“It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled,” as some wise sage once sang.


It’s been way too long in fact, however, over the months of no gigs, I got this thing in my head that I really wanted my return to watching live music to be something special. What about Brighton upstart ska punks The Bar Stool Preachers playing a mini-festival at a rugby club literally a few miles from my front door then? The fact that The Bar Stool Preachers were also the last band I saw live before lockdown really did bring the whole thing full circle, but it was the “how the hell are they playing there?” part of this proposition that really hooked me in. So, tickets were duly purchased (£8 for four bands…Bargoed) and I sat around counting down the days until I could once enjoy that familiar ringing in my ears (which I must admit is the part of gig going I really had not missed).


In the hours leading up to Flemfest (the only slight disappointment of the night proving to be that the superbly named mini-festival had not derived its moniker from any punk rock notoriety but actually a local chap whose birthday it was nicknamed Flem), it became clear that; 1) it was going to be held outside, 2) that the bill had been reduced to three bands with Sister Yellow pulling out, and 3) it was a sold out show. That special twist I wanted from my first gig just got even more special as watching any band outdoors in the rain in the summer can be a tough ask here in the UK, but in September it would test even the hardest gig goer…perhaps the Sisters had some inside information on the weekend forecast?


Thankfully the weather turns out to be brilliant on the day of the gig and as I walk down Tram Road on the outskirts of Blackwood, the general bustle of people, the strong smell of street food vans and other festival-y substances, plus the throb of live music gives me goosebumps, but the first thing that really hits me as I enter the site is just how an impressive a set up Pontllanfraith Rugby Club have going on here. The stage and sound are so far removed from the back of a truck type of events I’d grown up knowing and it’s like someone has brought Red Rocks to a south Wales valleys town, there’s even a wall running out from the centre of the stage acting like a crowd control barrier for some mini version of Download Festival. I bet I know someone who will be making use of that as the night progresses.

To the music then, and whilst I missed the start of Pigeon Wigs set, what I did catch was mightily impressive. The band having recently played at the nearby Green Man festival exude a kind of quirky pop/rock charm that has me thinking Dexy’s Midnight Runners one minute and The Lemon Twigs the next. They are most certainly a world away from my old days of gig going in Blackwood when most Welsh bands I encountered wanted to be The Alarm. Pigeon Wigs are most certainly a name to look out for, and just like Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard before them they could very soon have the power pop world at their feet.


Dactyl Terra are a band I’ve seen before, supporting Pulled Apart By Horses in Le Pub in Newport, although the band have changed a lot since I last saw them live. Granted they still play the same brand of space rock as they did back in 2019, but adding an extra band member means their sound has also added an extra jammed out dimension, so for a majority of the people over 50 in attendance who remember the rock years of Reading Festival Dactyl Terra are the near-perfect early evening festival band.


As the clock hits 9:30 the sun has completely disappeared from the night sky and through the minimalist stage lighting I can just about make out the silhouettes of another band making their way onto the stage, it becomes apparent it’s The Bar Stool Preachers when a fully skanking line check erupts from the venue’s excellent sound system, and before I can even catch a breath, we are off double quick time into a eighteen – yup that’s EIGHTEEN song headline set via ‘One Fool Down’. TJ and the lads obviously delighted to be playing live once again then rip through the likes of ‘Trickledown’ and ‘Looking Lost’, before new track (written about the state of the homeless situation here in the UK) ‘Two Dog Night’ gets let loose and proceeds to tear everyone a new one.

There’s a lot of angry bite in the 2021 version of The Bar Stool Preachers and the addition of Karl Smith (ex-Jaya The Cat) on guitar means the likes of ‘Start New’, ‘DLTDHYOTWO’ and ‘Raced Through Berlin’ all pack a beefier chug than ever before. That’s not to say that any of the old skank appeal is lost though.


Of the other new songs previously aired pre-lockdown there’s sadly no ‘Late Night Transmission’ tonight, but ‘State Of Emergency’ sounds imperious, and the previously Strokes-like genius of ‘Heart Attack’ has now morphed into an almost totally different piece of music called ‘Flatlined’. Likewise, ‘Love The Love’ has taken a similar brave songwriting curve that had some us singing ‘Lonely This Christmas’ over the doo-wop intro.


Closing things out with ‘8.6 Days (All The Broken Hearts)’ TJ finally slips into full rock star mode, daring to negotiate the stage divide wall to deliver the song’s unforgettable chorus and thus ensuring that everyone leaves with a mandatory Cheshire Cat grin. That’s before the lads return for a much-deserved encore of the prophetic ‘When The World Ends’ and the always uproarious ‘Bar Stool Preacher’, and just like that, my first gig in eighteen months is over. What a great gig it was too, with The Bar Stool Preachers coming away from it like all conquering heroes and making many new fans along the way.


Make sure you check them out on the rest of their dates this September and on their full UK tour this December, because The Bar Stool Preachers are no longer just very strong contenders but in fact world champions in waiting. GET ON IT!!!!!

Author: Johnny Hayward