Wednesday, 28 May 2008

An evening with Nemo @ The Blues and Jazz Festival. Newcastle-under-Lyme. May 25th

Review by Danny Hill

Photo by Darren Washington

"I am the owner of the sock! This is my sock!" The Owner Of The Black Sock proudly declares into the microphone; hoisting the offending article into the air like a flaccid, black flag. This is before 'The Owner Of The Black Sock', egged on mercifully by the raucous crowd, cramped into the tiny venue like so many sardines, takes the sock to his face and inhales deeply. His prize for this very public declaration and apparent vindication of his own non-sock-smelliness? A bright pink vinyl record containing what seems to be the greatest hits of Max Bygraves.

Confused? You will be. We've hardly began to scratch the surface as to why Nemo are indeed as popular as they are along the Stoke-on-Trent live music circuit. The Black Friar pub - a superb venue that has just been pulled from its once murky depths by its new proprietors - is the perfect setting for a Nemo gig; its tight corridors and relatively small space doesn't invite intimacy, but demands it. And if you were to ask any of Nemo's members, Andy, Paul, Lee or Kramer, they would all unanimously agree that's exactly how they like it: tight, sweaty and charged with an atmosphere unparalleled by some of the larger live music venues in the city.

Serving as perhaps a testament to these admissions, Nemo are practically on first-name terms with half their audience within the first ten minutes of starting their set. "The drummer has had to rush off to the toilet," lead-singer Andy calls, "who wouldn't mind filling in for a few minutes?"

To this, as though at beck-and-call, an audience member rushes through the throng like a moment from The Price Is Right, a willing game-show contestant ready to pit his wits against the elaborately dressed quiz-master. He introduces himself as Carl, and sets himself at the drum kit, tapping cymbals delicately. Carl, however, soon discovers the extent of his drunken bravado, and admits he's never hit a drum in his life.

Nemo have a lot of followers, the only difference being that Nemo prefer to refer to them as friends. In terms of likeability, Nemo sit somewhere between grannies with trays of biscuits and cakes, and sunny days sitting in beer gardens. Characters are always greatly in evidence, and Drew is never too far away, affectionately known as their mascot - resplendent in his inflexible Pith Helmet - waving meaty fists and singing back every word of every song with animated, chest-pumping exuberance. And what about the ominous, Viagra-induced Graham, a man who, apparently, cannot be trusted with anyone's biscuits?

Nemo are in surprisingly energetic form considering this gig would be their third in a single day, following on from The Full Moon and The Glebe, the latter being only an hour-or-so earlier.

"A good way to dust the cobwebs off," says Andy.

"My neck aches," states bassist, Lee - and given the energy that goes into Nemo's every gig, it's not hard to understand why.

At one stage the camaraderie has gone on for well over fifteen minutes and lead-guitarist Paul boyishly asks, "Um, shall we do a number?"

In true rock and roll fashion, Nemo have decided to reserve their best performance of the day for last. After opening their set with the pulsating bass loops and solid riffery of fans' favourite User, with its urgent, screaming vocals, sounding more dangerous than teasing an angry Rottweiler with an 8oz steak. Then follows a the pop-inspired Always Afterall, climaxing with an epic solo, melding flawlessly through a haze of feedback into an equally sensual yet vigorous rendition of Desmond Says.

As the gig progresses, Nemo provide proof of the old adage - if you're gonna chuck one or two covers in the mix for good measure, you can't go wrong with The Beatles. Money, and One After 909 thump from the amps with abandon, and Nemo reserve the guilty pleasure of remodelling these already brilliant songs in their own turbo-pop/punk-rock image. Masters of the build-up and break down as they are, Nemo later show different sides of their musical character with the seaside-like sing-along chorus of Thursday Eyes. Andy, in the style of an old-fashioned crooner, cocks his head back and sweeps his trademark red polka-dot hankie around in the air as his gravelly vocals swell and dip to the relentlessly charging melody. And still, Nemo whip the crowd into a hyperactive frenzy, belting out tune after tune.

Make no mistake, Nemo like to make a noise; euphoric noise that sweeps and crashes against their audience like a cacophonic landslide. But as noise goes, it's pleasant; and doesn't jar, irritate or become repetitive. If anything, it's quite hospitable. Engaging.

Further variations in their act appear with a bizarre cover of These Boots Were Made For Walkin', with an impromptu rap-performance from another of their many friends and contemporaries in the surroundings. I'm The King Of The Swingers, also earns appreciative cheers.

The time arrives for Nemo to finish their act, but the braying punters are demanding more. It is not a request, some intone - they are quite literally held against their will.

Try With A Little Help From My Friends, more Cocker-esque than Beatles, lives up to its title. Ironically, Nemo invite their friends to do exactly that. Local artist Jason Lockett (who has been handling sound assistance all evening) handles the vocals and The Owner Of The Black Sock, to the surprise of the band, returns with backing vocals. Mayhem ensues, walls of sound crashing down like a burst dam, the crowd are rocking. Status-quo restored. Nemo, quite visibly, have used up every last drop in their tanks. Everyone is standing, and rightly so.

As the gig ends, The Owner Of The Black Sock, still proudly clutching his Max Bygraves record, cheekily chirps to singer, Andy, 'I've had a word with the band. We're trading you in for a younger, better-looking model. I'll be handling lead-vocals from now on in.'

And Andy, for the first time this evening - if perhaps ever - is truly lost for words.

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