see also our CD Review of Waterglass 
see all the photos from this show here 

+ Seventh Harmonic
The Mercat, Birmingham
Saturday June 8 2002
~review and photos by Uncle Nemesis

They're rebuilding Birmingham. Again. The brutalist, self-consciously modern, grey concrete city centre which rose out of the rubble left by Hitler's bombs is itself being demolished, and replaced by brand new architecture with a lighter touch. Good old red brick replaces monolithic concrete slabs: a collision of traditional materials with 21st-century design thinking. Once it's all finished, Birmingham's going to look like Bladerunner - if they'd employed English Heritage to dress the sets.

Fortunately for fans of 1970s 'shoe box' architecture, the Mercat is outside the redevelopment area. It's an odd venue for live music - a small pub, squarely seventies-modern on the outside, faux-olde worlde on the inside. It was built during Birmingham's post-war reconstruction as a watering hole for traders in the nearby market - which means that on Saturday nights, when every other pub in town is crowded with drinkers, the Mercat is quiet and empty. The market has closed for the night; the clientele for whom the pub was built have all gone home.

Or, at least, the Mercat *would* be quiet on Saturday nights, were it not for the goths. Ian Mann, long-standing local goth promoter, has been running his Saturday night goth-slot at the Mercat for close on ten years now. It's a classic win-win situation: Birmingham goths get a regular hangout, the landlord of the Mercat gets some healthy Saturday night bar takings. Everybody's happy.

Because the pub is not designed for live music, there's an endearing 'Let's do the show right here!' feel to Mercat gigs. The stage is a temporary affair, plonked down on the carpet at the end of one leg of the pub's L-shaped bar. The PA and lights are portable, brought in for the gigs and trucked out again afterwards. The merchandise stall is a table in the bar; the dressing room is the pub kitchen. As you might gather, it ain't the enormodome.

For all that, over the years, just about every goth artist of note has played at the Mercat: Rozz Williams, Gitane Demone, Faith and the Muse, London After Midnight, Diva Destruction, Switchblade Symphony, The Last Dance  - they've all graced that ramshackle temporary stage. For UK-based bands, the Mercat has been a regular tour stop-off for years. The Dream Disciples in particular have more or less made the pub their second home: they even recorded a live album here. This unpretentious boozer - which has absolutely nothing gothic about it on any other night except Saturdays - has secured its place in international goth-history. And when the gongs for outstanding contributions to goth-culture are handed out, Ian Mann deserves a gold medal. He's never pushed himself forward, never sought recognition or acclaim - you certainly won't read about him in any of Mick Mercer's books. And yet, he's created something special in this small Birmingham pub.

Well, that's the background. Now, let's do the show. Regardless of the Mercat's goth-scene history, and regardless of Ian's status as one of the unsung heroes of UK goth, this gig is very much business as usual for everyone. For Waterglass, it's the last stop on their UK tour - Andrew, the band's drummer, and Aidan, the bassist, are hanging out in the bar, looking somewhat the worse for wear and telling tales of too many late nights and too much of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. For Seventh Harmonic, it's a one-off - a quick jaunt up the M1 from their London base, and home in time for breakfast. The soundchecks are wrapped up as the first punters file through the door, greeting Ian and his crew as they come in. It's all very informal, almost like a party arranged by a bunch of friends, rather than the usual gig-experience.

Seventh Harmonic emerge from the kitchen and make their way to the stage, and the audience clusters around. Now, Seventh Harmonic are a rare thing: a genuine, home-grown, UK-based neo-classical, ethereal band. For years, the general consensus on the UK scene was that 'ethereal bollocks' just wouldn't work. The UK just wouldn't wear it - we all wanted to mosh. With a magnificent disregard of the UK goth-scene consensus, Seventh Harmonic simply went ahead and did their ethereal thing. And, to everyone's surprise (including, I suspect, the band themselves) they've notched up quite a fair bit of success. Perhaps this is because the band have such a distinct character - it's ethereal, but it's ethereal with attitude. If it's possible for a neo-classical band to rock, Seventh Harmonic do just that.

