Friday, 15 October 2021

Column: In Defence Of UK Ska

First things first, I guess that I need to explain the title of this column. I’m fairly certain that everyone reading this will know about the excellent book In Defence Of Ska by Aaron Carnes. In the book Aaron sets out to stand up for ska and explain that the genre is actually really good despite it often being seen as uncool by music folk in all areas of the industry. If you haven’t read the book yet I thoroughly recommend it. The book also has an accompanying podcast where Aaron is joined by Adam Davis of Link 80 and Omnigone and a special guest each episode which is well worth a listen.

This column isn’t about defending the good name of ska and trying to convince you that it’s cool. It’s about the idea that it’s ‘back’. I’m disputing this because, for me and a loyal, dedicated and fan base in the UK, it never went away!

For a very brief history of ska punk, the genre blew up in the mid to late 90s in America with bands like Reel Big Fish, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less Than Jake, Goldfinger, No Doubt, Mustard Plug and loads more exploding into the punk scene. Like all waves that reach a high and then drop, on the way down somebody somewhere decided that ska punk wasn’t cool anymore and the genre returned to the underground. There were of course loads of bands still playing ska punk in the States but their audience was nothing like it was when ska hit its high. In recent years, ska punk has been back on the rise. The Interrupters have become one of the biggest names in punk rock, even appearing on big American talk show Jimmy Kimmel. California based Bad Time Records has been consistently putting out album of the year contenders from the likes of Kill Lincoln, Omnigone, Catbite, We Are The Union and Joystick, among others. Skatune Network, the YouTube channel of We Are The Union trombone player Jeremy Hunter, where they take popular songs and cover them in a ska style gets shared endlessly. In early 2021 DIY prince Jeff Rosenstock re-released his 2020 album No Dream as a ska album titled Ska Dream. That release irked me. Not because it was a bad album and not because I saw it as someone jumping on to the ska bandwagon. Jeff is a former member of the legendary Arrogant Sons Of Bitches and has always expressed a love of ska. It was because a lot of people in the UK seemed to be proclaiming that ska was back. It wasn’t back. It was still alive and had retained its passionate fan base for years and years.

My first introduction to the UK’s DIY ska punk scene was through [Spunge]. I’ve said so many times that it’s now boring, but the Cheltenham based four (five at the time) piece were my gateway band into ska and punk rock music. I discovered them around 2002, which was around the time that their third album The Story So Far was released. This introduced me to loads of UK bands who, throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, toured relentlessly to packed crowds every night of the week. Along with [Spunge], there were bands such as Capdown, Lightyear, King Prawn, Farse, No Comply, Adequate 7, Whitmore, Ye Wiles, Jesse James, Howards Alias and The Filaments. How’s that for a walk down memory lane? You had labels such as Household Name, Golf Records, Moon Ska Europe and Deck Cheese putting out incredible albums on a regular basis.

These bands then influenced the next generation of UK ska bands. As we moved towards the mid 2000s to 2010 bands such as Sonic Boom Six, Random Hand, Mouthwash, Grown At Home and The JB Conspiracy were popping up and carrying on the scene that the bands before them had built.

At this point the big wave of ska in the USA had well and truly ended but the popularity of the likes of Less Than Jake, Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish remained. Whenever those bands would tour the UK they would play to thousands of people every night. In 2007, Less Than Jake had a six night residency at the Astoria in London where they played all six of their albums to packed crowds. The UK still loved ska punk.

Around this time TNSRecords in Manchester were releasing music from the likes of Faintest Idea, Rising Strike, Beat The Red Light, Harijan, John Player Specials, Stand Out Riot and Sense Of Urgency. The ska punk scene was absolutely thriving in the North of England. Down South bands such as ClayPigeon, The Skints, Anti-Vigilante, Tyrannosaurus Alan, New Town Kings, Imperial Leisure and The JunK were always on at The Camden Underworld and drawing impressive crowds. Let’s also not forget Dirty Revolution from Wales and The Hostiles from Glasgow as well. There were small ska scenes all over the UK and it was still a great time.

Big alternative festivals such as Boomtown and Rebellion would regularly book these bands for their summer events, allowing them to reach an even bigger audience. Proving that people still loved ska punk music.

Massive ska punk all dayers would become a regular event. The Camden Underworld would regularly host a Christmas party packed with ska punk bands and in Bristol a venue named the Fleece would run an event named Skank Fest which would regularly host gigs that ran from midday until midnight with ten or so bands.

There does come a time in scene cycles where the crowds begin to change. The older members of the crowds begin to settle down and find themselves with responsibilities that mean that they can’t get to as many gigs as they used to. This cycle obviously applies to the people in bands as well, responsibilities and life get in the way and playing shows all over the country begins to take a back seat. This did mean that the amount of shows began to dwindle but this gave opportunity for the next wave of bands to come along…

Yes, here is the bit about our best friends in Be Sharp Promotions. After putting on ska shows around Kent and South London since 2009, in 2012 they found a home at the New Cross Inn. Since then the pub/venue has become synonymous with ska punk. Bands such as Call Me Malcolm, Popes Of Chillitown, Tree House Fire, Captain Accident & The Disasters, The Bar Stool Preachers, King Punch, Just Say Nay, Millie Manders And The Shut Up and The Pisdicables have all made names for themselves at Be Sharp shows. Word has spread far and wide about the great things that Be Sharp and NXI are doing for the ska scene and legends such as Random Hand, Lightyear, King Prawn and The JB Conspiracy have regularly taken to the stage to sold out crowds. They’ve also managed to attract international acts such as Big D & The Kids Table, Jaya The Cat, The Toasters, Dave Hillyard & The Rocksteady Seven and, the big one, GOLDFINGER!

