Hype is rarely all it is cracked up to be. It can be counterproductive, leading to audiences being disappointed. It usually brings a crowd out though, and the hype surrounding Slaves certainly brought out a capacity mob to the Velvet Coalmine on the Saturday night. But would they be disappointed?
Saturday was the busiest day of a busy Velvet Coalmine schedule, with film screenings, poetry readings and Q+A sessions taking place in town to compliment the packed list of bands playing all over town as part of the ‘Fringe’.
The Preachers bar is named after one of the local bands that made it big a few years ago. It takes up part of the site that was formerly the legendary Blackwood Beer Keller. Today is the venue for Viv Albertine in conversation with Simon what’s his face, the dude that wrote a book about the Manic Street Preachers.
The former guitarist with the Slits has recently published her autobiography ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys’, and has had former teen fans (now middle aged men) drooling over its candid tales of sex drugs and rock and roll. She turned up, looking half her true age, and reminded those middle aged men why they had teenage crushes on her.
Peppermint Iguana DJ, Ginjah John, turned up with a bag full of tomatoes freshly picked from his greenhouse as a present for his dream girl – with some flyers for the radio show in the bag for good measure (good boy John, business first). John’s Afternoon was made even more complete by sitting next to another of his heroes, Don Letts, while listening to Viv.
Letts was also there for a Q+A session, but not in Preachers. His documentary ‘Punk: Attitude’ was being shown just up the road in new venue the Black Sheep, formerly known as ‘Ted’s Shed’. Other films on the bill over the weekend included the brilliant cult welsh movie Submarine, Apocalypse Now, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Taxi Driver.
Black Sheep is a small and intimate venue but it fills up for the legendary DJ/author/film maker Don Letts. Don was the DJ at the original punk club The Roxy back in 1976. Being there at ground zero, meant there were not any punk records to play, so he played a mixture of dub reggae and New York garage punk such as the MC5, New York Dolls and Suicide. He filmed many of the bands that played the Roxy and eventually went on to become a film maker of some renown. He also got together with several of those early punks when they moved on, to get involved in various musical projects such as Screaming Target and Big Audio Dynamite.
For forty minutes or so Don sat there and talked about ‘back in the day’ and fielded questions from the floor*. The questions came from a mixture of old heads that were around at the time (although Blackwood being Blackwood, were probably a little removed from the Roxy) and snotty young punks who have their own idea of what punk is – and good for them, cos it was never about conforming to someone else’s ideas.
(*The iguana crew recorded this Q+A session, watch this space to find out what we do with it!)
Don only has to make a short walk up the road to The ‘Stute, where he is DJing between bands for the night. There is a packed line up for the night which is great news, but does mean our sampling of the Fringe Festival is even more limited than the night before.
Opening band for the night are The Dead Shed Jokers, the band who put the ‘head’ in the ‘heads of the valleys’. They give it their psychedelic all, despite the fact the venue is only just starting to fill up, and do Aberdare/Merthyr proud.
A reasonable crowd has walked in by the time The Sick Livers hit the stage with their full on punk-rock-and-roll set. Front man Ginge Knievil struts the stage with all the confidence of a young Elvis; Guitarist Darron Stratton casually throws in licks that would sit comfortably alongside the best of them and the rhythm section lay down a workman like foundation that only a band with some serious gigging under their belt can make look so easy.
Then it is time for the first of the guitar/drums duos of the night. Local lads Henry’s Funeral Shoe have managed to build up a small but loyal following in Blackwood. That they are not bigger locally is something of a mystery, given they can pull huge crowds across Europe and the US. They have even got a soundtrack to a commercial for a major car company under their belt and can list Charlie Sheen among their admirers.
When we first caught The Shoe, we were somewhat taken aback by the fact that there’s only two of them, with Brennig’s heavy duty delta blues guitar putting down so many layers at once if you closed your eyes you would think there are three of him. Throw in brother Aled’s Keith Moon like drumming and you have a complete sound that is considerably more than the sum of its parts.
With smoke filling the stage the brothers get down to doing what they do best and have every foot in the house tapping and every head nodding. It is only the anticipation of the Slaves set to come that prevents the crowd rioting for an encore.
The Boy Letts lays down some more dub mixes while the stage crew strip the stage in preparation for Slaves. Drums are built, unusually, right up front, and a rack of guitars set up to the side. We come back to the question, will they be up to the hype.
The lights go out, the smoke pours off the stage and BANG – the Slaves are in the area. Taking the two piece guitar and drums set up to the next level, Slaves are a live tour de-force that even their powerful debut album, ‘Are You Satisfied’ can only hint at. The energy coming from the two young guns on stage defies logic and is matched only by their confidence and playful arrogance.
With shaved head, bleached jeans and tattoos galore, guitarist Laurie Vincent would not look out of place in a 1980s Oi band, but his guitar is far more advanced than that, with an array of guitars and pedals at his disposal he creates a sound that knocks you off your feet. Main vocal duties fall to drummer Isaac Holman. If having a drummer as lead singer is not enough, he drums standing up and front of stage.
Between numbers they engage with the audience, at one point challenging someone who has brought a tambourine along to either join them on stage or shut up. They declare that they love Blackwood – something us Blackwood types sometimes find difficult to do – but they seem genuine and look as if they are enjoying what is likely to be one of their last gigs at a medium sized venue.
Towards the end the pedals come into play as a loop is set up to create the soundtrack to a crowd surfing session by both Holman and Vincent. The energy of the two is infectious and the whole crowd is absorbed in to an electric gig that this old reviewer, that was going to gigs ten years before these lads were born, will remember for a very long time. Believe the hype boys and girls, believe the hype.
Everyone pours out of the venue shell shocked, telling their friends how good the gig was – as if their friends were not there. We head up to the Foresters where Houdini Dax help us wind down with their local brand of guitar laden pop. In other circumstances they would have been a good night out, but they had a tough act to follow. No doubt we will be giving them the space they deserve on this ‘ere website in the future.
The question then was, could the Meat Puppets keep the flag flying and finish the weekend off on Sunday as it had started? Sadly, the small matter of Wales V Israel meant this blogger would not find out. Were you there and fancy writing a review? Get in touch!