The Victoria, one of Birmingham’s oldest pubs, is a cosy venue and well-lit too (always a photographer’s dream!). Despite the horror of getting anywhere via Birmingham city centre, thankfully I was there in plenty of time to see first band Appocaholics, (formerly known to those in the know as The Zodiac), take to the stage.  Frontman Ed Barnes opened their set by announcing that the Warwickshire-based four piece were currently a trio, due to the recent departure of their bass player. However, in true JOHN style, they didn’t let the fact that they had but a single guitarist (in the form of Will White) cramp their style. Quite the contrary, ably backed by Will and drummer Toby Cautley, Ed Barnes connected his unruly ginger mop to the mains and launched into a ferocious set.

Another Friday evening where, realistically, your humble reviewer should have stayed home at the end of the working week and made some serious inroads into the bottle of Jam Shed that I’d had to abandon the other week when I ended up shooting out of the front door at short notice to review Maruja. Sadly, common sense was never one of my strong points and when I saw that my mates Battery Farm were in the middle of a line up including a couple of unknowns (at least to me) in the form of Appocaholics and headliners Bunker 9, and as I was working in Stoke, I was “kind of” halfway to Birmingham,  what was a boy to do..?

Info for Appocaholics is scarce – they describe themselves simply as, “A punk band who like loud music and energetic crowds” Punk for sure, loud, definitely and they certainly got the small but enthusiastic audience fired up.

What could I hear amongst the melee? All sorts – Rage Against the Machine, Blink 182, Nirvana, bit of Royal Blood maybe. You certainly can’t fault their energy, and  they have brought a small but loyal following with them who don’t seem to be bothered that they’re a man down (and to be fair, I wouldn’t have noticed either if we hadn’t been told) and Ed happily acknowledges both them and the bands with whom they share the bill. Birmingham-based bass players, form an orderly queue, please. Anyone with a hairbrush for Ed’s glorious mop will be given preference,

Appocaholics played River, Dandruff, Game, 21st, Tried, Fool, obvious audience favourite Scumbag  (which even had ME joining in with the chorus and I’d never heard it before) and World On Fire.

Next up, North Manchester-based Battery Farm. Frontman and occasional guitarist Ben Corry, brother Dominic on guitar and the owner of not only the world’s most photogenic hair but also the deadliest effects board you’ll hear this side of Senegal (guess what’s on in the background?), bass man Paul Worral and drummer Sam Parkinson deliver a most worrying view of the world. From debut single 97/91 back in 2019 through the wonderfully named, “Dirty Den’s March of Suffering” in 2021, to the recently released and critically-acclaimed Flies album, (released but two weeks ago, yet managing to attain the heady heights of Number 12 in LouderThanWar’s top 100 albums of the year) , Battery Farm have driven a white van of horror down our street, before deliberately crashing it into a bollard, allowing such cheery themes as the hopelessness of the human condition, frustration, despair and decay to spill out of the back doors and desecrate the pavement.

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to the term, “Jazz Punk”. If you had to even ATTEMPT to label Battery Farm, try “Doom Punk” (a term first coined by Witch Fever, apparently – every day’s a school day…), which seems a reasonable fit. Taking inspiration from IDLES (although I hear many shades of Killing Joke in there too, both in sound and theme), Ben and Dom are the perfect foils for each other as Paul and Sam keep it tight at the right and rear of the stage. Although this is a somewhat abbreviated set as against the 50 minutes that regulars are used to, Battery Farm deliver a ferocious racket, somehow joyous and despair ridden at the same time. Fans will also be aware that Ben is the proud owner of a full head latex fly mask, which is as intriguing as it is terrifying. When he’s not wearing it, Ben holds it at arm’s length and stares it out as if to try to draw answers to the questions he asks with his lyrics.

Dear reader, your humble reviewer was given the opportunity to wear the aforementioned fly mask not long after Battery Farm left the stage and I can honestly tell you, in Birmingham than night, not only did I experience existential horror through the music, but absolute physical horror too. It was wet, as though the souls of the damned were crying out in torment within its rubbery confines. If offered, for God’s sake don’t. Just say no. It will eat your soul and spit it right back at you in little pieces, then Battery Farm will write a song about it all.

Fresh from the ongoing success of the album launch in Manchester a fortnight ago, and a more laid-back acoustic set in possibly the world’s smallest bar in Altrincham last week, Battery Farm are already working on material for a follow up album  (no, I don’t use the term “Sophomore” either – ugh) but don’t expect to hear it until 2024. With Dom leaping down from the stage and squirming alarmingly across the floor for their final song Black Smoke, Battery Farm preceded it with Flies, A Working Class Lad, Crude Oil Water, Drowning, Public Speaker, Wooden Spoon Number, Disdain Gain and most recent single, Poet Boy. Hunt them down and fill your ears with Flies, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get them back afterwards.

Finally, to tonight’s headliners, Bunker 9. I thought I’d been clever in linking their name with “A haunted bunker from a lost age” in a post-apocalyptic novel that I found on Amazon, but the truth is probably a bit more down to earth. The name apparently comes from the practice rooms that the band used to use in their college – these were fondly referred to as “Bunkers” and their favourite was… well, you guessed it… so there you go.

Bunker 9 came together whilst attending the Music Performance and Production course at Stratford College (whose praises they are at pains to sing) and via a shared love of rock and metal. A year after the release of their debut EP “It Doesn’t End Here”, they were signed up by TMR Management run by Nathan Keevil, at whose kind invitation I found myself awaiting their arrival on stage.

James Allen and Charlie Singleton on guitar, Chris Jovanowski on bass and Henry Davis on drums open up the proceedings, and the uninitiated amongst us (i.e. me)  are left wondering which one of them is going to grab the mic. However, it’s none of them as Tommy Dunwell springs demon-like from the crowd and launches into a 10-song set that both in sound and technical ability belies their youthful appearance (in saying that, to me, EVERYONE looks youthful these days…)

Like many others, their early sets included covers by such luminaries as Foo Fighters and (again) Royal Blood, so it’s easy to see where some of their influences lie. With James joining the band a little later on from the other four, the five now display a chemistry and a level of ability that will carry them far. With Chris supporting on vocal duties, Tommy does his best to whip the crowd into action, drawing them closer to the stage and displaying obvious glee as a few of the hardier members of the audience crash into each other in appreciation of what’s going on in front of them. “A mini-mosh”, he announces, happily.

If you take the obligatory amble down Google Drive (aha, see what I did there?), you can see that whilst Bunker 9 have cut their musical teeth at many of the smaller venues in this neck of the woods and beyond, they have also been fortunate to play their first proper gig at Birmingham’s O2 Academy and you get the impression that venues of that size will hold no fears for them in the future. With the guitar/drums/bass powerhouse to his rear, Mr Dunwell is a natural frontman and you can see this gang going places. I hope they won’t take offence at my admission that the first things that came into my head (and it’s an old one, for sure) were Led Zep, ZZ Top and Foo Fighters, although if I jump back to the present, I swear I can hear cheeky undertones of October Drift in there too.

Gutsy, bluesy and rocky, and enjoying every minute of what they’re doing, do yourself a favour, bunk off (sigh – I know…) and give these guys an hour of your time – you won’t be disappointed.

Bunker 9 played Stay Clear, Misled, Me and Mary Jane, Ride, Going Now, Save Your Breath, Voices, My Own Summer (Shove It), Heartbeat and Slither.