Miss Halliwell @ Katie Fitzgerald’s, Stourbridge – 27th October 2008


Normally when you read a gig review, and it says something along the lines of “this band is like nothing you’ve ever seen”, the majority of readers will raise their eyebrows and think “Oh yeah?” Well, there is a band from Amblecote who for once are taking inspiration from their record collections, and instead of regurgitating it like so many others, have produced a sound that is truly unique. Miss Halliwell is that band and they played to an ecstatic crowd at Katie Fitzgeralds in Stourbridge last night. The event was broadcast on KFFM and also filmed for their forthcoming video/music concept album “Die Son! Die!” It is a brave decision to record your first album live, as well as being filmed — with no safety net.

Miss Halliwell are a three-piece band: Matthew sings and plays guitar, Chris plays bass and Sarah plays drums. Pretty standard set-up you may think, but what they have that sets them apart from the rest is sharp song-writing, with fascinating structures and exciting arrangements. Added to this is a powerful performance in which Matthew is let loose on the audience, safe in the knowledge that the tight rhythm section will be on the beat for the multitude of time and tempo changes. Their sound is a melting pot of post-punk and new wave, slices of PiL, Wire, The Fall, coloured with shades of Captain Beefheart, Pavement and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But added to this is a dry sense of humour and real passion — something missing from the crop of bands that are emerging at the moment, bands that are more worried about their haircuts than what they are saying in their lyrics. Songs played in tonight’s set, like “Dogger’s Dog” contains lyrical gems like: “Social commentary is boring, it’s like watching Eastenders”, standing side by side with the stark yet hilarious opening line: “Dogger’s dog, got his bollocks cut off”. At last we have a band that finds joy in words and is not afraid to move away from convention.

Musically, you need to imagine a rhythm section that has listened to PiL’s Metal Box since they were born, with glorious bass lines and open hi-hats. They are so in tune with each other that the tempo changes are smooth and natural, but loose enough to know you are listening to human beings: this is a click-track free zone. Guitars are raw, but without that saturated distortion that is so overdone, and then become transformed by delay and phase.


The songs seem to grow and flow, and like a good film, you never know where it will take you, or whether the hero will live. Added to this solid foundation is Matthew Halliwell, an anti-frontman in the mould of Jarvis Cocker or Mark E Smith, but with an uncanny skill and confidence to explode and transform into Iggy Pop or Alex Harvey. It is breathtaking. But behind the obvious musical acumen, is a warmth, a wry smile, that offsets the energy and anger that to a first-time listener may seem too aggressive. But music needs this! The radio is full of anodyne, drab, lifeless artists that are just nice. Music should be colourful and dramatic, it should be honest and it should not care what people think of it — this is Miss Halliwell’s major strength. They make music without worrying whether they will get to perform it on CBBC.

After a storming set that includes songs about their home town “Amblecote” that smells of the local Chinese restaurant, and “No Hard Feelings”, describing Birmingham’s sometimes less than supportive venue managers, the finale is “Vacuum Cleaner” (a part of the concept behind “Die Son! Die!” Get it? If not, just keep reading this sentence), and it finds Matthew screaming “Vacuumusick sucked the life from us” before finally throwing his guitar to the floor, as feedback and delay swirl around the room.

Then, appearing from the crowd, a tall man jumps onto the stage and starts throwing punches at the singer. He is knocked to the floor and then you can see that Matthew is being attacked with a small vacuum cleaner. A wonderful piece of theatre to add to the spectacle that is finally making live music more than just that: video, theatre, poetry, sound, rhythm all combining to bring you something new. Unlike the vacuum music described with such loathing in the songs (vacuum as both the machine and the space.. the void in which popular music now seems to exist), Miss Halliwell is like a vacuum, sucking in our culture and spitting it back out, presenting it without its lies, liposuction or facelifts. Such brutal honesty and undeniable passion deserves our attention. This is an antidote to both the joke that is televised talent contests and the so-called serious bands that are devoid of humanity. Miss Halliwell is a mensch. Beautiful, fragile and in need of support, as she may be music’s last hope.

Review & Photos – Alan Neilson

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