(reviewed by Chris ‘Bamber’ Bainbridge)
We arrived at Telford’s Warehouse just before 9pm and already the place was heaving. When reaching the bar I was comforted by the fact that alcohol is so much cheaper than my usual stomping ground of London, a fact that Pocket Venus are all too familiar with. Having hitched up with Neil Crud, Steve Sync and Andy Fatman the serious business of drinking went underway, well apart from Steve and Andy who already looked wasted. The band themselves slowly appeared from all directions like raptors on their prey, unnoticeable until they were standing next to you. My old friend and guitar bishop Steve Jones was first to strike and we caught up on old times. Then Naldo informed us about the plentitude of bottled beer in the ‘dressing room’ and Steve’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. Dave was next and after a brief conversation about cracking computer games (!) I gave him his pocket money and he skipped off happily to spend it.
Chris found us and wasted no time in telling us about JJ’s latest hits. For those of you who don’t know JJ, he is the resident poet/songwriter/raconteur of Telford’s and fortunately for him he survived the fire last year (because he is made of tin). JJ who is famous for owning the Natwest bank, writing hit songs for Dolly Parton, having a brother who wrote ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and being a billionaire, gave the band an impromptu performance of 3 of his greatest hits including ‘Why Did Lady Di?’, ‘Bananas’ and the classic ‘Nuts!’. He then went on to perform 2 new numbers ‘Let The Twin Towers Collapse’ and ‘Oh Joy Oh Glee It’s the Queen’s Jubilee’(you can’t script this stuff you really can’t). JJ had acquired a video camera and took great interest in filming Naldo which was rather worrying. JJ usually comperes Sunday nights at Telford’s and he is worth seeing (but not listening to).
The band had gathered in the crowded dressing room when we walked in. I felt a bit uneasy being in there as this was a world I had left behind to seek my fortune down south, something I am still seeking. But it was good to be back amongst old friends, friends who I had shared a lot of memories with in the mid to late 1990’s in the 4 previous incarnations of Pocket Venus. Now it was different, not a hint of nerves or worry; everything was calm, you could smell the professionalism. The wanting and the passion was still there but everyone seemed more at ease with it. Already you could tell the gig was going to be a corker. Chris showed me his new Telecaster which he bought for a song, the scratchplate was caked in blood and it looked like he had been playing squirrel tennis with it. It occurred to me how much intensity Chris must play his guitar with to make his fingers bleed; either that or he needs new strings. The lads donned their trademark black turtle necks like some post modern version of the Beatles (sorry Neil) and started to prepare. We left to join the now eagerly awaiting audience in the darkness.
It is very difficult to review a band you are so close to which is why Neil Crud refrains from reviewing them most of the time. There is a lot of bias and you are blinded by friendship and familiarity. I’m not a man who gives credit very easily and have always found it hard to encourage and congratulate people. Last night however was something totally different and apologies if my review does sound biased but I think that even if I didn’t know the band I would still be writing near enough the same thing.
The last time I saw PV play was back in 2001 at the Dublin Castle in Camden. The Castle was a reasonable sized venue with an adequate sound system and a varied mix of punters. That night they were one in a three band line up. To this day there are very few unsigned bands that I personally rate and that night it there was PV were the only exception. I went to see Pocket Venus and that was it. I saw the two other bands and soon retired to the bar before the mundaneness killed me. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of talented bands in the UK with some excellent musicians but for the most part there’s a lot of crap too. In fact nearly every band I’ve seen to this day in London has been crap. Pocket Venus do not need a support band nor do they need to be on a bill with a line up, it doesn’t suit them. They are a band you need to experience as a single entity without the baggage of other bands cluttering up your audio receptors.
So just after 10.30pm the band started playing sans Chris Yates who casually strolled on a few seconds later in typical fag in gob mode and plugged in his guitar. As I haven’t seen them play in such a long time I wasn’t familiar with quite a few of their songs. Unfortunately for me two of my favourites were omitted (‘Ginger’ and ‘Hear You Calling’) but the new material had the ‘first listen quality’ which Chris and I had discussed many times before. We would judge bands on their ability to capture the audience with an unknown song on first listen, we rarely met any bands who could achieve this but I think PV have got it sussed. I made a comment on how I thought the sound was muffled, Neil pointed out that this was due to Andy Fatman standing in front of one of the speakers. Sure enough it sounded better when he moved. ‘Through Your Day’ was so close to the recorded version it was untrue but that depends which camp you are in. I only say this as on record the layers of sound piled onto the track give it a great sense of depth which was thankfully captured in the live set. Most of the audio glue involved came from Dave and his keyboard work. Dave underpins the Pocket Venus sound, never dominant but always present. Some bands try to get away from staying faithful to the sound of the record but Steve’s NTSRT (Never The Same Riff Twice) ability ensures freshness every time. Steve’s guitar work never fails to impress and you just know he could just explode into uber-guitar hero mode at any moment.
I was disappointed that Naldo had backed out of the backing vocal duties but he informed me it was because he wanted to concentrate on the bass playing. Naldo’s bass lines were well constructed on every song and he has that certain ability which a lot of bass players don’t have, which is the ability to do enough at the right time. There’s no showing off with Naldo, he’s solid and he knows where a bass riff should begin and end without the tedious mucking around with snazzy muso bass runs. He is looking very old though at the moment though bless him <lol>.
‘Like You’ is one of those tunes I didn’t get first time around but now it has grown on me and I can appreciate the power and grandeur of the tune. ‘Like You’ is a true stadium rock song played with the right amount of passion and emotion. Steve’s guitar work on this track is excellent. Chris Yates’s frontman status has evolved dramatically over the past 6 years, from a Liam Gallagher wannabe (Tonight Matthew I’m gonna be…) to a man who is so confident and at ease with his vocal range that he puts many famous singers to shame. One criticism I have is with his use of the rhyming of the word ‘a’, Chris loves this word and throws it into his lyrics whenever he can (say, day, may, pay etc) maybe it’s a preferred tonal preference of his but it’s always got on my nerves….twat. Pete’s drumming is great and if only they had found him sooner without putting up with a monkeys on a climbing frame (in joke) and half arsed attendees. Pete is a great drummer and like Naldo has the ear to know when to do enough while being solid. I remember back in the early 90’s when Pete was starting out with Bay band Wild Orchid and playing under the shadow of guitarist/vocalist Jamie Price (Now of Nutonic). With Pocket Venus, Pete is an equal and a mature drummer to boot which is a rarity in North Wales bands.
The closer ‘How High’ was a tune I’d first heard in Camden and instantly took a dislike to. To me it felt like a throwback to the old days of rip roaring through songs at breakneck speed in an attempt to get an audience reaction and boost the adrenaline level of the band. In Camden (in my opinion) it hadn’t worked but in Telford’s it was the perfect closing song. I think the problem with Camden is that they weren’t the right kind of audience on that night but the Chester crowd were so geared up that it was like a final release. As I looked around at the crowd people were standing smiling, dancing and stamping their feet and in some cases head banging. It was literally like the place was going to explode in a violent punk frenzy with Neil Crud standing over them like a General overseeing a great battle. Chris Yates by this time had abandoned his guitar and was holding it by the neck as he danced around like a madman, the music personified. The crowd were applauding before the last note had been played, the final symbol crash signifying the end but the beginning of the celebration. They were Pocket Venus, thank you and goodnight.