Stephen Pennell watches The Clause coming home.
Last Saturday night was a big one in Birmingham. UB40 were playing the Arena, The Wonder Stuff the big room at the Academy, and there was a great Small Faces tribute act on at my favourite club, The Night Owl.
The music of all three is prominent on the the soundtrack to my life, and I have personal connections with some of the personnel. Spoilt for choice? Nah. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia now and again but I’d rather look forward and The Clause’s future is so bright I gotta wear shades, even if they do look silly in this terrible rain.
I jump through the necessary hoops to collect my tickets from the box office – photo ID, the card I paid with, confirmation e-mail – when did it all get so complicated? – and I’m probably at the door long enough to miss a couple of acts. I finally make it through in time to see The Assist, the main support, whose passionately delivered ‘council pop’ is well-received by the 650-capacity crowd.
The Black Country boys have not long returned from playing several shows in Russia alongside The Twang, and their danceable yet powerful singles Just A Dream Away and I Don’t Care carry a hard-hitting hint of their recent touring partners’ sound. When the occasional keyboards kick in there’s an Editors vibe going on, and the band exude a passionate and fiercely working class West Midlands persona. They exit the stage to cheers having doubtless won over a few new fans, me included.
Excitement is building nicely for the headliners, whipped up during the interval by a host of timeless classics like Morning Glory and A Town Called Malice; you don’t tease a crowd with a playlist like that unless you’re confident you can match it with your own songs, and The Clause most certainly can. They cut their teeth as a live band covering tunes like this – now their originals are on a par with them.
Lights go out in el teatro and the sound of Samuel L Jackson’s pre-killing spree speech from Pulp Fiction fills the room, while the shadowy figures of the band take the stage under flickering strobe light. First, Liam unleashes the relentless riff of Tokyo, then Niall’s drums and Jonny’s bass kick and throb respectively into action, and it all pops off in the mosh-pit. These boys certainly know how to make an entrance.
Golden Age is next, Pearce’s cutting lyrics mixing social commentary and a sly dig at that nostalgia I was on about: “Darlin’ I ain’t from the golden age/I’m getting drunk scraping by on the minimum wage”. Dig This Beat is a party piece, but still contains a first verse and a chorus most bands would kill for, and the throwaway feel continues as Hate The Player merges into Abba’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!). There sings a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and one at ease with his own sexuality.
I’ve gone off The Who a bit since hearing about Townshend’s ‘research’ and Daltrey coming out as a Brexiter, the other two are dead, like Roger’s brain), but regardless, it was nice to hear a nod to them in the form of the riff from So Sad About Us, which powers the brilliant Comedown Conversations.
I’d venture that Pearce is so obviously well-versed in classic rock and pop that the subject matter of the lyrics being similar in both songs is no coincidence. Lots of the very best bands announce themselves with a truly great debut single – I’m thinking The Clash, The Jam, Oasis, Arctic Monkeys – and The Clause certainly ticked this box in 2016 with Shut Me Out, which boasts the kind of beautifully melancholic lyrics that are beyond most songwriters throughout their careers, never mind a 16/17 year-old as Pearce must have been when he wrote it. “It’s strange to see you again/but I feel there’s something missing/I don’t wanna hear you say/Anything you don’t mean.” Marvellous.
The pace slows (at last!) on Vive la Revolucion, giving a Liam the time to finesse his guitar God poses. He really is a gig photographer’s dream. Pearce dedicates Where Are You Now? to anybody who’s lost someone recently, particularly poignant for one of our party, and suddenly the room seems roomier as virtually half the people in it are on somebody’s shoulders.
The band only have to play the first chord before we sing the first verse for them, Pearce occasionally helping us out on harmonies, before two backing singers arrive on stage for a seasonal Happy Christmas (War Is Over). Jesus, they’re covering Lennon now and it doesn’t even stand out.
Lyrical masterpiece Sixteen is next before the song that tempted Universal to sign the band a couple of months ago, In My Element, gives us the mosh-pit moment of the night as Santa Claus goes crowd surfing. He’d have a difficult time getting the right presents for The Clause – what do you give to the band that has everything?
Work in the morning rules out the Snobs after-party, and as I head home in the back of an A2B, I’m elated about the night but worried about the review because I’m quite simply lost for words. I can think barely think of enough for a tweet: “Gig of the millennium. Simple”.