It seems only apt that the final punctuation stop on a crazily packed 53-Gig Year of 2018 would be this one, the crazily packed Swindon music fraternity's "Christmas Party" that is the "12 Bands Of Christmas"... also that it should fall on a crazily packed day! Saturdays often fall into the category of "trying to fit a quart into a pint pot", but with last-minute Chrimbo shopping, picking up undelivered parcels, a cinema trip with my little man ("Aquaman"; not bad but the plot was, well, crazily packed!) and tea at my dad's, this one already felt like fitting a gallon into a thimble!
No matter, I drove up the hill early to ensure parking on a busy pre-Chrimbo Saturday, then caught up with the Raze*Rebuild boys (there it is, you've just sussed out why I'm really here, haven't you!) as the place rapidly filled. Wandered down to the back room, caught up with Andy Fenton and mate Nige, then took a watching brief for openers ABSTRACTION ENGINE at 8.30. As per previous "12 Bands" events, the format was simple; 12 local acts, all doing 2 numbers, both covers and ideally outside their usual genre, in their own style. So this indie jangle lot, seemingly led by Stephen King's younger brother, led off with an appropriately jangly "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", subsequently impressing more with their take on Wham's "Freedom", which turned into a 60's inflected TFC laze-rock strumalong. Good start! BASEMENT CLUB, who'd apparently come out of retirement for tonight, followed with a couple of growly vocalised numbers, including a C Lo Green song, then CANUTE'S PLASTIC ARMY impressed with a haunting stripped-back "Life's What You Make It" which was actually quite beautiful. By their second number "That's Not my Name", vocalist Anish was threatening to flatten the front couple of rows with her strong and strident vocal tones (as her neighbour and local impresario Ed Dyer, who'd joined me by now, had promised), particularly during the segue into "Whole Lotta Love".
Things were already getting busy in the back-room venue by now, so I sought some fresh air and space outside, chatting with Ed, and Graham from Cinnamon Smith (splendidly decked out tonight in a Nefertiti headdress!), before plunging back in for GEORGE WILDING. I'd unfortunately missed this talented young man's TC&I support slot, but I was glad I caught this, as young George encapsulated the spirit of the event by turning "Let It Go" into a funereal (albeit no less singalong!) death-dirge, before a glammed-up and more upbeat Abba medley which went down a storm with the by-now packed crowd. A quick chat with the lovely Bex, a star performer here last year, before CHENEY, who was joined by the ebullient Theo Altieri, who then led a rabble-rousing singalong to "Electric Avenue", which made up for a dull "Bittersweet Symphony"... no reflection on their bleep-bloop synth-effects led version, I just think it's a crap song!
Out again for another necessary breather; by now it was sardine city back there, the concept of "personal space" having long since disappeared, with the compere continually exhorting the crowd to, "take 2 steps forward" (mate, I was down the front; if I took 2 steps forward I'd be in the dressing room, never mind on the stage!). It just felt considerably oversold, and with up to 40 or so performers across the 12 bands as well, it was simply waaaay too full.
So, I squeezed into the back on my return, to catch the MATT BRYANT EXPERIENCE, Mr. Bryant himself sporting choirboy garb and leading his band of cavalrymen through a languid "Be My Baby" and a tinny "Sit Down" during which Bryant tried to get the crowd to sit down - no room to stand comfortably, mate, never mind sit! ATARI PILOT, featuring R*R bassist Paj pulling the first of his double shift, turned "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" into a chuntering and layered REM-alike jangle-fest, although their subsequent "Let's Dance" felt too faithful to Bowie's original.
Talking about double shifts... I grabbed a tiny spot down the front as Jamie took the drum-stool for the first of his own double-header! First THE HARLERS; initially a 2-piece, sneering and growling through a grungy and gravelly "Molly's Chambers" and a snatch of "We Will Rock You", before being joined by a bassist for a tremendous sparky and spiky rant through The Subways' "Rock'n'Roll Queen". Then, the main reason for my attendance, RAZE*REBUILD, Si leading the band on with a quip of, "playing at 20 past 11? I'm as pissed as you lot!" before inviting a singalong for a genius selection of "Nothing Compares 2U", the Raze-boys of course turning this teary ballad into a full-on punk rock rollercoaster thrill-ride, a la China Drum's "Wuthering Heights" or Husker Du's "Eight Miles High". Yup, that good. Journey's cheesy rocker "Don't Stop Believin'" ("dialling the Cheese-ometer up to 11," according to Si) was big dumb stompy fun too, but for me the boys had led off with the real winner, and the single-song Highlight of the Night.
Stayed upfront for YVES, whose "No One Knows" was again too faithful to the QOTSA original for my liking, their take on "Take On Me" also being a bit of a mess, the vocalist not even knowing the words to the verses! Still, they were lapped up by the seething mass of bodies, so what the fuck do I know, eh? Still, one thing we could all agree on was that THE MARTYRIALS' bat-shit mental set was last year's "12 Bands" highlight, so no surprise that this unorthodox band of psychedelic punk ruffians were booked to headline tonight, with an extended 5 song set. Some inspired choices again from the totally wired Sammy and his charges; "Waterloo" was an action-packed and sheet-metal synth layered dirty and dirgy delight, as far removed from Abba's original as possible, "Danger High Voltage" was sneering and snarling, and whilst I could have done without the (almost predictable?) "Sweet Transvestite" and the closing, and comparatively plodding (apart from a frenzied punk rock mid-section) "I Want To Break Free", the unmistakable synth pulse opening of "Kids In America" had earlier heralded a breathless, brilliant version, almost matching "NC2U" for song of the night. As ever, Sammy was a supreme showman, preening, pouting and thrusting like a cross between "Ziggy" Bowie and "St. Julian" Cope, the ideal frontman to conclude a bizarre and brilliant set. I could, however, also have done without the couple of dicks that climbed onstage at the end... it's not all about you, you morons!
That bumped us up to a red-eyed 12.30 so I bade my farewells, heading home reflecting on the night. Way too packed; hopefully talk outside afterwards about moving it to Level 3 next year will bear fruit. A few too many "straight" covers for me too; the bands I'll remember are those that entered into the spirit of the thing, getting into a song, moving the furniture around and offering their own warped take on it. Kudos then to Canute's, Wilding, Raze and Martyrials... and overall (despite my couple of grumbles) a fine – if crazily packed – way to see out Gig Year 2018!