Supports from PRODUCTS + REMINDERS
You know how people can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing what they were doing when key events in history occurred? I know the exact moment when I learned of the existence of Meryl Streek, I was heading out of a packed YES Basement, accompanied by my goodfriend Dermot de Faoite back in October, having just watched Gurriers supporting Chappaqua Wrestling. “Don’t forget to check out Meryl Streek”, he shouted as we disappeared in opposite directions into a miserable Manchester night. And he should know – as presenter of a Monday night show on Indie Rocks Radio, he champions much music from the Island of Ireland on his weekly slot and Meryl was just beginning to peek above the emerald parapet at that time. Dear reader, that night I went home and checked out – and tonight, both Dermot and I find ourselves in the crowd, eagerly awaiting the start of proceedings.
The oldest pub in Todmorden, The Golden Lion opened in its current guise in 2015 and is an independently run community hub that describes itself as “The Pub Reimagined”. It’s as famous for its unique take on Thai cuisine (which we tried and can thoroughly recommend) and its beers as it is for its venue spaces and live events, delivered by in-house promoters White Rabbit. In addition to hosting a huge range of bands and artistes (including an album launch party for The Lounge Society at the back end of 2022), the Golden Lion is also renowned for DJ sets from acts as diverse as Jarvis Cocker, Don Letts, Andrew Wetherall, Kevin Rowland, and somewhat obliquely, snooker legend Steve Davis. It has a very special and welcoming atmosphere and is one of those grass roots music venues of which we hear so much and which we should frequent WAY more often. 30 minutes on the train from Leeds or Manchester, the station is only 5 minutes’ walk away and the gigs finish in time for the last trains in either direction – how easy do you want it to be?
Having discovered that we’re booked into a hotel across the road tonight as an unexpected treat, the pressure of having to drive home after the gig is suddenly removed, and with the possibilities of IPA-related shenanigans now very real, we meet up with other members of the Facebook fan group “Bon Secour, Bonjour” (its name originating from a lyric in “False Apologies”). Everyone is eager for the night’s proceedings to get under way, when into the bar slips none other than Meryl Streek himself. As far removed from his stage persona as you could imagine, he takes time to chat with us all, taking a real interest in our questions and genuinely enthused that so many folks have made the journey to Todmorden to see the gig that was the first one of this tour to be announced. Just as Todmorden has a very special feel about it, expectations are high for this particular date.
Support tonight comes from two bands, Products and labelmates Reminders. First up, Products are pretty much freshly minted as a band, although vocalist/guitarist Tom Harrison and drummer Natasha Foley claim a pedigree as members of the wonderfully named Honk, plus Tom is also a member of Fruit Tones. They’re so new that they only signed up for the last three nights of the tour six weeks prior to the tour actually starting, and with no Products songs of their own at that point, it was a pretty significant leap of faith on Meryl’s part to give them these slots, but it seems to have paid off as those members of the audience who have drifted upstairs to see what’s going on nod in appreciation of their stripped back minimal sound. Although afficionados of Honk and Fruit Tones will hear SOME influences drifting through, Tom and Tash are anxious to be their own entity for 25 minutes or so. They tell me later that they didn’t really have any plans for the band after this tour, but loved the three dates so much that they’re thinking about keeping it going and recording something in the next month or so for a possible release later this year, so we actually saw the birth of a band tonight. It just goes to show how important audience participation and reaction is, so the message is – keep on going out there and seeking out new artistes.
Products played: Tepid Pool, RRP £6.66, Lola got Skunked, In the Business, Bad Music, New Song, Bargain Bin and Napoli Boys.
Reminders comprise Leo Dyke on vocals and guitar, Theo Afsarian on bass and Harry Spencer on drums and, hailing from the Isle of Wight, they’ve made a considerable journey to support their labelmate tonight. Describing themselves as “Your Mum’s Favourite Power Trio”, they’ve walked amongst us since 2017, so they’ve had several years to perfect their jaunty sound which lies somewhere between Blink-182, Green Day and current bands such as Voodoo Bandits, and throws up a couple of new genres in the form of “Beach Punk” and the equally intriguing “Slacker Pop”. Breakneck, yet bubblegum, punk yet pop, the trio have already shared stages with the likes of Liam Gallagher and The Killers, so The Golden Lion holds no fears for them, apart from when good-natured frontman Leo admits to never having heard of Todmorden until a few days ago and that he’s pronounced it with the emphasis on the “Mor”, rather than the “Tod”, much to the feigned disgust of the good-natured crowd. With new single “International Dial Tones” having been released a week ago and a 6-date tour with Lovebreakers due to start a couple of days after this gig, the Reminders road train rumbles on with relish (got to love a bit of alliteration). They’re fun, they enjoy what they do and there’s a strong possibility that you will too. Give your ears a treat.
Reminders played: Purple Stripes, If You want it (Don’t let me down), Carousel, Seaside Scampi, International Dial Tones, Daisy, Can’t Hardly wait and Post Paris Blues.
It was never going to be easy to review a Meryl Streek gig without making direct reference to 2022’s hard-hitting, and often deeply disturbing, “796”. Released on the 4th of November, it was a bit too late to make many folks’ album of the year lists, but you can be certain that it’s going to be popping up in them regularly as 2023 draws to a close. Released on Venn Records (home of Bob Vylan, Witch Fever, High Vis and one of tonight’s supports, Reminders), 796 careers alarmingly between anger, frustration and apoplectic rage at things both historic and contemporary. There are plenty of other places where you can discover the grisly meaning behind the album’s title should you care to look (and you SHOULD), as this review probably isn’t the place. Catholicism is the target of much vitriol, as are successive Irish governments’ complicity in its activities as well as their facilitation of the abuses perpetrated by slum landlords, and the homelessness that is the inevitable outcome.
