Label: Trench Foot Records

Release Date: 14th November 2011

Tough times befall even the best in the game, and Tyrannosaurus Alan are proof that a) any band of any level of notoriety is not immune from this and b) that it is possible to work around such things and come through unscathed. They persisted in their relentless touring ethos despite for long periods of the year lacking a van and a co-vocalist (Simon Champ often being absent for some shows in the summer due to work commitments), and even this single itself has had a troubled and often-delayed birth, with it first being performed live last winter. I first heard it on a cold night in Sheerness back in February, and I didn’t exactly take to it straight away – it felt like to me the band had listened to a few of Sonic Boom Six’s more overtly hip-hop tracks and were attempting to get in on the act. By the midsummer at Camden Underworld it had beefed up and grown some muscles, and was much closer to the finished piece that was eventually, after much wrangling, released for free download on 14th November.

If you’re still holding out a vain hope that they’ve ditched the hip-hop tendencies altogether and basically put out a lost cut from their Campaign album, you’re still going to be disappointed. However, the finished product is a much more natural progression on from those roots, and let’s face it, the T-Alan boys have never exactly been shy about wearing their rap influences on their sleeves – one of the great ironies of possibly the best ska-punk band in the UK underground is their admission that ska isn’t their personal favourite music style. What’s perhaps most striking here is the layer of ominous tension that hangs over this track, and it shows a level of bubbling restraint that their previous breakneck-speed material lacked, as strong as it was. Not that there’s any restraint from Champ’s partner in crime, Ollie Harries, who spits his state-of-the-nation address in the first verse with typical venom, and zeal and razor precision. Claypigeon’s Jak Brown takes over the mic for the second verse,  and demonstrates a contrasting style to Harries; more elastic and melodic in places, but with no less firepower, and his contribution is a very strong one. A Rise Against-style mid-tempo chorus ties all the component parts together neatly, as well as forming a backbone to the muscular bridge, and while the mid-bridge instrumental breakdown is a little predictable, it does suit the downcast feel of the track. Much praise must be lavished on the production, and the efforts of John Victor and Adam Dray. Thick guitars are backed by big drums, and the horns are dropped into the mix over the top of the guitars to great effect.

‘S.T.B’ is definitely a progression in sound from the frenzied, maniacal energy of their tremendous ‘Campaign’ record, and whether it’s one they persist with is yet to be seen. However, ‘different’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’ or ‘worse’. Don’t confuse this stylistic variation with the band softening out in any way, or letting up off the accelerator – this track feels more like an alternative route to get to the same endpoint, and it’s one that can stand proudly alongside the rest of the band’s work on its own merits.

Rating: 86%

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Müg – Düg E.P.

Posted: October 17, 2011 in Album Reviews, E.P. Reviews
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Release Date: 1st September 2011

Label: Unsigned

Most of the time on here, I’ll review an album I’ve bought or one I’ve stumbled into randomly, giving the bands in question a surprise when they see some nice (or not) words written about their musical output. A few bands hear that I write stuff and send me their musical output with a request that I write some nice (or not) words about it. Very rarely do these two things happen at the same time, but that was the case when the guitarist in a certain London punk band gave me a sly nudge and a ‘fancy reviewing this then? Cheers’ message, completely unaware that I’d already downloaded and had been listening to (and planned to review) the very EP he passed on to my attention. So then, Mark Bell and the rest of Müg, as you wish – here’s a review of your excellent second E.P., ‘Düg’.

I’m never one for subtlety, and you may have noticed the rather glaring hints in that opening paragraph pertaining to me rather enjoying this little record. So I may as well come clean and admit that this collection of tunes ranks alongside Melchett’s debut (and what looks like only) record as the top ‘pleasant surprises’ of 2011. The North London quartet win points right off the bat by a) not taking themselves too seriously and b) having a sound that dismisses any advances made in the punk rock genre made after 1991 and instead concentrates on rocking out to the tune of skateboards, beers and chants of ‘Oi! Oi!’.  Looking for something forward-thinking? Progressive? Life-affirming? You’re in the wrong place, pal. Now kindly go and do one.

That may sound like I’m slagging off the record, but having a throwback sound isn’t a bad thing as long as you don’t just blatantly grave-rob and pillage all over the place. And this record avoids that for the most part.  The band doesn’t wear their NOFX-style riffs and 80’s Oi! punk gang vocals as a badge of punk credibility – instead they use them as building blocks to create 2-3 minute tunes that lodge firmly in your head and depart well before they overstay their welcome. There’s elements of Bad Religion’s late-80s attack, the intro to opening track ‘Shotgun’ wouldn’t sound amiss on  ‘Dookie’, and the aforementioned NOFX references are oozing out of the wallpaper, right down to the slick and sharp guitar sound straight off of any old Fat Wreck/Epitaph record. Crucially, it’s tight as all fuck, with just enough leeway to give the instruments chances to enjoy themselves.  The musical style may place the record somewhere in late-80s California, but it’s grounded back in late-80s London by the vocal style, taking nods from the likes of Discharge and the Angelic Upstarts with it’s cockney geezer delivery and gang vocal shouts and chants. Some of the arrangements also have just a hint of the Descendants about them, particularly the sub-one-minute blast of ‘Beard’, and the lyrics are self-deprecating and funny enough (particularly on ‘Specialist’)  to avoid sounding trite.

All in all, very solid and fun stuff that points to a decent future ahead full of pints, circle pits and singalongs – exactly the kind of thing any good punker enjoys. They have a good ear for a hook, an eye for a one-liner and a bagful of classic influences to boot, and they ain’t afraid to use them. And while bands all around them steadily disappear up their own rectum looking for the new spark to drive things forward, the Mug boys prove that sometimes going back to the future is the better option – when the results sound this enjoyable, who needs innovation anyway?

Rating: 80%

Standout Tracks: Shotgun, Number One, Specialist.

Download the album here: http://mugrocks.bandcamp.com/

Words by Adam Johnson.

Label: Unsigned

Release Date: 2nd May 2011

I’ve been sitting here for about ten minutes trying in vain to come up with one of my lengthy introductory rambles, so fuck it. I’ll get straight to the point on this one. A few days ago, just past 11pm,  I was killing time on Facebook before crashing to bed, when I stumbled onto the page of one Louise Distras, a female singer-songwriter from Wakefield armed with an acoustic. Just as the clichéd stereotypes regarding doudy women with oversized acoustics singing about not much of anything came to mind, something quite remarkable happened – her EP started playing on the website music player, and I was grabbed by the collar and thrown sideways by music crackling, bursting and overflowing at the seams with electric intensity and burning soul. The vocals growled, snarled, soared, cooed and barked, swathes of backing vocal harmonies flitted in and out, and the single acoustic guitar carried more pop sensibilities than an entire army of amplifier-toting posers. Three tracks played back to back, and my shock grew by the minute.  There’s no getting away from it, I thought – this is fucking awesome music.

