Live Review: Fierce Panda 19th Birthday Slamdown starring the Crookes with Hey Sholay and the Heartbreaks at London Scala – 21st May 2013
Header and black and white photos by Lennon Gregory; colour photos by Mary Chang
It may be hard to fathom, but Fierce Panda Records is getting close to celebrating a full 2 decades in the London indie label business. From its humble beginnings written on a cocktail napkin during a drunken night out, it wasn’t long before Fierce Panda founder Simon Williams spotted promise in one of its earliest acts, a then-unknown band called Coldplay, going on to put out the band’s debut single ‘Brothers and Sisters’ in 1999. And we all know what happened to Coldplay…
In the last couple of years, the Panda have had a renaissance of sorts, putting out sought-after releases by bands such as Goldheart Assembly brilliant debut ‘Wolves and Thieves’ (this editor is waiting with baited breath for the highly anticipated follow-up album) and American folkies Milo Greene. Not to mention releases from the three acts that graced the stage this particular Tuesday night the 21st of May at the Scala: the Crookes, anticipatorily celebrating the release of their double-A-sided single ‘Bear’s Blood’ / ‘Dance in Colour’ the following Monday, supported by their mates Hey Sholay and the Heartbreaks.
The Scala from the outside looks rather boring from its corner location on Pentonville Road, just down the road from Kings Cross Station. Capacity-wise, I was surprised to learn that it fits just about the same amount of people as our 9:30 Club (1,145 vs. 1,200); I was sure with all the walking I did during the day up, down and around the place, working hard on some TGTF exclusives with our friends from Sound Influx, that it had to be far larger. (Good thing I brought trainers.) What’s a little unsettling about the place, especially to a small-town girl like me, is the fact that when the place is empty, no matter where you’re stood, you can hear the sound of trains running directly below the building. I was assured by the lovely Suzanne at the box office that after a while, “I’ve worked here so long, you get used to it”. Once you go through the foyer and up the worn stairs into the place, the old-fashioned tiling, preserved from back in the days when it was used as a cinema from the ’20s to the ’70s, along with its grand stairwells and labyrinthine corridors, give you the feeling that this isn’t just any club in London, it is a place in time, to be savoured and remembered.
Once we’d finished filming, I went outside to meet friends and join the queue. I have a feeling I was stood in the queue ahead of a band member’s parents but I was just too shy to say anything, so their identities will remain a mystery. Once inside, my friends and I proceeded to take our places down the front, where I was surprised to hear from all the chit chat around me that I’m pretty sure I was the only person there yet whose first language was English; German, Japanese and Russian girls’ voices fought with each other in a din that was entirely unfamiliar to me. It just goes to show how dedicated the Crookes’ fans are, and that travelling from no matter how far wasn’t an issue to them to support their favourite band at their biggest show in London, ever.
Sheffield / Leeds artist / musician collective Hey Sholay burst onstage as the first band of the night. The singer’s main gimmick was to get audience members to shout “Sholay!” whenever he decided to shout at us, “hey!” This worked to a pretty good extent and was more entertaining and crowd-involving than I guessed. The song of theirs I’m most familiar is ‘Burning’, which got a huge amount of airplay on 6music last year; its frantic percussion and piano notes with their singer’s emphatic vocals were something you couldn’t really escape, and why would you want to? Rhythmically, it’s very fun to dance to, and the punters were really up for their blend of pop / rock.
A couple hours earlier, upon meeting them for the first time, The Heartbreaks won me over by being super nice chaps. Being from Morecambe in Lancashire, I was expecting warm Northern hospitality from them, but I was bowled over by the double kisses and hugs I received when I came round to introduce myself and our film crew. What a welcome. I’d never have guessed they were the sweethearts they are in person if I’d only ever seen them perform live, as they’re very serious onstage. They began with ‘Funtimes’ track ‘Save Our Souls'; they had me at the line, “we can walk in the settings of our favourite Smiths song”. Sigh. Despite the lyric it’s a very upbeat song and confirmed to me further that there probably couldn’t be a better band complement to the Crookes than the Heartbreaks.
In our chat earlier, they promised to preview a whole load of new songs, and they came through on their promise. One of the most beautiful moments of the night was courtesy of one of these, ‘Fair Stood the Wind’, with singer Matthew Whitehouse accompanied simply by Ryan Wallace’s notes on a guitar. (Watch the video under the set list.) While they didn’t play their monster hit ‘Delay, Delay’ (to be honest, I was shocked by this, I was sure it was going to be included), they instead finished off their set with a version of ‘I Didn’t Think It Would Hurt to Think of You’ that was simply on par with perfection. It may have just been 3 days prior that John and I were in Brighton for the Great Escape, but the Heartbreaks brought the sunshine to London the way that only a band from a seaside town can.
