Stephen Pennell continues with the best Birmingham has to offer, this time Sugarthief and co.
Spilt Milk Society
Saturday, March 23rd.
It’s not easy you know, this reviewing lark. Contrary to what the wife thinks, I don’t just stand around in Digbeth all the time, vaping, drinking and waiting for great local artists to put on gigs. Not ALL the time. Sometimes I go to King’s Heath.
But seriously, it’s more complicated than that – a job, two young kids and a grown-up family of battle rappers take up a lot of time. For instance, my son Tydal (it’s his stage name!) has got a gig next Saturday, so that’s a must-see and as the Beach Boys once sang “It wouldn’t be right/to leave your best girl home every Saturday night”.
The indie scene in Brum, or the Madlands as it’s coming to be known, is so crowded it’s increasingly difficult to keep up, which means I have to apply ruthless quality control to the dozens of gigs taking place each month. This particular show, to launch Sugarthief’s debut EP, was crossed off my list due to other commitments, but kept making eyes at me on social media, and every time I heard the new collection’s opening track Good Luck, I Hope You Make It on the radio, it was like they were trying to hypnotise me into coming.
I thought I had plenty of time to make up my mind, then heard there were only sixty tickets left. I finally decided to cancel everything else and go, only to find I’d lost my credit card and the ‘sold out’ signs had gone up. After a brief moment of sweet despair, I resorted to begging e-mails to the band, starting with “I don’t usually do this”, moving through “I interviewed UB40 the other day” and ending up at “Somebody on twitter said I was Brum’s finest music writer”. (I didn’t really say that, but sod it, I have now).
It eventually worked and I even managed to get a plus 2 on the guestlist for my mates, the music biz power couple behind the Birmingham Music Awards, Jo Jeffries and Simon Pitt, although one of them was going to have to pretend to be a photographer. It’s a stellar line-up, a Who’s Who of BMA nominees, three of the greatest Great White Hopes from the burgeoning Birmingham scene. They’ve all been supported by the likes of BBC Introducing, and Steve Lamacq, Huw Stephens and others on Radio One, yet still occupy that sweet-spot where you can see them at intimate venues, playing to a few hundred wild, young, adoring fans.
Next up are the more subtle sounds of Spilt Milk Society, Harry Handford returning to his main job after moonlighting as producer of the headliners’ new EP. The strength of this band lies in the songwriting, all lovely melodies and catchy hooks that prove that Harry has truly mastered the craft.
I think it’s fair to say that the B-town bands of the early 2010s sowed the seeds of the new Madlands movement and though Spilly Milk have moved to Liverpool for uni, their amalgam of elements of Peace and Swim Deep could only have been forged here in the King City. This is especially true of She Tastes Like Summer, a beautiful tune that has been shamelessly stolen for an ad campaign by a big Spanish telecoms company who haven’t paid them a penny.
Still, it’s helped the band to over three million Spotify streams, so it’s not all doom and gloom. They finish their set by showing their versatility and out-punking even The Cosmics with a storming version of Cops and Robbers.
Sugarthief are another band who offer a nod towards B-town prime movers Peace – all Converse, choruses and curtain hair-dos – and like Peace they have the brothers thing going on with frontman Jordi and guitarist Jack. Their star has been on the rise since The Twang saw them at the Beyond The Tracks festival and invited them onto their last two winter tours.
They were named best band at last year’s BMAs and are in the running again this year alongside the likes of UB40, The Specials and Ocean Colour Scene. The headliners open with the aforementioned Good Luck, followed by the brilliant Modern Man, both off the new I Before E(P), a hint to people who have trouble spelling their name.
The new release is played in its seven-song entirety throughout the set, but my familiarity with them leads me think that those two are the stand-outs, each one on a par with their previous output. A cover of Dancing In The Moonlight, with Tim Senna (Brum’s young version of Tony Wilson) on tambourine is thrown in alongside crowd favourites Provide, When Did It All Go Wrong?, and the best thing to come out of Birmingham since Jack Grealish,
Joy Affair, accompanied by a stealthy bit of crowd surfing by Jordi. They planned to finish with Things I Heard from the new EP, but were forced into that rare thing, an impromptu encore, by the crowd relentlessly singing the bass-line introduction to When Did It All Go Wrong? until they simply HAD to play it again.
It was a great night, and while the youngsters no doubt headed for Snobs to carry on partying, the more sophisticated among us retired to Cafe Collette in Lower Trinity Street to warm down and reflect on the ever-growing Madlands magic weaving its way around the second city.