By Jordan Mooney.
Photographs by Zhaos Photography. (There’s more than we could fit into the review – go have a look!)
Before we begin, it’s time for our standard apology for the tardiness of our review. We, like anybody else, stop working for Christmas. But hey…less than three weeks late?!
Cat on the Wall is a ‘zine that’s as proud of those that appear repeatedly as we are of those new and exotic, and one of the biggest is the reappearance of STP Records throughout our roster of reviews and interviews.
STP Records is a home-grown label from the exotic, shining, futuristic metropolis (!) of Manchester – a testament to punk heritage and those more eclectic acts that a major label would be terrified of. Stu Taylor (the ST in STP, don’tchaknow) is well renowned for his undying support and dedication to his bands, and this is his penultimate Christmas before a well-deserved retirement.
Since first appearing on our pages behind the fabulous Trioxin Cherry, STP have been the main label we’ve interacted with. Nobody in the industry is quite so personable – and few carry such an eccentric mix of punk artists. And, on December the 20th, we were lucky enough to get hold of some tickets for their sellout Christmas party.
The STP Christmas ‘Do’ is a legendary evening of drunken madness and overtly loud music in one of the finest alternative venues in the country. It’s been going on for a while and rumour has it that every year surpasses the last.
We can’t comment on that – this was our first – but what we saw was something quite fantastic.
The Star and Garter, Manchester’s finest punk pub – and our home for the day – was as much of a key player as the people within it this evening – as ever it is for any gig in the property.
Built in 1803, and moved brick-by-brick at least once by no more than 100 yards down the road, the venue is a very intimidating, surprisingly tall, detached property – previously a hotel and an independent brewer pub, it is now – and has been for decades – the finest in ‘dive bars’ – a shady old pub and club dedicated to all manner of alternative music events in its pitch black stage room.
The atmosphere in the place is amazing. The upstairs is a sociable party which doesn’t get too wild or thrashy – you’re more likely to have somebody tap your shoulder and say ‘FUCKING BRILLIANT, AREN’T THEY?!‘ – Which, in my humble opinion, is a far greater sign of enjoyment from an audience!
The venue, sadly, is under constant threat. Being only across the road from Piccadilly station, it details with continuous battling against Network Rail for its operation. It has recently been given a compulsory purchase order for upgrades and extensions to Piccadilly Station itself – and unfortunately this could spell the end of the venue’s operation.
The Garter’s woes, combined with Stu’s upcoming retirement, placed a bittersweet note across the party. But it also gives us the perfect atmosphere for a loud send off. And punks, after a few drinks, are bloody excellent at being loud. Tonight, as if to prove my point, somebody even took it upon themselves to bring in a bicycle horn and honked it at regular intervals. As you do.
As this was a party, we went in with a few ideas on what to concentrate on. The result was a list of drunken or silly exploits, how the people at this party reacted to bands and, of course, how the bands worked off of those watching. The punk movement is far and vast. It’s also hilarious, and we knew we’d end up with a lot amusing stories.
After all, this is the only gig we’ve been to wherein an inflatable dinosaur has entered the venue, only to be chastised for not wearing a wristband. You can take that to the bank.
I also ended up as Trioxin Cherry‘s Del Boy for the evening, running their merchandise suitcase for a while and, in the process, somehow got mistaken for their promoter. The gent in question told me he had seen Trioxin Cherry at Rebellion, and he was very glad I got them there as they were ‘fucking fantastic.’
I tried to tell him twice I wasn’t the band’s superior, but to no avail. Alas.
As a result of all these exploits and adventures that simply must be relayed, the bands won’t be getting massive chunks of text devoted to them. The positive side is that for once you might not have 3,500+ words to slog through.*
No promises, though.
The pub’s 200-person (or so) capacity filled up quickly. Barely room to swing a ferret upstairs. But, thankfully, the attitude in the venue was a touch too ‘relaxed’ and…uh…’merry’, To really have anyone get frustrated by the full rooms and difficulty traversing.
People laughed, people joked, and as the only chap in a waistcoat that evening I stuck out like a sore thumb. As ever. And it brings an interesting point as to how punk ‘works’ on a level to those that are different.
If you stick your average person in a group of over a hundred punks, they’ll panic.
I had a chap with a mohawk hold the door open for me and say “I like your style, mate!”
