The past is yours but the future’s mine…
So sang one of the most influential bands of my lifetime. The ironies of such youthful statements of intent are apparent for all to see. Hindsight is after all the only exact science! It is perhaps sadly no surprise then that presented with two of the finest young bands doing the rounds in England at the moment that the audience that these bands deserve was largely confined to us that were old enough to have bought the Stone Roses eponymous album the first time round.
The aptly named Loft in Portsmouth is a great little venue. Its tight confines are ideal for generating a natural energy. The stage is no higher than a milk-crate and not a great deal wider. Confronting band with audience is a good thing. Fight or flight or simply engage the only choices.
We arrived too late to see or hear The Cartels, but had the absolute pleasure of hearing Southampton’s finest sons The Costellos’ full set and was hugely impressed by their energy and musicality. Those outside the South Coast may not be aware but coming from the ‘Scum’ to Pompey is tantamount to taking your life into your own hands. The guitarist’s mum splashing her pint over my brand new Florsheim suede drivers is similarly treading a fine line indeed, however back to the music…
Where the Costellos succeed is that the song comes first. Their undoubted musical ability is kept in check ensuring the song is greater than the sum of its parts – all great songs have this and all great artists know it!
The Rhythm section is solidly layered, Tomi’s drums anchor the effervescent and nimble bass-player Harry, who’s cork-screw Side-show Bob hairdo, like his playing, is in danger of getting out of hand without it’s weighty assurance. Together though, the rhythm is tight and dependable allowing the dual guitar sonics of Declan and singer George to give the songs the rich melodic hooks that draw in the audience.
Neither guitarist tries to outdo the other, working together to weave interesting and exciting melody and counter-melody lines that lift the songs and the band above run-of-the-mill indie-wannabe’s to genuine quality and deserving of a decent following in their own right. As the set progresses the songs start to gain greater space and depth. The nailed down next-single in waiting is Mould Me a New One which calls to mind the elastic dexterity of some of the aforementioned Stone Roses finest moments. Their jewel in the crown is the magnetic appeal of the lead singer George whose focussed intensity of delivery reminds me of a youthful Ian Curtis.
This band is going places, and you need to get on board! Songs of the strength of Down for the Weekend and set-closer (another sonic-gem) Shine Away are ripe for a good studio manager to make the most of. Their music is far from one-dimensional and its inherent grooves and Mod sensibility is a potent mix that should have a wider appeal.
The future may well be theirs indeed!
The stage is set for the main event. The mixture of tunes played between the bands reminds us of the time when bands had something to say and someone willing to listen. Here tonight are two bands with plenty to say - the danger is maybe that the future will belong to the apathetic - I remain eternally hopeful that such youthful energy and ambition reaps its due reward. The last (whole song) before the band hit the stage, the timeless driving clatter of Town Called Malice remind us all that it’s ‘up to us to change…’
The opening bars of My Generation are thankfully cut short by manager Deabs who takes the stage to implore Pompey to Play Up for… The Spitfires!!!
The stage if anything seems even smaller than before. It’s struggling to contain the roar from the void – this rage against the dying of the light. Almost literally spitting fire, the Watford four-piece tear into opener Escape Me. Their intensity and self-belief a clear statement of intent for what is to follow.
The energy within the band is not confined to mere stage presence, of which lead singer and main focal point Billy Sullivan has it in spades. It is the force of delivery; at times bludgeoning at others stiletto sharp, like an artful boxer there’s jabs and hooks in their arsenal. The fight is tough tonight. Pompey is old school tough and respect is earned not given, but there is generous applause after each song. The Spitfires are a Pompey type band, but they know they have to work to keep this level of newfound respect up – it is no doubt a fight they have at every gig, in old working class towns and cities up and down the country.
Their stage-craft has been honed by recent heavy touring and some prestigious support slots to such heavy-weights as Paul Weller and The Specials and it shows. The musicianship is slick, dynamic and tight… very tight. The syncopated rhythms are spot on, jump-start, shock and awe calls to arms and with the (fairly) recent and now permanent inclusion of keyboards the songs have greater depth. Latest single Stand Down is a fine example of this newer, more rounded sound.
Older singles like Tell Me, Relapse and I’m Holding On are re-invented as a four-piece. The melodies are clearer, the subtle nuances more apparent and demand to be heard in a live setting. Whereas The Costellos would benefit from time in the studio, The Spitfires songs struggle to be confined to vinyl. The songs bark and bite, the tight confines of the stage and the close-proximity of the audience are bedfellows in the most pure of dynamic.
That said, there is deftness of touch, fleetness of foot, shade and light in the mix too. The song-writing, like the sound has gained greater depth, a maturity which bodes well for the future. Stand out tracks like When I Call Out (possibly a future break-through single) and 4AM which has got album closer written all over it - It’s a big song demanding to be heard, with a memorable chorus and hook will have listeners reaching for the repeat button when the album comes out sometime at the back end of Summer.
They finish with a lively chase through another early single Spark to Start, again emboldened by the new sound with heavy Hammond chops and slashes and an enjoyable romp through their one and only cover of The Buzzcocks What Do I Get?
On this evidence they deserve to get a great deal of success.
The music scene is awash with manufactured shit and reheated leftovers from music past. Talent, young talent like The Costellos and The Spitfires should really herald that the past may well have been theirs but the future, if we just cared to listen, if we just cared enough… the future will certainly belong to these two fine bands!
By Jason Brummell