Caught Live: The SoapGirls, Live Rooms Chester 28th July 2019

The South African ‘revolt rock’ sisters came to Chester on a wet and windy Sunday night in this unassuming looking venue close to the city’s railway station. They’d been allocated the smaller bar stage as opposed to the larger main stage, but that’s probably suitable for the trio (including their touring drummer Sam Ogden) as they’re used to this kind of setting, as they continue their seemingly relentless gigging schedule. This was the first chance I’d had to see the Soapies since the release of their fourth album ‘Elephant In The Room’, meaning they had the CD available to buy on the night. They have been playing several tracks from it at their gigs for some time however, so these songs are already well established in the minds of their followers, dubbed the ‘SoapSuds’.

There were three acts on the bill tonight, and things got under way with Spam Javelin. A trio who dress in what looks like posh Christmas wrapping paper (!), they specialise in short, snappy and speedy numbers touching on a variety of offbeat subjects. Some of these last little more than a minute! They weren’t on long but it felt like an intense workout just watching, such is the ferocity of their delivery. Next up were Saltwater Injection, a duo of a drummer/vocalist and a bassist, who play what cannot be described as drum & bass! The bassist had a heavy distorted sound, while the drummer thrashed about while delivering some disconcerting screams and roars. Energetic as it was, it was a bit atonal for my rather traditional tastes (in other words, I kinda like a song I can remember!)

Whatever else is said about the SoapGirls, one thing that they definitely do well is pen a catchy ditty. For all the controversy about their look (once again, they performed in little more than body paint and lingerie) they do have a knack for a pop hook amongst their own guitar assault. Bassist/singer Camille ‘Mille’ Debray declared from the outset that they were about freedom of expression, and anyone who didn’t agree could leave (or words to that effect!) She sounded a little hoarse, something she did acknowledge before getting things underway with ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ from the latest album. It is Mille who draws most of the attention, with her penchant for either bending over backwards or doing the splits while still playing her bass, while guitarist/singer Noemie ‘Mie’ Debray focuses on smiling at the punters while splitting their heads with that buzzsaw of a guitar. Mie has taken a more prominent vocal role of late, allowing Mille to astonish those present with  her gymnastic acts. How she does that while never missing a beat is beyond my comprehension, though if you can look beyond the antics you will see an accomplished four-stringer.

I’d seen them twice before already this year, and on this occasion they opted not to do the ‘One Eyed Willy’ drinking challenge (a dubiously-decorated bottle containing an alcoholic cocktail, which they challenge an audience member to drink) or any of their usual slapstick stunts, focusing instead on playing the music. The set concentrated on the current album (I particuarly liked ‘Bitter’; hard rock but with that pop element to lodge in the mind) but there were some oldies from the two previous records played too, including ‘Sam’s On Crack’, ‘Society’s Rejects’ as well as ‘Bloody’, ‘Hater’ and of course ‘Champagne Cocaine’ from their first independently-released album (second overall),  ‘Calls For Rebellion’. As is so often the case, they got several people up on stage with them to ‘help’ on ‘Bad Bitch’, the song which got them played on Planet Rock – albeit in heavily censored form!

They’ve been touted as the ‘next big thing’ for a couple of years now, and as is so often the case they do win over new people. I overheard more than one first-timer speaking to Mille afterwards telling her, Mie and drummer Sam Ogden how much they enjoyed the show. They believe in doing it the old-fashioned way, with a strong gigging schedule and playing to whoever makes the effort to come along. If I’m honest, I’d have expected them to have been playing bigger stages (such as the main stage here) by now, but they’ll get there eventually even if it means no compromise whatsoever in their beliefs.  Recommended that you take the chance to see the SoapGirls live should they rock up anywhere within reach.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

The SoapGirls Facebook Page

Saltwater Injection Facebook Page

Spam Javelin Facebook Page

Caught Live: Danny Vaughn, Tivoli Venue Buckley 21st July 2019

The guy who blew the whistle on the PledgeMusic scandal at the start of the year came to North Wales, to play a selection of songs from an album he nearly had pulled from underneath him. Thanks largely to an understanding – and fiercely loyal – fanbase built up over many years the Tyketto singer was able to get his solo album ‘Myths, Legends And Lies’ completed and pressed despite being one of many artists left in the lurch when the PledgeMusic bubble suddenly burst in January.  The album features many guest musicians including Chris Childs, bassist in both Tyketto and Thunder but for this tour, Vaughn has opted to tour solo with just his acoustic guitar. He’s no stranger to this format having done several tours with Dan Reed, so we had a good idea what to expect tonight.

The opener was another acoustic performer, who rejoiced in the name of Edd Case (!)
A Chester native, he gave a pleasant enough performance until the last song, a passionately and powerfully delivered number from the viewpoint of a soldier forced to fight battles at the whims of politicians. That point was made almost 50 years ago by Black Sabbath (‘War Pigs’) but the issue remains depressingly relevant all these decades on.

