Monday, 21 April 2008

SONS Ltd Showcase @ Victoria Hall, Hanley. April 19th.

Featuring The Dilettantes/La Dies/The Title/Raphaels/The Novellos/This is Seb Clarke/Rough Charm + DJ sets by Chris Hawkins, Carl Barat & Didz.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

With circa 1000 enthusiastic punters present, many of them heady with news of Stoke City’s important victory over Bristol City, the outlook for the evening looked very good indeed. And very good indeed it was.

Kicking off proceedings, the tight and confident Dilettantes played a sparkling and well-rehearsed set. Having a great front man in guitarist and vocalist Tom Howells and a fine set of songs in the indie rock vein, they made for an inspired opening act. Well-received by the noisy audience, The Dilettantes set a standard that was pretty much maintained throughout the entire evening.

Having seen La Dies at the SONS Ltd launch back in February, they played pretty much the same set as then. Still reminding me of the early Yardbirds, playing their good chunky numbers with fire and cool relish are what this band is all about, and as always, vocalist Pete made the very most of the occasion, demonstating his spirited showmanship as the audience clapped and screamed their clamorous appreciation.

Coming on to much crowd-hailing and screaming of females, The Title are one exciting, ballsy band and singer Guy Davies soon had the ever more rowdy gathering firmly in the palm of his hand. Nifty guitarist Hursty, with his gum-chewing cool, plays his parts with neat aplomb, whilst fellow cool gum-chewer Greg and Teecey on pounding drums and bass respectively supply a rhythm section about as gutsy as it gets. Closing their set with the great rabble-rousing number ‘Madman’, currently number 5 in the indie charts, Davies hurled his mic to the floor with true attitude as he sung the last line, “..cause I’m real”, and strode purposefully offstage as if fired up to the nines; which I suppose he was, considering the crackling atmosphere. Terrific.

Introduced by Didz, in jolly mood and displaying a fine stagger, the Raphaels, with new guitarist Chris Harrison, played with their usual stylish musicianship. They seem to specialise in unusual arrangements, sounding a little disjointed at times, although I suspect things are meant to sound that way, and in general they put on a great show; although I really couldn’t see any valid reason for the bassist kicking a microphone stand into the audience. They have some really good material and their live version of their successful single ‘Charming Man’ was even better than the recording to my mind. The band played the set out instrumentally as singer left the stage. A nice touch, I thought.

Introduced by a smiling Carl Barat, The Novellos were simply electrifying. Blowing the crowd away with their explosive opening number, they just got better and better as they went on, if that could be possible. I thought they were amazing the last time I saw them, but ‘astonishing’ would be a more suitable epiphet for what I witnessed here this evening. Phil Gillespie was his usual totally manic self, diving over the crowd barriers to join the wildly-dancing audience at one point, only this time all five of them seemed to expend more energy in half an hour than most people use up in a week. Inspired songs and impressive musicianship are a hallmark of this band and the quirky addition of what looked liked a euphonium or tuba played by the drummer (separately, of course) made for some interesting new sounds. They play like they absolutely love it, an infectious trait that rubbed off onto the audience mightily. Tremendous stuff from a tremendous band.

Seb Clarke and his band had no trouble following them though. The whole 12-piece outfit laid down the boogie, so to speak, from the first 1, 2, 3, 4 and simply carried on where The Novellos left off. They really do rock and they sure know how to party. As band leader, Seb worked very hard, as did all its members; leaping around with arm-flailing abandon almost throughout the entire set. Enthralling brass arrangements and adroit stickwork from the man behind the kit form the backbone of Dylanish-voiced Seb’s big production numbers and a dexterous exchange between the two keyboard players towards the end was a joy to listen to. If there were such a thing as musical calling cards, then ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Alamo’, a highlight of his playlist, would be Seb’s. An ‘offshoot’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Alamo part 7’, also featured, was recently a number one in the BBC indie charts. Leaving the stage to riotous applause, Seb announced that The Rough Charm would be on next; a remark lost on many, I think, as a great deal of people left after his set, probably thinking that, as headliner, This is Seb Clarke were the last act.

It must be said that BBC radio 6’s Chris Hawkins did a great job of DJ-ing and presenting while ex-Libertine Carl Barat showed an impressively friendly respect for his ecstatic fans; spending a good 15 minutes leaning over the barriers to shake hands and chat with them after Seb had left the stage.

The Rough Charm unfortunately came on to a vastly depleted audience, but undauntedly played their set with style and a certain attitude. They have some very good songs, including a spirited version of Elvis Presley's 'Hound Dog' and have a fine, gritty frontman in singer and guitarist Will. They received a warm welcome from those still left and the set ended after lead guitarist Laim threw his instrument to the floor and stalked off after giving the finger to nobody in particular, leaving Will, bassist Nixon and drummer Lofty to wrap the show up. I suspect they would have fared much better if they had come on second in the evening’s billing as I should imagine was the original intention. It would be nice to see them perform again at some stage.

A long, long evening; but a very enjoyable one. SONS Ltd continue to go from strength to strength. It can only be but good for all musicians in Stoke-on-Trent.

Good times indeed.

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