‘The Most Enthusiastic Crowd We’ve Ever Had’: Big Joanie With Support From GHUM At Hare & Hounds 12/01/23

Writer Sadie Barnett / Photographer Sam Aves


 
As I enter Venue One at Hare and Hounds, the crowd is full of anticipation. This gem of a venue in Kings Heath is known for its eclectic sounds, and Big Joanie’s support from GHUM is no exception.

London based post punk band GHUM take to the stage with an almost intimidating display of suspense as they begin to play ‘Rivers’, the closing song from their 2022 album Bitter. As guitarist Jojo Khor and bassist Marina MJ slowly start up behind her, lead singer Laura Guerrero Lora steps up to the mic. Clad in a black leather trench jacket, she looks every part the rockstar. I hear someone behind me exclaim that she looks like Stevie Nicks!”


 
For a brief moment, Lora stares defiantly into the crowd. Then, drummer Vicki Ann begins to play and the entire band is transformed. As she sings, Lora dances to the drum beat with a captivating abandon, drawing the audience in with an energy that doesn’t fade throughout the set.

The drums, already a pounding presence, only become louder as the band speak directly to the engineers, asking for more sound. “Yeah more for me please, thanks,” asks Ann politely, before proceeding to shake the very foundations of the room.


 
GHUM’s sound is an exciting one, ranging from grunge, with songs such like ‘Shallow’ which show off Lora’s vocal range with dragged-out shouts of “you don’t know me”, to punkier songs like ‘Perro’. ‘Perro’ is my favourite of their set, sung entirely in Spanish as a homage to the Spanish and Brazilian heritage of the group.

The song tells a story of animalistic rage, a message that – despite the majority of the audience not speaking the language – is clearly translated, proven by the crowd who are headbanging enthusiastically. Towards the end of their set, GHUM pay tribute to the main act, telling us that it is “an honour to be on tour with such amazing women”, and dedicate their next song ‘1000 men’ to Big Joanie.


 
By the end of the track, the crowd are chanting along to the lyrics: “a thousand men can’t keep me safe!” It is a fierce reminder of the message of feminism at the heart of this tour, and a heartwarming moment given all of the work Big Joanie has done to make space for minorities in the punk and DIY scene.

This space is one that is clearly appreciated, not only by the band, but also by the audience – which is conspicuously lacking men.

The crowd cheers raucously as GHUM leaves the stage and the room proceeds to get even more tightly packed as we wait for Big Joanie. With all eyes ahead, it’s a bit of a surprise when they casually make their way through the audience and onto the stage.


 
I am left slightly bewildered as I shuffle out of the band’s path, however this surprise doesn’t last for long as the crowd begins to cheer wildly.

“It’s nice to be in Birmingham!” shouts drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone, to answering shouts of “0121!

“This is actually Steph’s hometown gig,” she tells us, gesturing to singer and guitarist Stephanie Phillips and prompting another round of cheering. There’s nothing a Brummie crowd loves more than a Birmingham artist.

Big Joanie open with ‘Cactus Tree’, a standout single from Back Home (2022), the album that they are touring. This song combines a mesmerising blend of rock and folk with airy vocals and heavily distorted guitar over a strong drum beat. It is a striking opening.


 
Taylor-Stone in particular stands out here. In a rarely-seen example of a drummer taking centre stage, she plays standing up at the front, wearing a floral dress that matches the flowers draped across her instrument. It’s a thoughtful addition to their unique staging, with Phillips, Taylor-Stone, and bassist Estella Adeyeri standing in a straight line facing the crowd, joined at the back by Vanessa Govinden, bassist from Whitelands.

The crowd is joyful as the band plays through Back Home, bopping about the stage, smiling at audience members flinging their limbs at the front. To the crowd’s absolute delight, Taylor-Stone tells us these Brummies might be the “most enthusiastic crowd we’ve ever had, even with our big show in London!”

This, of course, cues more dancing, a celebration reinforced by their next song, ‘Confident Man’.

Again, the strong feminist politics of Big Joanie’s music rings through. Phillips tells us: “we shouldn’t admire those straight, white, greedy men”, who’s “morals aren’t really up to scratch”.


