PETER & THE TEST TUBE BABIES + THE BARRACKS + PUNKA – BLACKMARKET VIP, HASTINGS 24.05.19
If you like old school punk with catchy tunes, and don’t take life too seriously, you might already be a fan of Peter And The Test Tube Babies. Shortly after forming in Peacehaven in 1978, they got a track on the legendary ‘Vaultage’ compilation of Brighton punk bands, which in turn led to a session on the John Peel Show on BBC Radio 1. They’ve been favourite sons of the city ever since, and continue to gig and record to this day, having put out no fewer than fourteen albums. Their songs are lively and upbeat, with witty lyrics, sometimes bordering on the absurd. I love a pun, and their most recent offering ‘That Shallot’ always makes me chuckle when I see the onion-like vegetable on the sleeve.
Tonight they are playing at Blackmarket VIP in Hastings Old Town, a surprisingly large upstairs venue, given that it’s in an area of quaint historic buildings. Owner Ash Jacobs is on the door, and greets me like an old friend, even though I haven’t been there in ages. He’s made some improvements since my last visit, taking out a partition that used to separate the bar from the stage area. It’s a lovely space now, with a high ceiling and capacity for about 300, offering a clear view from anywhere in the room.
There are two support acts tonight, both local bands from Hastings who gig regularly in the area. First up are PUNKA, a trio who offer a high-speed fusion of old school punk and heavy rock. As the title of their 2017 album ‘Angry All The Time’ suggests, many of the lyrical themes tackle issues of social concern. Opening number ‘Biff’, from their earlier ‘Ca$hball’ EP, is more autobiographical though. Lead vocalist Martin Ray reminisces about his war veteran grandfather, whilst thrashing out a fast and infectious guitar riff, and bassist Martin Haslam lends backing vocals on the punchy, shouted chorus. It’s two minutes of pure joy.
The set continues on at a brisk pace. There’s plenty of furious motion up and down the fretboards and round the kit, but the two Martins stand stock still, flanking the stage. Between them is drummer Tommy Frost, clearly from a heavy rock background with a double kick pedal and impossibly fast sounding stick work, probably 32nd note triplets if you’re into counting things. When he rolls around the kit it sounds like there are fills within fills. It’s impressive, and the pace is unrelenting.
The sound tonight is crisp and punchy, and powerful without being stupidly high volume. The lead guitar breaks cut through nicely. I’ve seen PUNKA plenty of times before, and this is probably the best I’ve heard them. All the songs are great, with catchy chanted choruses, though the closing number really stands out. ‘Jäger Bomb Boys’ describes the sort of drunken laddish behaviour you can see in any town or city at the weekend, and is built around another fast, insistent riff with the bass moving nicely beneath it. It’s a glorious finale to an excellent set.
‘Biff’, ‘Bed Of Nails’, ‘Don’t Know Them’, ‘O.C.D.’, ‘Get The Knife’, ’25 Quid’, ’N.R.A.’, ‘Shame On You’, ‘Lost Years’, ‘Welcome To The End’, ‘Jäger Bomb Boys’.
More information: www.facebook.com/PUNKA
Next up are The Barracks, another local band. They formed in 2009, so are coming up for their 10th anniversary later this year. They’ve released a couple of albums, and shared a split EP with popular Hastings folk punks Matilda’s Scoundrels. As this pairing might suggest, there is a Celtic element to The Barracks’ sound, though for the most part it’s fast, thrashy rock with big choruses. Most of the songs seem to be about drinking, which is fine by me as I’ve swigged my way through most of a bottle of Malbec.
‘Step forward!’ implores guitarist Scott. The crowd shuffles closer to the stage, and we’re into the blistering opener ‘Tie One On’. It’s a twin guitar assault, mostly both thrashing rhythm but with occasional lead flurries from fellow guitarist Luke, who despite being pretty tall has somehow found a guitar strap that facilitates playing at ankle level. Luke and Scott share lead vocal duties, often alternating lines within verses, then joining in together for the chanted refrains. Bassist Mark, whose instrument sports a sticker saying ‘Please be kind to each other’, and bearded drummer Ryan keep a lively and punchy rhythm going at a brisk pace.