That rather sums up the people in the Garter this aft. The man wasn’t particularly spurred to do so, he wasn’t prompted. But the surroundings, the label, the music – it unites all sorts of strange and unusual people. Whether it be STP Records, The Star and Garter, Manchester…this sort of event invites solidarity.
The punk movement may sometimes look threatening, but it won’t hurt you. It’s a bit like a well raised German Shepherd. You can be strange and bizarre, but the lack of idle genre stamp placed upon you isn’t going to arch anybody’s back and, thus far over a year and a half (or so) of going to gigs ‘as’ Cat on the Wall, we’ve been welcomed with open arms by all sorts of audiences.
So if anybody ever says they don’t feel comfortable at a punk gig with older or more…uhm…’distinctive’ audience members? Backhand them. And make them stay longer.
The line up of bands was impressive. STP’s roster has grown nicely this year, and this was a pretty damn good showcase of their line up. Different ends of rock and punk ideals, each on their own road to personal success – each running on completely different styles and ends of the spectrum.
Everyone got equal billing. Everyone got a fair slot. Everybody worked to entertain the crowd, and, simply, have a damn good time.
Now, let’s get started!
THE OBNOXIOUS UK
Kimbo (lead vocals & guitar), Bri (guitar & backing vocals), Fez (drums), Jacko (bass & backing vocals)
First up came the B-movie thrills and grizzle-vocals antics of The Obnoxious UK – a new group to join Stu’s megalomaniacal plans to take over the world and a beautifully clear representation of the younger ‘horror rock’ groups in the independent industry. They picked up pace continuously over their set and, in the process, did a fine job of perking up a group of punks who normally wouldn’t be awake before 14:30. The sound is difficult to label. There’s a garage flavour, a real punchy snottiness and, perhaps most importantly, a lot of humour and creativity. I can’t honestly say that it resulted in any songs sticking in the head, but it entertained, and the group’s chock full of potential.
The main thing that I pick up on here is the group doesn’t carry much of a Unique Selling Point. There’s a lot of horror imagery in their T-shirts, their posters, their ‘theme’, but on stage that thematic seems to be missing. I have no doubt it’s something that’ll be addressed quickly once time and budget allows, and it’s far too early in the day to expect a band to march out fully decked out in masks and chest plates, but there we are. Perhaps some basic face paint, some torn clothes. It doesn’t particularly have to be full latex costume – just something to set up the idea of the ‘undead’ angle a little more.
Would I see them again? Definitely. If I see them lined up nearby in future I’ll doubtless pop along. They’re a group to look out for – providing a few changes to visuals are made you’ll have a solid horror group on all angles.
Nat (vocals), Jimi (guitar/backing vocals), Paul (Bass), Joey (Drums – but his last gig was on the 28th!)
Second, more horror rock – this time represented by Headstone Horrors. This seemed like eerily familiar territory now, conjuring up a ton of horror punk bands that have popped up in Cat on the Wall’s articles one way or another. The group had a brilliant energy about them – their vocalist, Nat, reminds me irresistibly of Liv Decay from our Romanian chums, Raizing Hell.
The group appeared decked out in horror make up, with only Nat playing a (relatively) normal human. The aspect of providing an interesting visual, as well as an interesting sound, is always important to your intrepid twat of a writer, and they set this trend up nicely for the rest of the evening.
The horror punk fair pumped out from the group was a nice bit of your standard poison you can expect from the scene. It’s not, perhaps, the most inspired material – then again it is a hugely prevalent ‘spot’ these days. ‘Who came first’ might be worth researching. With those lovely, growly vocals that hark back to the days of the Plasmatics, sometimes a band doesn’t have to provide world-beating, record-setting material. Entertainment is the name of the game, ladies and gents – and on that regard, the group excelled, thrilled and, ultimately, carved out their claim on the evening with respectable ease.
I’m a little torn on how to review the next two bands. We’ve reviewed them before, interviewed them, know them well and have the pleasure of declaring them ‘friends’. And they pop up so often on our zine that some might think they pay us off.
Trioxin Cherry and Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons are simply two of the finest bands we’ve seen on stage. They’re hugely entertaining, communicate beautifully with the audience and are the two biggest candidates for groups we’re willing to chase around the country.
