Stephen Pennell has another night out amongst Birmingham’s brightest and best.
Spilt Milk Society,
BBC WM Introducing Showcase,
Castle and Falcon.
Writing about music is not all champagne and supernovas – this was the second of two gigs on consecutive nights, and after both of them I had to be up at four in the morning. My wife had looked after the kids, so fair’s fair, it’s her turn to go out on Saturday.
Staying in with the remote to myself has its compensations though, Match of the Day and The Rap Game UK amongst them; but the highlight of any Saturday evening at home is BBC WM Introducing at 8pm – essential listening that keeps me up to date with new music on the scene that I haven’t got time to investigate for myself.
I first stumbled across the programme back in the Louise Brierley/Jack Parker era, and if I was asked in one of those annoying feedback surveys how I discovered it I wouldn’t be able to answer. Since then Louise has collected her Birmingham Music Award and moved on, and Jacky P has run off with Scarlord on a seemingly endless tour, taking hardcore Brummie rock-rap to the world.
After a few false starts that didn’t really work out with other presenters, the inestimable Alex Noble took over at the controls. For two joyful and informative hours every week he, along with Tim Senna, Harry Bozman and producer Thea Matthews, do a great job of promoting new West Midlands music, through interviews, reports and erm… playing the songs, obvs – both official releases and those sent in by aspiring artists to the BBC WM uploader.
They’ve opened my ears to dozens of artists who I now love, and long may it continue. Alex is keen to make the show an even bigger part of the scene, and partnering with Birmingham Promoters and the Castle and Falcon, he put on a showcase in May with leading local lights Ivory Wave and Karkosa. Tonight is part two of what will hopefully turn into a long-running series.
I arrived halfway through The Verse’s set, and was impressed by the bit I witnessed. I’ve seen them on Raw Sound TV, but experiencing them in the flesh made a bigger dent in my consciousness. They were really tight, accomplished and dynamic, and from talking to others it seemed they made quite an impression. Their occasional three-part harmonies are on point and something you don’t see enough of these days.
Flares are a band I’ve been wanting to see for ages – actually it can’t be ages because they haven’t been alive that long – but prior commitments and other logistical problems have conspired against me to keep us apart until now.
As they took the stage I was grateful it was a 14+ show or they wouldn’t have got in, and the realisation that their combined age was only just above my individual one was a sobering thought. To be fair though, their age shouldn’t come into it and I’d still be reporting that Flares are freakishly talented even if they were in their mid-twenties.
Opening number Tunnel Vision is like something off Peace’s Delicious EP, but remixed by Kurt Cobain. Second song Keep It sounds like XTC or Gang of Four, and wouldn’t be out of place on Paul Weller’s finest hour as a songwriter, The Jam’s Sound Affects. Their versatility is highlighted as Edie seamlessly takes on front-woman duties while Arthur plays Edie’s bass like a natural; Leo, an enormous influence on the overall sound, plays the ultimate guitar hero as another local musicIan incredulously shouts down my ear informing me that he hasn’t left year ten yet.
All this while Reuben, a dead ringer for Jack Webster off Coronation Street, looks like he’s having the time of his life on drums. I don’t think he stopped smiling throughout, and why should he? There’s absolutely no doubt he’s in one of the city’s – scratch that, the nation’s – most promising groups. On latest single Lightning he stands up behind the kit to lead handclaps and the crowd enthusiastically join in; you’re left wondering how the hell these youngsters have completely mastered the art of writing indie-punk bangers and made them as catchy as the Happy Days theme.
They finish with Castle of Cards and I’m contemplating if this was what it was like watching the Arctic Monkeys before they were famous. Between them, Flares’ parents must have an awesome record collection, although I suspect the Childish Gambino reference in the lyrics is all the band’s own work.
It’s an incredibly hard act to follow, and it’s weird to type, but Spilt Milk Society handle it like the seasoned veterans that, compared to Flares, they are. They open with the gorgeous She Tastes Like Summer, Harry’s powerful voice resonating throughout the 300-capacity room.
They’re a band of many talents, and all are on show during record of the year contender Turtleneck Boy, an absolute indie-pop masterpiece, followed by the Bohemian Rhapsody of B-town, the epic Brunch. It’s a beautiful song that boasts power and vulnerability in equal measure, and leads into a storming Cops and Robbers, which is about as vulnerable as the Peaky Blinders. Harry breaks a string on the power chords that run through the song, and has to appeal to the previous acts to borrow a new one for the finale, Amsterdam, during which Flares are amongst the most excited kids in the chaotic mosh pit.
As the sweaty, satisfied crowd disperses, I spy Alex Noble from BBC WM Introducing looking justifiably pleased with himself. It was a great show and a triumph for Alex and his team. I congratulate him and ask him about the ethos of these events.
“I think it’s so important that our programme is a big part of the music scene here in the West Midlands but not just on the airwaves” he says. “Since I’ve come into this role I’ve made it a big mission to do more work in the live community here and this showcase is the perfect example of how the programme can be helpful in more ways than just airplay.”
I tell him it’s working, and that Tim Senna is the embodiment of the show’s presence at gigs.
“That’s really good to hear,” he replies. “We’ve worked really hard on being that force for good – and Tim is a blessing to have on board – it helps that the scene is the way it is right now.”
Tim hasn’t been at the last two gigs I’ve been to – I’ve since found out he’s on holiday – but he’s usually so omnipresent that his absence makes you think you’re in a different city. He, Alex and the rest of their team, along with their connections to the rest of the BBC radio network, are fast becoming a huge asset to the local music scene.
BBC Music Introducing in the West Midlands airs every Saturday night from 8pm on BBC WM 95.6 and you can listen again on the BBC Sounds App.