By Sam Graham
We stepped in from the pouring rain into what I quickly discovered was a converted warehouse. It was just gone seven, and we were attending the launch shindig for the Cowboys From Hullgroup’s compilation album, Fractured. At the time there were only the bands inside, along with their crews, close friends, and the occasional family member, so we, being Ash, Danielle and myself, hung back a bit. Eventually the place seemed to get smaller and smaller as several dozen soaking metal fans poured inside. I figured that Fruit’s cinderblock aesthetic suited the music that was about to go on that night, as I don’t think it would have lent itself to trendy swing bands all that well. Metal is a dirty, no-frills kind of thing, so yeah, it suited nicely.
After hearing Killswitch Engage’s cover of Holy Diver a couple too many times, the first band of the evening came on; Pastel Jack. The four-piece were new to me as I’ve been out of the world for a few years. I’d heard the odd song on the internet, a couple of their videos, etcetera, and watching them play, I soon realised I was probably standing in the wrong spot as I couldn’t really hear the guitar. I was at the opposite end of the stage over by the bass though. I could hear that loud and clear.
After about four minutes, the song Pastel Jack opened with underwent a bit of a change of tempo and style. At this point Ash was off doing his thing, taking pictures, so I leaned over to ask Danielle if this was in fact a second song, or still the same one? It was strange, like blue-tacking two different songs together. It was a head-scratcher. Pastel are characterised by extended technical solos and Neil’s melodic sweeping vocal style, so in that respect they are perfect for the Dream Theater/alt metal market.
A couple of songs into their set I went to get a beer and took some time to watch the crowd. After all, is there more poignant way to gauge a gig? It was a full room, but there wasn’t much happening. If anything, the crowd was a bit apathetic, but it was the first band of the night, and it happens. It’s a simple fact, and one that all bands should be used to. By the time Pastel Jack had finished though, they seemed appropriately buttered-up. Enough people had their chins facing upward and toward.
One thing I noticed is that everybody talks about Pastel Jack like they’re the answer to something, so now I’ve actually seen them, I can say I found them to be a little over-hyped. While they’re all very good musicians and are well-rehearsed, they fell short because of the way I’ve heard people bang on about them. They’ve obviously got their market, but they were a little too ‘modern’ sounding for me. But judging from tonight and feedback I’ve heard down the vine they are helping to fly the flag for the Hull scene, and can be guaranteed to either sufficiently warm up or finish off a crowd. The members I spoke to are all nice people though, and are clearly enjoying creating and playing their music; so I doubt any comment I make could deter them. Like everything, it’s relative.
Once Pastel Jack had finished, the three of us returned to the bar and had a crack for a bit while the second band, Ellerker, set up. I’d ask what an ellerker is, but then while we’re on the subject, what’s a pastel jack? Or even a Pussycat Doll; slightly less related but see my point?
Ellerker came across as a bit of a red herring at first, with music that was a great departure from the previous band. Like the rest of the crowd I was sceptical, mired in forethoughts and preluded judgements, but after a couple of songs they won me over, and I realised that what they were, was actually a close blend of the last-decade’s more popular music with some blatant hard rock influence from those fabled old days.
Half way through their set I began to feel somewhat unusual- sullied and displaced by a culmination of things- so I went and sat down at the back and realised that the acoustics were a lot better there. Now I could hear everything at the same level. Ellerker’s songs didn’t vary much, but they all had their cool points and by the end of their set, the crowd, like myself, had warmed up to them. Ellerker have all the hallmarks of the post-hardcore genre – interesting proggy guitar riffs, an angsty rebellious feel and a highly charged pace. I often found myself wanting to foot-tap along to their music, and I experienced the whole notion of being caught up in the moment during their more anthemic choruses – complete with epic backing vocals. Their set didn’t seem to last too long. I presume they had the same length as ‘Jack, but there was something about them that made them just feel shorter. Who knows?
In between Ellerker and the next band, I went for another drink and sat down again, waiting for Battalions to come onstage. They opened with a loud scream than took me by surprise, almost made me jump, but got me looking stageward nonetheless. The music of Battalions can best be described as a further detuned Black Sabbath. While the vocalist seemed to have far surpassed the aid of a lemsip, and obviously showed a knack for that kind of style, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Hating to resort to onomatopoeia, they were a bit to graaagh for me, but I don’t think coherence is the point or focus of this genre. After all, it’d have sounded strange if someone like John Fogerty was singing it. As the lurching music went along, further cementing themselves in that Black Sabbath vein, I perched myself against a post near a bloke who it turns out may have built my mother’s house back in the early 80’s who commented that the song they were playing at the time was uncannily like I’m Broken by Pantera.
Phil’s performance was a spectacle to behold, not only can he hold a note like a demon from hell but he is dedicated to his angry, animalistic swagger; at one point towards the end he asphyxiated himself with the microphone chord. Battalion’s crowd was divided. It seemed that the long-haired metal fans hung back while the baseball cap/benny-hat wearing crowd took the front seat, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Just goes to show that the fans are always the best critics. Battalions’ set marked the first time of the evening the crowd went from being a mass of gently bobbing heads like a Churchill nodding dog, to more aggressive and involved; something which would cumulate with TCL’s typically (again – so I hear through the vine) wild set. Battalions, being as extreme as they are, are one of those bands that you either love or hate.
The last band of the night, The Colour Line opened by yelling at us all, asking us to get up and to take centre stage. It pleasantly put me in mind of the time I saw Randy Blythe of Lamb of God trying to usher an arena full of middle-aged metalheads into “a f***ing circle-pit”. The wave of enthusiasm from band and crowd alike was a brilliant sight to behold, and although musically I didn’t enjoy TCL as much as some people in the room did, I cannot deny that they are a fantastic band, and they’re evidently pushing all the right buttons in the post-hardcore genre. Danielle had told me she was sceptical of the band’s new frontman, however asserted me after the show that he’d done an absolutely mind-blowing job.
The Colour Line is exactly what is said on their Facebook page: “A chaotic, ferocious and violently unpredictable noise experience” and in that respect, they sold themselves brilliantly. The music was well-done anarchy, structure-less and cacophonic, like the demolition of a tower-flat. Just the thing to send Fruit in to a frenzy. TCL ended the night with a bang. When a band can go from hardcore to a rap cover without losing crowd interest, is when you know the band are good at what they do; mind I suppose the only thing that really separates rap and hardcore is musical execution as they both are the aggressive, disapproving champions of the underclass.
I kept looking over during their set at the small pit they’d created at the front of the stage. While there were only one or two people at any given time, I have to hand it to them for actually pulling it off. In fact, the thing I liked best about The Colour Line was their t-shirts made to resemble the Krispy Kreme logo. There’s probably some copyright infringement going on there, but I aren’t going to tell.
All in all, it was an interesting evening and for myself, an insight into Hull’s music scene. My favourite act of the night- and this comes as a surprise even to me-, was Ellerker, because I just didn’t see it coming. While there were parts of the acts that I wasn’t a fan of, they all played strong sets and all four bands had their fans in different areas of the audience.