JOSH HAZELDEN + SUBMARINER + PARK DAYS – THE PRINCE ALBERT, BRIGHTON 3.12.23
There are some shows you go to, particularly in Brighton, that really make you stop and think just how wonderful, fascinating and gratifying local live music can be; for myself, having the chance to watch and review Brighton-based artists from the likes of Divorce Attorney, Yumi & the Weather, and Kowloon Cowboy have demonstrated the epitome of what a night out can be: fun, humorous, creative and exciting! Sunday night at The Prince Albert ticked all of those boxes for me as I caught the man, myth and legend Josh Hazelden perform his first headline show! Born in Bognor Regis and now operating in Brighton, Josh has been quietly alchemizing a unique indie rock sound that is both familiar yet distinguishingly unique, drawing influence from artists like Radiohead, Deerhunter, Pixies and The Microphones just to name a few. His two full length albums, 2020’s ‘Without Balance’ and 2021’s ‘Salt For The Wound’, as well as a couple EPs of acoustic and live origins, are already strong milestones in what I’m sure to be the roots of an illustrious discography. I’ve had the pleasure of catching Josh live at several venues across Brighton and London, none of which were headlining shows! So, naturally, just the very existence of the event popping up on my feed stirred my excitement…!
This show also seemed to be of quite an intimate nature, thanks in part to Josh’s connections to his two support acts! Firstly, we have Sam Thrussell taking to the stage, AKA Park Days. A relatively new name, this is a project spearheaded by the aforementioned Sam, guitarist and vocalist for the indie pop band Dutch Criminal Record, a group who have demonstrated relatively strong success across music, media and its adjoining industries, recently signing onto the esteemed US label AntiFragile Music. A few minutes past 8pm, Sam proceeds to take to the stage, armed only with his acoustic guitar in hand, setting the scene with a serene solo folk instrumental entitled ‘Nore Wood’. There’s a flair about this piece that reminds one of the aura of American Primitivism music (John Fahey, Robbie Bash and the such), something that sticks out compared to the rest of the night’s proceedings, but still shines wonderfully! Sam continues to dive in with his first song of the set, simply called ‘Time And Again’, a track that he introduces as an attempt to write a Beatles song. Now, already from the opening chords, that Beatles feel is there, but the reverb-soaked vocals that Sam brings forward adds a ghostly element to the performance that works faultlessly atop a bittersweet progression and melody line. The track ‘Far Away’ takes a more melancholy direction, with Sam’s vocal texture, coupled with his guitar pattern, reminding me of something off the recent posthumous Sparklehorse album, all tattered and fragile.
I will say, you can tell that we are currently experiencing the early roots of a solo project, but that still leaves the thought of where Sam could take the project, with songs this emotional and crestfallen. Before heading into the next song ‘It’s Been Too Long’, Sam detailed a conversation he and Josh Hazelden had on a drive to Bristol surrounding their love for Radiohead and alternate tunings (particularly their song ‘The Tourist’ with its peculiar tuning that is employed on this song). That Radiohead connotation definitely comes through in the guitar arrangement, but personally, I recalled the song carrying a jangle pop tinge that could be found in a band like Her’s’ music. A cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s infamous ‘Early Morning Rain’ followed suit, packed with a faster flow in Sam’s guitar patterns and pure melodic bliss throughout with his voice almost projected as a hybrid of Mark Linkous and Andy McCluskey. From one cover to another, ‘Sparks’ by Coldplay, stated by Sam as ‘possibly the best song of all-time’, is undertaken quite beautifully, with some powerfully transcendent falsetto on show across the song. Approaching the final three songs of the set, we are welcomed with the first of two current Park Days singles, ‘Hearts Take A Very Long Time To Heal’. With its slick chord interplay that has been a mainstay throughout the set, this track evokes the feeling of sleeping on a blanket underneath a beach moonlight – if anything summarises Park Days, it’s this. Sam introduces the second single ‘Down And Out’ as consisting of a Nick Drake tuning he nicked (cue the one tuning nerd at the front of the crowd letting out an overwhelming yell of praise). This was definitely a highlight of the set thanks to its strong verse progression and a vocal range pop-flavoured and versatile. Finally, a last minute addition – a cover of his own band’s song! ‘Wasted Time’, a 2017 Dutch Criminal Record single, ends the set wonderfully, in an intimate, yet uplifting manner!
