LIVE REVIEW: Roughneck Riot: Live @ The Llanarth Club, Pontllanfraith (18/06/22)

Roughneck Riot trudge all the way down from Wakefield for a one-off gig in the South Wales valleys. That’s dedication to the cause. And we loved them for it

Whilst half the population of Wales are heading to Cardiff to see The Stereophonics and Tom Jones, we opt to see a more down to earth band in a more intimate venue.

The LLanarth Club in Pontllanfraith, is tucked away down a side street on the outskirts of Blackwood. It is a pretty unremarkable venue, a traditional valleys working men’s club. Very little sets it apart from any other club in the valleys, other than the fact it has always had a liberal approach to gigs and the bohemian approach to life that many gig goers adopt. As a result, over the years several promoters have used it to put on grass roots bands – including us here at Peppermint Iguana. It doesn’t have regular gigs these days, but ‘back in the day’, before the smoking ban, they used to have local talent doing their thing on a weekly basis.

In the last few years local lad Titch has been making a Valliant effort to bring quality live music to the town, including The Barstool Preachers, Regime and The Popes of Chilltown. It’s hard work. I know. I tried it myself before eventually deciding to focus on putting gigs on in Newport. It can be soul destroying seeing an amazing band play to a small crowd, especially in an area where the number of people switched on to bands beyond the mainstream, for various reasons, is limited. Promoting in the valleys is not something you do to make money, you do it for the love of the music.

And Titch loves music. I take my hat off to him for having a go and putting his money where his mouth is.

We rock up early to record an interview with our friends from the north. It’s interesting how bands react differently to this situation.  Some bands will leave it to the front person (who is not always the most talkative) and some will put up a few members to chat. In the case of Roughneck Riot,  they were all enthusiastic and chatty, as the full band piled into their trusty splitter van in the car park.

I managed to get thirty minutes of anecdotes,  band history and songs explained. Most of all we had laughs. Lots of laughs. These guys are passionate, witty and love what they do. I got shit loads of content to write up which is great. Just need to transcribe it now and remember who said what. Watch this space.

Back in the venue Alka has arrived.  Alka is probably the reason people even entertain the idea of going to the Llanarth club. A quarter of a century ago he was using the venue to put on the best original talent the valleys had to offer. The word ‘phenomenal’ became his catch phrase as he got up on stage to introduce bands. His style of comparing is quite comical.  Think ‘Wheel Tapers and Shunters’ meets ‘Gavin and Stacey’. Yet, despite being an incredibly gifted drummer,  comparing is what he is probably best known for. That, and being unshakably happy.

He is also known for a shit memory. Despite me telling him three times in the five minutes before they came on, he couldn’t get ‘Flying Spider Revival’ right.

They describe themselves as ‘punk- Americana desperados from the south wales Coalfields.’ Which sounds reasonably accurate to me. Dirty swamp delta blues with cowboy hats and killer riffs. I’m not sure i would have used the term ‘punk’, but they certainly do have a rock edge to them.

Seats can be a killer in a live music venue, particularly when there is not much of a crowd, but once the band get going people do get off thier arses and wiggle their hips in support.

As they draw to a close I have given up trying to drum their name into Alka, so he just says “thanks to the Spiders”. We all knew what he meant. Even if he didn’t”.

Roughneck Riot had come along way for this gig. Even if most of the crowd did not know who they were, they were not going to put in anything less than a full shift. With Mandolin and accordion complimenting the traditional rock and roll line up we get foot-stomping celtic punk rabble rousing vibes from the off. They are missing a banjo player tonight, but most of the audience don’t know this and therefore don’t care. the sound is full and embracing without it.

We get a selection of tunes from throughout their career, including a heavy dose of tracks from the new album, ‘Burn it to the Ground’, released earlier this year. The album had been ready to roll prior to lockdown, but they decided to use the enforced isolation to re-record it and perfect the release. I can’t comment on the first version, but the version that finally hit the streets is a thing of beauty.

The fans that had travelled for the gig are down the front savoring every moment. It doesn’t take long for the uninitiated to sit up and pay attention and make the dancefloor look busy.  Those that chose to remain seated or prop up the bar were nodding in appreciation and commenting how good they are. (Lesson here dear readers, trust Titch, Don’t worry even if you have not heard of the bands he puts on, they will be good – support him or lose him)

The band are enjoying themselves and we get plenty of light hearted banter from them in between songs. Although it is not the full on mosh pit crowd that they are used to in places like Manchester, Liverpool or London, There is plenty of bonhomie sloshing around the venue and a good night is had by all.

They try to exit stage left, but Alka wont let them – insisting of two encores from this ‘tight as fuck band’.

Twenty miles away sixty thousand people were trying to get on a train home after watching the Stereophonics on a big screen half a mile from the stage. We had just spent the night hanging out with a grassroots band in a half full workingmen’s club in the valleys. I wouldn’t have swapped places with any of them for all the money in the world.

I love this scene. This passionate, original, imaginative, undervalued, overlooked, sweaty, lo-fi, lo-cost, chaotic, seat of the pants, shoe-string-budget, organic, love filled DIY scene. After going to gigs for over four decades, even in a venue like this – especially in a venue like this, with a band that does an eight hour round trip in the back of a van just to play for us – it never fails to fill me with enthusiasm and lust for life. Big hugs to all of you out there that keep it going.