Posts Tagged ‘Henry Raby’

It’s the night before payday and I’m skint. I should probably be at home, sifting through the mountain of review submissions that have crashed into my inbox while I’ve been at work. I should probably be doing myriad other things. But having caught Dead Naked Hippies for the first time in Leeds a few months ago, I vowed to see them again at the first opportunity, and given that this was a free-entry show at a venue above a WMC two minutes’ walk from my house, there was no way I was going to miss this. And with bottles of Timothy Taylors’ Landlord at £3.20 a bottle, it wasn’t going to be a complete overdraft-smasher.

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I often experience a strange sense of déjà-vu, but tonight, I suffer a deep sense of disorientation on finding the room I’d previously watched bands perform in full of chairs, so I continue on up and lo, there’s a cluster of people, some of whom I recognise. Dave, aka Washing Machine Repair Man, who runs Young Thugs Records and it at the helm of the activities surrounding the Hovel – which is above a WMC in York’s South Bank, gives me a bit of a tour and shows me some of the changes they’ve made since I last visited. It’s impressive: the studio is now in a large, and rather plush room, and he’s excited about the potential of what was – and is, where he’s yet to begin work – a dilapidated but substantial space with a number of rooms.

And so I find myself in a room I’d previously sat in as a studio-in-progress, repurposed as a sort of rehearsal space with lights, before some kind of weird Japanese-made electronic organ / synth contraption from the early 80s. A dude in a cropped jumper and sporting a neatly-trimmed beard bounds about flamboyantly and chats entertainingly between songs played by the trio on said instrument. He’s accompanied by and shares vocal duties with a curly-topped chap in a bobble hat and a super-bouncy female singer / keyboardist in glasses. They sings off-kilter songs with pithy lyrics and groovesome rhythms and a certain retro vibe, which build a sort of narrative across the set. Welcome to the world of Drooligan. I haven’t quite made up my mind yet, but tonight they delivered something special, something engaging, something different. And something different is rare, which makes this quite the compliment.

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Drooligan

Being a small room, it doesn’t take many (half a dozen?) to make it feel quite full, and for it to get quite warm, and to describe the atmosphere of a gig venue smaller than my living room as intimate would be as weak an understatement as describing the sun as ‘quite warm’ or Brexit as ‘not the best idea ever’. But then, the Hovel Sessions aren’t really gigs in the conventional sense: the shows are filmed and serve more as a showcase performance and an ‘experience’ than your usual setup.

Casting sheets of paper to his feet like brutal and chunky confetti, live, clothed punk poet Henry Raby seems to have been taking performance tips from yours truly, and one of the three new pieces aired tonight takes cues in the opening segment from criminally underrated local performer Lawrence O’Reilly – but then, creativity in the postmodern age is all about drawing material from a wide range of sources and intertextuality isn’t simply about what’s written, and Henry’s style seems to be evolving. The last time I saw him was at that Dream Nails gig in a 400-capacity venue. It’s often more difficult to perform to a small audience, especially in a small space, but a seasoned performer, he does a decent job of it, firing out nuggets of socio-political commentary with energy.

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Henry Raby

Dead Naked Hippies are touring hard at the moment, and it was the fact I landed ‘Drain You’ for review last year that made me prick up my ears in the first place, before checking them out at The Belgrave Music all and Canteen supporting DZ Deathrays recently that ultimately brought me here tonight. As much as the music and the songs themselves, it was the band’s intensity – especially the electrical energy of Lucy Jowett – that makes them such a compelling act. Off stage, testing their snooker-playing skills, they’re an affable bunch, but give them instruments and amps and the fiery angst explodes instantly. The lumbering groove of new release ‘Rare’ sits neatly alongside the grungy ‘I Wanna Know Ya’ and some simple-but-effective rabble-rousing anti-work sloganeering.

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Dead Naked Hippies

It’s a fairly short set, but this much spikiness needs to be dispatched hard and fast for optimal impact. And in such a tiny space, the intensity is amplified. Maximum intensity: optimal impact. Blistering.

It’s not often that an evening of live music begins with spoken word poetry. It’s a shame, as the two media can often prove complimentary. John Cooper Clark supporting The Fall and KJ Farrington supporting Sleaford Mods stand out in my mind for all the right reasons.

Self-professed punk poet and nerd, Henry Raby, gets things going with a couple of pieces. A seasoned performer who seamlessly rides out any fluffed lines (and can turn forgetting a line into a plug for his book), he’s relaxed and emanates an energy that’s infectious, and which is paired with a disarming affability.

Katie Watson’s poetry is personal, confessional, brimming with anxiety and keen observations, and rendered with fine details and a certain self-effacing humour. Her delivery is superb: having previously caught her not s long ago at a spoken-word night in a small room, she seems to revel in the bigger space, the challenge of a larger audience, and being faced with a microphone.

What Henry has a knack of bringing to events he’s involved in is a spirit of inclusivity, of equality, of unity. We’re all misfits together here. So, the board gaming nerds, the varied shades of gender and a range of musical and literary tastes are all catered for here.

