By Jordan Mooney
Photographs by Matthew Sambrook
Anybody who has had the unenviable ‘pleasure’ of meeting me will know I’m definitely not a ‘punk’. This was probably evidenced when I arrived at the Femme Fatale Tour of Terror, as it is so nattily titled, in a waistcoat and shirt, with pocket watch for extra measure.
As we (I and my photographer, Matthew – hello Matthew!) wandered about Manchester trying to find the venue we attracted some very odd looks, and as we approached the Star and Garter, they only continued.-
The Star & Garter is your typical ‘venue pub’. It’s directly across from Piccadilly and can be found directly alongside the derelict Mayfield Railway Station. The pub was built in 1877 and it shows – a tall, intricately patterned building with sharp, pointed angles and detailed stonework, making no small point of its age, having been standing nearby the railways of old since its conception. The windows on the upper levels are coated with black, and the pub itself was dormant. Not a sound. Just ominous silence.
The sign for the venue’s events this evening was blank.
I adjusted my collar nervously and stepped inside to a very old looking bar with two sections, one of which clearly full of the close friends and partners of tonight’s performers, sitting in the dark – a few smirked at my outfit as we snuck into a more forward quarter of the pub’s layout.
We watched with evolving glee as the performers popped up and down the stairs to get drinks and other such preparations. We grinned at the sight of one of them but decided not to say a word in case they were busy. Dead on the hour of 6PM, without any announcement, people trickled up the stairs as the music began – we got in there and stood at the back. For now.
This was a three-piece collection of small southern punk groups – this was the Femme Fatale Tour of Terror, hosted by three excellent bands, one of which has appeared constantly on the webzine since we found them – these groups were Trioxin Cherry, from Nottingham, Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons, from Basingstoke (and your intrepid writer’s favourites) and DragSTER, from the darkest depths (!) of Coventry.
We had travelled across the Pennines from Leeds to Manchester to see these people play, at no small cost, and we did not have the slightest doubt we’d get our money’s worth.
The first musicians to play were Trioxin Cherry. Despite their apparent influence from the dead, these people are full of life, and have (this is no small praise), the most energetic, focus-thieving bassist I’ve seen in all of my time listening to music.
The band itself, of course, is excellent – who could doubt it? – a really special sort of horror-surf-punk-god-knows-what -group. Rebecca Campbell, the vocalist/guitarist, is a tough girl personality in a small package (this is going to be a big trend in tonight’s line up), with an excellent style – her voice carries a strong regional character (the band themselves hailing from Nottingham), swopping between a slow, rather intimidating tone and a very enthusiastic, high pitched shouting. Oh, and their songs are fantastic, too. Whether it be the particularly aggressive and shameless ‘Hit Me‘ or their superhero-esque tribute to Bill Murray (Because who doesn’t love Bill Murray?), this is a group that really knows how to perform loud, tough and rampant, in such a way that it would be quite capable of leaving a stunned silence were it not for the audience’s mass appreciation.
Their bassist, Pete Grady, is, as previously mentioned, one of the most energetic bassists I’ve ever seen – and also a pretty damn good vocalist. This guy is beyond punk – he’s like something out of the deepest depths of thrash metal, roaring and screaming his way through one of the tracks quite happily while his bass seemed to struggle keeping up with his pace. Of particular mention was him taking to a series of break dancing moves while playing simultaneously, or simply making incredibly comical faces of genuine effort, enjoyment and, one hopes, faux-demonic possession.
Couple this with a particularly intrepid bit of drumming from Ryan Murphy – who never seems to say a word, but if he was to drum Morse code shipping in Australia would probably be very confused indeed – whom also plays for DragSTER, the last act of the evening, and you’ve really got a killer live band. (Although I do hope Ryan Murphy got medical help after the festivities, such exertion cannot be healthy.)
