Three local bands for the princely sum of five English pounds? Always worth a punt, especially if you have seen and enjoyed two of them before. Even better, it actually turned out that there were four bands playing…
First up were The Valmores, the epitome of youthful enthusiasm fronted by Nathan Foley a young Elvis Costello look-alike. Their first song was a bit shouty and repetitive, but energetic enough that drummer Nathan Watson broke a drumstick during it. The two Nathans performed a brief jam session, filling time while guitarist Rufus Genn want off in search of a capo before continuing the set with a mixture of styles. The second song was a sort of punked-up 60’s pop, while I’ve Got The Blues, which about sums up the lyrics and the next track had more of a classic pop/rock feel to them. That latter saw bassist Andy Durham, up until that point possibly the most nervous looking person I have ever seen on stage, move to guitar and vocals which, admittedly, seemed to liven him up a bit. As a frontman, though, he couldn’t match Foley’s easy-going style and confident repartee with the crowd. The melange of styles continued after Foley re-took the mic, with the penultimate song opening with something bordering on heavy before scaling down to a more indie-rock sound while the finale had a very interesting structure. And with that, the shorter-than-advertised set was, inevitably, over too soon. The Valmores may not quite be the finished article at the moment, but they aren’t far off and there is a lot to like even now, especially for those (like me) who like watching drummers, as Watson made some impressive drumming look easy.
I struggled to work out how to categorise the music of Maginot the, let’s say, more mature band that were up next. Opener South America was somewhat funky and fast-paced while Chasing Ghosts, despite its quieter opening, ended up defying my expectations of it being slow and melancholy. Pretty Pretty, a “Monday-morning bus journey love song”, followed and I was still no nearer working out who they reminded me of. Then came “The Job Centre Song”, a light, slightly humorous, maybe satirical and, perhaps, a little political song about how staff in the titular establishment treat their “customers” and the first thought that popped into my head was “Billy Bragg!”. (Actually, I had previously had a hint of Frank Turner, but my experience of his output is limited to his appearance at last year’s Olympics opening ceremony so I wasn’t sure. He is listed as one of the band’s influences, though.) There was more humour apparent in Tip Of Your Tongue, a great song about music and simply enjoying playing it, a sentiment I could empathise with even if not from the same perspective. I wonder how many other songwriters can relate to the lyric “songs are life caffeine in my blood”? Thomas was another engaging frontman, both appreciative of the audience (who, it has to be said, seemed to be standing much further forward and being more attentive that your average crowd) and self-deprecating at the same time – “The problem with you all standing this close is that you can see that I’m basically playing the same four chords. This lot carry me so much.” Another personal song, this time Ink about being “f*cked over” by a friend was followed by Casino, with its background funkiness emphasised by a short bass solo in the middle. Overall this was a very enjoyable performance by a band I’ve not come across before. Maginot say they aim to get people dancing and thinking, with music for self-reflection and good times. Well, I’m not sure about the thinking, but they certainly brought a smile to my face and a kind of rhythmic swaying to my body.
The bands seemed to be flying on and off stage tonight. We were already well ahead of the published schedule when Samatha Cox’s haunting vocals started in what I incorrectly thought was a sound check until the rest of the band burst in. On paper, at least, Faraday Concept should have been my favourite band on tonight’s bill. They are the closest thing to a progressive metal band that I have come across in York – think the darker parts of Dream Theatre and the heavier parts of Opeth, but without Cox’s replacing the more growly tones employed by the latter. Sadly, tonight they were badly let down by the mix and, from where we were standing (right at the front) the vocals were barely penetrating the music. We could see that Cox, brooding and mysterious on stage, was putting a lot of passion and power in, but could hear very little. (Which was strange because the sound for the rest of the bands was pretty much spot on – maybe it was just that Faraday Concept were so different from the rest of them.) The music, on the other hand, was coming through loud and clear. Epic track followed epic track and, by the fourth song, drummer Josh Ridley was soaked in sweat and near collapse, pleading with Cox to “get on with it” as she took longer introducing the next song than he wanted her to. Ollie Brant’s guitar and Tony Ferguson’s bass combined on some pretty stunning and atmospheric instrumental sections, at times the darkness lifted a little and there were hints of Pink Floyd (although, admittedly, that could just have been because I had been listening to them all day). Seven Deadly Sins was the last track to feature Cox’s vocals before she left the stage to the boys for a short instrumental finale, ending a good set which could and should have have been so much better – my review of the last time I saw them makes note of how good the vocals were and they are definitely a lot clearer on the Time EP, which the band are currently giving away at gigs. Hopefully, they will be back soon and will be better served by the mix.
It’s slightly ironic that Faraday Concept had a very different sound to the rest of tonight’s bill as the last time I saw Black Lit City they occupied the same slot on the bill and I said the same thing about them. A five-piece last time I saw them, tonight keyboard-player Dorin Botez seemed to be missing, which was a shame as last time out the keyboards and guitar seemed to be vying for lead instrument role. Maybe it’s a new line-up – the band haven’t played York for a while and tonight also introduced a new bass player. The “atmospheric, expansive songs” that I remarked on last time seemed to have been downgraded slightly to more snappy pop/rock songs. Somehow the impression was of a party band and Steve Lee’s apparent desire to come across as a Mancunian or, perhaps, a Lancastrian (his vocals had occasional hints of an Oasis tribute band while his general demeanour between songs reminded me a little of Peter Kay) didn’t help. It’s not that Black Lit City are a bad band – they played an enjoyable set and I certainly wouldn’t shy away from seeing them again – but there were, in my opinion, better bands (one on the night and one on paper) on the bill. Once again we were treated to a variety of styles from the soul/funk of the opener to the slower Beautiful Mind with it’s nice guitar line from Alex Staples. A touch of Blues/rock in the middle of the set saw the band stepping up a gear and was followed by the nicely chilled out Wintertime Blues and then something both lighter and faster (I really must start asking for set lists…) before the set ended with Paris To London, which didn’t sound quite as folk-rocky live as it does on Soundcloud.
Overall, tonight was another good-value gig of the sort that you used to get more of when I first started sampling the York music scene. To be honest, you can barely go wrong with four bands for a fiver, but it’s especially good when all four bands are good at what they do. Nice to see another reasonable crowd out supporting local music and also nice to see members of the various bands sticking around to support each other.