Review :: Kyla La Grange – Ashes

“Channeling the past great women of rock, Kyla’s vocals evoke the ghostly, tormented lyricism and harmonics of a Stevie Nicks not yet bitter with the world”

The second and third albums are said to be the trickiest to deliver. Especially after a success that was perhaps never fully expected. That certainly has always been the case in the tospy-turvy, often fickle world of the music industry.

Although it may have undergone a series of radical changes within the last decade, the industry as a whole still proves to be a place where young artists are desperate to break into. Come hell or high water, there are legions of singers, songwriters, bands and soloists from all the different corners of social and economic backgrounds that wish to ply their trade and become the next global superstar.

As the circles of genres and subgenres tighten, the digital availability of music and instant, thro away culture has given birth to a new breed of artist aching to be discovered. The latest in a long line of these is one Kyla La Grange.

Her debut album, Ashes, offers a unique and well rounded approach to the single female vocalist who yearns to tell a story. Standing at eleven tracks long, the album marks another chapter in this young woman’s musical adventure and another piece of work ready to be thrown into the jaws of the baying, music buying public

But this is no glitzy pop number or electro infused dance track. Instead, La Grange reaches out to the more discerning musical tastes and brings a piece of work suited for those who enjoy lyricism, imagery and grand sound. Lead singles, “Been Better,” and “Heavy Stone” display a mature approach to a musical passion that can sometimes be overlooked and unfairly ignored in modern markets.

Channeling the past great women of rock, Kyla’s vocals evoke the ghostly, tormented lyricism and harmonics of a Stevie Nicks not yet bitter with the world. The tributes to previous trailblazers continue throughout the album.

“To Be Torn,” demonstrates Kyla’s enormous vocal range in a more than blatant tip to the ethereal qualities that made Kate Bush an international star. Where La Grange differs, however, is the distinctly 21st century styling and delivery. Oozing with glossy production that drips from every track of Ashes, this is music for the contemporary adult.

Bearing her teeth, quite literally at times, this album yields an edgier quality often amiss from artists of this persuasion. Tracks like “Vampire Smile,” the third single, combine the savage beauty and fragile, folkish charm that is set to propel La Grange into the mainstream in a flurry of accolades and praise.

All too often a softly spoken, eternally innocent yet well travelled female singer has come along and failed to live up to expectation. In the digital age of self-production, self promotion and sky high self assurance, the market place is clogged with those who emulate Diana Vickers and Pixie Lott. Indeed, the competition is now of such a high caliber that a revolving door policy seems to exist with even those who are sought to be established members of the industry.

Barring the monumental success of Adele, the female singer wearing her heart on her sleeve, soul bared for all to see, is at a premium in the 21st century. Not that it should be the case but it is with great surprise then that an album like Ashes offers what can only be described as a genuinely enjoyable, substantial and artistically credible piece of work.

Kyla La Grange is about to make a big splash in the music scene of 2012. Ashes is as strong a debut album as any that have been released this year and within recent memory. With the backing of her label, the ever impressive and imposing Sony, great things are expected from this young woman from Watford. Released on July 30th, the proof will, as ever be in the pudding when the general public get their hands on it.


Kyla’s official website has details of availability and tours.

EP Review :: Spraynard – Exton Square

“…the band and their sound is maturing in real time, but holding onto what made them great in the first place.”

With their debut album, Funtitled, Spraynard – an American trio who can be best described as fusing the careful intricacies and passion of 90’s emo with all that is carefree and great about traditional pop-punk – cast me back to being 14 and listening to Weezer’s Blue Album.

That record is a collection of fast-paced upbeat songs about comic books, video games, generally lacking direction and being totally fine with the fact. This best summed up on their own words – in a line delivered as well as it is written – “Today I will prove that I’m more than a collection of comic books or a high score on the screen”. It’s an incredibly uplifting record that I could (and quite possibly should) go on about at length, alas this is a review of the new EP, sorry!

Exton Square opens with ‘Can I Borrow A Feeling?’, and for the first 78 seconds you might wonder if you’ve indeed put on a Spraynard record. It leads in with a slow and somewhat sensitive opening, something which many who were expecting the EP to simply be an extension of their debut would never have expected. This is quite quickly put to bed and the song continues in much more the fashion we’ve come to expect. This theme however is quite consistent throughout, and its one of the things I enjoy most about the EP. It’s definitely a Spraynard record, they’ve kept a lot of what made their earlier stuff great but they’ve also been able to develop their sound with fantastic results.

