Going to gigs round 4
Wednesday 26th July 2017
Which were the best bands in Leicester?
by Trevor Locke
In this issue: some bands from the noughties
A phrase I used to use: ‘So many bands; so little time.’ How many bands have I seen playing live over the years? Thousands. Many, many thousands. Even though I have not been around as long as some have in this city, I have been around long enough to have known some really great bands. This article selects some of them; some of the best in my view. Many of them are long gone.
Let’s start with Arms of Atlas. Why them? Well, if we want to get our heads round the question of what makes a good band, then they ticked all the boxes. The music, the stage presence, the charisma, and sheer ability to wow a crowd… this was a band that sparkled. Arts in Leicester magazine made them band of the month in January 2012. The members were: Tyler Raine – Vocals, Eddie Blaze – Guitar, Jimmy Valentine – Guitar, Sammy Hollywood – Bass and Mike Manger – Drums. They were described as a five piece rock band based in Leicester. They formed in the spring of 2009. The band frequently goes out on tour and have been well received where ever they have played. The band is noted for its spectacular stage performance.
On 18th July 2009, the gig review said: ”Pure, unadulterated rock, again the Shed was a mass of heaving, sweaty bodies.’ [Kevin Gaughan, Arts in Leicester review of the Fringe Festival, 11th August 2011.] ‘No other word for it – just “wonderful”. They rounded off a night of musical magic with a performance that was a classic demonstration of what rock music is about … What is so special about Arms of Atlas is that they don’t just play songs, they perform them. They put on a show, and one that sparkles with passion, energy and electricity.’ [Arts in Leicester magazine.]
”The band started their set with a long orchestral overture, laden with great stomping beats and massive riffs, until Tyler broke in with the song. They jumped about on the stage banging their heads in time with the feverishly exciting beats. The crowd had gathered at the front. A group of lads formed a mosh pit and the night took off.’ was from a review of the band’s performance at Sub91 venue in 2010.
Arms of Atlas, The Shed, Thursday 22nd December 2011. Probably, one of the best nights at the Shed in the whole of 2011. Arms of Atlas were on the bill with Casio Kid. One to remember!
This is what a being a top band is about: when they do a gig you get a real buzz; being there was an unforgettable experience and see them on stage and hearing the music gave you a real sense of excitement. That was an experience that they took with them to gigs all over the country.
There are, of course, many different ways to like a rock band. Not all of them were famous for their hugely showy performances. Some just made music that was amazingly good to listen to and might have played it modestly. A band that stood out for a lot of people around 2012 was Raptusound. They were Tristan Owen (Drums), Jack Liquorish (Bass), Christopher S Brown (Vocals, guitars) and Leigh Dunning (Synth, keyboards.) At their height they did pretty well; they got played by Tom Robinson on BBC6. They were a very busy group of people; by February 2012 they had recorded twenty demo tracks.
I asked them what their influences were; Christopher old me: ‘As a band we have a very diverse mix of artists who we listen to, everyone has their own taste and that’s great because we get to listen to music that we probably wouldn’t listen to otherwise. Our taste ranges from metal to folk, punk to classical, and rock to jazz. In terms of the songs themselves the major influences would have to be Counting Crows, Nirvana, Biffy Clyro, Simon and Garfunkel, The Dave Matthews Band and Tom Petty. At the time was featured them, they had ‘been writing, recording, and rehearsing their own brand of alternative/electro rock. The powerful meld of searching lyrics, rugged guitars, driving bass, soaring keyboards and Herculean drums make Raptusound a formidable sound.’ The band headlined the ArtsIn Christmas Party at the Exchange Bar, Leicester, on 15th December 2011.
I want to mention The Stiggz because they exemplify something else about the local rock scene – dedication and hard work. 12th August. The Musician. ‘When there are so many young bands around, it’s good to find one that not only stands out but plays with a maturity beyond their tender years. The Stiggz are a band that never fails to please and they have put the rock back into indie rock. This busy band has clocked up a number of success stories since they started to play back in February 2008. Good, strong vocals from Richard, and a tight ensemble of musicians, they have an ear-grabbing set list. Vibrant backings and well articulated songs, their performances are alike and kicking.’ [Arts in Leicester magazine, 2009]
Another band on the line-up for that evening was Smokin’ The Profit.
Smokin the Profit are a well loved and well established band that everyone likes. Rolling rhythms, stomping beats and a fizzing stage presence adds up to a superb live music package. Well constructed songs delivered by front man Tommy and solidly backed by Andy on Bass, Hilary on guitar and Peri on the drums, they have a well polished sound that is edged with a tantalising dash of rawness and large dollops of fun and energy. The kings of cool have moved into a harder, darker sound this year but occasionally they reference back to their funky, ska days with some great dancy passages. “You can’t catch me because I quit” is their flagship song that brings it all together and marks them out as a band badged with true originality.
