Thursday 13 December 2007

Hard-Fi, Nottingham Arena

It's the Ice Arena, so expectations are low. We arrive to catch the last few songs of Tavistock quintet, The Rumble Strips. L describes them as having a touch of Dexys about them, which is a good analogy. They are good and quite inventive which may reflect badly on tonight's main act.

Then the Surrey boys take the stage and launch into 'Middle Eastern Holiday' or rather three quarters of the band do because the bass guitar isn't working. Now, is it the professional thing to carry on regardless or stop, get the bass sorted and start all over again? They carry on, I think to the slight annoyance of Kai, the bass player. So we get a rather subdued version of one of their punchier tracks. I don't remember anyone sound checking the equipment before they came on, tut tut, shoot the road crew. I can't quite believe it when they opt to play a second track still without any bass guitar. Are they on a deadline or something? Kai is now miming, as technicians run around madly, swapping guitars, changing cables, prodding buttons, twiddling knobs, flicking switches, anything they can think of short of kicking the amplifier. Kai though, I think, is seriously considering it.

Then 20 seconds before the end of the track I think someone realises that they forgot to plug the amp in and the bass guitar bursts into life. Just in time for 'Tied Up Too Tight' their debut single from 2005 which sounds good and gets the crowd going. They follow this with one of their better new tracks 'Can't Get Along', and by now the place is really rocking. They maintain this momentum for a while by playing a mix of old and new but then they lose it when they play a sequence of mediocre tracks from their slightly lightweight new album.

It's at this point that I start looking around at tonight's audience. The first thing that is obvious is that the Arena is probably only half full, which begs the question why are they playing here. My mate the other night reckoned it was because vocalist Richard Archer is a 'bit of a knob' with too big an opinion of himself. On tonight's evidence that's a bit harsh, he's hardly any match for Matt the Mouth from the Pigeon Detectives.

The audience is a real mix of ages and not the predominately younger crowd that I had expected. The youngsters do entertain us though, during the dull moments. A lad in a stripy jumper has to repeatedly try to fight off the ardent attention of his embarrassing drunk girlfriend. He indulges her just enough, so as not to compromise his chances of getting his leg over later, before peeling her off him and pushing her away. Every time he does this she runs off to put her arm around someone else or in one case climb on to their shoulders. She's evidently trying to make him jealous but he doesn’t look bothered, in any case she keeps boomeranging back.

Back on stage, 'Cash Machine' sounds disappointingly flat and is also upstaged by the big screen at the back of the stage. Archer could have been stood there singing naked and no one would have noticed because everyone is too busy being entertained by the screen.

Drunk girl is back again, swinging her arms around Stripy, we all duck as arcs of lager fly from the glass in her hand. Thankfully it'll soon be empty. Although I find myself wishing she'd drink it rather than spill it then she might fall over and we'll all get some peace.

The band play a B-side 'You And Me' and Archer plays a burst of The Special's 'Ghost Town' on a Melodica, proving his talents, he also plays guitar and his voice tonight is faultless.

They all have to do it don't they? On 'We Need Love' they change the words to say 'Nottingham', luckily it is easily transposed with 'Birmingham'. It would have been interesting to see how they got on in Margate the other night.

Some silly sod has fetched Drunk girl a fresh pint of lager and we all get ready to duck again. Stripy's had enough, he slopes off, and when he doesn't return after a couple of songs she goes off to find him. We all relax.

They finish with the oddly popular 'Suburban Knights' and 'Hard To Beat' which also sounds below par. I shall give them the benefit of the doubt and blame the Arena. Luckily we are close to the front and probably get the best of the sound because again there are insufficient speakers for those at the back to get much clarity.

As Archer is singing 'Stand up, knock me right off my feet, hard to beat' a well timed bottle comes sailing towards his head and tries to do just that. Archer pulls off a ducking manoeuvre that he ought to share with Ricky Hatton. The lyrics are so appropriate 'Goodness, no, I've never known a night like this' but I wonder if he's tempted to change the next line and sing 'Can't believe it, I'm so hard to hit'.

Drunk girl has found Stripy and they are back in front of us for the encores. Archer returns alone with an acoustic guitar and plays the first verse of 'The King' alone. The rest of the band gradually drift back and join in as the song goes along. It is one of the best moments of the night. Then they close with two oldies, first the title track from 'Stars of CCTV, then Archer asks 'What goes down in Nottingham on a Thursday night?' That's a bit personal; perhaps he's read Stripy's thoughts. I think 'who falls down' might be more appropriate in Nottingham. Archer is trying to get a lead in to 'Living For The Weekend' but it's a bit convoluted. The track itself does come over well.

In the end I am pleasantly surprised. They're an entertaining band; they just need more decent material. For a band who were once labelled as the modern day Clash they've lost their way a touch. ‘Stars Of CCTV’ was half a good album with some excellent moments, most of which were played tonight, unfortunately it had an equal number of less inspired ones. Their new album ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ is more of the same, or rather less, because they've built on the uninspired half, which hints at a dearth of new ideas. Next time, they 'Better Do Better'.

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