In my opinion NXI really became the home of ska punk when Mike and Paul Smith of Be Sharp teamed up with Chris Fishlock of Fishlock Promotions (based in Bristol) and Jason Berden of El Topo Bookings (from Belgium) to create Level Up Festival. These promoters all met at a Bristol Skank Fest (which I was also at) and the idea for Level Up was conceived. Level Up is a three day festival that takes place at NXI every July. Since starting in 2017 the weekend has become a staple in ska punk fan’s diaries with people travelling from all over the UK and further afield to attend the festival. Despite only having three editions so far (bloody pandemics), Level Up has not only been the setting of so many fantastic moments and memories but has also helped strengthen the ska punk community. It’s a beautiful weekend and, in the words of Craig “C-Rage” Darran, it’s “ska punk Christmas.”

So, in conclusion, ska punk never went away in the UK and continues to go from strength to strength. More and more bands are coming out and releasing fantastic albums. The scene remains as supportive as ever, you will often see members of different bands deputising in other bands or just joining for guest spots. Ska punk shows remain big sellers. At multi-genre festivals the ska bands always get massive receptions. Thinking of Call Me Malcolm’s amazing Gorilla set and Manchester Punk Festival still puts a smile on my face.

The ties between the UK and American ska scene remains strong as well. Call Me Malcolm released their latest album Me Myself And Something Else with the help of Wiretap Records. Pook, formerly of Beat The Red Light and current member of Redeemon and The Filaments, recently started his own label/distro named Pookout Records to help UK ska fans get hold of new American bands’ releases without having to pay a fortune in shipping. Pookout Records regularly sells out of their Bad Time Records releases very quickly and they are also working on releasing music from some exciting new UK bands. Paul of Be Sharp recently started his own booking company with fellow NXI promoter Eddie name ACA Booking and have linked up with Bad Time to help those bands come to the UK to play gigs. This is a great opportunity for the bond to grow even stronger and hopefully open doors for UK bands to go to the USA and showcase just how good our scene is.

To conclude the conclusion, ska didn’t die in the UK and I doubt it ever will.

This column was written by Colin Clark.

All photographs taken by Emma Prew at various ska punk shows over the past five years.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Album Review: I Won't Reach Out To You by Hot Mulligan (by Lara Roberts)

Hailing from Michigan, Hot Mulligan have that perfect blend of pop-punk and emo that those of us growing up in the late 90s and early 00s had as the soundtrack to our teenage years (just me?). What they’ve done perfectly is take this iconic sound and modernise it, but keeping it true to that original, emotionally charged pop-punk sound.

This 5-track EP opens up gently with the ethereal sounding, dream-like One For The Boy. With the lyrics “Stay home, stay home” repeated over and over, you can’t help but think back to those early, unknown days of 2020. The vocals are almost lost amongst the guitars, completely capturing that feeling of what the world felt back then – confusion and uncertainty – but hearing those words over and over, drowned out in the background – Stay home, stay home.

In complete contrast to the opener, Featuring Mark Hoppus is a fun, catchy, straight-up pop-punk tune. It’s much fuller-bodied, and has that classic pop-punk subject – girls. We’re looking back on lost love, coming of age, and high school crushes. This tune doesn’t come up for air, and it ends as abruptly as it starts. The title, Featuring Mark Hoppus, is (I assume) a friendly crack at Hoppus being featured on almost every pop-punk release of the last 10 years or so. He doesn’t feature on this EP.

It’s almost as though Nathan Sanville’s voice was designed to make the music Hot Mulligan are producing. Losing Days opens with a brief acoustic guitar and Sanville driving out the lyrics, as though there isn’t enough force in his body to make them any louder, urgent, or important. After screaming “Forget it” over and over, we’re hit with power chords, melodic guitars, and pounding drums, easily transforming this one into an instant pop-punk classic.

Pop Shuvit (Hall Of Meat, Duh) really hones in on that modernisation of the pop-punk sound. There’s a neon/electronic sound to it, but it’s incredibly subtle and adds to the song rather than taking it over. A catchy little number, with an upbeat chorus.

The closer on this EP, Please Don’t Cry, You Have Swag, echoes the opening track, recycling the lyrics and the soft guitar. It’s a lovely, gentle little song with raw vocals and honest lyrics, before exploding into a brief but desperate chorus of “stay home, stay home”. A visceral, reflective, emo-pop ballad which closes the EP beautifully.

First of all, I want to point out how great the song titles are. It’s something I’ve come to expect from bands with an emo thread, and Hot Mulligan deliver. That aside, the only negative I can think of is that there are only 5 tracks, coming in at just under 12 minutes. If you are a fan of pop-punk and emo in any form, and particularly enjoyed the brief life of Sadboi pop-punk, then I’m pretty confident that you’ll enjoy this EP and any of Hot Mulligans’ previous releases.

Stream and download I Won't Reach Out To You on Bandcamp here.

Like Hot Mulligan on Facebook here.

