|Henry's Funeral Shoe/Galapagos Now!/Dead Shed Jokers/Heavy Flames/Fireroad - Brecon Fringe Festival - 11th August 2012|
|Written by Jamie Richards|
|Saturday, 18 August 2012 05:00|
As far as ways of escaping the Olympic Games goes, for me this year has been pretty inventive to say the least. I spent the first (apparently) grand opening weekend perched on a mountain top with other members of the South Wales rock fraternity, gathered together high above civilization, bonded by our affliction and addictions - a bit like the leper colony in Ben-Hur really, but with beer and music. So what better way to cast myself out from the closing weekend than a visit to the (usually) sleepy mid-Wales market town of Brecon, to savour the delights of its fast growing 'Fringe' festival - which is kind of a snot nosed little brother to the town's more studious and long established 'Jazz' festival. The sun is very graciously smiling down upon the dusty car park of the Markets Tavern where all the action I am interested in catching is already underway as I arrive, and locals and visitors alike are enjoying every minute of the early afternoon delights, including the liquid refreshment it has to be said.
Ironic then, that the first thing I settle down to see is the kick off at the Olympic football final - but not for long, as I feel the lure of some curiously splendid cover versions of rock standards being belted out from said car park, each of which, my keen eared son points out to me, is "just a bar or two faster than it should be - it's like the Ramones covering Rainbow." That was a sentence warm and fluffy enough to make my imagination run free, think about it for a minute and see if you don't smile. Action on the make-shift stage gets a little more serious around 5PM with the arrival of Fireroad, doing a sterling job under tough circumstances that not only include paying the ultimate penalty of earlier cover bands over-running, and thus reducing their allotted time slot, but also the spectacle of a shirtless young man who has peaked way too early with his alcoholic in-take for the day, prancing drunkenly around in front of the stage - it gets old very quickly. Fireroad though, thunder on regardless with their cool radio friendly rock sound, diffusing a potentially difficult situation with a show of real confidence and charm. Heavy Flames are next, also suffering a cut to their appearance time, but continue to take things into the 'serious rock band' territory with their timeless Stones-tinged psychedelic vibe.
Next up is Dead Shed Jokers, a band whose album I've become so familiar with since its release early this year that it's hard to remember that they are indeed a local band. The sounds contained within that disc that dropped from my monthly Uber-jiffy bag last January astounded me and today, eventually, I get to see this talented gang of ruffians for the first time. Quite simply they do not disappoint, not on any level; five young guys in possession of something truly unique, creating genuine synergy with supreme playing that echoes a multitude of influences from QOTSA to The Doors. They coast seamlessly through most of that stunning debut album 'Peyote Smile' with an under-assuming confidence in their individual and collective musicianship. The songs are so good they penetrate themselves into new listeners almost immediately; any number of people I see are genuinely taken aback at the sheer force of nature that is confronting them in this car park. It seems a lot of this gathering really didn't expect to see a band this good in front of them today, not this early anyway - and I swear this band may truly not realise just quite how good they are. I notice that the organiser (I assume the pub landlord?) had made his way from working the busy bar inside to catch the band-maybe on a tip off, and he encourages the lads to carry on playing such is the reaction of the growing crowd. Unfortunately, Dead Shed Jokers sadly have to decline as they are actually playing with a stand-in drummer who knows no more songs, it turns out. This is a seriously good young band, and today they proved it: for pity sake people, grab that album for a fiver - quite a few in that car park did - and like them, you will not be disappointed.
If the day had a distinctly Welsh flavour to it so far, then that was about to change with the arrival of a three piece from New York who go by the name Galapagos Now! Touring across Britain in support of their debut album, 'Beards of London', the cosmopolitan bruddas find themselves in what must be the strangest setting for them. I'd heard their album, in preparation of course, and it has to be said that it tips the official Uber-Piratey scale, so much so that I imagined these three had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean atop their own galleon, swigging rum as their timbers shivered all the way. The album provides the hidden line that joins early Nirvana to the sea shanty, but to my delight, and rather obviously really, the live performance is devoid of the experimental side of the band. Under ever darkening skies (and with very little on stage lighting) Galapagos Now! tear the sleepy Welsh town a new one with their crushing, fuzz engulfed three minute post-punk anthems that, in a live setting, sound more akin to Nirvana's 'Bleach' getting in a fight with the Dead Kennedys rather than a bunch of drunken sailors. They do an admirable job in continuing the warming of this motley assembly, and the band that seems to be on everyone's lips here today - Henry's Funeral Shoe - are poised and ready to make their inimitable mark on today's proceedings. With the time approaching 10pm, darkness deeply upon us, and a car park now fit to bust with expectant music fans and drunken revellers, brothers Aled and Brennig Clifford take their places in front of us and launch into a version of 'Down the Line' that I can only describe as furious.
A little over 24 hours previous, the brothers had sadly not been able to make a prestigious appearance at the annual Bulldog Bash owing to technical problems, Aled is still pissed off about it and he's eager to settle a score; however, technical difficulties decide to continue their part in the frontman's weekend. Tearing into a frantic and tight 'Dog Scratched Ear', the under-assuming guitar virtuoso alludes to the song's inclusion in a recent US commercial, and his current predicament, and tells us "if that fucking Charlie Sheen ever pays us I'm getting a new guitar." The on-stage tension is creating real electricity between band and audience by now, whether the band likes it or not - you simply can't manufacture the atmosphere that was now engulfing the evening like a ghostly fog. Aled again, frustratingly tackles his malfunctioning electronics and decides to really put it all to the test by pushing it to the limits with some, even more intense than usual, soloing. He cuts a song short, ignores a handful of drunken morons who tell him to "get on with it," stamps down hard on a fuzz pedal that's already at breaking point, and decides to go out in a full-on blaze of glory with a completely show stopping 'Henry's Funeral Shoe' (yeah it's a song as well) and, as brother Brennig beats out an extended finale, he takes his troublesome Les Paul by its neck and lets it know exactly how he's feeling with a Pete Townshend trademark 'windmill' that sees it come crashing down into the stage from on-high!
Right there, rock 'n' roll personified in all its engaging, exciting and electrifying glory: one man's frustrations that he can't get things to be perfect, ironically culminating in just that - perfection! The word is out people, Henry's Funeral Shoe are two albums down the line (pun intended) but surely now is just the beginning for them - catch them while you can.