Posts Tagged ‘The Wharf Street Galaxy Band’

Christopher Nosnibor

Casting an eye back to my reviews from last year, I discovered that it took me until 14th January to lug my carcass to see any live bands, and that was just up the road to see some friends play. Well, it’s friends playing that has forced me out of my hole for my first gig of 2019, too. For this, I’m grateful to the Wharf Street Galaxy guys: I don’t fare so well at this time of year, and the urge to hibernate all too often overwhelms the will to socialise.

After the hike from the station to Hyde Park Book Club, I’m pleased to find them near the bar sipping soft drinks and coffee, although I’m ready for beer and the Northern Monk Heathen IPA (purchased before realising it registers an ABV of 4.2%) does the job nicely as we riffed about various methods of making coffee and matters of male grooming – rock ‘n’ roll over 40s style.

Tonight’s show is the 50th birthday celebration of Neil Gumbley, guitarist in the first band on the bill: apparently, he’s not keen on birthday celebrations, but is keen on gigs, so decided to put one on with bands he likes.

The scrappy, scant nature of my notes is less as a result of the beer, but more as a result of being too busy enjoying the bands and conversations in between acts, although Vat-Egg Imposition make enough of an impact to not really require any notes to jog the memory. Musically, they’re all about the Fall-like repetitions, which is cool, but nowhere near as striking as seeing a bloke dressed as an egg and lofting a yellow carrier bag. It transpires the bag contains packets of crisps, which are distributed to the audience before they perform ‘I Bought You Crisps’, a tale of everyday heartbreak that’s both sad and funny. For entertainment, they’re top-notch, and I might even say egg-shellent.

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The Vat-Egg Imposition

Wind-Up Birds aren’t bad either. I’m understating here. Choppy post-punk guitars and a stonking rhythm section propelled by some tight, crisp drumming define the sound. Somewhere between The Fall and The Wedding Present, they do ranty, political, etc. You get the idea. They’re bloody good at it, too. And the theme for the evening is pretty much set solid.

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The Wind-Up Birds

‘Fuck me,’ my spidery scribble says. ‘There are people here in WSGB T-shirts!’ And they’re not members of the band! This is likely to be the band’s last show for a while, given that D. Procter (Message) is heading off to Scandinavia for PhD-related pursuits for 8 months very soon, although with more related projects than even they can count, the other members won’t exactly be twiddling their thumbs in his absence. And as a final show before their hiatus, it’s a stormer: yes, they’re on fine form. ‘Freedom to Comply’ (which pursues the theme of totalitarian conformity under the auspices of free capitalism and as such stands as a complimentary counterpart to ‘Organised Freedom is Compulsory’ from the first EP) is hammered out over a single chord augmented with strains of sculpted feedback, and the low-down, sleaze-funk of ‘Sex Master’ is delivered with audacious panache. I struggle to contain my mirth, and I’m laughing with rather than at them: this is a band that gets the ironic juxtaposition of middle-aged men in red boiler-suits doing pseudo-slinky.

Yes, ‘Hector and Harangue’ always gives me cause to smirk a little, the title and lyric lifted from an early review of mine, and it provides a well-placed change of tempo and tone with its faster pace and shouty, hooky chorus. No, they’re not so big on choruses.

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The Wharf Street Galaxy Band

There may be something of a dearth of puffins in tonight’s set, but ‘Ritual something-or-other’ (I can’t decipher my own handwriting or trust my own ears – it turns out to have been ‘Transgalaxial Time Travel (Slight Puffin Return’) boasts thumping tribal beats and a scratchy guitar reminiscent of The Fall on ‘Muzorewi’s Daughter’, and Procter finally melts into hollering harassment against Ash’s (Throb) slow-drip bass groove. And they play their slinky cover of ‘Warm Leatherette’, too.

On the journey back to York, WSGB’s John (Visual Balance) gives me a proper introduction to early OMD, whose work I’d never explored based on my lack of enthusiasm for ‘Enola Gay’. I offer some pointers for 90s Depeche Mode albums and probably talk a lot of bllocks because I’ve had three 440ml cans of Heathen, but it’s all good and I’ve never been more pleased to have forced myself out of the house instead of wallowing in the winter blues. Winter motorik grooves is definitely the way to go.

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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.