Venue : The Black Bottom Club, Northampton
Date : 11 October 2012
I get to the venue early and find the band soundchecking at 1910. They run through Signs Of Life and Days Like These, which both sound excellent, with Steve Woodcock, the bassist, standing out front for the second to judge the levels. Then the support band, The Herms, do their soundcheck and Dec and the others help them out with their sound. It is all very friendly.
The Herms come on at 2045 looking rockabilly and it starts off sounding that way as they put the rock into their covers, beginning with It’s Not Fair. Samantha Hammonds has an excellent voice, very much in tune and with some great depth to it. The track rolls along nicely with some excellent guitar breaks from Pete Roberts. I am intrigued to kmow where this set might go because they soundchecked with Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth, which sounded brilliant. The next track is Never Forget You, a more straight forward rock approach with a really good sound and a marvellous rhythm from bassist Pete Jackson and drummer Ben. Samantha’s voice works really well in the sound and with the guitar. “We’re going to continue with contemporary girl-pop covers for the moment,” she says, and while I would not know contemporary girl-pop if it slapped me round the face, I do know when a song has been rocked up, and they really add an edge and a hardness to the sound which compliments her soaring vocals as they play Rolling In The Deep. They continue in that vein with You Oughta Know and then blast away with a version of Hanging On The Telephone which is bursting with energy even before it hits a screeching guitar break. She Said thumps hard into some phasing guitar and driving vocals and I am really enjoying what they are doing here. “This is for our wedding crowd,” Samantha says, before Pete adds, “We do play weddings. We don’t play many prog rock gigs,” before they pound into a rousing version of Hey Mickey, and they really try very hard to get some audience singing going…and it works ! Squeeling guitar drives us into a version of Material Girl which is so much better than the original and it pushes along relentless with shrieking bursts of guitar. Of course, there is a prog connection with the original Kids In America, and this version really rocks out. It is another track which definitely suits Samantha’s voice. “We’re going to do two slightly more old fashioned ones just to finish off with,” she says, and they begin with a very rockabilly Tainted Love which pounds along behind a very tight rhythm. They finish off in much the same way, uptempo and full of energy with River Deep Mountain High as it drives along with some very heavy metal guitar work to bring a very enjoyable set to an end. And the final word is with Samantha, “Thank you very much. I’ve been Bonnie Tyler, this lot have been The Herns.” I would certainly see them as a brilliant wedding band, but they are a lot more than that and if you do get the chance to see them you should take it.
The Dec Burke Band has the same setlist as the Sunday lunchtime gig in Milton Keynes, which you can read about in my previous blog on here. They are ready to go at 2135. It is hardly a massive crowd, unfortunately, and everyone stays seated round the edges or at the back by the bar as the intro music surges through. There is no light show, but we do have a glitterball. It is far too dark for my camera to cope, so you will be pleased to know I did not manage to take too many photographs of the gig. Dec comes in with melodic piercing guitar and it leads in to Days Like These which is really sounding polished – it is amazing how a track can go up a few notches as a set of gigs progresses. The crowd is way too small for music this good being performed this well. “Here we go !” exclaims Dec and they blast into Signs Of Life with the wonderful keyboard line from Patrick Darlington running against the rumbling rhythm from the drums of Tim Churchman and the bass of Steve Woodcock. It was great even before Dec picked out that screeching guitar break, which he develops shortly after. This is hard and pounding while having a real pop sensibility to it. Dec introduces the band (and Tim gets a huge cheer) before they continue with the haunting strains of Winter To Summer which grow and then soar out, continuing with a full, rounded sound. Hywel Bennett takes the guitar solo to start with, keeping it controlled as it screeches out, before Dec takes it on until the drums take us uptempo and it races along relentless to a sharp close. Melodic sounds from the keyboards flow along with tapping drums to start us into December Sun before Dec’s vocals ease through and it edges along gently. It gradually grows as the drums begin to bite and swirls as it hangs there, with deeper sounds coming through. It continues to grow into a short guitar break then pushes along with an anthemic feel.
It is guitar change time and then the electronica surges out and March Of The Androids kicks away hard. It softens as the vocals come in, and they really are very good against the driving sound – full, rounded and confident, taking us into some screeching guitar as it rocks along. It pauses to the electronica and then blasts on again, before it rumbles and pounds to a close. Another burst of electronica mixes with pointed notes begins The Last Time before the track thumps away hard. It pauses melodic and then soars powerfully, winding its way through some excellent sounds and breaks, and I am really enjoying how this song is constructed and how it has really come to life for me tonight before it comes to a close with a bite. We get a magnificent drum solo from Tim before he spins a stick into the air and finishes the solo off with crashing cymbals. They sway into Destroy All Monsters and the sound develops a harder feel as it taps away before it soars with busy drums behind it. This is another track which is so tight. And I get a wave from across the room from Hellen Widdowson. It drives to screeching guitar, then fades to circle before kicking away again and pierces out, and it is a clear demonstration of how very well Dec and Hywel work together. It pounds to a fade and then crashes into a sustained screeching finish. Dec says, “Here’s one for the ladies,” before asking “Are there any ladies at a prog gig ?” and they chime into Yesterday’s Fool, developing the sound until it taps away and sways with a hard edge. And now we hear how well Dec and Hywel’s vocals work together before shrieking guitar shoots out and flows controlled, and it drives along until screeching guitar and crashing cymbals finish it. “I feel really nervous now,” says Dec because they are about to play a Darwin’s Radio track and Mark Westworth is here, and they go into Breathe It In from the last Darwin’s Radio album which pounds hard from the drums and bass as busy sounds move around them. The riffing is deep and hard before the sound edges along again into flying, screeching guitar. It is a brilliant track, no two ways about it. It holds as keyboard sounds ease through and float, before the guitars slice through, gradually developing and screeching as the rhythm section holds it tight. The vocals break it open and it rumbles on before Hywel takes on the main theme and it rises, soaring out as he pushes it, still so well held in check by the drums and bass, before it pauses down to a crashing, sustained close and a sharp finish. “We’re going to do one more, that’s it, and then we’re going off to bed. This is a number called Small Hours,” announces Dec, and it shuffles away before flowing melodic into a catchy chorus, another example of the lighter pop sensibility Dec brings to his songwriting. It pushes along uptempo before pausing and then crashing on driving headlong, and is a wonderful way to bring the set and the evening to a close. I had a brilliant time and it is a shame you were not there to enjoy it too.