The Blue Aeroplanes – punk poets from Bristol – once more came to Sheffield to mesmerise the audience with their unique blend of folk, rock, punk, poetry and dance. But before the Aeroplanes could dazzle everyone, support act Harri Larkin performed solo material from her latest EPs.
Harri Larkin, who usually performs as a four-piece, took to the stage by herself, armed only with an acoustic guitar. It is always great to see young female artists keeping alive a long tradition of British singer-songwriters. Larkin seemed a little tense, sometimes muffling her words, which made it difficult to get into her songs fully. Despite her brilliant guitar playing, a bass and drums rhythm section would have elevated the set significantly.
As the set wore on, Larkin got more and more into it, shedding her initial nervousness and engaging the crowd with her upbeat funky tunes that provided easy listening for the Aeroplanes fans. It was a good warm-up act to introduce the Aeroplanes, but perhaps would have been better with the full band.
To the thunderous roar of aeroplane jet engines, echoed by the loud applause of the audience, the seven artists from Bristol took to the stage. From the first note, the artistic harmony between the six musicians and one dancer was apparent, and it was clear that these old school punks had not lost any of their spunk or attitude.
Clutching onto his lyrics book, like a preacher clinging onto his holy scripture, the towering figure of Gerard Langley, the punk preacher, launched into the spoken work poetry of Dead Tree. The audience was truly in for a wild and turbulent rollercoaster ride of musical artistry of the highest order.
At this point The Leadmill was packed and everyone was dancing along. However, trained-dancer Wojtek Dmochowski jokingly noted that there was clearly not the same level of commitment to dancing as was coming from him.
Despite having released 25 albums and tourde in support of their 14th studio album, The Blue Aeroplanes have not lost what making music is all about. Throughout the evening, musical instruments were swapped and on occasion the spoken words of Langley gave way to more brit-pop vocals of long-term band member Gerard Starkie and to guitarist Bec Jevons’ energetic and captivating voice. Jevons’ wonderful vocals, attitude, and presence were mirrored by tremendously zestful punk guitar playing, giving the band an up-to-date makeover.
The Blue Aeroplanes have often been compared to the Velvet Underground. As flattering as this might be, the latest incarnation of the band with material from Welcome, Stranger! felt much more like Bob Dylan singing with The Clash with a bit of Jim Morrison sprinkled on top for good measure.
Playing old favourites mixed with new songs, the Aeroplanes were met with a lot of appreciation from the audience and throughout the evening there was a good connection between band and spectators with Dmochowski often coming into the crowd for a dance.
All songs were met with loud shouts, whistles and lyrics being sung along. The occasional song request from the crowd was met with Langley’s sarcastic “As we say in Bristol: we have entered the hour of pointless requests – you shout it out, we don’t play it.”
After 80 minutes, the band went off stage for the customary foot stomping and shouts for “more more”. Happily obliging, they took to the stage once again. For the first of four encores, Fun, guitarist and vocalist Jevons changed instruments with bassist Chris Sharp, who sang the melodic alternative rock tune.
With Dylan’s I Wanna Be Your Lover and old favourite Poetland the Aeroplanes were gearing up to a spectacular finish. Asking Harri Larkin to join them on stage, the anarchic beauty of The Blue Aeroplanes’ performance came to an end with the eight-strong band jumping and pogoing on the smaller of two stages at The Leadmill to the sound of Breaking In My Heart.
It was clear that the audience had witnessed a truly spectacular and spellbinding evening. If you did not catch The Blue Aeroplanes in their heyday, don’t worry. Go see them now, and you’ll be in for a very special and mature up-to-date punk poetry show that will leave you with a smile on your face and a skip in your step for a while!
Live review and concert photography by Gunnar Mallon
The Blue Aeroplanes at The Leadmill, Sheffield on 26 January 2017