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The Strangers

THE STRANGERZ LIVE IN SALFORD – WHAT HAPPENED?

After a bit of a layoff, The Humble Reviewer finds himself setting off to a new venue, namely Sacred Trinity Church in Salford, to catch up with The Strangerz, supported by Fruit and Femur. For fact fans, the venue was the first church in Salford, and proudly bears the strapline, “Welcoming; Inclusive; Creative.”, and that sounds as good an introduction as you need, so, with a quick scamper, and managing to somehow avoid being struck by lightning as I cross the threshold, in I go!

When I asked The Rev. Andy Salmon how long the church had been putting on gigs, he replied, with the air of a man who has been asked that question MANY times, “Since 1635, although it probably didn’t have a bar in those days!” and I had no comeback to that at ALL. Rev Andy 1, The Humble Reviewer 0.

The church itself is a beautiful, well-lit venue with a VERY high ceiling (as you’d probably expect in a church as old as this) a pop-up bar and a pulpit of which you just KNOW that someone is going to make inappropriate use (and in this, I am NOT disappointed, but more of that later) 

First up are Sheffield-based Femur – they’re made up of Felix Renshaw on guitar and lead vocals, Eddie Burks on guitar and gang vocals (MOST intriguing!), Ryan Gillvray on bass and backing vocals and Danny Cox on drums and “Gang Vocals” (what IS this..?) and having been described elsewhere as, “Post-punk on acid” and “Garage taken to an illogical extent”.

Femur are interesting me already. They brought us their debut album, “People Parts” back in 2023 and have delivered their particular brand of psych-grunge (and yes, THERE’S my new genre – it’s like I’ve never been away!) alongside the likes of SLIFT, God-Damn, The Wytches and Phobophobes. 

More recently, they’ve been touring the UK and France on their biggest tour to date, and following on from a slot at last weekend’s Get Together Festival, tonight’s gig is the final night of the current tour, so hopefully, they’re going to go out with a bang, and as the opening bars of “Start Again” float up to the heavens (I TOLD you that ceiling was high), I realise that tonight was NOT the night to forget my earplugs. Wow – this is loud, but, it’s not just “Loud” loud, it’s clever, structured loud, if that makes sense?

There’s a lot going on and a lot to unpick, once you see and hear beyond the volume, there’s something VERY psychedelic going on as Ryan stages left delivers a motorik rhythm that underpins the mayhem, with Felix centre stage (sporting a MOST fetching full-length skirt) delivers ferocious echo-led vocals which, if you played them backwards might well summon up something that The Reverend Andy would have trouble sending back to whence it came.

Far back almost in the darkness, Danny pounds away on his kit furiously and stage right, Eddie leaps and bounds whilst dragging the most tortured of sounds from his guitar. 

I mentioned the pulpit, and it’s as though Felix has only just noticed it as, with a gleam in their eye, they pound up the steps to deliver a sermon of a very different nature than this fine establishment is probably used to hearing. The crowd are definitely all up for this baptism of fire as a far from exhausted Felix returns to their bandmates, to continue tonight’s powerful and piledriving set, before deigning to pay the crowd a little visit too, much to our collective delight.

This is the sound of a band at the peak of their powers, knowing exactly where they’re at and what their fans need them to deliver, which is something between an Old Grey Whistle Test (ask your parents) set and what you’d imagine a 60s basement psyche party in a London cellar to look and sound like.

There’s a delicious echo-ey effect that underpins the instruments and vocals as the quartet throw themselves wholeheartedly into a tight 32-minute set that would scare anything that they’d summoned up straight back to whence it came (although it would probably take a Femur CD back with it for everyone to listen to). 

If you’ve heard any hype around Femur, you’d better believe it and catch up with them as soon as they start touring again, but as a certain Tony Wilson might have advised, “Use Hearing Protection”. 

Femur played: Start Again, Trans, Die Trying, Tell Me You’re Running, I Don’t Like, Second Twin, Sweat, Watch Me, Watch You and Comeback 

Describing themselves as, “The tallest band in the North West”, Leicester-based Fruit’s lineup comprises Josh Withers on vocals, Jim Danger on baritone guitar, Bryn Williams on guitar (a different one, obviously, otherwise that would look silly and sound awful), Alex Hemley on bass and George Dimmock on drums.

