Live Review: Band of Skulls with Folks at Newcastle Other Rooms – 28th November 2012

By on Friday, 7th December 2012 at 2:00 pm

Band of Skulls were one of the highlights of this year’s lacklustre Evolution Festival, so an opportunity to catch the band on their final promotional tour for latest album ‘Sweet Sour’ is one not to be missed. Does their raucous blend of blues-rock and contemporary songwriting work just as well in an intimate, sweaty venue as it did on an outdoor stage? Oh yes indeed.

But first up we have Manchester six-piece Folks, whose mission is to recreate the sliver of time when 1960s flower-power psychedelia and 1970s hard rock existed simultaneously. Musically, Beach Boys three-part harmonies, synth recreations of Beatles-era mellotron, and Stones-esque riffing recreate a bygone era, whilst paisley shirts, winkle-pickers, Weller haircuts and the non-ironic appearance of a faded Mick Ronson t-shirt mean sartorially the band flirt dangerously close to self-parody: a tribute to tribute acts, if you will.

Singer Scott Anderson flourishes his tambourine like it’s coming back into fashion; his vocal style is similarly reminiscent of the younger Gallagher brother. The material shares complementary retro affectations: ‘My Mother’, lead-off track from debut ‘I See Cathedrals’, sets the tone: upbeat, crashing drums, efflusions of vocal harmonies, crunchy guitar work, and string quartet embellishment; as a contrast, ‘Skull & Bones’ is shameless in its pilfering of the thudding rhythm of ELO’s ‘Mr. Blue Sky’. If ‘Will It Blend?’ took the couple of years either side of 1970, gave them a good whizz, and poured the resulting morass onto a stage, Folks are what would happen. It’s all pretty good fun, and if you regret never being at the Marquee Club in 1969, or if you were there and want to relive those glory days, these are your Folks. Thomas Fripp’s spidery, eloquent guitar work is a particular highlight, however if you want something truly original, look elsewhere.

Look, perhaps, to Band of Skulls, who despite taking hard rock as their framework, manage to meld it into something contemporary, original, and exciting. ‘Sweet Sour’ is dispensed early, its dirty, sexy, sparsely bluesy guitar work setting the tone for what is to develop over the next hour. A true power trio in the vein of Cream or The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Band of Skulls’ talent is to craft proper songs, relevant with emotion and meaning (check out ‘Hometowns’ for a prime example), whilst still delivering the goods with massive ROCK! riffs and finger-shredding solos from Russell Marsden. ‘The Devil Takes Care of His Own’ features both elements turned up to the requisite 11, enhanced by the boy-girl vocal throughout – the interplay between Marsden and bassist (and renowned artist) Emma Richardson the key to broadening and sexing up the sound.

BoS have a talent for attracting a crowd diverse in age and style (if not ethnicity): there’s the requisite teenage lads at the front, moshing and taking camera-phone pictures of the set list; but there’s also more mature chin-stroking musos thoughtfully observing, dolled-up girls who could just as easily fit in at one of the city’s more salubrious cocktail bars, and in some cases entire families, with pension-age mothers rocking out with their slightly embarrassed sons. As heard after the gig:

Mum: (slightly slurred) “It’s not as cold out now as it was when we went in, son.”
Son: “That’s because you’re pissed now, mother. You’re fucking 60, I thought you’d have worked that out by now. Give us a tab.”

In short, Band of Skulls give a wide demographic the opportunity to rock out in convincing style, without being remotely threatening as hard rock acts can often be – indeed the polite demeanour and posh Southampton accent from Marsden between songs is somewhat at odds with his intensity when at full tilt. The onstage presence of a rock chick widens the appeal to the aforementioned glam crowd, and the whole room is enthusiastically united in the climactic stomp of ‘Death By Diamonds and Pearls’.

That Band of Skulls are at home in a small club as on an outdoor stage is testament to the versatility of their material, and the sincerity of their delivery. They are on course for wider recognition, and rightly so – there’s not many rock bands your mother could like.

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