For some years now Diverse Vinyl in Newport have been putting together a day of free live music within the city centred around Record Store Day. This year though, seemingly sick of working through the whirlwind that is the retail event of the year for many a record shop and then running an 8 hour live event, the promotor (take a bow Matt Jarrett) and venues involved (take a bow Le Pub and McCann’s) have moved this live music element forward by a week, so everyone can enjoy the show without being totally exhausted.

In saying this though, between us, me and my RPM gig going amigo Nev Brooks still can’t quite muster up the superhero power known as “standing up for the full show”, so instead, we descend on Le Pub about halfway through the event, just in time to catch Pigeon Wigs, who were also coincidentally the first band I saw post the UK coming out of Covid lockdowns.

Back in 2021 I predicted that the Cardiff based band showed all the signs of following in the footsteps of Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard and possibly ink themselves a major deal due to them playing a mesmerising mix of powerpop and fuzzy guitar driven rock ‘n’ roll. Instead (for now at least), they have  signed with Clwb Music and are just about to launch their new single ‘Hold Up’ (which gets played four songs in tonight) into the multiverse, and to be honest not a lot else has changed, other than they appear to be a keyboard player short tonight. Pigeon Wigs still have this immediate likeable swagger about them and songs like ‘Paper Tiger’ really are custom built for venues much larger than Le Pub, catch them in one such sized venue while you still can.  

I’ll say exactly the same thing too for Hastings based trio HotWax, who are up next in The Pit at McCann’s, simply because this is one amazing band in the making if ever there was one. Fusing Polly Jean Harvey’s skills within the musical dark arts with the overdriven thrust of Kat Bjelland’s Katastrophy Wife (thank you for that reference point, Mr Brooks) HotWax duck and dive around their short and not so sweet set like battle hardened grunge prize-fighters, yet they still retain the nativity of a band just out of school, a quality that immediately drags you in. Upcoming single ‘A Thousand Times’ is a classic example of how to bend and twist the song writing formula the HotWax way, whilst in ‘Barbie’ HotWax possibly have their very own scent of teen spirit ready and waiting to be bottled up for the masses. Don’t believe me, then just ask Legendary TJ’s promotor Simon Phillips who I spotted out of the corner of my eye whooping and slapping one of the basement walls mid-set as a show of support. Who was it again he promoted back in the day? Yeah, pretty much everyone.

It’s outside we go next to sample the fresh Newport night air along with about a hundred other hardy souls as Fashion Weak take to the makeshift stage situated between Le Pub and McCann’s to deliver, what turns out to be, a masterclass in avantgarde electro pop. Dubbing themselves the new wave of synth wave, what Fashion Weak actually are is yet another glorious musical left turn within a genre than seems to be throwing out great bands at an alarming rate right now. In frontman John MOuse you not only have someone brave enough to play part of tonight’s outdoor gig topless, but also dance around like an off his nut Dave Gahan, whilst delivering acerbic vocal lines (like the absolute classic ‘Eighteen Percent Of Swansea’…haven’t worked in the DVLA) over what can only be described as a Spagna goes Krautrock soundtrack. All making for one unique live experience indeed. Go see them on their ongoing UK tour and I dare you not to be dancing by the end of the first song.

We descend back into the white-hot underbelly of McCann’s just in time to see Shlug’s frontman rip off his vintage 1990s Cardiff City top and prepare to take us on a musical trip heavily influenced by the tail end of that exact same decade, and especially (I would say) by fellow Cardiff formed band Mclusky. Shlug are what some would term post-hardcore and as a result they have a tendency to be as noisy as hell (The Pit’s system crackling with the low end of their primal sound) and this proves all too much for one gig goer near me who shouts “fuck this” just a minute or so into their first song, and duly stomps their back up the stairs to the safe space of the bar, and that right there pretty much sums up Shlug’s musical appeal. They’re the type of band you’ll hate to love, just like Cardiff City I suppose. (What’s the chances RPM’s editor in chief will add some witty remark here eh?) *(Ed; I though of one at the double but decided against it)*

And so we come to tonight’s headliner Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, who just like Pigeon Wigs before them now appear in a slightly more streamlined format, as a trio, but what a musical tour de force this trio is.

Kicking this off in manic feedback drenched style with a 1-2-3-4 attack of ‘Sweet Disorder’ the pumped-up opener leaves anyone thinking that Lee is all about country music with an immediate bloody nose. No brothers and sisters this is all about the heart and soul of rock and roll music and if anything given the frontman’s proclivity to engage in lengthy politically charged spoken word introductions to most of his songs, if anything, it’s probably more punk rock than most punk rock bands these days.

I’ll admit that I’d struggled to get into with The Glory Fires slightly more relaxed 2022 album ‘Old Time Folks’ but here in the live setting tracks like ‘Lizard People’, ‘Outlaws’ and the superb ‘(In Remembrance Of The) 40 Hour Week’ all crackle with a truly soulful undertone largely due to Lee’s huge vocal performance (he justifiably sounds slightly croaky when I get a chance for a quick chat post gig) and he looks like he’s loving every second of finally getting the chance to play these songs live post pandemic.

Of the older tunes aired ‘The Company Man’ from 2014’s ‘Dereconstructed’ album has never sounded more relevant whilst set closer ‘Good Old Boy’ from 2017’s ‘Youth Detention’ not only brings the set back around full circle but also sees Lee joining his adoring fans to share the vocal refrain as his guitar strings get shred in the ensuing frenzy, and just like that it’s all over.

What makes Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires live shows so essential is the fact that they not only hit the mark musically but also on a personal level, and one such moment tonight evolves during Lee’s between song diatribe regarding how the UK made film Pride had been synonymous in galvanising the spirit of striking Alabaman miners during their two year struggle, which is enough to move even the toughest of us.    

A truly magical performance then, topping off a great (and very eclectic) line up of bands. So, let’s hope that it really isn’t (as rumoured) the last of these events, as tonight Newport’s rich musical legacy once again burned very brightly indeed. Long may it continue….

Author: Johnny Hayward

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