This review was written by Lara Roberts.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Album Review: Between The Richness by Fiddlehead (by Richard Mair)

Hardcore is going through something of a creative renaissance. Drug Church stand out as the leading lights with a sound that has equal parts in common with 90s alt-rock bands such as the Pixies as they do with Minor Threat or Gorilla Biscuits; or take the bonkers noise inspired shenanigans that The Armed released with Ultrapop, an album that is equal parts Converge styled metalcore fused with ridiculous pop songs of noise merchants Fang Island. A further point to consider in this evolution is the role influential icons play in expanding the sound. For example Patrick Kindlon of Self Defense Family fame using Drug Church as an experimental release of ideas or the re-emergence of Brian McTernan as a focal point in Be Well also demonstrates the potential for scene legends to reinvent and reinvigorate a scene that at times can be static. Against this is the sphere in which Fiddlehead operate. A band that emerged into the world on the back of a much loved and respected icon, yet at the same time so very different to what had come before. Comprised of members of Have Heart and Basement, the lineage is truly astounding and yet it’s the personal introspection into the deepest emotions of frontman Patrick Flynn that is central to what makes Fiddlehead unique.

Now I must admit their debut album was in every sense a slow burner. It didn’t grab me initially. That’s not to say it wasn’t good; it just took me the best part of a year to click. Since then it’s been on rotation constantly and a follow up easily on the most wanted list… thankfully it doesn’t disappoint. In fact it ups the ante and some. Between The Richness is a triumph in every sense; it’s doubled down on everything that made Springtime and Blind so revered. It’s creative, emotional and, above all else, full of heart and soul that further explores Patrick Flynn’s personal family history and story.

Continuing the overriding theme of loss that drove Springtime and Blind, the opening track (“Grief Motif”) is introduced via a spoken word poem (that also concludes the album – bringing it neatly full circle) of E. E. Cummings. Its theme of loved ones staying with you in your heart shows that, whilst the grief and despair from the first album has somewhat moved on to a more hopeful realisation of happy memories, the principle remains the same. This is an album that delves into the deepest recesses of the human psyche. Exploring the depths of Patrick’s emotions and, in particular, this time around his hopes and fears for his own family. Throughout the album this feeling of anxiousness and being responsible for new life permeates all its facets. Images like watching loved ones sleep (“Joyboy”), living with academic pressure (“Down University”), or drifting apart and reconnecting with people – especially lovers – (“Million Times”) are central to the album. It digs the depths of human emotions and experiences to put into words what so many fail to articulate and does so beautifully. Every song is a genuine sing-along anthem; yet at the same time it remains very ‘adult’ in its approach to angst. Iron Chic this is not, yet I’d argue it’s equally as cathartic and explosive.

The spoken word intro gives way to an almost chant like refrain that echoes to the words “fall apart” through its brief runtime. Despite its upbeat nature (and likely fan favourite appeal in much the same way the chant of “Through our bleeding we are one” is synonymous with AFI) its second track “The Years” which really kicks things off, creating a one-two opening combo akin to Spanish love Songs Nuevo into Sequels, Remakes & Adaptations.

“Million Times” is a more sedate song by and large, although the chorus is an explosion of emotion and the song’s final third is a joyous fist pumping release. It’s a genuine pop song hidden in a post hardcore aesthetic. It gives way to the most punk rock song on the album. “Eternal You” is a gruff punk anthem; played at breakneck speed and with a angsty, angry vocal delivery that makes it stand out on the album where everything is much more nuanced. It concludes with another spoken word section which continues to tell the underpinning story behind the whole collection. In a similar vein, “Down University” is a straight forward “rocking” song, which reminds me of No Division-era Hot Water Music complete with cheerleader vocals, whilst “Get My Mind Right” shares its DNA with the more hardcore roots of the band. The up tempo songs really stand out as being of the highest quality, crafted with precision and guile that keeps things fresh. Nothing feels repeated or forced. Between The Richness is a real storyteller’s journey of an album and, whilst it can certainly be enjoyed by dipping into the odd song, it’s best savoured from front to back where the ebbs and flows; peaks and troughs come to life.

Where Fiddlehead excel is in subverting expectations. The personnel are known to be excellent at creating bludgeoning noise but “Loverman” and “Joyboy” are soft, gentle emo-tinged songs that are as delicate as they are powerful. Both are high points on the album, punctuating the more pronounced aggressive songs with real moments of beauty.

The culmination of this angst is “Heart To Heart”; a truly monstrous, massive, epic song. Led by a deep throbbing bass line, it’s the release the album has building towards. On one hand there is an acknowledgement of letting go of the past but perhaps more importantly it feels like the conversation Patrick never had with his own father; that he is telling his own children he will be “in the springtime afternoon” or “be the sunlight” that surrounds them when he is no longer here. “Heart To Heart” is a masterpiece of writing anthemic stadium songs in a hardcore style. Much like Be Well’s “Confessional” of last year, it rounds off an essential piece of modern hardcore with one of the single greatest songs of the last few years. The parallel with that particular song is uncanny, both serving as acknowledgements to the writer’s own children on the aspirations and concerns they harbour for those they hold most dear. Both round their albums off in a real sombre but hopeful and beautiful way.

What took me so long to ‘get’ with their debut wasn’t that it was inaccessible but that the album made you work to appreciate its hooks. This time round I’d argue Fiddlehead have truly nailed their sound. It’s very unique; certainly it’s melodic, and has a real crowd pleasing hardcore sound but it’s also very much an ‘adult’ sound. It doesn’t treat the listener as a child or as someone with a short attention span. At times, it borders on the fringes of art in much the same space that The Armed operate. This approach to thinking man’s hardcore is great to see in a scene that can appear to the outside world as needlessly aggressive. I’d hope that Fiddlehead prove to be a gateway for many more to find out about bands such as Have Heart et al; whilst influencing a new generation of hardcore kids to be equally as creative and inventive with the tropes and constraints associated with the scene.

Stream and download Between The Richness on Bandcamp here.

Like Fiddlehead on Facebook here.

This review was written by Richard Mair.

