Wednesday 3 June 2009

Joy Formidable, The Royal

As we walk in to the ‘Red Room’ of The Royal, the first thing I notice is how busy it is, which is a pleasant surprise. The second thing I notice is that the band currently on stage don’t appear to have a lead singer. Then I see him, right up on top of the speaker stack. That’s an old trick for sure but not often performed by a band third on the bill. These are 'The Souvenirs' the first of two local bands playing tonight. I immediately think Eddie Argos and Art Brut; it's the way singer Dale Dawson dresses, struts about and the art punk sound of the band.

We only catch the very end of their set, so it’s difficult to comment really but if the state of Mr Dawson is anything to go by, it must have been a good set. He looked totally wrecked.

Serenaded to the stage by Suede’s ‘Animal Nitrate’, Ryan Needham of ‘You Animals’ tells us that they were only given two days notice of this support slot and by the way he disses Derby, I get the impression they’ve hot footed it across Britain in a transit van to fill this slot but no. A quick look at their Myspace reveals they too are Derby boys, and like 'The Souvenirs', well established on the local scene.

They are an energetic five piece who struggle for space on the stage and have something of ‘The View’ about them or is that just because they’re a tad shambolic at times, in a good way. We’re not tally convinced about the point of the keyboard player though, the token girl seems oddly lost, as is her contribution. Her keyboards get lost somewhere amongst their riotous sound, which has potential and would become more intelligible, if they calmed down a touch.

The highlight of the night almost arrived when Ryan seemed to contemplate swinging on one of the Royal’s ‘posh’ chandeliers; it used to be a hotel you know. He seems to change his mind at the last moment, it’s a good job, it would not have held his weight and could have fused the whole building. He just gives it a shove instead, popping a bulb in the process.

They finish by pushing a speaker off the stage and hurling a guitar after it, everyone’s gone so 'rock n roll' tonight and it’s a good job the crowd are standing a little back. Ryan then plays the last few notes on the cymbals with his microphone. I hope they find fame and fortune soon because they’re going to be going through some equipment at some rate.

Ryan does appear to be a big Joy Formidable fan, having seen them last month at the Dot-to-Dot and seems thrilled they’ve got in to see them free tonight.

The Joy Formidable certainly aren’t local, hailing from Mold, North Wales. They sneak up onto the stage with little fuss but quickly set about living up to and then trampling all over their already impressive live reputation. They’ve improved since we last saw them, their sound becoming a bit more distinguishable, less of a haze but still sounding ethereal; think early Lush with balls and a touch of Kim Deal thrown in for good measure. The critics have tagged it ‘shoegazing’ as they did then and do so again now.

They open with their current single, the terrific ‘Whirring’ and immediately put everything into a thumping delivery of it. An approach they continue all night. In fact it leaves you exhausted just watching the amount of energy they expend, particularly Matt Thomas on drums. Such fantastic drumming and his pounding rhythms are the backbone of the power of the band. His efforts leave him visibly gasping for breath. Regrettably my camera battery gives out before I can get a photo of him and his under fire drum kit.

Suppose you could also feel sorry for my ears, his thundering delivery, along with Ritzy Bryan’s eardrum-shredding guitar makes my ears wonder why we elected to be front row.

‘Whirring’ ends or rather doesn’t and instead merges in to the thumping intro of ‘Cradle’. Possibly their two best songs back to back, a brilliant duo of urgent, thrusting pop.

The band clearly know how to write a catchy song even if they do choose to layer a haze of noise over it. They could of course go away, capitalise on that inherent catchiness, and write a classic pop song. I’m sure they’re well capable. They could bag a big hit and never look back, never play the likes of the ‘Red Room’ again, which would be shame of course, but judging by the new stuff played tonight ‘Greyhounds’, ‘Anemone’ and ‘Spectrum’ (I think), they have no intention of deviating from their current path. Good job too. ‘Spectrum’, if that is indeed what it is called, was a definite highlight for me.

Ritzy manages to juggle looking pretty cool in black stockings, boots etc, whilst playing guitar and managing not to trip over her huge pedal board, although sometimes only just, whilst all the time slaying us with her voice. She doesn’t talk much but perhaps she doesn’t have the breath to spare and instead seems to rely on her piercing eyes to communicate with the crowd.

Then there’s the great basslines laid down by Rhydian Dafydd. At times you need three sets of eyes to take it all in.

A thundering version of ‘The Last Drop’, think Breeders, is followed by the more mellow ‘Ostrich’ which ends with its solemn drum beats, giving Matt a rest of sorts.

Then it’s the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of ‘Austere’, which may or may not have something to do with the ‘Moaning’ part of the title of their oddly entitled mini-album ‘A Balloon Called Moaning’. The song does seem to hint at erotic intentions, although it’s often difficult to make much sense of Ritzy’s lyrics. One of their fans clearly got very excited about it and compiled a video for it using clips from the website Beautiful Agony, which was promptly banned by everyone, even YouTube. The band loved it though and still host it on It’s actually really good, rather ermm... arty, although probably NSFW.

They finish their nine song set with the anthem that is ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’. It’s a fitting finale; good enough to make the hairs on your neck stand up.


Cradle - The Joy Formidable

Anemone on YouTube

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