Live Review : Pagans SOH, Kick the Clown, HUDS at Katie Fitzgeralds, , Stourbridge 5 October 2019

It has been a long time since I have ventured into my local venue Katie Fitzgeralds.   I played here once myself in 2005 and in 2008 filmed local heroes Miss Halliwell for their “Die Son! Die!” movie, which I also produced and edited.  The first thing that strikes me about the cellar room after over a decade is how much smaller it looks now… it isn’t of course, and it’s not like that thing when chocolate bars seem bigger when you were a kid, no, the room just seems to close in on me.  Maybe this is because when I arrive at 8pm there is no one else around and HUDS are going through a feedback drenched soundcheck.  I am sure the sense of foreboding intensified by claustrophobia is because I think my local venue will let down the bands playing tonight with a poor turn out, and Stourbridge will be forever remembered as that shit venue where nobody turned up.  Thankfully this is not the case.

The first support tonight is HUDS who are a young band of adept musicians and are clearly relatively inexperienced judging by how they go about their soundcheck, because it is obvious one guitar amp is three times louder than everything else on stage and they don’t know what to do to correct the mix.  Still they plough through their set with a youthful exuberance and are happy cranking out songs made up of long drawn out guitar solos.  Their excited playing results in the lead singer breaking strings and going off to change them.  While that happens, the remaining members jam around snippets of songs and I am excited to hear a perfect rendition of the opening to ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ only for it stop when Billy comes back on stage.  If they can do a Pete Murphy inspired vocal they should seriously consider bringing that song into their set.  I spoke to Billy after and gave feedback on his songwriting craft as I felt their songs meandered too much for a first time listener to grasp any kind of structure. 

Don’t get me wrong I haven’t got a problem with structureless songs if that is the intention, but as he is dressed like Marc Bolan and they describe themselves as ‘avant-garde rock’ (despite adopting the traditional blues/rock scales) and they quote influences like the Manics and Primal Scream, I feel that maybe they want to lean more into straight rock, and as such need to tighten up on the songwriting basics utilising shorter intros, bridges, hooks, middle eights, modulation, balancing guitar parts etc, even if they twist them to their own style.  As it is I felt that there is too much soloing for the sake of soloing and focus on technique over feel.  As Mark Hollis once said “Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note… And don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it.”  That said, they have a great drummer and a decent foundation on which to build.

Next up is a band who encapsulates Hollis’ philosophy.  Kick the Clown is a hardcore punk band with a ferocious stage presence and delivery, and every note they play you can see they have a reason to play it.  It is fast and loud, politically charged and totally focussed.  There is a menacing look to the band as the bass player wears a mask and welding goggles, and their shaven headed lead singer screams every word while bashing his fist against his forehead like a wired Keith Flint.  They power through their half hour set with utter conviction and it energises the room.  Songs like ‘Plastic People’ and ‘Gobshite’ are like sonic battering rams railing against the current political and social climate in these messed up times. 

If you were uncertain of the band’s political leanings before the show, then it is quickly blatantly clear where they stand, as cries of ‘Fuck Boris and Fuck Brexit’ echo around the walls.  It is good to know young bands are switched on enough to know when they are being fucked by the system.  It is also encouraging to see bands unafraid now to be overtly political and craft a stunning set of songs that can inspire an audience or at the very least get them to ask questions and educate themselves about what is going on.  My only fear for the band is how the hell does a producer capture this intensity in a studio?

After a faultless Kick the Clown set, Pagans SOH seem to take an age to set up and it is clear tonight they have no bass player as an iPad is plugged into the bass amp.  I worry that this may reduce the energy levels of their performance, but if you shut your eyes you honestly could not tell one of the musicians on stage is an aluminium box of circuits and capacitors.  In case you don’t know, playing to a backing track like this is incredibly difficult in a live setting, but drummer Connor locks into the groove from the bass part so perfectly it allows guitarist Daragh to be confident to play freely knowing the song is locked down, which he does faultlessly. 

Singer Marcus apparently had suffered with flu all week, but you couldn’t tell at all, his vocal performance is rock solid leaping from low growls to a high falsetto and back again with apparent ease and spitting out his lyrics faster than a Gatling gun – but shooting flowers not red hot metal.  It is almost impossible to keep up with his stream of consciousness and politically charged words.  ‘Emergence Of a Forgotten Power’ and ‘Lazy Nigger’ are explosive and vital expressing as they do the struggles of sections of our forgotten classes.  The lyrical content is so important in their music, but at the same time the music is so funky and rocky, and supports the hip hop vocal so beautifully, listeners could be forgiven for just grooving along, the rhythms are so infectious.  There are hints of Living Colour and Red Hot Chilli Peppers and sometimes they explode like Rage Against the Machine but at the same time there is a vibe of De La Soul in the overriding philosophy of the band – SOH stands for Shepherds of Humanity, although they could just end up beings Saviours of Humanity based on tonight’s performance.

I first witnessed Pagans when they jumped on stage with the Paper Buoys at the Sunflower Lounge (who were supporting the Blinders).  I thought they were just fans of the band until Marcus started to sing with them – I only found out much later who he was and what a massive talent Pagans really are.  Hailing from West Bromwich they really are a credit to the Midlands music scene and I cannot wait to see them reach a much wider audience soon.  It is also great to see that the band recorded their singles ‘Banananah’ and ‘Pagan Pilgrimage’ with the ever popular and talented Gavin Monaghan at Magic Garden Studios in Wolverhampton (as did the Blinders).  My last memory of them tonight is when the crowd screamed for more and Marcus explains they haven’t programmed any other basslines into the iPad.  The audience still demand something so the drums kick in, Marcus starts rapping and the guitar is picked up from its stand again.  I don’t know what the song is but it is a beautifully spontaneous moment illustrating the band’s enormous talent and flexibility.

The Pagans are a fascinating puzzle mixing up genres as they do and I find myself mesmerised by them, but only time will tell whether their utter originality will confuse and alienate as many as they interest.  I still remember the first time my brother told me about Run DMC and Aerosmith coming together and initially thinking that would never work, and then hearing that mash up of hip hop and rock guitar… that song still sounds timeless and I believe Pagans are plugging into that same seam of originality.  It is dangerous sometimes not to fit comfortably into a scene because how can you promote something that is not a thing?  They will find a way though because I believe they are the best band to come out of the Black Country since Miss Halliwell in 2008.

???? Credit Malicia Dabrowicz

Music journalist