Friday, 8 October 2021

Gig Review: Fishstock at The Exchange, Bristol 18/9/21

Fishstock is one of the big all dayers/festivals in the DIY punk rock calendar. The annual event is put on by the lovely Chris Fishlock of Fishlock Promotions and takes place at one of the UK’s very best venues, The Exchange in Bristol. Normally Fishstock takes place towards the end of March to celebrate Fishlock’s birthday but due to that pandemic thing we’re still talking about he decided to do it in September instead this year. Emma and I have been saying for years that we need to go to Fishstock but have never managed to find the time. Now we have changed that!

Our day started with an early start which wasn’t overly welcome after a late one in Milton Keynes the night before watching the debut Out Of Love gig (you can read that review here). We boarded our train about 9.30am and arrived in Bristol at lunch time. On our the leg of our journey from Paddington to Bristol we discovered that Leyton Orient were playing Bristol Rovers and that there was also another festival taking place that weekend so the train was packed with geezers and young folk in colourful clothes. I was quite relieved to make it off the train and out of the station. We made our way to our Air BNB, dropped off our bags and then headed out to find some dinner before Fishstock began. We found a place called Oowee Vegan which sells some of the most delicious vegan fast food I’ve ever tasted and I thoroughly recommend checking it out. From there we made our way to The Exchange, said hello to some friends and popped into Specialist Subject Records whilst waiting for the first band of the day.

The band tasked with opening the day was Redeemon. Redeemon are one of the most exciting new bands in the UK ska scene at the moment and feature former members of Beat The Red Light and Smokey Bastard, among others. Playing their own unique brand of skacore and metal, seeing Redeemon always feels like a big deal. The band headlined a Garlic Bread Club show in Manchester the night before so you could forgive them for lacking some energy for their 3pm start but, as you would expect, they put everything they had into the set. I’ve said many times that frontman Pook is one of my favourite people to watch on stage and this was no different. The man is a bundle of energy whether he’s screaming into a microphone or playing his trombone. Redeemon started Fishstock in an explosive way that only they can.

Fishstock was using both of The Exchange’s stages so we made our way downstairs for the first basement stage band of the day, Slug Puppie. Something I always enjoy about going to festivals and all dayers in places we don’t get to visit often is the discovering plenty of new favourite bands so I was pleased as punch to find one here. Slug Puppie are a new band from Bristol. The two piece play indie punk music and I was immediately impressed by how big they sounded and how good the main vocalist’s voice was. They also seemed to be having an absolutely wonderful time on stage which is always nice to see. During the set they played the brilliant single Cycle Home and made a joke about being a new band so they performed a cover. I didn’t have a clue what the cover was so they could have passed it off as their own. (Editor’s note: It was Dancing On My Own by Robyn.) I’m very excited to see more of Slug Puppie in the future.

We made our way back upstairs for the third band, Gimic. Another band I knew absolutely nothing about but did recognise their guitarist and bass player from serving me in Specialist Subject earlier in the day. When we entered the room, the sound system was playing so 90s ska punk music, a sound that couldn’t have been much further away from Gimic’s. The four piece play a straight forward hardcore punk. As you would expect from a hardcore band they were relentless from start to finish and there was very minimal chat between the songs.

Following Gimic we rushed back down the stairs for Lounar. Lounar is the new hip hop project from Triple Sundae frontman Hassan. Hassan has always been a big hip hop fan so used the lockdown to work on this project. This was only the fourth or fifth live set Lounar had performed but you would never have guessed. He paced around the front of the stage working his way through some tracks from his debut EP, Daye3, which you can buy from Make-That-A-Take Records. I’m not much of a hip hop fan myself but it was really cool seeing my friend do something he loves and excels at. Lounar’s songs are heavily influenced by what it’s like to live as a Palestinian man in the UK and seeing all of the atrocities that take place towards his homeland that go unpunished. Between songs Hassan takes time to talk about Palestine in an extremely eloquent way. If you’re unaware of everything going on out there then please take some time to do some reading and consider donating money if you can.

Next on the upstairs stage were Live, Do Nothing, a band that Hassan had just referred to as the best indie punk band in the UK. This was my first time seeing the Cardiff based band and I was extremely surprised when they took to the stage. I was under the impression that the band were a four piece so imagine my shock when we saw the stage had eight people on it and a whole orchestra full of different instruments including two cellos, violin, flute, keytar, keyboards, saxophone, a rainmaker and egg shakers alongside the standard electric guitars, bass and drums. The sound man probably thought the hardest band of the day would be Redeemon, I imagine he was wrong. Before that start of the set, the band announced that this would probably be chaos and they weren’t wrong. It was chaos but it was also a lot of fun. I felt like everything about being in Live, Do Nothing was about having as much fun as possible and this set certainly enforced that view. Hassan was right in his view about how good the band is and I’d love for them to head to London more in the future.

We then returned to the downstairs stage for Acid Claw. This was another band I had never heard of before and was keen to check them out. When we entered the room the band announced that were ready but were awaiting their second guitarist before kicking off their set. He soon arrived and the six piece kicked things off. Playing a hybrid of thrash, punk and ska, I was quickly impressed with Acid Claw. They reminded me a lot of former Manchester band Rising Strike, one of the most underrated bands from their time. It was at this point of the day that the basement stage was becoming quite warm so we decided to duck out early for a bit of a break before the next band.