 
I nod fervently, hoping that the men stood in front of me obscuring mine and my friends’ view internalise this message. Although the topic is anger-inducing, the song’s bouncy synth line keeps us upbeat throughout.

We get a few throwbacks from the band’s 2018 album Sistahs, and are informed the women who appear on the album’s cover are in the audience tonight. The whole crowd giggles and cheers as the pair wave excitedly.

Through regular interludes, Big Joanie encourage moments of solidarity, with women, with gender minorities, with black and other POC communities, with workers and strikers. The crowd listens, rapt. I am sure I am not alone in thinking this kind of solidarity has been noticeably absent from so many punk shows recently, another reminder of why Big Joanie remain such a refreshing change for many of us.


 
We cheer in agreement as Big Joanie remind us: “even in our protest movements, there’s still issues we need to iron out.” The tightly packed audience moves even closer together, inspired. I see arms around shoulders and friends hugging, the crowd embracing in solidarity.

Big Joanie finish on their 2020 cover of Solange’s ‘Cranes in the Sky’.

As with many fans, this cover was my entry point into the band. We wait in quiet anticipation as Taylor-Stone begins the slow drum beat with a shaker in one hand, Phillips picks up a tambourine to accompany her vocals, and Adeyeri’s blissful harmonies elevate the main body of the sound.

“You’re all dancey,” notes Taylor-Stone. That we are.
 

 
For more from GHUM go to: www.ghum.bandcamp.com/music
For more from Big Joanie go to: www.bigjoanie.com

For more from Hare and Hounds go to: www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk
For more from Decolonise Fest go to: www.decolonisefest.co.uk

M9’s First Headline Show At The Sunflower Lounge 20/12/2022

Writer Jasmine Khan / Photography Andrew Roberts

The Sunny is a bit busier than I’ve come to expect on Tuesday evenings. As I walk down the narrow steps into M9’s first headline gig I can hear the thud of the bass and covers. It looks like it’s going to be a backing track kind of evening.

The first support Corbyn is emotive and talented, if a bit nervous with his eyes more on the ground than in the audience, fully in his personal flow but not quite ready to share it with us. There are a few bops and sways but it feels we’re waiting on Corbyn to give us permission to let go.

It’s a nice crowd and he finishes to applause and shouts of “slay”.

The next act Bundiny brings more interactive energy and much more eye contact, performing to the audience and taking up the stage. The room isn’t filling up, but the crowd’s much more reactive already. There’s an old skool hip hop feel coming through the speaker; Bundiny’s rap is sharp and clear.

“I wanna hear all of you singing this one, it’s my biggest single.”

I can’t say I know it, but one guy in the front keeps up with the lyrics as they swim from Bundiny’s mouth.

At times the beat feels pretty basic, but the flow is full of imaginative, pacey rhymes. Bundiny also offers up some vocals and while they’re a little shaky, his tone’s definitely there. A bit more confidence and I reckon he’s got it down.

Not missing a beat, Bundiny comes to the front of the front and raps rapidly into the audience. Confidence is not something he’s lacking now as his lyrics paint the hard work and hardship needed for success.

You know from the expression on his face he’s not fronting.

In the break between songs he sends love to his supporters which is always appreciated. “This is my dream,” he grins and then runs the next track, whose beat offers a bit more of that variety I’ve been searching for.

“I spit real passion when I open my mouth.

“Pain and joy when I open my mouth.”

At the end of his set Bundiny says that this is his first gig – definitely one to watch.

After a quick stop at the bar, the headliner M9 (previously known as J Mizzy) claims the Sunny’s stage. I started listening to M9 back in 2020 and his sound has moved from rap based hip-hop and grime to having more of a focus on vocals and alternative sounds.

That being said he’s running 25 minutes late, so M9 better be worth the wait.

As he starts the vibes change, it’s more intense, the bass feels deeper and the beats are layered and textured in a way we haven’t seen all night. The audience shouts back the end of the chorus of the first track and it’s clear who we’ve all come to see.

