Café Artum, a vinyl-filled setting nestled at the far end of Corporation Street, is busier than usual on this Saturday afternoon.
“This one’s for my mum, over there. This is the first time she’s ever seen me play, today” says Liám Mckeown, taking his seat in front of the window. The room grows quiet. At the back of the cafe, one guy listens to a record on headphones, seemingly oblivious.
Mckeown builds up loops of rhythm guitar before layering effortless lead over the top. Best known for his role in local psych-rock outfit Brain Food, solo he conjures up a much more mellow sound. His singer-songwriter vibe verges on jazzy at points, but always has a psychedelic tinge.
Mckeown covers Neil Young’s 1972 release ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ – it’s ambitious but heartfelt; the audience listens in stillness as the X51 bus rolls past the window behind him. The set also features stripped back versions of Brain Food songs, including ‘Lemon & Lime’ from the band’s debut EP Get One On. These feel more vocal-led than the rest of Mckeown’s performance and round off the set nicely.
The first full band of the bill, Handwaxx, have made only minor concessions to Bare Bones’ advertised ‘raw, stripped back’ ethos. New member Will Sutton, having been recruited to the group just a month ago, has traded out his Vox Phantom for an acoustic guitar, but otherwise the only thing especially stripped back about the outfit’s sound is the lack of a proper PA.
Handwaxx describe themselves as ‘psychedelic indie pop’, which seems like a fair label. Their sound blends a brit-poppish sensibility with a sprinkling of dreamy shoegaze, backed up by impressive lead guitar work from Ryan Baynham. Their set reaches a high point with the last two songs, which move in a more Morricone-esque direction. Handwaxx’s reverb drenched surfy sound is perfect for brightening up a gloomy Saturday afternoon.
The promo material for Bare Bones argued that The Mighty Young ‘could probably still melt your face off with an acoustic set’, but it’s clear we won’t find out about that today, as the only acoustic instrument on stage is the drum kit. This is loud, raucous garage rock ‘n’ roll from one of Birmingham’s trusty trios, and there’s not a Cajon in sight.
The Mighty Young have always embraced a stripped back, DIY ethos with their sound, though. Reminiscent of The White Stripes, their straight-to-the-point performance and songwriting are a joy, unphased by some minor technical hitches.
A jubilant sing-a-long cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ provides the soundtrack as one of the bar staff weaves through the dense crowd, putting tealights out on the tables – it’s grown dark out. A passerby outside stops by the window to listen, intrigued. A few younger audience members, who’ve got another ten years to wait before they can get in to any other Mighty Young shows, are growing a little restless, but the rest of the crowd are fully engaged.
As six o’ clock approaches and the trio draw things to a close with a slow, bluesy ballad; it’s clear that this inaugural Bare Bones session was a success. And although perhaps not as ‘stripped back’ as originally intended, neither the performers nor the audience seemed to mind. Watching the punters filter back out into the cold and on to the next stop on their Saturday nights, there’s a sense that things are only just beginning.
THE GALLERY: Bare Bones – with The Mighty Young, Handwaxx, Liám Mckeown @ Café Artum 01.12.18 / Ed King
The event runs from 3pm until 6pm, with three live sets alongside music from Carlton Wainwright on the wheels of steel. Or, you know, the CDs of chaos. Mix tapes of mayhem. The idiosyncrasies of an iPod shuffle…? Whatever the kids are spinning these days.
Now this is a good idea… As the Bare Bones promo rhetoric states, ‘expect to see your favourite local artists perform raw, stripped back, great music with no frills’ performing in ‘a bare minimum set up and a super intimate venue’.
It actually says all that the other way around, but the idea of getting some good ol’ garage rock, indie, and six stringed psychedelia played ‘stripped back’ and ‘raw’ absolutely works for – us regardless of what order the words are in. Plus it’s cheap as chips. In fact, it’s cheaper than chips – it’s cheap as a bag of potatoes and a saucepan of cooking oil that will one day become chips. And we like that too.
The Mighty Young are a familiar favourite on the local live circuit, with their barrage of blues and garage rock making a lot of lovely noise in venues across the city for a few years now. ‘Aint alliteration ace… But always a good night out (or in, if you’re throwing a wildly adventurous house party) it will be a rare delight to watch what unfurls when The Mighty Young have to perform sitting down sans distortion pedal. Our money is on ‘quietly kicking ass’. For more on The Mighty Young, visit www.facebook.com/ruttingdevil
Handwaxx are at the somewhat more swirly colours end of the rock rainbow, with a wah wah here and a… you get the idea. But the Birmingham three piece have been making some pretty noticeable sonic waves recently, and as the Bare Bones Facebook event page says ‘don’t miss your chance check them out in a completely different perspective’ – pun intended, we very much hope. For more on Hardwaxx, visit www.soundcloud.com/handwaxx
And last but by no means least is Liám Mckeown, better known (perhaps, who knows what he does in his spare time) as the centre piece of Brain Food – Birmingham’s delectable ‘swirling psych-soaked four piece’. We like Brain Food a lot, on stage and off, and their commitment to the local music scene is a heart warming addition to the city’s cultural cache.
