“A hushed reverence,” Smoke Fairies release new album Carried in Sound – out from 17 November

Words by Matthew Osborne / Pics by Annick Wolfers

Kurt Cobain once wrote, “I miss the comfort in being sad,” and purveyors of sad music will note the truth in that seemingly contradictory line. I’ve experienced sadness, as I know you have. No passage through life would be complete without it.

During these times I have never found it helpful to turn to feel-good anthems to lift my soul. I take the elevator down to the depths, seeking out the most sorrowful sounds I can unearth to act as a balm for my woes.

Smoke Fairies’ Carried in Sound is such an album. Played entirely by members Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, friends since high school, the album is an exploration of personal loss, grief, and isolation. Themes most of us will be all too familiar with over the course of the last three turbulent years since the group released their acclaimed Darkness Brings the Wonders Home in 2020, and just before the world closed in on itself.

“I listen out for lines that comfort me/So that I know I’m not so strange,” sings Katherine at the end of a particularly rousing instrumental during ‘Sticks and Stones’. On the gently arpeggiated ‘Part of It All’, come the lyrics: “You are not alone, the world is full/Of changes that can’t be rationalised.”

Sad music, however, must offer hope to be successful as a healer. “Everything happens for a reason,” notes Jessica Davies, “but equally, everything is a reaction.” Making sense of sadness, understanding what causes our tears to flow and using that to enrich our souls, to build us up as stronger, is often the quest of artists who deal in minor keys.

“I love the sound of things that are broken,” says Katherine, referring to the bits of broken furniture and second-hand instruments the duo used as percussion to give these mournful lullabies barely spectral beats. Crafting something beautiful from things that are broken, no matter how fragile and delicate the end result may be, held together with spiderwebs or hope, is a restorative experience.

Smoke Fairies’ sound has evolved from the blues-instructed grooves of their first single, ‘Gastown’, into something more ethereal. A hushed reverence hangs over these ten tracks, Jessica and Katherine’s perfectly matched vocals only slightly more than whispers.

The album’s restraint is a result of production conditions – Carried in Sound was recorded in a terraced house with the volume low to protect the neighbours – and the DIY intimacy has given the band strength.

“We do everything on our own terms,” says Jessica. “It feels incredibly empowering to be able to say that.”

I think it gives you strength too.

‘Vanishing Line’ – Smoke Fairies

Smoke Fairies release their new album, Carried in Sound, from 17 November – available through all major download and streaming platforms. The band are also currently touring the UK with a date at Metronome in Nottingham on 22 November.

For more on Smoke Fairies visit www.musicglue.com/smokefairies

Spiral Down’s Alex Mann talks autism, speaking out, and punk past and present

Words by Billy Beale / Interview pics by Emily Doyle – gig pic by Clayre McKay

When I first saw a video clip of a shirtless individual marching up and down the stage of Digbeth’s Devil’s Dog venue, fronting new Birmingham hardcore punk group band Spiral Down, declaring solidarity with trans and queer persons, denouncing bigots of all kinds, they left a real impression in my mind.

After becoming Instagram mutuals, a few messages, and a serendipitous meeting at Muthers, I decided to pitch this interview to find out more about Spiral Down’s vocalist and his perspectives on music and performance.

I meet up with Alex Mann on a chilly autumn afternoon in Cherry Reds, on John Bright Street. The evening he had before been to watch Municipal Waste at the Castle & Falcon, and we started by talking about how they got him into the hardcore punk genre.

“I had this weird moment where I realised that I’m 33 now and I’ve been listening to them for 16 years,” tells Alex. “The only reason I started listening to them was that I quite like the Troma horror movies. I remember when Municipal Waste’s Art of Partying came out, the cover just looked like a Troma movie, so I had to check it out and it’s absolutely brilliant. You used to be able to get all your punk stuff in Tempest records (a much missed music shop in Birmingham).”

Alex continues: “I was into punk and hardcore at school, and then with Myspace and social media it was easier to connect. There’s good and bad with social media but, being autistic and anxious, I don’t think I would have made the connections I did without it. It’s easy to find people with shared interests. I had started going to local punk gigs in Birmingham.

“There was a place in Digbeth called The Market Tavern but it closed down ages ago. Then the Wagon and Horses, which is now Dead Wax. And Epic Skate Park in Moseley.”

