And so it came to pass that after an exhausting weekend of togging, reviewing and distribution of photos (in colour AND black and white, I’ll have you know) to the 20-ish bands and acts at Manchester’s After All Festival, Your “Slightly Frayed Around The Edges” Reviewer and trusty sidekick, Exhausted Girl swore blind that the last thing we really needed to be doing was heading off to another gig for at LEAST a good few days. Three. Three days is all it took for our good sense to collapse. Any yea verily did it come to pass that the tribe of Wythenshawe didst venture out on Tuesday to head to the photographer’s friend (not really), the Pink Room at Yes to take in M(h)aol and support act Grave Goods. Well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?
Grave Goods describe themselves as “Taking influence from early post-punk and minimalist rock – their album “Tuesday. Nothing Exists” (hopefully still available on luscious transparent red vinyl if ya lucky) released on TULLE, makes them M(h)aol labelmates, and hunting around the Interweb, I now have ANOTHER genre to add to my ever-expanding collection in the form of “Sartre Rock” – as yet, I have NO idea what this is, other than it’s inspired by Lois’s love of said Jean-Paul, Camus, de Beauvoir and all things existential, but I’m keen to find out. Based between Belfast, Dublin and Manchester, they comprise drummer Sarah Grimes (of Girls’ Names and September Girls fame) and singer/guitarist Lois Macdonald (likewise PINS), and they are joined tonight for the very first time by Niall Murphy, also of Oh Boland, replacing former bass person Philip Quinn who has gone to ply their trade elsewhere. Good luck, Phil.
The trio bound onto the stage to appreciative whoops from the crowd and set opener “Come”, one of seven tracks from the album, lets you know exactly why M(h)aol have chosen then as support – the minimalist drumming, insistent bass, choppy guitar and spoken vocals remind me straight away of “No One Ever Talks to Us” as Lois pounds the stage in a very Meryl Streek-like manner. “Source” continues the theme with an urgent, insistent delivery. Lois has said “To me, most of the songs are about how everything is pointless, so everything has complete meaning, and only you know what that is for you”, echoing M(h)aol themes of being comfortable in your own skin and refusing to compromise or be pigeonholed. “Miles” continues the set and there’s no let-up in the urgency of these three – this is music that makes you want to pay attention and really listen. “Story” channels Joy Division’s “New Dawn Fades” (for me at least) as Sarah pounds furiously at her kit and Niall’s bass hits you right between the eyes. I’ll sue, you see if I don’t.
“Phonetic Fetish” is an eerie track, both lyrically and musically, with its cyclic metronomic drumming as Lois peers out over and around the dreaded pink lights to make sure everyone is listening and such is her stage persona, a mix of playfulness tinged with, “Don’t mess with me”, I don’t need to turn round to be sure that everyone IS listening. And so, they ought. The audience throw themselves around at the front, happy to be part of Grave Goods’ slightly disturbing, would wonderfully existential world for half an hour or so.
Eneeway is followed by a brief “Happy Birthday” for an audience member who is then gifted with a large maracca which they jiggle enthusiastically throughout “None”. There’s a dark undertone to Grave Goods’ music that’s also a little reminiscent of early Murder Capital. Niall is formally introduced to the crowd to a whoop of approval. I’m beginning to wish I had a lyric sheet to follow as there’s clearly more going on up there than meets the ear. As I’m writing this review, I realise that if I’d purchased the vinyl after the gig, I might very well have got one too, which would have helped me a bit, but what I DO pick up is the closing line of “Dream” “I hope this lasts forever, I hope this lasts forever… nothing lasts forever”. I bet some of you think these reviews do, though, so quickly to set closer Die, which contains the wonderful lyric, “Nothing will be what you want it to be” – poignant, but largely true.
As I write, Grave Goods are supporting M(h)aol in London, so you’ve missed that one, but you can catch them at Galway’s Free House Festival on the 3rd of June and KFEST in Kerry on the 4th. If you like M(h)aol, you’ll surely like these three, and to see them both together is indeed to be the winner of the proverbial chicken dinner.
The last time I saw M(h)aol was in support of Sprints at this very same venue back in February, but down in the Basement. Debut album Attachment Styles was barely released, but sadly not available on the night, but so impressed was I with the set that I quickly tracked it down, along with its predecessor, the Gender Studies EP, both have which enjoyed serious rotation on my gramophone ever since. M(h)aol are named after an Irish pirate queen (Gráinne Mhaol) and it’s pronounced “Male”, so that’s that cleared up for you – you’re welcome. They got together in Dublin waaaay back in 2014 and comprise, from the left, bassist and producer Jamie Hyland, singer Róisín Nic Ghearailt, drummer, manager, TULLE record label owner (“Buy some merch and pay my rent”) and all-round nice person Connie Keane, bassist and video person Zoe Greenaway (tonight sporting a quite terrifying set of contacts – Meryl Streek, you have a LOT to answer for, young man) and finally, guitarist Sean Nolan who STILL refuses to face the audience. One day I’ll get a picture of something other than the back of his head, but until that day comes, I shall lie in wait. My day will surely come.
M(h)aol’s themes centre around identity and feeling comfortable about who and what you are, wherever your sexuality takes you, in addition to calling out misogyny and gender-based violence wherever it’s encountered. Connie regales us with the story of the length of time for which they’ve been waiting to play with Grave Goods, and how they were thwarted last July by melting train tracks in London, which is a Band Name Of The Day in itself) . The thing that immediately strikes you about this gang of friends is how comfortable they are in each other’s company and how they genuinely what love what they do. However, that’s not to say that they don’t have important messages to deliver, such as that covered by “Laundries”, a song about the legacy of the Magdalene laundries and the culture of misogyny that enabled it. Irish social horror stories, whether contemporary or generation-spanning, are themes close to M(h)aol’s heart and they take it upon themselves (much like fellow Dubliner Meryl Streek) to make us aware of such things.
