Here’s the thing. The 2015 NME annual tour rolls into Nottingham’s Rock City celebrating its 20th anniversary on a decent enough late February evening. No snow, no rain. But there’s not many in the audience either. In spite of keenly priced ticketing, just £16-a-pop to see Palma Violets, Fat White Family, Slaves and The Wytches, this is surely one of the thinnest Rock City crowds for a while. No queue to get in, no queuing at the bars for a drink, and upstairs was closed. Even the guy in the toilets offering a ‘free’ tissue and a squirt of cheap cologne seems to have lost interest.
The Wytches are on stage early, and at 7.15pm way too early – and, bizarrely, walk on to The Simpsons theme tune – and there are barely a hundred in there. A pity. Late tour replacements for the now defunct The Amazing Snakeheads, the band got straight into their garage-psych-punk set, drawn from last year’s debut album, Annabel Dream Reader, issued on the Heavenly label. They’re good and they’re back again in Notts soon – in May for the DHP Family’s Dot to Dot big day of music, involving a dozen or so venues across town. Let’s hope they get a headline / near headline gig, with a bigger crowd? They deserve it.
Next up, Slaves. Issac, on vocals / drums and Laurie on guitar / vocals. A useful emerging band, they seemed to be everywhere at the back end of last year, and are booked up for plenty of festivals this summer. No doubting the noise and energy they bring to the stage, and often off the stage too – you should expect forays, with drum kit, into the mosh pit at any moment. These Kent lads are just like your best mates – a bit shouty, a bit wild, and always up for a good time. Tight too. Check out their latest track, Feed the Mantaray – and if you like it, go see them soon.
Third on – some guy in a military-style hat and jacket, with half a loaf (?) in each hand, crumbling the bread as he enchants the Fat Whites out from backstage. WTF.
Possibly Definitely the best live band around at the moment, Lias Saoudi has brought the South London-collective, to town. Maybe there’s a new drummer and bassist on board, or perhaps it’s just a couple of mates standing in? No one cares. No-one is talking about that. What they are talking about is Fat White Family’s unpredictability. Anticipation of the unexpected is what matters. Fuck routine. Like me chatting to Nathan Saoudi (keys) after a festival gig last summer about John Nash and Game Theory and stuff – what was that all about? For about an hour. Never expected that. The band strike up Auto Neuron, with Lias randomly wandering around the stage, swigging Guinness from a can, a bottle of mineral water safely tucked under his arm. For laters. Yep, mineral water. Others have written about the hardcore content of the Fat Whites lyrics – and second track tonight, Is It Raining In Your Mouth? comes to mind – but the Fat Whites are more than that. To reduce the band to sets of lists of words and extract meaning from them is a pointless exercise. Highlights are Auto Neuron, Is It Raining In Your Mouth? I Am Mark E Smith, Wild American Prairie, Wet Hot Beef, Touch the Leather and Bomb Disneyland. Yep, the whole set. To choose one track misses the point. And they squeezed 35 minutes into their 30-minute time slot. Confident, determined and spot on.
By the time the headliners, Palma Violets, entered the fray the crowd had grown smaller. No strangers to Nottingham venues, and signed up to Rough Trade (which now has a shop in Nottingham’s Hockley area), these guys have a solid Notts following, and have always delivered on (and off) stage, though some argue that their music is derivative. Frontmen Sam Fryer, centre stage in a big fedora hat with a late 19th century gunslinger look about him, and Chilli Jesson, more soberly attired, jump around enthusiastically enough, but bullets and sparks are missing tonight. Stage lighting is all over the place too – spotlights falling on the space between Sam and Chilli, rather than on them. Just confusing, taking away from the gig rather than adding to it. Those thrashing around in the mosh pit probably didn’t notice, but the PV’s usually have a great rapport with the crowd – and Chilli is no stranger to crowdsurfing, always taking his bass guitar in there with him. Not tonight though. A perfunctory enough, solid hour-long set ends with Best of Friends. The scheduled encore doesn’t materialise, though the masses are departing before the venue lights come back on. I read that these South London lads have been tucked away in a Welsh barn writing their new album. I hope rural living and country walks hasn’t taken the spunk out of their streetwise stagecraft!
Has the concept of the NME tour (I forget the sponsor’s name, it didn’t seem to be promoted) outlasted the course? Probably. Will it ‘come of age’ with a 21st anniversary tour next year? Possibly. The format is simple, providing an opportunity for people around the country to see at least one established band, a genuine headliner, and three other, upcoming bands. Is it relevant anymore? I don’t think so. With the advent of one-day multi-centre festivals, and online access to an increasing range of web-driven content, with innovative sites like Drowned In Sound, Gigwise, Louder Than War and Artrocker offering readers more choice and more say, the NME needs to freshen up, to change. Sometimes, reflection on history helps. Nearly forty years ago, in July 1977, the NME carried an advert for punk band The Stranglers 3rd single, Something Better Change, also on seminal album, No More Heroes: On it, Hugh Cornwall’s vocal call out: “Something’s happening and it’s happening right now, You’re too blind to see it, Something’s happening and it’s happening right now, Ain’t got time to wait, I said something better change”. Punk was displacing middle of the road shite. Back then, the NME was early to that change; it was fresh and innovative. Wise words then. Still wise words now?
Check out Shaun’s stunning photographs from Fat White Family’s set here.
By Shaun Gordon, Media by Shaun Gordon