Bare Bones presents its first afternoon of ‘stripped back’ acoustic sets at Café Artum on Saturday 1st December, running from 3pm top 6pm. For more information and links to online ticket sales, visit the Bare Bones Facebook event page – click here.
For more on Café Artum, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.cafeartum.co.uk
NOT NORMAL – NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.
To learn more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign, click here.
A man stands in the doorway at the Hare & Hounds, gesticulating like a proud Neville Chamberlain. OK, bad example. But it’s 7:30pm, the venue has just opened, and there’s a queue forming behind him. As gigs on a school night go this is looking promising.
And so it should be, the once ‘rising balloon’ now ‘rock powerhouse’ of Rews have returned to the city – bolting a Birmingham gig onto the end of their UK spring tour, before finishing their run with dates in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Plus, they’ve sold out. On a Thursday. Something that’s a shiny badge of honour for bands that play in the second city, and one that is unassailable Rews deserve.
Since releasing their debut album, Pyro, back in November 2017, the Marshall signed two piece have been relentless in their performances and promotion – with their penultimate single, ‘Your Tears’, recently receiving a week of A-List airplay on Radio One. Rews are on the march, and it’s working. This is a band that you only have to see play once to become hooked. And from most of the DJs on Auntie’s No1 station to the room full of people coming tonight, there’s many who’d agree.
The Hare 2 continues to fill up, with the venue’s narrow stairs looking like a bathroom queue at a house party. Roddy Woomble is playing in Hare 1, launching the promo campaign of this year’s Mosley Folk Festival, and it’s a busy night all round in Kings Heath. The buzz in the air is both cliché and palpable, with a healthy half room turnout by the time Rews’ first support band, P.E.T, swagger on stage – dripping head to toe in punk paraphernalia and attitude.
“Take your hands off me, I’M NOT YOUR P.E.T”, declares front woman, Abi Whistance, screaming into the mic and over the crowd – who have edged closer to the stage to find out where this ‘tiny but mighty’ noise is coming from.
P.E.T are relatively fresh faces on the Birmingham live circuit, having formed as the leaves fell in 2017. But already they’re already picking up a wealth of support and steam, with their unrelenting thrash punk and dead pan humour – stabbing the ribcages of the establishment with ‘Eton Mess’, to cutting off those wandering hands with their eponymous opening track. It’s raw, unashamed, and musically solid. This is a band who could get somewhere, or take us all down in the most colourful of ways whilst trying. But I’d watch out for P.E.T… tonight’s ‘rising balloon’ baton has been firmly handed over.
The rolling cymbal crashes and rough vocals of You Dirty Blue are on stage next, washing the room with waves of psychedelic and garage rock. I’m reticent to call it ‘blues rock’ again, as the man to my left is currently reading the BPREVIEW for tonight’s gig, smirking, shaking his head like a straight laced Will Self, and muttering “…this is not blues”. He might even be right, in his lexicon and record collection at least, but it seems no one really cares as the Tamworth two piece kick out tracks from their Tough Crowd EP and beyond.
Walls of sound are built and knocked to the ground, riffs get scatter gunned, as Leon James’ rough but endearing vocals lead us through a Velvet Underground tinged Purple Haze with some Seattle seeded two fingers up. You Dirty Blue’s final track, of both tonight’s set and their Tough Crowd EP – ‘Gallow Dancer’, punches a particular hole in the room, with a melodic hook and chorus I dedicate to the smart phone wielding ‘man to my left’. It’s like drowning in a lava lamp whilst John Peel and Bruce Pavitt play you ‘some really cool shit’. And if you have any room on the inside of your forearm left, carve You Dirty Blue as a musical reminder. Awesome stuff.