Babar Luck has a been a part of the underground alternative music scene for as long as I can remember (and probably longer) but this was my first time seeing him perform live, despite him being a former member of one of my favourite bands, King Prawn. Today he was performing with his band East End Trinity playing songs that he dubbed as English rock ’n’ roll. Babar is an extremely watchable performer and I found my eyes locked onto him throughout the entire set. Even between the songs I found myself enamoured by him. He’s one of those people where when they speak you have no choice but to listen. Between songs he spoke about unity, love and staying true to yourself, something I’m sure everyone in the room could relate to. A fantastic, rocking set by Babar Luck And The East End Trinity.

Kiss Me Killer were ready on the basement stage when we arrived back downstairs. This was a band I’ve been aware of for a while but have never had the opportunity to see live. I was very impressed with the four piece’s take on garage punk and particularly enjoyed the song Sports Direct, which is about quitting a job that you hate. However it was still really hot in the basement so we decided to nip out early once again. We took the time to get some refreshments and to try some vegan doughnuts courtesy of Future Doughnuts, a new doughnut place that has just opened up in Bristol. I tried the chocolate and raspberry one and it was delicious!

Our friends Toodles And The Hectic Pity were up next on the main stage. We hadn’t seen Toodles since they played Do It Together at the New Cross Inn back in January 2020 so we were very excited to see them again. We’ve been in love with Callum, Dom and Max since first hearing Call In Sick back in 2017 and it’s been amazing to see them grow since then. It was also great to get the opportunity to see them play a show in front of what’s a home crowd for the band. This meant there were plenty of people down the front for a good sing-along. Each song the band played got great receptions but the highlights for me were Ducks, Spooky Furniture, Call In Sick and Menthol Cigarettes. The band also treated us to a couple of new songs they’ve been working on which I personally hope will be part of a full length in the future. There was also a funny moment where Callum had to explain that Max was wearing a shirt and tie because he had left a wedding to play the set and doesn’t always dress like that. I think he should. We love Toodles, they’re a great band and also the nicest people. If you’ve not checked them out I suggest you do it now.

Back downstairs we ventured for Toodles & The Hectic Pity label mate Erica Freas. When we arrived Erica was propped up on an amp with their acoustic guitar just starting the set. Erica played what was no doubt the softest set of the day but it was in no way less impactful than any of the louder sets of the day. This set really showcased the diverse sounds that were spread throughout Fishstock. How many alldayers would have a band like Redeemon on the same bill as Erica Freas? This was a big part of why I loved Fishstock. Erica’s set was mixed of old RVIVR and Somnia songs as well as some songs from their solo material. Erica has one of my favourite voices in all of punk rock and it’s always such a pleasure to hear them sing in quieter settings. They capture the entire room’s attention and I think it’s fair to say the room was the busiest it had been all day and it was a wonderfully special time. As was becoming tradition, I ducked out of the room early again because of the heat and had a quick catch up with Andy Davies of TNSRecords and Knife Club before the next band.

Falmouth’s Bobby Funk had already started their set by the time I made my way back inside. The trouble with any all dayer is that they are often a friends fest and you can get distracted from the bands. This one was our first since pre-pandemic and we were catching up with a lot of people we hadn’t seen for well over a year and some parts of the day did sadly get missed. Bobby Funk are a band who have been on my radar since they released their avocado shaped vinyl through TNS a few years ago. This was my first time listening to anything by them other than their song I’m A Cat. The four piece play fast hardcore music that is fun as it can be but can also been about some super serious topics. The band do a great job of balancing the fun and the serious and put together a very entertaining stage show. It’s clear to me after watching Bobby Funk why there is so much talk about the band as they are superb. I expect them to be at the front of the UK hardcore scene for years to come.

The penultimate act on the basement stage were Knife Club. The band are a TNS super group of sorts featuring members of Matilda’s Scoundrels, Nosebleed, Casual Nausea, Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man and, normally, Faintest Idea but Dani was currently on paternity leave. This was one of the band’s very first shows and I personally felt a lot of anticipation about what they would be live. A lot of fun is the answer to that. Andy Davies lives out his rap god dreams. Not by rapping, but by running around the venue as far as his XLR will let him. Knife Club played a politically charged set with a trilogy of songs being about how shit the conservative government is. Knife Club, like a lot of new projects that were conceived in the beginning of 2020, were seriously stalled and it was great to see them finally be able to get out and play some shows. Given that Knife Club live all over the UK I imagine that they won’t be able to tour relentlessly so make sure you catch them live when you can!

The penultimate band on the main stage was Aerial Salad. Quite unbelievably this was only my third time seeing Aerial Salad and it was my third time seeing them with a different drummer. On this occasion Mike and Jamie were joined by Jake, formerly the drummer of Fastfade. We’d joked before hand with Jake that Aerial Salad would be a bit slower than he’s normally used to when drumming in Fastfade. When the band took to the stage and started their set Mike screamed into his microphone that ‘Manchester is in the building’ and off the boys went. It’s the opinion of most in the DIY punk scene that Aerial Salad will be the next band to really blow up. This opinion was cemented in the next thirty minutes as Salad played an incredible set. Comprised mostly of songs from their 2020 album Dirt Mall, we get sing-along after sing-along. Jamie mentions between songs that it’s been so frustrating releasing an album and then not being able to tour it. My memory is a little hazy on the exact set list but, as you would expect from Aerial Salad, it’s banger after banger throughout. We were also treated to at least two new songs from whatever they’re working on next. Whatever it is I am excited for it. The set was concluded with the awesome Romance. I believe they were also going to play one last song which I assume was going to be Habits And Problems but unfortunately Jamie’s guitar string broke.