It’s not often that I review a record in this style, but in this case I felt it necessary to document my introduction to Miss Distras’ music, simply because it’s been a very long time since I’ve been so stunned by new music. Sure, there’s been good music coming out, but nothing that has given me such a sharp kick in the bollocks as this, her second EP. There’s plenty of acoustic-guitar-toting punkers out there at the moment, a few of which I’ve reviewed on here and enjoyed a lot, and on this evidence, Distras has put herself directly at the forefront of the genre as it stands currently.

So why exactly has this EP been lodged firmly in my head of late? I hinted at some of the reasons why in the introductory gushings, and I’ll re-iterate many of them here. The tunes and guitar riffs are fairly standard acoustic folk-tinged punk fare, but they benefit from an excellent sense of songcraft – the melodies soar exactly when needed, hook into your earholes whenever they please, and flow with consummate ease – nothing feels clunky or out-of-place. The fact that all the three tracks are built on is a single acoustic, and perhaps some extra percussion here and there, makes it even more impressive – there are many artists who’ll throw the proverbial kitchen sink at their songs and they still won’t sound as catchy and effortlessly well-rounded as these.

But what makes the EP truly special is her voice – holy fuck, has this lady got a pair of lungs on her.   The obvious comparison to make would be to Brody Dahlle, but that’s probably too easy. Instead I’d draw parallels with Jake Burns, for sheer versatility of voice.  Sure, her whiplash bark and devastating holler carries more power and urgency than any number of screamo vocalists, but when she flips from that to warm cooing, softer tones and pure pitch-perfect soul, you realise just what a multi-faceted talent you’re listening to here.Her voice alone is the personification of great punk rock – pop melody blended with raw passion and energy, as well as an outlaw spirit and renegade soul integral in all great acoustic guitar-toting rock ‘n’ rollers. She has the heart-on-sleeve honesty and grit of Joe Strummer, and this comes across brilliantly in the lyrics, something the entire folk-punk genre often hangs its hat on. Just like the great man, Distras has the unique ability to pen a vocal line that in anyone else’s hands would be clichéd, but in hers it becomes the most evocative and stirring words you ever did hear, such as when she’s proclaiming that ‘maybe you should try and walk a mile in my own shoes/or maybe you’ll just die here and you will stay used’ on ‘Blue on Black’, or bellowing ‘Does it make you happy?/ Does it make you sad?/’Cause it makes me proud to be alive/And part of who I am/Does it make you anxious?/Does it make you mad?/Would it make you proud to be alive/ If you were half of what I am?’  on my personal favourite, ‘This Is Your Life’.

You know a record is damn good when the only criticism you can really find for it is that old chestnut, ‘it’s too short’. Artists generally drop EPs onto us as a way of drumming up interest and showcasing potential before moving on to a potential LP, and on this evidence, I literally cannot wait for the first album to drop. In the meantime, you owe it to yourself to give this trio of tunes a spin; with artists of Distras’ calibre around, rumours of the underground punk scene’s demise will have been greatly exaggerated.

Rating: 93%

Standout Tracks: All three of them.

Words by Adam Johnson.

Blink-182 – Neighbourhoods

Posted: October 1, 2011 in Album Reviews
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Label: Universal Music

Release Date: 27th September 2011

It’s an inescapable fact of life; you’re gonna grow old someday. For a band, the challenge is how to grow old gracefully without chucking in the bin your sound and turning your back on the very thing that rose you to prominence. No band has run into more difficulty with this quandary than Blink-182, a band who were the late-90s darlings of rock-loving teenagers from all spheres. The California trio’s hugely fun mix of catchy pop-punk and immature dick jokes appealed far and wide and earnt them a deservedly huge fanbase. But when the time came for them to ditch the sniggering innuendos, the band hit a huge stumbling block. 2003’s self-titled stab at maturity was a flop, a mess of confused ideas and a lack of clarity as to how a grown-up version of Blink-182 were supposed to sound. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the band were barely on speaking terms, and matters came to a head when guitarist and co-vocalist Tom Delonge ditched the group to indulge his Bono fantasies in the truly awful Angels and Airwaves. The remaining duo of bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker formed their own post-Blink band, +44, and for many years the ‘Blink me Travis!’ signs and old copies of Enema of the State gathered dust, before Barker’s near-death experience in a plane crash brought the band back together. With the inevitable reunion tour under their belts, thoughts turned towards attempt number 2 at producing that elusive ‘mature’ album, with the finished effort dropping a few days ago.

What makes this review fascinating is I have absolutely no idea how this record will sound – it could be an utter stinker from a band who really should’ve known when to quit, or a glorious statement of intent from a band back to their very best. The three preview tracks the band drip-fed us proved inconclusive: one shocker, one belter, and one instantly forgettable middler. So I guess there’s only one way to find out:  time to take a deep breath, cross our fingers that they’ve got it right this time, and dive straight into ‘Neighbourhoods’.

The first thing that becomes apparent is that the band have at last found a consistent sound for themselves. This was something they badly struggled with before,  but thankfully not anymore, and the album is much the stronger for it as the band have finally managed to thrash together a sound that retains the best aspects of their songwriting talents whilst also making that step forward into maturity without feeling forced and awkward. That sound in question is to all intents and purposes an extension of the one Barker and Hoppus pioneered in +44, which was built around a superb feel for melody and hooks and an ear for additional instrumentation and arrangements. Throw into this the cunning build-ups, fade-outs and atmospherics of Angels and Airwaves and the harder-edged, more old-school punk overtones of Box Car Racer, and we have the blueprint for Blink-182 Mk. 2. The preview tracks they put out are curveballs in that regard, as none of them are particularly good demonstrations of this new template. Indeed, so awfully muddled and sloppy is lead-off single ‘Up All Night’ that in my review of it  I crucified the band for sounding like they didn’t give a shit anymore. Thankfully, the album as a whole proves that I was way off the mark.