Some set changes ensue and fervent mummering begins, as Rews get ready for their headline set – the eager beaver Thursday night crowd pushing itself towards the front of the stage. Awesome to see such enthusiasm, but not easy when you’re juggling drum kits on a busy stage. Lights down, lights up, mummering stops, and like the opening scene in Back to the Future (minus the clock, coffee or dog food) we are poised – somewhere a plectrum glints…
Immediate and personable, Rews (aka Shauna Tohill and Collette Williams) beam their appreciation to the crowd and across the room – launching into the staple of tracks from their debut album. ‘Let it Roll’ bounces off stage declaring the rock intentions of tonight’s set, reeling in an already health and safety defying audience with invisible fish hooks. No one here gets out alive, or at least until the end of the set, as the great and good from Pyro and beyond (…album two?) get a rigorous shake. Or even ‘Shake Shake’, but not until a little later.
There’s a real joy in watching Rews perform, and not just because their already tight performance seems even more polished this time around. It’s the sheer energy and enjoyment you get sweeping off stage. Rews are in Birmingham at the end of a long and arduous tour (…think snow, lots of snow) but tonight could be the first time they’ve stepped on stage after a month in the sun and several nights of interrupted sleep. The banter is great as well, with the closeness between the two musicians making the whole room feel part of something special.
Then comes ‘the moment’. Rews had alluded to adding a “sort of an electro acoustic rendition of one of our older songs” into the set, after their gig in Leeds a few nights before. And as Williams leaves her stool to join Tohill at the front of the stage, this is what we’re about to get – soft steel strings and a tapped out percussion deliver a stripped back version of ‘Everything’, one of Rews’ older tracks that is getting a post Pyro make-over. It’s beautiful. My job is to find words but often I can’t, and this just works. Rews work. Add your own hyperbole.
Crammed into the edges of the merch stand, I let the rest of the set wash through me. I think I scribble the words ‘triumphant’ and ‘step up’ into my notebook, but any serious reportage is done for the day. Thankfully there’s a load of pics to help you piece this night together (see below) if you weren’t there to witness it first hand – with the full Flickr of pics from Aatish Ramchurn here, and from Eleanor Sutcliffe here.
And it you didn’t make it to the Hare and Hounds on 22nd March, or if you’ve not seen this continuously impressive rock duo before, I strongly suggest checking Rews out for yourself. If you haven’t got a copy of Pyro, start there. But if you ever see them on a bill poster, in whatever corner of the globe you call home, then put your hands in your pocket and buy a ticket. It’s hard to imagine you’ll feel short changed. And next time Rews come back to Birmingham, you might want to move a little quickly whilst you’re at it.
“We were talking about this the other day… our second sold out show in the city. It’s absolutely fantastic. We’re so excited that there are people returning show after show to come and see us; it’s such an amazing atmosphere, we honestly can’t wait to come back.”
I’m catching up with Shauna Tohill and Collette Williams, aka Rews, as they travel from a debut gig in Leeds to another hot ticket show at the Sugarmill in Stoke. Birmingham is a few notches down on the tour post, with the rock powerhouse returning for their second consecutive sold out show in the city on 22nd March – this time playing at the well-loved and well-programmed Hare & Hounds, with local support from You Dirty Blue and P.E.T.
“It’s been really good,” explains Collette Williams – as I ask about the rest of Rews‘ tour, “and it’s nice to be able to get to some places that we haven’t yet been to before – we haven’t actually played in Leeds before, which is crazy. I used to go to Uni in Leeds and this is the first time I’ve been back in about eight years.”
“Yeah, it’s been really brilliant,” adds Shauna Tohill. “We were just a bit sad about having to reschedule some of the gigs to being with, we now have new dates for them, but it’s been amazing so far.”
Rews keep a pretty rigorous live and tour schedule, with a focused work ethic both on and off the road. But beginning their UK tour as the tabloid titled ‘beast from the east’ closed off half the country proved to be somewhat of a challenge.“The two dates we had to postpone were because people just physically get to the venues,” continues Tohill, “the roads were all closed. That’s was Newcastle and Glasgow… we’d never been to Glasgow before either.”
Back touring the UK and Ireland, still on the crest of “this Pyro wave”, Rews have had a significant year – not only with the release of their stellar debut album, but also racking up some serious time on the national airwaves. And not just the rock stations either, for a while it seemed Rews had polished off their shotguns and taken over Broadcasting House.
“It’s been incredible, but so strange,” tells Williams. “We keep getting messages from friends and family saying, ‘I’m in my car, driving back from work, and you’re on the radio at five o’clock’. The DJs were really supportive too and took the time to find out about us. Apart from Scott Mills, who didn’t, then went on to tell everyone I was an alcoholic and flower arranger – he was like, ‘let’s just coin her with something’ which was quite hilarious.” But however they got through the BBC’s front door, or whatever floral self-destruction may or may not have happened in the green room, Rews’ time on the air has certainly bolstered their growing army of fans. Then again, a week of having your single (‘Your Tears’) pushed across the biggest broadcaster in the county should pay some dividends.
