“So where were you last week?” was how I was greeted by Dolls manager Paul Smith when he spotted me at the Ritz for this gig, the second Dolls gig I’ve caught on their latest ‘Daughters of Anarchy’ tour. He was talking about their gig the previous week at the Robin 2 in Bilston (a venue I know well) which by all accounts, was a stormer. Sadly I couldn’t make that one for reasons far too mundane to go into here, but this one had been on the radar for a while. Brighouse is a town in West Yorkshire near Huddersfield, and is known for the Brighouse and Rastrick Band of ‘Floral Dance’ hit single fame. The Ritz is a large ballroom and nightclub, not too dissimilar to the Layton in Blackpool, the venue where I first encountered the Dolls almost two years ago.
This year looks like being an even bigger one for the five-piece band than 2015 was; there have been several festival appearances confirmed for this summer including opening the famous Isle of Wight festival. The ‘Daughters of Anarchy’ tour started in March and sees the girls playing some bigger venues than last year, and they are shortly to venture across the Irish Sea for gigs in Dublin and Belfast. With the band’s popularity on the rise, they’ve subtly rebranded themselves, using the shortened (and more media-friendly!) name ‘The Dolls’ on social media and on festival bills. However the true name remains present and correct on Anna Key’s bass drum head, and their set is still built around classic punk and new wave numbers of the late 1970s/early 1980s.
In the week leading up to this gig, the Dolls were still seeking a support for this gig and as I entered the hall, it was Bad Dog, No Biscuit on the stage delivering their humorous take on punk. I’ve seen these guys before and they’re good, but not really to my taste. Still, considering they took the gig at about three days’ notice, they did a fine job of warming up the Dolls Barmy Army.
The Dolls have made one or two changes to their show since last year, but some things haven’t changed. They still come on stage one at a time led by guitarist Connie Rotter (resplendent in a very fetching red jumpsuit) and open with ‘Pretty Vacant’, but they’ve introduced some different numbers to the repertoire this year including three songs of original material. You still get a diverse selection of punk/new wave favourites, and their version of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ was worth the entrance itself, building up to an intense climax which saw singer Nancy Doll head off the stage and almost rip the barrier down in front of us on the front row, headbanging wildly as she went! Other tracks introduced this year included the Pistols’ ‘EMI’, the Buzzcocks’ ‘What Do I Get’ and The Damned’s ‘New Rose’. The new songs (‘Maniac’, ‘Sci-Fi’ and ‘Shitty Old Town’ – allegedly inspired by the experiences of one of their fans!) were high-tempo numbers designed to keep the punters bouncing, but the latter of the three had a chorus that had many of us joining in on straight away!
The stage at the Ritz had a short series of steps leading into the gap between barrier and stage, which various Dolls elected to descend during some numbers. This almost led to a mishap for Connie, whose high heels almost caused her to fall and it was thanks to a save from fellow guitarist Kitty Vacant that she didn’t fall head first into the Dolls pit! High heels, punk rock and steps don’t necessarily mix… 😉 Nancy herself ventured out on the floor and sang from the pit during another number, and she did her usual ‘lying down on the job’ bit in their cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Her energy never ceases to amaze me, especially considering she is wearing heels as high as any other Doll and yet can headbang, jump, dance, kick and sing for two hours straight. She must sleep very well after a Dolls gig!
They ended the main set with ‘Anarchy in the UK’, and their three-song encore climaxed with a manic cover of Stiff Little Fingers’ ‘Alternative Ulster’ complete with several Dolls Barmy Army regulars on the stage (invited by Nancy to get up, nobody would dare do so uninvited!) headbanging away with the girls, and even providing some backing vocals in one case!
With an EP of the new songs planned, and some very high-profile appearances including Isle of Wight on the horizon, by the end of this year the Dolls will be known to many more people. Nancy alluded to this in a social media post, but anyone who sees the new shortened name and that it’s an all-girl band, if they think along the lines of Little Mix then they’ll be in for a shock!