That’s not to say it’s brilliant, and indeed, Neighbourhoods is nothing if not inconsistent. Much has been made of the band barely actually recording together, and surely that can only be detrimental to the record if the only time the band are actually together in the same room is to twiddle knobs on a production desk.  There are multiple, very obvious, dips in quality, especially on the aforementioned ‘Up All Night’.  Elsewhere, the final three tracks give off the impression of three scraps  that were tacked on hastily to bolster the running time, and end the record on a rather flat note. ‘After Midnight’ is mediocre,  ‘Snake Charmer’ drags it’s heels despite the odd highlight, and ‘Kaleidoscope’ is overwrought with production tricks to try and mask the lack of tune underneath. But for every under-par track, there’s another very strong one round the next corner.  Whilst the ending is a disappointment, the start of the record is excellent, with the exuberant and catchy ‘Ghost on the Dancefloor’ matched back-to-back with the grittier punky tones of ‘Natives’.  ‘Wishing Well’ is similarly spunky and spritely, and ‘MH 4.18.2011’ is a superb piece of pure pop-punk, with nods to classic mid-90s Blink, Green Day and Allister abound in the gorgeous guitar-driven melodies and vocal lines. ‘Hearts All Gone’ is the track old-school fans have been screaming out for, and it’s probably the most pure, powerful slice of old-fashioned punk rock they’ve produced in nearly fifteen years.

Interestingly, it’s those latter two tracks that are perhaps the biggest nods to past glories from the trio – this is a group keen not to keep giving lingering stares to the history books. Maybe the many life experiences the trio went through, both when apart and reunited, have helped shape this record into something overall much stronger than their previous stab at being a grown-up band, and you can certainly feel it in the music – the vocal melodies and lyrics from both Delonge and Hoppus are infused with melancholy and a reluctant sense of hope, and guitars crunch and soar over constant waves of pounding, technically brilliant drumbeats to create a texture of greys and darkness lifted with just enough wistful hope and pop hooks to give us light at the end of the tunnel. That’s vitally important, and keeps the listener ploughing through the successful experiments and the failed ones.  For when all is said and done, Neighbourhoods is a tentative success for a band who for while were almost the rock music equivalent of Peter Pan – the three cheeky funsters who would never grow up and stop making references to genitalia and having sex with your nan. Such is the amount of time that has passed since their last recorded activity, it doesn’t feel right comparing this record to previous efforts in their canon – it feels more like the debut album of a new chapter in the band’s lifespan, and that’s probably how the band themselves would like to view it. Comparing it to ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket’ or ‘Dude Ranch’ would be to miss the point entirely; those days are, for better or for worse, long behind them, and they don’t plan on going back to try to re-create them.

It makes more sense in a way to review the album as if it wasn’t  made by Blink, as if it were the debut album by a new band that occasionally sound like Blink, but are nowadays a largely different proposition. So then, it’s a mostly successful debut album for Blink 182.0, and while there are glitches and bugs to iron out, there is at least now clear signposts as to where the band are at right now, and where they’re going.

Rating: 78%

Standout Tracks: Ghost on the Dancefloor, Heart’s All Gone, MH 4.18.2011

Words by Adam Johnson.

The Subways – Money and Celebrity

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Album Reviews
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Label: Cooking Viynl

Release Date: 18th September 2011

We Brits aren’t very good at recognising our own talent, do we? A multitude of strong bands of all styles fly obliviously under our collective radars whilst the charts stagnate with third-rate US hip-hop and Auto-tuned prima-donna prickheads, and music scenes flounder when all the national TV talent search programmes ever produce are Mariah Carey-lite disposable teens or, in recent times, a slutty chav lowlife who produces music so offensively bad as to make you question whether its a sick joke on the writers designed merely to piss off anyone with ears. The Subways are one such promising UK band to struggle to pierce the gelatinous bubble of the mainstream, having to graft hard to build a fanbase. However, whilst no-one was looking, the Welywn Garden City trio dropped their third album onto an unsuspecting public off the back of little to no promotion at all. Is this a new tactic perhaps? Sneaking up on the mainstream, smacking it over the head with a bit of old pipe before running off with fame and bags of swag? Probably not. In fact, the tone of this album is more akin to staying in the fringes and taking swipes at the more heinous aspects of mainstream culture from afar whilst downing Jaegerbombs and dancing like loons.

So after the immature playfullness of Young for Eternity and the sobering muscle of All Or Nothing, we now have the satirical smirks of Money and Celebrity, a record in which the title pretty much explains all you need to know about it’s content – lyrically anyway. This time around the band eschew the moody and sometimes brutal catharsis of the last record in favour of downright fun and the odd sly jab at pop culture, but while I’m all in favour of bands actually enjoying themselves rather than feeling the need to act all dour to gain kudos from the alternative crowd, oddly this record often suffers for it – some of the rhymes and lines this time around just don’t flow at all, and that’s when they’re not sounding downright awkward and clunky. The awful business with the breakup of his relationship with bassist Charlotte Cooper fired frontman Billy Lunn to his best writings yet last time around, and now he’s pretty much purged all of that out of his system, he seems to struggle for inspiration, seemingly turning to dire midnight reality TV to wind him up into a state of barbed social commentary . ‘Celebrity’ is just a litany of standard celeb-culture clichés,  and there’s only so many times you can ring the ‘I’m bored of work, I wanna have fun’ topic until all you’re left with is forced rhymes (trying to rhyme ‘back and ‘laugh’ based on the pronunciation of ‘laugh’ as ‘laff’ is just desperate) and generic quotes. That’s not to say it’s top-to-bottom terrible, with some of the more cynical songs working better lyrically, but when the words clunk, it’s noticeable more than usual.

 Musically, however, it’s a neat example of a band consolidating it’s sound whilst at the same time taking steps forwards, something the band have always been very good at. The power-packed riffs are honed down into something more sinewy and in line with their exuberant debut, and it’s here where this album gleefully wipes the floor with most of it’s rivals. The happy-go-lucky party-hard attitude is a double-edged sword, because whilst the lyrics aren’t much cop, the raucous power of the music coupled with the cocky swagger of it’s delivery means that in many cases the lyrics don’t really matter that much. The first three tracks are all belters, with the opening one-two of ‘It’s A Party’ and ‘We Don’t Need Money To Have A Good Time’ both surely destined to become crowd favourites. Elsewhere,  don’t be surprised if some songs take a few repeated listens to sink in; ‘Rumour’ is one such track, with a beautiful flowing chorus vocal melody and lazily heavy riffs. One thing Lunn is incredibly strong at is penning fantastic melodies, hooks and vocal harmonies, and in Cooper he has the perfect vocal to harmonise to. Most of the praise and attention lavished on Cooper is largely based on her appearance, but even disregarding that we surely have one of the most complete rock ‘n’ roll bassists in the UK right now; nifty bass runs, tight-as-fuck rhythm, and gorgeous vocals that shine through both when intertwined with Lunn’s harder tones and when given solo reign, like in the bridge to ‘Like I Love You’, which is steadily growing to be another favourite of mine from the band.

