Alas it’s impossible to attend each and every gig that takes your fancy. And so until a time machine is invented we occasionally have to rope in our chums. On this occassion one man gig machine, Catshoe, reports on his latest adventures with The Joy Formidable.
“A tale of two cities and a small town. That would be Manchester, London and Wrexham. Three great venues to get to see The Joy Formidable on their current tour before they head off again to Scotland, then Europe, then the States. So why chose these three gigs ? Well, Manchester – first night of the tour, so it had to be done: London – the chance to see them somewhere BIG; Wrexham – well I live nearby, two of the band grew up nearby as well, it’s where I saw them first and it should be some sort of homecoming gig.
For those that don’t know them, the band are Rhydian Dafydd and Ritzy Bryan, school friends in rural North Wales, and drummer Matt Thomas from oh-so-sunny Wolverhampton. Rhyd and Ritzy played in a number of different bands, before transforming themselves into The Joy Formidable, originally with a different drummer. Matt’s been with them precisely a year, or so he said at some point in Manchester. There are drummers who do a sterling job providing the engine room but that’s about it. Then there are drummers who really are a huge and integral part of the band, and that’s Matt. He plays so hard he has to tape up the skin on his hands and his sticks get worn down to pulp. I know because I begged a souvenir stick off him and it’s like a soggy piece of well chewed sugar cane. His fingers look the same.
I have to declare from the outset that I’m ‘a bit of a fan’. At a rough count, the dates on this tour would take me up to seeing The Joy Formidable a dozen times. Not as rabid as some though. Despite their relatively short history, there are the TRULY committed that have managed to notch up 20 or more live shows even despite coming to the fold relatively recently. They must be semi-deaf by now – The Joy Formidable are one LOUD band. But that does reveal a factor with this band, more than most others. Get to hear them live just the once and there is very good chance that the foam flecks of rabid fervour will start to form during the evening, and you’ll be their willing bitch for life.
And so onto the gigs.
The Ruby Lounge I have always regarded as a great venue. Top noise, PA loud without excoriating your earlugs. And in my very particular experience, a decent views of the band. However there’s a bit of a choke point in front of the stage in the Ruby, if you get stuck standing further back than a set of pillars, you’re not going to see much. The stage is more like a fenced in back yard, rising a majestic few inches higher than the main floor. Ritzy commented that it normally didn’t bother her but tonight she was really feeling her five footness, trying to see anything but the front row. It’s still a great club venue though.
Support were Baddies. I’ve got to say that with all due apology and respect, they did nothing to lift themselves above the ordinary. Great post punk attitude but the music and particularly the vocals were like a dull curry. I hate saying it because they wanted so much to please, and wanted so much to warm us up for the main act. Loads of the crowd loved them in all fairness, whooping as well as clapping, obviously more in the mood than yours truly.
And on to The Joy Formidable, who came on like the sonic boom of a jet fighter passing close overhead. What wonderful lovely noise, loud enough to make your guts vibrate. Within seconds of being on stage, Ritzy came up to that special level of intensity she has, like some transient possession by greater forces. If you are near enough the front there will be a moment when your are convinced she is looking straight at you and through you, eyes boring through to the back of your skull in some sort of accusation. They ploughed into Greatest Light, Cradle, Last Drop and Austere. Those are all their very oldest songs. It wasn’t until they got to Ostrich that they started to move forward in their song-book. What really surprises me is how fresh these oldest numbers always sound to me, no matter just how many times I’ve heard them over the past couple of years. Next we were bang up to date with Magnifying Glass; it’s really quite some personal relief to that these new songs cut the mustard alongside old ones. Back then to Anemone, followed by the relative quiet (just for a moment) of Whirring, and current single Popinjay, which is (a) brand new and (b) with its repeated build up of squealing guitar line, possibly the strongest thing they’ve produced since those first songs.
It was an audience of two halves. I’m really aware of the ability of indie kids to just stand there at times. Hey it’s not called shoegaze for nothing. Tonight had lots of that going on, with a sharp and sudden transition into a middle bit of mosh madness, like someone had stirred the middle of a chocolate mousse leaving the outer bits undisturbed. I was caught on the border of the two tribes. The only thing I would say tonight specifically about some of these would-be moshers, is that they weren’t even facing the band. You got the feeling that rather than being caught up in the moment, just maybe they had it all carefully pre-planned, and that it was all about them, not about the music.
Somewhere around this point, there were shouts of “I love you Ritzy” – “No, I love you more” and I could see Rhydian give a little grin. It must be a buzz to be one half of a couple with someone as compelling as Miss Bryan. And then a cry from afar of “Ritzy….Ritzy….Ritzy”. As it was repeated, I could see Ritz cock her ear, then say “I know that voice….she’s only allowed out one day a year….and if she carries on it won’t be Mother’s Day for much longer!” It was Ritzy’s mum Angie, a 4’11” force of nature who within seconds came burrowing at vast speed forward in the crowd heading for the barrier !!