After deciding to skip Atterkop completely to rest up for the final band, it was time for the mighty JB Conspiracy. The long running ska punk band are one of the most beloved in the UK and are out on the road playing shows in support of their brand new album Beginnings. It did not take long for the band to get the crowd moving as they blasted into the set. Playing a mixture of classics and brand new songs, it seemed to me that the crowd were getting rowdier and rowdier with every song. There’s always a worry for me that when a band has such a big gap between albums that a crowd might not be as receptive to newer stuff, this certainly wasn’t the case at The Exchange. JB managed to cram all eight members of the band on to the stage and still managed find room to have a dance. The energy on the stage poured into the crowd who lovingly gave everything they could for the band. It had been a long day and most people’s first all dayer in years so to see so much energy in the room was a joyous thing. I guess the government mandated exercise is really paying off. Even when the band did slow things down to play Drop Your Anchor it did not dampen the crowds spirit as it resulted in a big sing-along. Something that always amazes me whenever I see the JB Conspiracy is that they always seem to be better than the last time I saw them, which is quite something given that the first time I saw them they set the standard very high and I have seen them over ten times since then. I’m very much looking forward to catching them and being blown away again in New Cross for Till The Fest this weekend.

With that Fishstock was ended and what an incredible day it was! The day was packed with so many amazing bands from all areas of the punk rock spectrum. Something I really loved about the day was the diversity that was offered, not just in the music but the people. This is what an all dayer should be about, a variety of sounds and people coming together and enjoying something in unity. All day all I saw was smiling happy people loving being in each other’s company and it was absolutely wholesome. All the love in the world has to go to Fishlock and the fine folk at The Exchange for such a wonderful day out. It really felt like a bit of old times coming back and it filled my heart. We can’t wait for the next Fishstock!

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

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Album Review: How To Survive By Getting By by Fine And Great

Fine And Great are a three piece from Munich, Germany, featuring three friends who have played in different bands of varying genres for years. In 2019 they decided to get together for a new band to share their combined love of emotionally charged pop punk music. Early in 2020 they released their first single Three Sheets To The Wind before lockdown happened and put a bit of a halt to everything. Not deterred, the band managed to write and record their first EP, the appropriately titled How To Survive By Getting By which was then released in July 2021 on Midsummer Records.

The EP begins with Happy New Year. I do wonder if this is a continuation of the second song on Three Sheets To The Wind – Merry Christmas. I really hope it is and not just a happy coincidence. After a little atmospheric reverb, the song jumps into life. Immediately the song is packed with energy before guitarist Manu’s vocals come in and things slow down. The song is full of great little tempo changes that allow the song to build and the listener to get emotionally invested into it. For me the best moments are when Manu and bass player Tooney combine to create some sweet gang vocals. The second track, Ghetto Chicken, was released as a single in the lead up to the EP’s release. It begins with some welcoming “whoa-ohs” before Tooney’s vocals start and then Manu comes in to take the lead. The way in which the two interchange vocals is really good. The chorus is a real ear worm and features the EP’s title How To Survive By Getting By. The track is about realising you’re not okay but finding a place that helps you feel better. The ending of the song is a real treat with Tooney and Manu trading lines before the two combine to finish things off in real style.

Going Nowhere starts with a nice noodly guitar riff before the song really kicks in. Tooney takes the main vocals on the track whilst Manu provides some excellent harmonies. Both singers seem to strain their vocals more on the chorus creating a great sense of urgency that I really enjoyed. The track is about being in a relationship and not being sure where it’s going, giving you some emotional stress. The penultimate song is titled Stole The Liquor. Fine And Great also released this track as a single before How To Survive By Getting By came out. This was a great choice as it really encapsulates what Fine And Great are all about. The song is packed with builds, great vocals, harmonies and beautiful story telling. There’s a moment in the song where Manu lets out a shout that you would most likely expect from his other band, Captain Asshole. It’s a rare moment on the EP that really showcases the pain in his voice. Finally we have the track Okay. Once again the song starts quietly and takes a good while before really reaching its highest moments. The vocals contrast on the track with Tooney’s cleaner vocals against Manu’s gruffer style sounding brilliant. When the song reaches its final section it gives you the highlight of the entire EP. The sound, especially for a three piece, is huge and this huge climax finishes How To Survive By Getting By in a fitting way.

What a debut from Fine And Great. Obviously the band have plenty of experience from their other bands but to come together, in such a difficult time, to create something as good as this EP really shows what a talented band Fine And Great are. With gigs slowly starting to happen again around the world I would expect to see Fine And Great on many line ups throughout Germany and perhaps the rest of Europe too. This is another band that really showcases the amazing amount of talented bands that reside in mainland Europe and another I urge the fine folk of the UK to check out. You won’t regret it.

Stream and download How To Survive By Getting By on Bandcamp here.

Like Fine And Great on Facebook here.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Album Review: You Didn't Doubt by Chartreux (by Chris Bishton)

You Didn't Doubt This is the debut from Leipzig's German punks Chartreux. Released on the always brilliant Gunner Records earlier this year, it's only seven songs long which, for me, makes it too stretched to be an EP, but a little short to be classed as a full album. Not that this is in anyway a problem and, as the saying goes, all killer, no filler. Mini album anyone? Further, given the band only played their first show in February last year just before everything stopped, it's obviously been a tricky time to record and release anything so I'm willing to go with the band's assertion this is their first full length record. And it's a great first full length too – DIY skate punk meets hardcore, but with a bit of gruff Gainesville influenced sing-a-long anthemic punk in the mix as well.

The opening track is Role Play. A raucous and blisteringly quick start, with lyrics that are gruff and shouted in English. The guitar playing reminds me of 90s/00s Pulley, although the vocals are definitely grittier. It slows a little towards the end, but at less than two minutes, it still flashes by.

