Saturday 8th June 2014
I Wanna Be a Rock star
On stage tonight: Goldstein, Deep Red Thread, Drowning Grace, The Bobcats, Casino Empire and The Bench That Rocked.
The band competition I Wanna Be A Rock Star is in its third year. Last year it was won by Leicester band Titan and the year before that by Smokin’ The Profit. This year’s series was won tonight by Casino Empire.
On the line-up tonight were Goldstein, Deep Red Thread, Drowning Grace, The Bobcats, The Bench That Rocked and Casino Empire.
A sizeable crowd had gathered at The Shed for the show and on this warm June evening this was an event that offered a good standard of music and the promise of a night of enjoyable music. There was an upbeat atmosphere in the room and a sense of occasion. The good thing about IWBARS is its inclusivity – all styles and idioms of music can be heard with no discrimination against the heavier end of the market. Over the course of the 2014 series, the competition (mounted by Music First Promotions) has attracted a seriously good entry of bands.
Leicester band Goldstein opened the evening with a storming set of rock-fuelled punk songs that had their fans at the front moshing and dancing. Goldstein is a band with their own, individual take on punk. The trio of musicians artfully blended the rhythmic elements of modern punk rock with the compelling beats of ska in a set that included both their own original songs and some of their best-loved covers. Delivered with fervent commitment, Goldstein’s set elicited a lot of favourable comments from audience members and an enthusiastic response.
Like the other bands at tonight’s show, Goldstein had to play a first round heat and a semi-final. IWBARS follows a typical pattern in the way it is organised. Both the heats, the semis and tonight’s finals were judged by people from the music industry who know about bands. Not the only criterion but the judge’s votes moderated the much-criticised principle of basing the score solely on the number of tickets sold.
Leicester band Deep Red Thread began their set with a long intro until lead vocalist Sophie Garner came in with her vocals that ably soared over the pounding back line. The band pushed powerful beats into the room from the word go and then went straight into their second song which also put out a thumpingly good set of belting rhythms. Although relatively new, DRT is a young band that is gradually establishing a reputation for its music on the local scene. Noted for an impressive standard of playing and a stage performance that means business, the band is attracting a fair following of fans and is finding its place in Leicester’s gigs market. The band describes its style as ‘alternative/post-hardcore’ and includes, amongst its many influences, Avenged Sevenfold, Deftones, Korn, Incubus and Bullet for my Valentine – their roots run deep in modern rock. With a line of merchandise available, several dates at festivals and significant gigs and an EP in the oven, DRT is a group that is purposefully going places.
IWBARS is, as I have said above, inclusive. Unlike some other competitive shows it does not place restrictions on the heavier end of the stylistic spectrum. The presence of Drowning Grace at tonight’s finals, testifies to that. The five-piece metal-core band is led by Ben Cotton – one of Leicester’s more theatrical stage personalities and tonight he was on fine form. Mayhem broke out on the floor of The Shed as an unusually pugilistic mosh pit broke started up in response to the band’s exhilarating music. A squad of wildly thrashing fans went wild to the head-banging beats. Mosh pits work at The Shed in a way that they generally do not at most other venues. It would be wrong to think that Drowning Grace is just a group of crazy guys going mad on stage – behind the explosive chaos of their songs and the wild-cat antics of the band members, there is razor-sharp musicianship and a tautly intense delivery that can easily be missed in the frenzy of their performances and the mental mosh pits that are their hall-mark. Ben Cotton is one of the most incendiary rock stars to be found on the gigs circuit and other members of the band often jump off the stage to get in the fans, still playing and never missing a beat as they race around the room. The main stage room became a wild sea of people going crazy for the music, an exhilarating set of pyrotechnic sounds and screaming vocals characteristic of metal-core driven by angst and brutality.
The mood of the house changed dramatically as the three members of blues rock band The Bobcats came to the stage. Earlier today, they had been on the main stage at the Riverside festival, wowing hundreds of people with their stunning set of 12-bar blues songs, a set that elicited a welter of complimentary comments from those that were there to see them. The Bobcats is a band that has converted many fans to the blues who were not previously devotees of that genre. With so many different styles of music on the menu tonight, the audience could have been hard to please. It is a testament to the musical qualities of The Bobcats that they won over many people who were there to support punk or hardcore or pop and they did this just by being who they were and playing music that would say something to even the most tribal fans. Singer Stu Crown’s gravelly voice held up well during his second performance today and the backing of bassist Dan Fraser-Betts and drumming of Boppa was not in the slightest bit dented by their commitment to two sets in one day. What stands out about this band is the chemistry that exists between the trio of musicians – their songs are made on the stage, a level of extemporisation giving each song its life and passion within the track’s framework. The Bobcat;s song had a vibrancy that resonated with the audience, as several people danced to the compelling rhythms that came off the stage; what the band has achieved most is making the blues likeable for the general music fan.
Most of the musicians that we saw on the stage tonight were young – few, if any, breaking 30. Our next band was the youngest. Casino Empire’s members were mostly still in their teens. It was just gone midnight when the youngsters arrived on stage, having been at the venue since six o’clock. Most people in the audience just see the set and probably have little or no idea of how much time and preparation goes in to making it happen. Few fans ever get to see what happens ‘back stage’ – the many hours of planning and preparation, of rehearsals, song-writing, maintaining publicity and Facebook pages – and all this has to be fitted into other commitments at work or school, to partners, girl friends and family members. That’s just the bands, let alone the work that has to be carried out on a daily basis by venue managers, promoters and sound engineers. Live music requires a massive commitment of time and dedication by large numbers of people to bring music-lovers a night such as this.
Teenagers might perhaps have it easy, compared to older musicians who have a home and family to care for. It is also true that teenage band members can produce music that would challenge the older generations with their far more extensive life and musical experience. It is therefore – bearing this in mind – impressive to see what a band like Casino Empire achieves. Tonight they are in the finals of IWBARS and next Friday they will be playing in the finals of Play@LMF – in both cases they have had to play at least three previous shows and that is in addition to maintaining all the work that goes into being a busy and successful band on our local circuits. For them it had already been a hard day’s night as they started their set in the early hours of Saturday morning but they nevertheless got up there a played with a frenetic level of energy and technical commitment, delivering a set of adrenaline-fuelled songs and another rock-star, x-factor performance from lead singer Tommy Cobley. CE’s style of music is pop rock, a dazzling cocktails of sounds driven by a strong technical command of the song-sheet and played out on stage with a generous helping of musical theatre.
Unwearied and still excited the audience ignored the clock and stayed in place as the strains of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love rejuvenated the ears at the start of the set by The Bench That Rocked. It was a song that fizzed with delight, lead by the impactful vocals of bassist Billy Chamberlain. Between the songs the band had a great line in patter, pulling the audience into the band’s good humour and obvious pleasure at being on stage in front of a crowd of admirers. TBTR is very good at what they do – canonical rock delivered with a healthy helping of compelling rhythms, chanty phrases and catchy breaks. Clearly a band that loves to entertain a crowd and bring them ear-pleasing music. The band’s selection of well-known cover songs and some of their original compositions brought the evening to an upbeat finale.
At 1:25am compère Jonezy announced the results of tonight’s final: it had been won by Casino Empire with Drowning Grace and The Bobcats as runners-up.
Find out more about tonight’s bands:
Visit the website for Music First Promotions.