It’s unashamedly pop, which I always quite like to see in a rock band – you try telling most alternative rock bands nowadays that their music sounds ‘poppy’ and you’ll get a reaction akin to pissing on their nan’s grave, but the ‘Ways embrace the big pop hooks and harmonies and celebrate them. They’re also very good at building music to complement the lyrics – ‘Money’ and ‘Popdeath’ both have suitably downbeat musical backings to mirror the lamenting cynicism of the lyric sheets, and ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ is full of zeal and tense energy.  However, this does backfire on ‘Down Our Street’, as the happy-clappy-funtimes feel makes the band sound like a forth-rate Hoosiers rip-off trying to write the theme tune to a midday soap opera. I can see what they were trying for, but on it’s own and in the context of the album, it just doesn’t work. Apparantly there were nearly 50 songs written from just after the All Or Nothing sessions, and while it’s honourable of the band not to use any of them and write brand-new stuff, surely there were tunes in that stockpile that were a cut above this? Unless it was a secret Lunn solo concept album about gardening on Mars? Also Stephen Street’s production often blunts the music – particularly on the big rockers, the deadened drums and tethered guitar tones don’t quite do them justice.

Reviewing this album has left me in quite a quandry; the clunky lyrics, occasional bewildering fluctuations in quality and straight jacketed production should give me enough ammunition to mildly crucify it, but overall it’s actually much stronger than the sum of all it’s parts, and it’s at times a superb demonstration of blending pop and rock together in three-minute nuggets of fun. And far from throwing nit-picks at the band or their record, we should celebrate them as they are: a rare breed of band whom cherishes fun without also feeling the need to wear ironic t-shirts or constantly drop pop-culture references, and whom are much better off for it.  It’s immensely enjoyable and impossible not to like – much like the band who created it.

Rating: 83%

Standout Tracks: A Party, We Don’t Need Money To Have A Good Time, Like I Love You, Rumour.

Words by Adam Johnson

In what was easily one of the gigs of the year, Random Hand shook the Underworld to it’s foundations with a blazing headlining set (one of many they’ve had there in the last few years) in December 2010. Topping a bill featuring the Skints, Dirty Revolution and Tyrannosaurus Alan, their hour-long set was recorded in a multi-camera setup for a mooted DVD release, but Bomber Music (the band’s label) have made the decision, due to the sound quality not being quite up to scratch, to simply post the set in it’s entirety on Youtube. So here it is folks, on video for the first time, starring – the first ever recorded ‘crawl of death’ at the Underworld, a successful figure-of-eight pit around the pillars, followed by partial nudity from frontman Robin Leitch, as well as plenty more amusing stage banter and of course, a batch of some of the best tunes from the UK underground.

Setlist:

British
Start The Fans
Play Some Ska
For Roni
Floating Ghosts
Bones
Anthropology
Three From Six
Devil’s Little Guenia Pig
Anger Management
Scum Triumphant

Encore:
I, Human

Related Posts: Live: Random Hand ft. The Skints, Dirty Revolution and others – Camden Underworld, London 11/12/10

I’ve made the long trip to Deal a few times, but this one feels a little different – almost as if things have come full-circle. Almost two years ago to the day, I walked into a small pub on a backroad in Gravesend, and came out with my perspective on music and punk rock changed forever, and a fair bit of that impact was down to the band shoved on first, who quite honestly blew me away like few other bands have done before or since. Back then, I knew them as nothing more than three dudes and one dudette kicking out blistering old-skool punk rock so full of energy and vitality that they reminded me of just why I fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll music. Since then, I became quite the fanboy, travelling the length of the county to catch their shows, crashing on band members’ floors, and getting to see in uncompromising close-up detail the rigours of being a fan-friendly punk rock band in a scene full of smug, preening metallers,  ‘hardcore’ kids and scenesters chasing the front page of NME.  I saw members come and go, with those who remained shouldering the burden of progress under the crushing weight of apathy, personal and financial troubles, and motivation, and I witnessed a band I loved veer close to the edge of breakup on multiple occasions. After a year of stuttering through limbo and a limp-wristed attempt at a comeback, tonight feels like a shot at redemption.  Back in the town where it all began, with ghosts of their old hardcore local following gathering in earnest, The Submission are fired up and ready to prove to everyone that they’re back for good – and here to stay.

It should seem pretty obvious from that rather personal intro that there’s definitely a part of me crossing his fingers and hoping tonight is a roaring success – surely, after so many dead ends and mis-steps, tonight will be the night where they get it right. The vibes are good, there’s at last a settled line-up to the group, and with a nicely-large Telegraph crowd – including some ex-members and many long-time fans – stoked and ready to dance, all the ingredients are in place to make this comeback nothing less than explosive. Because let’s face it, if you’re going to make a comeback, doing it in front of a slightly-inebrieted home crowd is as good a place as any, right?

This being a pub show, the majority of the two (two!) lengthy setlists are covers of punk, rock ‘n’ roll and ska standards, but it seems only right that they kick off with one of their greatest tunes, the Rancid-baiting ‘Stay In Action’. From the moment the group hit the first chord, the pace and electricity of old comes rushing back, and with a Ramones-style intensity to proceedings, the set whizzes by on a rollercoaster through rock ‘n’ roll history. It’s blistering, energetic and outrageously fun – y’know, just how it used to be. Immediately the ‘comeback’ shows from earlier in the year pale in comparison, and I don’t find myself making excuses for old times’ sake; every cymbal crash, chord crunch, bass run and keyboard babble is exactly where it should be and buzzing with raw electric vitality. And with all this comes a much-missed sense of fun –  at last, frontman Richard Harris has a smile on his face as he shares some friendly banter with the crowd. Bassist Sadie Williams grooves away to her heart’s content with a constant mischievous grin, constantly hyping the crowd on whenever a big gang chant is called for. When you have everyone in the room, band included, grinning like idiots and  bouncing around madly to not only classic tunes like ‘Johnny B Goode’, the Ramones’ ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’, and Jimmy Cliff’s ‘The Harder They Come’, but storming original tunes like ‘I’m Lazy’, ‘Get Up’ and ‘No Tomorrow’, you know you must be doing something right.