But time and tide wait for no radio playlist, and ‘Shake Shake’ is the latest Rews single – released in February and already building momentum. “A lot of people have been making comments about it,” explains Tohill, “and some have been comparing it to the older version that we had.”‘Shake Shake’ was one of Rews’ original four singles, with the track first recorded and released in 2016. “but our ‘likes’ have gone up and you can see that reflected in people watching and interacting with it online. You can see that it’s been received well by people.”
“I guess we’ve got two different camps,” continues Williams, “we’ve got new fans who didn’t know the old version of it, but who love the energy of the new version. Then we’ve got the people who have been there from the start who can recognise it’s a different recording and a different sound. But when we play it live everyone loves it – it’s really energetic and they all get dancing to it, which is cool.”
Live gigs are where Rews undeniably make their mark, with such high octane and engaging shows you sometimes have to check there really are only two of them on stage. In your face Polyphonic Spree… But Pyro, Rews’ debut album that came out in November 2017 (read our Birmingham Review of Pyro here), is a ferocious first foot forward – an addictive ten track ‘avalanche’ of an album, with all the hallmarks of a rock classic in the making. Seriously, in about five years just wait for the listicles.
But Pyro also cemented their signing to Marshall Records, as Rews were one of the first UK bands to appear on the iconic rock brand’s recently formed label. “It’s been good,” explains Williams, “they’re quite hands off in their approach, which allows us some creative breathing space. But we’ve been with them a year and we’ve grown together, so I think they’ll be trying to kick it up a notch now – more international stuff, us getting out and playing more places we haven’t been to. There’s some exciting stuff on the horizon.”
“We do have some news…” adds Tohill, “but nothing we can tell you about now.” I’m guessing, and hoping, it has something to do with America. Rews would kill it in America.
But world domination aside, there are other good fights to fight – with Rews recently being pretty proactive on International Women’s Day, appearing in various panel discussions and interviews, as well an all-female gig in Brighton (if you get a chance, read the Women Who Rock feature on Mels Jukebox).
“There’s a whole combination of things, it can be quite complicated,” explains Tohill, as I ask the uncomfortably obvious question about ‘issues facing women in the music industry today’. “But I think a lot of it is just getting the right kind of support and respect really. Collette and I both find we’re well supported and respected, but there’s just, you know… sometimes, things like when you get groped whilst your having your photos taken. It’s not really on. It’s fine to give someone a hug, and some caring touch, but not anything more than that.”
“I think it’s about opportunities as well,” continues Williams. “There’s been a lot that’s come out about the lack of female musicians appearing on festival line ups, and I think it’s about turning some of the attention onto opportunities and filtering that in from the ground level up. It’s about inspiring young women to get into music, to take up an instrument, because it’s important to get the balance right. Whilst there might not be enough females (in areas of the music industry) you don’t want to go too heavily to the other side and have this sense of entitlement – that you’ve been put on the bill just because someone’s trying to fill some kind of gender gap.”
“It feels like it might take a few years yet,” adds Tohill “but the more awareness we have and the more women that get involved in the music industry, the more you won’t even need gender as a factor and we won’t see that divide anymore.”
How do you feel when gender is used to describe Rews? Being called ‘the female Royal Blood’ isn’t a bad thing, but it’s still steeped in sexuality.
“We’ve talked about this a few times,” continues Tohill. “We don’t really mind, too much, but it depends in what way it’s being used. Again, it is going to take a few years, generations possibly, to take away the kind of ‘unique thing’ about being a female band. But we are a female band, so we don’t mind people referencing that if they’re not doing it in a derogatory way.”
“It works both ways too,” adds Williams, “we can use it in our favour – some people are still intrigued by it, in a positive sense. But it shouldn’t be used just for the sake of it because it’s not a describing factor about our music. Ultimately it would be great to drop the gender and for it not to be a factor at all.”
The first time I met Rews we spent, or rather I spent, perhaps too long fixating on a word in their press release. But I’m also aware that during this conversation I have, repeatedly, referred to these two women as ‘you guys’. So, we all have out part to play. But as far as journalism goes there are many words to describe Rews that have nothing to do with their gender and everything to do with their music. Feel free to fish out some superlatives from this feature, or Google ‘awesome’ and take your pick from the world wide web of synonyms.
But for now, I’ll settle for the following: ‘Rews’, ‘Hare and Hounds’, ‘Thursday 22nd March’, ‘sold out’. And if there’s any word count left, ‘excited’ and ‘respect to Birmingham’s live music scene’.
