Culture Shock / Suburban Toys / The Wharf Street Galaxy Band – Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 19th April 2018

Posted: 26 April 2018 in Live
Tags: , , , , ,

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s my second visit to Wharf Chambers in as many evenings. It’s a good job the beer’s cheap. And that it’s a nice little venue. And that the promoters, TV’s Over, have booked some quality bands. I’ve just about recovered from the blistering assault of Svetlanas the previous night when I arrive.

There seems to be a certain misapprehension that music reviewers hang out with bands and are mates with all the bands, their managers, PR and labels, and it may be true for some, but I prefer to preserve a certain professional distance as a rule. You never know when an act may deliver an absolute stinker of an album, and then what do you do? Blow your critical integrity, or the friendship? And so I find it’s generally better – safer – to keep people at arm’s length. And that’s a rule I apply to life in general.

But, necessarily, for every rule there is an exception, and it so happens that two of them are on the bill tonight, in the shape of the two support acts, Leeds’ Wharf Street Galaxy Band and Lincoln’s Suburban Toys. Both acts feature individuals I know and like, but also know well enough to share an honest appraisal. These things matter.

WGSB have evolved a fair bit over the last year, and the set has changed radically over the time. The fare they’re touting now is, dare I say it, significantly more commercial than before. It’s all relative, of course: the set opens with a loping marching rhythm, feedback and an eternal bass rumble before Dave Procter enters and paces the venue, hollering impenetrably into a loudhailer, building toward a monotonous chant of the song’s title, ‘Freedom is Compulsory’, culled from their eponymous debut EP.

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Wharf Street Galaxy Band

‘Hector and Harass’ is an altogether more accessible effort, with a terrace chant of a chorus, and as I listen and smirk, I remember that in fact, this is my fault. Yes, my review of the aforementioned EP inspired the title, and there are no two ways about it, this is exactly what they do, especially here.

In a set that’s as much, it would seem, designed to torture the band as the audience, they bludgeon away at repetitive, cyclical riffs, looping bass motifs and singe-chord assaults, topped with repeated refrains (‘fucking useless stupid bastard’ they drone on ‘Clueless Advocate’) ‘Sex Master’ mines a squelchy bass groove and funky drum that threatens to veer into Duran Duran / Associates territory. Which is no bad thing. Puffins dominate the closing duo, as does a thunderous PiL meets Fall Krautrock groove dominated by a relentless, juddering bass.

Suburban Toys have had more lineup changes than I’ve had hot dinners, and could probably rival The Fall or even The Damned. They’ve probably been going nearly as long as The Fall, too, off and on, although the difference being that their mainstay is still with us, and it’s bassist Vincent Ramsey (or Vinnie, as he’s named on the website) who’s the consistent feature of their revolving-door credits. And like The Fall – to appropriate from John Peel – they are always different; they are always the same. A number of the songs (notably ‘Far Away’ and ‘Salamander’) are familiar to me from (dare I say it?) some 25+ years ago, but have been overhauled to varying extents.

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Suburban Toys

What they do is simple enough, and it’s a tried and tested formula: poppy punk songs with just the right balance of bite and bounce. They sit well alongside the female-fronted poppy punk bands they reference, which include Blondie, No Doubt, Penetration, and X-ray Spex. Abi is bubbly and energetic and a likeable performer, who brings a real presence. Her vocals are strong, but not overpowering or overtly spiky, enhancing the band’s accessibility. They’re proficient, they’re tight, they’ve got some decent tunes and endless bass runs, and most importantly, they’re uptempo and fun. They go down well, and deservedly so.

Culture Shock may be one of the key exponents of Ska Punk, and noteworthy for being Dick Lucas’ band between Subhumans (whose drummer Trotsky actually did a stint with Suburban Toys some years later) and Citizen Fish, but it’s simply not a genre I can get into. Maybe it’s the awkward stylistic straddling, paired with uncomfortable cultural appropriation that doesn’t it well. Maybe it’s the tendency of fans to feel the compulsion to go all Dick Van Dyke and dance like a bunch of Cockney chimney sweeps when presented with anything ska punk. Maybe I’m just difficult and hyper-critical. But Culture Shock simply offer nothing to excite, let alone shock: it’s all so very predictable. Any rebellious intent is diminished by three decades and the delivery being in the form of party tunes.

The nostalgia is tangible: you can see it on the punters’ faces. And I get it. It’s just not my nostalgia. I’ve already got what I came for, and with a 5:30 alarm in prospect, I slip out into the night to leave the old punks to their party.

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