There’s little else I can say about Danny Vaughn; almost 35 years after he first came to the attention of UK rock fans as lead singer of Waysted, he remains at the very top of his game. He did indeed perform several songs from ‘Myths, Legends and Lies’ alongside a selection of tracks from across his back catalogue, taking in Tyketto, Vaughn (his eponymously-named early 2000s band) and even Waysted (a request from the audience for ‘Heaven Tonight’ was granted on the spot). All of which were delivered impeccably before what must be said was an audience of die-hards. I’ve said this before, but someone of his calibre really should be in arenas performing before far bigger crowds than this. When you see certain veteran bands playing in football stadia before huge crowds, and charging a pretty penny for the privilege it does jar, when you know those singers in those bands can’t hold a candle vocally to this fella. He did by my reckoning two hours of songs, interspersed with some tales from his life on the road, and with a setlist that he basically improvised on the spot. He changes it around from night to night, giving those who do follow him from show to show something different every time. Of course he ended with Tyketto’s ‘Forever Young’ before coming out to the merch table to sign CDs and posters for punters.

I’d love to know what his secret is, since he has retained his voice far better than many of the same vintage. Maybe he’s just taken better care of himself than others I could name, but whatever he does I hope he keeps on doing it for a while yet. I’ve seen the guy play many times, acoustically and with a full electric band and he has never disappointed once. On leaving the venue I encountered Tivoli manager Rokib looking happy, as he knew he’d witnessed an excellent show. The last time Vaughn played this place was over two decades ago with Tyketto, and even without the band he still raised the roof of this famous old nightclub. When he comes back in whatever guise, go and see.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

Danny Vaughn Facebook Page

Album: The SoapGirls ‘Elephant In The Room’ (self-released)

The Debray sisters (bassist Camille ‘Mille’ and guitarist Noemie, or ‘Mie’, a.k.a. The SoapGirls), those two threats to all that is good, proper and decent have returned with their long-awaited new album ‘Elephant In The Room’. They’ve billed it as their third album but it’s actually their fourth, if we include their 2011 (pop-orientated) major-label release ‘Xperience’. That platter, a hit in their South African homeland, has now been put in the same cupboard under the stairs as Pantera’s first four albums however, since they made it when they were still teens, and had little to no influence on its content. This one then, is their third as independent artists, and if you have the two previous offerings (‘Calls For Rebellion’, 2015; ‘Society’s Rejects’, 2017) then you’ll know what to expect here.

As with the last two albums, there’s a saucy cover shot of the girls; that should please the Beavis and Butthead brigade (huhuhuh – the girls themselves find the cartoon duo funny) but will doubtless reinforce the prejudice against them from certain quarters. What their detractors are missing however, is that there is no sleazy record executive ‘encouraging’ them to dress (or not, as the case may be!) provocatively, there’s no outside influence at all. Their look, and musical direction is all their own; they set out to please themselves first and if you like it, that’s great but if not, that’s fine too. All they ask is that they be allowed to be themselves; they’re not changing their style for anybody. Anyway, cover photos matter little once you’ve got the music playing, and as this album has been played in the car for pretty much the past week, we’ll talk no more of their image and focus on the sounds.

Cover image 'Elephant In The Room' by the SoapGirls

Cover image ‘Elephant In The Room’ by the SoapGirls

‘One Way Street’ picks up where they left off with the last album, that insistent drum beat and jagged guitar riff is present and correct. It’s Mie who takes lead vocal on this number, Mille coming in on the choruses with the two blending nicely in the pre-chorus. That is one of several tracks that will be familiar already to the Soapsuds, as it’s been played live over the past year. ‘Bitter’ continues the pace, but has a gentler guitar intro more akin to post-punk than hard rock, and with a harmonised chorus of ‘Not My Fault You’re Bitter’. The riff in the verses to this one made me think of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’!

Though there’s plenty of the usual Soap tropes with lyrics dealing with their various trials and tribulations, heavy guitar, F-bombs dropped all over the place and that vocal combination of the raucous Mille and the sweeter sound of Mie, there are a few new wrinkles this time around too. For one thing the production on this record is a noticeable step up from the last two records, the grungy riffs are still there (‘Chains’ is as heavy as anything, and ‘In The Name Of God’ has a guitar sound Queens of the Stone Age would cast envious ears to) but the overall sound is that much sharper, clearer. For another, this time around they’ve introduced their brother (Redd-Valentino Debray) who features on ‘My Development’. An angry riposte against a neighbour who objected strongly to the band’s rehearsing, it is prefaced by Mie presumably relaying the tirade they were subjected to, before Redd delivers a rap/rant of his own in the verses. Redd is also credited on ‘Sugar Gets You High’, a typical Soapy rocker combining that buzzsaw guitar with Buggles-style ‘oh-oh’ vocals. This one has a particularly catchy chorus which suggests they haven’t totally left their pop credentials behind them; I could imagine that fitting in on radio if only they wouldn’t put those oh-so offensive electric guitars all over it (!)

