to realise that listening to them play was on a par with sticking a cordless drill in one ear and a screwdriver in the other. Their main problem (amongst the myriad of others) was that they looked like they had never even seen each other before, let alone played together. Lesson 1 for up-and-coming bands, kids - make sure you are relatively tight as a unit before you even think of looking for gigs. As much as I poked fun at the early iterations of My Third Leg for their technical sloppiness, at least they could hold a tune together. The Total Goons were so shockingly sloppy it sounded at times like each member was playing a completely different song - each very badly. Matters were hardly helped by a singer who looked utterly comatose, and a keyboard player who had got lost at a trad jazz gig and never found his way back home. The only reason they managed two scores was the fact that their guitarist and drummer at least looked into it, although the one shred of talent in the entire band was firmly with the guitarist - imagine Clem Burke after a particularly ham-fisted frontal lobotomy and you have Collection of Dribbling Goons' drummer. Which leads me nicely onto Lesson 2 for up-and-coming bands: if you are borrowing someone else's equipment, avoid breaking it, as the drummer did when he managed to somehow split the skin of the bass drum with the pedal. And then Lesson 3 - don't then use this pause in play to advertise a show you're playing on the very same day not very far away from there. This is perhaps one of the biggest faux pas you can commit, particularly when one of the chief organisers of the show you're currently playing (and owner of the piece of equipment you've just broken) happens to be standing right next to you. Fortunately, Mr Rich Harris kept his rebuke short and to the point (a barked 'fuck off') and the Travelling Band of Blithering Goons were allowed to leave with all of their members still in one piece. What made the incident particularly hilarious was how farcically awful they had performed - it made you wonder how on Earth they managed to get two gigs at all, let alone on the same day. Answers on a postcard please - for now, I'm calling bribery.
It's not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that anybody could look good following on from the pile of foul-smelling shite that had opened proceedings, but having said that, I genuinely quite liked Shattered Resolutions (6.5/10). They flitted from drop-C tuned metal-y, sometimes stoner-y fuzz rock to something a bit more faster paced, but whilst certainly not reinventing the wheel, they at least showcased a bit of flash and imagination. Of particular note is how the two guitarists, Aaron Dixon and James Revell, deliberately manufactured two different sounds from their respective guitars, which when combined together created an interesting mix, using it to try and expand the songs sonically. They traded solos nicely too, and when you throw in Tyler French's yelped vocals and the fairly dynamic rhythm section of Robby Levesley on bass and James Nesbitt (no, not the James Nesbitt) on drums, you have a group that have promise. They could've scored higher had their set had the energy and confidence their music deserved, but they are a young band, and have time on their side to iron these creases out.
Sadly, one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing pulled a complete no-show - The Moo Woos. In fact, a no nothing - not a phonecall, not an answering of a phone call, no appearance at all. Very frustrating, as it puts a big black mark next to their name, which their music doesn't deserve, and I'm sure they would've thrived in the intimate setting and atmosphere of the venue, but hey, their loss I suppose.
So we move straight back into the backroom stage where Shattered Resolutions had performed, and we find The Plan's Andrew Keech (complete with trademark flat-cap) and Ben Gower, but instead of their partners in crime in The Plan, instead they are backed up today by a myriad of different instruments and members. Time to welcome to proceedings Captain Bastard and the Scallywags (7.5/10), a band with not only a spectacular name, but a spectacular array of weapons in their sonic arsenal - alongside the traditional guitar/bass/drums triumvirate, we introduce an acoustic guitar, a mandolin, an accordion, and a penny whistle, just for good measure. I was told beforehand to expect folk-punk fun to rival Calico Street Riots, with perhaps some added Guinness and pirate shenanigans, and that's a fairly accurate description. They deviated from the standard, fast-paced folk-punk template at times though, and this refreshing change of pace enabled them to make better use of the wide variety of instruments at their disposal - the mandolin in particular, played with great aplomb by Jordan Harris, was particularly prominent, and pennywhistlist (is that even a word?!) Kayla Harlow lead off one song in fine solo fashion. Just like Calico, all of their songs are infused with the bouncing energy and sense of unabashed fun that makes the genre great. Two things largely let them down - firstly, Keech's vocals were suffering due to illness and were largely reduced to a series of barks and croaks, and secondly, the band are still a work-in-progress in terms of gelling as a unit - one song had to be abandoned and the drumming fell out in several other parts. But, as I was quick to remind Keech afterwards, they are a new band, having only played 2 shows before this, and particularly with this many instruments in the mix, it would take a little more time for things to start clicking completely smoothly. For now, they are a band easing into life on the circuit, and I look forward to seeing them progress, as there is a lot of potential laying in wait.
