The short walk from the Octagon Chapel where I had just seen the BBC Introducing in Norfolk: Remembrance performance was an odd experience. It was raining, I was thinking about what I had just seen and heard, a bright full moon was rising over Magdalen Street buildings framed by some atmospheric clouds, weird searchlights were illuminating clouds over Fye Bridge and reflected in the river below … and all around me were Halloween revellers done up as ghosts and zombies as I made my way to the Louis Marchesi Crypt.
I arrived wet and very cold, needed a drink and a few minutes near that welcoming open fireplace in the Marchesi before descending the steps into the medieval underground crypt. I just knew at that moment that this was going to be a very special gig, sometimes musical gig-going intuition and premonition kicks in and it’s rarely wrong. Also, there’s just something exciting about going downstairs and underground for a gig that feels so right.
It wasn’t long before Ravenous Hounds plugged in and … well, exploded with sound. My thoughts were proved correct within seconds as the crowd edged closer and the band powered through a fantastic set. Guitars, sax, keys and drums (no bass) and not even a broken guitar string a couple of songs in could disrupt the momentum as the rest of the band jammed whilst Rob quickly performed field surgery and they were off again, seemingly without breaking stride. Now that’s how to do it!
I remember seeing their first gig just a fraction over a year ago, another underground gem of a gig with New York’s Twin Guns at the Rumsey Underbelly. This time they were supporting James and the Ultrasounds, all the way from Memphis, Tennessee. I’ve seen Ravenous Hounds a handful of times since then (they haven’t played all that often and I’ve only missed one or two) and this was by far their longest set. They played their entire repertoire and every single one of them is dynamite. This was already feeling like the classic Jug Jaw’s days, some really loud, trashy garage rock and roll in a tiny underground space. There’s just something about experiencing this kind of music in this way and they were taking me to that place of musical excitement and euphoria. I wish we had more gigs like this but it does mean I cherish them when they happen and this one was certainly ticking all the boxes. Ravenous Hounds were absolutely awesome. They are always incredible live, energetic and full of a raw rock n roll punk spirit. This set even had an added, dramatic surprise, not least the sound of a horn at the back of the audience, moving forwards as a maniacal, horned, hairy Krampus joined in with proceedings for a song or two!
As we went to refill our glasses during the break the dj put on the Bauhaus epic and classic Bela Lugosi’s Dead (perfect for Halloween, and it was still in full flow when I got back downstairs again), we had a few more classic garage belters as James and the Ultrasounds set up and soundchecked … it was already exciting and when someone at the back jokingly and with mock-impatience shouted “Get on with it!” I think it was only because they couldn’t wait to hear them. James replied with a smile something like “We’re just arrived all the way from Memphis, it’s a long journey you can wait a minute more” A quick check of the vocal mic levels and then they were off. Blistering stuff from the word go. Very loud and powerful. Assuming most people in the audience were perhaps not previously too familiar with the band (this was their first Norwich visit) they rapidly had everyone won over. Large elements of surf, a lot of garage rock, and punk but also some hints of blues and country, in theme and subject matter at least, but James has Memphis rock rhythm coursing through his veins and I sense the whole band are loving what they do. We love it too. It’s passionate, intense, energetic fun and it just pulls you in.
It was really incredible stuff with a powerful backline of amps making the atmosphere and energy amazing. Somehow or other, as they already had us all soaring with them, they found yet another gear and one of those magical things happened where the band and the whole audience are connected and as one fly even higher. This is powerful energy. The crowd so close up they were almost onstage with the band, everyone dancing and swaying. In the rare moments when I wasn’t completely and totally lost in the songs I was just beaming at the fact we were enjoying a late night gig, loud and up close in a cramped and sweaty medieval undercroft. Gigs don’t get much better than this, absolutely terrific stuff. It was getting close to midnight and when Rob signalled they only had six minutes left before curfew James said: “We can do three fast two-minute ones then, right? See, musicians can do maths too. ‘Maths!’ ” He knows. A few songs later and alas it was all over, James leaving the stage with a “Be Kind. Be Nice. Re-use. Recycle!”, this is a message I am picking up from all the touring American artists I have seen over the past year or so, especially Courtney Marie Andrews, Shannon Lay, and Rainbow Girls (Rainbow Girls’ American Dream). I think both band and audience would have happily lapped up another hour or more of this but curfews are curfews and anyway, we experienced plenty of magic here. One of those gigs that make one feel really alive.
It was such an intimate setting too so people were able to hang out a bit with the band as they packed down afterwards, they signed records and chatted. Genuinely lovely people, all of them. As I relunctantly made my way out I found a plastic bag inside my bag – kept there for just such vinyl emergencies – and carefully protected from the rain my newly signed “None of the Above” LP plus Alex Greene‘s “American Elegy” CD (Big thanks, Alex!) I got even more soaked on my cycle ride home than I did on the journey in but all I cared about was keeping my music (and camera) dry and safe … thankfully I succeeded and on a post-gig high barely noticed the rain.
I’ll see any gig put on by my friends Gluttonous Mutt as our musical tastes are pretty close in these areas (they and I were all at the Melvins/Jon Spencer gig earlier in the week) and if they recommend something to me I trust them implicitly. It was a nice collaboration with the also trustworthy Punk Rock Blues who put this gig their way and I’m sure everyone present was glad they did. It was one of those gigs where bands, crowd and venue all combine to form something special, amazing and unforgettable. I have no hesitation placing this one in my sparingly used “Best Gigs” category of the blog. Really hope to see James and the Ultrasounds again sometime soon, maybe at a Red Rooster someday, and I know I’ll see Ravenous Hounds again soon! Huge thanks to all that made it happen and especially to both bands, and the great crowd. It was loud and glorious. Gloriously loud! The drummer said to me afterwards “I hope we weren’t too loud for ya?” Nope, I’d just seen the Melvins and Jon Spencer a few days earlier! This one was bloody loud but perfectly so. More raw, garage-y rock nights like this please! Absolutely brilliant night, thanks again guys.
Thanks also to my friend Paul who was my gig buddy on the night and filmed this awesome footage which captures pretty well the mood of the night.
James and the Ultrasounds have remaining UK dates in York (29th Oct.), Manchester (30th Oct.), Glasgow (1st Nov.), and Walthamstow (3rd Nov.) before heading to the Netherlands. You can buy the album here, or as download on Bandcamp.
It’s been quite a run of gigs, I could have been out every night if I wer able and had the energy but saw The Melvins, Jon Spencer, the Phantom Cowboys, Desert Sleds, Lantern Men, Milly Hirst, and that’s missing the Velveteers on Thursday! Even tonight there were some 86 other gigs/events happening in the city on the same night, which for somewhere the size of Norwich is just nuts yet it is not unheard of here, and some of the other gigs were notable ones too. Urban Voodoo Machine/Das Fenster/Thinking Men at Open, The Vibrators at the Waterfront, Dana Gillespie at Norwich Arts Centre closing the Fine City Blues Explosion Festival plus dozens of Halloween gigs but this small space was packed out with those in-the-know about how huge this gig could be, those taking a punt and the lucky few who were upstairs and were enticed down by the electric energy from the tiny stage.
Next up, Gladboy at the Waterfront, and a busy week of local launch gigs.
Norwich: Music City, UK. A Norwich playlist of well over 30 hours of local music on Spotify: