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Brian James… An Enduring Presence On The Scene

It was into a crowded pub full of rapt England supporters, still buoyant before the first stumble of the world cup that I initially entered. The venue was the Lexington just up the road from Angel and my reason for being there was Brian James’ gig. Luckily where England’s performance was decidedly lackluster, the two bands performing were anything but. Tenuous football references out of the way, let’s move to the show itself.

All Photography by Ian Dickson 

The first band to take to the stage was a three-piece hailing from Birmingham who are well acquainted with James, having shot the video for his track Slow It Down. You can see why there is an affinity between the two acts. With a sound that has roots in garage rock, tinged with elements of punk and slightly heavier influences as well they were a convincing opening act. Over a backdrop of Tom heavy drumming, they crafted a set that blended the vocals of each musician well (all three were singing) and allowed for some scuzzy distorted riffs to ring out. At times they had a bit of a Jesus and Mary Chain thing going on, though admittedly this association might have been more heavily intimated because of both acts having songs about motorcycles. Either way, it was a good track from Table Scraps in a set that was pretty consistent. A couple of the heavier numbers had shades of Wolfmother to the delivery with the lead guitar really letting rip…

If I had one small criticism, it would be the lack of audience interaction.  All they got was a Thank You at the culmination of the last song. While I appreciate this is probably all part of the stagecraft, in keeping with the aura of self-denigration, I found it a little irritating. That said it is preferable to inane chatter, or jokes that fall flat. All in all, theirs was a strong opening set and a good introduction to the band, for me at least. The crowd grew as they continued playing and more people were stood up than when they started which is always a good sign, providing they’re not heading for the door, and on this occasion, they weren’t.

Next up were Brian James and his band who got off to a flying start. James has impressive musical credentials, having played with bands like London SS, Bastard and Iggy Pop. He was also a pivotal part of the original line up for The Damned, and later The Lords of the New Church. This range of musical influences informed a show that encompassed elements of proto-punk, pub rock and straight up punk. However, the dominant tone of their set veered more towards rock and roll, with some bluesy overtones. The inclusion of a keyboardist in the lineup leant a hint of boogie-woogie to proceedings. They played with what felt like the intentional looseness of Garage Rock. That is things were tight when they needed to be and when the more rough around the edges numbers were brought out they didn’t shy away from allowing them to be a little more ragged.

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While Brian did take the mic for a couple of songs, for the most part, singing duties were undertaken by another vocalist; and a very good job he did too. He worked the crowd well and put a lot of energy in. In fact, the whole band put in stellar performances though a special mention should go to the drummer whose thumping backbeat didn’t let up for the whole set. Even though at one point there was a quick change over of kick pedals he kept things going and had a real presence behind the kit, with rambunctious fills that had a shade of Mitch Mitchells to their execution.

The rest of the band were on form as well and it seemed as if they were really enjoying the process of playing, which gradually wore off onto the audience, who were initially a little reserved. Having someone else sing the bulk of the songs allowed for Brian to really show off his prodigious guitar ability and he did so with aplomb. It wasn’t too solo heavy but the fretwork was sharp and demonstrative of someone who knows their way around their instrument. The set itself consisted mostly of original numbers with tracks like Slow It Down, Walking around Naked and Neat Neat Neat having particular impact. There were also a couple of covers thrown in which really cemented the rock and roll flavour of the evening, namely Route 66 and The Last time by the Stones.

Towards the latter end of the set Guy Griffin of the Quireboys joined the band on stage, adding another layer to the set for an even fuller sound. With such an expansive back catalogue to draw on the band did a good job of interspersing slower numbers around more punchy ones so that the tracklisting felt well judged; it was varied enough to hold the interest but didn’t lose pace either. The banter between those on stage and the audience stepped up a notch as the night progressed. This was perhaps due to more beer on the part of the latter, but in truth the convivial atmosphere was attributable more to a strong set played to a friendly crowd. The band left the stage with the frontman exclaiming, ‘if you want more roar’ which resulted in sufficient noise to entice them back out. When they did return James gave them exactly what they wanted in the form of a raucous version of New Rose, which instigated the most spirited mosh pit of the night.

It was a great way to round off what had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening. In Table Scraps, you could see some continuation of the musical legacy that Brian James has played an important role in. Of course, they bring their own slant which is as it should be, rather than trying to blindly replicate what went before. However, while they were a good opener it was definitely James who proved why he remains an enduring presence on the scene.

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