I can vouch for the structural integrity of the Future Yard building in Birkenhead. On Saturday night it faced the twin threats posed by the arse-end of Storm Arwen from the outside, and the sonic attack of The Bug Club from the inside. It stood up to both, although one was a much more welcome event than the other.
Before our headliners, first on stage was singer-songwriter Euan Blackman who played some wistful acoustic guitar tunes with softly spoken, at times whispered lyrics. He was accompanied by a pianist whose input added depth and motif to his songs that demonstrated that Euan is taking the path less travelled by most singer-songwriters today. Bookended between the venues p.a. playing Television Personalities‘ Part Time Punks and Camper Van Beethoven’s Take The Skinheads Bowling, Blackman’s classically leaning songs stood out incongruously brittle and elegant.
I really don’t know where to start with Sean at the Hotel. He looked a bit like Badly Drawn Boy and sat behind a keyboard and had a laptop at his side. Nothing out of the ordinary. He then proceeded to produce one of the quirkiest performances I have witnessed in a long time. Songs where marching jackboots provided the rhythm, songs that sounded like they were being played at the wrong speed, songs with odd time signatures and bizarre changes of pace. Songs stopped suddenly, an occurrence that seemed to take Sean by as much surprise as it did the audience.
Sean’s vocal style lay somewhere between Dean Friedman and David O’Doherty. Sean at the Hotel was walking a musical tightrope. It seemed like at any point he might fall off into a net of self indulgence, but somehow, he never did. To add to the quirkiness of the performance, stood next to me was an artist sketching the gig, something I had never witnessed before. So, in the spirit of Sean’s off-kilter performance, rather than showing a photo of him, with the artists permission, here is a photo of that very sketch.
Like many other patrons of Future Yard, my introduction to Monmouthshire trio The Bug Club came courtesy of Marc Riley’s 6 Music radio show. One punter told me he had heard If My Mother Thinks I’m Happy on Monday and had bought a ticket on the strength of that alone. Both he, and I, and everyone else were not disappointed with our financial outlay. On the night The Bug Club produced an electrifying performance that had elements of: the energy MC5; the humour of Half Man Half Biscuit; the honesty and passion of The Pastels – all rolled up into one dynamic ball.
The set started out sure-footedly with singer-guitarist Sam Willmett confidently belting out back-to-back tunes The Word of God and My Baby Loves Rock and Roll Music. This second song has a fast-paced garage blues feel to it and the chorus is reminiscent of the Belle and Sebastian tune The Blues are Still Blue. It also allows Willmett to demonstrate what a competent guitarist he is with a particularly vibrant solo. Up to this point the crowd had been stood a good way from the stage – out of respect for Euan Blackman, and to take in the full bafflement of Sean at the Hotel, but from the first spoken utterances of The Word of God they moved to fill in the empty space.
Live The Bug Club sound slightly less lo-fi than they do on their recordings. It’s a fuller, less muffled sound that is need to fill a room. It is in evidence in the next two songs the jaunty, bluesy Vegetable Garden and The Fixer, a song that’s part 60’s Batman Theme and part revved-up Pack Up Your Troubles. The Bug Club were on safe ground with the next song, the less frenetic, more gentle All The Scariest Monsters Live In London, a sentiment fully embraced by the northern audience.
The middle of the set contained the song that brought my new found friend to see The Bug Club, the band’s last single release If My Mother Thinks I’m Happy, and the band’s only physical release Jonathon’s Gone. It’s s flexi-disc available at the merch stand. While traipsing up and down the country the band have spent their time individually drawing their own designs on to each white cover. I advise you get yourself one.
Also in this section was the monumental Checkmate, where the band, as a three piece go all Cream on us performing some prodigious solos. Dan Matthew looks likes he is the happiest drummer on the planet and as for bass player Tilly Harris, well she patrols the stage with guitar neck held high, open mouthed, like a more appropriately dressed Angus Young.
We Don’t Need a Room and the glorious A Love Song bring the set to a literal climax. You’ve got to admire a band who have the chutzpah to think, ‘we need another verse? Let’s just sing the alphabet!’ and can pull it off as The Bug Club do in the former. The latter contains the immortal repeated line ‘How many times can you say fuck in a love song?’. If you want to know the answer listen below or skip to the bottom of the review.*
The Future Yard gig was the first date of The Bug Club‘s mini nationwide tour. They are coming to a town near you. Go see them! Unlike Storm Arwen they’ll blow you away, in a good way.
*The answer is 9.