Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Gig Review: Specialist Subject All-Dayer at The Lexington 20/8/16 (by Emma Prew)

Specialist Subject have been a staple part of the UK punk scene for several years now. So much so that an all-dayer comprising of Specialist Subject Records bands seems well overdue. That said 2016 has been a great year for the Exeter-based independent record label, with releases from Muncie Girls, Austeros and Woahnows, as well as albums from The Fairweather Band and Doe due out in the coming weeks. However as well as acting as celebration of all the amazing SSR bands, the all-dayer also had a slightly more somber tone to it – the 20th of August 2016 was Bangers last ever gig. As a band that goes hand-in-hand with Specialist Subject more so than any other – Bangers' bassist, Andrew, is of course one of the two lovely people behind SSR (the other being Kay) – it seemed only right that, when they announced they were breaking up, their last gig should be at the first Specialist Subject all-dayer. We were most certainly in for a treat.

Having only been announced a few days earlier, the first to take to The Lexington stage was Giles Bidder of Great Cynics fame. I'm more used to seeing Giles alongside bandmates Iona and Bob but I have seen him solo once before – it's a different kind of feel but the same great songs so no less enjoyable. Giles was his usual slightly bumbling and rambling self, muddling up the words on a number of songs and joking that he was doing Foo Fighters-style live versions. Joking aside, he kicked off the day with just what we needed – songs we all know and love.

Next up were Austeros – a band who I've somehow managed to miss seeing twice already this year, so needless to say I was very much looking to finally seeing them live at last. I loved their debut album, Painted Blue, that was released earlier this year (on Specialist Subject Records, of course) so I was eager to hear those songs live. I was certainly not disappointed! In fact, the three-piece even threw in two new songs – pretty impressive for a band whose last album was only released in May – as well as some of their pre-Painted Blue tracks. The whole set was great fun and they finished on my favourite track, Superpowers.

The third act on the Specialist Subject line-up were a band whose name I've seen around before but never really properly listened to, Ssssnakes. I get the impression that they don’t play too many shows – especially as Jamie also plays in Pale Angels – so we were in for a bit of a treat courtesy of Specialist Subject. They are certainly a band that performs best live, ploughing through super-fast tracks with an incredible energy. They were joined on stage by Hamish from Bangers for some additional percussion which just added to the fun feeling that Ssssnakes were already provoking in the crowd.

After Ssssnakes the style of music changed quite drastically, but this is definitely not a bad thing. I love how there are so many different sub-genres and styles of music within the ‘punk scene’ – and indeed within Specialist Subject’s roster. The next artist to take to The Lexington stage was Helen Chambers. I vaguely knew Helen’s music through her inclusion on The Revival Tour (Chuck Ragan’s live music camaraderie) compilations. Acoustic folky sort of music is right up my street so I thoroughly enjoyed Helen’s set, even though I didn’t really know any of the songs. She said herself that she was the most un-punk artist on Specialist Subject! She was joined by El Morgan and Kelly Kemp for one song too which was just lovely.

The fifth band of the day was one of those I mentioned as having an album out next month – The Fairweather Band. The Fairweather Band are a three-piece from Exeter who play short but sweet indie pop songs. As they have a new album, Meow, coming out soon (it was actually available to buy from the merch stand – two weeks early), it was to be expected that they played a number of the tracks from it. It’s always a bit difficult to judge a band playing live when they play a lot of songs you don’t know, but it definitely made me want to listen to the album anyway. There was also some amusing band–audience banter when someone yelled ‘what record label is your album on?’ and ‘is it an English label?’. I can only assume the person was very drunk or trying to be funny.

Sam Russo is a big fan favourite within Specialist Subject’s roster and in UK punk scene in general. He’s an incredible performer, especially considering its just him and his guitar, and the crowd always absolutely loves him. It was certainly no different at The Lexington, with plenty of shouts of ‘Ruussssoo!’ between his songs (I’d love to know who started the whole yelling his surname at him thing… anyone?). Sam Russo is a born storyteller and this translates well on stage, both within the lyrics of his songs and his explanation of them in between. Of course, no Sam Russo set would be complete without the crowd giving it everything they’ve got to Sometimes, the set closer. Sooooometimes!

As the day became evening and we drew ever closer to the last Bangers set ever, Hamish stepped on stage again – this time to play drums for Pale Angels. It’s good to know that even with Bangers calling it a day, Hamish isn’t retiring as a drummer just yet. I’ve seen Pale Angels a couple of times before and, I must admit, their style of music isn’t usually my cup of tea but, that said, I do enjoy watching them play. There’s a sort of intense energy to their music that is better expressed when they are performing live. The crowd was certainly loving it anyway with lots of people jumping around and head banging, as the band powered through their set with very little breathing time in between songs.

The eighth band of the Specialist Subject All-Dayer were a band who I’ve since joked could replace Bangers as my favourite UK punk band, Woahnows. I saw them just last month with Apologies, I Have None and The Smith Street Band but if anything that just made me even more excited to see them again. Woahnows are a super fun, lively live band and it’s great to be a part of the audience at one of their shows – even more so when it’s a Specialist Subject show. There were huge singalongs and there was plenty of movement in the crowd as the three-piece (hey, I’ve realised all of the acts were three-pieces or solo artists!) played a selection of songs from their previous releases, as well a their latest EP, a Specialist Subject release, and a new song. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a new album soon – on SSR perhaps?

The band left with the job of playing before Bangers were Doe. With their debut full-length album being released in less than a month – and a much anticipated one at that – everyone was keen to hear new songs as well as some old favourites. Doe are a band who I always like watching play live, although I haven’t listened to them too much on record. If you haven’t seen or heard Doe before then you probably don’t know that they don’t have a bass player. Instead the have two guitars and drums, a set up that works incredibly well with singer Nicola’s angsty vocals. Doe are a band who I think, like label mates Muncie Girls before them, are making big moves in the world of UK punk rock. I’m looking forward to seeing where the new album takes them.

Then the moment we had all been eagerly awaiting, and kind of dreading at the same time, was finally here – the last Bangers performance… ever. Roo, Andrew and Hamish burst into their set without too much of an introduction – as if they needed one. It was clear from the outset that they were going to put everything they had into their performance to make their last show ever the best show ever. The crowd was wilder than ever and loving every second of it, as we all knew this was our last opportunity to hear the Cornish punks play some of our favourite songs live. It sort of felt like every song was a ‘hit’ but actually it was probably just that Bangers have so many great songs! A New Raymondo, Church Street In Ruins, Jon Shoe, No, Making Friends and The Mitigation Committee, to name but a few, were all very well received. I was also really happy to hear the two new songs from their Last Songs 7” played live – possibly for the first time and almost definitely for the last time. They played the tracks back to back seamlessly just like on the EP and is was awesome. As well as the new tracks, Bangers also played a couple of track of Mysterious Ways – the album that they wrote and recorded in 48 hours and have rarely played live. If it really was to be the last ever Bangers show (part of me still hopes it’s all a ruse), they certainly got the setlist right. After one fairly successful attempt at a human pyramid, many crowd surfers and a mass singalong – ‘The last thing I need is anymore things!’ – Bangers closed with I Don’t Feel Like I’ll Ever Be Clean again (Roo's favourite). Of course we all wanted more but I think it was fair that they chose to end there. End of an era, for me especially.

Bangers, thank you for everything. We love you and, in response to the line in There Was A Positive Vibe, yes we will see you in hell.

Also, Specialist Subject is the best – thanks Andrew and Kay!