Go west, young men

Stephen Pennell watches three of Birmingham’s finest being exported.

The Novus,
The New Consistent
Mother’s Ruin, Bristol.

When the date and line-up was announced, even though it was on a Sunday night in Bristol, an entry was made in the diary, all in capitals and underlined with passionate determination.

The night before a 6am start at work? I booked it off. No cash two days before payday? I’ll take the credit card. Leaving Wife at home on the only day we’re at home together all week? Get in the good books by taking her to Dublin the week before.

The best-laid plans of mice and men were made weeks ago… and it was all worth it. I arrive at the venue in plenty of time and can relax with a pint or two as the bands cart their gear downstairs to the basement venue and panic over the late arrival of the soundman. All’s well that ends well though and apparently he’s a quick worker, with everything set up in time for The New Consistent to take the stage just a few minutes behind schedule.

While Brad Sumner skilfully supplies samples, beats and myriad sound affects courtesy of a laptop connected to what looks like a mini-mixing desk, wordsmith Ben Ramsay raps a series of kitchen sink dramas with understated lyrical elegance. On songs like Rude Boys, Three Years and Greta Oto, he explores the dysfunctional relationships of families, lovers and friends, mining magic from the mundane, while offering us an escape route via the melodic and infectious choruses of Turn Off All The Screens and the song from which he takes his name, The New Consistent. It’s intelligent and challenging stuff, full of character and personality, and I love it.

Ever since I first heard Flares a couple of years ago, I’ve been clucking like a crack head for each new song they write, so I’m delighted as they take the tiny stage and open with fresh banger Kitchen Floor, which on first listen comfortably clears the incredibly high bar set by their previous releases.

Their versatile sound can be as poppy as bubblewrap or as grungy as Nirvana – sometimes, like on Castle of Cards, in the same song. Leo’s brilliant guitar playing is angular and discordant and reminiscent of a young Wilko Johnson, while Edie’s bass and Reuben’s drums power along like the Arctic Monkeys rhythm section on a runaway train.

Frontman Arthur is the lightning rod – energised by the electricity surrounding him into dancing frantically while delivering eloquent and intricate lyrics with dexterity and tenderness and a cry in his voice. He takes over on bass as Edie voices a feisty version of Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, and the pair dovetail perfectly when duetting on Tunnel Vision, Parma Violets and Lightning, with it’s Happy Days handclaps and a chorus as catchy as COVID-19.

Talking of viruses, The Novus take the stage with lead singer Connor Hill looking and singing as though he’s been catching microbes of the Rage virus from watching 28 Days Later too often. With the venue resembling an oversized coffin, there’s a distinctly dystopian feel to the gig and the headliners provide the perfect soundtrack. Described recently by Gigslutz as “the art raged grandchildren of Black Sabbath” (wish I’d thought of that), the comparison is hinted at by opening number I Serve Not, compounded by Post-Modern Fairytale, and confirmed by New Age.

Seeing them live is an unforgettable experience. Connor oozes charisma and bile; Tom Rhodes and Tyla Challenger (on lead and bass guitars respectively) frame and complement him perfectly, and drummer Euan Woodman drives the whole show from the rear as he bangs the bass drum with a foot like a traction engine.

Latest single Frosty is a real highlight. After a screech of feedback that’s enough to clear any unwanted pets from the room, Tom’s guitar (it sounds like he’s playing three) crunches into the tune proper and we’re away. Tyla’s reimagining of the epic bassline from Paul Weller’s Porcelain Gods is a depth charge that could shatter porcelain, and Connor spits and snarls disdain for the other party in a shattered relationship.

Fevered and fiery are the order of the night, and a stunning cover of Billy Eilish’s The Crown is the only non-original song in a set that proves just how prolific The Novus’ are with their own ideas, with Overdrive and Pigs bringing the show, not so much to a close, more a crescendo.

Someone commented to me recently that they’re “too political” – nonsense. They certainly wear their radical hearts on their (left) sleeves, but I think it’s about time rock found its conscience again, and stopped leaving it up to grime and rap. It was a great gig, with some fantastic repping for the Birmingham music scene, and if you had to pick three emerging acts to showcase the best of new Brum-based music in a strange town, you’d be hard-pressed to improve on this trio.

Pics – Paul Moreau