Save Our Souls
Liar, My Dear
Fair Stood the Wind
Hey Hey Lover
I Didn’t Think It Would Hurt to Think of You
I’ve heard unusual walk-on music in the years I’ve been covering shows. In April 2010, Vampire Weekend surprised everyone when they walked on to DJ Kool’s ‘Let Me Clear My Throat’ at Constitution Hall. The Crookes‘ choice for the Scala seemed equally out of left field: ‘You Give a Little Love’, from the ’70s kids’ film Bugsy Malone. To most people in the venue, they were probably thinking, why did they pick something from a gangster film? Besides my hypothesis for them choosing it for someone who proved very important to them early on their career, the lines “we could’ve been anything that we wanted to be / yes, that decision is ours / it’s been decided, we’re weaker divided” neatly echo the premise of ‘Hold Fast': friends sticking together against all odds, towards one common goal, making it. So it’s rather appropriate when they did get to the moment of the night when they played the title track off their searing second album, all decorum went out the window in favour of a manically energetic delivery of the song that I could had ever imagined.
The show at the Shakespeare pub 2 nights prior proved to be a nice warm-up to the Scala gig, as the set list began very much like the one in Sheffield. ‘Bear’s Blood’ wowed from the start, proving it’s got the firepower to begin a Crookes show with the right attitude: hard rocking and full of swagger. You couldn’t not have a good time going on from here. When it came time for *that* song (the single released on my birthday last year, I’d like to note), singer / bassist George Waite asked if there were any American girls in the audience. Your fearless editor naturally tried to speak up, but I was drowned out. rather hilariously I might add, by a large bloke who refused to be ignored. George, squinting to see this heckler, complained, “but you have a beard! We’ll talk later.” Laughter ensued.
Another song that sounded huge to me on this night, more so than on previous occasions, was ‘Sofie’. Somehow I’d forgotten what a stompathon the chorus becomes with the repeated “I’m thinking of you, I’m thinking of you, Sofie, it’s you!” combined with the romantic softness of lines like “promise me you’ll try and stay happy, and I’ll promise you that I’ll do the same” and “I’ve never been one for a cliche, but I want to dance with you in the rain”, the latter of which that conjures up that rain scene in Say Anything. With the harder rock edge practically assured by ‘Bear’s Blood’ and ‘Dance in Colour’ (TGTF exclusive video from this gig here), the only thing I wish for on the Crookes’ third album is that this juxtaposition of brilliant sounding rock ‘n’ roll and carefully considered lyrics is preserved. One can hope!
In Sheffield, there was no encore. So it was not only a special treat to be gifted with an encore in London, and even better, with songs I didn’t think I’d hear live. Ever. When I saw the Crookes in Austin, I thought it was worth a try to ask if I could make requests, to which George regretfully replied, “sorry Mary, it’s (the set list) already gone off to the printer’s”. When the band left the stage prior to the encore, I was surprised to see George coming back out, alone, putting on a guitar instead of his usual bass. Hmmm, what’s going on here, then? Under a single spotlight and amid fans’ cheers and one person’s wolf whistle (which made him laugh, bless), he broke into an absolutely beautiful rendition of ‘The I Love You Bridge’. (The song is based on the real-life graffiti proposal currently immortalised on a bridge in Park Hill in Sheffield.)
The other shocker was the playing of ‘Honey’, the b-side to first ‘Hold Fast’ single ‘Afterglow’. I don’t think enough people know about this song; percussion-wise, it’s super punishing, I’m wondering how drummer Russell Bates manages not to come off stage without bloody hands from it. And it contains the immortal line, “I’d rip out my pages out to be somebody else”. What a brilliant lyric and rather appropriate for lads that met in the English lit course at the University of Sheffield. Keep your eyes on TGTF in the coming days because yes, we have video of the encore. (Sorry, I just had to throw that teaser in for you!)
I have it on good authority from Kelly Johnston of our friends at UK music webzine UnderSong (who I’d invited to come along because she didn’t know anything about the Crookes, and she enjoyed the gig very much, I might add!) that some of the younger girls were overwhelmed by the spectacle of seeing the Sheffield band live, crying upon seeing their idols gig, practically unable to cope. While I wasn’t bawling by the end of this wonderful show, I can say that I will always keep the incredible memories of seeing the Crookes and their friends play this show, representing a huge step up in their career, close to my heart.
Maybe in the Dark
Chorus of Fools
Just Like Dreamers
Dance in Colour
Where Did Our Love Go?
Yes, Yes, We’re Magicians
The I Love You Bridge (George Waite solo)