It was a last-minute decision to go to tonight’s gig. The first I heard of The Virginmarys was a few weeks ago when Toby Jepson mentioned, during his gig, that he was producing their debut album. Toby’s audience had made generally approving noises, enough so that I was at least tempted to turn out when I saw that they were playing York just a a few weeks later. A quick listen to some of the tracks available on-line made my mind up for me.
I hadn’t heard of either of tonight’s support acts either. (It always surprises me just how many local bands there are out there.) There doesn’t seem to be much information about The Dead White Doves available and, to start with, I didn’t think I was going to like them. Their first track was loud and shouty, one of those musical styles that doesn’t do too much for me. Thankfully, they soon moved more towards rock than punk and, eventually, dovetailed into a much more blues-based rock style. Still loud, but musically and vocally much more pleasing to my ear. Mixing the blues with riff-driven rock, including one song that had a distinctive Quo-style riff, the threesome played a tight set with some very nice guitar work from Ben Rowe and lead vocals from bass-player Mike Dunn which, by the end of the set, were almost clear (something that a lot of support bands seem to struggle with in The Duchess). Special mention goes to Chris Mayes on drums – I always like watching drummers but there was something about his style as he played energetically but with such obvious enjoyment that I could have watched him for hours. There was definitely a lot for me to like in this opening set of the evening…
…and that, unfortunately, is more than I can say for the next act. And The Hangnails bill themselves as a Punk/Blues duo and, I was told by one audience member who knows him, that the guitarist (I’m not sure whether that is Martyn Fillingham or Steven Reid) can play the Blues “like a demon”. Sadly, tonight’s set was more Punk than Blues and definitely too close to the former for my tastes. The songs were a mixture of chaos and a lack of subtlety, with scream/shout vocals, and the occasional between song howl into the microphone, that evoked images of 70s underground punk clubs. Or, at least, how I imagine such clubs looked as, clearly, I have no experience of them. Despite all that, it was obvious that the duo were proficient at what they do. It’s just that what they do isn’t the sort of thing I like. They did redeem themselves slightly with Meet Me By The River, which was by far their best song, but even that was spoiled by some unnecessary histrionics at the end. Sorry, guys, but not for me.
The Virginmarys hail from Macclesfield and have been around since 2006, releasing a series of EPs and “mini-albums” before the full debut album, King Of Conflict, that they are currently touring to promote. The aforementioned Mr Jepson thinks they are going to be big, but also commented that it looks like they might break the States before their home country. They took to the stage to the indistinct sound of a voice-over and immediately launched into a kind of heavy rock with slight hint of an “indie sound”, with frontman Ally Dickaty constantly scanning the large audience with his intense gaze. As befits a band that have been together for so long, the performance was tight and seemingly effortless, despite the huge sound being generated. Effortless, that is, apart from Danny Dolan on drums, who frequently started songs standing up, slamming the sticks down from above his head with powerful abandon. This was a no-nonsense set – the songs came fast and furious, with little in the way of chat between them – and it wasn’t until half a dozen songs in that the light-show kicked in, banishing the gloom that had pervaded the stage for most of the evening. Most of the tracks were big, epic (at least one had a touch of Muse about it), although one or two were slightly more restrained. A couple were performed just by Dickaty, presumably in much the same way that the bonus CD included in the special edition of the album is made up of him playing acoustic versions of the band’s songs. The audience were lapping it up, with requests for Bang Bang Bang being shouted out and a mini dance area being formed off to one side. At the same time, however, the crowd seemed to be thinning a bit and, by the encore, which consisted of another quieter solo and ended with the much-requested Bang Bang Bang, there seemed to be a lot less people watching. Overall, I enjoyed the set enough to buy the album but whereas I normally complain that sets are too short, in this case, at fourteen songs plus the encore, it was just a bit too long. Maybe it was my unfamiliarity with the music but there seemed to be just slightly too little variance in the set.