Róisín pauses proceedings to ask Dave the lighting man to make a few adjustments, before launching us into the bewilderingly brief world of Connie’s dead dog Kim (you really have to be there… or buy the album). The banter between her, her bandmates and the rest of us is easy going, again reinforcing the idea of a group of friends having fun in which we’re more than welcome to take part, if we so desire. “No One Ever Talks To Us” is scratchy and haunting, and also accusatory: “No one ever talks to us… unless they want a fcuk” – “Have you no manners, it’s called being polite, the way that you’re acting, trying to ruin our night” – it’s quite clear who the target of their ire is with this one.
Before the spoken piece Bisexual Anxiety, Your Humble Reviewer, standing right at the front is singled out for wearing a Gurriers tee and when I’m asked what my name is, my, “Pete” is quickly met with, “I could have guessed that”, leaving me to wonder which of my more alarming physical characteristics might have led to this conclusion. This leads to, “Pete… or Brian” before Connie chimes in with “Dave”, and Róisín hits back with, “Or Tom”, by which time I’m completely bewildered, but as the audience seem to enjoy my evident confusion, everyone is happy. Even me, strangely. Bisexual Anxiety aims to say, “It’s hard, but you’re perfect EXACTLY the way you are”, which is a lovely sentiment, but the pain that many feel whilst trying to believe this is something that far too may have to encounter. We may be MORE enlightened as a society, but possibly not quite everyone, and possibly not quite enough. Connie is the sole accompaniment, playing her bass with a violin bow, which gives the whole piece a haunting and troubled edge. Clearly there is still much work to be done in the world.
“He says nice guys always finish last… but I didn’t finish at all” is the underlying theme of “Nice Guys”, which needs NO explanation from me AT ALL, thank you very much. Clementine is the first song that the band wrote, but sounds as though it could have been written yesterday as it fits in perfectly with more recent tracks in both its musical style and shouted/spoken vocal delivery. Although Róisín is the frontperson, everybody has a part to play – the two bass approach is novel and allows for interesting interplay between Zoe and Jamie, whilst all the time that man Sean conjures all sorts of squeaks and belches from his kit over in the corner. Even in the sleeve notes for Attachment Styles state that he thanks “The Witness Protection Programme”, but while we rarely see his face, we certainly hear his noise.
Femme, (written on a trip to SXSW with Connie under her Fears alter ego) states, “I know that it’s clichéd and you don’t want to hear it, I know that it’s a dress and I could choose not to wear it, I should have cut my hair off when I knew I was queer, it would have made it easier on everyone here”. It makes you think. It certainly makes ME think. Nobody should have to conform to someone else’s idea of what they think you should be or what you should look like. With messages and food for thought like this, M(h)aol are going to make a LOT of friends, which is excellent.
Gender Studies is a shout out to all those who are having a hard time because of who they are. “So, go ahead, study my gender – bring all your fears and insecurities to the fore, ’cause when you study my gender, guess what? I like the new me more.” Róisín thanks us all for coming out tonight, especially those of us who have made a return visit and cheerfully admits that they’re not the easiest band to see live, because of the emotional effect of the issues they bring up. However, I’d beg to differ – there are many ways of delivering a message and M(h)aol seem to have got the balance just right – you go away WANTING to think more about what they’ve been singing about, which has GOT to be a good thing. Plus, how can you not love a band whose drummer recommends a website called doesthedogdie.com that covers all sorts of movie spoilers (including the death, or indeed non-death) of said dogs.
Period Sex discusses exactly what you think it would, in an attempt to break down yet ANOTHER sexual taboo whilst “Bored of Men” reminds us that, “We can make all the effort and do all the change, but I still don’t know what to do with this masculine rage” M(h)aol get their point across so well, you almost don’t realise they’re MAKING a point, so deft are their lyrics and bewitching their music. However, when it comes to a plea for merch sales, the intensity of their good-natured pleas goes up a notch, especially when trying to push a Mattel-themed “Bored of Ken” tee, which would probably be the subject of ALL sorts of litigation should it come to the US giant’s attention, but thankfully, it probably won’t.
Before set closer Jack Douglas, Róisín takes time to introduce everyone, paying particular attention to Sean, who from being an “International Man of Mystery”, since joining the band has been downgraded to a “National Man of Mystery”, soon to be merely a “Regional Man of Mystery” and, in keeping with all these three roles, he STILL doesn’t turn round – or if he DID, I blinked and missed it. Róisín tells us that whilst she was writing the lyrics to the majority of Attachment Styles, she hoped that when M(h)aol played it, the rooms in which they played would be full of people just like us, a big mix of people, lots of queer people and people who might feel scared of being alone.
She finishes off with the message that the overarching theme of the album is hope and she herself hopes that, “When you leave here tonight that you’ll feel hopeful and you’ll feel that there’s something good in the world – because there is” – looking round the crowd tonight, it looks like her dream just might have come true.
M(h)aol played Kinder Bueno, Therapy, Laundries, Kim Is a Punk Type Dog, No One Ever Talks to Us, Bisexual Anxiety, Nice Guys, Clementine, Femme, Gender Studies, Period Sex, Bored of Men and Jack Douglas.