Listened to along side the previous release it really feels like a natural progression for the band. In the same way that Funtitled reminded me of youthful times of optimism, Exton Square reminds me of looking back on those times with a sense of nostalgia, and perhaps feeling the ill effects of growing up. It suggests that the band and their sound is maturing in real time, but holding onto what made them great in the first place. (It might be contradictory at this point to mention that my favourite tracking “Trembling” is probably the most closely matched to the style of their earlier records, but I don’t care.)

The style, structure and feeling of the new EP is so intriguing, the evolution of the sound leads to something of a cliffhanger as to what’s to come next. Sadly this sense of intrigue meant that I found it to be a little short, there are only 4 tracks and from a band that writes predominantly concise songs, it almost feels over too soon. This could perhaps be a very clever marketing ploy for a new full length release, but seeing as I didn’t see J. J. Abrams name in the album production credits I doubt it and so I was left feeling that perhaps there could have been a bit more content.

That said, there’s nothing to stop me putting it on again, and I think that’s what I’ll do.

– John Dykes

Album Review :: Matt Skiba & The Sekrets – Babylon

“…it’s standard Matt Skiba fare with an emphasis on the emotional, the morose and the morbid.”

Having already got one new side-project under his belt for 2012, it was surprising to see Matt Skiba announce that he’d be releasing a full length with, new band, The Sekrets. Though considered a “solo-ish” outing from the Alkaline Trio vocalist/guitarist, Skiba enlisted Hunter Burgan (AFI) and Jarrod Alexander (My Chemical Romance) to help him out with this latest foray into the world of post-punk.

I say it’s a post-punk record, but it still contains a lot of the elements that endeared Skiba to punk fans for the past fifteen-plus years. Unlike his previous effort with Heavens, the record is a lot more upbeat and will sound familiar to fans of his work with The Trio. The addition of a synth and some light vocal effects – mainstays of that late 70s/early 80s post-punk sound – stand out as the the biggest difference between Babylon and newer recorded material. This is no bad thing, and there were times I felt that some of Agony & Irony and This Addiction may have been better served as part of this project.

Lyrically, it’s standard Matt Skiba fare with an emphasis on the emotional, the morose and the morbid, which fit well with the haunting synth tracks that lurk in the background of each song. Though even Skiba can’t be spot on all the time. ‘Luciferian Blues’ and ‘Falling Like Rain’ are the two weakest lyrical efforts on the album, with the latter definitely being the worst track on the record. There’s just a bit too much of that synth and it sounds like a bad 90s dance track.

At it’s worst it’s pretty bad, but there’s a lot to love here. ‘Voices’ and ‘All Fall Down’ make for a great opening to the record and ‘How The Hell Did We Get Here’ is absolutely fantastic. It’s tracks like these that combine the pop, punk, electro and post-punk influences the best and justify the reason for this record’s existence. With that said, despite of its post-punk roots and the clear influence of Joy Division and New Order, it’s not all that downbeat. Skiba still has a knack for making you want to sing along with him, even when it comes to the darkest of subjects.

In fact, it’s actually quite a fun record and feels like the natural progression of what Matt wanted to do with Heavens. Some may scoff that Matt’s not exactly stepped too far out of his comfort zone here, but that doesn’t mean him and the band haven’t made a really good record. It’s punky, poppy and morbid in equal measure, and definitely worth your time.

Album Review :: Hot Water Music – Exister

“…although it feels weird to say, it sounds like a more mature Hot Water Music”

Six years ago, it was announced that Hot Water Music “as we knew it” was over. Though Chuck Ragan never officially drew a line under the band with his statement, many thought they wouldn’t see Hot Water Music again. Sure we got (and continue to get) Chuck’s solo efforts and The Draft and, while that’s all well and good, it just wasn’t the same. Thankfully the hiatus lasted all of two years (which meant yours truly could actually see them live), but still no new material surfaced. Four years after their return, we have a new Hot Water Music record. It’s certainly been worth the wait.