The second number ‘Tattoos’ seems pertinent, since all of the band members, clad in shorts and t-shirts, are absolutely festooned with them. The band has a great look and there’s plenty of jumping around on stage. Luke seems slightly less bouncy than usual, possibly as he has a strapped up knee. By the time we get to ‘Drinking Song’ the crowd are all jumping around too, and the hooks just get more and more massive as the brief set moves towards its conclusion. ‘Middle Ground’ is a superb tune, and ‘F*ck You’ is ridiculously catchy, with plenty of crowd participation with appropriate gestures. This has been another strong set in an excellent bill.
The Barracks setlist:
‘Tie One On’, ‘Tattoos’, ‘Blood Shot Eyes’, ‘Stand You Up’, ‘Drinking Song’, ‘Middle Ground’, ‘Home Town’, ‘F*ck You’, ‘Last Call’.
More information: www.facebook.com/thebarracks
The room has filled up rather by the time Peter And The Test Tube Babies take the stage. Judging by the number of band t-shirts amongst the crowd, they have a loyal following. Lead vocalist Peter Bywater has a likeable cheeky chappy manner. His songwriting partner and fellow founder member Del Strangefish plays a gold Les Paul guitar and, amusingly, wears a t-shirt saying “I hate Peter”. The rhythm section has changed a bit over the years. The drum stool’s current incumbent is Sam Fuller, who alternates fancy stick twirling with self-deprecating quips between songs about his own ginger hair. Black clad bassist Nick Abnett pumps out a low growl from a white Precision.
Del’s guitar sounds fantastic, and chimes out a succession of hook-laden riffs. Given how lyric oriented the songs are though, I would personally prefer the lead vocal a bit higher in the mix. There’s plenty of joking between songs, including damning the host town with faint praise: “It’s better than Eastbourne. I’d rather be stabbed in Hastings than die in an old people’s home.”
All the numbers are catchy, and upbeat. I particularly like ‘Every Second Counts’, which has a lovely lead lick ringing out. ‘Keys To The City’ has a satisfying post punk feel with an insistent throbbing rhythm. For a shout-along earworm, ‘None Of Your F*cking Business’ is hard to beat, though ‘Spirit Of Keith Moon’ is probably the lyrical triumph: “I wanna throw things out the window, I wanna smash up the room, because I’ve been possessed by the spirit of Keith Moon.”
There’s a shout out to former band member Paul ‘H’ Henrickson, who unfortunately has been unwell lately and has had to have a leg amputated. Talking of former bandmates, original drummer Mark ‘Ogs’ Hoggins is in the audience, and takes the stage to do a guest spot drumming on the classic single ‘Banned From The Pubs’.
The audience has clearly been having fun, though they are not particularly vocal in expressing their appreciation, even at the end of the set. I’m thinking that’s it, but the band come back on anyway and play three more numbers, including ‘Elvis Is Dead’, the song that started it all on that 1978 compilation album, and a truly bizarre cover of ‘Hocus Pocus’, complete with silly yodelling.
It’s been an entertaining evening in a great venue, and we’ve enjoyed cracking sets from all three bands. I’m glad I came out.
Peter And The Test Tube Babies setlist:
‘Moped Lads’, ‘Run Like Hell’, ‘The Jinx’, ‘Never Made It’, ‘My Unlucky Day’, ‘Every Second Counts’, ‘In Your Face’, ‘Up Yer Bum’, ‘‘Spirit Of Keith Moon’ , ‘None Of Your F*cking Business’, ‘Keys To The City’, ‘Keep Britain Untidy’, ‘Wrong’, ‘Maniac’, ‘Banned From The Pubs’, ‘Blown Out Again’, (encore) ‘Elvis Is Dead’, ‘Hocus Pocus’ (Focus cover), ‘September’.
Official website: www.testtubebabies.co.uk
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