BBC Radio Wales, Adam Walton Outdoor Broadcast from RNA Club, Holyhead

(review and pix by MWJ)
Holyhead doesn’t have the best of reputations. I think the last time I was there was on some primary school trip to look at the ferries. It was dismal then, and then all I’d heard in the meantime, on the Under 5’s ear hunting missions, the environment that inspired Wendykurk to drugs and fury, and it literally resembling the end of the earth, hadn’t encouraged me to return. However, from the gutter you can see the stars as they say and partly through deprived area funding and a lack of anything else to do, the town has become the hub of a rising Anglesey music scene. This has a pretty heavy vibe to it, and tonights outside broadcast for Adam Walton’s Radio Wales show brought a wider focus onto happenings in the area.

The RNA club was a bit disconcerting as a venue (with its naval memorabilia etc.) for such a collection of alternative bands but the management are the driving force in making this place accessible to all so fair play to them. The turn out wasn’t particularly high, I was thinking this may have been due to this being a grown-up/drinking evening and not one for the kids, or there not being as much of a scene here as they would have you believe, or simply the Sabbath observed, but apparently there was also a deliberate no-show by those who felt other bands should be playing. Sad, petty, childish politics that will result in any burgeoning scene disappearing up its own arse like so many before. As usual the lessons of cooperation over competition probably learned too late and the numbers here won’t justify any return visit of the BBC any time soon, so they miss out in the long run. Anyways, all on and off stage conjured an excellent evenings entertainment.

Trekking cross country, from Penarth via Surrey, Weapons of Mass Belief filled the stage first but certainly were anything but time-filling openers. They’re already getting extensive airplay, been to the US, and their rapid rise definitely seems justified on the evidence of their show tonight. A line up of 3 vocalists, quirky brother and groovy sister (also siblings of much hyped Jem) plus an intense South African, deliver excellent flowing hip-hop stylings / rap-rock shouting, tons of lyrical hooks and attention grabbing structures. Driven on fantastically by relatively simple but effective bass, guitar and drums, infectious rhythms, like Senser without the tripping out, a more straightforward Rage Against The Machine or Atari Teenage Riot without the sonic violence. Lyrical subject matter covers politics, sex, culture, more, pleasing to hear. There’s a good use of sampled effects for an extra layer of atmosphere, especially like the slow piano-type notes in their forthcoming single “Black Line Ninja. The band exude confidence in what they’re doing, it’s an extremely solid and exciting set and left with impression that this was probably a good opportunity to catch them before they are swept up and away from these corners of the earth by their own success.

Inferno unashamedly raise the chalice of rock, so to speak, that’s what they’re into, and they give a powerful performance that’s well received by the “home” fans. It’s deep, distorted and groovy stoner rock, relentlessly delivered by the three-piece (limiting guitar “twiddling” no doubt aids the solidity of the impact). The heavy riffing elements reminiscent of early Kyuss or Monster Magnet give it a familiar or comfortable slot genre, yet there’s no carbon copying here, they have their own energy and ideas running through their songs that somehow contradicts this and gives it a reasonably fresh feel most of the time. The lyrics are maybe nothing more than basic but sit right with what they’re trying to achieve, straightforward enjoyable heavy rock. The shout-out to all the arsonists before “Burn it Down” was a classic though. Think they have improved since I last saw them at Hendre Hall but can’t see where else this can go really, not distinctive enough to really cause a big stir either within in their chosen style or in the music world in general. Still, who knows? And in the meantime they and the fans can keep enjoying their full-on shows.

Mutating and surviving, Skinflick have moved further into the embrace of technology from their last live outing that I’d seen. Through his skill at Yamaha bike mechanic-ing Ste the drummer has managed to wangle a Yamaha electronic drum kit (endorsement to follow?) that initially looks odd but ultimately gives a clearer view of his skills and tricks. There’s also a veritable spiders web of wires for some new-fangled mixing/monitoring system, to balance up the visual look of the stage someone just needs to tell Duncan to get rid of the comfort blanket of his amp and cab now they’re not needed (oh, I just did…J ). This set-up definitely gives excellent clarity to the songs when they kick off with the unreleased “Pray to the Dogs”, but after a few songs I wonder whether there’s an element of bottom end missing that is somewhat reducing the impact, more adjustments needed maybe. The short set enables quality over quantity to be rolled out from the wealth of material that’s been bubbling to the surface recently, from the vat of industrial pollution that is Swansong Studios. The title track from the “two ton loser” ep still holds its ground amongst the mix of diverse and extreme of newer tracks like “pearls before swine”. That said, it’s all so uncompromising in its own way that in spite of open-mindedness from the likes of Adam and the locals cheering on here, I suspect the band will also remain in the relative obscurity of cult followings and probably be glad.

There’s a big love-in at the end of mutual thanks from all involved, I wholeheartedly applaud their efforts also. Shame that the rare opportunity that Adam Walton strives to give to the bands and scenes in the back and beyond was somewhat spoilt in this instance, but that’s only on reflection, the night itself was very enjoyable.

[Adam Walton’s blog] – Outside broadcasts – especially when you’re working with ambitious, unsigned bands – can cause more trouble than they’re worth. Take our visit to Holyhead back in February. The local musicians – with a handful of exceptions – didn’t see the wisdom in making the effort on a Sunday night to come over to their local venue and check out a band [Weapons of Mass Belief] who they could have learnt a hell of a lot from… no, because they weren’t the local band who were picked to be on the bill, they decided to boycott it.

Weapons of Mass Belief drove up to Holyhead on a wind and rain-blasted February day, all the way from London, to an audience you could have fitted into a phonebox – comfortably – and didn’t moan or complain once.  Their professionalism was almost as impressive as their performance.