It’s clear that a lot has changed in the band’s time apart and, obviously, there’s going to be some big differences when you’ve not released a record in eight years (The New What Next was released in 2004). However, that’s not to say this has had a negative effect. Far from it. Tracks like ‘State Of Grace’ and ‘Take No Prisoners’ show a clear progression in songwriting, with Chuck Ragan seemingly adapting elements used in his solo material to fit in with Hot Water Music’s repertoire. In turn, this has created a clearer divide between Ragan’s songs and those of Chris Wollard. Whereas Chuck’s songs are more complex, Wollard’s are for the most part, straight forward, no nonsense, punk songs. Though this meant Chuck’s stuck with me more, Wollard’s are sure to become new live anthems for Hot Water Music fans the world over.

Regardless of any lyrical differences, the instrumentation is still well within that familiar Hot Water Music wheelhouse. It’s that fast, hard, punk rock that makes the blood boil and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. That’s not to say, that it doesn’t have it’s more chilled out moments. Grungy and downbeat, ‘No End Left In Sight’ is the perfect example. Though all who’ve worked on this record – especially Bill Stevenson (Descendents/ALL) for his production job – need commending, Jason Black deserves major credit. It’s an understatement to say the man is a fantastic bass player, but on Exister his work really stands out. I mean, just listen to the opening of ‘Drag My Body’. Need I say more? Wollard and Ragan are also on fine form. Their dual vocals on the album’s title track are awe-inspiring, and make it my favorite track on the album.

Still, the question remains, after eight years, was Exister worth the wait? The answer there is a resounding yes. It’s certainly a more progressive record and, although it feels weird to say, it sounds like a more mature Hot Water Music. However, despite the few ‘misses’ contained within these thirteen songs, Exister is a record I have no trouble recommending. It’s clear that their time apart and side projects have made a difference, but everything has worked in their favour. This is most definitely a Hot Water Music record, and fans of their previous work will not be disappointed.

Advanced Album Preview :: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Its a Corporate World

© Warner Bros Music 2012

“A living detachment exists between the music and listener”

It seems there is a renaissance afoot. Amongst the musical community, the resurgence of indie infused psychedelic, electro pop has never been more popular.

As much of a mouthful as that seems, the oncoming summer months seem to bring out such bands like midges from a mossy log. Throwing their hat into the ring with debut offering It’s a Corporate World are Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

For those UK fans unfamiliar with the band. Formed in Detroit, Michigan, the duo takes their name from American Indy Car racing legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. who, according to some sources, is a reputable fan of the band. Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott have sky rocketed their reputations amongst fans and music critics alike since their formation in 2007.

Branding themselves as psychedelic, electro and Motown influenced, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. appear to be on the cusp of domination of the indie, elector scene. This debut album, It’s a Corporate World arrives as the total of maligned performances, side projects and other dedications that have prevented the two members from publishing their collective work. They bring the haunting, wistful vocals and soft guitar hooks that have established them as a stand out indie outfit to what will presumably be a much wider audience, possibly globally.

Tracks “Simple Girl,” “When I open My Eyes,” and the eponymous “It’s a Corporate World,” showcase the band’s eclectic, anathema style. Drawing clear influences from late Beatles and their own brand of psychedelic pop rock, Epstein (coincidentally) and Zott mesh seamlessly together both vocally and musically.

None more apparent than the harmonic, toe tapping “Vocal Chords.” A fun, catchy, high tempo track that lends itself perfectly to the up coming summer months, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. know their audience and how to effectively win them over new listeners.

This stellar rise amongst their own scene and the music industry as a whole raises some suspicions amongst the more skeptical listeners. And therein lies the problem with both Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and this debut album. It’s a Corporate World is, quite simply, a clean cut, glossy, over produced album that would be more suited to a band’s second or third offering.

Following their various EP releases and a loyal fan following of their energetic live performances, this fully fledged debut album arrives amongst a sea of publicity. None more apparent than the highly touted select UK appearances on Club NME and HMV Next Big Thing. Surprising, surely, to those indie electro groups from native shores who are still scratching around on their home turf all begging for that big break. More importantly, with substantial discographies behind them.

Fundamentally, the band’s ethos and material seems oddly unoriginal enough to warrant this lavish production. Although by no means a poor piece of work, it is exactly that that makes for suspicious reasoning. They may sing of heartfelt, unrequited love and psychedelic jaunts through golden fields, albeit with the looming presence of a disapproving chaperone lurking somewhere in the background. It’s fun but well supervised fun.

A living detachment exists between the music and listener. Begging the question, have Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. sold out before they were even in? Suddenly the album’s title takes on an altogether more sinister and frightening meaning.

