This is more of a meandering story than a proper music review, but in the absence of anything more concrete and as a tribute to the late Max Bygraves, “I wanna tell you a story” involving The Wind-up Birds, shopping trolleys and free soda water. The characters for this story are:-
Mikey: self confessed Newcastle fan, who has a musical knowledge that is impressively spiced by exotic gigs in various European places, based on a blasé comment that he once lived in Paris.
Kev: local school teacher and regular visitor to the Bay Horse in Heighington on a Tuesday evening, who offers political musings that are slightly different to the normal discussion of sheep and cattle prices.
Russell: childhood school friend of Mikey and season ticket holder at Newcastle, whom was an unknown quantity to Kev and myself.
The evening had started with a dashed tea and a trek up the A1(M) to collect Kev from a motorway slip road (located behind a Polish lorry), collecting Mikey with a short break whilst panic ensued about whether the agreed meeting point had been outside the pub in Newcastle. Some expert directions managed to engineer us a space to the rear of the Central Station in Newcastle, with necessary short cut under the railway line through a tunnel marked with a thin line for taxis – presumed initially to be either tuc-tuc or rickshaw sized – actually it turned out to be the edge of the taxi lane as they completely blocked the tunnel as the night drew on.
The Head of Steam in Newcastle is located opposite and to the right of Newcastle’s Central Station, but despite Kev’s myopic eyes and the liberal use of scaffolding it proved an easy place to locate. For those who haven’t frequented the place before it is a rather odd pub, nestled underneath offices with the bar on the first floor and the gig venue in the basement, ground level entry is therefore where the toilets are based. Ascending the stairs we were greeted with a decent array of beers – another good reason to visit when the music isn’t live – a debate took place on which beer sounded the most golden and three pints of Langdale were ordered and a very good pint it was too, although seeing that £10 wasn’t enough to pay for three pints was a little shock to the system.
The second round of drinks was somewhat disrupted by confusion as Mikey opted for Summer Lightening. This involved the ‘short-tight skirted barmaid’ muttering something, claiming it wasn’t on, being told it was on, rummaging around for a nozzle for the end of the tap, finally wandering off leaving the three of us bemused if the beer was on / off / in the process of coming on / just forgotten that we’d ordered three pints. Eventually Mikey was rewarded for his patience with a very golden pint of Summer Lightening being served and at that moment Russell arrived. In his eagerness to get in, Russell had already been downstairs where five people and a band seemed to be aimlessly making some attempts at music, but it was a little early for the first act so in retreating from the uninspiring music Russell had worked his way upstairs and opted for a soda water – which very pleasingly and considering the fact it had a lime in it, was free!
Have quaffed our pints we descended into the basement. The gig was organised by The Outsider, a Geordie based promotional company who enjoy giving new bands a stage on which to play. The basement was indeed a basement, slightly cooler than the bar, with another bar to the rear of the room, a couple of armchairs and a small stage where the bands performed. The only problem with the venue was the supporting beams, not something you could remove, but of sufficient height to restrict the upwards movement of any unwary guitarist…unless of Small Faces height.
So What Robot were the first act on, with the local paper describing them as the “Gentlemen of rock”, although this was possibly more due to their dress-style. The dark suit, white shirt and tie combo passed them off as gentlemen, although the guitarist seemed to have ditched the jacket and with rolled up sleeves looked uncannily like a barman. Being unaware of their music it was a somewhat un-engaging set, with the use of keyboard somewhat ill-fitting, but the locals who had come out to support the band were appreciative of their efforts and maybe I needed to have reviewed the music to have taken it in more.
The final act were Leeds based band Moody Gowns, again an unknown quantity, with an extremely energetic frontman, whose shirt changed colour as the sweat profusely fell during the set. The use of an iPad like instrument which was hit repeatedly by the frontman was interesting, although at times what it added couldn’t be picked out and possibly was something you’d appreciate more in a recorded version. The ‘dancing’ was somewhat groin thrustingly frenetic, with hints of punk and reggae, although the bassist did a decent job of keeping everything in control despite being the only one to attempt to concuss himself on the overhead beam. The Moody Gowns set ended rather badly with a blown amp, that was then replaced with a borrowed one, but it spoilt the set and by this stage a couple of people had left.
Sandwiched in between these two bands, were the band that I had convinced the rest to come and see, that being the Leeds based The Wind-up Birds, sold to Mikey on the basis of being influenced by The Fall and some early stuff he’d found online; and Kev as there was some quality lyric commentary on modern society. Russell had turned up based on Mikey’s recommendations. Kev claimed to have listened to the album, although post gig cross-examination elicited a confession he’d only heard Good Shop Shuts, this being the first track on their debut album The Land (see my earlier review).
Despite a post-gig comment online about needing to know the music, that isn’t necessary with The Wind-up Birds. After the first notes you knew that this was a band that was a step up in musical ability, the whole band feeling that much tighter. Yet it is Paul who steals the show, his lyrics alone are worth spending time pouring over, yet through his unique Yorkshire drawl Paul is captivating in his delivery with his utterances of “Ta” at the end of every track like a person grateful for the appreciative applause. Whether its the wry commentary on faceless high streets reflected in Good Shop Shuts, the black humour of There Won’t Always be an England or the chorus delights of Being Dramatic they all infectiously grab your attention. To say Mikey, Kev and Russell were impressed by The Wind-up Birds is an understatement and at least I’d managed to bring my musical kudos up a notch.
The Wind-up Birds even threw in a couple of new tracks including Two Ambulance Day and involving Paul stood with a sheet of lyrics so new was the song. If my memory hasn’t failed me, they ended on Tyre Fire (I knew I should have photo’d the set list or nicked one at the end!), with Paul ending the gig on his knees, before deciding to lay prostrate on the floor whilst throwing his lyrics out and asking if he could stay there for the rest of the night, leaving Ben and Mat to grin away at Paul’s antics.
Between the band finishing and the Moody Gowns coming on, there was sufficient time to embarrass myself with Paul, by praising the gig and getting There Won’t Always be an England and Nostalgic For… mixed up, although I did confess my memory for track names was pretty crap. It was interesting to hear that the band were working with Nathan (bassist from the Moody Gowns) and that Paul hadn’t really taken any notice of John Cooper-Clarke before people started making those comparisons. Quite rightly Paul mentioned Nostalgic For… wasn’t a track to drop into a set list for people who weren’t necessarily there for The Wind-up Birds, but hopefully at some point it’ll be a track I manage to catch live as it’s certainly up there for followers of the band.
In leaving the Head of Steam, shaking hands with a rather bemused Ben and Mat, who I hadn’t introduced myself to, there was still sufficient time to find Oli chewing his way through a conversation about Pavement and The Fall with Mikey and Russell before we pressed onwards home, via the Telegraph where a terraced area was appreciated next to the sadly non-revolving shopping trolley sculpture – rather too well appreciated when it turned out it had gone 12:30am!
All in all an excellent evening, some very good company and an enjoyable gig – for a band who forgot to bring copies of their album to Newcastle and have been quoted as saying they were embarrassed to announce its release, they should be less of a ‘shrinking violet’, this is an album to be proud of and in the live venue are grippingly excellent, go see them live, buy the album and indulge one of the few bands who capture the black-humour and grimness of modern life in equal measure.
Musings by Jimbo
Kev said I was being a bit harsh on So What Robot and wished to add that the So What Robot video for Work and Play showed said non-revolving trolley statue. There was something of a late 70s Chords resonance to the sound mixed with a touch of Blur’s revolving guitar riffs and light-touch social commentary.