After several years of reviewing live gigs in and around the Staffordshire and Cheshire music scene, I’ve learnt to correctly guess which local band is playing where just by looking at the shape and size of the crowd outside the venue. That is most certainly the case for Release, a band I’ve happily watched grow into their sound for the last couple of years.
Outside The Sugarmill on Friday night, things were slightly chaotic to say the very least. A mass of teenagers littered the streets, buying and selling tickets like the least threatening (and most legal) touts you’ve ever seen, making me question just how the pint sized venue would be able to contain a crowd of this size.
Inside and it was as though they’d read my mind: metal barriers had been erected at the front of the stage, something that was definitely required if any of their previous shows were anything to go off.
Bonsai’s Chris Hough opened up the evening, at first playing a solo acoustic set of covers and originals, which included Stephen Fretwell’s ‘Run’, better known as the Gavin & Stacey theme tune. Hough was nervous, something he openly admitted to his listening audience and that came across in his performance. He was later joined by two of his fellow Bonsai band members on acoustic and electric guitar and they performed ‘Fruit Shoot’, ‘Yesterday’s Tomorrow’ and their current single ‘Clowes Avenue’, with Hough’s confidence blooming quickly. But something from his stripped back set must have resonated within him, as before leaving the stage, Hough remarked: “I might do this more often… everyone listens…”.
Next up were Postal, a new band to the Stoke music scene and one that is yet to grace this blog. Postal were an interesting outfit: simple guitar melodies, loud catchy choruses and a front man who seemed to be lapping up every moment in front of the large crowd. Their sound was nothing too dissimilar from the bubbling indie scene that has taken local venues by storm, therefore they were an instant hit. Performing their own material as well as a cover of ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go?’ by The Clash, Postal were a ball of energy and although their sound will only benefit from the usual refining that happens with constant gigging, their set at The Sugarmill on Friday night was promising.
The penultimate act of the evening was ALMA, a band whose presence could still be felt long after they’d left the stage. The buzz that surrounded them was indescribable and it was hard not to forget that the four piece weren’t headlining the evening. Jack Kennedy, frontman and, for one night only, a little bit of a local celebrity, absorbed it all. Every last second of it.
I thought I’d seen them at their best at Ashcombury Music Festival earlier in the year, but the ALMA that performed ‘Taken For A Fool’, ‘Honey’, ‘Swine’ and ‘Help Me’ on Friday night, were an ALMA I’d definitely never observed before. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, with confidence, that ALMA are one of the best young bands on the scene right now. They’re a passionate bunch of talented musicians, with an obvious drive to make the music we all want to hear. Energy levels were through the roof as the band left the stage, their raucous crowd chanting their name.
In the minutes after ALMA left the stage, an odd atmosphere rippled its way across the venue. When a supporting band perform a headliner’s set, it’s hard not to feel a little bit deflated that you can’t have more. But the gauntlet had been thrown down and Release were raring to reclaim it. And oh boy, did they reclaim it.
It took a couple of songs to recharge their audience but once they had, Release were back in the saddle. They instantly reminded us all of why we paid our good pennies to see them perform. Opening with ‘C U Next Time’, ‘Flippin Heck’ and ‘Publik Urination’, Release took hold of the crowd and rocked them in their usual way. Front man Caleb Allport was up to his old tricks, conducting the crowd with his arms as though leading a full orchestra.
‘Back To The Old Routine’ took a very mellow turn, with audience members raising their lighters to the sky and making Allport eloquently observe: “You are fucking brilliant… thank you so much…”. The gratitude was written across his face. Despite his band’s consistency in selling out local venues, it’s quite obvious that this isn’t something any of the band take for granted. As they ploughed on through their set, performing ‘The Inevitable’ and ‘Neat Seat’, in which Allport used his mic stand as a prop, Release’s energy didn’t falter once. Neither did their ability to perform their music to a near note-perfect standard. Closing the set with ‘Repetition Repetition’, an as yet unreleased track, that’s when the band seemed to come into their own.
The new track displayed the maturity and growth that’s naturally occurred within Release’s sound and if this is what the future holds for the band, then I don’t think we have anything to worry about.
As the night drew to a close, the bands packed their equipment away and the under 18’s were turfed out of the venue, a thought quickly crossed my mind. If these are the kinds of local bands Stoke-on-Trent is producing and this is the size of the ever increasing local interest, I don’t ever see an end to this scene and its soundtrack of talented young people, in need of a kick of a different kind.