Jonathan Whitelaw


The album is released on May 24th. All info on the band and availability can be found, as ever, on the official website, www.daleearnhardtjrjr.com/.

Album Review :: OFF! – OFF!

“It just feels like they tried too hard to recreate that iconic 80’s hardcore sound.”

The First Four EPs saw, punk supergroup, OFF! come out with a bang. The songs were hard, fast, and over before you could get your mind around them. A fantastic throwback to the likes of Black Flag (of whom Keith Morris was the original vocalist) and The Minutemen, this release was unexpected and surprisingly fresh sounding. Their debut full length continues where those EPs left off. We get sixteen songs in as many minutes, all of them that little bit lacking.

Though it definitely contains all of the original hardcore punk conventions, there’s a distinctly contemporary sound to each track. Part of this comes down to certain instrumental differences – the intro of ‘King Kong Brigade’ certainly wouldn’t be at home on a typical 80’s hardcore record – and part of this comes down to the production. It’s clear that the end goal was to make the record sound more ‘raw’ and underproduced. However, this is rarely subtle and I often found myself thinking more about the production of a particular song than the song itself. That’s saying a lot when the majority of the tracks are less than a minute long.

That being said, I have very little else against this record. I mean, the lyrics can get sketchy at times and it’s often off-putting how ‘clean’ Keith’s vocals are compared to the rest of the track (like I said, the production is less than impressive), but I don’t regret taking the sixteen minutes out of my day to check this out. It just feels like they tried too hard to recreate that iconic 80’s hardcore sound.

If you’re a fan of old school hardcore punk, you could certainly pick worse when it comes to checking out a new band. Just be mindful of the fact that, despite the people involved, this isn’t going to sound the same as all those older bands you love.

Album Review :: Tim Barry – 40 Miler

“Is Tim Barry the Larry David of the punk scene?”

When the punks go ‘acoustic’, it seems they head down one pre-defined path – they play punk music with an acoustic guitar. Now I’ve no problem with that, but they really stand out when they do something a little more unexpected. For me, Tim Barry is one of the few that veered off the beaten track. The former Avail frontman, swapped the harshness of punk for a, more mellow, country sound. Though he’s certainly not ‘gone soft’.

Well known for his story-telling style, Barry enchants the listener with tales of small towns, friends and adventure. Some of these you might have heard of – references to a couple of characters named Frank and Brian make up the opening to the title track, and there’s even a whole song about, Lucero’s, Todd Beene – and others you won’t. Still, he makes you feel like you’re right there alongside him throughout and you experience a lot and run the emotional gamut when you’re riding with Tim. Driver Pull’ – a song about dealing with life and all its inherent problems – showcases a much sombre side of the Virginia native, whereas ‘Amen’ will have you singing along in no time.

Similarly, ‘Fine Foods Market’ shows Barry at his most satirical. The entire song is a comment on the current ‘scene’, with a particular focus on the falseness of hipsters. It worked as a perfect palette cleanser for all of the more downbeat tracks on the album, and might actually be my favourite. Again it draws on Barry’s own experiences, as he looks back on his life and compares it to what he sees in the youth of today. Though it could come across as slightly curmudgeonly, it is delivered with such style and humor that you can’t help but love it. Is Tim Barry the Larry David of the punk scene?

Such quick changes in tone did tend to stop the record from flowing quite as well as it could have, but this is a minor gripe when you take the quality of the songs into account. The switch from acoustic to electric and back again had a similar effect, but the changes in instrumentation certainly make for a more interesting sonic experience.

Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that 40 Miler is Tim Barry’s best release to date. As with everything he’s put out, the songs are steeped in truth and adventure and provide a fantastic look into the world of a very interesting man. Not only that, but songs like ‘Hobo Lullaby’ have helped establish, in my mind at least, that Barry is one of the best songwriters around today. Though there’s a little bit of filler here and there, on the whole, it’s a pretty fantastic record. It can bring you down, but never fails to pull you back up again. If you like sober thoughts and singalongs, this is the record for you.

Album Review :: Fighting Fiction – Fighting Fiction

“…I found myself relieved that the words “Flip your desk and trash the fucking place” never appeared in this album, if they had then I might well be out of a job by now.”

I first came across Fighting Fiction at Reading Festival in 2011, they played at midday on The Lockup Stage on the Sunday. I was really impressed, and any band that managed to shift my hangover, aching bones and fatigue in a 30 minute set was surely worth investigating further. I returned home and I got hold of The Lesser of Two Evils E.P and that was it, I was hooked (incidentally if you get chance the EP is well worth checking out, possibly my favourite four track record since All Hallows came out in 1999). I was really excited to hear their first full length release, and I have not been disappointed.

