Venue: Northampton Roadmender
Reviewers: MMT and Phil.
Between us over the years Phil and I have seen some magnificent national bands at the Roadmender in Northampton: Kenickie and Anti-Product stand out for me, My Vitriol, Defenestration, Deftones and many more for Phil. So when we discovered they do a monthly “open mic” gig (albeit one of those “open mic” gigs where you have to apply and be accepted to play. But I guess you can forgive them that given the quality of the stage / sound system / venue) on a Sunday afternoon, we were up for a visit... especially when we subsequently discovered that two of our current favourite Milton Keynes bands were both on!
It was a weird start to the afternoon in that there’s no compere – we only realised the gig had kicked off when they switched on the speakers in the bar to alert the few dozen afternoon drinkers that Roses & Pirates were coming to the end of their soundcheck. So the whole thing felt a bit more like an exclusive “fans-only” show in a semi-abandoned venue – but once we were in the main space, it was easy to get lost in the quality of the sound system and imposing stage. Not to mention the quality of the music!
Since we awarded Roses & Pirates our latest Dudebox Track Of The Season a few weeks back, they’ve continued their impressive rise. One week they’re playing a gig with Vodka Boy & Phil Sky at the Grebe in Great Holm, this week they were fresh from supporting The Bluetones the night before this gig – and are apparently off to London again soon to support Skunk Anansie! You can’t really argue with that trajectory!
But you can also hear why they’re doing so well, they’ve got an engaging sound – lying just on that border between “indie” and “poppy” but with enough to be able to appeal to fans of either. Phil?
I really enjoyed their set, especially the last song in which the bassist swapped her bass for an acoustic guitar. I love their combination of acoustic and electric songs and the choppy time changes that fill their songs. They’re constantly interesting. There's also something very 90's about their songs. I dug them!
In between R&P and their fellow MK emissaries came a tough-rocking act from Corby, no less! Apollo played a variety of muscular almost-funk metal-rock which was pitched one-quarter Red Hot Chili Peppers (at worst!), three-quarters Rage Against The Machine (at best!). However, it’s a Rage Against The Machine featuring Nigel Tufnel not Tom Morello: the guitarist is excellent, riffing and soloing with breathtaking skill – and gurning and cheek-puffing as he does so, weirdly reminiscent of an old-skool axe-slinger circa 1975.
It was the singer who put me off to begin with – his cocksurety while setting up and soundchecking gave the impression that he may actually have the papers which prove he owns the venue, and although I’m as happy with a bit of cartoon bravado from my rock stars as anyone else there’s nothing in the rulebook that says lead singers have to be swaggering prannets!
Having said that, by a few songs in I was grudgingly admitting he had the talent to back it up. They whipped what small patchy crowd there was into a proper froth and are clearly fully at home on a stage that size.
By the midpoint of the set, Apollo had won me over too. The bassist worked hard with his axe while the guitarist sure played a mean guitar – their style hitting the gap somewhere between Rage Against The Machine and Motorhead. There was plenty of aggression in the vocals but between the vocalist’s posturing and the guitarist's facial expressions you couldn't take it too seriously. They just seriously rocked!
So, Apollo are tight, loud and exciting. Sadly I can’t direct you to find their music online – there are dozens of Apollos on MySpace and I can’t be bothered to wade through them now. But if I ever do find them I’ll let you know.
And then - Final Clearance... Simply awesome. We'd seen these guys before of course, on our Waterside stage, but it was great to see them in the impressively big venue under the coloured lights. They were the only band of the three to use all their 45 minutes – (we think that was the deal!) - but they certainly have the material, the set just felt like it got better and better. Their sound was truly awesome in that big indie rock vein, their songs really coming together in the live setting.
I’ve been enthusing about them all year (and beyond!) of course – but this was the first time I’d seen them on a Proper Stage™ and they didn’t disappoint. New songs and old alike filled all of the big space – one of the best compliments I can pay them is that they managed to hang on to a substantial portion of Apollo’s crowd, despite the difference in musical style.
“Hush” and “Naïve Child” were especially anthemic, and there was a definite harder edge to many of the songs than on CD. Still for me it’s the moments where the violin kicks in as a lead, to counterpoint the hard work of the rest of those songs, that are the cherries on the, er, rock cake. So good that even I almost danced. Fantastic.
And in the eternal darkness of the Roadmender's main stage you'd never know it was only 5 in the afternoon!
True – when we staggered onwards to our next engagement (“Northampton’s Best Kebab Shop”!) it was with eyes blinking in the unaccustomed daylight! Great stuff! And all for just two quid a pop! Kerching! Definitely worth checking out, even if there aren’t any MK bands on. The only real drawback is the temptation of all that beer on a Sunday afternoon. (rubs stomach ruefully)