- by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date: Label:
In nearly 20 years since they released their debut single Stafford's Epic45 have produced a huge back catalogue of music, released on numerous small labels, including their own Wayside and Wondering Recordings. I picked up on them very early on due to (who else) but John Peel and their kinship with fellow pastoral guitar-strummers Hood, Grover, Meets Guitar and The Workhouse, but have somehow managed to miss them playing live over the years.
On a blustery Halloween night, I finally get my chance at one of Manchester's newer venues, the Peer Hat, a small basement stage below the main pub buried in an old building deep in the Northern Quarter.
Up first are Manchester 4-piece No Talk, dressed for the occasion adorned in fake blood and random outfits, none more-so than the bassist, who has beamed direct from Dexy's Midnight Runners' 'Geno' phase. An immediate strength is the contrast in styles between George's XX, drenched in Ween and Pavement vocals and Molly's more silkier and soulful tones, with elements of Lanterns on The Lake or Rose Elinor Dougal, especially during 'Nothing New', supplemented by unusual time signatures from the band. However the band are even stronger when the two combine, like Rosa Mota or The Delgados in their dual vocal harmonising and the regular swapping of lead within songs. The highlight of the set is closer 'No Disappearing Act', emotive and drenched in melancholy, with lovely guitar touches backing Molly's heartfelt vocal, building up like all good finales do as vocals and guitars become more forceful.
Though the support were good, Epic45 are a revelation from start to finish. 'Hillside '86' is a glorious opener, nodding to Pygmalion-era Slowdive in its spacious, ambient guitar weaves and Ben Holton's understated vocals. 'England Fallen Over' is more experimental with samples and field recordings leading us into a more electronic and percussive number, liked a stripped down Disco Inferno, before Ben's chiming guitar and Rob's sumptuous bass adds warmth and depth to a mesmerising song. The tempo is ranked up with the dance-heavy 'Outside' as deep, analogue synths and programmed beats, that nod to Errors, supplement the 3-piece guitar, bass and drums set-up, as Ben's spoken-word vocals in the verse lead into a more blissful aura in the chorus, with the drums erring on the same of militaristic at times.
The haunting 'Life Fades Whilst It's Still Yours' evokes The Declining Winter, Daniel Land and Hammock in atmospherics, echoed guitars, vocals and pattered drums, with acres of space between bass notes (and reverberating heavy bass keys) which Rob moves swiftly between, filling the room and sending the audience into a blissful and relaxed stupor.
Perhaps unsurprisingly there's a lot of guitar looping going on with each song, taking a bit of time to set up, but there's plenty of electronic pulses and beeps setting the songs off on their way and keeping the audience busy while the band patiently layer many of the tracks.
The highlight of the set is 'Through Broken Summer' with its patient start, gloriously chiming guitar notes that soar and swell, before percussion and bass join the party. The dual vocal with Rob leading and Ben following in the gaps, as a sort of call-and-response adds great pleasure to the proceedings, as the track builds, with drums, guitars and bass becoming increasingly animated leading to a full-on crescendo that envelops the room and gets the crowd nodding furiously with enthusiasm.
'Weathering' is an effortlessly restful finale, full of light keys, recorded birdsong noises and restrained drumming. An enchanting close to a fantastic set.
So it was very much worth the wait before finally getting to see Epic45 live. Just a magnificent and hypnotic performance that had me entranced and grinning out loud throughout. A band on top of their game near 20 years in and one I cannot recommend more to go and see live. I'll be there again without hesitation next time, just look out for the person flailing near the front.