There is never a guarantee this band will automatically encore. Tonight we were treated to Greyhound In the Slips and While The Flies. From what I’m told, the audience the next night in Liverpool were not so lucky. A great start to the tour, ending for us chatting with the band round the merch stall.
The next gig for me was the Electric Ballroom in London. I was thrilled to see it sold out and was even inured to the fact that there were touts outside, in fact I was amused to hear them gruffly trying to sell me tickets for “Formidable Joy”. I’ll have some of that, it sounds good. I broke the habit of a lifetime and left the camera(s) behind. I’m glad I did, tonight deserved no distraction from stage front.
A quick word on support. I really admired Baddies for yet again doing their best to get us going. The crowd were well up for it tonight. I thoroughly enjoyed next support Fun. I can see why there might have been some accusations of being like Del Amitri, but I have them down as much more worthy than that, well paced American indie rock with a touch of something to lift them out of the humdrum.
After a short interval of rubbish DJ choices, a tech switched off a light switch at the back of the stage, plunging the whole hall into electric anticipation mode. I could see movement in the wings and in the next moment the place erupted. From the off it was rowdy, but felt entirely focussed on what the band were doing, which was fine by me. I’ve been in the second row enough times to get over the embarrassment of being the ones crushing those gasping on the barrier. The set list was near enough the same as Manchester. The sound quality was great, evidence of money well spent by the theatre. The band had their problems with their own gear though. I won’t say they were ‘beset’ as that would suggest they suffered. What actually happened was they had to stop a couple of times to get it sorted, and they got drummer Matt to fill in, with comedic results. The crowd were almost entirely on board. I heard one tosser giving it “I’ve paid eleven quid for this“. Given the massive way that The Joy Formidable have paid their dues, and continually give away music, do free gigs and all the rest, this was an insult. Luckily it was a lone voice. Eventually Ritzy’s hand painted black Fender got swapped out and all was well. Chatting with her later, it wasn’t actually the guitar, it was a fault with quite newly bought kit, but we’ll leave it there. For me, it gave them a chance to overcome, and they did. We went through a break off stage with no doubt that they were coming back for an encore.
I’ve seen this band give it their absolute all to embarrassingly small crowds in the early days, and they have always delivered plus plus. Tonight though, with this sold out big crowd, with the rock solid energy coming back at them, with the great support acts, I just saw them lift it up to another level. They went from great friendly people that I’ve got to know, and instead grew like superheroes transforming before my eyes into an important and world class rock band. It’s hard to describe and that’s my feeble attempt. As they got over the technical problems, the crowd got steadily more hyped and wound up with any number of kids going over our heads into the pit. Ritzy obviously felt the need. The next thing she climbed down off the stage then onto the barrier right in front of me before committing backwards into the audience. She was carried aloft with all due style until she eventually emerged back at the front, grabbing the guitar and carrying on. I think they intended more than one curtain call, rumour has it we were going to be treated to Spectrum, but the lights went up and that was it.
I haven’t jumped and pogoed that much in too long a time. As we staggered out into the Camden night I was drenched in sweat. Given just how big the night felt, it was almost surreal to nip up to Barfly for the afterparty and exchange a showbiz hug and a few words with Ritzy.
And so on to Wrexham. Bleech were already on stage. I was really keen to see them and I wasn’t disappointed. Two girls up front, the words Riot Grrrl came to my mind as well as Sleater Kinney comparisons which is praise indeed. They’re still a tiny bit unformed, perhaps needing to define themselves. I will certainly be looking out for them again. They’ve got a single out and free to download from April 5th – find it via their myspace http://www.myspace.com/bleech. It’s called Are You Listening and it was the highlight of their set.
Next up were Baddies (again) and I wished (again) that I enjoyed them as much as I admired them. Fair do’s though they were full of enthusiasm.
By the time The Joy Formidable got on stage, I was pretty darn pleased to see the venue, Central Station, looking full and up for it. I spent the first three songs hunched in the gap between the crowd barrier and the stage to get some photos. It’s an innovation for Wrexham, having a barrier in there. I think it works for them, pushing people back off the speakers. The sound in the place is still rough as a dog’s head though. It’s the only place I go where I am half deaf for a day afterwards. I know what I said about crowd enthusiasm. Unfortunately at times in Wrexham it crossed over that barrier from enthusiastic to rude. The last song of the encore was Flies. It rocks in the middle but starts quiet and ends quiet. Ritzy was getting more than a tad miffed with people talking all across this, telling them it was up to them but their loss if they couldn’t concentrate for three of four minutes. We were treated to a new version of the lyrics “but these arms, they tried in SHUT THE FUCK UP vain”. I commented to her afterwards that it was the most hacked off I’d seen her with an audience. She was chilled enough about it by then, but it does actually matter to this band.
Magnificent stuff and a great night. Despite or even because of the number of times I’ve seen them, I’ll keep going back.”
Words and Photos by Catshoe
Ritzy “Crowdsurfing” By Andy Wright.
The Joy Formidable myspace