RED GUITARS + THE ROOM – CHALK, BRIGHTON 20.9.23
When you find out that one of the bands that recorded two seminal John Peel Sessions back in August 1983 and July 1984 have reformed with all five of the original crew and that they are set to close their 12-date UK tour with a concert here in Brighton, then it would seriously be rude not to attend wouldn’t it!
So on a wet mid-September evening we made our way to the popular Chalk in Pool Valley to top up our live music batteries and arrive in plenty of time in order to get the beers in. We made our way to the spacious stage area to take in the delights of Hull’s post-punk indie rockers Red Guitars.
Out of the ashes of a few short lived projects, the Red Guitars lineup solidified with Jerry Kidd (vocals), Louise Barlow (who is now known as Lou Duffy-Howard) (bass), Hallam Lewis (lead guitar), Matt Higgins (drums) and John Rowley (rhythm guitar). They certainly hit the ground running as their self-released debut single (and decades spanning earworm) on their own record label, Self Drive Records, ‘Good Technology’, shifted 60,000 units and initially made it to No.8 in the UK Indie Chart just a year after they formed back in 1982. The tune was even voted by John Peel fans as being the eleventh favourite tune of 1983 in his annual Festive 50 poll. If ever any act needed the seal of approval, then this was it! For those that are wondering, No.1 was ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order, need I say any more.
Red Guitars first John Peel Session, which was recorded at Maida Vale 4 studio on 6th August 1983 (and broadcast five days later), featured their ‘Fact’, ‘Marimba Jive’ ‘Paris France’ and ‘Dive’ compositions. ‘Fact’ backed by ‘Dive’ was to become their second single and went one better by reaching No.7 in the UK Indie Charts. But you can’t keep a classic down and ‘Good Technology’ was back for another outing a year after its initial release, this time featuring ‘Paris France’ on the B-Side as opposed to ‘Heartbeat Go! Love Dub’ on the 7” and the addition of ‘Fact’ on the 12” release. This release peaked at No.4, but was outdone by future releases ‘Steeltown’ (No.2), ‘Marimba Jive’ (No.1), and ‘Be With Me’ (also No.1). Their debut album ‘Slow To Fade’ reached No.3 in the UK Indie Chart, entering in November 1984 and stayed on the chart for an impressive six months. Other releases followed including a second album, ‘Tales Of The Expected’ which dropped on Virgin in 1986, the year the band disbanded.
Wind the clock forward to 8:31pm this evening at Chalk and the original quintet grace us with their presence, and I for one was rather pleased about this having missed their 28th April show last year at the Green Door Store as I was already down to review Blondie and Johnny Marr at the Brighton Centre (review HERE).
Tonight, the original lineup are in front of us are joined at the rear of the stage by Jerry Allen on second rhythm guitar (a Fender), and the younger Doug Swallow on samples via a laptop.
The seven-piece sees vocalist Jeremy Kidd centre stage, who is flanked on his left (our right) by the sprightly ever-smiling and charming Lou on bass, and Jeremy’s opposite flank is lead guitarist Hallam Lewis, who certainly knows how to put his Gibson through its paces. On the far side of the stage (stage left, our right) is John Rowley on rhythm guitar, and cementing the original lineup is Matt Higgins on drums to the centre rear of the stage. Both Lou and Hallam also offer backing vocals throughout the fifteen song 86 minute set.
They kick off with the aforementioned ‘Dive’ which is a decent jaunty number and witnesses Lou very much being the most animate of the tribe. I’m not sure if it’s a case of where I’m standing (immediately stage front left), but Jeremy’s vocals do seem a little down in the mix. This (for me) sadly lasted throughout the set, although other areas apparently seemed to be fine!
Song two was ‘Shaken Not Stirred’ which appeared on their debut long-player was a swinging katz type tune, and following track ‘Astronomy’ also bopped along in its inimitable way. ‘Fact’ was up next and as Lou swapped bass guitar for this, Jeremy informed us that it was penned as an anti-war song and that it was their second single. The beat in earlier parts reminded me of Japan’s rendition of Velvet Underground’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’. ‘Steeltown’ was the next selection and featured some nice twangy exchanges between the two front guitars, prior to the bass drum kicking in courtesy of Matt, and the others following suit. I felt that this almost had a Talking Heads vibe to it.
‘Cloak & Dagger’ from the debut album was more your usual standard rock number and even included a micro snippet of The Rolling Stones ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ courtesy of Hallam. A couple of newbie’s followed in the form of ‘Beyond The Blue’ and ‘Trickledown’. ‘Beyond The Blue’ lived up to its name with some decent blues style guitar work and ‘Trickledown’ featured some decent “whoa whoa” rhythm guitar playing from Jerry to the rear on his Fender. I must say that this new material certainly holds up well.
The title track of ‘Slow To Fade’ was played for us next and the vocals from Jeremy were delivered with more emotion than any of the previous tunes and as a result was the best of the set thus far. ‘Within Four Walls’ was also as enjoyable and came across with a strange mixture of Orange Juice (the band) meets ‘On Broadway’, but the Gary Numan version. Hallam was putting his Gibson through its paces and overall the band rocked out the most of the set during this selection. Additionally, Jeremy’s vocals reminded me of the chorus of The Teardrop Explodes ‘When I Dream’.
Popular B-Side ‘Heartbeat Go!’ livened proceedings further with its calypso beat and once again the GIbson was called into action big time, even adding in The Beatles ‘Ticket To Ride’ snippet as well. After this Jeremy introduced the musicians and the punters responded accordingly. ‘10 Seconds Of Fun’ was to be performed next as introduced by Jeremy as a short song – It lasted more than ten seconds though.