M9’s in his feelings when he performs but it’s a shared collective experience. His flow is melodic and the rhythms reflective. S4 from Nottingham joins M9 on stage and I’m getting LA hip hop, driving in open convertible cars and as if by magic the smell of California sober fills the room.

The next song has more movement and there’s a couple dancing at the back of the room. M9’s singing and I can’t decide which I like more, the flow of the vocals. You can hear that guttural growl at the bottom of M9 vocals that makes you know it’s real.

“No you won’t, no you won’t walk these roads alone.”

He brings another surprise support on stage for ‘Free Fall’ and Cartebranche closes his eyes before releasing an energy that seems to have been building inside him for I don’t know how long. It’s all over his face and the crowd shouts “oi” loudly in response.

This feels like one of the first hyper local gigs that I’ve been to where people are listening to the artist at home because they know the lyrics. M9 is accessible and engaging, dancing across the softer sides of hip hop and RnB.

The last track ‘Indigo’ maintains the reflective vibe of M9’s set, behind me are tens of phone lights adding to the atmosphere. The crowd’s not massive but it’s dedicated, and for me it makes all the difference.

For more from M9, click here for his Spotify page

For more from Bundiny, click here
For more from Corbyn, click here

For more from the Sunflower Lounge go to www.thesunflowerlounge.com

 

The Nature Centre’s Not A Christmas Gig At Hare & Hounds 19/12/22

Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Connor Pope

The Hare and Hounds Venue One is bustling with anticipation at 9:30pm on the Monday before Christmas. I struggle to push my way through bodies on the dance floor to the smoking area, in need of some quick air and a moment to collect my thoughts before The Nature Centre arrives on stage.

Made up of Beth Hopkins on vocals and alto sax, Oli Pyper on vocals, bass and synths, Hamish Campbell-Legg on drums, and Bird on guitar, I’ve been meaning to catch up with these hard to place locals since this time last year. And with a room so full in our current economic climate, it feels like my drizzly outing might possibly be worth the hassle.

Back in the venue, I notice festive red lights bathing the stage matching the timeless ‘Please respect the vibe. No phones on the dance floor’ sign to my right.’ Is it ever enforced?

Christmas ballards play in the background and saxophonist Hopkins tunes up on stage. The show is about to begin.

The Nature Centre’s first number brags some tight, funky jazz, firmly punctuated by the persistent twang of the bass and the strong kick of the drums.

Then, the next track completely twists the room’s energy with Hopkins switching up the saxophone for vocals, which blend between punk, folk, and indie. The sound swings, becoming more textured with the addition of a synth; the bass and guitar combined with the vocals bring an almost two-tone feel.

“You know what they say, get your best song out of the way first!” jokes frontman Pyper introducing the band. Then sternly, “This is not a Christmas gig.”

‘Forecast’ offers up another turn, tropical indie pop, with jovial harmonies and gentle cymbals. Bird’s rhythmic strumming paints rolling ocean waves, or summer breezes across vineyards, and Hopkins drops vocals just in time to pick up the sax and play the final notes of the songs.

Tight.

In ‘Maria’ I can hear a clarinet and it confuses me momentarily because the other instruments are all still present. The drums, guitar, and bass all groove and grumble whilst Hopkins now switches between vocals and flute, carrying the endlessly peaking melody with high note after high note.

There’s some sound issues but any worries are quickly placated as we’re assured it’s the “soul of the groove,” most likely frustrated at being silenced in between songs.

Up next it’s The Nature Centre’s latest release, ‘Parachute’, and yet again Bird’s fingers skate skilfully up and down the neck of his guitar, accompanied by the synth and Hopkins’ Slitsy head voice. It feels like a waterfall of treble notes cascading over my ears, and there’s a smidge of Latin flare.

The next two tracks are funny and interesting, a winning combination in any situation with lyrics like “Calling my cat Dog Face” and “Oooooo, the ghost of Eddie Bingo”.

The synths go nuts and so do the drums; The Nature Centre lets loose, indulging in a boogie for the first time all evening, and it feels like the set’s about to really get going.

But, wait … This is their last track? It’s a bit cheeky considering they’ve barely been on stage for 30 minutes.

