Sunday, 27 February 2011

Live: Captain Bastard and the Scallywags - 12 Bar Club, Soho, London 25/2/11

The 12 Bar Club is exactly the kind of venue you can imagine a band playing just before they get really massive, with the show in question being one of those that thousands of people will end up claiming that they were there for it. It has that sort of quaint, slightly run-down feel to it, with an excellent retro charm exuding from the old Beatles LPs, ska posters and tinplate Americana signs up on the walls. Oh, and the actual gig area is bloody tiny. A dark kitchen-sized room with a bizarre random balcony perched high above and a stage barely large enough to fit a jazz string quartet made up entirely of ants and dung beetles, let alone an 8-piece folk-punk behemoth with an arsenal of instruments. This should be interesting.

Oh yeah, the band themselves. Capt. Bastard and his assorted scallywags first came to my attention at the all-day show at The Railway Pub in Walmer last October, where, in their second ever appearance as a band, they turned in a performance which, whilst marred by drumming cock-ups and infected vocal chords, was entertaining enough to suggest that, with time and a little elbow grease, this rowdy bunch could evolve swiftly into a formidable live prospect. Since then they've been putting in the hours on the live circuit, and with a mini-tour of sorts coming up in March, as well as a 4-track demo tape by the name of 'Racing Legend', tonight feels like a good night to check in with the Scallywags and see how things have progressed since I first witnessed their folk-punk carnage four months ago.

Remember how I made a point in the intro of emphasising just how bleedin' minuscule the stage is? Well, that point is made again here, as half the band manage to squeeze onto it, and the other half just shrug and set up on the floor. How's this for intimate? If I were any closer to the band, I'd run the risk of getting a guitar stuck up my nose. Or perhaps an accordion...not quite sure how that'd work, actually. Anyway, after all instruments/voice boxes are finally soundchecked, the band turn to face front and pelt out the opening notes to the rollicking 'Along Came A Spider', and away we go. Down those pints and sit tight, folks - this is gonna be fun.

And so it proves, with a set of chaotic Celtic-tinged carnage which pilfers all the best bits from the Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly and Calico Street Riots' respective back catalogues, but also adds just enough of a sprinkling of original ideas and energy to keep it fresh and very enjoyable. Everything is done at helter-skelter pace, and there are moments where it threatens to tip over the edge and completely disintegrate. The fact that it never does is a huge complement to the manic drumming of 'Miami' Keith Sargent, who does his best Tre Cool impression for most of the set - that is, gurn spectacularly, act the showman and beat the bejasus out of your kit. He does so with great aplomb, and it's his relentless energy that drives the set forward. The rest of the band seem to give the odd sense that, rather than all playing as one with a telepathic unity, they seem to all be doing their own thing, in their own way, and it just so happens that it all merges together into one cohesive entity, further adding to the runaway train edge-of-disaster feel.

The two guitarists demonstrate this phenomenon well - Tom Gardener, the proverbial Captain Bastard himself, strums hard at his acoustic guitar, banging out riffs and the odd bit of backing vocals with a wide-eyed and sometimes manic stare, whilst his colleague on electric guitar, Lucas Razzell, barely seems to break sweat whilst jiving and strumming in what sometimes appears to be a world of his own - a world where presumably slicked-back haircuts and rockabilly-style guitars would be mandatory by law. Singer Andrew Keech bellows his lines with wild abandon down the front, aided by mandolinist Jordan Harris' emphatic blasts of backing vocals, and Harris' choppy mandolin work augments the six-stringers' riffs very well. In the eye of the hurricane, pennywhistle-ist Kayla Harlow is an oasis of calm composure and cheerful melodies, and brothers Bill and Ben Gower (bassist and accordionist) are similarly relaxed and cheerful in the bedlam.

As I said before, the songs do stick to quite an established formula, but it's never a tired running through the motions of stuff that's been done to death before - for one thing, the originals allow each instrument to shine individually and expand the song sonically as well as power forward the overall mix, which makes a refreshing change of pace and scenery at some parts. But chaotic energy and raucous singalongs are what the entire folk-punk genre were built around, and the Captain and his merry 'wags will be damned if they're gonna be ditching those principles any time soon. They are quick to tip their hats to their influences, with covers of the Murphys' 'I'm Shipping Up to Boston' and Flogging Molly's 'Seven Deadly Sins' (the latter ending the set in style), and a gleeful romp through the classic 'La Bamba' comes four songs in. There's a strong consistency to the set, which tells you a lot about the strength of the originals, in that they can hold their own against the established covers. Indeed, songs like the aforementioned '...Spider', 'You, Me And The Devil' and 'Getting Out of This Town' have the potential to become band anthems in their own right, with vocal lines just waiting to be bellowed back at the band by intoxicated future audiences as their name spreads. Who knows, maybe they could hit the heights of fame and popularity, and tonight will be one of those nights where half of London will go on to claim they were present for?

All I know is this: it must be hard-wired in my DNA to enjoy live folk-punk, and in that respect, Captain Bastard and the Scallywags have an ace live show full of boundless energy and enthusiasm. But what makes them a truly exciting prospect is that they are far from a one-trick pony - there are hints of variety and uniqueness, and if they continue the upward curve of improvement from since the last time I saw them, by my calculations, they'll be destined for true greatness by mid-summer. Enjoying a hot summer's evening by drinking copious amounts of Magners and watching this lot absolutely tear it up? Aye, now there's an enticing thought. I'll see you there.

Rating: 84%

  1. Along Came A Spider
  2. I'm Shipping Up to Boston (Dropkick Murphys cover)
  3. Getting Out of This Town
  4. La Bamba
  5. 9 Layers of Hell
  6. Covers Medley (incl. Whiskey in a Jar and The Wild Rover)
  7. Scream
  8. You, Me & The Devil
  9. 7 Deadly Sins (Flogging Molly cover)

Photography by Rosetta Baker.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Live: Random Hand/Tyrannosaurus Alan and others - The Ivy Leaf Bar, Sheerness, 5/2/11

Blimey, we really were spoilt rotten on the 5th of February 2011, weren't we? A day of absolute mayhem in the football Premier League (and a day that Arsenal fans are probably still trying to forget about), and then this gem of a gig tucked away in the evening, with in my opinion the two best bands on the circuit at the moment in the top two slots on the bill. The term 'not to be missed' is one of those terms bandied around by over-zealous promoters in a desperate attempt to get bodies into venues and cash into their pockets, but in this case, such a term feels wholly appropriate, which is why I'm thankful for the late lift down there I received at literally the 11th hour.

This late arrival meant that I missed everyone's favourite Gravesend ska-punkers
My Third Leg, but honestly, if you're that interested to know what they are like live, go and read one of the many other reviews I've written on them in the last few months, and odds are good that you'd be able to apply what I've said in those articles to their performance tonight. Unless they had just finished packing away the pyrotechnics and breakdancing cats, then I'm pretty sure I've not missed anything I haven't seen multiple times before.

Having said that, I'd rather have missed L.O.W.D (39%) (that's pronounced 'loud' if anyone was wondering) and seen M3L for the umpteenth time in the last few months, such was the mediocre fare of their set. It's probably unfair of me to fully grade their performance, seeing as I was outside, taking my chances with the cigarette smoke and the cold for most of their set, although that in itself probably tells you how highly I regarded them - answer, not very. The first impression was not good - they suffered from 'yeah, we're a band' syndrome, which seemed to give them an excuse to stand completely still and not look in the least bit interested in what they were playing, whilst the singer strutted around and demanded that the audience get moving, jump up, etc etc. Such things are a two-way street, pal, and if you're not putting in the effort, then why should we? Especially when your music is so painfully anodyne and by-the-numbers that this alone is enough to bore most of the prospective crowd into submission and a long ciggie outside. Their take on aggro-punk was so painfully tedious and beige sounding that had this been the sound of London and New York in the late 70s, punk rock would never have made it out of the squats, and thank fuck bands like The Ramones, The Clash and others were there to turn it into the amazing musical genre it has become today. Oh, and speaking of the Ramones, they then went and massacred 'Blitzkrieg Bop', which I thought was both illegal under international law and impossible to actually do. They played it slower than the original studio version, for Pete's sakes! And unbelievably, despite this, they will now be able to say that they've supported Random Hand. Don't let that fool you, folks - this was some of the most boring dross I've ever heard served up under the banner of punk/rock 'n' roll, and this crushing lack of energy and joie de vivre will hinder any further progress the band wishes to make.

So whilst they headed back to the rehearsal room and the proverbial drawing board, the anticipation levels cranked up as the time ticked down to the start of this colossal clash of the titans. The challengers and potential heirs to the throne, Tyrannosaurus Alan (92%), were up first, and unsurprisingly, it was explosive and energetic from the word go. The boys seem to have a knack of finding an involuntary muscle reflex in everyone's bodies that makes them start skanking, dancing, jumping and hollering along like lunatics whether they were actually planning on doing so or not. You just can't help it - with the ferocious cocktail of outrageously catchy horn hooks and muscular guitars and drumbeats laying waste to everything in it's way, you have absolutely no choice but to respond accordingly and dance. As usual, guitarist and frontman 1 Ollie Harries' vocals are set to full-auto, and they chatter and rattle unrelentingly alongside trombonist and frontman 2 Simon Champ's cannon barks at the choruses, and the formidable rhythm section of Ben Robinson on bass and Craig Shephard on drums is rock solid and razor sharp, holding the myriad horns and crashing riffs in check with immense precision and fluidity. The majority of the brilliant 'Campaign' record is rolled out, as well as one new song, which largely eschews the ska-punk carnage for the most part and worships at the alter of hip-hop, with a suitably grimy beat driving on Ollie's extended raps, and it's an interesting change of pace, although I'd be concerned if this was the exclusive new path they were taking. Still, look how far Sonic Boom Six have got with the whole hip-hop-with-guitars path, and besides, the T-Alan collective could release a second album comprising entirely of Mumford and Sons covers played on balalaikas and harpsichords - with anthems of such strength as 'The Officer Problem', 'Bombard the BBC', 'Spitting in a Dead Man's Eye' and 'Kourtney Palmer' already in the bank, and with a live show as devastating and immensely enjoyable as this, their status is secure, and their star will continue to rise in 2011.

So, the challengers laid down the gauntlet in stunning style. How did the incumbents respond? With a powerhouse performance right out of the top drawer, that's how. Despite the traditional bout of early deserters, there was still a large contingent with just about enough energy left over to skank and shout themselves to a standstill. And Random Hand (94%) provided the perfect fuel for this rabid fire, with a set of crunching, melodic and soaring ska-rock anthems, delivered with rabid, phlegm-spitting energy from frontman Robin Leitch and his cohorts. Recently added drummer Sean Howe has earned his stripes as a rock 'n' roll drummer par excellence, and his rock-solid beats and raucous crashes drive the entire music on at a relentless pace, with bassist Joe Tilston locking everything down alongside him. This allows Leitch's vocals to snarl and bark with wild abandon, and Matt Crosher's crunching guitar riffs to smash through the mix like a devastating whirling dervish of overdriven power and melody. They are a monstrously tight and razor-sharp unit, and all this adds up to great anthems aplenty. A shrieking siren wail signals the crushing 'Anthropology' to start the set, and the excellent 'I, Human' swiftly follows. 'For Roni' (a personal favourite of mine), 'Devil's Little Guinea Pig' and 'Roots in the Crowd' keep the pace fast and unrelenting throughout the set, before the quite brilliant triumvirate of 'Anger Management', 'Play Some Ska' and 'Scum Triumphant' brings the evening to a spectacular crescendo.

So, after a thoroughly boring undercard, the heavyweight title fight was an absolute stormer, with the reigning champions from Bradford only just retaining their title on points after an epic bout. Fantastic fun, and both are looking in fine fettle to take 2011 by storm and make it their own.