Sam Thrussell – vocals, guitar
Park Days setlist:
‘Time And Again’
‘It’s Been Too Long’
‘Early Morning Rain’ (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
‘Sparks’ (Coldplay cover)
‘Hearts Take A Very Long Time To Heal’
‘Down And Out’
‘Wasted Time’ (Dutch Criminal Record cover)
Following Sam’s stage departure, I was now left in curiosity at the existence of Submariner…! I had been following this particular musical profile on Instagram for some time, but had no clue as to who they were or what they sound like. However, as four individuals make their way onto the stage, revelations were made as 3/4s of Josh Hazelden’s live band orient the project, fronted by guitarist and vocalist Oliver Harket. Of course, Josh himself is perched behind his yellow Fender Telecaster, leaving the remaining members consisting of bassist Dylan Harris and drummer James Bishop (commonly referred to as Bish), both of which are core members in the noise rock trio Numskull, another live favourite of mine! Much like Park Days’, Submariner (pronounced as Sub Mariner)’s set opens with an instrumental, ‘And So On…’, layered with transmission-emulating ambience and a slow space rock groove. Josh provides the piece with a reverb-heavy guitar line, demonstrating the collective Radiohead influence from the get-go, as well as Dylan’s virtuosic licks across the bass. Quickly transitioning into the song ‘Bad Wolf’, Oliver drops his guitar to the floor, standing vulnerable behind his microphone, letting out a very ethereal vocal that grips my soul. I could continue to make Radiohead comparisons in the sound palate, but there’s something so calculated here that gives Oliver’s project an incredible originality…!
‘Boilermaker’ opens up with a very Western-tinged guitar riff, and a core melody that could go toe-to-toe with John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. The vulnerability in Oliver’s voice comes through extremely well in his delivery and dynamic flexibility that makes for some of the best elements of his performance. His song structures become more transgressive on the track ‘Lorraine’, opening up with a steady groove from Bish, and warm and fuzzy guitar textures between Oliver and Josh. Before long, a time signature change shifts the song towards a euphoric and pathos-inducing climax that pays off marvellously. I must say, entering the set’s last leg, the pacing of the entire performance is remarkable, with Oliver going solo on electric guitar for the song ‘Channel 21’. A song written as a reflection on his 21st birthday, the fragility in the lyrics and in Oliver’s voice is balanced perfectly to keep me entranced for its runtime. Josh joins Oliver for a semi-duet song entitled ‘Sailors’, awash with jangling electric guitars, textured and ambience-shaping. That’s all before the subtle, yet gorgeous harmonies from the duo intertwine themselves towards the end of the song, too! The closing ‘Always / Almost’ was introduced as a song not rehearsed by the band, so it was certainly interesting to watch everyone learn it as they play… this in mind, the rustic and raw performance was captivating and made a wonderfully lonesome ode to close out with!
Oliver Harket – lead vocals, guitar
Josh Hazelden – guitar, backing vocals
Dylan Harris – bass
James Bishop – drums
‘And So On…’
‘Always / Almost’
Not much musician shifting occurred as the stage began to set up for Josh Hazelden’s set; Bish departs for regular drummer Lulu Thompson to acclimatise herself on the kit, Josh and Oliver swap their guitar set-ups around for Josh to take centre stage, and Dylan remains in his bass kingdom. An array of distorted chords from Josh open the song ‘Happysad’, before his 60s slapback echo vocal comes into play, complete with an Archy Marshall-style dialect. The band kicks the sound into high gear with an angsty, yet oddly sweet chord progression as the chorus lyric “Where did you go and who did you see? / Who did you do when you weren’t doing me?” punches you in the gut. A rudimentary drum machine loop, manned by Dylan, introduces the currently unreleased ‘Bullhorn’ before Lulu picks the song’s dynamics up by several notches, joined by Oliver and Josh’s chorus-layered guitar textures. Here, and on many songs in the set, Dylan’s bassline is beautiful and complex, anchoring the song terrifically. The fast-paced and aptly-titled ‘Sprungpunk’, a single set to be released on Josh’s third studio album entitled ‘Bare Minimum’, features some truly inhuman guitar manipulations, twisting from chords into high-frequency drones in a matter of milliseconds. Josh contorts his face into the song’s chorus lyrics before he provides a disintegrating guitar that pulls the song into its final moments. ‘Fahrenheit’, from Josh’s ‘Salt For The Wound’ album, is a slower and more lusciously-arranged track that stands as one of his more popular tracks, sitting despondent, yet wonderful underneath its repeating chord pattern. The repeated lyrics of “overthinking, overthinking…” in the song’s bridge draw you into Josh’s introspection, even with such a simple arrangement of words.