Fighting Fiction is a 4 piece band hailing from Brighton, England. They exact a dynamic and somewhat aggressive ska-infused punk rock sound, with socially motivated lyrics and almost anthemic vocal choruses.

If you’re listening to FF for the first time when you put on this record, they lay their cards quite openly on the table on the first track ‘Amazing Grace’. It’s a hard-hitting punk rock song with all the hallmarks that have formed the foundation of Fighting Fiction’s sound. It’s got great lyrics, infectious melodies and you will find yourself driven to sing along, powerful is just too meagre of a word to describe it.

The album continues with a track you may have heard before, the single ‘Rock and Roll is Dead and its Corpse is For Sale. It’s a fantastic track, there’s some really potent lines, and another chorus that you will not shift for hours (unless you skip forward a few tracks and listen to ‘Cameraphones and Choruses’). The pace doesn’t drop for a second as the third track kicks in, ‘Turning Rebellion into Money’, a brutally honest song about making profit from their music. So captivating and almost mesmerising are some of the melodies that I found myself relieved that the words “Flip your desk and trash the fucking place” never appeared in this album, if they had then I might well be out of a job by now.

Other noteable tracks include ‘Make Yourself into a Martyr’ and ‘No Room at the Inn’ (which will serve to appease listeners who are dissapointed that this record shows rather less of the ska influences than previous releases) and listeners with heart conditions will be comforted to know that this album is not all punch-in-the-face punk rock. The album also showcases a number of slower, more sensitive moments, balancing acoustic breaks with hard-hitting riffs in a delightfully structured manner, being British and a Punk Rock lover its incredibly refreshing to hear an album of this calibre in a Southern accent.

Upon first listen I found this album to die off a little towards the end (save for the revisiting of a personal favourite ‘Cameraphones…’) however the more I listen to it, the more I find myself appreciating the later songs. With most of the album being a “love at first listen” and the rest growing on me rapidly I can honestly say there’s not a song on the album that I dislike. 2012 has already been too kind to us in terms of albums, and this is just no exception (which is quite the feat if you know how much I love Cursive and The Menzingers). Fighting Fiction can be really proud of this record and I for one, cannot wait to hear more from them in the future.

– John Dykes

Gig Review :: Frank Turner – Wembley Arena – 13/04/12

© Ben Morse 2012

“Even with the size of the place and all the pomp and circumstance, one thing remained the same. It still felt like a Frank Turner show.”

When I saw Frank play the Manchester Apollo last year I wondered how much bigger he could possibly get. The first time I saw the guy play was in front of 800 people, so to see him play to a crowd the size of the Apollo’s was a little mental. So you can imagine how it was seeing him on stage at Wembley arena. This wasn’t just Wembley Arena either, it was a sold out Wembley Arena. Crazy.

Just walking into that behemoth of an arena was insane. This place would soon have eleven-thousand people in it in a few hours and, honestly, that’s a pretty scary thought. Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before we had our first act on stage – Beans On Toast. For those who don’t know, Beans On Toast is a folk singer from Essex. His voice is really fucked up and all his songs are really simple (but in a good way). The fact he was performing at Wembley had to be some kind of awesome in-joke, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t brilliant. After opening with a brand new song, he brought on Bobby Banjo – his banjo player, would you believe? – and they blasted out a few of Beans’ more well known tunes. Well, when I say “blasted out”, I mean they just about got through them.

As is a custom at a Beans On Toast gig, the songs aren’t always played in full and, on occasion, aren’t even played correctly. This is exactly what we were treated to, with Beans even asking the crowd to stop clapping along with songs because he couldn’t concentrate. In between songs he told stories and chatted about what certain songs meant, whilst checking his watch to make sure he didn’t over run the twenty minutes he’d been allocated. Having closed his set, Beans was met with an amazing response from the ever expanding crowd. This prompted him to crowd surf to the back of the arena. It was a great way to open the show and an even better way for Beans to close his set. Though finding later out he’d been chucked out for crowd surfing was the icing on the cake.

Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius pip continued the show and, whilst they’re good performers, I don’t think they really fit in with the rest of the Wembley experience. Granted, this was my first exposure to the hip-hop duo, but I found it really hard to get into. With that said, I seemed to be in the minority as they went down really well. Perhaps I should have swotted up beforehand?