All the same, sod it. Let’s get stuck in…
Rebecca (vocals, guitar), Pete (bass, vocals), Luke (Drums)
Trioxin Cherry are a trio that go a bit mental on stage. Pete, resident bassist, really does perform like a man possessed. He did his usual breakdancing turn on the floor as well, which is always appreciated and can shock even the most weathered, jaded member of the Punk scene. One could almost swear that on stage he breaks into a trance – completely leaving this green and pleasant land and veering into a terrible battlefield of bass and belligerence. Don’t get too close, children.
Rebecca, the vocalist (and still proud holder of the strangest interview ever on our respectable ‘zine), stays with the audience but will work to leave everybody at least a little bit intimidated. As ever, she barked and screamed at the microphone with more vigour and gusto than one could possibly expect from her (relatively) innocent looks. (But she’s evil. Don’t trust her. I’ve got it on good authority.)
Trioxin Cherry also have a new drummer. Mr. Luke Birch has a bloody good Mohican and talent behind the kit that matches its fine, colourful stature. He’s performed for Cat on the Wall before with Trioxin Cherry, but we didn’t end up reviewing the gig in question because we didn’t want the two groups to completely dominate the ‘zine again. (That’s bloody going well, isn’t it?) He’s got notably more stamina than many drummers who have been sighted with Trioxin Cherry in the past. The band have a habit of going full regulator on the stage, and it takes a very energetic man to keep up – thankfully, Luke is more than capable and by the end of the set still seemed ready to run. It’s actually somewhat terrifying.
Actually, I think that can be said for all of this rabble. Beware!
PUSSYCAT AND THE DIRTY JOHNSONS
Puss (vocals, guitar), Jake (guitar, backing vocals), Olvis (Temp. drums)
Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons played another blinder, as per, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to talk about their performances without retreading the same path. So we’re going to pick them apart like a particularly twisted autopsy.
They, too, have another drummer; at least, temporarily. Filfy Antz is broken. So our favourite animatory film makery chap, Oliver Harrison (read our review of his film, The Fallen Word, here) – whom operates under the stage name Olvis – took the kit. Filfy Antz has some pretty big boots to fill as a drummer, and it’s fair to say no mere man from the streets could take the reins successfully.
Thankfully, Mr. Harrison has a true punk thumper’s heritage – he was the skin-beater of cult group Satan’s Rats for the majority of their career- and was ready to prove that you don’t forget that sort of skill in a hurry. Olvis hammered the drums away with a great stamina and pace, even doing some arty-farty-fancy stuff for the crowd, which, needless to say, pleases in any situation. He’s not quite the savage creature that we find in Filfy Antz, but instead offers a touch of…sophistication and collectedness to their live set.
Filfy Antz should be fully repaired…eventually. He was operating as the Johnson’s driver for this evening, so it was like a big, fabulous roadtrip. With leopard print and claws.
It’s always rather interesting watching Pussycat herself perform. She really does go off like a rocket when the music starts – her charisma is simply incredible. Whether through intention or instinct, her eyes dart about and almost seem to analyse the audience with every step. In this way the band truly feeds upon audience reaction, not just in their very humorous and characteristic communication but in the way the eponymous frontlady herself seems to almost take notes and choose targets under very specific equation.
Whether, again, through design or simply that built in talent maintained by a good performer, Puss is perhaps one of the finest ‘acts’ we know. Also, her fake fall and cry pretty much panics the audience every time and it always makes us feel a bit awkward as the poor, loving punks run to pick her up. Bless them. Big hugs, you gullible buggers.
Jake‘s just ours. We love Jake. The suspiciously mild Tennessee greaser (a title we proudly bestowed upon our first meeting..) truly forms the muscle of the group. He’s a hell of a lot of fun on stage not just as a guitarist, but as a personality. Over the course of their set his topic was how he loved everything beginning with ‘P’.
The band is a fine, premium cut of loveliness. But don’t get too close. Puss will come to you. Then push you away and tell you to get out of her face.
If you haven’t seen our two most favourite groups in the whole entire world yet, get to it. You’ll enjoy it.
