DOG ECO CO – Chain Street & 4th, Greg & Chas, Leon & Phil, The Flavenoids

No, I don’t know why these Unlabel spin-off shows are called “Dog Ego Company”, just in case you’re wondering. And you quite might be, because I know I’m not the only patron curious as to whether it is supposed to mean anything. However, I can reveal why these individually numbered Dog Ego Co nights appear to be going backwards. This is what, number 29 or something like that? 28’s next week and this is allegedly because UnBob has decided to treat them like his birthdays in that after 30 they’ll go in reverse. Sound thinking I reckon, although Bob does risk growing into the only teenager in Tunbridge Wells drawing a pension, but there you go. Age affects us in different ways, and even if it doesn’t make us fret about our physical decline, if nothing else, increasing age causes us to view the world with a more jaundiced eye. Call it bitterness if you wish; I won’t argue.

As I sat in the car listening to the news this evening (as is my want), I found myself watching (with considerable curiosity) the local wildlife which thrives around the back of The Forum, going through their rather charming mating rituals. Well, we all feel that way inclined when springtime is upon us, and it’s strangely sweet to see these delightful examples of regional fauna so well-practiced in the fine arts of courtship. If I were a wildlife spotter, I may have paid more attention to the finer details of the rituals and therefore may have been able to eventually identify the precise sub species of these peculiar rodents, but since I’m not, I can only provide a generic description in that they were a modestly sized pack, scuttling southwards towards the courtship grounds near the roundabout.

At a distance, as any observer will agree, the sexes are difficult to determine, due to the nylon branded sportswear coats adopted by both, plus a shared habit of blowing smoke from thin white sticks, which may have once been an exclusively male privilege but in recent generations has evolved into a practice commonly adopted by both genders. As they passed closer by, I could determine what I could only assume were three males (identifiable by shorter hair, an aggressive stance and a red and white canister carried in the hand and swigged from intermittently) and 2 females (identifiable by slightly longer hair, a disproportionately oversized rear end, a glass bottle in the hand and the more obvious fact that their mating cries are higher-pitched and louder than those of the males).

The male seemingly has to demonstrate his excellent genes by impressing the female with his physical superiority, but risk minimal harm to himself, so a great deal of posturing, spitting and loud grunting towards other species is required to attain the female’s interest, with the other two males ready to show support in the event of real danger by joining the alpha male in a pack attack. A loud shriek from the larger female seems to be the signal to proceed to the next courtship level which involves impressing her with his athleticism, and this seems to be best demonstrated by hurling the metal canister (still full of liquid) with great force at a parked car, with the intent of shattering the glass. A failure, oddly, is met with the enthusiasm of a success, and joint cackling screams of “Naaaaaaaaagghh!! Gaz yorra faaakin men’al kaaant!” from the females and appreciative laughter seem to show that trying is the main thing, although a great deal of importance seems to revolve about the idea of treating the car like a vanquished enemy, so it is often attacked afterwards to inflict further damage and perhaps remove part of it as a trophy of the hunt. This particular missile did not cause much damage however, and pausing only to kick the driver’s door, the pack soon disappeared from view towards the bright lights that beckoned them.

As I watched these creatures on their way to play, the latest details in the trial for Sophie Lancaster’s brutal murder were being broadcast. For those of you that don’t follow current affairs beyond which bands have broken up today, this was the case of a young girl beaten to death by such feral youths for “being a goth”. It’s arguable that being a goth had nothing to do with it, as these lowlife bits of barely-human chav detritus were vicious violent vermin that would have started on anyone seemingly weaker than them and unfortunate enough to have been in their vicinity at the time, regardless of how they dressed. For once though, the tabloids have got closer to the truth than they usually do, because as sickening as it sounds, such attacks by Neanderthal pikeys on “grungas n gofs” happen virtually every weekend in this town. Whose turn it is tonight to receive a kicking is impossible to say, but it’s a fairly safe bet that it won’t be another cowardly shell-suited thug ending up in casualty, unless it’s to have their stomach pumped. And you can tell that someone or something is going to receive the wrath of the underclass tonight, because the Fair is in town and it’s attracting scurrying rat boys like some drum ‘n’ bass version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, so as sure as night follows day, some kind pack of humanitarian peasants, perhaps even those I observed earlier, will stagger from it soon, vomiting Stella Artois and candyfloss as they search for someone to batter or a parked car to destroy on the way back to their holes.

If you’re a young person, you’ll be worried about yourself or your friends, and quite rightly so. But if you’re older, with children of your own, you can’t help but worry about their safety when you know the sort of scum that are out there looking for someone to bully or rob from. These same scum share the same schools and the same streets, so a teenage daughter seemingly impressed by these monkeys in tracksuits is a parent’s nightmare, and it’s for this reason that I’m not going to slag off The Flavenoids and refer to them as a ridiculous and agonisingly awful bunch of clueless schoolgirl bints, whereas in the past I wouldn’t even have hesitated to do so. It’s age again, you see. You start to realise that there are far, far worse things for kids to do with their time than being in a diabolically bad band, and on the whole, no matter how ghastly they were, if it were my own daughter up there I’d be proud and pleased as punch about it when I consider potential alternatives to her and her mates making a brain-aching racket in the garage and pissing off the neighbours.

