Leicester, as has been noted elsewhere on these pages, is not a city that has the most obvious of music scenes in the way that, say, Birmingham, Nottingham or even Northampton do. There is no Roadmender or Rock City in Leicester and, whilst the University collaborated with O2 to install an Academy venue within its Students’ Union, the city remains outside the orbit of most touring bands. However, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a vibrant city with a number of fine music venues offering both local and national artists in relatively intimate environments. Obvious venues include Firebug, The Shed and the Musician, but Leicester’s best kept secret is surely the Soundhouse. Boasting a small, but well-equipped stage, an easily accessible location and a friendly, helpful team that includes bar staff as well as sound and lighting crew, the Soundhouse quietly puts on a remarkable variety of gigs that cater to almost every taste.
Tonight sees Birmingham’s Broken Witt Rebels take to the stage, but, before that, an array of local talent has been drawn together and the result is a remarkably coherent evening that builds nicely towards the Headliner’s slot. Opening with Tom McCartney, a young singer possessed of an old, old voice, the concert gets off to a flying start. What immediately causes jaws to drop is that two musicians (just Tom and a drummer) fill both stage and venue with such depth of sound. At sixteen Tom is nothing short of a prodigy and he plays a thrilling set of covers and original material of which, the two final compositions (‘Hard times are coming’ and ‘kicked out of town’) truly sparkle. Playing a dark, dusty and utterly authentic blues, Tom joins a growing number of young blues musicians from England (including Chantel McGregor and Laurence Jones) who have the heart and the talent to join the heroes who inspired them and I expect to hear much more from this young musician in the future.
Next up is The Dead Shoot, a Leicester-based four piece who draw on funk and blues to deliver an epic performance that effortlessly recalls the majesty of ‘Howl’-era Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Songs like ‘fool me twice’ and ‘three times a charm’, the latter featuring some nice slide guitar, are memorable slabs of powerful blues rock and the band come damn close to owning the night. With plenty of stage presence and the audience very much on side, The Dead Shoot are a perfect fit to the manic energy of the headliners and they are another band from whom I expect to see more in the coming year.
Fronted by Tom Lliffe, a man possessed of a gargantuan voice, the Jav’lins hail from Nuneaton and they step things up another notch by opening with ‘I will follow’, a scratchy, bluesy beast that recalls Royal Thunder and which has all the more potency thanks to bassist Bryn Stilgoe joining in the percussion, beating hell out of a drum over the intro. Veering from epic, Tom Waits-infused blues to the sort of huge choruses that power the likes of The Kills and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (before they went coolly electro), the Jav’lins demonstrate exactly how it is they’ve made such a name for themselves on the local circuit.
Finally, it is the turn of Broken Witt Rebels and, from the off, they have the crowd eating out of their hands. Opening with the monstrous ‘Low’ (also the brilliant opener for the band’s latest EP which is reviewed here), the band deliver a set that draws from the likes of Rival Sons and Kings of Leon and the result is nothing short of magical. Tracks like the melodic ‘guns’ (chosen by the fans as the second single from the epic ‘Georgia Pine’ EP), and blistering newbie ‘turn me on’ demonstrate exactly why the band is building such a buzz and, with no disrespect intended towards the quite excellent Soundhouse, the band are destined for bigger venues and soon. Highlights come thick and fast and it’s easy to imagine that tracks like ‘Suzy’ will be considered classics in the future.
With classic rock receiving a considerable buzz at the moment thanks to the likes of The Temperance Movement and Blackberry Smoke, Broken Witt Rebels fit perfectly into the current musical landscape and, given the deafening cries for an encore, it seems that they are here to stay. As to the show, it is singer Danny Core to whom all eyes turn as he sinks to his knees in the grip of rock ‘n’ roll fever and his manic preacher energy remains undiminished throughout the band’s all-too-short set. A formidable presence he is undoubtedly the band’s focal point, but that is not to diminish the role of the others, who match him every step of the way in terms of raw musicianship. It is hard ot describe just how effortless the Broken Witt Rebels make it all look, and as the show goes on, so the crowd are drawn ever deeper into the band’s epic, intimate performance. Make no mistake, Broken Witt Rebels are on the ascent, and if you care at all about rock ‘n’ roll, they’re an act you have to see in the flesh.
Overall, this was one hell of a night. It is rare to see a line-up that is so well matched and yet local promotions team Casbah managed to pitch it just right and there was a brilliant progression from the acoustic blues of the insanely talented Tom McCartney through to the electrifying blast of the Broken Witt Rebels. Each band bought something of their own to the table and, with the Soundhouse packed, it was a memorable evening and the perfect opportunity to see the Headliners before the blast off into the stratosphere.