The biggest single reason for this transformation is new-ish drummer Bernie Watts. I say new-ish in that this isn’t the first time he’s drummed with the group – he’s often acted as stand-in where a permanent drummer wasn’t available, and having already hired and fired one sticksman not up to scratch, it was perhaps a no-brainer to get Watts in the hot seat for good. Again, the improvement is staggering – where not long ago you’d listen out for a roll, crash or pounding beat that was never going to come, or grimace at the audible clunks in timing, now the drumming returns to its rightful place as the absolute bedrock of everything good about the performance. No good rock ‘n’ roll group was ever built on shakey foundations, and with Watts behind the kit, finally the Submission have a platform to move forward with, both musically and in the live arena. The other new member, Sadie’s father Cliff Williams, has bedded in rather nicely in his role as keyboardist, and while he nor his musical style is really what you’d stereotypically associate with punk rock – something he seems to acknowledge as he drops cod-gospel riffs into some of the interludes between songs – the musicianship and extra dimension his babbling, syrupy organ blasts give to the melting pot wall of sound is welcome and refreshing in a musical climate that often prides itself on pure unlistenability. The subtlety seems to be rubbing off – even Harris seems a little more reserved with his vocals these days, perhaps realising that he can serenade the crowd occasionally as well as bark at them. No such reservations from Sadie,  and why not; when you’re one of the very finest bassists in the entire UK scene, you have enough of an excuse to go nuts every now and again.

 Alongside the classics from rock ‘n’ roll history and the classics from the band’s back catalogue, there’s also a few hidden gems to saviour. Rarities like ‘Out Of Control’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me’, the latter being one of the most under-appreciated tunes in the band’s canon, get a dust-off and a rev-up tonight, and a couple of brand-new tracks are rolled out. ‘Lay Oh Lay’ is a raucous blast of galloping folk-punk to rival Captain Bastard and the Scallywags at their finest, and ‘Old English Rose’ is a slow, lighters/drinks/fists-in-the-air ballad designed with pub singalongs in mind, and as such works as a calmer sequel to ‘No Man’s Land’. In a way tonight demonstrates all the many facets of the band – they can rock the covers better than most pub bands, they already have an armoury of storming anthems in the bank, and there’s more great music still to come from them. And that’s perhaps where I’d sound my only word of warning – whilst tonight has been indeed a roaring success, The Submission’s future lies in places bigger than this. It would be rough justice if a band with such a derth of passion and talent were allowed to become nothing more than a pub covers band, because as great fun as they are, these guys have the ability to write some truly spectacular punk rock ‘n’ roll music – and it deserves to be heard.

That’s all for another day though. Tonight, in the here and now, was all about getting a once-proud band back on it’s collective feet, and they succeed in style. Back in April, I saw what seemed to be a spent force, dourly rolling through the motions with the handbrake on, and wondered whether now was the time to turn my back on the band that were my gateway drug into the world of underground punk rock music. Well, here’s the news: last time I said this I was proven wrong, but now I can say it with full confidence: The Submission are back.

Setlist Quality: 92%
Delivery: 89%
Crowd Relations: 84%

Overall Rating: 90%

 

All words by Adam Johnson.

NEWS FROM THE FRONT PRESENTS:
THE 2011 ALBUM OF THE YEAR SHOWDOWN


 

 

 

 

 

 

  For a long time this year, it seemed like the battle for my personal Album of the Year would be a one-horse race. Since it’s release at the tail-end of March, Random Hand’s ‘Seething Is Believing’ has rarely been away from my speakers or headphones. Until now, that is. Enter Melchett, and their effort, ‘The Likes of You And Me’. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Canterbury punk trio’s debut output, which led me to ask the question – is it good enough to knock the Bradford quartet off their lofty perch? Time to find out. In the red corner, battle-hardered veterans of the scene with two previous albums and over 1,000 gigs under their belts. In the blue corner, the plucky underdogs armed with wry smirks and a knack for hooks. Southern pride is on the line here, boys – no pressure or anything…

In terms of energy on display, there’s nothing to choose between the two at all, with the Hand’s powerful ska-punk riffage being matched by Melchett’s hyperspeed punky-hardcore attack. Both bands open their respective records at 100mph, and keep the pace set to frantic for most of the journey. But where RH have an immediate edge is in songcraft. The entire record bares the hallmarks of a band realising that they really don’t need to keep pushing their sound forward, rather, refine what they already have created. Guitarist Matt Crosher has long been a veritable box of tricks, but there’s an added level of restraint this time around which gives his and his bandmates’ efforts more impact. Take a song like ‘Not A Number’, where the pace slows to mid-tempo and a moody ska emphasis backs up singer Robin Leitch’s socially conscious diatribes, building menacingly to the impassioned gang chants at the finale. Simple enough, but there’s an added degree of subtlety that wasn’t as present on previous records. Bassist Joe Tilston is the unsung hero of the record, backup up Crosher’s riffs and often taking a ‘lead bass’ style, one that suits him down to the ground. Unsurprisingly, this record is by far their most consistent work, with not a single under-par track on the whole record.

Now you see the challenge that Melchett are up against, and it’s one they rise to with aplomb. Whilst they can’t match their rivals’ experience, they do have the power of rookie exuberance on their side, and they use it to great effect. The zenith of the record is the one-two punch of ‘Lost Your Way’, which shows that hardcore beats and pop hooks can marry in perfect harmony with devastating results, and ‘Who’s To Blame’, a song bursting at the seams with summery melodies and the words ‘anthem’ written all over it. Frontman Dan Goatham has a great grasp of what to play at any given time, throwing arpeggios, counterpoints and chords into the tunes with relative ease and giving the music a deceptively catchy edge. Power trios rely entirely on a tight, razor-sharp delivery, and they have that in abundance thanks to bassist Kenny Razzell’s unfussy bass work and Rich Goodyer’s powerhouse drumming. The record is reliably entertaining, but when placed alongside the dexterity and ruthless power of ‘…Believing’, it swiftly pales in comparison, before being blown clean out of the park by one of the finest punk rock ‘n’ roll songs in years – ‘Floating Ghosts’.

I’m not joking when I say that this song, on it’s own, makes the record worth buying. It’s a perfect demonstration of devastating riffs and crashing downpours of drums initially, before revealing an ace card in the form of a slowed, tension-building bridge section, full of echoed guitar lines. The track begins to build back up again, slowly but surely, and suddenly, it’s walloping back in with all the destructive force of a nuclear tornado, leaving nothing but rubble and ruins by the time the closing notes ring out. Just to add insult to injury, lead-off single ‘Bones’ follows immediately after just to rub salt in the wounds, with Tilston clearly having great fun laying down the superbly spunky bassline alongside the merry ska beats and trombone hooks, but it’s all a moot point anyway. Melchett are laying face down on the canvas, nursing a swollen lip and a black eye. The fight is all over.

Winner: RANDOM HAND

By 5th Round Knockout

Melchett were plucky and brave, and don’t go away from this thinking that their record is in any way bad – it’s an excellent little record definitely worthy of your time. It’s just that they happened to come up against a band playing at the very peak of their powers, armed with one of the strongest records the punk scene has witnessed in many a year. The way looks clear for them, although I hear My Third Leg have an album in the works…

First published in Wasted! Magazine, August 2011.


Picture the scene: legendary punk rockers The Descendants arrive in London for a two-date tour. First night doesn’t go to plan – actually, it nosedives into embarrassing farce the very second lead singer Milo Augermann’s voice decides it doesn’t want to work anymore half a song into the set. After shambling through the show using whoever happened to be standing near the stage at the time as impromptu singers, the band inevitably postpone the second date the following night. So what do you do if you’re the highly-rated support band on such a tour and you suddenly have nothing to do on a Tuesday night in London? Obvious, really – head over to a tiny South London bar, gatecrash an open-mic night and have a big ol’ punk rock party. As you do. And when the announcement was made that a certain band called Teenage Bottlerocket would be making their debut London headlining show in a venue with a stage roughly the same size as a council house bathtub, I knew immediately that this was not to be missed; this show had legendary ‘I was there’ status written all over it.
And boy, was I right.You have to pity the bands playing the open-mic night as already planned – they were treated to the bizarre scenario of playing to the largest, but probably the most apathetic, audience they will ever face. A room packed high with be-mohawked punkers and leather jacket-sporting rockers foaming at the mouth for punk rock action and being treated to the sight of, in order: an awkward-looking emo band (whom anxiously thank the masses for not throwing things at them), followed by a petit woman covering Mariah Carey (complete with window-shattering wails) and some random experimental metal jams that serve only to bemuse even the band themselves. An utterly weird spectacle that only serves to emphasise the last-minute, underground feel of the show.

But finally, at 9:30pm sharp, the rather clueless MC introduces some band called ‘Teenage Rocket-Bottle’, who proceed to squeeze onto the stage and fly into action for their set, speeding out of the starting gates at 100mph with ‘Skate or Die’.

And from there they never look back; roaring at top speed through a non-stop, runaway rollercoaster of pure, old-fashioned punk rock fun, while the baying mob go, frankly, absolutely insane. Frenzied pogoing, frantic slam-dancing, spectacular stagedives and chaotic crowdsurfs, all present and correct for every minute of every song. The manic energy is unrelenting, crashing back and forth between the band and the crowd like tsunami waves. It’s an incredible spectacle to behold, with the guitar-toting frontmen of Ray Carlisle and Kody Templeman unable to stop grinning like hyperactive teenagers as they merrily orchestrate the carnage, tossing out one glorious singalong anthem after another. Seriously, I’ve never been to a show where EVERY SINGLE SONG has people rabidly hollering the choruses back at the band. Rise Against, AFI, Cancer Bats, Billy Talent? Forget it. None of them could manage it. But these four punkers from Wyoming make it look effortless.

Make no mistake, folks, this is not particularly complicated stuff. Pretty much every song has at least one chord sequence that could’ve been lifted from the Ramones’ or Green Day’s back catalogue, and a large amount of the songs seem to blur together under the same four-to-the-floor drumbeat and four-chord hooks, with a couple of exceptions; ‘Fatso Goes Nutzoid’ in particular cranks the slam-dancing up to hyperspeed levels for ninety out-of-control seconds. So yeah, it’s simple, not particularly original, and not particularly deep either. What it is, is energetic, passionate, emphatic, and absolutely brilliant fun from start to finish.

And you know what? In the largely stale musical landscape of today, that may be enough to stand out. Too many bands nowadays seem to view ‘fun’ as either something that’s somehow beneath them and their fringes, or an excuse to goof around and make penis jokes like we’re all 11 years old. And similarly, too many bands view ‘punk rock’ as an excuse to splurge out some clichéd slogans and be deliberately shit. Tonight, TBR provide a timely reminder as to how fantastic punk rock music can be, with a stinging cocktail of pop hooks, melodies big singalong choruses infused with raucous, driving energy. And that reminder turns out to be one of the greatest gigs this author has ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

Rating: 94%

You know something? This whole local punk scene thing has it’s upsides. 2 gigs in 2 consecutive Saturdays, both blessed with awesome lineups of the movers and shakers of UK underground punk and ska music. And both featuring Tyrannosaurus Alan, funnily enough. But, whilst the Medway boys were the undisputed stars of the show last week in Sheerness, a crammed Camden Underworld packed with an all-star lineup from the length and breadth of the UK is a different proposition. Make no mistake, this is a step up from last weekend, as good as it was; this is a heavyweight showdown in the heart of the capital, and one that has ‘gig of the year’ stamped all over it, top to bottom.

There’s two ways you can view Tyrannosaurus Alan’s (9/10) opening slot – either, it’s to guarantee a blazing start to proceedings, or a result of booking agent politics that does the band a disservice. In a way, their 30-minute set gives evidence for both cases – for the former, they blast out their fantastic rap-ska-punk hybrid and get bodies moving with no effort at all despite the 4:30pm start time and a distinct lack of alcohol consumed thus far (I say that – I wouldn’t put it past some members of this audience to have been drinking since sunrise), and for the latter, their set is of such storming quality (as always, really) that it leaves the nagging impression that they should be hitting the stage later and further up the bill. That would be the case in a perfect world, but a) I can understand the reasons behind the scheduling, and b) to be honest, the T-Alan crew don’t look like they give a fuck about such issues – they’re just here to kick ass and have fun, just as always, and it’s only good and proper that they have a like-minded audience, with skank pits kicking off without a second invitation. The dual-vocal attack is as always a devastating combo, with guitarist Ollie Bill Harries spitting, bouncing and skanking, and partial trombonist Simon Champ hollering, barking and urging the crowd on. Drummer Craig Shepard holds everything together with tight and ruthless beats, and the horn section of Sam Wilson (trumpet) and Tom ‘with dreads’ Broster and Chris Humphrey (saxophones) deliver hooks aplenty in the eye of the storm. A blazing start to the event, and a childhood dream (if you believe the band) fulfilled in style. If there’s any justice, this lot should be back here in more prominent slots – who knows, maybe even headlining – in the near future.