Can somebody give me some water, my voice is about to go…” croaks lead lady Jessamy as she steps nervously up to the mic, her face rigid with anxiety. It doesn’t bode well. Like everyone playing in support tonight, The Flavenoids haven’t had a chance to rehearse or even prepare because they’ve stepped in at the last minute after cancellations, so a lot can be forgiven. To agree to do this when they clearly aren’t ready is exceptionally brave of them, but sadly shows them in their worst possible light, which is 4 teenage girls (well, they qualify as such), 3 chords (E, A and G), 2 speeds (all over the place and stop), and 1 idea (lets form a band and try not to be too terrible).

From a strictly critical viewpoint, they could be regarded as portrayers of ghastly, excruciating, plodding schoolchild jamming that helps cement the stereotype of girl bands being fucking rubbish, as they’re devoid of cohesion and unable to listen to each other until the set’s nearly finished. Stylistically it vaguely evokes the Yeah Yeah Yeahs being jammed by apes wearing mittens, and I doubt you’d find any disagreement even from them. The Flavenoids know that they’re shit and make no apologies for it. They don’t have the ability to bring out a fraction of their ideas at this stage, and as such they come across a bit like a parody of themselves as they try in vain to hold the bare bones together, playing alongside but never with each other as their timeslot ticks away.

Blond vixen Jessamy might have an indistinct voice (or a bloody awful one, depending on your personal tolerance levels) but even with a sore throat she uses it confidently, avoiding any temptation to go beyond her limited range and power levels, because it’s enough of a struggle with the basics as it is and there’d be no sense in embarrassing herself. Simple trashy rock ‘n’ roll is the name of the game with The Flavenoids, and perhaps it’s their gritty determination to come through unscathed that somehow makes them slightly endearing, even a little cute as they rasp away at what could well be a cover if it was vaguely recognisable.

But let’s not forget that experiencing this kind of embarrassing episode in those formative years before they can drink and buy fags legally, is part of an essential learning process and has to be endured. It’s cruel to slate ‘em simply for being inexperienced as everyone has to start somewhere and stepping in to do this at the eleventh hour shows guts and moral fibre, but it’s nothing more than courageous heartfelt fun at this stage, untempered by practice, patience and time, which are the factors that will determine the The Flavenoids future, if they have one. Until then its valuable experience, so watch them closely and they may even end up tolerable.

Blimey, I reckon I’m getting soft in my dotage.

Another problem with being old though is that whether you want to or not, you eventually mellow your musical tastes as everyday life limits your listening time to things you know you like. Sure, lots of other new exciting stuff drifts across constantly and there are fewer keener pleasures than discovering something that revolutionises your own tastes, but if you want any sort of life at all, you have to accept that there are things that you simply aren’t going to ‘get’, no matter how eclectic you’d like your musical tastes to appear. I know for a fact that I’ll never properly understand or appreciate hip hop, electronic dance, or most jazz, so in the knowledge that I only have limited time in the average day for selfish pleasures, I’ve given up trying. Hey, I’m middle-aged, shoot me. The point is, I also don’t get a lot of what Unlabel finds appealing. Sure, some of it is fantastic, but I really can’t appreciate instrumental noise which sounds like endless droning feedback punctuated by vague guitar strums and randomly plucked strings at an earsplittingly high volume, while someone screams unintelligible nonsense now and again. In a post rock universe (or ATP), it’d be atmospheric lo-fi noise art, but in my day they’d call it tuning up while the soundman’s absent. Ignorant idiotic philistine that I am, I have as much chance of enjoying or even adequately describing Headquarters’ Leon and his buddy Phil’s experimental random headfucking as your granny, so I won’t even try as I take no pleasure in having my eardrums ruptured by something this fundamentally ugly and pointless. Maybe there is a point, I dunno, but it’s lost on me whatever it is, which thinking about it is probably a positive endorsement. OK, to be fair, they aren’t a band, a project or anything tangible really, just two geezers filling in by improvising a doomy din for a while which is great in spirit and appreciated by many. Just not me. Sorry.

Slightly less arduous on the senses are ex 9-Volt quad-stringer (and winner of the 2008 ‘Bloody Nice Bloke’ award) Greg Cheney and his acoustic associate Chas, who haven’t got a name for their enterprise yet but are open to suggestions, so please feel free to post yours at the bottom of this page and if they use it, I’ll give you a prize. They haven’t had a chance to prepare either, but at least there’s a vague resemblance to a workable unit going on, no matter how sloppy it might be. Well, I say that it’s a unit, but it seems to be pretty much whatever Chas wants to do, and what Chas wants to do is make emasculated folk pop pitched somewhere between Damien Rice and Jack Johnson that would probably give James Blunt a momentary stirring in the trouser department, while Big Greg sits there smiling, acoustic bass on his knee, not intruding on Chas’s limelight as he chirpily plucks out a lazy backbeat, trying not to look like a giant backing up an elf.

