Friday 7th February 2020
Luckily I managed to get to half a dozen gigs this year before the bloody virus locked us all down. I first witnessed the mighty JOHN (times two) at the Bataclan in Paris, as support to IDLES on the night of my 50th birthday. They were fucking great, an intense powerhouse of a band that smashed through a short set of fast and bulbous songs with great fury. I don’t usually rate two piece bands but these two guys absolutely smashed it!
So when I noticed they were touring to promote their new LP “Out here on the fringes” it seemed rude not catch them and Bedford Esquires was a “winner” new venue for me, so game on.
So, I’d finished work around lunchtime in North London and headed to St Pancras and made the 50 mile journey to Bedford. Although, I drive trains through Bedford for a living, I have never actually been into the town. So on arrival, I wandered into town and dropped off my bag at the hotel and I had some some time to explore before the gig. Firstly, I decided to head over to Slide Records, which is in The Arcade. A wonderful shop full of new and second hand vinyl. I must have spent a good hour in there and had a nice chat with the owner, Warren who opened the shop in 2017. He was a interesting chap, who had previous worked the City, then been travelling prior to opening Slide Records. I picked up a copy of The Chills, ‘Brave Words’ and the new Penelope Isles LP before heading off in search of a pub. The Wellington Arms was my destination, a C.A.M.R.A. mans pub! A fine selection of Real Ale from around the UK and I decided on a pint of Pale Rider from Kelham Island, Sheffield. This was probably the first time I had seen this beer outside of Sheffield (it’s brewed and served in the Fat Cat pub in Sheffield) and it is a fine hoppy golden ale at 5.2% (Anything under 5% I don’t want to drink it and you can really taste the hops!!!!) . The Wellington was a cracking little pub, quite busy with people finishing work and popping in for a pint, a friendly landlord and good choice of ale and cider.
After a few pints and bite to eat, I had arranged to meet my friend Anj at Bedford Bus Station before going to the gig. I met Anj following IDLES around, she’s a mega fan and has been all over the place to see them. It’s fair to say, that every time I go to an IDLES gig, she’s there! Her partner, Andy (Stage name “Elliot Smoke”) is the drummer in tonight’s support band “The Knockouts” (he’s also the drummer in Arndales, another fantastic punk outfit fronted by Anthony Chapman). The Knockouts are from Luton, most of them were in a 90s indie band called Thrilled Skinny, a fast, thrashy, DIY indie/punk band that was championed by John Peel and they supported more or less everyone in the 90s! I’d last seen them supporting the Wedding Present in Cambridge Junction in 1992. I was as keen to see the Knockouts as I was to see JOHN (plus they do a great range of fridge magnets, more on that later!)
A short walk to the venue and time to meet up and have a beer with “The Knockouts” at the downstairs bar and what lovely chaps they are. Lots of chat about Thrilled Skinny, fridge magnets and other random facts! Before you know it … it’s showtime!
Well, stone the crows … The Knockouts, what a band! A instrumental, hypnotic, electronic, indie cluster fuck of a band! Absolutely bald headed my lords!!! These guys can play and I’m absolutely loving them. Stood right in front of ‘Elliot Smoke’ , who is the driving force … relentlessly forging ahead and driving the band (nice to see the drummer at the front of the stage). At times they’re quite Blues rock but with a electronic hypnotic beat! “Alabama Wild Man” certainly gets the legs moving … To be fair, this is my first Knockouts gig and I’m loving it. A great band and a great group of lads. I love a track called “Zinc” and drunkenly heckle them and request them to play it … they do so, I’m a happy man. Yes, I will be buying their fridge magnets!!! By the end of the set, the hall is filling up and the audience love it … they want more, more KNOCKOUTS, more fridge magnets and anything they can get their hands on at the Merch stand … Happy Days.
John Newton is a gentleman. I met him once at an Arndales gig in East London. He told me about his band and said they were supporting IDLES on their European tour. I just happened to be going to see IDLES in Paris and was most impressed to witness his band. Since that tour, they have released a second LP and had a fair bit of airplay on BBC Six Music.
They played a storming set of songs mainly picked from the new LP “Out here on the fringes” and a handful of tracks from their debut “Godspeed in the National Limit”. What strikes me from watching these guys, is the sheer fucking relentless intensity of them. For a two piece, they sound like a full band. John Newton smashes his drums to pieces whilst awkwardly screaming into his microphone. There is great depth to their sound and it kind of immerses you. “Out here on the Fridges” being a great example of that. “Western Wilds” is a beast of a song that drives forward with the Johnny guitar/bass thang storming along as the pounding drums set the pace. Oldies “Balfron” and “Ghost Printer” get an airing and a mini mosh pit forms at the front. “High Digger” which has had a fair bit of BBC6 Music airplay certainly gets the crowd going. They’re a great band and a great couple of guys. They’re certainly going down a storm at the moment and rightly so. So at the end of the show, it’s time to buy a t shirt and a poster and say goodbye … until next time …
JOHN Set list
- Squad Vowels
- Standard Hauntings
- Future Thinker
- Out here on the Fringes
- Western Wilds
- Ghost Printer
- God Speed in the National Limit
- Sibensco Powerhouse
- Hight Digger
- Midnight Supermarket
- Solid State
The Knockouts (Gig review by Andy Weizen)
The Knockouts don’t play many gigs. We used to play far and wide, even venturing to Germany a few times, but in recent years we have curtailed our gig travels to the extent that we rarely leave Luton….and even then we have to be in the right mood to cross the railway tracks from our base in High Town.
The last gig we did was a ridiculous hour and a quarter long 22-song set at Luton’s wildest venue, the Black Horse pub. It went rather well, so we were delighted when we were asked by JOHN to play Bedford Esquires with them. We’ve played there a total of three times over the decades, as The Knockouts and (in our previous guise – punk indie outfit, Thrilled Skinny). It is very much an old-fashioned venue/bar/meeting place with 2 live rooms with an excellent PA system – it is a venue that most small towns could only dream of having.
We’ve always had a good time there.
JOHN are good people who we re proud to call friends and who also are on the verge of becoming something rather big on the louder end of the indie circuit, having toured constantly with the likes of Idles, USA Nails etc. and having received almost constant play on BBC6 Music. Although the Knockouts songs can be fast and loud we were acutely aware how different we are to them, having a uniquely plinky keyboard sound and hardly any vocals at all, but were very eager to play purely as a contrast to their aural onslaught. We slimmed the set down to an acceptable length – writing it in the bar beforehand.
Wibble requested we play one of his favourite songs of ours, a sort of robotic trebly oddment entitled “Zinc”, and as unaccustomed as we are to receiving such requests we couldn’t not play it.
We had the dream slot – first on! What struck us was how many Idles T-shirts there were in the crowd – not just the sheer number of them (covering the upper halves of at least 70% of the crowd) but everyone seemed to have a different design – those Idles guys know their merch, and it has to be said Idles fans really know their music.
We recognised a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, from Knockouts gigs and even some old Thrilled Skinny fans, which was lovely and the whole crowd seemed completely open to our weird instrumental garage racket. As our set progressed the room filled out and at the end we were delighted we’d been so well received – I’d say it was the most enjoyable gig we have done in Bedford, plus crucially the sound was superb (which always makes a difference).
The Knockouts rarely attempt to clothe our audience, so we do other merch such as, at this gig, fridge magnets – at a pound a pop they sold like hot (or at least warm) cakes. That rounded off a great night, in a superb venue with lots of old and new friends.