THE BOYS + LAST GREAT DREAMERS + MENACE – THE CON CLUB, LEWES 10.01.20
There’s nothing quite like the music you grew up with as a teenager to evoke nostalgia and stir up long forgotten memories. For me it was the 1970’s, the era of punk rock and new wave. Back then I never imagined I’d even be alive in the year 2020, let alone still be going to see the same bands I’d been listening to with my gang of mates, as we clustered around a mono cassette player in our after dark hangouts in the local park, or the brickfields behind the copse.
Forty-odd years on, plenty of those same bands are still extant and still gigging, and Lewes Con Club has become a regular stop off, largely thanks to the efforts of promoters The Big Blue Shed. It’s been a whole lot of fun, with many excellent shows in recent times, so I was sorry to hear that tonight is going to be the last they’ll be putting on here. They have some future events booked further west, so good luck to them with that, and thanks for all the great gigs in Lewes. Tonight they have pulled out all the stops, with a splendid lineup featuring two stalwarts of those teenage mixtapes, plus a bit of punky glam pop from the 1990’s for good measure.
First up are Menace, first wave London punks who released a series of anthemic shout along singles from 1977 on, including the supremely catchy and in your face ‘G.L.C.’ They never really went away, and although there have been many changes of personnel over the years, they have continued to release albums and remain regulars on the current punk scene. It’s not often you see them open a show, which is an indication of the quality of tonight’s bill. The Con Club is filling up and buzzing by 8.30pm.
They thunder into the set with the traditional opening paean to the joys of sound checking: ‘One Two One Two’, swiftly followed by fast moving early classic ‘Screwed Up’. Behind the kit is original member Noel Martin, with his distinctive dark curly hair, thumping the toms in passionate defiance of those passing decades. He shares the lead vocals with guitarist Finn Panton, a wiry figure, fizzing with energy and effortlessly cool in a black leather bike jacket, throwing shapes with a distressed Telecaster. He is flanked house left by Harvey, a big unit of Kiwi guitarist, clad in black and toting a contrasting white Hagstrom, and house right by bassist Rob, who has broken ranks from the black theme with a Hawaiian shirt, and is launching scurrying runs up and down the fretboard of a red and white Jazz.
“We don’t want to drag you back to the 70’s for too long,” says Finn, introducing ‘Monkey’, from their most recent album, the excellent ‘Social Insecurity’. ‘Party Animals.’ is another live favourite to punch the air to, and Harvey takes over on lead vocals for ‘I Need Nothing.’ We’re back to those early classic singles with ‘Insane Society’, a song whose lyrics seem more relevant now than ever. ‘C & A’ is a personal favourite of mine, with a languid vibe of resigned despair, punctuated with more urgent choruses and a nifty reggae breakdown. ‘I’m Civilised’ is addressed to the people of Lewes, although there probably aren’t that many locals here. ‘So F*ck You’ is as good a song to sing along to as you could wish, and Finn is facilitating this by holding his mic out to the front rows. Even that is trumped by ‘G.L.C.’, with its customary joyous stage invasion. As far as my editor is concerned, I’m staying out of it and taking careful notes, despite any apparent photographic evidence to the contrary. There’s a cracking encore of another chant along number: ‘Last Year’s Youth’, and you know there’s still plenty in the locker. I get the impression that many of the crowd would be happy to hear a lot more.
Menace embody everything that’s great about first wave punk: a sense of community, with the energy and righteous indignation of protest harnessed to great tunes that make you want to join in. Who would have thought they could sustain it for so long?
‘One Two One Two’, ‘Screwed Up’, ‘Monkey’, ‘I Need Nothing’, ‘Insane Society’, ‘C & A’, ‘I’m Civilised’, ‘So F*ck You’, ‘G.L.C.’ (encore) ‘Last Year’s Youth’
More information: www.menace77.co.uk
I haven’t come across Last Great Dreamers before, but I like them straight away. Visually they are striking, looking like a Clockwork Orange droog gang who have stumbled across boho chic. Musically they get straight to the point with superbly catchy glam tinged pop punk, stacked with killer riffs and lush vocal harmonies. The songs are immediately engaging, and on stage every band member is really going for it, and you can’t ask much more than that.
Lead singer Marc Valentine sports a bowler hat, and his curly hair and eyeliner are reminiscent of another glam rock star called Marc. He chops on a white Telecaster and looks particularly stylish in a black velvet jacket and a kipper tie, moving like the proverbial tiger on Vaseline. To the left, guitarist Slyder (I guess they like T. Rex) supplies the excellent backing vocals and favours a low rise top hat. He too has a classic look with polka dot shirt and waistcoat, and wields a dark Les Paul. House right is Tim Emery, swinging a low slung white Precision bass with a fancy patterned scratch plate. He cuts a tall, loose limbed figure, grooving fluidly in skinny black jeans with contrasting white crepe soled shoes. His tall bowler hat, eyeliner and black fingernails complete the look. Drummer Rik is getting busy around the kit, and has joined in with the visual vibe with a polka dot shirt and newsboy hat. They look and sound great, throwing shapes, and jumping on and off the drum riser. It’s only Marc and Slyder singing, as far as I can see, though the vocal harmonies sound massive.
