It’s Friday night and when bands as cool as Continental Lovers and Sister Morphine are dewn tewn (that’s the Newportonian way of pronouncing “down town” just in case you thought it was a double typo) then there’s only one place RPM Online is going to be, especially when its FREE entry.
The unknown entity on tonight’s bill for yours truly is opener UPB. This three-piece relatively “unknown punk band” (think about it) are all local lads and apparently, they are also a band who avoid political subject matter within their songs. Then again that might just be singer/guitarist Matt yanking our collective chain, because what I can gather from watching their nine song set, is that all the songs drawn from their ‘Ranthology’ album (played in full here along with non-album track ‘Pirates’) are all pretty much politically charged or at least contain some poignant social commentary, albeit with UPB this all comes wrapped up with some instantly hummable melodies. Opener ‘The Thrill’, complete with its Sweeney intro being a perfect example.
Matt has more than a hint of Pete Shelley about him, so even when the band’s message is as blunt as ‘Fuck Off Boris’ there’s still a great hook to get stuck in your head, then when he switches into Jake Burns mode he has the aforementioned ‘Pirates’, a truly great tune, with which to weave his magic.
The best thing about UPB is that in the 30 odd minutes spent in their company here tonight I didn’t actually feel like I was on a night out in Zooport, nah I was in Blackpool (in my head at least) watching another great band at the annual Rebellion Festival and all that was missing was the sticky floor of the Empress Ballroom. As the band’s T-shirts proudly declare ‘Punks Not Dad’, and as long as there are bands like UPB out there it never will be.
That’s because it’s impossible to keep great music down folks, as the long overdue reunion of low-slung rock ‘n’ rollers Sister Morphine has proven. Yes, it might be over three decades since they were last out and about taking no prisoners whilst sharing stages with the likes of Gunfire Dance, Red Dogs and Last Of The Teenage Idols, but what’s thirty years when you’ve just released one of the surprise packages of the year in the shape of your debut album ‘Ghosts Of Heartbreak City’?
There are people here tonight who have travelled pretty much the width of the UK to witness the band’s second gig back together, and as the five-piece launch into their furious opener ‘Holy City Zoo’, it’s only the hints of grey in the hair of the band members that’s really the difference from how I remember them live first time around. Tight and brimming with cock sure attitude, this is incendiary stuff for sure, and as frontman Gaz Tidey (née James) quickly observes, if when his careers advisor told him as a 13-year-old that if he didn’t buck up his ideas he’d end up down the pit, then perhaps The Pit (as in tonight’s venue) wasn’t such a bad place to be after all. Thus, providing the almost near perfect intro to the band’s finest three minutes to date, ‘Nothing Dirty in the Truth’.
Unlike with the band’s first show back where due to the multi band line up it meant the band shared a backline and had only a vocal PA to help drive home their tunes, tonight, playing through a proper in house rig the guitars of Lloyd and (in particular) Nick cut though the humidity with razor-like precision whilst the mesmerising bass lines of ‘Hollywood’ Mike and the rock-solid drums of Denley Slade shake McCanns to its very foundations.
There are a few additional cuts included here tonight too, and these come in the shape of ‘Cry The Rain’ and ‘Days Of Wine & Roses’ which whilst these tracks do perhaps lean more towards the late ‘80s/early ‘90s flowery shirt scene of which the Morphine monster were very much a part of, that’s certainly no bad thing in my book, as it’s great to hear the latter track live once again after all these years, and it still sound so pertinent.
Look, I’ll admit I could be accused of nepotism here as I’ve long been friends with all the members of Sister Morphine, but they would also expect me to write the truth if they weren’t actually up to the mark. So, it’s with somewhat great relief that after Ben Hughes gave the band’s album a rave review on RPM just a few months back, I can echo his positivity when it comes to the band’s live show. Don’t believe me? Then just ask the punters that travelled from far and wide to be here tonight. It’s great to have the guys back it really is.
It’s great to have Continental Lovers frontman Joe Maddox back in Wales tonight too, because the man is not only like a brilliant ray of powerpop joy whenever he plays in our locale but as he reveals tonight, he’s also of Welsh heritage, with his father being born just down the road in Penarth.
The last time I bumped into Joe was when he was fronting The DeRellas at Rebellion Festival pre-pandemic and a lot has happened in the world since then, not least he’s gone and got himself a rather spiffing new outfit in the shape of Continental Lovers, and it’s a band you’re all going to love once you’ve heard them.
Taking to the stage to the intro tape of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll (Pt 2)’ opener ‘Tattered Star’ is a song that immediately takes you to a place somewhere between Joe’s old bands The Breakdowns and The DeRellas, then latest single ‘Paraffin Lips’ truly sets the touchpaper before ‘Tape Deck’ explodes in all our faces. BANG!
There’s an added edge and indeed image that bassist Keri K Sinn helps bring to the Lovers, being equal parts Noel Fielding and Johnny Thunders, he appears the perfect foil for his rhythmic partner in crime Rokket R Rik (a proper whacker of the drums not a tickler that’s for sure) over which Maddox and fellow six stringer Ben Webster can strut and pout like they are headlining their fifth sold out night at MSG not some basement bar in Newport.
The band’s debut single ‘Really Doesn’t Matter’ is a particular stand out for yours truly as is their exceptional cover of Stiv Bator’s ‘Make Up Your Mind’, a track which Joe states is likely to be the band’s next single. There are also times tonight where I detect subtle hints of both Phil Lynott and Tom Petty within Maddox’s songwriting and ‘Wedding Song’, which pops up mid set, is the most striking example of this. Of the rest of the set ‘St. Joan’, ‘Can’t Get Her Outta My Head’ and ‘Dale Arden’ all trash their way straight to our punk rock hearts before a double whammy of New York Dolls’ ‘Jetboy’ and Cheap Trick’s ‘He’s a Whore’ provide the perfect finale by which to send us all out into the cooling summer rain and our journeys home.
Make sure you check out Continental Lovers at Rebellion 2023, they play the After Dark Stage in the Arena on the Saturday at 11:45, the band have asked if you can, to please bring balloons. It’s going to be a one hell of a party folks!
Author: Johnny Hayward