Idly scrolling through my Facebook feed on Monday I saw a notification from local band Lady Bird that they were playing on Thursday night supporting Slaves at The Forum, an intimate 250 capacity venue on the edge of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Ticket was by lottery, applications in a tight timeframe.
Having seen them at the De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill last year this was too good an opportunity to miss. Also on the bill were Joeythin, the electronic offshoot of Joeyfat who are becoming regulars on BBC Radio Six Music. I got lucky as there were 2,500 applications for 200 tickets in a few hours.
Driving past the venue I saw the biggest rock n’ roll equipment truck I’ve ever seen parked there, almost as big as the venue itself, and a far cry from the splitties (think old VW camper van) bands normally arrive in. No tour bus though as Slaves are local boys who maintain links to the town and are active supporters of the venue that saw them deliver their earliest performances.
The audience were a real mix, from grungy teenagers through to punks old enough to have experienced 1976 first hand. First up were Joeythin, promoting their recent EP release, Thine. The duo perform in the round in front of projections in smoky near darkness, and draw the audience into their powerful soundscape.
Vocalist M Edward Cole in his 60’s sci fi astronaut jumpsuit a huge presence, walking through the crowd, intimidating and controlling. Fellow conspirator Jason Dormon activates props and hands signs to audience members, photographs them with a polaroid camera and hands them the picture. This was done in such a way as to be another source of “intimidation” which added to the atmosphere. Stand out moment was Nagano, Mon Amour , an angry venomous denial of control of people from lowly beginnings by authority. No hiding at the back or passive watching allowed. A brief set but not an experience to be easily forgotten.
Lady Bird took the to the stage quickly, local heroes with an ever increasing and enthusiastic following from London to the South coast. Their DIY punk songs immediately force the crowd into physical action, a pointer to the mayhem to come. Singer Don Rennols has an easy relationship with the audience that belies the raw energy the band push out. He succinctly communicates with the audience, fleshes out the experiences that inspired the writing, few words that say so much.
Guitarist Alex Deadman maniacally leers at the crowd, his grinding gritty sound almost tearing the atmosphere open and drummer Jal Ker crashes through the songs driving them on with a dynamic that even on the slower one or two songs has a pent up frustration bursting to escape. Typical of this was Baby, last track off the recently released EP Social Poisons, a litany of frustration of fighting against addiction.
The opening acts pushed up the temperature, the tension was palpable as the crowd anticipated headliners Slaves. The crew fussed and set up the stage, leaving an amp humming an industrial drone which only added to the suspense, lights down, crowd up and we’re off. The band played the whole of their first “album” Sugar Coated Bitter Truth which was recorded in the back room of this venue in 2012, the gig a homecoming payback.
Isaac Holman attacked the drums in an aggressive lurching crouch, seeming to be an unstoppable machine, his vocals provoking the crowd into ever more energetic action while Laurie Vincent’s guitar swamped any resistance there might have been to engage in the boiling pit at the front of the stage.
The band tore through the first few songs with no break, they needed no introductions, at 14 seconds long Girl Fight was a burst of madness built up and released after a few rambling words painting the scene for the events that inspired the track.
Isaac treated the audience to an introduction about Where’s Your Car Debbie? as means of cranking up the anticipation. A real life tale of being asked to get a girl to her car near the woods in Tunbridge Wells, where some have it a yeti like creature lives and attacks the unwary. Only Debbie can’t remember where her car is. When the song finally got underway the crowd exploded.
The venue became a sweaty heaving monster. Looking down on the seething mass it was like a sea that occasionally threw up a human body, surfing and rolling before going head down back to depths where it came from, scenes reminiscent of the Roxy from the mid seventies.
Relentless as it was there were occasional pauses while Isaac and Laurie engaged directly with the fans, one heckler dealt with in a tense moment expertly by Laurie, the band abhorring violence yet taking no prisoners and being in full control. They name checked and praised the support acts and thanked everyone who has helped them get to where they are, it felt genuine, not going through the motions, they were back as local boys done good and acknowledged that.
This is where they started, where they struggled, learnt their craft and learnt to be self sufficient. Then off again for the last numbers, finishing with The Hunter, although not off the album it went down a storm with a circle opening in the mosh pit and crashing back in on the chorus and almost as suddenly as it started, it was over. Lights up and Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight from the PA which bizarrely turned into bit of a sing along, no encores. Goodnight!
Live Review and Concert Photography by Simon Partington @ Slaves The Forum, Tunbridge Wells on Thursday 20th July 2017.