The band has been around a while in various lineups and incarnations. Their debut album, the splendidly titled ‘Retrosexual’ is now 25 years old, originally released in November 1994. They split for a while, but have been back together since 2014, and it seems to be going well with three albums released since then.
There isn’t a bad number on the setlist. As a new listener, some standouts for me were ‘13th Floor Renegades’, with a delicious intro riff that Mott The Hoople would have been proud of, and ‘Glitterball Apocalypse’, layering pop harmonies over a glam stomping rhythm. ‘Superboy Disaster’ fades into a gorgeous descending dual vocal figure and a tasty instrumental outro. ‘Crash Landing In Teenage Heaven’ reminds me of Bowie’s cover of ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’, while ‘Dope School’ has an insistent urgency which breaks down into a vocal chant of “You can’t teach me how to feel”. The naggingly catchy ‘Oblivion Kids’ rounds off an excellent set which has proved an unexpected treat.
Last Great Dreamers setlist:
‘I Think I Like It’, ‘New Situation’, ‘13th Floor Renegades’, ‘Glitterball Apocalypse’, ‘The Way We Collide’, ‘Superboy Disaster’, ‘You Don’t Work’, ‘Crash Landing In Teenage Heaven’, ‘Whose Side Are You On?’, ‘Primitive Man’, ‘Dope School’, ‘Oblivion Kids’
More information: www.lastgreatdreamers.com
The Boys were one of the first bands of the new wave to sign an album deal, and their power punk pop anthems formed a significant part of the soundtrack of my youth. The current lineup retains three original members, although it becomes immediately apparent that guitarist Honest John Plain is not here tonight. Apparently he is unwell, so best wishes to him for a speedy recovery.
Present and correct are founders Matt Dangerfield and Casino Steel. Matt plays a sunburst Les Paul, and teams a patterned shirt and baker boy cap. Cas is house left, with dark shades, playing swelling chords on a Nord Electro 4 keyboard. Black clad bassist Kent Norberg is a more recent recruit, and takes some of the lead vocals, notably on the Honest John Plain songs. He bears a passing resemblance to actor Matt Smith, which amuses me, and he’s doing a great job, although I have to admit I do miss the charisma and charm of former bassist Duncan ‘Kid’ Reid, now off fronting his own breakaway band. Drummer Martin H-Son, obviously too young for the original lineup, thumps energetically around the kit, grinning beneath a Travis Bickle haircut, and looking punky in a skeleton ribs T-shirt. House right tonight is guitarist Chips Kiesbye, doing some excellent fretwork on a black Les Paul. He has very long blonde hair and a beard, and in appearance is a cross between Wild Willy Barrett and Bill Bailey. He looks like he could have fronted an 80’s Swedish rock band, which indeed he did, as the singer of Sator, and he’s also an accomplished record producer.
There’s not too much in the way of stage theatrics, other than an occasional punch in the air from Cas, and Kent does his best to whip up the crowd. This band’s strength is the sheer quality of their songs, and pretty much every one is a classic. How they never made it really big is a mystery, and that The Boys aren’t held in quite the same esteem as, say The Buzzcocks, seems to be a bit of an oversight by the punk generation. Most of the audience here tonight clearly love them.
It’s difficult to pick out particular standout numbers as they’re all good, but it’s the songs from the first two albums, 1977’s eponymous debut and the following year’s ‘Alternative Chartbusters’, that really chime with me. ‘TCP’, ‘USI’, ‘Cop Cars’, ‘No Money’, and ‘Soda Pressing’ are all pop punk classics that transport me straight back to the days of my teenage gang hanging out at the war memorial in the park. ‘Brickfield Nights’ was our anthem, and felt like it had been written for us. If you appreciate a well crafted pop tune and have never heard ‘First Time’, I suggest you finish this article then go and listen to it immediately.
It’s been another excellent night here in Lewes. Thank you again to promoters The Big Blue Shed, and good luck for the future.
The Boys setlist:
‘TCP’, ‘See Ya Later’, Terminal Love’, ‘1976’, ‘Weekend’, ‘USI’, ‘I’m A Believer’, ‘Cop Cars’, ‘You Can’t Hurt A Memory’, ‘No Money’, ‘Soda Pressing’, ‘Tumble With Me’, ‘Do The Contract Hustle’, ‘Global Warming’, ‘Brickfield Nights’, ‘First Time’ (encore) ‘Living’ In The City’, ‘Sick On You’
More information: www.theboys.co.uk
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