The band were also very happy to make the usual in-performance banter about how warm it was on stage (it was Rebecca’s first time in a Ghostbusters uniform, don’t you know, and it was rather hot – “I’ve only got my Spongebob underpants under here!”) and how Ryan is probably going to need special attention upon the terminus of the concert, not to mention further praise of Bill Murray – it all made for a very entertaining starter one could have enjoyed for the rest of the night – breakdancing bassist included.
It was here that the Cat on the Wall’s very favourite musicians took to the stage. They’re certainly no strangers to us now, and they were clearly no strangers to the audience either. It was time for Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons.
Puss, for this event (you may recall she was in a fetching leather catsuit when we saw her last), was in her tiger-striped get up, her cat ears/hair brushed up perfectly as ever, spiky cuffs and collar, tiger stripes artistically drawn on her forehead…another day at the office, it’d be fair to say – but regardless of how many times you see this woman, you’ll always be taken aback by the fact those ears on the top of her head is actually her hair, or that somebody so small could produce such large noises! Puss is one of the finest frontladies around (as earlier, no small praise) and her charisma and volume is something any rock star, no matter of success or age, can only envy.
Dirty Jake, our guitarist and backing vocalist, was in a particularly colourful vest jacket, black shirt and jeans, his hair perfectly placed in the perpetual style we’re used to.
Antz, in his rather more casual attire of T-shirt and Jeans, looked upon his drumset, seemingly, with a continuous hatred – his aggressive treatment of them seems to prove this.
This performance only seals how excellent these three are at being a live band. Very loud, very confident, and as further to this, very casual – name dropping members of the audience (guess who?!) as and when they pleased – this breaks boundaries even further, and it becomes an altogether more intimate affair. As a result, one can start affirming finer matters of performance styles, and what musicians seem to ‘do’ on stage.
Puss’s favourite thing to do, seemingly, is stroll around the audience grabbing people, shoving, and generally being a bit scary. Which is stark contrast to the excitable little kitten whom was playing in the audience earlier. Puss herself is very mild mannered, even rather gentle and smiley. You wouldn’t believe it on stage – she comes off as a genuine femme fatale, somebody to be wary of in case she really does tie you to a chair!
Jake’s favourite thing to do is look angry. He’s not really angry, as a matter of fact he’s a really nice bloke. But he looks angry. The moment a song finishes he’s smiling again and joining in jokes, making banter…but once this guy’s in the zone of playing I dare you to touch him. He’ll probably send you flying from the impact of his guitar hitting your silly little face. You bloody idiot, what did you do that for? No I didn’t, don’t be ridiculous.
Antz’s favourite thing to do seems to be between mouthing lyrics, looking furious, and beating the drums into submission over being played by another man. (“Was he better than me?! Was he better than me?!”, the silent shouts roar between the bouncy-haired man and the shuddering drumset, howling for forgiveness in a reverberating series of spine-tingling thumps and crashes. )
After a really, really entertaining set the band joined Trioxin in the audience for a chatter. And Puss spent time with us too, because she’s just that lovely. Bless her!
It’s when DragSTER started up things really kicked off. Five musicians, all squeezed onto a stage that can barely hold three – performing a really unique blend of what sounds like grunge, punk, classic rock and garage thrown into a blender with copious amounts of that green slime that seems to always be used as alien blood in old sci-fi films. Their music is fast, filthy and probably won’t be approved of by the more conservative among us.
Fi, our vocalist, is a really powerful lady. She screams power and domination, particularly over the male members of the audience. And I don’t just mean camera lenses zooming into her chest. She looks and sounds the meanest of the lot – hell, their music looks and sounds the meanest of the lot.
Backed up by a larger band, this is the really explosive, really loud finale, the part where the owners of the pub were probably looking for falling masonry. Diesel and AC Speed‘s high octane guitar playing (rhythm and lead respectively) drives the entire building into a frenzy. Backed up further by bass with Tom AK and Ryan dragged back (surprisingly not on a leash, the poor fella!) to his drumkit, it just seems to get louder and louder.