Without even having to ask, Alex is already getting into the topics I am eager to hear more about – the perspective of the neurodivergent in the seemingly brutal worlds of punk and hardcore. Writ large atop Spriral Down’s Instagram profile is ‘NEURODIVERGENT HARDCORE,’ why is it important that they put that out there front-and-centre?

“When I started writing songs and lyrics, a lot of what I was writing about was mental health stuff. I have quite bad mental health issues on top of the issues that come with being autistic but Paul [Spiral Down’s drummer] and I had so much anxiety from worrying about people’s reactions. Certain things can throw you because you’re anxious and people aren’t always respectful of that. It’s like there’s shame around something you can’t help.

“When we started the band, we figured out that it’s not something to be ashamed of and we’d come to accept those parts of us. The idea was, rather than not going to gigs and not socialising because of how being autistic and neurodivergent has made us feel, to instead be proud of it. It’s who we are. We still have value, same as any other band, but we are different and we make a point of that.

“If there’s something you’re anxious about, when you acknowledge it, are forthright, take agency of it, someone can’t take it and use it to hurt you. You see those people as ridiculous rather than their jabs being hurtful.

“The neurodivergent thing has meant people have reached out to us. I’ve had good conversations and built up relationships with people in the scene about these issues. It’s quite common but not many people talk about it. We just want to be more open and to talk with more people like us.”

Alex goes on to talk about how the difficulties from autism and neurodivergence manifest in the band’s music, and informs me of some of the genre distinctions I am not totally clear on.

“It’s like a primal scream,” tells Alex. “It feels good to scream about how you feel. Putting the negative experiences we’ve had into the music, screaming about it. We’ve come through it and we’re not gonna let people’s negative opinions of something we’ve become proud of affect us anymore.

“I’d almost had a band 5-6 years ago but it never panned out. It was a similar sort of thing to Spiral Down, though I think we’re currently more of a crossover thing. The band before was more of the Discharge kind of punk. ‘Crossover’ means the literal crossing of metal and punk. You have a lot of heavy sounds like metal but the song structures are a bit more punk. It can be catchy!”

How does a crossover band like theirs navigate the potential boundaries between scenes and genres?

“Even though the hardcore scene is quite small there is a sense of brotherhood where everyone will support each other, bands supporting bands. What you get from that is a dedicated following. People know Birmingham Hardcore Shows are gonna be good, they want to support the local promoter, so there’s always an audience.

“The punk scene is a bit dated. You always need more diversity, in hardcore as well, though hardcore seems more open to it. The punk scene, a lot of gigs can often be just five bands of white guys in their 40s with subtly homophobic lyrics.

“We played a gig where there was a band that made me think 1I’ve seen this exact band about 100 times in my life in various forms.1 Normally, I’d feel bad about saying that but they had a song that was just quite homophobic so I feel okay shitting on them a bit.

“About 20 seconds into our set, I had jumped off a coffee table, through a wall, and was bleeding. They didn’t like that and I don’t think they liked me talking about trans rights either.”

One need not search for long through the band’s socials to find photographic evidence of Alex’s self-injurious performance style. The cover art for their demo release on Bandcamp and streaming platforms is one such image. What informs this violent, perhaps even slapstick, approach?

“I don’t know how to do it any other way. My generation grew up watching Jackass and I just have this urge to do stupid things. One of my biggest influences is Rik Mayall and Bottom. I’ve always tried to ‘be’ Rik Mayall one way or the other. When we play, some of my mannerisms are just mimicking Rik Mayall’s stank face.”

Is there a concern about losing fans from being politically outspoken?

“You need to support things you believe in and not hold back. I’ve got a trans brother and that really opened my eyes. If you’re in a band and you see something in the world that’s wrong, just say. I can’t go a day online without seeing somebody angry that trans people exist. Trans people just want to live their lives and be themselves and these people can’t handle it. It’s important to counter those arguments and for people who aren’t trans or queer to speak up. It needs to be more than just those communities standing up for themselves.

“Listening to the Clash, punk and hardcore should be standing up for people that need to be stood up for. We need to help the trans and queer communities”.

In fact, Alex sees the value of being inclusive, and how that positively impacts the scene.

He adds: “I’ve noticed that the queer people in the hardcore scene, especially in Birmingham, really support the scene, coming to almost every gig, making noise, making sure the bands have an audience response. The first person we had moshing to our music was Lexi from Transistrrr”.

I wanted to know about some of Alex’s local favourite bands.

“Fleshcreep are a really great band of really nice people. Looking up their lyrics are really rewarding and the first track off their upcoming album is really brilliant.