We then get treated to his most recent single ‘Trainwreck’, one of his most rhythmic complex and dynamic songs, with a very lopsided 6/4 pattern in the verses and an off-kilter syncopated groove in the bridge, spearheaded by Dylan and Josh’s riffs. I’ve seen and heard Josh play this number live several times, but this was easily the best performance of it I’ve witnessed thus far! A new one for me, and to most of the crowd, ‘Splinter’ (not to be confused with Gary Numan’s album of the same name…), holds a slightly heavier tone, thanks to its complex guitar arrangements and ambidextrous song structure; definitely a new favourite for me! ‘Crossbones’, set to be the next single from ‘Bare Minimum’, is a much more lethargic cut, almost bordering on the sounds of slowcore the likes of Red House Painters and Duster would employ. Even with the amount of musical melancholy on show, Dylan still has the time to find humour in the evening, donning a pair of shades mid-bridge. Following a round of band introductions, the title track from the upcoming ‘Bare Minimum’ is easily one of the most progressive and experimental moments in the set that Josh had to offer; a pounding kick-drum carries Josh and Oliver’s interlocking guitar patterns that build overtime, all the while Dylan pounds into his bass guitar with his fist. The gradual movement of the track builds into a mutated groove that brings the track to a hazy close that completely transcends Josh’s music up until this point!
‘For You’ is, by far, one of his most romantic and heartfelt songs, sitting inside an open D tuning and pop-tinged melodies à la The Cure. From this song, right up until the end of the main set, we are essentially treated to the crème de la crème of Josh’s discography with ‘Shelter Me’ still standing as one of his best, in my opinion. With a post-punk-style rhythm from Lulu acting as the song’s backbone, the jangling electric guitars sway the song into glory with a wave of phone flashlights and lighters flooding the crowd during the bridge. ‘Morning’, a proven fan-favourite from the scattered voices singing along in its chorus, was dedicated from Josh to those from Chichester and Bognor Regis, as an ode to that long-ago time where his creativity began to blossom. This track is very nostalgic and carries a longing feel in its chord progression and blows my mind every time I’ve heard it live! Surprisingly, Josh called me up onto the stage to join him in singing the song ‘Aquarium’, my personal favourite of his! Yours truly provided some backing harmonies while Josh and his Hazeldens sway their way through an indie pop jam with melodies that never fail to make me smile.
I departed the stage back to the front of the crowd to watch Josh embark on the final song of the main set, the title track from his ‘Without Balance’ album. Out of the many times I’ve watched Josh play live, never had I seen him perform this track before. One of my all-time favourites, the song spends a fair portion of time around a slow and spacey 6/8 groove, creating images of dancing under the stars with the one person you feel safe with in all the world. Suddenly, an incredible climax of guitars, layers upon layers of electric bliss drift through the crowd, creating walls of distorted melody and sonic haze as the set draws to a close…! Or does it? Following cries of one more song, Josh treats us to a live debut of a brand new song, solo, entitled ‘Moulding’ (I doubt it was named after XTC’s Colin Moulding, but one can live in hope!). The song is scattered with odd little rhythmic jumps that are very engaging, as well as the sudden intimacy placed right at the end of the entire night reminding one of Scott Walker playing ‘Rosary’ on ‘Later… with Jools Holland’, all isolated and faraway in aura. This track is also clear to be one of Josh’s most flexible songs in terms of chord progressions, shifting keys in a matter of one or two chords, and even switching between delicate flourishes and harsh batterings towards the end. A room full of cheers and praise, the show has ended and it’s fair to say that this has been one of the strongest nights of 2023 for me, ticking many gig boxes! Now, one must count down the days before Josh’s ‘Bare Minimum’ album is brought forward to the world…! Regardless of when that will be, it’s safe to say that Josh Hazelden clearly has a special plan for this world.
Josh Hazelden – lead vocals, guitar
Oliver Harket – guitar
Dylan Harris – bass, backing vocals
Lulu Thompson – drums
Josh Hazelden setlist:
‘Fahrenheit’ (from 2021’s ‘Salt For The Wound’ album)
‘Crossbones’ (upcoming single)
‘Bare Minimum’ (unreleased)
‘For You’ (single)
‘Shelter Me’ (from 2020’s ‘Without Balance’ album)
‘Morning’ (from 2021’s ‘Salt For The Wound’ album)
‘Aquarium’ (from 2021’s ‘Salt For The Wound’ album)
‘Without Balance’ (from 2020’s ‘Without Balance’ album)