The blink and you'll miss it MO continues with Harriet. Having listened to the (mini) album a few times now, I actually think this is probably my favourite track. It's also under two minutes, but the vocals are a little more jaunty and lend themselves to a sweaty room, gang sing-along.

The lengthy (just over two minutes, haha) Nods And Handshakes is the third track. By now as a listener, I know what to expect and it's obviously nothing particularly different or out of place, but it's still solid, shouty punk with a great swagger to it.

The rest of the album follows suit. Liberation Day is perhaps the most "hardcore" of the remaining songs. Screeched, sweary vocals remind me of a track that you might hear on a Pears album. It's fast, then slow, angry and passionate.

The album concludes with Repeat Rewind. At three minutes it's epic in duration compared to some of the other songs, which is mainly down to a 20 second intro. However, the pace and passion isn't compromised and there's no cutesy, whimsical finish to this record. As the title suggests, it simply leaves me wanting to put the whole thing on again right back at the start.

German punk is in a great place at the moment. Peers and contemporaries include Arterials, Hell & Back, Captain Asshole, Sidewalk Surfers, Primetime Failure (I could go on, but you get the idea) and I fully expect Chartreux to become a regular fixture on the Booze Cruise line-up. If I ever get to Hamburg, they'll be another of my "must see" German bands.

Stream and download You Didn't Doubt on Bandcamp here.

Like Chartreux on Facebook here.

This review was written by Chris Bishton.

Monday, 4 October 2021

Album Review: Bodies by AFI (by John O'Hare)

AFI are a band who have seen multiple sound changes throughout their fantastic 30 year career. Admittedly I haven't listened to much of their output since Decemberunderground (Interscope Records, 2006) so I was certainly interested to hear their latest outing.

The opening track Twisted Tongues surprised me as it dropped straight in. I’m used to a drawn out intro track like previous records, but there’s none of that here. The song is fairly upbeat with the standard air of AFI melancholy we’ve come to know and love. There’s something about Davey’s voice that’s just very theatrical and always carries a lot of emotion. The chorus hook ‘You talk in twisted tongues’ is delivered in typical Havok style. The drums are lively and tight, accentuating the tricky basslines, particularly in the bridge section. The song trails out with an almost Sing The Sorrow-esque (Dreamworks, 2003) guitar riff, swirling off into the distance.

This drops effortlessly into track 2, Far Too Near, which is an instant hook mainly because of the tempo and plucky lead riff. There’s some fantastic, twangy rhythm guitar just set down in the mix which provides a great backing to the lead riff. Once again, the drums are tight and snappy leaving space for bass player Hunter Burgan to explore some cheeky bass lines. In opposition to the rest of the song so far, the vocals in the bridge are brought super close, as if Davey was sitting next to you. This is a welcome transition providing an excellent build up to the last chorus. The excellent bass playing continues leading into Dulceria, opening with a real groove as the drums stomp on behind. The lack of guitars throughout the first verse is a welcome change and allows the lyrics to really be heard. We know AFI don’t follow any kind of convention and this is the perfect example. A complete departure from the punchiness of the opening two tracks, venturing towards a new-wave inspired sound.

On Your Back returns to the upbeat pop-rock style. Up to this point there are a number of electronic/orchestral elements but nothing as prominent as the piano accompaniment here. While the tempo is fairly the high, the single keyed notes just bring that down and add another melancholic layer. Once again this song feels very reminiscent of the lighter side to Decemberunderground. It’s as if the floodgates are open in regard to electronic/synthy additions, as Escape From Los Angeles is driven by an electro bass line, with a variety of synth layers and effects throughout. The drums, whilst still real (I believe), have also been given a more electro treatment, so much so that when the vocals drop out it drifts into straight up Synthwave.

I imagine the previous song would be a hate it or love it amongst AFI fans both old and new. As a fan of their older material, Begging For Trouble is exactly what I wanted to hear. The absence of guitars to begin with leaves the drums and bass providing a superb backing to the fairly unaffected vocals. It’s in these types of AFI songs that Davey seems in his element with catchy vocal melodies from the off, keeping it simple throughout.

Back From The Flesh is another complete u-turn in sound. Opening with a haunting choir-like vocal set on a backdrop on pulsating synths. I think I heard some birds chirping off to the one side also. (Anyone else hear that?!) The tempo is slow and drifty, brooding slowly until the almost orchestral chorus comes in. In the second verse there’s an addition of a clean guitar, playing minor melodies, sounding like they’re lifted from a horror video game (Silent Hill anyone?). Looking Tragic takes another turn, the stop-start guitar riff sounding poppy and fresh. A chorus line of ‘Everyone’s looking tragic/Looking for the new panic’ is begging to be sung aloud by teenagers.

Death Of The Party opens up with a plinky lead synth line on top of the drums and bass. It’s almost a straight mix of the older punky AFI sound with the newer, synth lead AFI of more recent records. Every instrument in this song is perfectly syncopated that it starts to sound less like a band and more a solo artist with a backing track, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Once again though, it is encouraging to hear No Eyes opening with a straight up guitar riff. In my opinion previous AFI albums have always been very top heavy, in that the second half is generally weaker than the first. This is different here though, No Eyes easily becoming my favourite track from the record. There’s great guitar work throughout, but guitarist Jade Puget really shines here with many layers of interesting lead lines.

The final track of the record, Tied To A Tree is a dramatic closing number. Opening with a simple acoustic guitar and piano line, with haunting vocals across the top. The chorus is a huge contrast when it drops with massive snare hits and heavy bass. As mentioned previously, AFI have always been very theatrical and this finale sums that up completely – a choral main vocal backed by pounding drums and a variety of electronic sounds. To end, it sounds as if Davey has been dropped underwater as his vocals drifts away.

