Mongolian Folk Metal legends, The Hu, hit Bristol on a stormy winter’s night.
Battling through the tail end of storm Ciara, hail stones and good old fashioned rush hour traffic, we land in the car park next to the Academy half an hour after the doors opened.
We then find ourselves doing something we’ve not done for several decades. Queuing to get into a gig. The line that snakes it’s way around the building has more people in it than most of the gigs we go to these days.
It’s clear from the mix in the queue that there is no such thing as a typical Hu fan. We have a broad cross section of ‘world music’ fans, metal heads and punks; students, pensioners and middle aged. We have straight looking people, cool looking people and the frankly embarrassing looking hippies.
Thirty freezing minutes later we find ourselves at the airport like security and metal detectors at the door. No wonder it is taking so long to get in.
When we finally enter the auditorium, the room is already jammed, and we can’t help wondering where the five hundred people still in the queue will fit. After forcing our way past the bar into the bowels of the venue we find ourselves a plot on the stairs with a good view and make camp. We know if we move we are unlikely to find a better view and this spot will be occupied as soon as we vacate it. (The crammed crowd and the tight security mean you will have to put up with dodgy phone pix for this blog)
We used to frequent this place back when it was called the Locarno, back in the eighties, but this is only the second time we have visited since the name change. Looking out over the seething masses we can see why. A crowd of sardines like this used to be fun back when New Model Army were still young, but for us veterans it is tedious. Give us the Cwmcarn Hotel any day.
The support band are already on stage when we pitch up, a band clearly chosen to entertain the metal contingent in the crowd. Heads shake, Dio devil head fists are thrust into the air and dandruff flies. The metal contingent appear to approve.
After a short break the Hu finally hit the stage. They look the business. They look like a cross between extras from Mad Max, soldiers from one of the colder kingdoms in Game of Thrones, and the result of a New Model Army tour of the far east.
On the front line they have two dudes playing punked up cello looking things, a guy playing a guitar that looks more like a crossbow than a musical instrument and a vocalist that dabbles with flute and a jews harp.
In the back row we have traditional guitarist, bassist and drummer, along with a dude playing huge drums – the sort that you see being used to summon King Kong in the movies.
They open the set with Shoog Shoog. Despite them singing in an alien language and using the ancient Mongolian throat singing technique – which sounds more like a dijeridoo than a human voice – everyone recognises the song and a huge cheer goes up. Ah… the magical powers of a viral video.
As they rattle through their debut album, with songs about Genghis Khan and other presumably Mongolian topics, the audience is full of grins and mobile phones filming the spectacle. Although often tagged as Folk Metal, I’ve never really seen the ‘metal’ element. Heavy, yes, really heavy, but not metal. They are much more sedate and complicated than that.
And no sooner does that thought form in my head, than they flick the switch and go into metal overdrive, showcasing tunes not on the album and explaining why they land slots on the bill at Download.
Strobe lights, smoke and rushing about on stage bring what had already been a thoroughly magnificent night to an explosive climax. The beast from the east trumps Storm Ciara.
After the traditional leaving of the stage a tribal chant of “Hu, Hu, Hu”, goes up. No one is leaving till we get more.
And more we get, in the shape of their piece de resistance, Wolf Totem. No quarter is asked, none is given. We finally have our fill, and file out into the calm of Bristol at night.
South Korea might be making waves culturally at the Oscars, but Mongolia is where it is at musically.