Tuesday, 5 February 2008

SONS Ltd presents Raphaels/This is Seb Clarke/La Dies/The Title/The Novellos plus DJs Steve Lamacq and Phil Jupitus @ Victoria Hall, Hanley.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Julie Gould

First of all, I have to say that I anticipated good things on attending this gig last Saturday night, but I didn’t quite expect a programme of this calibre. Seriously, there is so much talent in Stoke-on-Trent’s fair city at the moment, it seems to be everywhere you look. These days are witnessing a musical renaissance; the like of which has not been seen since the heady days of the punk rebellion thirty years ago. It is only just beginning, and with acts like these, Stoke-on-Trent, not to mention SONS Ltd, will be very much at the forefront.

Raphaels came on to a loud welcome and kicked in with a concentrated energy that never let up until they hit the chiming last note of their very well-rehearsed set. Playing their catchy and deftly-arranged pop/rock with verve and plenty of attack, they were as tight as a clenched fist. The interesting introduction of a bow-tie wearing trumpet player to their normal 5-piece, two-guitar line-up a little way into the act only added to the content. From a wealth of good songs, ‘Charming Man’ is released as a single on February 11th. Going by what I heard on this night, it should take them a long way.

Affable Phil Jupitus, who turned up in place of the advertised Mark Lamaar, manned the record decks during the rather lengthy first break until Radio One’s Steve Lamacq took the stage to announce This is Seb Clarke, a highly-professional 12-piece band led by the eponymous Seb on an old and battered Hofner semi-acoustic, the like of which I haven’t seen used onstage in many, many years. Wearing identical suits and boasting 6 men on assorted brass, including an uncommon baritone sax, they launched into an act which Seb has accurately described as ‘The Clash with brass’. A mixture of frenetic punk and heartfelt soul, Seb and his talented band whipped up a storm as each member, boogieing hard to the relentless beat, played as if his life depended on it. In fact, anybody who could sit through this act without at least tapping a foot is either dead or stone deaf. They finished to thunderous and well-deserved applause. A great act that I suspect will find its own niche in the very near future.

La Dies, announced by Phil Jupitus wearing his “Fuck art, let’s dance” t-shirt, looked as if they’d stepped out of the mid-60s, but somehow they also brought with them the freshness and energy of those halcyon days, putting me in mind of an updated Yardbirds in places. Their confident vocalist quickly establishing a noisy rapport with the audience, La Dies played their strong pop/rock compositions with cool panache as frontman Pete made sure not a square inch of stage was left uncovered as he strutted, leapt and danced for all he was worth. No wallflower, he; and this is one hell of a good band. The crowd thought so too, judging by the applause accompanying what seemed like an all-too-soon departure.

The Title also have 60s overtones, but are a tad less manic in their presentation. This doesn’t mean they are any lessened by it though - far from it, in fact. Vocalist Beef, resplendent in a blue rainmac buttoned to the neck throughout the show (doesn’t he get hot?), putting me in mind of a fairground barker for some reason, constantly promenaded around the stage singing with depth and honest conviction as his able bandmates backed him to the hilt with some fine musicianship. An added string to their proverbial bow surely lies in the quality of their songs - ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’ for instance, a recent hit in the indie charts, has one of those riffs that stays in your head for days. As with everybody else on the bill tonight, I can see no reason why The Title shouldn’t do very well indeed; they certainly have the talent.

After such a feast of promising acts, it occurred to me that the final band of the night would have a lot to match up to. I needn’t have worried. The Novellos are something else again. Playing with a new line-up, joined by an occasional trombonist/keyboards/percussionist, they unleashed a chaotic vivacity that was almost tangible. Indeed, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Phil Gillespie was so manic, it appeared at times that his frame could barely contain the seething energy within him. The other members hardly stood around either. Their imaginative songs are strong and in some ways their catchy tunes remind me of the style of 80s band Haircut 100. They come across as a likeable, not to mention extremely talented bunch and if these don’t make it, and make it big, it would be an injustice.

In fact, that could be said of every band that played at Victoria Hall on Saturday night. Neil Graham and SONS Ltd put on a fantastic show, and I, along with everybody else there, thoroughly enjoyed it. Absolutely superb. A great, great night.

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