Sunday, 9 March 2008

Wrongpop 1st Birthday Party featuring Stringfellow Hawk/Mauskramp/The Notorious Hi-Fi Killers/Truckdriver Jnr @ The Glebe, Stoke. 7th March.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

I think I can honestly say one man band Stringfellow Hawk is quite unlike any act I’ve ever seen before. Beginning his set with a lively ditty about Macauley Culkin, he sings most of his songs with just the barest trace of a snigger. Cleverly cynical and full of humorous crudity, he also throws in a colourful variety of cover numbers with lyrics apparently rewritten by the man himself. A confident performer, he is also an impressive guitarist, turning to a banjo on some numbers, and displayed some very tasty right-hand picking throughout his set. His banjo version of ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ was a delight, as was his reworked guitar-driven version of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’. He obviously likes a laugh, but I was drawn to a particularly engaging song he sung called, I believe, ‘True Love Will Find You in the End’; his composition or otherwise, I don’t know, but his performance of it couldn’t be faulted.

Mauskramp, basically John Matley on keyboards and bass with Richard Underwood on guitar and vocals, offer an onslaught of sound, that, although electronically pounding and relentless throughout their set, never gets monotonous or boring even for a second. Apart from looking like Iggy Pop, Richard boasts a remarkably similar voice, particularly on ‘Vitamin Deficiency’, a great salvo of a number that nutshells their style most satisfactorily. In fact, all their lengthy compositions are structurally sound enough to maintain rapt audience attention throughout; John Matley’s imaginative keyboard programming bringing consistent new dimensions as his sidekick gets more and more hyper and wild-eyed as they thunder on. I loved the quirky introduction to ‘Active Speaker’ and it is obvious that a great deal of thought has gone into their overall sound. Raucous and very loud, they describe themselves as ‘bad-tempered rock ‘n’ roll disco’. About right.

Up from London, 3-piece The Notorious Hi-Fi Killers have a dirty raw sound that kept bringing Audioslave to mind, except without the powerful voice. However, although guitarist and singer Jonathan Richard’s vocals could by no means be described as such, they do have a haunting quality that is more apparent on their recordings than live, it has to be said. As a guitarist, he is never less than interesting and a strong Hendrix influence is very evident in his liberal use of effects, echo unit especially. Drummer Rhys Lewellyn plays with great energy and imagination while bassist Tony Mountford, wielding a vintage Hofner, supplys a formidable anchor; together holding the middle-heavy to very heavy refrains rock solid while Richards unleashes his semi-psychedelic lead to roam wherever. They have some fine songs in their set and I took a particular liking to ‘Into the Light’, which saw some drastic downtuning for a very effective intro. This is a very capable band; it’ll be good to see them in Stoke again sometime.

On their Myspace site Truckdriver Jnr. describe themselves as ‘riffs and riffs and shouts and quiet bits and screams and riffs and more riffs’ – which descibes the bare bones of it very well, but in reality, there is a lot more to it than just that. Drummer John Hulme plays with astounding accuracy, while guitarists Steve Arnold and Wes Hall, along with George Myers on bass, weave in and out of his solid beats with practised panache. They are so tight they could hold water, so to speak, possessing a certain group discipline that ensures the confident twists and turns which are something of a trademark as far as this band’s overall sound is concerned. Heavy, but musically nimble, they have an almost masterly feel for light and shade; bringing the unexpected in from nowhere in an instant. Taking lead vocals, Wes Hall has one of those ‘demonic’ rasping voices so beloved of followers of this particular genre and very good at it he undoubtedly is; putting across some real conviction. However, when hearing songs of this nature, I sometimes can’t help wondering how they would sound sung in a more conventional fashion; but then again, perhaps I’m missing a point somewhere. All-in-all, they displayed some fine musicianship and as a headline band, they did not disappoint.

Wrongpop, without whom this night would not have happened, is the brainchild of Steve Clarke and I shall quote his own words:

“[Wrongpop is] a blatant unorganised attempt at bringing down the modern mores of today's music. A shit-hot monthly night at the Glebe. Wrongpop doesn't care about trends and cliques; gigs are put on once a month for the love of music and friends and nothing else. Wrongpop makes no profit whatsoever; all money made after paying for the night goes straight to the bands. Wrongpop won't put a goody bag in your hand on the door and pat you on the head, or accept money for sponsorship - the people who come to the gigs pay for the night, and a damn fine night they have too! £3/£4 for 3/4 bands, once a month. Wrongpop makes mothers cry tears of joy and fathers clench their fists with pride.”

I couldn’t put it better myself. Well done for a magnificent effort.

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