Another ‘first’ is on ‘I Stand Alone’; this one’s actually preceded by a spoken introduction from Mille, actually stating outright that a certain person tried to split them up, mess up (or words to that effect!) their lives. She then tells the unnamed individual *exactly* what she thinks of whoever it was, before the main song kicks in. Even when it ends she hasn’t finished, all but shredding her throat with yet more anger directed at that particular miscreant! ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ has a guitar intro reminiscent of Madchester/indie, but once it kicks in it’s business as usual with the combination of savage guitar and catchy choruses, while ‘Fade To Black’ has no connection with Metallica but is built on a guitar riff that had me think of ‘Save Tonight’, for those who remember 1990s one-hit wonder Eagle-Eye Cherry!

Their albums are traditionally lengthy affairs, usually consisting of around 16 or 17 tracks but they’ve upped the ante a bit this time, presenting the album on two discs and adding two bonus songs: reworked versions of ‘One Way Street’ and ‘Sugar Gets You High’, with the verses sung in French. Although that’s actually their native language (they’re French-born although raised in SA) this is another first so far as I’m aware.

If you’re already on the Soapbox then you will like this album, it’s better-produced but it is still travelling along the ‘rebellion rock’ direction of the two albums which came before. Those who haven’t been won over yet probably won’t be with this record, it’s unapologetically as hard-hitting and as defiantly provocative as before. The record was initially released digitally but if you get along to one of their UK or European gigs from this point on they should have the CD available for you to buy and get signed, in their inimitable fashion!

The SoapGirls Facebook Page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Chasing Dragons/The Loved and Lost/Fear Me December, Percy’s Cafe Bar Whitchurch 13th July 2019

A particularly severe case of ‘Same Night Syndrome’ hit on this night when there was a choice of multiple gigs all within reach. Sadly I couldn’t make any of this year’s SOS Festival in Prestwich (a good – and reasonably priced – event featuring local and national bands held over a weekend), and also on this night Lancaster nutters Massive Wagons were headlining a multi-band bill themselves over at Chester’s Live Rooms. Meanwhile, however, I plumped for this lower-key gig in Whitchurch, mainly because I wanted to see Midlands Metallers The Loved and Lost, a band I haven’t seen live in too long.

The other thing which swung it Percy’s way was simply because it’s free entry to the gigs at this small but interesting bar, with its stage setup in an adjoining courtyard. As is usual with me I arrived moments before events got under way, with opening band Fear Me December coming on just as I got my (soft) drink and took up my spot. Although based in Manchester, the core members are originally from Argentina, but supplemented by a rhythm guitarist and a bassist who looked familiar, but it took me a while to identify that it was Freddy Spera from Novacrow on the low end. Normally he’s completely unrestrained live, but with this outfit he restricted himself to a few brief stomps, leaving the small stage clear for singer Victoria. She had me worried throughout her headbanging, coming perilously close to smashing her head into the box set up at the front for her to stand on. She didn’t do that thankfully, and their short set got a good reception from those assembled on the courtyard.

Fear Me December at Percys

Fear Me December at Percys

Next up were The Loved and Lost, following a quick changeover. They had a slight change to their line-up for this show, with regular bassist Jack Bates unavailable the Worcester foursome brought in Becky Moore for this date. The left-handed Becky slotted in alongside guitarist Dan Fletcher and drummer Sam Ward perfectly, as the band ran through their repertoire of prog-metal from their two EPs released to date. Frontwoman Jordan Quinn enjoyed herself immensely, seemingly singing with a permagrin throughout. Speaking to the bassist afterwards I learned they’d had just two rehearsals prior to this date, she was excellent and you’d have been forgiven for thinking she was an integral part of this outfit. For me their best song is ‘Drag Me Down’; the new material they’re presently cooking up will hopefully be in this vein.

Closing things were Chasing Dragons, a new band to me but not to the more switched-on, two of their songs are in Primordial Radio’s system for instance. Not knowing a thing about them I had no expectations, but the minute I heard vocalist Tank she won me over. They’re a melodic Metal band with a nimble-fingered guitarist in Adam Smith and bassist Murf, driven along by drummer Katie Bullock. But the heavily tattooed Tank was the standout, one of the best singers I’ve heard on this circuit in many a year, and with an engaging stage presence too. With her up front they have more than a fighting chance of making a jump to bigger stages before very much longer, she’s that good a singer. Their set included both Primordial-listed tracks, ‘Like Gravity’ and ‘Broken Jaws’, and they got a great reception from the Percy’s crowd. I was sufficiently impressed to get two of their CDs, and I’ll definitely look for these again.

All in all a fine night of Metal down at Percy’s, a venue well worth checking out as they often have some good bands play in this tiny courtyard.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Fear Me December Facebook Page

The Loved And Lost Facebook Page

Chasing Dragons Facebook Page