The synth beeps and taps, the guitar and drums crescendo. The bass melts under the main sound and Hopkins is back producing immaculate warbling tones from the sax.

“Mmmmm you drive badly, I hate the way you drive,” grumbles Pyper, pulling the strings moodily on the bass.

“Like a bastard you drive,” he screams, “like a fucking bastard.”

So that’s it then? Sweet but disappointingly short.

What’s that? Making us their fool, The Nature Centre let us in on the big reveal. There’s a second set with self proclaimed “fringe” member Sean Murray.

I haven’t left enough words for this.

Murray’s bassy voice on ‘Blank Holiday’ has an even more gritty, British edge, which adds depth to the overall sound, now thick with three harmonies.

Pyper’s bass jumps up with the sax and guitar wrapping around the curve of Murray’s lead vocals at the end of each line.

In the breakdown, it gets rockier with Bird shredding the guitar and Campbell-Legg’s drums sticks blurr – The Nature Centre becomes harder to place. I understand why they describe themselves as avant garde pop, but maybe avant garde indie makes more sense.

“Look into my left eye – we’ve got one more song,” states Hopkins. What the hell does that mean?

The instruments on stage all skit, and it’s over.

My only criticism, still, is that it didn’t last long enough.

For more from The Nature Centre go to: www.thenaturecentre.bandcamp.com/ 

For more from Hare and Hounds go to: www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk

Johnny Foreigner’s Homecoming Show At Hare And Hounds Is A Festive Treat 17/12/22

Writer and photographer Emily Doyle

It’s a nightmare getting out of town at rush hour on the last Saturday before Christmas. However, when you’ve been assured that Birmingham’s indie-rock elders Johnny Foreigner have a very special treat planned for early doors at their much-awaited homecoming show, the packed bus feels worth it.

At around 5:30pm, a healthy crowd has assembled in Venue One of the Hare & Hounds. On the floor in front of the stage are fairy lights, candles, and a toy glockenspiel. Johnny Foreigner are due at any moment, though drummer Junior Elvis Washington Laidley is stalling as his daughter hasn’t arrived yet. Bassist Kelly Parker leaves to don a Christmas jumper.

Dotted around the room are hymn sheets adorned with the band’s trademark ghost character. Audience members are encouraged to take a seat on the floor, and the front half of the room doesn’t take much convincing – who says no to a lovely sit down at a gig?

What follows is an intimate acoustic set of old favourites which prompts shy singalongs from the attentive crowd. Junior and Kelly add percussion and lo-fi synth lines to Alexei Berrow and Lewes Herriot’s guitars, and restrained vocal harmonies lend the whole experience an authentically homely feel.

The band seem pleasantly surprised by the turn out. Every time someone enters the venue a shaft of light and chatter cuts through the hushed room, but latecomers are quick to get the memo and have a seat.

When the fairy lights and hymn sheets have been tidied away, …and Upstairs, Nurses are quick to inject some energy into the proceedings.

The trio’s melodic soft-rock polyphony has a satisfyingly mathy backbone that’s perfectly pitched for a crowd who probably remember streaming this sort of thing on Myspace.

Guitarist Charlie McLeod and bassist Sam Crooks both studiously avoid taking centre stage, but the former’s joyously goonish guitar face speaks for itself. McLeod goes through three guitars in the short set: “I could waste ten minutes with tuning, but we’ve got places to be!”

Next to take us on a trip down memory lane are H_ngm_n, an unashamedly emo duo from Brighton. They’re so committed to the pop punk aesthetic that they’re wearing shorts and Vans in the coldest week of the year.

It’s fun, upbeat, and accomplished, and they’re not afraid to lapse into a palm-muted breakdown when the song demands it.

Recent addition to the Big Scary Monsters roster, Other Half, brings some refreshing heft to the line up. The noisy Norwich three-piece rattle through a fuzzy scuzzy set of post-hardcore that gets the room suitably excited. The searing vocal interplay and dissonant riffs are a palette cleanser to make your eyes water and your teeth rattle.

“We’re Other Half! We’re here to have a laugh!”