Bodies may not be for the older AFI fans, used to the raw and spooky sounds, but there’s certainly a lot of great moments throughout this record. Whilst the guitar work has always been excellent in any AFI record, it almost takes a backseat here allowing the bass and the synth parts to take more of the centre stage which I found very interesting. I wonder if Jade Puget plays a lot of the synth too? Or he’s doing some crazy shit with his guitar! It may not be a record I return to, but it’s great to know AFI are still writing and recording at the highest level. Maybe one day we’ll be treated to an EP of 1995 era sounding AFI to keep us older fans involved.

You can stream and download Bodies in all the usual places and like AFI on Facebook here.

This review was written by John O'Hare.

Friday, 1 October 2021

Gig Review: Out Of Love Debut Show at The Craufurd Arms, Milton Keynes 17/9/21

I’m not sure many new bands have earned more hype over the last eighteen months than Out Of Love. The hype began for me when I was sent their first single S.L.U.M.P and was absolutely amazed by the band. This was in early 2020 and then we all know what happened with the rest of that year and the beginning of this one. During the time when bands couldn’t play live, Out Of Love managed to release two superb EPs on Venn Records and continued to grow their fanbase. Eventually gigs were able to come back, Out Of Love finally announced their first two shows. The first being at the Craufurd Arms in Milton Keynes and the second at The Engine Room in London. I was over the moon to see that the first show would be at the Craufurd Arms as it’s one of our most local venues. Tickets were free but limited so I snapped ours up quickly and excitedly waited for day of the gig.

A trio of the band’s friends were booked for the gig which helped create a great atmosphere for the entire night. The gig was actually taking place in the bar area of the Craufurd Arms instead of the main venue room. This was my first time attending a gig in the bar and I later found out that they had constructed a small stage for the event. The first act to take to the stage was hip hop duo Kas and Olindo. Kas was in charge of spitting bars (hip hop terminology I’ve picked up from the yoofz) and Olindo played drums alongside a backing track. This was my very first time seeing a hip hop act live and, while it’s far from my favourite genre of music, it was interesting to watch. Kas prowled around the stage during the set and I found him very engaging to watch. Between songs he spoke about the amount of friends in the room and seemed so genuinely happy to be back on stage after so long. As I said, musically this wasn’t really for me but I did appreciate the effort that went into the set and the messages that they promoted.

Next to take to the stage were three piece pop punk band Midweek Maybe. My first impressions of the band was that they play music solely for their own entertainment and if other people like it then that’s a bonus. Unfortunately there were some guitar issues with the first song which the band laughed off before quickly switching guitars and carrying on. I absolutely hate to say it but there did seem to be some issues with the sound throughout the set which did stop me enjoying the set as much as I think I could have. It seemed to me that the drums overpowered the vocals, making it hard to really understand the lyrics to the songs. I did enjoy the banter between the songs however and it’s clear these guys have been great friends for years. There was a nice moment where Kas joined the band on stage to help sing a song that he had helped write. From what I understood they were in a band together in the past and this is how they knew each other. Since the gig I’ve checked out Midweek Maybe online and have been very impressed with their sound.

The penultimate act of the night were Hertfordshire emo punks Lapyear. Whatever sound issues there were for Midweek Maybe they seemed to disappear for Lapyear. I do wonder if it was potentially because I moved to a different spot in the room? Lapyear play a twinkly type of emo that really showed off the band’s technical ability. I know that the band have played some shows since they came back post-pandemic and it showed because they were slick. The band were very watchable live, in particular their guitarist who seemed to get lost along with the music. I’m not a massive listener of emo music but when it’s played as well as this you can consider me a fan. There was plenty of emotion but also a good amount of punk bite during their set. The band’s lead singer had a really good voice and was very well backed by the rest of the band. They stated that this was their first time in Milton Keynes so of course they, did as every band that comes through does, made a joke about the amount of roundabouts. Lapyear finished their set with a longer song that really took you on a roller coaster to finish a great set.

It was finally time for Out Of Love. And when I say finally I mean after 500 odd days of waiting to see them live, not that the night was a long one. Before the five piece took to the stage the floor was filled with pink and yellow balloons adorned with the Out Of Love logo. The band then ushered everyone to get as close to the stage as possible to make it feel like a punk show. What then followed was a joyous set playing all the songs from both EPs. I wish I could remember the order of songs that were played but I’m writing this a week after the gig and I forgot to write any notes – I’m out of practice! What I can say is that every song did earn a big sing-along from the crowd, much to Out Of Love’s delight. This was the band’s debut show but watching them you would have thought they’d been playing live together for years. Much like Lapyear, they were super slick for the entire set. I know the guys have been in previous bands but I’m not sure if they were with each other. It was nice to see the massive smiles that remained on the face of Out Of Love throughout their set. We’ve been waiting for this set for a while but they’ve been waiting even longer and it felt like it was quite a cathartic moment for the band to really release this collection of songs to the world. I always feel like punk bands write their songs to perform for crowds and it must have been horrific to not be able to do so for so long. The band finished the set with their first ever single S.L.U.M.P. which earned one final sing-along. This was such a triumphant debut show for the band and it proved to me, at least, that they deserve all of the hype they’ve been getting and perhaps should be getting more.

Out Of Love could do some pretty amazing things in the future and I’m looking forward to boasting that I was at their first show. I can’t wait to see them again when they take to the stage at Till The Fest in early October.

This review was written by Colin Clark.