The Stable, Monday 18th February 2008Blacksmith, Welcome To Winchester

Look, I’m sorry to do this but it’s going to be another whinge about the Stable this month. It’ll be a long one too, so will the young man who recently complained to me that I’ve been covering and moaning about too many Stable shows in recent months, kindly direct your browser elsewhere or just skip through to the end? Most of what follows is directed towards Stable bands generally, and is something I just need to get off my flabby chest so if you want to find out what the bands were like, please go the end and read from the bottom up so that you don’t accost me at the bar and demand half an hour of your life back. This is my Monthly Moan after all, and I’m bloody annoyed, so let me have my little platform because the chances are I’ll be ignored anyway. OK? Good. Germans shitting on each other and zonked-out bimbos boffing bulldogs are just a few clicks away, y’know, if you get bored. Normal service will resume shortly.

Although, admittedly, he has got a point. I appreciate that by droning on about it month after month I’m hardly helping the situation, or highlighting more of the good bands that play here but let’s face it, nobody’s talking about our Stable bands any more, even those at the top of the scoreboard, and if I didn’t say anything about them, who would? That’s not meant as arrogantly as it sounds, it’s just an uncomfortable observation, that’s all. I mean, if members of the bands themselves can’t be fucking arsed to talk about each other, promote themselves or encourage an audience, then what hope do they have with the fickle public? Does the Forum Message Board buzz with conversations about whether any of this year’s entrants are any good or not? Does Myspace? Facebook? So far as I can see, nobody at all has commented on any of the Stable shows since November (little more than “I had fun last night” anyway), and even on the bands’ websites the shows are largely ignored. It’s really rather depressing and contrary to popular belief I don’t enjoy repeating myself, but for fuck’s sake, somebody’s got to state the bleeding obvious and it might as well be me.

It’s not as if the music scene we have is crap, either. Yes, sure, we do have some appalling shite, but there are some excellent bands both in and out of The Stable, gigging locally and beyond, and they’re getting noticed too. It just pains me to admit that The Stable isn’t producing them anymore to any significant degree, and perhaps it’s our fault. We’re all guilty of whinging about this scene, how it was once alive and exciting but now reeks of apathy, watching hope disappear from our grasp as we painfully watch the dreams die. We recall the support and enthusiasm that Ye Wiles, Joeyfat, even The Ideots could conjure up, remembering those nights with fond reverence, but everyone’s grown up now and it’s the turn of their younger siblings to fly the flag, only for us to discover , to our despair and anguish, that they’ve entered their formative years believing that a myspace site is all that’s needed, with no idea of what to do or how to survive as a band. Largely we have a baffled, insular, totally pigheaded bunch of halfwitted, derivative, nonsensical nonentities, with the vision of Mr Magoo, as capable of getting a crowd going as I am of entering the Olympics. Where’s the buzz of something special and ‘ours’? Where’s the pride?

Sadly, pride died and nobody attended the funeral. It left behind a scene that behaves like a sick limping puppy needing to be put out of its misery; all weak with hunger and fatigue, the elders of the pack having deserted and left the runt to fend for itself. This clattering collection of clowns even believe that things will happen without putting some effort in. Amazing innit? The Forum does so much for this scene of ours, investing what little time and money it has in the scene it believes in, and what does it get in return? An apathetic public and an abundance of complacent spoilt bands who’d be the first to moan if The Forum had to close but who do fuck all to support it, led by halfwits who don’t understand how the contest works and ignore what few rules there are, because they can’t read. It must be illiteracy, because everything they need to know is provided multiple times; in writing on proper sheets of paper when the entry forms and passes are given out, on display in the venue itself and online anytime they wish to visit the Forum website. Verbally too, just in case anyone’s dyslexic, or blind. Or something. It’s not as if they’re complex rules either, as they’re all a matter of common sense: Turn up on Monday, play 25 mins of your own material, get votes, fuck off again. At the moment, if a band only fulfils the first and last of those requirements, poor Jim on the sound desk feels like he’s had a bit of a result. Certainly, the bands are supposed to vary vastly in style, quality and ambition, but surely the minimum requirements aren’t too much to expect?

