A trip to West Yorkshire… February 2020.
Norm contacted me back in 2019 and mentioned that the mighty “Bilge Pump” (one of Leeds finest guitar noise bands currently kicking around … and once described by the NME as “unlistenable guff”) were playing a gig in Huddersfield supporting Mclusky (A heritage 3 piece Welsh hardcore band). We decided that this was a opportunity not to be missed (Especially with THAT NME description of Bilge Pump!) and we decided a trip to Huddersfield via a lunchtime session at The Station Buffet in Stalybridge was in order. A few months later, another gig was advertised in Leeds the following night at the Belgrave Music Hall. Pip Blom, Life, Talk Show and Yowl amongst others, tickets and accommodation purchased, rude not to!
Stalybridge and Huddersfield
So I had arranged to meet up with Norm at lunchtime at The Station Buffet in Stalybridge. I decided to travel via Leeds and the Trans Pennine Express to Stalybridge (no doubt Norm will explain why!). It was a typical wet and windy February day as I “Hit the North” and I was pleased to meet Norm and escape from the elements as we relaxed with a pint in the Victorian Station Buffet Bar. I’ve not been here since 1987 and to be fair, it’s hardly changed at all! Just a better selection of ales. The Buffet Bar, dates back to 1885 and has retained the marble topped bar and a real fire. It’s a very cosy and welcoming bar and the walls are covered in locomotive nameplates and station name boards and other railway memorabilia. A decent selection of cask real ales and cider are available and freshly prepared cooked food with local ingredients. It’s a real gem of a place and well worth a visit.
After a decent lunchtime session and some grub, we caught the train back to Huddersfield and popped into Vinyl Tap record shop and I was pleased to pick up a second hand copy of Jive Turkey’s debut LP Perfume Experiment (1990). This indie three piece hailed from North Devon (Torrington, I think) and I saw them a number of times as a support act in the early 90’s. They reminded me of the Pixies, they never found fame or fortune but were a good live band. It was time to check into our accommodation and as it was still raining, a taxi was required. Once bags were secured, a trip The Grove pub, which I can only describe as a Real Ale Emporium! This pub is well worth a visit, should you find yourself in Huddersfield. It was soon time to make our way to the venue, a quick walk through town centre to The Parish, in good time to find our spot down the front to witness the mighty Bilge Pump.
Mclusky and Bilge Pump at The Parish, Huddersfield
L-R Norm and Wibble in the Buffet Bar, Andrew (Falco) Falkous with Mclusky and the setlist.
Norm Waz writes …
It should’ve been the year of Huddersfield – both gigs I managed to see in 2020 before the big Covid curtain came down were in the town, and a non-specific Yorkshire track-bash and pub crawl due to take place the actual day the plug got pulled should have come to a messy conclusion there as well. But Jeffrey Lewis in the public library on a January Sunday afternoon and Bilge Pump playing support to someone or other on a February Friday night will have to do. Here’s the way the second of those excursions panned out..
Bilge Pump came into my life about fifteen months ago when they were played on an Internet radio station that had just played The Rugs debut single. See elsewhere for the story on The Rugs – ‘The Passion of the Kid’, an 8 minute skronk sounding for all the world like Funkadelic colliding with Th’ Faith Healers topped off with a vocalist from God knows where piqued my interest in a massive way. I’d never heard of them before but a bit of noodling on the ‘Net brought me up to speed – they’d been around for years, their LPs required gestation periods measured in decades and we were lucky enough to be living in a time when they were relatively active – playing gigs and stuff. Oh, and they were from Leeds and rarely played more than an hour or so from that city.
So when some email list or other alerted us to the fact they were pencilled in to support Mclusky in Huddersfield, a pair of tickets were purchased at lightning speed. Less excusably than being ignorant of Bilge Pump, I was even more clueless as to who Mclusky were. Turns out I had heard them before, a highly-anonymous mix CD I’d been given at ATP in Prestatyn a few years previously had their ‘Light Sabre Cocksucking Blues’ number on it, but as things turned out that was about as much of that particular band that I cared to listen to in one sitting. Accommodation came next – most surprisingly the usual Premier Inn standard-place turned out to be scarce and expensive in Hudd, even on a winter Friday night. Far cheaper was a ‘serviced apartment’ fifteen minutes or so walk from the town centre. Our previous experience of such digs was in Manchester nearly ten years before and it had been expensive and not entirely suited to our needs, but this was cheap enough to shove any reservations aside, so I clicked through, money changed hands virtually and we were all set.
The only slight complication was that I had to work on the Saturday afternoon, which at least meant that excessive imbibing late on would be hugely inadvisable. So we arranged to meet up at the Stalybridge Buffet Bar on platform 4 at the station of that name, to get all the heavy drinking out of the way early on. Now, despite spending large amounts of time hanging around railways in and around Manchester in the 1980s I’d managed to never visit this famous pub – no such omissions on Wibble’s part, what with all of the Class 45 moves during that decade he was WELL familiar. A bonus, for people interested in that kind of thing, was a regular loco-hauled service calling at Stalybridge in both directions, so I arrived behind 68-019 from the west and Wibble arrived behind 68-026 from the east. Subsequently, a very pleasant couple of hours quickly passed, as did a relatively modest amount of drink and a few pork pies and sausage rolls. We rolled out of there at about half three (the man with the moves book will fill in the exact time and loco….68-026 again!) and headed over the Pennines.
Huddersfield station is a grand old place, which the demolition man has thankfully left alone. A massive stone warehouse alongside still has the skeleton of a wagon hoist that would once upon a time have lifted fully-laden wagons weighing as much as thirty tons up to any of the five floors above track level. The station frontage itself has been Grade 1 listed since 1952, one of the most impressive-looking stations anywhere in the country. Even better, it has a pub at each end, and even even better there is a statue of local-boy-done-good Harold Wilson out front. A small confession – I too was born in Huddersfield, just a ten minute walk from the station, but though it qualified me once upon a time to play cricket for Yorkshire I’d never set foot further than the nearby Weatherspoons in my adult years before 2020 – my parents had moved away from the town almost as soon as I turned up, so I’ve probably spent more time certain Cambridge rehearsal rooms than I have in the place of my birth.
Digression over. We ignored both station bars (neither were required…) and after a quick look in Vinyl Tap to see if they still stocked that Rugs single (they did – 1 copy left, of the 2 delivered there by hand a year or so before on another pub crawl…) and resist the Fairport Convention box-set at a very competitive price, we took a taxi to our accommodation. True to form, the taxi driver flew straight past our digs and we had to direct him back up St John’s Road until we were outside what looked like an old bus depot. There was a reason for that, of course. Anyway, we booked in with the east European concierge, dumped our bags and the growing collection of CDs (I’d been to Vinyl Exchange and Piccadilly Records whilst crossing Manchester as well as making a few alcohol-inspired purchases in Vinyl Tap) and checked the bus times. Heading back into town by bus was do-able, and the first pub we wanted to visit was near the bus station, so we made it so.
It took a little while to negotiate the inner ring road system of Huddersfield to find The Grove, a highly-recommended-in-the-beer-guide establishment which proved to be both busy and indeed offer a wide choice of beers. Unfortunately for me, it only had crap cider, but it was still a pleasant enough place to while away another hour or so. Quick eats were what was required next, so we went somewhere unmentionable beneath those ugly golden arches and walked to The Parish, the venue for the evening. This proved to be a room behind a crowded pub, reached via the smokers ‘garden’. We checked it out, checked the stage times, then sloped off somewhere else (Weather spoons – probably because the chances of decent cider there were higher than anywhere else) for another pint. Returning in plenty of time for the support, and noting that if we wanted to pay for drinks with anything other than cash (which of course was being saved to deplete the Bilge Pump merch stand) we’d have to trudge back to the main bar, we took up position stage left.
The room was great, just the right size for a ‘small gig’, a narrow box with a low ceiling and the (cash-only) bar, merch tables and door at the back. The main attraction, so far as we were concerned (a couple of hundred Mclusky fans may have disagreed but fuck ’em…) shuffled onto the stage, bass player and vocalist Emlyn on the far side, wiry drummer Neil behind his kit and guitarist Joe right in front of us -we were in exactly the right place.
Any band biography you happen to find on the Internet usually mentions that Joe O’Sullivan builds his own valve amps, and sure enough a very custom-made looking monster was sat on a Marshall head and cabinet just behind him. It claimed to be a ’Euclid 100’ but I’ve searched everywhere for that amp and I very much suspect it is a one-off – it looked like it came from the wrong end of the 1960s, the controls were minimal and the whole rig looked like it was constructed to take extremes of punishment, which indeed it was. As the band started up, the stream of free-form noise and occasional disciplined squall was everything I could have hoped for. When we were chatting to the band after their set (and during Mclusky’s…), when pushed for influences the first name Joe came up with was Paul Leary of The Butthole Surfers. That influence was crystal clear, Leary’s punk-psychedelic technique blended with Joe’s imagination and skill making it one of the very best lead guitar performances I have ever seen. Not just noise, not just noise, there was actual a very restrained use of feedback, it was about melody and harmony but in a hardcore setting. I can’t remember the set list and truth be told I’d struggle to put names to any of the band’s tunes outside of the afore-mentioned ‘Passion of the Kid’, but the whole thing was near enough faultless. Those Internet biogs, they’re going to mention scary things like the avant garde and free-jazz too, and there was certainly gob-fulls of that, but there was discipline and skill too. You have to know what you’re doing before you can let loose and open up the improvisational flood gates and the musical skill of O’Sullivan and most especially Neil Turpin were massively apparent, with the bass nailing everything down. What a joy.
They did ‘The Passion of the Kid’, of course, and there was moshing of sorts, with careful respect paid to the audience member in her wheelchair alongside us. We had a good chat with her and her partner beforehand, the venue being praised for it’s ease of access and friendliness. When BP had finished, gear was swapped out fairly quickly and Mclusky were on. The drummer and guitarist/singer are original, apparently, the bass player from back in the day having since emigrated to Australia. His ringer was a massive bloke with red hair and an undeniable physical likeness to Ed Sheeran – he made regular threats of violence which I am sure he would have made good on to anyone who dared draw attention to said doppelganger potential. After they’d played ‘Light Sabre CS Blues‘ I got a bit bored, and after going back to the main pub for another round I sort of never made it back to the audience, getting drawn into conversation with Bilge Pump themselves after an extended and wallet-emptying browse of their merch. As expected, they proved to be good company, even when a couple of well-lubricated train drivers were what the evening had presented them with in the way of conversationalists. Shooting the breeze about the Buttholes, just how much practice you have to put in to be THAT good, the career-limiting aspects of your drummer living near Middlesborough and justified comparisons between what I’d just seen and heard and the experience of watching Frank Zappa play from the front row of the Wembley Arena in 1988 was a great way to finish the evening. Eventually, and bearing in mind the requirement for an early exit from Yorkshire the next morning a taxi was ordered, elbows were deployed through the smoker’s ‘garden’ and our driver managed to find our digs at the first attempt. After a snoreful nights sleep, a quick and closer examination of the bus-depot-next-door was made on the walk back to the station and an uneventful journey back to Shrewsbury ensued. In email conversation with my Dad a couple of days later my suspicions were confirmed – his b&w photo was taken a few feet from where we slept nearly fifty five years before, and just a month after I’d entered the world. The bus company were called Hansons – everything IS connected….
Mclusky – to hell with good intentions!
I rather like Mclusky, I remember seeing them in a small club in Sheffield called the Casbar back in 2002 around the time they released their debut LP “Mclusky Do Dallas” on Too Pure Records. They blew me away that night with the sheer intensity of their set. They make a heck of a row for a 3 piece and Falco can certainly belt out the songs. That debut is great LP and has some brilliant and quite amusing lyrics. “My love is bigger than your love, we take more drugs than a touring funk band” (from “to hell with good intentions”). The band originally split up in 2005 and Falco and Jack Egglestone formed Future of the Left. Mclusky reformed in 2014 for a benefit gig to help save a Music Venue in Newport called Le Pub and have played a few shows since, including another benefit show for the Buffalo Bar in Islington, which is sadly no longer open.
So fast forward to 2019 and Mclusky announce a number of UK shows and we find ourselves in Huddersfield on a wet Friday night. I have to say, Bilge Pump were a hard act to follow. However, the Mclusky boys set up and soon ripped into a crowd pleasing set, playing a good number of tracks from their debut. They opening the set with “Fuck this band” a nice slow number which leads the audience into a false sense of security as they follow up with “Dethink to Survive” a absolute beast of a track, which grabs you by the balls and swings you around the room! The set continues at a rather up tempo pace, “Without MSG I am Nothing, Collagen Rock, What We’ve Learned, No Covers” and then one of my favourites “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” this certainly got the full attention of the audience. (even Norm!) This was definitely the highlight of their set for me and a great finale with “To Hell with Good Intentions” and the usual shenanigans with Jacks drum kit being dismantled whilst he’s still trying to play it!
A jolly good evening, a great little venue, with two excellent bands … fun for all the family!!!
Dark Arts, Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds
Saturday 22 February 2020
Pip Blom, Life, Talk Show and Yowl ..
Mike Woodhouse writes …
Well the last time I did a gig review was back in 1993 for The Family Cat fanzine, so my prose will no doubt be ring rusty, but maybe the intervening 27 years will have expanded my vocabulary more than my waistline. I’ve been looking for a convenient gig to catch Pip Blom for some time, so when Wibble suggested that we head up to Leeds to see Dark Arts 2020, with many more interesting bands for the princely sum of just £13, then you’d be foolish not to. I’ve not been to many gigs in Leeds, and the last was back in the early 90s, but I do like the city, expecially the pubs (and the price of beer), so with an overnight stay in a cheap hotel secured, the day was always likely to get messy as events unfolded. After hooking up with my old pal Howard near the station, we took the sensible step of grabbing some Thai food before a mini pub crawl to the Belgrave Music Hall, a new venue for me. We didn’t want to arrive too late since we were keen to catch Yowl, Talk Show and LIFE before Pip Blom, and is it turned out, the venue had a good selection of ales from the Saltaire brewery which went down a treat.
Yowl and Talk Show were entertaining, and I certainly tapped a toe, but Hull band LIFE were much better than I anticipated, and Bum Hour is right up there as one of the best singles in recent times, (and was the first track on my Furlough playlist), and I’ll certainly see them again when they hopefully get to play again in the East Midlands (fingers crossed for the survival of our much loved small venues)
Pip Blom are a 4 piece from Amsterdam, featuring Pip herself as the creative singer/songwriter, but ably supported by brother Tender on guitar, drummer Gini and Darek on bass, and whilst it would be easy to label them as Indiepop (they were due to play IndieTracks this summer after all 😉), that belies their powerful delivery and certainly there is a spirit of punk present on stage. They’re also tight as f**k, and are obviously enjoying themselves, and so are the audience, so this certainly feels like a happy gig, but I guess most gigs are when you’re gallon drunk. I didn’t make a note of the setlist, but I do know they played my personal favourite ‘Come Home’ (no, not the James song), and then included several tracks off their 2019 album ‘Boat’ – Tinfoil, Don’t Make it Difficult, Ruby, Tired and Daddy Issues, although disappointingly, it was too late for an encore, so no time to play another one of my faves, Pussycat, oh well, always leave the punters wanting more, so maybe they’ll be invited back to play IndieTracks in 2021…..fingers crossed. As we filtered out of the venue, we also noticed that not only were they still serving beer in the downstairs bar, but they also had a pizza oven, and were still taking orders, which helped soak up the ale, and also meant no need to search for kebabs on the way back to the hotel (eh Wibble? 😊)
The only sad thing to note as I write is that this was only my second gig of the year (first was Dry Cleaning at the Portland Arms, Cambridge earlier in the week), but as the CV-19 impact kicked in, it could be my last gig of 2020, and not sure I can see anything changing in the near future. Let’s hope that’s the not the case…there is a light that never goes out…
Well for the three of us these were our last proper gigs of 2020, certainly for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the COVID 19 pandemic has put a stop to gigs, festivals and gathering of people for the time being. I went to the Sheffield the following weekend to see Julian Cope, but sadly this was cancelled and my final gig was a Rough Trade East Record Store Show with Porridge Radio, just days before the UK went into lockdown. We can only hope that 2021 will be a better year. Now’s the time to support your indie bands and venues … as they’re gonna need all the help and support they can get.