‘Shake Shake’ – Rews
Rews perform at the Hare & Hounds (Kings Heath) on Thursday 22nd March, with support from You Dirty Blue and P.E.T – as presented by Metropolis Music and Birmingham Review. For direct event information, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit http://bit.ly/2IFpUon
At the time of writing this gig has all but sold out, with literally only a handful of tickets left on sale. There are also waiting lists available, for returns and cancellations, through the registered ticket agents – but it’s changing by the hour, so click on the following links for Ticketmaster, Skiddle or See Tickets to get updates and info. And hopefully tickets.
The term ‘rising balloon’ gets bandied about these days, and quite often by me. It’s exciting to see an artist in nascent and the tried/tested metaphor is often an appropriate badge of both recognition and applause. But I can’t use this term for Rews anymore, as their rising balloon got caught on the tail end of a NASA space shuttle and is now in confident orbit around the planet. Quite simply, and without allegory or hyperbole, Rews are set for huge things. HUGE. SO NOW I’M USING CAPITALS INSTEAD.
And every inch of it is deserved. Not only have Rews mastered the addictive rock formula on record but they are phenomenal live. PHENOMENAL. So phenomenal, in fact, that after seeing Rews at The Flapper in February 2017 we booked them to headline the Birmingham Review Winter Showcase at the Actress & Bishop the following November – a venue now probably fundraising for a new roof, after Rews tore the old one clean off and scattered it across the city. We’re biased, but it was a stonker of a gig. Which seems to be de rigueur for Rews as their relentless touring and festival sets have won them a huge fanbase in a relatively short space of time. And again, every inch of it is deserved.
Rews’ debut album, Pyro, is a stellar debut too – being one of the first artists signed to Marshall Records and doing the iconic rock brand nothing but proud. And if you haven’t already got yourself a copy of then 1) shame on you, 2) shame on you again, 3) get thee to an online retailer before we fetch the wooden spoon and naughty step. You can read our Birmingham Review of Pyro here.
The reciprocal feather in the cap of this gig is that Rews added Birmingham onto their spring tour dates because of the all-round awesomeness of their last gig in the city. So, this is down to you. Yes, you. The live music endorsing public and punters of Birmingham, you did this. It’s not too often that Birmingham sits as one of the cherries on a national tour circuit, but for Rews we are. Or were. And shall be again. So, with a single (tough and manly) tear in one eye and civic pride in my belly, I salute you all. VIVE LE BIRMINGHAM LIVE MUSIC SCENE.
But it’s not all Rews, Rews, Rews… as much as that would suffice, you’re getting two more bands for your musical buck on 22nd March. Lucky sods, the lot of you.
Although sandwiched by the great and good, You Dirty Blue were one of the stand out acts from the evening – with the gloriously raw yet proficient edges that any true DIY artist needs to make their mark. We became hooked. And a few months later we got to sink our teeth in a little deeper, as You Dirty Blue released their ‘monstrous debut’ EP, Tough Crowd, just before Christmas. In short, we gave it a resounding thumbs up… with a cheeky middle finger thrown in for good measure. But again you can always read our Birmingham Review of Tough Crowd for yourself, just click here. Pah… independent thought is for suckers.
Second support for the night comes from P.E.T – ‘Birmingham’s rising punk balloon’… for want of a better expression. But that they are; P.E.T are the new kids on the Brummie block and have already racked up a few decent support gigs and industry endorsements since forming in late 2017.
In your face, feisty, not shy of screaming into the microphone, P.E.T are the essence of post-punk punk. But they’ve got the smarts to go with it – citing an impressive list of influences that many older (self-declared) aficionados wouldn’t have in their cultural cache. Go ahead, test it, ask P.E.T“…do you know a band called The Slits?” and see what happens.
Plus, they’ve got all the raw bolshiness that you can get from a band who just love playing and performing – you ‘aint going to see P.E.T on a stage and forget about them in a hurry, especially if your standing at the front. But we think they’re mostly harmless. At least, no one’s been injured yet. Not visibly. Keep an eye out for P.E.T though, we sense curious times ahead.
And as a picture paints a thousand words, and there’s nearly that above us already, we though we’d end with a few moving image reminders of Rews. Too tough to pick one song, so we’ve gone for two – one recorded, one live. Viddy below my droogs and we’ll see you at the Hare & Hounds on 22nd March:
‘Your Tears’ – Rews
‘Can You Feel It?’ – Rews (live at Hawley Arms for Camden Rocks)
Rews perform at the Hare & Hounds (Kings Heath) on Thursday 22nd March, with support from You Dirty Blue and P.E.T – as presented by Metropolis Music and Birmingham Review. For direct event information and online ticket sales, visit http://bit.ly/2FL53hm