“When people talk about Birmingham’s musical legacy, I always throw GBH in there. So influential, always supported the scene and still come to gigs. Hollow Bones from Tamworth are one of the most intense live bands, saw them in Wolvo in the other week.

“Transistrrr are an amazing band. Their EP has a song ‘20 yrs on an NHS waiting list’ about the reality of being trans and it is one of the most heartbreaking songs. Again, great lyrics.”

Spiral Down are hosting a show at Centrala on 15 December as ‘Spiral Down Your Life’ promoters, a reference to Alex’s favourite Spice Girls track. The previously mentioned Transistrrr are also billed. Finally, he has heartfelt words on that upcoming show’s headliner, Clobber.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this if it weren’t for Clobber because, when I heard their first EP Tribal Rites of the New Friday Night, I had a reaction I hadn’t had since first hearing Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown. They’re really supportive, really helpful. Whenever I’ve needed a pep talk, they’re there.”

Spiral Down will be playing at Dive Bar in Wolverhampton on 11 November, with Kicked in the Teeth and Informal Complaint – for more info and links to online tickets, visit: www.341records.bigcartel.com/product/live-dive-5-feat-kicked-in-the-teeth-more-ticket

For more on Spiral Down’s gig at Centrala in Birmingham on 15 December, performing alongside Transistrrr and Spitwash, click here.

For more on Spiral Down visit www.spiraldownukhc.bandcamp.com

PHOTO GALLERY: Hundreds join in solidarity with Palestine as peaceful protest causes ‘mass disruption’ at New Street Station

Words by Ed King / Pics by Connor Pope

Hundreds of people joined in solidarity with Palestine on Thursday 2 November, as a peaceful protest was staged at New Street Station – aiming to cause ‘mass disruption’ at the busy commuter hotspot.

Protest organisers were building on the momentum and attention gained by a similar protest at Liverpool Street Station in London on 31 October, calling for the UK government and Westminster to use their position on the global stage to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip – one of the two Palestinian territories in the Middle East, alongside the West Bank.

Organisers further called for the international community to stop their arms trade with Israel, which according to the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) generated £387 million for Britian through issued Single Individual Export Licenses (SIELs) from 2016 to 2020.

Ahead of the New Street Station demonstration, organisers expressed thanks to organisations Jewish Voice for Peace (United States) and Sisters Uncut – the latter a UK based charity ‘taking direct action for domestic violence services’ who were involved in the Liverpool Street Station protest.

Reports claim the protest began at around 4pm, with the final attendees having left the station by 8pm. Birmingham Review could find no significant incidents from the Birmingham New Street demonstration reported by British Transport Police, who were “aware of planned protests” taking place at stations across the UK.

Hamas, who took control of the Gaza Strip in 2026, after the last legislative election to be held in the territory, led attacks on Israel on 7 October – using a combination of missile attacks and ground invasion, reportedly killing over 1400 civilians and soldiers and kidnapping around 200 more.

The Israel Defence Force (IDF), who withdrew their longstanding military occupation of the Gaza Strip on 12 September 2005, initially retaliated with air strikes, and followed with a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip after giving civilians living there instructions to evacuate.

At the time of writing, over 9000 people have been reported to have been killed by the IDF operations in Gaza following the 7 October attacks.

All figures quoted have been corroborated by Al-Jazeera, an award winning news outlet based in Qatar and covering stories across the Middle East.

In solidarity with Palestine protest @ New Street Station – Thursday 2 November / Connor Pope

Lobster launch twelve track debut album at The Night Owl on Saturday 4 November

Words by Ed King / Live pic by Stalingrad O’Neill

Lobster – Birmingham’s beloved ska, punk, reggae six piece – will be launching their debut album, Year of the Lobster, at The Night Owl on Saturday 4 November, with support from Young Culture.

Doors open at 8pm, with tickets priced at £6 advance and a bit more on the door.

Live music runs until 11pm, with all tickets gaining entry to The Night Owl’s soul and retro club night Dig? – which runs until the early hours of 4am. Over 18’s only.

For more direct event information and links to online tickets sales, click here.

Lobster formed back in 2009 and have spent the last decade and a half honing their high octane live shows – combining reggae, roots, dub, punk, hip hop, and ska with politically charged lyrics and superbly tight performances.

Their unique style – which boldly begs, borrows, and steels from across the genres – has won them fans across the UK and seen them support some of the reggae and ska scenes most revered faces. Put it this way, after they’ve safely launched their debut LP this Saturday the next date in the Lobster diary (2 Dec) is supporting ska legend Nevile Staples… so, yeah, we’re talking that kind of thing.

