Sunday, 10 July 2011

Gig Review: 9 July 2011 - Mash Attack, Eat Defeat, Screen Violence and My Third Leg at The Birds Nest in Deptford

So just over a week after I shredded my ankle skanking to Anti Vigilante, the Skints, the JB Conspiracy, the King Blues and Broken Nose at the Underworld, I’m back out to see if I can make my foot turn blue again. Tonight I return to the ever dependable Birds Nest in Deptford to catch the first show of the Ska Mutiny Superstars Summer Tour. Something in the fridge behind the bar catches my eye this evening; a bottle of Skinner’s Betty Stoggs, a distinctly hoppy Cornish bitter which I consume copious pints of throughout the night.

My Third Leg are up first and break the ice terrifically. The last time I saw this band they were supporting the Hostiles and Stand Out Riot in March at the Nest, and they have improved immensely. Without wanting to belittle their performance, My Third Leg’s sound is very slightly reminiscent of early [spunge] which I consider to be a compliment, being so fond of the Pedigree Chump era. That said, there is nothing tired or dated about this band. They play energetic stomping ska punk, and while I usually prefer my ska bands to have a fairly meaty horn section, My Third Leg more than compensate with intricate guitar solos, shout along choruses and upstrokes that make parts of you want to skank that you never knew could. Despite a wardrobe malfunction resulting in two Clay Pigeon t-shirts being worn (double homage), they are on exceptional form, playing a good mix of old and new songs. According to the band, they are currently recording their first full length album and are looking forward to playing a hell of a lot more gigs off the back of it. I cannot wish more for this band, all the ingredients are right for them to achieve substantial success and once the wider community hear more of what they have to offer, they’ll be gigging up and down the country in no time.

The next band up are Screen Violence, a melodic hardcore band from Highbury. As good as Screen Violence are, their technical ability being second to none, they are somewhat out of place in the ska punk line up this evening. This doesn’t stop them ploughing every ounce of effort into their set however, bashing out tunes at an incredible rate and attracting a great deal of attention and applause. While I doubt I will be following this three piece with my usual fanaticism, I look forward to seeing them crop up in the future and wish them the very best of luck.

Eat Defeat from Leeds are on next and please the crowd by bashing out up tempo skate punk with some tempting ska riffs thrown in for good measure. For a band I hadn’t heard much from before this gig, as the group itself is relatively new, they were tight and impressive and left me wanting just a little bit more. Summers, the guitarist and singer, used to play in Kickback UK who I had the pleasure of seeing support Stand Out Riot and Tyrannosaurus Alan at the Birds Nest towards the end of last year, which was an incredible night. Together with bassist Katie (fastest fingers of the night), Summers runs Ska Mutiny Records. Ska Mutiny is a fantastic label, with a strong and supportive forum, born partly out of the dying embers of the old Ska Community forum when bands like Freefall Felix, Robolint and Dr 8Ball were still on the go. Understandably, Summers spends a good amount of time promoting the label and its latest release, a 22 track compilation album featuring the very best of the thriving UK ska punk scene. Had I not pre-ordered the record a fortnight before I knew this gig was happening, I would have gladly bought a copy then and there.

Mash Attack are a fantastic band and I regret not having seen them perform before. As a Southampton band, five years ago, they would have been a staple of my local scene; now, living in London, they are somewhat exotic. I grew up in Salisbury with Spankboy (AKA Solabeat Alliance), Whitmore and Uncle Brian, who all made their way onto Moonska Records, back in the day when Moonska actually gave a shit rather than channelling all their efforts into the Dub City Rockers who, lets face it, have never, and will never, perform live or release anything ever again and arrived four years later than promised to a scene that were past caring. Salisbury is very close to Southampton, which has always had a thriving ska punk scene, possibly because the university has an extensive music department and brass students need non-classical and non-jazz related outlets to vent their vibrations. I have extremely fond memories of seeing Schoolboy Error, Speaking of Losers, Zero Consent and Harpoon Larsen all perform at the legendary Joiners in St Mary’s. Harpoon Larsen even supported Streetlight Manifesto at the Nexus and Zero Consent gave the world trombonist and singer Ryan Stannikk who played in Fandangle and Kids Can’t Fly before quitting earlier this year, probably to flame and spam music forums full time. Funnily enough lead singer and guitarist of Mash Attack, James Tetley, also played in Zero Consent and as a result, the band are thoroughly steeped in the extensive, convoluted and highly competitive music scene that revolves around Southampton.

