“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

Well, it most certainly is in Cardiff city centre tonight, as trying to find a parking space close to the venue is verging on the impossible. I mean it’s only 7pm, yet I’m having to hotfoot it halfway across Cardiff as I don’t want to miss any of tonight’s openers, punk rock supergroup, Ultrabomb. That’s because tonight’s gig is one of those dreaded club (or should that be clwb?) nights with an early start and curfew. It’s “time to burn” indeed.

I’m not alone in my desire to catch UltraBomb either as the top floor of Clwb Ifor is respectably full for the arrival of ex-Hüsker Dü bassist Greg Norton, The Mahones guitarist/singer Finny McConnell and drummer extraordinaire Jamie….no wait, that’s not him behind the kit, that’s Oliver Perry who also just happens to be drumming for tonight’s headliners The Bar Stool Preachers too. Yup, step up that man, because tonight, for one night only, Perry (as he’s affectionately known by his bandmates) totally owns Cardiff, playing two sets on the bounce, and there’s plenty of that to come that’s for sure.

On paper, the Irish folk undertones hidden within UltraBomb’s music shouldn’t really be my musical cup of tea, but when they’re driven headlong into the more distorted and frenzied influence of the band’s rhythm section it all comes together to make one magnificent racket indeed. Frontman Fin cuts an immediately affable persona with the band playing a mixture of songs from da Bomb’s debut record ‘Time To Burn’ along with a few choice cuts from his and his bandmate’s previous bands, the pick of which for me was probably a particularly rousing version of ‘Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely’. Of UltraBomb’s original tunes ‘Star’ shone brightest over the Cardiff skyline tonight, and talking of wise men RPM’s head honcho Dom Daley arrives (fashionably late as always) just in time for the double whammy of ‘Sonic Reducer’ and ‘New Day Rising’ that brings things to a close. If you are lucky enough to have tickets for the handful of dates left of this run of shows make sure you get in early doors because UltraBomb really are the, err… bomb!

As the lights go up I take some time to look around me at tonight’s assembled throng to fully appreciate just how far The Bar Stool Preachers have come since the release of their third album ‘Above The Static’, and just like my gig going amigo Mr Daley observed during the band’s Newport show all the way back in May, the thing that immediately leaps out at me is just how diverse the audience is. Granted there’s probably around double the number of people in here than that Le Pub show but with the power of Bauer and a great record behind them they really do seem to be crossing over from their original punk/ska fanbase.  There’s a guy in an Iron Maiden battle jacket stood next to a girl in an Interrupters shirt who’s chatting to a couple on a night out who are stood next to a mother and son and yup there’s still a fair smattering of us old bald heads present too. The thing we all have in common though is our mutual love of all things Bar Stool Preachers, which is never more obvious than when the band explodes onto the stage with opener ’Call Me On The Way Home’ and the whole place, as one, goes suitably nuts.

‘Grazie Governo’ and ‘All Turned Blue’ quickly follow before I realise that the Preachers are a man down this evening, guitarist Karl having recently broken a leg in three places and having to sit out the rest of the tour.  However, this has to be for the best as the versions of ‘DLTDHYOTWO’ and ‘One Fool Down’ (complete with acoustic and full throttle versions just like prime-time Scorpions would have done back in the 80s) that immediately follow are so powerful it’s impossible to stand still and all I can say really is “get well soon fella.” It must be soooo frustrating though to be missing out on these shows as The Bar Stool Preachers really are on fire right now.

That’s what comes from working your arses off though, and along with Grade 2 these lads must be the hardest working band in the UK right now….and trust me, it shows. There’s a real arena quality in frontman Tom McFaull’s delivery and he’s never sounded better than on the likes of ‘Doorstep’ or the encore of ‘Lighthouse’ where the quality of the band’s songwriting really does speak volumes.

I’ve told Tom a few times over the years that every time I see him and the band live they always seem go up a notch, and tonight is certainly no exception as the band somehow manages to squeeze every drop of energy out of the Cardiff crowd, with the likes of ‘Don’t Die Today’, Choose My Friends’ and ‘Flatlined’ all getting the audience and dancefloor bouncing to the extent that I fear we all may end up in the dressing rooms below, and then there’s the main set closer ‘8.6 Days (All The Broken Hearts)’ perfectly slotting into the BSP set list jigsaw leaving everyone soaked to the skin in sweat, and not just their own either.

Returning to the stage with Tom proudly announcing that the band will be back in early 2024 for another set of shows, before then unleashing a brutal “skank off” version of their signature tune ‘Bar Stool Preacher’, I cannot help but think that the next 12 months will be crucial to the next stage of the band’s evolution not just here in the UK but worldwide. Their peers like Bob Vylan and Kid Kapichi are already getting added to major US rock festivals next year, so the time has (on the face of it) never been better for the Preachers to take their righteous fight truly global.  Whatever happens next though, I’m sure you’ll join with me in wishing them well.

“Merry Christmas and ‘appy New Year everyone!”

Author: Johnny Hayward