On 796, Meryl’s focus flips between targets in swift succession, as he also ponders mental health issues, alcoholism and organised crime in an Ireland in which many of the young, the poor and the underclass feel disaffected, marginalised, ignored and unwanted. Suicide is also touched upon, both personally and as part of a broader social canvas, reflecting the last resort of an element of society who find themselves to survive WITHIN that society. These are messages that can’t be ignored, nor should they be swept under the carpet by the very bodies that continue to enable them. Meryl uses a wide variety of sounds and ideas to channel his bleak and uncompromising message, from electronic beats and spoken word to television samples and more traditional punk guitars and drums. Underpinning it all though, is an unmistakable Irishness running through its veins – neither he nor his music really couldn’t have been birthed anywhere else. The Streets may well appear somewhere in his family tree, but Meryl has taken back those Streets and made them his own, adding a whole level of vitriol to get his message across, in a brutally honest way.
The crowd’s chatter drops to a murmur as the familiar samples of “The Start” drift out of the sound system and we wait, realising that the Jekyll we met downstairs is maybe going to need a little help from a Hyde tonight. The lights drop to near blackness, along with the spirits of any would be photographers – this is going to be tough. Then, like a wraith in the night, Meryl takes to the stage, illuminated by nothing more than a small, but very bright torch. It’s clearly not going to be about the visuals – apart from a backdrop of the 796 artwork, the stage is bare save for a couple of mic stands. With trademark hooded coat, cap and contact lenses, Meryl paces back and forth both anxiously and angrily as the set progresses and the audience are captivated, hanging on to every word and watching every movement and gesture as he goes nose to nose with them. Nobody feels threatened though, as they realise that it’s not them who are the target of his many-faceted ire.
If you ever worried that the anger generated within a studio environment wouldn’t boil over into a live setting, think again. I was lucky enough to witness this explosion of raw emotion all over again at The Deaf Institute in Manchester the following night, and the effect on the crowd was exactly the same – you absolutely can’t take your eyes off him. The themes of abandonment, hopelessness and helplessness and the refusal of those in power to do much to alleviate them, resonate with both crowds who howl back in appreciation. The samples between songs speak volumes – “I’ll tell you as succinctly as possible. We live in a cesspool, a septic tank. We live in an exquisite bedlam. An insanity, made all the more grotesque by the fact that we all recognize it as insanity.” It’s Ireland, for sure, but it’s not JUST Ireland. Not by a long chalk.
Molly Vulpynes, who has joined the tour since Leeds the previous evening, takes to the stage for Demon, her angry shouts permeating the darkness and providing a perfect counterpoint to Meryl’s scarcely-contained fury on the other side of the stage, continuing through Educated Mates and on into the harrowing title track 796. And as soon as she’s there, she’s gone, disappearing back into the crowd like an erstwhile banshee, her energy spent, her work here done until Manchester tomorrow. We now tumble headlong into False Apologies, documenting the anger felt when those who are called to account apologise to your face, but it’s clear that it’s just weasel words that you hear. Next comes a treat in the form of the as yet unreleased Homeless, a taster from the forthcoming album which doesn’t look like it’s going to give us an easier time than its predecessor. The backing sounds drift between traditional Gaelic instrumentation and thumping drum and pass percussion, underpinned by more samples and statistics that speak the truth to power and take no prisoners.
Meryl is joined on stage for Suicide by local poet Mel O’Dramatic who reads out her work “Class War”, a hard-hitting poem which, if you didn’t hear everything is worthy of a second listen – you can find a quieter, but nonetheless still angry version of it in the Au Secours Bonjour group – well worth 1:53 of your time. The haunting refrains of the penny whistle and guitar underpin the themes from both ends of the stage – the horrors of suicide from Meryl and the horrors of social injustice from Mel. If you can’t get your message across without anger, then maybe you NEED to be angry. Many years ago, within PIL’s “Rise”, another spokesman for a generation, John Lydon yelled “Anger is an Energy”. Let’s stay angry, people – and thank you Mel.
Meryl concludes his set with an outing for Paddy, another as yet unreleased track written a mere three weeks ago about his Uncle Paddy, who was taken from him 5 years ago. With it’s rousing cries of, “And you’ll always be loved and you’ll always be missed”, with which the crowd join in enthusiastically, it’s clear that Uncle Paddy was loved, and always will be. Meryl lets us into his world on more than one occasion – these aren’t just songs, they’re experiences. And as soon as it’s begun, it’s over. Humbled by the response, Meryl finishes off with “Thank you so fcuking much, every single one of ya” before announcing that he’ll be back in May. He leaves the stage and before you know where you are, tonight’s earlier Streek is back selling merch, including a wonderful range of home-made soap. It’s almost as though the past 45 minutes never happened. Almost, but not quite. The audience queue for photos and merch and Meryl is more than happy to oblige. Your humble reviewer fanboys horrendously and is mightily disappointed that there are no XL tees left with which to surround his equally XL frame.
Tonight, we witnessed a man on a mission. Listen to 796. See him live. Take his message to heart. Meryl Streek is not going to shut the feck up, and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Whilst we wait for the next album, we hope he will be around to call our so-called elders and betters to account for a very long time.
Meryl Streek played: The Start, Full of Grace, Yesterday, Landlord, Matter of Fact, Demon, Educated Mates, 796, False Apologies, Homeless, Suicide and Paddy.