So come on bands, it ain’t rocket science. It’s pretty much all done for you, so other than turning up to play, all you need is to bring some mates down, which shouldn’t be that difficult. After all, the bands at the top of the board hardly packed the place out you know. Tonight only had 26 people and that was still sufficient to put Welcome To Winchester into 15th place, which shows you how much effort is being made this year. But let’s take it as read that you have no friends and consider that you’re simply in a contest with an opportunity to play. With nobody for you to persuade along to the gig, concentrating on doing what you’ve agreed to do should be a breeze, shouldn’t it? No, sadly. It seems that somebody has to read the rules to you and make sure you understand, because we can’t even trust you to do that. I mean, which part of “25 minutes of your own material” don’t you understand? If you can’t give that, then please, make way for someone who can. Covers aren’t allowed. Simple. To do a cover invites disqualification just as surely as any other rule breach, and far too many entrants are breaking it each week. And while we are on the subject, 25 minutes doesn’t mean 10 minutes interspersed with 15 minutes of standing around trying to figure out which way up the fucking guitar is, either. If you can’t perform 5 or 6 of your own songs, then you’re wasting your and everyone else’s time. The Stable might be about giving everyone a chance to be heard, but ensuring a fair shake applies as much to being considerate towards your fellow contestents and the expectations of your potential audience as it does to The Forum giving you this opportunity. If you aren’t ready enough for the basics, then perhaps the fairest thing you can do is stand aside for people that are, and enter next year when you have something that isn’t going make your own mothers cringe in the corner and wish that they’d aborted you.

Oh and by the way, messages on social networking sites aren’t enough to get people along to your gig. They might attract a few but you’d be damn lucky if they did, so please don’t complain that you can’t understand it because you messaged everyone. After all, do they work on you? When you have another myspace event notification or message in your inbox from a band, even if it’s one you quite like, or even know personally, are you actually going to go out of your way to travel to it on a Monday night with school or work in the morning? Odds are you won’t even read the fucking message, so expecting people to treat you any differently is lunacy. There are so many other distractions that if you want to be the needle that someone finds in a haystack, you’ll need to be highly visible, which means being either very good or very organised. The older bands got results because they physically made their presence felt, so we can only hope that Stable bands rediscover how to do it before it’s too late and everything dies on its arse.

So, what are we getting week after week? Well, ‘tis a sad tale. Of the 70 bands in this year’s contest, more than half of them attracted less than a dozen first-place votes while 13 haven’t played, mainly because they didn’t turn up. OK, bands split and that can’t be helped but perhaps it’s only fair to tell the venue rather than having them call you at opening time asking where the fuck you are, only to find that you split up ages ago and nobody could be arsed to tell them, even though you were booked. And for those that remain together, the chances are that you’ll know at rehearsals (and if you didn’t rehearse a day or two before then you truly are foolish) if there’s the possibility of a problem, and it’s simple courtesy to let the venue know, just in case, so that they can arrange a standby in time. Remember, you aren’t bothering them with phone calls and emails you know. They like to hear from you, they want to help and appreciate the courtesy. Dealing with bands is their job and their passion, as everyone has been in or is in bands and they all know what it’s like. Keep in touch, telling them how you’re doing, what’s happening, etc, and if you have a problem they want to know about it so that they can assist. It’s no bother to swap you around, provided you tell them rather than expecting them to know by telepathy. There are plenty of other bands waiting for a chance and by pissing them off in this unnecessary manner, not only do you forfeit your place in the contest and give the venue the impression that you’re not worth further effort, but you fuck it up for another band who would take as a great opportunity something which you seem to take for granted.

And anyway, this isn’t just another gig in an empty pub or scout hut. It’s a showcase with a worthwhile prize and tangible benefits from being a part of it. It matters. After all, when the weekend support slots are given out, who do you think is going to be offered the good ones? Will it be the bands who are organised enough to bring people down, who write their own material and who can show strangers (who came along to see the headliners, not the support) that we have local talent? Or will it be the turd-witted mongs who expect crowds to be provided and don’t bother with such small matters as writing material, rehearsing or bringing their fucking equipment; people who are, not to put too fine a point on it, embarrassing useless cunts? Take your time now.


Which of course leads me on neatly to Aeroplace Arcade, just in case you were wondering when I’m going to mention tonight’s bands after waffling for 1500-odd words. Well, they’re an ideal case in point, having sent a text at 6pm tonight, when everyone else was setting up, to advise that they weren’t coming. With no mention of it and nothing but spam activity on their Myspace site (which incidentally has some fine tunes), I’m personally of the opinion that the Hastings pop-punkers told precisely nobody that the gig was even planned, so had no intention of turning up for some time. Hopefully I’m wrong, as their blurb – just next to the request to book them for gigs – indicates that they wouldn’t behave this shabbily at all as they’re far too sensitive and dedicated to their own development as both musicians and selfless human beings. Indeed, they have “a connection and a continuing desire to constantly change songs to improve them…to use the medium of music to share their experiences and inner thoughts and feelings, to try and make sense of them, but also to let others know they’re not alone…” which really doesn’t sound like sanctimonious bullshit at all, does it? But hey, don’t let me put you off ‘cause they sound terrific and are no doubt worth going to see. If you do though, it might be prudent to have a back-up plan for the night’s entertainment, as you’ll probably not discover that the gig’s cancelled until you’re outside in the fucking queue.