Next up on the Bar Stage were, from a personal perspective, the biggest surprises of the day - A Boy Named Girl (8/10). I'd seen them a couple of times beforehand, and both times had never really 'got' them, and I really don't know why. Maybe I had an in-built indifference and cynicism for the largely bland, generic pap that passes for modern pop-punk nowadays which clouded my judgement of them before, but on this particular evening, I went into their set with an open mind, and I was hooked from first outrageously catchy note to last. Y'see, this is how modern pop-punk should sound - yes, there's floppy fringes, yes, there's half-tempo breakdowns, but they are interwoven into tunes packed with hooks and properly shimmering choruses, and a sound that avoids being hackneyed and cliched, and a stage presence that sidesteps plastic posturing and concentrates wholly on having a damn good time, which is exactly what the crowd that gathers to watch them do have. The theme of being tight as a unit has run constantly throughout this review, and I have to come back to it, because that's one of ABNG's biggest strengths - good pop-punk has to be razor-sharp in it's delivery, and that's something the five-piece pull off brilliantly. Great job, and I'll happily admit to being wrong about them before.
I didn't actually watch directly the next act, the Disclosure Project (6/10), so take this rating as being based on what I heard whilst having a break from the music with a beer in the bar as they performed in the backroom. All I saw directly of them was their soundcheck, which told me that they were a expansive and technical three-piece. What I heard from them in the background after that proved that pretty much right, but also told me that they somehow had a knack of making even epic rock songs by the likes of Foo Fighters and 30 Seconds to Mars sound...well, kinda boring. I don't know why, they just didn't grip me. Let's put it this way - I was waiting for them to drag me away from the bar and into the backroom to watch them, but they never managed it. Every song of theirs seemed to drag it's heels somehow, and they came across as being a bit MOR for my liking. Still, I will give them credit for being musically tight and technically very sound, with a decent depth.
Hang on, I'm feeling a bit of de ja vu coming on here...or should that be Dave Ja Vu, to be precise? Yes, for the second time in as many days, it was time for me to check out up-and-coming ska-punkers My Third Leg (8/10), Gravesend's chief representatives at the show, and the penultimate band up on the Bar Stage. Having seen them only the night before I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from them, and so it proved, as they turned in what was not only a step up from their performance in Central London, but the best performance I've seen from them so far in their burgeoning career. Bizarrely enough, despite the malfunctioning drumkit (still hungover from the brutalising it got earlier on in the day), drummer Paul Smith produced his most consistent tub-thumbing performance yet, with no obvious cock-ups - I can barely believe I'm writing this! - and the rest of the band also played to the top of their strengths. Frontman Will Woodrow was all-action, a powerful mix of crashing guitar leads and strong singing, and he was ably back up by his cohorts - additional guitarist Mike Smith was a highly rhythmic sidekick in the six-string antics, and bassist Dave Ja Vu was all beaming smiles and rippling, anchorweight basslines. Their standards were all wheeled out and given a battering - the joyous singalong of '3470 Miles', the skankpit-baiting 'Going for a Drive', and the moody 'Time Travel', and the rest from their Fift E.P., all present and correct and all sounding excellent in such a setting. A nice injection of ska-styled energy into an evening that was swiftly building towards an entertaining crescendo.
I had another break after this one to get another pint or so in and to conserve energy before the finale, so I missed IRIS's set, only hearing glimpses in the background - nowhere near enough to give them an accurate rating. The odd snatches I did hear did sounded heavy, technical and pretty creative in parts, so one to watch out for for the future perhaps.