They almost have it from the offing, as an opening cover of Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Stay Tonight” snaps together pretty damn snugly to the point of suddenly receiving enthusiastic cheers. Beginning with a cover is a risky move and they both know it, but the warmth in the crowd’s reaction seems to have taken young Chas by surprise, leaving the duo unsure of where to go next. While the audience are perhaps expecting more singalong pop as a lightweight interlude after the previous noise terrorism, perhaps they weren’t expecting something quite as lightweight as what they were served with, but it doesn’t dampen anyone’s spirit, least of all Chas’s.

He’s got a slick David Gray-ish voice too; a little lacking in power perhaps, but nice enough to listen to for a while if you like that sort of thing, which he does if the next few tunes are anything to go by. He even starts to get a bit Newton Faulkner on us, experimenting with guitar-body percussion while crooning twee nonsense like “oh come to me, dreamy melody…”, but it’s a fine tune regardless, and they at least have the luxury of being the closest to ‘cuddle music’ that the evening’s going to get, and the couples seem to take advantage accordingly.

Greg & Chas make a pleasant, if not entirely thrilling attempt at contemporary acoustic cool, and with luck could find themselves entertaining punters in wine bars before too long, because that seems to be the most fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of popularity when you have tender songs of heartbreak and holding hands to deliver. “We’re gonna do a Bob Marley type thing…” warns Chas, and a fairly simple calypso ensues as they explore Caribbean clichés in the way that Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” does, before leading the couples into a “one love” chorus. They adore that sort of bland bilge in such places, and should keep it for them because doing it somewhere like a pub in Brixton would probably get them shot.

Age, or maturity if you like, has caught up with Chris Hoad too. The demise of 9 Volt a year ago may have been a sad occasion for those of us that followed the Crowborough mosh-merchants with fanatical zeal, but the absolute necessity of it becomes blindingly obvious now that this solo project has reached fruition. Unrestricted by petty internal politics or the rigid confines of accessible metal, the driving force behind 9 Volt is back, and this time it’s personal. Chain Street & 4th are the embodiment of Choad’s own private fantasies and fears, his inner demons, frustrations and torments come to life. Sure, the Choadlet’s onstage persona is still geared around smutty innuendo as some things never change, but style-wise it’s as far removed from the traditionally raucous metal of 9 Volt as a standard porn flick is from 2 Girls & 1 Cup; musically this project is darker, deeper and scarier than a cave full of vampire bats.

From the opening guitar blast of “The Sentence” to the twisted acid-gargling fury of “Litigation Machines” it’s clear that Chain Street’s modus operandi is to create challenging gritty post-grunge that’s tight, explorative and terrifying, like a grimier, slimier Bring Me The Horizon, fused with the epic anger of Tool, leaving you to marvel at the unhinged toothgrinding moodiness of it all. Tangled blistered guitar squeals, spurting progressive rhythms and intense mathy cool abounds, full of light and shade, loud bits, quiet bits and bits that are just plain weird. It ain’t pretty but it’s immensely heavy and satisfying as they riff out in a flurry of sweaty feedback and distorted, epic, constantly mutating, grinding grunge. And of course, if we want to extend the Chain Street experience we’re all encouraged to buy their new debut album “Devices” (out now on Unlabel) for a mere £8, which as Choad helpfully reminds is around the same price as a prostitute from Glasgow, although slightly more costly and certainly a better investment towards a good time than one from Slough.

Although a clean break from 9 Volt personnel would initially seem to be the obvious choice for such a personal endeavour, having fellow ex- 9 Volter Jamie Straker sharing guitar duties certainly seems to be a wise choice, if only for reasons of comfort as they understand each other’s ideas better than anyone else could, but there’s no doubt at all who’s leading the way. Choad moves like a flailing scrawny bag of hair and bones, thrashing and waving that guitar about like a b-move axe-murderer on prom night, but more remarkably – considering his recent sinus surgery – he’s seldom been on better vocal form; that roaring, phlegm-rattling, tarry-lunged growl is so loud and powerful, it’s a wonder it needs amplification at all.

Chain Street & 4th aren’t easy listening, it has to be said. If 9 Volt was your limit for angry energy, and the Slinty mathiness that’s so popular ‘round these ‘ere parts doesn’t altogether melt your Magnum, or you’re simply plain old, then frankly, you might be better off with your memories. No hard feelings. For everyone else, who might enjoy the feeling of having their brains sucked out of their lug‘oles, they’ll have you grinning like a stoned hyena. And you’ll still get lots of cock jokes too.

Paul Mills

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