When I first started venturing out to local gigs a few years ago, Friday nights with four local (or “smaller”) bands on the bill for a few quid ticket was one of the staples of our choices. As one of our then-party used to say, “you sometimes have to wade through the crap to get to the good stuff” but there was definitely some good stuff. Sadly those sorts of evenings, particularly on a weekend seem to be few and far between these days and that made tonight’s bill at Fibbers – three bands I hadn’t heard of and a headline act that I had previously seen only as opening support – all the more interesting and enticing for me and Andy.
Unfortunately, a slightly late train, a very busy pre-gig pub and bumping into a couple of people who we hadn’t seen for a while meant that the first band were already drawing their set to a close while we were handing our entry money over and being told by Tim that we would look “very old” in tonight’s audience. And that was a shame because, from the song-and-a-half that we did hear from Lost Hippy Time Traveller sounded interesting. Their unusual guitar sound, more mellow than rock, and nice vocals from frontwoman Aimée were enough to make us wish we had heard more from them.
It’s not often, if ever, that I try to give advice to musicians but I would definitely say that acting like The Kickstarts frontman did tonight is not necessarily big, clever or, indeed, the best thing to do if you are a small band in a small city with only a couple of “proper” venues for you to play in. The band looked almost ready to start playing when Johnny disappeared off the stage and ran outside, phone to ear, through the firedoors, coming back a minute later shouting, “Sorry ladies and gentlemen but the doorman’s being a d*ckhead and not letting my Dad in.” Much confusion, more insults and a half-hearted apology followed before the music started but I suspect that, by then, bridges had already been burnt. To be fair, the music was quite good – mainly fast punk-ish rock – and Johnny’s vocals were blessed with a voice that was more mature than he appears to be. Apart from their own songs, most of which came in two-to-two-and-a-half-minute bursts during which the music was better than the lyrics, the band covered The Misfits with We Are 138 and, I think, The Ramones with Do You Remember Rock And Roll Radio. Partway during the set, however, it became noticeable that the vocals were being “played with” and there was a very distracting squeaky sort of echo coming through. Retaliation for the earlier shenanigans? Who knows. It did appear that frontman Johnny was thrown out (or, perhaps, politely asked to leave) by Tim at the end of the band’s set.
Nocebo took to the stage next and opened with a more Indie sound and a much more complex song. Although they do play their own songs, most of tonight’s set seemed to be made up of covers with the likes of Amy Winehouse/The Zutons Valerie, The Fratellis Chelsea Dagger, and a rather weak version of James’ Sit Down – a song like that deservers power and an audience sing-along but, in this case, got neither. Thankfully, after this point things started to take a turn for the better. After an acted-out opening, Muse’s The Groove was given a particularly funky outing and The Vaccines If You Wanna saw the band upping the energy levels and segueing straight into a snatch of Bad Moon Rising before Twist And Shout both inspired some of the audience to slip on their dancing shoes and led into an impressive instrumental finale. After a fairly uninspiring start Nocebo showed that they could produce a decent set of slightly off-centre covers. Perhaps they might be more suited to a pub than the stage at Fibbers, but they would probably rock the pub. From where we were standing, frontman Sam Donley spend much of the set looking slightly startled and bass-player Harrison Puckering, appearing slightly older and a little less clean-cut than his band-mates, looked a little out of place. Definitely a band worth seeing, though, if you fancy some slightly different covers to those usually played.
A word about tonight’s audience – too many times recently have I seen Fibbers half full and thought that that was a reasonably good crowd. Tonight, however, we arrived to find one of the biggest crowds we have seen in the venue for a non-touring group for a long time. Both Andy and I commented at the end of the evening that the whole thing was reminiscent, in more ways than one, of the type of Friday evening gigs I mentioned above and it was great to see local bands pulling in such a big crowd. It did, however, mean than we spent most of the evening standing by the sound desk, just in front of the chatting bar-hoverers.
Amy Humphrys, singer and guitarist with Four Stones Deeper, tried to get those in the audience not already there to move closer to the stage. A few people moved. I last saw this band about a year ago, as first support for Morpheus Rising and was impressed if, perhaps, slightly critical of Amy’s vocals. Tonight the vocals seem to have the same issues but I think it’s because she is putting so much behind them to project beyond the music that they sometimes seem a little strained. Quieter sections during, for example, new song Let Go show that, when she relaxes the power slightly, her vocals are much better. Being honest, though, it doesn’t matter. Whatever the band were like last year, they have a much more professional demeanour tonight. It’s a polished performance, the set opening with a pumping drum and bass line, the guitars coming in slowly and the sound gradually increasing until the full power of the song is unleashed. By the second song the performance has become slightly punky and high energy. The band are clearly enjoying themselves on stage and there is no sign of nerves in front of an audience that a lot of local bands would kill to play to. A finger injury early on in the set saw Amy not only playing through the pain and sucking said finger frequently (we could see the blood from where we were at the back…) but delivering an impressive solo before hastily applying a plaster that had been delivered from the audience. Throughout the set the playing is tight with the whole band coping admirably with the various changes in speed. Most of the set is comprised of their own songs, but there is a couple of covers, including a switch to acoustic guitar for Paramore’s You Are The Only Exception. By this time we had moved closer to the stage, to find that both the sound in general and the vocals in particular were much better there. Bass player Luke (brother of Amy) provides backing vocals in places, his deeper voice providing a nice counterpoint and, from a local perspective, reminding me of Winston Sander’s backing vocals for Dream Of Apollo. Bright Lights continues the acoustic sound, with Joe Garlick’s drums providing a nice effect during the lyric “City never sleeping/Heart always beating”. This band write complex songs, full of changes of style and Amy’s cute-girl-next-door and butter-wouldn’t-melt looks belie her technical ability with the guitar, although it is apparent this time out that Tom Reed supplies a much greater portion than I previously gave him credit for. Amy ditches her guitar for an incredibly energetic rendition of Enter Shikari’s Sorry You’re Not A Winner, jumping around the stage and on and off the drum platform before declaring, “I’m knackered” ahead of Let Go. And still the set goes on. With so many bands on the bill and this being Four Stones Deeper first headline spot, we were expecting no more than forty minutes, but with Tell Me and the fast, slightly poppier Silent Generation, we are approaching an hour of a performance that has crackled with energy. Take It ends the set superbly with an audience sing-along, a mini-moshpit and a fantastic reaction from the audience. The only downside was that there was no encore.