Fi (Vocals), Diesel (Rhythm Guitar), Ben (Lead Guitar), Tom AK (Bass), Ryan Murphy (Drums)
DragSTER are another group we’ve seen before, but much less thoroughly than the two preceding acts and much less often than we’d prefer. We first saw them at the Star and Garter as part of the spellbinding Femme Fatale Tour of Terror on October the 27th, 2013 with the very same Cherry flavoured miscreants and feline fiends above. And they’re simply fantastic.
They’re one of the meanest sounds on STP’s roster. They’re a bit beyond your typical rock and roll, and, as a result of elevated tempo, lowered pitch and higher volume, completely dominate the audience with no member spared.
Fi is another born performer. She communicates with the stage and drips with personality every step of the way. On such a small stage that drastically reduces the vocalist’s stomping ground, that’s quite a feat. Fi is loud, attractive and vicious enough to make the audience a little bit nervous, staring up at her like she’s an angry school teacher who heard somebody open a stick of gum. (School teacher… next stage costume, Fi?)
The guitars (Diesel and Ben) and bass (Tom) are on an incredibly low pitch. It’d conjure up surfer rock if paused for a breath! The result, mixed in with the ever-impressive thunder of Ryan Murphy, is a series of chugging, thundering cataclysms echoing like a careening locomotive up on Piccadilly’s platforms.
We at Cat on the Wall still beg and plead for another Femme Fatale Tour. We simply love these three far too much, and find they work incredibly well as a three-band line up with a perfect measure of everything we look for in a live performance. A lot of young bands could pick up a lot from these three groups – visual style, music, thematic, communication and interaction are all a speciality.
Lots of love,
Jordan & Matthew xoxoxox
THE SENTON BOMBS
Joey Class (vocals, bass), Damien Kage (guitar, backing vocals), Johnny Gibbons (guitar, backing vocals), Scott Mason (drums)
Next up came The Senton Bombs – possibly one of the funniest bands we’ve had grace a stage before us. Perhaps the most traditionally ‘rock n roll’ of the line up, their shade-adorned bassist and vocalist, Joey Class (brilliant name, too!) makes a fantastic tribute to the old days of rock hard nuts. Think Vince Neil before he forgot how to sing.
The humour of the group was a lot of communication between band members. There’s a great chemistry in the group, and it genuinely seems like they’re born to perform with eachother.
Their music is far too catchy. It’s truly like those days when rock and roll’s biggest acts were just appearing on the circuit, fresh faced, capable and not starring in McDonalds commercials or whatever the likes of Axl Rose is up to these days. They get a real vibe on the stage, a genuine, physical presence that remains on the upbeat attitude rock used to represent on the mass market before being ousted by scene kids and metrosexual twats crooning about an ex that never existed.
This was a really, really fun group. Not particularly edgy or aiming for an intelligent study in the human condition by a longshot, but a sorely required reminder for what ‘rock’ music really is – a hell of a lot of fun that smells a bit like tequila.
This is a group that seriously demands a recommendation. You’ll leave the Senton Bombs exhausted, covered in the sloshed beer of a dancing audience and a big cheesy grin.
We now retired for a short spell. The night was catching up on us, and we were rapidly becoming aware that a lot of the pub’s clientele were here for the last group on the line up – a band that’s dominated the STP line up for a while and is only growing in popularity with each passing show.
By the time we dragged ourselves up the stairs, the floor was stuffed to the rafters. And we now knew the sight of the Garter’s capacity.
DIRT BOX DISCO
Somewhere in the Midlands
WEAB.I.AM (vocals, dancing, balloon flinging), Deadbeatz (bass), SPUNK (guitar, lunacy), Danny Fingers (lead guitar), Maff Fazzo (drums)
Dirt Box Disco are a beastly patchwork of several different genres, inspirations, ideas and psychosis. All in some form of makeup, mask or at least carrying an oversized hairdo, they catch the audience in a big net. I reckon they could hit the lot of them with big hammers and still get a good reaction.
It’s clear to see why they’re the golden goose of Stu’s line up and they’re deserving of the recognition. Not just for throwing bin liners full of balloons into the audience, either. They’re, once again, a hell of a lot of fun – talking to the audience as well of producing a fine calibre of music.
The choruses are killer. To be fair, the band might be. WEAB.I.AM and Spunk Volcano (whom also has his own group, of course – Spunk Volcano and The Eruptions) both look particularly dangerous. They’re quite mild mannered off stage. But I’m not meant to tell you that. (Send help.) No matter of the reality, on that elevated panel of wood they look ready to tear the lot of you apart.