Time had finally arrived for the most anticipated tune of the night for yours truly and no doubt many others gathered here, ‘Good Technology’ was upon us. It benefits from a new extended recording which now partly incorporates the mid-1960’s ‘Eve Of Destruction‘ protest song made famous by Barry McGuire. A tune I am rather partial to on account of it appearing on the first ever album I bought, ‘Stardust’ in 1974 from the film of the same name. This new version featured some divine sliding basswork courtesy of Lou on her original heavy 1982 instrument that she used to play ‘Good Technology’ on back in the day. It was a great way to end the show and send us on our way…
But no, we shouted loud enough and were rewarded with (the planned) ‘Marimba Jive’ and ‘Paris France’. As you would expect, the former jumps along very nicely indeed thank you, and my mind was again drifting into John Peel nostalgia mode and in my head I’d imagined him saying “and that’s the sound out of Zimbabwe from The Bhundu Boys”, as ‘Marimba Jive’ very much had that vibe. ‘Paris France’ was delivered in what seemed like two parts, but may have even been an extra tune at the end and at three minutes before curfew, they took their bows and vacated the stage at 9:57pm. Right then, same time next year then guys?
Jeremy Kidd – vocals
Hallam Lewis – lead guitar
Matt Higgins – drums
John Rowley – rhythm guitar
Lou Duffy-Howard – bass
Jerry Allen – rhythm guitar
Doug Swallow – samples
Red Guitars setlist:
‘Shaken Not Stirred’
‘Cloak & Dagger’
‘Beyond The Blue’
‘Slow To Fade’
‘Within Four Walls’
‘10 Seconds Of Fun’
Support this evening came from Liverpool new wave act The Room, who were also originally at it during the same period as The Red Guitars. In fact The Room were formed earlier on the cusp of 1979/1980 and also recorded John Peel Sessions, the first of which also being recorded in the same studio as The Red Guitars first one, namely Maida Vale 4. The Rooms first session was recorded on 26th September 1981 and was broadcast on 5th October 1981. A majority of Peel Sessions usually produced four tunes, but this one yielded a handful of numbers, these being ‘Heat Haze’, ‘Bated Breath’, ‘Escalator’, ‘Rewind’ and ‘Conversation’, none of which were performed for us this evening.
The Room originally ran up until 1985 and during that period they released six singles and two LP’s, a cassette only album and a mini album and joyfully shared stages with the likes of The Birthday Party, Tom Verlaine and The Fall, before moving on to pastures new.
The Room are now back at it and thus fit in perfectly with the Red Guitars on their tour. This evening they offloaded eleven numbers for us during their 45 minute set, which commenced at 7:21pm after the soundsystem had finished playing the glorious ‘Felicity’ by Orange Juice, which nicely set the mood for their set.
The Room are a quintet that currently features founding members Dave Jackson (vocals), Becky Stringer (bass) and Clive Thomas (drums), along with Ethan Kyme (keyboards) and Darren Brown (guitar). The sound this evening for their set is clear and crisp, which allows the band to get their messages across.
They start off with ‘No Dream’ which is the opening number from their 1982 ‘Indoor Fireworks’ album and this benefitted of a swirly sound during the second half of the track and seriously could have done with some extra backdrop visuals courtesy of Lewes based Innerstrings in order to add to the mood.
Selection two was the first of no less than eight from their 2023 ‘Restless Fate’ album, this being ‘Red Admiral’. This signalling that they are a phase two outfit and are very much in the now as opposed to living off the past. It’s during this number that I spot that vocalist Dave Jackson has the demeanour of Barney from New Order, but in fact sounds a little like Mark E Smith (of The Fall) meets Wreckless Eric. ‘Sleepless’ from the new album follows and this has an early New Order style guitar riff going down.
Another newbie in the form of ‘The Drift’ is up next and is initially a slower more reflective composition. After this we are served ‘Bull In The Doorway’ which Dave informs us was about Francis Bacon. They finally hit the old annals with 1982’s ‘Things Have Learnt To Walk That Ought To Crawl’, which certainly has more oomph and depth and strangely reminded me of early New Order meets ‘Roadrunner’ (The Modern Lovers) and early repetitive beats of Kraftwerk, thus this was the best number for me thus far.
Having got things moving with the previous number, they offload the quieter ‘The Reeds’ from ‘Restless Fate’, but thankfully take the tempo back up again with ‘Crying Face’. I must say that I prefer their faster, louder numbers. Dave then informs us that ‘New Dreams For Old’ (the next tune) was apparently big in the Philippines, not that they got paid for it though, he added.
The final two songs are from the latest album and they are ‘Time Comes’ and ‘Dust Motes’ (yes “motes” not “mites”). I think the lyrics for ‘Time Comes’ included “We talk about the old times” and I guess that in part that is what we have been featuring here this evening, rekindle the good old days of listening to the John Peel show and taping your choice tracks in order to relive the moment over and over again. Prior to ‘Dust Motes’ Dave informs us that it’s keyboardist Ethan’s first tour with the band. I sort of had guessed that by his age, but he did a decent job as did all of the band.
It’s also worth noting that the drumming led ‘Dust Motes’ features an almost spoken word delivery which had the feel of current press darlings Yard Act material and at 8:06pm they were done and the crowd were well on side and even had 25 minutes in order to get the beers in before the Red Guitars headlined.
The Room setlist:
Dave Jackson – vocals
Becky Stringer – bass
Ethan Kyme – keyboards
Clive Thomas – drums
Darren Brown – guitar
The Room setlist:
‘Bull In The Doorway’
‘Things Have Learnt To Walk That Ought To Crawl’
‘New Dreams For Old’