DragSTER are unique in just how cruel and kinky it all sounds. If those guitars got any lower I’m pretty sure they would cease to be audible to human ears – It’s really quite extraordinary how much energy they can pick up from songs and they can go from a slow start into an explosion that could probably take down a fighter jet.
Puss and Rebecca of Trioxin seem to have really enjoyed themselves here. Puss was next to us one minute and the next she was in the middle with Rebecca going into a frenzy – it made for very confusing viewing (do we look at the band or the two vocalists in the audience throwing themselves about?) – but worry not, for Fi realised this and got in there too. The result was the most entertaining climax to a gig you’ll ever see – it all got more and more wild – it started with dancing, then intruding on Fi’s stage space in her absence, and then going back down to pick eachother up and spin around in circles. Basically act like schoolkids that are a bit hammered!
The music continues to raise in volume until the building shudders into a hot, sticky, stained climax and everybody basically falls over in exhaustion. At one point Mr. Speed of DragSTER genuinely was on his back in the equipment-side-room panting for breath before being dragged out for a photograph with the lot of them on stage.
What is it that makes this Femme Fatale Tour of Terror so spectacular? Sure, you’ve got three great – and I mean great – bands playing together over the course of a single night but it’s a wee bit more complex than that.
This works so beautifully, is so entertaining, because these bands have a wicked chemistry and evident friendship between them. It works so well because all of these bands have a mutual interest in eachother – they’re as much fans of eachother as performers and it’s quite wonderful to see a gig so informally placed between those whom are making it happen.
Seeing them get together as friends as well as bands is something new to me – very rarely will I see bands messing around with eachother, it always stays very formal, and this stuff happens behind closed doors instead.
This is a problem, I think, with a lot of these kind of tours – I want to see why these people are touring together – in this case, it isn’t because of similar genres of music, it’s because they’re all great people and think eachother to be great people. It’s because they’re friends – no bureaucracy or red tape – in fact one could almost guess they’re doing this tour to see eachother perform as much as we’re paying to see the lot of them.
They can invade each other’s stages, they can shout as many snide remarks as they like, they can even play other people’s drumkits, and they’ll love every minute of it.
The best part of this gig was not the gig itself, it was watching some really talented people have an awful lot of fun.
I only wish I could have gone to see one of these gigs earlier in the four date mini-tour – not just for my own gain but so I could let you all know what an absolutely fantastic set of gigs you’re missing, and tell you there’s still a chance to redeem yourself tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that…This has been one of the finest pieces of pure entertainment I’ve had live – no doubt any other audience member will tell you the same – these groups, these bands, are as much one solid collective as they are individual performers – and let me tell you, it’s absolutely fantastic seeing it all in person.
I’m not convinced this tour will have gained them any extra fans or even much in the way of extra cash – but I think it has proven that this is not going to be a temporary bond – I solemnly believe this is one of those line ups that should continue throughout their respective careers. I’ve never seen a group of musicians so well put together before.
I’ve decided this is when gigs really do shape up nicest – when they’re small punk/rock groups, with big sounds, in a little old pub, bottles on top of their speakers (or in Puss’s case a can of coke!), trying to bring the entire place down on their audience for the hell of it. While making some dirty jokes. This is the sort of gig you can never forget, and even the image of those two little dirt-encrusted fans pointed towards you spitting out filthy clouds of fluff and dust into the stage lights will bring a smile to your face.
If you’re reading this, any of you bloody fantastic musicians involved in the night’s activities, thank you for proving live music is never going to die, even on early doors, on a Sunday evening, as long as there are people like yourselves on stage.
You are all the sign of just how strong the smaller, dingier, dirtier parts of the music industry, complete with suspicious looking warts, are growing to be while the rest of it seems to be limping along like a racehorse in denial.
And I truly look forward to seeing you all again. Hopefully very soon.
My warmest thanks to Matthew for providing some excellent photographs.
Matthew’s Photography – Flickr