see all the photos from this concert here

Black Wire
Dirt Candy
Barfly, London
Wednesday August 11, 2004
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

Remember the good old days, when we used to get all worked up about megastars like the Rolling Stones or Michael Jackson accepting sponsorship from top consumer brands such as Levis or Pepsi? Oh, how we sneered at the machinations of the corporate rock behemoth from the purity of our cool alternative scene. Well, that was then, and this is now. Today, sponsorship is everywhere, yes, e’en unto the very portals of the alternative music world. The suits have tumbled to the fact that alternokidz are consumers too, and even relatively small-scale indie venues are now routinely festooned with logos and brand names, for everything from leisurewear to mobile phones, radio stations to websites. Here at the Barfly - one of London’s classically scuzzy small rock ‘n’ roll holes, all matt black paint and sticky floor - the major sponsor is Carling, multinational manufacturer of that ghastly yellow fizzy stuff which passes for beer in certain unenlightened quarters. There’s a big, bold backdrop behind the bands, ensuring that we all know who’s bringing us tonight’s entertainment: 

‘CARLING LIVE SESSIONS’. Soak it up, folks. We’re all dutiful consumers now.

Gamely trying to cling on to independence in the face of the corporate-sponsorship juggernaut, I opt for a pint of Murphy’s Irish Stout at the bar, and then worm my way to the front for Dirt Candy. They’re a very ‘now’ band in that they’ve taken that minimalist punky blues thing made popular by the White Stripes and friends, and given it their own spin.  The guitar is loud and dirty and driving, incongruously played by a reserved, impassive girl who seems utterly unaffected by the great sheets of noise she’s unleashing from her six strings and box of effects. Over on the other side of the stage there’s a drummer; flailing, hammering, and generally giving it the full Rat Scabies. And centre stage, leaning into the mic and contorting himself in rock ‘n’ roll agony, a vocalist in a kind of desert rat version of grungewear shrieks wildly in a hellhound wail.  There’s no bass guitar, and no need for any bass guitar. The sound is gutsy and raw and thunders along, the pace forced by those ever-pounding drums, the guitar breaking over the top like waves. It’s such a big, full, sound that the stripped-down line-up of the band just isn’t noticeable until you glance around in search of the other members, and realise that there ain’t none. The singer rips out his lyrics in a reedy, fractious, keening feak-out of a voice that sounds at once incongruous and appropriate. Over any other sort of music I dare say his style (or anti-style) of singing would grate, but amid Dirt Candy’s mad racket it somehow works. And then, just when you’ve more or less got your head round the band’s minimal mash-up, they strip it down even more. There’s a song in which the guitar drops out altogether - the guitarist just stands there, having a zen moment with her effects pedals - and it’s all down to just the caterwaul of the vocal and the rumble of the drums. It’s crazed and cool and it really does work. Yes, I shall definitely be checking out Dirt Candy again. Music for torching cars at the crossroads at midnight.

What’s this? A roadies’ convention? Suddenly, the stage is swarming with blokes in blue jeans and black T-shirts. But these aren’t roadies - this is a band. Sevenball seem to have some sort of ‘ordinary blokes’ thing going on, to the point where they’ve all dressed down in a self-consciously ‘everyday’ uniform of none-more-plain clothes. That’s fair enough, but it does make for a rather bland visual spectacle. Still, the music packs more of a punch than the band’s non-image might at first suggest. It’s a wide-screen rolling blues, played with great care and attention by musicians who obviously take their craft very seriously. The bass player screws his face into a series of alarming muso grimaces as he rolls out his basslines, but the most enthusiastic person on stage seems to be the guitarist over at stage right, who spends most of the gig gleefully wrenching a bluesy wail out of an acoustic guitar, played lap steel style from a sitting position. He ably demonstrates that it *is* possible to rock out while sitting down, and his guitar sound - assisted by a bottleneck and a Crybaby - has an effective (although, in this ultra-indie venue, a little incongruous) deep-fried southern blues feel. But by and large, this is a band which plays it very straight. There’s no punkish bash-it-out-and-damn-the-torpedoes attitude here. Sevenball mean serious business. I dare say they all go home and listen to Cream albums to get that vintage British blues boom sound just right. All this doesn’t mean the set is a pedestrian experience - the band certainly know how to flam it up and put some fire into their sound. But the overall impression I get is that here’s a band which, above all else, takes *care* with the music.  Sevenball just aren’t in the business of pushing things into the out-of-control zone, and there’s no shame in that. It’s just that the out-of-control zone is, for me, the place where it all gets interesting.

Did I mention the out-of-control zone? As if on cue, here’s Black Wire.  Three skinny garage-punk urchins, a couple of combo amps, a drum machine, and an all-or-nothing attitude. Essential ingredients present and correct.  Black Wire are a relative newcomers, fresh out of Leeds with only a couple of seven-inch singles to their name. Their efforts received an unexpected boost a while back when the NME, getting its finger uncharacteristically close to the pulse for once, made the band’s debut release, ‘Attack!  Attack! Attack!’, single of the week. That accolade might not mean quite as much as it once did - the days when the NME had a sweeping influence on the music scene at large are long gone - but it nevertheless gave Black Wire a sudden burst of attention at a stage when otherwise they’d probably have remained an unknown Leeds phenomenon. But one NME review doesn’t make for an instant career, so Black Wire are on the tour circuit in a bid to build up an audience in the traditional way, gig by gig. They twitch with energy and seethe with the righteous juice of ramalama rock ‘n’ roll as their set kicks off - the drum machine battering out a minimalist tattoo, the bass rumbling like an approaching bulldozer, and the guitar stabbing and thrusting its way into the rhythm like it’s making musical fencing moves.  It’s a nervy, staccato racket, all angles and sharp points, every song fizzing like a shaken-up can of (Carling) lager. The singer, in a hairstyle stolen from the young Rod Stewart, is the focal point of the on-stage melee. He jumps and lurches and staggers about, divesting himself of clothes as he goes. In the moments of quiet between the songs he addresses the audience with sardonic wit. ‘It seems that standing at the back,’ he observes, looking out over the audience at the unconvinced bar-huggers keeping a safe distance, ‘is the new dancing’. Someone hands him a crumpled flyer. ‘Oh, a gift!’ He exclaims in delight, before feigning disappointment: ‘I thought it was a poster of Franz Ferdinand!’ And then the band kick it all off again, rattling and colliding like a train of goods wagons on a downhill gradient. They throw in their latest single, ‘Hard To Love, Easy To Lay’ (these boys have a way with titles) and the vocalist throws himself into the audience. It’s over too quickly - the band keep the set short and sharp, but then everything about Black Wire is short and sharp. Thanks, goodnight, applause, they’re gone. Excellent stuff; a much needed dose of gloriously ramshackle energy. Black Wire kick the zeitgeist up the arse, and wear gleeful grins as they do it.

see all the photos from this concert here

Black Wire:


Dirt Candy:  (No website)

Trackmarx webzine - check out the Black Wire interview:

Website of the Barfly club in London:

Main Barfly site, containing info on all the Barfly clubs around the UK:

A word from our sponsor: (Don’t worry about the requirement to reveal your birth date in order to enter this site. In a bid to subvert the Carling market research department’s data, I entered my birth date as 31 February 1905, and the site worked fine. With any luck I’ve skewed Carling’s promotional strategies in the direction of the centenarian demographic...)

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: