Live: The Submission – The Telegraph, Deal 6/8/11

Posted: September 12, 2011 in Live/Gig Reviews
Tags: ,

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.


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