I spoke before about how difficult it is to follow on from T-Alan, and tonight it’s the turn of Broken Nose (5.5/10) to try and step up in the wake of the explosive opening. What doesn’t help this particular band’s cause is a lead singer who’s constant screamed vocals sounds like Zach de la Rocha getting raped by Frank Carter and Kid Rock in the toilets – this may be personal opinion, but I couldn’t stand them. The rest of the band appeared to follow suit, spewing forth a somewhat functional blasting of punky, hardcore-y heaviosity that, combined with (and mainly because of) the razor-blade-being-rammed-into-my-ears vocal delivery, begins to grate very swiftly. However, occasionally they’ll switch to a slower reggae groove, and it’s here that they earn a few points back, because they’re much superior in this element. It’s almost cunning how they do it – just when I’m really getting pissed off over the terrible screaming, a nice reggae section or riff comes along to calm me down again. Yes, I see what you did there, Broken Nose, you sly bunch, but it’s still not enough for me to fully enjoy your set, especially when you toss aside the reggae pretensions anyway for a final two songs of crashing caterwauling. Like I said, this could be personal opinion; I mean, a fair few people seem to think Laila from Sonic Boom Six’s vocal delivery is maddeningly awful, and I quite like it. Also, the idea of ska-core as a genre doesn’t really wash with me, so what I will say is give them a listen for yourself – if this is your thing, then take this review as ignorant bile. Otherwise, steer clear.

It appears screamed vocals are en vogue tonight, as next band up I.C.H. (7/10) are also quite keen on them. But instead of shrieking-cat-in-a-washing-machine, I.C.H.’s frontman prefers gruff, whiplash barking to get his point across, and it’s a little easier to digest, if no easier on the ear. I was told minutes before their set that these boys are due to tour sometime next year with The Jack Brews, and it doesn’t take long to work out why – crushing, rollicking old-skool punk rock with hardcore overtones are the order of the day here, delivered with absolutely no subtlety and a lot of devastating pace. If you’re looking for a metaphor to describe them, try to imagine Rancid doing a set composing entirely of covers of all of Lars Fredrikson’s favourite 1980s UK street punk and hardcore bands, and you have a fairly accurate summation of I.C.H.’s schtick. It’s relentless, with buzzsaw riffs and runaway train drumming battering you senseless, and although I don’t have much time for hardcore music personally, there’s enough punk rock crunching guitars and attitude in the melee for me to be drawn in. It does suffer from getting a bit samey, but in a short, sharp, half-hour shock of a set, the lack of deviation from the standard formula works well, especially with the amount of alcohol now starting to float around the venue. Job well done, and that tour with the Brews sounds like an enticing prospect.

The first of the three touring bands, Dirty Revolution (7.5/10), are up next, and…hang on, are you sure this isn’t The Skints arriving early? A female-fronted band playing mellow reggae…actually, that’s where the similarities end. For one, The Skints actually have memorable tunes – too many of DR’s early songs just seem to float absent-mindedly out of the venue without ever leaving any kind of mark. Which is rather odd, considering I’ve been led to believe that these guys (and girl) are known for a gritty and powerful mix of punk, ska, and reggae – I can only think I got the wrong Facebook page, although it did look very convincing. Because what I’m seeing, and what I’m hearing, isn’t particularly dirty, and it’s not very revolutionary either, if you’ll pardon the pun. I did miss the very start of their set, so maybe I missed a few gems, but what I did see was pretty run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter stuff, with their music lacking the chilled, easy melodies of Captain Accident or Jaya the Cat, or the gritty street feel of The Skints. It’s desperately crying out for an identity, which is why it’s refreshing to see them chuck the reggae pretensions in a skip for the final couple of songs and up the tempo, and it’s now that they reveal themselves as a fine little ska band with real promise in this area. And by ska, I do mean just ska, for a change – as I’ve said before, whilst ska-punk is all very well and good, there seems to be an absolute deluge of bands ploughing that particular furrow currently (including the two bands at the top and bottom of this bill), and not much exclusivity for either ska or punk rock as individual styles, and I’d love to see Dirty Revolution progress with their ska overtones, not only for the reason above, but because they seem so damn good at it. The excellent band anthem ‘I Love Reggae (I Love Ska)’ proves this with a fine ending to their set, but it doesn’t seem enough. It may be that the earlier reggae-orientated stuff needs repeated listens on Myspace to sink in, but it’s the 2-3 ska tunes at the end of the set that earn them most of the points, because they were the only tunes that managed to hold my attention and get me interested.

I happen to end up directly stage front for the start of Moral Dilemma’s (7.5/10) set, and as a result I end up getting shot-blasted in the face with an assault on the senses as they kick into their set. It’s a 3-piece, with a singer touting a Gibson SG and a female bassist who contributes backing vocals, but any comparisons to The Subways are given a stern battering over the head with a stick of wood before being dumped in the gutter. Like I.C.H. earlier, MD are all about the hardcore punk, and just in case you hadn’t gotten enough screamed vocals for the evening, frontman Craig Temple knows no other way of delivering vocals than by screaming them like an outraged bear. Musically, they remind me a lot of Black Flag, and for most that would be a massive complement – but I’m not a big fan of Black Flag, sacrilegious as that probably is. So by all rights, I should stick my fingers in my ears and head for the bar, but again like I.C.H. earlier, there’s more than enough here to keep me heartily engaged, no matter how much the vocals begin to grate – and believe me, they do. First off, the sheer amount of energy on display is pretty astonishing, from all members. Bassist Chloe Chourrout snarls backing vocals and bounds around the stage with wild abandon, and Temple himself is a mass of sweat and frenzied spasms of movement – when he’s not abusing his guitar or loosing his temper with the microphone, he’s rallying the troops in the crowd in between the songs with stirring anti-authoritarian speeches, topically revolving around the student protests and riots in London a few days ago, and whilst I do think it’s easy nowadays for bands to shout ‘fuck the police!’ and get a reaction, much like it was cool for US bands to shout ‘Fuck Bush!’ intermittently a few years ago, the level of passion and righteous fury these sentiments are delivered with deserves much respect. Secondly, they aren’t afraid to mix the standard hardcore formula up occasionally, either by slowing the tempo a little (which isn’t saying much considering their standard tempo is somewhere between stupidly fast and hyperspeed) or breaking things down, bit by bit, allowing Chourrout a chance to exhibit some neat and excellent bass skills, before building things back up to a riotous conclusion. It’s these moments that prevent things from getting too samey, and this (admittedly rather slim) level of restraint gives the high-octane moments more impact. I’m curious to see if they develop on this in the future. For now, I can best sum them up as Black Flag mixed with 80s UK and US hardcore punk, so if you’re a big fan of those styles, then feel free to dismiss my ramblings, because you’ll almost certainly enjoy Moral Dilemma.

