“And yes, this is my singing voice, its not irony and its not rock and roll………….”. Eddie Argos’ pithy lyric could have been written to describe exactly Alex Lusty’s vocal style, rather than his own.. But any comparison ends when you see Happy Martyr live. Then the power and aggression in Alex’s delivery takes over. Tonight he played the part of the caged animal, pinned in the corner of the front bar of The Prince of Wales with the audience right in his face and only Boz Boorer and a cardboard suitcase for company.
There is a bit of a theme running through this stuff recently. Live music seems to improve on the recorded versions at most gigs. Tonight was no different. Its easy to appreciate the words and music on the Happy Martyr MySpace or Facebook but its only when you see the effort put in by the duo and in particular the passion in Alex Lusty’s delivery that the idea of what this band is really all about comes over.
Its a weird thing; he has a lot of moves and postures that are more akin to a rock singer than someone who is basically dealing in the spoken word, so that you expect a more melodic approach to go along with Boz Boorer’s guitar. Its not rap because you can hear every word, and its more poetic with the emotion that comes over. At times Alex is spitting out the words whilst strangling the life out of the microphone.
The Prince of Wales is better known as a folk venue and it was a bit of a surprise to actually see the minimalist set up in the front bar amongst all the Friday drinkers and a few tradesmen sinking a few pints on the way home from work. It was clear that a few of the regulars didn’t quite know what was going on, but when the two band members appeared there was quite a gathering around them.
The Boz Boorer effect didn’t quite appear as although there were a few Morrissey fans around there was no evidence of a mass pilgrimage to see Moz’s right hand man and in my opinion that probably made for a really good gig. People were there because they were interested in Happy Martyr. What’s more this was a free gig, so people could come and go as they saw fit although from the opener Rusty Nails there were more people cramming into the bar than leaving.
Happy Martyr are obviously a partnership in terms of being a duo but over the set Boz Boorer took up more of a supporting role as all eyes were on Alex Lusty. Visually he looks belligerent, with his close cropped hair and covered in tattoos. But its the movement and how he punctuates his lyrics physically that draw your attention to him. All eyes are on him allowing Boz to get on with the serious business. Boz was wearing his T-Rex t-shirt which he told us was to commemorate 34 years to the day, since Marc Bolan’s death.
Lyrically the songs are more like indie or punk than rap, the sentiments being about social status and alienation, love and hate and just trying to get on with life. Kiss me just like you stole it could have been written by any indie luminary but it would not have been sung with such force. This is where the punk bit comes in.
A new innovation was Boz Boorer’s cardboard suitcase kick-drum. Unfortunately the invention threatened to fall apart during the gig and only the intervention of some punters down the front stopped the whole apparatus creeping across the floor. Slippery lino in a saloon bar probably needed the addition of a bit of carpet.
From a serious point the weirdness of the venue, with everybody on one level and the band in everyone’s faces, broke down any normal barriers that you would have with a stage and it was obvious quite early in the set that everybody was feeling part of it. This culminated in a sing a long during the encore with the “Happy Martyr Boys” version of (You’ve gotta) Fight for your Right (to Party).
I didn’t really know what to expect from this pair, but they bring something different to a format that could be becoming a bit hackneyed and in some ways over commercialised. The distinctive lyrical approach and how they come over visually ought to make Happy Martyr stand out from the crowd. They have several gigs planned up and down the country but it will be interesting to see what 2012 holds for Happy Martyr once Boz Boorer returns from his next stint on his day job with Morrissey.
Now I Know
Sailing Close to the Wind
You Know Where I Live
Kiss me like you stole it
This Small Town
Fight for your Right
Photos – Stephanie Colledge
Review – Ian Gelling