The came into existence late in 2022 with Josh, Alex and Jim making the move north from Leicester to Manchester, followed by George, then Bryn completing the quintet late in 2023. They’ve released two singles to date in the form of “Bleak”, and “The International”, which they describe as being heavily influenced by 90s post-rock outfits like Slint and Unwound, and today sees the release of third single, “Finn’s Song”, all three of which feature in tonight’s seven-song set. 

Visually, blonde-tinged frontman Josh reminds The Humble Review of a latter-day Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran, or possibly Japan’s David Sylvian and he casts a striking figure as he greets us bearing a bottle of Bucky which he consumes enthusiastically throughout tonight’s set. Set opener, “Leech” is a mournful, pounding affair that puts me in mind of The Murder Capital or Fontaines DC at the darker end of their discography, and all comparisons to blonde 80’s icons go firmly out of the window as Josh howls at us in fury.

The International doesn’t let up on the intensity – there’s a whole lot going on here for a Mancunian audience of a certain age – the laconic delivery of John Cooper Clarke and Mark E. Smith, the ferocity of Ian Curtis and a discordant backing noise that I might have thought I wouldn’t like, but find myself feeling exactly the opposite.

Fruit certainly don’t deliver standard verse/middle eight/chorus songs, but you feel that they’d probably be the less for it if they did. It’s precisely their reluctance to conform to what you’d expect a band to sound like that makes them all the more interesting. 

The musicianship is tight and clever as it switches from angry to mournful to delicate and back again, all the time using Josh’s striking appearance and barely-contained Lydonesque fury to deliver a set to which you really need to pay attention.

Jim and Bryn’s cleverly interwoven guitars underpinned by Alex’s insistent bass and George’s drums ensure that you come away trying to pigeonhole Fruit, but failing miserably – there are so many rhythms bouncing off each other, particularly from George’s. drum kit that you come away feeling vaguely unsettled, as the light falling through the stained-glass windows starts to fail and night starts to draw in. I wouldn’t like to be in this place with Fruit in the dark, that’s for certain, Bucky or not. 

Tonight’s set closes with today’s new release, “Finn’s Song” and having thanked us for coming, Josh rightly concludes that Sacred Trinity Church is “The best venue we’ve ever had the chance to play in”, and you can’t take issue with that. T

he guitar introduction is quiet, but builds gradually to a screaming crescendo as everyone joins in for one final peer into an abyss that probably doesn’t belong anywhere near in tonight’s venue at all, so it’s a good thing we can stay just where we are and let Fruit get on with it. Josh falls to his knees and stares upwards, as though seeking divine inspiration, and for this, he’s definitely in the right place.

Along with Femur, Fruit definitely fall into the category of bands who have to have the full span of your attention, and preferably not be viewed just through the viewfinder of a camera. File under, “Must see again”, please. 

Fruit played: Leech, The International, Bleak, Dr Boxing, Split, Untitled and Finn’s Song 

Headliners The Strangerz are the only band with whom I’ve previously crossed paths, the most recent occasion being at Night and Day in February, supported by The Battery Farm and Chemtrails, at which point they were describing themselves as, “A shouty, feminist punk and indie rock band formed in Doncaster over lunchtime Pot Noodles, but now shouting (and sometimes screaming) in Manchester”.

On the basis of THAT performance, I sincerely hope that they haven’t changed what they’re about, or indeed the noise they make whilst telling us about it. For the uninitiated (where have you BEEN..?)

The Strangerz comprise twins Martha Kelly on vocals, screams and squeals, brother Tom Kelly on guitar, Shannon Gebbie on drums and Will Darracot on bass. Their current discography comprises 2020’s fan favourite, “Straight Gay Brother” (not making an appearance tonight, sadly), 2022’s “Shut Up”and 2023’s “Hit the Ground” (both of which do)and they’ve been busy playing (amongst others) a headline gig in that there London, plus gigs at The Band on the Wall, Night and Day,

Liverpool’s EBGBS and a headline gig in their hometown of Doncaster, where the tickets were £1! How much more value for money can you GET, Dear Reader? 