With the whole jumpsuit or no-suit aesthetic – and a series of very silly hats or incredibly large hair, it’s impossible not to find the group a bit of an ultimate in entertainment. They’re simply firing on all cylinders. We didn’t even know some of those cylinders existed, but the audience recognises each and every one – and, justice be served, the band receives a skyrocketing popularity in well deserved response.
When it comes to numbers of Facebook likes, Dirt Box Disco may not be the top of the charts; but their fans seem to bleed from the walls the moment they step on stage and reverberate every beat with vicious abandon. To such an extent that our poor, innocent photographer had a bloody horrible job trying to get pictures of the group!
I don’t think I’ve seen a band OWN an audience with such dominance. The Star and Garter may be a relatively small venue, but to get every member of an audience watching you, loving every moment? That’s a bit beyond the reach of even the biggest acts in the world.
The fact is that Dirt Box Disco have carved out (Or stitched together. A staple gun? Kidnapping. Who knows!) an incredibly loyal fanbase out of even the most jaded punk, rocker and roller. These aren’t kids following a craze -these are grown men and women who know what they want and know that Dirt Box Disco can provide it.
There’s nothing quite like it. And the grin on Weab’s face at the end of the set was a face of a man who’s happiest in front of hundreds of rat-assed old men in leather and tartan, sweating off his own make up and with excessive chafing.
Who are we to judge?
And that was it. The rest of the evening was spent watching people leave, bidding farewells, drinking Boddington’s in excess and watching two women pop a dinosaur’s valve open and try to suck out the contents.
No, we won’t grow up.
This was a moment for quiet – for the first time of the evening. Time to soak in the incredible atmosphere of the old pub and wonder for its future. Consider what STP Records really is for so many people. What both veritable institutions represent, not just locally, but in Britain’s music scene as a whole
And, I suppose, the answer to both is solidarity.
The Star and Garter is decades of music history and centuries of everything else. It represents the ‘old boys brigade’ of Manchester’s music scene – not bright, modern and vibrant, but a community bar. A pub built of legacy and hard work. It isn’t constantly riding the wave of success, and much like the fans that have been through the doors for countless years, it has remained stubbornly in the face of often underhanded adversity from the owners of its surrounding land.
It is perhaps merciful that the building is listed. But the building’s current format as a music venue is far and away the most fitting of its gothic exterior. It is a marriage of perfection. The sound is a little muddy, it’s worn down and it could do with a fresh lick of paint – but it is a work of passion, a bar that, by rights, could have closed years ago. But it’s continuously thumping along in its own brand of dignity.
It’s a venue you can’t reproduce or find elsewhere. To many it will seem like a standard ‘dive’. In actuality, the more you attend its vast line up of bizarre and fascinating bands, the more it will reveal of its past, its present and its future.
Before this fine venue is forced to close its doors, go and visit. Examine it. Take it all in. And enjoy it.
The toilets are dirty, the walls are scratched and it’s not always the most inviting place from appearance – but it’s perfect. And we don’t want it any other way.
As for STP…
Stu works informally. He’s professional, certainly, but he’s not banged up in an office – he gets stuck in. He watches his bands like a proud father figure. Not because they make him money – anyone will tell you he’s not in it for profit – but because he respects, loves and believes in every one of them to the ends of the Earth. They’re his legacy – they carry his name and he carries theirs.
And the same goes for his audience. An STP audience is a friendly, social, pleasant one. They all know who Stu is. They’ve all shared drinks with him, spoken with him, shaken his hand. And they all buy his releases.
Stu is a man who knows how to build a presence, and that’s through personality. He knows that a true music professional won’t hide in the shadows – and, instead, will roam the surroundings of every band’s performance he can visit.
STP records are a one off. It won’t happen again. And while Stu’s retirement is incredibly well deserved, it won’t make it any easier to say goodbye.
We’d like to extend our thanks to both STP and the Star and Garter for years of such a fantastic career. Such fantastic service. Such fantastic music. Just in case we don’t get the pleasure over the course of 2015. But we’ll try our damnedest.
When the lights go out? Ladies and gents, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
*Final word count: 4,389. Bollocks.