That headline slot was edging ever closer and now the crowd seemed to have all packed into the arena. Unlike the night before, people weren’t about to walk out on Billy Bragg here. For those who were at the previous night’s gig, the set will have sounded a little familiar. With that said, Bragg was blasting out the hits on both nights with only a few new ones thrown into the set. Again he played ‘Scousers Never Buy The Sun’, which was especially poignant given how close the show was to the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. The rest was dedicated to a few of his more seasoned songs and, again, he closed with ‘A New England’. This time, with eleven-thousand other voices singing the chorus and a chill descending down my spine. Even this wasn’t enough to top what was about to happen.

Though it had been billed by the man himself as a ‘greatest hits’ kind of set, it opened with ‘Eulogy’ – the opening track from, latest album, England Keep My Bones – and the beginning of Frank’s performance at Wembley did feel a little top heavy with EKMB tracks. However, once it got going the hits kept coming and we all kept singing. Audience participation is a big thing at Frank Turner shows, so if you’re not singing you’re not doing it right! Speaking of participation, before launching into ‘Dan’s Song’, Frank brought his mum up on stage in the hope she would play the harmonica on the track. After a little coaxing from her son and the eleven-thousand that came to see him do what he does best, she gave in and maybe even got the biggest cheer of the night. This was swiftly followed by ‘Father’s Day’, which seemed like a nice bit of set arrangement on Turner’s part given the song’s subject matter. Other surprise inclusions included ‘Nashville Tennessee’. First featured on Campfire Punkrock, the song is a fan favourite that seems to have withstood the test of time unlike others from that stage of Frank’s career.

Amongst all of the hits and surprises, a new song was thrown into the mix. ‘Four Simple Words’ – a track from Frank’s forthcoming fifth solo album – went down really well with the Wembley crowd. Though we didn’t know the words, we danced along regardless. The soft sweet acoustic opening feeling like a ruse, as the body of the song is unleashed. There are very few times I’ve thought about ‘pitting’ to Frank’s music. This was one such time. This song already felt like a hit, and it’s no where near ready for release yet.

When it came time to close the set, Frank went with a little Queen. More recently, the Winchestrian has closed his sets with a rendition of the classic rock band’s ‘Somebody To Love’ and it’s inclusion here was received with aplomb. After bidding us ‘goodnight’, attentions were turned to the big screens hanging above the stage. There was Frank, sitting in a chair, waving back at us. What was he doing? Well, he was waiting to get tattooed. Rather than that rockstar pre-encore walkoff being shrouded in secrecy, Turner decided to let everyone get a peek as a second date was added to his pre-existing Wembley tattoo (done when he supported Green Day at Wembley stadium). With that finished, Turner returned to the stage with Billy Bragg following shortly after. Just like the night before, the pair played Dylan’s ‘The Time’s They Are A Changing’, this time, with a few additional hiccups. There were singalongs aplenty, though the cynic in me wondered how many watching had only heard this song because it was featured in Watchmen. Regardless, it went down a storm. Now was time for the biggest shock of the evening.

Now alone, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Frank set about playing ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’. Though he announced this time “might” be the song’s last outing in a live venue. Emotions ran high and there were even some audible groans from the crowd, but Turner delivered the fan favourite expertly and, in the end, it felt kind of fitting to retire that song at such a poignant time. After such a somber second song, the encore was concluded (as always) with ‘Photosynthesis’. Again the audience played their part, sitting down towards the end of the song before leaping up into the air as Nigel kicks the song back into gear and confetti and streamers fly into the air. It was a showy finish, but it feels like something Frank can pull off at this stage.

Even with the size of the place and all the pomp and circumstance, one thing remained the same. It still felt like a Frank Turner show. It still felt intimate, and Frank never appeared to be out of his depth. It’ll always feel better to see him in a smaller venue – I mean, when doesn’t a small venue feel better? -, but this show was one to remember, and one I’ll be talking about for some time to come.

Gig Review :: ‘Twas The Night Before Wembley – Camden Barfly – 12/04/12

© Katie Gedling 2012

“This is the place that was going to hold five awesome acts and two-hundred Xtra Mile loyalists?”