In all fairness though, anticipation was by now building with all the speed of a runaway freight train for the arrival onto the Bar Stage of the local heroes to finish off the evening in spectacular style. And so, at around 10pm in the evening, The Submission (9.5/10) arrived on the Bar Stage, briefly tuned up, and blasted headlong into action, with a furious and spectacular medley of 'Reggae Rock Rebels', 'Stay in Action' and their rendition of the unofficial rock 'n' roll national anthem, 'Johnny Be Good.' And so began a rollercoaster journey through The Submission's personal vision of punk rock - rip-snorting energy, raucous singalongs, buzzsaw guitar riffs, hooks aplenty, and pure, uplifting power. Frontman Richard Harris was as always the absolute heart and soul of the performance, channelling the spirits of Joe Strummer, Jake Burns, Tim Armstrong and other legendary punk frontmen into his ballistic, gung-ho delivery, bellowing his vocals, headspinning, jumping around and thrashing the life out of his guitar like it was his last night on Earth - just like every Submission performance, then. That's not to say they are a one-man operation - in fact, bassist Sadie Williams acted as the calm counterpoint, quietly grooving and locking the operation down with rock solid and neat bass work, and stayed cool and collected despite the chaos erupting around her. A lot of kudoes has to go to stand-in drummer for the evening Bernie Watts, who despite less than a handful of rehearsals with the group, slotted in with no problems at all, and was a reliable and steady hand behind the kit. Sadly, guitarist Phil Morgan was reduced to errant bystander for most of the set, as a stray beer glass caused terminal damage to his amp very early on, but in true Submission fashion, a little hiccup like this wasn't allowed to get in the way of the chaos.
It's a measure of their quality as songwriters that their original songs, such as the stomping 'No Motivation' or the blistering 'No Tomorrow', merged seamlessly into the setlist alongside the gamut of covers they rolled out. Tonight the covers list included the traditional brace of Rancid tunes ('Radio' and 'Roots Radicals'), as well as their 100mph rendition of the classic Clash anthem 'White Riot', a frenzied rev-up (if it ever needed revving up in the first place) of Green Day's 'Maria', and further run throughs of 'Longview', 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' (which pushed the dancing and moshing to almost chaotic levels), blink-182's 'All The Small Things', the '80s pop hit 'Spin Me Right Round' and the Stiff Little Fingers' 'Barbed Wire Love' - all of them delivered with exactly the same hammerhead precision and relentless energy as their originals.
There was also just enough time for a mid-set interlude to finally unveil the surprise 'guest' band, Meat Whiplash, whom were in reality The Submission but with sadly departing landlord Stu and wife Wanda guesting on vocals and drums, respectively. As a way to bow out, guest-starring with the headline act at your own farewell gig is a pretty stylish way to go, and Stu celebrated the occasion by rolling back the years and giving as good as he got on covers of Department S's 'Is Vic There?', the Dead Kennadys' 'Holiday in Cambodia', and The Jam's 'That's Entertainment'. Wanda gave the drumkit a sound battering for a few numbers before allowing Bernie to re-take the hot seat and instead gave additional vocal support up front, and the Whiplash's brief set closed with a madcap run through Electric Six's 'Gay Bar', before they departed to allow The Submission to wrap things up in style, firstly with the aforementioned 'Should I Stay...' and 'Longview' covers before drawing the mayhem to a close with 'It Won't Stop', as defiant a statement as any to end what could possibly be their last showing at this particular venue. The only things that stops me giving them a maximum score was the issues with Phil's guitar, and the fact that the set sort of never really regained the early momentum after Meat Whiplash's cameo appearance, although neither of which can really be attested to the band, and they were still my personal favourite band of the entire day by some way - that's not to be disrespectful to the other bands, some of whom were excellent (okay, not Dr Goon), but that's more a measure of just how much I enjoy watching The Submission play - they are, to my mind, a live experience like no other.
So, here comes the part where I try and condense down everything into a handful of easily digestible sentence nuggets to summarise the entire review. Not easy, but I'll give it a go anyway: as a gig, it was sometimes inconsistent, although fortunately gradually improved to a spectacular zenith at the conclusion after a dreadful start, but as an experience, it was a fantastic day and evening which will last in the memory for a long time - long after I had departed Walmer on the first train back home, and long after I've even finished writing this very review. Congratulations to everybody involved in setting up and organising this great show, and I'd like to wish Stu and Wanda all the best in their new pursuits - if this is to be the last time rock 'n' roll comes to The Railway Pub in this fashion, then it's safe to say it went out in style.
Overall Review 9/10