“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.