After witnessing between 20-50 people turn out for every gig I’ve been to over the last month I was starting to lose faith. I was starting to think that maybe Lenny Kravitz was right; maybe rock ‘n’ roll is dead after all! Thank fuck then that the Virginmarys fans descended on The Brudenell on a cold and wet Thursday to douse any flames of doubt that having been burning away in my brain. Of course rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead! It’s alive and well, kicking ass as strong as ever from the underground.
Tonight, we have 2 truly independent bands who are releasing great music and touring under their own steam.
Dressed in maroon velvet, with mismatched stripy socks and her black n white dreads in bunches, diminutive Hands Off Gretel frontgrrl Lauren Tate looks and acts every part the Alice In Grungeland you would expect. She takes us all down her own personal rabbit hole, giggling and rolling her eyes to the skies. Lauren is doing what she has been planning in her bedroom for years, and now all the songwriting and singing, the drawing and designing of all the artwork herself, is finally paying off. Hands Off Gretel are a band that are certainly making waves in all the right places.
It’s not all about the hyperactive frontgrrl though, to her left new bassist Becky Baldwin, the consummate rock chick, is all flowing black hair and tattoos, she fits this band of misfits perfectly. Their original bass player Sam has been the drummer for a while now, he keeps the beat well and ever animated guitarist Sean handles most of the guitars, leaving Lauren free to use every inch of the stage making new fans in every direction she turns.
On the strength of tonight’s set their highly anticipated sophomore album will be essential listening. Opener ‘Don’t Touch’ brings out Lauren’s inner Brody Dalle with some nice screamo moments and Becky’s backing vocals add a nice variety to the overall sound. Recent single ‘Kiss Me Girl’ sounds fantastic, it’s probably my song of the year, and ‘S.A.S.S.’ has a hell of a hook, bringing nineties riot grrl power kicking and screaming into 2019.
But it’s the cool as you like ‘Punk Rock Girl’ that steals the show for me. A high energy, schizophrenic song with a great delivery, I look forward to hearing the studio version. A choice cover of The Stooges ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ is handled well, taken down to a brooding, dark beast of a song. Oldie ‘My Size’ closes a set that will surely gain the band many new friends tonight and on every night of this tour. Job done.
Hands Off Gretel are the sort of band people like me hope to discover at every new gig. They have that certain magic that sets them aside from the competition. One thing is certain; Lauren Tate is a superstar in waiting, she knows it and so do we, now we just have to wait for the rest of the world to catch up. Ones to watch in 2019.
Macclesfield’s finest export The Virginmarys should need no introduction to these pages. Now free of a recording contract and doing things their own way, they return with the release of fantastic new long player ‘Northern Sun Sessions’ and a short run of dates to promote said album.
Dressed in black, his hair grown out and peroxide blonde, Ally Dickaty doesn’t fuck about much between songs and lets the music do the talking. Opener ‘For The Two Of Us’ from the new album is a slow burner that not only showcases from the off what a great songwriter Ally is, but also what a great drummer Danny Dolan is. Then it’s straight into live favourite ‘Just A Ride’, The Virginmarys are taking no prisoners tonight as the room erupts.
In a set that covers the band’s three albums, there are many highlights to pick. Of the new material, ‘Get Me Back Home’ (with Ally doing slide on an old Vox guitar) stands out, as does brilliant new single ‘Look Out For My Brother’, a song that has already become a firm live favourite. ‘S.O.S.4.U.N.I.’ sounds amazing live, the euphoric, cinematic feel that they captured so well on record transfers just as well to the stage, even down to the spot on backing vocals courtesy of touring bassist Ross.
Elsewhere ‘Into Dust’ is intense and brooding as it builds to that epic chorus. Yes, epic…The Virginmarys do epic very well indeed. ‘Motherless Land’ and my own personal favourite ‘Lost Weekend’ give the desired goosebumps treatment.
There’s a punk rock intensity to a Virginmarys show that bands rarely capture, the combination of great songs with lyrics that are deep and relatable, a tight, well-rehearsed band and a passionate fan base that will sing along to every word. It’s a killer combination every time.
My eyes can’t help but be drawn to the drummer as he bends over his kit at the start of songs, staring daggers at the crowd, lost in the moment, before pounding seven shades of shit out of his poor kit, as spurts of water ricochet off the skins with the intensity of his beats. In a world of underrated musicians he is up there as one of the greatest drummers just to even watch. On the likes of ‘Portrait Of Red’ he even stands up to bash out the intros.
Encore time sees Ally pick out the intro to the title track of their new album. Emotive and soulful, it builds intensely, as many of their tracks do. He has us captivated, as we too get lost in the moment. And final song of the night ‘Bang Bang Bang’ does just what it says on the tin!
Tomorrow is Black Friday, but tonight I saw 2 great bands for £12, and that’s the best deal I could hope for all year! One thing’s for sure, I will be back to see these bands time and time again, no matter the entry price. An awesome night of rock ‘n’ roll, who could ask for more?
Author: Ben Hughes