Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. The right place was the Hawley Arms during the Camden Rocks Festival on a glorious early June day this year. The right time was around half past four in the afternoon when a band of which I was previously unaware called REWS occupied the stage. They were excellent – to me, by far the most enjoyable act of the day.
Ironically, Since the Camden Rocks appearance I’ve done little else but hear about REWS. Later in the month, they graced the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury, delivering a performance that I watched Mark Radcliffe rave about live on TV. Latterly, the band have gained the attention of Radio 1, Radio 6 Music, Kerrang! Radio and Radio X. In November REWS’ debut album Pyro dropped and I’ve yet to find a bad review – it’s on the ‘album of the year’ shortlist of a number of us at RockShot, myself included. Now the band are embarking on the promotion for the album and I caught them at a rammed Old Blue Last in devastatingly trendy Shoreditch. Would they live up to the significant expectation I’d put upon them?
REWS are a guitar/drums power rock two-piece – a configuration that would once have turned an eye but is currently nearly as ubiquitous as Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. You need something to make you stand out and in an almost exclusively male-dominated supply chain, REWS have it. Mark Radcliffe called them the ‘female Royal Blood’, a nomenclature that Shauna Tohill (vocals/guitar) and Collette Williams (drums/vocals) endorsed. Personally, I think that’s a bit lazy. Whilst Royal Blood are driven by bass guitar, REWS are powered by six strings and as a result the sound is much more that of a traditional rock band. I prefer it, but then I’m a bluff traditionalist.
Late trains conspired against my desire to catch the support but luckily for me the crowd were welded to the bar when I arrived at The Old Blue Last. This meant I found a spot at the very front and waited for the audience to join me. Shauna and Collette soon appeared and began to get the stage ready. Cymbals were swapped (question for drummers: why do you share drums at smaller gigs but never cymbals?) and for reasons I didn’t understand the not inconsiderable weight of the entire kit was dragged a couple of feet forwards on the carpet.
A teetering snare almost bought an early demise but was saved by Collette. Shauna flexed her biceps, Rambo style and flashed us a broad smile. The whole episode summed up the spirit of this band – they are out for a good time and deliver it with zero pretence. I imagine their rider is quite understated. With no introduction, they launched into opening number Let It Roll, and we were off.
REWS deliver a really powerful sound. The music isn’t complicated, but it is insanely catchy and they write a tenacious hook. The guitar is wildly distorted, though never muddy; the vocals (Tohill really knows how to sing) cut through but are never harsh. At the back, Williams thumps out the rhythm, triggers samples to fill the sound and delivers magnificent harmony vocals through most of the songs. She’s a great drummer – in fact they’re both excellent musicians, having been in demand as session artists for a number of years. This is how the inexplicably popular Hinds might sound if they could actually play and sing.
Occasionally REWS verge into grunge territory and even sound a little but angry, but for me they’re at their best delivering the glassier pop-rock. A song like Death Yawn – written after an unwelcome creepy encounter in a hostel – gets in your head and simply doesn’t know how to find a way out. Shake Shake is an unashamed pop song that got the audience bouncing and you can imagine that hoards will be yelling the words during the 2018 festival season.
A twelve-song set meant the entirety of Pyro got played (well, it tips the chronological scales at only thirty-two minutes and three seconds) plus we heard Muse and previous single release Can You Feel It? The answer to that question was an emphatic ‘yes’, with Tohill’s vocal performance so powerful she was in danger of gobbing her uvula (the dangly thing in your throat to non-medical students or people without access to Google) into the audience.
The set closed with Shine, a song that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Foo Fighters record. REWS got up and disappeared behind the back of the stage. They came back a few seconds later with beaming smiles: “There is no backstage. We just went and stood behind a black curtain. It was very sweaty”. An excellent encore of Rip Up My Heart was played and we were encouraged to meet the band at the merch table: “It helps to put petrol in the van”.
If the band keep wooing audiences with live performances like this, you’d hope finding the cash to put fuel in the van will soon become one thing less to worry about.
Photography & Live Review by Simon Reed. REWS at The Old Blue Last on 29th November 2017.
Simon has his own music photography site here: http://www.musicalpictures.co.uk