Since when did it get so crowded in here? Seriously, there’s suddenly no room to move in here, with bodies crammed shoulder-to-shoulder on the Underworld floor. Actually, it’s no surprise that the room has filled up so quickly – we’re at the business end of the gig, and the penultimate band on have been the go-to band to support pretty much every big US punk/ska band that has toured here in the last 18 months or more. Yup, it’s time for me to see what the fuss is about and catch The Skints (8.5/10) live for the first time, and whilst I do enjoy their set of gritty street reggae/dub stylings, it bewilders me just how maniacal the crowd get – moshing, pogoing and stagediving at the slightest opportunity, which seems odd considering the music they’re actually hollering along to, though I suppose with the amount of drink flowing around the venue by now, you could put some dross by Coldplay on the speakers and people would still go berserk to it, and as I’ve already said, The Skints collective have been gathering fans left, right and centre over the last year or so to form together a hardcore band of followers. All of what I’ve written so far sounds like I’m being condescending to The Skints, which would be doing them a disservice – their high musicianship and technicality flows into the gritty, guttural rapped vocal lines to create a lovely fusion of melody and bubbling rhythm. They see T-Alan’s 2 co-vocalists and raise them 3 here – drummer Jamie Kyriakides is probably the pick of the bunch with a throaty and soulful delivery, which meshes brilliantly with quasi-frontwoman and multi-instrumentalist Marcia Richards at stage front. Richards’ vocals veer sometimes into dancehall in a rootsy trip through reggae’s history books, and it always has this lovely feeling of flitting over the top of the music around it. The only weak link is guitarist Josh Rudge – his rapping is often close to God-awful, and sometimes downright cringeworthy, but it does improve in all fairness as the set goes on. Musically the band are close to spot-on, with Richards’ threatening to steal the show whilst flitting between vocals, saxophone, flute, melodica and keyboards with ease, but to be honest the true heroes of The Skints are the rhythm section ofKyriakides’ drumming and Jon Doyle’s excellent and fluid basslines. The band themselves recognise this and allow Doyle a nice solo section in one of the songs, and his bass work subtly drives each song forward. In reggae, great bass work is absolutely vital, and The Skints have that area nailed to a tee. Overall, a higly enjoyable set, although it still doesn’t convince me that the band are worth the rabid adoration they are affored. Maybe I’m being overly cynical, and The Skints themselves certainly deserve plaudits for an excellent and unique take on roots reggae.

So, just like last week, the penultimate band on the bill threaten to steal the show, and also just like last week, a fair few people seem to bail, thinking that there’s nothing else to offer. Unlike last week though, a) there’s still a very healthy contingent in the crowd for the headline act, and b) there’s absolutely no way Random Hand (10/10) will allow themselves to be upstaged by one of the support acts, and as they charge into action, there’s a sense of something pretty special erupting. 2010 hasn’t been the best of years for the Hand, but now that they have a new drummer in place, they’ve returned and are ready to make up for lost time. The formula they’ve crafted and honed demonstrates the advantage of restraint I talked about earlier – the furiously skanked verses mixed with anthemic choruses and buzzsaw riffs to form a ridiculously catchy, energetic and powerful ska-punk-rock explosion quite unlike anything I’ve heard. The closest comparison I can perhaps give is a ska-influenced Billy Talent, but even then that particular metaphor is tenuous to say the least. What is so special to behold is that nothing the band does feels at all forced; it’s all so natural, effortlessly fluid and razor-sharp. Frontman Robin Leitch is an intense whirligig of energy during songs, and a warm, friendly presence between songs, chatting with the crowd in his distinct Bradford burr, and directing the captive audience to pull off a couple of Camden Underworld firsts: the first ever ‘crawl of death’ (as opposed to Wall of Death, see?), and the first ever figure of 8 circle pit around the twin pillars on the Underworld floor. As a promised reward for this, he gives us ‘partial nudity’ in return – basically him struggling to get his sweaty T-shirt off. All fun stuff, especially with guitarist Matt Crosher interjecting occasional lines, and a brief technical delay with Crosher’s guitar is smoothed over effortlessly. So, with any divide between band and audience well and truly dismantled, we’re invited to join in heartily with the Hand’s ska-punk party, through any way possible – outright moshing, pogoing, skanking, hollering along with Leitch and his cohorts, crowd-surfing, stage-diving, you name it, people are doing it without a second thought; almost as if it’s obligatory, nay, compulsory. Even members of the other bands are at it, with several members of T-Alan in particular dancing and grinning like idiots (and even stagediving at some points). They inspire that level of rabid emotion through almost every second of their set – and when you’ve got an armoury of tunes of such high quality as this, coupled with such a superb live show, it’s no surprise at all. Every member plays their part – new drummer Sean Howe is a powerhouse of crashing beat precision, bassist Joe Tilston stakes his claim to be one of the best bassists in the business at the moment with a superbly rhythmic and fluid performance, and the dynamic duo of Leitch’s barked vocals and Crosher’s dynamic guitar work are the formidable icing on a brilliant and anthemic cake. Speaking of anthems, the Hand certainly aren’t short of one or two of those – the obligatory new songs from delayed new album ‘Seething is Believing’ show a nice progression from the already existing material, ramping up the riffs and trombone hooks to new levels. But with a back catalogue as strong as this, inevitable fan favourites have already been formed, and nearly all of them are unleashed tonight; the rousing ‘Play Some Ska’ comes early on, and the stunning double-gut-punch of ‘Anger Management’ and ‘Scum Triumphant’ ends the regular set. After a one-song encore of the equally excellent ‘I, Human’, the band say their goodbyes and depart, to leave behind the wreckage of a sweaty and delirious crowd, delighted with the night’s entertainment.

I began this review by touting this gig as possibly one of the best of the year, and overall, despite some dips in quality (and a contingent of plastic punk posers trying not to spoil their mohawks, but we’ll talk about that in another post), tonight has lived up to billing in some style – a great combination of reggae, ska and uncompromising hardcore punk, bookended by probably the two strongest ska-punk bands in the U.K. at this time. And on tonight’s evidence, 2011 looks like a fantastic year in prospect for the UK underground scene.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10