• BotB 2015

Battle of the Bands 2016

Battle of the Bands  – Sunday 31st January 2016

A selection of photographs from the event are available to view by clicking here.

The walls resplendent with Beatles memorabilia, the tables covered in glasses, the raised voices, the occasional blasts of chest-sweat, the overdressed teens in deep sugary huddles and the thick groups of parents: all backgrounds, all ages, all denominations represented, everyone with a valid ticket and a love of all things guitarish… It can only be the Battle of the Bands Final 2016.

First off were last year’s winners JO MARY (Sam Warren, Daniel Smith, Seth Barnfather, Fionn de Buitlear). Immediately putting the pedal to the metal, these guys opened the evening with some great numbers from Paperhouse, Velvet Undeground and plenty of their own material. With a tight, well-rehearsed ensemble, syncopated drum rhythms and some blister-forming guitar work, they eased into fifth gear, the BMW of rock, effortlessly owned the fast lane of cool with a rich heavy guitar sound. There are no impresarios trying to push to front of this band, they all contribute equally and merge into balance with one another: they really sound like a band, if you know what I mean. The next number had a heavy rock intro and a Nirvana grunge cool (is grunge still cool?) There were some good changes of pace, a rich bass underpinning the whole band. Then came Jo Mary’s own song, All My Friends Think I’m Jesus, with a quiet start and a more sparse Cream feel, gently building in tension, pace and volume into a rich dramatic crescendo. (A video of this song is available on YouTube.) They finished with a simple ‘Cheers!’ and an enthusiastic reception from the crowd.

First of the battling bands was THE PUBLIC CALLS (Adam Johnson, Lucas McCoy, Peter Shield, Jacob Arrowsmith). Mr Rumsby explained that Adam would be sitting down because his leg was in plaster. As he reached towards the mic he said, “My mum told me to ‘break a leg’, so…” They started with Green Day Boulevard of Broken Dreams. The song is very exposed for the vocalist but Adam sings with an almost adult voice and it was a fantastic choice of song for them: soulful and full of tender heart-break. He just sits and sings, like it’s just something he does, completely natural and very enjoyable to listen to. The delightful sound continued for their own song, Old James Street, Adam’s voice nicely counterpointed with some competent keyboard work. The next song was The Script’s The Man Who Can’t Be Moved and showed off more of Adam’s range and James Bluntesque tonal talents hitting every high note. They took their time, enjoyed creating something passionate and heartfelt. Gorgeous.

Second up with their eclectic blend of styles was THE ISRIGHTS (Matthew McNamara, Che Wilson, Andy Gill, Jack Hendrie) who flew into Misirlou by Dick Dale (which most of us recognise as the opening theme to Pulp Fiction). Energy and noise exploded onto the stage. It’s a daring track because if they hadn’t pulled it off it could have sounded awful, but it was brilliant: fiddly, furious and gutsy. After just a couple of minutes they did a net segue into their own song Summer ‘05 with more pace, punch and paradiddles (look it up). They don’t just sound like a rock band – they look like a rock band. They’ve got attitude, moody expressions and a lead guitarist who tosses his long curly locks into the spotlights at the end of his solo. Another seamless transition and we were thrown back into the past again with Dawn Penn’s You Don’t Love Me (No No No). There was plenty of style here, of the sitting-back on an easy-rider motorbike type: music that was wearing black leather with tassels and had way too much facial hair. Lastly their own number Drinking Game brought out the UB40 in the Isrights. As Jo Mary front man Sam Warren noted, “It was a clever mixture of Britpop and reggae: what the Arctic Monkeys debut album would have sounded like if Bob Marley had had a hand in their production.”

Third up was THE ANOMALY (Thomas Rumsby, Fred Greaves, Fionn de Buitlear, Roan de Buitlear). They started with a gentle version of Blackstreet’s No Diggity. It was an interesting choice and a good opportunity to show off the harmonius qualities of the band. Next they got things moving with one of their own songs, Faster Than Light which had some mellow Spanish rhythms and plenty of moody, teenage angst. Finally they pulled out a real crowd-pleaser with a good bit of ‘sad, sad, post teen’ three chord rock and Jamie T’s Zombie, which proved very popular with the pre-teens, teens, post-teens and even old duffers like me.

Now at this point in the evening we’ve usually had one or two bands who have been a little bit rough around the edges, or perhaps are playing guitars that look a bit big for them. But tonight’s offerings have all been thoroughly polished and slick, both in terms of individual musicianship and overall ensemble. How can one small College contain so much talent, I hear you ask? Well, this is the eighth year of BotB at the Cavern and each year the quality goes up and up.

