Stephen Pennell goes in at the deep end over Swim Deep.
The Sunflower Lounge, hailed by Noel Gallagher as the best venue in Britain for aspiring rock and roll stars, lived up to the hype on Wednesday night as Swim Deep played the second of a three-night residency.
It’s been four years since their last album and they’ve gone through some line-up changes on the long road to their next one, Emerald Classics, which is due for an October release. There’s a host of local young bands tearing round town with all the verve of their inspirational forebears, and Swim Deep contemporaries Peace and Jaws have both released stunningly good albums recently, so it would be great if the other third of B-Town’s holy trinity come up with the goods.
The signs are promising; the lads say it is their Brummiest album yet, and to emphasise the point it’s named after a Small Heath boozer (Down Coventry Road, turn left into Green Lane, follow your nose and the Emerald club is on your right). I was spoiled for choice on the night – I already had a pass-out for the Birmingham Music Awards’ monthly shindig at Mama Roux – but after getting a series of excitable (and it turned out entirely justified) late-night text messages from a mate raving about Tuesday’s gig, I fired off some frantic e-mails and tweets until I managed to snag a ticket for the Sunny.
It wasn’t exactly last minute but I was still panicking at tea-time when somebody finally came through for me. By the time I got there, Connor Schofield from Jaws was on the decks, The Twang were on the guestlist, Tim Senna from BBC WM and Switch Radio was filming one of his legendary vlogs, Kieran, the ex-football hooligan and poet, was in the blazing area and the beautiful dancing girls from round the corner at Adult World were on a celebratory night out.
It could only have been more peak Birmingham if Genie Mendez out of Lycio was still working behind the bar, Eddie Fewtrell was on the door and Lee Child had Jack Reacher abseiling down the Rotunda to the gig. I showed my e-ticket (check out thoroughly-modern-me) and rather than attack me with a stamp, the doorman actually DREW Swim Deep’s aqua sign logo on the back of my hand with a felt-tip pen. A nice touch, but it must have been a bit of a pain by the time he’d done two hundred punters, three nights on the trot.
Support was provided by Tall Stories from Stourbridge, a punky yet melodic three-piece who went down well with the packed house, particularly when they played their new single Lost In Translation, which may or may not be about the travails of people from the Black Country making themselves understood in the metropolis.
The headliners opened with their new jam To Feel Good, the story of “a day in the life of a heavyweight loser”, complete with a heavyweight beat and a (sampled) gospel choir. The glory days of the initial B-Town surge were revisited with Honey from the band’s debut album, Where The Heaven Are We?, and their sophomore album Mothers was mined for To My Brother and One Great Song And I Could Change The World.
The big chorus of Sail Away, Wave Goodbye augurs well for the new album, before a trio of old favourites, Soul Trippin’, The Sea and Namaste whipped the crowd into a state of near-delirium.
The sound would be familiar to early-90s veterans (or should that be casualties?) of the Ship Ashore, the Hummingbird and Burberrys, or fans of Spin, Paris Angels, Flowered Up and Saint Etienne – a heady and hedonistic mix of rave, funk, chopped-up rhythms and subtle melodies from Austin Williams on vocals, driven by the blood-shaking bass of ex-Peace merchandise-seller Cavan McCarthy and Tom Tomaski on drums, while Robbie Wood on guitar and keys and James Balmont on synths and backing vocals added panoramic soundscapes with a flourish and are absolutely central to the vibe.
Fueiho Boogie was a sort of motorik sprawl during which the band resembled a class of six-year olds, high on e-numbers, running amok unsupervised in the school music room. There are two lead guitars on the go, tambourines flying through the air and more keyboards than Sparky’s Piano shop, and the band zig-zag around the stage, everybody having a bash on everything. Yes, the crowd were loving it, but you should have seen the band!
After a supercharged version of epic love song She Changes The Weather, Swim Deep close the show with the ultimate B-Town anthem, King City. The lyrics are inspirational, aspirational and optimistic, common themes throughout the show and a perfect summary of the band’s message and, by the look of it, their state of mind. Austin said, “There’s never been a better time to be in Swim Deep” and I would add that there’s never been a better time to see and hear them either.
It was a beautiful night, and one for which I owe thanks and praises to Phil Etheridge for the selfie, George Whittle for the ticket, and my mate Chris Waldron who gave me the kick up the backside I needed with his text message review of the previous night. But most of all, thanks to Swim Deep for coming home.