Twas the night before Wembley and…something, something, something. I was going to try and be really clever and come up with alternative words to that classic poem to introduce this review, but I tried and it really wasn’t good. On the contrary, Twas The Night Before Wembley was pretty awesome, and a perfect way to pre-empt what is bound to go down as one of the best gigs of the year.

This was my first Barfly experience, so to say I was surprised to see the size of the place is an understatement. I mean I didn’t expect it to be huge, but this place looked like any other pub. This is the place that was going to hold five awesome acts and two-hundred Xtra Mile loyalists? We were certainly in for an intimate show then! Doors opened and the crowd flooded in, the room a’buzz with talk of who the special guest might be.

Shortly after, Ben Marwood kicked the night off and was met with a rapturous applause. Having toured with Frank Turner last year, the crowd certainly knew who Ben was, and the singalongs began immediately. Fan favourite, ‘Singalong’ seemed to go down the best, with the entire room in fine voice for Marwood’s irony-filled anthem. ‘Tell Avril Lavigne I Never Wanted To Be Her Stupid Boyfriend Anyway’ was also met with a brilliant response, but maybe that’s what you get when you throw the chorus to ‘Sk8r Boi’ into the middle of your song? He said that’d be the last time he did that…somehow I don’t think it will be.

Marwood left the stage and the crowd was suitably warmed up when Jamie Lenman announced that Dave Hause would be up next. The former Reuben frontman was a perfect master of ceremonies, cracking jokes and seemingly having a good time. Though I couldn’t help wonder how many of those crammed into the Barfly even knew who he was besides “that bloke with the tache who’s got a suit on” (yes, that’s a direct quote).

Having flown into London just a few hours before, a jetlagged-looking Dave Hause was up next. The Loved Ones frontman played a blinder, though it felt like many in the room didn’t know who he was. The majority of his set was taken from Resolutions and the crowd seemed into it, with a fair few singing along. He even threw a ‘Pretty Good Year’ – a Loved Ones song – into the mix, but even those who were singing along before didn’t seem to know what it was. So that was a shame, but Dave himself was awesome as always and in good spirits. He took time out to joke with one member of the audience, though I don’t know if they quite got it.

Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun soon followed. Hot on the heels of their new record, it seemed like the crowd was a little more into it. Hearing songs from Death in a live environment was amazing, and really helped to solidify how far that band has come since their last release. A few songs from Atlases made it into the set, and it was great to hear how well they worked in conjunction with those new tracks. They played hard and may have even won over the few that had not yet been subjected to the Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun experience.

Like I said, there was all this talk of a special guest playing the Barfly that night, and it seemed many had decided that this guest would be Frank Turner. Granted, that’s a valid assumption to make. After all, he is Xtra Mile’s biggest act. However, when you look at it logically, Turner playing a set at The Barfly was pretty unlikely given the importance of what he was due to undertake in less than twenty-four hours time. So when it was revealed that Billy Bragg was the special guest, more than a few in attendance headed for the door.

Even with a drop in attendees the room was still packed when ‘Uncle Bill’ started playing. The set was comprised mostly of hits, with ‘Scousers Never Buy The Sun’ being the only new track played the whole set. This is what people want though, and Billy knows that. ‘To Have And To Have Not’ was a definite highlight of the set, but you can’t beat ‘A New England’ when it comes to awesome set closers. The crowd shouted for an encore, and an encore we got. Bragg returned to the stage with a guest of his own. Unsurprisingly Mr Turner was in attendance, so the two of them belted out a cover of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A Changing’, something that sent those who’d headed elsewhere in disappointment charging into the room.

Four down and one to go. So far the night had been a massive success, now it was time for Crazy Arm. As a massive fan of these guys I know they can tear the roof off a venue like The Barfly with ease. And they did. But like Dave Hause’s set, it seemed the crowd really wasn’t into it. After a night of folk punk and acoustic tunes, many seemed to think Crazy Arm were a little too much. The atmosphere was less intense, but the band were not. They were as tight as ever and absolutely killed it. It was nice to hear ‘Little Boats’ being thrown into the set again after a long absence and some of their older songs sound amazing with the additional instrumentation. The band closed the set with a cover of Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’. And though it seemed to get the crowd going a bit, the intensity of a Crazy Arm headline show just wasn’t there.

With that I headed back downstairs, unable to speak having completely blown my voice out shouting along with Crazy Arm. All in all it was a great night, and a fantastic way for Xtra Mile to showcase the talent they have on their label. I couldn’t think of a better way to prepare for Wembley either.