If you’ve hung around long enough for Tonbridge’s Blacksmith to finally get their act together, you’d be forgiven for doing a double-take, because frontman Lance is the dead spit of Darius from Pop Idol before he saw an image consultant. The similarity really is uncanny with all that greasy hair and face fuzz, so perhaps he throws all those mortifying air guitar shapes and grimacing grebo poses to discourage people from shouting out requests for “Hit Me Baby One More Time”. Or it could simply be because Blacksmith are so steeped in the classic rock of yesteryear that he really can’t help himself, and one can hardly blame him for that. He’s not going to let that odd little trilby-hatted spiv bassist hog all the attention when he’s got a chance to live out fantasies of epic rock warriordom in all its roaring, manly, hairy-chested, bulging-biceped, well-hung swaggering glory. Would you?

Nevertheless, during those occasional moments when Lance sings in tune, Blacksmith provide one hell of an energetic surge of power grunge. OK, so the songs are a bit crap and the style is dated but at least it’s loud and punchy: part Pearl Jam, part early Crue, they’re big on squealing guitars, powerchord riffs and rasping vocals within their grungy greaser pop, like the ripplingly infectious “Sometimes”, and despite playing scrappily with more concern about how they look than how they sound, they receive a surprisingly enthusiastic response. That is, until “Movin’ On” their big rock ballad moment, when a goodly portion of the room are shaking their heads in despair even before the inevitable heavy section, and the remainder join in the mass squirm when it leads into an excruciating cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” with Lance The Leather Lothario changing the lyrics to “…can you hump me…won’t you smell my cheese…” and assorted references to tampons, masturbating and what a rampant heterosexual he is, by the sound of things. It’s enough to drive you to drink, quite frankly, and perhaps that’s why bands like this go down so well in grotty pubs, surrounded by hairy middle-aged men who smell of motorbike oil and stale cider.

Not so, Welcome To Winchester, whose clean, heads-down, crooning alt-rock at least sounds like it belongs in 2008. The Paddock Wood foursome occupy a loose area somewhere between Biffy and The Music, with a Bloc Party twang as they dip their toes daintily into the waters of the commercial mainstream and jump straight out again making loud obnoxious noises. Mainman Gavin Crowhurst looks like a student physics teacher; all geeky four- eyed weediness at first glance, until you meet his crazed gaze, the rhythm kicks in and the little sod’s voice becomes a terrifying booming roar, turning their eclectic mix of furious disco beats and uplifting mathy indie-pop into something macabre and unsettling. And he does it deliberately too, I watched him. That’s his secret by the looks of things; try and give each individual a direct stare and a maniacal grin for just long enough to make ’em unsure whether they’re gonna be kissed or killed, and they’re too fascinated not to feel involved, rather than merely spectating.

It’s thoughtful rock for middle-class misfits you see. Invigorating and funky one moment, rough and nasty the next, but resisting the temptation to be flash, which considering that Gav clearly buggered his voice by overdoing it on the first half of the set, is probably a wise move. WTW’s noise is flexible enough to cope with it’s own weaknesses and they’re a band clearly at ease with their style, so knackered voice or not, they’re all going to large it, as I believe those ghastly ravey types say. And they do, even though Gav’s voice is not dissimilar to a coughing goose before long. Besides, “Pulling Faces” doesn’t need much more than a barking grunt in the vocal department, as it’s already a fleshy morsel of hobnail-booted funk as freakily devilish as you could hope for.

As long as there are people moving, Welcome To Winchester will hack and slash their way through it, safe in the knowledge that they have tonight in the bag; not simply because they brought a few people, or through their tenacity, but because they made their audience (such as it was) feel special and appreciated. An admirable trait, and one that may well serve them well in the next round, provided they don’t bollocks it up by taking support for granted rather than consciously making it happen.

My money’s on them getting it right. Maybe by their example, some of the other bands will start to take heart.

Paul Mills