- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
Two men lean over a bass guitar on stage at The Brudenell Social Club, one holding a flashlight as the other tries to work out what exactly has gone wrong. Until moments ago, post-punk trio Bilge Pump were happily playing to a sold-out crowd. The mood one of celebration, a well-deserved victory lap for some longstanding local legends. So, naturally, the band’s bass guitar had to stop working mid-set. The night can’t end like this. Can it?
Rewind a few hours and a night of noisy celebration begins with eccentric, Leeds-based minimalist rock-trio Beige Palace. Off-kilter rhythms and a knack for discordant, unruly song structures ensure that we’re kept on our toes from the outset. See-sawing violin interrupted by a jarring change of pace, spoken-word delivery followed by yelps and full-throated hollers.
Drummer Ant Bedford somehow keeps the chaos reigned-in as the songs shift like sand dunes under our feet. Kelly Bishop flits between violin, vocals, and keyboard as vocalist Freddy Vinehill-Cliffe finds the balance between restraint and noise-ridden release with his guitar. Engaging and wholly unpredictable. A great start to the evening.
The night, it turns out, is full of surprises. I didn’t know anything about Nottingham drum-duo Rattle before they started playing. Moments later and I’m transfixed by an unexpected, somewhat unclassifiable, rhythmic spell. The deftly played, interlocking drums of Katharine Eira Brown and Theresa Wrigley holding us hypnotised.
Brown adds some gentle, mantra-like vocals to the mix and I find myself fully absorbed. It never feels like some extended drum solo, the interwoven rhythms create something far more subtle, cerebral and hypnotic. It’s a sound that you can’t quite put your finger on, the thrill of something organic and new unfolding in front of you. One of the most genuinely interesting acts I’ve seen in some time.
Speaking of interesting, it’s time for Guttersnipe. I’ve seen the duo a few times now yet when asked can never seem to decide if I really like them or not. Arresting and wholly uncompromising, Urocerus Gigas and Tipula Confusa make a racket quite unlike anything else. Some might even see it as a bit of an endurance test.
The thing is when I put the analysis to one side and just go and see them play there’s something that keeps me pinned to the spot. Just like every other time I’ve seen Guttersnipe perform I realise that I’m actually really enjoying it. Maybe it’s the duo’s thorough commitment to the chaos; the joy in something so utterly without constraint. The spectacle. The sheer ridiculousness of it all.
Gigas wrings every ounce of noise from her guitar, screaming unintelligibly into the microphone. Confusa does anything but keep a steady/ typical rhythm preferring sporadic, jolting bursts. The guitar effects and the keyboard moans sound like robots in the throes of night terrors. I don’t know what’s happening but I can’t look away.
If Guttersnipe came to bring the noise and confusion then Cowtown are here to bring the party. “We’ve got to fly through a lot quickly” says vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Nash before the band kick into the speedy post-punk pop of ‘Monotone Face’. Energetic doesn’t quite cover it, the trio leaving a brightly coloured vapour trail in their wake.
It’s impossible not to smile when you’re watching Cowtown perform, the songs summoning the spirit of post-punk oddballs Devo and maybe even a little bit of the ever-eccentric Deerhoof. They pack the maximum amount of fun into each and every two-minute new wave nugget.
Hilary Knott’s keyboard grooves create a joyous pop-pulse alongside the tight, high-octane drumming of David Michael Shields. The euphoric ‘Ski School’ practically takes off, bursting at the seams and bristling with electricity. As always the sheer energy of the band's performance proves to be cathartic and life-affirming.
The party continues with the arrival of Bilge Pump. The shimmering ‘Wheel of Yew’ gets us started, bassist/vocalist Emlyn Jones offering us a word of advice, “that man is letting you down/ take a look at his interweb history”. The band’s first single in 10 years finds the trio in rude health; as weird and wonderful as you remember. Bilge Pump aren’t about to let anyone down.
Things escalate quickly. A brief and riff-happy ‘The Rise and Fall Of the Alpha Male’ leads into the satisfyingly odd rhythms of ‘Pangaea No More’. The songs never settle into anything too comfortable or formulaic. The jazzy, adaptable drumming of Neil Turpin and the frenzied guitar assault of Joe O’Sullivan keep everything gloriously left of the dial.
The propulsive ‘Om Nom Savoy’ derails midway through only to come back twice as fierce. Like avant-rock surrealists Sun City Girls reinterpreting the post-punk Gang of Four songbook. ‘The Passion of the Kid’ finds passages of noise and frenzied, feedback-ridden noodling riding over a repetitive, pulverising rhythm section. Nice.
While they’ve always been a popular act around Leeds, there’s something genuinely heartening to see Bilge Pump finally get the exposure they deserve. Support from 6 Music and a splendid new album, We Love You, garnering some great reviews. Then, as mentioned above, Emlyn’s bass guitar dies.
There isn’t even a spare bass in the building as none of the support acts actually used a bass player. For other bands, this might have meant the end of the night. I’m pretty sure Axel Rose would have stormed off in a huff by now. Instead, the band set to work at trying to fix the bass by torchlight as Turpin gives us a drum solo.
When all seems lost, a bass sourced from a nearby house finally appears on stage. Then, of course, it refuses to stay in tune. Band and audience simply shrug it off, these little inconveniences aren’t about to stop the mighty Bilge Pump.
The epic ‘Gondwana Girl’ brings the set to a close but there are chants for more. We’re running over time now but no one wants the show to end. Finally, drenched in sweat, the band leaves a very happy Brudenell audience to head towards the merch stall. A testament to a thriving and longstanding local scene. I hope you’re taking notes because that, dear readers, is how you deliver an unequivocally triumphant hometown gig.