Kate, stage centre with her dulcimer (which she introduces to us as 'the amazing device') is the focal point of the show. Her vocals have that essential ethereal-goth purity, but there's a certain power there, too. Her dulcimer playing - which fascinates everyone at the front - is precise and yet apparently effortless. Over on stage right, Eilish, Seventh Harmonic's violinist, creates a sound that's stronger and beefier than you'd expect - a full, rolling sound which fills out the music. The violin is such an integral part of the band's sound that the music is noticably more sparse when it drops out. And on the other side, Caroline provides a rock 'n' roll reference point with bass and guitar. There's a backing track somewhere in the mix, fleshing things out and providing the rhythm, and occasionally I catch myself wondering what Seventh Harmonic would be like with a *real* percussionist. The music is rhythmically quite complex, so whether one human being could handle everything is a little doubtful. But after seeing This Ascension in Montreal recently, with their excellent percussionist in full effect, I'm quite taken with the idea. Most of the songs in the set tonight derive from the band's last album, 'The Ascent', which was recorded with a different line-up. Occasionally, that's apparent in the live versions: you can tell that Kate is trying to wrap her voice around vocal lines that were created by another singer. But there's new stuff, too, which gels impressively, and hints at good things to come when the band get around to recording their next album. The set finishes with a dulcimer solo, and it's fascinating to turn and watch the audience standing there in rapt attention as the notes tumble from the PA.

Waterglass are a distinct contrast to Seventh Harmonic inasmuch as they have a full rock-band line-up - drum kit and everything. Come to think of it, that makes them a distinct contrast to a large chunk of the UK goth scene, much of which is still soundtracked by backing-track bands of one sort or another. The small Mercat stage suddenly looks very crowded as Waterglass deploy their five members in front of their impressively large banner. Ah, you can tell a band that takes its touring seriously, when they make themselves a banner! Victoria greets us cheerfully and the band wallop straight into the set. It's a pell-mell experience, the music driving along to Andrew's powerhouse drum beats and Aidan's basslines, which go thumping out into the crowd and get everyone grooving. There's nothing like a tight, powerful, rhythm section to nail everything down and shove it all forward (er, if that's not a contradiction). Waterglass have (yet another) new line-up tonight: Pete, the guitarist featured on the 'Wisdom Like Silence' album has now left, and there's a new guitarist - whose name, alas, I cannot bring you - in his place. He seems to have every last note off to a T (is there a note T?) and I'm impressed by the way he barely glances at his fretboard. I scuttle around at the front, trying to find good angles for photos, and inwardly cursing the lighting rig which is so close to the band that the  beams of light don't have a chance to spread out as they would at a larger venue. I must apologise to Rose, on keyboards, for the photo which makes her look like a green cardboard cut-out - that, I'm afraid, is what happens when there's an intense green light about eighteen inches from your head!

But it's the music that really matters, and Waterglass deliver in glorious style. There's a new album's worth of songs to play, and what cool and catchy songs they are. The Mercat fairly rocks to 'Departure' and 'Longshore Drift' - even the newer songs, which must be unfamiliar to at least some of the people here tonight, seem to connect and generate a response. It's a performance full of warmth and humanity, the kind of show which I think can only be created by a band who play it all live, for real, in real time. There's no way an audience can get this excited when they know that half the stuff they're hearing is on a mini-disc, or whatever. The positive atmosphere seems to be rubbing off on the band - it's a pleasure to see a bunch of people obviously sparking off each other, playing with that curious telepathy that sometimes exists between musicians, and which can never exist between a musician and a backing track. At the end of the set, when the band try to leave the stage, the crowd simply stands there, refusing to allow the band to walk back through the audience to the dressing room-cum-kitchen. Well, that's one way of ensuring an encore!

A classic gig, one of the best I've seen at the Mercat - and I've seen a few in my time. The combination of bands, venue, and that unique informal atmosphere just clicked tonight. Seventh Harmonic and Waterglass are stars, and Birmingham goths don't know how lucky they are.

see all the photos from this show here 

Waterglass website:
(Check out the tour diary: "To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, my living room looks like the results of an experiment involving gorillas and LSD...")

Seventh Harmonic website:

Frustratingly, there seems to be no comprehensive, practical, generally-available Birmingham goth-resource on the web. However, try thesefor what they're worth:

The BrumGoth site for Birmingham goth-information (not fully accessible unless you're a member of the BrumGoth e-list):

The BrumGoth e-list:

A rather confusing Birmingham goth scene resource site - long on techie gimmickery but a little short on hard information:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: