It’s another mad rush up the M6 on a miserable Wednesday evening to catch up with the mighty IST IST, who are playing  Preston’s Ferret as the first night of a four-gig run in support of Independent Venue Week. Mind you, I shouldn’t complain, as a quick trawl through the Facebook-based IST IST fan group reveals that a fair few of the faithful (always good to get some alliteration in early) will be absent from tonight’s proceedings, due to either the train strike or the dreaded lurgy, which, it seems, just doesn’t want to disappear any time soon.

Although 2023 showed that they were capable of filling out much  larger venues, IST IST they clearly haven’t forgotten their roots, and bearing this in mind, the lucky few who’ve managed to snap up the tickets file in dutifully and take up their positions, until the Ferret is fit to burst, with some hardy folk hanging off the stairs, eager to get the best view of tonight’s proceedings. But before the main course, we are treated to a tasty starter in the form of Manchester-based Midnight Gallery.

Although they haven’t been Midnight Gallery for THAT long, the four mates from uni have been on the go from as far back as 2019, but from the minute they launch into their brief, but atmospheric five song set, it’s clear why IST IST have chosen to have them as running mates.

They’re graduates of IST IST’s (they designed, built and own it) KVM studios, and having seen what they do and what they sound like, they were asked along for the ride for this short set of dates, and as it was clearly an offer they’d have been daft to refuse, they didn’t. The 24th of January saw the release of “Unknown”, the first single from their self-titled EP and sound-wise, they’re a gloriously blurry hybrid of the band they’re supporting alongside traces of The Cure, Joy Division and Echo and The Bunnymen, and with some gorgeously bright guitar thrown in for good measure.

Fronted by lead vocalist & guitarist Robin Panter, with Evan Craig on lead guitar & backing vocals, Louis Earnshaw on bass and Alex Cooper on drums, Midnight Gallery state they aim to, “Breathe a fresh contemporary spirit into the iconic post punk sound of the 80s” and although they get off to a cautious start, their confidence builds as their set proceeds and it’s clear that they’re happily tapping into a ready-made market with tonight’s crowd, my good self included.

Contemporary band-wise, they remind me a little of Nottingham’s Bloodworm who are trying to achieve a similar end. They’re going to be playing a headline gig at Manchester’s 33 Oldham Street on March the 1st and I for one am going to be there (and fear that a trip to their merch stand may well be in order too) – if you like IST IST and all things dark 80s, you’re sure as heck going to like Midnight Gallery – maybe I’ll see you down there?

Midnight Gallery played: Obsessions, Why’d You Stop Me?, 7, Unknown and Goodbye.

The second you hear the keyboard wobble of, “Wolves”, you know you’re in for an hour or so of first-rate tuneage (not that you wouldn’t if they opened the set with any other song, mind you) – it’s a bit like Deja Vega always ending their sets with the mind-blowing “The Test”, there are certain immutable laws of physics in an IST IST set that make you feel like you’ve come home – the merch-bedecked crowd clearly agree and an almighty cheer goes as Adam, Mat, Andy and Joel take up their accustomed positions.

With Mat stage switching between a bewildering array of keyboards and guitar (and sometimes both), Adam centre stage, as always leaving the majority of the audience interaction to low-slung bass god Andy over on the right, although with twenty songs to squeeze into eighty minutes, even HE has to keep it brief.

2023 saw the release of well-received third album “Protagonists”, which only just missed the hallowed halls of the Top 40 by one place and a (Fat) cat’s whisker. 2024 has already gifted us a re-release of early Spinning Rooms and Everything Is Different Now EPs in the form of, “Everything Is Spinning Now” and we eagerly await their fourth album which is reportedly near to completion. Tonight’s twenty(!) song set comprises a splendid mix of earlier material, tracks from all three albums and a couple of sneak peeks into the new album too – honestly – what’s not to love?

Amongst others, there’s a run out for the first song they wrote, in the form of “Night’s Arm” as well as the reworked version of firm fan favourite, “Emily” which made a welcome reappearance on “Protagonists” last year, and I defy ANYONE not to sing along that THEY’RE sick of crying over her too – she’s a bloody nuisance. As anyone owning IST IST albums will testify, whilst they’re both intensely powerful and beautifully produced, it’s in the live arena where, as a band, they come into their own.

Whilst I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do in a place the size of Manchester’s New Century in November, it’s in intimate venues such as The Ferret where they shine, places where you could practically reach out and touch them (although there are laws against that, apparently).

Much as Andy protests at one point that they’re a serious band, which is why they all wear black, and play black guitars, there’s an unmistakable warmth about them, and an appreciation of the fans who have stuck with them and purchased their music and merch as they continued to plough their fiercely independent DIY furrow over the last few years.

Andy pauses after “Emily” to thank us all for coming down and supporting them, , and to make the point that we need to take care of our independent venues, the lifeblood of our communities, as he doesn’t think that going to shows should become a middle class day trip out, a sentiment which is met with whoops of approval, before Adam’s mournful vocals, complemented by Joel’s as he keeps the beat at the back with his insistent pounding, Mat’s cleverly woven instrumentation and Andy’s booming bass continue to take us to Hell’s darker chamber and back again, with “You’re Mine”.

We lap up every precious minute, until it’s time for them to finish off with the ONLY song with which they should finish a set, namely the glorious “Slowly We Escape”, proving the laws of phisISTs to be correct yet again (Can I have a word? – Ed).

They briefly take their leave, only to reappear shortly for merch duties with the faithful. We can but hope that the next album will be the one that finally propels them more into public view, and although it’ll be a bit of a wrench for the rest of us, it’ll be absolutely nothing less than they deserve. Better late than never, as they’d probably say.

IST IST played: Wolves, Stamp You Out, Exist, Lost My Shadow, The Kiss, Night’s Arm, Fat Cats Drown in Milk, Preacher’s Warning, I’m Not Here, Mary in the Black and White Room, Nothing More Nothing Less, All Downhill, Heads on Spikes, Fool’s Paradise, Something has to Give, Black, Under your Skin, Emily, You’re Mine and Slowly We Escape.

Photographs by Alison Morris