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 the Hare and Hounds go to www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk