The Joy Formidable @ Birmingham Academy 2, 27th September 2010


The fourteen date Emerge NME Radar Tour kicked off with full mental racket, Flats, who aim to resolve some very angry angst through a sub-genre of Grindcore, guttural Thrash. The guitarist had a fuzz box and he was determined to abuse it. The vocalist (sic) set a unique fashion statement by looking more urban wasted after he’d removed his hoodie.


For the appreciative, many songs(sic) were as short as ninety seconds: for the rest they seemed much longer. The band’s rapport with the £12 paying punter was conspicuous by its absence, if not actual insolence. They preferred to keep their distance. A view shared by many who would have preferred that distance to be measured more in miles than meters. Perhaps their nihilistic, recession-shredded tantrums rage against impending post-recession teenage wastage. If there are doubts, let’s give them the benefit. For many of their generation, after the cuts, that’s all they’ll be getting.

Chapel Club are an altogether different affair. A rather aesthete, angular handsome five-piece with a subdued but intelligence grasp of presentational atmospherics and moodscapes. Vocalist, Lewis Bowman, has a broody, introspective burr in his deliverance with somewhat other worldly gazes into only he knows where. He hug cups the mic-stand with a composed, seemingly vulnerable gravitas. Inevitable, but by no means dismissive, comparisons might be with Joy Division/New Order with flavours of Prefab Sprout’s and Lloyd Cole’s singularly English composition. The unique selling point of this intriguing band is the tidal surge of keyboard and pedal effects driven by guitarist Michael Hibbert. Don’t be put off by the name-checks, this a band intrinsically bound by their own time and dimension. Keep an ear out.


Headliners, The Joy Formidable, assume a great deal with such a grandiose sobriquet and we’re not yet quite sure what the illuminated baubles wrapped about the mic-stand and within filigree birdcages might be about but the Aubrey Beasley/art-deco designs are quite engaging. A misted, strobe soaked stage shimmers as a Macbeth witch cries out her prophetic couplet, ‘By the pricking of my thumbs/something wicked this way comes.’ Up crank the guitars and drum siege engines from Valhalla and the arrival of vocal/guitars Ritzy Bryan. Now here’s a singular, indeed spectacular, artist. With flaxen, perhaps pre-performance bob-cut hair she cuts a very disarming dash. Let’s avoid the Klylie, perfectly formed pint-sized popstrel cliches. Ritzy, and oh yes she is aptly named, wears what must surely be tea shop waitress dress with prim lace neck surround. (Perhaps it’s the old ruse to fool the parents to get out of the house for this gig?).

Now this is all very well until she and the boys continue with Matt Thomas’ volcanic, controlled carnage drumming and Rhydian Dafydd’s (yes they’re Welsh) super-tanker anchor chain bass attack. Ritzy, literally bends over backwards as she riffs and racks every -begging for mercy- chord and vocal incandescence. We’re not dealing in subtleties and shades for the majority of the set. It’s a crafted, attacking but not an antagonistic, maelstrom of relentless ‘Do you want some?’ pre-Grunge in the vein of such pioneers as Throwing Muses, a smidgen of Banshees and Pixies weapons-grade pheromones. Songs pile through with Cradle, Austere, G.Light and Ostrich though how they could make sense of the set-list given the Close Encounters mothership lightshow-splatter is open to conjecture. It made the photographers life hell.

But it’s all so very polite and inclusive as Ms Bryan says hi to the audience, no attitude here. The mood changes with Beer Drunk as she moves to acoustic guitar and percussion is muted to include electro drum pads. It’s an atonal, dronal, mantric slow burner kept on a tight leash by Dafydd on guitar, with crafted call and response echo dual vocals that build to an hypnotic, almost numbing crescendo. The closing song (Blast Drop/Whirring, not sure) climaxed with an apocalypse row of bludgeoning intensity brought to an effects pedal-fest of feedback frenzy and Ritzy Bryan cranking up a war-time air raid siren. Top that: putting on the style/putting on the Blitz. The joy was, indeed, formidable.

Review – John Kennedy
Photos – Ian Dunn

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