Crumbs describe themselves as ‘a post-punk pop party pack’ who like ‘pets and puns’ (and alliteration, on this evidence). The four-piece blend jangly 90s indie with a grunge sensibility. Pavement would be an obvious, but fitting touchstone, and at one point I find myself thinking about a collision between The Cure and Carter USM, while elsewhere, there’s a new song that boasts a chunky, funky bass groove and choppy, fractured guitar worthy of Gang of Four. It’s an eclectic and compelling mix. The guitarist has some of the dirtiest overdrive I’ve heard in a while, creating a strong contrast to the crisp, chiming tone that features in most of the songs’ verses. It’s a simple dynamic, but highly effective. Playing on the floor in front of the stage, the sound in the front rows is mostly backline, and this only heightens the experience of the band being in such close proximity to the audience.

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Crumbs

Having only caught the second half of Dream Nails’ set at Live at Leeds, and found it to have been good fun, I was keen to see how they’d go over the duration of a full headline set.

They’re high-octane and high-energy from the get-go, and if there was any question over whether or not they could sustain it for a full set, they answer it with a resounding yes. There really is no let-up in their four-chord poppy punk thrashabouts. The lyrics veer between vulnerability and vehemence, and while they may lack overt depth or subtlety, the directness is part of the appeal. And behind the effervescent performance style, and the bouncy, accessible tunes, there are some serious issues, largely centring around the challenges of being a woman in the world today.

And these are the reasons why I’m here. I go to gigs to watch and listen to bands. As a music critic, I write about them, and because we live in a very visually-orientated age, pictures accompanying a review are often useful. But Dream Nails don’t like having their pictures being taken by men, and since I didn’t have any female company in tow to shoot a pic on my behalf, there’s no image here.

Men snapping away make them feel uncomfortable. Especially men in my demographic with certain types of camera (I’m 42, although the post on their Facebook page which appeared within a short time of the show’s ending would suggest they think I’m older, and I prefer t travel light). Fair enough. Although generally, if you’re going to implement a policy, such as no photography without consent, it’s better to state it up-front. But when that policy is called during the show, and applies only to a few – well, men, actually – the issue becomes rather thorny under scrutiny.

Nobody likes to be singled out, especially not based on an assumption, and even less when the assumption is incorrect – because that’s prejudice. To be singled out as one of two men with cameras, with the justification that they hadn’t given consent, and fuck the male gaze, was not comfortable. I can live with uncomfortable: I’m aware that my own performances have a tendency to evoke a very tangible sense of discomfort and awkwardness. But no-one is ever singled out or humiliated, and it’s not about ‘unlearning oppressive behaviours’.

But more than anything, I found not only the approach troubling, but what it represents. Now, the battleground of gender is one of which I have only a cursory knowledge, but I am acutely aware of the divisions and infighting between the various identifiers. But ultimately, being a straight white male, I’m in the bracket which is the worst of the worst on the enemy scale. As we mark the centenary of The Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave British women over 30 the right to vote, at the same time as picking through the fallout of the events that led to the #metoo campaign, it’s clear we’ve still got a long way to go and that male oppression is rife.

However, the ‘calling out’ of ‘creepy’ guys taking photos of a band performing assumes that all men are creepy and only go and see bands with women in because they want to go and ogle women. Which also seems to undermine the idea that as women making music, people –regardless of sex / gender (I’m aware the correspondence between the two varies considerably) – may simply appreciate their art, and, like so many others, shoot snaps for posterity or social media because it’s the age we live in. To judge an individual based on the behaviour of a number (not even necessarily a majority) is prejudice in action.

This – literal – finger-pointing may have been well-received by a sector of the audience, but even if it hadn’t been directed at me, it would still have sat uncomfortably on a personal level: publicly humiliating someone based on an assumption is very much a knee-jerk response, the likes of which result in heated arguments. My knee-jerk reaction was to omit Dream Nails from the review altogether, but precisely what would that achieve? Certainly nothing productive. First, what’s actually needed is rational debate and mutual understanding of commonality. Second, they played a decent set, and went down well with a crowd of a respectable size, which is no small feat – especially in York on a Thursday night.

Moreover, feminism, at its heart, is about attaining equality for women. To substitute misogyny with misandry is not a push for equality, but to simply invert and replicate the behaviours of the guilty, and thus perpetuate division. Dream Nails generously commented on their Facebook thread, ‘Also if u r a male fan who is feeling affronted by this, pls remember you are still always welcome at our shows without your cameras.’ So, credit where it’s due, they’re still espousing equality. But is conditional equality really equality? Not really. Obviously, I’m grateful for the concession to be allowed to attend their shows in the same way anyone else is.

I shouldn’t feel the need to state that I’m not anti-feminism; quite the opposite. Moreover, I’m fundamentally opposed to any -ism that promotes inequality, discrimination, prejudice. And so, while Janey Starling may have provoked something personal in her actions, my beef isn’t so much directed at her or the band, but at the way complex and difficult issues are addressed, without any attention to the details or any sense of nuance, with too many people shouting about the lack of consideration they’re shown by others without showing that same consideration in return.

They ended their set with a blistering rendition of ‘Deep Heat’.