Surprisingly for such an established group, Year of the Lobster is the band’s first album release – featuring “twelve tracks that capture the very best material” from their fourteen years of live shows, recorded at the renowned Magic Garden Studios in Wolverhampton.

Opening with a trumpet led instrumental dub, Year of the Lobster moves quickly into a tennis match of upfront reggae and upbeat ska – with Will ‘Spud’ Moore’s instantly recognisable vocals punching out his dulcet yet dissecting socio-political commentary.

Tracks like ‘Bob and Weave’, ‘Workless Work Songs’, and ‘Plebxit’ shine a light on our primarily domestic disputes, whilst ‘Messiah (COINTELPRO)’ delivers a gut punch to the murky world of international politics and some less-than-transparent regimes.

Lobster also turn the torch on themselves with the more personal and introspective ‘10 Year Song’, and celebrate their collaborations with dub poet More Culture on ‘The First Bird’ and through a reworking of the Operation Ivy classic ‘Knowledge’.

Plus, the physical album is draped in awesome artwork from local artist VOID ONE – making Year of the Lobster a treat both your eyes and ears will thank you for. If you love the love of really loving vinyl, you’re going to… well, you figuratively and literally get the picture.

And look out for our interview with Lobster next week – talking more to Birmingham Review about everything from being shot at with an air rifle at their very first gig, to why they finally decided to print their debut album.

But for now, all you need to do is concentrate on getting to The Night Owl on Saturday 4 November to celebrate the launch of a long awaited LP from one of Birmingham’s punk, ska, and reggae outfits. Simples.

And if you need another little nudge…

Year of the Lobster – official album teaser

Lobster launch their debut album Year of the Lobster at The Night Owl, Digbeth, on Saturday 4 November – with support from Young Culture. For more event information and links to online ticket sales click here. 

For more on Lobster visit: www.lobstertheband.co.uk

For more on Young Culture visit: www.youngcultureband.bandcamp.com

For more from The Night Owl, including a full events programme and links to online ticket sales, visit: www.birmingham.thenightowl.club

Genre-bending punk duo Bob Vylan come to Birmingham’s O2 Institute ahead of new album 18.11.23

Words by Sophie Hack

London’s genre-bending punk duo Bob Vylan play the O2 Institute Birmingham on Saturday 18 November with support from Panic Shack and Kid Bookie.

Doors open at 7pm, with tickets priced at £21.85 (stalls standing), promoted by AEG Events. The event is 14+, under 16s will need to be accompanied by an adult over 18.

Click here to purchase tickets and for more information.

Award-winning two-piece Bob Vylan (featuring vocalist Bobby and drummer Bobbie) head on tour ahead of their new album Humble as the Sun being released on 5 April 2024, the fourth in the duo’s catalogue of venomous punk with purposeful lyrics.

Bob Vylan catapulted onto the punk scene in 2017 with their first release ‘Vylan’ and since have become a vital voice in music. Bridging subcultures and genres together, the duo never shy away from important conversations of racism, toxic masculinity, and political unrest in the UK.

Bob Vylan are electrifying alternative music, winning ‘Best Alternative Music Act’ at the MOBO awards and ‘Best Album’ at the Kerrang! Awards, both in 2022. Their DIY, self-released titles embrace rock, grime, punk, reggae, and dance, and new single ‘He’s a Man’ follows with a perfect blend of rap over pulsing drum beat before kicking into full-throttle punk riffs.

“Accidentally amazing” support Panic Shack got their own taste of TikTok well-deserved virality with 2022’s track ‘The Ick’. The Cardiff four piece are brash, brazen, and a breath of fresh air in a sometimes-stale punk scene.

Second support Kid Bookie brings sinister rap and trap that changes shape with every turn. They effortlessly play between rap and metal, creating dark and twisted tracks with fast-paced hooks.

‘He’s a Man’ – Boy Vylan

Bob Vylan play O2’s Birmingham Institute on Saturday, 18 November – for online ticket sales and more information click here.

For more Bob Vylan head to www.bobvylan.com

For more on Panic Shack head to www.panicshack.bandcamp.com
For more on Kid Bookie head to www.kidbookie.com

For more information on the O2 Institute head to www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham

For more information on AEG events, including events and ticket listings, head to www.aegpresents.co.uk/events/all