Mash Attack themselves are on incredible form this evening, playing to impress with their arm pumping, leg thrashing brand of furious ska punk. The five piece have an incredibly brassy sound courtesy of trumpet and sax, together with some of the spikiest, meanest upstrokes I’ve heard since early Howards Alias. The only song I knew well was “Man Down” as it had featured on Ska Mutiny records first release, Buried Treasure (available to download for free) and I was able to shout out words and gesticulate meaningfully. Despite this, the rest of the set was catchy enough and lively enough to get everyone moving. Although the crowd are slightly sluggish to begin with, towards the end of the set everyone is jumping, skanking, pushing and shuffling to the energetic Mash Attack sound. The set finishes all too soon and the crowd are hungry for more. Luckily they won’t have to wait long for their next ska punk injection. Next weekend marks Stand Out Riot’s return to the Nest (and the UK after gigging across Europe with Beat The Red Light) playing with none other than Kunt and the Gang. I pick up a copy of Mash Attack’s 5 track EP, Learn and Evolve, and wish the members well on the rest of their tour. I can’t wait to see them, My Third Leg and Eat Defeat again.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Review: Disposable Pleasures, and Meaningful Pursuits by Drewvis

Acoustic ska. Back in the day when everything was Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, bold shapes and bright colours, I didn’t much care for acoustic ska. I had a track called “Cooper Station Blues” by a Venice Shoreline Chris right at the end of on an old (now legendary) Moon Ska NYC sampler disc, and I wasn’t too impressed. It was raw, muffled, dull and repetitive. Where was the brass? Where were the ten band members struggling to fit on stage?

Then, I started to see them live; Liam O’Kane of Jimmy the Squirrel; King Prawn’s Babar Luck; Itch from The King Blues armed only with his ukulele and Johnny One Lung of Suicide Bid and the Filaments singing a stripped down version of “When Morning Comes” supporting Mischief Brew. I was beginning to understand. Then finally I saw Chris Murray (AKA Venice Shoreline Chris) support Mustard Plug in Camden, playing to a sold out Underworld of fans singing along and shouting requests. Acoustic ska can’t hide behind distorted chords or brass (unless you’re the Coffee Project), everything is laid bare, and the gauntlet is thrown down to keep things interesting. Regrettably I am yet to see Drewvis live, but his latest album, Disposable Pleasures, and Meaningful Pursuits, released on legendary UK ska label Do The Dog Music, more than rises to this challenge.

Clean acoustic upstrokes form the absolute core of this record and are the unshakeable foundations on which everything else is built. The smooth playful bass of Paul Mason rides effortlessly throughout each track, showing off considerably on “One Moment” and “Purple”, while Sebastian Laverde’s vibrant percussion adds a wonderful rhythmic dynamic to the sound, particularly noticeable on “Liberate, Never Hate”. Drewvis’ vocals are highly distinctive throughout the album, singing in a range most male vocalists would shy away from. Far from being an uncomfortable falsetto however, his voice is lilting and mellow, washing lazily over the offbeat in catchy sing along melodies. The album also features female vocals, courtesy of Amanda Bes on “Estoy Esperando”, whose tones are sweet yet sultry, providing delightfully soft harmonies against the reggae beat. Drewvis clearly writes from the heart, with lyrics discussing life, friends and loves. The generous helping of love songs never once turn sickly and are, in fact, a welcome breath of fresh air when most of the music on my iPod is angry and political. Even punks need a little bit of down time.

It is worth mentioning that Drewvis has played in two other notable bands from the south east; in Out of Luck between 2001 and 2005, and alongside bassist Paul in Second Time Lucky from 2003 to 2009. His experiences have no doubt influenced him a great deal, cultivating gentle experiments with synthesisers in “Drunken Words N' Dub” and subtle flourishes of piano in “Compass”, “Purple” and “Fortune Cookie”. Ultimately, Drewvis keeps the acoustic ska fresh, interesting and honest, without overloading it with unnecessary noise.

Compared to his earlier release in 2008, For The Win (also on Do The Dog Music) this latest album arguably has a more mature quality; more relaxed and less hectic. That said, I won’t be giving up my copy of For The Win any time soon; “Nearly Departed” and “Resolution” both remain firm favourites and practically every track has been stuck in my head at one time or another. Both records, along with a more experimental album called Long Way To Go, are available to download from his bandcamp page which also includes a free 6 track collection of B sides titled For The Bin.

Drewvis is currently planning on playing a few international dates in 2012 but to keep up with all his latest news, you can follow him on twitter @Drewvis_UK.

If you ask nicely, he might even show you his personal collection of grilled egg photos.