Of course, this is Johnny Foreigner’s homecoming show. After a few quiet years they’re back on the scene and as much fun as ever – they kick off their final set with a shrill rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ before launching into a whistle-stop tour of fan favourites.

Any hesitancy about the nostalgia factor of the whole thing is washed away in sweat and beer as the crowd chants along to Alexei Berrow’s trademark vocals.

It’s a real Christmas gift, heartfelt and gratefully received.

For more on Johnny Foreigner go to www.johnnyforeignertheband.com

For more on …and Upstairs, Nurses go to www.andupstairsnurses.bandcamp.com
For more on H_ngm_n go to www.hngmnuk.bandcamp.com
For more on Other Half go to www.otherhalf.bandcamp.com

For more on the Hare and Hounds go to www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk

Blossoms at O2 Academy Birmingham 29/11/2022

Writer Laura Mills / Photographer Ewan Williamson

As I enter the O2 Academy the atmosphere is booming after tonight’s England victory defeating Wales with a score of 3-0. No support for tonight’s show, just the match on the big screen.

The DJ doesn’t need to rile this crowd up anymore but by God he wants to because he’s just put on ‘Sweet Caroline’ and everyone, staff included, are singing.

Once more, the DJ proves he didn’t come to fuck around tonight as he plays ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ followed by ‘Three Lions’.

The second the crowd recognise what the DJ is playing they roar: “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, football’s coming home.”

Will the crowd peak before Blossoms have even had the chance to grace the stage?

And then the lights lower, it’s a signal to everyone it’s show time for the boys from Stockport.

They take the stage looking smart and chic, there is a complete air of swagger to Blossoms – it just radiates off them.

Our Tuesday night set is kicked off with a classic Blossoms tune, ‘At Most A Kiss’. It’s such a popular and fan favourite tune, and it eases the crowd in.

This opener shows off every bit of what Blossoms are about, the distinctive guitar riffs with a consistent tempo guided through with the beat of the drums.

The vibe changes slightly with the song ‘Oh No (I Think I’m In Love)’. Which isn’t classic Blossoms.

The sound has been carefully crafted and placed together to create an indie, funky rhythm. This song has some pretty pristine layering with different sections changing tempo ever so smoothly.

Some parts of this track appear more fast paced than others because the band is persistently groovy.

Tom Ogden is the band’s singer, and tonight he’s hosting Birmingham. He knows how to interact with the crowd as he makes little comments here and there to fire the fans up even further.

Next up is ‘The Keeper’. This one really shows Blossoms interacting with each other as a band, looking at each other cheekily while giving everything they have to their instruments. The sound feels like Blossoms are drifting the crowd away to pure escapism, there’s a smile across everyone’s faces.

As we move through the set we’re offered songs like ‘Ode to NYC’ and ‘The Sulking Poet’, which were released earlier this year. These are all lapped up by the crowd who’ve done their research before arriving here tonight, singing every single word.

Birmingham are also getting treated to the tour debut of a song called ‘Like Gravity’, cheers bab.

Moving towards the end of the set the band strip things back for a second with an acoustic version of ‘My Favourite Room’. Then they drift into covers ‘Half the World Away’ and ‘Last Christmas’ making this an evening of festive fun as well.

I think as they’ve not played it yet we are all expecting it, and it’s warmly welcomed by this brummie crowd as Blossoms finish their set off with ‘Charlemagne’.

There’s been a bit of bouncing tonight, but as Blossoms launch into their final track the crowd mount each other’s shoulders or prepare for battle around the mosh pits.

Reaching the bridge of this song while Tom sings: “Don’t go, if only I could show you”, the pits open while the crowd awaits the final chorus of this song.

Tom sings: “And the river always flows, so if you go. I will know by the rain, my Charlemagne” – sending the crowd flying into each other with pints of Carlsberg filling the air.

What a sight to see and what a song to finish the set on. Blossoms are a band that show no signs of stopping.

Blossoms @ O2 Institute 29.11.22 / Ewan Williamson

For more on Blossoms visit: www.blossomsband.co.uk 

For more events at the O2 Academy Birmingham visit: www.o2academybirmingham.co.uk