Friday, 7 September 2018

Gig Review: Fireball's Hottest Bands Final at the Islington Academy 2/9/18

Battle of the band competitions are a bit of a taboo subject in the DIY punk community. I, like the vast majority of people I know, go along with the thought process that music is not a competition and should not be treated as such. That said, I can completely understand why bands would enter them when they have the chance to earn an opportunity to play a show with legendary bands such as Flogging Molly, The Bronx and Face To Face. Those three bands are taking part in this year's Fireball tour and a handful of other bands from all over the UK. In London, bands from Bournemouth, Bristol and London were vying for the chance to open the show in their towns. When the show was first announced my initial thoughts were "Urgh, a battle of the bands. Boo. Bad." but after inspecting the line-up I decided to pop along, not to support the competition but to support some of the great up and coming bands in the UK.

To encourage people to get to the Islington Academy to see all the bands playing the show, the set times were drawn at random and announced an hour before doors. The band tasked with opening the show were local pop punks The Famous Class. Each band were allowed to play just three songs. This meant that The Famous Class tried to pull out all the stops with a hugely energetic set as the members bounced around the stage. At some point two massive balloons were thrown into the crowd by two gentleman dressed as beer bottles and during the final track a chap dressed in a wedding dress came on stage and downed some beer. It was all a bit random but it was good fun.

Sinful Maggie were up next representing Bournemouth. I knew absolutely nothing about Sinful Maggie before this gig and kind of assumed they would be a folk punk band. I was kind of right as there were traces of folk music but it was intertwined with some fantastic street punk music. Three songs wasn't quite enough for me as I found myself wanting more when the band finished their set. They played hard and fast and had some great music to sing along and get "shitfaced" too. Not me, obviously, but if you're into that kind of thing then you'll love Sinful Maggie.

Another band representing Bournemouth were the six piece Black Water County. Before the event got under way it was obvious that there were a lot of people in Islington to support Black Water County as there must have been about thirty people, at least, wearing one of their t-shirts. I was wearing my Run Up shirt and felt very much like I was at an away football match. This did kind of bring a competition element to the night which I wasn't a big fan of but Black Water County are an incredible live act. Putting everything they had into their three song set, the band had their passionate group of fans getting quite rowdy and having a good old mosh and a touch of crowd surfing. Of all the bands on the bill that I hadn't seen before, Black Water County definitely left the biggest impression.

Waco are one of the hottest bands in the London scene and have carved out a reputation for being a fantastic live act. It's been a couple of years since I last saw the four piece and since then they have put out a couple of new releases so I wasn't completely familiar with their new stuff. Lead singer Jak is so charismatic on stage it's hard to take your eyes off him as he gets the crowd in the palm of his hand. Waco are a band that are all about positivity and bettering yourself. I enjoyed the short poem that Jak recited before the band began their final song, Agitation – a song I do know and absolutely love. This short set had me wanting to check out Waco's newer stuff and to see them again soon.

The first of the two bands (unfortunately the third, These Five Years, had to pull out) aiming to get a place at the Bristol show were Mick O'Toole. I remember reviewing the band back in 2015 after the release of 1665 Pitchfork Rebellion and was looking forward to seeing the five piece live for the very first time. My first thoughts were how much more punk sounding they were from what I remembered from my review. This spirited folk punk performance caught the attention of much of the crowd who happily clapped along and shouted "oi!" with the band. Mick O'Toole are a fine band and I was happy to finally see them.

Death By Shotgun offered something a bit different to the rest of the bands playing the show. The young four piece play an emo pop punk style and they really impressed. They were really tight as a band and their acoustic guitar wielding frontman was an absolute star in the making. He had my attention immediately with his superb vocals and energetic presence. They took the opportunity to play an unreleased track from their upcoming EP Good Times / Sad Times which I thought was a really brave move. The band could have easily picked an older song that people might know but went for the unknown and clearly drew some admirers in the process.

The Run Up were the band on the bill I was most looking forward to seeing. It was actually my fourth time seeing them this year and they never disappoint. The Run Up are one of the hardest working bands in the DIY punk scene in the UK, seemingly always on tour somewhere and genuinely lovely guys so I was stoked to see them get this opportunity. Like Death By Shotgun before them, The Run Up took the opportunity to play a new song, The Upside Of Being Down to start their set. It sounded so great live. Then lead singer Larry announced that the next song, WKND, was about how competition and corporations are not what the punk scene is about. They then finished up with Sink or Swallow and I had a good sing-along to a superb song. The Run Up are one of the best bands in the UK at the moment, they have a new EP on the way that you should keep your eyes peeled for.

Last up were Kingston Upon Thames' finest, The Lagan. I know that the running order for the night was drawn at random but I couldn't think of a better band to finish the night. The long running band played a glorious three song set. They had people dancing and singing along and just generally having a fantastic time. Even if you don't know The Lagan, it's impossible not to get drawn into their own take on folk punk. The Lagan have been going for a while now and are so tight on stage, they mesh all their different instruments together wonderfully and put on a such a fun show. Same Shite Different Night is one of my favourite songs from the entire folk punk genre. Up The Lagan!

After The Lagan finished their set the audience were treated to a set from Haggard Cat while the judges went off to decide on the winners. This however didn't matter to me. All eight bands who played the night were winners and all are really deserving of your attention. The UK scene is thriving at the moment and I had a great night out seeing some of the best that it has to offer. The concept of battle of the bands sucks but the concept of seeing eight wonderful bands play together is fantastic.

This review was written by Colin Clark. Photos by Emma Prew.

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