Talking of talent, up came HEAVY PEANUT + THE ROVING DUDES (George Greaves, Matthew Lear, Matthew Williams, Harry Pritchard). They threw themselves into the honky-tonk opening of The Red Hot Chili Peppers Give it Away. With stylish acrobatic vocals, rock-solid drumming and some guitar work that would have made Jimmi Hendrix proud, the band sent waves of awesomeness through the club and soon had the crowd begging for more. Next came more Chili groove with some Led Zep rhythms and Johnny Marr guitar and they pulled off that clever trick of it looking like everyone was doing their own thing on the stage but together they sounded perfect together. They have a unique and authentic sound and pulled off a great ending, too. In their last song they let the gathering bass notes drag us into the music, like the song was slowly coming out of a dark fog and then, suddenly revealed itself to be the non-stop train to groove town with guitars like laser beam light shows in the sky, steel wheel industrial metal rhythms and vocals venting from the heart of the machine trailing clouds of glory. Epic. Frantic. Frenetic. Fabulous.

The hits just keep on coming, as they say, and next up WHO BROUGHT THE BEAR appeared (Joel Baylis, Tom Gallagher, Nick Moore, Alex Dingle). Straight in their own song, Tunnel, with upbeat drums and guitar but a haunting Smiths-style vocal. They played it harder, then a little harder: melancholic, tortured and tormented. Then a sudden gear change and we were carried Go! by The Chemical Brothers: pace-rising, pulse-surging, blood-pumping, lip-smacking, thirst-quenching music, a salvo or superb sounds like liquid chocolate pouring from a cornucopia of cool. Dingle’s voice echoed through the Cavern like some ancient prophet before a second gear change and a blur of sound threw us into the finish. Next, their own song Open Mouth/Open Mind and another punchy start; there seemed to be some problems with pedals but they played on undaunted. And anyway, a bit of feedback adds a certain something. There was plenty of angry-young-man playing and teen fury, a collective banging of heads against the nonsense of modern life. They finished with another of their own songs, Corners, with some chirpy rhythms and some Arctic Monkeys flippancy. Overall it was a well-textured performance, full of good contrasts: dark and light, hot and cold, awesome and absolutely amazingly awesome.

Last in the battle came THE LOCAL DISTANCE with (James Waddington, Aaron Davies, Ted Lloyd and Tom Byers). A strong guitar opener with Intro by The XX and an even stronger Ian Gillanesque vocals (if anyone still remembers Deep Purple) and a rich, dense, colourful sound from the whole band. Next came Money by Peace with a no holds barred indy rock sound. A great blend of yowling voice and howling guitars in an effusive fusion of greatness which vibrated the glasses on the tables, sent shivers down my spine and shook, rattled and rolled just about everything else. Next up was Come a Little Closer (Cage the Elephant). Lastly The Local Distance played T-Shirt Weather by Circa Waves, a perky guitar opening into some solid post-punk pop vocals and a Peter Hook style bass.

Now for the fun stuff. THE MONO LPS (“It’s not in stereo and it’s not a download”) are a professional band incorporating the collective talents of Miss Mutch (cello), Ste Reid (vocals, guitar), Dan Beech (drums) and Chris Barlow (bass). Playing together for four years, the band started together in college and have a good repertoire of their own original music. They have played at a rock festival in Norway (twice), they have had their song 6am featured in the film One Night in Istanbul, and have an album coming out later this year (working title: States of Decay). Check out their work on YouTube, SoundCloud, iTunes and Google Music. (Quick plug: The Mono LPs have got a gig on 20th Feb in East Village Arts Club supporting a band called Victoria, (it’s a 14+ gig). This is the first time a female teacher has taken the Cavern Club stage and let’s hope many follow after her. It was also the first time a cello has been played on the stage at a Battle of the Bands Final, and if you didn’t think a cello could work in a rock band, think again. It’s got bass, it’s got rhythm and it’s got plenty of attitude (at least it has in the hands of Miss Mutch). The band played Look at Those Legs, Die a Little Death, The Flame, Emilia, Giving it Up and You Make Me Sick. This is not some dumbed-down easy-listening Radio 2 Sunday afternoon nonsense. The sound is somewhere between Jimmy Page’s violin-bow performance in Dazed and Confused (watch it right now on Youtube) and a Lynyrd Skynyrd solo. Add to that some fat Rolling Stone rhythms and a fistful of Bo Diddley guitars and you’ve got some seriously anthemic mosh-pit action. This is the real deal: compelling to watch, punchy, portentous, powerful to listen to and completely original in every respect. And did I mention the band has a cello? 

OK: once described as “actually quite good”, THE DERIVATIVES appeared with a slightly adjusted line-up of Mr Haimes (guitar), Mr Watson (keyboards), Mr Swan (guitar), Mr I Smith (bass), James Lyon (arriving with just-in-time efficiency to drum) and Mr Haimes (vocals). They opened with Transmission, an old favourite, and a great excuse for James to show us his extensive range of fills. Next came The Jean Genie as a tribute to the late great Bowie. A fine performance: good pace driving that guitar riff, hard playing from everyone and just the right amount of anarchy. Finally they rounded off the evening with Pink Floyd’s Money. It’s been eight years since the D-rivs first played the Cavern Club and I would just like to take a moment to say thanks to everyone for tolerating me while I mucked about on a keyboard in my little corner of the stage for seven of those. It was a blast.

Mr R. Harris