Stephen Pennell emerges post-lockdown, accompanied by two of Birmingham’s finest.
The Twang, The Clause,
Sunday 27th September
By the time their acoustic tour and gig at Resorts World were cancelled due to Covid, I was desperate to see a Twang show. It was bugging me that my portfolio of articles on the Birmingham music scene of recent years didn’t include a live review of the city’s best band during that time.
And so it was I found myself walking home from work the day this gig was announced, head in phone, trying to book tickets. At that (very inopportune) moment a friend pulled up offering a lift. Not wishing to appear rude I put my phone away, only to find that ten short minutes later, the gig had sold out while I was in transit.
Not to worry; I know the band’s long-time producer – the man, the myth, the legend – Gavin Monaghan. He did his best to sort me out but in the end could only inform me that there was no guest list and The Twang’s manager had given the last available table to the venue’s bar staff. Next desperate act – phone the pub. I asked if any of the staff didn’t like the band and if so, could I take their pew at the staff table? I even offered to collect glasses or be a roadie for the day, but still the answer was no. Plastic glasses only and The Twang apparently have enough roadies already – including some who actually know what they’re doing. How could I compete with that?
It had never previously crossed my mind that there were advantages to starting work at five in the morning, but you live and learn, and on the Friday before the gig I turned my phone on at 4.30am to see two tickets for sale on the internet. I was in like Flynn this time with no distractions. I spent the rest of the day skipping around work with the band’s music in my headphones, joyous in the knowledge that I was to break my Twang cherry at last.
Wife and I made sure we arrived in plenty of time to see the Next Big Thing out of Brum, The Clause, and joined the boisterous queue, populated in part by a group of ticketless lads who seemed to have been enjoying the beer, wine and sunshine a little too much. They were bragging confidently that they’d get in, despite being advised to the contrary by some of the more sober folks waiting in line.
Shouting rather rudely at the guys and girls on the gate checking tickets, they enquired about their chance of gaining admission, and after being told it was about the same as a snowball’s in hell, stomped off full of bravado, shouting “The Twang are crap anyway”. For a moment it seemed that a girl in the queue might come to their rescue when she said she had one spare ticket. The ‘Twang are crap’ mob almost fell over each other in the stampede.
“Sell it to me!”
“No, me, I’ll give ya double face value!”
She just laughed, gave them the finger and said sarcastically… “But The Twang are crap though”.
The latest beneficiaries of the band’s generous backing of local acts (they’ve previously given support slots to Peace, Jaws and Sugarthief) are The Clause, and they seized their opportunity with both hands. Opening with a new song, Time Of Our Lives, which promises much about the music they’ve been creating during lockdown, they then grabbed the attention of the crowd with a cover of James’ Laid. Other highlights included Clause classics – and they really are classics – Comedown Conversations, 16, Where Are You Now and In My Element. Great band, but some advice to anyone seeing them for the first time – go and see them when the rhythm section are present. They’re a different beast.
I’ve mentioned on these pages before that my love affair with The Twang started with their latest album, If Confronted Just Go Mad, and went on a reverse voyage of discovery through their brilliant back-catalogue. My late arrival to the party meant I had never seen one of their legendary live gigs, and now, at long last, the wait was over. They took the stage to muted cheers and applause, possibly down to their understated entrance or the fact that everyone was sitting down at socially-distanced tables. Or maybe it’s been so long since most of us went to a gig we’ve forgotten how to act?
But the crowd were soon enlivened by the first song, Wide Awake, even though the opening line “I feel the cold setting in” struck a chord in the autumn sunshine. They follow this up with a breezy Barney Rubble from Jewellery Quarter, which for me is the best album ever to be named after a Birmingham suburb, just shading it from Handsworth Revolution by Steel Pulse and Ocean Colour Scene’s Moseley Shoals.
The funky psychedelia of Dream from the latest album is next, and as the sun disappears we can all relate to the song’s setting “in Handsworth Park in the middle of winter”. Enough labouring the point already, it was cold, okay? The wistful melancholy of Beer, Wine and Sunshine is perfect for this format, but in truth all the songs are so well-crafted that they more than pass the stern test of an acoustic performance. Phil’s voice positively flourishes in this setting, the immense talent of Stu and Simmo on guitars is obvious and Jon’s harmonising works a treat.
The audience begin to warm themselves up by singing along to Amsterdam and the plea for Brummie unity (that’s my interpretation anyway), the heartfelt and affecting We’re A Crowd. This is followed by It Feels Like, my favourite tune from If Confronted, with its almost Buddhist mantra “’til we find peace of mind, we will float like debris in the tide”.
A couple of months ago I posted a link on my socials to the next song, Mainline, with the tag line “As if The Twang wrote a song about Coronavirus in 2013”. It was gratifying therefore to hear it introduced as “our Covid song”, the band obviously sharing my view of its relevance to the current crisis… “bringing families to tears in the twilight years/ruining the nurtured seed”. Seriously, check out the whole song – it’s uncanny.
Either Way, Drinking In LA and Two Lovers were greeted deliriously by the crowd, and by the time the joyous celebration of the end of a bad relationship, Took The Fun, got an airing, social distancing had become a distant memory. Me and my at-risk wife decided to call it a night then, so I can’t tell you if there was an encore. I’m guessing I might have missed Cloudy Room being sung lustily in the airy beer garden, but I left totally satisfied anyway, with all my lofty expectations met and then some. A great show.
The music press were once all over The Twang like pigeons on a chip, initially hailing them as “the best new band in Britain” but then doing them a huge disservice by labelling them as ‘lad-rock’, whatever that is. Allow me to redress the balance in my small way by saying that by virtue of being real people with real lives, The Twang articulate the trials and tribulations of real people with real lives with an eloquence, wit and sensitivity unmatched in British music. And they do it to some banging tunes as well.
So to sum up, let me say that in this writer’s opinion, and that of everyone who saw them at the British Oak the other night, The Twang are most certainly not crap. I heard Phil Etheridge on a podcast the other day, sounding incredulous that “We’re some people’s favourite band”. Don’t sound so surprised Phil, it’s true. I’m one of them.