Leicester band Smokin The Profit were on first and lead vocalist Tommy, with support from guitarist Hilary, launched into a song bouncing with pleasing rhythms and catchy vocal lines. Here is a band that has its own distinctive sound, is laden with style and cool; a band with character, whose songs are peppered with scintillating guitar passages, engaging beats and played with passion. Their set has variety. Each song has a distinctly different tempo and mood, powered by first class vocal lines and beautifully crafted guitar work, pushed forward with an Olympic level of work on the drums. A star quality band that makes any gig they play worth going to. [Arts in Leicester magazine, 10th September 2009]
Razmataz. A band I knew well. Young musicians with a lot of talent writing their own very listenable songs. Here’s what I wrote about them on Thursday 8th October:
The Charlotte has re-opened. The first band to play at the restored venue was Leicester’s premier young band, Razmataz. With solid vocals from lead singer Nathan, backed by Chris on lead guitar, Dan on bass and Jake on drums, the band played some of their established favourites and some new material. It was all good. Their modern sound, appealing stage presence and fine style of playing certainly went down well with the audience and kicked the opening night off to a resounding start. Upbeat tempos, luminous guitar riffs and melodic lines you won’t easily forget, make Razmataz one of the leading bands in Leicester for this style of music. Songs that sparkle with vigor and verve and their confident, workmanlike approach to music are qualities that have awarded them a positive reputation on the local music scene. Tonight’s performance was excellent and pleasurable. They might lack the attitude and swagger of other bands of their generation, but their endearing and engaging personalities give them a broad appeal. [Arts in Leicester magazine, 2009]
Bands from out of town
Some bands came to play in Leicester from out of town. One or two came back several times. One such band that sticks in my mind the most was Martyr de Mona. This is what I said about them, on Saturday 5th December, when they played at The Shed: ‘Martyr de Mona is one of my favourite bands and I have seen them play live in both Leicester and Birmingham and in my view they are one of the best rock bands in the Midlands. As soon as they began to play the opening riffs of their first song, a tingle went down my spine and a hair bristling shiver made me ready for the thrill of seeing this band again. MDM play hard rock, a bit metalish in some respects, somewhat classic in others but a massive sound that pours off the stage in great waves, sparkling with complex guitar arpeggios and driven by the vibrant voice of front man Louis Hale, tightly supported by the backing vocals of guitarist Simon Blewitt, with Stephen Williams (bass) and Jay Miles on drums, pumping out the backing.
“this is rock music at its best.” MDM know how to write crisp and compelling songs that throb with big irresistible beats. Their songs have remarkable dynamics; one song began with an eery, evocative intro, the lead guitarist producing a strange, ethereal sound by picking the strings of the headstock. The song then exploded into a rolling burst of thunder and lightening. This band produces grand music that glitters with presence and huge majestic swathes of sound, ranging from irresistible primeval beats through to great mountains of music. Taut razor-edged playing, strong vocals and powerful high-octane songs, this is rock music at its best.
Sadly MDM do not play in Leicester very often but if your musical choice is for bands that are not just good but totally thrilling you will want to see these guys the next time they come back.
Some people scoff at tribute bands and regard them as inferior because they are simply emulating a big band, without being as good. [Arts in Leicester magazine]
And, what do we mean by ‘best’?
What makes a band the best? Difficult to answer because it’s mainly a matter of personal preferences. It must be about the music. That comes first. It’s then about how they perform the music. I put a lot of store by singing; for me a good band is a singing band. If they can play their instruments well, that’s a bonus.
Back in 2009, I wrote my own answer to this question. The article is up there on my blog. ‘Live music is a form of entertainment, I said in that article. When I go to a gig I go to see the bands. The visual element is important, in my view, and I like the bands who have a presence on stage; the phrase I used a lot was ‘they lived the music’ on stage. They played like they really meant it. You can tell if a band is doing well during a set – just look at the audience. Do they look like they are being entertained? Are they getting the vibe? Is the crowd responding to what they can see and hear on the stage?
To me, it is does not matter all that much is a band is playing its own songs or performing covers. Old songs we all know well and love can be enjoyable. Some songs that are still wet on the page, can be incomprehensible, simply because we have not heard them before. It’s rare that a band can play a song for the very first time and everybody love is straight away. It can happen. It had happened but it’s not common. Some songs take a while to sink in. I am sure that when Queen fans heard Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time they were a bit perplexed by it. Well known covers can be played with originality; I have heard versions of Killing in the name of or I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor that have put a whole new take on the songs. I have also heard them performed like a really poor karaoke session.
As I said in my article
I remember being at a gig where a band played that I had not heard before. Half way through the set, I stood there scratching my head and thinking – ‘I know they are good at what they are doing but I have never heard anything like this before. They are not like anything I have ever heard before.’ Then the penny dropped. I realised that I was listening to a band that was truly original. Suddenly, it all became very exciting. This is not something that happens very often.
People often tell me that a band’s playing was “tight.” You do expect bands to play in tune, in the right key and keep together in time. Even a non-musician like me can sometimes tell that a band had gone out of key or are all playing out of sync. with each other.
In this instalment of my series I have only scratched the surface; fear not, I will be back next week with another batch of Leicester bands for you to read about.
Next time: more bands, more memories of bands, more pictures of bands.