A new gigging year kicks off relatively early; and after last year’s rush-of-blood-to-the-head 45 gig total, I need to cut back to more of a 30-something level this year, as befits my current status as a gentleman of much leisure and no job. Either that, or I need more local gigs! More free gigs! More free AND local gigs! So how’s about this for starters, with promising new guitar band Sundara Karma announcing an in-store performance and signing session, promoting their just-released (and splendidly titled) debut album, “Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect”, at independent record store Sound Knowledge in Marlborough, a small handful of miles south of the ‘don? I’d heard about Sound Knowledge’s in-stores before (particularly a Craig Finn in-store a couple of years ago, which I frustratingly couldn’t get to as it clashed with a Wolf Alice gig) but had never been before; likewise I’d already picked up on Sundara Karma via a “Top New Bands for 2017” list somewhere on the interwebs, checking them out and finding some fast, urgent and insistently hooky material somewhere in the Marion/ Annie Christian territories, and had already bought the album and a ticket for their forthcoming (hometown) Reading gig. But SK at SK as well? Why the hell not?
Stuart had seen them open up the main stage at Reading Festival last year and was suitably impressed, so joined me on a frosty yet short run down to Marlborough, parking up in this Olde Worlde market town’s high street, apparently (according to Stu) the widest such high street in the UK! Popped into Sound Knowledge to get the gen for the performance; due to anticipated high interest, the band were due to play upstairs in the nearby Thirty8 Club rather than in-store, and purchase of the album from the store guaranteed admission. As I already owned it, however, I bought something else which was OK, so Stu and I chilled in the downstairs bar of Thirty8, watching it fill with da yoof. A popular one, this, no doubt…
We ventured upstairs to the L-shaped club room as the rope came down, taking a spot stage right (right in the path of the speakers), and ran into Stuart Gould there for some entertaining pre-gig rock and footy chat. Apparently Stuart Pearce was also in the crowd although we couldn’t spot him – shame that, as a pic of the 3 Stuarts would have been fun…! Eventually the band took the stage at 7, to a wild reception from this young crowd, bursting into the shimmering glare and anthemic choral hook of opener “Young Understanding”.
As I mentioned, I’d picked up on Sundara Karma thanks to a “Top New Bands for 2017” list, and there’s no denying they’re already recipients of the dreaded “Hype” as this year’s great new hopes, saviours of guitar rock, blah blah blah etc. For me, however, what already sets them apart from the Catfish Blossom 1975s of this world, and other such recently hyped bands of skinny white boys playing guitars, is that old essential trait of excellent tunes. It’s not enough to have great hair and look cool in a leather jacket (although these boys actually all have great hair, tumbling shoulder-length tresses to a man, recalling early Wonder Stuff!) if the tunes don’t stack up to much, or worse are horribly average landfill indie, all over the airwaves one minute and totally forgotten the next. No worries on that score, as on early evidence Sundara Karma know how to put a tune together, no messin’… “Olympia”, next up, was a groovier vibe with a more epic, almost War On Drugs-like metronome groove, and “Flame” a darker, more angular and rhythmic base, yet no less immediate and hooky for it. Following “Watching From Great Heights” (introduced by blond vocalist Oscar Pollock as “one of our favourites from the album”), the spritely, singalong “She Said” engendered an enthusiastic girly moshpit behind us, with the subsequent, slower burn and more widescreen, early Arcade Fire-like “Happy Family” (particularly due to Pollock’s deep, Win Butler-esque vocal inflections) then producing a twinkling display of mobile phone lights from da yoof, as it all threatened to go a bit U2 on us…! Following compliments from Pollock and “much love to all of you!”, my personal favourite, the itchy, pacy guitar groove of “Loveblood”, closed out a dynamic and exciting half hour, much more than an appetite whetter for next month’s Reading gig. Nice work!
A bit of a queue to extricate ourselves from the venue then ensued, and we then eventually grabbed some face time and signatures from the band, signing downstairs. A personable bunch of lads, looking barely out of their teens but hopefully robust enough to cope with the hype surrounding the band, and the inevitable pressures such attention might bring. Good luck to them anyway – a very promising band for 2017!