Live (Afterthought / Hexagons / The AKA Band)
I was invited along to Solent University to review a Battle of the Bands contest in aid of the Society of St James and The Access Festival, which this year will be held on June 16th.
My first visit to the top bar at the Institute (as I will always call it) for some 10 years, brought back memories of mid-week drinking, without the worry of early mornings. Despite the temptation to ‘be a student for the night’, I stuck to the water.
The night was bizarrely introduced by some 3 ‘compares’, and I couldn’t work out why at first, until I realised the constant reminders to donate – so it’s all for a good cause; getting the students to pay for a festival that most of them won’t be here for. Never mind, let the battle commence.
The first band up were a band with a big loud noise and (mostly) inaudible vocals. At least that was my first impression of Afterthought. It could have been the suspect PA system, but more likely, because every instrument was turned up to the max. Although this sort of music makes me want to vomit, I can often put up with them if they put on a decent stage performance. I love seeing musicians beating the hell out of their instruments, and if it looks good, I’ll stay. Sadly, this was just awful. But I had to stay. It was a favour that I reviewed the night, so there was no getting out of it! I sat through and tried to get into it, but when the lead singer announced that ‘we’re from…a few miles away’, I just knew they were from Portsmouth and too afraid to admit it (mind you, I wouldn’t admit it!) But then again the students wouldn’t have cared anyway. Afterthought invited everybody to come and get a free sticker, before breaking into what they announced as their next single…’when we get signed’. They’ll need to put a bit more effort in than offering a few free stickers if they want to attract the A&R men they’re hoping for.
Next up were Hexagons who had clearly brought all of their friends (in the world) with them, as the cheers rang around the room before they played a note. And when that first note was struck, all I could think was Arctic wannabes. And a very poor one at that. Harsh maybe, but the vocals of Hexagon were even worse than the first band. I could hardly hear the lead singer above the guitars, keyboards and drummer and they were painful on the eye, for me anyway. Musically, the band was fairly tight and admittedly had some potential with the drummer certainly excelling putting on a fine show.
They finished with a Klaxons-esque ‘new-rave’ number that was actually a nice tune. But Hexagon really will not progress further than winning a battle of the bands heat with the current singer. Probably a ‘McJob’ kid, he was too short to have any sort of influential stage presence and his vocals so weak that I was starting to suspect the PA system might really be bad.
However, any doubts about the PA were soon blown out of the union window when the third group, The AKA Band started. Not only were they a band of decent eye totty (for the blokes, at least), but singer Kym Allen proved there was nothing wrong with the PA system. An unusual line-up with a female bassist and drummer supporting two fellas on guitar, The AKA band were the first band of the night to actually get people out of their chairs and dancing. Sadly, by this time, the friends of Hexagon had been allowed to post their votes. I’d counted 12 go in the Hexagon box before The AKA Band had even started. Kym’s powerful vocals, especially on ‘Smoke Without Fire’ echoed out around the room, and brought the loudest cheers of the night. I thought at times they could have shown a bit more energy on stage… until I later realised how small the stage actually was.
The AKA band were the only band that I’d go out of my way to see again, and most of the crowd would probably agree.
Hexagon got by with the help of their friends and, unsurprisingly, won the night – albeit only by 5 votes*, but The AKA Band were the group that won over the neutrals, meaning they should be the ones who walked away as winners.
I’m really not a fan of these Battle of The Bands competitions, as normally the band who brings most mates often wins. And it’s often a band who won’t achieve anything, ever. This was the case tonight, but The AKA Band shouldn’t feel too disheartened. They were the real winners of the night and the only band with real potential. Despite their east Hampshire origins, I’m sure Southampton would be delighted to welcome them back to play in a ‘proper’ venue. And if they need a place to stay the night, they’ve got my number!
Thomas Tantrum, the night’s special guests, agreed to play just 4 hours before curtain up. Instead of their normal band practice, they decided to treat the gig as a warm-up to 2 forthcoming London shows.
To begin with, the crowd didn’t really know what to make of the obscure sounds that TT are about, but it didn’t take long. Opening song ‘Zig-a-Zag’ had me thinking the PA had gone wrong again, but Megan asked for more vocals and we were treated to a night of beautiful madness. Recent single ‘Armchair’ made the students want to dance, but the stop-start tempo changes left the crowd confused and apparently not knowing how to dance anymore. As if they did in the first place.
I’m starting to love Thomas Tantrum more and more each time I see them, so much so that I don’t want to tell people how good they are for fear of them becoming huge and running away to a big stage somewhere else in the world. I want to lock them all away in a cupboard and only let them out to play songs for me.
They finished with ‘Pshandy’, by which time the majority of the earlier chatty crowd had now turned their attention to what they realised could be something special. I’m saying no more on TT, but if you want to hear more, go check out their MySpace page and then go see them at various venues around Southampton (or Paris or Liverpool) in May.
*12 of which should be classed as illegal votes as they were made before voting ‘officially’ opened!
Guest article from Jodie.
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