The Strangerz launch into their energy-packed set with everything cranked up to 11 from the outset, as set opener “Catch Her Eye” putting me in mind of the edgier side of Altered Images before they went all sugary, with Tom attacking his guitar for all he’s worth stage left with Martha’s smile lighting the place up from the outset as she alternates vocal duties with Will stage right. Somewhere back in the relative darkness, Shannon pounds away furiously and keeps the whole show on the road as we’re treated to another joyous mix of fuzzy, grungey, garagey post-punky goodness.

The church has filled out nicely over the course of the evening, which is a good thing, as there was a lot of competition from multiple gigs in Manchester for bums on pews tonight. Next comes most recent single “Hit the Ground”, followed by what will be the next single, “New City, New Car”, the subject of which is, apparently, meeting a very drunk man on “The disaster that is the Doncaster to Sheffield night train”. I can only surmise as to how this went and who came off worst as Matha squeaks and howls, ably supplemented on vocals by Will. 

Martha is well known for her forays into the crowd, and tonight is no exception, as she scampers offstage enthusiastically, disappearing amongst us, only to emerge seconds later to head towards Shannon’s drum kit, just to say hello and check she’s not getting lonely back there. Shannon is clearly fine,  so Martha returns stage front to take us through the B52s mayhem of “Plastic Man Wrapped in Margarine” (no, me neither, but it’s a whole heap of fun all the same). She pauses the set to drum up some applause for Femur, Fruit and even The Reverend Andy, a sentiment that’s met with much approval from the crowd. 

“Hometown” (which is actually about leaving your hometown) is next and we’re treated to more of Martha’s half-spoken, half-sung vocals over a VERY loud backing from her bandmates, sounding for all as though they’re competing with Femur for the title of Loudest Band of The Night, but still having loads of fun whilst they’re doing it.

Tom’s guitarwork on “Lockets” sounds like there’s more than just one of him, as he tries to match Martha for energy – this is a band that does NOT stand still, not even for a second. There are traces of the early, punkier elements of Debbie Harry, and maybe even The Slits, but such comparisons are for the oldies like me as The Strangerz deliver a glorious din, quite unlike anything you’ll hear from a female- fronted band at this moment. 

We’re treated to a new song that’s only been written today – “We’re going to play it and we’re not sure how it’s gonna go”, announces Martha, uncertainly, before informing us that it’s about, “Creepy Men in The Club”. It’s a sad state of affairs that we hear FAR too many songs written about this subject at the moment, but Martha and her gang are still keen to give us THEIR take on it. Her delivery, neither wholly-spoken nor sung, but a crazy mixture of the two, is punctuated with whoops and hollers and is refreshingly different for it. “That’s alright, isn’t it?”, she asks us, to which some wit cheerfully replies, “Thank you, God!” 

“6/8” is a slower song that’s in 6/8 time, hence its name. It sounds horrendously complicated to play, a testament to the musicianship on display, and is yet another assault on my eardrums, discordant, but strangely compelling at the same time.

“Are you guys ready to scream?”, asks Martha, mischievously, and we all yell our approval, as we know what’s coming, in the form of fan favourite, “Shut Up!”. Here, Martha attempts to strip what’s left of her vocal cords with the most blood-curdling screams. We try to join it, but she’s bossing this completely, over Tom’s slightly sinister guitar line, as Shannon pounds away for all she’s worth and Will throws himself around in a MOST unearthly manner. 

The Strangerz close off tonight’s set with one final assault on the earholes in the form of “Do Nothing” – “I do nothing, I do nothing at all”, Martha yells at us, whilst they all are actually doing quite a lot – you really can’t take your eyes off them for a second, for fear of missing something. Before we know it, the night is over and we file out into church-cast shadows, the like of which, some of us haven’t walked through in quite a while.

Tonight, however has been a first-rate example of how a building can be repurposed to encourage a sense of community and coming together to have a reyt good time. Not quite what the original architects and occupants had in mind maybe, but MOST in keeping with the overall message of this fine church – cheers to M.C. Reverend Andy and the Sacred Trinity Crew – you’re doing something VERY special here indeed. 

The Strangerz played: Catch Her Eye, Twice 2 The Soul, Alphonso, Hit the Ground, New City, New Car, Plastic Man Wrapped in Margarine, Hometown, Lockets, New Song, 6/8, Shut Up! and Do Nothing. 

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