There’s fortuitous timing for shows, and then there’s The Hand of Fate, intervening where considerable need is required… Today marked my final day at work due to redundancy, so I was dealing with some self-esteem issues and generally feeling pretty crappy about myself, and in serious need of the healing power of rock’n’roll. Luckily, this was on; the 10th Anniversary of Swindon’s “Songs Of Praise” promotions, the current incumbents Ed and Dave (whose birthday this also was!) continuing their determination to bring original quality “live” music to the denizens of Swindon, kicking and screaming if necessary! The fact that an enticing bill was embellished by the presence of The King In Mirrors, my friend Rich May’s fine band of jangly pop purveyors, only added to the attraction!
So, after an evening at the lake (still too cold for me to swim just yet!), I headed up the hill, parking up in my usual spot for a wander up, and meeting with Dave, Ed and Mr. “Paj” Jellings to lament my employment predicament. Took a wander down at doors, continuing the chat with Rich before opening act Canute’s Plastic Army. An army of one, it seemed; CPA comprised one chap and his battered acoustic, deploying some eloquent musical shenanigans ranging from Celtic tinged folk recalling Kevin McDermott or The Fat Lady Sings (“What Makes You Pretty” being an example), to a more groovy US college pop vibe (particularly set highlight “To Die For”), all played with notable dexterity. His nan was also present, bless her, and he quipped, “she’d love it if I’d do some John Denver,” then reeled off a couplet from “Annie’s Song”! Recalling compere Ed’s pre-set comment declaiming the proliferation of covers bands, he introduced a well-observed cover of The Kinks’ “Do You Remember Walter” with, “this one resembles a song written by Ray Davies in 1969,” and finale “Day 35” was a late-period Jam-esque confessional, highlighting mod-ish roots and closing out an intriguing opening set.
Rich left me then to take up position onstage, so I chatted with his delightful wife Helen before The King In Mirrors were ready to go. From the outset, their sound was tougher and fuller than previous shows, giving their material an extra dimension, the Razorcuts-like warm and optimistic opener “Little Voices” being first to benefit. “Rolling In The Sun” sounded positively “Songs From Northern Britain” Teenage Fanclub-like, its cascading choral drumbeat underlining this, and “Your Spell” (“about meeting [hefty bassist] Jase at the roller-disco in 1982,” quipped Rich) was its’ usual spookier, Cure-like self. “Hallsands” (the first time we’ve played this “live”,” warned Rich, “so prepare for it to go wrong!”) was a diversion into darker territory, an almost Violent Femmes-like death march building to a cacophonous climax, before it was back to the pop songs, the set coming full circle with finale “I Used To Be The Manager” a meandering yet insistently groovy Orange Juice/ C86-esque chiming pop choon, embellished by Rich’s fitting, slightly nasal vocal delivery.
Good stuff, as ever, and all the better for the beefed-up sound tonight! I was also hoping for a decent racket from next band up, Raze*Rebuild, having been pre-warned by Mrs. May retreating to a safe – and less noisy – distance, however I wasn’t quite prepared for the strident sonic assault that assailed my senses from the get-go. Powering out of the blocks with opener “Back To The Fall,” a Husker Du-alike fist-pumping, breast-beating, bleeding raw slab of anthemic popcore, the band, featuring Paj on bass and led by Simon Hall, of whom I’d caught a couple of enjoyable, passionately delivered solo shows in the past, played the type of strident jet-propelled US post-grunge/ powerpop collision which, 20 years ago, would have turned my shorts- and knee-strapped self into a Level 3 top dancefloor whirling dervish. “Kat, I’m Sorry” was a Springsteen-like blue collar power ballad with some neck-vein-bulging vocal passion from Simon, recalling the likes of Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, “New Leaf” was a Gaslight Anthem galloping rocker, apparently about, “dumping your girlfriend and feeling bad about it", and after fielding some friendly heckling about sweating more (“hey, I used to be 6 feet 4!” remarked the, erm, compact Mr. Hall), they set about a wilful destruction of Fleetwood Mac’s AOR cheese-fest “Go Your Own Way”, recalling China Drum’s similar demolition of “Wuthering Heights.” A titanic, lighters aloft “Sand In The Petrol,” resembling Jimmy Eat World’s classic “Hear You Me”, brought a stunning set to a close, eliciting a big cheesy grin from me as I came to the realisation that I may have just found my new favourite band…!
Paused for breath, brief compliments with Paj and Mr. Hall, also taking the opportunity to avail myself of some of their merch, then took a seat with Rich stage left for final act Port Erin. Opening with a bleak, slow-burn atmospheric number featuring some echoey, resonant guitar work, then going onto joke about coming from a small village in Wiltshire and having nothing to do (hence forming a band!), Port Erin tonight played a tight and professionally delivered set of intelligently crafted songs, occasionally veering towards 70’s AOR/ MOR (I think they called it “soft rock”, back in the day…) but at best evoking thoughtful US indie types such as Grizzly Bear, The National and even The Dears, and thankfully mostly keeping out of the “prog” morass they threatened to descend into, last time out (apart from one, somewhat meandering instrumental). However for me they just suffered in comparison with previous acts, particularly the overt dynamism of Raze*Rebuild, despite their own best number being their uptempo, careering finale.
Bade my hails and farewells to all and sundry, and finished off one of the cupcakes splendidly supplied by Ed’s girlfriend, then hit the road, weary but elated. A great “Songs Of Praise” night out, as ever, totally fitting for this occasion, and a superb new discovery (for me, at least...) in Raze*Rebuild. All in all, testament to the healing power of rock’n’roll!